Stephanie Laurens Interview by Rick Bleiweiss
RICK BLEIWEISS: Welcome to Downpour.com’s interview series. I’m Rick Bleiweiss, and today it’s my pleasure to be speaking with Stephanie Laurens. Stephanie is a number-one New York Times, Publishers Weekly, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and internationally bestselling author. She is one of the most well-known historical romance writers and a RITA Award winner. Stephanie has written dozens of novels in four series; the Cynsters, the Bastion Club, Adair’s Casebook, and the Black Cobra Quartet, as well as other novellas and short stories. Stephanie’s latest novel is And Then She Fell, which is narrated by Matthew Brenher. [HarperCollins Publishers and] Blackstone Audio [copublished] the audio version simultaneously with the hardcover on March 26, 2013. Welcome Stephanie. Thanks for joining us today. Congratulations on your newest release. Your novels have been described by the Columbus Dispatch as “an elaborate wedding cake: rich, decadent, and covered in layers of sumptuous treats.” That’s very cool. “Her stories are well-crafted, honest, and fast-paced.” How would you describe your novels?
STEPHANIE LAURENS: I think I would say that they’re fun. They’re entertaining, and more than anything else, they’re designed to leave you with a smile on your face at the end.
RB: Well, it sounds like that review captured it then. When did you discover your interest in the romance genre?
SL: I first started reading romances when I was about thirteen. My mother, who was also a very big reader, was working at that time with a lot of other women in an office, and one of her coworkers loaned her the complete set of Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances. Those were the first that I’d ever read, and both my mother and I, we just read the whole lot. The new word is glomming, and that’s what we did. We just sat and we read. And we read and we read. I read a lot of other things after that, but none ever captured me like those books did. So when I came to writing to entertain myself, which is how I actually got into writing, that’s what I went back to. Georgette Heyer, like so many other romance authors, started it all.
RB: You’ve developed wildly popular series where fans can follow their favorite characters from book to book. What qualities do you consider when you’re developing a character? Is a character’s longevity a concern and planned, short or long?
SL: I suppose that the first thing when I’m developing a character is that there’s a number of different layers of characters. There are your main characters—your protagonist, your hero and heroine—and they have to, to some extent, fit a mold. But the mold, I can play with it a little as well to make it a little more interesting and literally to challenge myself more than anything else. So those characters are more defined. Not defined down to little things but defined in the general sense. They have to have a certain type of personality because that’s what I write about. For instance, I once tried to write a very young, very innocent, not very able heroine, just because she was so young, and it was hopeless. I just couldn’t do it. I kept going “No, no, you can’t do that.” (laughs) So I decided no, I’ll just stick with what I’m usually writing and that works for me well. But a lot of the other characters are secondary characters, and they are sometimes so much more diverse. Your question about longevity: I have one particular character, Lady Osbaldestone, who goes through so many of my books, and her longevity is a concern. (laughs) I’ve actually had to sort of devise a way about her and a few of the others, the old ladies who are in the background. And readers get very, very fond of them, and you can’t just wipe them out. (laughs) Just “Ah, she died.” You’ve got to be a bit careful of things like that.
RB: Your novels are set in the British Regency period, about 1811 to 1820. What type of research do you do for your novels, and what was the appeal of this era for you?
SL: What research I did was from that time at thirteen when I first started reading Georgette Heyer’s novels. I became very interested in that whole period of history, but also of those particular types of Regency romance. And because I’m in Australia, I actually had access to a lot of Regency romances. My husband and I lived in England for four years as well, and then I got access to an even greater number of Regency romances of very much the same sort of stuff I write but more adventure, mysteries. They were produced by British writers, UK writers, and they are, therefore, much more authentic.
I read for twenty years before I started writing, so I had all of that. I also went and read the historical texts, if you like, the actual academic works, simply because the era fascinated me. I had all that behind me largely before I started writing, so when I came to writing I could just go straight back in there. I don’t have to sit down and do a lot of research for every book. What I do research for every book is when I touch on things like, for instance, the railways. When I have that going in the background as part of the plot, I have to know when the railways were actually put in, how they were put in, which ones were put in first, whether there were any useful controversies that I could use. Those sorts of things I do research. For instance, in the book we’re talking about today, And Then She Fell, there’s a trip to the British Museum, and I take them into a particular room. Everything that I say about that room is correct, factually accurate. It had only recently been built. It had not yet been open generally to the public. It was called the King’s Gallery because all the Royal Family’s library was in there, and it was only open to scholars at that time. Things like that that you suddenly discover, “Oh yes, that’s really useful, I can use that.” (laughs) Those things I can definitely research every time.
As to the appeal of this era, I always point to two things, although one thing in particular. And that is that at that time, the Regency, more broadly even probably go from about 1810 to about 1830 or 1835, before Victoria came to the throne. What you can say about that time is it was the first time, the aristocracy in particular, the people there could actually approach marriage and ask themselves the question, “Do I marry for love, do I marry for other reasons such as financial or domestic or whatever, or do I not marry at all?” For the first time for the aristocracy, those questions could actually be asked, and they had a far greater degree of freedom of choice in deciding which of those avenues they took. As it happens, those are the types of questions that resonate with readers today because those are the same options readers have today. So to me, and I think to a lot of other authors even though they may not quite realize that’s what they’re doing, the reason Regency as a historical period is so incredibly popular with romance is it gives you this ability to focus on those questions. You don’t have all the things like the internet, and Facebook, and telephones, and actually being able to just pick up the phone and call someone. You can’t do that. You have to actually face them and talk to them and that means a different type of interaction. So for people to evolve relationships, it was a different situation. A lot of things couldn’t easily be done, and that means people had to actually work at it. There’s a lot of usefulness, in using a historical period because you could get rid of all the modern noise and force people back to being people interacting with other people directly. On top of that, as I’ve said, the Regency is particularly useful for romance.
RB: I understand that you have a PhD in biochemistry, you’ve had your own science lab, and spent over a decade as a cancer researcher. I’m kind of wondering does research come to you naturally? Was that helpful in researching the books, and how did you transition from that career, which is quite different from writing romance novels?
SL: It’s interesting. People think it’s quite different, but I have to tell you there’s one very big similarity. When you’re a research scientist—very distinct from a general scientist or maybe an analytical scientist—research scientists are always asking themselves the question “what if?” We’re always working with hypotheticals because that’s how research science works: you hypothesize something and then set out to see if you can prove or disprove it, whereas of course, that’s the same thing you use when you’re making up a book. You keep coming to the question “what if?” What if they did this? What would happen then? So, it’s very much the same mindset in spite of sounding like they’re vastly different careers. But in terms of doing the research, absolutely. It’s something that you grow up with as a scientist. You know where to get and how to get information, and also you know what degree of authenticity you need to go for—how far back you need to go to make sure a fact is correct. Knowing a) how to do research, b) knowing how to check it, and knowing where you can find sources. I must admit I quite easily find sources on the internet that a lot of readers say they spent ages looking for and they haven’t found it. Part of that is they don’t know what questions to ask Google. So yes, being a scientist helps. (laughs)
RB: Let’s talk a little bit about your latest novel, the one you mentioned earlier, And Then She Fell. Kirkus Reviews said, “With witty, authentic dialogue, great writing and characters, and a charming story of two people forced to look more closely at something that’s been there all along, the romance in this book is potent and winning.” You’ve been writing historical romance novels for more than twenty years, this is the nineteenth book in the Cynster series. Do you outline the overarching plot or do you fit each book into the series piece by piece? What keeps it fresh? What changes with the times?
SL: There’s a difference between romance series and serials. These aren’t serials. Each book can be read on its own, so there’s no overarching plot. I don’t have to work with that. What I do have to work with is the characters. The characters in, for instance, the first book of the Cynster Series, Devil’s Bride. They appear again and again and again and again in all the books somewhere in the background, so I have to keep up with every set of characters I create in this family. The first six male characters I created in the first book, plus a few other characters who have subsequently had their own books. That is sort of how it evolves. So, secondary characters in one book become the principle character, or one of the principle characters, in their book. That’s why I think readers get dragged into it because they like to follow people. Because I don’t have an overarching plot, to some extent I can actually go off and do more, different plots for every book. Every book doesn’t have to have the same time and the same feeling. Some of them are more centered in London, and they have more balls and soirees and so on. Some are centered totally in the country, and then you have country life and all the sorts of things that might happen there. Some are mixtures of both and move from one to the other. But it does mean that some books are a bit more adventuresome, and some have more mystery. It gives me a lot of freedom to make them fresh and different.
I will also say, however, the Cynsters have now been going for about seventeen years—I think they’re heading toward their eighteenth year. Readership changes in that time. They may not be so aware of it, but as an author you tend to streamline your writing a little bit more. You switch things a little bit because you’re always trying to engage the audience of now. You always write for now, whenever now is. And that’s all you can do. That’s the best you can do. Things change a little in the writing but not massively I think. So anybody reading, for instance, the very first book and then the very latest would say, “Oh, yes, this is the same author.” The voice is still the same, but as for the freshness, it comes from the characters. It’s always about the characters. Because each character is very individual, you have a different romance every time. Even though you may be playing on the same memes, it still comes out as something individual and authentic.
RB: Your audience is quite worldwide, and your stories reach across borders and cultures and continents. Do you chalk that up to the characters, to the fact that it’s kind of historic in nature, the period, the genre? What do you attribute to the worldwide acceptance and success of your books?
SL: I think it’s the difference between whether you’re writing genre, which is based on the universal themes. All genres are. Romance is all about there being a great romance, a great love out there for every single person in the world. Love conquers all. That is a universal theme. It’s something that touches everyone in the world. It’s not something that is actually defined by culture. All genres transcend culture, and they are all about the universality of humanness, if you like, of what our real humanity is and what it’s based on, and that is global—literally universal. So to me, that is why I was never surprised that my books reached globally. I would have been more surprised if they hadn’t. I would have thought I was doing something wrong if they hadn’t. (laughs) Just the factor of what your type of story is, if it is very heavily anchored in genre, which mine is, then it will resonate with readers worldwide.
RB: Could you share your writing process? Do you write really quickly? Do you write way far in advance of release dates? It sounds like it comes naturally to you.
SL: Yes it does come naturally to me, but I have to say that I constantly work on my process because I always feel there has to be a more efficient way of doing these things. (laughs) Again, that’s the scientist talking. And it’s true. Over the years—as I’ve said, I’ve been writing for twenty years—I have consistently improved my process to the point where now it actually takes me about four months to write a book from beginning to end. But I have to say, where I start—and I say I start writing the book—I’ve actually had the characters living in my head for a minimum of two years, and in some cases it’s about ten years. So I know these people really well. I usually have a certain amount of their story already, so I sit down and I start fleshing it out. Nowadays, I’ve taught myself to spend maybe four weeks actually scripting out the whole story so that I know everything about these people. I know everything that gets them to the point when they walk on the stage, and from there on I am following them. I always know how they will react because I know where they’ve come from. I do all of that ahead of time. I work out the whole storyline. I check it these days to make sure that I’m not wasting my time writing words that are just not right because I’ve taken a tangent because I’m not following some sort of decent outline. It’s a fairly extensive sort of outline. I’m actually not a fast writer. What I am is a very disciplined writer, so I write so many words a day—a minimum of four thousand.
RB: How long does it take to write four thousand words?
SL: About eight hours a day. It would be less than eight hours. And I do that every day while I’m actually in the writing phase. That takes somewhere between four to six weeks. And that’s the book. Then I spend another four weeks, minimum, working it over—polishing it up, checking it over, literally pulling it to pieces and putting it together again, using the words I’ve got there, and then I polish up the words as well. I’ve actually just finished not the next one—the next one’s already in—but the one after that I’ve just handed in. That’s the one for the start of next year. That’s how far ahead I tend to write. Actually most authors would tend to write that far ahead. In my case I write close to three books a year.
RB: On your website you share anecdotes and inside news about your books and your writing life. I was wondering what the response has been and what you enjoy most about connecting with your fans.
SL: I think what I enjoy most about connecting with my fans is sharing information about the books or talking about them. That’s always fascinating to me, and it’s so very different. Every single individual fan has a different view or has different special things that they like about this book or that book or something else. It always fascinates me talking about the books with readers. What I have found is that most readers are actually very appreciative of the fact that I spend most of my time writing and not chattering. I come on there whenever I have something to tell them that I know they would find interesting, but I don’t rabbit on about my own life much at all. I just pop on there occasionally and say “Guys, my head’s down writing my books, writing the next book. This is the next book I’m writing at the moment, blahblah.” And “Oh yes, that’s fine, you keep writing.” Because that’s what they’re waiting for: the next book. I find it very uplifting, very supportive, to know that the fans are so engaged with the books.
RB: On a slightly different note, you have an ecofriendly home that’s been featured on the Discovery Channel. What inspired you to build a green home, and how did you catch the attention of the TV producers?
SL: Both my husband and I have been interested in doing that sort of thing: actually building a home that would work for us but at the same time making it as energy efficient in particular as possible. We worked with an architect who was a specialist, and we had a great time actually designing the house. We were very heavily involved in the actual design of the house because it had to work for us. For instance, it incorporates a lot of offices—my writing office, I’ve got a business office, my husband’s got a business office, that sort of thing—as well as a lot of storage that most people would never need. We found a builder and actually a lot of the crew were very involved in that idea too. The Discovery Channel actually found us on our architect’s website because they were looking for people all around the world who were involved with that sort of concept in mind.
RB: Do you listen to audiobooks?
SL: I don’t, I have to admit. Part of it is because of all the books. I’ve got heaps of audiobooks that are my own, and I have to admit I never even read my books once they’ve gone from here, once I’ve submitted them. By the time it actually gets to being a printed book, I have read through them so many times (laughs) that I just never go back and read them until I have to go and find when I said something. “Did I say that?” “Where did I say Jiggs was someone’s groom or something?” That’s the only time that I go through and hunt through the pages. But I do at the same time listen to bits of it because I like to hear the narration. So, yes, I have listened to Matthew Brenher. We actually chose him out of a line up, and I think he’s done a wonderful job. I’ve had wonderful feedback from my audio listeners, and they have really appreciated what he’s done with my recent book.
RB: I think he’s done a marvelous narration as well. So I would now like to ask you five short questions and the first one is who is your favorite author?
SL: I have to admit I honestly don’t have a favorite. I have a long list of favorite authors whose books I buy only their name. And literally—I just had a quick look at my list—there’s about thirty of them, so I won’t list them.
RB: Okay, that’s fair. So the second question, if you could be a superhero, what one power would you like to have?
SL: I think I would like to be able to read other people’s minds, just being able to pop in and read their mind at a particular point in time.
RB: The third question, if you could be anyone for a month, whether living or from history, who would you want to be?
SL: I think I would like to be Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire for a day. She was one of the luminaries in the Regency period or, overlapping that time. She was a very major social hostess.
RB: Fourth question, what is your favorite word?
SL: Animadversion. It’s a word that my editor will never let me use. It’s when someone mutters or makes disparaging comments about something.
RB: And my last question is what would you like to try that you’ve never done before?
SL: Certainly, it won’t be things like skydiving (laughs) or anything like that. Nothing physical. It would be something like visit the place in St. Petersburg. The hermitage. It would be something like that.
RB: Well, Stephanie, I would really like to thank you for joining us today. We are really excited about the audiobook release of And Then She Fell. Thank you for speaking with us.
SL: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.
RB: Thank you for joining us for this Downpour.com interview with Stephanie Laurens. You can find And Then She Fell, many more of Stephanie Laurens’ titles, and all of Blackstone Audio’s titles at Downpour.com.
This interview was recorded in March 2013.
Disclaimer: This audio and transcript have been edited slightly from the original recording for quality and readability.
And Then She Fell
New York Times bestselling author Stephanie Laurens returns to another utterly irresistible branch on her beloved Cynster family tree in And Then She Fell.
Set in Regency England, London’s Henrietta Cynster, known as “The Matchbreaker” has a special talent for making sure that bad marriages never happen. After breaking up one ill-suited couple, Henrietta is obligated to find the perfect bride for the debonair James Glossup.
The assignment proves to be a challenging one for the single-minded Henrietta, who believes that finding love isn’t in her own stars. But Henrietta discovers—in spite of her personal denials of love—that both she and James are indisputably drawn to each other.
Fans of Stephanie Laurens’s Cynster books and readers of smart and compelling historical romances will be transported and entertained by And Then She Fell.
And Then She Fell, co-published with HarperCollins Publishers and Blackstone Audio, Inc.