Harvard alumni follow their interests to unpredictable places. Julie Cotler Pottinger '92 earned a degree in the history of architecture and then entered medical school at Yale. But the fruits of her labors are not in medical or architectural journals: they sit on the romance novel shelves of bookstores. Find her under the pseudonym Julia Quinn, right next to megabestseller Amanda Quick. Pottinger has already written more than a dozen Regency romances and one, An Offer from a Gentleman, spent a month on the New York Times bestseller list.
Her career sprouted in her undergraduate years, when she decided to take a stab at writing a romance novel like the ones she so enjoyed reading. Her talent for happy endings must come naturally: she didn't devote herself fully to writing until she was already a success in the industry. "I started...my first novel the summer after my junior year, while I was working for Harvard Student Agencies...but when I got back to academic life, I found I had absolutely no time to write, and my novel, which was all of four chapters long, sat in my computer until the following summer," she says. Intending to become a doctor, she enrolled in summer school after graduation to complete her pre-med requirements. There she found that "chemistry didn't take up nearly as much time as I'd feared, so I pulled out my book and started working on it again. I finished it up about 10 months later, and I sold it the same month I was accepted to the Yale School of Medicine."
Although she deferred enrolling for two years, during which time she finished three more novels, Pottinger did eventually return to the classroom. Once there, she says, "It took me about two months to realize that 'this writing thing' was actually something very special. I withdrew from medical school, and I haven't looked back."
For Pottinger, not looking back has meant both producing a steady stream of work and perfecting her craft. "Romances focus on the love story between a man and a woman and have a happy ending," she says, but "what you do within your genre's structure is entirely up to you. By now, she has developed her own brand of romance: "I've become known for writing funny romances, with an emphasis on dialogue over description." Her latest novel, When He Was Wicked, touches on the difficulty of learning to love again after losing a spouse. "I try to add deeper layers to the story while maintaining the lighter, humorous style," Pottinger says. "I want to write entertainment, but I believe that entertainment can be intelligent and well-written." Nonetheless, she is aware of the value of marketing. In addition to the solitary work of writing, Pottinger attends Romance Writers of America conferences and maintains a promotional website, www.juliaquinn.com. And her choice of pseudonym was a conscious attempt to be shelved next to Amanda Quick.
Her undergraduate architectural studies may not be the source of her novels, but Pottinger's years in Cambridge provided her with more than the occasional inspiration for character names like "Margaret Pennypacker." "I married the guy I met on the second day of freshman week [Paul Pottinger '90]," she says, "so I guess Harvard is responsible for my unshakable belief in love and romance!"