Writer’s Corner for May, 2006

Lisa Kleypas & Connie Brockway

It’s no secret that Lisa Kleypas and Connie Brockway are taking a break from historical romance. It’s been about a year since the two made their big announcements, and enquiring minds want to know what’s up with both authors and when we’ll get our proverbial hot little hands on their first contemporaryromances. (Yes, I’ll break the news right here that they’re indeed writing romances.) I talked recently with both authors about their new books, their next books, and about Squawk Radio, their very popular blog featuring some of the strangest looking chickens I’ve ever seen .

–Sandy Coleman

Lisa Kleypas

Well, Lisa, it’s been a while now since you announced that you were delving into the world of contemporary romance. So, what’s up with that? And do you have a publication date?

Sandy, so much has happened since our last interview – I can’t believe how quickly the time passes. Your choice of the world “delving” is perfect. I delved into the world of contemporary fiction for about seven months before I finally felt ready to take the plunge and write the book. I had some definite goals in mind. To me, the most important challenge was finding an authentic contemporary voice, which meant stripping down to a clean, honest, cut-out-the-adverbs style that doesn’t get in the way of the story. It wasn’t easy at first, because I’ve always been one of those writers who delights in coming up with “pretty” phrases and descriptions. I love the intricacy of Regency and Victorian dialogue, and all the elegant twists and turns it takes before you get to the point of what’s being said. Shamefully, I also love adverbs *g*.

So I’ve read tons of books in the past couple of years, not just contemporary romances but literary fiction, and also craft books. I’ve always written intuitively, but for the first time I’ve come to understand why and how certain techniques work. I think the result is a book that, hopefully, is smooth and stylish and above all, so easy to read that you can get completely lost in the story. Believe it or not, I wrote about two hundred and fifty pages of “warm-up” and then threw it all away before I ever got to page one of the actual novel.

The other challenge was uncovering the story I really wanted to write, and creating a heroine I could identify with and root for. I wanted to create a working-class heroine who faces real issues of survival, and has to pull herself out of really difficult circumstances and make something of herself. And I wanted her to be utterly triumphant at the end. So it’s a Cinderella story, but one in which Cinderella works very hard and goes through a major arc of character development. My heroine makes mistakes, grows, loves, loses, learns . . . and although her happy ending includes the passionate love of a remarkable man, the reward is not really the man. The reward is getting to be the person she has become.

The title is Sugar Daddy, and it’s scheduled for winter 2007.

Can you tell us a bit about the story? And, please tell me, it’s a romance, right?

Oh, yes . . . although it has a broader scope than the other books I’ve done, and deals with a greater variety of issues, it’s a romance with very intense love scenes and powerful emotions. I knew I didn’t want to lose the intensity of my historicals when I went into contemporary novels, so I really went for it *g*. I also knew I wanted to include one of my favorite premises, that of the outsider in high society, so there are some elements of that in there too.

The heroine of Sugar Daddy is Liberty Jones, who at the beginning of the book is a teenager living in a Texas trailer park with her mother and baby sister. She is desperately in love with a poor but ambitious boy named Hardy Cates, and he is a smart, sexy scoundrel. And he loves her. But Hardy is desperate to climb out of poverty and leave their small town, so he leaves Liberty to pursue his dreams of success.

As the story unfolds, Liberty ends up having to take care of her little sister by herself, becoming in effect a single working mother. She changes from a fairly self-absorbed teenager into a fiercely devoted parental figure, and this requires a lot of work and sacrifice as she struggles to create a good life for them both. Eventually Liberty is employed by an upper-class Houston family headed by a billionaire named Churchill Travis, and she becomes reluctantly attracted to the arrogant, cold-natured oldest son, Gage (who is a successful businessman in his own right). However, as circumstances keep pushing them together, Liberty discovers that beneath Gage’s hard exterior, there is a passionate and tender man.

And just as Liberty and Gage begin a wonderful, really scorching affair . . . Hardy comes back. He is now successful, ruthless and sexier than ever, and he wants Liberty.

So there is a love triangle, with Liberty torn between two alpha males who are business rivals and also romantic rivals. While all this is happening, Liberty finds out that the head of the Travis family, Churchill, has secret ties to her past-and what he reveals will turn her world upside-down.

I think this book is different from anything else that’s out there right now, due in part to the style and setting, and the larger-than-life quality of the characters. And that’s exciting to me, because I wanted to bring something fresh to the contemporary genre rather than simply write something “in the style of”. It’s a big, full-blooded novel, which is sort of appropriate considering it’s set in Texas.

It sounds terrific, Lisa. I don’t suppose you’ll tell us whom Liberty chooses?

I thought not. Well, moving on, you assured all of our readers that you weren’t going to give up writing historical romance. Is this still true, she asked hopefully?

I’m so happy to tell you I just signed a historical contract with St. Martin’s Press! I’ve been with Avon Books since I signed a contract with them at the age of twenty-four . . . and now I’m forty-one, so I’ve written for one publisher longer than anyone else I know. In a sense, I grew up with Avon. I think, although I could be wrong, that the only romance writer who has stayed there longer than me is Kathleen Woodiwiss. But I realized it was time for a change, and obviously there are so many wonderful writers at Avon, the company will continue to soar without me.

I’m not ready to let go of the Wallflowers yet, so I’m extending the series for three more books. . . I want some of the familiar characters to make appearances in the new stories, and I have some fresh ideas I can’t wait to try. The Wallflower novels, with their emphasis on female friendship and the overall sense of playfulness, have been really liberating for me. After so many years of writing nearly every kind of character and scenario my imagination could conceive, and gradually acquiring new skills, I’ve finally let go of the feeling of needing to prove something. When I started this series, I allowed myself to loosen up and just have fun. Just to enjoy this place I’ve reached, and hopefully make each book a romantic treat for the readers I appreciate so much.

Right now I’m working on a historical that starts a couple of years after Scandal In Spring leaves off. The working title for this novel is A Man For All Seasons, and it features Cam Rohan, the gypsy character who appeared in Devil In Winter. I am loading it with tons of quirkiness, emotion, spiciness and fun . . . and much to my delight, I’m indulging in adverbs again! <g>

You’ve gotta love those adverbs! I check in now and again at Squawk Radio, the very popular blog you share with Elizabeth Bevarly, Connie Brockway, Christina Dodd, Eloisa James, and Teresa Medieros. Were you in any way concerned about associating yourself so publicly with a character as disreputable as Ms. Brockway?

Well, for the sake of friendship, there are things I have chosen to overlook about Connie . . . her objection to wearing sequins in the daytime, for example, or her inability to understand why someone would wear lip gloss on a walk through the woods. (She rejects my perfectly reasonable explanation of how chapped one’s lips get when one is out in nature.) But really, Connie herself isn’t so disreputable . . . the truth is, she’s being influenced by Kitty Kuttlestone, who is somewhat reckless and terribly indiscreet about her amorous conquests. (Really, how many times is she going to bring up her fling with Castro?) But I tolerate Kitty because of Connie.

What everyone should know is that aside from Connie’s blazing talent and almost scary intelligence, she is a generous, loving, witty woman who is a terrific cook and expert Chanterelle mushroom-finder. She has gravitas, but she can be irreverent. Before I ever got lucky enough to be one of her friends, I loved her novels, and I think she’s done some of the best work the genre has ever seen. (And she draws great chickens.) She’s pretty amazing, actually. I think her contemporary novel will be fantastic.

Um, Connie, I was just kidding about the disreputable stuff. Really.

Connie Brockway

So, Connie, you’ve left the world of historical romance for greener pastures (do you actually have greener pastures up there in Minnesota?). What’s the scoop on your new book and do you have a publication date?

Well, Sandy, here in Minnesota we consider “green pastures” a seasonal phenomenon. But if you’re asking whether I have joined the herd of historical authors who have wandered father afield than the green-meadowed confines of the British Isles during the Regency or Victorian eras, than the answer is definitely “moo.”

I have just (as in this past week) finished putting the final polishing touches on my first contemporary novel, Hot Dish, which will be hitting the shelves in early November of this year. Writing this book was one big fat adventure. I went in with the idea of throwing out all the conventions I had used to what I hope was good advantage in my historical romances and wanting to really attack the manuscript without any pre-set notion of what the tone or the style or the feel of the story would be.

The surprising thing is that the more conventions I jettisoned, the more I found myself returning to them in a stripped down, or in some other way morphed, version. Sort of like finding a necklace at a retro/vintage store and refashioning it into belt. As a writer, for me it was an extraordinary learning experience.

For example, I love black comedies. Loved The Usual Suspects, The Advocate, and I wanted elements of that in Hot Dish, but in writing the “over-the-top” scenes (and there are some over-the-top scenes) I discovered I could get a lot more emotional bang for my buck if I underpinned the comedy with real substance. The comedy should expose character or demonstrate the world of the book, the characters should never be there simply to serve the comedy. Real issues and real relationships make the comedy poignant, real, and that sort of substance allows the reader to jump feet first into the fictional world and care about what’s happening within the characters not just to them.

Now for the big question: Is it a romance? And can you please tell us a bit about the story?

Ha! I knew you were going to ask this question. In fact, my husband owes me five bucks. The short answer is: yes!

The longer answer is that I didn’t expect Hot Dish to be as much of a romance as it turned out. I went in knowing that my heroine Jenn Lind would have a romantic interest, but as the story developed, I realized that Jenn’s relationship with Steve Jaax was not only important to the story, it was really the only honest way to chart Jenn’s emotional journey so it needed to really take center stage in the book. But make no mistake about it, Hot Dish is Jenn Lind’s story. That said, Steve Jaax, who I’d originally thought of as Jenn’s reward for making the right choices in the course of the book, developed his own story that so neatly dovetailed and informed Jenn’s that the two became impossible to separate. It was one of those karmic moments when I looked at their histories and their futures and realized how weirdly they echoed one another. So yes, romance, romance, romance…but really adult romance. Though, they do end up having sex in a fishing house during a blizzard.

What’s it about? Jenn Lind, who has spent twenty years working to become cable TV’s Katie Couric of the Kitchen, and has just signed with one of the country’s most conservative networks (think the bizarre Ted Turner), is on the cusp of realizing her lifelong ambition when she is shanghaied into acting as the grand marshal of her home town’s sesquicentennial. Only it isn’t her home town, the town isn’t Lake Woegebone by any stretch of the imagination, and she holds a grudge against it for a betrayal suffered two decades earlier. In one of those black comedy moments I was talking about earlier, it turns out that her future and the town’s are on a collision course and only one is going to make it out alive. Now, throw in a hundred pound butter sculpture, a lost key to a mausoleum crypt, a world famous sculptor, a trio of slackers turned kidnappers, a small town Babbitt with a cash-flow problem, Hilton Head parents “retired” to the north woods, a casino with an under-attended poker tournament, and a bunch of Lutheran ladies cooking fabulous Scandinavian delicacies and you have Hot Dish. Mostly.

Sorry for the “is it a romance” obsession. Okay, well, not really, but now that I have my answer let’s move on. Do you ever think, dear author of my favorite historical romance of all time, that you might ever return to the genre?

Ah, thank you, Sandy! And the answer is absolutely! I’m in negotiations to do a historical romance in novella form but it’s still in the works so I don’t want to jinx it by saying more. Also, I have a really fun idea for a tongue-in-cheek supernatural (or is it?) set in the Scottish Highlands around 1880 or so. Very odd, lots of fun, and definitely romantic. But not yet. I have another contemporary idea I really want to see in print.

Honestly, Sandy, the whole experience with Hot Dish has really refreshed me as a writer, both of “this stuff” and of historical romances. I just want to keep having fun and feeling like I’m doing a better job with every book.

I check in now and again at Squawk Radio. So, what’s up with this Kitty Kuttlestone woman who does your author interviews? And I could take her, you know. I totally could.

Yeah, you and what army? Really Sandy, I like you, so I have to tell you straight up: Don’t piss Kitty off. She’s like a force of nature. Ever watch one of those B movies where the explorers dig up some hideous, twisted relic from some awful extinct civilization? Kitty’s like that relic and no one over at Squawk is sure who dug her up (as if any one is going to own up to it!) but now we’re cursed with her.

Unless we can talk you into a little deal…

Why do I suddenly have a blazingly clear image in my head of.well, women’s Roller Derby? I don’t have that much hair (but I bet I have more than.sorry, I backtracked for a moment there) and I can’t afford to risk what I do have in any sort of ill-advised hair-pulling thing, so I hereby formally apologize to Kitty for any aspersions that may have been cast, however inadvertently and without any harmful intentions whatsoever. Happy now, you old bat?

Connie Brockway at AAR Lisa Kleypas at AAR