Friday, February 10, 2006

Author Q&A: Shirley Karr

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1) Can you give us a blurb about your current release, KISS FROM A ROGUE?

Here's the short version: In my debut novel last year, WHAT AN EARL WANTS, readers fell in love with Benjamin, Earl of Sinclair. Now in KISS FROM A ROGUE, readers get to meet Ben's younger brother, Tony. Posing as the husband of a lovely lady smuggler leads Tony into far more adventure and danger than this endearing rogue bargained for…

click here to read an excerpt

2) Smugglers are so yummy! How did you get the idea for smugglers? What kind of research did you do on smugglers? Did you rob a few liquor stores at gunpoint and throw the kegs in the back of your pickup truck during a rainstorm?

I've traced the idea back to brainstorming notes that were titled "Jane Austen does Pirates of the Caribbean." I'm a huge fan of both, and it seems to have evolved from there. I borrowed a friend's book titled Smugglers' Britain, which was filled with fascinating anecdotal history as well as detailed maps. Alas, it's out of print, and she had the audacity to ask for it back, for her own novel featuring smugglers. But I got lucky and found the author's web site, and ordered the book directly from him. Ironically, the book he shipped from England arrived faster than another book on smuggling that was mailed from Kentucky. It was much easier to find info on pirates, at least at first, so I followed those trails to get a feel for nautical terms and life at sea, and gradually found the other stuff I needed.

3) In the current market, everyone is saying that to sell books, you have to write paranormal or very sexy, and preferably both. Yet you have totally bucked the trend, writing wonderful historical romances that are adventurous and passionate, but aren't over-loaded with sex and definitely don't have any blood-sucking immortals running around. You've had great success already. What's your secret?

Aww, thank you. Hmm. I think I've simply written the kind of books I like to read. There are many great historical authors out there, but so many of them write gut-wrenching angst. It's beautifully done, but it takes a lot of emotional energy to go through that much trial and tribulation with their characters, energy that I don't always have to give. Many of my favorite authors who used to write light, fun reads -- Regency romps, if you will -- have experienced tragedy in their life and now write much darker, more angst-filled stories. I love Jennifer Crusie's light, fun contemporaries, but she doesn't write historicals. So I have to.

As for the sexy part, or lack thereof… I started out intending to write traditional Regencies, which have lots of sexual tension but no consummation scenes -- mostly because that's what I read most of the time, and because I'm more comfortable writing that level of sensuality. Once I learned how little money authors were paid for them, however, I aimed for longer, single title historicals, at a publisher with great distribution and sales teams. The version of WAEW that my editor bought had no consummation scene at all. That morning in the shepherd's hut, Quincy woke up first and slid out of the bed, and all Sinclair got was hot and bothered watching her pull on her stockings.

During revisions, I made compromises to increase the sexiness, per my editor's request, but did so in a way that stayed true to the morals of the day as well as to my own. An unmarried young woman in Quincy's society did not give up her virginity lightly. When (and if) my hero and heroine become intimate, they are committed to each other and no one else, even if they haven't yet acknowledged that commitment, even to themselves. With ROGUE, my heroine is a widow, and society's rules were different for widows, so I wrote accordingly. I figured there'd be readers out there like me, who don't need to see a lot of bedroom action in order to enjoy a story. Yup, basically it comes down to writing the kind of stories I like to read. Fortunately, other readers like them, too.

4) So…you're a smuggler fan, eh? Got any thoughts on our man Johnny Depp and the Pirates of the Caribbean?

Oh, sweetie, I could write an entire book. Oh, wait -- I did! I had only five months to write ROGUE, and needed every bit of help to get it done. Thinking of my synopsis as a movie script, I cast Johnny Depp in the lead as Tony. Knowing exactly how he looked, how he moved, what he sounded like (and how the heroine would respond to him) made it easier to bring Tony to life on the page. Johnny is an amazingly talented actor -- a character actor in a leading man's body, as Tim Burton says -- and transforms himself for every role. Even though I originally intended Tony to be a lot like Captain Jack Sparrow, Tony quickly became another guy entirely, uniquely his own. Sylvia, Tony's heroine, ended up having more in common with Jack -- she steals a ship, after all. Captain Jack is an incredible character, simple yet complex, and Johnny brought him to life on screen complete with all those layers. Jack is morally ambiguous at best and not very heroic if you get right down to it, but we still root for him all the way. As the writers said on the PotC DVD, Johnny's Captain Jack is exactly what they wrote in the script, but nothing like what they expected.

5) Writing a historical is so daunting because there is so much research that must be done in order to get the details right. Have you ever had any readers tell you that you got something wrong? Do you worry about that? How accurate do historical novels have to be? When do you have to stay true to history and when are you free to innovate, without losing readers?

So far, all of the readers who've taken the time to contact me have been very positive. No one has tried to burst my bubble yet. A coworker pointed out a tiny error I made regarding horses in my first book, but it was an omission, not an actual mistake. So there. Ahem. I wouldn't have attempted writing historicals if I hadn't first been an avid reader of them. You can't take other authors' research for granted -- you have no idea how accurate they really are, or if they've taken literary license or a creative interpretation of events -- but information in their books gives me the starting points for my own research. Accuracy is a hotly debated topic, and I think you need to be as accurate as possible. You don't want to throw a knowledgeable reader out of the world you've created by addressing an earl as "your grace." Stay true to history as far is it has been proven correct.

If a subject is still debated -- it might have happened this way, it might have been that way -- then you can go with what works best for the story. You also have to honor reader expectations. For example, many readers expect pirates to have parrots, bury their treasure, and make victims walk the plank -- but those expectations are incorrect. Few pirates actually had parrots, walking the plank is a Hollywood invention, and there was no treasure to bury because they tended to spend their loot on wine, women and other amusements as soon as they got to port. Disney's screenwriters on PotC knew the truth, but they catered to viewer expectations. When I'm going to deviate from reader expectations because research has proven a commonly held belief to be wrong, I'll do so in a way that subtly explains to the reader what really happened.

6) Why do the men on the covers of both your books look the same?

Because the characters are brothers. Because Johnny was busy in the Bahamas, filming the two sequels to Pirates, and was unavailable for the cover shoot of ROGUE. Oh, and because Avon used the same model, Jack Hartnett, for both covers. (If you want to see him in action, watch the Will Smith movie "Hitch." At the very end, when Hitch thinks he's losing the girl to another guy, Jack plays the other guy.)

7) Do you ever play dress-up in regency gowns? Do you have any pictures?

As a matter of fact, I do have a pic of me in Regency attire on my web site -- it's from the Beau Monde soiree at a writers' conference in Dallas two years ago, where many of us dress in costume to help get a better feel for the time period, and learn the dances and card games our characters would know. With a book about smugglers coming out, last fall I put together a smuggler costume for Halloween, and wore it dancing. Photographic evidence (of the costume, not the dancing) is on my web site, I even found the company that made the boots for the entire cast of Pirates, and ordered the style worn by Johnny Depp as Captain Jack. Mine aren't as well broken-in yet, but I'm working on them.

8) Can you give a sneak peek on your next book?

CONFESSIONS OF A VISCOUNT will be out in December 2006, and features one of Tony's friends from ROGUE -- Alistair the astronomer, who's become embroiled with a female spy. I had great fun researching astronomy, and even camped out at the Oregon Star Party. There's something quite romantic about two people alone in the dark, beneath the starry skies…
KISS FROM A ROGUE, Available now! read an excerpt
WHAT AN EARL WANTS, still available! read an excerpt


At 9:38 AM, Blogger TJBrown said...

um... the link at the bottom says, what an ear wants...

Just so you know.

I loved the book. I got an ARC. Teri

At 10:27 AM, Blogger Stephanie Rowe said...

So, maybe the earl's ear want something...


I'll go fix it! Thanks for letting me know!

At 7:57 PM, Anonymous Wendy Warren said...

Ooh, Shirley! Can't wait to read book two...and book three sounds like exactly my cup of tea.

I love your commitment to writing with integrity.

I'll have to try that sometime.

Big "Hi" from down south!



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