Ep 64 How to write an essay to win a house, whether you need to outline your novel, the trend of co-written books, how to approach celebrities for interviews, the book "Hot for Words" by Marina Orlova and we chat to Writer in Residence Anne Gracie, author of 18 historical romance books.

Share on Pinterest
Share with your friends










Submit

podcast-artwork

In Episode 64 of So you want to be a writer: Essay writing competitions with real estate prizes, co-written books, 27 interesting facts about words that you probably didn’t need to know, to outline or not to outline your novel, Damian Madden’s weekly “creativity interview”, how to approach celebrities for interviews, the book “Hot for Words”by Marina Orlova, Writer in Residence Anne Gracie, and more!
Click play to listen to the podcast or find it on iTunes here. If you don’t use iTunes you can get the feed here, or listen to us on Stitcher radio.

Show Notes

Write an essay, get … a goat farm?: The bizarre new literary economy that’s matching real estate with gifted writers

Karen Perry: two writers for the price of one

27 Interesting Facts about Words

To Outline or Not to Outline Your Novel

Hot for Words by Marina Orlova

The Best Books About Writing

 

Writer in Residence
Anne Gracie in front of acantha wallpaperAnne Gracie spent her childhood and youth on the move, thanks to her father’s job, which took them around the world. The gypsy life taught her that humour and love are universal languages and that favourite books can take you home, wherever you are.

Anne started her first novel while backpacking solo around the world. Originally published by Harlequin Books, she now writes Regency-era historical romances for Berkley (Penguin USA) and Penguin Australia, but instead of her new career taking her back to exotic overseas locations, she turned into a cave-bound writer-hermit.

Anne is a former president of Romance Writers of Australia. She lives in Melbourne in a small, elderly wooden house, but she’s too busy writing to renovate. Anne’s books are published in sixteen languages, have been shortlisted five times for the prestigious RITA award (USA), have twice won the Romantic Book of the Year (Australia) and the National Reader’s Choice Award (USA), and have been listed in Library Journal and NPR’s (USA) best books of the year.

Her most recent book, The Spring Bride, was published in May 2015.

Anne Gracie’s website

Anne Gracie on Twitter

Penguin Australia on Twitter

Working Writer’s Tip

How to approach celebrities for interviews.

Answered in the podcast!

Your hosts

Allison Tait
Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers’ Centre

Connect with us on twitter

@altait
@valeriekhoo

Email us
podcast at writerscentre.com.au

Share the love!

writer-ep64-artwork-1

Interview transcript

Allison

Anne Gracie is the award winning author of 18 novels, mostly historical romance novels and most published by Berkley USA. Her books have been translated into many languages and sold around the world. Her latest book, The Spring Bride, is the third book in the Chance Sisters series and is out this month.

 

Hello, Anne and thank you for joining us.

 

Anne

Hello, it’s really lovely of you to ring.

 

Allison

Anytime.

 

Firstly, you were many things before you became a writer, including, according to your bio, a teacher, and you worked at a pet boarding kennel. What finally inspired you to pick up a pen to write a story and how long ago was that?

 

Anne

I don’t exactly remember how long ago, probably just over 15 years. I was on long service leave. I took long service leave and then filled out the rest of the year with leave without pay, so I had a year in which I traveled. I was backpacking on my own through the world. We were within countries where I didn’t speak the language, or in fact I had actually started in Quebec where I speak very bad French, but they speak really good English.

 

Allison

Lucky.

 

Anne

When I was younger, when I was a student, I was always planning to write or thinking of writing, stories always came to me. But, then when I started full time work I was really busy. I’m sort of an all or nothing person, just the writing stuff went away.

 

When I was alone a lot in the evenings, in places where I couldn’t speak the language, the stories started to spin. I went out and bought a spiral back, just to use for handwriting, a notebook, and I started writing. I just kept writing and it became a really big part of my travel. I looked forward to the evenings when I would write. When I came back to Australia I had a whole heap of those notebooks filled with scribbles, a full length novel and a bunch of other things.

 

I went to a few parties, because I got back right before Christmas, which is a very good time of year to come back home. I came back with a firm resolution that I was going to become a writer and earn my living from writing, because I had this vision of sitting on a Greek island and writing, and in a cottage in Brittany and writing.

 

Allison

Yes, perfect.

 

Anne

When I went to some of these parties, there were two different parties, there were two friends of mine who both earned their living from writing. They didn’t know each other, in quite different areas, one freelance, more non-fiction than fiction writer, and the other one is a script writer, screen writer for TV, both of them in plenty of work. I regarded them as absolute experts. So they said, “Ha, you’ll never earn a living writing fiction in Australia, unless you write romance.”

 

That was sort of born out on me, the more I investigated it the more people said that. I thought, “All right.” They said, “Get a few Mills and Boon books, get a formula, you can just do it. You can whack one off in a few weeks and then you can get back to your literary work.” I thought, “Hm, OK,” because I believed them. It’s part of the reason why I’ve got that Myths of Romance article on my website, because everything I was told, pretty much, was wrong.

 

Anyway, I did collect a bunch of Mills and Boon and read them. I thought, “Yeah, OK, I can write this.” I just picked the red ones, because they were their nicest covers, nice, like, covers. I picked old ones from the Op shop, and the old ones are the one that people had given away because they want, not the ones that people keep and reread.

 

The heroes in the red ones were not particularly my cup of tea. It didn’t bother me, because I just thought that’s what you had to write. I was not writing something that pleased me particularly, I was imitating a genre that I didn’t understand and didn’t have any respect for.

 

I had a couple of rejections. Each time those rejections said, “Too much background detail… too many minor characters… not enough emotional punch.” At the time I thought ‘emotional punch’ was all about sex, which it absolutely is not.

 

Anyway, I’m a bit stubborn. If someone says, “No, you can’t do…” something, I think, “Well, I’ll just show you.” So, I persisted.

 

I started to read more widely, and the more widely I read the more I discovered writers who I thought were really good. And stories that kind of stayed with me. This absolutely surprised me because I was very firmly of the belief that romance was just junk fiction, it was just some kind of paint by numbers genre. I still think that’s very much a prevalent view of that, in the non-romance reading area anyway and in the non-romance writing area.

 

Then I saw in my local library that Mills and Boon were publishing Regency era romances, and I said, “Oh…” because I was brought up on Georgette Heyer, I’ve been reading her since I was 11. She’s funny, her characterizations are brilliant, her stories are lovely, and I love them. Suddenly I thought, “Oh… if this is regarded as romance I can do this…”

 

Allison

Right.

 

Anne

It gave me permission to write more or less of myself.

 

Allison

Right, and what you wanted to write.

 

Anne

And what I wanted to write, and writing characters that I like and characters that I enjoyed, stories that I like, being able to be flippant and funny if I felt like, if it arose in the story, which it frequently does.

 

That first historical that I started to write was the one that was published.

 

Allison

You sold the first historical romance that you wrote?

 

Anne

Yes.

 

Allison

What year was that? When did you sell that?

 

Anne

That was ’99.

 

Allison

Historical romance is incredibly popular. Why do you think this is the case? What do people like about it?

 

Anne

It’s an escape to another world. It’s a fun thing that is not like our everyday lives. It is completely accessible to us because — the Regency era, if you’re looking at something like — the Victoria era has become very popular too, since Downtown Abby. It’s an escape into a world that’s slightly different, but with people who are recognizable who have similar kinds of difficulties, but it’s not quite the same. It’s like slipping into a fabulous frock and going to a ball and then going on with your everyday life. They’re fun.

 

Allison

Yeah, escape.

 

I know that historical are very, very picky about detail.

 

Anne

Some of them… some of them, some of them, some of them.

 

Allison

Only some of them, OK… but, my question then has to be how much research is involved in your novels and how difficult is it to decide just how much detail you need to put into the story?

 

Anne

It’s exactly the same as writing a cotemporary, in that you have to get things right so it feels right for people. Now, some of the stories I don’t have to do very much research at all. If it’s a current situation, with my Spring, Autumn, and Winter Brides, they’re all set in London. They’re all set in the Regency era, which I know pretty well. They’re not too many things that I have to research.

 

The book that I have had to really research was one set largely in Regency era Egypt, but online these days there are always old diaries that have been digitized and are available to read online. I was able to access travelers going through Egypt in 1816 and use some of their impressions and attitudes and descriptions and things like that. So, a lot of the research is a lot easier than it used to be.

 

Some books need a lot of research, some don’t. My rule of thumb with any kind of research is 90 percent of the iceberg, because people are not reading historical romances to read history. They’re reading it for the story and the characters. You’ve got to get the history right, because if you don’t it throws people right out, and I have made a couple of boo-boos. I had a character whose mother had gone on a pilgrimage to Lourdes to pray for her son, and that would have been 70 years before Saint Bernadette had her vision. That’s the trouble with the — Catholics from all over the world wrote to me. I had do a mea culpa.

 

Allison

Oh dear.

 

Anne

Well, the thing is I had done so much research for that book, and that was one thing that I hadn’t done, because I thought I knew that. It’s very easy to make mistakes, because the things that you don’t look for are the things that you think you know.

 

Allison

Yeah, yeah.

 

Anne

Research… people think historicals have to be full of descriptions of furniture and descriptions of clothes and stuff. If you were writing a cotemporary novel do you describe the chair in an enormous amount of detail? “I’m looking at a chair now with curved arms and woven bamboo sides, and an embroidered…” I mean, it’s a chair.

 

Allison

Yeah, you sit in the chair.

 

Anne

You sit in the chair.

 

You use as much research as you need and as much description as you need to paint the picture, to give the feeling of being there, but no more because you don’t want to bore the readers with chunks of history.

 

That’s the trouble, if you’re doing enormous amounts of research you might lose that for the… I know somebody who did a huge amount of research for medieval gloves. She talked all about how to make them and embroider them and bead them, and all of this sort of stuff. Then when we she was editing the story, because she spent five weeks on this, on the gloves, because the gloves were pretty important in the scene that she had written, and then the editing of the story she realized that scene had to go.

 

Allison

Oh, the whole scene went?

 

Anne

Yep.

 

Allison

It’s not just a scene, it’s weeks of work going out the window. Oh…

 

Anne

People often keep those scenes in because of those weeks of work. I think that’s really bad.

 

If it’s clothing, that’s very easy, I’ll just go in my draft, “She went into the room dressed in ‘xxx’…” and then I will look up all of the ‘xxx’s and do the research for those, because the scenes might change. You know?

 

Allison

Yes.

 

Anne

The places might change, the streets might change, your plot might change and that affects what you need.

 

A lot of that is draft work.

 

Allison

We talked a little bit earlier about some of the misconceptions that people have about writing romance. The formula thing is one, what are some of the others and do you go out of your way to dispel them, or do you just get on with your life and write your books?

 

Anne

A bit of both. When I was more involved in Romance Writers of Australia, I was on the committee for six years and I was the president for several years, and it was my mission in life to promote a better understanding of romance. To get people who were like me before I started reading romance to read romance and to just recommend some good books. Because all of my friends had never read romance as well, so of course when I got published they, some of them, read them. I would get comments like, “I read your book, I really enjoyed it,” to their utter amazement, and because it wasn’t what they had expected.

 

Allison

Right.

 

Anne

They were kind of a bit embarrassed that they had enjoyed a romance.

 

I think you’ve just got to keep an open mind, you’ve got to realize that romance is a huge variable genre, there’s so many different kinds. I firmly and utterly believe that there is a romance that will please everyone. I can find a romance that — not that one romance will please everyone, but for every person there is a kind of romance that they will love.

 

There’s the really literary romance and there’s some very not really literary. Quite often I think… people say… I haven’t read 50 Shades of Grey, and friends tell me, “The writing is really clunky.” I say, “Stop looking at what she’s not doing, and look at what she is doing.”

 

Allison

Yeah, because something has gone right there.

 

Anne

Exactly.

 

When I’m doing writing classes, “What would you rather read? A beautifully written exquisitely detailed literary ordinary story, or a clunkily written fabulous story.” People go for the fabulous story every time. While I would hope that all writing strives to be the best that it can be, storytelling trumps writing every time.

 

Allison

You’ve actually written several series and romance is a genre that likes a good series, including your latest one, the Chance Sisters — do you call it the Chance Sisters’ series?

 

Anne

Yes, some people call it the Chance Sisters, some call it The Seasonal Brides.

 

Allison

What’s the key to a successful series? Like in this particular instance you’ve got the four main characters, does it all start with having the four main characters that are going to work, as far as being the heroines of their own books? I mean how do you keep track of the characters and the overarching storylines? How do you go about it? What’s your key to success?

 

Anne

This is my third series that I have done. Each one has been a different scene and I’ll try to kind of experiment a little bit. My very first series arose out of my first book with Berkley, which is Penguin in America.

 

I had a book that I had in fact started for Harlequin, and then I had to take a break because my father was extremely ill and I just couldn’t keep up the work and the writing, I was still working at that stage. It wasn’t contracted at that point, because Harlequin was to contract after I finished the book, rather than before. Anyway, I wrote that and it was long and I was going to have to cut it.

 

I didn’t mention this, but my very first book when I sold it to Harlequin it was about 140,000 words. I had to cut it back to 85,000, which really killed me, which was a really good thing to do, because cutting always makes a book better.

 

I had this half-finished book, and then I finished it, and I thought, “I don’t want to have to cut 30,000 out of this.” My first book I had entered it in RITA, which is a big competition for Romance Writers of America, it’s sort of like Oscars for romance writers. My book had finaled, which was pretty huge.

 

Allison

That’s pretty exciting.

 

Anne

It got me an American audience, and it got me some attention and it got me some editor attention, it got me some agent attention. I contacted the agent who I talked to and said, “Remember me? Would you be interested?” She said, “I remember you. Yes, I would… send me the book.” So I sent her the book, she said, “Yes, I can sell this in the States.”

 

Allison

Great.

 

Anne

And she did. My first… it was about a plain girl, who was the older sister, and she had a bunch of beautiful younger sisters and a horrendous grandfather who was looking after them.

 

My editor bought it, and then she said to me, “Well, which sister is next?” And I went, “What?!” She said, “Well, a series…” In Melbourne they had never wanted a series, my editor had empathically not wanted a series. It had never occurred to me that this bunch girls would need a story, so I didn’t set them up for any stories.

 

I had to dig around, and that was a very good thing to have had to do, in fact that series became more of the guys’ stories as much as the girls’.

 

The next series I was trying for a guy-related series and I did four guys who had been together in school friends who went to war together, and they’re all a bit damaged by war in various ways.

 

And then with a return to the girls’ connected series, but they’re not actual sisters, two of them are blood sisters and the other two are friends they had picked up along the way.

 

I was experimenting with, I thought I would try to set up the four girls and the four guys, from the very beginning and see how that went. By the time I got to the third one I thought, “Nope, he’s not right for Jane,” and so I brought in a completely new and different hero.

 

Allison

Oh, new blood.

 

Anne

Yes — yeah, yeah.

 

Allison

So it doesn’t always work out how you think it’s going to?

 

Anne

Not for me, I’m what they call an organic writer or a fly by the seat of my pants writer.

 

Allison

That was going to be my next question, do you plot them out carefully?

 

Anne

I’m trying to plot more, because I think it will save me a few side trips that I don’t really need to make, where I go up the wrong alley and say, “Nope, this isn’t working,” and I have to pull thousands of words out and start again.

 

But, that said, I write consecutively. In the book that’s just out there was a moment where the heroine completely surprised me with what she said to the hero, it was a turning point. I had not set it up as a turning point, I had planned her to say that, she just said it when I was in the white-hot haze of scribbling, and I thought, “Wow.” I vividly remember it. I was in the library. I do a lot of my writing by hand in the library, of the early parts of the scenes I’ll do by hand, and this just came out. I remember coming away from the library thinking, “Wow, now what I am going to do?” Because what I had planned for the next scene was no longer possible.

 

That’s really good, because I think if I can surprise myself, if a character can surprise me the characters can surprise readers. If readers are like me they love a surprise every now and then.

 

Allison

Where do you start then when you’re writing a story, do you start with a character? Do you start with a plot? Where do you begin with your organic writing process?

 

Anne

Characters usually. Romance is very much a character-driven genre. You can have the barebones of a plot and you can give it six different writers and they would come up with six different characters and they would be six different stories.

 

Yeah, it’s the characters, it’s learning more about the characters. But, I also like a little bit of an adventure along the way as well. I like to mix things up a little bit, because they’re the sorts of stories that I like to read, and still do.

 

Allison

You mentioned this before, but this is something that I think comes up quite a lot for people who start out thinking they’re going to write romance and they understand it and whatever, but you mentioned this business about emotional punch. I think it’s one of the most difficult things to get right with a romance novel, can you explain a little bit about what it is and how you make it work? How difficult is it to keep the story concentrated on that and how do you convey it? What are some of the things that you do?

 

Anne

Let’s start with what an emotional punch isn’t, I think that’s what most people think it is, most writers try to do. Most people and beginner writers think emotional punch is about characters emoting.

 

Allison

It’s not?

 

Anne

No, it’s not. It’s delivering the emotional punch to the reader. It’s those moments, you know it yourself, when you’ve read a book and there’s a moment when you tear up, or the moment when you go, “Oh…” and a moment where sort of long after you’ve finished the book you still dwell on that scene, that’s the emotional punch.

 

Allison

Yeah, right.

 

Anne

There’s a quote, and I’m just trying to think by who, it might even be Michael Hauge who talks about screenwriting, but it might not be, because I collect all sorts of quotes and they get cluttered in my head and I forget who they are, especially when I’m doing a podcast.

 

Anyway, I think he’s talking about people watching movies, but it’s exactly the same for readers, “People read to experience emotion.”

 

Allison

Right.
Anne

They’re not reading about somebody else’s emotion, they want to feel the experience of that character. It’s when you’re touched by a character, it’s when you’re moved by something they’ve done, when you’re surprised, when you worry for them.

 

Allison

How do you write that, Anne?

 

Anne

You build a connection between the reader and the characters. Reader empathy with characters is something very underrated, but I think is really important. People don’t know anything about — before a book comes out, one of my books, say the book that was just out, The Spring Bride, people don’t know anything about what the story is going to be. They’ve met Jane, she’s the heroine. She’s very much a person in the background in the other story, she’s just one of the sisters. She’s the youngest and the least kind of bold or whatever.

 

In fact, a friend of mine asked me who I was writing, I said, “Oh, a Jane series.” She said, “Oh, she’s boring.” I thought, “Yeah, yeah, I can understand that,” because you do have to kind of showcase your main characters. Some characters will just sort of burst out and make themselves known anyway, you can’t have too many of those.

 

 

Allison

No.
Anne

So she was a bit in the background, and then the hero was someone no one has ever met, or heard of, or had referred to. What makes people want to come back to that world? They like the world, they like the people, they enjoy the journey. A lot of that is to do with character empathy. When I have a character from a previous book appear in the current book I get readers saying, “Oh, I was so happy to see ‘so and so’ came back.”

 

Allison

So they feel like they know them.

 

Anne

They absolutely feel like they know them.

 

Allison

Like old friends.

 

Anne

Yes, yes. Not necessarily old friends, sometimes they’re old enemies. People love to hate, because you do, when you get a really good villain you love to hate them.

 

Allison

Yeah, that’s true.

 

Anne

The intrigue and the character — yeah, just connecting with the characters. It’s a character-driven genre. So, the writers who are the most successful at that connect people with those characters.

 

Allison

All right, just switching gears slightly, let’s talk about this business about the author platform, which has come up for everyone in the last few years. What are your thoughts on the idea of it? Have you ever consciously set out to build yourself a brand or an author platform?

 

Anne

Nope.

 

Allison

Great.

 

Anne

I haven’t, because I think author platform works very well… OK, I was a beekeeper. If I were writing bee stories, that’s my author platform. I put bees in a few stories, I’m no longer keeping bees. There’s not much of a platform there.

 

Allison

Right.

 

Anne

I don’t really know what… I think the author platform is a bit of a distraction. I believe that people connect with the book and the stories. If you love the books and the stories — I don’t care who the authors were.

 

Allison

I guess the reason it’s come up is the difficulty these days of actually — because there’s so many books available all at once on Amazon or wherever you might be, is connecting readers with books they might like.

 

Anne

Oh, I do understand that, but what’s going to be more effective? I’m kind of the devil’s advocate here.

 

Allison

Of course.

 

Anne

If you’ve got an author shouting, “Look at me, I’m so interesting,” or, “Look at my book, this is fabulous.”?

 

Allison

I know you’re on Twitter and I know that you have a website. Like, what other aspects do you actually do, as far as —

 

Anne

Facebook too.

 

Allison

Oh, you do Facebook as well?

 

Anne

Yep, Facebook, Twitter and I’ve got a very old-fashioned web page. I do an occasional blog, I’m very slack on the blog thing. But, also every fortnight I blog with Word Wenches. I suppose that’s probably the strongest platform I’ve got.

 

The Word Wenches — there are eight of us, we’re all historical novelists. Some of them are major bestsellers in the US. We all like each other’s work and we write historical. That’s a platform of sorts.

 

Allison

I think that’s a brilliant idea, because that’s a cooperative thing, which takes the pressure off of you to have to maintain it all yourself. You’re helping to build interest in the historical romance area. And, you’re cross-referencing with each other’s books. So, if people like you and you like these people, chances are they will also like these people’s books. It’s very clever.

 

Anne

And we’ve done a couple anthologies together.

 

This blog has been going for — we just celebrated our ninth anniversary.

 

Allison

Fantastic.

 

Anne

That’s a long time in blog land.

 

Allison

Yes, it is a long time, time in the game, very much. We always talk about time in the game as being as important as how much time you actually spend on those things.

 

Let’s talk about your top tips for aspiring romance writers. What have you got for us Anne? Your three top tips.

 

Anne

They’re pretty much the same for not just romance, for any kind of writing, popular fiction really.

 

Top tip #1, read widely. Find authors whose stories you absolutely love to bits, because that gives you the information to dig down deep in yourself and write the stories that you really want to write, instead of thinking, “Oh, this is romance, I have to put this on page, and I have to put this…”

 

People will give you all of these rules, like you have to have to keep the hero and heroine together the whole time, well, that’s true for a short run, of say 50,000 words or less. The Autumn Bride, the first one in this current series, the hero doesn’t appear until about page 100, and he’s not there on a lot. I was really worried about that when I was writing it, but I just couldn’t write it any other way, because the story had to be told. The story is what the story is.

 

I didn’t really worry about that, then in this book the hero and the heroine — he’s disguised as a gypsy, he’s a spy, but he’s also got to keep undercover for scenes that would become clear if you ever read the book. She is a young lady of the time. There’s no way that they can sort of sneak off together and cuddle and kiss and all of that sort of stuff. So, I just had to go with that. It doesn’t seem to have mattered to people, because of the authenticity. It was an authentic thing to do.

 

She’s a good girl, she’s a good girl of the time, she’s determined to marry well. Why would she go and jeopardize everything that she wants, everything she’s ever dreamed about for the sake of this gypsy?

 

Allison

Would that be your second tip? To be authentic to what you want to do?

 

Anne

To go deep and to be true to the characters.

 

Allison

Yep.

 

Anne

Because I think readers will follow you anywhere, as long as you’re true to the characters. If you completely manipulate them and just have a character doing whatever it is you need them to do at that moment for the sake of the plot, I don’t follow that. They’re what I call ‘wall bangers,’ the books that you start reading and you chuck it against the wall because ‘nup, she wouldn’t do that! I’m sick of it’. How many more times can you invent something that she knows for me to believe it.

 

Allison

All of a sudden. Yep.

 

What’s your last tip?

 

Anne

The last one is to write — write, write, write. I’ve had so many people who love to tell me about the story they’re going to write. I’ve seen people go, “Oh, I’ve thought up a new scene for my book,” they haven’t written a word.

 

I can sit and plan a book. I can have a whole book sort of worked out on paper, I sell synopsis these days, I can do that. I can write a story that sounds terrific. The minute I actually start writing it my characters will take over, change the story, as I said before, surprise me, go in a different direction. If I try to force them back into that then it wouldn’t be convincing. It wouldn’t be as right for the characters. I think if you’re assuming that connection with the characters is what people like about your stories, then you’ve got to treat your characters with respect and let them reveal themselves.

 

Allison

Fantastic. Anne, thank you so much for your time today. I think you’ve been fantastic, so much information in there. We really appreciate it. Of course the new book is out now, The Spring Bride, book three in the Chance Sisters. I hope it goes gangbusters for you.

 

Anne

Thank you so much, Allison. It’s really been a pleasure.


Comments