JANE FEATHER ON ROMANCE WRITING
1. Romance authors are prolific writers. Knowing that there are so many romance books published each year, how do you keep your ideas fresh and avoid traveling over well-worn territory?
As someone once pointed there are only so many stories in the world, and a finite number of ways in which to tell them. History itself is a fertile field though for both stories and perspectives, many of them truly “stranger than fiction.” However, it’s inevitable that authors will sometimes cross similar plot lines and inevitable that any author of more than one book will return to old ground at some point. As a matter of pure self-defense, when I began writing within the genre I gave up reading within it. That way I can be certain that the only author I might, albeit unintentionally, plagiarize is myself.
2. Many of you write with recurring characters in your stories. How do you keep track of what your characters have done to ensure that your storyline stays true?
I keep re-reading the manuscript as I work. I start the day by reading yesterday’s product and editing as necessary, and end the day in the same way. All in all I must read every chapter several times over before it gets printed out.
3. Do you visualize your characters as anyone in particular? A celebrity or a significant other?
Rarely intentionally, although I’ll sometimes recognize a facial feature or characteristic that has somehow migrated from a real character to one of mine.
4. If you write historical romances, how do you do your research?
Books. Lots of them. I love doing research, following connections, tracking down obscure references, hunting for a historical hook.
5. Level with us — how easy or difficult is it to write a love scene?
I assume we’re talking about sex scenes here. Quite honestly, I’ve never found them hard to write. What is difficult is trying to find different ways to describe one basic activity that only has a limited number of printable variations. It’s easier now that the taboos on language have lifted and one’s no longer obliged to look for euphemisms for genitalia. I found it more laugh-inducing than arousing searching for an original alternative to “jutting manhoods and thrusting shafts.”
6. Which do you think readers prefer, the more erotic/graphic romance or the old-fashioned romance that leaves most everything to the imagination? Has this changed over the years?
I think there’s plenty of room for both. What might offend one reader will delight another. It’s certainly true that the genre has become more diverse, more open, over the years, which can only be a good thing for both readers and writers.
7. In the publishing business, do you feel there is a stigma attached to romance novels and, by extension, romance authors? Are the subgenres that are being used to define novels today — romantic suspense, historical romance, romantic mystery — an attempt to eliminate any stigma attached to the romance genre?
I don’t see how one can stigmatize a genre that arguably outsells most of the other forms of popular fiction. If there was a stigma it would attach as much to the readers of these books as to the authors and the industry itself. If I remember rightly Stephen King spoke to this a couple of months ago. His point, as I recall, was that those who despise popular fiction are closing their minds to significant aspects of their own world. They’re out of touch with the way their world works. It’s like saying I only ever listen to Mozart; who are these Beatles? I have been asked on several occasions when I’m going to write a “proper” book. A question I dismiss with the contempt it deserves. If the questioners had ever written a work of fiction they would never even formulate such a question, and if they haven’t, they don’t have the right to ask it. I’m assuming that sub-genres are a useful marketing tool. They enable the industry to tell which aspect of the genre is the particular flavor of the month. I have my doubts as to how reliable that is. My first historical was initially declined on the grounds that it was “essentially a Regency, and you can’t give Regencies away nowadays.” It didn’t take long for that to turn around and I spent the next few years writing nothing but Regencies because someone believed that that was what the market demanded.
8. What are some things that you think could help increase awareness and sales of romance books?
More mainstream publicity, maybe.
9. What do you love about your fans? Tell us about a memorable encounter with one of your readers while on tour, or via your website or email.
You mean apart from all those hours spent languishing in isolation in a book store at a table piled with one’s latest offering and the only person who comes over says, “Who are you? I’ve never heard of you.” Seriously, though, I love anyone who will take the time to communicate with me. I particularly remember one letter, a handwritten three-page tirade from an outraged reader, fan would definitely be a misnomer, who’d been deeply offended by an incident in one of my books. She finally explained her outrage: I hadn’t described the incident in detail, but left it up to her imagination, which in her view was much worse. Classic case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. But I was actually complimented by the fact that she had felt it worth while to write to me to communicate her outrage. Of course, she did end the letter by saying she’d never read another one of my books again. I’ve no idea whether she ever changed her mind.
10. Have you ever written a book outside the genre?
My office is littered with piles of non-romance manuscripts that so far have not made it between covers.
11. What do you think is the future trend for romance novels?
I would like to think the genre would expand more into the mainstream. Maybe allow for a little more variety than the classic one-couple romance leading to a happy-ever-after ending.
12. What are you working on now?
I’m reading around several ideas, waiting for one of them to jump up and bite me.