Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Tuesday Special Author Interview: Lisa Valdez

Author Name: Lisa Valdez
Website: www.lisavaldez.com

Genre: Historical
Latest book in shops now: Passion

Before we begin this interview, I need to check that you’re still grounded and that your head isn’t swollen from your success, so with that in mind, what was the last thing you bought at Walmart, and do you know how much a loaf of bread costs? (grin)

Okay, if there were a Walmart in West Los Angeles, I would patronize it—but there isn’t one! I did buy some beach towels at Target, though. Does that count? :) The loaf of bread I bought today was $3.50.

Yeah, the towels definitely count!

OK, let’s talk about Passion...

I’m sure you’d have been asked this question a lot, but however, I’d like to know, what was your inspiration for Passion?

You know, Karen, I ’m not certain what spurred the idea for Passion and her sisters, but I can tell you that the idea for the three of them came to me all at once. I knew their names right away and I knew what they looked like. I knew I wanted their stories to be sensual (each one depicting different fantasies) and I knew I wanted the heroines to be “everyday” historical women.

I also knew they would be devout women—which I particularly love about these characters, because while their sensual natures cause them to sin with the men they adore, it is their ultimate morality that causes them to leave those very men. Indeed, it is their morality that forces their men to rise to greater honour and nobility of character. ----

But let’s see, the inspiration (what brought all these notions to life) for PASSION came when I was cleaning out my book shelves. I came across a catalogue of the Crystal Palace that I had purchased long ago.

As I flipped through the pages, Madonna’s “Beautiful Stranger” was playing on my stereo. I tell you, Karen, the whole opening scene of PASSION began to play in my head like a film. So I just lay back on the floor and let the images roll.

Did you model either Passion or Mark on people you know in real life? *grin*

Well, that’s an interesting question. I don’t think about modelling my heroes or heroines after anyone when I’m creating them, so I guess the answer is no.

But having said that, I do recognize that my heroines always seem to reflect some version or aspect of me, and my heroes some version or aspect of my husband (with a lot of me tossed in there, too). I guess they’d have to—I don’t know if I could write a main character that wasn’t somehow a part of me. Also, I do find that I reveal myself regularly in dialogue.

Passion is not a book for the faint-hearted, did you have a certain audience in mind when you wrote it, and if so, what kind of person did you imagine would be reading it?

No, I didn’t have a certain audience in mind. I don’t think I would even presume to guess at who my audience is, because I think it is actually very broad. Just from the emails I’ve received from readers (approx. 500 since release), I see a huge range in who is reading PASSION.

What I know is that my readers are people from their late teens to mid-eighties, married and single, men and women. They are a wide and varied group in their ethnicity and nationality and in their vocations as well.

Some are parents, some aren’t. Some are pregnant, some are adopting. Most, thank God, are healthy, but a few are suffering serious illness. I guess what I’ve learned is that you can never really know who is going to be moved by any given book, and I would never want to pigeon-hole my reader.

I’ve read enough erotic romance books in my time, and I considered myself quite de-sensitised to words like p*ssy and c*nt, but somehow, with Passion you managed to make me gasp like a virgin in a whorehouse (which I absolutely LURVED!), were you scared that readers would be put off by the explicit sex scenes?

You know, for a minute, I was. But the thing is that you can’t write a book while scared. So, I put my concerns about that aside and just wrote. The period dictated that I use the word c*nt, so there was really no way around the word, not that I feel the need to escape it.

I’m one of those rare modern people who is not offended by the word when it is used in reference to the vagina vs. used in reference to a person or a person’s character. And I guess this is the crux of my attitude about explicit language on the whole—if such words are used in the bedroom, between lovers, in reference to sexual activity, then I really like them.

It’s what feels comfortable to me, and the words have no negative connotation in that context. However, if such words are used as epithets, or tossed around in daily speech in reference to other than sexual activity, then I don’t like them. I am not a woman who ever swears, or “flips the bird,” or uses words like “f*ck” in my everyday speech.

I only ever use the word as a verb—either with my husband, or with my very close girl-friends if we happen to be talking about sex. ----My other thought is this: sex, by its very nature, is an explicit act. Or at least it should be—I think most of us recognize that the Victorian notion of having furtive sex, in the dark, through a hole in a nightgown is rather unsatisfactory.

But I also recognize that people’s sexual behaviour and proclivities fall in a VERY wide range. One of the great things about romance as a genre is that there are books that fall into almost every reader’s comfort zone. So I’ve decided that I don’t think ANY author should worry about putting off readers.

Because whether you write no sex or explicit sex, there will be readers who may be put off by your story. ---For me, explicit sex and romance are NOT antithetical—indeed they are very close bed-fellows (forgive the pun).

In PASSION, I tried to show from Chapter One that what Mark and Passion truly experience is love-at-first-sight. Of course, they don’t recognize it, but I really tried to depict that something entirely outside of their known experience was happening to them. And I tried to show, through Passion’s introspection, that the sex itself was about so much more then just sex.

In Chapter Two, Mark describes Passion to his brother in words that are all about comfort and need and wonder. These sorts of emotions, ratcheted up with urgent, explicit sex, will always be a part of my stories. People who love that will read me, and people who don’t won’t—and that’s okay because there are enough talented authors out there that no one need be let down.

Have any members of your family read Passion, and if so, what kind of feedback have you had from them?

Yes, my mother is one of my first readers. She is a brilliant woman and she is a great supporter of romance fiction. I adore her and she is very proud of me and of PASSION. My great-aunt, a wonderful and sophisticated woman in her eighties read it and couldn’t put it down. When I asked her if she had blushed her way through it, she said, “Oh darling, you simply mustn’t think any of that is new. However do you think we all got here?” She is very sweet...

My sister-in-law thought it was hot, my husband’s cousins, who are fundamentalist Christians {K: Sorry, I have to laugh here!}, didn’t say a word but still invite me to dinner. My husband, my dearest husband, thought it was “sensual,” “well-written,” and “wonderfully romantic.” I adore him.

Wow, I’ve heard from a lot of erotic romance writers that their families aren’t even aware of what they write! You sound like you’ve got a cool family!

I’ve always wondered about this, but as an author, once Passion was published, did you actually go back and read it yourself, and if so, were you able to enjoy it, or did you perhaps see things that made you want to chew your own arm off in frustration? (grin).

I did read it. I bought a copy at my local bookstore and read it that night. There were a few typos that I must have missed on the copy-edits (typos make me crazy), but, other than that, I enjoyed it thoroughly.

With the alleged decline in historical romance, was it risky, having a Victorian setting for Passion, and did you ever consider making her a contemporary heroine?

Gosh, I took so many huge risks with this book that I honestly never even thought about the setting as a risk. But I suppose you’re right, Karen, a Victorian setting is not as common as the Regency, for instance. But I never thought of Passion as anything other than a historical heroine.

I don’t believe she could be a contemporary heroine. I think she is very much a Victorian woman. But I also don’t think Mark and Passion’s story is one that could occur today. Today divorce is so common and people break engagements without too much concern for their reputations. So I think the whole premise is a distinctly historical one.

How do you feel about the success that you’ve achieved with Passion? Is there more pressure on you to push the envelope even further with your next book?

I’m very pleased and honoured that so many people have enjoyed
Passion. Pleasing the reader was my great hope when this book finally hit the shelves, so it is extremely gratifying to know that so many readers have understood and embraced it. I love that.

I do feel pressure—but it is all self-inflicted. The pressure I feel is not so much to push the envelope further (though
Patience does, I think), but, rather, I worry that readers expect a second book that is very much like PASSION. But I want my books to be different, and Patience is a very different story from PASSION. Of course, my voice is my voice, but the characters and their story is different.

Ultimately, I had to put all my worries about that aside and do as I did with PASSION—just write the book. I hope PATIENCE will be well received.

Thanks for answering those ridiculously nosy questions, you can relax now, and tell us a little bit about yourself.

What were your favourite books as a child?

UP A ROAD SLOWLY by Irene Hunt
A LITTLE PRINCES by Frances Hodgson Burnett
DADDY LONG-LEGS by Jean Webster

All fairy tales

Wasn’t A Little Princess just truly scrumptious! I’m a fairy tale lover too!

What does a typical day as a writer consist of?

Well, my typical day is the following: I work out early in the morning with my mom. After I get home, I make breakfast for my family and see my husband and girls off to school and work.

Then I usually throw a load of laundry in the washer, tidy the kitchen, make the bed, change out of my work-out clothes, and then go to my office (which is in our home). I check email to be sure there is nothing from my agent or editor, and I also read my reader mail so that I can consider what they may have said or asked me.

I usually do my quick replies in the evening after my little gals have gone to bed, and I save the longer ones for Friday during the day. Then I write and, except for taking our dog for a mid-day walk, I pretty much stay at it until it’s time to pick up the girls from school.

Since I am a stay-at-home wife and mom, I obviously have to do the job responsibilities that go with that as well—so I menu, market, keep our social calendar, bill-pay, run errands, etc. on a schedule that I work into my writing schedule through the week.

Once I leave my office to pick up my girls, I usually don’t write for the remainder of the day (unless I’m on deadline, in which case, it may be necessary to go back to writing after my girls go to bed). But, in general, I feel very strongly about my responsibilities as a wife and mother, and I don’t like for my writing to intrude upon my time with my husband and children.

So my afternoons and evenings are filled with cooking dinner (I love to cook), helping with homework and, a couple of days a week, going to classes. My daughters do Kung Fu (along with their dad) and my younger daughter and I take Flamenco.

My girls go to bed at 8:30, so the time between then and 10:30 is my alone time with my husband. Weekends are generally reserved for family activities—but, again, if I’m on deadline I might write for a few hours over the weekend as well. It’s a happy and full life.

Sounds delightfully action packed to me, Lisa!

Name your top five favourite books of all time.

Man, only five?! Let’s see, books excludes plays, so Shakespeare is out. I, like Alfred Swittley, am a great fan of Shakespeare. Okay—MOBY DICK by Herman Melville, TESS OF THE D’URBERVILLES by Thomas Hardy, GREAT EXPECTATIONS by Charles Dickens, THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO by Alexandre Dumas, and McTEAGUE by Frank Norris.

We have a lot of books in common!

I know you only said five, but the BIBLE (the King James Version) and BOETHIUS are two additional books that I are must reads for me.

Which authors are you glomming at the moment? (reading a lot of?)

I’m not reading anyone. I find I can’t read while I’m writing, so I do most of my reading between books.

Do you have other close romance writer friends, and if so who are they?

There are many romance writers in my RWA chapter that I consider friends, although I don’t feel I’ve been there long enough to call them close friends. I hope they shall become so.

When did you realise that you wanted to write books, and who or what inspired you?

I first thought of it in college. It was there that characters began floating around in my head. I think all the wonderful literature I was reading at the time inspired those early characters.

As a newly published writer, can you tell us a little about your journey to publishing heaven, and what important things you’ve learned so far about this industry?

With my first novel, a medieval, I sent out numerous queries to various agents and editors, and was rejected numerous times. The comment I typically got was that it was too “classic.” I finally determined that meant that it wasn’t p.c. enough.

So, I stopped all submissions for a bit and, while I tightened my medieval (it’s still not p.c.) and started other work, I began to really research agents and editors. Once I had decided on an editor that I really wanted (Cindy Hwang), I proceeded to enter every contest I could that she was judging.

She actually had my medieval under consideration when she got PASSION and offered to buy it.

My experience is very brief, but I think the most important thing I’ve learned so far about this industry is how important it is to be persistent and determined about one’s work. Had I changed the kinds of characters I write, or been intimidated by the commentary in some of my rejections, I would never have written PASSION.

If you could have a one-to-one conversation with a famous historical figure, who would it be with and what would you talk about?

It would be Abraham Lincoln. I don’t know what I would talk about—I would probably just weep. I think he is one of the most noble and courageous men to ever live. I admire him greatly, and I keep the Gettysburg Address on my bulletin board.

What is your ultimate goal when it comes to your writing?

I don’t know. I don’t think I will know for some time.

Has anything a reviewer or reader said or written about you changed the way you write? Rosie’s Question

No, Rosie. If I allowed that, I think I would soon be incapable of writing. While I respect any politely stated criticism, ultimately, I can only write as I think best.

Who are your favourite romance hero and heroine of all time?

Wow, Karen, that’s another really difficult question! I guess I would choose Wulfgar and Aislinn from THE WOLF AND THE DOVE by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss. I choose them because they feel like real medieval characters to me. I loved their romance because it seemed appropriate for 1066 (and I’m a push-over for a man in chainmail).

What kind of characters would you say you typically wrote? – Lisa’s question

Hmm, good question, Lisa. Typically, I like alpha heroes, and intelligent heroines that have some gift. The gift could be painting or music, but it could also be intuition or kindness. I like very bad, Dickensian villains, and I like supporting characters that are more light-hearted. I like un-sanitized characters—and I guess, in general, my characters (heroes, heroines and villains) all suffer with some kind of desperate yearning for something.

It is this need, overt or hidden, that drives them to do the things they do. I adore quiet desperation. It pushes people over the brink—heroes and heroines into each other’s arms and into love, and villains into frantic viciousness and even madness.

If only one person could read your book, who would that be? (as in the person who you would want most to read your book) Rosie’s Question

Wow, Rosie, I have no idea! I know several readers who really adored PASSION and seemed to get all the small, subtle things I tried to get acrosss. I suppose one of them.

If you had to pick, who would you say has been most influential within the romance genre? Kendall’s question

Boy, another difficult question! You know, Kendall, I’m not trying to skirt the question, I just think there are so many talented and influential authors in romance, that I don’t know who I would choose.

What was the last movie you saw?

NARNIA. I loved THE LION THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE when I was a girl and my older daughter started the books about two years ago. We went as a family and really loved it. And, of course, I love the biblical themes that are in the story.

Name your top five favourite romantic films.

ROMEO AND JULIET (Franco Zeffirelli’s version)
TRISTAN AND ISOLDE (I saw an advanced showing, it’s coming out this month).

What was the last book you read?


What do you enjoy most about being a writer?

Most of all, I love the moments when I find myself leaning forward in my chair, tense and amazed, as my characters suffer or rejoice through their emotional highs and lows. I wept, smiled, and sighed with satisfaction as I wrote PASSION.

What do you least enjoy about being a writer?

The moments when I sit staring at my computer screen and nothing comes… Hate that!

How long had you been writing before you were published?

I had been writing off and on for seven years, and in real earnest for three years.

Have you any advice to aspiring writers who haven’t been published yet?

I really believe that the best thing any aspiring writer can do is write with their whole heart. Write something that moves you deeply—something that you care about—and then pull out all the stops. Hold back nothing and do your worst to your characters. Make them suffer and then give them sweet reward. Make your characters unforgettable…

Finally, I believe you’re currently writing about Passion’s sister Patience, what can we expect from her story and when will it be released?

Patience is scheduled for release August, 2006, {K: Aaaaargh too far away dammit!}. Readers can expect a dominant/submissive relationship between Matthew and Patience—but, really, the story is about the power of submission.

Readers will see a part of Matthew they didn’t see in PASSION, and they will be introduced to the beautiful Patience—an independent, confident young woman who hides past hurts beneath a shield of autonomy that doesn’t allow her to need anyone. But Matthew will show her that she has needs only he can fulfil, and this will cause her house of cards to come tumbling down. But will Matthew prove strong enough to keep her, or will his own need for control overpower his need for love?

Ooh, I’m all giddy from the sheer anticipation, I can’t wait!

Thanks so much for taking time out to answer my questions Lisa!!!

Thank you so much for having me, Karen. Your questions were interesting and thought provoking. I hope you have a great 2006! :)

That’s all for now folks! Next week, it’s a toss up between
Loretta Chase and Catherine Anderson. Tune in next Tuesday to see who gets a place in the hot seat!

Ciao for now!