On this page, I answer a few questions. If you’d like me to answer other questions, please shoot me an e-mail.
Did you always want to be a writer?
Well, yes. And no. Between the ages of 5 and 18 I wanted to be an author. I wrote my first book when I was ten. It was called TO BRING BACK THE BUFFALO, and the plot was, the buffalo (a) were inexplicably missing, and (b), even more inexplicably, could be brought back by a ten-year-old girl entering a cave and solving magical puzzles akin to alchemical hopscotch.
After I graduated from high school, I tried to be an author for about six awful months of college. I failed, and decided I just wasn’t creative enough to be a writer. So I gave up and did science instead. I programmed computers. I took courses (plural) in quantum mechanics. And when I got bored of quantum mechanics I went and did more analytical stuff. After all, I knew I wasn’t creative, and so I might as well become a hard-bitten analytical type.
I wasn’t bad at being a hard-bitten analytical type, but after about… oh, you know, several decades of it, I thought I should give this writing stuff a try again. So I did.
Why do you write in the time period you write in?
I write historical romances set in the interstitial period between the Regency and the Victorian era. Over those few generations, the whole idea of “society” changed. It used to be that people lived for generation after generation, doing the same inherited jobs for generation after generation, moving in the same social circles for generation after generation. Then, the industrial age broke out with a vengeance, and the result was a large number of mobile workers with shallow geographical roots.
For the wealthy, land lost its value as currency. Noble obligation shifted from a system that was almost feudal to the far more laissez-faire capitalism that dominated the nineteenth century. People that understood this profited (at the expense of others); those that clung to the old ways did not. It was a time of tremendous social upheaval, and over the course of a few decades, long-rooted social traditions just disappeared.
There are a number of strong parallels between that time period and the one we live in. The children of today (and I include myself as a child) think that the word “community” includes myspace and twitter, something very different than the world their grandparents knew. I’m not trying to knock either definition; quite the opposite. One of the fundamental human hungers is for community, for a place in society where you fit in and are needed and need others in return. For all that people talk about capitalism and commerce in the news, I think what humans most desire is to give. Humans need to feel like we have something special to give, and we want to receive in return. Love is both the most selfish and the most generous thing in the world.
Romance, in my mind, is ultimately about that hunger. It's about finding the person that grounds you in community. I love writing in a time when the very notion of "community" was in flux, because it means my heroes and heroines can not only be missing love in their lives, but often are missing that vital connection to community. The community they would have fit into twenty years ago has fallen to pieces, and the one they yearn for doesn't yet exist.
So they not only have to grope their way towards love, but they have to invent a place where the future stops being scary.
Despite the carriages and cravats, this is, I think, much like today.
Who are some authors that inspire you?
Before I started writing a book, I entered Avon’s FanLit contest for fun. But one of my entries in that first round actually made it into the finals. And the final round judges—all authors I had read and adored—read my words and commented on them. The comment that Julia Quinn left on that entry literally changed my life. She said that my writing was gorgeous and that she fell in love with my characters.
For her, it was a couple of sentences. For me… well, I’d been telling myself all my adult life that I was a hard-bitten analytical type. I wasn’t creative. I wasn’t good at writing. To have someone tell me otherwise—and not just somebody, but Julia Quinn, the gold standard in historical romance—challenged everything I had ever thought about myself. I took a deep breath and looked at writing again, and whispered four magic words to myself: "I can do this."
Eloisa James was another judge for that contest, and she also offered encouragement. Not just by what she said about my writing, but when I contacted her separately for advice, she was extraordinarily helpful. She’s a prominent Shakespeare professor, and she let me see that you really can have it all—analytical thought along with fun, humorous creative writing. I am truly indebted to both these authors.
But they’re not alone. Sherry Thomas helped me write a query. I read Elizabeth Hoyt’s sex scenes over and over to try to figure out what made them so darned awesome (and yes, they are awesome). Lois McMaster Bujold’s dialogue shaped mine. Anna Campbell read a draft of an earlier manuscript and pinpointed precisely what I was doing wrong. Tessa Dare and I started writing at precisely the same time, and she and I (as well as our third partner, Carey Baldwin, who doesn’t write historical romances) traded every chapter of our first manuscripts over and over again, pushing each other to do better.
And everyone I’ve mentioned here—starting with Julia Quinn and certainly including Carey Baldwin—has written fabulous, fabulous books, that have all at what point brightened my days. How much more inspirational can you get?
What kind of heroes do you like?
In reality, Mr. Milan is my hero. I say this not to imply that all my romance heroes are based on Mr. Milan. Nothing could be further from the truth. Mr. Milan is a low-drama sort of fellow: smart, laid-back, with a great sense of humor. When I decided I wanted to write romance novels, I broached the idea with some trepidation. The conversation went something like this:
Courtney: So I decided to write a romance novel. It’s kind of crazy, because it’s really hard to get published and I don’t really know anything about writing a romance novel and only something like one out of every twenty thousand people who write a book ever publish it and even then they only get paid $3.72 for their efforts—
Mr. Milan: Yes, but you’re one in a million. You’ll do it.
You see? Mr. Milan is great for the ego, but just awful for fiction. If he were a proper romance novel hero, would need to react to some odd childhood trauma and flounce off and not talk to me. He would need to make some kind of macho comment to prove his masculinity. Instead, he just made me dinner.
Mr. Milan serves as the inspiration for precisely none of my heroes. In fiction, all my heroes are nothing like Mr. Milan. They react emotionally (even though they would never admit it). They are wounded. They are all trying to do the right thing—but sometimes their past blinds them to the truth, and they need to find that one special woman who lets them see. The only thing my fictional heroes have in common with Mr. Milan, is that at the end of the book, they know the woman they’re with is truly one in a million.
Why do you write historical romances, and not contemporaries?
One of the first commandments of writing is, know thyself. I know myself pretty well. I don’t remember movie star names—I can’t even recognize them if I see them on TV. Advertisers gnash their teeth when I see them coming, because I can’t recall a brand name for the life of me. I am completely, blythely ignorant of pop culture. But ask me about the history of the decimalization of English currency, and I will go on and on for hours. Really.
What is your writing process like?
It is actually a little insane. At the point when I start writing, I usually know what happens in the beginning, the middle, and the end—but the path between points A to B is usually quite a mystery. Sometimes I think I know how they will get to that point but by the time I get to that part of the book, I realize my original conception won’t work.
I usually shoot for the black moment—the darkest point of the book. When I start writing, I usually don’t know how I am going to get my characters out of it. All those details… they just come out when I start writing. I also write out of order. I tend to write scenes in sets—so, for instance, in PROOF BY SEDUCTION, I wrote all the White scenes in one sitting, even though they are separated in the book by hundreds of pages. This necessitates a lot of rewriting—sometimes I get to a point in the book where I’ve written a scene and realize that my original suggestion for it no longer works. It also means that there’s a point in every draft where my story looks like a bunch of disconnected, cobwebby scenes. I revise as I go—I have days I set aside for revision, and days I set aside for writing new things. I find this strikes a good balance for me between forcing myself to produce new material and really forcing myself deeply into what I have.
Once I have a complete draft, I revise and revise again. I do lots and lots of quick passes—one, perhaps, for hero characterization, one for consistency of a secondary character, one to make sure the timeline is right, one to clean up sex scenes, another to clean up transitions, and a final few passes to get out all the awkward phrases and to edit in my voice.
Why don’t you write faster?
I am writing as fast as I can. Well, correction; I am writing as fast as I am capable. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) I have a day job, too, and it is fairly demanding. It takes sometimes upwards of sixty to seventy hours a week. This leaves me tired, and tired authors don’t always write well. So I write until I’m about ready to collapse. This is not good for me—I get no time off to do things like cook or exercise or spend time with my husband—and so I’m working on a solution that will leave me with more time to do things.