I’m a huge fan of Kathleen Gilles Seidel. Back when we did our reviewer Top Ten posts, I chose her Again as my top romance novel of all time, and mentioned how it frustrated me to love and want to recommend a book that’s out of print. Thank goodness for ebooks, because now Again, and three other Seidel classics (Till the Stars Fall, After All These Years, and Don’t Forget to Smile) are being released in digital form as the Hometown Memories books. Kathy agreed to talk with me a bit over email about this exciting re-release.
Not only that, but she is offering one copy of each of the four ebooks as prizes for AAR readers. Enter to win by leaving a comment saying which book you’d most like to win. (You can say “any of them” if you want, and we’ll enter you for all of them). We’ll choose one winner for each book from the comments.
Now, on to the interview!
Caroline: You are calling these four books “The Hometown Memories Books,” but they aren’t a connected series, are they?
Kathy: No, they aren’t. I know that readers love books with continuing characters, but I like exploring different settings so much that I have never written a series. So to call these four books a series would be very misleading. The publisher said that “collection” was also a misleading term, as readers might think that they were getting more than one book. So because in each book the characters have a strong relationship, sometimes positive, sometimes wildly negative, with their hometowns, we are calling it the “Hometown Memories Books.”
Caroline: Are these stories exactly the way they were when first published, or have you revised them at all?
Kathy: In general, they are the same. I did write one paragraph in After All These Years because the original quoted copyrighted material, and I had no idea if the permission to use the quote would cover a digital release. It seemed easier just to write it.
The technology in the books is wildly dated. No one has cell phones or uses the Internet; a teen-aged girl is wildly impressed because her mom’s new boyfriend has a – hold your breath – VCR, which I spelled out as “video-cassette recorder” because VCRs were pretty cutting-edge at the time. But none of the devices had an essential impact on the characters’ experiences so revising didn’t seem worth the effort.
I did wonder about the phones in Again. The book is set in the former warehouse where a soap opera is taped, and none of the actors have phones in their dressing rooms. It is an issue in the book. If I would have rewritten it, I would have stipulated that the walls of the warehouse blocked cell phone and other wireless signals. So instead of standing in line at a pay phone, the actors would have clustered around the front door, and at the end of the book the executives would have installed fiber-optical cables inside the building. But the story wouldn’t have changed, and I might have had to learn what fiber-optical cables are. Easy choice there. I so don’t want to learn about fiber-optical cables.
I was told that the advantage of issuing a revision version was that readers who already owned the original would want to buy the new one. That seemed a little cheesy to me. I am so grateful to my readers, I feel that I owe them so much, that I don’t want to lure them into thinking that they are buying something new and improved when it is the same story, only with Instagram.
Caroline: I’m actually really glad to hear you say this. I’ve never understood the idea that a contemporary has to be eternally contemporary. Why can’t we enjoy a book that is specific to a more recent time, like the 1980s, just as we enjoy books specific to the Middle Ages or the Regency?
What’s the story behind reissuing these books at this particular time?
Kathy: Various college professors have told me that they would like to teach Again in their classes about romances, but as the book was available only in used print editions or through illegal downloads, they couldn’t assign it. So that was initial prompt — now let’s see if any of them actually do it.
Caroline: Oh, I hope they do. I know you have an academic English background (Kathy has a PhD in English from Johns Hopkins) – do you like the idea of being analyzed by undergrads?
Kathy: Bring it on. And not just the undergrads. Graduate students, post docs, people studying for their GEDs. I love having people read and think about my books.
Caroline: So did you have all the rights back?
Kathy: No, I didn’t. I have long had the rights back to the books published by Harlequin (including After All These Years and Don’t Forget To Smile). There was a period of about five minutes back in the 1990s when Harlequin was willing to return rights, and I got mine back then. But then, first, the markets that were formerly behind the Iron Curtain opened up, and second, Harlequin began to rerelease some authors’ backlists. So the company stopped returning rights, and my friends were suddenly making lots of money. I did wonder if getting the rights back had been a mistake, but now I am glad that I have them.
I did not have the rights to Till The Stars Fall and Again. Originally I sold these books to Claire Zion at Pocket Books. I had worked with her before, and I respect her and like her. But her strength as an editor is, in part, helping authors make a book clear and realistic. I think of her as the kid on the ground holding the kite strings, keeping crazily imaginative authors from floating into outer space. But my books are already clear and realistic. I need an editor who can kick me into the magic of outer space. So I bought the books back from Pocket and sold them to NAL.
But Claire was lovely and supportive throughout all that. And now – and this is why you never ever burn bridges – she is an incredibly senior person at NAL. I approached her about digital rerelease, and she said that she would be happy to have NAL release the books, but that there would be no marketing to support it, and I probably wouldn’t like the price that they would set. Or – in an act of great generosity – she could return the rights to me. I accepted that offer.
Caroline: Any plans to reissue other works in your backlist, like the Harlequins, or other single titles?
I now only have the rights to the five Harlequin Americans, and at the moment I don’t have any plans to re-issue them.
Caroline: Careers are huge parts of your characters, and many of them are high achievers: a nationally renowned home restorer, a soap opera showrunner, a Miss America runner-up, a rock legend. What draws you to exceptional characters? How do you make these lives and settings feel authentic?
Achievement matters to me, but achievement doesn’t have to be glamorous. One of my characters whom I admire the most is Curry of After All These Years, and her achievement was that, as a young widow, she opened and ran a paint store that was successful enough that she could provide for her son.
Caroline: That’s a really good point.
Kathy: I have selected these careers for my characters because I was curious about the world of soap operas, rock tours, and elite figure skaters, and I figure that if I am interested in something, a hundred thousand American women will be too. I agree with the precept, “write what you know,” but you don’t have to have known it your whole life. You can have learned it yesterday. So my advice is “write what you want to learn about” — hence the lack of the fiber-optic cables in Again. I don’t want to learn about fiber-optic cables. I wanted to learn how soap-opera actors kept track of their characters’ jewelry (baggies clipped to the hanger of the costume).
Caroline: When I think of your books, I always think of those details. The difference that a special flower bouquet makes for a girl in a beauty pageant, or the culture of a Princeton men’s singing group.
You wrote these books pre-Internet. How did you do your research? Did you do interviews, watch documentaries, work mostly from books? Do you do research differently nowadays?
Kathy: Yes, I interviewed people and read books, especially first-person memoirs and popular sociology. The Internet is great from tracing down stray facts that in the past I would have to write around because to do the research wouldn’t have been worth it. I also like dipping into the message boards about a particular topic. You get a good feel for people’s voices . . . at least once you’ve filtered out the crazy ones.
Caroline: All of these books contain at least one protagonist who has been married/engaged before. What draws you to “second-chance” stories and characters who have more relationship experience?
Kathy: I was plodding (as opposed to something useful like “plotting”) my way through the book I am currently working on. My agent read bits and pieces of it and then said, “Kathy, give them a past relationship. That’s what you love; that’s what you’re good at.” And the story suddenly came alive for me.
I don’t know why this works for me. It isn’t biographical. I met my late husband during my freshman year in college. It’s nice being Facebook friends with my high school boyfriends, but the only reason I would have for wanting to meet them in person is to meet their wives as they seem to have married such interesting women.
Caroline: So you’re working on something now – can you tell us about it, or would you have to kill us?
Kathy: I wouldn’t have to kill you, but I would almost certainly want to kill myself. Whenever I try to summarize a work-in-progress, it sounds awful.
Caroline: Thank you so much for talking with us, Kathy!
Here are Kathleen Gilles Seidel’s Hometown Memories ebooks:
Again: Alec Cameron joins the cast of a regency soap opera as a duke and inspires showrunner Jenny Cotton to make some changes in her writing and her personal life.
After All These Years: Widowed single mother Curry James finds a second chance at happiness when Tom Winchester, who used to be best friends with her and her late husband, comes back to their small town.
Till the Stars Fall: Quinn Hunter wrote some of the greatest rock songs of his generation for Krissa French before they and his band broke up. After over a decade and Krissa’s marriage to another man, have they changed enough to be together?
Don’t Forget to Smile: Meeting former Miss America contestant Tory Duncan, who now runs a local bar, makes Oregon logger Joe Brigham question his small-town life and his goals for his future.
Would you like to win one or any of the Hometown Memories books? Enter by leaving a comment with the book title or titles that you’d like to be entered for! Don’t forget to provide a working email when you leave your comment. Comments close on Friday, August 28th at midnight.