Our Guest today is NYT bestseller and Rita award winner, Laura Lee Guhrke. Laura Lee is the author of fifteen highly acclaimed historical romances. Her latest book, With Seduction is Mind, is the fourth in her girl-bachelor series, set in Victorian England.
Welcome to The Lady Scribes. We really appreciate your taking the time to visit us. Your girl-bachelor series is unique in that it features older, single heroines who work for a living. Can you tell us what inspired you to write this series?
I had a story idea for a heroine who writes etiquette books, and in doing research for it, I came across a Victorian etiquette book that devoted a whole chapter to the “girl-bachelor.” The girl-bachelor was advised not to feel sorry for herself because she hadn’t been able to secure a husband. Instead she should make the best of her “unfortunate situation.” Even though she probably lived in a dismal little flat and was on the verge of destitution without a man, she should be cheerful and try to be useful in society anyway. I knew there was a story or two in there!
Can you tell us what your research process looks like? Do you do all of your research up front, or do you research as you go?
It all depends on the needs of the novel. I usually do some work up front, but the details that make a certain book special are things I never know I’m going to need, and then, when I do need them, I have to frantically search for those details, usually while I’m way behind on my deadline!
As writers, we spend enormous amounts of time seated and physically inactive. What do you do to relieve deadline stress, and how do you maintain your svelte figure? I know you live in Idaho, which is known for its outdoor recreation. Do you ski?
I appreciate being called svelte! That makes my day. I do ski, actually. Idaho has some awesome skiing, and we ski nearly every weekend in the winter. In the summer, we wakeboard and do some fly fishing, too. I also try to get an hour of exercise every day—walks, weights, something every day. I don’t always succeed, but it’s a lot nicer when I do because I can have ice cream and pie, two serious weaknesses of mine.
As for the actual writing, are you a plotter or a pantster? Have you found any tricks that make the process smoother?
I’m a panster for sure. I can’t outline. I’ve tried, but it never works. The only way I write a book is by figuring out who my characters are, and the only way I can do that is to write them. It’s a conundrum, of course, because I can’t write them if I don’t know them, and I don’t get to know them without writing them. So I get stuck a lot, and it’s hard work, but it’s that process of discovering my characters as I go that makes the work interesting and rewarding for me.
Yes, I have learned a few tricks over the years. I now do a story-board for each book. It’s a 24” x 36” bulletin board next to my desk covered with index cards, one card for each scene. Whenever I think of something I think I can use, a line of dialogue or an idea for a scene, I jot it on the card in the place where I think it might go. When I start, the only things on the board are things like, “First kiss”, “Love Scene”, “Dark Moment” and “The End”. I do that because it’s very depressing to look at a sea of blank cards and know all the work I have to do to fill them in! But as I write each scene, I fill out the next card, putting down (in pencil!) the chapter, page numbers, what happened, whose point of view I was in, timeline date, etc. I use these big thumbtacks that are different colors—red for a kiss or love scene and green for neutral scenes, that sort of thing. What this story-boarding does for me is show me at a glance what’s happening, the pace of the sexual tension in my book, and the progress I’m making to the end. It also reminds me without thumbing through pages of manuscript what’s happened up to the point I’m at. Writing an entire book can seem like such a daunting task, it’s nice to know I can see the whole thing on one board. It makes it seem more achievable somehow, when I can see cards for the 36-46 scenes that on average make up one of my books. And it’s very gratifying to watch those blank cards get filled in!
Another trick I have is to talk out a scene out loud. I have a Dictaphone and when I’m stuck, I turn it on, and just start talking about the story and what’s happening and why I might be stuck. Pretty soon, I start adding bits of dialogue to my narrative by pretending I’m the characters talking. I get great lines this way, and it often helps me get unstuck. There’s something about saying a character’s words and then the other character response out loud that just gets the creative juices flowing. I’ve been able to dictate huge chunks of dialogue, then transcribe them via Dragonfly into my computer, and find I have the basis for a whole scene just by doing this exercise. I’m the only author I know who does it, but it really works. It’s a great technique, and I recommend it to any writer, but only do it when you’re alone! Otherwise the people who live with you will think you’re really weird, or that you’re a drama queen with imaginary friends.
So what are you working on now? Can you give us a hint of what your next book will be?
I’m in the middle of a trilogy with the theme, “Abandoned At the Altar,” and it’s about characters who find true love after they’ve been dumped. It’s a sort of spin-off from the Girl-Bachelor Chronicles, with some characters from that series stopping by, but these books take place about ten years later. I don’t have definite titles yet, but the books are set to come out in 2011. The first two are supposed to be out back to back in January and February, with the third probably around October. You can always check my website for futher details.
Thanks Lady Scribes, and happy writing!