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Author Interview With Kieran Kramer
Author Kieran Kramer is thrilling historical romance fans with her back-to-back releases, November's When Harry Met Molly and December's upcoming Dukes to the Left of Me, Princes to the Right. These two Regency romps are full of witty dialogue and lovable characters and both received Top Pick! ratings from RT. So Web Editor Morgan Doremus had to ask the new author about the magic behind her fantastic books and what is up next.
Morgan Doremus: Two books in two months and both Top Picks! - editors around the RT office are stunned at your accomplishment and wondering where did this author come from?!? You have to share your story.
Kieran Kramer: First of all, thank you for such a wonderful honor—to have my books chosen as Top Picks at RT is something I'm over the moon about, and I'm thrilled to be here today to chat with you! As for where I came from, I can't help giggling a bit at that. One thing I learned in the CIA—timing is everything. If my books felt like a sneak "romance" attack from out of nowhere, then that's awesome. I like making splashes!! <Grin>
The truth is, I've wanted this for years. I've envisioned it for years. But to get to this place, I had to go through a lot of phases. There was my initial, "I want to write a romance novel" phase. That happened a whole 15 years ago when I wrote a little Regency called Madeira, My Dear. There was a talking dog and absolutely no understanding on my part of plot structure, point-of-view, or pacing. I submitted it once to Signet for their Regency line and got rejected.
So…the manuscript went into a drawer. I assumed the rejection meant I wasn't a good enough writer. Which was true in that I needed more practice. LOL! The heart was there (which to me, is what voice is) but I needed to write more, without a doubt. Instead, out of fear of failure—and sometimes, I think, out of fear of success—I focused on the rest of my life while still reading ravenously. I put my dream on the backburner, as many women do.
You see, I hadn't reached the "Hey! Life is passing you by, so it's time to put yourself first!" phase yet. I thought I had all the time in the world.
Uh huh. <Grin>
When I hit age 40, I was a very busy woman. I felt happy and fulfilled. I believe strongly there's a season for everything, and in my case, I'd made my family and other types of professional work a priority in my 30s.
But I started having a tough time enjoying going to bookstores. This had never happened to me before. When I walked into a bookstore, I'd hear a strong voice in my head saying, "Hey! You're still not a published writer!"
And I began thinking: Had I romanticized this career of being a romance novelist? Was I a wannabe and not the real thing? How many manuscripts had I actually written? I'd started many chapters and begun several different books. But I could go a whole year without writing anything new. So, how much effort had I really expended to make a writing career a reality?
The truth was, not enough to propel me to where I wanted to be—firmly ensconced in a chair in front of a computer screen as a writer under contract.
So I started picking up the pace. I intentionally shifted my priorities, and writing went almost straight to the top of my list. Almost because, no matter what, I always put God and family first. However, the concept of putting family first had evolved into a new meaning for me. I was part of this family I'd always put first, yet somehow I'd left my own special dream out of the equation for years.
At this point, I had to be willing to teach my children an important lesson—that their mom has needs and wants, too. Teaching that lesson can be tough for nurturing people to do. I think that's why so many women don't pursue their dreams—we're natural nurturers of others, right? But we need to nurture ourselves as well. So I told my kids that together we'd create an interdependent environment in which all of us sacrificed for each other. That's what love is, really. That's what family is about.
So when my outward choices and behavior began to actually align with my own dreams for myself—when I made that commitment to my writing—all kinds of serendipitous things began to happen. So many incredible writer mentors appeared like angels. Some of these women I got to know personally and others I never met up close—they simply inspired me from afar, at conferences and within their amazing books: Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jennifer Crusie, Cherry Adair, Janet Evanovich, Debbie Macomber, Teresa Medeiros, Nora Roberts, Julia Quinn, Christina Dodd, Jayne Ann Krentz, Eloisa James, Roxanne St. Claire, and Susan Wiggs come to mind. But there were many other writers who also said or did things that helped make me a better writer.
I always felt in my heart I had the voice to be a selling writer. I'd also heard that from people who'd read my stories. So I got to work. During this busy writing period, I wrote a couple of chick lit manuscripts that got rejected. I'd missed the boat—chick lit began to experience a huge decline in the market. So then I wrote a rather weighty single title women's fiction manuscript, but it was difficult for me to be so serious. I submitted it one place, and it got rejected. This time I put it in a drawer right away not because I was sure I was a terrible writer (as I'd assumed when that old Regency had gotten rejected) but because I knew serious women's fiction didn't represent who I really was as a writer. But I hadn't known that until I'd tried it. This is where writing practice comes in. You need to do that to get to know your own voice and the direction you want to take it.
What I discovered with all that sustained writing practice was that the real me couldn't help writing funny! And then I remembered that the first book I'd ever written was a Regency. Why didn't I go back to the Regency period? It was a perfect place to write about fun characters!
But now I needed a high concept to go along with my voice and my new Regency focus. I knew in my gut when I came up with the idea of moving a beauty pageant back into the Regency that I had a winning idea: the book's heroine would be a fish out of water in a competition between lightskirts!
And I was off and running. I wrote When Harry Met Molly when my husband was called up unexpectedly to Afghanistan for a year's duty, and I wrote it fast. The timing felt perfect, and I knew the perfect agent to submit to and I already had the perfect editor in mind, Jennifer Enderlin. You see, I'd been scouting everyone out in the publishing world, as I should have been doing as a writer with serious goals. My agent and I immediately connected and the book and the rest of the series sold very fast to my dream editor.
I was where I wanted to be. At last. Seeing my name in print in RT Book Reviews magazine has been surreal, especially as my books have been touted as Top Picks! Yet at the same time, I've prepared myself for this. And so I feel not only tremendous excitement but a deep, abiding happiness because...
I did this the way that was right for me. I walked this journey to publication listening to my instincts, bolstered by the belief that every single person has something lovely to offer the world. I determined that I was no exception.
I don't have to be like anyone else to succeed. I can be me. I should be me! We should all be ourselves...it's what makes our world wonderful and our stories memorable.
MD: The title of your first book, When Harry Met Molly, was cute, but your second book, Dukes to the Left of Me, Princes to the Right is downright hysterical. To be honest, a 1980s movie (When Harry Met Sally) and a 1970s rock song (Stuck in the Middle With You) are hardly the first things that come to mind when thinking about Regency romances. So how exactly did these titles come about?
KK: Okay, here's the honest truth. I knew that a great title can make you stand out in a crowd. Being the sixth of seven children born in nine years, I'd had lots of practice trying to get noticed. So I came up with When Harry Met Molly for the first book before it sold. Just as in the movie When Harry Met Sally, my hero and heroine meet when they're young and reconnect when they're older; they also never expect to fall in love.
The other three titles are the results of a lot of brainstorming between me, my editor, and my agent. I have to give FULL credit to Jennifer Enderlin for Dukes to the Left of Me, Princes to the Right. We were walking down a street at an RWA conference, having a fun possible-book-titles conversation, and Jen said, "I'd love for you to write a book called—"
You got it. Dukes to the Left of Me, Princes to the Right. Although at the time, we were thinking Earls to the Right. And then it became Princes. It evolved because this silly Russian prince popped up in my story and threw all the earls in my imagination out of my head.
I have to say I adore Jennifer Enderlin and the way she thinks! One thing I really love about her is that she understands that readers who love the Regency period are still modern readers. Why not honor the modern woman's sensibilities by throwing her a pop-culture reference she'll appreciate?
Kind of the way the Batman series did in the 1960s. The show was written on two levels: one, for kids; and the other, for the grown-ups watching the show with their kids. The writers threw in jokes all the time that only the parents could appreciate. It was cool. It was smart TV.
In the same vein, there's something very appealing about strumming several strings in an historical romance novel: a title that will reverberate with the modern reader…even as the story satisfies the reader's sweet tooth for everything Regency.
I love that notion. As a reader, a little pop-culture reference makes me feel noticed. Appreciated. Absolutely relevant and important!
KK: Totally. I love, love, LOVE Julia Quinn!!!! She is the funniest, coolest writer ever—cool because she can mix up poignant moments with all the fun in her stories, and you just never want them to end. Just thinking about her stories makes me happy!
And Eloisa James has been a HUGE influence on me, too. She's an amazingly talented, entertaining writer—I love how three-dimensional her characters are. She gave me a boost of confidence without even knowing it (thanks, Eloisa). I heard her speak once about how Shakespeare wrote to entertain the masses, not the elite. He was a born storyteller—that's what he cared about more than anything, moving his audience. It was so inspiring to me because I realized then that as a writer, I need to embrace being a storyteller, first and foremost. A real storyteller isn't trying to *impress* anyone: he or she is dedicated to telling a story.
That may seem obvious to most. But it set off a light bulb over my head. I realized that part of me WAS trying to impress people—I was hiding behind a curtain of words in a way. I wasn't always writing from the heart. I was writing from the English teacher angle, which I was trained to be—and as the friend, daughter, and sister of highbrow readers who belonged to elite book clubs that discussed serious, earthshaking matters. I examined my writing and saw that in some ways, I was showing off. At the same time, I realized that the biggest earthshaking matter for me is the existence of love in this world and how love can change everything—it has more power than anything else to make the world a better place.
This new self-awareness and understanding of what I wanted to celebrate in my stories—the genuine power of love—was a HUGE advancement for me in my writing. Again, I am grateful to Eloisa James for getting to that place.
MD: Where does the humor in your writing come from?
KK: I could go on ALL DAY about where it came from. But picture this: seven kids born in nine years to a dramatic Irish mother who starred in all the local musicals and a military pilot father who was very disciplined but who also had a huge sense of adventure. Add in a zany English nanny who laughed ALL the time. Put us all together with lots of singing, playing the piano and guitar, and dancing in the living room. Add boisterous mealtimes at which I had to raise my hand to speak because everyone was talking at once. Sprinkle in crazy stunts (like the time we lowered my brother on a pulley from a tree branch so he could straddle our cantankerous donkey named Jack). Stir in a goat named Sweeney who jumped on the roofs and hoods of visitors' cars so he could poop on them; a wild-eyed horse named Ozzie; a mean rooster named Phred; a couple of spitting geese; a myriad dogs and cats, and —
This is only the beginning.
I didn't add that we were all big readers and loved authors who wrote colorful characters: Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, even James Herriot (one of our faves, actually).
To sum up, I grew up in a household that thrived on humor—and I think it's because we were taught to see how interesting every human being in the world is! That's a fine trait to have, and I have to thank my parents for instilling it in me.
MD: Your books have a bit in common - both heroes are named 'Impossible Bachelors' by the Prince Regent and both heroines are a bit older than what is considered ‘marriageable’ age. However, these stories could not be more different. Can you describe your process for plotting each of the books?
KK: I’m not a natural plotter, although I can write a synopsis and I know story structure up and down. I employ a lot of Blake Snyder's screenplay writing techniques from his book Save the Cat to make a basic sketch of the plot. I also love Syd Field, Michael Hauge, Dwight Swain, and Chris Vogler, all excellent tutors of plot structure.
But I mainly write by getting a picture in my head—of a scene, or some characters. And then I build the whole book around it, which means I get a storyboard with 40 scenes going and try to fill it in.
In Dukes/Princes, I followed the picture in my head of Nicholas and Poppy and how they reacted to each other upon first meeting. And then I saw a few scenes with the both of them very clearly before I began putting words to paper.
I want all my books to be unique. Each story comes from where I am at that moment in time, so they should be different. But I want my readers to ALWAYS expect a lot of fun in my stories—and touching, sexy, or sweet moments as well—even though the circumstances of the plot may be wildly different from book to book.
I should add that I write from the gut and I'm horribly stubborn about that. It makes my writing life really difficult at times, but I have to be excited and in love with what I'm writing always.
MD: In When Harry Met Molly, the heroine finds herself at a house party where she vies for the title of best mistress (excuse me, I mean Most Delectable Companion). In order to help her prepare, the hero teaches her how to do the “mistress walk” which involves a lot of hip action. Be honest – when writing this scene (one of my favorites in the book) did you ever practice sashaying around the living room?
KK: Yes! LOL!! You're terribly astute! I did practice. I often practice my characters' scenes "out loud." I like to make sure their movements and conversations are believable, so sometimes I act the scene out to find the right words, the right body position, etc.
I also see the story in my head, unwinding as if it's on film. I watched Molly in my head as she went walking up those stairs at the hunting box, for example. I saw how stiff her back was—how "un-mistressy" she was.
MD: What other “research” did you perform for this novel and for the Impossible Bachelors series?
KK: Ah, this is a good question. I read a lot about the Prince Regent. I knew he was a wastrel but that he also had a good mind (which he addled with too much partying). His character wasn't admirable, but ultimately I think of him as a tragic figure. So much potential lost.
I also researched wagers and found out it was quite common for gentlemen in the upper echelons of the English aristocracy to wager on absolutely ridiculous things. So I considered it within the realm of possibility that Prinny, in a fictional setting, might have made a scandalous, outrageous wager.
From my research, I also learned that the Regency period was rife with lascivious conduct not only among Prinny's inner circle but among many of the wealthy and powerful of London. So a wager in which a virtuous young lady of the ton becomes entrapped along with a desperate, embittered young man under royal orders seemed full of all kinds of interesting story possibilities to me.
Again, why not? I've read of vampires in Regency settings. Why not a scandalous royal wager and two young, flawed people caught up in it against their will? Based on my research, I believe my story idea is perfectly plausible within the parameters of commercial genre fiction—fiction being the key word. Genre is nearly as important as the word fiction, but when genre "rules" dictate story more than the other way around, we're losing sight of the forest for the trees—and missing opportunities as writers to create fresh appeal.
MD: In Dukes to the Left of Me, Princes to the Right Lady Poppy is a member of the Spinsters Club, which is a group of women who embrace their unmarried status. What is it about hero Nicholas Staunton that makes Poppy rethink her opinions on marriage?
KK: Nicholas sees who Poppy really is: a romantic caught up in tall tales, a woman who craves living BIG—a woman who longs for adventure. I believe Poppy is shocked to realize that the biggest adventure is going deep by being true to your heart. I believe for a long time, she was charmed by razzle-dazzle, which is what she experienced with Sergei, the Russian prince, when she was younger. But she learns that real love, which isn't always easy and sparkly-pretty, is the greatest adventure of all.
MD: Can you tell the readers what they expect next in the series? Oh, and we are counting on you to have a really great title, so no pressure there. My title suggestion for Book 3 - The Fresh Prince of Belcaire. Catchy, right?
KK: Hey, that's not bad!!! <Grin> I can tell you right now that the next title is Cloudy With A Chance of Marriage, coming out in April 2011. I love this story, and it's nothing like the two previous books, either! Don't worry—of course, there will always be laughs. Also count on sexy, special moments and colorful characters galore!
I hope I can continue to please all of you with the rest of the series and books beyond that, as well.