Sunday, 9 November 2014

Romancing The Novelist


When twenty-year-old Ashby Overton travels to Overhome Estate for the summer, she hopes to unearth her ancestral roots and the cause of a mysterious family rift surrounding the horseback riding death of her Grandmother Lenore many years ago.

From the moment she enters her room in the oldest wing, Ashby feels an invisible, enfolding presence.  She learns the room belonged to a woman named Rosabelle, but no one is willing to talk about Rosabelle—no one except Luke, the stable boy who captures her heart. As Ashby and Luke become closer, she realizes he can be the confidant she needs to share the terrifying, unfolding secrets. 
 Ever present is a force Ashby never sees, only feels.  Candles light themselves, notes from an old lullaby fall from the ceiling, the radio tunes itself each day.  And roses, always meant for Ashby, appear in the unlikeliest places.  Are the roses a symbol of love, or do they represent something dark, something deep and evil?

Great to have you as a guest today, Susan. I always ask the question "What draws you as a reader to the romance genre?"
Actually, I do not read “pure” romance by choice. I love romance in other guises—Gothic -romance, for example or mystery-romance. To me as a reader a little romance goes a long way.  So it needs to be GOOD!
As a writer, I tend to lean in the same direction—subtle romance to enhance the mystery or the adventure or action. For my cozy mystery/Southern Gothic A Red, Red Rose, I leave much of the gore and sex to the reader’s imagination; Shakespeare might call it “off-stage.” I feel this technique leads the reader on, titillating and encouraging mental images without boundaries.

Something I always wonder is "What is the most difficult part of writing a love story?"
Well, let me begin by telling you the easiest part: conflict. In life, isn’t all romance made up of multiple conflicts? Will my parents approve? Is he right for me? Is it love or simply fascination?  As a mystery writer, I find plotting conflict is paramount and thus easily extended to the romantic elements involved. For example, in A Red, Red Rose, for her first serious tryst with Luke, Ashby, my protagonist, arrives late—having overslept in a nap. She had wanted to look perfect—but she’s a mess—hair tousled and no makeup—rain-soaked and mud-splattered. Luke could not care less. He wants romance! But when they finally settle in the hayloft, a swarm of wasps threatens to completely thwart any love-making on the horizon. Conflict! It’s the root of all romance. What’s hard is writing realistically about the physical details without sounding melodramatic , awkward or unnatural.

Is creating a book title easy for you? Tell us about the process.
It seems my books entitle themselves! I usually look for a recurring theme or symbol rather than plot or character for my titles.  Thus, I am generally well along with the writing before the title emerges. The sequel to A Red, Red Rose is entitled Beneath the Stones (The Wild Rose Press, publication date TBA). Stones are symbolic throughout the novel, so the reader is always looking for the connection with the title.
Do your characters love the direction you take for them or do they have other ideas?
Now, that’s an interesting question. I know authors who say their characters talk to them—guiding the story. Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, for example, lived with her characters—moving from location to location, sometimes at their whim. My characters don’t converse with me—sometimes I wish they would! But they often do seem to take matters into their own hands as I am writing about them. It’s like an idea is suddenly transmitted from their mind to mine! And I admit that often I take a character down one road, only to realize it’s the wrong path for him or her. That’s when the delete key comes in handy.
Any tips for writers that you’d love to share?
Writing is such a personal journey that every writer must chart her own path. Life experiences, values, preferences, loves and losses, inspiration, role models—unique for every writer— will guide and mold and refine the individual’s craft.  That said, I would add that every writer must also be an avid reader and a close observer of life, in general, and of people, places and events specifically.  Who knows when that bubbling mountain stream might flow its way into a setting? Smell it, hear it, feel it, look closely at its depths and shallows for sensory details and jot it all down in a journal or relegate it to your writer’s memory bank. The quirky, brilliant professor whose classes generate mental lightning could be a character in your next novel. Store his mannerisms, his speech patterns, his retro clothes in your data base and bring it all out when the time comes. No detail is too small for the observant writer’s sensory antennae. Do you remember your very first extended trip away from home? The excitement of the unknown—the hopes for adventure and stimulating discoveries? Dredge up those impressions and infuse your journeying character with hopes and fears and expectations akin to your own.  Every reader can relate to the human experience.

Excerpt from A Red, Red Rose:
     As suddenly as it began, the music stopped.  Bewildered, I held out the candle as though it might illuminate the harmony I had heard so clearly only moments ago.  Except for the dying sputter of the storm, all was quiet again.  My ears strained, listening.  Faintly this time, but distinctly, I heard the melody again, this time in the hall outside my closed bedroom door.  Barefoot, holding the candlestick in front of me, I moved slowly to the door, drew the latch, and, without thinking, only feeling the music, I followed the mellow strains, like a child of Hamlin behind the Pied Piper.  Descending the steep steps, on the first floor, now, I continued to follow the path of the music, through the dining room, to the old keeping room and out a door I had never used or even noticed before,
     I halted, shook my head, trying to clear out the hypnotic tones that crowded out all thought and plugged my senses.  Once again, the music abated.  It was like a game of musical chairs.  Where was I?  No longer in the house, I felt the damp night air on my bare arms, and rough floorboards beneath my bare feet.  Holding the candle at arm’s length, I crept forward, a step at a time, my other hand grasping at the air in front.  I felt like a blind person without a guide dog.
       My reaching fingers brushed across a grainy surface, and crumbling powder dusted my fingertips.  Instantly, I recognized the metallic smell of old, rusting screens.  I knew then I must be on the ancient screened porch tucked between the wings of the house, the crumbling porch with the antique rocking chairs.  The old part of the house, reached only by the door in the keeping room.  The music had led me here.  Again the strains wafted over and around me, holding me captive as I stood, shivering, gazing at the dim light of my flickering candle.
     The music stopped as abruptly as it had begun.  Struggling to clear the cobwebs of sound spinning in my brain, I took a deep breath and looked around.   I sensed, rather than saw a movement in my periphery.  When I turned, I became aware of one of the old rocking chairs.  Gently, so as to be barely perceptible, the chair rocked itself back and forth as though someone invisible sat in it, enjoying the languorous, rhythmic motion.  Rocking, rocking, rocking, without any sound at all.
     Not conscious of moving, I found myself standing beside the ancient rocker, now motionless, dusty, the seat sagging within inches of the floor, as though it had not moved in a hundred years. I had not dreamed it.  The chair had rocked itself, and someone or something had led me here to witness it.  Led me with the music.  I had the evidence.  On the decaying cane seat lay a single fresh rose just out of bud.

>>> A Red, Red Rose on Amazon <<<

Susan Coryell has long been interested in concerns about culture and society in the South, where hard-felt, long-held feelings battle with modern ideas.  The ghosts slipped in, to her surprise.
Susan Coryell is the author of the award-winning young adult novel, Eaglebait. She lives at Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia.


  1. A truly lovely interview, Susan and Christine. Your answers are beautifully expressed, Susan. I especially like your advice for new writers: to keep eyes and ears open; to observe closely, listen, record--right on! For myself, I even follow people into stores, offices, churches, just to hear the end of a conversation. One never knows when it will come in handy. (Of course one should be careful--to avoid arrest!)

  2. Thanks, Nancy for your kind words. Reading your Broken Strings novel I could tell you are attuned to sensory details--placed me smack in your setting! I, too, eavesdrop and haven't been arrested yet!

  3. What a fantastic interview! I love your advice to writers. I often forget to observe the minute details around me, but you're right, it can be a handy tool. And yes, great advice about conflict. So many authors completely forget about that as they're writing a romance, or other genres. A Red, Red, Rose is a wonderful read...I highly suggest everyone check it out. Best of luck!

  4. I like the conflict during the romance angle. Because in real life nothing is perfect. The zipper gets stuck, the shoe lace knotted, something! It's a great idea to incorporate real life frustrations into our stories. Terrific interview.

  5. Awesome interview. Your thoughtful answers were so engaging. And the excerpt drew me right into the story. Lovely!

  6. Thanks Alicia, Jannine and Marissa! Your positive comments warm the cockles of my little Southern heart! I appreciate your reading and commenting. It makes the "work" of blogging pay off!

  7. Hi, Susan,

    You give excellent answers to the interview questions! I enjoyed reading the excerpt from your novel. I agree that conflict is just as important in romance as other genres otherwise the novel would be dull. I also love the cover art of your book, perfect for gothic romance.

  8. Thanks, Jacqui: I appreciate your compliments! I enjoy reading your work, too.

  9. Lovely interview and intriguing blurb and excerpt. It's already on my weekend TBR pile but I may have to bump it up a day or two.

    1. Thanks, Nancy. Looking forward to further input!

  10. A Red, Red Rose is a "keeps-you-guessing" read all the way to the end. It has a wonderful gothic feel to it and I can't wait for the sequel to be released. Great interview!

    1. Thanks, Rush. I've enjoyed your author collegiality!

  11. So happy to have you on "Romancing the Novelist", Susan. Thank you for your wonderful interview answers. :):)
    Happy reading, everyone.

    1. It was my pleasure to appear on your awesome blog, Christine. thanks for the opportunity!

  12. I also love when a story has another angle that is so subtle, it seems natural. My favorites are suspense novels that have romance as a secondary part. Your book sounds very interesting. And who doesn't love a stable boy?

  13. What a wonderful interview and excellent advice, Susan. And we know you're a master when it comes to writing excellent romances. I can't wait for your latest to be released!

  14. Crazy day yesterday, so I'm coming in late, but I enjoyed the interview and excerpt. Great advice for writers!

  15. Kara--yes--the subtle layers of theme and character work best for me as both reader and writer. Cindy--thanks for the compliment! Carol - Glad you liked my writerly advice! Thanks to all for reading and commenting. That is the FUN part of blogging.