Lori Foster on Being an “Ordinary Writer”
Interview by Kassia Krozser
Lori Foster published her first book in January of 1996. Her second book launched the Harlequin Temptation Blaze subseries. Since then, she’s published 15 books (with 26 sold), including two single titles and several novellas.
Lori also does frequent articles for Writer’s Digest, articles for the online writers’ colony, Painted Rock, and has a bi-monthly column in RWR interviewing romance editors. She regularly presents workshops to her local chapter and at various conferences, including RWA National. Though Lori loves writing, her first priority will always be her family. She and her husband have been together since high school, and her three sons, all humorous, handsome, and honorable fellows, are quickly following in their father’s footsteps.
Subversion: Your new Harlequin book (with the spiffy multi-word title) is In Too Deep. Can you tell us something about this story?
Lori Foster: Yeah, isn’t that cool that I’ve advanced from the one-worders? <G> They were fun while they lasted.
In Too Deep was one of those books that took me by surprise. It came to me full fleshed — meaning I didn’t have to ponder the plot too much because I knew when I started it exactly where it would go.
It was also one of the few books that the sr. editor “sat on” for awhile, undecided as to whether or not to buy, though my editor liked it a lot. <G> At any rate, I hope readers like it—that’s the important thing.
Here’s my reader letter in the front of the book:
Harry Lonnigan is a different type of hero for me. Writing him was a challenge in many ways, but not in the most important one. When it came to loving the heroine, Harry knew just what to do. After all, all heroes *do* have a few things in common. And Harry is one helluva guy!
S: In Too Deep has a slightly different tone than your previous work – more humor, more action. Were you trying something new with your writing?
LF: I can’t say that I was deliberately trying something new, except for the hero’s voice — which was a pain for a little down home yokel like me to figure out. I didn’t deliberately give it more humor or more action. But I think by trading up on the hero a bit, making him different, it made everything else different by comparison. Normally I write very ‘every-day’ type of guys. They talk like the men I know, live the way I expect the men I know to live. But Harry was of a different breed. Still with the same basic qualities: compassion, sexuality, responsibility, etc… But I think he’s the only divorced guy I’ve ever written — at least that I can remember, and I know he’s one of the few “trendy” dressers. <G> But I loved him.
For me, I write with my moods. When I’m chipper, the tone of the book is more chipper. This was, of course, a problem back when I had to send in a proposal and then wait to see if it was bought. There can be a significant time lapse between conceiving a story and getting the okay to write it. There were times when my mood had changed and I had to work at getting back into the story. But—and this is a big “but” —I never ever start a story that I’m not just dying to write. So getting back into it isn’t an impossibility. If I loved the characters last month, I’ll still love them this month. And now, thank goodness, I don’t have to do that blasted proposal stage! Shew. <G>
S: What else can we expect to see from you this year?
LF: Oh gosh, lots and lots of stuff. In March I have a Duets, Say Yes, that was actually rejected by my 1st editor in Canada for a Love & Laughter, but bought by my present editor there now for Duets. It was sort of squeaked into my hectic schedule, but since it was already written, it wasn’t a big problem for me.
“…after reading some romances — which I didn’t start doing until late — I was hooked and wanted to read more of the type of stories I enjoyed. I found myself rewriting some in my head, wishing the author had done this or that… so I picked up a pen and wrote one…”
I’ve always loved the story, so I hope readers like it too! It’s a role reversal theme. The guy is “holding out” for marriage, because he believes in a special twist on an old adage: Why buy the bull if you can get the beef for free? He’s afraid if he gives in to her demands, she won’t marry him. But of course, he’s not above making it really, really hard for her — and himself. Then in June, July, August and September, I’ll be presenting a Temptation brother series called “The Buckhorn Brothers” — Buckhorn being the town they live in. Personally, I wanted to title the town Paragon, but it got nixed. <G> I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun writing books in my life. The brothers are very special, very unique, and very, very sexy. Lordy, are they sexy!
Harlequin has been generous with this series, giving me breakout font for my name (bigger than the titles, which is rare with Harlequin/Silhouette) and lots of support. This is the series I discussed with my editor while visiting her in Canada. We were sitting in her cabin on the lake, my whole family and my editor, and I’m pitching stories.<G> It felt *very* different from sending in a proposal.
Luckily, my editor liked my pitch and I got my first 5 book contract (In Too Deep and the 4 brothers) and I felt like I’d made my first big step career-wise.
Then in November I have book 3 of a Harlequin Continuity, the Maitland Maternity series, and my book will be titled Married To The Boss. It’s a marriage of convenience story. But the heroine has a few sensual demands she makes before agreeing to the deal. Also in November I have a novella in the St. Martin’s Christmas Anthology, All I Want For Christmas. Nine books total for 2000 — and I’m tired! <G>
S: You’ve described yourself as an “ordinary” writer – what does this mean to you?
LF: It means I’m the same as any other woman. I worry about the same things and fret over my children (I’m the worst mother-hen there ever was!) and I make enormous mistakes and cry over dumb commercials and understand when someone is hurt and laugh when someone gets good news. It means I love going out to lunch with the ladies and sharing a dirty joke, I have the same insecurities as anyone else and I absolutely hate confrontations but will force myself to them when necessary.
I hear about all these writers with college degrees or specialized fields and I cringe. I finished up high school and had no desire to do any further education. I only wanted to get married and start a family. :-/ I’m not an expert on anything, most certainly not the English language, and I possess no special writing skills. I’m a happy homemaker, not a woman with an “outside” job.
For writers not yet published, I remember what it feels like to get that rejection, then another and another and another. I wrote 10 manuscripts before selling. Most of them are in a drawer and they’ll likely stay there. But I’ll never ever forget what it’s like to be working toward getting published, to be struggling against what often seems like insurmountable odds. Being ordinary means I still live by a budget and I still sit at my desk in my PJs until noon, and I eat constantly because writing makes me hungry. (My favorite writing foods are chocolate Pop Tarts or Goldfish or Tid Bits cheese crackers.)
My office is no more sacred than anyone else’s, but it’s probably a lot sloppier. I live in organized chaos. If any of my 3 sons want or need something, they know it’s more than okay to interrupt. I write well with interruptions, which is a good thing around here. My boys are older now, but that only means they have bigger needs — a ride to practice, help with algebra, that sort of thing. And since the two younger ones are in sports (my oldest is in a local college now) I spend a lot of time watching them compete. They do track and cross country and wrestling — wrestling is the big one. They’re very good and it’s so exciting, but also time consuming. But hey, I’m a mother first and foremost. Always. And I WANT to watch, to be there. You’d have to knock me out to keep me away. <GGG> I love writing, but I love to spend time with my boys more.
I also do at least 2 loads of laundry a day — can any woman get around the laundry? — and plant flowers every spring, and – when the boys can force me into it — I exercise.
“As soon as my editor told me the theme of the book, I knew the other authors would put the women in lingerie. I just had to be different, ya know?”
My husband is great and he helps out so much. He never acts like he’s doing me a favor if he cooks dinner or cleans the house. If I’m busy, he does it. If he’s busy, I do it. Neither of us has much spare time. But he’s just so very proud to be able to tell people I’m a published author. So you see – I live like anyone else, especially anyone else with kids. I’m as ordinary as they come. S: Why did you start writing?
LF: Because after reading some romances — which I didn’t start doing until late — I was hooked and wanted to read more of the type of stories I enjoyed. I found myself rewriting some in my head, wishing the author had done this or that… so I picked up a pen and wrote one. God, is it awful! But then, that’s what you’d expect from 320 handwritten pages. I wrote while babysitting two other children, with my youngest still not in school, and my middle son only in kindergarten. (he’s now in 8th grade) For quite a few years I wrote that way, for my own entertainment.
Then my father found out I was writing (strictly by accident. I was a major “closet” writer) and his wife found an ad for a local romance conference in the newspaper. I went, and from there decided I was just maybe talented enough to sell my work.
And after that, the real work began! Oy.
S: Why romance? Are you interested in writing in other genres? If so, which?
LF: I write romance because it’s what interests me most. I love stories about relationships, and romance seems to be the only genre really centered around that.
And yes, as a big Dr. Seuss fan, I dream of some day doing a children’s book. And perhaps a really grisly murder mystery, but with an element of romance. <G> And I believe with all my heart that I could write a bone tingling horror story. Someday I’m sure I will.
S: Since you didn’t “train” as a writer, how did you learn the craft?
LF: By writing. And writing some more. Reading the types of books I wanted to write — hot, sexy, character driven, fast-paced… I’ve never read a “how to” book and I’m not sure I could get through one anyway. I can’t see me ever taking a writing course because I’d end up doodling. I doodle a lot. All the time if I’m sitting still. I have a very short attention span and I get the fidgits real quick when someone expects me to sit quietly in a chair.
I LOVE giving workshops, but I’m not good at attending them. Though if the presenter is especially entertaining, I love it.
If you want to learn to write, write. A lot. Ask for advice and be open to hearing it. Do NOT be defensive.
Learn all the rules, then forget them. <G> And submit your work. I’m always amazed to hear about writers who want to be published, but are so afraid of getting rejected, they don’t submit what they have.
Hey, you WILL get rejected. It’s a tough reality. But you’ll learn so much from each one. And if you’re not taking that first step, you’ll never get to take the last one, which is signing the contract.
S: What advice do you have for aspiring authors who don’t feel they have the background or tools to write?
LF: Get cracking. Learn whatever you need to know. Trust in your story telling ability. And always protect your voice. Learning to get the writing down is the easy part. Keeping your voice in tact through it all is the real challenge!
S: How do you prioritize between family, friends, writing, and Lori?
“Being the only female in a household dripping with testosterone gives one a certain edge, I guess.”
LF: Well, family — as in kids and hubby — come first for me. Luckily for me, hubby puts me first. <G> Kids are more than willing to make it an even balance by helping out where they can. We all chip in together and everything gets done. Next in my priorities is me. And a big part of me is writing. It’s disgusting when I’m watching a movie I enjoy and find myself lost because I began to plot. I hate when that happens. But I make time for myself when I can, to do the things I like to do. Usually, that’s write. :-/ Often, it’s soaking in the tub and reading.
You know how I prioritize? By keeping myself open. I face each day with good intentions and the knowledge that nothing is set in stone. If my kids need me, or one of my friends needs to talk, or a relative has a problem, I’m there for them, regardless that I’m at a high point in the story and it’s going great!
But I can also tells friends who just want to chat that I’m busy writing. And I can tell my kids that I need some peace and quiet to get an important scene taken care of, and they respect that. For the most part, I manage just fine. I beat deadlines by several months on the theory that what can go wrong will and it’s better to turn something in early than ever have it late. I have to stay ahead of the game.
What’s happened because of that is I end up with so many books in the schedule!
I deal with the priorities as they come up day to day. Sometimes minute to minute. But overall, I’m a mother first. Always.
S: You’re one of the most visible authors on the Internet – interacting with both readers and authors. How do you work this into your daily routine? Why is this interaction important?
LF: I’m just so darned opinionated, you know? I have to tell everyone what I think. Shameful of me, I know.
But since we’ve already established that I’m no different than anyone else, I assume I’m there for the same reasons everyone else is — camaraderie, friendship, peers… No one understands the writing biz like other writers and the easiest way to interact with other writers is on the net. As to how I fit it in, I have no idea! I just do what I do when I do it.
I like to check out the internet and emails in the morning with my coffee while I’m first waking up. Maybe that’s the key.
Also, the way I write is very intense. I can write 8 or 10 pages in about an hour or less. Then I need a break. My brain crunches or something and I can’t think straight to go on to the next scene, so I check email for ten minutes. It’s a treat after writing. And when I’m done, I get back to my story until I need the next break.
S: One of the things that most impresses me about your work is the way you balance vulnerable heroines (i.e., Little Miss Innocent?) with highly sensual storylines. Is this intentional or do the stories just work out that way?
LF: I can’t say as I intentionally do anything. I just write, and what happens happens. But in my heart I believe all women are vulnerable. We all have insecurities and we’re all too aware of our flaws. So I can’t imagine creating a heroine without some vulnerabilities. Whatever they might be. And if she didn’t have any, I wouldn’t like her much. <G>
The sexual stuff… well it’s my belief that any good romance, and we’re talking the blow-your-mind once in a lifetime love of your life, will be accompanied by great sex. If the sex isn’t great… I dunno. To me, they go part and parcel with each other. A man loves a woman, he’ll want to know what pleases her. A woman loves a man, she’ll be open enough with him for him to find what pleases her. And vice versa.
And hey, if the sex isn’t really, really hot, why would we want to read about it?? <ggg>
For me, a “tepid” romance is of no interest at all.
S: In the recent lingerie-themed Sinful anthology, you took the story in a slightly different direction than the other authors. Is pushing the envelope something that comes naturally to you?
LF: Okay, I lied. I do *some* things deliberately. And my story in Sinful is a perfect example. As soon as my editor told me the theme of the book, I knew the other authors would put the women in lingerie. I just had to be different, ya know? Not that the other stories aren’t fabulous! I’m sure they are. But I like cranking things in a off skew direction. It’s my warped sensibilities. 🙂 Many of my stories are done that way. I take what most people see, and twist it.
S: Do you ever submit a story to an editor and think “there’s no way she’ll go for this” (Chase Winston’s story)? How do your editors react to your ideas?
LF: I’m a firm believer in cutting corners where I can. And I’m not shy anymore (honest to gosh I used to be!) so I always ask an editor first. I remember I called Cindy Hwang and said:
“Can I make Chase kinky?” She paused and said, “Kinky how?”
“Oh, just a little bondage. Ropes, dominance, that kind of thing.”
“Oh sure, go ahead.”
There you see? No big deal. <G> Then when she got the book she called me and said, “Hey, you could have taken it a little farther even if you’d wanted to.”
Cindy is wonderful to work with. I just adore her.
And in answer to your question, no, I don’t think I go too far. There’ve been words I’ve half expected to have cut. But they haven’t been. Oh, in Taken a scene was cut as going over the line! I was astounded. Couldn’t believe it. I thought for sure they’d love it. I bet the readers would have. <GGG> I guess I just always like it enough to assume everyone else will too, including my editors.
S: At least one of your proposed books went too far for your editors. How do you handle that? Will you write the story anyway (or just keep hoping pressure from readers will sway the editor)?
LF: Yeah, they refused one. And it’s a helluva book! Really good. Maybe my best. How do I handle it? It really ticks me off. Seriously. I want to publish that damn book! 🙂
Yes, I’ll write the story, but no, it won’t ever see light of day at Harlequin. My editor loved it, but the higher ups didn’t, so that’s that. I’ll get it published somewhere some day.
Then you all can tell me if I was right or not!
S: You electronically published one of your books last year? Is this a consideration for future titles?
LF: The book I published was an older favorite that HQ wouldn’t touch because of the setting in part of the book.
As to others… I have a few in mind that I might submit to an epub if I can ever find the time to devote to it. My next year and a half is just incredibly busy. Too much so. I’m scheduled so tightly, I had to turn down doing one of the new “Big Blaze” books from Harlequin. They’ll be starting…I think in 2001. But I’m booked up. I need to clear up my calendar a bit so I can take a break with no contracts looming.
NOT that I’m complaining, mind you. I love having the work, and each book is a book I want to do, so… I just need to not schedule myself so far in advance. I’ve already got 2001 filled. That’s a lot to be looking at you when you’re trying to get the books done one at a time.
S: Your stories capture the male psyche very well. Is it the constant immersion in the (male) culture or a preference for writing from that perspective?
LF: I have no idea. My husband is a huge influence on the heroes I write. And my sons. I know the way I think men should be, based on my husband, so that’s how I make them, only with different looks, different jobs, bigger-than-life conflicts. My husband and I married very early, so the only conflicts we’ve faced are budgets and interfering family and the usual things that come with two large combined external families and 22 years of marriage. Being the only female in a household dripping with testosterone gives one a certain edge, I guess. <G>
And yeah, I love the male point of view. The differences that I see women complaining about so much are the qualities that I think are most fascinating with men. I LOVE the differences.
S: Assuming you actually have free time left over for reading, what do you enjoy? Any favorites to recommend?
LF: Oh, you betcha! Top of my list is Linda Howard.(Dream Man, The Cutting Edge, and the Mackenzies are my favorites!) I’m sure I’m her biggest fan and I absolutely can not wait for Chase Mackenzie’s story. :::sigh::::
Also Stella Cameron (True Bliss is a fave!) , Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Johanna Lindsey (the Mallorys! yum), Julie Garwood (Honor’s Spendor, Lion’s Lady, The Bride…), Patricia Ryan (In Hot Pursuit, All of Me), Pamela Burford (In The Dark) … I know I’m forgetting some. I have a link on my web page of my favorite books, updated often, if anyone is interested. It’s in my personal pages: http://www.eclectics.com/lorifoster
S: Other hobbies, interests, dream vacation?
LF: Hobbies — art, such as painting, chalk, pencil, watercolor.
Water skiing, swimming, sunning, boating…
Dream Vacations — anywhere near water where it’s warm, preferably with a sandy beach. Heaven!