"I find romance to be, simply put, the most satisfying read. And when you don't have a lot of time to read, you make sure that what you're reading will leave you feeling good. So...romance."
"I'd much rather read a poorly plotted book that has wonderful characters than I would a cutting-edge, keep-me-guessing plot with cardboard characters. Come to think of it, I don't even care if there is a plot, as long as there are people in the story who make me care."
I first encountered Elizabeth Bevarly's writing when I picked up some of her Silhouette Desire titles. I was struck by her wonderful sense of humor and her very likable characters. In 1998 Elizabeth branched out into single title books with her charming romantic comedy My Man Pendleton. I met Elizabeth at the Kentucky Book Fair in Frankfort and she agreed to an interview. I think you'll find particularly refreshing, as I did, her overwhelming love for the romance genre, and her sheer enjoyment in what she does, which is to create wonderful love stories and novels, both short and long.
How did you get started writing?
I can't remember ever wanting to be anything except a novelist. So naturally I majored in English when I went to college. But instead of concentrating on creative writing, I was drawn to literature - all periods, all countries, anything that sounded interesting. I was simply a lover of books, and I wanted to study them. So my writing then was focused entirely on critique and analysis. I earned my BA with honors in English in 1983, then got halfway through my Master's degree before burning out and abandoning my studies. I think I just tried to do too much. And it took several years for me to go back to writing at all.
When I did, it was, I think, in response to a huge lifestyle change. I was freshly married, and had just moved to an entirely new place and culture, and the emotions welling up inside me just needed to come out. So they did. On paper.
How did you get your first book published? Did you have a mentor?
No, no mentor. I knew very few people who even read romance then, let alone who wrote it. I didn't even know Romance Writers of America existed when I wrote my first book. I'd simply been reading romance for about ten years, and loving it, and I knew that was the kind of book I wanted to write. Specifically, I wanted to write category romance (though I had no idea at the time that it was called that), because I absolutely devoured Silhouettes.
My New Year's resolution for 1988 was to write a book. (I made that resolution mainly because my ten-year high school reunion was coming up in 1989, and I had sworn up and down to everybody in my senior class that I would be published by the time that reunion rolled around.) At that time, I had just moved to New Jersey from Puerto Rico (my husband was in the Coast Guard and was stationed in Philadelphia), and I was terribly homesick for the Caribbean, with which I had fallen in love while living there. I was working in retail, waiting for the bus to the mall every morning in the cold winter weather, so naturally, when I began to write, the book that materialized was pure escapist (and watm) fiction - the heroine, fed up with her life as a stockbroker in New York, decided impusively one-cold-morning to chuck it all and run away to the Caribbean. That book ultimately became Destinations South. I started writing that book in January, finished it in June, found an agent in November (after being rejected about a dozen times), and she sold it in December to Silhouette Special Edition. It was published in October 1989 - one month before my ten-year reunion.
You have written several series (the Comet BOB trilogy come to mind). When you write a series, do you plan it all out ahead of time?
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Not really. I have a real good grip on all the characters and their situations and motivations, but not necessarily on who's going to do exactly what at which time. In fact, in the first BOB book, Bride of the Bad Boy, there's a scene where the three heroines are having lunch together, and Angie, the heroine of the first book, is trying to get some details from her friends about what's going on with them - their stories are running concurrently with Angie's and make up books two and three in the series. But both of them keep saying, I don't want to talk about it. Well, the reason they didn't want to talk about it was because I had no idea what was going with them at the time. But I do make a lot of notes as I go along, to make sure I keep things consistent.
Still, all in all, I think, for me, writing is a very instinctive. I don't want to delve too deeply into the place where the stories come from. I'd rather just let them flow naturally, at their own pace, in their own way - so I don't plan books out too specifically when I conceive of them. (In fact, I have a big sign hanging near my computer that says, Just Don't Think About It.) I don't want to understand my creativity. I don't want to analyze it, I don't want to know why it works the way it does. For ten years now, stories have been coming from that place, some more easily than others, but coming nonetheless. At this point, I figure even if I'm not sure exactly where I'm going when I first start a book, it'll go somewhere. Eventually.
You have recently written a book, Society Bride, for the Fortune's Children mini-series. How do you go about writing a book in a multi-author series and what is it like to write a book where, in part, your hands are tied?
Multi-author series like the Fortune's Children books are generally by invitation, and are initially conceived and plotted by the editors. "By invitation" means that authors are invited by the publisher to participate. We all receive guidelines regarding the characters and plot lines, and then we write our interpretation of how we think things would play out. These books aren't nearly as confining as a lot of people think they are.
Society Bride definitely challenged me as a writer, because it had the kind of situation I wouldn't normally have chosen to write about - a heroine who was considering a marriage of convenience for the sake of the family business. It really made me think about why a woman in this day and age would agree to an arrangement like that. Renee wound up being one of my more complicated heroines, I think - complicated in the sense that there were more facets to her character than are present in most of my heroines (who are, for the most part, pretty straightforward). Honor and obligation are very important to her, and she feels torn between her father and the hero, both of whom she loves very much. Usually my heroines know what they want, and/or know themselves very well. Renee was constantly conflicted over what she wanted to do, and what she thought was the Right Thing To Do.
So, no, I didn't feel like my hands were tied - I had plenty of creative freedom. But the book was, without question, one of the most difficult ones I've written. Still, I was pretty pleased with the way it turned out. And it was definitely a new experience for me. Those are always welcome.
You've written short stories, series/category romance, women's fiction for Harper Monogram and single title romantic comedy. Which is your favorite type of writing and why.
Ooo, very difficult question. I love them all for different reasons. The novellas are loads of fun, because they're so fast-paced and tend to have a lot of dialogue, which I love to write. Plus, I can complete one in about two weeks, so there's instant gratification, which novelists don't usually have. Category romance is my first, and perhaps truest love, simply because reading my first Silhouette was a totally liberating experience, one I'll never, ever forget. And the books are, quite simply, fun to write.
Women's fiction was something I experimented with for two books, and although I enjoyed it, it's not something I find myself wanting to write these days. But there may come a time when that changes - I just don't know. As for single title, I recently turned in my second big romantic comedy to Avon (Her Man Friday, June 1999), and my editor just okayed a new proposal for a book due at the end of summer. I do love the big contemporaries, too. I can be more over-the-top with the big books than I can category (though I tend to go over-the-top there from time to time, too), and I just like the bigger feel to the single-title stories.
So I guess category is my first love, especially since it was my introduction to the whole, wide, wonderful world of romance, and the big romantic comedies are the icing on that lovely, sweet cake.
How is writing a single title book like My Man Pendleton different from writing a category book like A Lawless Man?
Well, it takes longer. Actually, probably the nicest thing about the bigger books, for me, is the opportunity to write more characters. I am, without question, a character-driven writer. And reader, too. I'd much rather read a poorly plotted book that has wonderful characters than I would a cutting-edge, keep-me-guessing plot with cardboard characters. Come to think of it, I don't even care if there is a plot, as long as there are people in the story who make me care.
But I digress.
In a category novel, because of the shorter length, it's necessary to get right to the story and characters and stay there. In a bigger book, like My Man Pendleton, I can take a few side trips along the way. I can have a subplot, and I can have scenes that don't necessarily further the plot, but which allow the reader to get to know the characters better - or allow the characters to get to know each other better. I can make conversations go on a bit longer than necessary, just to make them more entertaining.
So really, I guess the writing of a big book is a bit more leisurely all around than a category novel, which is much faster paced and more to the point. And interestingly, I've found that I do write each kind of book differently. With a category, I know before sitting down exactly where I want to start the book, and I almost never deviate from that first scene. With the big books, I've found myself writing and throwing away a good half-dozen opening scenes before sticking with one that I like.
My Man Pendleton was one of the funniest books I read in 1998 and many of your Desire titles are funny too. Is it harder to write humor than a non-humourous book?
Thanks, Ellen! Actually, for me, humor is easy to write. I come from a pretty funny family, and I can find humor in just about any situation. I've always adored funny movies and funny books and funny music, so it was kind of a given that I'd write funny stuff.
My early books, the ones I wrote for Special Edition, tended to be on the more serious side, and as much as I liked writing them, I think my writing improved enormously when I moved to Desire and started focusing more on humor. I think some people just write humor/light well, and some people just write angst/dark well, and some people balance both beautifully in the same book. And thank goodness for that! A steady diet of one or the other would be so boring.
Many readers have complained that some of the category lines have concentrated on cowboys, and babies to the point where they are getting boring. Have you ever been pressured to tailor your storylines to what's currently popular?
To be honest, yes - I have. Not pressured to tailor my stories to the current trends, but invited to. I was recently asked by Silhouette to go back and revisit a trilogy I wrote at the very beginning of the Baby Boom in category, From Here to Maternity. They wanted to know if I'd be interested in returning to the hospital that generated the action in those stories, with three new stories that would feature babies and doctors.
But to be fair, I wouldn't have agreed to write the new trilogy (and I don't think Silhouette would have asked me to) if I couldn't have come up with story ideas and characters that I honestly liked and thought would appeal to readers. And after giving some thought to Silhouette's request, I have, in fact, conceived of three stories and six characters that I genuinely like and about whom I truly want to write.
As for cowboys, seeing as how I've never been west of the Mississippi, except to attend RWA conferences, I think they know better than to ask me to write about cowboys. I love to read about cowboys myself, but I don't fool myself that I could do them justice in writing.
But Silhouette still publishes plenty un-trendy stuff, too, like the BOB books. I mean, a wish-granting comet? That's a pretty far cry from babies and cowboys. Contrary to what people are saying, there's plenty of variety in category, and it's not difficult to find. It may not be as overtly celebrated as it once was, but it's there.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
Boy, this is a toughie, just because there are so many. Off the top of my head (and with a glance at my keeper shelf):
Outside romance, Lynn Hightower, Taylor McCafferty, Anne Rivers Siddons, Janet Evanovich, Lisa Scottoline, Laurien Berenson.
As I said, there are tons more, but that's a good start.
Did you read romance when you were a teenager?
Interestingly enough, that was when I started. I remember it clearly. My best friend, Julie, a rabid reader of Harlequins and Anya Seton, loaned me Katherine when I was sixteen. I read it in one sitting on a snowy day, completely oblivious to the ten times my mom swears she called me to dinner. There was no going back after that. I went to the library and checked out every Anya Seton book they had and read them all back to back (and yes, as a matter of fact, it was a glorious experience). Then Julie loaned me her Sigrid Undsets, which I likewise devoured. Had you told me then that I was reading historical romance, I think I would have been genuinely surprised. Like so many others, I had a total misconception of what a romance novel was. Julie also loaned me her Harlequins, which I liked, but they were pretty sweet, and I wanted something. . .I don't know. . .more.
I read my first Silhouette - The Hawk and the Honey - when I was in college. And that, I'm confident, was when I really found my calling. It was like someone opened a door and invited me into a wonderful party. Reading category romance was just such a joyful experience after all the Thomas Hardy, Charles Baudelaire, Knut Hamsun and James Joyce. (I can just hear the outraged, apoplectic cries of English professors all over the country in response to that comment. Ooo. I'm shakin' in my boots.)
What other kinds of books do you like to read?
These days I read pretty much exclusively romance and mystery. I used to read everything I could get my hands on, but now that my time is more limited (thanks to writing and a four-year-old), I focus on what I love most. I'd say eighty percent of what I read is romance. Fifteen percent mystery. Five percent all other. I'm something of a general fiction snob in that I just think genre fiction is so much better. Better written, better plotted, better motivated. There were too many general fiction books out there that I'd finish reading and find myself saying, "And the point to that story would be...?" Plus, having read so many of the classics in college, I prefer a book now where women are treated well and not punished so much for being happy. We deserve to be happy, dammit. We work hard for it. Why would I want to read a book where someone fights and fights and fights to overcome adversity, only to have the whole struggle be pointless in the end? I can get that reading the newspaper.
I know I sound horribly narrow-minded, but I have read a lot of stuff over the years - at some point in my life, I've devoured everything. But I find romance to be, simply put, the most satisfying read. And when you don't have a lot of time to read, you make sure that what you're reading will leave you feeling good. So. . .romance.
Since My Man Pendleton was a success, will you write only single title books, or do you plan to continue writing categories too?
Oh, I definitely will continue to write category. As I said, it's my first love. It's what won me over to romance in the first place. Writing for Silhouette Desire is, quite literally, a dream come true. And I take a lot of pride in the books that I've written for Silhouette. I have no plans to ever stop, as long as Silhouette wants to keep me. But I also plan to keep writing the big books for as long as I'm wanted there. I'm contracted to write two more books for Avon after Her Man Friday, and I'm very much looking forward to those.
All in all, I think I've got the best of both worlds going. And I don't intend to take either one of them for granted. Believe me - I know how lucky, how blessed, I am to be able to write both kinds of books, to enjoy writing both kinds of books, and to have them both be well received by readers. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, keep waiting to wake up and find out it's all been a complete fantasy, and now I have to go back to retail management or tending bar. Until that happens, though, I'm going to do my best to enjoy both worlds for as long as I can.