My continued thanks to Pat for such a wonderful indepth interview. This might give everyone some idea of Pat’s dedication and commitment to her work. We are now halfway through the interview. Remember, if you’d like to ask Pat any questions or comment on what she’s said so far, please use the comment feature at the end of the daily post.
Pat, your first mainstream novel, THE WRONG CHILD, published by Berkley in 2000 was nominated for the Romance Writers of America’s presitgious RITA award. Having written a few romance stories myself, I tend to have a healthy regard for those who do it successfully. Yet, romance writers do seem to get a bad wrap from the media and the public. Why do you think that is and how do you answer–if you do–their charges about the quality of writing and the number of books many writers create? What made you decide to write a mainstream novel? What did you do different in that novel that made it a mainstream novel?
Sigh. This is the part about saying I’m a romance writer that I hate. Inevitably, someone grins and says, “Oh, you write those bodice rippers!” Grrrrrrr. Nothing grates on my innards more than a statement like that, usually from someone who’s never read a romance. I think there are a number of reasons we get this kind of reaction. Years ago, when historical romance novels (the ones that actually had sex in them) were first published, the covers were extremely racy and did show the bodices of the heroines’ dresses falling off their breasts. And many times, the heroes did rip those bodices off. This played into the fantasy a lot of women held about being swept away by a forceful, handsome man, who would then have his way with her (with her pretending she didn’t want him to when she actually did). So really, we romance writers only have ourselves to blame for this continuing perception of what we write.
I personally have never written a bodice ripper in my life, nor will I ever. That was never my fantasy. I write books about contemporary, romantic relationships, with a heavy emphasis on family. This is what interests me and what I like to read. So it’s really tough to deal with comments about bodice rippers and questions such as, “So I guess you really enjoy yourresearch?” followed by a wink, wink, smirk, smirk. When confronted with this kind of thing I try to keep a smile on my face and simply ignore the remark. I’ve found that answering just makes me look defensive, and honestly, what’s the point? I’m not going to educate anyone by trying to explain that they’re wrong, nor will I entice them to actually buy one of my books and see for themselves that they’re wrong, so why waste my breath?
As far as the quality of writing, I do have a standard reply. I just smile and say, “Dickens, Jane Austen, and Shakespeare were all considered to write trash in their day.”
In terms of production, especially the comment about “churning them out” I usually just say our readers are voracious and would forget all about us if we only produced one book a year.
These are not wonderful answers, I know, but I no longer have that fire to fight against ignorance or rudeness. I’d rather save my energy for productive pursuits, like writing another book. I figure most of these people are envious, anyway. Believe me, if they could do what I’m doing, they’d be trampling one another to get there first.
Okay, let’s address the question of mainstream novels vs. romance novels. As most of you know, in a romance novel, there’s one hero, one heroine. The unstated rule of thumb is that once these two meet, they will not engage in an intimate, romantic relationship with anyone else. The other “rule” is that the story will end happily, with hero and heroine committing to one another. Depending on whether the novel is a category romance or a single title romance, there are also limitations on the kind of language that can be used. In a category romance, such as my Special Editions, certain words are forbidden because many of our readers would be upset to read them. In fact, the only cuss words I can use in my category romances are “damn” and “hell.” I’ve tried to get the “sh–” word in a couple of times (men tend to use this word when they’re mad more than “darn”) but no luck. My editor crosses it out every time and writes “sorry, Pat” in the margin. There’s also a difference in word length. Category romances have strict guidelines as to word length, whereas with a single title or mainstream novel, you pretty much tell the story in as many words as it takes. Although I do have to say that in the past few years, even mainstream houses are trying to get their writers to cut down on page count because it’s very costly to publish a lengthy book, plus they have to charge more money for it, and readers balk at heftier prices.
THE WRONG CHILD, my first women’s fiction title, was first proposed as a category romance to Silhouette. My editor said they’d just bought a series about babies switched at birth (which is what THE WRONG CHILD is about) so she thought I’d be better off pitching something else for my next contract. I couldn’t get the story out of my mind, though, so I started writing it as women’s fiction rather than romance and when I had 100 pages completed, I wrote an outline of the remainder of the book and sent it off to my agent. She loved it and promptly sent it to nine publishers with a cover letter saying they had two weeks to decide if they wanted it or not. This is called creating excitement. Seven editors promptly rejected the book. Most often stated was, “this isn’t really a mainstream novel, and it isn’t really a romance.” But Cindy Hwang at Berkley loved it and made an offer and we accepted. That’s how that book came into being. I loved writing it so much I knew I wanted to do more women’s fiction. It was so liberating to have so few restrictions, especially the freedom of writing from many different points of view, which you don’t see much in category romance, and not having to focus so heavily on the romance. Don’t get me wrong; I love romance. And I’ll always have a romance or two in my women’s fiction, but it’s great fun to have a bigger canvas that allows for the exploration of other kinds of relationships as well.
More coming tomorrow . . . .