(This interview was originally written for Romantics at Heart in 1996)
Several weeks ago when I was looking at my rather large library, I decided I had nothing to read. Actually, I needed to take a break from the dark and intense medievals I’d been reading. As I scanned my bookcases, Julia Quinn’s Splendid caught my eye. For some reason, I checked the copyright page and when I saw the dedication, I knew I had found what I had been looking for – humor. You see, Julia’s dedication included this clever snippet about her fiance: And for Paul, even though he insisted that the title ought to be Splendid in the Grass.
I whipped through Splendid in no time and found it to be, well, Splendid. It was light, frothy, sexy and surprisingly free of the conflict I often read in romances. I was pleased to find that the heroine and hero did not engage in an agonizing love-hate relationship. Not that there weren’t misunderstandings, of course, but the book focused more on characters than tortuous plots filled with intrigue and suspense. There was so much love, friendship and humor on the pages of this book that I quickly started Julia’s next book, Dancing at Midnight, which is a sequel to Splendid. In August, the third book in this historical-regency-set trilogy is due to be released. I can’t wait to get my hands on Minx and read about the man who befriends both the heroines of Splendid and Dancing at Midnight.
Julia has an e-mail link on the World Wide Web. I contacted her as a fan and we ending up writing back and forth with this article as a result. Julia has signed to write three more books for Avon and is currently hard at work on them. They too will be set in the regency period, which is her favorite period to read and write about. She finds that it’s a good time period for people who like to write dialogue.
Julia grew up reading romantic fiction. She and her mother used to stop at the book section of the supermarket to check for Jude Deveraux’s books. If there was a new one, they fought each other to read it first. In fact, her list of favorite books includes Jude Deveraux’s latest book, The Heiress. Other favorites are The Secret by Julie Garwood, Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas, Something Wonderful by Judith McNaught, and Heaven, Texas by Susan Elizabeth Phillips.
Julia was influenced heavily by Judith McNaught. In fact, after a time when she grew bored with reading romances, she found Whitney, My Love and has been “hooked ever since”. Other influences besides the authors listed above include Susan Wiggs, Loretta Chase, Danelle Harmon, Stephanie Mittman, Nancy Block, Jennifer Crusie, Karen Robards and Catherine Anderson. As many of you may have heard, Julia was getting ready to start Yale Medical School when she learned that Splendid and Dancing at Midnight had been sold at auction. This is very unusual for a first-time author, especially in the field of romance. Because they were sold at auction, she has been able to support herself as a full-time writer. As she herself says, “If I hadn’t gotten such a great break at the beginning of my career, I don’t know if I would have had the guts to call up Yale Medical School and tell them I wasn’t going.”
Reading other books set in the regency period has been Julia’s favorite way to research, although she does use reference books as well. Her decision to become an author was not a conscious one. She says, “I just started jotting down notes one day while I was on vacation. When I got home, I parked myself in front of a computer, typed in what I’d done, and kept going. By the end of the day, I’d written the first two chapters of Splendid.”
Two chapters are the most Julia has ever written in a day. She spent close to 8 months writing Splendid and the same for Dancing at Midnight; however, she was still in school as well as working at the time she wrote those two books. Minx was completed in about half that time. While she tries to keep a schedule, “Other days I don’t get anything done. I try to set myself weekly and monthly goals to keep myself on track for my deadlines.”
Because so many romances are written as trilogies, I asked Julia for an explanation. She responded that while many trilogies are planned that way, hers was not. In fact, she did not plan to write a follow-up to Splendid until she was nearly done with it. Julia says that she found herself getting so interested in Emma’s cousin Belle that she wrote Dancing at Midnight. She adds that, “Soon after, it was pretty obvious that William Dunford. . . should have a story of his own.”
Splendid is very character-driven. Dancing at Midnight has a little more conflict in it, but as Julia writes, she tries to make certain she has a good idea who the characters are because their motivations drive the plot. She says that it’s a challenge not to write the same characters over and over again. “We all like the arrogant hero and the spitfire heroine. I’m not about to write about wimps, but I try to see what I can do to bring a new character to life with each book.” Julia says the premise helps to create the characters, who then help to create the plot. In her own words, here is how Julia describes the premise of Minx:
“. . . the hero inherits a barony and a small house in Cornwall. When he gets there, he is rather surprised to find a 20-year-old woman running the estate. He is even more surprised to find her dressed like a man. That was how it began. Then I started figuring out why Henry (no one ever calls her Henrietta) doesn’t wear traditional female clothing. Turns out that A) men’s clothing is more practical when running a working farm, and more importantly, B) she has not had a female influence since her aunt dies when she was fourteen. Henry doesn’t know how to pick out clothing or plan a dinner party or dance gracefully. In short, she doesn’t know how to be a girl. All she knows is how to run her beloved Stannage Park.
This gave me the basic kernel of her character, which in turn drove the plot. She fears that Dunford will boot her off of the estate, and so she sets out to ‘convince’ him that he is not cut out for country living. This includes telling him that water is at a premium and that he can only bathe once every other week. She also has him shovel out a pigpen. Later in the story, Dunford wants to take her to London for a season, but of course she puts up a heck of a fight – she doesn’t want to go and fall on her face. . .”
It sounds like Julia has once again found a winning combination of humor and romance. Her grandmother, to whom her sister reads them aloud, says Julia’s books are “more fun than Oprah.” I’d have to agree, they are Splendid.
Since this article was first published in early 1996, Julia’s life has gone through many changes. She and Paul were married in June. This fall she re-entered medical school but has since decided to return to writing full time. Her next release will be Everything & the Moon.