My guest today is Karen Turner, an author of Regency romances who lives in Australia. She has kindly consented to an interview and I think you will find her lively responses most entertaining and enlightening. Karen in a woman after my own heart, who spends a lot of time researching the period in which she writes because she wants her stories to be as accurate to the period as possible. She has already released two Regency romances, Torn and Inviolate, and she is working on a new romance which is so top-secret that she cannot yet share the title. What a way to pique our curiosity? I can hardly wait for her next romance.
Please welcome Karen Turner . . .
Q: What is your favorite romance genre, and why?
A: I love historical romance — the danger, the thrill and unpredictability of a bygone era. I’m a romantic at heart, often lamenting the fact that we no longer wear those beautiful clothes: the silks, satins and genuine velvets — none of this synthetic stuff! Promenading to be seen, walking for pleasure and appearances, grieving the days when a hat and gloves were mandatory; no respectable man or woman would leave the house inappropriately attired. I love stately homes and formal gardens. I love the structure of strict social etiquette and my heart races when I meet a dangerous fictional gallant!
Q: Do you remember the first romance novel you ever read? What did you like best about it?
A: When I was in my late teens, my mum noticed my interest in history and knowing how much I loved reading, introduced me to the Angelique series by Sergeanne Golon. Translated from the French, these novels sent my imagination into paroxysms of joy as I followed Angelique through more than ten novels during which she was held captive in a harem, became the favourite of a French king and even led a rebellion.
Not only did Angelique’s adventures whet my appetite for historical romance, but I also fell in love with the idea of the series where the same characters are followed from book to book.
Q: Is there any romance author you particularly admire, and if so, why?
A: I absolutely adore Pamela Belle. I have every book she wrote and I have read them over and over. Pamela Belle writes in the most beautiful, eloquent language I have ever read and her historical romances are so well researched that she has been my greatest inspiration. When writing my own books Torn, and the sequel Inviolate, I have attempted to recreate for my readers, that wonder and delight I experienced when reading a Pamela Belle novel. I have often said in interviews that I write the kinds of books I would like to read. One day, someone may compare my writing favourably with Pamela Belle and I will be in my heaven. The closest I have come was when a critic once wrote that my Torn reminded her of Downton Abbey — you won’t find me complaining about that!
Q: How do you begin thinking about a new story, with the characters or the plot?
A: It’s always the characters. I’m not sure how other writers work, but for me the characters show themselves first, then their environment is revealed. As I get to know them their story unfolds and it’s almost like watching a movie roll out before me. While writing Inviolate, my male lead had a friend called Christie. As I was writing Christie’s scene, his personal story — irrelevant to what I was writing at the time — suddenly began to unfold in my mind. In order to complete Inviolate, I had to put poor Christie on hold, but his story has continued to evolve behind the scenes. I now have an entirely new series of books waiting until I’m ready to begin writing them.
Q: When you craft a hero, are you incorporating traits from men you know, or are you writing about a man you have never met, but would like to?
A: This is a tricky one. I’d like to say that my heroes are entirely imaginary, but that wouldn’t be completely true. My male lead in Torn is a chap named Patrick. Patrick has the most enigmatic green eyes — it’s what defines him. A reviewer once said that the colour I described was impossible and it ruined the story for her. That makes me smile because in truth, I borrowed the colour of Patrick’s eyes from a crush I’d had when I was a teenager. This fellow’s eyes were the most incredible emerald shade. I met him years later at a party and although he’d moved into middle-age paunchiness, those eyes were still like magnets! Alright so that’s Patrick’s eyes. I suppose for the rest of him, he is a combination of features I find attractive in a man. He is gentle, humorous, intelligent, but he is not a push-over. My Patrick is tough when it’s needed.
Q: When you craft a heroine, is she mostly the real you, the you you wish you were, or is she someone totally different?
A: I was very careful to make sure my heroine bore very little resemblance to me. My heroine, Alexandra, loves dogs and has curly hair. I think that’s where our similarity ends. Alexandra’s personality was fun to write about because in the beginning of Torn, she is young and naïve. Through the story, she grows and matures, slowly coming to womanhood. I had to think carefully about how I would show that so I thought about how I felt and thought when I was her age. It’s all about the uncertainty of growing up; second-guessing yourself, second-guessing others, trying to fit in. That was really all I could remember about my confused, emotion-fuelled teens. By the time I wrote Inviolate, Alexandra was an adult and had developed her own very distinct personality. Women grew up and married a lot younger then than we do today so I had to rely on my research. My life in my early 20s bore no resemblance to Alexandra’s at all.
Q: Do you always have control of your characters when you are writing, or do they sometimes get away from you? If so, can you share some examples of how you got them back in line, or did you just go with the flow?
A: Oh this is a good one! My answer is a resounding no! I have found that as my characters develop and become fully-rounded people in their own right (at least in my mind) they have a habit of straying from the path I have envisioned for them. One classic example happened while writing Inviolate. I was happily working away one day when suddenly I discovered — yes that’s right! — I discovered that one of my characters was about to die. My immediate reaction was to pull this person back into line but the words just wouldn’t flow. I had no option but to go make a cup of tea and nut it out. What would happen if I let this person die? How would the other characters react? How would it impact the overall story? Okay, what if I force this person to live — would it work? Would it feel awkward? In the end I let nature take its course. You’ll have to read Inviolate to find out what happened.
Q: Many authors have said that writing the first pages of a new story are the hardest to write. Do you find that to be the case?
A: Yes and no. Let me explain. In detail, when you sit down with a blank screen before you and a blinking cursor it can be incredibly hard to get started. After all, you’re embarking on a rather daunting journey of some 100,000 plus words. It’s like stepping into an abyss.
However, in the overall scheme of writing a story I find that starting is the easy part — it’s finishing that’s hard. A friend of mine who is an artist agrees. She said starting a new canvas is easy, but you never know when to stop — there’s always that little bit more you can add. A novel is the same. A story is never finished, there is always more tweaking you can do; at some point you just have to abandon it.
Q: Did your latest romance just flow as you wrote, was it a battle to capture in words, or something in between?
A: My latest romance flowed very easily — all my novels have just flowed. I think it’s because, as I mentioned earlier, they play out before me like movies — all I have to do is write them as I see them. That includes characters, settings, dialogue, scenes and conflicts. I hear voices, I see trees, flowers and grand old homes. I see people, their gestures and what they’re wearing. All I do is write what I hear and see. The words seem to just come.
That’s not to say it’s always classic literature! There are times when I look over my work and realise I’ve written a pile of rubbish. That’s when big chunks are removed. Conversely, there are times when I sit back with a terrific sigh of satisfaction.
Q: When you begin to write, do you know how the story will end, or does that come to you as part of the process?
A: I always know the ending. I know the ending before I begin to write. I have already seen it, heard it and allowed my characters to rehearse it. How they get to the ending is the more difficult part as my characters tend to have their own ideas about that.
Q: Other than one you have created, who is your favorite romance hero or heroine?
A: As far as romantic heroes go, I love, love, love, Sir Alexander St Barbe from Pamela Belle’s A Falling Star. He always gets my heart racing with his dark, sexy looks and witty repartee. Running a close second is Jamie Fraser from Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series.
When it comes to heroines, Pamela Belle hits the mark (again) with Thomasine Heron from The Moon in the Water. She’s understated but intelligent and very real. However, if we’re talking sheer grit and determination, I can’t go past Angelique de Sancé from the Angelique series I mentioned earlier.
Q: Without spoiling the story for readers, can you share something about your latest romance which is not in the blurb or any available excerpts?
A: I’m in the final draft stages of writing the third and final installment in my Torn/Inviolate series. This one features a character with whom I fell in love before I even began writing. He is daring, quite an adventurer, and very dangerous in a way that none of my other characters have been. His love interest is an unlikely young widow with small children. Sounds a little cliché doesn’t it? I promise you it’s not! This is very different! I’m so excited about this story — I can’t wait for it to hit the shelves. Unfortunately my publicist won’t even let me reveal the title yet — even that has me squirming with excitement!
Q: If you could have dinner with one romance author, who would you pick?
A: Ha that’s easy: Pamela Belle. I would sit directly opposite her and beg that she resume her writing career. To my mind, a writer as gifted as she, has no right to retirement!
Q: Where is your favorite place to read romance novels?
A: In my garden on a warm sunny day with the sound of birds singing in the background. Failing a warm sunny day, a cool winter’s day will do just as nicely provided I have a comfy couch, a rug and one of my cats to snuggle with.
Q: Where is your favorite place to write?
A: My favourite place to write is my home office. It looks out over my garden and I love to watch the birds flitting about and the bees buzzing in my flowers. I need to make sure there is nothing to disturb me: no housework, washing or food to prepare, then I put on some mood music (depending on the scene I’m writing) make a cup of tea and get started. I bring my cats’ beds into my office and they sleep on the floor beside me and we will stay there all day. The time flies past so quickly while I’m buried deep in Regency England that I’m often surprised when my husband arrives home from work at the end of the day.
Q: Do you have scheduled times to write, or just when you are inspired?
A: There is no scheduled time, but I must ensure I have cleared my decks — that means making sure there are no other matters to be dealt with, no outstanding housework, no visitors or errands to be run. Besides writing novels, I write financial articles for various industry publications. Writing romance novels is what I love to do most, but to be able to completely immerse myself in my characters’ world I must have no outstanding deadlines with my other writing commitments. All my articles must be up to date. That is the only way I can surrender to my first love.
Q: How long does it take to write a romance novel?
A: Speaking for myself, it can take years. My first novel Torn took nearly five years, although I was holding down a full-time job at the time. As my story took place in the Regency period, I wanted to be sure that the language I used was authentic, my characters’ dialogue was true to the era, their clothes, their homes, even their food were all correct. It was important to me that the reader could truly place themselves in the setting with my characters. Often that meant research I would never use in the book because I had to be able to place myself there too. I had to just know things about the time. It can be very intense and a very long process.
Q: How did you feel when the first reviews started coming out?
A: That was something I was completely unprepared for. It took me a long time to agree to publish Torn because I was so afraid nobody would like it. But when the reviews started to come out and readers raved about it, it was the most humbling and satisfying feeling I could imagine. Of course now that I know so many people enjoyed my books, I put that much more pressure on myself. I’m worried sick about letting people down. Much as I love the book I’m currently working on, I’m going through that whole, ‘is it good enough?’ fear all over again. I suppose other writers go through that too.
Q: Are your friends and family supportive of your craft?
Yes they are. Unfortunately, both my parents passed away before either got to read my work, but my brother and his wife are very supportive. Although I can honestly say my brother has not read my books — I wouldn’t expect him to — my sister-in-law and even her mum are big fans. As for my husband, well I think Stuart is the most supportive husband in the world. Not only has he read Torn and Inviolate and just about everything else I’ve ever written, but he created my website, he produced and edited the trailer for Torn, and he manages much of my publicity and marketing, often collaborating with my professional media relations team, Esencia Communications. I am very fortunate.
Q: Do you have a pet who keeps you company while you write? Can you share a favorite story about this furry companion?
A: I’ve mentioned how my cats keep me company in my office. I often refer to them as my secretary and my receptionist. But there was one particular day when I felt that odd tingling experienced when you’re being watched. I looked out the window to find the neighbour’s cat peeping at me from between the branches of a tree. When he saw me look up, he ducked beneath the leaves but he didn’t know that I could still see his ears sticking up. When I laughed, he realised he wasn’t in trouble. He slowly raised his head and we regarded each other for quite a while. In the end I took a photo of him and posted it on facebook. I later found out that his name is José and he is known for being a bit of a ‘peeping-tom’.
Q: If you were not a romance author, what other creative activities would you pursue?
A: I was very shy and introverted as a child. I was terrible at sport but very good academically — none of these attributes lent themselves to creativity. I was also, however, very musical. I was — if I say so myself — a very good singer and worked as a session singer with a couple of recording studios. If you know where to look, you will find me credited as a backing vocalist on various CDs. Additionally I sang lead vocals with a number of cover bands all through my 20s and 30s and had quite a following. It was only on stage that I came out of my shell. The record producers I worked with encouraged me at the time and I have even had recording contracts put before me, but I wasn’t interested. Given my time again, maybe I would pursue a career in music — who knows?
Q: Do you think one of your romance novels would work well as a movie?
A: I think my novel Torn would definitely work well on a screen because many reviewers have commented about how ‘cinematic’ it is. One reviewer wrote that she could see it rolling out before her like it was a movie which made me smile because that’s exactly how I see my novels as I write. But, no, I don’t think Torn would make a good movie, I think it would work very well as a television series because way too much happens for it to be condensed to a 1 – 2 hour film. Besides, who doesn’t love a weekly date in front of the telly watching a period romance?
Q: In your opinion, is romance read only by women, or do men also enjoy reading romance novels?
A: What a terrific question! I can only talk about my own experience. One of my biggest fans is a man. I met this fellow at a book signing. He bought a copy of Torn and asked me to inscribe it for his mother; he thought it would make a nice Mother’s Day gift. Before giving it to her, he began reading it himself and admitted that he couldn’t put it down. When Inviolate was released, he purchased a copy — also for his mother but said he planned to read it before giving it to her. He contacted me recently to ask how long he had to wait for the third book in the series!
My husband enjoys my books, and a number of other men I know have borrowed them from their wives. I also have a following among the gay community, which I hadn’t expected, and regularly meet some of these fellows at book signings and launches.
So, I guess, in answer to your question, no I don’t think romance is just for women.
Q: What do you think is the most common misperception today about romance novels held by those who have never read one?
A: I think the largest misconception about romance novels is that they are frivolous and light-on when it comes to detail and believability. Sure, there are some like that and there is a place for the light romance. Yet I believe that there is way more to a romance novel than simply a heaving bosom. It’s why I love writers like Belle, Gabaldon, Philippa Gregory, et al. I think a well-crafted, well-written novel has so much more to offer and it’s why we are often waiting years for our favourite author to bring out a new book. To those who have never read one of these romances, I suggest you get your hands on one and settle in for a mind-changing experience.
Q: Will romance still be as popular a hundred years from now as it is today?
A: As long as people love one another — definitely!
Locations where you can purchase Karen’s books, both in print and eBook format:
Dymocks Stores: https://www.dymocks.com.au/stores/vic/dymocks-camberwell
Angus & Robertson: http://www.angusrobertson.com.au/by/Karen%20Turner
Amazon Australia: https://www.amazon.com.au/Torn-Karen-Turner-ebook/dp/B00LRI47MG?ie=UTF8&redirect=true
Amazon United States: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00LRI47MG#nav-subnav
Book Depository: http://www.bookdepository.com/Torn-Karen-Turner/9781922219831
Connect with Karen online at:
Vimeo channel: https://vimeo.com/channels/karenturnerauthor
Public relations: http://www.esenciacommunications.com.au/