Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy 25th--A Q & A with Anne Stuart

And now to finish out the month, meet Anne Stuart.
Books: Began writing for American with Chain of Love (#30) in October 1983.

Bio: Anne Stuart is the grandmaster of the genre, winnter of Romance Writers of America’s prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award, survivor of 35 years in the romance business and still keeps getting better.

Her first novel was Barrett’s Hill, a gothic romance pubished by Ballantine in 1974 when Anne had just turned 25. Since then she’s written more gothics, regencies, romantic suspense, romantic adventure, series romance, suspense, historical romance and mainstream contemporary romance for publishers such as Doubleday, Harlequin, Silhouette, Avon, Zebra, St. Martin’s Press, Berkley, Dell, Pocket Books and Fawcett. She’s currently under contract with Mira for romantic supsense and historical romance. She’s won numerous awards, appeared on most best seller lists, and speaks all over the country. Her general outrageousness has gotten her on Entertainment Tonight, as well as in Vogue, People, USA Today, Women’s Day, and countless other national newspapers and magazines.

When she’s not traveling, she’s at home in Northern Vermont with her luscious husband of thirty years, and empty nest, three cats and one Springer Spaniel. And when she’s not working she’s watching movies, listening to rock and roll (preferably Japanese) and spending far too much time quilting.
The Q & A

1) How long have you been published? What was your very first book? My first book came out in 1974 (I was very young). It was a gothic romance for Ballantine called BARRETT’S HILL.

2) Describe your favorite Harlequin American Romance(s) that you wrote. How many total did you do?
Favorite would probably be NIGHT OF THE PHANTOM (which has never been reprinted). It was a re-writing of the Beauty and the Beast/Phantom of the Opera story (I’d just gone to see Phantom on Broadway for my 40th birthday present) and it even had Fabio on the cover (albeit with dark hair). They didn’t tend to put Fabio on too many series romances back then. As to how many – 27, counting the BURNING BRIGHT anthology and BANISH MISFORTUNE, part of the short-lived Harlequin American Premier Editions (there were five of them).

3) How was the Harlequin American Romance line different from the other Harlequin lines?
HAR went through many permutations. It was the first North American line that Harlequin had done (they had Harlequin Romance and Harlequin Presents at that point), and in the beginning it was simply that they were set in the U.S. They quickly turned into Disease of the Month – each book seemed to be centered around the romance equivalent of “a very special episode.” Stuff like drug addiction and abortion and other stuff. It got livelier fairly quickly though, with comic writers like Beverly Sommers and Judith Arnold, women’s fiction-y stuff by Kathleen Gilles Seidel, Barbara Bretton and Cathy Gillen Thacker, and my sneaky romantic suspense (which actually should have gone in Harlequin Intrigue) We also had the first romances with African-Americans as the protagonists (written by people like Sandra Kitt).

4) How did the Harlequin American Romances line change over the years you wrote for it?
The nice thing is there’s been room for a lot of different things in the line. There was a cool sub-imprint called More Than Men which had supernatural heroes – I did two, CINDERMAN, with a scientist who could turn invisible from 8 to 9 in the morning and the evening and could start fires by wiggling his nose like Samantha on Bewitched, and A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT, about Selkies (seal people). Maggie Osborne wrote a wonderful early vampire novel called LOVE BITES as Margaret St. George.

We also did a series called A Century of Romance. I got the 1930s and it was one of my favorite HARs, but it tanked big-time. They tried to reissue them a couple of years ago but the audience still wasn’t there. The great thing about Harlequin is there’s always another chance – eventually those books, by people like Rebecca Flanders, Barbara Bretton, Margaret St. George and others, will find their audience.

5) How did writing for Harlequin American help you in your single-title career? The more you write the better you get. I spent more than 15 years writing them, and in that time I got to explore all sorts of characters and relationships. I’d published 5 books before I sold to HAR, and I learned more with each book. That doesn’t mean the older ones aren’t as good – sometimes a more polished book can lack the energy and heart of a rougher one.
My first single titles after I started writing for HAR were historicals for Avon (while I was still writing HARs). Jennifer Enderlin, who was at Penguin at the time, read NIGHT OF THE PHANTOM and my novella for the Silhouette Shadows launch, and offered me a six-figure contract just on the quality of my HAR work. So that was a direct correlation.

6). Describe a moment you remember related to Harlequin American Romance, either reading one, or a fan moment, or an editor moment, or….
God, I have tons of memories. Like torturing one of my poor editors so that she followed me around at conferences like my personal slave. (I was a very bad girl). Or when I wrote NIGHT OF THE PHANTOM and my entire career seemed to shift into high gear. Or the godawful time I was in the middle of writing a book called LAZARUS RISING, where my hero fakes his death and then appears, alive and well in the middle of the book. Unfortunately my 18 year old nephew died in a car accident when I was in the middle of writing it, and I knew that unlike my hero, he wasn’t coming back. I somehow managed to finish writing it, but I’ve always hated it because it reminds me of his death.

7) Do you hear from your Harlequin American readers who have also read your single titles? What do they say?
My HAR readers don’t seem to cross-over much with my single title readers. I don’t really know why.

8) Harlequin American Romance is 25 years old. Describe writing some of the first books for the line. Were there any taboos? Words you couldn’t use? What were the covers like? That sort of thing….
There were all sorts of taboos, and yet there were also things that we couldn’t do today. For instance, in one of the early ones written by Jackie Casto, the heroine had an abortion. Couldn’t say “shit” (can you now?), definitely couldn’t say God damn it or any kind of God or Jesus cursing. And while they let me use bitch and bastard they’d count how many times I used them, and sometimes I had to trade using a no-no word in one scene in order to get it into the scene where it was more important.

The covers were standard clinch covers with a silver border, usually a larger picture and then a smaller one in the corner. I remember one year I had the brilliant idea of doing Christmas books in December and having the silver stripe be green. They told me it was a good idea but too expensive. Obviously they should have listened – soon afterwards all the lines were doing Christmas books.

9) Anything else?
It was actually a wonderfully creative time. Many of us met at the third Romantic Times conference in New York, just as the line was being launched, and some of those friendships have lasted forever. Sandra Brown did the launch book, but unfortunately she also did the launch book for Loveswept, which was debuting at the same time, and the PTB were mightily pissed off. So instead of having the debut authors cut a cake at the launch party they had three of the launch authors (I think they were Kathy Seidel and Barbara Bretton and maybe Beverly Sommers) and invited Rebecca Flanders/Donna Ball to join them.


Trish Milburn said...

Hi, Anne. Thanks for being with us here today. Wow, you've had such an amazing career.

Ann Roth said...

Anne- I so enjoyed reading your interview. Thanks for sharing your valuable time with us!

Alexis Morgan said...

A lot of your books are on my keeper shelf and every so often I feel compelled to read them again. Of the early ones, I love CRAZY LIKE A FOX and the one based on the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. I know Catspaw was an Intrigue, but those sparkly shoes still make me smile.

Your heroes are heartbreakers, that's for sure.

Congralations on your RITA and such a great career--

Ellen said...

I began reading the books from HAR at the very beginning and they have been wonderful. However somewhere in moving many of them never got out of the packing boxes and are still there somewhere in my storage shed. After reading all of 25th Anniversary posts I may be forced to hunt down the boxes in the storage shed and pull them out to read again.
Congratulations Anne on you long and illustrious career.

Estella said...

I enjoyed reading about your HAR career.

Ellen said...

Talk about coincidences--

Anne mentioned her book BANISH MISFORTUNE, which was one of the five Harlequin American Premier Editions and in a box of Americans I unearthed was the first of those Premier Editions, THE GOLDEN CAGE.

Lee McKenzie said...

Thanks for joining us, Anne. I'm currently reading The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes and loving it. Can hardly wait for Dogs and Goddesses!