Loree Lough spends her days putting words in people's mouths.
Readers can't get enough of it. From her home in Ellicott City, Lough creates a fantasy world that has spurred 31 books in the past seven years.
Her latest, "Suddenly Reunited," hit bookstores this month and is the latest in a series of inspirational romance novels that has helped the 50-year-old writer build a devoted following. Today, Lough will join more than 1,500 other writers who are expected to attend the Romance Writers of America's annual convention in Washington.
It is an industry, Lough said, that she feels privileged to be part of.
"I'm not one of these writers who says, 'Now I write romances, but someday I am going to write a real book,'" Lough said in the sunroom of her home. "I like what I am doing, and I am proud of what I am doing."
What she is doing is churning out several novels a year. Lough has written 31 books, including several for such noted publishers as Harlequin, Silhouette and Barbour, and she plans to write several more in the coming year.
Most days, Lough can be found in her basement office plugging away at her computer at 7:30 a.m. With her youthful face, long dark hair and easy laugh, it's hard to imagine that Lough is a mother and grandmother.
"She's a powerhouse," said Pam Goresh, a fellow author and neighbor who has known Lough for a dozen years. "She's about the best writer locally that I know, and she works very hard at writing. She puts a lot into it, and it shows."
An avid reader, Lough made her first foray into writing while growing up in Illinois.
"In eighth grade, I began writing love songs and putting them to music," said Lough, who was born in Kenosha, Wis., about an hour north of Chicago. "I actually went on the road at age 18 and pursued my singing."
Her singing career paid her way through college and, after graduating from the University of Illinois, Lough set out to teach home economics.
"I knew fairly quickly that that was not going to work," Lough said, chuckling at the memory. "I was smaller than the kids."
During a trip to Maryland to visit her parents, who had moved to Baltimore, Lough met her husband, Larry. The couple will celebrate their 29th anniversary next month. Lough - who has worked at dozens of jobs, from cook to shrink-wrapping torque wrenches in a factory - found her niche when she and her husband landed in Richmond, Va., in 1986.
"I did not have any intention of writing," Lough recalled. "There was an ad for a neighborhood reporter and I took it."
It started out slowly, $5 for a story and photos, but quickly built steam as the Richmond Times Gazette and others caught wind of Lough's writing. She and her husband moved back to Maryland in 1988, and Lough freelanced more than 2,000 articles.
"The writing bug had definitely bit me," she said. "I was a goner."
Disillusionment with journalism led Lough to turn her hand to fiction, and, in 1993, she wrote her first book, "Pocketful of Love, " a "Heartsong Presents" novel published by Barbour in 1994.
Lough has gone on to write children's fiction and teach writing classes.
"I think the reason I went into it is because I knew [romance] was so difficult to sell," Lough said. "I figured if I could sell there, I could make it other places. My goal was to do as many books as fast as I possibly could."
Charis McEachern, communication manager for Romance Writers of America, said romance novels are big business. According to statistics on the organization's Web site, 54 percent of popular paperback fiction sold is romance fiction.
McEachern said the convention at Marriott Wardman Park Hotel will feature workshops on writing and publishing for the authors, and a book-signing session for fans, with 450 authors autographing their works and the proceeds going to battle illiteracy.
"We are just like any other trade organization," McEachern said. "It hooks you into what's going on in the industry and hooks you up with other writers."
Lough takes exception to criticism of romance novels as "mind candy." As with any fiction project, the author has research to do, plots to conceive and characters to develop, Lough said.
The books should always have happy endings.
"Romance novels show that women don't have to lose our rights to find Mr. Right," Lough said. "Women can be strong, capable and independent. We don't have to sacrifice any of that to find happiness."