And unlike other writer's groups, where critiques can be scathing, there is a feeling of support. "You're there for each other," Nolan said.

Barth said the willingness of members to read each other's manuscripts is invaluable. "You can't just find people like that," she said. "You have to come to a group like this and discover them."

Nolan said she'd be a member even if she wrote mysteries or adventure stories. "Even if you don't write only romance, it's still very useful," she said. "There's so much to learn."

These writers come from different places and backgrounds. Many are wives and mothers. Some write full time. They've been teachers, historians, archaeologists, health care professionals, journalists. Many live in the Baltimore area but others attend only a few meetings because they live farther away.

Shelley Greene, a pre-published member from Columbia, brought her laptop to the November meeting so Sarah Allan, who lives in England, could attend via Skype. "She met the members of MRW through (the Romance Writers Association) and chose our chapter because she liked the group," Greene said. Both members are on the verge of seeing their first manuscripts published.

If last month's meeting is any indication, the conversation can veer from serious talk about getting an agent to laughter over heroes or plot details.

When it's time to celebrate, a gallon-sized bag of Dove chocolates is passed around the room as members announce winning a contest, signing an agent, having a book published, getting on a best-seller list, negotiating movie rights. Even taking the time to write is worth a chocolate reward.

"This is my baby," Nolan said in November, holding up a copy of her first book, Conjure, a paranormal fantasy for young adults. "It came out last month." It will be, she told her colleagues, the first in a series.

Kaye's recent appearance on national best-seller lists was cause for celebration at the November meeting as fellow members pinned on a Miss-America-style sash. "It's been an incredible two weeks," she said as the meeting began. One Night With A Hero is on both the New York Times and USA Today best seller lists. "Her Forbidden Hero" is also on the USA Today list.

"When somebody does well, it feels like we all do well," said Fields, whose newest book, Hereafter, a ghostly tale set in downtown Baltimore, was released in mid-December.

Inevitably, the meetings get serious. Speakers come every month to offer advice on editing, online promotion, high-tech writer's tools, ghost hunting and social media.

In November, web editor and blogger Mary McCarthy, stopped in to offer "Six Ways to Grow Your Readership Online."

Since most of these authors rely on their own blogs to promote their books, the discussion ranged from good blogging sites to the value of Facebook and Twitter and using Google Analytics.

In addition to providing an opportunity for networking and professional support, the MRW also co-sponsors the Baltimore Book Festival. This past September, with Kaye at the helm, they group organized the Maryland Romance Writers Stage, packing appearances by 40 authors into three days. They plan to do it again next year, Kaye said.

The Maryland Romance Writers meet at the Arbutus Library, 855 Sulphur Spring Road on the third Thursday of the month at 6:30 p.m.

For information on the meetings or the writers, go to