Wednesday, April 15, 2009

IMHO welcomes Madeline Hunter!



I hope you had a wonderful Easter and are having a not-too-terrible tax day (and if you haven’t filed yet, today’s the day to do it, folks). To take your mind off it all, let’s welcome our next guest host here at IMHO.

Anyone who loves historical romance recognizes the name Madeline Hunter. Madeline’s first romance was published in June, 2000, and she received the award for Waldenbooks Bestselling Debut Author that year. Since then she has seen seventeen historical romances and one novella published. Over four million copies of her books are in print in the US and her books have been translated into nine languages. She is a two-time RITA winner and six-time finalist. Sixteen of her books have been on the USA Today bestseller list, and she has had titles on the NY Times print list, Publishers Weekly list, and the Waldenbooks paperback fiction list. She has received two starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, and Romantic Times has awarded fourteen of her books 4 ½ stars.

On a personal note, Madeline’s By Arrangement series inspired me to write outside-the-box historical romance, so you can imagine how excited I am to welcome her here today. Madeline will place an autographed copy of her newest release, The Sins of Lord Easterbrook, in the “COFFEE, CHOCOLATE & ROMANCE” gift basket. She will be joining us as she is able to respond to comments later in the day.

IMHO: Madeline, please tell us about the book your readers almost didn’t read.

MH: Thanks, TJ. In my case, most of the books that almost did not get written actually did not get written. For example, I once had this cool idea for a book set in medieval Lithuania. While my agent did not actually discourage that setting, her long pauses during our conversation told me what she was really thinking. Lithuania? Not even Russia? She wants to set a book in Lithuania! (Just change the setting, a friend said. I tried. It didn’t work. It usually doesn’t.)

I have been blessed with editors who were open-minded. When I pitched By Design, my editor did not blink at the fact the hero was a stone mason and not a knight. No one at my publisher sent back word that I should not leave England for most of Lessons of Desire. In fact, I have been the one to tell them to go easy on the back cover copy in a few cases----the one to say that at point of sale, it might not be wise to highlight the way a book bends the expectations.

One book almost did not get written, however. At least not the way I finally wrote it. In this case, the failure of nerve would have been mine alone, though.
As I prepared to start The Romantic, and was working out the plot, I had some choices to make.

This was the last of the Seducer series. Julian Hampton was one of those secondary characters that readers wrote to me about from the start, asking for his story. I knew that I was going to pair him with Penelope, the older sister in the Duclairc story.

Pen had a story thread winding through all of the books that had to be resolved. In the first book she had separated from her husband, an earl. The tensions over that, the reasons and the repercussions of the separation, had been showing up for the fifteen years of the series. I could not end the series without settling the matter and, in my opinion, letting poor Pen find happiness.

By the time I got to Book Five, I knew Julian Hampton was the man for Pen. As family solicitor, he had helped negotiate that separation. The problem was this---Pen was still married, and she could not get a divorce in her historical time and place.

What to do? The easy answer was kill off the evil earl between book 4 and book 5. I even worked up a story based on that assumption.

It felt like a cheat. That is the only way to explain it. I had dangled this woman’s entrapment in a horrible marriage all through the series, and to resolve it off stage just seemed wrong. However, the alternative that I wanted would break a taboo in romance novels. In order for the story to be about how Pen gets free of the earl, and how Julian protects her, Pen was probably going to commit adultery.

I went with the story that, in my opinion, had to be written.

I tried to avoid the adultery, but the time came when in all plausibility I could not keep these two apart. The story reached a moment when I knew that in reality, both our reality and theirs, two people in their relationship would become lovers.

I did not write that scene lightly. I don’t have a lot of patience with most so-called rules, but I respect power of the few rules that really exist. I called my editor and told her where it was going. She was less concerned than I was, but I knew that the sales of this book were going to take a hit.

When it was published, the reaction was not as bad as I expected. I did receive some scathing letters about this aspect of the story and a few Amazon reviews that curled my hair. And the book, of which I am very proud, had one of my lowest print runs. However, most readers cut me some slack in breaking this rule, and the actual sales did not get hurt as much as I anticipated.

I learned a few lessons from this. The first is that if a writer’s gut says a story angle is a cheat, it probably is. The second is that if we write stories that are unusual, we just need to be realistic about their receptions. But the third is that the readership is probably more flexible than anyone gives it credit for being.

IMHO: Thanks for telling us the story behind The Romantic. I think you have a point that going against reader expectations can be a risky choice, but when the story is well-written, readers can forgive a lot! I found the choices you made in The Romantic daring but realistic in context, and I really enjoyed the book. And frankly, I probably would have loved reading a book set in Lithuania, too!

Now, IMHO readers, what do you think? Do you sometimes like to read romances that take risks? Or are there some lines you think shouldn’t be crossed, no matter what? Leave a comment for Madeline, and remember that you need to leave comments for at least two authors throughout the month (more comments equals a greater chance of winning) to be eligible to win the gift basket with signed books by Carrie Lofty, Madeline Hunter, Anna Louise Lucia, Emily Bryan, and me, TJ Bennett, as well as the $25 gift certificate to See’s Candy and one pound of coffee beans to get your buzz on. So, start commenting!

TJB

39 comments:

Carol L. said...

Hi Madeline,
I just want to start off saying "I love your books". With that out of the way I'd like to say, I love when Authors take risks. It is their story to tell after all. :) If I like an Author's writings It doesn't matter to me and I don't think about lines being crossed because the stories I read are to me, entertainment. They are stories being told from the Author's mind and when I like an Author I'm in all the way. Have a happy day and thanks for the article.
Carol L.

Blythe Gifford said...

Madeline: Wonderful story and a good lesson for us all. Love comes in many ways, some of them unexpected. Good to know that readers understand that, too.

Anne Carrole said...

I'm a big fan! And that's because your stories never seem forced--they flow out of the characters and their experiences. And I think readers are ready for much more than publishers may be willing to risk. Can't wait to read your latest!

housemouse88 said...

Hello Madeline,

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to learn which story almost didn't happen.

I enjoy when authors take risks as long as the story and characters are well written. If an author needs to expand their writing, let them.

Have a great day.

jcp said...

How interesating. I'm suprised how many authors have taken a risk in the past and later it becomes normal in the romance genre.

Margay said...

Well, I believe that it's better to risk a few bad reviews than to compromise your gut feelings in favor of peer pressure and expectations - in whatever case, not just writing. If you wrote it the way people expected, you never would've been happy with it, you would've felt like a cheat, as you said, and that would not be right. So good for you for sticking to your guns!

Margay

Madeline Hunter said...

I am having trouble posting, so I hope this is not a duplicate or triplicate.

I just wanted to say welcome to the posters, and that I really appreciate the comments that support a writer stretching a little in her stories. I know TJ is glad to see it too!

Suzan Harden said...

I'm one of those readers who LOVES it when the author breaks the rules! *grin* Otherwise, TJ's The Promise would have been just another Highland Scot in kilt. How the author crafts the story makes all the difference.

Darcy Burke said...

Hi Madeline,
We've met briefly a few times at RWA and the Moonlight and Magnolias conference. When I first met you, I told you how much I loved The Romantic (still my fave of your books, but am loving reading Sins right now, so stay tuned). I'm so glad you talked about the adultery and your concerns when writing it. You handled it so well and you're right that it was absolutely necessary for those characters. I'm not even sure it "felt" like adultery to me as I read it. You know what? I'm going to go read it again. It's been awhile and it's truly one of my all time faves. Thanks for sharing with us!
Best,
Darcy

Anonymous said...

I love books that take risks or are different somehow. Oh, my a medieval set in Lithuania --- that alone would have intrigued me and I would have snatched it up for that alone! Sometimes I wonder if publishers are a little behind the readers.

I think it is an important story for reviewers too. It can be too easy to worry about others and miss the book. I much prefer a review that sees into the heart of a book rather than one where the number agrees with me.
Merri (who can't remember my password)

Pam P said...

I like when authors take the risk it gives us something different than the normal fare. So many readers complain they want different, yet some then complain when they get it.

I agree with Darcy, The Romantic didn't seem so much like adultery to me considering all the circumstances, it was right for them. I was one of the ones hoping for Julian's story and pairing those two worked for me. It was my favorite of that series.

I love your medievals, best, By Design, with your common hero being my favorite. We're seeing more historicals with commoners vs. knights or dukes today, you were just a little ahead, Madeline. And, I'm hoping to see more medievals from you in the future.

chey said...

Hi Madeline,
I love your books!
I enjoy books that break the rules

Madeline Hunter said...

testing. I am having trouble getting posts up, so before I type one out again, just a test. . . .

TJ Bennett said...

As you can see, some evil anti-romance electrons have invaded poor Madeline's posts and she's having trouble getting them up. So, I'll post responses for her until we can get hers working. So, from Madeline, here is a response to Darcy:

Darcy, I do remember you telling me about The Romantic! It is nice to meet some of you who really liked it, because I did. And I did not think it felt like adultery either, especially with the way he had loved her and protected her all those years. But, it was :-)
Madeline

Madeline said...

We may have figured out what I am doing wrong. testing again. . .

Madeline Hunter said...

chey,thanks so much.

I find books that are different refreshing. But I understand why a lot of readers want the comfort of the familiar.

Sue Brockman has a saying "Make it different, but not too different."
Good advice, but I have sometimes made it more different than I think she is talking about.

TJ Bennett said...

Here's one more from before Madeline got her posts fixed:

One of the things I did to encourage readers not to mind too much, was make the earl despicable. I had no trouble with this because I really did not like him, LOL. The idea of the earl trying to force the end of the separation came from viewing the television series based on The Forsythe (sp?) Saga. That was set in the very early 20th century, and legally that was still possible then. I imagined a woman trying to fight that court case against an earl, and that became the catalyst for my whole story.

Madeline

JeanP said...

I like books that break rules or a different somehow. It makes me wonder where the story is going to go, just not the same old, same old themes.

Virginia said...

Hi Madeline, great interview. I love your book also! I also think authors should take risk and break a few rules. This adds something to a book. Just like the heros and heroiens with flaws adds to a book. You are an awesome writer so keep up the good work!

Lori Brighton said...

Great interview!
I think the more unique books are the ones that sell and we are def. seeing more interesting and out of the box characters.

Judy said...

Hi Madeline - your blog is very informative. It is interesting to see some of the processes an author has to go through. I love your books. I think you should "go with your gut" also. After all, it is your story to tell.

Tracey Devlyn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tracey Devlyn said...

Madeline,
Your "different" is why I adore your work. I use your success as inspriation for my writing. Each story I write has an unexpected, possibly taboo, bend to it. I want my readers (when I get some :)) to be surprised by at least one major element in each book.

Tai Shan said...

You know, I have to say that what I like is a good story, well-told. I don't care where it is set as long as it is written in such a way to give me a sense of where I am. Stories to me are about the characters, and 'fish out of water" stories, even if *I'm* the fish who has never been there before, are always interesting. I also love that you were able to stick to your "writer's guns" and follow where you felt the story had to lead. Even if it was a shorter print run :).

Joan said...

Hello Madeline. I am not good with words like you but I wanted to let you know I love your books. I would read them no matter where they were set, even Lithuania. The Romantic sounds like a wonderful book. Thank you for writing it.

Jody F. said...

Thanks so much for being here Madeline, I love your books! And I love romance books that take chances with characters and storylines that haven't been done before. Variety is what keeps me reading.

Lisa said...

Another great book to buy.. My list gets longer and longer. It's too bad laundry and housekeeping are getting in the way.

I do like unusual locations and characters. It is what makes a story really stand out.

librarypat said...

The video did bring tears to my eyes and does every time I view it. It was wonderful to see everyone's preconceptions totally blown away. What a shame she did not have the opportunity to have her beautiful voice discovered earlier in her life. I truly hope something wonderful happens for her and she gets to live her dream.

RubyD said...

Interesting interview....
I like a good story. I like the Historicals because you Authors now do so much research and are careful to keep things in context.
So, no matter the place or the era, if the story has a good plot and the characters and dialogue are well written then I will be enjoying the book.
Congratulations on holding your ground and going with your feelings when you wrote The Romantic.

Carol L. said...

oops, forgot to add my email :
Lucky4750@aol.com

Thanks,
Carol L.

Maureen said...

I have been reading Madeline's books for many years and By Arrangement is one of the few books that I will re-read. Adultery is usually something I don't tolerate but I did read The Romantic and it did make sense in the context of the story.

Deborah said...

Hi, Madeline! Wonderful interview! I enjoy it when an author bends the rules and thinks outside the box. Good for you! I can't wait to read your book!

CrystalGB said...

Hi Madeline. Great interview. I like books where the author takes a risk.

Emma said...

Hi Madeline.I love your books .Great interview. I like books where the author takes a risk .Have a great weekend.

Beth C said...

Madeline-
I admire you for having the corage to break the "rules". Isn't it funny how our stories sometimes paint us into corners like that? Or is it we paint our stories/characters into corners? Sometimes it feels like the characters are in charge and we, the writers are just following orders! The series sounds great! I'm going to look up the rule breaking book out of curiosity!
Take care, Beth Cornelison

Beth C said...

OOps! Guess I should proof-read better before I hit "publish"...I meant courage! :-P
Beth C

LuAnn said...

A little risk is sometimes needed, but if it goes to far, I can always put the book down.

Cheri2628 said...

Madeline, I have been eagerly waiting for THE SINS OF LORD EASTERBROOK ever since I read the last page of SECRETS OF SURRENDER! Christian has intrigued me from the very beginning, so I am glad to see him get his own story.

aromagik said...

I have a few lines that I don't like to see crossed, but I'm pretty open to a few risks.

~Lindy