Living The Dream

Alice Duncan on Humor and Writing Full-Time

Alice Duncan packed up her bags, dogs, and computer, and moved to Roswell, New Mexico to concentrate on writing full-time. And while Roswell offers a writer many advantages – solitude, a relatively inexpensive lifestyle, UFOs – it’s missing a component that Alice considers critical: ethnic food.

Read our review of Bittersweet Summer

After all, the fastest way to convince Alice to talk about her life and work is to bribe her with … oh, Indian food.

Writing full-time means that Alice must be prolific, which suits her perfectly. But, as she notes, “I write fast and I’m not Nora Roberts, and nobody would buy five Alice Duncan books in a year.” So, in addition to writing under her own name, Alice also publishes romances as Rachel Wilson and Emma Craig. Conveniently, Rachel and Emma share the same wry sense of humor and light style as Alice, mainly because she doesn’t do “a lot of angst.”

When she did her first public reading, the audience was rolling in the aisles. “I thought, ‘what is it? My voice?'”

Instead, she concentrates on what she does best: comedy. When she did her first public reading, the audience was rolling in the aisles. “I thought, ‘what is it? My voice?’ It’s something that happens naturally, so I go with it.” Humor is especially helpful when the story calls for elements that Alice doesn’t particularly enjoy. For example, her new title, Bittersweet Summer (w/a Rachel Wilson), features a ghost. Since Alice isn’t particularly a fan of paranormal romance, she determined that the only way that she “could get around the ghost story was to make it funny.”

The humor carries over to her characters as well. While there may serious threads running through her stories, the fun is always evident. She admits that she can’t torture her heroes – too much – even when she wants to. The closest she’s ever come to a character with heavy baggage is Noah Partridge in Enchanted Christmas (w/a Emma Craig) who suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome. Likewise, characters in her books are rarely poor because she knows from personal experience that “it’s not romantic.”

These days, Alice also answers to the name Jon Sharpe. She recently contracted to write for the Trailsman series, following an established character on his continuing adventures. The move to a new genre is a natural progression for Alice as she’s already written a few westerns, only as she notes, “they’re called romances.” There have been a few bumps in the switch to the new genre. For example, she “completely overlooked some of the male fantasy aspects of these things.” She now knows that the hero kills every man he meets but only “when he has to” and that women always initiate sexual contact with the hero (he, of course, always obliges).

And the pseudonym? Apparently publishers of westerns don’t want the reading public to know that (gasp!) “women write these books.” When she recently read a letter from a male author in the Romance Writers’ Report who complained that he couldn’t “get published as a man,” Alice thought, “I can’t published as a woman in westerns, so I know how he feels.” She does feel that the romance world is more likely to accept a male author who publishes under his own name than the western world would accept a female author.

Prior to becoming a writer, Alice supported herself and her children by working as a secretary – a job she describes as “hellacious”. She also performed as a folk dancer which was a “terrible living but it was a lot of fun. I had a really good time.” Her dancing also provided a window into other cultures. Dancing introduced her to people from Bosnia (before it was on the world’s map) and Romania. She’s still slightly amazed as she recalls a common goal of many of the immigrants: “they wanted to establish a church because they’d never been allowed to worship. And I thought gee, I take it so much for granted that I don’t even bother. And they had no more idea of how to start a church than I did how to build a rocket.”

Alice notes, “I thought, hey, that’s my kind of book. I wanted to be Georgette Heyer.”

And when she made the decision to try her lifelong goal of writing, Alice kept quiet about her work. Writing romance was not, initially, her goal. She avoided the genre because romance had “those covers” until a friend forced her to read one. It was at that point that she made the connection between Georgette Heyer and romance novels. And, Alice notes, “I thought, hey, that’s my kind of book. I wanted to be Georgette Heyer.”

Her admittedly obsessive-compulsive nature served her well as she continued honing her craft and submitting to publishers. Writing for a variety of publishers expanded her oeuvre, and she notes that her upcoming release Winter Wonderland is her first contemporary romance. Because Alice had written only historicals in the past, this new style “scared the bejeezus” out of her. Once she moved beyond her nervousness, she found the experience fun, conceding that she might try writing more lighthearted contemporary romance in the future.

But for now, Alice’s dance card is filled with caring for her beloved dogs, living in Roswell, and fulfilling her dream of writing full-time.