"I don't plan to worry about categories at all. I see myself as a writer of historicals set in the regency period. . . As far as the sensuality is concerned, that will be dictated by the characters and the story. I haven't yet written a book that ended up as I imagined it would, and I enjoy the adventure of that. I'm just going to keep writing the best books I can and leave it up to others to categorize them."
Last month, the never-before-mentioned name of Australian romance author Anne Gracie was suddenly the most talked about romance author on the Internet in many circles. Within days, just about half of our staff (including myself) had bought her two books, Gallant Waif and Tallie's Knight, and both books had received Desert Isle Keeper Status from two different reviewers. The buzz about this brand new author is truly phenomenal, and clearly well-deserved. I recently chatted with her about her books, her writing, and all the buzz. I think you'll find her quite refreshing.
--Laurie Likes Books
Until a few weeks ago, most of us had never heard of you. Then, all of a sudden, word of mouth spread literally like wild fire about Gallant Waif and Tallie's Knight. I'm going to assume this word of mouth was not limited to AAR and its discussion lists. What is your reaction to all this? Are you just a quiet and unassuming woman from Australia who has taken this in her stride or have you been overwhelmed by the response?
Oh, yes, terribly quiet and unassuming. No. It's been really exciting, of course, and a wonderful boost to my confidence. But it's also a little like watching it on TV - hard to believe it's actually to do with me. Here in Australia, I think the only people who've read the books are my friends and family, which is why it's so exciting that on the other side of the world, there's a whole lot of people who like my books! So put me down as half thrilled and half stunned. And totally delighted.
Do you have any other books published in Australia that will be released in the US at this time? Are you contracted to write further books for Harlequin for release in the US/Canada?
The historicals come out first in the UK and then it's up to Harlequin North America. If they decide to publish it, they do. But it's by no means a set thing - that's why I entered Waif in the RWA RITA last year, in the hope that if it finalled, it might encourage a North American release. I was really excited when I did get a USA release date for both books.
I have a third historical - An Honourable Thief - coming out in the UK in September, but I don't know when or even if it will come out in the US. Similarly I don't know when they will come out in Australia, though I know they will, eventually. I also have a Harlequin Duets coming out in September, called How the Sheriff Was Won. And a fourth historical on the way.
We have given a sensuality rating of "Warm" to your Regency Romance and a sensuality rating of "Subtle" to your historical romance set in or about the Regency period. That's the reverse of most romances. Can you comment on this?
Support our sponsors
Yes, I was pretty surprised when someone in Harlequin North America decided to put Tallie's Knight out as a Regency. It's not set in the usual Regency period and it certainly has more sensuality than most traditional regencies. In the UK and Australia, both books came out as Historicals.
I don't set out to write a book with a set idea of how much sensuality I'll put into it. To me, the characters drive the action - in Waif, I just couldn't see Kate risking her reputation any further by sleeping with Jack, even though she was certainly wildly attracted to him. And Jack was so protective of Kate - in those days the sanctions against sex before marriage were so strong, it was a huge risk to take. And I'm not even talking about the risk of pregnancy or disease. Loss of a woman's reputation could ruin her whole life. With Tallie's Knight, it was a marriage of convenience so the sensuality was a big part of the story. In my third historical the unmarried characters do make love, but it's a commitment on the part of one person and a parting gesture of love on the other.
I wanted to post to you a comment that came from one of our message boards about Tallie's Knight specifically about the question of sensuality. This comes from reader Chris:
"Tallie's Knight still took me by surprise with its erotic, er, I mean sensual love scenes. I was pleasantly shocked by the scene where Magnus, inflamed by the sight of Tallie dressed in silky, flimsy undergarments, deliberately reminded her that she had dropped her petticoat on the floor. The unsuspecting Tallie, bending down to pick it up, thus unwittingly presents her husband a clear and lust-inducing view of her naked bottom......(Ah, Magnus you lusty schemer, you!)
"This got me thinking. What exactly distinguishes a historical (set in Regency period) from a traditional regency, length notwithstanding? If the primary distinction is the degree of sexuality, and with traditional regencies becoming more and more explicit, then maybe classifying a certain romance novels as historicals while other as regencies is meaningless, no?"
My question is this: For many years now we've seen fewer and fewer traditional regency romances being published - when Fawcett cut their line, a lot of readers said it was only a matter of time before Zebra did the same. I think it's interesting that Harlequin is periodically publishing traditional regencies again. Now that more and more authors are pushing the boundaries on traditional regencies - and I understand you were more or less surprised by how HH classified your book - do you think that will hasten the end to the traditional regency, will strengthen it, or see it absorbed by the regency set in the historical period? In other words, option one would sort of see it disappear altogether, option two would be more traditional regencies, and the third option would be an integration of the sub-genre into the larger historical genre.
I really don't know - I've always had trouble understanding what exactly a traditional regency is. In the UK a regency is simply a romance set in the regency period - it may be sensual or not. The American traditional regencies are not easily available here, and I've only read a few, so it's very hard for me to generalize. I don't worry about labels - I just write a book and the amount of sensuality is directed by the characters.
I think perhaps a few of the Harlequin Regencies will surprise people as Tallie's Knight did - the line seems to contain both traditional regencies and historicals set in the regency period. So maybe that might expand the definition of Regency as well. I think surprises are good for us.
Our current At the Back Fence column is about heroes and/or heroines with physical flaws or disabilities. Talk to me about the creation of Major Jack Carstairs (from Gallant Waif). Why did you decide to create a hero with scars on his face and a "ruined leg," as our review says? What fantasy in a woman does "the beast" feed into?
I don't know that I like my lovely Jack being called a "beast," but I take your point. I think part of the fantasy is the strong, yet vulnerable man, the wounded hero, the caged warrior...and the one woman who has the power to help him to heal and move on... The physical injury is often symbolic of other, less visible scars.
In Gallant Waif both protagonists are casualties of war - Jack bears visible scars; Kate's scars are invisible, though no less serious. As the story progresses, they rescue each other from the consequences of their injuries - physical, spiritual and societal. It's a story about redemption and the importance of fighting back.
Both reviewers who granted DIK status to your books were taken by the secondary characters you created. Sometimes secondary characters in romance novels are there simply to advance the plot or provide information about the primary characters. In other instances, they can outshine the leads. But in each of your two books, the reviewers were very impressed by how very helpful the secondaries were in creating depth and texture. Talk to our readers about the importance of fleshing out a cast in a romance.
Thanks for the compliments. Minor characters are so important to me. What is the point of trying to create a flesh and blood hero and heroine and then surrounding them with chunks of cardboard? The people, the setting, and atmosphere all add to the power of the fantasy. Cardboard background, cardboard fantasy.
When I'm creating a character, even a small unimportant character, I choose the words carefully. I usually go for a description or dialogue, even one line, which will "throw a shadow." Once one small gesture or idiosyncrasy happens, I find the rest of the character "pops up" in my head, and some, inevitably, spills off on the page. Then I think very carefully about their role in the story and what reason I have for keeping them on the page. Otherwise I'd have dozens of minor characters jostling for space. If they advance the story in some way, they get to live...if not... (draws line across throat).
So I don't consciously try to flesh out secondary characters - in fact I have a problem with them trying to take over. In Gallant Waif, I had to slash and burn at the characters of Lady Cahill and also Francis. In Tallie's Knight, the same thing happened and I had to cut back Laetitia, the green-eyed bandit, Carlotta...you name it. In my third historical, I had a character who I just loved, but who didn't advance a thing - I kept trying to prune her back but it didn't work. Finally I had to take her out altogether and put another quite different character in her place. Currently I'm working on squashing a short, pudgy duke who was supposed to be minor, unattractive and a total bore. He insists he's a lovely man who deserves a nice girl. Sophie Weston, a writer friend of mine, and a very funny person, told me "Don't squash your duke too hard. Who knows when a fully inflated duke may come in handy?" She might be right....
Tell us about yourself.
I was raised in a variety of settings - my parents adored traveling, so took every opportunity to move around. My Dad was a school principal (very strict) and my mom was a teacher too. We lived in various small country towns in Australia and also overseas, in Scotland, Malaysia and Greece, so I was pretty lucky in experiencing a lot of the world when I was quite young. There were four kids in the family and I'm the youngest by 10 years. I never planned to be a teacher, so it was a shock when I 'got the call' after teaching another kid to read when I was still at school myself. I went to Melbourne University and taught in various high schools in Melbourne and in tertiary institutions as well, teaching adults. I now work in a community setting teaching adults how to read and write and speak English, so I've come full circle. I'm not married and I don't have kids, but since I'm pretty fond of kids, I have a number of special kids in my life. As well as special adults.
What were your reading experiences like growing up? Were you a "bookie" as a child or did you come to love reading later? What is your all-time favorite book, and why? How did you come to romance? What were your influences, and whom do you read in the genre today? What about outside the genre?
I read everything I could get my hands on. We didn't have TV (partly my strict dad and partly isolation) and weren't even allowed comics, but we were free to read any books we wanted. I played outside all day in the bush, but at night my head was in 17th century Scotland, or Roman Britain, or Dark Age Britain, or on a Canadian Island, or SF/Fantasy worlds as well as contemporary Australia.
I don't have an all time favorite book. My house is full of books and I have all my battered old beloved books on a set of shelves behind my computer, so I can look up and see books by AA Milne, Enid Blyton, Rosemary Sutcliff, Henry Treece, John Wyndham, LM Montgomery, Elyne Mitchell, Roald Dahl....
The first romances I loved were by Georgette Heyer, Mary Stewart and Catherine Gaskin, and my eldest sister had a collection of old Lucy Walkers (Australian romances) which I read and loved while baby-sitting her kids when I was a teenager. However I only really discovered genre romance a few years ago, when I read people like Elizabeth Lowell and Amanda Quick and Johanna Lindsey and that's when I thought, "Yes! This is what I want to write!"
When you live in Australia and write for a market that is not in your own country, do you think that's different than if you were writing primarily for a local market? Do you feel more distanced from your readership than if you lived in the U.S. or Britain?
If I wrote primarily for my local market I probably would have given up writing romance by now. Romance is taken much more seriously in the US than it is in Australia. And appreciated far more. There is Harlequin and not much more. There are a couple of small, fairly new romance publishers here who publish a dozen or so titles a year. There are Australian branches of the usual big publishers, but they seem to think romance and women's fiction is the same. It's not.
As for feeling distanced from my readership, no not at all. I think the Internet has made everything so much more accessible. I've had much more feedback and much more reader contact with US readers than from Australian or English readers, for instance. You have no idea how wonderful these last two months (with the US releases) have been for me! For the first time ever, I feel that people (other than my friends and relations) are reading my books and liking them. It's given my writing motivation such a fantastic boost.
This comes from AAR Editor/Reviewer Ellen Micheletti: "I'd like to know what the state of romance novels is in Australia. Do they get mostly American ones, or British. Are there any native Aussie romance novelists who are popular? I know that the Silhouette author Fiona Cullen is from New Zealand. Does she publish here because there are no outlets in New Zealand?"
Romance in Australia is mainly Harlequin Mills and Boon, which releases most of the M&B, Silhouette and Harlequin lines. HM&B Australia have a commitment to publishing their local authors here, but the first release is always overseas. Otherwise the big publishers (see previous question) import the big names, but do minimal promotion.
Romance is still regarded here as slightly less than respectable for a "real" writer. We do get the big name romances from the US, but nowhere near the volume or variety you get. The situation in New Zealand is even more difficult, because they have an even smaller population than Australia. There are lots of wonderful Aussie and NZ romance writers who write for Harlequin - mainly for M&B because traditionally they allowed writers to use aussie and NZ characters and settings. Harlequin and Silhouette were less flexible about that in the past, but this is changing as they realize that readers enjoy a touch of something different.
Australia's shining star in single title romance is Stephanie Laurens - but ironically, she's much more well known in the US than in Australia. Which tells you a lot about the state of romance in Australia! In Melbourne, where I live, we have a small group of romance authors who are all good friends and who lunch regularly - Julia Byrne, Elizabeth Duke, Joan Kilby, Stephanie Laurens, Marion Lennox, Elizabeth Rolls, Vivienne Wallington, Judith Worthy - and myself, of course.
What is your favorite Regency Romance - of all time, and in recent years? Which authors do you most like in the sub-genre, and why?
Georgette Heyer's Venetia, or Devil's Cub, or Faro's Daughter....Of more current authors, I love Mary Balogh, and Amanda Quick is a lot of fun, although she doesn't write what you call traditional regencies. I've recently started reading Carla Kelly. I have to admit I haven't read widely in the Regency subgenre - mainly because the books are so hard to get here. I have a growing list of TBR authors.
Many readers simply do not "get" traditional regency romance. I'll admit that for me, it wasn't until I read one by Patricia Oliver that I had my "ah-ha!" moment, and I'm extremely choosy about which authors I read in this sub-genre. Some authors seem to overdo the cant and the stories, as a result, seem stilted - almost like the author is showing off. Other authors write Regencies that, when I read them, I realize I would have liked them more had they been longer, sexier, historicals. On the other hand, give me a regency that I love and I think it's perfect. What do you think makes for the perfect regency romance?
For me, it's the same as any romance - it's the love story. I don't care what the setting or period is, I want characters I can care about, a hero to die for and a story to keep me turning pages frantically into the night. I enjoy wit and humor if it makes me smile of chuckle, but I also like dark and dangerous. Maybe a good Regency is like a good champagne cocktail - fun and bubbly and not too sweet, with a bit of kick to it but not enough to knock you out.
I'm not big on the "mannered comedy" of some regencies - it seems forced and artificial to me and I dislike books where the cant is tossed at the reader like confetti. On the other hand, I hate books which get the historical details badly wrong - recently I read a highly recommended author for the first time and I nearly tossed it, because the characters were just too modern and historically improbable for me to swallow. Luckily I kept reading and it was a brilliant romance - the characters and relationship were wonderful - just not likely for that time period.
Since one of your books was published as a Regency and the other as an historical, do you foresee yourself continuing to write both types of books, or do you think you will write more historicals (or Regencies) in the future? And, as you were surprised about how Harlequin classified Tallie's Knight for its North American release, are you confused and/or concerned about how future books you write will be classified?
I might have been surprised that Tallie was classified as a Regency, but it meant that I had two books released in consecutive months, which was the best thing that could have happened for me. So I'm very grateful for it.
I don't plan to worry about categories at all. I see myself as a writer of historicals set in the regency period, but I suppose there will always be some crossover, especially with my penchant for humor. As far as the sensuality is concerned, that will be dictated by the characters and the story. I haven't yet written a book that ended up as I imagined it would, and I enjoy the adventure of that. I'm just going to keep writing the best books I can and leave it up to others to categorize them.