Linda Howard - Who Knew

(August 11, 2000)

Linda Howard at AAR

 

"I think for it to be real, (romance writers) absolutely have to love men to begin with. I do - I think they're wonderful creatures. I think every thinking woman should own one."

Mr. Perfect - who knew. . .?

Who knew I could write a funny book? In a way, I don't think it's me, it's more the characters. These were just funny characters. That kind of isn't the book I had in mind when I first started, but that was what the characters wanted to do. Jaine was such a smart-mouth and I tried to write her more seriously, and the story just wouldn't work. So finally I told myself, "Okay, Jaine's a smart mouth, she's a potty-mouth - let her go with it." And it was just like opening a dam. It just happened then.

Did you think you had it in you to do that?

I had never thought about it. I will occasionally put smart comments into books, but it had never occurred to me just to let it go.

I want you to know that Mr. Perfect has already earned Desert Isle Keeper Status from two of our reviewers -.

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Desert Isle Keeper Status? Oh yeah. I've been on your site before - I recognize that term!

You actually have six books that earned DIK Status from us. And last year, in a reader's poll of the Top 100 Romances, seven of your titles were included. You're a favorite for me as well.

I've read a number of your books; my favorites to date are Duncan's Bride, Almost Forever, and now, Mr. Perfect. One book I'm still thinking about, and I read it about six weeks ago, is Sarah's Child. I know this is a favorite for many readers, and yet many others could not forgive Rome Matthews' treatment of Sarah. Some of our readers thought he was the epitome of the "get over it!" hero - that type of hero who is stuck and needs to get over something in his past. Can you comment on that?

As far as Rome Matthews goes, the story was actually his. He was the first character I thought of. The thing that first occurred to me was how would a really, really strong person react to an overwhelming loss? I can't imagine a reader saying, "Why doesn't he just get over it?" You know, he not only lost his wife, but he lost his entire family.

Some of the heroes you've created are alpha-to-the max, strong and intense characters. A couple examples are Robert in Loving Evangeline and Dane from Dream Man. These are the type of characters who reach out and grab you by the throat when you're reading.

I guess it's basically on the premise that a strong woman needs a strong man. In Loving Evangeline, a lot of people thought that she was too passive. She wasn't mouthy or anything like that, but she was an extremely strong woman. She ran a business and when she thought her business was threatened, she undertook single-handedly to try to capture those she thought were drug dealers. She countered Robert at every move. Every move he made - she countered it. She didn't make a big song and dance about it; she just did it.

I can see that. I know that readers have pointed out the difference between, say, she and Jaine in the new book. Readers have also commented upon the change in the heroes you write - comparing Robert to Sam (from Mr. Perfect), for instance. I think the change is less in the hero, but in how the heroines are drawn. In some of your books, the heroine is strong but seems frail and in need of rescuing. When you get to Jaine, that's not the impression you get.

The characters who have problems may need help, but that doesn't mean they ask for it. They are perfectly willing to carry on and handle everything themselves.

I think that's an important point. I know that in the end of White Lies and Diamond Bay, both heroines are on their own, having given up on the heroes, who come back for them. Those are some amazing scenes - very powerful scenes. The heroines seem to have such dignity even if they are thin and frail.

You've written a tremendous variety of sub-genres in romance - at least one historical, many series titles (both suspenseful and otherwise), the time travel Son of the Morning, and the several single title romantic suspense titles. I know your series books' bio it says that you love romance and can never see yourself moving away from that. Is that still true? As you become more of a best-seller to mainstream audiences, will we see you move into more mainstream writing? Will you ever write a non-suspense romance again?

I will always have a strong romantic relationship in my books because otherwise, I'm not really interested in writing the book. That's what I like to read as well.

This is going to sound totally schizoid, but I don't create these stories so much as I stumble across a story and then tell them the way the characters tell me. I don't have that much control over it. I just tell the story that is fascinating me at the time.

How did you get the idea for Mr. Perfect?

I was just walking around in my kitchen, which I'm doing now, and this conversation just started playing in my head. A group of friends talking about what would make the perfect man. The one-liners were just zinging and I wasn't making up the lines. It was like the characters were talking and I was overhearing them. Sometimes it's like watching a movie.

It's like when you first meet someone new. At first you know nothing about them other than their name and their physical description. As you know them, you get to know them better, and characters are like that for me. I don't really know anything about them until they tell or show me. I don't try to force the characters into something that's out of character to them just to fit the plot because then they're just puppets.

What happens when they stop talking to you?

Who can explain the process? It's just like meeting something. They'll let a little something slip, maybe you'll find out a little something about their family or a particular like or dislike. I have to tell you, a lot of what ended up in Mr. Perfect I had no idea was going to be in that book. I had absolutely no idea that Jaine was a car fanatic, that she loved any type of red vehicle. I had no idea! That just popped out. We writers sometimes hear voices and if the voices didn't tell us to write stories, they'd probably tell us to kill people.

Many of your series titles fit into the sub-category I like to call the Cabin/Road Romance. To me, Duncan's Bride is a great Cabin Romance, as is White Lies. Others of your series titles are Road Romances, such as Midnight Rainbow. What is the draw of these types of romances?

I think it's the pressure-cooker atmosphere. You're thrown into intimacy with what is basically a stranger. You have to rely on each other. You have nothing to distract you from this person other than risks to your life. You are totally focused on this person. It could be that to tell a forceful romance, I instinctively chose these scenarios because they are pressure-cooker situations. For them to be real grabbers, it couldn't be that they went to school together, were high school sweethearts, planned their June wedding, and it went off without a hitch.

In one of our recent columns, we had a discussion about love scenes, and your name came up subsequently on one of our message boards. I mentioned that I thought the love scenes in your romances were particularly effective because they are often so raw, with a kind of desperation for connection that I think is appealing. I also think the sexuality presented in your books seems to come from the hero's end and is overpowering and physical and male, which makes your books different. And, consider this reader's comment:

"The hero's intense, almost primitive (or maybe atavistic) sexuality is directed with unswerving, laser-like focus on the heroine. A Linda Howard hero is very masculine, experienced, and even jaded. He is a throwback to his hunter-gatherer forbearers whose biological duty was to impregnate as many females as possible to ensure the continuation of his gene pool. He is also the end product of Darwin's natural selection - he is smarter, stronger, faster, better than his fellow males. Yet despite thousands of years of genetic imprinting, his sexual appetite locks onto one woman. He cannot explain it intellectually, nor does he even understand it. This often results initially in the hero being angry about this attraction."

Can you comment on these observations? And, will you always give readers the high level of sensuality they've come to expect? Do you think you've ever gone over the top? I think maybe you did in Loving Evangeline when he tells her at the end that she'd better be ready, basically, to be on her back all the time.

To me, the ancestral hunter is part of the best part of men. Can you imagine being the focus of that type of intensity?

Every book is different. Not every book, to me, has the same level of sensuality now. When I'm writing a love scene, I'm, again, watching a movie and reporting what they do. I think that the stronger the characters, the more intense the love scenes are going to be. Robert in Loving Evangeline was not happy about loving her as much as he did. He didn't like that at all - he was used to being in control and he couldn't control this. She had power over him that nobody else had ever had and he didn't like it. Nobody would. As far as always including a high level of sensuality, I've never made a conscious decision to include it, and I've certainly never made a conscious decision to lower the flame. I just do whatever the story dictates.

On the one hand, we love many of your heroes, but on the other, sometimes they seem to go too far - the hero in All that Glitters, for instance. If you were writing that book today, would you write it differently?

All that Glitters was written in 1980. It was a book of the times. I wouldn't write it today; the story wouldn't occur to me today. At that time, when you read romance, it was always the billionaire and the innocent younger woman.

How do you feel about the re-issuing of some of your earlier stories? When you see somebody pick up ATG, do you want to tell them to put it down and pick up one of your newer books instead?

Sure, that's exactly what I want to do. I look at it now and it's a bad book. It was my first book. I made a lot of beginner's mistakes in it. The story content has not aged well. It was a good book for the times.

Do you have any other books that you feel the same way about? What specifically about your writing has changed since you first started?

As you progress, I hope each one is a little better than ones before. The second book, An Independent Wife, was not as regressive, but when you read it now, it's very dated.

I actually have a plot now. The earlier ones were totally character-driven, there was no action. I didn't have any action or adventure in my books that I can remember until probably Midnight Rainbow.

It's like anything else - the more you do it, the more proficient at it you become. I think my sentence structure is better now. I think I'm better at plotting. I'm certainly better at working out the action. When I first started doing adventure, the action scenes were the absolute hardest to do. So I did what any thinking woman would do and I started reading man writers because it's more natural to them. I read John Maxim, Stephen Hunter. . . I would go to the men's Westerns, the men's Adventure series to get into how men think. The way they describe action is not with exclamation points and all that. The more tense the action, the shorter and choppier the sentences when men are writing.

A couple of your books seem to engender strong positives and strong negatives. Others, like Mackenzie's Mountain, are more universally loved. I can't tell you how pleased we all were when Chance's story came out! Which are your favorite books? Do you plan to write more Mackenzie stories? Do you plan to write more series titles at all?

I have two more contracted books with Silhouette and I will continue to write series titles as long as ideas occur to me. Any new ones, however, will probably not be connected to earlier books.

Let's get back to Mackenzie's Mountain. There's a lot of interest in the timeline for this series. Can you help them out and clarify the settings?

I've been asked about that before. The answer is that Mackenzie's Mountain was set in the present and all the books that followed are set in the undefined future. There are little hints in the books that very few people pick up on. In Mackenzie's Mission, reference was made to the second Gulf War. Plus, that airplane, that I totally invented, was a lot of study of aeronautics, that plane used systems that the Air Force would dearly love to have operational. In Mackenzie's Pleasure, I mentioned that Social Security had been phased out.

I really enjoyed Mackenzie's Mountain, but something that was a problem for me was that Joe, just a teenager at the time, was too perfect. He kind of reminded me of the hero from Bluebird Winter. Both were too good, but in Joe's instance, he was young, which made it a bit more unbelievable for me.

Derek (from Bluebird Winter) was too good to write a full book about. I don't think he was too perfect, but he had no rough spots that I could dig my nails in and hold on to. Whereas Joe did have a flaw - he was so overwhelmingly focused on flying, he was so obsessed with it, that he was willing to brush women aside. And so I had to plant someone in front of him who refused to be brushed aside.

Derek, on the other hand, had nothing that was preventing him from falling in love and as soon as he met her, as far as he was concerned, that was it. She was the one who had to fall in love.

What are the joys and pitfalls of writing a series of interconnected books? What happens when you find secondary characters overpowering the main characters?

Revisiting the characters, seeing old friends, finding out what's happened - these are the pleasures.

The first time I ran into a secondary character overpowering a main character was when Kell Sabin popped up in Midnight Rainbow. I had to just ruthlessly slap him down or it would have been his book. Joe almost took over Mackenzie's Mountain. As a matter of fact, he came so close to taking it over that the reader response to Joe was absolutely overwhelming.

One of our reviewers referred to hero Dane Hollister from Dream Man as "The Manliest Man Alive Ever, the hero you love-to-hate-to-love." Two years later, this same reviewer referred to hero Sam from Mr. Perfect "one of Linda Howard's best heroes ever: confident but not controlling, arrogant but not overpowering." Another of our reviewers said of Sam, "he is masculine to the max and so sexy he is almost illegal." Many readers, I think will find these two heroes very different from one another. Are they different, or are their heroines really the ones who have evolved?

These two heroes are different in some ways; they are alike in that they are both such "guys." They are just ordinary guys, they're slobs, they are men you feel like you could actually meet. They're not super-heroes or spies. That may even be part of their attraction.

How does an author have to feel about men to write romance?

I think for it to be real, you absolutely have to love men to begin with. I do - I think they're wonderful creatures. I think every thinking woman should own one.

My own husband is a total guy. He's normal, he fishes BassMaster tournament trail for a living - how much more "guy" can you get? He's also very protective.

I guess romance writers take the best part of men and that may be the part that feminists have tried to deny them - truly the protectiveness, the every-day courtesies that men would love to extend to women but it's not politically correct anymore for them to open a door.

How do you feel about the creeping of political correctness in romance writing? And, isn't it true that some of the best things about men are also the worst things, particularly in how they are depicted in romances?

To me, political correctness is simply a two-word phrase for censorship. It's trying to tell people what to think, how to act, what to say. It's censorship. Someone may get their feelings hurt at a certain phrase, but that's life. Hurt feelings are, in the grand scheme of things, very negligible.

How do you research the military and/or special forces?

Through books and the Internet - and through contacts. I happen to know a guy who was in the CIA and through the years he was also a mercenary. Cops will talk to you - there's just a wealth of information out there. I've looked up how to make a bomb on the 'Net, I've gotten books on bomb-making, and - this is going to sound really strange, but, I made my first Molotov Cocktail when I was seven years old with a cousin of mine. I set fire to the living room floor when I was four, trying to melt crayons to paint a picture.

Where did the idea for working in the Knights Templar come from in Son of the Morning?

I already knew about the Templars; I came across them when doing some research on the Shroud of Turin for my own edification. I found out that the Templars are intricately interwoven in the history of the Shroud. The more I knew about the Templars, the more the story started growing. The character of Black Niall I actually had his name way before I had anything else. I probably had his name back in 1992 even though I didn't write the book until several years later. When I stumbled across the Templars, and knew that Scotland was the only European country not to persecute the Templars, I knew what to do with the name. It just went from there.

Do you think you'll ever write another time travel romance?

I didn't plan to write that one. I never know - a story may suggest itself. And, even though my editor doesn't know what to expect, she never tries to steer me away from anything.

Can you share a small amount of personal and professional history with our readers?

I have lived in the same county in Alabama for my entire life. I wrote my first book when I was 9 years old - didn't know a thing about chapter breaks. It just started and it went until it ended. I wrote totally for my own enjoyment for twenty years. I worked at a trucking company, where I met my husband, and all of a sudden, it was like the difference between light and dark, I got up one morning and said to myself, "Okay, let's see if you're good enough." Until then I had never even thought about trying to get published. That was twenty years ago.

I have three grown step-children, three grandchildren, two golden retrievers lying beside me as we speak named Bit O'Honey and Sugar Baby, and we live in a big house that's very much a home and not a showplace. It's a house where the kids romp, the dogs romp, and you can sit on any piece of furniture.

I do laundry and I cook - there aren't any servants waiting on us. Just last year I got someone to help me with paperwork one afternoon a week.

Does your husband read your books?

He's read a few, but he doesn't any more because he got upset reading the violent scenes. He can't separate the books from me. To me, they are totally separate - they are not me, they are themselves. All I'm doing is telling about people as though they are people I have met. It's hard for Gary to separate the imagination from the person.

What was your introduction to romance? What authors, romance or otherwise, do you like to read?

I can't remember if it was Kathleen Woodiwiss or a Harlequin romance. My favorite authors are Iris Johansen, Stephanie Laurens, Mary Balogh, Carla Kelly, new SIM author Fiona Brand, SF/Romance writer S.L. Viehl, Stephen Hunter and John Maxim. If I had to choose a favorite book, I'd go with the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon.

Do you have plans for a web site?

I should have one operational within a month.

What are you working on now? When will we see it on sale?

I'm in the thinking process, just barely getting to know the characters for the next Pocket hardcover. It'll be on sale next August.

Who are your favorite heroes and heroines besides Sam and Jaine?

Jane and Grant from Midnight Rainbow, Jillian and Ben in Heart of Fire were so much fun it was just unreal. Zane Mackenzie - I absolutely adored him. I really love Maddie in Duncan's Bride.

You have written such a variety of stories - from ranchers and a mail-ordered bride to time travel to psychics and cops - if God told you today that you could only write one type of book in the future, what would you say?

I would say, "Oh God, please don't make me do that!" My interests skip around so much and I call it the God of Writing. This is going to sound so totally weird, but I had written two historicals for Pocket, and my editor at the time, Claire Zion, wanted me to write another one. I didn't have another historical idea - not even a glimmer of one. I wanted to write Dream Man - I already had it in mind. I had gone to UPS and was driving back home, talking out loud to myself, muttering, and I said, "I don't have an historical idea." And this deep voice from beside me said, "What about the healer?" I immediately had the whole plot for The Touch of Fire. Immediately. It was either the God of Writing - because it was an external voice beside me, deep and masculine - or there are such things as guardian angels and my guardian angel was riding with me and got tired of listening to me bitch.

--Laurie Likes Books

Linda Howard at AAR

 




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