Kathleen O’Reilly first came to my attention in the anthology, Hell with the Ladies, but it wasn’t until my blogging partner wrote her review of O’Reilly’s Harlequin Blaze, Beyond Breathless, that had me moving O’Reilly from an author I should buy someday to an author I should buy now. Beyond Breathless also got me thinking about category romances. Categories are probably the most read but also the most reviled in the romance industry. “Harlequin” is often used as an insult and not a compliment, but there is a dearth of good straight contemporaries these days. You know, the contemporary without the Navy Seal, cop or PI? The more that I read of Harlequin categories, the more that I find that Harlequin is filling the need for smart heroines, snappy dialogue, and sexy men in straight contemporaries. I thought a closer look at category writers might be in order.
Kathleen O’Reilly’s last book, Beyond Seduction, the last of the Red Choo Diaries, is on the shelves now. In June, there is a sequel to the Hell with the Ladies anthology called Hell On Heels written with Dee Davis and Julie Kenner. Kathleen will be offering her christmas wishes in the form of a Christmas novella coming out in December with Joanna Rock, and Jacquie D’Alessandro entitled A Blazing Little Christmas.
You’ve not been publishing long, what did you do before? and what made you start writing?
My writing career has been very checkered. When I was growing up, I never listened to my friends who said I should be a romance writer because I wanted to be rich, and I knew writers were poor. I had a talent for technology (i.e. closet geek-head), so I went into computers. In the early 90s, publishers were looking for OS/2 Programming books, so there were three of us who got together, zipped up an outline, and voila, we wrote an OS/2 programming book, The Art of OS/2 2.1 C Programming. The reviews were fabulous for the book, because it wasn’t a snooze-fest, so we released an updated edition. Alas, Bill Gates killed OS/2, and my area of expertise was kaput.
Shortly thereafter I got a hankering to write another book, but my Visual Basic skills weren’t great, so I decided to write romance because I adore romance novels and had read them my entire life. And okay, yes, after years of being told that I would be a romance writer, perhaps I’d been brainwashed, I don’t know. Anyway, I wrote my first manuscript, a steller historical set in Russia, which I sent out to publishers who said, wow, that’s great, but, uh, Russia doesn’t sell. So, I thought about another historical idea (set in Regency England, I’m no dummy!) and started working on it.
At the same time, Harlequin was looking for Duets, and it sounded like a lot of fun, so I wrote a book for Duets and sent it in. One and a half years later (who says publishing is slow!), I got a call that Harlequin wanted to buy my Duets. And then 28 days after that, my agent told me that Berkley wanted to buy my historical. And the rest, as they say, is history. I’ve now written 10 books for Harlequin, two “lady-lit” books, a couple of paranormal novellas, and one historical (and a partridge in a pear tree). And to do this day, my frends all nod and say, “I told you so.”
Jayne, my blogging partner, found a fascinating article about what some authors do to jump start their creative juices. Any tips you care to share?
I don’t need much help with creativity. I failed physics because I kept making up forces that didn’t exist. But to answer your question, I read the newspaper a lot, I listen carefully when people tell me stories (they never know they’ll end up in a book), and oddities in the world make me go, “what if?”. When I begin a book, the first few chapters are hard until I get a handle on my characters. Once that happens, I’m off to the races. I’ll live and breathe my story until it’s over.
Your heroine in Beyond Seduction is a bit of an unsympathetic character. What particular challenges do you face when writing someone that your readers may not initially like? Do you think the rules are different for a male character v. a female character?
I think the key with unsympathetic characters is to make them understandable, and if that doesn’t work, give them a puppy. My first draft is usually harsher than my second because I can go through and layer things in place. Sometimes only a line or two of internal narrative will turn a character 180 degrees. And yes, the rules are definitely different for male and female characters. We females forgive males EVERYTHING. It’s completely a double-standard. But if you look at some of the alpha males that are popular, they are much harsher than their female equivalents.
Your book, Looking for Mr. Goodbunny, was pointed to by the New York Times as being one of those dreadful chick lit books, but your heroine is older and while it is set in NY, there is very little shoe shopping and no cute millionaire to sweep in and solve everyone’s problems. How would you characterize your writing?
Regarding the Times article, I will say that I get a very nice note from Maureen Dowd (who I think is a closet romance writer wannbe), and she asked me to DC for pink cosmopolitans. Little does she know that I plan on taking her up on it. As for my writing, I don’t know how to characterize it. I love people stories. I like writing about people who learn to either fix their problems or accept them. Self-image, both male and female, seems to be a recurring theme. I don’t think of myself as a comedy writer, but I do like to make people smile. That’s what I love about romance. It always makes me smile.
There was an article last month at Romancing the Blog by agent, Kristin Nelson, about writing a big enough novel. I've read categories that I consider better than a mass market, primarily straight contemporaries. How do you feel about that?
For me, the difference between a character novel and big novel is merely the number of subplots in a book. The bigger the book, the more plot you gotta stick in there. However, I don’t do my characters any different at all. In anything you choose, be it mass market or category, there’s going to be good, and there’s going to be bad. That’s just statistics. One of my favorite romances is STILL Manhunting by Jenny Crusie, which has stuck with me much longer than her big novels, which are not slouchy by any degree. I do know that there are agents and eds who pooh-pooh categories, but if you look at who category has created: Nora, Linda Howard, Suzanne Brockmann, and yes, Jenny Crusie, I would think category would have serious street cred by now.
Do you think that there is a stigma against writing category romances? Or is there an advantage because you are already published and therefore have a proven audience?
I think some people have a bias against category, but within the romance community, I think that bias is fading somewhat because of the above-mentioned names. I mean, what, you’re going to argue that Nora or Suz have a sucky career? Yeah, right. Category provides a tremendous advantage to writers, the ability to get in front of thousands of readers who have never heard of you before. And if you have an established audience, category gets you people that will never pick up a bigger book. I’ve never really paid too much attention to what people thnk, so it doesn’t bother me one way or another.
Do you want to move out of category writing eventually or will you always write categories along with your “bigger–? novels?
They will have to pry my Harlequin contract out of my cold, dead hands… I love writing short, and since I write dialog-heavy stories, it’s a perfect venue for me. Maybe someday that will change, but for now, that’s what I’m thinking…
If you could change one thing about the publishing industry, what would it be?
Only one? Oh, that’s cruel. I suppose I would make it more honest. In NY, a lot of people want to be cheerleaders rather than clueing you in on facts and reality. It’s all very hush-hush, like a secret society. As a closet geek-head, I like facts and reality. I think it’d be fun to have one day (and probably only one) like in Liar, Liar, where everyone has to tell the truth. That would be fun for one day, I think. After one day, it would probably not be so fun.
Is there a secret you can share?
This last weekend I went to a conference, and listened to Nora Roberts speak, and it was a great talk. Probably exactly what most people should hear. So, I’m going to paraphrase and share, because I think it is a great secret. Being an author is one of the most fabulous things in the world, however, it’s hard, a lot of work, and you have be tough, stubborn, optimistic, and committed to succeed. It’s not about promotion, or marketing, or anything, other than putting the words down on paper. There is no secret, it’s all about determination. Whoops. Maybe I shouldn’t say that. Maybe I should tell everyone that there is a secret, and then… I know, I’ll write a book, and I’ll call it “The Secret” and I’ll get on Oprah, and OMG! Yes, forget what Nora said. There is a secret, but I must publish it in cute hard-back form with elaborate fonts first!
If you had one marketing secret, what would that be?
LOL, I have no marketing secrets. It all comes down to the books. So, sadly, the best marketing secret is ‘focus on the book’. I know, it sucks, but there, it’s the truth.
What are the three romance books you read in the last month? and why?
I read A Match Made on Madison by Dee Davis. She’s my critique partner, I love her, and I think it’s a fabulous book. Everyone should buy it and read it, especially the Jane Austen fans. I also read Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Natural Born Charmer. When I grow up, I want to be Susan Elizabeth Phillips. She’s a goddess, and I read everything of hers. I also read Mary Balogh, The Secret Pearl, because I had never read Mary Balogh, and I knew I should read her. I’m glad I did, too. What a heart-wrenching read, but so marvelous in the end. I will be reading Mary Balogh in the future.