Interview with Marsha Canham

(left: Marsha Canham, right: Connie Brockway. Photo taken after they got their Career
Achievement Awards at the Romantic Times Convention)

Marsha Canham is the famous author of books like "Pale Moon Rider", "The Blood Of Roses" or "The Pride Of Lions". She is also very successful in Germany but her German fans do not know anything about the person Marsha Canham beside her books. Her books are very dark but actually Marsha is a very humorous person.  She also loves to hear from her readers:

Marsha' website:

Marsha's board:

And Marsha's e-mail:

Angela: 1. Could you introduce yourself a little to your German fans? Where you live, your hobbies, your family...

Marsha Canham: I live in a small town outside of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, with my husband of 27 years Peter.  We have one son, Jeffrey, who is married to a wonderful girl, Michelle, and together they gave us our first grandson, Austin who is the absolute light of my life.  Hobbies?  With the grandson who at the stage of walking and talking up a storm, I haven't had much time for hobbies, but I really would like to get back to making stained glass windows and panels.  Cutting the glass, grinding it down, and fitting it together like a jigsaw puzzle was one of the most relaxing ways I found to clear my head between books.  Now, I barely have time to take a quick vacation somewhere under palm trees.

Angela: When, how and why did you start to write historical romance books and how did you celebrate after your first book was published?

Marsha Canham: I started writing when Jeffrey was five years old (that would be twenty two years ago) but my first book wasn't actually published until 1982.  And I was actually in the hospital having surgery done on one of my knees when the letter arrived telling me China Rose was accepted, so I couldn't even leap up and down or climb up on the roof and shout!

Angela: How does your typical working day look like and how do your research your books?

Marsha Canham: My workday is much like anyone else's: in the office by eight o'clock and either reading through research books or pounding out a draft or revising what I wrote the day before or throwing it all out and starting again.  If it's a bad day, I'm out of the office by three or four (which means I walk down the hall and slam the door behind me) If it's a good day and everything is going well and I can't get the words down fast enough, I can sometimes be closed away until eleven or twelve at night. The hubby has come to recognize the signs of a good day/bad day.  If I'm sitting outside with the neighbours, he knows not to ask how it's going.  If I'm in my office and the door is closed, he knows not to even tiptoe inside.  If I'm in the office and the door is open, it means it's a so-so day, he can say hello, and he might even get dinner. *G*

Angela: Your books remind me of old adventure movies with e.g. Tyrone Power or Errol Flynn. Do your get your ideas from watching these movies? Or the names? (Like Tyrone from "Pale Moon Rider"...)

Marsha Canham: Now that is one of the best compliments I've ever had because I love those old movies, and Tyrone Power and Errol Flynn were my favorites (and yes, Tyrone was named after Tyrone).  I have a large collection of the oldies on video, like Captain Blood, the Sea Hawks, and all of the Robin Hoods in their various renditions, and when I have a dull afternoon, or I'm stalled and the words just won't come, I will often sit down and watch a few just to restore my faith in adventurous heroes.

Angela: Have your fans expressed disappointed about the somehow open ending of "Pride Of Lions" and "Blood Of Roses"? It leaves the reader definitely dangling with expectation. Why did you write this way and do you plan to write another sequel to these books?

Marsha Canham: I have heard from a lot of readers about those two books, but mostly when they were first published.  The original Pride of Lions came out in 1989, about three months before the publisher went bankrupt.  Not only was the sequel, The Blood of Roses, delayed for nearly two years until another publisher released it, but in the original "Pride", they had neglected to include the teaser chapter for "Roses" to let the readers know there WAS a sequel.  If you have read "Pride", you know the ending was definately not happy and broke about fifty rules in romance writing when the hero put the heroine on a ship and sent her away while he made plans to march off to war. The teaser from "Roses" should have gone there, but as I said, the publisher made a mistake and, had the sequel come out as planned three months later, there wouldn't have been quite so many irate fans.  Also, this was in the day before E-mail and electronic communications, so my mail box was full every day and every day I had to set aside a few hours to answer all the letters by hand.

Thankfully, when Dell reissued them, the teaser was included.

I do get a lot of E-mail asking about a sequel, but to me the story was complete. Leaving Alex and Catherine in the cave pondering their future, watching their past just seemed like the right place to leave it.  I couldn't see dragging it on and on, taking them to America or whatever.  I left it up to the reader's imagination to give them a future.

I am working on a third book based in the same time frame in Scotland, but I'm concentrating on Colonel Anne Moy's story.  She was briefly introduced in The Blood of Roses, and I plan to return the favor by having Alexander and Catherine show up in the pages of Born of Midnight Honor.

Angela: Your books are very intense and very emotionally to read.  How does this affect you as a writer?  Do you feel the same as a reader would with this intensity? Are you ever emotionally attached to a story and involved so deeply that you find yourself caught up in the drama and emotions? If so, how do you deal with it?  Or is it just a story line to you and easy for you to walk away from?   Some of the battles that take place in your books are so detailed and involved that a reader may not be sure who will make it to the end of the book. Is it your intent to show that not only the "bad guy" falls, but he or she can also take the strong and innocent along with them before they go?  The reality of life and death rather than the sugar coating of it like so many romance novels portray it?

Marsha Canham: Wow.  Good questions and all fairly difficult to answer, but I'll give it a shot. Yes, I do try to put a little more emotion in some of my books--and I say 'some' because I also like to alternate a heavily intense, dark book with a lighter, less violent storyline.  For instance, between each of the medievals I wrote, which were considered by some to be too violent for romances, I wrote books like Straight For the Heart, Under the Desert Moon, and Dark and Dangerous.  The only two that broke that pattern were The Pride of Lions and The Blood of Roses, which took three years to write and left me so emotionally drained, it's taken over ten years for me to work up the nerve to go back and write the third book.  I felt every gunshot and cut of the sword with those two books, and yes, I felt like I was out on the battlefield with the characters.  I knew from the outset that the final battle at Culloden had to be emotionally draining for the reader in order for them to feel the full tragedy of all those heroic men dying for hopeless cause.  I also knew that to do so, I had to create several secondary/main characters for whom the reader would feel almost as strongly as they did Catherine and Alex...then kill them on the battlefield. To be honest, I was sobbing like a fool when I wrote Aluinn's death. Then, feeling that the reader would be shocked  but not quite horrified, I went back into the final draft, about a week before I mailed it away, and penned in Dierdre's death as well, and for the very reason you mention: to show that not only the "bad guy" falls in a war, but the innocent suffer as well.

Angela: Renee in "Pale Moon Rider" wasn't virginal although she wasn't married which isn't usual in romance books. Do you transfer our modern views about sexuality into late 18th century setting because pre-marital sex wasn't quite as common even if her lover is her fiancee? Or do you feel that the view of sexuality in the 18th century was as common as it is today, but discussion of the topic was not as public as it is today?

Marsha Canham: Actually, from my research, premarital sex was as prevalent then as it is now; it just wasn't talked about in polite society.  And post marital affairs were practically the normal behavior for the day, with the wife accepting the fact her husband would have a mistress, and visa versa as long as both parties were discreet. I think it is more front and center in the news today because there are instant pictures--with CNN and all the tacky tabloid papers--and hotlines for selling gossip to newsrags, as well as a wider audience who devours scandals with their morning toast and coffee.

Angela: As stated, your books are very serious and dramatic but everybody could see at your website that you are very humorous. Would you like to change genre one day and write e.g. a humorous book? Or something totally different far away from the romance genre?

Marsha Canham: For the time being I'm quite comfortable with historical romances, though I will confess to having the occasional thought now and then of writing a book of short humorous stories.  And I have a nifty murder mystery/thriller in the back of my mind, but I'm just not sure I want to take that leap of faith yet--or ask my readers to take it either.

Angela: I learned that your supported the beautiful romance covers of Lynn Sanders and Cherif Fortin. Why and how did you do this? I have heard that you are one of the individuals responsible for "discovering" them? Is that true? I saw that they are also responsible for some of your covers? Had you ever worked with Lynn Sanders before?

Marsha Canham: ONE of the individuals?  Hah.  I am THE one who met Cherif and Lynn for the first time at a conference, not four or five hours after the editor from Dell approached me about making a deal for the reissues of Pride of Lions and Blood of Roses.  I looked at him and saw my Alexander.  I asked if he had any photos, and Lynn had some couriered from Chicago the next day.  I, in turn, couriered them to my editor in New York with the cryptic note: this is Alex, I want him on the covers.  She agreed and...the rest is history.  Virginia Henley and Nan Ryan were sitting at the same table, and agreed he was a very handsome hunk of manpower, and subsequently requested him for their covers, but I was the one who followed it up and nabbed him first. *G*

Angela: Do you have other favorite cover models besides Cherif?  Do you have much influence on your book covers? Do you have a favorite cover among your books?  Have you ever "hated" a cover and wanted it changed?  Were you able to get it changed? Or does that stand as the publishers last word or the art department?

Marsha Canham: Oh man, you've pushed another button.  Covers?  It's often a crap shoot in that you open the FedEx pack very carefully and remove the cover proof with a delicate thumb and forefinger. When you see it, you either drop it like a hot potato and scream, or you breathe a long drawn out sigh of relief.  I've had two absolute screamers--the original hideous explosion of pink flowers that smothered the front of Under The Desert Moon (subsequently reissued with a black stallion rearing up under a desert moon.  Go figure the logic in that one *G*) and the more recent orange and spine chilling peacock blue on the front of Swept Away.  I have been reasonably lucky over the years in that editors who have been the recipient of my screams and rantings about flowers and throat-sucking clinch artwork have sent me sketches to approve or asked my input for the outside cover as well as the inside of the stepback. The two I mentioned were exceptions, in that I was consulted on the stepback art, which in both cases was terrific, but the outer covers somehow slipped by.  I wasn't too too thrilled with the outside cover of Across A Moonlit Sea either, but the inside artwork featuring Rob Ashton standing alone in a tattered shirt glaring out at the reader is my all time absolute favorite.  I just love that picture. It captures the entire mood of the book in a single glance...or a very long drooling study.

Angela: "Pride of Lions" and "Blood of Roses" were published the first time with completely different covers than they have now.  When you read these two books and the physical description of Alexander Cameron, and see the new covers it was as if Cherif were standing before you when you wrote them, yet he came along years after the first publication.  When you first met Cherif, were you taken by the resemblance of Cherif and Alexander as well?  Do you refer to photos or men when you are writing?  Do you ever have a certain man  in mind when you start a story?  If so, what book would that have been?

Marsha Canham: I sometimes have nothing more than a vague picture in my mind when I start, and other times I see a picture in a magazine and the little hairs on my neck stand on end, so I cut it and pin it over my desk for "inspiration".  I've used Tom Selleck, Val Kilmer, and Tom Berenger shamelessly, and Timothy Dalton was my original model for Alexander Cameron until I spotted Cherif.  Other times I write without a face or body in mind and search the crowds looking for someone who 'might' resemble my main character.  Same reaction with the little hairs if I ever see him. *G*

Angela: Talking about favorite covers.... what are your favorite books, heroines and/or heroes among your books? What other authors and books do you read?

Marsha Canham: Asking about a favorite hero is like asking which of your children you love the most.  They are all my best and my favorite at the time I write them, and when it comes time to move on to the next, I don't discard them to make a better model, I just set them to one side and think of them as looking over my shoulder while I write.  I try to make them all a little different, not just in physical descriptions.  Some have more mental baggage than others.  Some are more fearless, some are more cerebral, and some--like Tyrone from Pale Moon Rider--are just reckless bad boys who have no inclination to reform.

Angela: You own a website with a chat and a message board and you seem to have a lot of fun there. Not every author gives his fans such an insight into her private life and her work. Why did you decide to offer this? Was this sometimes of advantage for your career? Isn't it sometimes difficult when you are in Deadline Hell to take care of your website and your message board (not to mention your e-mails)?

Marsha Canham: Well, the website and message board are my way of NOT taking myself or what I do so seriously.  People will sometimes say, "Geez, I can't believe I'm talking to a famous author!" and I look around to see who they're talking to.  The website is my way, I suppose, of just showing everyone I'm as normal and human and ordinary as everyone else, with the same mortgage, the same family tribulations, the same frantic act of juggling work, home, and family life.  I actually don't spend too much time online, though I do try to check my E-mail and bulletin board once a day or so. Deadline Hell can be pretty daunting, but sometimes a quiet chat with friends or a laugh over some jokes someone has posted, or an E-mail from a reader brightens the whole day and relieves some of the tension.

Angela: You are also very successful in foreign countries like Germany and nearly all of your books have been translated into German. Do you often hear from your foreign fans (especially your German fans?)

Marsha Canham: Actually, no.  I receive a lot of mail from the U.S.A. and some from Australia and England, but so far I have only had one E-mail from a German reader, and she was....ah, not very happy with one of my books.  So if there are some readers over there who *do* enjoy my books, I would love to hear from them.  I also have three websites, one personal and two for reviews and excerpts, which can all be reached through the site listed at the end.

Angela: Could you tell us more about your future plans and books? Do you have any idea what books from you will come next in Germany?

Marsha Canham: Well, as I mentioned, I am currently in Deadline Hell for the third Scotland book, titled Born of Midnight Honor.  After that, I'm thinking of a medieval again. I loved writing the Robin Hood books and my armor is getting a little rusty just hanging in the closet.  I do believe the German rights for Swept Away have recently been sold.

Angela: You appear to be very active at the Romantic Times Conventions.  Do you enjoy this?  Will you be attending this years convention in Houston?

The Romantic Times conventions, besides being a place to meet old friends, make new ones, and rub shoulders with the editors, marketing folks, and readers alike, are just plain FUN.  They are usually four days of no sleep, lots of laughing, and non stop parties.  I have been part of the costume competition for many years, as well as the cover model pageant; I've given workshops and hosted hospitality suites, and been part of the huge autographing bookfair, so yes I will definitely being attending the Houston convention in November!  I know it's a long way from Germany, but if anyone was planning a vacation in the United States, it would certainly be an entertaining way to either begin or end a holiday!

© Isolde Wehr und Angela Weiß, April 2000, Die romantische Bücherecke

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Dieses Interview entstand im April 2000 zwischen Angela W. und Marsha Canham für:

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