“My aim with each book is to write a story I want to read. I like lots of sexual tension and detail, I love the domineering hero and the intelligent, outspoken heroine who tames him, and I enjoy writing those kind of stories.”
I first became aware of Christina Dodd’s writing when she wrote Once a Knight back in 1996. Both that book, and its sequel, A Knight to Remember, were very well received. I started to keep my ears open then, and learned about the infamous 3-armed cover of her Castles in the Air. After I read and fell in love with her controversial A Well Pleasured Lady, I went on a glom and found copies of most of her earlier books, including what I understand is a highly collectable copy of Castles.
Christina made a big splash with the publication of Lady in 1997, her first book for Avon (previous books had been written for Harper). When I read and reviewed it, I knew that its love scenes would spark a great deal of controversy – was the first love scene a love scene or a scene depicting rape? Can there be a distinction drawn in romance fiction between forced seduction and rape? Why did some of us love this book so much while others hated it with an equal fervor? Discussions of my review and the column segment I wrote shortly thereafter generated a tremendous amount of reader and author input, culminating in the creation of an entire section here at AAR – Rifs on Political Correctness.
Since Lady was published, Christina has published four full-length books. The first, A Well Favored Gentleman, sequel to Lady, sparked a bit of controversy itself for another love scene. Then came That Scandalous Evening, which received Desert Isle Keeper Status from us (as did the earlier Candle in the Window and A Well Pleasured Lady). Then came The Runaway Princess and Someday My Prince, a duo set in the fictional kingdom of Baminia.
I recently caught up with Christina and we talked about her publishing career and what she has planned for the future. Here then, are the highlights of our discussion
–Laurie Likes Books
You were widely known and respected as a medieval romance author for many years, but with Once a Knight and A Knight to Remember, your visibility and popularity made a huge jump. Then you made the move to Avon (presumably due to the success of those two books), and made the move from medievals into later historical periods. What was that transition like, both from the publisher to the historic period?
Actually, I got around quite a bit in my early career. I’d written medievals, westerns, Georgians, Elizabethans, and Regencies. I loved all the different eras, especially Elizabethan which, with Shakespeare in Love, has finally gained the popularity it deserves. Medievals hold the special pleasure of being pre-gunpowder – it’s a powerful villain who must be fought in face-to-face combat. Someday I’ll write another. Richard from A Knight to Remember is begging for a story, but although I’ve tried to plot for him, I’ve never been satisfied with the results.
I was already writing A Well Pleasured Lady when I left Harper and went to Avon, and I’ve stayed in the nineteenth century ever since. What attracts me to the Regency era? The same thing that attracts the readers. It’s well covered ground, and almost anyone who reads historicals can read a Regency and know without being told what the characters are wearing, what the idioms mean, and who the scions of society were. Also, the women wore clothes that were easy to take off. My next three books take place in the early Victorian period. The books are interconnected governess stories, and I wanted that Victorian-repressive, Jane Eyre-type atmosphere to go with the tales.
Your first book for Avon, A Well Pleasured Lady, was enormously controversial online, and yet a tremendous success for you (that title, no doubt, contributed to its success). Your successive books have been equally successful, and yet your reputation seems to have changed. You are now known as a romance writer who writes “hot” romances. While I’m not sure they are any hotter than they used to be, you do have that reputation. Please talk about the controversy surrounding Lady, and writing “hot” romances.
Actually, I always wrote hot romances, but my editor at Harper was quite conservative and many of the love scenes were cut or severely trimmed – picture thighs, breasts and penises flying out of my manuscripts. My editor at Avon wants the story to flow and the romance to work, but other than that, she lets the love scenes alone. Since A Well Pleasured Lady was the first of my books to come out with my normal, unedited frankness, it startled some of the readers. They had to make the decision to continue to read me or not – readers always vote with their dollars, and the publishing industry always listens. Lady is in its fifth printing, so the vote on that book is in.
But my aim with each book is to write a story I want to read. I like lots of sexual tension and detail, I love the domineering hero and the intelligent, outspoken heroine who tames him, and I enjoy writing those kind of stories.
Let’s talk a bit about editing, which you brought up in an earlier question. Many of our readers are very interested in knowing what an editor does – and what differentiates a good from a bad editor. They are also constantly talking about typo, grammar, and historical boo-boos that copy editors are supposed to catch. What kind of editing do you appreciate, what do you find obtrusive, and what is your response to “there were historical inaccuracies in this book” statements?
I’ve had two editors and been so lucky with both of them. My first editor was probably the best line-editor in the business. I’m famous (or infamous) for overwriting – saying the same thing over and over in five different ways. I also love to state the obvious – “She looked up at the sky above.” Which prompted pithy remarks like, “Where else would the sky be?” My editor took that red pencil, slashed through the repetitions and the nonsense, and showed me where to tighten. My current editor doesn’t do as much line-editing (hopefully because I learned to cut from my first editor), but she has a sense of romance that’s nothing short of phenomenal. She advises me on my stories and my characters and when she talks, I listen. Usually.
There are always those major changes that make me groan, but it’s usually because it’s hard work to make a change and it always causes the domino effect (i.e. – I have to change it throughout the book and sweat blood that I missed a place.) Of course I’ll fight if I think I’m right, but usually authors agree that by the time we turn a book in, we’ve been over it so many times we lose sense of proportion. I do most of the editing asked of me.
As for the historical inaccuracies comment – when someone tells me I’m wrong I apologize and hope I don’t screw up again. No matter how much research I do, I’m not going to get everything right, and if I’m wrong, it seems it’s always a little thing that’s obvious to everyone but me. The English have a different culture and such different attitudes, I will never be completely correct in portraying them as they were in the Nineteenth Century.
Please share with our readers your personal and professional background.
My husband and I met in college in Boise, Idaho and have been married for twenty-six years. He’s the vice-president of a structural engineering firm. I was a draftsman for years and he loves to read, so we understand each other very well – or as well as it’s possible for men and women to understand each other. We’ve lived in Texas for the past seventeen years and we have two daughters.
What made you become a writer? How long was the period between deciding to write that first book, and having it published?
Readers become writers, and I’ve always been a reader. While I was in my twenties and working as a draftsman, I’d read during the lunch hour, go back to design a sawmill, and while I was drafting, I would plot the ending of the book in my mind. It never ended like that, and I liked my endings better. So when my first daughter was born, I told my husband I was going to quit work, and write a book. It was a good time to start a new career, because how much trouble could one little infant be?
Yes, go ahead and laugh. It took me ten years, two children and two unpublished manuscripts before I was published.
How long does it take you to research a historical period, and how do you research when you are creating a fictional country?
Research is ongoing and forever. Luckily, that’s a part of writing I love. I cheerfully read books titled In the Footsteps of Robert the Bruce and The Family, Sex, and Marriage in England 1500-1800. Of course, when I actually need a specific bit of information it’s never anything I’ve read and certainly never in the books I own. So I have to trudge down to the library. Going to the library is almost as tough as going to the mall.
Writing a fictional country is an odd experience. When I started The Runaway Princess, I knew I wanted the clothes to be right for the time and I did research on Andorra, a small principality in the Pyrenees and the basis for Serephina and Baminia. Other than that I was on my own. It was very frightening and very freeing at the same time, and I had a great time with it – so I did it again with Someday My Prince.
One of the things I like about your writing is that the humor you include is not forced, and is often on the dark side. Please talk about humor in writing, and in writing romance. And talk about black humor as well. (One of our reviewers just forwarded to me an RWA article you wrote about your 3-armed cover – I have a copy of the book myself! – your sense of humor comes out loud and clear in that as well).
When I was young I read everything, but as I grew up I discovered I liked romance best because, as you say, I like humor. Romance is about the fusion of one man and one woman, and that is intrinsically, hysterically funny. A woman wants things like world peace, a clean house, and a deep and meaningful relationship based on mutual understanding and love. A man wants things like a Craftsman router with attachments, undisputed control of the TV remote, and a red Corvette that will miraculously make his bald spot disappear. I don’t think it’s black humor to say that men and women talk and think at cross-purposes, I think it’s just a fact and one I accept gratefully. We’d have nothing to write about without that battle of the sexes.
As for the article about the three-armed heroine – it’s easy to be funny when fate hands you material like that.
You mentioned that it took ten years to be published – was that first book you had published the first you wrote? What kept you going throughout that decade?
Candle in the Window was my third finished manuscript. The first two books were training, and while I was training, I was also busy just living. I had those two children which I produced and raised, we moved from Idaho to Texas, and we’ve moved within Texas. But mostly during those ten unpublished years I worked to convince myself I could be an author before I truly made the commitment to the job. Once I did that, I wrote every day, plotted stories I thought I would enjoy telling, and studied the market. My dear patient husband kept me in shoes and told me he believed in me – God bless him, I could never have done it without his support. He still reads every book I write. And I think I had to come to the realization that, if I never got published, I would still write. Writing makes me happy and fulfills a need I have to tell stories. It’s a great job, and I love it.
How long does it take you, from conception of the idea, to completion of a manuscript, including research time?
Depends. Plotting is always my bug-a-boo. Sometimes, very rarely, I have a plot spring up fully formed in my head, but usually I get a concept, then I try to wrestle a plot out of it. I call my writer-friends, we do conference calls, we fling out ideas, and eventually something jells. But I’ve been known to get to page one hundred and then decide I’m lacking in the conflict department or that my finale is dismal and make more calls. By the way, they call me when in need, too. For some reason, we all seem to be brilliant when plotting other people’s books.
Research, as I said, is continuous and enjoyable. I seldom write myself into a corner fact-wise, although with Rules of Engagement (my October release,) I had my daughter, who is in college with a fast Internet connection, do research on Nineteenth Century British banknotes. She put me in contact with the Bank of England Museum, which was just thrilling. The Internet can be such a resource!
What do you like to read? Which romance authors do you enjoy reading most, and what do you read outside the genre?
My daughter handed me Tuesdays with Morrie, and it’s amazing. It’s seldom that a book that gives you the strength to live your life is beautifully written and succinct.
I also read non-fiction. That’s how I justify a huge book budget – I buy research books and read them, then write a book based on some idea I found. I guess you could say it’s a vicious circle, but man, is it fun.
Fiction – for the most part, I read romance. I love it. All time favorite authors – Roberta Gellis, Jayne Ann Krentz in all her incarnations, Linda Howard, and Sharon and Tom Curtis aka Laura London (Tom and Sharon Curtis)). I love series romance, especially the traditional lines – Harlequin Romance and Presents. I love anthologies. Susan Elizabeth Phillips is just extraordinary. Elizabeth Lowell always moves me. Oh, and call it a character flaw if you like, but I love sheik books.
While Christina and I aren’t on the same wavelength when it comes to sheik books, I do so love her wicked sense of humor. It comes through in her romance writing, and in her general demeanor – “penises flying out of manuscripts” indeed!
There’s more to Dodd’s writing, however, than her sense of humor. There’s also a poignancy, sometimes riding beneath the surface, in her characters and what they’ve been through before they are healed through the power of love. It’s a rare talent that can combine violent feelings, humor, and sex into such a heady combination. I think Dodd’s got it. What about you?