Louise Titchener: Across Genre Boundaries

(This interview was originally written for The Romance Reader in 1996.)

 

I recently conducted a telephone interview with novelist Louise Titchener, whose book Deja Vu, a recent Pinnacle release received a 5-heart rating from the Romance Reader.

I refer to Louise as a novelist -- not a romance novelist, not a suspense novelist, not a mystery novelist -- because she herself prefers not to be genre-ized. Instead, she calls herself a story-teller, an author of women's fiction.

She says, "Genres are such an important element in publishing today. I've written a lot of romance and I really enjoy romance, but I read all kinds of books and I find myself wanting to try different things. It's very bad for my career but it's been good for me creatively."

Louise has always followed her muse, which may account for the fact that she has had several publishers since she began her writing career. "I believe it would have been best for my career to have been able to stay with one publisher and build from there. But I have changed what I wanted to write about too much."

Louise's writing career, as with many writers, started early. Born and raised in Detroit, she began to write short stories in high school and continued to write in college. After marrying a philosophy student (now a professor of philosophy at the University of Maryland at Baltimore) in Michigan, she and her husband moved to Ohio, where she earned her Masters degree and taught freshman English.

In between grading all those freshman comp papers and raising a family, she began to write in earnest. Lacking knowledge on how to properly write and market a manuscript to a publisher, those first efforts remain unsold.

After moving with her husband and two sons to Maryland, she joined a critique group and began to hone her skills. Interestingly enough, she joined forces with three other women and wrote a collaborative effort, Love is Elected, published by Silhouette. She continued writing as a team, both as part of this rather large group, then the group split into two.

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She says of this experience, "Ruth Glick, Eileen Bucholtz, Carolyn Males, and I researched how to write a romance, and wrote as a foursome. We worked with a typewriter in one of our laps and a bowl of popcorn to share. That was our beginning."

How did she find working as a group in something that is most often a solitary effort? "I think it was a very good learning experience for all of us as far as novel construction is concerned. We all had a good time and it was very rewarding. You have to put your ego aside and enjoy the process."

This initial foursome published two books. With Ruth Glick, Louise published 10 other titles using the name Alexis Hill and Alexis Jordan. With Carolyn Males, Louise published additional titles. Around the same time Louise wanted to venture out on her own and wrote six independent titles for Dell's Ecstasy line until it folded.

Louise then moved to Harlequin, where she published several category romances as Jane Silverwood -- three in the Temptations line and six Superromances. At that time, Louise and her husband decided to move from the Maryland suburbs to inner city Baltimore.

This move for Louise was quite profound. While most people tend to move out from cities to suburbs, she was fascinated by Baltimore's city life, the harbor, the architecture, the people. She is one of those people not afraid of change. She thrives on it, she embraces it, she seeks it out. "I've always wanted to try other things. I think it's important for a writer to keep reaching."

She began to become more and more interested in writing mystery. She sold two mystery novels to Harper (Homebody and Mantrap) and was surprised when they were labeled romantic suspense. Probably no more surprised, she surmises, than readers who bought them expecting a romance but finding instead a suspense novel.

"Then I sold Buried in Baltimore and Deja Vu to Pinnacle." As was the case with her two Harper suspenses, these were also marketed as "romantic suspense." The categorizing and marketing of books is done by the publisher. So, while Louise would rather have had her suspense novels categorized as such, it ultimately was not her choice.

Louise finds her ideas everywhere. Because her style of writing is to write in two-hour spurts, those in-between times are taken up by long walks along the harbor, looking at the architecture, and thinking about the people who might have lived in the townhouses.

The idea for Homebody came at a time when the governor of Maryland had pardoned women who had murdered their abusive husbands in self-defense. Louise, who had recently heard a psychological profiler talk about serial killers decided to combine the two elements, and, voila, a protagonist and a story was born.

Louise calls the heroine of Homebody a protagonist rather than a heroine because her studying of the romantic genre "taught" her that the heroine is only interesting in conjunction with the hero. In other words, in a romance, the relationship is the story while in a suspense or mystery novel, there might be a love story, but it is not of primary focus.

As a result, she has created a sequel to Homebody with the same protagonist. The sequel, Buried in Baltimore, will be published by Pinnacle in 1997.

The fact that Louise doesn't want to be pigeon-holed as a specific genre writer is important in that many writers of romance are also crossing genre lines. Catherine Coulter's The Cove, while marketed as a romantic suspense, remains in her own mind a straight suspense novel. Many readers cannot accept their romance authors branching out and are confused by the marketing of straight suspense novels as romantic suspense.

What is the allure of the suspense/mystery to women authors? Louise says that the entire mystery genre is changing. She recalls attending a conference a couple of years ago where a panel of male authors of "hard-boiled P.I. stories" were complaining that they could no longer sell their books to publishers. Since the success of Sarah Paretsky and some of the other successful mystery writers, the mystery genre is being feminized. Not only are more and more readers women, but more and more authors are women as well.

As for Deja Vu, Louise's story of an immortal protagonist was one she has had in her mind for years, since reading the vampire novels of Chelsea Quinn Yarborough. These novels, with ancient vampire characters, have been set in a variety of eras. She says, "I became fascinated by a continuing character you could set in various historical periods. Stupidly I thought, 'Well, she's done a vampire so I can't do a vampire.' This was before Anne Rice."

"What kind of character could I do this with? I came up with the idea of a woman who doesn't age due to genetics -- her genetics are different and don't contain the genes for the aging process. When I first had the idea, publishers were not ready for it. The idea of a woman not aging was unappealing. While they could accept the idea of a man not aging as a romantic figure, such as Rice's Lestat, they were not receptive to the same with woman."

Louise would like to do a sequel to Deja Vu using the same protagonist, again in the suspense genre. Deja Vu, however, adds a paranormal wrinkle that is fairly new to her. She is constantly pushing herself into new endeavors. Indeed, in an effort to establish herself in the suspense genre, she has become a lecturer on mystery at both Johns Hopkins University and the Smithsonian.

So this wife, mother, and grandmother, continues to grow as an artist, not willing to accept the safe confines of a traditional literary career. She looks forward, not backward, to the time when genre constraints will not restrict authors, but will encourage them to branch out and grow.

"I'm a story-teller; I'm not a romance writer, mystery writer, or suspense writer per se. I tell all different kinds of stories. I certainly would not recommend it to other writers -- it's not the way to build an audience or a career in today's market." Perhaps one day it will be.

 

--Laurie Likes Books

 




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