By Peggy Morehouse
Romance is currently the largest and best-selling fiction genre in North America. Readers can’t get enough of stories about life’s extraordinary and elusive treasure, love. The magical energy that drives two people together, the obstacles that keep them apart, and characters who would swim across an ocean to reach the shore of a happy ending are all part of the intrigue.
Susan Elizabeth Phillips is a New York Times best-selling author who keeps hearts beating with her dazzling, witty, and romantic tales. Broken engagements, scandals, gorgeous brainy scientists, and quietly seductive jocks are just a few of the elements and characters that can be found in her twenty-one novels. She is the only four-time recipient of the Romance Writers of America prestigious Favorite Book of the Year award. Susan stopped by Northshire Bookstore in Saratoga Springs, New York while on tour for her latest novel, Heroes Are My Weakness.
And I must interject, passages like…“He tunneled his dirty hands through her hair and kissed her breathless. Her neck, her eyes, the corners of her mouth. He kissed her lips as if his life depended on it. Kissed their future into her. All they could have and all they could be.”…kept the pages turning as I curled up on my couch with this book one rainy evening.
Not only did Susan bring her new book to read, she brought humor and sense of fun. First, she asked if there were any published authors in the audience and gave them the opportunity to talk about their work. Then like a game show hostess, she displayed a box filled with prizes, which turned out to be lobster soap and lollipops in honor of the Heroes Are My Weakness setting, a remote Maine island in the middle of winter. Susan rewarded those who traveled the furthest for the event with the soap and the lollipops were given to those who correctly answered trivia questions about her novels.
After she read a few pages from Heroes Are My Weakness, it was downstairs for a book signing and more laughs.
Before Susan’s presentation she graciously answered a few questions for The Writers’ Loop. Here are some highlights from our conversation:
Peggy: Heroes Are My Weakness is a bit darker than most of your other novels…
Susan: Yes. I wasn’t conscious of that when I wrote it. I go wherever the story takes me…This is not a trend coming up or a change of direction for me. It’s just what this book dictated because I wanted to do this modern homage to the gothic novel. If you’re going to do that, you’re going to have a suspenseful plot and a sense of danger.
Peggy: It has so many elements of captivating fiction: a dark hero, intrigue, mystery, romance, a lonely cold island, talking puppets, and on and on. Did you have fun writing it?
Susan: No! I don’t have fun writing anything. I think writing is very fear-based for a lot of authors…We’re convinced that whatever book we’re working on is going to kill our career. Writing is not fun for me as I’m drafting a scene. Once I have something on the screen to work with then I’m happy. Then I love it! That initial process is very nerve-wracking.
Peggy: So the first draft is the hard part?
Susan: Yes. I don’t do a first draft all the way through. I write a scene, then I rewrite a scene, then I write the next scene, then I go back and rewrite the first scene and the second scene. Then I write the third scene and go back. It goes on and on. So by the time I’m done with the book, it’s pretty solid. My voice really comes out through the rewriting.
Peggy: Some authors advise to write the first draft quickly without going back. What do you think?
Susan: Anybody who tries to tell you how to write a book…All they’re trying to do is tell you how they wrote their book. It really depends on how your brain is wired; how you think, and how you create. You have to find your own process.
Peggy: You must love writing a little bit because you keep doing it. You’ve written 21 novels.
Susan: (She laughs) I’m compelled to do it. I love it when I’m writing a scene and all of a sudden it comes together, the dialogue is popping into my head. That’s the reward! I must say, I do love that!
Peggy: Out of all of your novels which hero did you fall most in love with and why?
Susan: I fall in love with all of them. If I don’t fall in love with every hero I create, I won’t let the book go out until I do. I have to fall in love with every hero and every heroine, otherwise the book just doesn’t work.
Peggy: So, you’ve really fallen in love with all your heroes?
Susan: Every single one them! (raises her eyebrows) I’m kind of slut! (Makes me laugh!)
Peggy: Is it love at first sight?
Susan: Not at all. Love doesn’t happen in the beginning. It usually takes me about nine months before the characters really start to click.
Peggy: What elements in a romance novel create a page turning sex/love scene?
Susan: It has to reveal something about plot or character otherwise it’s not interesting. For me, it has to move the story forward in some way, shape or form or I don’t write it. It’d be boring. There are a lot of romance readers who will tell you that they skim love scenes because it’s all about body parts. That’s not interesting to me, at all. Make sure it reveals something. There are a couple of love scenes in (Susan points to Heroes Are My Weakness) that are just hysterically funny. They may also be sexy, but they reveal something about where the relationship is between Annie and Theo at that point in the book.
Peggy: You’ve written 21 novels since 1983. How has your writing evolved?
Susan: …If I go back and read my earlier work…If I had to rewrite the books (and I have re-written two of the earlier books) I’d add new scenes, I’d polish characters more, and I’d cut 100 pages out of both of them. Too much exposition, books beginning in the wrong place, too much narration, too much research that I fell in love with that the reader doesn’t need. As I’ve written more, I know what to leave out, what to include in ways that I didn’t know originally.
At that point, Susan turned the table on me and asked questions about my writing journey. She said that she loves talking with other writers and especially enjoys traveling around and meeting her readers. This was evident throughout her presentation at Northshire Bookstore as she conversed with and engaged her audience. While signing books Susan asked questions and posed for photos with anyone who asked, including me:
Thank you Susan Elizabeth Phillips!
Thank you Northshire Bookstore for hosting another great author event!
You can learn more about Susan and her books on her website. She also has a “fun stuff” tab and a monthly sweepstakes, plus more! Just click: http://susanelizabethphillips.com