Author Name: Cheryl Holt, The Queen of Erotic Romance
Genre: Erotic Historical Romance
Latest book in shops now: Too Hot To Handle (Sept ’05) , and Too Tempting To Touch (March ’06)
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)
I life in a very small town on the west coast of the US, so the nearest Target store is two hours away. I don’t get there very often. Usually I go in the autumn to shop for school clothes for my 2 kids. You have a very glamorous view of my life, which is — in fact — very quiet and very normal. Where I live, a loaf of bread is anywhere from $1.29 to $2.29.
Why did you choose to write erotic romance books, rather than traditional romance?
I started out writing regular historicals, then the publisher where I was writing shut down the lines I’d been writing for, and I was let go, or “orphaned” as they call it in the book business. My first book wasn’t even out on the store shelves yet. It was very depressing.
I needed to get back out on the market and sell something, and the agent I had at the time advised me to write an erotic historical proposal (this was in 1999) because the market was just opening up and it was going to be very hot. I looked right at him and said “what’s an erotic historical?”
I finally wrote one Love Lessons, which I sold to my current publisher, St. Martins Press, and it turns out that I not only have a knack for writing great love stories, but also for writing very sexy, very hot love stories. It still surprises me.
Books such as More Than Seduction, aren’t for the faint-hearted, 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 don’t think about the audience too much, or I’ll drive myself crazy trying to figure out what everybody wants. I get letters that tell me that my books are too sex-packed, that they’re too tame, that they’re too fast-paced, that they’re too slow, that they’re too action-packed, that they’re too boring.
Everybody who reads books has such diverse tastes. I simply try to think up a great story, with great issues and great characters, then I write it down, and hope people enjoy it.
Luckily, my editor really encourages me. She likes me to “push the envelope” with stories, to give people heroes and villains that they can love and hate, so I work very hard to do that. But when you have terrible villains, doing terrible things, it can create situations that aren’t what you’d find in a “typical” romance, so my stories leap beyond the boundaries that you’d find in other romance novels.
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?
They come from inside my head.
Do you ever get compared to other erotic romance writers, e.g. Thea Devine? If so, how does that make you feel?
I used to, when I was first starting out. I remember one of my first reviews for Love Lessons said something like “if you love Susan Johnson and Thea Devine, you’ll love Cheryl Holt.” I was so proud! Now, people are being compared to “me”, instead of the other way around, and it’s fun to know that people enjoy my books so much.
With the alleged decline in historical romance, do you think it’s risky business writing within the Regency era?
I don’t believe there is a “decline” in historical romance, and I’m not sure where this rumor got started. I hear from fans all the time, lamenting that they can’t get their hands on many good historicals anymore, so it seems like the publishers are releasing less of them, but I think there are plenty of historical fans out there.
Plus, I’m an optimist. I think fans will read any great books, whether it’s historical or contemporary. The past few years, my sales have been fabulous. So “no”, I don’t think it’s risky to write historicals. I don’t think the rumors about a “slump” are true.
Do any of members of your family read your books, and if so, what kind of feedback do you get from them?
No one reads them. My husband would die before he read a romance, and my kids are too young, so they haven’t had the chance.
What were your favourite books as a child?
What does a typical day as a writer consist of?
I get up at 6:30. I get my kids (ages 11 and 13) up and off to school. I exercise (hard! to keep my stress down), I eat a high protein breakfast and take loads of energy vitamins, I take a shower and get to work. I work in an office in my home, and I try to be at my desk by 8:30. I write till 3:30, when my kids get home.
Then, I play chauffeur, driving them to dance lessons, or soccer, or whatever’s going on, and I race back up to my office to write between giving them rides to the places they have to be. I squeeze in another round of exercise, I cook supper, I get everybody to bed, and I write from 6:30 till 10:00 or 11:00. I work on the weekends, too, usually 12-14 hours per day. I work very hard and I work all the time.
Name your top five favourite books of all time.
I can think of two off the top of my head:
Pride and Prejudice
Which authors are you glomming at the moment? (reading a lot of?)
I try to read an assortment of women’s fiction, so that I’m always picking up something new when I’m in the bookstore. I’m so busy that I don’t have much time to read for pleasure. I read with an eye toward the market, to see what’s selling, to see what people are buying.
I also try to buy authors who write for my publisher, St. Martins Press. They put out great books, and I like to support them. I’m just reading a St. Martins Bestseller, Something Borrowed, by Emily Giffin, which is very clever and funny. I usually tend to not read romances, simply because I spend so much time writing them, and when I have some free time, I like to do something different.
Do you have other close romance writer friends, and if so who are they?
I’ve met a lot of romance authors, but I’m not really friends with any of them. I don’t have time to belong to any loops or groups, and I live a long way from anybody.
When did you realise that you wanted to write books, and who or what inspired you?
I always wanted to write books. From the time I was a little girl, I’d talk about it. I wasn’t ever really “inspired” to get going, but life circumstances pushed me into it. I had my two kids, pretty much back to back when I was 38 and 40 years old, and I was home being a mom, and needing to replace the income I’d lost by staying home. If I had an inspiration, it was money — or the sudden lack of it!
How many times did you get rejected (if indeed you did) before you got published?
I was rejected hundreds of times. The first book I sold was an older romance called The Way Of The Heart, but it was the 7th book that I had written.
I’m a lawyer, so I started out trying to write suspense, which I never sold. I wrote some nonfiction that I didn’t sell, either. I was also constantly trying to find an agent, sending out solicitations and queries. This was over a period of 2-3 years. The most reject letters I ever got in the mail on a single day was eight! This is not a business for sissies!
A lawyer who writes erotic romance huh? How fabulous!
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?
I would probably like to meet Jesus or Buddha. I’d like to see what was up with them, if I could sense the divinity that has inspired billions to revere them over the centuries. Or, face to face, would they seem like normal men? It would be fascinating to me.
Hmmm.. it would be fascinating to me too actually..
What is your ultimate goal when it comes to your writing?
First and foremost, I want to keep having good sales and keep my numbers growing so that there are publishers who continue to want me.
More specifically, I want to continue lowering my numbers on the USA Today Bestseller list, and I want to break onto the NY Times Bestseller list. I also want to establish myself in a second genre, and I’m hoping it will end up being contemporary erotic suspense.
How has the romance industry changed from when you first started writing, and which of these changes were you happiest/unhappiest with?
The publishers do a lot of reprinting of old books, from people who are famous now, but weren’t a decade or two ago when they were starting out. I understand the financial reasons that companies do this — it’s easier and cheaper to reprint an old book then to go to the trouble of preparing a new one — but everytime a reprinted book goes out on the store shelves, it keeps a new writer from having a book there, instead.
If I’d started writing today, instead of a decade ago, I often wonder if I’d ever have gotten published. It gets harder and harder all the time.
A lot of well known authors who first wrote within the romance genre, seem to have moved away from traditional romance, and are now writing paranormals, suspense etc. (e.g. Linda Howard, Catherine Coulter) Why do you think this is?
It’s all about money. The sad fact of the matter is that romances just don’t pay that well, and people are always surprised when I actually share some numbers. I was paid $2,000 for my first romance. (This is not ancient history. It was in the year 2000!) I was only paid $7,500 for my 10th book!
I’m making quite a bit more than that now, but it just takes a really, really long time to start making any kind of significant income at it. The markets are bigger for suspense and other sorts of books.
While there are so many great fans in romance, there are many, many more women who wouldn’t read a romance if it was the last book on the planet. But they’ll read a suspense, or a paranormal. Which is too bad, because romances are so fun.
I don’t know where romance got such a bad reputation, but it’s so difficult for a female writer to hold on for the amount of time it takes to start garnering significant attention and make a living at it. For many it’s just not possible. I was only able to keep on through the lean years because my husband had a “real” job, with a good salary and benefits.
In your vast experience, what would you say was the most effective method of marketing a romance novel?
I use my web page. It’s an inexpensive way to touch base with millions. It works!
Which of your books is dearest to your heart, and why?
I love Complete Abandon. It’s always been my favorite. I liked how the hero and heroine turned out, and I felt like I was able to capture their differences in such a fun, romantic way.
Which of your books do you feel you’re best known for?
Hands down, my fans’ favorite is my first erotic, Love Lessons. If you haven’t read it, I hope you will. It is so great.
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).
Yes, I read them. It’s fun. By the time they’re actually out on the shelf, it’s usually been a year or more since I wrote them, so it’s fun to go back and remember. It’s like reading a new book.
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 don’t have a problem with readers reviewing my books, as opposed to peers. But with the web so prevalent, everybody can review now, and I get very mean-spirited and downright cruel reviews sometimes from readers. And I don’t think they understand how personal the book is to the writer, and how they can really hurt somebody’s feelings.
They hurt mine! By the time a book is written and published, it’s usually been a year-long or maybe even an 18-month long project, and it’s really hurtful to have people say hateful things.
I also see that readers sometime don’t understand what they’re reviewing because they don’t know the market that well. I often get scathing comments from people about the sexual content of my books, because they were expecting a typical historical romance, when my books are quite a bit different.
Or once, I had a reviewer on Amazon say something like, “she had these really mean, unlikeable characters that appeared throughout the book. Why would somebody put characters like that in a novel?” They were the villains! And I’m renowned by many as “The Queen of Villains.”
So maybe, writers –when they do a review — have a better understanding of the market and what it’s like for the writer to hear comments about the books. I think that’s where some of the problem is coming from.
A review shouldn’t be so personal. It can really hurt the writer. I work hard and try my best, and with the anonimity of the web, people feel free to say things they’d never say to my face. It can be painful.
Has anything a reviewer or reader said or written about you changed the way you write?
I can’t think of any occasions where that happened. I have a specific style and I don’t know how to write any other way. People either like it or they don’t.
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?
I don’t follow the blogs or the furors in the industry. (I don’t have time!) I think a “romance” is any book where the main thrust of the story is a love story between the two main characters. To me, it’s a very big umbrella that includes a lot of books.
When was the last time you went overseas and where did you go?
Last year, I took time off to celebrate my 50th birthday in the French West Indies with an old college friend who turned 50 the same week. We rented a villa on the Caribbean. It was very fun, very chic, very relaxing.
Who are your favourite romance hero and heroine of all time?
Probably Lizzie Bennet and Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. Then Emma Fitzgerald and John Clayton from my own book, Complete Abandon.
Why do you think a lot of romance readers tend to judge the heroine a lot more harshly than the hero?
I didn’t realize that they do. I try to make my heroines very smart, pragmatic, tough and sexy. My fans love the women I’ve created.
What kind of characters would you say you typically wrote?
I try to write “really, really” characters. I don’t do anything halfway. I like my heroes not to be just “macho” but extremely macho. I like my heroines to not just be “desperate” but on the brink. I like my villains not to just be “evil”, but so over the top that you’d like to throw the book out the window rather than read anymore of their hateful antics.
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)
If you had to pick, who would you say has been most influential within the romance genre?
I would say Kathryn Falk, the founder and President of Romantic Times Magazine. She’s given writers so much coverage, and she’s made the publishing industry sit up and take notice of our books.
What was the last movie you saw?
I saw two this weekend: the remake of “Pride and Prejudice” and Spielberg’s “Munich.”
Name your top five favourite romantic films.
I’m so busy anymore, with my kids and my books, that I don’t go that much. It’s hard for me to pick.
What was the last book you read, and did you enjoy it?
Just read “Devil Wears Prada.” Very fun.
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?
The first five books I wrote when I was at Zebra Books are very poorly written. I was new and starting out as a writer, so they’re not that great, and it’s been a blessing to have them out of print, although Zebra recently released The Way Of The Heart. It’s embarrassing to have people pick it up and not realize it’s a reprint, to have them think that it’s how I write now, when I’m sixteen novels down the road from that book.
Also, I always thought my second erotic, Total Surrender, was my worst book of all, but others disagree. I won a national award for it from RT Magazine as the “Best Sensual Novel of 2002” and it still surprises me to think that I did.
Ooh congrats on that!
What do you enjoy most about being a writer?
Being able to set my own hours. Working on my own.
What do you least enjoy about being a writer?
The stress and competition. The hard work. The low pay.
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?
Practice, practice, practice by writing all the time. And when you’re not writing, read every piece of (current) women’s fiction you can get your hands on.
When’s your next book due out, and what’s it about?
My new release will be Too Tempting To Touch, out in March ’06. It’s about a lady’s companion who travels to London with her employer who is about to become engaged to an earl.
The lady’s companion keeps stumbling on the earl, as he’s womanizing around London, and she tries to keep him from philandering before the engagement becomes official. She’s determined to make him practice celebacy. (She doesn’t succeed!)
I love the cover!
After that is Too Wicked To Wed, (Sep 06) which is about a woman who’s brother gambles away their estate, and in an effort to win it back, he bets her chastity. He loses, and expects her to sleep with the winner (a gambler and notorious pirate) for an entire month.
Finally, for readers who aren’t familiar with your work, where do you suggest they go to find some excerpts of your numerous books?
On my web page, www.cherylholt.com, there are “sneak previews” from all of my novels. Usually, this is the novel’s first chapter. Go to the “Books” page, then click on any of the covers, to go to the individuals book page. Down at the bottom, you’ll see the link to the “sneak preview.”
Thanks so much for being so refreshingly candid with your answers, it’s nice when an author says what she thinks without pussy-footing about!
Thx for thinking of me! Let me know if you need anything else.