Thanks for asking me aboard, Embassie!
In your opinion, what is one thing that a romance novel should have in order to be successful?
A romance novel must have great chemistry between the leading characters. In mainstream romance you will often find characters whose attraction is based entirely on lust or the weird phenomenon of “insta-love,” in which two people are attracted for no other reason than the author tells us how “right” they are for each other. Sometimes writers in inspirational fiction rely on simply making the characters good, honorable people and assume this is enough for chemistry. It’s not! I’m sure we all know scads of honorable people we aren’t attracted to, so figuring out how to convey that spark of chemistry is often what separates a great romance novel from an ordinary one.
I spend a lot of time designing a character with a huge, howling flaw that the other romantic lead can address in a uniquely exhilarating way. In Against the Tide, my heroine had a chaotic, unstable childhood. As a result she grows up to need fanatic control over all aspects of her life. She believes herself to be well-adjusted and is justifiably proud of how she overcame her rough childhood, but it isn’t until the hero waltzes into her life that he shines a spotlight on her many quirks & compensations. The two of them spark off each other in an alternatingly funny, painful, and fulfilling ways.
Then of course this must be fun to watch unfold, so I also lean heavily on terrific dialog that conveys wit, intelligence, and compatibility. I’ve got to tell you….creating that kind of chemistry is HARD, but I think it is the key to getting readers care about the characters.
When it comes to writing romance in novels, is there any kind of formula that you follow? Or does it just come together organically?
Well, all romance is formulaic in that you have two people meet, plow through a ton of conflict, then find a resolution. For me, I usually design the heroine first. My novels are set in late 19th century America, and always feature successful, intelligent women. Once I know who she is, I give her a huge flaw, weakness, or traumatic scar. Then I think up a hero who can somehow click with that issue. Perhaps he has unique experience with it, or is determined to expose her scar to salt, to challenge her, or make her stronger. In Beyond All Dreams a congressman needs a shy, introverted heroine to step out into the public arena despite her aversion to publicity. In With Every Breath the hero needs the heroine’s skills in a medical trial that will expose her and her loved ones to a deadly communicable disease, even though he knows this is a lifelong fear of hers. Will Kate rise to the occasion? How can the hero prod, tease, love her into overcoming this fear? So using this character flaw (either in the hero or the heroine) is a technique I find that helps me come up with an interesting cast with lots of potential.
Of all the novels that you have written, which one would you say was your most romantic and why?
Some people consider “most romantic” to include walks on the beach, flowers, and music swelling in the background. I don’t! I consider it to be two people whose connection is so profound they are willing to walk through fire on behalf of the other person. So my “romantic” books tend to be filled with turbulence, heartache, all shot through with flashes of joy and inspiration.
So using that criteria, I think my most romantic novel would be a toss-up between Against the Tide and With Every Breath. In both stories the leading characters had terrific chemistry….so great that they really ought to have fallen in love by the third chapter and have that be the end of the book, but then I wouldn’t have a story! So I burdened them with huge, apparently insurmountable roadblocks that caused them to delve into deeply emotional predicaments. Against the Tide was more of a rollicking adventure tale, while With Every Breath was much more true to life, and I really put Kate and Trevor through the wringer before I have them earn their happy ending.
In both cases I consider the heartache, sacrifices, and personal growth the heroines undergo on behalf of fighting for their relationship to be deeply romantic. I confess to really aching for those characters, but I think that makes their happily-ever-after all the more sweet.
Do you have a favorite romantic trope? A least favorite trope?
I’ve always been a big fan or reunited lovers. My very first novel, The Lady of Bolton Hill, was about two people who had a childhood crush on each other, but don’t act on it until they encounter each other ten years later. I haven’t done another reunited lovers yet, but am hoping to dust it off for an upcoming novel someday.
My least favorite trope would be hero and heroine who take an instant dislike to each other over something trivial, or whose conflict is based on a silly misunderstanding that could be resolved with a simple, honest conversation. I need a little more heft if I’m going to take the story seriously.
What are some authors/books that you read when you just want to enjoy a good romance novel?
For Inspirational fiction, you can’t beat Francine Rivers, who always creates believable conflict and deeply emotional stories. I’m also a big fan of Becky Wade, Julie Klassen, Kristen Heitzmann and Lynn Austin. I confess that many of my favorite romance writers come from mainstream romance. They would be Sherry Thomas and Ciji Ware for historicals. For contemporaries I love Susan Elizabeth Philips, Kristan Higgins and Lisa Kleypas.