It’s no secret that I love contemporary romance. The Chicago Stars and Thomas’ Texan heroes are some of my very favorite men of fiction. And I'm pretty sure that you can trace my love of contemporary romance back to the Sweet Valley High books by Francine Pascal that I devoured as a tween. So when I was asked to moderate yesterday's author chat with three of the biggest names in the genre, Francine Pascal, Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Jodi Thomas, I was positively over the moon!
It was a treat to hear the three authors chat about crafting their stories, get an insider's look at their favorite characters, and talk about how they keep their contemporary tales timeless.
When it comes to writing modern-day tales that will resonate months, years, or several decades later, Phillips hit the nail on the head saying, "writing romance, you're dealing with the stories women told around the campfire, and we still tell across a cup of coffee or a glass of wine ... I just love the story of how families form. I love the story of community and I love the story of family." (It was no surprise that this comment was met by a rousing round of applause, because never mind the trappings of suspense and historical eras, this is where the heart of stories lies for contemporary romance fans.)
Thomas took us inside of her writing when she shared the fun fact, that she never refers to her characters as characters, saying, "They are people. I think there are a lot of heroes in everyday life and once in a while we like to see regular people who are heroes, too." (She shared with us that her characters are so real to her, that her children kid her about making sure that she doesn't leave name these fictional people in her will!)
Pascal shares, "I happen to love heroes and heroes are the most romantic thing ... You can write about anything you want in any situation but if it doesn't have love, it's not going to grab people."
And when it comes to how they keep the details of their series straight, each author has used a different technique. Thomas once ran a roll of butcher paper across a 16' wall to plot a novel. Meanwhile, if Pascal needs to check a detail in one of her previous books, her publisher uses a network of readers to search their memories and bookshelves. And Phillips goes to her message board and Facebook to get details about the books she's written. She gave a big thank you to her readers who have helped her track down facts like whether a particular house has a pool so that she can make sure she doesn't mix up any details of her world.
I asked the authors if they had ever written somewhere where they wished that they could hang out and I found out that Thomas' Harmony, Texas is based on a town she used to visit as a child where all her uncles and aunts used to live. Pascal said that her favorite place to write was New York. And Phillips told us, "I'm scared of Wynette, Texas. There are some feisty women there. But I would love to visit the Windlake Campground from This Heart of Mine." And it's not just the author's favorite fictional place. She told us she gets tons of emails from readers about Windlake. And we also learned that we can expect more SEP books in the future set in Michigan!
It was very interesting to listen to the authors discuss their popular series, but what I loved the best was the way that they took questions from the audience. The authors were quick with their answers, and ready for anything. (Plus the audience asked some really great questions!) Did you know …
These three ladies almost never "cast" their characters with celebrities when they are writing, but occasionally Phillips flips through a magazine like US or People for inspiration about characters' looks.
Pascal once wrote a friend's skeevy husband into a story, while Thomas made someone she didn't like into a chicken in one of her books and Phillips has written her husband's characteristics into the heroes and sometimes young Ted Beaudine resembled her son.
And they each dropped a hint about what readers can expect from their next release:
Thomas just released Just Down the Road, a story about Tinch, a rancher who takes care of wounded horses. He met his one true love when they were children, they got married and she died unexpectedly. And he has hated living every moment since he lost her. The story opens with him sitting outside of a hospital in his pick-up truck, waiting for the guys he beat up to get treated and leave. Little does he know that the woman who will be his salvation is a doctor who might just be inside that hospital ...
Phillips' next book will be The Great Escape, and it is Lucy's story. (As you may remember, Lucy was supposed to marry Ted Beaudine and she ran out of the church and left "the perfect man" at the altar in SEP's last book.) And talk about tantalizing, she told us that right now the galleys of the book are sitting on her coffee table!
Last but not least, Pascal is re-releasing her memoir A Villa of My Own in e-format and will also be doing digital editions of several of her earlier books and mysteries. However, the news that all the SVH (that's Sweet Valley High) fans are really eager for is that the author will be doing a series of e-novellas that pick up when Jessica and Elizabeth are in their early 30s. These short stories will come out once every few weeks and we are absolutely thrilled to get more adventures of the grown-up Wakefield twins!