A new release by Robyn Carr is a fabulous reason to celebrate. When you add into the equation that her latest is a new Christmas release plus it features hunky Patrick Riordan, then it is triple the delight as far as I’m concerned. I had the opportunity to interview one of my favorite authors about her writing career, and her very successful Virgin River series. In addition to some great insights into Ms. Carr’s varied writing history, her publisher Harlequin MIRA is providing copies of Carr’s November 2012 release, My Kind of Christmas for some lucky winners. The details on that are listed at the end of the interview. But enough from me. Let’s get to the good stuff.

Leigh: I am very excited to have you here today, as I’ve been reading your books since the late 1990s. You have been writing a long time, first starting out with historicals like Chelynne published in 1980. Was it the change in the industry that made you switch from historicals to contemporary books or just your own internal voice?

Robyn Carr: Much sooner than that, actually. The first two books I was trying to market were Chelynne and what would later be titled Tempted, a contemporary. I always loved contemporary romance and contemporary women’s fiction, but my publisher was not at all interested in the contemporary stuff, probably because historicals were, as you say, very hot. I did sell Tempted in ’86. many years after it was originally written, but it did not pave the way for a successful contemporary career. In fact, from ’90 to ’98 I couldn’t sell a book to save my life! Zero. Nada. Zilch. But then in ’98 MIRA, a division of Harlequin, bought a women’s fiction from me — The House On Olive Street, and 7 years later I would successfully sell them the first Virgin River novels. Long haul. Many typed pages.

Leigh: Early in your career you usually released a book a year. I know this because I used to search out information about your next release. My Kind of Christmas is the 20th story in the Virgin River series since 2007. In 2010 you released a single title, too, so twenty-one stories in five years. Of course, some readers might say you don’t write fast enough for them but that is quite a change. What has made a difference?

Robyn Carr: The short answer is — technology. I wrote a book a year on a typewriter at the kitchen table with carbon copies or a very, very old fashioned computer with a daisy wheel printer that could knock out a printed manuscript in 8 short hours — and this while I was raising two children. I sold my first book when my youngest was almost 2 years old. And there was no internet, no Google. I went to the library to research, spending hours taking notes and making those very dearly priced Xerox copies from reference books. By the nineties, computers were more advanced, internet research was coming along nicely, and then it became a matter of convincing the publisher to put me on the schedule! They didn’t really want more than one book a year from me — they wanted as many as the bestselling authors could write, but not from me. So — I bit the bullet and wrote the first 4 Virgin River novels before selling them! That was the only way I could think of to convince them I was a more than one book a year kind of writer.

Now it seems the pressure is on everyone to write as many books a year as possible while still watching the quality.

Leigh: You are well into the Virgin River series. Are you the type of author that has the series planned far in advance or do you simply go with the flow?

Robyn Carr: I didn’t think I’d write more than one! By the time I was 100 pages into that first one, I could see a trilogy, maybe four. More than that? It never occurred to me until the publisher asked me if I could. I thought about it briefly, looked at the canvas I had established and realized that really, it could go on for as long as I could keep the characters straight and bring new people to town. Now every time a character walks on stage for two lines of dialogue, my readers expect them to get a whole book!

What makes this fun is that I have always loved working with ensemble casts. Love, Actually is my very favorite movie — ten plots and countless people all coming together at the end. Even back in the historical days, I sometimes loved my supporting characters as much or even more than my hero and heroine. When you’re working with a whole town, you can keep at it as long as your interest doesn’t wane or your enthusiasm fade.

Leigh: You first introduced readers to the difficulties of providing medical care in isolated rural setting and the concept of a close-knit community relying on each other in the Grace Valley series, which I view as a precursor to the Virgin River series. However, the romance is more subtle in the Grace Valley books. Was making the books more romance centered a challenge for you?

Robyn Carr: You’re right, Grace Valley came first. I wanted a sexier book in the worst way — romances were getting sexier and those were my favorites to read. I didn’t want to write erotica, but I did want a sexier book. And YES it was a challenge! I think of my books as steamy while reviewers refer to them as comfort reads — shows you how steamy I am! But I think putting love scenes into the stories really gave them a much larger audience. I say that, but my earlier books that were not as sexy are doing very fine as reissues, so I think it probably keeps coming back to a satisfying story. What’s interesting is the women who most appreciate sexier love scenes are much, much older than you’d guess — 70’s, 80’s and up.

Leigh: You are not afraid of tackling the difficult subjects like death, lack of medical care, returning veterans with PTSD, amputations, and facial deformities. One issue that touched me was in Bring Me Home for Christmas when Becca Timms discovers Megan Thickson’s self-esteem is being eroded by her elementary school teacher. In My Kind of Christmas you write about PTSD and near death experience, and how that can change your life goals. Inspiration can come from many places – the struggles of family, friends, or newspaper articles. Is there one that is especially close to your heart?

Robyn Carr: Any one source of inspiration close to my heart, is that the question? Because I listen. Readers write to me, people tell me stories, I hear things on TV, read about situations that fascinate me on an emotional level and I look further, research, interview. The one rule I most respect is that this ‘issue’ has to be about how it affects relationships. When you nearly die, everyone around you is affected, and always in very different ways! When someone is struggling with self-image, especially a child, everyone within pitching distance is trying to figure out what to do, say, how to act. We don’t and can’t live in a vacuum — life isn’t quite right until we understand how to relate to each other. And one person’s struggle can change the lives of the people around them — that’s happened to me and I’m sure it’s happened to you!

Anyone who has raised children has been up against that mean teacher. My kids had wonderful teachers, but there were two (very small percentage, considering these kids are now raising their own children!) that really threw me with their negative, destructive teaching methods. What an emotional struggle for a child and her parents!

Leigh: The Riordan family and the Sheridan family have been a joy to read about. And now with My Kind of Christmas you brought them closer together as Patrick Riordan and Angela LaCroix met in Virgin River. What was the inspiration for this pairing?

Robyn Carr: I’ll be honest — I caved. I had no intention of writing a book about Patrick! He had maybe 10 lines in the whole series! But readers were insistent and I finally realized the series would feel like it was missing something if I didn’t take a closer look at him. And then, this happens a lot, once I started writing about him, I fell so in love! He ended up being one of the hottest, sexiest, most endearing characters I’ve ever written about. It also gave me a chance to bring the Riordan and Sheridan families together as Angela is Jack’s niece. I love being around the Riordans and Sheridans!

Leigh: While your books constantly make the bestseller lists, Bring Me Home for Christmas, released in 2011, not only debuted in the #1 slot on the New York Times roster but also on Barnes and Noble and Publishers Weekly lists too. How excited were you?

Robyn Carr: I just couldn’t believe it, to tell the truth. What an amazing trifecta! Since bestsellers are all about velocity — large numbers of books sold in short periods of time — I think that speaks to the success of a series more than anything. People must be waiting at the door to get the next book in the series to push it onto so many lists, and that is the biggest compliment I can imagine!

Leigh: While I really enjoy the Virgin River series, I also love your single titles, especially when they include such heartwarming heroes like Walt Arneson from A Summer in Sonoma. Any single titles planned or is your focus right now on the Virgin River series?

Robyn Carr: There is another single title getting ready — another girlfriend book that involves love, drama, women’s issues, all that great stuff. The problem with talking about it is we haven’t settled on a title or pub date yet. But I’ll say this — in a perfect world I get to write books in a series, sometimes a long running series like Virgin River, and also write girlfriend books, women’s fiction. I love both! And I loved Walt Arneson’s character so much that he stepped right out of A Summer in Sonoma and into Virgin River in a minor but very fun way! Talk about crossing over!

Leigh: If other readers are like me, then immediately upon finishing one of your books, they too start looking for news of your upcoming releases. Do you have books in the works for 2013 and if so do you know when they are scheduled for publication? And I sure wouldn’t complain and I doubt the readers here would either if you wanted to give hints about the books.

Robyn Carr: There is a new series on the way for 2013, the first of three to be released in April 2013. There will be three in 2013 — And I’ll start talking about that in a major way in January, with slides, excerpts, teasers, etc. Right now I’m trying to keep my focus on My Kind Of Christmas, out in less than 3 weeks.

Leigh: Speaking of My Kind of Christmas , finally I get to see my name in print with a character name Leigh. However, she is not heroine material. Of course, you could easily change that. How about it?

Robyn Carr: Aren’t names the funniest things? I NEVER associate the fictional names with people I know. Never. And here’s a not so secret secret — the names I’m most drawn to, that feel most right, that I just plain love, appear over and over in my books. Not just first names, last names as well. I have no idea why! Not only is there an entire Riordan clan in Virgin River, there’s a Joe Riordan in Blue Skies which was written 8 years ago and reissued recently. I’ve used Cavanaugh more than once — back in the ’80s and recently. I love the name Leigh and guess what? She’s a heroine in a novella I wrote in ’91. In three years I’ll probably use the name again, so stay tuned!

Leigh:You can be sure I will stay tuned. Thank you so much for spending the time with me and our AAR readers.

And now for the giveaway! As I mentioned above, Harlequin Mira has graciously agreed to provide 5 copies of My Kind of Christmas for 5 lucky readers. If you want to enter, just comment below between now and 11:59 p.m. EST on Wednesday, October 17, 2012. Good luck!

– Leigh Davis