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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Our Guest: Laura Lee Guhrke

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 so much for spending this time with us, Laura Lee Guhrke. For more information, visit her website at www.lauraleeguhrke.com.

Thanks Lady Scribes, and happy writing!


  1. Laura Lee - Thanks so much for stopping by Lady Scribes today.

    What a fun interview!

    I loved hearing about your process. I think that may be my favorite thing to learn from other writers - the many different ways we all create. The different color thumbtacks is genius.

    Your new trilogy sounds really interesting. I'll look for them on the shelves in early 2011. ~ Lydia

  2. I really like the idea of talking out a scene out loud, and actually speaking out the character's lines. I may have to give that a try sometime. It may work, or it may not - for me, at least. But it sounds like a really different method from anything I've tried, so who knows?

  3. Loved your advise and I am always interested to learn the process of othe authors. I've tried the story board before and it failed. I am going to try it again without all the blank cards staring at me and see if it works out better (which I am sure it will).
    I am looking forward to reading your new triology.

  4. Oh wow, Laura! Girl bachelors! That's right up my alley and I will definitely pick those up! It sounds like a wonderful series you've got coming in 2011, I will be sure to pick those up as well. Wonderful interview btw Gail. Loved the story board advice. I'm a plotter but I think I can intergrate this in to my normal routine and I'm gonna try it out. I love the idea of the different colored tacks. Brilliant!
    So glad you could join us today and I loved the interview. Great info there. Thanks again and we do hope you'll be back with us someday!

  5. Your system is really interesting! I use note cards too, but it's not that organized LOL!! What a great idea!

    What fun plots too, strong women are my favorite!!

  6. Gret interview. I love the story board idea, and the Abandoned at the Altar series sounds like something I would love to read.

  7. Very interesting with the "girl bachelor". It's wonderful how a small idea can turn into a whirlwind of stories. :O)

  8. Thank you so much for sharing your techniques with us. I love the idea of the girl-bachelor stories. I can't wait to get to the bookstore now. They sound like a lot of fun.

  9. Thanks for sharing two great writing tips. I often find it more than helpful to talk myself through the story, out loud. It tends to get my imagination flowing. It is something you absolutly need to do alone. I think it's the repressed actor in me.
    I think I'll run out and get me a bulletin board today, that technique certainly sounds encouraging.
    Good Luck with you new series, look forward to it.

  10. Laura,

    I've loved your girl bachelor series. I can't believe I somehow missed this one.

    I laughed when you described your bulletin board. That is exactly how I do it. Sometimes I do it more as a time line -- but always starts, first kiss (or more), little black moment, big black moment . . .

    It's great to know I am in such good company.

  11. Great interview, Gail and Laura!

    Laura, thank you so much for sharing the tricks of your trade with us! I've used notecards, but never put them on a giant board. What a great idea, along with the colored thumbtacks. I'm definitely going to have to give that a try.

    I love to see how active you are, as well. I have a love/hate relationship with the gym, but know how important it is to get there at least a few times a week.

    I'm looking forward to picking up your books. Is there any one in particular you would suggest starting with?

  12. Hi, Gail: Great interview, perfect questions. Bravo! All of you are creating a fantastic, helpful blog. Laura, loved the insights on plotting – the cards, the different colored pushpins. More inspiration from a successful author, and a splendid glimpse into Laura’s creative process. Can’t wait to check out your Girl-Bachelor series. (I myself was a Girl-Bachelor, marrying later in life and still managing having kids). Curious as to how many books Laura writes per year, too, because her system sounds smart… helps her stay on track and productive. My other question would be, not only are you (Laura) svelte, but how does a dedicated writer maintain great posture?

    And is Idaho a wellspring for romance writers? Seems to be!

  13. Thanks for sharing your techniques Laura. Always great to read how others do it. I'm also hopeless at outlining, so it's good to know there is hope for pantsers. I love the talking-out-loud technique. When I start dreaming up my characters, i usually write down things they say, but maybe I should start speaking them out!

    I'm intrigued by your girl-bachelor series, so I'm off to Amazon right now.

    Gail, thanks a million for a great interview.

  14. Laura Lee is one of my favorites. I love the girl batchelors series. I'm writing a historical romance set in late Victorian times, so it's been very helpful to see how see works in the details of that life into her book. The whole story-boarding of her book is a great tool. I'm going to try it.

    Great interview, Gail. Laura Lee, thanks for sharing. Can't wait for your next book.

  15. Hi Laura,

    Your next series sounds awesome, and I love your storyboarding technique. I'm always trying different things to see what sticks. I think I'll give this a go.


  16. I wish I could be so organized. How wonderful. I do use notes, but I paste them everywhere and by the time I need one, can't find it in the clutter. I should try the notes board thing.