Thursday, Feb. 14, 2002
From her home in Pasadena, Md., Kelsey Roberts has written 26 books in eight years, writing as quickly as one novel every two months. Her books have sold 3.7 million copies worldwide. Roberts received the Romantic Times 1995 Best Harlequin Intrigue award for Undying Laughter, and the 1997 Romantic Times Award for Career Achievement in Romantic Mystery and a Reviewer's Choice Award for In the Bride's Defense. In 1999 she launched another series, The Landry Brothers.
Roberts teaches writing at Anne Arundel Community College and has been a speaker for Romance Writers of America, Washington Romance Writers, National Capital Novelists, and The Maryland Writers Association.
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washingtonpost.com: Hello Kelsey
washingtonpost.com: Thanks for joining us today, Kelsey Roberts. To start, can you tell us how you became a romance novelist?
Kelsey Roberts: Hi . . . first, be warned, I'm a terrible typist. My mind works faster than my fingers, so spellchecker is my best friend. I hear I'm pretty popular with copyeditors as well -- I do keep them on their toes.
I was an avid reader, a habit I got from my mother. I discovered romance novels and was hooked. After a few years as a huge fan, I began to study the genre and decided that (with a great deal of help from many rejections) my voice was best suited to romantic suspense. I began seriously pursuing a career as a writer in the late 1980s. At the time, I had a three-year-old, a full-time job and a supportive husband. With the help and knowledge I garnered from joining writer's groups, I honed my craft and on February 10, 1993, I sold my first book to Intrigue. I got "THE CALL" at my office. My husband immediately sent flowers and my co-workers were delighted. I did keep my 'real' job for another year plus, but I became a full-time, self-supporting writer in May, 1994. By that time I had sold additional 4 books, and felt I could devote my energies to writing.
Springfield, VA: Good morning Ms. Roberts:
I am an aspiring romance writer and an avid journal and poetry writer; however at this time, unpublished with grand dreams of someday being a published writer.
You touched briefly on your rise to published writer, but my question is how did you find those writer's groups and how did you eventually break into the romance market? (i.e. - did you have an agent, did you join Romance Writers, do you have an English degree...) Your story was an inspiration to me. Thank you for sharing.
Kelsey Roberts: Hi! I did join Romance Writers of America (www.rwanational.com)but that was actually my second writers group. The first group was a devoted group of literary aspirants. I wasn't warmly received. Through local chapters, I found a core group of friends and we all started meeting for critique. That was probably the best thing I did.
As for an agent, the market is much tighter now than when I started. Almost all of the publishing houses require agented submissions. I do not currently have an agent, but I am 'interviewing' as I have a mass-market proposal ready to go. I would strongly urge you to find a friendly community of writers. I would also urge you not to give up. I know that's hard, but I had 10 years of failure before my first sale.
Washington, D.C.: I'm trying to be a writer, but so far have only gotten rejection letters. How did you manage to stay focused and motivated when you were rejected?
Kelsey Roberts: I always began working on another book before I received a rejection. That helped, because I could put the rejection in perspective and learn from the editor's comments for my current work in progress. I have NEVER rewritten an idea. If it fails, it is dismissed. I'm not good at molding an idea into what someone else wants, I find it much easier to start from scratch. Good luck!
Arlington, Va.: I used to read category romances from Harlequin and Silhouette, but gave up several years ago because it seemed like every book involved either (1) cowboys, (2) secret babies, (3) improbable virgins, or (4) lengthy multi-author series. My question is, have studies shown that these trends have caused an increase in series sales? I know many readers who have given up on category romances because the titles, covers, and back-cover blurbs made so many of them sound the same. Are these themes (any of which were fine in moderation) attracting enough new readers to make up for those of us who have given up on Harlequin or Silhouette?
Kelsey Roberts: As an author, I am sometimes asked to do something specific, i.e. set my Landry Brother's series in Montana. As a reader, I loathe babies, cowboys, virgins, etc. but I believe you and I are (sadly) in the minority. The plot hooks you identified and mentioned sell incredibly well. While writing may be an art, publishing is a business and sometimes you have to incorporate that into the equation. My first book was as close to "meeting reader expectations" as you could get. Now that I am blessed to have an established reader base, I get to push the envelope. How was that for a great non-answer .
By the way, while the Landry's are on a ranch in Montana, only 1 of the 7 brothers runs the ranch.
Maryland: Do your novels reflect your personal life?
Kelsey Roberts: Heaven's no. With one exception, I have been happily married to a wonderful man for 20 years, so I obviously believe in happily ever after.
I drive carpool, I make lunches, I iron. I've never killed anyone, but I really love the challenge of crafting a believable crime.
Kent, Washington: Your books are so richly textured. How much research do you do? And what sources do you use?
Kelsey Roberts: Great question! And thanks for the compliment. I do a great deal of research before I begin a book. I do a lot of visuals because I'm a visual learner. However, when I'm actually writing the book, I'm like the CIA -- Need to Know Only. I had to do this because I dearly love researching but it doesn't get a book finished.
VA: Which is harder, writing the book or getting it published?
Kelsey Roberts: In the beginning, writing the book, now the challenge is keep selling. I'll lose my reader-base if I keep giving them versions of the same plot/characters over and over.
West Palm Beach, Fla.: Hi,
You are a very good writer. I know you enjoy writing mystery romance. However, do you keep in the back of your mind that perhaps you would like to write a mainstream novel? If so, do you secretly keep planning the plot?
Kelsey Roberts: The crossover book (as it is known in genre). Yes, I definitely have some ideas that simply are not appropriate for an Intrigue. 75,000 words simply isn't enough room to develop longer, more complex stories. Not only have I planned the plot, the proposal is currently making the rounds, so I've got my fingers crossed. I've yet to meet a writer who has run out of plot ideas. Most I know have files or cards or other ways to keep those ideas as they hit.
Alexandria, Va.: Do you ever fail to mate the hero and the heroine in your stories?
Kelsey Roberts: Personally, I write books that have a consummated relationship in them. But that isn't true of all lines or all authors. On the whole, I'm probably very tame when writing sex scenes. That's because I know my mother will be reading it.
Annapolis: Some of the (Annapolis-Baltimore-D.C. metro triangle) writers online with you today might be interested in the MARYLAND WRITER'S ASSOCIATION: www.marylandwriters.org
Networking can be most valuable for "isolated" writers, no?
Kelsey Roberts: Thanks for pointing that out! The Maryland Writer's Association is a GREAT resource! for those who didn't catch it, www.marylandwriters.org. BTW, they do a GREAT conference and cover all areas of publishing -- from poetry to screenplays.
Annapolis, Md.: Are romance novels ever optioned for Hollywood?
Kelsey Roberts: Yes they are. Many, many are optioned, it seems that getting the book made into a film is the long, daunting part. Far and Away (a Ron Howard Film) was based on a historical romance. Novels by such romance legends as Nora Roberts and Tami Hoag have been brought to the small screen as well.
Alexandria, Va.: A romance novelist told my mother that her editors had certain formulas to follow. The hero had to be a certain height, he had to first kiss the heroine in a certain chapter, etc.
Are such formulas common in romance novels?
Kelsey Roberts: Not in my world. The only thing I have ever been told by an editor was to avoid theatrical heroes and Greenpeace issues. I am limited (as all the lines are) by my own imagination and word count. I can't speak for all the lines, but I recently had a friend, Amy J. Fetzer, sell to Intrigue. She is also a Silhouette Desire author and she seemed to indicate that Intrigue was a vastly different experience for her.
Alexandria, Va.: I am 48, male, balding, and of medium height and build. Can I be a hero in one of your novels?
Kelsey Roberts: You can be the hero in many people's novels! I'm fairly shallow and since my characters are a reflection of my fantasy, they tend to be on this side of perfect. Many authors write more realistic characters. The hero isn't the only one I make physically perfect, my heroines tend to be my ideal, but with an attitude or personality that (hopefully) makes the reader forget that they are physically appealing.
Germantown, MD: Hi Kelsey! Do you see the category market growing or stabilizing over the next few years? Dani
Kelsey Roberts: Hi Dani (this is multi-published Dani Sinclair)! I see the market growing. I have seen a great deal of economic statistics that support the position that when the economy is on a down trend, book sales increase. I'm sorry for my KEOGH, IRA and 401K but I'm thrilled to see the numbers coming in!
washingtonpost.com: Can you explain the differences in the lines you mention?
Kelsey Roberts: Harlequin (New York) publishes American Romances and Intrigues. Both of these lines range in the 70,000 - 80,000 word count. Americans are emotional stories that deal with everything from Cinderella fantasies to very dark, emotional issues like date rape. Intrigues are romantic suspense. All the books in this line must have a fairly even blend between the romance elements and the mystery elements.
Silhouette (NY) publishes Romance, Desire, Intimate Moments, Special Editions, Harlequin Historicals and Steeple Hill.
Harlequin Canada publishes Duets, Temptations, Blaze, Continuity, and Superromances.
Harlequin, London does Presents, Romance, Mills & Boon.
Please got to eHarlequin.com for more in-depth descriptions.
Pennsylvania: Fans of romantic spanking have noted for years this was a taboo topic, yet now it seems to be more accepted. May such fans look forward to seeing more of this?
Kelsey Roberts: Fans can see a lot of it in Harlequin's new line Blaze
Centreville/Chestertown, Maryland: Did I read somewhere that you're presenting a writers' workshop on Maryland's Eastern Shore this spring ... ?
Kelsey Roberts: Yes, I will be in Queeen Anne's for a Special Event on April 27. Please email me at KelseyRbts@aol.com for more information.
Kent Island, Md.: Do you write fast?
Do you edit yourself as you go? By that I mean do you choose your words and sentence structure and so forth carefully, or do you focus on the flow of the story and worry about "correctness" later?
How many hours a day do you write?
Kelsey Roberts: I do not edit as I go. I also do not sit down to write without knowing exactly what I'm going to do. (This is because I do a lot of plotting up front). I write the chapter, print it, read it for typos and then never, ever touch it again. Arrogance? you ask. Nope. I found that I wasted a ton of time deciding if 'chuckled' was better than 'half-laughed' and I never finished the thing.
Three days a week I spend about 10 - 14 hours at the computer. I'm very blessed in that I can work quickly. I never do drafts and I never go back into a chapter UNLESS I find that I need to insert a red herring. Then I go only to that place, make the addition and don't look at another word.
I can write a book in 2 months, but many, many authors in commercial genre fiction are fast.
Germantown, MD: A lot of people have the misconception that writing is easy. Would you give us an idea of the time spent creating a book?
Kelsey Roberts: I spend about a week creating my synopsis, researching settings, finding visual images for characters, homes, etc. I put all this together in indexed binders because I don't want to have to hunt for an hour trying to decide how long I said it took to get from place A to place B.
Once I'm done, then it's off to editorland. Okay, I've been very lucky. In 23 books I never had to do a real revision. Then there are the three that I wrote and rewrote.
Then the manuscript goes off to a copyeditor. I have a little copyeditor voodoo doll in my office. These aren't my favorite folks. But they do a great job and manage to humiliate me in the process. Both my editor and I missed a typo. I said the hero looked in his guy bag. The curt copyeditor caught my typo and in fact, the hero reaches into his gym bag.
Then there's galleys and line edits and often these things must be done in a 24 hour period.
Washington, D.C.: Where do most of your ideas strike you? At your desk, or doing other things?
Kelsey Roberts: Definitely doing other things. Ideas, for me, come when I'm ironing, or doing something mindless. They come to me when I hear a snipet of reality (I went to my 10 year High School reunion and there was a board of the 17 class members who had died. This turned into the fictitious set-up for THINGS REMEMBERED, a heroine who discovers someone is killing off her classmates).
washingtonpost.com: To the person who wanted to know how to cut and paste, try it in Internet Explorer (it doesn't work in Netscape). Or e-mail me and I can notify you when the archived chat is posted.
Alexandria, Va.: Why do female romance fans like that dork Fabio? Isn't he too big and hairy for your taste? Would you allow a picture of that manned monster to be on one of your books?
Kelsey Roberts: I have absolutely no control over the cover art on my books. Intellectually, I know this is because Harlequin would never get a book out the door if they let 177 authors veto covers each month.
Emotionally, it is a killer when you feel you've done a great book but the cover scares small children and animals.
Harlequin does not use live models all the time. I've had 2 covers where the child on the cover was actually drawn from a photograph of my son at a certain age.
The Fabio thing was a well-orchestrated marketing ploy and the guy seems to have faded from the frenzy of the mid-1990s, where it seemed as if every other cover featured some variation of Fabio . . . Viking Fabio, Pirate Fabio, English Lord Fabio. He's probably had more incarnations than Barbie!
I know authors who will tell you that having him on their cover boosted sales and friends who will say that having him on their cover tanked a perfectly good book.
We get an amazing amount of fan mail, so readers are quick to tell us when they don't like something.
I should also mention that the Fabio/Cover Model thing was really a result of a fan magazine called Romantic Times. If people have fun with it, who am I to judge. Would I want him on my covers? Not really, he's too muscular for the kinds of heroes I write. BUT, I would rather have Fabio than the guy on the cover of one of my books. Even I keep it face down on the table.
Chester, MD: You've mentioned ironing at least twice so far today. You and yours have got to switch to more permanent press stuff ... ! ... or is ironing somehow cathartic, therapeutic, stimulating to your creativity?
Kelsey Roberts: Ironing is so mindless that I do my very best overcoming of plot problems there. I'm only ironing for my husband, I send my stuff to the cleaners .
West Palm Beach, Fla.: Happy Valentine's Day.
From your Mom and Dad. I know that this day has a special meaning for you personally. Would you care to share?
Kelsey Roberts: Thank you Mom and Dad! My parents make Ozzie & Harriette look like they had a bad marriage, so you can see that I come by my appreciation for committed relationships naturally.
It is a special day for me because
Germantown, MD: You've won a number of awards, and the hearts of many readers. Do you have a long-range career goal in mind?
Kelsey Roberts: Thanks Germantown! I would be thrilled if I was able to write Intrigues into my old age (I'm 29 in woman-years). I would also like to try some new challenges, but I never see myself straying very far from my home at Harlequin.
The support I received from readers, editors and my fellow writers when my son died in 1999 truly taught me how important it is to savor the great things in life. There is nothing greater than having a dream (to be published) and realizing it.
Thanks for the great compliments.
washingtonpost.com: Thanks for joining us today, Kelsey Roberts. What can we expect to see from you in the future?
Kelsey Roberts: THE BEST MAN IN TEXAS is on the shelves now and BEDSIDE MANNER is a winter release. I'll be continuing with the Landry Brothers and then I think I'd like to delve into military justice. (After seeing a picture of David James Elliott)
Thank you! Great questions!
Crofton, MD: This career is certainly more lucrative than your previous one! Great job! Elaine
Kelsey Roberts: LOL, Thanks Elaine!
That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.
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