Interview with Kathleen E. Woodiwiss

Kathleen E. Woodiwiss is one of the queens of Romance, even here in Germany. She gave this interview to Bertelsmann Club and I am honored that I am allowed to post the original version on my homepage. The Questions were complited with the help of Angela Weiss and my person.

Question: Since you are so long a well-known romance writer and we know so little about you, I guess keeping your privacy might be very important for you. Would you mind telling us something about yourself, about your family and upbringing? How do you live? Do you have any hobbies?

Kathleen E. Woodiwiss: I was born and raised in Alexandria, Louisiana, the last of eight children separated from the oldest to the youngest by a span of eighteen years in a family belonging to Charles Wingrove Hogg. (Hogg as it is pronounced in Scotland: Hoe-g.) We were a close-knit family and were greatly saddened when my father died suddenly when I was twelve. I reached maturity in a houseful of women. Every single one of us had minds of our own even then; I was no exception. I suppose that carried over into my creations of heroines who weren't weak-willed.

A few years after marrying an officer in the USAF, (Woodiwiss is my married name) I gave birth to a son. Before he was a year old, we were sent to Japan where my husband was stationed for three and a half years. While there, I gave birth to our second son and then did some part-time fashion modeling for an American-owned modeling agency located there. Nearing the end of that tour, my longing to write a book welled up within me. As a child, I used to put myself to sleep at night by working out plots in my head. A few times after coming home from movies I enjoyed, I'd try to write about those same stories. I was probably about ten when I did this, but I never wrote anything more. In Japan, I yearned to write a story and finished five or so pages before coming to the conclusion that I'd never make much progress without the benefit of an electric typewriter.

After finishing the tour in Japan, my husband was assigned to an airbase near Topeka, Kansas where we lived for a couple of years. Again the urge to write took hold of me, but I was faced with the same problem: no typewriter. The following Christmas, I gave my husband, Ross, a typewriter. He had said he wanted to write poetry, and it seemed the easiest way to appease my own desire for one so I could write a novel. While my husband was away from home on extended trips (Temporary Duty Assignments), I started what would later be titled THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER. The idea of getting the book published seemed so farfetched that I never considered the possibility. I did it merely to please myself. Still, I enjoyed writing so much that the further I got into the book, the more it became addictive. Ross was home for a couple of weeks following surgery, and having kept my efforts a secret, I was hindered from working on it until I confessed what I had been doing. He was clearly dubious, but it wasn't until his sister and her husband came for Thanksgiving and read my unfinished manuscript and actually encouraged me to finish it for publication that my husband became curious as to its content. That's when writing became a driving force in my life.

I am now the mother of three sons and grandmother of three granddaughters and one grandson. Although I lived in Minnesota for about thirty years, where my late ex-husband wanted to settle after retiring from the Air Force, my desire for a home in a warmer climate was fulfilled when I bought some property near the city where I was born. I still have my home in MN where most of my immediate family lives, but in Louisiana, I seem able to concentrate more on my writing.

There are two things I enjoy as much as writing: interior decorating and gardening. I have to curb my enthusiasm for both to direct my attention to writing. I used to be a pretty good cook, but after living alone, that has ceased to appeal to me. Now I much rather take guests to some of the wonderful restaurants which are within comfortable driving distance of my home.

Question: How did you become an author? Why did you choose to write romance books? Was it difficult to find a publisher?

Kathleen E. Woodiwiss: Much of the content of ANSWER ONE explains how I became an author. As for choosing the category of romance, it was a genre that I especially enjoyed reading. When I first learned how to read, I was given a book of Fairy Tales which I devoured. From there, I progressed to Nancy Drew mysteries and to a variety of other books that young girls love. Later on, I began to read some of the classic romance novels and enjoyed them very much.

Finding a publisher was indeed difficult. I started off by sending THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER to hardback companies, perhaps as many as eight or so. I got the usual rejection slips. Frustrated, I sent my manuscript to an agent, but I soon learned that it was as difficult to find a good agent as a publisher. The agent said my book had potential, but that it needed serious work. He offered his "expertise" in revising it. Considering the splotches of white covering the mistakes on his letter, it didn't appear that he was successful enough to afford a secretary and was perhaps hoping to make money on lending me assistance.

His statements: It must be cut down to one-fourth its length. "Grabbers" or some such were needed at the end of the chapters to spur the reader on to the next. It needed more sex. It wasn't as interesting as WAR AND PEACE, which made me wonder if he had ever read that tome. And, last but not least, to double-space the typing because publishers NEVER read anything that was single-spaced. In short, I said, "Thanks, but no thanks. I was the author of the book and I wanted it to remain as it was. The only advice I took from him? The last: double-space the manuscript.

I retyped it, and while doing so, a friend told me about watching an interview with the western author, Louis LaMour (ms?) on TV. At the time, he said that he wouldn't sign with hardback publishers because they took too much percentage from paperback. Based on that information, I decided to give paperback publishers a try. I bought a WRITER'S DIGEST, and started off with the A's in the list of publishers in the back of the magazine. Although Ace was before Avon, the latter advertised for the longer manuscript. I sent it to Avon, and shortly after its acceptance, Nancy Coffee, who at the time was senior editor there, told me that the weekend she read it she had wanted to go to the beach, but it was raining. She decided to stay home and work instead. She selected the largest manuscript out of the "Slush Pile" of unsolicited manuscript, which happened to be THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER. She started speed-reading, found herself slowing down, and stayed up all night to finish it. On Monday, she recommended that AVON publish it.

Question: Your first book, SHANNA, was your big break and, at the same time, one of   the most successful romance books ever. And, also, one of the first "modern" romance books with sex scenes and a strong heroine. Have you been surprised about the success of your  books? How did the critics react as your books belonged to the first one of this genre?

Kathleen E. Woodiwiss: Actually, SHANNA wasn't my first book. THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER was. THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER is usually mentioned by women as the one that attracted their attention. The character, Heather, was strong-willed in many respects, but also, at first, fearful of the lead male character, Brandon Birmingham. Still, she showed spunk throughout the book.

As for the sex, I cannot take the credit for "sex scenes" in novels. Before deciding to write my own, a friend gave me the book, VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, to read. It had sex, but it was so depressing, I didn't want to finish it. I had always enjoyed reading and continually searched for good books to read. In my frustration to find a novel that was wonderfully romantic and had a happy ending, I decided to write my own.

I was indeed surprised and grateful for the success of my book, but its popularity also assured me that there were many women out there who had a desire to read the same kind of books I continually searched for. <BR>
As for the critics, before THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER was actually published, PUBLISER'S WEEKLY gave it a good review in the magazine, causing AVON to increase their first printing to 600,000 copies. From there, word of the popularity of the book spread the greater degree by word of mouth, one reader telling the next. It is to my readers I owe the greatest thanks.

Question: Do you think that your books are so successful because your heroines were headstrong at times when the typical heroine was raped, mistreated, and passive?

Kathleen E. Woodiwiss: To some extent, yes. I would find it immensely boring to read a novel wherein the heroine has "no guts" to stand resolute against the odds that seem to overwhelm her. I find a heroine much more interesting when she has some spark of life and determination within the core of her personality. It may not be evident in all my characters at the beginning, but, in the process of coming into full maturity, the heroine finds it…and uses it to bring about change in her life.

Question: Do you have a "message" to your readers apart from showing that women can be strong and powerful? Is the message "love"?

Kathleen E. Woodiwiss: I never set out to give anyone a "message". My desire has always been to entertain my readers as I am enthralled and refreshed by a novel that's beguiling, exciting and fast-paced. People need relaxation in whatever area of work they are in, whether it's a housewife who has the very important task of nurturing her children or a doctor of nuclear physics. Without relaxation, our very human mechanisms would begin to break down.

Question: Can you imagine the reasons women love to read your books or romances in general? Are your (you? Or they?) interested in the very romantic and erotic love story because they experience this in reality?

Kathleen E. Woodiwiss: Reality can be a "real bummer" sometimes. My books are more of an escape to allow my readers to put aside realism for a short span of time, to relax and bolster their enthusiasm to face whatever they must face. I've had women write and say that some book or another of mine helped them through a long ordeal of a medical problem, a difficult divorce, or another kind of hardship. One can reap as many benefits from reading a good book as perhaps going to an entertaining movie, to the beach, or to a concert.

Question: You take very long breaks between your books. Unlike other authors who publish several books in a year, you have published 11 books and two anthologies in about 30 years. Therefore you are famous for quality and not quantity. Do you need these breaks for "recovery" between your books? Or do you find ideas for new stories during these periods?

Kathleen E. Woodiwiss: When I first began writing, I was raising a family and needed time to be a mother and a wife. After completing THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER, I foolishly signed a year's contract to finish THE WOLF AND THE DOVE. I met the deadline, but I was feeling burned out. I refused to sign another contract unless I had five years to work on my next book. It took three and a half years to finish SHANNA, which some say is my best. Of course, others have their own favorites. While working on ASHES IN THE WIND, Nancy Coffey left Avon, and the man who was president of AVON at that time became my editor. He applied pressure to rush me to finish the book, to the extent that I completed the last chapter in a hotel room in New York. I was pressured to finish the next book, A ROSE IN WINTER, before my allotted time. Then I began work on COME LOVE A STRANGER. By then, my husband and I were having marital problems after over twenty years of marriage. The last thing I wanted to do was write a book when my marriage was falling apart. Still, I had a contract to fulfill and the then-president of Avon wanted it posthaste. I finished it, but I knew it was far from my best, and I was heartsick, because I had always prided myself in giving my readers the very best I could offer. I suffered a serious case of burnout and had no interest in working on another book. It took me four or five years before I completed the next one, but it was far from my best. After that one, I made every effort to finish the next book speedily, but I just couldn't seem to generate the same enthusiasm I once had for writing.

I suffered some medical problems, which unbeknownst to me had been going on for a number of years. I had overactive parathyroids which were leaving calcium deposits on my joints, on my eyes, on my brain and elsewhere. The surgeon informed me that partial removal of the parathroids would likely reverse the buildup. I believe sincerely that it did, for I was able to concentrate a lot better after surgery. After writing the short story, THE KISS, for the anthology, THREE WEDDINGS AND A KISS, a year later, I had part of my lung removed. I wrote the short story, BEYOND A KISS for the anthology, MARRIED AT MIDNIGHT while recuperating. After those two short stories I noticed that my enthusiasm for writing was being restored. I felt better about my writing than I had for some years.

I decided after owning my property in Louisiana for nearly eight years, that I would move there, where I continued work on PETALS ON THE RIVER. I thoroughly enjoyed working on it, but more than that, was grateful for my zeal for writing, which I thought I had lost.

A long story, but that's why I like to have time between books, so I won't lose again that which I once feared I had lost.

Question: Where do you generally get the inspirations for your books?

Kathleen E. Woodiwiss: Usually the ideas for my books come from my imagination or a dream I've had, or even a movie I've seen. The idea for SHANNA came after watching CAPTAIN BLOOD on TV. I had actually started ASHES IN THE WIND when I saw the movie, and I was so intrigued with the plot that I soon developed that I decided to write SHANNA first.

Question: After many years, you decided to write several sequels to THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER. Why did you want to write them? And will you write sequels to other books, too?

Kathleen E. Woodiwiss: It was when AVON asked me to write a short story for THREE WEDDINGS AND A KISS that I remembered all the letters I had received from women wanting a novel about Jeff Birmingham. I thought to appease that request by writing a short story. The interest derived from the story motivated AVON to ask for a continuation, which I delivered with another short story published under the title of MARRIED AT MIDNIGHT.

To help commemorate the 25th anniversary of the publication of THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER, AVON wanted to publish a novel that dealt with the son of Heather and Brandon twenty-five years after the book ended. Thus THE ELUSIVE FLAME.

Then AVON wanted me to finish the Jeff Birmingham sequels with a novel. That became A SEASON BEYOND A KISS.

As far as writing sequels to other books? I have no real interest in doing so at this time. I love starting off from scratch with new plots and new characters.

Question: Where did you get the idea for A SEASON BEYOND A KISS? Why did choose Charleston as a setting for the story?

Kathleen E. Woodiwiss: The first question is covered above in Answer 9. The idea came from my imagination. As for selecting Charleston, the city was the setting for THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER. It seemed only right that Jeff Birmingham would continue to live there since he had bought the plantation, Oakley.

Question: You are an idol for many established and new, upcoming authors. Do you also give writing seminars like other established authors or support unpublished authors in finding a publisher?

Kathleen E. Woodiwiss: Since I am not a gifted orator, I do not give speeches. In the past I've done a total of three Answer & Question sessions for different sectors of the Romance Writers of America. The last one was as recent as last month at New Jersey. As for helping new authors get published, I sent AVON the first book LaVerle Spencer ever wrote. However, in trying to help another author edit her book, my suggestions were not well received, and because of that, I will not make such an effort ever again.

Question: And how do you stay in contact with your fans? Do you attend book-signings, Romantic Time Conventions, etc.?

Kathleen E. Woodiwiss: I've been on numerous tours and do book-signings when my publisher has asked. I don't attend Romantic Time's Conventions. I've only attended Romance Writer's conventions when I've been asked. Although I enjoy talking with other authors, I refuse to make speeches.

Question: What kind of changes within the genre have you noticed during the last 30 years? And would you say that the growing self-confidence of women also influenced the romance genre?

Kathleen E. Woodiwiss: There are certainly more categories in romantic fiction nowadays. There is also a lot more explicit sex. In my opinion, the latter is overdone, which leads me to think that I must take a closer look at my own writing. Too much sex is poor substitute for a well written book.

As for the growing self-confidence of women being an influence in the romance genre, I suppose in some respects it has to be. Whether good or bad must be determined. Sometimes people are confident that they have a wonderful book, but the publishers may think differently. Too much confidence has a tendency to make one stubborn to a fault. As for me, when I started writing, it was merely to appease a goading desire. That desire eventually overcame the lack of confidence I suffered at the beginning when I didn't think my book would ever be published.

A woman (or man, for that matter) must seriously consider the merits and defects of her writing and change the latter for the good of the story. The ability to see one's writing from another's perspective is a much better gift to have than self-confidence. Long before I ever sent THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER to the so-called agent, I rewrote it, because I thought it needed to be rewritten. That's why when he said it needed serious work, I knew the book was exactly the way I wanted it, and I didn't want it to be changed. Reworking it had bolstered my confidence in my book.

Question: Have you ever been approached by film makers? Would you like your books turned into movies?

Kathleen E. Woodiwiss: You bet! On both counts. For SHANNA. I've been approached by Orion and others, but without assurance that they would keep to the story line, the agreement did not materialize. However, I have formed an association with a couple in Hollywood who are scriptwriters and happen to believe that SHANNA will make a wonderful movie. Their script has been read by some powerful exec's who, sad to say, finally decided that romantic fiction doesn't sell in today's theaters, because the majority of moviegoers are young men. We'd like to convince them that they're wrong, that more women would go to movies if there were tasteful romantic films being produced.

Question: Unlike other authors, you've never concentrated on only one time period. Is there one certain time period you enjoy most? Would you like to write a contemporary one day? Or will you continue to write historicals?

Kathleen E. Woodiwiss: I love historicals, and I very much enjoy researching historical periods. I don't read contemporary stories. To me, that ceases to be an escape since we know what the world is like today, so I would never write a contemporary. If I had a favorite period, I would say it would be in the 1700's and even the early 1800's.

Question: What are your favorite authors and books?

Kathleen E. Woodiwiss: I cannot say with any truth that any of the more recently written books appeal to me as much as the old classics, JANE EYRE, REBECCA, GONE WITH THE WIND, etc. Since that is true, I must think that the authors of those classics remain my all-time favorites.

Question: Do you have a favorite hero/heroine among your books?

Kathleen E. Woodiwiss: The heroes and heroines of each of my books have been especially dear to me while I've been in the midst of working on those manuscripts. But if I were to select favorites, perhaps I would have to say that it must be Ruark Beauchamp and Shanna from SHANNA and Cole Latimer and Alaina MacGaren from ASHES IN THE WIND. Of those four, I would say Ruark Beauchamp and Alaina MacGaren. Of those two, Alaina MacGaren. In my opinion she had more appealing aspects in her character than any of my other heroines.

Question: What are your future plans? Can you tell us more about a new book?

Kathleen E. Woodiwiss: Presently I'm working on novel set in England just after the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars. Hopefully, I will be finished with it in time to allow its publication the latter part of next year.

Question: What do you think about the fact that A SEASON BEYOND A KISS will be first published in Germany as a highlight in the Book Club?

Kathleen E. Woodiwiss: I am thrilled that such an honor is being bestowed upon my work. I'm greatly appreciative to those who made that decision. I truly thank them.

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Dieses Interview entstand im Oktober 2000 zwischen dem Bertelsmann Club und Kathleen E. Woodiwiss für den Bertelsmann Club. Veröffentlichung der Originalversion mit freundlicher Genehmigung des Bertelmann Clubs für:

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