Part 2: My Favorite Things

I think every writer’s work is informed by their experiences and the things they love (or hate!). Whether directly or indirectly, these things will affect their style of writing and subject matter.

I’ve been an avid reader for as long as I can remember. I love novels, biographies, and histories. My belief is that truth is often stranger than fiction, and I find in histories and biographies a gold mine of ideas. That’s why when I write my historical romances I base many of the incidents on things I’ve discovered from actual documents of the era, such as newspapers and letters. In a way you could say these details provide a springboard for my imagination.

In grade school my two favorite series were the Black Stallion books and the Nancy Drew mysteries. They fed my love of adventure from an early age.

Comedy was a highly valued commodity my family. When I was growing up we listened to all sorts of comedy albums, from the erudite English humor of Flanders and Swann (which I enjoyed immensely even though it would be years before I understood all the references) to American humorists Tom Lehrer and Stan Freberg. Their comedy was more satirical and slightly twisted. Our family seemed to enjoy the dry, edgy stuff. Another fun blend of comedy, music, and (usually) a love story were the comic operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan. Those operettas also opened up my interest in the Victorian era, which I’ve been fascinated by ever since.

In high school one or two friends loaned me their romance novels (the so-called “bodice rippers” of the day). However, they did not capture my imagination nearly as much as the romantic suspense novels of Mary Stewart and the gothics written by Victoria Holt. Long after high school, I found myself returning to Mary Stewart’s books time and again. I love how each one gives such a captivating sense of place. Her descriptions are so vivid, and her heroes (usually dark, tortured, and initially mistaken by the heroine for the villain!) are to die for. My personal favorites are Nine Coaches Waiting and Madam, Will You Talk? Even today you’ll find many romance authors who cite Mary Stewart not only as a huge influence and inspiration, but also as still among their favorite books to read.

When I was in high school, I saw a film about the glory days of MGM musicals called That’s Entertainment! At the risk of dating myself, I must point out that this was before there were DVDs or even home video players, so That’s Entertainment! gave me a taste of a whole world of films I had known little about and never been able to see. I already knew I loved musicals, because my parents had taken me to a live performance of Oliver! when I was six years old—an event that is still crystal clear in my memory. But most of the musicals in That’s Entertainment! had frothy and fun love stories with gloriously happy endings. I think that was the true beginning of my love of romance.

Next up: Becoming a Writer