Behind the Pen of Stella Cameron
(This interview originally written for The Romance Reader in 1996)
Stella Cameron, the best-selling author of contemporary and historical romantic fiction, was one of the first authors to experiment with the Web. She maintains an extensive, yet user-friendly site. Several months ago, though I had yet to read any of her work, I visited her site. I found her to be generous with her time and amazingly responsive to requests and questions.
Stella Cameron is a romance author who has sold millions of books. Yet, she says, writing comes third on her list of vocations. Her own personal romance with her husband Jerry of 29 years remains her number one passion. And she’s equally devoted to their three children.
“My husband is a dear, loyal man. The day we met was the most blessed day of my life,” said Stella, in a recent interview from her home near Seattle. “He has allowed me to be all that I can be and this is a reciprocal trust.”
Born and raised on the southern coast of England, she met her American husband at a party in London. So mesmerized was she by the sight of the Fab Four through the window, she was taken aback when asked by a handsome stranger to dance the Mexican Hat Dance. “The rest, as they say, is history,” says Stella laughingly.
After their marriage, she left England and went with husband Jerry to Washington State to make a home and raise a family.
Like many authors, Stella began her literary career as a reader. As a young girl, Stella was a self-professed reading “addict”, devouring all types of literature.
“I grew up surrounded by a dear, but wildly dysfunctional family,” Stella says. “Very early I learned to retreat from the raging, sometimes threatening demands of others into a gentler world — my own. As a child and a young adult, books saved me because they helped free me while they entertained me. Those books were part of what I mean by ‘my own world.’ My love of reading always marched side-by-side with a love of writing. When the other children in my English classes watched the clock and prayed for the period to end, I wrote furiously on such grabbing topics as: A Walk In My Garden!”
Nineteenth-century author Jane Austen was a particular favorite, and Stella admits that she particularly enjoys reading and writing books set in the 1800s, as well as contemporary novels. Author Mazo de la Roche’s turn-of-the-century series about the Whiteoak family is another favorite. Stella is also a fan of such modern authors as Suzanne Simmons, Jayne Ann Krentz, Ann Maxwell, Anne Tyler and Anita Brookner.
These authors capture Stella with their “multi-faceted characterization, with plot that never stops me, and with conflict that keeps me on the edge of my seat,” she says. “I want to laugh and cry with the books I read, just as I want to laugh and cry with the books I write. The authors I admire are those who put their hearts — and their guts — on the page. I’m not interested in pure fluff, but I can often see through the frills to the poignancy beneath and I set to work to ferret it out — with enormous pleasure.”
In 1980, Stella decided she wanted to write professionally. She attended writing classes and wrote short literary fiction for a year. It was during this period that Stella discovered how well-written and intense romantic fiction could be. Using her newly acquired writing skills, she began to write contemporary romantic fiction for Harlequin Americans and Intrigues. After several years, she moved up to Harlequin SuperRomances. In 1992, she made the switch to single titles with her first historical, Only By Your Touch.
“I loved the big, bold canvas the single title gave me,” Stella says. “When I painted it was in oils rather than water colors — I guess that sums up the attraction!”
As her fans know, Stella uses humor as one of the primary colors on her palette of paints. Her most recent historical Bride (third in the Rossmara Quartet, which I awarded with a 4-heart rating) is filled with the kind of humor-laced intimacy that her readers enjoy. The hero and heroine of Bride turn sexual stereotypes upside down so that the seducer is the seduced … or is it the other way around?
Reversing stereotypes, in addition to her funny-yet-sexy love scenes, are but two hallmarks of a Stella Cameron book. In Bride, the heroine uses a book she is writing on courtship and marriage as a pretext for romantic interludes with the hero. The reader is teased, as the heroine’s straight-forward innocence both captures his heart and tightens his loins. Even their most passionate moments are filled, not with the antagonism found in many romance novels, but with caring and tender affection. Stella’s writing style in Bride is reminiscent of Suzanne Simmons’ witty Bed of Roses.
Unlike many authors who have an annoying tendency to use absurd euphemisms for body parts (petals unfolding, manroot, etc.), Cameron takes a better path, creating loving, sensuous scenes without all the distracting silliness. She speaks of her characters and her characters speak to each other such that the reader laughs in all the right places.
Bride offers some moments of fantasy that many readers can identify with — the heroine’s self-esteem has been systematically destroyed by her nasty grandmother. The hero, having none of it, tells the old witch off. We have all fantasized about being heroines — haven’t we felt (or fantasized) that our parents’ negative perceptions of us are faulty, that we really are unfairly persecuted? And, we have all fantasized about having heroes — haven’t we wished someone would validate the good in us, especially our husband/lover?
Writing is a constant process for Stella, and she spends a good portion of each day working on her latest project, or doing research for the next, a tough schedule that enables her to finish a new book in just a few months. She’s up each morning at 5 a.m., and she writes until breakfast at 8. After her breakfast break she works again until lunch time, and then writes through the afternoon and into the evening.
“I wrap my administrative jobs around the writing…when I get stuck, I sit, and write, and niggle, and fuss until I’m “unstuck,” she says.
She begins each book with an overview of the story. Her stories emphasize plot and characterizations and so are not one-dimensional. Conflict is not only used to drive the story, but also is a tool to round out characters. And despite her best efforts to organize her writing into outline form, she notes that secondary characters and elements often “pop up without warning”.
The Rossmara Quartet began as a trio. In the first book in the series, Fascination, Stella was interested in developing a story using the premise of a young woman trying to please her difficult mother by marrying a rich old man. While the man chosen is rich, he is definitely not old. The first plot formed the basis for the series, leading to Charmed and Bride. And because secondary characters and elements popped up, a fourth book, Beloved, was written. Now, Stella says, “I’m not sure there isn’t another book.”
So, what’s next for Stella? The contemporary True Bliss will be released this July, Beloved hits the stores in September, and Guilty Pleasures, the sequel to Sheer Pleasures, is currently being written. Also coming up: Early In The Morning, a “spacy novella” that is part of anthology written with Fern Michaels, Jill Marie Landis, and Anne Stuart. After that, she will begin another historical series about the fictitious Barclay family.
Stella Cameron’s approach to romantic fiction crosses over from writer to fan and back again. “Books — stories — reach us on many levels and fill many needs,” she says. “They make us think, analyze, consider possibilities. And they free our imaginations; they allow them to be. I cannot contemplate a world without storytelling. From the earliest times, people have spun tales, both to entertain, and to pass on history. My place in this chain is as an entertainer, but, in a way, I am also a historian in that I add my perspective on contemporary values to whatever I’m writing.”
–Laurie Likes Books
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