New York Times bestselling author Karen Hawkins and delightful historical romance author Meredith Duran stopped by XOXOAD to give us all the dish on how they write, who they write, and what they drink when they’re stuck with the writing.
Karen Hawkins, a New York Times and USA Today best-selling romance author, was teaching at a small college in Georgia while working on her PhD in Political Science when she sold her first book. She knew she couldn’t fulfill both a publishing contract and a rigorous PhD program at the same time, so she made the only decision possible – she dropped out of her program and burned her stats book on the front lawn while dancing madly around the flames. Now, thirty books, numerous awards, and many best-seller lists later, when not researching Regency-era customs or looking at pictures of sexy men in kilts for ‘inspiration,’ Karen writes full-time from her home in sunny Florida while being handed refreshing beverages by her husband, aka Hot Cop. Coming in August is THE PRINCE AND I, the second book in Karen’s humorous, romantic Princes of Oxenburg series.
Meredith Duran is the USA Today bestselling author of eight historical romance novels. Her next releases, LADY BE GOOD and LUCK BE A LADY, hit the shelves in August and September of 2015, respectively. She blames Anne Boleyn for sparking her lifelong obsession with British history, and for convincing her that princely love is no prize if it doesn’t come with a happily-ever-after. When not writing or teaching, she enjoys collecting old etiquette manuals, guidebooks to nineteenth-century London, and travelogues by intrepid Victorian women.
Keep reading below for the inside scoop!
Meredith: Karen, I adore your historicals and I’m desperate to know about your writing process. Are you a plotter or a pantser? Early bird or night owl? Do you write every day, or in marathon binges?
Karen: Aw, thank you, Meredith! I’m a huge fan of yours, too. I especially loved FOOL ME TWICE. Olivia is my kind of heroine – smart, funny, and strong-willed. I want to go shoe shopping with her!
I’m a plotster, a combination of the two. I always write an outline. Then I write and write and write, right over the plot and into a side alley, around a corner, and over a hill. Then I catch a train to a different plot point and go from there. Whenever I hit page 250, I rewrite my entire outline, because by then I’m off to a different place with characters who’ve grown in ways I never imagined in my first outline.
It’s a complicated process. I NEED that outline, even though I know I’m eventually going to abandon it for Better Ideas. It’s my security blanket.
Meredith: I am so terribly jealous of your ability to wed an outline to seat-of-the-pants detours! I think that takes tremendous courage and confidence. I’ve been experimenting with outlining the turning points and plotting the conclusion before I get going, but unless I know the characters through and through, my rudimentary outline always collapses. When that happens, I remind myself that some of my favorite writers are pantsers…so there must be a method even in the madness.
Karen: Exactly! On the subject of favorite writers—what’s your most favorite romance novel ever? Did it inspire you to write?
Meredith: Oh, definitely. Had you asked me back in the late 90s, I would have named a book by Judith McNaught or Laura Kinsale. They’re both still favorites, but in the last few years, the novel I’ve revisited time and again is Bliss, by Judith Ivory.
Karen: I looooove that book. It’s better than chocolate.
Meredith: YES! Okay, now I feel like we’re kindred spirits, here. Ivory has such a way with language, doesn’t she? Her prose is voluptuous, twisty, surprising, and so incredibly sensual. For those who haven’t read it—the hero of Bliss is an ether-addicted, failed sculptor. In early chapters, he’s utterly self-absorbed and entirely unlikeable, and I’m not sure he ever becomes an angel—but he’s riveting, and so is the heroine (no angel herself). It’s a high-wire act, that story, wrapped up in writing as lush as ermine. Every time I read it, I’m dazzled anew by Ivory’s presumption in taking two such outré characters, and making us love them.
I do try not to read Ivory’s books when I’m writing, because her prose is so spectacular it can be downright intimidating to put down one of her books and then turn to the keyboard myself—which leads me to another question I always wonder about when I talk to other writers. Do you ever get the dreaded “block”? If so, what are your strategies for breaking out of it?
Karen: I made a drink called ‘writer’s block.’ It’s one-third coconut run, two-thirds pineapple juice, with a splash of cranberry juice. Fresh, delicious, and refreshing.
And no, I never get writer’s block. My problem is finding the time to write all of the books for all of the characters who whisper to me. The voices are strong. REALLY strong . . . you know … maybe that should be one third pineapple juice and two thirds coconut rum? All coconut rum with a splash of pineapple juice?
I need to test drink that recipe and see.
Meredith: Ooh, I know what I’m ordering next time I’m at a cocktail lounge. I’ll act like I can’t believe the bartender doesn’t know the recipe. Karen, let’s make this drink happen!
Karen: I’m game! Next RWA, at the bar?
Meredith: It’s a plan!
Karen: Speaking of cocktails, I know the Beatniks preferred to do their writing at the bar, over a glass of wine—and these days, you can’t visit a coffee shop without battling for space amidst all the laptops. Where do you write? Desk? Curled up on couch? In a moving car?
Meredith: I wish I were so portable! I’m a total hermit when I’m writing. I’m either on my Alphasmart at my desk (for the first draft), or on my laptop at my desk (for editing). I’ve got so much envy for the coffee-shop writers, who somehow manage to get work done while also amassing entertaining stories about the conversations they overhear. It would make me such a better friend. When my poor BFF calls after I’ve spent the day writing, our conversations go like this:
BFF: “And then this crazy thing happened at work. Let me tell you about it…”
Me: ~listening with avid interest, grateful to be reminded that other people exist~
BFF: “And you?”
Me: “Wow, well…hey, I think I’ve finally figured out how a person could get married in secret in 1886! Without having the banns called first, I mean.”
BFF: “Um…great, that should come in handy if I ever time-travel.”
Speaking of BFFs, I dedicated one of my books to her. After she read it, she said, “At least you gave me one of your nicer heroes.” LOL!
Karen: Ha! That was thoughtful of you!
Meredith: On that note, I’m wondering, Karen—is there any hero of yours that you WOULDN’T want to date in real life?
Karen: I only write about men I would date. And I’m deeply in love with each one while I’m writing them, even when they are being man-like and haven’t yet grown enough to earn the heroine’s love.
I like reading about super alpha heroes once in a while, but I have to be in a certain mood or I’ll keep thinking, “I would smack that man’s head!” That’s ah, not romantic.
To get involved in a book, especially while writing one, I need a hero who is smart, sexy, and emotionally healthy. That’s not too much to ask. I even married one, my husband, aka Hot Cop. He’s a gem. For example, he knows to bring Thai food home on nights I scream things like, “OH MY GOSH, THIS BOOK IS DUE IN TWO DAYS AND I’M ON PAGE 14!” and other frantic statements.
Meredith, do you have a Hot Cop in your corner? Tell me a little about your Writer’s Support System. And do you yell when you’re on deadline, too?
Meredith: Ah, you’re one of those fortunate women in possession of the greatest asset any writer can have: a supportive spouse! I am happy to say that I recently acquired one, too. I call myself “the quiet nightmare” when I’m on deadline—I’m given to muttering sentence fragments aloud; I’m perpetually distracted (more than once, on deadline, I’ve managed to destroy a recipe that called for sugar by accidentally using salt instead), and I’m pretty much disinterested in any semblance of a social life. My husband bears all of this with the gentle, tolerant amusement that I’d seriously thought only existed in romance heroes.
Isn’t it lovely when life is just as wonderful as fiction?
Karen: Amen, girlfriend! It’s what makes my keyboard smoke. Well, Meredith, deadlines are calling us both, so we’d better get back to work. But don’t forget: we have a date to try a certain beverage at RWA.
Meredith: It’s already on my calendar. See you there!