Lisa Ann Verge - Exploring the Realms of Magic & Romance
(This interview was originally written for Romantics at Heart in 1996.)
Lisa Ann Verge is not someone I would have expected to end up writing romantic fiction, often of a mystical quality. She was trained to be a scientist. However, the road to a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry was not to be, and science's loss is our gain.
Lisa is the author of eight historical and contemporary romances. She first came to my attention when I read her 1995 historical, Heaven in his Arms. I was fascinated by its setting in French Canada in the 1670's. This is the only book I've read with such a setting, and it kept me riveted.
Heaven in his Arms is a mail-order bride romance. It is also what I term a Road Romance because most of the activity occurs as the hero/heroine travel from one location to the other. About this, Lisa says:
"The idea for Heaven came from a something I'd read in passing , when I was researching my first novel ten years ago. In the seventeenth century, France had two problems: sparsely-settled colonies in Quebec, and a scourge of beggars upon the streets of Paris. Louis XIV's solution? Sweep the Parisian streets of whores and female beggars, and ship them off to the colonies -- where they'd be forced into marriage with unwilling fur trappers. Is that custom-made for a romance, or what?"
So, from a snippet read ten years ago, Lisa decided to explore French Canada. The heroine, Genevieve Lalande, is a small and scrappy French-woman who ends up sick from her voyage to Quebec, and is chosen by Andre Lefebvre to be his wife because he assumes she is not long for this world. But Genevieve doesn't die and the fun begins.
As is often the case in romantic fiction, the hero does not believe the heroine is strong enough to survive the wilderness. Because Genevieve is not what Andre expects (a spoiled, Parisian gentlewoman), he cannot fathom Genevieve surviving the trip westward, and makes things more difficult for her in an attempt to scare her off. While these themes are not new, Verge keeps them fresh and lively, adding a new wrinkle - Andre cannot consummate the marriage or he will not be able to obtain an annulment at journey's end.
But Genevieve, because she was raised on the streets of Paris, has learned about life the hard way. She does not need to "grow" in this way; she is as competent as most men in the arts of survival. However, she must hide her abilities from Andre in an effort to keep the truth of her background from him. Some of my favorite scenes result from this deception, such as when Andre learns it is Genevieve who has been hunting, catching, and skinning the rabbits for food along their journey. Another is when he discovers her feet are severely injured from their trek in the wilderness - he cannot believe she has withstood the pain.
Their journey toward discovery, about themselves and about each other is very exciting. I heard the river rushing downstream, felt the bitter cold of winter, tasted their passion as Andre took of the forbidden fruit, and understood Genevieve's stubbornness in persisting on such a difficult road (born out of need but nurtured and changed by love).
Prior to Heaven in his Arms, Lisa wrote Twice Upon a Time - a faery tale. The sequel to this book, Faery Bride, has just been released. Her initial plan was for these magical books to be a trilogy, with an as-yet unwritten book as the "prequel". Whether a prequel is written has yet to be decided.
Twice Upon a Time was nominated for three Readers' Choice Awards, including Affaire de Coeur and Romantic Times, and was chosen by The Reader's Voice as one of the "Best Reads of 1994." It is a magical, mystical, time- travel/reincarnation romance of the immortal Conaire, a "man" doomed to live many lives. After his beloved Deirdre is killed, he spends centuries yearning and searching for a second chance at love. When he finds her, she is the reincarnated spirit of Deirdre, now Brigid, and he will do anything, including relinquishing his immortality, to preserve her life and their love.
Twice Upon a Time is written in a completely different manner than Heaven in his Arms - it is as though they were written with different "spirits" speaking to the author. Heaven is dramatic, in the moment, and earthly. Twice is ethereal, magical, and its prose is poetic. When asked to describe what it is like to change gears from the "real" to the "surreal", Lisa's response was that a romance is a romance.
Her view that a rose is a rose has not necessarily been the most conducive in building her career. She says, "I'm one of those writers who wanders all over history in search of a really good story. Unfortunately, in building a career, it helps if you can describe yourself as a writer of western romances, or medieval romances, or . . . . in some ways, my tendency to wander all over time and all over the world is a handicap."
Lisa has continued her unconventional path because she loves the thrill of new settings, time periods, plot twists, and research. She says, "I love recreating the sights and scents and sensations of a different era. And I know romance readers will respond to an emotional love story, no matter what the setting, or what unusual elements might be involved."
Lisa does listen to the spirits' voices when writing. She describes a process not dissimilar to an archaeologist: "In many ways, the best tales have the feeling of being unearthed - as if they already existed and I merely excavated them, and put them into words. Since the stories are different, the voices are different."
While Heaven is a road romance, it is also a character-driven, more humorous story than Twice, which is a strongly-plotted, emotional, and magical story. The author adds, "My psyche seems to need this kind of alternation - As if, after finishing a heart-stopping emotional tale, I need to write more 'wit', more brightness and laughter."
Lisa's archaeological metaphor is an apt response to the criticism some levy against medievals tinged with the mystical. I would add that magic and mysticism are very appropriate in the medieval sub-genre because people believed in such things in the Middle Ages. Transported into this faery tale, I was reminded of the wonderful medieval, mystical Enchanted trilogy written by Elizabeth Lowell. Both authors vividly capture the swirling mists and painful journeys visited upon those with special powers.
Her current release, The Faery Bride, is described by the author as a Beauty and the Beast story with a twist. The bride is Aileen, the daughter of Conaire and Deirdre/Brigid, kidnapped by the Lord of Craig. He is the beast and Aileen is his Belle. The wedding invitation I recently received from Lisa includes this declaration from the mother and father of the bride:
"Furthermore. . . .Conaire and Deirdre would have it be known that they approve heartily of this union, despite the groom's shameful history of kidnapping, imprisonment, and overall wicked behavior toward their beloved daughter. For a man of such boldness and strength will be a fine match for their sharp-tongued spawn, equal to the task of keeping her safe from all accusations of witchcraft, even if she does have faery blood running through her veins. . . . Wings Optional."
Such a boldly romantic story is probably common in Lisa's life - her husband sounds like a hero from a romance novel. After meeting in college, Lisa went to California to graduate school. Her beloved had intended to go to law school in New York. Instead, he loaded his car with all his possessions and drove from sea to sea to be with his beloved. After law school, he proposed "on a moonlit night upon the height of Coit Tower in San Francisco."
Today she is back on the east coast, living with her husband and their two young daughters. Lisa's excavations have led her back to Ireland, the setting for her next book, Wild Irish Rose, to be released in March 1997. This book, according to Lisa, is also a road romance and, better than Heaven. She says as well that it is funny, raunchy - yet both the heroine and hero are searching for themselves.
I'm glad that a romance is a romance for Lisa Ann Verge. Her wonderful prose has enhanced my reading. I want the voices of those spirits to continue, and for her to excavate more treasures such as Heaven in his Arms and Twice Upon a Time.
January 10, 1998:
I received a Christmas card in mid-December from Lisa. I was flattered, honored, and impressed that Lisa had the time to send Christmas cards when she's recently had a baby. When I picked up a new issue of RT, I noticed this historical and historical fantasy author had a series romance coming out shortly. So I wrote to her and asked her about her new baby and to comment on making the switch to contemporary series romance. Here's what this master of the Road Romance had to say:
The baby's name is Maeve Elizabeth, and she's my third little girl. I have three under the age of six and absolutely no help right now. I'm writing this to you as she lays in a rocker beside me, making noise and looking hungry.
She is one of the major reasons why I wrote the Harlequin Temptation, Loving Wild, coming out in February 1998. Around about last year, when I realized I was pregnant, I made one of those difficult working mother decisions - I decided that once the baby was born, I was going on maternity leave for a year or so. I've been writing one historical romance a year for eleven years now, while having and raising babies, and it was becoming very difficult finding time to do the necessary research and really develop an idea. I wanted to slow down, take some time for my kids, not worry about deadline pressures, refill the creative well. With the addition of another baby in my life, time would be all the more precious and I wanted to give as much as I could to her.
But I couldn't be idle in those months between making this decision and giving birth, so, just for fun - I'm not kidding! - I decided to write a short sexy contemporary romance. I've done one before - a 1991 Meteor release called Sweet Harvest, and had a great time writing it. So, I wrote Loving Wild, submitted it to my agent, and didn't think about it while I awaited the Blessed Event. Lo and Behold, Harlequin bought it! You could have knocked me over with a feather. I was thrilled . . .and a bit dismayed, because now I had another deadline, which is just what I had been trying to avoid. Fortunately, I finished the book with time to spare.
Now, of course, Harlequin wants more, and I am working on something . . . but I'm doing it at my own speed. I have to. I'm not getting much sleep, I have absolutely no time during the day . . . and, frankly, I'm having too much fun enjoying my new baby.
Some people say you have to put out 3 to 4 category romances a year to really make a name for yourself, and perhaps that is true. I'll never be able to do that, not ever. I'm simply too slow a writer in the best of circumstances. I just hope that each of my books is worth the wait . . . .
--Laurie Likes Books