Frequently Asked Questions

As I said, I hope to answer some questions that people often ask me. Here are some of them. If you would like the answer to one, just click on it. If you have a question that isn't here, just send me an e-mail at romance@sff.net

  1. How long does it take to write a Regency novel?
  2. How hard is it to research the period?
  3. How do you think up your plots for your novels? Where do you get them?
  4. How did you start writing? Did you always want to do that?
  5. Tell us a little bit about your background.
  6. Tell us a little bit about your life. Do you do anything except write? Do you have a family?
  7. What are you writing now? When will it be out?
  8. I want to write a novel. What do you recommend that I do?
  9. I never know where to start. Do you begin with plot or characters?
  10. Do you plan to write Regencies forever, or do you want to do something else?

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Here's what you wanted to know:

How long does it take to write a Regency novel?

Depends. Now, I know you're saying "What kind of answer is that?" Let me explain. I know some Regency writers who spend months researching their novels, then write them in just a few weeks. Others have written several and don't have to do that much research. Still, a Regency isn't just about research. The novel still has to have all the things that make a good story. It must have well-rounded characters and a good plot. For me, this is one thing I like to spend a great deal of time on. Furthermore, I work full-time (I teach school), so my writing time is at a premium. Whereas some other writers may have six or eight hours a day to write, I have, at most, two. Usually I have only one, so I want to have my backstory and characters well defined before I begin. As for actual time, it takes me about four or five months of actual writing after I have my characters and plot set. During the summer, when I have more time, I can write a novel in about ten weeks if I have already finished the preliminary planning.

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How hard is it to research the period?

I find it very difficult to research the period, although I enjoy it tremendously. It's amazing how many things heroines or heroes do that you must look up. For example, I wanted my heroine to walk into a room and light a candle. The year was 1813 and my editor changed my manuscript to read that the heroine walked in, struck a match, and lit the candle. Couldn't be, I thought, and had to go spend an entire afternoon at the library looking it up. I was right--matches were invented by a pharmacist named Schultz in the 1830s. This was just a reference in one sentence, mind you, so you can imagine what the research is for the whole book. Still, if you love history and research, the Regency period is a really interesting one. So many wonderful characters were around then--Lord Byron, the Prince Regent, Wellington, Jane Austen, Beau Brummell--the list goes on and on.

Studies have shown that readers of Regencies are usually highly educated and/or widely read, so you need to have your research accurate. Readers will write you and tell you if it isn't. Of course, I'm always glad to hear from someone if I do have a fact wrong. Next time, I'll get it right.

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How do you think up your plots for your novels? Where do you get them?

I once heard a writer say that she got her plots at Sears. I don't (although that would be much easier). I'd love to be able to tell you that they come to me in visions or whatever, but, frankly, I don't know where they come from. I read as much as I can, both fiction and non-fiction, and I also watch movies, and television productions. I usually start off with a "What if.." situation and go from there. "What if my heroine suddenly became a guardian for her sister's children?" "What if my hero was asked to shepherd a friend's sister on a journey?" "What would happen if..." You get the idea.

This works best for me. It takes a while for me to generate a plot. One writer told me that she could come up with fifteen or twenty plots an hour if she worked at it. I can't do that. It takes me days or weeks of asking myself "what if" and even then, I have to change and refine the plot as I go along.

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How did you start writing? Did you always want to do that?

Another tough question. Let me take the last part first: yes, I think I always wanted to write things. However, when I was small, I do recall that my main ambition in life was to be a pirate. Anne Bonney was my ideal (of course, I certainly didn't know as much about her then as I do now! I can't say I could call her ideal now, although I'd still like to write a book about pirates).

I've always written things and always loved words. However, I never thought about writing a novel until my children were almost grown. It wasn't that I didn't think I could write, it was more that the whole concept of writing all those pages, then actually doing something with them (like sending them to a publisher) was just something that had never occurred to me. Once I actually wrote a novel, I was hooked. I loved the idea of creating characters and having them act out their lives in front of me.

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Tell us a little bit about your background.

I was born in Vallejo, California when my parents lived there because my father was working for the Navy. We lived there for a few years, then returned to my parents' home in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina, right on the crest of the Blue Ridge. Then we moved to Pontiac, Michigan and lived there for a while, returning again to North Carolina. This time we stayed, so I grew up here, went to college, and got married.

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Tell us a little bit about your life. Do you do anything except write? Do you have a family?

Yes, I have a wonderful family. My husband is a North Carolina native who now works in our family business. We grow Christmas trees and ornamental shrubbery. We have three wonderful daughters, two of whom are attorneys, and one who just recently graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. We also have three dogs who are most demanding!

As far as my work, I teach school full time at our local high school (British literature, of course!). My days are taken up with work, so my writing time is limited. Also, I like to spend time in my flower garden in the summer, spring and fall are wonderful times in the mountains to hike and work outdoors, and, of course, there's Tarheel basketball in the winter... I try to write a little bit each day, though.

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What are you writing now? When will it be out?

I have several books coming out soon. My first written as Juliette Leigh came out in April, 1998. It is titled Sherry's Comet and involves a dashing American hero and a racing horse. The next one, A Touch of Magic, was out in December, 1998 (in stores in November). This book has many ingredients in it: a spy, an undercover Army officer, a circus, and a heroine who owns her very own leopard named Spot. The book I am currently writing has the tentative title The Fifth Proposal. I'll let you know when the publication date is set.

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I want to write a novel. What do you recommend that I do?

First, read everything you can, concentrating on the type of novel you want to write. Then think about how the books were put together, what the differences were between books you liked and those you didn't, and how the author created the characters. As for the writing itself, there's only one thing that I know of that works--practice, practice, practice.

There are several fine books about writing that are available. The books by Jack Bickham are particularly useful, and cover most aspects of writing. Still, nothing replaces practice and perseverance.

When you finally have a book that you think is ready for publication, look in market magazines, or join the Romance Writers of America so you can get their excellent publication, the Romance Writers' Report. Here you can find information on publishers' addresses and the names of editors for particular lines.

Make your manuscript as perfect as you can get it, send it in to the proper house and editor, then pray.

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I never know where to start. Do you begin with plot or characters?

I usually begin with characters, then ask the classic "What if?" After I've thought and thought about the characters, written down many things about them (such as physical descriptions, life stories, etc.), then I begin to think of situations in which they can act and react. The book usually takes off from there.

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Do you plan to write Regencies forever, or do you want to do something else?

Both. I love Regencies and hope I never stop writing interesting stories about the period. It's one of the most fascinating periods in history. However, I'm also a big mystery fan (as you can tell from my books--each of them always has some kind of mystery or intrigue), so I hope to be published in the mystery genre someday.

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If you wish to e-mail me with a comment or question, my address is romance@sff.net


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