(This interview originally written for The Romance Reader in 1996)
I'd been looking forward to interviewing Catherine Archer ever since I read her book Velvet Bond last summer - it is my all-time favorite medieval. Catherine has written a hauntingly beautiful sequel to that book, Velvet Touch, which I rated four hearts. Our time together was just as good as I'd anticipated, and that's saying something.
Since the age of nine when she wrote the story of a pony who wanted to grow up and be a racehorse like his father, Catherine Archer has dreamed of being an author. But it wasn't until her youngest child was born that Catherine started to take her writing seriously. "I decided I had to stop scribbling the beginnings of novels, which I had done since I was a teen-ager, and finish something. It took me two years on an old typewriter but I did it."
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That first book wasn't published, but she had more success the second time around. A Rose Among Thorns was a "work in progress for a couple of years. I did a lot of rewriting before anyone said they wanted to buy it. I just kept sending it out and if someone offered me a hint as to improving it, I would do so."
Rose was published by Harlequin Historicals in 1992, and she followed up that initial success with Velvet Bond in 1995, and with Velvet Touch this year.
Readers of Catherine's books know that she takes great care to bring the characters in her books to life. Milquetoast heroines will never do for this author. "I want to write about a woman I can respect. To me that is incredibly important. I want to believe I could be her friend, even if I do not agree with everything she does." She has similar expectations for her heroes. "It's important that a heroine, or hero, for that matter, lives by what they say. If you're going to get someone to invest the hours that it takes to read the heroine's story, a reader should feel that this is a person she can deal with, understand, have an important conversation with, and tell a secret to."
Catherine says she is often so affected by the events in her books and the lives of her characters, that while the writing itself is very enjoyable, living through her characters' experiences can be tough. She says she feels what they feel - when a heroine is struggling with her emotions, so is Catherine. This intensity of feeling has such an impact on her, that she is unable to read her books after they're completed.
Her strong interest in her characters and the human condition are behind her love for books set in another time, and she finds the medieval period particularly interesting.
"There is something fascinating about the idea that we are all connected in some way, past, present, future," Catherine says. "I understand that medieval times were very grim - that death was a daily factor of live. But I don't believe the people who lived it thought about it the way we do. They were just living. And feudalism really interests me. It was a whole system of duty and co-dependence, from the lowliest serf up to the king."
The most powerful scenes in Catherine's work are the emotional ones, as she deftly creates situations for her characters that ring true to the reader. In Velvet Bond, Raynor and Lady Elizabeth are forced into marriage, and although she is more than a worthy wife, she cannot redeem herself in his eyes. While this is a common plot in historic romance, Catherine offers the reader several gripping scenes between the main characters that make the book a compelling romance.
In Velvet Touch, Catherine again demonstrates her ability to draw the reader into the story with strong narrative and terrific descriptions. And like her heroine in Velvet Bond, she has some experience with "love at first sight".
Born in the U.S., Catherine met husband Stephen, an engineer in the Canadian Navy, and agreed to marry him three weeks later, before he returned to Canada. Now, a resident of Alberta, Canada and the mother of three children, Catherine and her husband have been living their own love story for nearly 20 years. She compares her husband to the character Gaston in her book Rose Among Thorns.
"I guess our relationship is amazing in a lot of ways because it shouldn't have worked. We barely knew each other and were so young, but it did," she says. "I suppose it's because we really love each other."
Her spouse is supportive of her literary endeavors - even when Catherine gets into what she describes as her "writing trance."
"When I have a deadline, I sort of get into a zone and the rest of my life becomes kind of unreal," she says. "Sometimes I think it must be hard for my husband when I'm really zoned out. He just listens to me natter on about everything the characters are doing and about how I hope I can make the book make sense and all that business. I'm probably not the easiest person in the world to live with. It can be very intense, but he understands how important it is to really let myself get lost in the work. It's the only way to make it real for anyone else."
Although writing is a solitary pursuit, Catherine says she gets so caught up in the world she creates for her characters, that she never feels alone. "When I'm really into a story, I don't feel lonely. I have my characters to keep my company - and I hope the adventures are slightly more interesting than what I'm doing around the house."
Following the release of Velvet Touch, Harlequin will be publishing two more historicals from Catherine in 1997. And while she can't picture herself doing anything else than writing, she adds "this job is harder than I ever imagined it would be. You really put yourself on the line as far as your emotions are concerned. But it is also even more fulfilling than I ever hoped it would be. Seeing the names of two people who would not have existed outside your imagination on the back of a book cover is better than chocolate, or a long vacation in the sunshine."