Cat Crossing: The Romance of Judith Stanton
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Questions Readers Ask Me

Why are you writing romance?

I get this question a lot. After all, I used to be a college professor. Shouldn't I be writing "literature"?

Don't get me wrong. I love "literature." I spent a lifetime studying and teaching the stuff that English teachers push on their unsuspecting students. I even read Moby Dick.

But romance is literature--with character and story and revelations about our secret wishes and desires. I love and value its virtues of uplift and affirmation. And where else can you read of women having such adventures? Or of men who to stand beside us as they do in our own lives?

Where do you get your ideas?

From research and from people and places that stick in my mind. Wild Indigo is a great example of both. I wanted to write a romance set in Salem, North Carolina, a restored historical village very near where I grew up. I figured that I could go there, touch things, pace off the distance from one place to another, feel how low the ceilings were, or how cool the cellar tiles were beneath my feet. My early research on the religious community of Moravians who settled Salem uncovered an amazing fact: they drew lots to decide which Single Brother would marry which Single Sister. A perfect romance marriage of convenience! My story was born that moment. Two strangers, who would find passion and enduring love.

The love scene came about because of a beautiful, little-known waterfall I used to walk to on private property near my home. I wanted to put it in a book. Naturally, wild-spirited Retha had to lead her husband to her favorite retreat deep in the wilderness. I am thrilled that Harper's cover for the book shows that scene exactly as I imagined and wrote it.

In His Stolen Bride, there's a persimmon-picking scene because I knew persimmons were an autumn treat for settlers in the North Carolina backcountry. Last fall, the persimmon tree behind my barn had a bumper crop for me to practice tasting.

Are any of your characters or situations taken from real life?

This is a trick question, right?

The trick answer is yes, and no.

My characters and stories are fiction, not docudrama. I really make them all up--but within the limits of very careful research. I couldn't believe in my historical characters, and neither could you, if they did not do things that real people in their time did.

In Wild Indigo, Jacob Blum is a composite of men who actually lived in Salem--a planner, a builder, and a liaison between the town and the two warring armies. Their work and courage are documented in Records of the Moravians in North Carolina, a translation of the diaries that the Brethren scrupulously kept.

In His Stolen Bride, Nicholas Blum's difficulty in settling on a trade is based on a real Moravian named Gottlieb Schober, who gave the Elders fits because he refused to settle down to one job. Schober, like Nicholas, was a tinsmith and a trader and founded Salem's paper mill. He did not, however, have Nicholas's charm. Nicholas was born with that.

All of my characters' emotions are taken from real life--my own. I really enjoy getting out of my head and into theirs.

Do you just sit down and the whole story pours out?

I wish! Actually the first novel I wrote did pour out. That often happens, I think, with aspiring writers. It's a good thing, although the resulting book can be shapeless. It's proof positive that you can write a full-length book. Afterwards, you can hone your skills.

Like most romance writers, I plan my story first, partly because editors buy on proposal--a summary of what you plan to do--and partly because I don't have time to write "discovery" chapters that I would have to discard. Nor do I have the heart to throw them out!

Once I'm into a story, some scenes or scene fragments do spill out--often in the pre-dawn hours after I've been cat-apaulted awake. But I'm convinced that that flow happens only because of all the preparation that precedes it.

You must be so creative. How do you do it?

I don't know. I don't feel creative. I've talked with artists and musicians who feel the same. When I'm absorbed in the process of writing, everything I'm doing seems technical to me. I'm immersed in the way the words sound, the shapes of the sentences, how the characters think and feel, whether their actions flow in a logical sequence, whether I need a paragraph here or there.

But the notions of creativity and imagination fascinate me since I'm not particularly aware of being creative or imaginative. Before I devoted myself to writing, I was always thinking, planning, worrying about my personal and professional life. Now that I write full time, I spend that time thinking, planning, and worrying about what's going on in my characters' lives.

On the other hand, there are those blessed moments when my characters take over and start talking to each other, all on their own. I never pass them by. I always write down what they have to say.

Perhaps in the end, creativity is what happens when by discipline and focus, you create the space for those blessed things to happen.

Who influenced your writing?

I always loved the classic romances. Every year I reread a Jane Austen novel. Persuasion is my favorite. Since I first read Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre at the age of eleven, it has never failed to move me deeply. And if I can ever write a gentle hero that my readers love as much as I love George Eliot's Adam Bede, I will die a happy woman.

In contemporary romance, I avidly read and admire dozens of wonderful writers, too many to list all of them. Cheryl Reavis's characters never fail to touch my heart with their pure and honest emotion. Pamela Morsi's unique historicals have heart-warming charm and downhome humor. Taylor Chase gives me lush, ground-breaking sensuality and stunning historical detail and scope.

Can I get rich writing romance?

Not right out of the starting gate, if ever. There are wealthy romance writers, often those who've written dozens of books and developed a huge and loyal readership. A portion of the 1300 romance writers published in a given year do make a respectable living. Many others cannot yet afford to quit their day jobs.

I have a theory. People think all writers must be rich because the only ones they hear about are rich--Stephen King, John Grisham, Anne Rice.

It's fun when friends and family say, "Now I know somebody famous!" Not! And definitely not rich. While I would not turn my back on riches, my goal is for my heroes' and heroines' stories to touch my readers' hearts.

Do I need an agent?

Historical romance writers need agents to navigate the treacherous shoals of the publishing industry and contracts. Almost a dozen houses publish historicals, some in several lines. As a new writer, you cannot possibly know all the editors at each house and their needs and tastes. But your agent can and should.

You should choose your agent carefully and thoughtfully--you can be sure she or he will do the same with you. I recommend meeting agents in person by joining Romance Writers of America and attending RWA-sponsored conferences either in your region or at the national level. There is a lot of material out there on how to choose an agent available at conferences and in the RWR (Romance Writers Review), the professional journal of RWA.


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