A Conversation With Julia Quinn

by Claire E. White

Popular romance novelist Julia Quinn, or JulieQ as she is known in cyberspace, came to the romance field by a circuitous route which included an Art History degree and a short stint
Photo of Julia Quinn
in medical school. An avid reader since her childhood, she has always loved writing and, in retrospect truly seemed destined for her current career. Her first novels, Splendid (Avon, 1995) and Dancing at Midnight (Avon, 1995), were accepted for publication, which encouraged her to put off entrance into medical school to write Minx (Avon, 1996). Minx was so well received that she delayed entrance another year to write Everything and the Moon (Avon, 1997). At that point she decided to go ahead and give medical school a shot, so she picked up a scalpel, starting dissecting cadavers, and plunged into the fascinating world of the citric acid cycle. A few months later, however, she realized that life as a doctor wasn't for her, so she withdrew from medical school and wrote Brighter Than the Sun (Avon, 1997). Her books are known for their fascinating characters, witty repartée and warm humor. The industry has begun to take notice of her writing as well: in 1997 Romantic Times Magazine nominated Everything and the Moon for Best Regency Historical, and the Bookstores that Care networked nominated Brighter Than the Sun for Best Historical Love and Laughter. Her most recent book is To Catch An Heiress (Avon, 1998) a charming historical romance which stars the irrepressible Caroline Trent and the dashing Blake Ravenscroft.

She currently lives in Colorado with her husband Paul and their two houserabbits, Rutherford B. Rabbit and Betty Bunny. When she's not writing, you can most likely find her leading a children's book discussion group at a local bookstore, gardening, spending time with her husband, or updating her website with the help of her sister Emily Cotler, a talented web designer and graphic artist.

Julie spoke with us about how she got her start as a writer, how she creates her novels and the most romantic gesture she ever experienced.

What kind of books did you like to read when you were growing up?

Oh, lots of things. Judy Blume, of course, and I devoured the Chronicles of Narnia. I read ALL the time. My mother would keep trying to get me to go to bed and I'd whine, "Just let me finish this chapter!" Of course, I always snuck into the next chapter.

When did you first become interested in being a novelist?

I'd say I was about 12. My father caught me reading Sweet Dreams and Sweet Valley High books, which he thought were terrible, so he told me I could keep reading them if I could come up with
"...now I think it would be impossible for me to write a book without any humor. What can I say? I think love is funny."
one reason why reading them was good for me. I immediately said, "Vocabulary words," but when pressed, I couldn't find a single word in the books I didn't already know. So then, panicked that I'd lose my favorite reading material, I said, "I'm studying these so I can write one myself." He said, "Okay," and that night he sat me in front of his computer (we were the first people on the block to get a home computer--it was one of those old Osbornes with the 7-inch screen) and told me to go to it. Much to his surprise, when he came back 3 hours later to see how I was doing, I'd written two chapters! I eventually finished the book, and I sent it off to Sweet Dreams to try to get it published. I got it back within days, with a form letter rejection. To this day, I believe that as soon as they read in my cover letter that I was fifteen (it took me three years to complete the book, since I only worked on it on my summer vacations) they immediately moved the manuscript to their reject pile. Which was too bad--I pulled it out a few years ago and reread it. It was really good!

What did you like the least about being a med school student?

Well, I wasn't a med student for very long, but what I liked least was the overwhelming feeling of ALWAYS being behind. No matter what you do, how hard you study, you are NEVER caught up. As a writer, I'm pretty much always behind schedule, but as soon as I send that book in, I'm caught up. It's a lovely feeling.

What prompted you to make the transition from medical student to romance novelist?

Cover of
Brighter Than the Sun by Julia Quinn
Actually, by the time I went to medical school, I already had three books out and another three under contract. (I had deferred entrance for two years while I wrote.) It pretty much only took a couple of months to realize that I'd had it really good as a novelist. The flexibility is wonderful, and I like working at home.

How did the sale of your first book come about?

The regular way. I got an agent. She sold the book.

I noticed that Everything and the Moon and Dancing at Midnight were translated into Russian - with quite different covers. How does it feel to have readers halfway across the world reading your books?

Cover of Everything and the Moon in Russian Very cool! It'd be cooler if I could actually read the Russian versions, though. (smile) Minx was translated as well, and that cover is now up on my website, too.

What was it that inspired you to write historical romances, as opposed to contemporary romances?

I don't know. I guess it was just because when I started writing, I was a reader primarily of historicals. Now I read both, so maybe I'll write a contemporary someday.

You have a fair amoumt of historical detail in the books which greatly adds to the atmosphere. How do you approach the research needed to write historical romances?

Actually, I never really thought of my books as having much historical detail (compared to other historical romances.) I don't do much research for each book before writing it; rather I try to draw on a general knowledge of the Regency era that I've developed from reading history books and other romances. Within each book, of course, there will be specific things I'll need to look up, and those I usually take care of as I go along.

I'd like to talk about your latest book, To Catch An Heiress. The book uses a literary device that is quite intriguing. How did you get the idea for the story?

Cover of
To Catch an Heiress by Julia Quinn
By "literary device" I assume you mean the definitions at the beginning of each chapter. I enjoy writing in the first person, so I frequently include letters or bits of journals or diaries in my books. With To Catch an Heiress, I thought I'd put a little twist on the journal idea and instead have the heroine keep a personal dictionary. She jots down new words and then uses them in context. I began each chapter with an excerpt from her dictionary; all the accompanying sentences (where she uses the word in context) relate to the story. I got the idea for this, actually, from the A Word A Day listserv, which my father subscribed me to. The whole thing was actually an homage to him; after all, he was the one who got my writing career started when he pointed out that there were no vocabulary words in Sweet Valley High.

The character of Caroline Trent is especially appealing, especially her sense of humor. Is there a little of Julia Quinn in Caroline?

Oh, sure. There's a little of me in all my characters. Well, all nice ones. (smile)

The hero in the story is the dashing British spy Blake Ravenscroft. What was your inspiration for Blake?

No idea. I just decided it was time to write a tortured hero again. So I wrote him and tortured him. (smile)

You are known for your snappy dialogue and the wonderful humor in your books. Did you set out to write humorous romances or did it just happen that way?

A little of both, I think. Before I started writing, I knew that I liked to read romances with humor in them, so I assumed that's what I'd do. But once I actually started writing, it quickly became apparent that that was my natural style, and now I think it would be impossible for me to write a book without any humor. What can I say? I think love is funny.

Who are some of your favorite romance authors?

I definitely credit Judith McNaught with inspiring me to write romances. Other authors I love include Lisa Kleypas, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Johanna Lindsey (love those Malorys!), and Jude Deveraux. There are also a lot of really wonderful authors who haven't yet hit the bestseller lists -- Danelle Harmon, Suzanne Enoch, and Karyn Monk come to mind. Finally, this year I read some wonderful debut romances -- by Gaelan Foley, Adele Ashworth, and Alina Adams.

Tell us about your writing habits -- do you write everyday, do you write in an office, with music, with a computer etc.?

"I don't know why, but loves scenes always seem goofy while I'm writing them. They don't seem goofy when I go back and read them, but writing them always makes me laugh."
I am horribly disorganized and constantly yelling at myself for wasting time. I have no idea how I manage to get my books done, but somehow I haven't missed a deadline yet. I do have my own office; unfortunately my husband doesn't understand that it is MY computer, not OUR computer, and he occasionally commandoes it to play video games. I usually listen to music while I write--anything from Classical to Enya to Nirvana!

What do you believe makes the perfect romantic Hero?

Oh gosh, if I knew that, I'd write a self-help book and make a million dollars.

What is your advice to the aspiring romance writer?

Finish the book. The world is full of first chapters.

What was the most romantic gesture you've ever heard of/experienced?

Well, to be completely frank, my husband's eyes still light up whenever he sees me. I think that's pretty romantic. (Of course, if you're reading this, Paul, I like flowers, too!)

How do you approach writing the passionate love scenes in your books? Do you find them easy or difficult to write?

I wouldn't say they're difficult, but they do tend to take more time. I write pretty fast-paced books without much emphasis on long description. Love scenes are always more descriptive, and that seems to slow me down when I'm writing. Sometimes I find myself giggling as I write them, too. I don't know why, but loves scenes always seem goofy while I'm writing them. They don't seem goofy when I go back and read them, but writing them always makes me laugh.

What is your idea of the perfect romantic evening?

Picture of Minx the Bunny I just like snuggling up next to my husband on the couch and watching TV or reading. Of course, in an ideal world, we'll have had a candlelit sushi dinner before that, followed by Haagen-Daz no-calorie Dulce de Leche ice cream...

What projects are you working on now?

I've got to proofread How to Marry a Marquis, which will be in bookstores in March, 1999. After that, I have a novella coming out in Avon's Scottish Brides anthology in June, 1999. The book I'm currently writing won't be out until early 2000.

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