Talking Romance With Christina Skye

by Claire E. White

Bestselling romance author Christina Skye has eaten snake meat in Shanghai and armadillo in Canton. A China scholar with a doctorate in classical Chinese poetry, she has translated for Chinese generals, dissident poets, folk artists and fifth-generation puppet virtuosos.

Photo of Christina Skye
After graduating from college with a Ph.D. in classical Chinese literature, she soon discovered there were roughly three job options open to her: the CIA, the State Department, or a small women's junior college in the northwest corner of Kansas. None of these options particularly suited her, so she headed off to work as a translator for an international oil consortium in Peking.

About her work she says, "When the Australian and German engineers weren't busy trying to kill each other after overloading on a lethal combination of Chinese vodka and mao-tai, the job was fairly quiet. But if you think oil drilling terminology is boring in English, you should hear it in Chinese."

Probably her most exciting time as a translator in China came the evening when her boss, a dignified English businessman, asked her to help him smuggle two ladies of the evening into the State Guest House, one of the most secure and highly guarded compounds in China where foreign dignitaries and heads of state stay when on official visits to China. She did her best to explain to the armed P.L.A. soldiers at the gate that the colorfully dressed women were actually there to take dictation for an important petrochemical contract with the Foreign Ministry, to no avail. Narrowly avoiding making a first-hand acquaintance with China's penal system, she decided it was time to head home to the U.S.

She began writing in 1979. Her first four books focused on Chinese culture, and were the result of numerous interviews with master puppeteers, sculptors, painters and other artists, who shared the secrets of their centuries-old skills. Her work helped to preserve the methods of centuries-old crafts, some of which are now dangerously rare in China and elsewhere in Asia. She then decided that it was time to try her hand at fiction. Since 1990, she has written six historical romance novels for Dell, all but one set in the Regency period. She has also written seven contemporary/historical paranormal romances for Avon Books as part of her ongoing, popular Draycott Abbey series: Hour of the Rose, Bridge of Dreams, Bride of the Mist, Key to Forever, Season of Wishes, Christmas Knight, and the most recent release in the series, The Perfect Gift. Draycott Abbey has some very special qualities: for one thing it's watched over by a kindly guardian ghost, Adrian and his ghostly companion, a grey cat named Gideon. Christina's books are known for their wit, humor, steamy passion, and fascinating characters. She truly loves the solitary life of a writer, noting that, "Being self-employed, I'm generally on good terms with my boss." She has appeared on Geraldo!, ABC Worldwide News, Travel News Network, the Arthur Frommer Show, Voice of America and Looking East. She lives in Scottsdale, Arizona with her husband and son. Christina spoke with us about her move from scholar to bestselling novelist, her interest in feng shui, and her latest bestselling romances, A Perfect Gift (Avon, 1999), the latest entry in the Draycott Abbey series and 2000 Kisses (Dell, 1999), a contemporary romance about a high-powered executive who finds love and adventure in the arms of a handsome Arizona sherrif -- all because of a Y2K glitch.

What did you like to read when you were a child?

Just about anything I could get my hands on.

How did you make the transition from scholar to novelist? Do you ever miss the days of working as a translator and living abroad?

I loved working as a translator and consultant in Asia, but you have to move on. Those 33-hour flights got harder and harder, too. I haven't been back to Asia since 1983, and someday soon I want to go back, even though things are probably changed beyond recognition.

Cover of
2000 Kisses by Christina Skye
Let's talk about your new contemporary romance, 2000 Kisses. This book is a departure for you; what prompted you to write a Y2K love story?

Actually, 2000 Kisses evolved out of an idea of my wonderful editor, Maggie Crawford. I had begun my career with Dell back in 1990, did 6 historicals there, then moved to Avon for 2 novellas, followed by 7 books in my Draycott Abbey series. With all the gloomy predictions about Y2K, Maggie and I thought it would be fun to turn the idea around so that my heroine lives the ultlimate fantasy: being handed a million dollars on January 1, 2000. Of course, that's when all the trouble begins!

Tess O'Mara is an interesting character. How did you create Tess? Were there any characteristics you were trying to avoid?

Tess is all of us who dream and struggle and plan.
"Listen, so you can begin to hear how differently people speak. And respect your characters. They'll talk to you if you let them."
She is organized and dedicated and great at her fast-paced job. But maybe she's too great. The problem is, she's had to give up any kind of personal life, and she's wondering if that's too high a price for success. Of course, she's got a whooooole lot of baggage -- the Wall Street Journal and a cappuccino fixation among them. I just couldn't stop thinking: how in the world is a high-profile, fast track career woman like this going to adjust to life in a sleepy little town like Almost? And of course, to life with the town's wonderful sheriff...

Let's turn to the hero of 2000 Kisses, the drop dead handsome T.J. McCall. Did you create T.J. to complement Tess, or did you create him independently of the heroine?

T.J. just slow talked his way right into my heart. I first saw him carrying that cell phone in the middle of a cattle drive -- what a man! I think he is a real extension of the town itself. And yes, I've met a bunch of cowboys like him since moving here to Arizona. (Whoa, did I just start a female stampede?)

Let's talk about The Perfect Gift, which continues the wonderful Draycott Abbey series. How did this story come about?

Cover of
The Perfect Gift by Christina Skye
The theme of The Perfect Gift came in one of those wonderful flashes: I saw a man standing above a mist-covered loch, and out of nowhere this phrase rang out, jolting me. "His name was Jared Cameron MacNeill and he had come home to die." His story came in bits and pieces after that, often painfully. Once the Myanmar sequences became clear, I was hooked. So far, Jared has received more mail than any other male character, except maybe Adrian or my chocolate-loving guardian angel (Terence Night) in Season of Wishes.

The Perfect Gift has a lot of fascinating information in it about jewelry design and creation. How did you get interested in this subject? How did you approach the research necessary to accurately portray a jewelry designer?

I love the craft of jewelry, cloisone, and bead work, which I began studying in China years ago. I knew Maggie had to have a demanding but highly creative profession, and this turned out to be the one. I interviewed a number of jewelry artists to get the "feel" of the book and the sense of how physically demanding that work can be. And that passion fit so well with her nature.

The Wishwell sisters who appear periodically in the Draycott Abbey series seem to steal every scene they are in (no easy task) -- they are truly wonderful characters. How did you first create them?

Oh, those Wishwells. They came to me when I was re-reading Macbeth one day, and I began to play that game of "what if." What if the three witches were still alive today, passing themselves off as mortals in some lonely Scottish glen? What if they were creatures of light, not darkness as Shakespeare had fashioned them? And what if they were inveterate match makers?

I have to admit that Christmas Knight was also one of my favorites. It's such a great Christmas story. How did that story come about? What attracts you to the idea of time travel?

Christmas Knight grew out of my love for Scotland -- its stormy history and
Cover of
Christmas Knight by Christina Skye
breathtaking landscapes. And why the Christmas theme? The secret truth is that I'd just moved to Arizona and was missing snow dreadfully. So of course, I indulged myself with a burst of wild imagination. Ronan and Hope were the recipients of that creative indulgence. The story emerged after I read a wonderful book called Chronicles of the Crusades, edited by Elizabeth Hallam. Much later, this phrase began to haunt me and just wouldn't leave: He had seen the vermilion tents of Sultan al-Ashraf Khalil stretched across the plain of Samaria, bright as blood. How would such memories shape a man of honor far from home? The story started there, for Ronan. And of course, I loved my Glenbrae Investment Club, especially when the old gentlemen came to cuffs over which stock to buy next! As for the Wishwells, they threatened to take over the story completely, something that Adrian found highly objectionable.

Your books are known for their sparkling and witty dialogue. How did you learn to write dialogue?

Thank you for that lovely compliment! I think first you have to hear it in your head. Listen, so you can begin to hear how differently people speak. And respect your characters. They'll talk to you if you let them.

Your books are also known for their sense of humor. Is this a reflection of your own personality, or did you intentionally set out to add humor to you books?

I do enjoy humor in a story, especially when it emerges from conflict and character revelation. I don't specifically try to set up these scenes. Usually, that has a contrived feel.

How do you approach writing love scenes? Are there any specific things that you try to avoid?

Generally, I just let my characters get into trouble by themselves!

What is your advice to the aspiring romance novelist?

Read. Research. Read some more. Read lots more. Then write from the heart.

How has the publishing industry changed since your first book was published?

Everything has gotten wildly competitive, which is both good and bad.

How did you get interested in the ancient art of feng shui? Do you use it in your personal life?

During my graduate studies in Chinese, the topic came up. After reading
"The theme of The Perfect Gift came in one of those wonderful flashes: I saw a man standing above a mist-covered loch, and out of nowhere this phrase rang out, jolting me. 'His name was Jared Cameron MacNeill and he had come home to die.'"
lots of primary source material, I was fascinated. Later I had occassion to meet practitioners in China and Hong Kong, as well as New York. They all have slightly different takes on the subject, and each works in a way that can seem very subjective. The key thing is that this really works! You immediately feel the difference in a room that has been analyzed and properly changed. So what is feng shui? Feng shui is the study of energy moved through a specific manmade location or natural landscape. (Feng shui in Chinese means wind and water. These are the two key forces that determine the energy flow of a specific location.) Do I use it myself? Not rigidly, but I'm aware of things that affect my comfort or productivity. For example:

--don't sleep with the head of your bed closest to the door. It's a position of vulnerability that invites uneasiness, competition, and ill health. You'll sleep much better if you move your bed.

--try to create patterns that draw the eye clockwise, prompting an energy flow in that direction. Throughout history, the Egyptians, Celts, and Native American tribes have held that counterclockwise energy is negative and unhealthy. If you have a display of teapots, for example, arrange the spouts to face right, enouraging the eye to flow clockwise. Try the same for a display of musical instruments or a silver tea service.

I've had so much mail on this subject that I'm actually considering a monthly feng shui column at my website! (Note: You can read more on this subject in Bride of the Mist, whose heroine shows feng shui analysis in action.

What do you like to do to relax when you're not working?

Swimming. Hiking in the desert. In-line skating.

How will you spend the Millennium New Year's Eve?

Millennium Eve I plan to climb the desert ridge above our house, where I have a sweeping view of the whole Phoenix valley to Camelback Mountain and Squaw Peak and the McDowell Mountains. If power grids fail, I'll have a ringside seat for the blackout. And if not -- as I fully expect, since the gloom and doom of Y2K are vastly overinflated, in my opinion -- I'll still have a beautiful view of the stars over the McDowell Mountains!

What do you want for Christmas this year?

Other than having all my books optioned by Hollywood, you mean? Okay, I'll be serious. Peace on earth. Right here, right now.

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