Wednesday, January 30, 2013
My Guest Today...Candice Proctor (aka C.S. Harris and C.S. Graham), Author of Absorbing Historical Romances, Tales from Australia and now Mysteries!
For those who comment on this post, one lucky winner will receive the ARC (advanced release copy) of Candice Proctor's new mystery in her Sebastian St. Cyr series, WHAT DARKNESS BRINGS. So, comment for a chance to win!
Welcome, Candy! I have wanted you to be on my blog since I read your first book, NIGHT IN EDEN and I'm delighted you're finally here.
You write amazing historical romance. Your vivid tales from Australia are some of my favorites and I’ve reviewed them on my blog—all 5 star novels in my opinion. How did you pick the heroes and heroines? The particular settings?
I used to live in Adelaide, South Australia, and one year for Mother’s Day my daughters gave me the book The Women of Botany Bay. Although I’d always known England transported woman as well as men, that book was a real eye-opener for me, not only because of its detailing of the horrid conditions under which the women suffered, but because it also made me aware of the emotional impact of transportation on those women, most of whom were mothers and had to leave their young children behind. I kept thinking, how could any woman survive that? The result was Night in Eden, the story of a young mother transported for murder, and the hard man to whom she is assigned.
Because, like most Americans, I knew very little about Australian history, I felt that before I could do a story like that justice, I had to have a better understanding of the history of my adopted country. I probably spent 6-9 months reading Australian history—by the time I finished, I could have taught a course on it! But it was from all that reading that I found the ideas for my other Australian books. I discovered a society in Victorian London dedicated to saving “gently bred” women in economic distress by sending them out to Australia to serve as governesses. Many of the women were predictably miserable, and wrote letters back to the Society begging to be brought home to England.
Their letters are a rich and often hilarious cataloging of the culture shock those women experienced, and inspired what became September Moon. Set in the Flinders Ranges in Victorian times, it’s the story of an uptight Englishwoman horrified by the harsh vulgarities of life in the Outback, and an ostentatiously uncouth Aussie with a sheep station stricken by drought.
The inspiration for my third Australian story, Whispers of Heaven, came from reading about an Irish convict helped to escape by the daughter of the man to whom he was assigned. The real event occurred in Western Australia and the woman stayed behind; I transferred the setting to Tasmania because I’ve always found it such a fascinating place, and of course I gave the romance a happy ending!
I don’t know if you consider Beyond Sunrise one of my Australian stories or not, since it has an Aussie hero but is set in the South Pacific. That story was inspired by my fascination with the intrepid Victorian women who became travel writers.
I also set books in Medieval France, the American West, and Civil War-era New Orleans. My story ideas always came to me as heroines and heroes in a conflict unique to their specific time and place, which eventually came to cause me problems.
How do you write your wonderful stories? Where do you start? And are you a plotter?
I usually kick my story ideas around in my head for several years—sometimes for 10 or more—before I actually write them. When I’m writing a mystery or thriller (I’ve also written contemporary thrillers as C.S. Graham), I like to take three separate ideas or “sparks” that excite me, and weave them together to make a more powerful book. I use the word “excite” very deliberately. I look for sparks that have what I call the “Ooh Factor,” as in “ooh and aah.” The kind of thing that when you hear it, you go, “Ooh;” you’re intrigued and want to know more.
I’m very much a plotter. I shuffle color-coded index cards around on the dining table and write a detailed outline. But once I actually start writing, I let myself follow the magic. I frequently need to stop at various stages and redo my outline.
You have moved from historical romance to writing mysteries…why? Will you ever come back to historical romance? (Your fans, like me, want to know!)
When the historical romance genre began, it was wide open—you could set your books anywhere and do all sorts of things that gradually came to be seen as “forbidden.” Romance writers organizations helped their members get published by teaching them “the Rules,” but I think in the process they also contributed to the narrowing of the genre. I was living in Australia when I first started writing historical romance and I wasn’t a member of RWA, so I didn’t know the Rules. When Night in Eden was published, it created a firestorm amongst romance writers because I inadvertently broke so many of those danged Rules. The book was set in Australia, of all places; the writing was descriptive (something aspiring writers were being told not to do); lots of things besides romance happened in the book, and I killed off not one child but two! Yet the book sold for a large advance, was made a lead title, and was given a huge push. Everyone was asking, how could that have happened?
Frankly, I think it was the exception that proved the rule. I kept writing books set in weird places and times, with strong, realistic historical backgrounds, and I had a wonderful editor, Shauna Summers, who let me do almost anything I wanted to do. But the historical romance genre was heading in a very different direction—toward linked series, and light and funny story lines, or such heavy-handed sexuality that it overshadowed plot and character development. When my house got a new publisher, I started coming under intense pressure to “pick a time and place and stick with it.” Publishers were learning that authors benefited from “branding,” and because they were lazy and unimaginative, that translated into the marketing and sales departments being able to say, “She writes funny Westerns” or “She writes a hot, sexy series about seven Scottish dukes who are all cousins” or whatever.
I decided that if I had to pick a time and place and stick with it, I’d rather write a historical mystery series. Historical accuracy is important to readers of historical mysteries, and they like evocative descriptions. So I developed Sebastian St. Cyr, who is basically a romance hero in a mystery series set in Regency England. It began with What Angels Fear.
Will I ever go back to writing genre romances? Probably not. I refuse to follow the Rules. But I do hope to keep writing historical love stories. My Sebastian series contains within it several powerful love stories, and it’s fascinating to be able to develop a romance and explore characters and their relationships over so many books and such a long period of time. I’ve now followed Sebastian’s life and loves through nine books of heartache and joy. For a writer, that is both challenging and enormously exciting and satisfying.
Why would lovers of the historical romance genre enjoy your mysteries, too?
Many of the most enthusiastic readers of my mysteries are also romance readers. Part of what attracts them is Sebastian himself; he's brilliant, sexy, tough, resourceful, honorable, courageous, and yet wounded, too. And, of course, historical readers love the rich sense of time and place I've always brought to my books.
But I think large part of the series' attraction for romance readers comes from the rich emotion in the books, not simply love and lust, but all the other emotions that both enrich and trouble our lives. Each book in the series contains its own complex, stand-alone mystery. Yet each book is also a chapter in Sebastian's path to redemption, as he must deal with a tragic past and an increasingly complicated present, as he loses and finds love, and slowly begins to heal. I love writing this series. Working with the same set of rich characters over a span of ten years has been an incredible experience for me as a writer. My affection for them is real and deep, and their stories actually excite me more now than when I began.
Did your sister, Penelope Williamson, another of my favorite authors, provide any inspiration or encouragement for you to begin your writing career?
Ha! Penny told me I was crazy to want to be a writer. It’s a killer business, and you really need to have a fire in your belly to survive.
Based on what your sister has hinted at about your family, it seems like you come from a long line of storytellers and great loves…did that influence you? Did it suggest characters to you?
I think all the experiences of our lives, and the people we have known, come out in our writing, one way or another.
What are you working on now?
I’m just finishing the 9th book in my Sebastian St. Cyr Regency mystery series, and starting on #10. My publishers are very excited about this series and pressing for more books, closer together, so this is going to keep me busy for a while. But I also have several ideas for other books I’d like to explore. I believe a series writer needs to keep writing other things, too, to stay fresh.
What is on your wish list for 2013? Any New Year’s resolutions?
On my wish list: good health, and more time to relax. My perennial New Year’s resolutions are to eat well, sleep more, and exercise. I always try, but every year I resolve to do better.
Any tips for new authors?
I’ve been criticized for discouraging beginning writers, but I’m going to echo my big sis’s advice here: this is a brutal business, and you really need to have a fire in your belly to do this. If you can walk away from writing, do. If you can’t imagine living and not writing, then go for it!
See more of Candice Proctor/CS Harris at her website HERE, and comment for a chance to win her latest, What Darkness Brings.