Joan Wolf: 53 Novels, 52 Years Married & Still Going Strong

How many romance authors can say they taught a future Supreme Court justice? Joan Wolf can. Read on for a great interview, but first, some background….

Hi there Wench readers! I’m Susie Felber, a writer, performer and the daughter of Edith Layton, a Wench who left this earthly plane in 2009. If you want to know more, I did this post on Word Wenches in 2019, and that post has links to others posts I did 10 years before that.

Joan Wolf

But this is not about me. This is my interview with Joan Wolf, a prolific and wonderful author. She was a dear friend to my mother — they bonded over the Yankees, Judge Judy, and mostly, their shared love of reading and writing books. And she’s been a friend to me for the many years mom has been gone.

Joan did an interview on the Word Wenches blog in 2009. It’s great! But this one will be a bit more personal and will dive into pieces of her past — some of which even I didn’t know, and I’ve known her since the 1980’s, back when I would accompany my mother to Romantic Times conventions in New York City. Ah the RT conventions! I adored the bags of free books, and really enjoyed being a fly on the wall as I got to hang out with romance authors from across the country — all so smart, funny, and progressively louder as they enjoyed wine and the joy of actually meeting their peers in a world before social media.

So, here’s the interview. Get to know Joan Wolf via my conversation with her, and I’m sure you’ll become a fan too.

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OK so… the other day you casually dropped into conversation something about how you were working on your PhD. How did I never know you were going for your PhD before you became an author? Can you explain what it was in, and why you aren’t currently “Dr. Wolf”?

JW: I never had any cards printed to tell people I was a Ph.D. candidate. After I got my M.A. in English and Comparative Literature, I enrolled in the Fordham University doctoral program. I went part time — while I was teaching and traveling around Europe every summer — and I accumulated all of my credits. I even had a doctoral dissertation topic approved on the father-daughter relationship in Shakespeare’s plays. It’s a great topic. If anyone is looking for a dissertation idea you’re welcome to it.

Joan & Joe’s kids being adorable

I didn’t get to write it because I got married. Joe was just home from Vietnam and he got a job teaching economics and history at my school. We met and we clicked. We bought a house in Connecticut and commuted to the north Bronx. Believe it or not, there was hardly any traffic on 95. We had a half-hour commute. Unbelievable. We had a baby and I quit my teaching job and stayed home — that’s what we did in those days. At first I thought I could finish my dissertation while the baby napped. I even got a library card for the Yale library. I thought I could write during the baby’s nap time… I can hear all of you mothers laughing. But I was bored and lonely and I read a few romance novels. Romance was becoming so popular that I thought maybe I could squeeze in writing a novel while the baby napped. I picked the regency period because I adored Georgette Heyer’s books. And I wrote that book – The Counterfeit Marriage — on my kitchen table while my son napped. I found an agent and he sold the book to NAL with a contract for two more. A career was born.

OK. So I know many authors who were teachers before becoming novelists… but you are the only one I know who once taught a future Supreme Court Justice! Can you tell us where you were, what you were teaching, and your memory of that sitting justice? Editor’s note: we are talking about Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Joan’s AP student

JW: Sonia was in my A.P. English class at Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx. I remember that class very well – not just Sonia but the others too. It was a great class to teach — everyone contributed. After all these years I can still remember Sonia’s comment on Hamlet. As some of you might remember, the whole play revolves around Hamlet’s failure to kill his uncle, the king. The ghost of his father has appeared to him and commanded him to kill his uncle, who has married Hamlet’s mother. Hamlet says he will do this, he talks about it — all those great soliloquies — but he never even tries. The Big Question all scholars ruminate about is: why doesn’t Hamlet obey the ghost and kill his uncle (who has also stolen the throne from Hamlet). There are a ton of theories on this but I think Sonia said it perfectly: Hamlet’s whole world has collapsed around him. Everything looks dirty and ugly to him. His mother, whom he loves very much, has married his uncle. The man who killed his father. He imagines them together and is disgusted. What good will come of murdering his uncle? Will the world look cleaner? Will his mother look virtuous? Part of him thinks he has to do this but the deeper part of him knows it will change nothing. I’ve seen many Hamlets and this interpretation is a challenge. I think Tom Stoppard was the best I ever saw. However, the REALLY best Hamlet I ever saw was Richard Burton. He didn’t interpret anything. He just spoke those fabulous words. That voice! It was the greatest Hamlet I’ve ever seen — and I have seen quite a few.

You mentioned that when you started writing it was at the library? And you paid for babysitting to do it? Maybe I’m getting it wrong but… what were your early days writing novels like while also balancing motherhood.

JW: Yes, after I got the contract for two more books — and got the advance in money as well — we could afford to pay for a babysitter. I no longer had to try to squeeze my writing in between naps, which kept getting shorter and shorter. There was a lovely teenage girl living next to us and she came after school to babysit for Jay and then Pam and I went to the public library from 3P to 5P to write. In longhand. Then I had to type all of those pages. No one was happier to see the computer than I was. You could actually correct your mistakes right on it!

You have been married a long time. And I know Joe, and he’s just the sweetest, smartest man. As you do know a thing or two about “happily ever after”, can you tell us a little bit about the man who has supported your career for so long?

JW: Joe and I have been married for 52 years. He is such a lovely man — he’s like my dad was. A great family man, a great husband, a great father. Here’s a story that will show what I mean. When he was in high school the basketball coach asked him to try out for the team. Joe is a good BB player and he loves the game. But he knew his mother was home with five other kids and she needed help. So he didn’t try out for the team. He left school every day and went home to help his mom.

You mentioned re-reading an old book of yours recently and saying how good you thought it was. I can’t remember which one it was… can you tell which one and what the experience is like to read your own stuff after many years down the line?

JW: The book was a regency — The Gamble. I hadn’t read it since it was written and I had such a good time. I really liked the characters. I thought I had hit a home run.

I remember seeing you for the first time in the hotel lobby at a Romantic Times conference held at the Vista hotel… at the base of the World Trade Center. It was the mid-80’s? My mother wanted to talk to you but she was a newer author and she was shy and scared of you… she admired your writing and was worried because you looked so polished and confident. You were sitting alone and I had to push her to talk to you. You were instantly happy to talk, and it started a lasting friendship. So I never asked… are you a confident person? Do you feel shy in social situations? I mean you rode horses… you gotta be confident for that, right?

JW: I think I am a fairly confident person. I was the oldest of four sisters so I am used to taking charge. It seems that every committee I join, I end up chairing it. However, I was as happy to see your mother as she was to see me. I still miss her very much. We shared so many things with each other.

Can you name a few of your personal favorite books that you’ve written?

Regencies — The Guardian (finalist for best regency of the year) A London Season, The Pretenders, The Gamble. Really fun regencies to write. And to read!

Books other than Regencies, my books that are special to me:

Foreword by Wench MJP!

Daughter of the Red Deer (prehistoric) Fascinating to research. What these people did with stone and bone and antler is absolutely amazing. It’s also a really good love story.

No Dark Place and The Poisoned Serpent — my medieval mysteries. I never had so much mail as I did for these two books! People were begging me to write another Hugh de Leon book!

A Reluctant Queen – the biblical Story of Esther. I loved writing this book. Such an interesting place: the Persian Empire. And no hero is more fascinating than Ahasuerus, the King Esther married. I turned it into a great love story.

My absolute favorite books, the books I am most proud of, the books I would like to be remembered for – are my Dark Ages Trilogy: The Road to Avalon, Born of the Sun and The Edge of Light. Actually, I am kind of awed that I wrote them. None of my other books have the place in my heart that those books have.

Editor’s note: Book 1 of Joan’s Dark Ages Trilogy is now only 99 cents to help you dive into the series. And it has a forward by Mary Jo! So you know you need it!

You recently got a letter from a fan in Germany that you shared with me. The one who wrote it is also an author herself and she told you she has this adorable AirBnB. It must feel amazing to learn that you inspire and entertain in other lands. Followup Q: can we have a road trip to that AirBnB? Please? 

JW: It is so much fun to get fan mail from translations of books I have written. A lot of the time I can’t recognize what book it is from the cover so I have to page through it looking for the names of the characters — they don’t change them!

Editor’s note: Joan did not take Susie up on her request for a road trip to German countryside! Haaa. PS The editors notes are also by Susie…

I know your charitable work is very important to you but I also know that you never brag about it! Can you tell me about the charity work you’ve done? 

Joan & Joe plus adorable gown up kids

JW: I do believe in the commandment that we should love our neighbors as ourselves, so I have gotten involved in a few different charities. Two charities from church are close to my heart. For 12 years Joe and I ran the St. Mary food pantry. We opened every Sunday after the masses were finished and we didn’t ask too many questions. If people needed food they got it. I made house visits when they were necessary. I even got an award from our local United Way for “Meeting Critical Needs.” Our parishioners are incredibly generous and kind. If I put a piece in the weekly bulletin about needing hot soups, we were inundated. After 12 years we retired and another couple stepped up. The pantry has expanded tremendously under them. My heart smiles when I see what they are doing. I took a break for a few years but when it was announced that the parish was ‘adopting’ a parish in Haiti I joined that committee as well (and somehow ended up as chairman). We can’t do much for Haiti at the moment now, however. That whole scene is just tragic — and they are the nicest people.

I also support the ASPCA, the Humane Society and the Thoroughbred Retirement.

What will the next book be? You said you have an idea percolating. Just a hint would be great!

JW: I’m thinking about an American girl whose mother was the daughter of a duke… the mother eloped to Boston with her father. Father dies. Mother makes the trip back home and takes her daughter with her. That’s what I have right now.

I’m excited for it! Write on! 

For pics of Joan’s adorable dog Mimi, book news and more…

Follow Joan on her Facebook page: www.facebook.com/authorjoanwolf

Or sign up for her free newsletter: joanwolf.authornewsletters.com/?p=subscribe&id=1

Susie here… I just want to say thank you to Joan for the interview! I love you and feel so lucky to know you. And so many thanks to The Word Wenches for their always interesting, smart and personal content. I’m a longtime reader and I’m never disappointed. You give a window into the life of authors and you help people learn. Also thanks to the Wenches for widening the circle — it’s so cool how you support authors outside of your blog circle — and even support the daughters of authors who have passed on. I love you all.

An Edith Layton Christmas Collection!

By Mary Jo

Just in time for the holidays! It’s a Wonderful Regency Christmas , a collection of six Christmas stories by the late and much missed Word Wench, Edith Layton, has just been released. 

Edith wrote many and varied wonderful stories, but she had a special gift for Christmas novellas.  For the first time, these six novellas are available in one volume.  The stories have been out of print for years, so this is a special treat for Layton Lovers and Layton Regency Christmas else who loves a warm, romantic holiday tale.

This collection includes the following stories:

The Duke’s Progress

It’s a Wonderful Christmas

The Gingerbread Man

The Last Gift

The Amiable Miser

Dogstar

I haven’t read Dogstar yet, but since Edith was a whole-hearted dog lover, I expect something really special! 

I just reread the first story, The Duke's Progress, and it was as lovely as when I first read it on the initial release.  A lonely and depressed duke, a winsome little boy, and the perfect woman to take dashing through the snow on a sleigh!  What more can a sentimental lover of Christmas stories want?

It's available as an ebook for the first time and in paperback almost everywhere books are sold. Edith's daughter Susie Felber says fans have been asking for this for years, and she's delighted to publish the first Layton Christmas collection is here–so we readers can be delighted as well! 

Mary Jo

PS:  A surprise bonus!  Susie Felber will give an e-book of IT'S A WONDERFUL REGENCY CHRISTMAS to one person who comments between now and Sunday midnight.  Good luck!

Edith Layton: The Fire Flower Blooms Again As An Ebook

TFF_Med_Lighter (1)The Fire Flower by Edith Layton, originally published in 1989, was recently re-released as an ebook for the first time. This is the story of bringing it back to life—the research for the Restoration setting, the efforts to retain the original painting for the ebook, and much more, told by Layton's daughter, a very occasional Wench guest.

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First, many thanks again to the Wenches for having me back as a guest poster. By way of introduction, I'm Susie Felber, the daughter of Edith Layton, who wrote and published over 30 historical novels and many more short stories. Her start was the Regency, but later she branched out into new time periods and locations. Since her death in 2009, I've been working to bring her much-loved books back into the world in ebook format. The first one came back in 2014, and I wrote about the big Edith Layton book party I threw for it, and that link explains why it took me nearly 5 years to do it. There's another Wenches post I wrote which tells you more about my mom, and there's two that tell what it was like growing up as a romance author's daughter: Daughter of Romance Part 1, and Part II.

Let's talk turning out-of-print books into ebooks

Thing is, some of my mother's books were already ebooks. All her later novels with Avon, and the earlier "C series", for example: The Cad, The Choice, The ChanceThe Challenge and The Conquest — those titles all live with Harper Collins and had no need for resurrection. 

But the majority of my mom's catalog is with publishers who never went to ebooks, at least not with the backlist. And of those books, many have stellar reviews, and many people have happy memories of them. But finding the paperback is really hard. For example, a beautiful "like new" copy of THE FIRE FLOWER goes for $267-$400. Not sure why the price bounces so much, but the point is, this is not the way to find new readers. Also, many long-time fans have the book on their keeper shelves, but the print is small and they crave the ability to read them again on their typeface-size flexible Kindles and e-readers. 

As I've rolled out re-releases with the help of the good people at Untreed Reads, mom's fans ask me all the time when certain favorite Layton titles are returning. They are often impatient for their faves. I really appreciate that. It means they care. It means they are readers… and without readers? Well, without readers, writers are kinda up the creek, no?

But bringing books back is hard. From contracts to scanning to proofreading to cover and beyond… it's way hard.

For example, three awesome books we recently brought back that included Bound By Love, were published by Pocket. Originally published in the late 90's, they were out of print, but I had no idea of the rights. My mother wasn't super organized. She had a filing system, but she'd file dried flowers and amusing cartoons as soon as she'd file contracts. I say she liked to create more than curate, and I loved her for that. Sure, her leaving a clearer trail would've been nice, but I'd rather have a fun mom than an organized one. And she was fun.

Anyway, for these three books, I worked a connection via a celebrity from my Nokia health day job. This celeb (OK it's Penn Jillette, why be coy?) had a new sure-to-be best-selling book at Simon & Schuster. Working with them to promo his excellent book (<–and you should read it, it's so fun) got me far enough into S&S to get a kind person who'd dive in and give me the docs that showed the rights had indeed reverted to the estate. Now if you've ever tried to just cold call a publishing company and find out about rights—well good luck. It's crazy hard. In fact, most agents/publishers told me that was why I should sign with them and why they deserved 10-15% of the re-release sales for eternity… because only they had the pull to dig to get the rights. 

The unique story of the cover art

I could go on about the book. But all you need to know is it's a restoration romance. It takes place in 1666, and yes, the Great Fire of London is a big part of the setting. It is the favorite of my brother Adam, who is a novelist and TV writer—and he's even a celeb if you're an NPR fan (I am). 

I was a teen when dragged to research this book, and I remember visiting the fire monument in London, which is very cool, but also situated in a very boring bit of the financial district. Yeah, research trips were fun, and I was lucky to go, but this was before the internet, so even if mom had every book ever (she did) there was so much she needed to see and experience. She saw her Fire Flower hero and heroine on that trip—together. Mom often picked pop stars for heroes, and pretty waitresses she met to base the heroines on. This was the only time, with us waiting for a ferry, she saw a dude on a motorcycle lean over and kiss the girl on the back of the motorcycle and BLAM! She told us, "LOOK! LOOK! THEY ARE MY NEW BOOK!" So if in the late 80's, you looked like the people on the cover you see above, were snogging, and rode a motorbike onto a ferry in England… yeah, that might be you.

After this book came out, the artist, Robert Maguire, sent mom the painting. Also known as R.A. Maguire, he's a BFD. He's amazing, the coolest of the cool. And in this painting, you see Fabio as a redhead. Say what you want about Fabio, he's an icon… and this might be the only red-headed Fabio cover ever. Editors don't like redheaded heroes, so mom getting that pass (and they fought her) was also a BFD. I love this painting. It hangs in my house now, and it will hang in Adam's house if he ever takes it back with him to Los Angeles. 

Even though I have the physical painting, that doesn't mean it is mine to use as a book cover. I contacted Maguire's site… and his daughter answered. She is like me—trying to preserve her father's legacy. It's a lot of work and not a lot of money. I asked for and paid for the rights to use it, because though we could use a stock romance photo, this seemed important. I also photographed it so you actually see the paint. I love seeing the brushstrokes. I also like how the whole of the scene is seen on the ebook, where on the original paperback it focused only on the people and left the lovely flowers and burning bits of London on the spine and on back of the book. I have a close friend who is an illustrator and still does painted covers, mostly for Kensington. Stephen Gardner is his name, and you should check that link—it's his Instagram and it's amazing because he shares sketches and covers in progress. 

I hope I've persuaded you to pick up The Fire Flower as an ebook… or get two, one for each eye, as my mom would say. That link goes to Amazon, but it truly is available in all formats, wherever ebooks are sold, which is something I appreciate about Untreed Reads.

I'll leave you with a pic of the original painting for the book, which is hanging proudly above (but safely far away from) my wood burning stove. It's far prettier in person, so please come by sometime for tea to admire it.

Supporting illustrators is as important as supporting writers… because they also create, and I'm so proud to be able to help curate. More books are on the way, including new titles, and I'll just be here at Edith Layton HQ trying to keep the home fires burning.

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Edith Layton: Word Wench, Mom & A True Lady

ATL_Draft

Update 6/26: A TRUE LADY is now available as an ebook

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First, I'd like to thank the Wenches for inviting me to post during their anniversary celebration. I am continually impressed by how the Wenches not only endure, but continue to innovate, entertain, and open the circle to new authors and guests. 

Secondly, yes, that's a cover reveal just to the left of this copy, and no I didn't write it, but more on that in a moment… 

Third, well, I probably should introduce myself first, right? OK, here goes…

Dear Readers,

I'm Susie Felber. No, that is not a very romantic name, and that's exactly why my mother, Edith Felber, was persuaded by her publisher to take a pen name in 1983 for the publication of her first regency romance: The Duke's Wager.

Edith Layton a/k/a mom, went on to publish over 30 novels and many more short stories. She blogged with the Word Wenches for many years, and only stopped because… well, because she died.

I lurk and read the Wenches often, and admit I go back and read the beautiful post and comments Layton readers left here.

Of course I miss her. Mom was funny, smart, and would've bragged about me even if I was in prison. e.g. "The warden says Susie's license plates have a certain Je ne sais quoi."

But not only does her memory live on (think of her daily), but of course I have her books to enjoy (reading her books is like having her in the room with me), and Layton HQ is still going strong. Here's some news and updates:

529090211_8d24ac9ed9_bOn Mother's Day this year, my brother Adam (the famous NPR / Hollywood guy) and I appeared on Faith Salie's Audible podcast on an episode called When Mom Writes Romance. <– that's a link there, and it's fun. You can hear about how my father sent out her manuscripts under our German Shepherd's name when she got discouraged by rejections, and much more.

Backing up, two and a half years ago, I finally got it together to bring the Layton books that were out of print but in demand, back into the world as ebooks. As you can imagine, or know too well, this is hard work.

Read more

Christmas Stories

Cat 243 Doverby Mary Jo

I adore Christmas stories.  This is the season of the year when we can be as gooey, sentimental, and over the top as we want, and IT’S ALL RIGHT! 

We all know the original Christmas story with no room at the inn, the birth, the adoration of shepherds, sheep, and kings.  (And if you like amusing Christmas stories, here’s an interview with the Nativity Innkeeper from the Whatever blog by science fiction writer John Scalzi.) 

Christmas stories have become their own genre, and in recent years it’s A Christmas Carolbecome common for bestselling authors to write short Christmas novels.  There are lots of Christmas movies, of course, including beloved ones that are played over and over and over at this time of year:  It's a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story, and at least four versions of A Christmas Carol.  (My favorite is the George C. Scott version.)  Obviously Charles Dickens was a pioneer in the short Christmas novel category. 

And the Christmas music!  Musicians across the whole spectrum of music from country to gospel and all points in between have recorded Christmas album—and I’ve bought a ton of them.  <G>  An early favorite was Joan Baez’s Noel, which surprised me when it Joan Baez--Noelcame out because she was known more as a protest/folk singer then.  But it was, and is, exquisite.

Christmas stories deal with reconciliation, returns of the prodigal, unexpected blessings, and finding love and happiness. 

This is a terrific fit with romance, of course.  The first romance Christmas anthology I remember was from Harlequin, and it made a huge splash.  A year later there were lots of Christmas anthologies, and they are still the most popular type of anthology. 

A Regency Christmas !!The Signet Regency Christmas anthologies were popular for years and years.  (By the way, it was only a couple of years ago that I learned that an anthology is multiple authors and a collection is several pieces by one author.  I used the terms interchangeably for years.)

All of the Wenches have written Christmas novellas and other short works.  Pat Rice Christmas Surprisesand I have written enough that we can now e-publish whole collections of earlier stories, like Pat’s recently released Christmas Surprises and my Christmas Mischief.  (I have enough more Christmas stories that when I have time, I’ll e-pub a second collection of them.) 

And you don’t even have to be Christian to play.  Our much missed Wench, Edith Layton, was Jewish and she wrote some of the Best. Christmas. Novellas. Ever.  She wrote enough for four or five collections of her holiday stories, and I hope someday they will be available in e-book form.

Christmas Revels MJPMary Balogh is another master of the form who has written many, many Christmas novels and novellas.  She has one collection of five of her Regency Christmas stories, Under the Mistletoe, which is still available in print.  I like to take credit for the collection.  I’d come up with the idea of packaging five of my Christmas stories together as Christmas Revels, and I persuaded my contemporary romance publisher, Berkley, to publish it. 

Not long after, I was talking with the Signet Regency editor who worked with Mary Balogh and me for years.  I forget the context, but I suggested she do an all-Balogh Christmas collection, and she jumped on the idea, with Under the Mistletoe the happy result. 

Christmas Mischief LargeOne of my favorites among my own stories is “The Christmas Cuckoo,” now available in my Christmas Mischief collection, and it contains all the holiday tropes, plus the kinds of characters I write about over and over because I love them. 

A weary soldier named Major Jack Howard comes home from the wars just before Christmas, steps off a coach, and is intercepted by a representative of his distant family who gives him orders about how to make himself presentable.  Not in the mood to be bossed around, Jack gets on the next coach leaving the inn, not caring where it’s going.

Riding on the bitter cold top of the coach, Jack drinks some very potent spirits to Christmas Wedding Belles--Nicolakeep from freezing, and falls asleep in an inn during a short stop to change horses.  Meanwhile, a warm-hearted young lady named Meg Lambert comes to the posting inn to collect Captain Jack Howard, the best friend of her soldier brother, whom she’s never met.

So she goes home with the wrong Jack Howard because he doesn’t know who she is, but he’d follow her ANYWHERE. And then he wakes up sober, and doesn’t want to leave because he is discovering the warmth and happiness he’s never known.

“The Christmas Cuckoo” is outrageous.  It is shameless.  It is schmaltzy.  It is the one of the Mayhem Consultant’s favorite stories, and one Christmas he had me read favorite scenes out loud to him. 

Is there a happy ending?  Do we even have to ask?   <G>  Here’s a very short Christmas story, "Sarah's Sister," also by science fiction author John Scalzi. The story is not science fiction, it’s shamelessly emotional and I loved it.

A_Christmas_Fling--MJPSo what are your favorite Christmas stories?  Ones you’ve read, or ones you’ve lived?  I’d love to hear!

Happy holidays to all from the Wordwenches.  From Christmas to Twelfth Night, the Christmastide period, we'll be posting little holiday favorites  of various sorts, so stop by for some fun. 

May you have a holiday of warmth and laughter–

Mary Jo