What inspired you to become a writer, specifically, a writer of historical romance?
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t determined to be a writer. By fourth grade, I had graduated from a series of tales about Marina the deer and Qwert the donkey to various stories about unicorns, and onward to Star Trek fan-fiction (I had a minor obsession with Star Trek: The Next Generation. Ahem). From there I started writing fantasy (castles, princesses, dragons). But somewhere along the way I also decided that I was going to be an actress, and so I went out and bought the collected works of William Shakespeare. For some reason I thought that this was how actresses got their starts – by starring in Shakespeare plays. Ha!
Shakespeare proved to be my entrée into the real-life historical dramas of medieval and Tudor England. It was also the beginning of my obsession with what it might have been like to live in other times (an obsession largely inspired, I will admit, by the very cool costumes worn by the actors in the two or three Shakespeare plays I saw performed).
In high school, I started reading every piece of historical fiction I could get my hands on. I found myself a little disappointed by them, though. They were all about men – and high politics. Meanwhile, I wanted to read about the fun details, the tidbits that would help me when I closed my eyes and tried to imagine waking up in the past. One day, I came across a discarded copy of Judith McNaught’s Almost Heaven, and started flipping through it—and gasped and snatched it to my chest and ran off to some hidden corner to read it. Here was historical fiction about a woman! Better yet, here was historical fiction that was about the really fun stuff! Here was exactly what I wanted to read – and to write!
So, yeah. That’s the really long version (apologies!) of how I started writing romance.
What, for you, is the hardest part about writing a novel? The easiest? Are these aspects different from what other people who aren't writers would think?
The middle of any novel scares me silly. I’m not a plotter, although I have tried and tried to become one. This means that I rarely know where my story is going; the plot is constantly twisting around on me as I’m writing the book. This is a perfectly fine way to proceed, until around page 200. At that point, everything needs to come together in a way that cranks up the momentum and leads inexorably to the conclusion. If the plot has weaknesses, if the character development has gone even slightly awry, this is when I start to sense it most acutely – and where, if I do not address the weaknesses, I will get stuck.
This means that around page 200, I am forced to go back to the beginning and rework my way through the story. The good news is, I enjoy this part. But pushing onward once I reach page 200 again – that takes a bit of courage.
I suppose what might surprise some people is the fact that – for me – each book writes itself differently. You’d imagine that it gets easier with every story, but each of them poses different challenges (and thank goodness for that; otherwise, writing would be downright boring).
However, something you do get better at, with each book, is learning to talk back to the voice of doubt that is whispering, “This isn’t going to work. Chuck the whole thing and start from scratch. Beginnings are so much fun!”
I’ve gotten pretty good at squashing that voice. Once I finally hit page 250, it usually flows like water downhill.
For folks who are new to historical romance or who think that historical romance isn't their "thing," what books would you recommend to change their minds or to convince them to dive into the genre?
Fantastic question! If you’re coming from outside the romance genre and you appreciate literary fiction, I’d recommend Bliss, Black Silk, and Dance, by Judith Ivory/Judy Cuevas. For those who like dark, emotionally intense drama, To Have and to Hold, by Patricia Gaffney, All Through the Night, by Connie Brockway, and Not Quite a Husband, by Sherry Thomas, are all keepers. For readers who like humor, I propose Loretta Chase’s Miss Wonderful and Mr. Impossible, and Julie Anne Long’s Like No Other Lover and Since the Surrender.
What historical settings or time periods would you like to see serve as settings for novels that haven't been explored yet?
Carrie Lofty has just signed with Pocket for a historical set in late nineteenth-century South Africa, and I’m incredibly excited to read it. I also wish Roman Britain got more play in historicals.
From there, my list is infinite. One of the great pleasures of a well-researched historical romance is how much you learn from it (without even trying!). In my ideal world, then, romance novelists would be writing about every time period and place under the sun.
What other projects do you have on the horizon? Can you tell us anything about them?
I’ve signed with Pocket to write three more historicals. Two-thirds dark to one-third light, I’m thinking. :)
You're trapped in a castle, and the only way out is to bribe the guards with desserts. What dessert would you use to escape?
Since that doom-filled day when Ben & Jerry’s broke my heart by discontinuing Wavy Gravy ice cream, there is only one correct answer to this question: fresh, sliced strawberries from someone’s garden, arranged around a bowl of whipped cream. Make that thick, rich cream, straight from the local dairy, with just a dash of sugar.
Thank you so much, Meredith, for the interview! Can I just say, every answer to the dessert question absolutely gets my mouth watering.
photo credit: author's website