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So I wound up the Book Brahmin interview with two more fun little queries:

Favorite line from a book:

“Reader, I married him.”


kick-ass writer

kick-ass writer

From Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. If you don’t burst into tears when you get to that line, you’re made of stone. 


Runners up:

  • “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”
  • “Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember, it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
  • “Thar she blows! A hump like a snowhill. ‘Tis Moby Dick.”

Can you tell I have a taste for melodrama?

Your turn–what’s your favorite line from a book? 

And finally…

Book you most want to read again for the first time: The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy. I sneaked my mother’s copy and read it with my jaw on the floor. A story of a naughty man doing naughty things, told with such originality and playfulness with the language that I feel like reading it again right now. 

What book would you like to read for the first time again?

Another Q from Shelf Awareness:

my childhood library in Olean, NY

my childhood library - MY kind of temple

Book you are an evangelist for:

SW: I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence by Amy Sedaris makes the perfect hostess gift—It’s everyone’s childhood in one volume. And Meeting God in Quiet Places: The Cotswold Parables by F. LaGarde Smith is one I read while losing someone dear to me. I tend to give it to people in need of comfort. Regardless of where you’re coming from, both books are good for the soul, for totally different reasons.

[I love the idea of being a book evangelist. For me, fantasy jobs include bookseller and librarian. Some people sit around dreaming of being astronauts or movie stars. I imagine being in a position to invite people to read! And matching the perfect book with the perfect reader? Heaven.] 

What books are you an evangelist for? What books do you buy over and over, giving them to people simply because you love them?


Harriet rocks!

Harriet rocks!

In my Book Brahmin interview, I was only allowed to list one, but I had an ever-changing array as I grew. 



Favorite book when you were a child:

SW: Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. I slept with it under my pillow so I could channel Harriet, and started carrying a notebook everywhere I went. I still do that. 

Note: Please do not see the movie! It ruins the book. Movies have a nasty habit of doing that, except in certain cases, like The Wizard of Oz.

Other contenders for my favorites:

  • You Were Princess Last Time – Long out of print; don’t recall the author
  • Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White – probably the most flawless book ever written
  • The Watchbirds – another out of print, an author/illustrator I can’t recall

So many more. But I’ll shut up. List your childhood faves in Comments. 

I said I was going to shut up and write, and I am, but first I had to visit with editor Andrea Richesin about, well, everything. Our conversation is posted at a great blog called “Novel Journey.” Check it out here:

It’s been so much fun talking with Deborah Bouziden all month! Our interview will be published in its entirety later this year–without all the asides to show you pictures of Barkis or music videos–so stay tuned for updated links. Here’s the final bit:

early writings ... SW at age 4

early writings ... SW at age 4

DB: When you finish a project, what do you do to reward yourself?

SW: A vacation, a shopping spree, a reading marathon, a ski trip, a dog walk, the ritual cleaning of my study. Plow through a queue of 176 unread e-mail messages. Long, long phone calls to my mom, my sister and my long-distance friends. When I finished Lakeshore Christmas, I went on a ten-mile hike with my dog and my best friend.

DB: You’ve written so many books, how do you feed your muse?

SW: Listen to music. Read. Go to performances. Travel. Stay connected. Cherish your friends who remind you what life–and therefore your books–are about.

DB: What is your favorite thing about book signings?

SW: Shopping for the clothes, planning the travel and meeting the bookseller and the few readers who trickle in. Not so favorite thing? The fact that only a few readers trickle in. I have a theory about this. My readers are readers. They want stories, not the author’s signature. I’m fine with this. There are definitely writers who are a draw at signings, but I’m not one of them.

DB: Book signing nightmare or strangest thing to happen to you?

SW: A guy I thought I was in love with in college showed up at a signing in a far-off city and said, “I still think about you.”

DB: The romance industry has seen many sweeping changes through the years. Do you think they are for the best or detrimental to our industry? What future do you see for the romance industry?

SW: I’m sorry to see writers exploited by vanity presses that make their money by charging the writer. And (okay, this will get me in trouble but I’ll say it anyway) e-publishing doesn’t interest me as a writer–I simply haven’t seen proof of it as a viable commercial vehicle, and I’m a commercial writer who thrives on having readers. Lots and lots of readers. But overall, the future for the industry is bright. Readers crave stories and always will, so the storytellers are safe.

DB: Tell me a bit about your latest project. What is it about? When will it be released?

SW: I just finished Lakeshore Christmas, a hardcover coming in October 2009. It’s a nostalgic, magical love story about the town librarian charged with directing the annual Christmas pageant. Against her will, she is paired up with a bad-boy rocker who’s been court-ordered to help her with the music. After that I”ll be working on The Summer Hideaway, which was known as Lakeshore #7 until I came up with a title.

DB: And now the last and probably most important question of all—do you still keep a bowl of M&M’s on your desk? If not, what happened to get them banned? If you still have them, what kind is your favorite?

SW: What happened to get them banned? Middle age! Where is my girlish figure?! I had to trade the M&Ms for pistachios. I need more protein and fewer carbs. Actually, I need a nip and tuck but I’m chicken.

DB: I counted 43 published books. Is that correct? I think I may be missing a few.

SW: I stopped counting after 30. It was making me feel old. Or like I should be better than I am after all that experience. The truth is, every book feels like a first book to me. I never get over the hurdles easily. Then again, I never get over the excitement. I’m such a nerd.

Deborah Bouziden: When did you acquire an agent and why? Do you think agents are important to a beginning writer’s career? Why or why not?

SW: I worked with a couple of agents before I was published, but they didn’t work out. Within a few months of selling my first book, I attended a local conference where I met a couple of agents and went with Richard Curtis based on his personality, client list and genre know-how. I later moved on to Robert Gottlieb at the William Morris Agency, and we parted ways when he left the agency to found his own firm. Then, at last, I found my “terminal” agent in Meg Ruley. I’d always thought we’d be a good match, but never approached her to represent me. Why? Bad advice from people giving me “friendly” pointers. Eventually I stopped listening to outside advice and paid attention to my gut. The gut was right. Meg and I are friends and a great team, and she’s done amazing things for my career.

Meg holds a meeting.

Meg holds a meeting.

In most types of commercial publishing, an agent is mandatory. Every week there are requests and things for the agent to handle. I can’t imagine juggling everything on my own.

DB: What should romance writers know about marketing and the publishing business today? What are some marketing tips for them? (One or two, if you can think of any.)

SW: Create a vibrant, user-friendly web site with a companion blog, and keep it fresh. Readers are surfers these days. Give them something great to look at on the Web.

Also, be kind to everyone you meet in the business, from the casual reader who drops by a booksigning to a book chain’s vp of marketing. The first time I met Nora Roberts, she had just published her first single title novel (Hot Ice) and was at a booksigning in Houston where nobody came. She and I talked that day, and I’ll never forget how genuine and kind she was to an emerging writer. Debbie Macomber is another great example. She is one of the most beloved authors around because she’s genuinely kind, and very generous with advice and encouragement. Writers like that are my role models.

DB: How has the Internet changed the way you work? (Research? Staying in touch with editors? Readers? Marketing? Etc.)

SW: It’s a classic blessing and a curse. Everything is literally at your fingertips, meaning you can instantly find out how an emergency ejection takes place in a fighter jet. That’s a blessing. It’s a curse because everybody can find you and they’re all so great! I am easily distracted, and the Internet messes with my focus. It’s easy to get sucked down into a time sink when you’re searching or surfing.

However, it makes doing business very fast and easy. No more churning out printed pages. I just e-mail everything.

Question for everybody–how do you stay focused when the World Wide Web is just a click away?

Deborah Bouziden: What is the most difficult thing about being a writer? What is the most rewarding?

SW: The most difficult? The competitiveness of some writers and no, I’m not naming names. You learn, sometimes, that not everybody is your friend. Not everybody wishes you well. I try to avoid people who are negative, especially those who are constantly critiquing other writers’ careers and declaring themselves superior. The negative energy stresses me out, so I tend to hang with people who are positive, supportive and kind. When I was a teacher, I used to tell my students, “You don’t have to blow out somebody else’s candle to make yours burn brighter.” Some writers need to learn that, too.

By the same token, the most rewarding thing is hanging out with writer friends, dealing with people in the business, and readers. I’ve met some of the most delightful, unforgettable people life has to offer–readers who have become close friends. My agent and editor are like girlfriends. And my writers’ groups–lifelong friendships have formed. Some writers have questioned why I recommend my friends’ books on my blog. They ask, “Why would you want to divert the reader’s attention away from your books?” One newspaper book critic mentioned this in what turned out to be a negative review! I didn’t feel bad about the review because she was so nice about my blog.

DB: What do you enjoy most about the writing process? What do you not like?

SW: I love creating the first draft, and watching the story emerge and take shape. That’s probably my favorite.  I don’t like entering editorial changes from the hard copy to the computer. Tedious!

DB: Do you ever see yourself doing anything else?

SW: Skydiving, re-learning my French, learning to speak Italian, volunteering in a prison literacy program, getting my PhD in comparative lit, becoming a world-class grandmother (but please, after my daughter gets married next summer), celebrating my golden anniversary, spending every February skiing, founding a nonprofit for literacy, taking lessons in haute cuisine, beating my son-in-law-to-be at Scrabble, studying photography, losing weight, spending a whole season in a villa in Ravello (Italy), ballroom dancing, climbing Mt. Rainier. To name a few.

DB: What is the greatest obstacle you’ve faced in your writing career?

SW: Myself. I am my own biggest fan and harshest critic. Whenever I’ve had trouble with a book or with the business, it’s usually because I’m standing in my own way.

DB: What advice can you give to struggling writers?

SW: To accept–no, embrace–the struggle. Did you think it would be easy? A smooth ride all the way? If it was easy, everyone would be a bestselling writer. Also, smack me for saying “bestselling.” Every writer has the right to choose her own standard of success. For one writer, it might be a literary accomplishment. Or simply finishing a book she’s been dying to write. For another, it might be a level of popularity or sales.  So my advice? Define success for yourself and make sure you put your passion on the page.

Deborah Bouziden: How do you plot? Use an outline? What are your most common plot problems and how do you handle them? Have you ever had a plot disaster or crisis? How did you handle it? Do you advise outlining? Why or why not?



SW: I plot the way I put together characters, cobbling together shiny bits and pieces that interest me, and assembling them into a story arc. I have the common problem of not thinking things through to their logical conclusion until it’s too late to change. I have a plot disaster or crisis in every effing book! I handle it by swearing!

Outlining can be useful at any stage. It doesn’t need to be elaborate. Just list scenes and incidents and let one step grow out of the previous one. People who don’t outline or put together a synopsis should reconsider. It’s an opportunity to brainstorm and add layers and events.

DB: What advice can you give writers about first drafts?

SW: Write from your heart, every day. Don’t worry about revisions until you have a good chunk to work on. Be fearless.

Deborah Bouziden: Back in 2000/2001, you wrote a series of books with the Chicago Fire as a backdrop. Now in “Just Breathe,” Will is a fireman who is interested in catching an arsonist. Tell me why you decided to make Will a fireman in this book? (I must admit I was surprised at who the arsonist turned out to be. I was sure it was (SPOILER; ROLL OVER TO SEE THE NAME) Zane. . .

SW: I love to give my characters interesting, exciting jobs, the sort of job I’d like to have. Being a firefighter is one of them. A fire is inherently dramatic and changes things in the blink of an eye, which is really useful for fiction. It’s a metaphor for how quickly everything can change. The identity of the arsonist in “Just Breathe” was meant to be a slowly-unfolding storyline. I used it–and plenty of red herrings–for dramatic tension.

Will, in “Just Breathe,” is a rescuer. It comes from a place deep inside him. The best people and best characters are those who follow their passions, and he’s an example of that. His theme in the book is rescuing people and in the end, realizing he’s worth rescuing, too.

\There was a fire in Summer by the Sea and in The Winter Lodge, too. I think I’m seeing a pattern here….

Deborah Bouziden and I have been talking all month! She asks the best questions:

DB: You have such a unique sense of humor and that comes through in your books. It’s a sense of humor that happens in life. Is it written into your books consciously? How difficult is it to get just right? Your characters face difficult times, yet there are still times when they can laugh at themselves? Do you think it’s important for a certain amount of humor to be in all books? Why or why not?

SW: I’m so happy that you asked this question! Many readers tell me my books make them cry–which is fair. Emotional things happen in my books and they wring a tear from me, too. But good fiction, like real life, is multifaceted. We get to have laughter and tears.

The humor in my books is organic, meaning I don’t set up funny situations or laugh lines. They seem to grow out of whatever the characters seem to be doing. Even if a character is grief-stricken, her spirit can shine through. In Fireside (Feb. 2009), there’s a very funny scene with the hero getting a makeover. On the surface, it’s hilarious, showing him getting shined and polished for a photo shoot, but under that is a layer of seriousness and even pain. He has to change his life to fit his new circumstances.

In real life, I laugh a lot and people tell me I say funny things, so maybe some of that sneaks into the books. It’s so very subjective. Sometimes I think humor comes from the reader.

List some funny books in the Comments! Christopher Moore makes me laugh. So does Stephen King. In romance: Sheila Roberts, Suzanne Brockmann, Teresa Weir, Laura London, Catherine Coulter, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Robyn Carr…yikes, I could go on all night.

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April 2020