by Anna Campbell
I first met the fabulous Jane Porter at Romance Writers of Australia's 2003 conference. She was our keynote speaker and I was blown away by how smart, sincere and perceptive she was. Since then I've become addicted to her stories. If you want an honest, compelling, passionate read, I can't recommend her writing highly enough. And it seems this year's RITA judges agree with me as ODD MOM OUT is a finalist in the Novel with Strong Romantic Elements category.
Congratulations on the RITA nomination, Jane! I have trouble keeping up with everything you do! You’re amazing. Let’s start with your most recent single title, MRS. PERFECT (available 5th May), which has received rave reviews from Publishers Weekly and Romantic Times. Can you please tell us about this story?
MRS. PERFECT, like ODD MOM OUT, explores the theme of appearances, self-image and what lies beyond the public image. We women tend to be so hard on each other and I wanted to write about two women who didn’t like each other, yet were forced to deal with each other on a regular basis. I discovered that these women, although quite different from the other, actually had a lot in common. I also discovered that at the end of the day, we women have to be compassionate towards each other, but also towards ourselves. I really love this new book, too. It’s a story very close to my heart and I hope readers will enjoy it, too.
You write both single title books and classic Harlequin romances. Do you approach the stories differently? Do you think at heart, you’re telling the same story? What are the advantages of straddling a category and a single title career? What are the challenges?
I don’t approach my Harlequin and 5 Spot books that differently. Each time I sit down to write, I want to believe there’s a different process at work, but then it turns out to be the same: write and write and write until I find the passion in the story, and the truth, because every story has its own truth. Every story has a reason for being written. My goal is to find the meaning then grow it, flesh it, blow it up like a child’s beach raft. I want every story as full as it can be and in that respect, writing is the same. It does help, though, that I write the Harlequins in third person and the 5 Spot novels in first. I also like to think of my Harlequin heroines as modern day fairy tale princesses, while my 5 Spot novels are the women next door, or the woman sitting across from me in the airport lounge. One is more mythic while the other is more realistic, but at heart, I am telling the same story, and it’s a story I’ve been telling a long time-—we all deserve love, we all deserve a wonderful life, we all should take risks and go for more because this is the only life we’ve got and we want it to be the great adventure we’re hoping for. I don’t know if there are advantages to straddling category and single title. Sometimes switching back and forth between the two is really hard for me and I lose some significant writing time. But the positive is that it keeps me and my writing and voice fresh. So perhaps that’s the advantage—it doesn’t allow me to get too comfy. I’m always switching it up and hopefully, ultimately, it improves the quality of my writing and storytelling. In the barest market terms, I personally find category less stressful than the single title market. Category has a safety net below it that the single titles do not, and Harlequin Presents has a huge net because the name is so recognized that readers look forward to the new releases every month and there’s a good chance my books will be bought simply because they are Presents. That’s quite a relief as I never know what will happen when my 5 Spot book hits the shelves. I hope people will go out and buy my books, but will they know a new one is out? Will they wait fourteen months for a follow up? Or will they find another author to read instead?
I think you’re one of the finest writers working in category at the moment, particularly when it comes to intense, passionate stories. Can you tell us about your latest Harlequin Presents? What do you think is the secret to the popularity of Harlequin Presents? What advice would you give to someone targeting this line, Harlequin’s most popular?
My April and May Harlequin Presents are linked. They’re duet books, sheikh books, about two of the three royal Fehr brothers. I love writing sheikh books and these were particularly fun as I got to explore new cultures and customs. Parts of the April book are set in the United Arab Emirates and the May book is almost entirely set in Egypt. I’ve wanted to write about these places for years and it was such a blast. Probably some of the most fun I’ve had writing in years. I think Presents’ appeal in large part rests on its diversity in tone and style. The author voices are undiluted and the storylines, while at times beloved and familiar, are reinvented by each author. Readers love their alpha heroes, too, and I also think readers love intensity and seduction as well as passion and that’s the Presents promise-—passion guaranteed. If a writer wants to write for Presents you need to know the line. You need to read the line. You should read sheikh books by Penny Jordan, Susan Stephens, Sharon Kendrick, Trish Morey and see how we all handle our sheikhs so differently. Then read the Greek tycoons and read a Lucy Monroe and then a Sandra Marton and a Kate Walker. Read across the line and then write. Write your sheikh. Write your Greek tycoon. Write your gorgeous Italian. Make the classic Present themes yours. Because that’s the best way to sell to the line--understand it takes a strong voice and a strong vision and then heart, lots of heart and just go for it, making sure you are pushing your voice, and the sensuality and the characters to the max. Don’t write safe. Write like this is the only book you’ll ever write. Hold nothing back. And then submit and if it comes back, try again. It’s the only way to succeed. Take it on the chin and then come back for more. We writers have to have strong hearts to deliver the ultimate love story to our readers.
I think you’re a master (mistress?) at writing emotion. I cried my eyes out in THE FROG PRINCE and found myself caught between laughter and tears in FLIRTING WITH FORTY, which for anyone who hasn’t read it, is a wonderful story about having the courage to take life’s unexpected paths. Do you have any hints on how you achieve this emotional punch and depth?
Thank you for yet another lovely compliment, and I wish I could say that it’s luck, or talent, but really, it comes from being sensitive and having taken some hard knocks in life. I have a wild heart and when I write all the stuff I don’t want people to know, comes out. All the needs and hope and pain. All the grief and loss. All the bitter disappointments and unanswered dreams. I can point to the places where my life hurt and my heart broke—-the death of my father when I was fifteen. I waited years for him to come back and I tried for years to keep my family together so we’d all be there for him. But he didn’t come back and we got my stepfather instead who ruled our family by ruling my mother with his fist. I still can’t write about that too much because it’s such a wild, livid hurt. To see a huge man take down a woman, and not just any woman, but your mother, breaks not just your heart, but something in your mind. Living with domestic violence gave me thoughts and emotions that aren’t civilized and the only way I got through those seven years was by being bigger, fiercer, angrier than the violence around me. People look at Jane with her shiny hair and straight teeth and they don’t know I use hair and teeth and pretty clothes to hide the animal in me, the one that was hurt so badly and the one who will hurt others if they get too close to my family. These thoughts, these emotions are suppressed now but they surface when I write and instead of shrinking from them I let the beast loose and say to myself, ‘bring it on.’ Bring it on! Whew. I’ve faced some pretty big demons and I just thank God I’m not fifteen anymore. Or seventeen. Or twenty-five. Thank God I’m in my forties and so much tougher, as well as optimistic. Writing helped heal me, but writing also breaks me open again and there I am, confronting all the sad parts and pain, the teenage girl who can’t accept death and violence. I’m lucky I write. Writing allows me to reframe life, and to create better endings, happier endings. Fortunately, as I’ve grown, my stories have grown and my characters have, too.
You’re a dynamic presenter, a wonderful ambassador for romance writing. Does promotion and public speaking come naturally to you or did you have to work at it? Also do you have any advice for (often introverted) writers forced into the public light, as we all are in this day and age?
Anna, I have to work at everything. I really do but I suppose I don’t mind working hard. Regarding public speaking, that isn’t as difficult for me as for some because I grew up doing theatre and when I was on stage inhabiting a character, I felt free and safe because I was no longer me. And when I began public speaking, I would revert to the inner actress in me. I’d project confidence and hopefully charisma but it isn’t effortless. I’m often exhausted later, when I’m ‘off stage’, exhausted from trying to be more than I am, better than I am. I always try so hard because I’m afraid of disappointing people, afraid of being belittled. My advice to introverted writers is to focus on the message you want to give/share. Believe in the message, know why you want to share it, and if you find it difficult to believe in it, then maybe you don’t want to do the whole public speaking thing. One can be a NY Times bestseller without ever speaking at a single conference or awards ceremony. Do promo to the extent it works for you and nothing beyond that. Seriously. I’m trying to scale back on my speaking and promoting because it’s begun to get in the way of my writing. It’s easier for me than writing but I can’t make a career off of speaking. That’s not why I’m in this industry so its time to focus on my priorities so that’s what I’m doing in the next couple of years. Words for books and less words at podiums.
FLIRTING WITH FORTY is currently being filmed for Lifetime TV with Heather Locklear playing Jackie. How does it feel to know one of your stories is moving into another medium? Odd? Exciting? Scary? What do you think made this story cinematic? My guess is the gorgeous surf instructor Kai, but then, we both know I’m shallow! ;-)
The movie thing is great. It’s quite surreal though and I have moments where I don’t understand any of this at all. Why my book? Why Lifetime? Why Heather? Why now? It took me so long to sell the first book, and I’ve taken so many hard reviews, why the good? And then I think. Why not? If I can take the bumps and the blows, why not happy things? In terms of the actual movie, it’s really quite different than the book. It’s the same concept but with different scenes, although yes, the sexy surfer remains.
What’s coming up next in the world of Jane Porter?
What’s next for me? More books. My next 5 Spot novel will be out in July 2009, I’ll have another Harlequin or two out in ’09 as well, and I’m looking forward to spending more time with friends and family. And fingers crossed, having one more baby, too.
Thanks for a great interview, Jane! Jane has very generously offered commenters TWO prizes. One lucky person will win ODD MOM OUT, her RITA finalist. Another lucky person will win the Harlequin Sheikh Duet of KING OF THE DESERT, CAPTIVE BRIDE and THE SHEIKH'S CHOSEN QUEEN. So let's put our imaginations to work. Pick a favorite romance novel or two and cast the hero and heroine and tell us why. Good luck!