Jane Bonander and I met for lunch a couple Saturday's ago at Green Mill Pizza off I-94 at Century Avenue. To those of you who are not from Minnesota (is that possible?), this probably does not mean much. She came from one direction. I came from another direction, and we met in the middle. Although to be honest, Jane had a slightly longer drive to our luncheon rendezvous than I did. I wasn't nervous about meeting and interviewing a real live author until about a half-hour before I left the house. My last minute worries were for naught. It's hard to be intimidated by anyone wearing jeans and sweatshirt. Jane reminded me a lot of my own mother. Indeed, we even argued over who would pay for lunch much like my own mother and I often do. I had dutifully prepared a list of questions which I remembered toward the end of lunch (aren't I professional?). In the course of our conversation most of my questions got answered anyway.
Where did you get the idea for your new release, Scent of Lilacs?
I can't remember how it exactly came about. I was going through a bunch of synopsis ideas and that one sounded like it would be fun to write and it would be easy and then I discovered it wasn't easy. It was hard in the first place because I've never written a story where they(the hero and heroine) knew each other before and people kept saying 'Oh it's so much easier if they've known each other' - well, I thought it was really difficult...I've been leery about this book because when I got it finished and sent it off, well, I've had more rewrites on this book than I've ever had on any book.
How long does it usually take you to finish a book?
Now, if I've got a deadline, I suppose I usually like to write it in 4 months. But that's if I've already done all the research except for the west which doesn't take long since I've written so many books in this era.
Do you do your research at libraries?
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Oh no, I'm just terrible. I buy. I'm terrible. I buy. My research bill at the end of a year is outrageous. I have to have the book. I want it there. I want it with me....Once I even found the greatest book at a library in California - maybe it was subconscious but I don't think I meant to. I packed it and moved it with me and when I found it I felt so guilty I sent them a check for $25 but I knew I'd never find that book anywhere else.
How did you get your start as a writer?
I can't really remember why I started writing, and I don't think it was because of something I'd read and liked or didn't like. I'd been reading romances for a number of years before I tried to write one, and like almost everyone who started writing in the eighties, Kathleen Woodiwiss was one of my favorites. But I loved Cynthia Wright and Johanna Lindsey too. When I moved to California I came in contact with a number or romance writers plus Barbara Keenan who published Affaire deCoeur, a review magazine. It was then that I tried to write. Key word "tried."
How did you feel when you sold your first book, and which book was it?
It's hard to put into words how I felt when I sold my first book. It was...a dream come true. Something I'd wanted for so long but didn't really believe would happen. It was like winning the lottery - a lot less money, but every bit as much excitement.
Secrets of a Midnight Moon was my first book, and the first of a trilogy. The others (and please don't gag), were Heat of a Savage Moon and Forbidden Moon. They are not available anymore. I have the rights and hope to get them repackaged one day.
Let's talk now about history and what appeals to you about it.
I love history in general, not the political side, however, but the social side. I love social history. The book I'm working on now is a good example. I was visiting my son in Providence, Rhode Island and he and I drove to New Bedford. There's a whaling museum there and I discovered that a lot of women went whaling with their husbands. They even took the children. The whole family had to go on a whaler and these women would write these diaries so I decided I would have a woman, the heroine, who witnessed her husband's death on a whaler and she had to bring the ship back...The hero witnessed so much slaughter from the whalers of whales and otters...he's a naturalist basically going around trying to discover how many species are endangered. She (the heroine) wants to keep the whaler, but her husband had a note against it. She can't get it back because the hero has it. He's not going to release it to her because he doesn't want her to go out whaling.
Do you know your characters before you start your story?
The characters are in my head, but I don't know them really well until probably 150-200 pages into a book.
How do you feel about the bad rap romance gets?
I saw a talk show recently, and the first thing the interviewer did was go directly to the steamiest part of the book which is maybe 2 pages out of 360. I think the best thing we can do in those situations is say 'you know, yes, but this is only a very small part of the book' . Basically, romance is about faithfulness, family, honesty, and honor between couples. That's what it's all about. Your hero can be the biggest sleep-around ever and as soon as he meets the heroine the other women aren't interesting anymore. It may be fantasy. So what? Of course, it's fantasy!
What's your advice for wannabe writers like myself?
Just do it! Join a local writing group. Get a critique partner. If you don't want a whole group of people critiquing your stuff, find one person that you trust...find somebody you trust, not somebody in your family, but somebody else who knows what you are trying to do....develop a thick skin because everybody won't like what you do.
Who is your critique partner, and how did you get together with her?
I send it all to Jill Barnett. She trashes me clearly, beautifully and everything she says basically makes a whole lot of sense. I tend to overwrite. I tend to use way to many words - wordy, wordy, wordy - and she comes in and cleans it all up for me and then I can learn from that.
Jill Barnett and I met in about 1985 or 1986 when she moved to the community next to mine up near San Francisco. We belonged to the same critique group then, were among the few who founded the San Francisco chapter of RWA, and became close friends. I've watched her daughter, Casey, grow from a toddler to a beautiful young thing. We became widowed within 6 months of each other and we were living maybe 10 miles apart so we became even closer. We were close before that because we had a lot of stuff in common - books, authors we enjoyed. When I decided to move (back to Minnesota), I sold my house in November and I moved in with Jill and her daughter so we were roommates until March (1997) when I left to come to Minnesota. I went up to visit her at the end of January.
What can you tell me about Scent of Lilacs?
Because my husband died a few months after I started it, I found it the hardest book I've ever had to write so far. It had more rewriting than any other book because it took a while to get back into feeling my emotions. It was more comfortable to make the book light and frivolous, and I don't write that kind of book.
What should readers know about your books? What would you like readers to get out of your books?
I think my books deal with subjects that are timeless - i.e. mental illness (Winter Heart), marriage of convenience (Wild Heart and Warrior Heart), and in Warrior Heart there was the abandoned child who brings two people together. I like to think I combine love, angst, humor and common sense. I like to think my heroines are women my readers would like to know if they met them.
I want readers to be entertained, hate to see the book end, and be anxious for the next book.
I learned a lot of interesting things about Jane and her writing during the course of our lunch. But the most important thing I learned that day had nothing to do with romance novels. I guess I had this kooky preconceived notion that authors were not like real people and that they lived outside the realm of everyday trials and tribulations. I couldn't have been more wrong. Just like a lot of us, Jane married and had children. Her sons are all grown up now, but she sadly experienced the death of her beloved spouse in August 1996 of a severe asthma attack after living for years with Parkinson's disease.
During our lunch, I truly felt Jane's sadness whenever her husband came up during the course of our conversation. Whenever she spoke of him, she got this far away look in her eyes and would turn to look out the windows lost, perhaps, in the memories and sadness. And when she said, "I think the hardest part was telling my boys that their father was gone," I knew I could never forget that moment
Jane's sadness continued to affect me after our meeting. When I came home, the weather was surprisingly decent for early March in Minnesota and I had nothing to do. I sent the boys out to play, and I sat down and started to read Jane's new book. I barely got past the dedication to her husband at the beginning. My own husband happened to be standing next to me and asked me what was wrong. I handed him the book and told him to read the dedication. He handed the book back to me with tears in his eyes, as affected as I was by this:
For Alan, "the son of a preacher man,"
Who never lost his sense of humor through the most
Difficult time in his life.
For his strength to fight a relentless disease,
For his dignity as it ravaged his body,
For his missionary's heart,
For his hunger to learn and help find the cure.
May you run and leap and cavort with the angels, love.
Alan L. Bonander
May 14, 1940-August 2, 1996
Jane has moved on with her life. She moved back to Minnesota (during one of the coldest, rottenest winters in memory), written one book (Scent), started another, and even has, as she put it, "somebody in her life".
She's also got me in her corner. I feel like I made a new friend that Saturday afternoon in March. Jane is one of those people you meet and feel like you have known your whole life. I feel like I could call her up today and ask her out to lunch just to visit. Maybe what I should do is take both her and my mother out to lunch just so I can watch them haggle over who is going to pay. It'd be a close call as to who would win that one .