FAQs again

It is the fifth day of the FAQ-contest–ask me a question, and you will have a chance to win a $15 gift certificate, and a super-secret something, which together make up a thoroughly double-plus wonderfully truly incredibly awesome fantastic very good prize.

Q. Why do you write romance fiction?

A. Because that is predominantly what I read.  99% of what I read is genre fiction–and of that 80% is romance, and the rest is science fiction and fantasy.  I write the kind of books I love to read.  And the truth is, even in science fiction and fantasy books, my favorites have always shared fundamental elements with romance: love stories and strong character arcs.  I write what I love.

Q. What are your top five books that have influenced you?

A. Ooh.  This is a really hard one, because I don’t see how I could possibly pick just five books.  But I will give it a go.  Keep in mind, these aren’t necessarily the books that I love the most–I love too many books, in too many ways, to ever narrow those down to a mere five books.  But these are five books that have had a significant impact on my life.

Mary Jo Putney’s Thunder and Roses.  This is the first “modern” romance that I read, and it was so good and so powerful–and so intelligent and emotional and sexy–that it set me on a glom of not just Mary Jo Putney’s work, but of all historical romance.  Thanks, MJP.

Barry Hughart’s Bridge of Birds: A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was.  This is quite simply the best damned book that I’ve ever read.  It’s technically a “fantasy” novel, but it is like no other fantasy I have ever read in my entire life.  It’s kind of a romance, kind of a fairy-tale, kind of a comedy . . . .  but not in the way you would imagine.  This book is proof that if you write a book that is good enough, there will be a place for it on the shelves, period.

Lois McMaster Bujold’s A Civil Campaign.  A romance.  A comedy.  A piece of lovely science fiction.  It was the first book by Bujold that I read–even though it is one of the last in the Miles Vorkosigan series.  It stands alone brilliantly; but once you’ve read all the other books, you can go back and read and reread, and every time you do, you’ll find another layer of the story unwinding around you.

Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword.  A fantasy.  A romance.  A YA, with a kick-ass heroine who doesn’t need no stinkin’ man to save the world–but she’s rather happy she has one.  I read this when I was 13 and then reread and reread it and reread it.  And then I read several thousand books between the ages of 13-16 desperately seeking one that would be its equivalent.  I think I would have always been a reader, no matter what, but this one changed me from someone who reads because she’s filling time to someone who reads to fill a void.

Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s Ain’t She Sweet? I was late to Susan Elizabeth Phillips; in fact, she is a hit-or-miss author with me.  But when she hits, she hits it straight out of the park.  I read Natural Born Charmer and put the book down and said to myself, “If I ever manage to write a book that is as funny, as heart-felt, and has as incredible a character arc as this one, I will be able to die right then and there with a grin on my face.”

Q. What things in real life influence your writing style? Do you find yourself putting neighbors in as characters or anything like that?

A. I never use real people as characters.  I’m sure that certain people have influenced me–but the person my characters are most like is myself.  The rest, they get from an amalgam of observed human nature that I store up inside me.  But there are things that influence my writing in real ways.  I often find that the emotional heart of a book, for me, have a lot to do with my own emotional fears.  I can’t just decide, this book is going to be about blah blah, because if that’s not what I’m experiencing at the time, the book will lack a certain depth.  Of course, whatever I feel gets magnified in fiction.  When I lived apart from Mr. Milan for a year, there was a certain loneliness I felt that would not go away, and that crept into PROOF BY SEDUCTION.  In the book I’m writing now, I’ve found that my fears for my mother’s health are creeping out on the page–even though I never imagined that they would do so.  My characters are all fake–but their emotions are drawn from reality.

Q. Do you see yourself writing anything else beside historical?

A. Not right now.  I’ve just never had an idea for a contemporary story–and I don’t think that suspense/thrillers/dramas/mysteries are good fits for my writing voice.

Q. Did you splurge on anything when you got your advance?

A. My biggest expenditures when I got my advance were all boringly practical: I sprung for a receipt scanner, an automated back-up system, and a new printer.

This is the last entry before the winners are announced, so if you want to make sure you have a chance to get a completely thoroughly double-plus wonderfully truly incredibly awesome fantastic very good prize, ask me a question this weekend!  On Monday, I’ll announce the winner, the super-secret something, and I’ll put up an updated FAQ page–complete with the answers you’ve seen this week and some you haven’t.

Courtney Milan writes historical romances, which might lead people to think that she could be cool. In reality, she's about four different kinds of geeky. At present, this blog is where Courtney applies semi-dormant geek skills to publishing.

11 thoughts on “FAQs again

  1. You see, this is one of those questions where I have to giggle. Let’s see…. things that Mr. Milan and Gareth share in common.

    Hm.

    Um, they are both good in bed.

    I think that’s about it. Everything else is totally different. I would never write a hero anything like my husband. There is no romantic conflict between me and Mr. Milan. The most there has ever been is that he is neater than I am, and so he wishes I picked up after myself more. This does not make a good book.

    Mr. Milan is basically wonderfully supportive, and believes I can do anything. He doesn’t need a whole book to become awesome. He just started out that way.

    I, on the other hand, have a lot in common with both Gareth and Jenny.

    For Jenny: The emotional heart of Jenny is that she believes she is a horrible fraud, even though people repose a great deal of trust in her. This is something I feel on a regular basis. Jenny is, in fact, actually a horrible fraud. So am I–but so far, nobody has figured it out. Whew.

    For Gareth: Gareth’s hyper-rationality is something that comes entirely from me. Gareth was a lot of fun to write, because I could use him to make fun of some of my more ridiculous tendencies. One of my worst faults is that I can be dismissive of people who I think are wrong or stupid. I try to watch myself on that one–but when I was writing Gareth, I got to channel that and magnify it a thousand fold. It was fun to indulge in that side of myself in a setting where it would do no harm–and even more satisfying to make sure that the comeuppance came.

  2. 1) Do you listen to music while you write? Do you have any little rituals before you start writing?

    2) You starting writing (and sold??) while single. This seems to be outside the norm for many writers. Do you think this helped you in some ways?

    3) Do you have to stop yourself from getting lost in the research?

    4) As fellow lawyer-turned-writer, I have to ask–did law school help your writing? Are you still glad that you went?

  3. 1) Do you listen to music while you write?

    Yes! If I’m at home, I will listen to a variety of music without words–classical, jazz, what-have-you. But I also work well in coffee shops with lots of ambient noise.

    2) You starting writing (and sold??) while single. This seems to be outside the norm for many writers. Do you think this helped you in some ways?

    No, actually, I didn’t. I started writing (and sold) while I was engaged. That may be single for tax purposes, but it’s not single in the ways that matter. Mr. Milan didn’t need to be married to me to support what I was doing 100 percent of the time. He never questioned whether I would get an agent or sell; he never asked me if it was wise to choose to do something when I would make much, much more money going another way. He believed in me from the beginning, and the fact that he wasn’t married to me at the time doesn’t negate the fact that he has never been anything but completely supportive of me.

    3) Do you have to stop yourself from getting lost in the research?

    No. I do sometimes spend more time doing research than seems necessary, but I’ve found that the tidbits I pick up then often crop up again in ways I didn’t expect later on. So there’s no such thing as “wasted” research time–even if I do sometimes wonder why on earth I spent an afternoon reading regency-era recipes for boiled turnips.

    4) As fellow lawyer-turned-writer, I have to ask–did law school help your writing? Are you still glad that you went?

    The boss I had right after law school was nothing short of an amazing genius, and he taught me more about writing than I’d learned in the 18+ years of schooling I’ve received. it was from him that I learned how to really edit, and edit for voice.

    Also, I loved law school. Law school was worth it for me in and of itself.

    I was one of those geeks that read all the stuff in the textbook, even the stuff that you knew you didn’t need to know for the exam, because really, why does it ever matter these days what the difference is between courts of equity and courts of law? Who needs to know what code pleadings were like, when these days complaints are liberally construed? Who really cares what the knock-and-announce rule was in 1787 Britain?

    All you really need to know is the rule today, right?

    Probably not if you’re a lawyer practicing today, but if you’re writing historical romance, and you read and remember the entire section of Thomas’s opinion in a Fourth Amendment case explaining the constitutional derivation of a rule, you actually have a really good idea of police procedure in Britain around the Regency era. You may not need to understand the exact operation of the Rule Against Perpetuities in today’s world, especially if you don’t touch trusts and estates–but you’ll know if the will you write for your characters is invalid.

    One of the things I got from law school was the ability to pick up a case from Chancery or a treatise on the jurisdiction of the Queen’s bench, and read it and understand the nuance and the background. I don’t think there are many historical romance authors who can say the same thing.

  4. YEA!! My Question WAS answered today!! :) Thank you!! – I think if I was a writer, I’d have a hard time not basing certain characters on people. I guess that’s why your the author. Thanks!! 😀

  5. Let’s get down to the important stuff: how do you have time to keep your house clean? My usual method is denial, but the sun came out today revealing an infestation of dust bunnies, coffee spills, and nameless horrors I don’t wish to investigate. An attack of conscience (and fear for the public safety) has ruined my morning.

  6. I’m going to ask a few, mostly out of curiosity what additional adjectives you will add to the superlative prizeliness! Caveat: I haven’t read the comments thread, so I don’t know if these are repeats.

    1. What does your writing process look like, and were you (like me) concerned when you found out you were supposed to have such a beast and be able to describe how its appearance?

    2. Are you one of those people who knew they’d be a novelist from the time you first held a crayon, or did you slike in by accident, on a dare perhaps?

    3. How significant a motivator was the chance to have a real live nom de plume of your own in your perseverance when shopping around your MS? And do you realize that your choice of ‘Milan’ obligates you to set a story in Italy? (Not really but I love Italian settings)

  7. Thanks for answering my questions on the other post, but you missed one.

    2. What particular challenges come with writing historical fiction?

    If you don’t want to answer it, that’s totally cool. I just thought you might have accidentally overlooked it.

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