I'll say this up front: Kathleen Gilles Seidel is a marvelous writer. We are both members of the Washington Romance Writers chapter of RWA, so I've know her for many years. At the WRW annual retreat, a slot would always be reserved for her to talk fascinatingly about some aspect of writing. (She has a PhD in English from Johns Hopkins University, so she's really good at this sort of thing.) I've heard many of her thoughtful lectures and stories as well as being addicted to her writing. So I feel very pleased that she's agreed to visit the Word Wenches today.
Kathy has twice won RITAs for best contemporary romance of the year. Her work is known for originality, wonderful keen observations about the human animal, and a delicious dry sense of humor. She later moved from romance to women's fiction, and they're great, too. (One of her books is entitled Keep Your Mouth Shut and Wear Beige. Who can resist that?)
What inspired me to invite Kathy at this point in time is that I saw that her novel Again is now available as an e-book, along with several of her other older titles. Naturally I downloaded Again and read the story for the fifth or sixth time. I also mentioned the book to the other Wenches, several of them read and adored it, and we all thought it would be a fine idea to invite Kathy to visit us.
So–Kathy, could you tell us how you started writing romance?
KGS: In junior high I read my mother’s Emilie Lorings, in high school I read her Georgettes. When I was in graduate school, I read Our Mutual Friend and Daniel Deronda for the sole purpose of not being humiliated in class. During those five years Harlequin Presents kept me in touch with why I loved to read.
Graduate school left me with a kind of “gotcha” approach to the world – show how smart you are, how much the rest of the humanity is in need of your guidance on all matters. With that mind-set, I wrote my first book. Agents rejected it by writing “no” on the top of my cover letter. They didn’t even waste a piece of their stationery on me.
I was teaching at a community college at the time, and I really liked the students who were then called “re-entry housewives.” So I wrote my next book to them, going (as I have often said) from writing a book that was supposed to change people’s lives to one that would change their afternoons. The book sold to Harlequin in six days counting mailing time.
MJP: What are some of the themes and ideas that run through your novels?
KGS: Someone else articulated my primary theme as being that the way to get to the future is through the past. Notice that when you asked me about writing my first romance, I started telling you about junior high.
MJP: Several of your novels have historical content, so I wondered why you've never written historical romance?
KGS: You can blame Laura Ingalls Wilder. I grew up on her books (there’s my past again), and the historical (for me) detail was minute, vivid, and accurate. I get hung up enough on minutia when writing contemporaries; I would be paralyzed if I wrote an historical. I would be a researcher, not a storyteller.
And yet when I am first imagining plot and characters, my imagination feels so much freer when I am dealing with historical elements. I feel less weighed down. So keeping the historical material as something interpolated into a contemporary story lets me hold onto the freshness of that first blast of creativity.
Basically my left brain is too well developed. I don’t think we can blame Laura Ingalls Wilder for that. I came from a very left-brain family.
MJP: This brings me to Again, your RITA winning novel which takes place around a Regency era soap opera that is shot in Brooklyn. The heroine is the head writer of the show, the hero is an actor, and the story is marvelous. Do you have any idea how you came up with the concept? And please, share any thoughts you have about the writing of the book and the characters!
KGS: I was fascinated by the inner workings of soap operas and in the early days of working on the book, I kept trying to come up with an idea for the soap. The best I could do was a college town, which seemed desperately dreary. Then suddenly making the show a Regency occurred to me. I have never in my life been so grateful for an idea.
I loved loved, loved doing the story and characters for the soap. The contemporary hero was the challenge. First, unrequited love is tricky to do. It is hard to keep the one who loves from seeming like a victim. I really had to focus on how he would keep his dignity. So, yes, I rereadThe Sun Also Rises for a dose of suffering with dignity.
The second problem was that the hero was content being a soap-opera actor. He did not want to go to Hollywood, star in and direct a big-budget movie, and then win a million Oscars. We expect our heroes to be aiming for the top, and soaps aren’t seen as the top of the acting profession. So I made him Canadian, completely comfortable with his own talents, not needing to dominate in the way conventionally American heroes do.
MJP: You're technically a hybrid author now, with more recent traditionally published books still in print and some of your backlist titles available as e-books. What do you see for your publishing future? Any chance that more of your backlist books will revert so you can e-pub them? Might you publish new work independently? I'd love to see what else you can come up with!
KGS: I am a writer, not a publisher. I know that trying to maintain that distinction is a career killer, but well, yeah . . . I did turn over four of my backlist titles to an independent publisher, and the only part of the process I enjoyed was proofreading the punctuation.
KGS: At the moment I am very interested in figuring out how to install a zipper in a spot where there is no seam. I am thinking about folding in a box pleat and slashing the center of the underlay, then reinforcing below the zipper. The extra fabric below the zipper would sort of work like a kick pleat.
Look, you asked.
MJP: Kathy's books are notable for the excellent fabric and sewing details she sometimes includes. <G>
I asked Kathy if she would be willing to give away an e-book to someone who comments on this blog. Her reply:
KGS: I actually know how to do this! I can give away one digital copy of each of the following: After All These Years, (once voted by Harlequin readers to be their all-time favorite Harlequin); Don't Forget to Smile (my mom’s favorite);
MJP: So there will be FOUR e-books given away to people who comment between now and Tuesday midnight! Thanks so much for visiting us today, Kathy!
Mary Jo, adding that it's a fine idea to visit Kathy's webpage to read her wryly amusing blog, More Than Mr. Darcy