On Longevity, Napoleon & Being a Fraud: A Q&A with Kasey Michaels

Readers, here’s a tip from your friendly RT Web Team: if you ever happen upon Kasey Michaels at a publishing event or book signing, you get yourself right on over there and talk to her. She is delightful, she is feisty and you will have fun. PSA over, today we’re talking with Michaels about her latest Redgraves novel, an RT Top Pick!, What a Gentleman Desires — which is out this week.


Tell us how you decided to write a series based on the Redgraves.

Oh, how I wish I could remember how it all started, how any of my ideas turn into characters and books. I know I was reading a nonfiction about Napoleon and the British people, and how Napoleon actually helped the British smugglers, even building them hotels so they could rest up, repair their smuggling craft before heading home. I decided the world ought to know that, because I’m crazy about weird snippets of history (I once built an entire romantic comedy around things that could be hidden in parasols, The Rambunctious Lady Royston).

But back to Napoleon.  Naturally what I’d learned led me to the southern coast of England …and that led me to all the smuggling research I’ve gathered over the years.  I began putting the two together, and then added a third part, something that had always intrigued me but I’d never found a suitable platform for — Hellfire clubs. Since Hellfire clubs had been more popular in the mid 1700s, I knew I had to build some backstory, and then bring the story forward to the time period I wanted. Those Scandalous Redgraves just sort of grew from there.

What a Gentleman Desires is darker than your usual novel, with little of your trademark humor. How did that come about?

For starters, there aren’t a lot of giggles in a Hellfire club, what with the devil worship, orgies, so-called virgin sacrifices, sedition and murder and all. I knew going for laughs wasn’t going to be a major part of this series. Then again, a solidly dark story can get pretty oppressive, so I knew I had to have a few laughs in there somewhere (plus it seems I can’t resist some humor, try as I might). 

I always want my hero and heroine to be sane people, but surrounding them with a few eccentrics is irresistible to me. 

You've written more than 100 books. How do you keep coming up with new ideas? What drives you to keep writing?

I think I’m closer to 120 now, and really should count them someday, I guess. All I know is I’ll never be done. You saw an example of how ideas hit me, but each book is different, the step-off point comes from another place, and each time I think I’ve been faking it for those 120-plus books, that someone will figure out I’m a fraud just having fun, or when I worry that I’ll never have another idea in this lifetime — bang, here comes another one. That idea is perhaps triggered by a television commercial, or a billboard I see along the road, or in one case, a photograph of a curly-haired Salma Hayek from the movie Desperado that inspired me to build a story around the most “perfect” woman in the world (Salma ended up as Sophie, the heroine in Indiscreet, if you’re wondering).

The publishing industry is in great flux right now, with digital-first imprints, self-publishing and mergers. What do you think of all the changes?

The changes? Exciting. Exhausting. A learning curve that never seems to end. I love having my backlist put into digital form, either by my publishers or having my mega-talented daughter-in-law (tammyseidickdesign.com) packaging and putting my rather huge backlist online. It’s such fun having Complete Cover Control for the first time in my writing life.

I believe the change that surprises me the most is how quickly authors embrace all the new technology, how savvy they all are, how writers organizations are educating their members … and how slowly traditional publishing is still moving, although it’s beginning to catch up. There’s always something new for old dogs like me to learn — none of us can just sit back and hope somebody else knows what’s best for us and is most appealing to our readers.

What advice would you give to authors aspiring to your longevity?

Hmmm….don’t step in front of a moving bus was the first thing that popped into my head, but I’m guessing that isn’t what you’re looking for with that question.

In my opinion, the first thing you have to do is take you, and your work, seriously.  This isn’t your job, it’s your career, your calling if you will, your life and your livelihood. Your books are your legacy. I’ve been at this for about 34 years now, and will keep on writing for as long as I can. In some ways, it can be termed an addiction, I suppose.

Read, read, read. Read the best, read the middle of the road, read even if the book is a wall-banger. You’ll learn from every one of them; what not to do, what to try to do, what to never stop aspiring to accomplish with your work. Never stop reading, stop learning — if you think you’ve learned it all, go find a job that doesn’t demand constant improvement, constant striving to be better. Because stagnant writers make for stagnant writing … and that leads to a publishing dead end after two books, ten books, even 50 books.

Don’t look for praise, look for ways to improve. Join (or rejoin) writers organizations, learn the business end of this crazy business, recharge your creative batteries by simply being with other writers who are, let’s face it, the only people who truly understand us. Connect with readers, online and/or in person. Keep the flame alive.

For those just beginning their way down the path: don’t tell the world you’re writing a book. Write your book. Don’t show your work-in-progress to 50 people with 50 different opinions — that way lays madness (and a “book by committee,” which is never good because it isn’t you, it’s them … and what are you going to do for the next book, when you’re on your own?). Longevity all comes down to three words, be it your first or your 121st: write your book. Okay, six: shut up and write your book.

And there you have it, folks! The publishing world according to Kasey Michaels. After 120 books, the lady knows her stuff. Don’t forget to check out What a Gentleman Desires, out this week. And be sure to visit our Everything Romance page for more book news you can use.