I have very fortunate to have the met Jennifer Blake and I have gotten to know her better through a critique group that meets in Ruston, Louisiana. I was delighted when “Pat” agreed to be featured on my blog.
Jennifer Blake has been called a “pioneer of the romance genre”, an “icon of the romance industry,” and a “grande dame of romance.” A New York Times and international best-selling author since 1977, she is a charter member of Romance Writers of America, of which I a member. She is a member of the RWA and Affaire de Coeur Halls of Fame, and recipient of the RWA Lifetime Achievement Rita. She holds numerous other honors, including the “Maggie”; the Holt Medallion; multiple Reviewers
Choice awards; the Career Achievement Award from RT Book Reviews Magazine, and the Frank Waters Award for literary excellence. She has published 70 books with translations in 20 languages and more than 35 million copies sold worldwide.
Today we are talking about her works in The Italian Billionaire series, “The Tuscan’s Revenge Wedding,” “The Venetian’s Daring Seduction,” and “The Amalfitano’s Bold Abduction.”
Love, Italian style…three young women are seduced by passion, adventure and handsome Latin males in romantic Italy. Now that’s amore….
Readers and lovers of contemporary romance who enjoy stories with exotic settings and Latin Lovers.
Jennifer, please tell us about your work.
When I began these three stand-alone stories, I’d just finished two different complicated historical series for Mira Books that were 100,000 words each. I’d also left traditional publishing after many years of being restricted in what I could write, and started an online publishing venture, Steel Magnolia Press, with my niece Cyndi Drolet. We had put 37 of my older titles online with new covers, and I was ready to write something to be published as an original e-book. A series of contemporary romances of about 50,000 per book looked like a fun project.
But added to that, I’d been to Italy several times and loved it – and I’d had a few brief encounters with Italian men. Nothing racy or momentous as I was very much married! But on one occasion, a waiter I’d summoned hurried to my table and leaned to whisper, “I always come when you call, Madame!” Then there was the night outside Rome when the large group I was with was served their pasta course on ordinary white plates—but mine was presented with a warm smile and great ceremony on a golden one. Another time, in the Cinque Terre region, I walked into a small wine shop wearing a blue and white print skirt, blue sandals, lace-edged white tank and white over shirt embroidered in blue. An older Italian gentleman, elegantly dressed as only Italian men can be, looked me up and down with a tender smile and indicated my outfit with his fingertips closed together in that continental gesture of something exquisite. “Very nizzze,” he said. I smiled and said “Grazie” to all these overtures. How could I not? Suffice it to say the Italian Billionaire series is my love letter to Italy, and salute to the appreciation for women that makes Italian men special.
Obviously, this isn’t your first book. How many books have you written so far?
I’ve published 70 books if I count the novella collections.
JOY AND ANGER, Fawcett/Ballantine, 1991
SPANISH SERENADE, Fawcett/Ballantine, 1990
PERFUME OF PARADISE, Fawcett/Ballantine, 1988
SOUTHERN RAPTURE, Fawcett/Ballantine, 1987
LOUISIANA DAWN, Fawcett/Ballantine, 1987
PRISONER OF DESIRE, Fawcett/Ballantine, 1986
ROYAL PASSION, Fawcett/Ballantine, 1986
CAPTIVE KISSES, Signet Books, 1980
LOVE AT SEA, Signet Books, 1980
THE STORM AND THE SPLENDOR, Fawcett/Ballantine, 1979
TENDER BETRAYAL, Popular Library & Fawcett/Ballantine, 1979
SNOWBOUND HEART, Signet Books, 1979
BAYOU BRIDE, Signet Books, 1979
THE ABDUCTED HEART, Signet Books, 1978
NIGHT OF THE CANDLES, Fawcett Books, 1978
SWEET PIRACY, Fawcett Books, 1978
LOVE’S WILD DESIRE, Popular Library & Fawcett/Ballantine, 1977
MURDER FOR CHARITY, Manor Books, 1977
HAVEN OF FEAR, Manor Books, 1977
NOTORIOUS ANGEL, Fawcett Books, 1977
BRIDE OF A STRANGER, Fawcett Books, 1974
DARK MASQUERADE, Fawcett Books, 1974
COURT OF THE THORN TREE, Popular Library, 1973
THE BEWITCHING GRACE, Popular Library, 1973
STORM AT MIDNIGHT, Ace Books, 1973
STRANGER AT PLANTATION INN, Fawcett Gold Medal, 1971
SECRET OF MIRROR HOUSE, Fawcett Gold Medal, 1970
HONEYMOON SUITE, St. Martin’s Press, 1995
What does your writing process look like?
It’s a basically an organized progression of words on paper. I begin by brainstorming the story, turn these random notes into a chapter-by-chapter outline, create simple character sketches and then start at the beginning and go on to the end. I don’t write scenes or chapters out of order because the emotional and sexual tension in romance needs the steady escalation provided by a linear structure.
Where do you write?
I normally alternate between the desktop PC in my office and a recliner in the living room with my laptop, but occasionally work outside in warm weather.
Are you a plotter or a pantster?
I’ve always been a plotter. My first published books were Gothic mystery-suspense stories that required several suspects as possible villains, along with clues, red herrings and actions and motivations to lend credence to their possible guilt. It’s easier to write this type story if you plan the details in advance. After turning to historical romance, I had back-to-back contracts for decades. This kind of output is faster, and turns out better, if you’re sure of where you’re going with the stories.
There’s nothing formulaic about plotting, however, and nothing innately more creative about writing by the seat of your pants. In fact, all fiction uses both methods. Plotters and pantsters are like two people heading into unknown territory toward the same destination. One has a road map with a few five pitfalls marked, the other has vague idea of the general route and the knowledge that pitfalls exist. Yet both still have to plunge into the wilderness.
Is there a certain type of scene that’s harder for you to write than others? Love? Action? Racy?
Not really. Every scene should have a definite reason (or two or three) for being in the book. If you know what you’re trying to accomplish and how you intend to get there, all scenes are about the same. On the other hand, I do grumble and gripe about the love scenes after having done several hundred with various degrees of heat. Once I figure out what makes the current couple unique in their approach to intimacy, however, they’re no harder than anything else.
Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? What is it?
The death of a child as a major plot point.
How did you come up with the title of your book or series?
After deciding to do a series similar to the Harlequin Presents novels, it seemed natural to choose titles common to that particular romance subset. It was also an experiment of sorts. I was curious to see if the titles made a difference. As far as I can tell, they’ve made very little to none.
What book do you wish you could have written?
Kathryn Falk at Romantic Times once said she thought I should have be tapped to write the sequel to Gone with the Wind. I thought at the time it would be a thankless task, that nothing could ever live up to the original. In hindsight, I believe it would have been a fascinating challenge.
How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning? Do you have any name choosing resources you recommend?
Names need to suit the personalities of the characters as I see them in my mind; I often close my eyes and repeat a name to see if it fits. That they are appropriate to the tie period and place is also important – a Tiffany in 1850s Louisiana would be ridiculous, for instance. In general, I don’t care for unusual or weirdly spelled names as that seems an amateur’s effort to be different. I do like hero names that start with an “R,” and was even a bit superstitious about that for a while after several with that naming method became best sellers—I was afraid NOT to give them an “R” name. And after using several of those, I came across a magazine article that said many people favor “R” names, feeling they extra strong and masculine.
As for sources, I have a couple of books with the nationalities, historical origins and meanings of both given names and surnames, also a couple that are meant for choosing baby names. But I mostly combed the indexes of Louisiana history books for authentic character names for my books set in early Louisiana. When I started my six-book Masters at Arms series about the sword masters of old New Orleans, however, I visited St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 near the French Quarter to jot down names to mix and match for future characters.
What do you consider to be your best accomplishment?
The fact that I’ve survived as an author, that I’m still writing and being read after so many years in this game!
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Retired and puttering with writing as a hobby. If my muse will back off and let me.
Have you always enjoyed writing?
Writing has always come fairly easy—book reports and essays in school were never a problem. Nor were stories a problem; I often put myself to sleep as a child and young teen by making them up in my head. But I loved to read far more than I liked to write—that was until I started writing as a hobby at about 19 or 20.
What writing advice do you have for other aspiring authors?
The same classic advice heard a thousand times before: Never give up on your dream. Never, ever give up.
Do you read your reviews? Do you respond to them, good or bad? Do you have any advice on how to deal with the bad?
I don’t usually respond, whether good or bad, since this is supposed to be unprofessional. I really prefer not to read the reviews, particularly those posted online; people can be so stupidly cruel when protected by anonymity. However, reading them can’t be helped at times, as quotes from good reviews must be collected for promotional purposes. I bask in the good one but skim over the bad as fast as possible. The best way to deal with the last is to refuse to let them matter. And then go write something so great it will prove these bad reviewers were clueless idiots.
What (when not writing) do you do to support yourself?
My writing income has been more than sufficient since the late 1970s.
Do you have any other talents or hobbies?
I’m not sure I have talent, but I enjoy painting with watercolors now and then, also knitting, crocheting, beading, quilting, antique hunting, gardening and travel. Not necessarily in that order!
What is your least favorite part of the publishing / writing process?
Editing. Unfortunately, I can think of a dozen different ways to say practically anything. Though I’m a thorough editor, it’s always an agonizing process of thousands of minute decisions. Beyond that, the dialogue, emotions, character actions/reactions, narrative flow and scene transitions are interwoven so completely as I write that making a single change can mean rearranging or deleting things in several places. Not fun! I’d rather write two new books than edit one.
What can readers who enjoy your books do to help make them successful?
Recommend the series to their friends, discuss it at book clubs. Post about it on Facebook or Twitter. And of course, follow me on those sites as well as on Pinterest.
What is your best marketing tip?
The #1 way that readers discover an author is through the recommendation of friends. The best way to influence this give and take is to produce good, solid stories. You can make yourself accessible thought social media and other avenues, if you like, but the best use of your time is always to write another good book, and another, and another…
What are you working on now?
I’m seeing a nonfiction book titled “Around the World in 100 Days” through the publication process. This is a day-by-day chronicle of a fantastic world cruise I took with my grandson lastyear, but gives tips and insights into this form of long term travel. It should be independently published in March or April, 2015.
What is your next project?
I’m working on a continuation of my Louisiana Gentlemen series that was set in contemporary Louisiana and published in the 1990s: These stories were “Kane,” “Luke,” “Roan,” “Clay” and “Wade.”. Books one and two of the new group, titled “Beau” and “Jake,” should be out later this year.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I have a good half dozen story ideas spinning around in my brain, some contemporary, some historical, and at least one futuristic. What will come out on top, no one knows, least of all yours truly. The wonderful thing about being independently published these days is that it doesn’t matter. My next project can be whatever excites me when it’s time to start it.
And now for some FUN…
What do you wear while writing?
Jeans, T-shirt and sandals are my summer uniform, with the same in winter except for a long-sleeved over shirt of some kind along with Easy Spirit Traveltime clogs and socks. Boring, but comfy.
Have you ever dyed your hair an unusual color?
I’ve been golden blond and had highlights, but don’t really like the texture change caused by bleaches and dyes, even the temporary ones.
What is your biggest fear?
That my Bucket List may turn out to be longer than my life. But I’m working on it!
If you had a supernatural power, what would it be?
Astral projection, the ability to go wherever I choose at the speed of light while using nothing but brain power.
Do you make up your bed every morning? What is on your bed right now? (pillows/quilt/crocheted bedspread?) Is it romantic or functional? Provide images if you want.
I do make my bed, though more because I hate crawling into a rumpled, unmade one at night than from any OCD neatness. My latest edition of this important piece of furniture is an adjustable mattress with remote control I love it for reading and watching TV in bed.
Where is one place you want to visit that you haven’t been before? Provide images if you want.
Egypt. The Pyramids of Giza are at the top of my Bucket List since I’ve marked off much else. I was supposed to see this monument on the world cruise, but State Department travel advisories prevented it.
Please describe something (significant number of words/a character/entire scene) you “deleted” from your work and why. Because a real writer knows when to hit THE DELTE KEY!
I enjoy description and like painting scenes with words for my books. I also love Italy, the landscape, culture, and general ambience, so sometimes went a bit overboard with description in the Italian Billionaires series. Some of this sort of thing was deleted during the editing process, particularly where I felt it slowed down or interfered with the main story action.
I hope this questionnaire has helped you to come up with some clever answers, but is there anything else you’d like to add?
One of the best things about my venture into independent publishing has been the ability to expand into other venues with the titles to which I own reverted rights. Audio books are a great example. Around 40 of these backlist titles are now available on Amazon from Audible.com
Amazon Author Page:
Amazon Kindle Ebook Pages: