Going From Book Buyer to Book Writer

Pry Family Quilt

Roberta L. Greenwald realizes her dream of becoming a published author.

By Crystal Schelle

There’s a saying when it comes to writing: Write what you know.

For author Roberta L. Greenwald of Williamsport, that’s setting novels in Washington County and also Ocean City, Maryland, places familiar to her.

All in total, Greenwald has written seven adult novels, and recently, inspired by her grandchildren, an illustrated children’s book. And, she said, she’s having a blast doing it.

Greenwald grew up in Hagerstown. Her father, Robert Seek, was a pastor at Cedar Lawn Missionary Church. Her mother, Dorothy, faithfully served by his side.

“We didn’t have a lot of money, so by the time I was a young kid, I was always making up stories in my mind,” she said.

Like all good writers, she was a voracious reader.

“I read all the time. And I never stopped reading,” she said. “I’d be on the school bus, and I could shut out the world. I was always reading.”

The 66-year-old said she went away and earned a college degree. When she came home, she joined Hagerstown News Distributors, after marrying the owner’s son. She became a book buyer for the business that suggested which books to sell at area bookstores and newsstands during the days with “The Shining” and “The Thorn Birds” being top sellers.

“I could technically say I broke into all this because I had to read so many books,” she said of being an author. “It was like shooting in the door. It was like you decide what this and surrounding areas are going to read.”

One day while slinging other people’s novels, Greenwald realized that maybe she could do the same thing. Before the days of email and the Internet, becoming a published author was more difficult — writing a full manuscript, querying agents, getting an agent, and hoping for a publishing offer.

But Greenwald was busy raising a family — she has four children — and writing got pushed aside. About 20 years ago, she wrote her first novel, “Wishes of the Heart.” Through a friend, she was introduced to best-selling romance and mystery writer Nora Roberts.

Greenwald said Roberts graciously chatted with her on the phone.

“She gave me a lot of advice that I didn’t do,” Greenwald said with a chuckle.

Roberts was already a long-established author by the time of the conversation and told Greenwald it was hard to break into the business at that time (and some will say it’s even harder now). She also suggested she join a regional writers’ group.

Greenwald was raising young kids at the time, but she did have a conversation with Roberts’ agent. Greenwald said the agent said the book was good, but she couldn’t take on any more clients.

“I went through a divorce, and that’s why the book got put aside so the book got put in a box,” Greenwald said.

She left Hagerstown News Distributors and became a professional decorator. For 26 years, Greenwald worked as a decorator for furniture stores such as Value City and Haverty’s. Her work even took her to live in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Then her mother was dying of cancer. She moved from Florida back home in 2018. It was during one of the many conversations with her mother, Dorothy, that her mother asked her whatever happened to that book she wrote.

“So, I got out the paper copy and transposed the whole thing into my Apple laptop,” Greenwald said. “ And I decided I think I’m going to publish this.”

Greenwald didn’t want the fuss of dealing with the traditional route of getting an agent and publisher and opted for self-publishing through Amazon Publishing. As of January 2023, there are 300 million self-published books purchased annually.

Through the online distributor, she published “Wishes of the Heart” in 2018. The book tells the story of a widow trying to keep the Nebraska farm going that she and her husband ran.

“I remember talking to my mom,” she said. “And we were sitting in the living room and I said, ‘You know, Mom, maybe that was a one-time deal for me. Maybe I can’t write another book.’ And she said, ‘Well, you’ll never know unless you try.’” 

With her mother’s encouraging words, Greenwald started cranking out novels. Her first in a three-part beach series was 2019’s “The Cutting Tide,” followed by “The Healing Tide” and “The Marlin Tide.” All are set in a fictionalized Maryland Eastern Shore town, but all are based on Ocean City.

Woven into the Cutting Tide series are numerous points of reference that will be familiar to those who have lived or traveled in the Eastern Shore area. Readers easily recognize the Bay Bridge, Maryland blue crabs, Marlin Beach and The Boardwalk while enjoying the stories being told.

The stories were inspired by another conversation with her mother. Greenwald’s parents were swimmers, and her dad once was a lifeguard. Her mother said, “Why don’t you write a book about a lifeguard rescuing somebody out in the ocean?”

Her second three-part series based is set in Williamsport.  C&O Canal, starting in 2021 with “Zoe on the C&O,” which tells the story of Zoe who moves with her father from Fort Wayne, Indiana, to Williamsport. She followed the series up with “Destiny on the C&O,” and “Dreams on the C&O.”

In these books, Greenwald draws from her life in Washington county as she takes readers through the life of Zoe. Many of the places in the books are real places and add to the sense of familiarity and relatability of her stories. Images of Hagerstown and Williamsport are conjured up with the mention of Byron Memorial Park, Rosemary’s Florist, the Christmas Lights Parade, and even Lou Scally doing his DJ magic on WJEJ radio. Krumpe’s Donuts, The Airport Inn, Valley Mall and dozens of other hometown spots appear in the pages of her books.

Always a salesperson, Greenwald produces merchandise associated with each book such as beautiful custom designed bookmarks, coffee mugs and business cards that match. It’s just one of the many ways to brand her books.

Her mother was able to see her daughter’s dream of being a published author fulfilled before her death in 2022.

After writing more than a handful of romance novels, Greenwald decided to write a children’s book called “Furever Home,” which was published this year. The story is about a stray kitten who is adopted into a new home with other kittens she hopes will accept her. Illustrated by the talented artist, Teresa D. Milburn Kelly, Greenwald’s first children’s book is warm and entertaining with a positive message.

Her next book is a biography/memoir she’s writing based on her mother.

Today, the grandmother of nine plans to keep on writing for as long as she can and is proud of her accomplishments when it comes to fulfilling her dream. She said she’s received positive feedback from the places where her books are sold. Some have told her they’ve had customers purchase one and then return for the others.

“That makes me happy,” she said.

Anyone interested in contacting her for book signings or to appear at local events can find her on Facebook.

Hagerstown Magazine