AUTHOR INTERVIEW, PART 2: Lydia Joyce
Recently, Kathleen and Therese chatted with bestselling romance author Lydia Joyce about career and craft. This is part 2 of their interview. If you missed part 1, check it out HERE. Enjoy!
Part 2: Interview with Lydia Joyce
Q: You've certainly taken some real risks in your second book, MUSIC OF THE NIGHT. We've been reading romances for years, and we've read our share of plain heroines, but never read about one with small-pox scars who was a prostitute. Your hero Sebastian is also deeply flawed. What attracts you to writing about people we don't normally get to see in historical romance?
A: I love writing about difficult people. I’m not terribly interested in perfect people falling in love! I prefer to see people with deep flaws, dark pasts, and serious demons rescue themselves and each other for the sake of their love. I want to write about how people grow and change—people who can be better than they think is possible. I want to be a dangerous writer. I want people to pick up a Lydia Joyce book knowing that they’ve never read anything like it before and that it will be intense, well-written, and a breathless ride.
Q: What do you do in order to push yourself beyond the bounds of “normal” when creating characters?
A: I don’t have to push with my characters. I just take them where I want them to go without worrying about whether they’ll turn off some readers! I have a man who is has spent years essentially pouting. I have a selfish, frightened spinster who’s less innocent than she should be. I have a man bent upon the pitiless revenge of a crime he really is partly responsible for because of his negligence. I have a scarred ex-prostitute. I have a man who is planning to do something very underhanded, chauvinistic, and selfish to the heroine. I have an unabashedly brilliant heroine who can’t seem to keep her mouth shut. I have a stuffed shirt. I even have a murderess—who killed more or less in self-defense but not in any way that a court would recognize. I have a brainless dandy. I have a dull, conventional, thoughtless girl. I wanted these characters because I love the redemption factor in my romances, and if you don’t have the darkness, there is nothing to redeem. This is the raw clay out of which characters of courage and great worth are made. Also, I put my characters through hell before they find their HEA, and characters with warped pasts are more ready for this kind of purgatory.
Q: Were you concerned about marketability?
A: No, not really. I know some people will have problems following me where I go in some books—and that is fine by me. I don’t write for everyone. Writing for everyone is a mistake many authors make, and it’s deadly. The only things that won’t offend, upset, or instill intense dislike in some people are things too banal to create much of a reaction in anyone. Boring, inoffensive books aren’t hated by anyone, but they are rarely loved. If you want to be adored, you must be ready to be hated, too.
Q: Do you think it’s possible to go too far with this and end up creating a concept or characters who are completely unappealing to the public? If there’s a line, how do you know when you’ve reached it?
A: I don’t mean that you should try to shock people or to say, “THIS is something they’ve never seen before!” That is surely a recipe for disaster! People generally don’t want to be treated to a shock-fest. It’s unpleasant, not interesting. They just want a good story.
There are some lines that shouldn’t be crossed. I wouldn’t ever make a hero or heroine out of an abuser, a sadist, a cold-blooded or mass or serial killer. (But in my newest novel, my heroine murders someone in the prologue. I was
certain my editor would flip out...but she loves it!) I wouldn’t make a hero out of a person who is so distasteful that a reader wouldn’t care to hear about any sort of redemption the person might undergo—nor would I want to write it! I write flawed characters with great depths of feeling, not heartless bastards, psychopaths, or slimebags. What I mean is to resist compromising a good story for the sake of the homogenizing influence of typical expectations for the category.
Here are just a few expectations that I’ve broken:
• Heroines aren’t allowed to have enjoyed sex before. Preferably, they haven’t had it—if they were widows, their husbands were gay or impotent; if they have a bad reputations, it is a sham; if they are reduced to prostitution, the hero must be their first john, who is so shocked by her hymen that he falls in love. If they are actually prostitutes—which is incredibly rare—then they must be courtesans with only a handful of lovers ever and must have been driven to it by some distant tragedy. All other ladies of questionable virtue must be best friends/hookers with a heart of gold secondary characters, there to show how cosmopolitan we are as writers but not worthy of a book.
• Orgasm=love. The strength of an orgasm reflects the power of the characters’ love. Physical attraction is also proof of The One. So is obsession. So is getting pregnant carelessly. Because we all know that’s what true love is about.
• Heroes should have problems with their mothers to add a nice Freudian conflict with every female they meet.
• Heroes should always be breathtakingly handsome.
• Love solves all problems. (It doesn’t. Sometimes, it just complicates them. That doesn’t mean that love is bad or that problems can’t be worked out. It just means that love doesn’t make them automatically disappear.)
• Heroes are allowed to have as much experience as they want with no thought of consequences without it reflecting badly on them in any way.
• Heroines must be self-sacrificing. Self-sacrifice is the crowning virtue of a woman, bar none. She must be willing to throw herself away for the sake of her father, brother, or lover for any reason whatsoever because that’s all women really are good for.
• Heroines can’t be too smart. It’s not pretty. They can’t be too sharp-tongued, either, unless they are the “fiery” sort, and then they must do much foot-stamping and hair-tossing.
• Heroes must do all the rescuing. Otherwise, what are all those muscles good for?
In writing, I have been very, very careful to choose the initial stories that have been published to reflect the scope and depth of what I want to get on the shelves, knowing that whoever “Lydia Joyce” is in her first three books is who she must remain or risk alienating an established audience. I’ve tossed most rules to the wind and have kept only a very few: Don’t break the essential rules of a genre, write like no one else, and write a damned good book. You can do almost anything if you follow these.
Q: Are the rules for the romance genre at all bendable in your estimation? Which ones might be?
A: The rules of the genre are simply this: A) It’s a story that focuses on the relationship between a man and a woman, and B) The relationship must end happily and successfully. These aren’t bendable because they’re what make a romance a romance. You can write other things…but they won’t be romances! I probably should have said “definition” rather than “rules”.
Q: What other risks do you think you took that paid off in the end?
A: After a couple of unsuccessful years of trying to get pubbed, I started going after editors in slightly unorthodox ways, from describing the flavor of my book more than the plot to really going after editors with a list of reasons why I picked to submit to them specifically for a particular book to using one request for a full to convince two junior editors to skip over the partial and go straight to the full themselves for fear of loosing a chance at me. *g* Result? Two offers for publication and a third who wanted to but wasn’t allowed because another imprint of the same house offered first—all without an agent. Of course, this would not have worked until I began writing more dangerously.
Q: Can you provide an example of enticing with “flavor” in a query?
A: After a TINY plot blurb that was only a bit more revealing then an average back cover, I wrote in one query:
THE VEIL OF NIGHT is a completed 96,000-word sensual romance set in Victorian England, part of a loosely connected series. In this lush, dark novel, the conventional elements of the Gothic romance are reinterpreted into something different without compromising the roots of the sub-genre. It is my third single-title romance manuscript, and it is a finalist in the 2004 Golden Heart.
Then, when explaining why I queried a particular editor, I wrote:
I feel that my own work holds a similar attraction [to Dodd, Ivory, and Kinsale]. I am not claiming to be the next Laura Kinsale, of course, but authors of the type of novel that I write—dark, gritty, emotional novels, especially historicals—have proven themselves to have great staying power and a widespread appeal that transcends the vicissitudes of public taste. Also, the sensual tone of my work (comparable to Ivory or Lisa Kleypas) follows current publishing and buying trends without losing the universal resonance that ties it to older, beloved traditions. My distinctive voice, however, makes my work very much my own.
Be sure to check back for part 2 of WU's interview with Lydia Joyce!