Saturday, February 18, 2006


Recently, Kathleen and Therese chatted with bestselling romance author Lydia Joyce about career and craft. This is the 3rd and final part of their interview.

Part 3: Interview with Lydia Joyce

Q: The historical romance market seems to be softening, yet with a successful debut and a well-reviewed follow-up, you are flouting conventional wisdom. Do you think the decline in historical romance is just natural fluctuations in the market or is something deeper at work?

A: I think that historical romance is declining as a genre because most of the books are rehashes of what readers have already read and are, frankly, boring. There is plenty of room for writers who are doing new, fresh things, but readers are getting sick of the familiar, and that’s what is currently dominating historical romance. It’s a little harder for a new writer, however fresh, to do well because enthusiasm in general is down, but it is by no means impossible.

Q. Can you tell us about your writing process?

A: Write. Get stuck. Bang head on wall. Repeat. *g* I start with a vague idea or character or scene, and I start writing. As I go along, I make important realizations about the characters. By chapter four, I have a very good idea of what the rest of the book is going to look like and have often rewritten the first few chapters half a dozen times or more, but the rest generally flows more easily. I constantly edit for flow, mood, and tone as well as meaning, and I try to make sure that however many threads I create, I don’t drop any and they continue to work at an appropriate pace throughout the book.

Q: Threads are tricky. How do you ensure they’re well p(l)aced? Are you conscious of this during the initial draft, or do you have to mend your “weavings” a lot during editing?

A: I have to do a lot of mending because I realize threads sometimes three-fourths of the way through a manuscript, but it usually only takes a sentence or two in the right place!

Q: Do you use a critique group or partner, and if so, how do you process their comments?

A: Yes, I do! My critique partners are very insightful, and so I almost never flatly disagree with their comments. I do look to the root of the problem and tweak that, so I often come up with a different solution than they would have, addressing their concerns in the way I feel is best for my story. I do the same thing with my line edits!

Q: Did you have any self doubts or hit serious writer's block along the way?

A: Yes. I moved very quickly from just a few personal rejections to almost all personal rejections, multiple requests for fulls, and multiple “almost—but no” responses. I got very frustrated because I felt powerless to tip myself over the line from almost published to really published. What did editors want that I wasn’t giving them? What would readers want? I was baffled and irritated. Finally, it came down to something very simple: I wasn’t writing books that were special enough. That realization, coming in the course of writing VEIL, was critical both to the current shape of my voice and my success. I had been trying too hard to write a likeable book instead of writing a great, unique one. As soon as I changed my focus, my writing blossomed, and so did the enthusiasm of readers and editors!

Q: Your next novel, WHISPERS OF THE NIGHT, is what we'd call "big plot"--lots of juicy conflict in settings that sweep across Europe and Asia. Can you tell us why you've chosen such out-of-the-box venue for this story? Do you feel like you're taking a risk in moving the story out of Europe?

A: I want to have the freedom of setting my books anywhere, and to get that, I needed to start with the exotic settings pretty quickly in my career. I love adventure/travel romances, too, and I have been fascinated by the Byzantine and Ottoman empires for a long time. In addition, I had to write a third Gothic-inspired story, and since I already had the manor-on-the-moor and the canals-of-Venice, what better than to start out with a castle-in-Romania? No vampires, of course, but what a great jumping-off point for an adventure! Actually, this novel stays in Europe because I couldn’t think of a reasonable motivation for them to cross the Bosporus. And I ran severely over my word count already! I am planning several books set in Africa and Asia, though, and if I make my mark by being “different,” I don’t think I’ll have a problem at all.

Q: Trimming is never easy. How do you decide what to cut?

A: I trim what I can and tell my publisher that’s all I’m doing, and they publish the rest. *g* I tighten heavily any time I go through line edits, so I typically lose at least five pages by cutting a sentence here, a paragraph there. (It also makes my editor think I really am taking her request to cut to heart, too. If you’re going to write over, it’s always better to have the biggest page count hit your editor’s desk at the initial due date and then make it a bit shorter after line edits rather than barely make it with the initial submission and then go longer with line edits!)

I really look for repetition of feelings, thoughts, conversations, or tones and get rid of them. Sometimes, I cut whole scenes, as I did in MUSIC. Sometimes, I combine then with other scenes, as I did in WHISPERS. I cut 14 pages in WHISPERS and about 25 in MUSIC. MUSIC weighed in at 414 pages and WHISPERS at 438 when I finished.

Q: You've got a terrific website and blog, and you've maintained a pretty decent presence on writer's listserves. How do you balance writing with your online connections?

A: Writing and family come first, and so I’ll disappear for months at a time online. *g* But I like to know what readers are thinking and talking about. Listening to readers has helped me as much as being a reader myself to establish what I wanted to be as a writer. I also like chatting online—when I have the time!

Q: What do you reach for to inspire? (Music, exercise, websites, another book…?)

A: Usually, nothing. I typically write in a chair or in bed with to background of a playing preschooler. Occasionally when I’m stuck, I use candles and moody classical music to get my brain working again. But my inspirations come from a foment of many, many materials inside my own head.

Q: Have you thought about writing outside of the romance genre (as someone other than Lydia Joyce)? What else interests you?

A: Well, I hope to write both romantic historical fiction and romance as Lydia Joyce. But I’m working on a contemp, non-romance pseudonym that’s an homage to James Bond with a feminine, Lara-Croft-like kick. Think Bond meets travel adventure meets Stephanie Plum. I love writing plotty books, and so these will be a blast!

Q: What’s the “chanciest” book you’ve ever read and how did you feel about it?

A: In romance, the chanciest books I’ve read are by Judith Ivory, Susan Squires, and Laura Kinsale. I read them, loved them, and said, “I want to be special because I go unexpected places, too!”

Q: What's your advice for aspiring authors?

A: Be unique and as big as you can, and there are no short cuts to writing a good book!

THANK YOU, Lydia Joyce, for sharing your expertise with us!
- Kathleen and Therese


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