Interview by Caren Crane
Many Banditas can point to a published author friend and say, "This author taught me everything I know about the business." I am happy to say that for me, that author is Claudia Dain. Claudia began her career writing historicals in a variety of time periods for Dorchester. After a brief hiatus, she is back with her first book for Berkley, a Regency-set historical titled The Courtesan's Daughter. Welcome, Claudia!
Caren: Claudia, you are known for your dark, emotional stories and rich historical detail. Can we expect more of the same from The Courtesan's Daughter?
Claudia: Thanks for the warm Banditas welcome, Caren. I'm thrilled to be here.
I'm almost afraid to answer this first question! Is The Courtesan's Daughter dark? No, it's not dark; I would call it a bawdy romp. I was ready for something different and decided not to fight the urge. I'm glad I gave into it since this book was a joyride from start to finish.
Is it rich in historical detail? That's a tougher one to answer. I think what people were responding to in my dark historicals was that the characters felt true to their time; the heroine didn't think like a 21st century woman and never behaved like one. It wasn't that I devoted 10 pages to describing the interior of a building, it was that the characters acted appropriately within their setting. That's my impression, anyway, and I can say without qualification that the characters in The Courtesan's Daughter behave very much the way they should, given who they are. But I still haven't spent 10 pages describing a house!
Caren: Wow, this sounds like a real departure from your old style of writing. I understand the Courtesan books will be a new series for you and you have already written the second. Are you having fun writing books with a lighter tone?
Claudia: I'm having more fun than I've ever had before and I think it shines through in the writing. This is just a fun, sexy romp in the vein of Oscar Wilde (which is what my editor compares it to and which tickles me to death). The Courtesan's Daughter begins what I hope will be a very long running series. I have multiple books planned and while each book stands alone, they are stronger when taken as a whole.
At the risk of boring non-writers, the romantic couple of each book stands alone, their story arc complete to that book, but the courtesan's story is the foundation for all the action and her arc will take multiple books to complete. That foundation, which is fairly dark, is what holds the books together. I guess it proves that I didn't leave 'dark' and 'emotional' behind completely!
The concept for the series began with what I'm calling the 'anchor character', and that's Sophia, the courtesan of the title. It took more than a year for her to come together in my mind, to be fleshed out, and it's her complex backstory that is the foundation of the fascinating, unique woman she is. It will be the slow revelation of her backstory that answers every question about her motivation.
As is typical for me, setting defines character to a great degree and this is especially true of Sophia. My husband is wildly in love with Sophia. To be honest, so am I. She is the most interesting, layered, compelling character I've ever created. It is a pure joy to spend time with her every day.
Caren: Your Dorchester books invariably contained dark, tormented, delicious heroes. (Does anyone else remember Richard the world's sexiest monk from The Marriage Bed? *swoon*) Are your Berkley books similarly endowed?
Claudia: Oh, another tough one. You wouldn't think talking about my heroes would be a tough assignment, would you? The heroes in the Courtesan Series aren't dark, at least not taken as a whole. Generally speaking, each one is a wonderful, sexy man who displays a real appreciation of the heroine as she is. True love, in my definition, means seeing the object of your affection as she truly is and loving her without reserve. Of course, each hero is different and completely individual, but the focus of the Courtesan series is really on the individual heroines. There will be lots of diversity in both heroes and heroines, but the weight of the story will fall on the heroine. This is a woman's story.
Caren: Claudia, to shift gears a bit, you are known by many for your astute business sense. Your "Publishing As a Blood Sport" talk is an RWA conference favorite for many people. Can you tell us, in a nutshell, what are things writers should be aware (and wary) of? For agented writers, what is the author's role in her/his career and what is the agent's role?
Claudia: Finally, an easy question! In a nutshell, too many writers are too emotional about the business of publishing. Bad business decisions, like the hiring or firing of an agent, are made from an emotional foundation. Picking an agent because you enjoyed talking with her in the bar at a conference is not good business. Staying with an agent primarily because you've developed an emotional bond with her is not good business. Vowing never to write for an editor because once she rejected you is not good business.
In a different vein, I also believe that an author's strongest asset is her voice and that, once identified, it should be protected at all costs. In my opinion, having a strong voice is clearly an asset once you're published and have a growing fan base, but it can make it harder to get published in the first place.
As for agents, I am of the opinion that an agent is an essential ingredient in doing business. I've always felt this way, even before I was published, so this is nothing new and I'm unlikely to change my opinion now. But, having said that, your career as an author will always mean more to you than it does to anyone else. Your agent has a career she is trying to build and protect. The same is true of your editor. Knowing that each of you is pursuing your own best career track is what makes making business decisions easy.
Too often it seems to me that authors want to hand their careers over to their agent. It's tempting! Who wouldn't want to pass that burden off onto someone else, someone competent? But it is your career. You have to protect it. If writing is your business, then you have to treat it like your business. Your agent's business is being an agent to many authors, not only you. Your business is to succeed as a writer and it has to be your sole priority. Of course, this 'business plan' includes writing a great novel, but that's only part of it.
I think the hardest part of being a published author is realizing that you now have to be a small business owner as well. It's exhausting work!
Caren: Those of us who were in the audience of the RITA and Golden Heart awards ceremony at the Romance Writers of America national conference this year heard you, specifically, mentioned by award recipients on the stage. Twice. Both recipients thanked you for advice on fashion and shoes. It seems that, as well as having a reputation for great business sense, you are also known for great fashion sense. Have you always been a connoisseur of fashion?
Claudia: I'm blushing! I don't know about my great fashion sense since I did own a pair of gauchos at one point, but I have always loved fashion and have been both willing to go along with the current trends and known what works for me and what doesn't. It's like walking a balance beam! I was the first girl in my high school to stop wearing mini skirts and bell bottoms (which tells you more than I want you to know about my age), and I was teased by the boys for my "hem falling down" and for my stovepipe pants. I had the last laugh, didn't I? Or did they?
Now I have a fun question: Speaking of being a fashion victim, I've confessed to gauchos, which are back in style. What have you worn that turned you into a fashion victim? I know Caren has knickers in her past... (Caren: Hey, I resemble that remark. But they were olive green, thin-wale corduroy and it was 1979 - so hip!)
Sophia, my courtesan, has never suffered a fashion disaster in her life, which is only one reason why she's the perfect heroine. I'm giving away a copy of The Courtesan's Daughter, maybe to the winner of The Worst Fashion Mistake of My Gorgeous Life? I had a friend once who wore Band-Aids over her *&^# underneath a sheer black dress. They showed. It was not pretty.
Thank you, Banditas! I'm looking forward to hearing about all those fashion faux pas! Don't leave me alone in my gauchos, I'm begging you!
Caren: (whispers) Just for fun, check out the Lego stop-action review for The Courtesan's Daughter at Dear Author!