“The two most engaging powers of an author,” wrote William Makepeace Thackeray, “are to make new things familiar, familiar things new.” For writers of historical romance, it takes a skillful balance of researching unfamiliar elements of the past and creating a seamless backdrop against which a tale as old as time – the familiar quest for romance – can unfold in fresh and exciting ways. In her latest novel, Upon Your Return, author Marie Lavender aptly rises to this challenge and delivers the story of a young woman whose dreams of adventure and true love yield far more than she bargained for.
Interviewer: Christina Hamlett
Q: Tell us a little about your journey as a writer and what attracted you to making it a career.
A: Well, that’s quite a long story. I’ll try to make it as short as possible. I always wanted to be a writer, ever since I was a kid. I started writing stories then. I went around telling my family, “I want to be an author!” It was never for the fame or the money. I just simply love writing. When I’m writing, when I’m truly in the moment, I’m happy. There is no other feeling in the world like it. I guess I can be myself when I’m writing. And that feels good.
Q: Were you a voracious reader as a child and young adult?
A: Yes. I was always reading, always going to the library to get some book or other. I was in a lot of reading programs as a kid. I spent most of my free time reading. I mean, I even snuck around and when my mom had sent me to bed, I would use a small light to read by.
Q: Who are some of the authors that you would say most influenced your own style of storytelling?
A: As far as contemporary and historical romance, I’ve read a lot of Nora Roberts, Jennifer Blake and Catherine Coulter books. I’m also pretty sure Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones as well as lot of her other reference books helped me to open up in my writing.
Q: If you could have lunch with one of your favorite authors, who would it be and what question would you most like to ask him or her?
A: That’s a tough question! I like so many authors. Though I’d love to meet any of them, of course, I would probably want to visit J.R. Ward (because of my love for paranormal romance) and ask her what inspired her to write the Black Dagger Brotherhood series. It is so great. I just wonder if maybe one of the characters was inspired by a real person.
Q: What are you reading now?
A: Black Rose by Nora Roberts, from her In the Garden trilogy.
Q: Tell us about Upon Your Return and what inspired the storyline.
A: Well, ever since I started writing, stories just come to me without any rhyme or reason. They come in any order too, which can really drive me crazy, but that’s a topic for another time. So, I’m doing something pretty mundane like going to a doctor’s appointment or something, and suddenly I can clearly see the two characters having a pretty intense dialogue session. So as it plays out in my head, I think, “Well, this would be a great story!” Everything just kind of fell into place after that…I mean, I knew pretty much right away what was going to happen with the characters. Of course, I was surprised here and there. But, I somehow knew what to do with it. I look back now, though, and because of how long it took me to write and perfect it, it really seems to be a sum of the romantic experiences in my own life.
Q: Given that it’s set against a historical backdrop, do your characters interact with any real-life people or react to any real-life events?
A: Yes. Though I don’t have an exact scene for it, there is a casual mention that Captain Grant Hill has interacted with Napoleon III before. And some of the story is set against the backdrop of the French intervention in Mexico in 1863. I also did a section on the rise of Feminism in France in the 1830s-40s, and how the heroine reacts to it.
Q: If Upon Your Return were a movie, who would be your dream cast for it?
A: Wow! Hard question. I have thought it would make a good movie, but that’s just the writer in me seeing it play out in my head. I guess I was thinking either Amy Adams or Isla Fisher to play Fara, and maybe Gerard Butler for Grant. I’m not sure about who would play the secondary characters.
Q: What genre is the most challenging for you to write?
A: At this point, I would have to say historical romance. A ton of research goes into it. Of course, it helps to be familiar with the genre, but that doesn’t cut it alone. I am working on the sequel to Upon Your Return right now, and this time around, it’s just as hard. Oh, well. That’s what I asked for, right? But, I’m invested in the characters and I’m going to tell the story. I just have to get some questions answered first.
Q: What comes first for you in planning a story – the setting, the characters or the core conflict?
A: My scenes come to me out of sequence. But, I develop a basic outline of the story right away. I would say the characters are first, then the main conflict, of course. The setting comes later unless it drives the conflict.
Q: If you were teaching a class on Heroes and Heroines 101, what would your primary message be to aspiring writers?
A: Well, a character in any story has to be three-dimensional so that’s the most important. A well-rounded character. A likeable character as well, someone the reader can identify with. It’s funny, but sometimes those little things such as a character’s likes or dislikes don’t come out until later on. And they can always surprise you at any point. With my current work-in-progress, I was pretty sure I had the heroine down pat, but then she went and shocked me with her basic motivation. So, I guess my advice would be this: make good characters, but don’t be afraid to make them human either. Let them make mistakes.
Q: Do you consider yourself a romantic?
A: Oh, yes. I can be logical about some things, of course. But, I have always believed in love, in true love really. And I believe in fate. We all have a purpose in life.
Q: What decisions went into your choice of a publisher?
A: One, I was at my wit’s end with the never-ending pursuit of looking for a literary agent. It’s a tough industry out there. And then, there are really only a select few publishers who take unsolicited manuscripts. Solstice Publishing was my light in the dark. I used Preditors&Editors website like a manual basically because I didn’t want to fall into some kind of trap. But, then I saw Solstice listed there and I thought…hmm. There was nothing negative listed about them. Why not? They had a decent website. And now, I’m so glad I did because the founder, Melissa Miller, is a peach and Nik Morton, the editor-in-chief, is great. The editor they assigned to me, Shawna Williams, was fantastic. Kayden McLeod, the cover artist, did a wonderful job. I just couldn’t have asked for anything better!
Q: What are your thoughts on the fact that self-publishing is steadily gaining in popularity over traditional channels?
A: This is a tough topic because both sides really touch me personally. I self-published 15 books before Upon Your Return was released. I think traditional publishing will always survive. But, I also agree that self-publishing is gaining a momentum. The key for self-published authors, though, is to make sure they edit their work before submitting. I believe there is a lot of undiscovered talent out there, however, and if they choose to self-publish, more power to them. That’s so great! Because showing initiative is important in this business as well.
Q: What’s next on your plate?
A: Well, as aforementioned, I am working on the sequel to Upon Your Return. It will be titled Upon Your Honor. I hesitate to give many details at this point, but the next two books, Upon Your Honor and Upon Your Love, will be about the children from the first book. So I need to finish the Heiresses in Love series (Upon Your Return is book one). I also have a lot of other projects I’d like to work on. I am writing a romantic suspense with another author. And I have several other series and stand-alone books in mind, enough to keep me busy for some time to come.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: Upon Your Return is available on Solstice, CreateSpace, Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Smashwords and Kobo.