by Madenline Hunter)
5 QUICK QUESTIONS WITH JULIA LONDON
I first met Julia London when we were on a multiauthor signing tour together. My initial impressions were she was quite tall, very good-looking with nice hair, and down to earth in her dealings with people. Also, she was very funny in a low-keyed way. She was so nice that I could not hate her for getting her very first manuscript published, while I had slogged along for years before one of mine sold.
Right now her career is flourishing, with both historical and contemporaries being glommed by readers who love her characters and appreciate the emotional layers of her stories. She generously agreed to answer a few questions for HEA readers.
Q: Share one thing most readers do not know about your life.
Julia: There's not much about me that readers don't know because I am equal parts open and boring. If there is one thing readers do know about me, it's that I am very un-domestic. I'm like a teenage boy — I eat like one and know as much cooking as one. Neither do I bake, and I can always be counted on to bring the wine to a pot luck. I have someone else clean my house so that it will actually get cleaned, and I let kids in my house survive on Peeps and SpongeBob. So it might surprise readers to know that I like to needlepoint. I've done a couple of William Morris designs and am working on an intricate one right now.
Q: Have events in your personal life ever influenced your stories? Can you give an example?
Julia: There has been nothing obvious or overt, but I would argue that all events in my personal life have influenced my writing and stories in one way or the other. My characters are all made up of pieces of people I have known, their backstories pieces of mine. For example, in Highlander Unbound, a Highlander is forced to London to take care of some family business. Liam was a little like me when I first left home in Texas after college and ended up in Washington, D.C. I was a fish out of water, and those experiences helped me craft Liam. My latest series, about the four Cabot sisters, is about young women who have been raised in privilege and have no practical knowledge of what it takes to make their own way. When circumstances force that on them, they are determined ... but they make some bad decisions because of their inexperience. I really wanted to explore what naive women would do when confronted with life's hard knocks, because the good Lord knows I made some bad decisions along the way because of my inexperience. I'm not too proud to admit it, and neither are these Cabot sisters.
Q: What is your favorite line from your newest historical romance?
Julia: In The Trouble with Honor, the first in my Cabot sisters series, the sisters are facing a reversal of fortune. But they aren't going down without a fight. Honor is in love with George, and even though he won't do her the courtesy of actually extending an offer of marriage as she's asked him to do, she isn't going to let it go, because she knows he loves her, too. She defies all propriety and social convention to make him face his feelings for her and tells him she loves him. She says, "That's what we Cabots do, we set our sights. I have set mine and the only thing I care about is you, only you." It's not a fancy line, but to me, it sums up the sisters' indomitable spirit. They set their sights and they go for it.
Q: If you could have a private dinner with any man who ever lived, whom would you choose? Why?
Julia: Do I have to choose only one? One automatic choice would be Colin Firth, who I would insist dress and speak as Mr. D'arcy because Mr. D'arcy will always be my first love. But I would dearly love to have a private dinner with Eddie Vedder of the band Pearl Jam. I think his music and lyrics are so creative, and they always speak to the heart. I want to talk about it because his mind fascinates me. And it doesn't hurt that I think he's hot. Eddie, if you're reading this, I promise not to annoy you with a lot of questions and goo-goo eyes.
Q: If a reader is new to your books, which one would you suggest she read first?
Julia: I always suggest readers start with the latest. I have just launched a new Regency historical series, The Cabot Sisters, beginning with The Trouble with Honor, available now wherever books are sold.
Julia London is the New York Times and USA TODAY best-selling author of more than 30 novels, her most recent being The Trouble with Honor, and this summer's release of The Fall of Grace from HQN books.
SPOTLIGHT ON HARLEQUIN HISTORICALS
If you read historical romance, most likely you have read some Harlequin Historicals. Maybe you read all of them. They are shelved with single-title books, but they actually comprise one of their publisher's "lines." That is an industry term for the various categories of Harlequin books (examples: Harlequin Desire, Harlequin Presents, etc. — books that are not in a line are called single title books). Harlequin Historicals are the only line devoted to historical romance. They have been around a long time (over 1,000 have been published), and if quality matters they will continue to be for years to come.
I have always admired these books. For one thing, whether a story is my cup of tea or not, the writing is always, always professional. For another, I think Harlequin gives these historicals some of the best covers they produce. Mostly, however, I admire any author who can write a compelling story within a strict length limitation.
A lady of notoriety
"A Lady of Notoriety" by Diane Gaston.(Photo: Harlequin)
HHs have always been shorter than most other historical romances. Back in the day of looonngg historicals, they were significantly shorter than the books put out by other publishers. Nowadays, with books in general much shorter, the difference is maybe 15% to 20%. That still presents writers with a challenge. "The biggest challenge is packing the romance with enough depth, emotion and plot in the shorter format. We aim to give the reader the same satisfying read as she can get in a longer book," says Diane Gaston, who writes award-winning Regencies for the line.
As someone who does not find it easy to "write short," I have been amazed at the range and depth these "short historicals" achieve. According to Anne Lethridge, who writes Regencies for HH, there is a reason for that: "I have written single title for another house and perhaps the greatest challenge in HH is keeping the writing tight, so that no words are wasted and there are no digressions or writer indulgence, as I sometimes like to call it. Definitely no writing scenes readers might skip. Because I write fairly complex plots I don't introduce a secondary plot, but it is possible if the story demands it."
Keeping the emphasis on the romance is all important, and a feature of the HH line. "The advantage of a HH is that the reader knows the book is firmly focused on the romance," explains Michelle Styles, whose most recent HH books are set in the Viking period. "Unlike single titles there are fewer subplots and characters. This means that the reader is getting a story where the romance is the backbone of the story. Sometimes in single title, the stories are more with romantic elements, than a strictly focused romance."
That does not mean that there are no other elements in the plots, only that the romance dominates the story. "I like to include a lot of period details in setting and historical background as well, but in such a way that keep the hero and heroine's relationship front and center," explains Kate Bridges, who writes Western historicals for them.
Yield to the Highlander
"Yield to the Highlander" by Terri Brisbin.(Photo: Harlequin)
That clear focus on the romance is perhaps the only common denominator in the line. "Our stories vary in sensuality and location and time period, but always deliver an intense romance," according to Terri Brisbin, who writes Scottish and English medievals. "HH has books that are stand-alone, but many authors write linked books, just as in the single title market. I've had several linked book series — the Dumont series, the Knights of Brittany and my about-to-finish MacLerie series."
The variety of stories and settings means some readers may not even be aware that they are reading a book from a "line." As Blythe Gifford, who writes angsty medieval and early Tudor set books, explains: "I do believe that we compete with single titles, book by book, as far as the reader is concerned. The traditional Harlequin series is much narrower in scope. You know what kind of setting/hero/sensuality level to expect with a Presents or Desire, for example. In the historical line, the only thing we have in common is that we are all set in historical time periods. (Imagine a Harlequin line labeled simply "Contemporary"!)
On the other hand, because it is a line, with multiple books every month, Harlequin likes to mix up the settings. That way subscribers to their book club who receive all the books in the mail each month will not receive a box of all 19th-century-set books. Also, these books are marketed globally (some authors have been translated into 20 or more languages), and different countries like different settings. The breadth of settings is one of the attractions to authors.
return of the Viking warrior
"Return of the Viking Warrior" by Michelle Styles.(Photo: Harlequin)
"Sometimes, single title historical can be very much the early 19th century or nothing. HH publishes stories from the Roman times, China, and the Viking era as well as the Westerns and Regency/Victorians. Later in the year, Marguerite Kaye has several WWI set novels," explains Michelle Styles.
Diane Gaston sums it up. "The HHs provide a consistent, satisfying reading experience that, because of their shorter length, provide a quicker read than a single title historical. I think the strength in the whole line is its diversity and variety. Other publishers aren't producing that variety. The books are also skillfully edited and that ensures that the books will be a good read. The books appeal to readers who love historical romance. It is as simple as that!"
Because they are part of a line, HHs only remain on the shelves for one month. That used to be a big disadvantage. With online bookstores now, and e-books, the titles are now available long after the books are first published.
USA TODAY and NY Times bestseller Madeline Hunter is the two-time RITA winning author of 24 historical romances. Her website is www.MadelineHunter.com. Madeline's next romance, The Accidental Duchess, will be published on June 3.