A Conversation With Dee Davis

by Claire E. White

For bestselling romance novelist Dee Davis, dreams
Photo of Dee Davis
really do come true. During elementary school she spent much of her time dreaming of imaginary worlds and sharing her stories with her friends -- and being on the receiving end of several lectures from her less than amused teachers. But a true writer is not easily discouraged, and Dee began writing down her stories. When she wasn't making up stories, she was reading books by the Brontës, Daphne Du Maurier, Anya Seton, Victoria Holt, Phyllis Whitney, Mary Stewart, J.R.R. Tolkien, Lewis Carroll and C.S. Lewis (in fact, she says she spent a large part of the 4th grade trying to walk through the back of her closet to Narnia). Books with romance or time travel were special favorites.

After graduating from high school, she obtained a B.A. in Political Science and History, and a Masters Degree in Public Administration. She then spent ten years in public relations, during which she spent three years on the public speaking circuit, wrote several award-winning public service announcements, was the director of two associations, did on camera television work, designed and edited newsletters, lobbied both the Texas legislature and the U.S. Congress, and wrote television and radio commercials. She also got married, moved to Vienna, Austria for three years and became the mother of a little girl. During all this time, she still spent a lot of time dreaming up stories. After her fortieth birthday arrived, she decided that it was time to actually write a book, instead of just thinking about it.

After eight months of researching medieval Scotland and writing, she completed her first romance and began to send out agent queries. She found an agent, and one year after that, her first book, Everything In Its Time (Jove), a time travel romance was published. Since that time she has sold six more books, including After Twilight (Ballantine), Just Breathe (Ballantine), The Promise (Ballantine) and her latest romantic suspense, Dark of the Night (Ballantine). With all the rave reviews she's been receiving for her work from fans and reviewers, it's clear that Dee is a rising star in the world of romance.

Everything In Its Time was recently honored as the Booksellers' Best Paranormal Romance for 2000. In addition, Everything In Its Time was a Holt Medallion finalist, a Texas Bronze winner for best historical, and a Dorothy Parker Award honorable mention for best debut novel. It was also a nominee for the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Best Time Travel award.

When she's not working, you might find Dee spending time with her husband, daughter, cat, and puppy. She spoke with us about her move from public relations to the world of romance writing, how she creates her characters and discusses her latest book, Dark of the Night.

What did you like to read when you were growing up?

I have always loved reading anything and everything! But two books in particular are my most favorites from childhood. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and A Wrinkle in Time. I still read them both from time to time, and I love all books by Madeline L'Engle and C.S. Lewis. I also loved Nancy Drew and Trixie Beldon, and I was equally enthralled with the Arthurian legends and Edith Hamilton's Greek Mythology. I also remember sobbing through Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, and then devouring Jane Austin. I think one of the things I'm enjoying most, at present, is rediscovering old favorites with my daughter.

When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?

I think I've always been a writer. I wrote stories almost
Cover of Dark of the Night by Dee Davis
as soon as I figured out what a blank piece of paper was for, and I even won several awards for writing in high school. But like many childhood pleasures, I never considered writing as a feasible career, and so it sort of stayed buried just below the surface for most of my adult life. It wasn't until I was turning forty, that I realized that if I didn't make the effort to do some of the things I'd always wanted to, like writing, I might never get the chance again. So here I am!

What do you love about the romance genre?

I like the implied hope. That no matter what happens in our lives, no matter the wrong choices, or mistakes, even despite disaster, we still have hope that ultimately things will come out right. That it's never too late. Love is such an amazing thing. It can survive almost anything. And I believe that romance novels help us to remember that.

What led up to your first book being published?

I turned forty, totally panicked, and decided to give in to my right brain for a change and try to write a book. The result of a lot of soul-searching, research and blank computer screens was Everything In Its Time. And I was amazingly blessed, and lucky that it was read and published as quickly as it was. Sequentially, I wrote the book without telling a soul because I was terrified that I couldn't finish one, all the while studying the market, and learning about craft. When I wrote "the end", I drank a lot of champagne, and came out of the proverbial closet by joining RWA, six months later I signed with my agent (knowing I wasn't going to be any good at selling myself), and then seven months after that I sold Everything In Its Time. The whole thing was an amazing miracle, and I'm still pinching myself daily.

How has you career in public relations affected your writing career?

"I think training in theatre as much as anything is a great aid in learning to write believable dialogue. Talking out loud to oneself for most of one's life doesn't hurt either."
I think my previous experience gave me a better understanding of both business and promotion than many first-time authors. Writing is a career, and publishing is a business. I think accepting that, and working within those parameters can be helpful when working in this industry. Of course the real key is to consistently write better stories. Which of course is easier said than done.

Let's talk about your new book, Dark of the Night. What was your inspiration for this story?

Interestingly enough, the original idea was actually tangled up in another story. And in separating out the strands, Riley and Caroline O'Brien began to emerge. The rest of the story evolved from there. During that time, I visited Atlanta again, and realized that it was the perfect place to set the story. So that too played a huge part in the construction of Riley and Jake's story.

The heroine of the book is Riley O'Brien, who has always played the perfect political daughter. How did you create Riley?

It's so hard to know how one creates characters. The truth is they live in your head, and often spring out fully grown. Riley was always the center of the story for me. I guess the idea of believing so strongly in something that you would build your world around it, make sacrifices for it, and then find out that it wasn't what you thought at all, fascinated me. I wondered what would happen to a person going through something like that. And Riley was the result.

Investigative reporter Jake Mahoney is a compelling hero. Did he present any particular challenges for you?

Jake started out much more bitter than he wound up in the final version. So it obviously took me longer to understand him. But I like him more than Riley in some ways because he's true to himself in a way that she can't be. But he also has his hang-ups. And of course I had to try and think like a journalist, and since I'm not one, that presented its own unique set of problems.

What attracted you to writing about the world of politics?

I have a degree in Political Science and spent a large portion of my previous career lobbying and/or working with governmental entities. So in some ways it was a natural, I suppose.

Just Breathe had a very different feel than Dark of the Night: Just Breathe was a spy thriller with a lot of comedic elements. How do you get in the mindset to write the lighter, funnier novels? Do you prefer writing comedy over writing the more serious thrillers?

Cover of Just Breathe by Dee Davis
Just Breathe was not conceived as a comedic book. Other than the original premise of Chloe falling off of the train onto the dead body because she was a klutz. But the more I got to know her, and the more her companions revealed themselves, the more humor I found in their personalities, and the way that they dealt with the situation they found themselves in. As far as mindset goes, it was more a matter of being in Charlotte, Thomas' and Chloe's heads. They are naturally funny. So the scenes followed suit.

I think writing a book that was both funny and a thriller was extremely challenging. And hopefully, I managed to pull it off. My natural instincts are to write more serious thrillers. Certainly my first romantic suspense, After Twilight, is quite serious. Although I'd like to think that in all my books there is at least a little humor.

I'd like to talk about your other recent release, The Promise, a time travel romance. How did this book come about?

My first book, Everything In Its Time, is also a time travel. I love the concept of time travel, and the unique set of situations that a character or characters can find themselves in because of it. I particularly like the idea of a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court kind of thing. An observation of a culture by a true outsider. Both of my time travels are also suspense novels, so in that way are not really that big a departure from straight romantic suspense.

The Promise is very special to me, because as a kid
Cover of The Promise by Dee Davis
we moved all the time, so I didn't really have roots. And since my father is a fly fisherman, we spent summers in Creede, Colorado. Not being a fisherman, I spent my time roaming the mountains and learning about the mining history of the area. The Promise is my tribute to a place that I love, and a time when man conquered amazing odds, just to pull precious metals from the earth.

What is the greatest challenge in writing a time travel romance?

Creating the parameters of your world and then sticking to them. And I think helping the reader suspend his or her disbelief for the ride.

When you read a romance, what kinds of heroines do you like? Are there any characteristics that really put you off a heroine?

I think if a writer is good enough, I'll buy into almost any type of heroine. But I do tend to prefer smart ones. That's what I've always loved in particular about Mary Stewart's heroines.

What about heroes? Are there any particular pet peeves you have when it comes to the personality of the hero in a story?

Again, if the writer is good, I love almost any hero. But I'd say my pet peeve would be heroes that come across as one-dimensional or flat. I like to see emotion, even in the steeliest of Alpha males. Which is where I think Linda Howard excels.

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 think they're very difficult as they require reaching into an emotional place that isn't always easily accessed. Sometimes the characters take you there effortlessly and other times it's rather like pulling teeth.

I'd like to talk about the creative process itself. Would you describe your surrounding for us? What is a typical writing day for you like?

I write full time. So I spend my days in front of the computer. I have a lovely office in my home. My grandmother gave me a beautiful desk, and there are bookshelves, and a comfortable sofa. Also enough computer equipment to stock a CompuServe. (My husband is a programmer). My day starts once daughter and husband are gone. Usually with a brain-dead-non-morning-person me sitting in front of the computer, hot tea in hand, staring at my email. Once that's been handled, hopefully I'm sufficiently awake, and then it's down to business. Assuming I'm mid-manuscript, I start by re-reading/editing the pages I've written the day before. That helps me get back into the story and from there it's on to the pages required for the day. I usually work until time to go pick up my daughter, with occasional breaks in the routine for promotional activities. Very predictable and boring, I'm afraid.

When you start a new book, how much of the plot do you know in advance? Do you use outlines or character worksheets?

Cover of After Twilight by Dee Davis
I never start a book until I can see the beginning and ending clearly. And in addition, I usually have a vague outline of the highpoints I want to hit. I do use outlines, and they become more and more detailed as I move forward, and although I don't use character worksheets per se, I do often write biographies for my characters. Since I must write a synopsis of each book before beginning, I also use that as a roadmap for what it is I'm trying to do. Both time travel and suspense require a great number of details, so it is important to have at least a general plan and to stick to it as much as possible.

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

What a lovely compliment. I think training in theatre as much as anything is a great aid in learning to write believable dialogue. Talking out loud to oneself for most of one's life doesn't hurt either.

What is your advice to aspiring writers?

Write something everyday. Remember that getting published takes commitment and hard work. Treat writing as a career. Listen to your heart. Learn everything you can about the business. Join a writers' association. Believe in yourself. Be open to criticism. Write what you love. Remember that dreams can come true.

Can you give us a sneak peek of your upcoming projects?

My next romantic suspense is called Midnight Rain. It's set in Austin around a computer security company and is due for release in December.

Here's a blurb: Corporate executive Jonathan Brighton has it all. Good looks, a successful company, and the best of family and friends. But when a car-jacker's bullet almost takes his life, he wakes to face a new world. One where buttoning his shirt and sorting through fractured memories become monumental tasks. As John struggles to regain some semblance of normality, his life takes a sinister turn. When an employee winds up dead, John falls into a nightmare where everything is suspect and enemies could be friends.

"Write something everyday. Remember that getting published takes commitment and hard work.... Believe in yourself. Remember that dreams can come true."
FBI agent Katie Cavanaugh lives for her job. Offered the opportunity to go undercover to catch a man suspected of murder, she jumps at the chance. This is the kind of case that can make her career. What Katie hasn't counted on is Jonathan Brighton. The man is an enigma -- one moment vulnerable and the next shuttered. Seemingly honest, but shrouded in lies. It is the contrast that draws her to him, and the deeper she gets the more twisted her loyalties become. She believes in justice above all else.

But what if Jonathan Brighton is innocent?

When you're not writing, what are your favorite ways to relax and have fun?

Hanging out with my husband, daughter, cat and new puppy, preferably with a nice merlot and a really good book.

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

Spending time alone with my husband.

Although if you really want a place… there's a village in Austria, literally perched on the side of a mountain overhanging a lake. And there's a guest house in the village with a wonderful room with a balcony overlooking the lake. Sitting on that balcony with cheese, and fruit, wine and my husband is definitely my idea of a little slice of heaven.

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