Before we begin this interview, I need to check that you’re still grounded and that your head isn’t swollen from all of your success, so with that in mind, what was the last thing you bought at Target, and do you know how much a loaf of bread costs? (grin)
Ah, how I love Target. The last thing I bought there was a pair of really cute brown and pink sneakers at Christmas. A loaf of bread? Hmm, that’s a hard one, because I live off frozen dinners and don’t usually eat bread or anything even remotely fresh and healthy. But a frozen Lean Cuisine pizza costs about three bucks and equals six Weight Watchers points. LOL
Why did you choose to write erotic romance books, rather than traditional romance?
It has something to do with feeling slighted when you read the story of how two people fall in love, and as the reader, you go through all the ups and downs with them, all the agony and glory, and when they finally, FINALLY reach the magnificent consummation…the author slams the bedroom door in your—the reader’s—face! I hate that!
I want to be right there for the beautiful, passionate details. Plus, I’ve come to a recent realization about erotic romance: it’s so honest. It carries no pretence. It can be raw and explicit and truthful, and that’s mostly how real sex is. But it’s the emotion of love that softens the edges, in books and in life.
Do you have a certain audience in mind when you write, and if so, what kind of people do you imagine, read your books?
I write for people who see the poetry in life’s smallest details. I write for everyone who loves love. That sounds hokey, but I really mean it.
When you develop your characters, do you model them on people you know in your life, or do they all come from inside your head?
I have no idea where they come from. These characters just sail right through me with their own personalities, faults and talents. I’m just a conduit. I think it’s a little suspicious, though, that all my heroes are cut from the same cloth. I must like gorgeous, sexy, mysterious men subconsciously. LOL
Don’t we all? *g*
Do you ever get compared to other romance writers? If so, how does that make you feel?
Comparisons are an interesting peek into how people interpret your style, so I’m always fine with it, and sometimes it’s flattering.
The Fifth Favour was the first book of yours that I read. I instantly fell in love with the tortured soul that was Adrian. Where did you get the inspiration for Adrian’s character, and how did you manage to make him the kind of man every woman would want, regardless of the fact that he was a professional gigolo?
At that point in my writing career I was compelled to write a vampire novel, but I wasn’t confident enough to tackle what I felt was a hugely multi-faceted subject, so I wrote about a similar type of character.
Adrian has a moral scourge on his soul in much the same fashion as a vampire, and he came out of my fingertips as sort of a haunted, shadowy figure craving redemption and love.
Originally the book was written as a novella and told only from Billie’s (the heroine) point of view, so I didn’t truly know the man behind the Adrian mask until I added his point of view to the story, and then gave him a true name toward the end of the book, allowing him to shirk his facade.
Part of his transformation is when he divulges his true name to Billie (and to the reader). He just jumped off the page for me from moment one. I still love him deeply. LOL
Oh me too Shelby, me too…
After I read A Fine Work Of Art, I was totally blown away by the level of emotion you managed to infuse into your books. As a reader, I genuinely feel as if all your books are a labour of love for you, is this the case, or have some of your books been easier to write than others?
The first five books of my career poured from my heart and hands so hard and fast, it was like they had been simmering inside me all my life. Then I hit a wall, and I’m still recovering, and I’m learning that writing isn’t all about magical muse moments.
It takes a lot of work and sometimes—heck, A LOT of the time—you may not feel like writing, but if the story is hopping around in your head, it’s a gift from the gods and don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. LOL
In other words, I feel like I’ve been given a unique blessing, the ability to entertain people and allow them a pleasurable escape, and it’s my obligation and joy to feed that blessing, nurture it and never stop. I feel really lucky to be able to make readers happy. I want to write stories that linger.
I’ve noticed that your books aren’t as sexually graphic as a lot of those by your peers at Elloras Cave, was this a deliberate decision on your part?
My route to Romantica wasn’t exactly direct. I wrote a standard contemporary single title (which is currently with my agent) and loved it, but it came to me as fairly “hot” and I continually had to check myself to keep it toned down. I learned it’s my nature to write passionate characters, and eventually I became comfortable with that.
I wrote a couple more mainstream romances. Then I wrote The Fifth Favour, which is a story about a man whose whole world is sex, so of course it had to be more explicit. I thought I was pulling out all the stops, when in actuality I had only touched on what Romantica really is. I went back and forth a bit with my editor once I sold it to Ellora’s Cave, because she wanted me to be braver, even more explicit, and it was really awkward for me to use such overt phrasing. It still is.
My characters can express their passion in all sorts of ways, no hold barred, but I won’t use certain words because of my own penchant for “softened edges.” I guess I’ve fallen into a chasm between erotic romance and standard romance. I have no idea where I fit. But Ellora’s Cave has been wonderfully accepting and tolerant of me and I feel very fortunate to be one of their authors.
In my humble opinion, your writing puts a lot of the current NY published authors to shame, do you aspire to write for a major New York publishing house one day, or are you happy where you are?
Thank you for such a compliment! Of course I want to take my career as far and make it as diverse as I can, so I aspire to publication with different publishing houses, large and small. But Ellora’s Cave stays with me. As long as they’ll have me, I’ll most likely come back, and back, and back. They are true pioneers in the romance field.
Do any members of your family read your books, and if so, what kind of feedback do you get from them?
Heeheehee. I stick my fingers in my ears, run and hide. No—truthfully, any family member or friend is welcome to read my books as long as I know they are a lover of romance novels. But if they don’t read romance and don’t like it, why would I throw myself on that fire?
I used to think I was just embarrassed to be writing such hot stuff, but in truth, my writing is so sacred to me, I have a hard time offering it to someone who could potentially judge it, and me, based on its sexual content. My sister is my best friend, yet she’s never read a single book of mine. She helps me plot sometimes, but she doesn’t read or like romance novels, so why should she have to wade through a genre for which she cares so little? I know she’s proud of me.
She’s told all her romance-reading friends about me. I have lots of familial support, and many of my friends are the same as my sister—they don’t read romance, but they support me one-hundred-percent.
What were your favourite books as a child?
Anything about tragic history. The Salem Witchcraft Trials, the Titanic, the American Civil War, the end of Czar Nicholas II and his family…anything dark, emotional, gothic…anything that peels away Man’s true nature and exposes him as the fallible, vulnerable creature he is. Of course at eight years of age I didn’t understand that that was the common thread among my choices (my teachers used to raise their eyebrows, though), but in hindsight it was always the same theme that drew me.
I was a very “Goth” kid. LOL I was also fascinated by horror stories (loved H.P. Lovecraft, Peter Straub, John Saul), and spirituality. A mix of the two has tinged my last two books, Midnight Rose (about vampires) and Seraphim (about angels).
What does a typical day as a writer consist of?
I write by the seat of my pants, so it usually consists of lots of daydreaming about the story, followed by long, sleepless nights of writing. I get my best work done when the house is dark and quiet. I recently went back to work teaching second graders at a small private school, because I really disliked being home all day without a job and trying to write.
I became listless and lonely, and three years into it, I couldn’t take the isolation anymore. I need mental stimulation, social interaction, to get my cogs turning. I haven’t struck the right balance yet between writing and a day job, but I’ll figure it out.
Name your top five favourite books of all time.
Greenwood, by Sue Wilson (this book is out of print but still available at Amazon.com, and if you love history, hot romance and redemption, pick this up. It’s about the Sheriff of Nottingham. Who could have believed he’d be such a magnificent hero, and sexy as hell, too?).
Pride and Prejudice. Mortal Sin by Laurie Breton, a novel about the unravelling of a priest’s perceptions of God, the Church, and love. White Oleander for the sheer beauty of the writing. And most of all, Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. I never would have read it on my own—I was assigned it in college, and I literally fell into that book, I kid you not. I pored over every word forward and backward. That was when I really began to understand my deep passion for words, and that I was meant to be a writer.
Which authors are you glomming at the moment? (reading a lot of?)
Joey Hill, who writes the most magnificent and truthful emotion I’ve ever come across. If she writes it, I will read it. She’s a genius. Laurie Breton, one of the finest suspense romance writers I know, who is also a master of dialogue and crystal clean writing. I’ve been reading quite a bit of Linda Howard lately, as well. She writes in that netherworld between Romantica and regular romance. I relate to her.
Linda Howard rocks doesn’t she?
Do you have other close romance writer friends, and if so who are they?
I have wonderful romance writer friends, namely members of Romance Writers Unlimited, an online critique group. Many of them are published. This is where I met such writers as Laurie Breton, Katherine Allred, Cricket Starr.
Time and again I would have fallen by the writer’s wayside if it weren’t for the ladies of RWU. We have authors who are getting ready to leap into stardom, I feel certain of that.
When did you realise that you wanted to write books, and who or what inspired you?
At ten years old I was turning novels into scripts for summer plays the kids used to perform in my neighborhood. Peter Pan was the first. And later, when romance snagged my attention, Dracula.
All through my teenage years in the 1980’s I wrote an on-going saga about a group of teens (ala “Beverly Hills 90210”) that finally died a natural death when I was eighteen. I burned 700+ handwritten pages after I went to college. It was time to let them go. After that I didn’t write again until I was almost thirty, and the resulting book is now in my agent’s hands.
How many times did you get rejected (if indeed you did) before you got published?
I only got rejected by one editor (namely because I was too chicken to query much!), and that was Kate Duffy at Kensington, who considered my manuscript when I won a writing contest. She had sound reasons for turning me down. Her letter was the nicest rejection ever.
I was rejected by a few agents, too. The first time nearly killed me. It wasn’t just a rejection, but a generic, badly photocopied one that listed a million possible reasons why they didn’t want to sign me (“It might be any of these, or perhaps none.” AGH!) So I learned nothing from it.
After that it was easy going. You have to build a suit of armor and keep forging ahead. Writer egos are notoriously fragile, and I hate that in myself so I fight it the best I can.
If you could have a one-to-one conversation with a famous historical figure, who would it be with and what would you talk about?
Ooh, that’s a hard one. Kate Chopin, Mary Cassatt, Jane Austen. I’d like to chat with them about the repression of women as artists during their times, and how did they work around that? I want to know how they made adversity feed their fire.
What is your ultimate goal when it comes to your writing?
To help people lose touch with the real world for a few hours and to have them sigh with longing and satisfaction when they’re done with my books. And to craft words into art that lasts forever. I’m not sure how it’s done, but I’ll keep at it. It’s a joyous journey.
How has the romance industry changed from when you first started writing, and which of these changes were you happiest/unhappiest with?
I’d say the birth of Romantica has been the biggest change. The industry seems more relaxed and open to new ideas. I can find nothing to complain about—I think we’re heading in the right direction. I just wish literary snobbery would disappear. Love makes the world go ‘round. It drives me crazy when people look down their noses at it.
Aahh those guys are just jealous is all *g*
Which of your books is dearest to your heart, and why?
My as-yet-unpublished, unnamed novel. It’s the first book I ever wrote, it took me six full years, and it’s the book of my heart. The hero, Rory Sterling, is probably the most honest and raw of all my heroes. His path is fraught with pain, but also humor and joy and triumph. He’s so real and beautiful to me.
Oh yum, no doubt I’ll be buying it once it’s published!
Which of your books do you feel you’re best known for?
A Fine Work Of Art, my first Ellora’s Cave novel, which will be released in print this month (in a duet with Madison Hayes called Love A Younger Man).
I can’t believe it’s taken this long to get to print!
I’ve always wondered about this, but as an author, once your books are published, do you actually go back and read them yourself, and if so, are you able to enjoy them, or do you perhaps see things that make you want to chew your own arm off in frustration? (grin).
Once I turn in the final galley, I try to let it go emotionally. Of course when I revisit the story or the characters for fun, I find nit-picky things that bug me, but what can you do? It’s already left your hands. I do like rereading my stuff once in a while and try not to chew my arm off while I’m doing it.
Just recently, it was suggested that reader reviews aren’t as credible as reviews by your peers, and that only writers/authors should be able to review books in the first place, what are your thoughts on this?
I completely disagree with this idea. I place more importance on a reader’s review than anyone else’s. For one, I rarely know the person who’s writing the feedback. I live for comments from readers I’ve never met who sign my guestbook or jot me an email. And isn’t it the readers for whom we’re writing?
I do take professional reviews to heart, but reader opinion counts higher for me personally. It’s not always milk and honey either, trust me. I’ve been told to change a few things in my time by well-meaning readers. LOL
Has anything a reviewer or reader said or written about you changed the way you write?
Harsh feedback usually addresses things I inately knew were problematic in the story, so I always want to kick myself for not heeding my inner voice while I was in the writing process. I know my strengths and weaknesses, and the reviews usually validate those feelings. I use every positive bit of feedback as impetus to keep going.
Oh I’m so glad you’re not one of those authors who view a bad review as a reason to commit hari kari!
Last year, RWA attempted to try to define romance, and it caused a bit of a furore round the blogosphere, due to the limitations of the definitions. What were your thoughts on this at the time, and do you think it’s possible/necessary to define romance in a way that doesn’t exclude other sub-genres?
It made me wonder if the people who get all entangled with that stuff are just blocked writers looking to vent their frustrations. LOL You can’t define the parameters of romance. To each his own, damn it. Let me decide for myself what romance is.
But to be fair to both parties, when it comes to contests and the like, let them (meaning the RWA people) have it however they want. I don’t enter the competitions where my stories don’t fit their stricture. It’s their ideal, their contest, and I’m not going to fuss about it even if I don’t agree.
Many other RWA contests exist where my stories fit just fine. I try to enjoy being a writer, and certain elements will suck the joy right out of it for me. Conflict is one of them. So I avoid it. All that aside, I love the people in the romance field I’ve met. I haven’t bumped into any real clashes.
When was the last time you went overseas and where did you go?
I went to Germany in 1992 to finish college—I lived in Freiburg for the summer. Fell madly in love with a handsome university student while I was there (being a romance writer, I probably remember the affair as being much more fabulous than it really was. LOL). Because I was in school while I was there, I only took brief trips to France and Switzerland.
I loved the people, the languages, the beauty of the countries. I half-dread ever realizing my dream of visiting the British Isles, lest I set down roots there and never come home again.
Hey that wouldn’t be such a bad thing!
Who are your favourite romance hero and heroine of all time?
Without question, Elizabeth and Darcy from Pride and Prejudice.
I’ve loved all your female leads so far, but more often than not, it’s the male characters who romance readers love, why do you think this is, and why do you think heroines are judged more harshly than heroes?
I think as women we’re more critical of the heroine because we put ourselves in her shoes. So we don’t love her as a separate person any more than we’re exceedingly fond of ourselves. Let me see if I can better explain this. I know I’m harder on myself than anyone.
Critical of the way I look, the way I act. I shudder to imagine talking to another human being the way I talk to myself sometimes. So as a typical reader, I fall in love with the hero, but not the heroine. I RELATE to her…and in a sense I become her, and so I’m far less forgiving of her frailties. That’s my theory, anyway.
Hmmm… you could be right…
Even as a published author, are there days when you feel like giving up writing? If so, how do manage to shake yourself out of that mind-set?
Oh, my God. LOL The last two years have been sheer agony. But I haven’t given up, and when I was afraid I might, I called upon my closest and most brutal writing buddies to read me the riot act and rattle me from my self-pitying state of writer’s block. I have heard “Don’t make me come over there and shake you” more times than I can count. But hey, what are friends for if not to beat some sense into you?
What kind of characters would you say you typically wrote?
Complex, troubled, dark figures that harbor secrets and weave tangled webs. I wish I could write light-hearted comedies, chick lit…I greatly enjoy reading such, but it’s not in me to write it.
It’s not that my characters are totally devoid of humor, but they tend to be wry or inadvertently funny, and it doesn’t happen on every page. When I sit down to write a story, I can count on the hero coming to me as some distant relative of Bronte’s Heathcliff. I don’t know why it works that way.
If only one person could read your book, who would that be? (as in the person who you would want most to read your book)
That’s a tough question. Probably my best girlfriend, Margaret, who’s known me since high school. She’s never read my work and I want to show it to her, but I’m not ready. I will, though. One of these days. LOL
If you had to pick, who would you say has been most influential within the romance genre?
No doubt Nora Roberts has paved the way for us. Anne Rice, too, in regards to resurrecting the vampire as a romantic and heroic figure.
What was the last movie you saw?
Big surprise—Pride and Prejudice. LOL
Name your top five favourite romantic films.
Love Actually. Somewhere in Time. Pride and Prejudice (the BBC version). Jane Eyre (with Timothy Dalton as Mr. Rochester). The Lover.
Wasn’t Love Actually a fabulous film… *Happy sigh*
What was the last book you read, and did you enjoy it?
It was a reread of Sue Wilson’s Greenwood, and yes, yes, yes. I can’t get enough of that beautiful story.
Have you ever written a book that you didn’t particularly care for, and do you cringe if you see people picking it up to read it?
I hope this doesn’t sound egotistical, but I’m proud of everything I produce, so the answer to that question is no. I have a subconscious censor that stops the stories that aren’t working before I finish them. (At least that’s what I’d like to believe.) As a result I have a few unfinished manuscripts, and when I look at them now, I’m glad I didn’t put them out there.
What do you enjoy most about being a writer?
Knowing how much enjoyment I receive from reading a good book, I love the thought of giving others that same experience.
What do you least enjoy about being a writer?
Writers’ block. And the business end of things.
As you’ve been there, done it, and have the badge to prove it, what is the number one advice that would you give to aspiring writers out there?
The more you write, the better you get. That goes for even the most prolific best-selling author. You never quit learning, you never reach perfection. There is always more. Also, be active in critiquing others—you will learn even more from that process than from receiving critiques yourself.
When’s your next book due out, and what’s it about?
Well, it’s up in the air as of now. My agent has my unnamed novel in hand and is looking over some revisions I made. I’m working on the sequel to Midnight Rose, and I’m very excited about the hero, Jude, who was a child in the first book and now stands to be one of the most intense characters I’ve ever written.
Finally, for readers who aren’t familiar with your work, where do you suggest they go to find some excerpts of your books?
My website has excerpts of all my Ellora’s Cave stories. Please stop by. It’s a new website and I’m so happy with the new look.
I agree, I much prefer it to your old one!
Thanks so much for taking the time out to answer these very nosy questions!
Are you kidding??It feels GREAT to shoot the breeze about writing. I’m smiling ear to ear! Thanks for this fabulous opportunity!
Aaaah, aint she great? I insist you all go and buy at least one of her books right now! Anyway, that’s all for this week, next week, I’ll be interviewing erotic romance writer, Cheryl Holt!