Romance changed Julie Cohen’s life. She grew up in Maine, came to England to study fairies, fell in love, and has stayed ever since.
An English teacher, she started writing romance at night between marking essays. Her fourth manuscript was a 2004 short contemporary Golden Heart finalist and was published in 2006 as FEATURED ATTRACTION by Harlequin Mills & Boon. Since then she has written six novels for Mills & Boon and two novels for Headline’s Little Black Dress romance imprint. She has just quit her teaching job and is currently working on her third Little Black Dress, THE HONEY TRAP.
She lives not far from London with her husband, a guitar tech for rock bands, and their baby son, who will probably have an English accent.
Welcome Julie. Since selling your first book, you've been prolific! Tell us about your current books.
MACALLISTER’S BABY (Harlequin Presents Special Releases, August 2007) was originally published in the UK and Australia as DELICIOUS. It’s the story of teacher Elisabeth Read, who is dedicated to her books, to her students, and to staying single...until celebrity chef Angus MacAllister comes to her school one day carrying a squawking chicken. Though she’s distrustful of his fame and his charm, the two of them have to work together to help two disadvantaged teenagers enter a cookery competition. Not so easy when the attraction between them is more tempting than chocolate.
It was originally published in the UK’s Modern Extra line, so it’s a bit different than your typical Presents--it’s very emotional and sexy like a Presents, with a cosmopolitan London setting, but it’s funny and a little offbeat, too.
[Anna - the chicken scene is one of the funniest things I've read!]
SPIRIT WILLING, FLESH WEAK, my September 2006 Little Black Dress release, is still on the shelves here, and available in the USA online through Amazon. The heroine, Rosie Fox, is a fake psychic, who mistakenly makes a true prediction about a tragic train crash. The resulting media frenzy brings with it Harry Blake, a reporter who’s known for debunking the supernatural. He seems intent on exposing her--in more ways than one.
[Anna - Get hold of this book - it is awesome! I read it in one sitting - I couldn't put it down!]
Many people may not have heard of Little Black Dress. Can you tell us a little about it?
Little Black Dress is a new romance line published by Headline Books here in England. The books are fun, sexy romantic reads, aimed at women aged 18-35, and marketed as an indulgent treat. They’re gorgeous little books, pretty and handbag-sized, and are more chick-lit or single-title in feel than category romance. LITTLE BLACK DRESS http://www.littleblackdressbooks.com/
How different do you find it working for two publishers?
The work itself isn’t that different--for example, both my editors are young, beautiful, intelligent blondes who listen to my stupid ideas for my next book, laugh charmingly and then say, “Now, seriously Julie...”
Honestly, the main difference is in the shelf life of the books. Category romances are on the shelves for one month only--but then you keep getting copies of your book translated into every foreign language in the world, which is nice. The Little Black Dresses are on the shelves for longer, which is also nice. Both editors work the same way with me: I give them a vague idea for a book, go away and write it, and then they read it and make me revise it, usually taking out all my cringeworthy jokes.
I love writing for both publishers. Category is so satisfying to write--it’s tightly structured, emotional, and it’s a wonderful challenge taking those old popular hooks and making them new. Little Black Dress is longer and I can really let my imagination run loose and develop character and plot.
How does what you write differ between the two?
Both of them are sexy, emotional romantic comedy, but people have told me they were surprised when they read SPIRIT WILLING after having read my category books, because it had a quite different feel.
Above all, category romance has to be focused on the romance. They’re tightly structured and all about the emotion. I was a lead author for the Modern Extra line, so I was lucky enough to get in at the beginning of something that had very few rules...but in the end there are certain rules for category romance, which the reader expects you to follow.
When I started writing for LBD I consciously chose to break some of those rules. My editor didn’t tell me to--I chose to, so I would know I was writing a different type of book. Writing in first person, for example. Writing about a heroine who’s a professional liar. Killing off a trainful of people in chapter two. Using flashbacks about the heroine’s childhood. Focusing more on the heroine’s development than the romantic story. Not having the hero and heroine meet until chapter five. Swearing.
It’s all stuff you could have in a category novel if you did it right--you can have just about anything in a category novel if you do it right--but it’s unlikely, and rightly so, because the category reader wants a fast-paced romantic story with a sympathetic heroine who doesn’t have a pottymouth, and not a lot of gratuitous death.
You were a GH finalist in 2004. How, if at all, did that help you make the final leap to publication?
It definitely helped me get agents’ attention, both in the UK and in the US. I don’t know if it made a big difference for my first sale, which happened a week before the 2004 RWA conference...the editor already had the requested, revised full when I found out I’d finalled, and I hope she decided to buy it on its own merits, not because of the contest. Maybe she read it more quickly, though. I never asked!
What was the key thing you learned which helped you make that final leap?
Emotion. I think in the manuscripts I wrote before I sold, I was a little scared to fully enter into the lives of my characters, to raise the stakes for everything they did, to really explore the emotion between them. It was when I started imagining myself in the feelings of my characters, and crafting events to heighten those feelings whenever possible, that I think I raised my game enough to get published.
You've now had a number of books published. How do you think your writing/books have changed?
I think I’ve relaxed into my voice more over the past few books (my eighth book in two years, ONE NIGHT STAND, is published in hardback in October 2007 with LBD). I’ve also started deepening my worlds a bit--exploring subplots and setting a little more, not being afraid to take a little time to let a theme or story unfurl. My structure is still tight, but it’s not quite so obsessively tight. I’d like to develop that roominess a whole lot more, though I don’t think I’ll be able to do a J.K. Rowling and make every book an inch or three thicker.
What has been your most fun moment as a published author?
There’s a big list of those, but I think the ultimate fun moment was going to my first Harlequin party a week after I sold my first book, with an invitation handed personally to me by editor Brenda Chin. Perfect happiness.
I also particularly enjoyed saying “cunnilingus” on BBC television when they filmed one of my workshops on writing sex scenes.
Another thing Julie is known for is her use of chocolate in her workshops! And I'm known for my love of Cadbury's Dairy Milk ... the real thing ... from England. And the Cadbury's Hero Assortment is heavenly! Although Aero Bubbles are a new favourite. (Mmmm)
So, Julie and I would like to know ... what is your favourite, to-die-for, chocolate treat?
And if chocolate can't tempt you - LOL - then Julie is giving away a copy of her US release Macallister's Baby!