Where do you get the ideas for your romance fiction?
» From reading history. Not the “big” history of political events, but the smaller, closer-to-the ground histories of how people dressed (Almost a Gentleman), where they lived (A House East of Regent Street), and what they were reading (The Bookseller’s Daughter).
After I get a fix on the small stuff, the big stuff (like wars, revolutions, Acts of Parliament) sort of falls into place. History’s always a muddle of big and small, substance and style. In historical fiction we get a chance to make a more satisfying muddle out of it.
And your characters?
» I know I’m onto a historical moment when I begin imagining people who live in it. It’s stunning to discover that (while I was sleeping, I guess) a historical setting has spawned a character.
Subversive French literature produced Marie-Laure, who wore her brother’s breeches so she could climb the bookstore ladder. Fashionable Regency London gave me Phizz Marston, hiding a woman’s sensibility beneath a man’s waistcoat and cravat.
Does history always take the shape of a girl in pants for you?
» Not always. It just seems that way. But I’m always energized by the image of a woman going beyond the limitations her historical position imposed on her.
Do you ever get your characters from real life?
» They sneak in when I’m not looking. When I wrote the doctor brother in The Bookseller’s Daughter, I thought I was just making up someone “confident, observant, eager to take command and send everybody scurrying to do his bidding.” About a year later, it occurred to me that I just might have been thinking about my own three doctor siblings (I was the odd, dreamy one in a family of take-charge types).
» The movies are a huge influence, as are a wide variety of books (and not just romance). Buffy the Vampire Slayer -- it’s not surprising that in Almost a Gentleman, Phoebe has stuffy, scholarly Mr. Simms watching over her so lovingly.
Which of your characters do you identify with most strongly?
» Joseph in The Bookseller’s Daughter. Because he’s an erotic writer. And because he’s constantly at war with himself, “dueling with his shadow” and “caught between two worlds, two points of view.”
Is it true that you’ve written non-romance erotica under another name?
» Yes. In the 1990s, I wrote a comic SM novel called Carrie’s
Story, and then its sequel, Safe
Word. Both were published under the pseudonym of Molly Weatherfield – and both, by the way, are still happily in print.
Are your erotic books historicals or contemporaries?
» Contemporaries – set in San Francisco, France, and a fantasy Greek island. Carrie is an over-educated Berkeley English major type with an ironic voice that wouldn’t be out of place in a chicklit novel (though when I first made her up, chicklit didn’t yet exist). Jonathan is an architect and wears Armani; he’s older, sardonic – a moody, gorgeous control freak with mysterious connections to a dark SM subculture.
They meet at a party; Jonathan challenges Carrie to act on the fantasies that he (naturally, immediately) intuits she’s had since she was a teenage babysitter reading Story
of O. Of course, as the story develops, there are a lot more characters than Carrie and Jonathan.
How would you describe the line of demarcation between erotic romance and non-romance erotica?
» Both Carrie books are more intense and hard-core than my historical romances. You can probably get an idea from their covers.
But there are also real formal differences between the romance and erotica. I think of erotica as a roller-coaster lugging around a cabinet of curiosities. Romance follows a tightly structured, novelistic arc of development; erotica should be more episodic, sort of vaudeville-like, with a surprise and an escalating payoff in every scene. When I’m not writing romance I also like to provide a lot of varied, equal-opportunity sex. The fun thing about erotica is you’re not limited to one couple – or even to couples.
And yet, having said all that, I think that the Carrie books may be the most romantic things I’ve ever written. Because although I didn’t expect to make them into love stories, I kept discovering that I sort of wanted to – and ultimately, sort of did.
Do you ever teach about erotic writing?
» Yes. Erotic writing isn’t simple; I think we should have more respect for the craft it demands. So I’ve pulled together a workshop called "Erotic Writing is Just Writing... only more so," for anyone who loves to write explicit sex, is looking for a little push in the right direction, or who'd rather die than do it (but their editors told them they have to).
Invite me anywhere! Just email me -- I love to spritz on this topic.
You wrote the Carrie books under a pseudonym. Was that to protect you from intrusive readers?
» Yes. I was nervous about exposing my fantasies – unnecessarily, as it turns out. Carrie readers are smart, funny, readerly, and extremely civilized people. As the wife of a bookseller, I’m not a big fan of Amazon.com, but I do like to read the wonderful customer reviews my erotic books have gotten.
How does your husband feel about your having written these hot and rather extreme books?
» He still can’t believe his luck.
Were you surprised to find yourself writing them?
» Totally. Well, at that time I was surprised to be writing fiction at all – I hadn’t done so since high school.
Another surprise is how often I’m asked about the
world that Jonathan introduces Carrie to. People always want
to know how they can go there too. And I’m always a little
sad (and also terribly proud of myself) to have to say sorry,
I made all that up. I wrote an essay once about that experience,
And as to the general question of how a nerdy, shy, private person became a cult favorite in the world of literate smut . . . well, I guess the talent fairy must really have a sense of humor.