Talking Romance With Christina Dodd

by Claire E. White
The Internet Writing Journal, July 1999

Bestselling Texas author Christina Dodd has come a long way from her days as a draftsman in an engineering firm who
Photo of Christina Dodd
would change the endings of her favorite stories on her lunch hour. After her first daughter was born, she quit her job to write full-time, thinking that raising children and writing novels would be complementary activities. In between changing diapers and chasing after toddlers, she found the time and discipline to write a set amount of pages every day. Eventually, her hard work paid off -- handsomely. Ten years later, her first book, Candle in the Window (HarperCollins, 1991) was published to rave reviews from fans and critics alike. Candle in the Window won both Romance Writers of America's prestigious Golden Heart and RITA Awards. In the seven years since, her novels have been translated into Russian, Chinese, Italian, Lithuanian and Danish, selected by Doubleday Book Club, published in large print and recorded on Books on Tape for the Blind. Library Journal chose her August, 1997 historical, A Well Pleasured Lady (Avon Books), as one of the top five romances of 1997. A Well Favored Gentleman (Avon Books, 1998) is a 1999 RITA finalist. Christina looks at the filled shelves in the bookstores with a sense of satisfaction. After years of both struggles and triumphs, Dodd will see three original releases and six re-releases in 1999, making this her most successful year ever. Her fourteenth historical romance, The Runaway Princess (Avon Books, 1999) was both a USA Today Bestseller and a New York Times Bestseller.

Her fifteenth historical romance is just out in bookstores now. Someday My Prince (Avon, 1999) is the fairy tale of a headstrong princess in need of a husband, a bastard prince in need of a kingdom, and the madcap romance and adventure that results from their meeting at the husband-hunting ball.

Part of a close-knit family, Christina often discusses the plots of her novels with her husband and children. Her family has discovered, however, that plotting a spirited romance over dinner in a restaurant tends to bring nearby conversations to a screeching halt. "Should I shoot him while he's swimming the river or after he's crawled on shore? ... Where can we hide the jewels? ... What if they snatch the wrong princess?" Not many people consider this normal dinner discussion, but to this Texas clan, it's the benefit of having a writer in the family.

Christina credits her mother for her love of reading and of books, and credits her husband for keeping her in shoes during the ten years it took before her first manuscript was published. When she's not plotting her latest novel, you can usually find Christina reading, going to the movies, traveling or spending time with her family. We spoke with her about how she got her start as an author, how she writes those passionate loves scenes and how she infuses her stories with the wit and humor that are the hallmarks of her books.

When did you first start writing? What got you interested in romance writing?

I've always been a reader. When I was young I read everything, but as I grew up I discovered I liked romance best. Why romance? For one thing, I like humor. Romance is about the fusion of one man and one woman, and that is intrinsically, hysterically funny. A woman wants things like world peace, a clean house, and a deep and meaningful relationship based on mutual understanding and love. A man wants things like a Craftsman router with attachments, undisputed control of the TV remote, and a red Corvette which will miraculously make his bald spot disappear. In my twenties, I worked as a draftsman, and I'd read during the lunch hour, go back to draw a sawmill, and while I was drafting, I would plot the ending of the book in my mind. And it never ended like that. These people who were writing didn't know how to do it correctly, and I liked my endings better. So when my first daughter was born, I told my husband I was going to quit work, and write a book. It was a good time to start a new career, because how much trouble could one little infant be? Yes, go ahead and laugh. It took me ten years, two children and two unpublished manuscripts before I was published.

What led up to the publication of your first book, Candle in the Window?

Candle in the Window was that third manuscript. I remembered a story I'd seen on television years ago, a story I thought the writers had mishandled. I wrote up the proposal. I sent it to an agent, who called me and said she could sell the book if I finished it. I was, to say the least, skeptical. I was doing something unusual in romance -- I was writing about a blind woman. Readers tend to be resistant to buying books about handicapped people, and therefore I knew my chances of getting this book published were slim to none. So all the time I was finishing this book, I was thinking the agent was crazy and I was crazy, because we were never going to get this book published. But I wrote THE END for the third time, and I sent it to the agent. Then I went right to work on another book -- my fourth unpublished book - because I knew Candle in the Window didn't stand a chance of being published. I have to struggle to remember my children's' birthdays, but I know Candle in the Window sold on Friday, February 2, 1990 at 3:30pm. It has won the Golden Heart and RITA Awards from Romance Writers of America, it's in its fifth printing, and I've probably received more fan mail on Candle than on any of my other books.

What kept you going during the years before your first book was accepted for publication?

After doing it for so long, I realized, finally, that I was a writer. I got book ideas everywhere I looked. In newspaper articles, in magazine stories, on the news, from movies. Everything I saw or did or thought became grist for the mill. I had the proposals of several stories written up. I wrote every day, and I kept a calendar with the number of pages I finished. I had self-imposed deadlines. My children and my husband knew and understood my goals were to write good books and to be published, in that order. Those are still my goals, but I have added one -- I'm going to be a #1 New York Times Bestseller.

How has the romance novel industry changed since you published your first book?

Publishing companies are being bought by large conglomerates and lumped together. For instance, Bantam and Dell are now Bantam/Dell.

I'd like to talk about your last book, The Runaway Princess. How did this story come about?

I wanted to write a book that was an adventure, fun to read, a romp, like Romancing the Stone. That's The Runaway Princess.

The star of The Runaway Princess is not your usual, run of the mill heroine. She likes to eat, for one thing! How did you create the character of Evangaline Scoffield? Do we see a bit of Christina Dodd peeking out of the character of Evangaline?

Evangeline is a very real person, because she is what most of us who read
"Writing a love scene is harder. To do it well takes time and thought and a really good thesaurus -- how many different ways are there to say 'penis?' My goal in writing love scenes is to make sure the reader never wants to skip one."
are like. Readers all have great amounts of useless knowledge which we've gleaned from books, all kinds of books. We're all hell to come up against in Trivial Pursuit, but basically we have nothing to do with all that knowledge. Evangeline gets in situation after situation where, if she doesn't use that karate, rappel down the cliff, cause the explosion, she's going to have to compromise her character, be forced to live a lie -- or die. So she keeps jumping in and doing when all her life she's been dreaming. I didn't envy her being in that position, but it sure was fun to write. As for the eating -- you know how most romance heroines don't eat when they're stressed and most real women do? Evangeline's a real woman.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing The Runaway Princess?

Cover of
The Runaway Princess by Christina Dodd
Click here
for ordering information.
Writing is always challenging, but The Runaway Princess was written while we were having our master bath and kitchen remodeled. Remind me never to do that again (she says as they prepare to cover the patio and enlarge the garage.)

Your books are known for their wit, humor and passion. Do you intentionally write humor into your books, or does it just happen that way?

Thank you! You just described me, along with beautiful and tactful. Also, I lie for a living. There are no situations in life, no matter how tragic, that can't be lightened by humor. My stories tend to have a dark side to them, but the attractive part of any character is their ability to go over thin ice lightly and with grace.

What are your thoughts on love scenes in romance novels? Do you find love scenes more or less difficult to write than other types of scenes?

I love reading good love scenes. I buy Linda Howard and Elizabeth Lowell because, not only do they write well-plotted, well-written books, but their development of sexual tension is outstanding. Writing a love scene is harder. To do it well takes time and thought and a really good thesaurus -- how many different ways are there to say "penis?" My goal in writing love scenes is to make sure the reader never wants to skip one.

Does your husband or family read your books in progress? Do you ever solicit their opinions on plot points?

Usually, if my family is involved it's during the plotting stages. My husband and I have been married for twenty-five years, and my daughters are teenagers, and they all have amazing imaginations. Of course in our house imagination is encouraged, so I'll say, "I have this setup but I don't know what the character's motivation is, or how to resolve the situation," and we'll chew on it until we've got something worked out. I also plot with an ever-changing group of writers -- we each bring our ideas and help each other work them out.

What's a typical working day for you like?

Feather boa and champagne? Okay, I did say I lie for a living. My goal is to write ten pages a day, no matter how long that takes. Of course real life interferes, and the first part of the book writes slowly while the last hundred pages write faster and faster, but ten pages a day gets me where I want to go.

I understand you worked in a bookstore. What was that like? Did you enjoy it?

Oo. I loved the bookstore. I worked at an independent part time for five years, and adored it. I got to pull hot-off-the-press books out of the boxes, I got to talk books with other readers, I learned a lot about the business and what people like to read. I really miss it. When I go into bookstores today, I still straighten the books and if I know the layout and the owner/clerk is busy, I'll help the customers.

The book industry is going through a lot of changes lately, with all the mergers and the electronic revolution. Do you think in, say, 10 years people will be reading your books on a hand-held electronic device such as an e-book or a Palm Pilot? Or will they still be buying them in print?

When computers came out there was a lot of talk about the paperless office, and of course that hasn't happened. I'd say there are still going to be print books. But e-books sound great to me. One of the things I learned at the bookstore is, no matter how good a book is, if the print's too small, readers won't buy it. With e-books, we can all adjust the print to the size we want it. Students and researchers are going to be in heaven, because e-books will eliminate carrying those huge books around.

How much do you use the Internet? Do you find it useful?

I never do research on the Internet. I'm too impatient to sit there while things load. Then you either have to print it out or remember it. Research books are still the best -- and one of the reasons I'm looking forward to e-books.

What is your advice to an aspiring romance author?

Put your rear in the chair and write the whole book.

Tell us about Someday My Prince. I understand we'll get to hear more about the Prince's brother Dom from The Runaway Princess?

Cover of
Someday My Prince by Christina Dodd
Click here
for ordering information.
Dom was a terrific villain because he had a huge amount of conflict in his background - illegitimate son of the king, raised in a brothel, lost his mother to venereal disease. He's a great hero for the same reason. He's bad, but with a good woman to kick him in the rear, he can learn to be honorable. In Someday My Prince, he meets that woman.

You are very prolific - with three new books due out in 1999. How do you juggle the time demands made on you as author, wife and mother?

I'm extremely organized? No, you're right, I'm not. I'm just like every other woman, hurrying from task to task and seldom getting everything done. Occasionally I allow myself a primal scream. Not only does it release tension, but it alerts my family that I'm on a rampage.

You often set your books in England during the Regency period. What attracts you to that time period?

What attracts me to the Regency? The same thing that attracts the readers.
"There are no situations in life, no matter how tragic, that can't be lightened by humor. My stories tend to have a dark side to them, but the attractive part of any character is their ability to go over thin ice lightly and with grace."
It's well-covered ground, and almost anyone who reads historicals can read a Regency and know without being told what the characters are wearing, what the idioms mean, and who the scions of society were. Also, the women wore clothes that were easy to take off. But any time in history is romantic, because it's the story that matters. When I wrote The Greatest Lover in all England, I found out that readers didn't like Elizabethans. Then out comes Shakespeare in Love, and everyone's thrilled with Elizabethans. Did I mention The Greatest Lover in all England was re-released this year, along with five others set in various eras?

What's your idea of the perfect romantic getaway weekend?

One with my husband.

When you write your books, do you have a specific type of reader in mind for whom you're writing?

Me. I write books I want to read.

What projects are you working on now?

After months of hard labor, I just finished my March 2000 book, tentatively
Cover of
Scottish Brides by Christina Dodd, Stephanie Laurens, Julia Quinn
and Karen Ranney
Click here
for ordering information.
titled The Book That Will Not End. It was so long! I wrote and wrote and wrote, and the end kept moving away and I still had a hundred pages left. I'm enormously pleased with it, though. It entertained me, made me laugh, and the hero was just such a jerk! (Hint: he comes around.)

What are your favorite ways to relax and have fun when you're not writing?

Reading, of course. Theater, movies. Travel -- the family went to England and Scotland in March and we enjoyed ourselves immensely, even the tour of Westminster Abbey with The Most Boring Tour Guide in History. We finally sneaked away from the tour, but now all we have to say is "Gothic arches," and we're all laughing. Eating! Reading. Did I say reading before?


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