Q & A

Q: What is your writing method?

I'm mostly a pantser. I start with an idea - a man, a woman, or both in a situation that brings them into conflict and requires resolving. I usually flounder quite a bit in the opening chapters, trying to get to know the characters and where they want to go. Then the characters take over, and scenes start to unfold in my head, usually in rapid succession. By the time I'm about halfway through, I have a good idea of what will happen in the rest, and how the hero and heroine will find their happy ending.


Q: Could you give some examples of situations you've used in a story?

Sure. This will also give you some idea of how vague these ideas can be.

In Project Seduction, an intruder jumps down to the heroine's balcony, scaring the life out of her. She runs out for help-and it turns out the man she is running to is the same man she is running from. He is a cop who lives in the complex. He'd forgotten his keys and was using an unconventional method of getting into his apartment.

I had initially planned to make the heroine's fear extreme, because she'd been attacked by an intruder in the past, but it just didn't work out that way. The abused woman scenario didn't really appeal to me. There are lots of writers who portray the fear and helplessness of those situations with great insight and empathy. I didn't want to spend lots of time researching such a painful topic, which meant I couldn't write about it with a sense of authenticity.

In WomanTrap (coming out in December 2012), the heroine is a property developer and he hero works in the building she is renovating. In a hurry, she barges in, talking on her cell phone, not paying attention. He yells for her to stop but she ignores him, and knocks down two-gallon paint pot balanced on top of a ladder. She gets soaked in paint. He has to come to her rescue. This successful, even a bit arrogant woman experiences a few minutes of total helplessness, having to rely on a stranger to guide her to the shower and help her wash off the paint, so she won't risk damage to her eyes.

In Le PACS, the naïve heroine accepts a free cruise on a private yacht, without realizing she is supposed to entertain the host's business associates. When the hero propositions her (to give him credit, he does it against his better judgment, only reluctantly giving in to the attraction), she jumps in the sea and swims ashore, horrified at her stupidity for putting herself into such a compromising position.

Her extreme reaction unsettles the hero. He's grown up to believe that all women are gold diggers - for sale, in one way or another, and it's just a question of the price tag, which could be anything from a few hundred dollars to a wedding ring. He becomes obsessed with pursuing the heroine, to prove that she is no different from the greedy, selfish women he's had affairs with in the past.


Q: I can see how you start with a situation. Do you outline?

No. It doesn't work for me. In the early chapters, I don't have a clear idea of the entire story, and by the time it takes full shape in my imagination, I'm too busy writing and don't want to pause. I plan, but I keep it all in my head. I need the flexibility to shift things around, and a formal outline would tie me down too much. I've tried, but it seemed a waste of time as I constantly deviated from the outline.

Once, on holiday, I wrote a couple of chapters in long hand. When I got home and sat down to type them up, I found myself writing something completely different. I need to let the writing flow from the subconscious, not from a previously prepared outline or notes.


Q: What's your writing schedule?

It varies. It used to be simple: If I'm awake, I'm writing, or thinking about the story. When I first started, I was between jobs, and the BF was working overseas. I had no other demands on my time. So I just wrote. From about 6 am to 11 pm every day.

I'd take a break to go to the grocery store, and sometimes to the gym. The rest of the time, I wrote. I didn't see any friends. I didn't go out. I didn't watch television. I ate at the computer. I took the computer with me to bed and just lowered it to the floor when I got too tired to continue (as you might have guessed, I write on a laptop).

In the morning, I opened my eyes and reached down to the floor for the computer. I was truly, seriously obsessed. I'd never done anything that had given me so much pleasure…well, perhaps with a couple of exceptions, but those are not things you can do alone.


Q: Who's the BF?

The BF is my boyfriend, my life partner and my best friend. We've lived together for more than twenty years. We've never gotten married (but we've watched some of our friends who did get divorced a few years later, so we are comfortable to keep the status quo).

He has been a saint. When I write, I turn into a monster. I ignore him. I close the door to my study and yell at him if he dares to disturb me. I refuse to join him for days out, or on weekend trips. I don't do any housework. I just write. I'm surprised he hasn't ditched me years ago.

He has, however, pointed out that if I had put the same effort into academic pursuits as I've put into my writing, I'd by now have a PhD in at least three different subjects. I can't really argue against that. I know he's right. But I shrug my shoulders and just hurry back to my study, so I can get on with the latest story I'm writing.


Q: Back to your writing schedule. Do you still work 6 am to 11 pm every day?

No, things are different now. After a few years of writing full time, I went back to work and could only write in the evenings and weekends. Gradually, my creativity has dwindled. The ideas still come, but I struggle to put them into words. I think it has to do with becoming more critical about my output.

In those early days, I loved writing so much that I just let the words flow. I applied no quality control. Then I learned about editing. That was fine. The words still poured out of me, but now they had to go through the editing filter in my head.

And then…well, then things got tough. I started working with critique groups, and suddenly I was faced with all these "rules" that were being shared around, reverently, like nuggets of gold.

No telling, no adverbs, "was" is a weak verb and must be avoided, don't use verbs ending with "-ing", use minimal description, avoid filter verbs such as "tried to", or "managed to", "began to". Using words like "felt", "believed", "realized", and "thought" are signs of weak writing because they are telling. Whoa. My head was spinning.

I analyzed lots of different books I'd enjoyed, both commercial and literary, breaking apart the writing style. I proved to myself time and again that most of these "rules" are complete nonsense, but they stuck in my head anyway, screaming at me every time I tried to use one of these "non-allowed" words or sentence constructions or ways of describing events.

Writing became a hard slog, with all these "rules" like a heavy weight that I had to drag along as I progressed through the story. I'm still fighting to erase them from my mind.

I'm not suffering from a writer's block. Well, not fully anyway. But that easy, effortless flow of words is gone, because every word I write now has to justify itself against this filter of "bad writing" that I just can't get out of my head, however hard I try.


Q. Phew. So, you're saying writing isn't easy?

Writing is easy. Writing is just putting words on paper or tapping the computer keys. Completing a good novel is the hardest thing I've ever tried. By a huge, huge margin. Nothing else comes even close. And this is the honest opinion of a person who has learned to speak several languages and who took a three-year college course in eighteen months (and was awarded a first class degree).

Compared to writing a novel and getting it published, those things required very little effort.


Q: So, how did you get published?

I initially sought a mainstream publisher. I got an agent with the fourth book I wrote. This was my first book after I learned to self-edit. The agent seemed very excited, a few editors in big publishing houses seemed very excited, but nothing ever came out of it. So, around five years after I started writing, I decided to try the ebook route. I did some research and found there was an open call for an anthology of novellas themed "Strangers in the Night" with a big epublisher.

I wrote a story and submitted it. It didn't get selected for the anthology (the publisher said they were looking for higher heat levels) but I was invited to submit other work. I sent out a few things, trying a small number of different epublishers. I got a few offers, and settled with Resplendence Publishing, who were new at the time and had a nice feel about them. I've been with RP ever since, although now I also have a contract with Harlequin, and I'm self-publishing certain titles.


Q: What sort of stories you write? Does it vary by publisher?

My contemporary romance is currently published by RP. My romantic suspense is self-published. For historical romance, I have a contract for two short novellas with Harlequin. Those will come out in the Harlequin Historical Undone series in January and February 2013, and I'm hoping to write more titles for Harlequin Historical. I also plan to self-publish some of my longer historical novels.


Q: What are the main differences between the different lines?

My stories have evolved over time. Initially, I wrote relatively complex full length romantic suspense. These novels are driven by the suspense plot as much as the romance - overall they are a fairly balanced mix of the two. The love scenes are a little more soft-focus, there are more secondary characters, and the hero and heroine spend some time apart. The suspense aspects are not just to place the heroine in jeopardy so the hero can rescue her, but they are a separate plot that needs to be resolved alongside with the romantic conflict.

When I first started seeking publication in the ebook market, I learned that you need higher heat levels, and a lower word count. Novellas sell better than full novels. Steamy stuff sells better than sweet. Although I've never expected to make a living out of writing, getting published and making sales is an important validation for any writer.

So, I wanted to write what sells, and I upped the heat levels.

That resulted in the contemporary novellas (around 30 k words) and category length novels (around 40-50k words) that I have out with RP, or more recently as Indie releases.

The ones with "Strangers in the Night" theme feature couples who, due to unforeseen circumstances, get into a one night stand and then find themselves more involved than they planned to be. These books follow the typical romance novel formula. The following titles fall under this theme:
  • Trouble with the Law
  • Learning to Forgive
  • Lies and Consequences
  • Reckless Encounter

The ones themed "Marriages of Inconvenience" are also using a typical forced marriage or fake fiancée trope. The titles with this theme are:
  • Home for a Soldier
  • Le PACS
  • Ballet Shoes and Engine Grease

In some ways, writing the short and steamy novellas was harder for me. It seems more natural for me to use a plot to carry a story, and I found it difficult to write stories that relied solely on the romantic conflict. Also, I'm a little old fashioned when it comes to morality. For me, emotional involvement leads to physical, and yet, in these stories, it needed to be the other way round: sex comes first, and love follows. The shorter length creates problems too, as every scene needs to be pivotal, leaving little room to explore the background of the characters, or allow them time to consolidate their feelings before moving on to the next stage of the relationship.

So, to combine the high heat and instant sex requirements of the market with my old fashioned small-town morality, in those stories lots of people fall in love at first sight. They just don't always know it until a bit later.


Q: What about the historical romance?

Whoops, I almost forgot that. Those books come in both long and short format. I've written medievals and westerns. The medievals are set in the Scottish Highlands in the late Middle Ages, around 1540. The westerns are at any point between the two gold rushes, California and Klondike. This means 1850-1900. In fact, the frontier period of the American West was quite short. Some historians say as short as fifteen years in the 1860s and 1870s.

The westerns have active plots, with ranch wars and Indian attacks and outlaws and all that good stuff. The medievals are short, around 20k words each. They also have a plot, but that tends to center on a single event, usually about the ownership of a castle and lands. In the medievals, the plot is mostly a backdrop for the romance. In the longer westerns, the plot can be more of a driving force, tying together longer sequences of events.

My longest historical is set in the Klondike gold rush. It's just over 100k words. Some readers might describe the book as a mainstream historical novel with strong romantic elements rather than a pure romance. It's as much a story of the gold rush as of the hero and the heroine.


Q: How much do you research?

Loads. I'm a bit obsessive by nature, but I also have a curious mind. I enjoy learning about things. The most research I've done was for the Klondike gold rush story. I developed a real interest in the era, and in prospecting for gold. A few years ago, I visited the gold mining area in Lapland, and one day I want to hike the Chilkoot Trail and see Dawson City.

In addition to history, I also like to research the modern backdrops for my stories. I did a fair bit on astronomy for Cosmic Forces, which is a love story set in an observatory between two astronomers. I got really hooked. In fact, I almost bought a telescope. Starry skies at night are a fantastic sight.

Sometimes it's just little things. For example, for Home for a Soldier, I had to research rent controlled properties in New York. I came across real life stories where a couple had married in order to transfer a lease in a rent controlled apartment.

For Learning to Forgive, I had to study the penal code in different US states. I wanted to find a state where someone convicted of murder in the second degree could be out in less than twenty years, and someone convicted of manslaughter in about five. I found suitable sentencing guidelines in Minnesota. Before they were revised in the 1990s, the minimum sentence even for a first degree murder was only seventeen years.

You can imagine how much it might bug me if I see a comment on a review site: "The author didn't do her research - the minimum sentence for murder is twenty-five years". It wasn't. Not where the story takes place, at the time when the events in the story took place. (The murderer was the heroine's father, and I needed him to be out in less than twenty years, otherwise the heroine would have been too old by then for the romance I had in mind for her.)


Q: Do you put real people in your books?

No. Firstly, it would be a huge invasion of privacy, and it would show lack of respect for the individuals, even if they were portrayed in a positive light. Secondly, the real people I know just haven't had enough drama in their lives to be good material for romantic fiction.

However, I use bits of people. Some aspect of their personality, or a mannerism, or a style of dress, and so on. The hero in Cosmic Forces is a tall, rugged blond, who has no idea he is handsome. One of my critique partners said, surely he would know he is attractive. I felt comfortable to disagree, because that aspect of the character was based on a real person. Someone I know. And he has no idea how good-looking he is. None. (If he did, he probably wouldn't have stuck with me for twenty years.)


Q: Is any of your characters based on you?

This is tricky. Yes and no. No, in the sense that I've never consciously based a character on myself. Yes, in the sense that when I write characters, female characters in particular, I need to give them experiences, and opinions, and a set of values. Naturally, I rely on my own life as a starting point.

If I wrote about a female serial killer, I'd have to think about it, get into her head and see what there is in there, and write her that way. However, a lot of my heroines have a background similar to mine - educated women in good jobs, who don't have a family but who might have liked to have one before it got too late - and hence my own world, my own aspirations and ambitions and regrets, seem suitable for furnishing them with their thoughts and opinions.

If I had to pick a character I identify the most with, that's Aunt Rosemary in The Layton Prophecy. She isn't the heroine but a supporting character. I guess that says a bit about me. I don't feel I'm a heroine in life's dramas, but a supporting character. I don't have the courage to go out there and play a leading role. Perhaps that's why I'm a writer, and so fond of reading. I prefer to get my adventures in the safety and comfort of my own home, instead of warzones, or medieval times with no proper plumbing or heating.


Q: What are you working on at the moment?

Take a look at the "Coming Soon" page and you'll get some idea.

I'm working both on new stuff, and on revising some of my earlier, unpublished romantic suspense. On the whole, I prefer writing stories with a plot, so I expect I will gravitate toward more complex, full length novels, even though those might be harder to sell.
For historicals, I think I'll stick with westerns. I'm revising Circle Star, my first published book. It came out in 2008, but I withdrew it a couple of years ago. It's a good story that received lots of 5-star reviews, but the structure could be improved.

My Harlequin editor has asked me to write about Vikings, but so far I haven't had the inspiration to do the research. It would be a completely new period for me, and would take a  lot of work before I could start planning stories, let alone writing them. I'll toy with the idea, but at the moment it is on a back burner.


Q: What are the heat levels in these books? Are you trying to make them steamier, following the current trend for erotica?

No. That's not for me. I don't have any problem writing love scenes (although I admit it can feel a bit repetitive after a while) but I prefer the sensual aspects of the story to reflect the emotional side of the romance.

I like medium heat levels the most, the kind you find in much of mainstream romance. The Harlequin Historical Undone series requires high heat, and my novellas tend to be higher heat, simply because you've got to cram a certain amount of love scenes into the limited word count, so it appears the sex is more concentrated.

In fact, if anything, I might move to the opposite direction for some of my new projects. Keep the same levels of steaminess overall, but slow down the romance, allowing a more natural development of the physical relationship. That is easier to do with longer stories.


Q: Which of your books do you like the most?

It's usually the one I'm currently writing, as those characters are the most vivid in my mind. However, if I had to pick, I'd say that out of the contemporaries it's Project Seduction. Full length, it allows for the slow-boil romance I prefer, with the hero and heroine circling around each other before they become involved. The background of money laundering (which I researched thoroughly) appeals to me, and some of the secondary characters add to the story.

I also like Reckless Encounter. The hero, Max Glaser, is an orphan who has built a successful life but who longs to know where he came from and why his mother abandoned him. Another favorite hero is Daniel Bergeron in Learning to Forgive. He went to prison because he chose to help the sister he loves, but he harbors no bitterness. It was something he had to do, he did it, and he will not apologize for being an ex-con, or keep explaining to people that his motives for committing the crime were noble.

I enjoyed writing all the historicals, but in some ways Klondike Dreams is the closest to my heart. I got so drawn into the historical facts. If I ever write a time travel story, that will be me going to the Klondike in 1898.


Q: Who are your favorite romance authors?

I have lots. First and foremost, Linda Howard, although occasionally I don't like her heroines. Lisa Kleypas. I prefer her historicals to the contemporaries. Lorraine Heath . I love the sensitive but strong heroes in her westerns. Catherine Anderson. Nora Roberts (although I haven't read anything from her in ages - must buy some new ones). Ellen O'Connell (I wish she wrote more books!!!). Jodi Thomas. And many others, too many to list.

My most recent discovery is Rachel Lee. I'm also keen to find new western historical authors I might like. I've had recommendations for Delores Fossen and Geri Borcz and Elaine Levine, whom I've put on my wish list but haven't read yet.

However, I hope that will change as…drum roll…from now on I'll have more time, because I have given up my job and can now write (or read) full time.


Q: What? Do you mean you can earn a living from your writing?

Ha-ha-ha. What I earn from my writing will just about keep me in coffee. And that's not those complicated lattes from Starbucks, but supermarket own brand instant. No, it's the BF. My own superhero will support me so I can write more and also spend a bit of time with him. I guess that's what romance is all about. Finding your hero. I know I've got mine.

And now I'm going downstairs to the kitchen to have a cup of coffee with him.

Love and hugs from