New York Times bestselling author Mary Balogh has been writing regency romances since 1983 and shows no signs of slowing down. Her new book, The Proposal, goes on sale tomorrow and kicks off a new series, delivering the kind of sexy, intelligent, romantic read that fans have come to crave from this author. Mary has also, to her fans’ delight, recently joined Facebook where she now connects with readers on a daily basis. We thought we’d bring Mary even closer to her fans by having her answer some questions straight from our Romance@Random Facebook page.
Book currently on your night table:
It’s a Kindle, actually. The current book is Agatha Christie’s The Murder at the Vicarage. I have been on a bit of a nostalgic rereading journey lately—Agatha Christie, John Buchan, Georgette Heyer, Florence Barclay, Ethel M. Dell among others. I have not been disappointed—these books are as good now as they were when I read them as a girl. Those authors could write!
Your favorite book outside of the romance genre:
Oh, goodness, that is tough one—very tough. No matter what I say here, I know that for the next few days I am going to think of other books that I like even better. Maybe Alice Walker’s Now Is The Time to Open Your Heart or Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees or Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel or J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. I don’t think I can narrow it to just one!
Your favorite romance book:
Arrgghhh! Again, there are SO many choices, and more will leap to mind in the coming days. If I had to narrow this down to one, however, I would have to choose what most other romance readers probably choose (how unoriginal of me!): Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
Your ideal writing music:
This is a funny one. I would like to list a few soft, romantic classical pieces, but the truth is that when I am writing I don’t hear a thing. I have tried playing music and realize after a few hours that the CD must have finished after 45 minutes or so and I didn’t even notice. So writing music is wasted on me, I’m afraid. My mother used to say that I could be in the middle of Grand Central Station when I was writing and be unaware of it.
“Regency is my favorite period when reading Historical Romance. I’m sure Mary has the history of that period memorized, but I was curious about how she goes about doing her research. Travel, books, etc. What books has she read in regards to this era of time?”
Research now is dead easy. If I want to check something (the exact wording of the wedding service in the Regency era, whether or not there were guide dogs for the blind in Regency times, for example—both of which I have needed lately), I merely find what I want on-line. It wasn’t nearly so easy back in Noah’s ark, when I started writing. I had to search out books! Straight history books were fine to find out what was going on in England and Europe at the time, but finding out how people dressed, where they lived, what they ate, how they moved about, how they entertained themselves, what they talked about and thought about, etc. etc. was not so easy. I always found that literature of the time was the best source of information. I just grabbed everything else wherever I could find it. Two books I lapped up, cover to cover, and still reread are The English Country House—A Grand Tour and The Country House Garden, both by Gervase Jackson-Stops and James Pipkin. And the huge tome, The London Encyclopedia, by Christopher Hibbert was like my writing Bible in the early days. One of my very favorite methods of research, though, is being in Britain (I have spent six weeks of every year there for many years) just soaking up atmosphere and using my eyes.
“When she’s working on a novel, about how many pages does she get done in a day? Does she work to a strict schedule, or just when she feels like it?”
I am very organized as a writer. I treat writing as a job, because it is. It is how I earn my living. I always aim for at least 2,000 words a day, five days a week. Sometimes I write a whole chapter, which is approximately 4,000 words. But I won’t allow myself to bank words. If I write 5,000 words one day, I still demand 2,000 words of myself the next day. I start about 8:00 a.m. and am usually finished soon after noon.
“How did she decide to focus on Lady Muir, a minor character in another series, for her new book?”
When Gwen, Lady Muir, was created, she was part of a threesome with her brother Neville, Earl of Kilbourne (hero of One Night for Love), and their cousin Lauren Edgeworth (heroine of A Summer to Remember). Their books were meant to be a trilogy, to be written one after the other. However, I had changes of both publisher and editors early in the process, and the trilogy idea never quite materialized. Gwen intrigued readers (and me!) in both the other books, however. There was a mystery surrounding her, deliberately so because I had intended her as the heroine of the third book. She was a widow who suffered a miscarriage and a permanent limp as the result of a riding accident when she was with her husband. Less than a year later he died accidentally in a fall at their home. A number of readers have been waiting a long time for her story, and I have been waiting a long time to write it. Here it is at last, in The Proposal.
“I love her books and wish there were more on the Bedwyn series . . . will there ever be any books involving them? Another question: are there any bookmarks/swag available for any of her books?”
The Bedwyns will doubtless make appearances in future books. Indeed, Wulfric Bedwyn, Duke of Bewcastle, makes a brief cameo appearance in The Proposal. However, I doubt there will ever be an actual Bedwyn book in the future. It would mean my taking their stories into the next generation, and I don’t want to do that. I want to leave the impression that they are all eternally young. And I would rather leave readers wanting more than feeling that all this was getting a bit stale and dreary!
I have leather bookmarks made in various colors, and I am always ready to give them out at any opportunity. Anyone can even write and ask me to send one.
“What does Mary think about covers on romance novels nowadays, especially the headless lady covers? If she could redesign all the romance novel covers, how would they look?”
On the whole, I don’t think romance covers do justice to authors or their books. The assumption almost always seems to be that readers want sex more than anything else out of their romance stories, and that is what they are given on the covers even if not between them. What about the romance itself? Or love? Those who design covers underestimate romance readers, in my opinion. As far as the headless women covers go, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with them. At least they leave something to the imagination of the reader. But they have become an absolute epidemic! Why do publishers DO that? I have been pleading for a few years not to have any more headless women on my covers, and finally, on the cover of The Proposal I have not only a heroine with a full head, but she is also shown full-face and she is beautifully dressed in a gown that looks like a Regency dress. She is standing in a garden that just shouts romance, even love. I am sure that if that were someone else’s cover and I saw the book in a bookstore, I would be drawn to it as if by a magnet. That cover looks as though it might contain the sort of love story I want to read.
“Does Mary ‘story-board’ out her entire plot for a given series or just the main characters? For instance—she seems to have a point of connectivity—the Bedwyn family, the Martin School teachers, and now the new series involving a set of ‘survivors’ of the Napoleonic Wars. Are all of the new main characters created and fleshed out well in advance? Or do you only have Books 1 through Book 3 well developed while Book 4 is a note on the board stating ‘sad hero with limp; heroine with dark secret—get them together in London’?”
Oh, dear, all these either/or questions presuppose that I do SOME planning. I actually do almost none. I don’t story-board either my plots or my characters. I can’t. Nothing will come out of the ether. The only way I can force a story out is to get the characters (vaguely conceived) into action (vaguely conceived) and gradually learn who they are and where they are headed. This probably sounds incredible. It really ought not to work. I shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it! But it’s the only way I can write. In a series, I do have to create all the main characters of the series. I have to give them names and some sort of history, but I keep it to the minimum. I never want to be painted into a corner by the time I come to that character’s story a few books down the line. When I am writing Book 1, I never have any idea what the story of Book 2 is going to be. Often I don’t even know which character will be going next. Admittedly, with the Bedwyn books, I deliberately kept Wulfric until last, but I had no idea what his story was going to be. Christine wasn’t even the first heroine I created for him.
“Have any real life love stories ever inspired a plot of her books?”
No, I don’t think so. I think I am always inspired by the life and the people around me, though it is largely unconscious. I don’t, for example, stare at someone in a coffee shop and decide that he is going into my next novel, but I may remember some little physical quirk he had when I am actually writing. I don’t think there has ever been anything happen that has made me want to make it into a Regency story. It’s an interesting idea, though!