Just in time for Valentine’s Day, I’ve asked my friend and fellow author Donna Winters to be a guest on my blog. Donna is the author of the Great Lakes Romances® series, which includes many books set in Upper Michigan, including Mackinac Island, Fayette, and L’Anse. Her other books range throughout the Great Lakes, including Traverse City, Saginaw Bay, and currently she is working on a book set in New York’s Erie Canal region. I’ve asked Donna to tell us today a little about writing romance novels and what makes for good romance.
Tyler: Welcome, Donna. It’s a treat to have you here today. First, will you tell us a little bit about what made you decide to write romance novels, as opposed to other kinds of books such as mysteries or science fiction?
Donna: Back in the early 1980’s, TV newscasters reported that the romance industry was booming and that untrained writers were getting published. I suppose if I’d heard the same thing about the mystery or science fiction genres I might have tried writing those instead, especially if the news reports had claimed that women were having great success.
Tyler: How do you begin with writing a romance novel? Do you first create a female or a male character, or the location, or an incident?
Donna: Because of the regional theme of my series, Great Lakes Romances ®, I always begin with the setting. A standard assumption is that a story springs from the main character. I agree, but I first decide on the setting for the character and delve into the area’s history so I can develop an appropriate heroine and hero.
Donna: Romance must be the focus of the story, and it must have a happily-ever-after ending.
Tyler: What about the Great Lakes area appeals to you as a location for romance, compared to say Paris or regency England or the California Gold Rush?
Donna: Familiarity. I’ve spent my entire life living in states that border on the Great Lakes. Additionally, my husband is a Michigan history fanatic who encouraged me to use Michigan settings.
Tyler: Besides being romance novels, your books are also historical fiction and Christian fiction. Will you tell us a little about how each of those categories shapes your books?
Donna: The times and customs of the historical period determine much about how characters relate to each other romantically. In the nineteenth century, during courtship, couples rarely touched skin on skin. The standards for Christian publishers required that unmarried couples not engage in premarital sex, and for married couples, sex scenes take place behind closed doors, so the reader is never confronted with blatant sensuality.
Tyler: So, can you have good romance without it necessarily being centered on sex? I remember once hearing the famous Dr. Ruth saying that the Victorians had good sex. Do you think that’s true?
Donna: I’m sure the Victorians had good sex, if Queen Victoria is any indication. According to the royal.gov.uk website, her marriage to Prince Albert resulted in nine children between 1840 and 1857. In my opinion, romance can be fabulous without focusing on sex. The Victorians were incurable romantics without being blatantly sexual. They even assigned romantic meanings to flowers so they could send a message of love in a bouquet without ever saying a word! For example, a red rose meant love, but a yellow rose meant friendship. If you were hoping for love and received a yellow rose, you’d have been disappointed back in the Victorian era!
Tyler: Of all of your novels, do you have a favorite in which you think the plot works really well?
Tyler: Have you ever experienced any stigma with writing romance novels—such as being told they aren’t serious literature—and how do you deal with that?
Donna: There’s plenty of elitism, arrogance, or whatever you want to call it, by readers of serious literature and bestseller fiction. I ignore it and write for one specific readership: those who want a good story that is free of offensive language, sex, gratuitous violence, and main characters with a world view that is not Christian.
Tyler: Besides your own novels, do you have any favorite romance novels or authors?
Donna: One of my favorite authors, in fact the “mother” of the inspirational romance genre for our times, is Janette Oke. I especially enjoyed her “Love Comes Softly” titles which were made into movies.
Tyler: Do you have any advice to give your readers about how to find romance in their own lives?
Donna: I’ve been married for forty years, having found my mate before the Internet, dating services, and other modern social options were the norm. One thing I would stress is that whatever your social venue, look for someone who shares your faith and moral values. Those are the core of a successful long-term relationship.
Tyler: Any big plans for Valentine’s Day?
Tyler: When can we look for your next book, Donna?
Donna: I plan to release a new title in June: Bluebird of Brockport, A Novel of the Erie Canal, set in my hometown of Brockport, N.Y., and on the canal in 1830. Here’s a little about the story:
Dreams of floating down the Erie Canal have flowed through Lucina Willcox’s mind since childhood. Yet once the boat is purchased and her family begins their journey, unexpected tribulations and challenges arise. An encounter with a towpath rattlesnake threatens her brother’s life. A thief attempts to break in and steal precious cargo. Heavy rain causes a breach and drains the canal of water. Comforting thoughts of Ezra Lockwood, her handsome childhood friend, temper the rough times, and also give rise to an ever increasing desire to be with him.
Ezra Lockwood’s one goal in life is to build and captain his own canal boat, but two years into the construction of his freight hauler, funds run short, progress stalls, and a renewed acquaintance with Lucina Willcox causes an undeniable longing to make her his bride. Can he somehow find a way to finish his boat and build a future with her?
Tyler: Donna, I’m struck by the difficulties of life in this period from your book’s description. Is romance then a comfort for people in times of turmoil? Do you think that’s why romance novels appeal to readers?
Donna: Readers of romance novels often say they prefer the genre because of the guaranteed happily-ever-after endings. They know the story will be uplifting and therefore fulfill their needs where “escape fiction” is concerned.
Tyler: What would you say is the reason you keep writing romance novels rather than try your hand at something else, or do you have a murder mystery or science fiction novel up your sleeve?
Donna: Actually, my novel about the Erie Canal is better classified as historical fiction with a strong romantic thread than straight “historical romance.” I say that because several chapters go by when the hero and heroine are far apart geographically, dealing with separate challenges while longing for the time when they will be together again. As for writing a murder mystery or science fiction, I have nothing up my sleeve at the moment, but I haven’t ruled anything out. I’d more likely attempt writing humorous fiction, fantasy, or fiction for mature women.
Tyler: Donna, will you tell us about your website and how to find out more about your novels?
Donna: Visit www.greatlakesromances.com to learn about my books and enter the ongoing book giveaway. Each week, I give away a different book from my series to one of the readers who enters following the instructions on the home page. Connect with me also on twitter @bigwaterpub, and on Facebook at my book page, Great Lakes Romances books
Tyler: Thank you for letting me interview you today, Donna. Best of luck with your writing and may you and Fred have a very happy Valentine’s Day.Blog readers, Donna has graciously offered to give away one autographed set of her Fayette trilogy titles, Fayette—A Time to Love, Fayette—A Time to Laugh, and Fayette—A Time to Leave, to one of the commenters on this post. To enter the drawing for the trilogy, leave a comment that includes your e-mail address, eg. Donna [at] webmail [dot] com.
The deadline to enter is 11:59 p.m. on February 14, 2012.
Thanks for stopping by!