Please welcome New York Times and international best-selling author Patricial Maxwell aka Jennifer Blake. A charter member of RWA, she’s the recipient of many awards including RWA’s Lifetime Achievement Award. With over sixty books translated into twenty languages and thirty million copies in print, she continues to evolve in this ever changing publishing landscape.
How does she do it? Read on…
P.B. What are your fondest memories of growing up in Louisiana?
J.B. I was brought up on a farm in the northern part of the state. It had vegetable gardens and pastureland, but most of it was woodland with a creek running through it. Roaming the animal trails with my faithful dog, picking wild berries, hiding out with a book at the very top of a tall pine tree—where my mom couldn’t find me to assign chores—were favorite times. My grandparents lived next door and were great storytellers; it was always special to spend the night with them. Another highlight was the annual family reunions where everyone enjoyed scrumptious covered dishes brought by friends and relatives, and visited back and forth until it was time to go home.
P.B. Do you remember the moment that you decided to write your first book?
J.B. As with so many other authors, I once threw a book against the wall with the famous words, “Even I could do better than that!” But the catalyst for putting words on paper was a colorful and disturbing dream. In it, I was a young girl in ancient Scotland who had lost her family during wartime, and was being comforted by a kilted highlander. The scene was so vivid I didn’t want to forget it. Capturing it in words set me on my path to writing books – though the incident has never found its way into a story.
P.B. What do you remember most about the day that you received ‘the call informing you that an editor was buying your book?
J.B. It wasn’t a phone call for me, but a snail mail letter—Yes, I go back that far! I picked it up from our rural mailbox at the end of a long drive and immediately tore it open. I read it and smiled, and smiled and read it over and over again, all the way back to the house.
P.B. You’ve managed to produce an impressive body of work during your writing career. What would you consider your most satisfying achievement?
J.B. That I’ve met every writing goal I ever set for myself is a special pleasure. Remembering I’ve made the best seller lists in every book format—hardcover, trade size paperback, mass market paperback and e-book titles—is also gratifying. But most satisfying of all is contact from readers saying how my stories helped them escape from the disappointments, illnesses and tragedies in their lives.
P.B. What is the best career advice you have ever received? Have you ever received advice that you wished later that you hadn’t taken?
J.B. The best advice: “Write the book you’d like to read.” It’s absolutely true that writers who are voracious readers are often ahead of the game, seeing possibilities for different directions in genres or picking up on trends long before traditional publishing takes notice. Added to that, the book that intrigues you will probably intrigue readers as well.
The worst advice: “Forget historical romance; it’s as dead as the Dodo Bird.” This was in 1972 when I suggested writing a historical romance after reading Woodiwiss’s THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER. It took New York the better part of two years to understand this new type of historical romance was nothing like the male-oriented epics from the 1940s and 1950s. If I’d written that historical romance when I wanted, I’d have been much further ahead than it turned out after I was asked to do my first sensual historical romance in 1975.
P.B. If you were to offer any advice to a romance novelist at the beginning of their career, what would you want them to realize?
J.B. It’s self-defeating to chase genres and trends for the money; write in them only if they fire your imagination. Create the story that won’t let you sleep at night and feeds you bits of scenes and dialogue all day long. The enthusiasm you bring to that book will be transferred to the reader, creating excitement in them as well.
P.B. If you had to choose among all of your books, could you pick a favorite?
J.B. I actually have a half dozen favorites out of the 67 I’ve written. Different books are special for different reasons: a character or theme; the difficulty of the story situation, the intriguing format, where I was in my life at the time, and so on. The most fascinating was ROYAL SEDUCTION: I never knew what my Ruthenian prince was going to say or do next. Then a paragraph from that book managed to capture my basic attitude toward being alive: “Spiteful and mean the world might be, with greed and malice and ugly death both in town and wilderness. But there were in the dusty march of days flashes of brilliance, sweet moments gilded with glory, snatched splendid and whole from the dreary parade.”
P.B. You write both historical and contemporary romances. Do you have a preference?
J.B. Historical romances lend themselves more easily to grand drama and sweeping romantic gestures. You don’t have to worry about keeping up with current slang or using technology that may become obsolete and, if you build your historical world carefully enough, it’s like going back in time and taking readers with you. Contemporary romances allow the writer to “lighten up,” to be freer with attitudes and incidents, and to stop worrying about whether some word or phrase was current in your book’s time period. My best case scenario would be alternate between the two. If I could only write one, however, I’d probably choose historical romance.
P.B. What do you think have been the most significant changes in both genres since you began your career?
J.B. The addition of sensuality with graphic love scenes would be the foremost change, of course. When I sold my first book (THE SECRET OF MIRROR HOUSE, a mystery-suspense published in 1970) the bedroom door was firmly closed. Now it’s wide open with all the sex toys on display.
Both historical and contemporary romances decreased in length from their 120,000 – 150, 000 word maximums. This cut resulted in less meaty stories with lighter character development and generally less intense emotional involvement.
Historical romances were once accurate depictions of their time periods. Some still are, but the current trend is toward stories with characters in long skirts and tailcoats written by authors who either can’t be bothered to research or else ignore past social constraints for the sake of “feisty” heroines and erotic scenes.
Contemporary romances have gone from every heroine being kind and beautiful to every heroine being angst-ridden and less than ideal to look at. Oddly enough, the heroes are still OMG handsome.
I could go on and on.
P.B. In regard to the writing profession, what would you say has changed the most since you were first published? Stayed the same?
J.B. The explosion of the romance genre from a few titles sold each month on drugstore and supermarket racks to a multi-billion dollar industry has taken place on my watch. The opportunity it has provided for female authors to earn a living with their writing is beyond price. But the greatest change has been the advent of e-readers and upsurge in e-books, with the resulting obliteration of the self-publication stigma. This phenomenon is restructuring the publishing industry, and no one knows where it will end.
The thing that has stayed the same is the power of a good story well told.
P.B. You have a few older titles being re-issued from the Sourcebooks Casablanca line but I noticed that your newest Italian Billionaires series is available through the Steel Magnolia Press. Could you tell us a little bit about both ventures?
J.B. For Sourcebooks: I was approached at a writer’s conference with a query about reissuing some of my backlist books through Sourcebooks. At the time, I had 37 titles for which the rights had reverted from their original publishers. These books were all with E-Reads, Inc. where they had been available as e-books and POD (print on demand) copies since 1999 - 2000. Agreement was reached with E-Reads, and four books were chosen for the Sourcebooks program: ROYAL SEDUCTION, MIDNIGHT WALTZ, SILVER-TONGUED DEVIL, and FIERCE EDEN. The great team at Sourcebooks brought these books out with gorgeous new covers. Though the first title was a mass market paperback, the others were placed in the Casablanca Classics line of trade size editions. It was great fun being associated with Domonique Raccah and Deb Werksman. I’ll never forget my visit with them at their amazing office in Chicago.
For Steel Magnolia Press: I’ve been fascinated by the possibilities in e-books from the beginning, as witness my participation in Richard Curtis’s E-Reads pilot program over 13 years ago. In 2011, I connected with a niece who had independently published a book on Amazon as Phoenix Sullivan and was deeply involved in mapping the data and algorithms used to increase sales in that venue. At the time, I was sitting on reverted rights to several novellas that I’d written over the years, plus I had another niece who had published online and two daughters who were interested in writing romance. Following intense discussion, Phoenix and I established a family-oriented online publishing imprint that she named Steel Magnolia Press after a label given to me years ago. My novellas were formatted for Amazon with fresh new covers and posted as e-books in the fall of 2011. The results from this experiment were amazing.
Then two important events took place in 2012. The first was an attempt by my traditional publisher to make a major cut in my advances. As a result, I refused a new contract and withdrew the 3-book proposal I’d created for them. The second was discovering that the contract covering a large portion of my backlist books with E-Reads had lapsed. The result was a perfect storm-type opportunity to publish both my backlist and ongoing original work under the Steel Magnolia Press imprint.
SMP created fresh and vastly improved covers for my e-books, covers that were then applied to their new audio versions from Audible.com. Box sets were created for titles that shared locations or had related characters. The titles began to go up in mid-2012, at a rate of three or four per month. At present nearly 50 of my titles are available from SMP, as well as titles from my daughter and two of my nieces. Included in these, as you noted, is my new and original Italian Billionaires series with two books out so far, THE TUSCAN’S REVENGE WEDDING and THE VENETIAN’S DARING SEDUCTION. More recently, SMP has expanded to include two other bestselling authors, Christina Skye and Lynette Vinet, as “Steel Magnolias.” Two titles each were posted for these authors in June 2013. Two more per month will be released through early 2014.
SMP has been an intense learning experience, one I never would have undertaken without the expertise of our director Phoenix Sullivan. But it has also been the most fun I’ve had in publishing in years!
P.B. On a more personal note, how do you like to spend your time when you aren’t writing?
J.B. I love to travel and seldom miss an opportunity. My last major trip was a European cruise with my two daughters and eight of my 11 grandchildren, and my next will be a cruise around the world in 2014. Beyond that, I enjoy knitting, crocheting, quilting, beading and painting with watercolors. But the thing I enjoy most is spending time with family.
P.B. Where can we find current information about new releases and upcoming books?
J.B. The Steel Magnolia Press web site has all my titles with clickable links to Amazon for purchase. To learn about special sales and new releases, please sign up for our monthly SMP newsletter there. My Jennifer Blake web site has my bio, book list and a bazillion other bits of information under the Q&A link. Beyond this, I have an Amazon Author page with book links. Finally, I’m on the major social media sites, and enjoy connecting with people there. FMI:
Jennifer has been kind enough to leave us with an excerpt from her latest release from Steel Magnolia Press. Thank you, Jennifer!
The Venetian’s Daring Seduction
“Hello there, you handsome devil.”
Celina Steadman murmured that greeting to the Venetian gentlemen before her as she leaned in mere inches from his face. He really was a bold figure, the very image of most women’s romantic fantasies.
His features were classic, with a wide brow, straight nose, square, almost pugnacious jaw, and high, aristocratic cheekbones. His brows were slashes of black and his lashes thick and curling at the tips, a perfect screen for his thoughts. One corner of his sensuously molded lips seemed about to lift in some secret amusement. A wicked gleam lay in the blackness of his eyes. Their darkness was relieved, however, by golden rays in the irises that echoed the intricate gold braid on his velvet coat.
The wide shoulders of this gorgeous hunk of manhood were cloaked in black silk. A mask dangled from his fingers, one made of gold-painted papier-mâché with a beak-like nose in the style made famous by the great Casanova. Behind him lay the Grand Canal in all its past non-motorized glory, reflecting an aqua blue sky, the softly colored façades and red-tiled roofs of the palazzo which lined it. Conte Lucca di Palladino was perfection against that exotic backdrop. He stared out from it with confidence that bordered on arrogance, supremely certain of his place in that rarified world.
Celina heaved a heartfelt sigh. They didn’t make men like him anymore, at least not in her experience. Such a pity.
Bracing against the top of the tall stepladder she was using, she touched the cool, painted canvas of the life-size portrait. She ran a gently questing fingertip along the conte’s firm jaw line, caressed the sensual line of his lower lip.
“What a favorite you must have been with the ladies,” she told the long-dead Venetian nobleman in wry appreciation. “I’ll bet you gave old Casanova a run for his money.”
“That is a bet you would lose.”
The correction, deep-voiced, faintly accented and none too friendly, came from directly below her.
Celina startled so violently that the ancient ladder wobbled beneath her. She stretched a hand toward the portrait for balance but snatched it back for fear of damaging it. Grabbing at the top step in front of her instead, she clung to it while her heart lurched back and forth in her chest.
The man below reached up to catch her ankle in a firm grip. A spark like the impact of a Taser surged up her leg. It flared in her lower body and swept onward to jar her brain with the force of a lightning strike. She was still an instant before twisting carefully at the waist to look down.
It was as if the Venetian gentleman in the portrait had come to life. He stared up with a frown of concern on his too-handsome face and one strong hand steadying her stepladder while the other curled firmly around her ankle. Tall, wide of shoulder and with dark brown eyes lit by golden gleams, he was exactly the same.
This man was not in period dress, however, but wore a suit of such perfect fit it had undoubtedly been tailored to his measurements. Paired with it was a shirt so white it seemed to glow against his olive skin. His tie was a symphony of blues and greens, and his shoes were of softly gleaming leather of a quality found only in Italy.
His dark gaze met hers for a moment. Then it drifted leisurely over her, brushing her breasts, waist and hips to linger on the tanned length of her legs that were exposed by the short denim skirt she wore.
“The fact is,” he went on as if nothing had happened, ”the first Conte di Palladino was a devoted husband who married when he was twenty, gave his contessa nine children in fifteen years, and so mourned her death that he never married again, never looked at another woman.”
Celina barely heard him. If he chose to adjust his position beneath her, he might see more of her than she cared to expose. She jolted into movement, descending from her perch with more speed than grace.
“Per l’amor di Dio! He released her ankle, reaching to put a hand on her hip to halt her progress. “Do you want to break your neck?”
“I’ll be fine, thank you, if you’ll just step away.” She could feel his every fingertip through her clothing, five separate spots of branding heat. She was also far more aware than she wanted to be that she had come to a stop with her backside at the level of his face.
“You are quite certain?” He released her, but only moved to grip both sides of the ladder so she was enclosed by the cage of his arms. She could feel the heat of his body surrounding her, catch the delicious hints of expensive aftershave in combination with clean linen and warm male. An odd dizziness swept over, one that had little to do with her uncertain perch.
“Yes, of course. I was—you just startled me.” She twisted at the waist to look down at him again. He was close, so close.
“I don’t doubt it, as you seemed about to make off with one of my ancestors.”
He inclined his head. “I am Lucca Palladino.”
Of course he was, and named for his ancestor, apparently. She might have known. “You’re Signor Palladino’s grandson, then.”
He frowned, perhaps at this proof that she had some acquaintance with his grandfather who owned the painting and the palazzo where it hung. “And who would you be? Other than a woman who holds conversations with men long dead?”
“The person hired by your grandfather to appraise his art collection. And I was neither holding a conversation with the conte nor stealing him. I was only—”
“Showing your approval, I believe. I’m sure he would have appreciated it.”
Oh, there—there—was the wicked glint of amusement the artist had caught so well. It was stunning in the flesh, a blatant invitation to share in the absurdity of life. It was also an unfair distraction when she was trying to hold on to her annoyance.
“Such a paragon of fidelity? Surely not.”
“He was faithful, not dead.” He tipped his head in consideration. “Well, not at the time anyway.”
With many thanks, again, for your interest,