What's in a Name? A Q&A with Josie Litton

(November 9, 2001)

 

When advance word began this summer about the debut novels for Josie Litton, the Internet was filled with buzz. Although the books themselves referred to the novels as the debut of a new author, word soon got around, with help from the author herself, that Josie Litton was a new pen name for a previously published romance author. Was it Elizabeth Elliott, whose star had briefly shone brightly, only to apparently go supernova within years? Tantalizing clues were dropped by those "in the know," and the very same day we posted reviews of the first two books in her medieval trilogy, we learned from two sources that Josie Litton was none other than Maura Seger.

Our own Jane Jorgenson, who reviewed the first two books in the trilogy (and granted the first DIK status), was intrigued not only by the "who is she?" discussion, but by the author - old and new. They were recently in touch; what follows is Jane's Q&A with Josie Litton.

When word came out on the Web that you formerly wrote as Maura Seger, I immediately got a copy of Veil of Passion and read it. The similarities are there as far as writing style goes. Did you write as Maura Seger? If no, can you tell us what your former writing persona was?

Iíve asked my editor how Bantam wants to proceed now with the pseudonym matter but I donít have a response yet so Iíll have to defer this question.

Everyone who's heard that you're actually Maura Seger has been very excited. We've actually had the news from very reliable sources, but wouldn't want to tout incorrect information. Would you tell us if you're definitely not MS?

Bantam has asked me not to say anything one way or another, and Iím respecting that. BTW, I appreciate the reviews Iíve gotten on AAR and I especially liked what the reviewer of Come Back to Me said: "While the mystery Ms. Litton has created by her 'who was she?' name change will soon fade from memory, this excellent story will not." That really sums up what I hope will be the case.

Since you're now writing under a new pseudonym can you tell me something about how that came about? Was this something your publisher suggested? Many times a pseudonym is used if the books are vastly different then previous books by an author. Did this factor in the decision for you? What were the factors?

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I decided to use a pseudonym because I wanted a fresh start. Iíd written a variety of books and I didnít want these new books affected by anything I d done previously. I also wanted readers to have a very high degree of confidence in what they would get when they bought a Josie Litton book.

Bantam was very successful in their launch of Madeline Hunter. Their method was similar to what is now happening with your trilogy. They found a talented writer, published her first three books in quick succession, and made sure the price was more then reasonable. They've gone one step further in creating buzz around your book by subtly emphasizing the mystery of who the author is. Is this a process you can tell me something about? Have you been able to participate in the decision-making?

Bantam has done a wonderful job getting behind Josie Litton. Iím very grateful to the many people there who have put their time and talent to work helping me reach readers. My job was and is to write the books. I have very little involvement in other aspects.

The setting for your new trilogy is 9th century Britain and Norway. In Veil of Passion the setting was 13th century Britain. Tell me something about these choices. Do you have a background in the history of Britain? If not, can you tell me something about how you research your books?

I chose the setting because it was a time of enormous energy and passion. That makes great fodder for a writer. I research compulsively and probably far too much. Iím lucky enough to have an extensive library Iíve accumulated over the years, and to have access to other great research resources. In the case of this particular setting, the challenge was to be historically accurate but still romantic in the sense of taking the reader someplace sheíd enjoy being. The Vikings were a far more sophisticated and accomplished people than is sometimes thought. For instance, I was fascinated to discover that a small carved Buddha was found during an archaeological dig in Scandanavia. That gave me a new sense of the scope of the Vikings' explorations and the impact that had on their world.

Share with our readers how you go about researching a period for a single book or a series of books.

I read a lot of history and biography but thatís really only the first part of the process. A big part of researching has to do with getting to know my characters at the same time Iím getting to know their period. I need to see it through their eyes and that requires a lot of daydreaming. Fortunately, Iím very good at that!

I've gone on to read more Maura Seger books and found one in particular pretty fascinating. Its title is Tapestry and I loved the retelling of events having to do with the creation of the Bayeux Tapestry. I found the history occasionally overrunning the romance, which was fine, but can you tell me something about how you're able to balance the two? I'm sure you find the research intriguing and other authors seem to want to insert every fact they find. How do you make sure both parts of the story are served?

For me, what gets included really has to do with the characters: What would they know and care about? What would draw their attention? What details of their world would shape their behavior? Everything else, however interesting, is extraneous.

It looks like your next trilogy will be set during the Regency. It seems many authors are strongly urged to write romances set in this, much in demand, time period. I greatly enjoyed the more uncommon setting of the current trilogy, so I'll be blunt and ask what made you pick the Regency for your next?

My next trilogy is set during the Regency but thereís a twist to that. I love the period again because it offers so much energy and passion but I also wanted to do something new and different. My solution was to create a mythical island kingdom Akora that contrasts and conflicts with the larger world. Akora is something of a Utopia, a place where human beings can be their best, but itís become very real to me. I hope readers will enjoy it as much as I do. By the way, the main characters in the second trilogy are descendants of the characters in the medieval trilogy you enjoyed.

How did you come to romance writing? Were you a long-time romance reader, a reader of historical fiction, a reader of classic literature, or some combination of the above?

I was one of those kids who never made it home from the library without starting a book on the way. I also knew from a young age that I wanted to write fiction. When it really came down to doing that, I had to think about what kind of fiction I could commit myself to creatively, intellectually and especially emotionally. I truly do believe in the fundamental goodness of most people and the lasting power of love so romances seemed a natural fit.

What is your favorite novel of all time? What about your favorite romance novel?

My favorite novel of all time is Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. Itís a fictional accounting of the Battle of Gettysburg and won the Pulitzer Prize. I reread it at least once a year and always find something new to admire and appreciate.

There are many romance novels Iíve loved, including Kathleen Winsorís Forever Amber, Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Kathleen Woodiwiss' The Flame and the Flower, and E.M.Hull's The Sheik, to mention just a few.

I know from the brief bio on your web site that you've been writing in the genre for a while. I'm interested in your observations about the genre. Has the romance climate changed over the last few years? Stayed the same?

Time constraints being what they are, I only get to read a small fraction of the romances that are published so I canít presume to comment on the genre in general. I do think people will always be responsive to stories that affirm the best in human nature, including romantic love and the lasting commitment that flows from it.

We've been hearing a lot from authors about how the historical romance market is drying up. We've also heard a lot of grumbling from readers that today's romances are lacking something - that the heyday for romance, and in particular, historical romance, ended in the mid-1990's. Do you see a connection between these two observations?

If readers feel the books are missing something, it follows the market would dry up. As readers stop buying because they re dissatisfied, publishers stop publishing. It can get to be a vicious cycle. However, the saving grace is that there are bright people in publishing who really are willing to look around for markets that arenít being adequately served. When historical romances do well and I deeply appreciate the support mine are getting from readers publishers are reminded that such readers really do exist and that they are out actively looking for books. If enough readers make their feelings known, we could see a whole new boom of really satisfying historical romances. Speaking as both a writer and a reader, that would be terrific.

Many romance authors - from Catherine Coulter to Judith Ivory, have said that the level of writing improved tremendously between the 1970's and the 1990's as far as romances were concerned. Do you agree? If so, how was it better? If not, how would you answer these authors?

The level of writing has improved in terms of the basic tools and techniques - characterizations, plotting, etc. But beneath that and really served by it is an emotional level where the connection to the reader has to happen. I don t know whether romance writers generally have become more adroit at making that connection or not. Your comment above about readers saying historical romance is missing something suggests the connection may actually seem weaker, at least to some people.

 




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