Uncovering Romance with Anna Campbell
In the lead-up to her fantastic romance masterclass in September, we talked with award-winning romance writer Anna Campbell about her journey to publication, the keys to crafting a great romantic journey, and her advice for aspiring romance writers.
1. Hi Anna, can you start off telling us a little bit about yourself and your novels?
Thank you for having me as your guest today on the blog. I write full time and I live on the Sunshine Coast. I’ve had six award-winning historical romances published with Avon/HarperCollins in North America and HarperCollins Australia (my books have so far gone into 11 other languages). My next release Seven Nights in a Rogue’s Bed (October 2012), the first in the “Sons of Sin” series, is with Grand Central Publishing in North America, although I’m delighted that my relationship with HarperCollins Australia will continue.
My stories are set in the first quarter of the 19th century. Think Jane Austen; Napoleonic Wars; Georgette Heyer; rise of the industrial revolution, companionate marriage, the British Empire, and agitation for representative government. Also think lovely dresses, men in boots and breeches, and the glittering social whirl! You can find out more about my books on my website.
2. Tell us about your experiences writing in the romance genre—what challenges and hurdles did you face?
I love writing romance. Every day I get to play with interesting characters in intriguing situations. I think it’s a pity that romance fiction is still in a ghetto in Australia as far as the wider public is concerned (although sales are healthy, so clearly somebody is buying romance!). It always surprises me when I meet people with strong and generally negative opinions about the genre, yet when I challenge them, they’ve either never read a romance, they read one when they were 12, or they’ve read a romance and enjoyed it without identifying that it was actually a romance because it was marketed as mainstream fiction.
3. There are many types of romance—from historical romances, like your own regency novels, to steamy contemporary romances and everything in between—given the diversity of the romance genre what do you think are the essential elements to creating great romantic storylines?
Actually I had to smile at this, because you answered it really well in your next question! A great romance novel needs to be emotionally compelling, whatever the level of sensuality or whatever the setting. Readers need to love your characters and take that emotional journey with them to the satisfying ending. Most commercial romantic novels these days have a happy ending – that mythological structure of characters overcoming challenges (in a romance, challenges always include emotional growth, so the hero and heroine are better, wiser, more fulfilled people at the end than at the beginning), then achieving their reward meets a deep need in most of us.
I’m really looking forward to addressing the essential elements of a memorable romance in my masterclass for the Queensland Writers Centre on Sunday 23 September. I also look forward to hearing the participants’ thoughts – most romance writers are avid readers of the genre so we all have opinions on what makes a great story.
4. For many of us, myself included, reading a good romance novel is all about connecting on a deep personal level with the characters and the challenges they face. How do you ensure your novels and the characters in them connect with your readers?
There are specific techniques for endearing your characters to readers – I highly recommend Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat. Having said that, I’m not nearly so analytical when I’m telling a story. I write certain characters because I find them compelling (not necessarily admirable, although they all learn the errors of their ways by the end) and I’m interested in the journey they take. I hope that characters I love will strike a chord with readers – so far, that’s been the case, touch wood.
5. Tell us about your ideal romantic hero. What are the key elements that go into making a swoon-worthy hero?
People who don’t read romance think it’s all about looks – and of course handsome heroes can form part of the fantasy. But on a more profound level, a hero is a man who either is – or is capable of becoming – honest, brave, honourable, steadfast, loyal. You know, all the cardinal virtues! My heroes tend to have a touch of darkness in their souls (I specialise in redemption stories, I’m not quite sure why), brains and a sense of humour.
6. When writing a historical romance how important is the research process?
For me, it’s very important. I love immersing myself in this glamorous, exotic, Regency world. I’ve always loved history and these days, I’ve got a pretty good grip on the Regency period before I start writing. But still each book throws up something I need to research in depth. For example with Captive of Sin, I needed to research the East India Company. With Untouched, it was the treatment of mental illness in the early 19th century (hair-raising reading). Because I set my books in the United Kingdom, I travel there regularly to scout locations and take tea in stately homes. A perk of the job!
7. Tell us about your road to publication—in your opinion what are the main challenges and hurdles that emerging romance writers should be aware of?
I finished my first historical romance just after high school and it was twenty-seven years later when I sold my debut novel Claiming the Courtesan to Avon in New York in a three book deal. In between, I tried many different styles of romance, including Mills and Boons and family sagas and contemporaries, but I kept coming back to historicals which were my first love. I was shy about submitting to publishers for most of that time, which now strikes me as rather silly. Having said that, all that time in my garret helped to develop my individual voice.
The publishing industry is currently undergoing a complete upheaval. Romance readers, because they buy books in such volume, were early adopters of digital technology and are now supporting self-publishing in a big way. Many established authors are eschewing traditional publishing and following the independent publishing path. My advice to emerging romance writers is to do your homework – there are a lot of sharks out there and traps for young players.
8. What advice would you give emerging romance writers looking to be published?
My advice is to ensure the work you submit is as good as you can possibly make it before you submit it to an agent, a publisher or readers. My other advice is read, read, read. Read the classics in the genre and read what’s being published now. Good books will inspire your writing and knowing what’s hot in the market will help you target your work for best results. I’d strongly recommend joining Romance Writers of Australia. They’re a wonderful organisation and I firmly believe I wouldn’t have been published if I hadn’t joined them back in 2000.