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.