A Chat with Stephanie Laurens, Keynote Luncheon Speaker
Your first book, Tangled Reins, was published in 1992, and you’ve written more than 40 books since then. What’s inspired you to keep writing throughout the past 20-plus years?
I wouldn’t have kept writing stories if I didn’t enjoy it. I love the satisfaction, the elation of that moment when the manuscript is done and you know in your heart and your gut that you’ve succeeded in telling a story that your readers will enjoy. There are a lot of other pluses, too, but it really boils down to the fact that I love telling stories. It’s my dream job.
What is it about the romance genre, especially the Regency era in which you set your books, that appeals to you?
I’ve read Regency-era romance since I was thirteen – Georgette Heyer’s Regency-set historicals were my first romances, and such stories still entice me. The structured society, the constraint of “the way things are done,” and the more rigid behavioral norms are all limitations that characters can challenge, and that can be the source of conflict, especially when allied with the plethora of external elements with which that era abounds – adventure, mystery, crime, war in all its aspects, pirates, gothic, intrigue, and so on – all of which fire my imagination. Such elements turn the era into a rich mine for any author. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, that era, style, and tone of stories suited my writer’s voice the best, and the more I wrote in that era the more I came to appreciate that that particular segment of English history has strong resonance with the modern day, with the added benefit that it strips away the “noise” of modern life, making it easier to focus on the critical element of the romance itself, the development of the emotional relationship. In the Regency-era, with respect to marriage, the upper echelons of society had only just gained the freedom for both men and women to ask themselves: Do I marry for love? Or do I marry for dynastic or practical reasons? Or do I not marry at all? And those are the same essential questions women and men face today.
You’re published in print and e-book format with a traditional New York publisher. Do you have any plans to self-publish in the near future? If so, what about self-publishing appeals to you? If not, why have you chosen not to self-publish at this point in your career?
I’ve always viewed my writing career as a business, a profession. Currently that part of my business that connects me with my readers is undergoing a fundamental transformation. At present, I’m contracted with my longtime publisher for another year’s worth of writing, but after that I’ll see what the publishing landscape looks like, run the figures, work out the ROI, weigh up the intangibles like control, speed, and flexibility, and decide which avenue – traditional publisher, self-publishing, or one of the possibilities in between - will best serve both me and my readers as far as can be judged at that point in time. For me, the decision of which avenue to use to transmit my stories to my readers will be made on a long-term business basis – none of my works has ever gone out of print, all are currently earning steadily, and that longevity needs to be factored in, too. The publishing landscape is still some way from stabilizing, so making firm decisions unnecessarily early doesn’t seem wise – who can tell what the situation will be two years from now? That said, self-publishing will definitely be one of the avenues I’ll be assessing going forward, but I expect there will be at least 2 other options I’ll seriously examine.
You’ve been an RWA member since 1991. At this point in your career, what keeps you renewing your membership each year?
Catching up with long-time author friends at the National Conference would have to be number one on the list. That and the PAN retreat sessions, from which, over the years, I’ve learned a lot. As I never was unpublished during my years in RWA, the aspects of the organization geared toward getting published are not directly relevant to me, but I do read the RWR, and value all the ways RWA facilitates the “learning of the business.” I also believe RWA will continue to have an important role as “the voice of romance authors” in the nascent era of online publishing.
Can you share an instance when a fellow romance author, or a community of romance authors, has provided support or advice that made a difference in your career?
Romance authors have to be the most supportive co-workers on the planet. A single incident? Possibly the one I describe in the answer to the next question, but it’s difficult to choose from so many incidents over a 20-year span, from the “aha!” moments to the worst of frustrations, all of which get better when you can share them with others who “get it.” I have 3 groups of published author friends with whom I’ve shared the highs and lows, and their support and companionship over the last decade and more has been priceless.
Do you have any favorite RWA Conference memories that you can share?
I’ve only missed one national conference in the last 14 years, and have many wonderful memories, way too many to list. But my favorite RWA conference memory of all would have to be a moment at the Literacy Signing during the last Anaheim conference (1998). That was my very first conference, the first time I’d met anyone from Avon, my new US publisher, or any of the other Avon authors. I literally knew no one in the flesh – only by email. Also note that, as I live in Australia, I had never, ever, set eyes on any of the major authors of the day – I knew them only by name. So imagine me sitting at a table in the ballroom, about one hour in, and the event wasn’t anywhere near as busy as it gets these days. And, of course, newbie author, 2nd book out 6 months before, the few readers who did stop by had already got my books, although it was still lovely to chat. Then from the corner of my eye, I saw two blond ladies halt at the end of the aisle, searching, then they came on down and stopped before my table. The taller one had this wonderful smile and spoke with a southern accent. She told me she’d loved my first two books, which she already had, but I had coverflats for the next, out in a few months, and asked if she’d like me to sign one, and she said yes, so as I reached for the coverflat I glanced at her name tag, but it was on the usual lanyard and had swung the wrong way. So I asked who I should sign the coverflat to (and there was a heartbeat of silence). And she smiled and replied, “Linda.” And turned her name tag around.
My hand holding the pen froze as I stared at the tag, then I clearly remember saying, “The Linda Howard?”
At which everyone laughed, thank God. So imagine me having the most staggering fan-girl moment ever. Because not only was she Linda Howard, the lady beside her was Iris Johansen. I’m not all that sure what I said from that point on, other than blabbing I’d read every book of Linda’s ever (true to this day), and Iris’s last, too. And some kind soul lent me some sticky notes so I could get their autographs. I still have them in my office. Linda wrote: “Keep writing. Linda Howard.” I did, I have, and keeping writing is what’s got me to where I am today. Gracious words of encouragement from an icon of our industry at a key moment – beyond priceless.
Of all my many RWA conference highlights, that one stands crystal clear in my memory, and still resonates most strongly over all the years.
What does it mean to you to be the keynote speaker at the 2012 RWA Conference?
It’s an honor and at the same time feels eerily fated (see above). I’m fairly certain the board did not know that my first-ever conference was the last Anaheim conference, nor that, a few months after their request, that I would hit the number one NYT spot for the first time. So in many respects, for me, being the Keynote Speaker for this conference is the closing of a circle 14 years in the traveling - from rawest newbie to number one NYT bestseller, one publisher, one subgenre, and 34 stories. It’s been quite a ride, and the RWA national conference as a source of networking and inspiration has contributed to that. I hope my keynote address will go some way to paying it on to the membership in general, but especially to the newbies who this year are attending their first national conference. Yes, it can happen. It does happen. If it happened to me, it can happen to you – if you keep writing good stories, and believe in them, and in your readers.