Novels Alive along with our sister site, Be My Bard, give a warm welcome to this week’s guest for “10 Questions With…”, New York Times Bestselling author—Cathy Maxwell.
We’ve all pondered the age old question of which came first the CHICKEN or the EGG? As a writer, when creating a new story, which tends to come first for you—the CHARACTERS or the PLOT?
I opt out of this question. It all comes flying at me at once. My process is a chicken soufflé. (Is there such a thing?) That means I scribble and cross out and ponder and swear and scribble again. However, after everything is said and done, I believe the characters are far more important than the plot. You can enjoy a weak plot if the characters are entertaining. However, a great plot will never save boring, lifeless, unlikeable characters.
It’s inevitable that small bits and pieces of a writer’s own personality will make their way into the characters they create. But if you had to write yourself into one of your books, would your character most likely be the hero/heroine, the steadfast best friend, the comedy relief or the villainous mastermind?
I would love to be the villainous mastermind. In a way, as the author, I am. I get to choose the situations my characters have to dance around. I’m the ultimate villain!
Speaking of villains…do you prefer writing characters that are clearly evil from the second they appear on the page or the surprise villain that no one would ever expect?
Are any villains’ evil? I don’t believe so. Most villains are doing what they can to live their lives and get ahead. I’d say I write villains who the reader can identify as at cross-purpose with the heroes. But the best villains are not truly black-hearted. They think themselves very reasonable. Hannibal Lector thought himself a brilliant chef.
If you had the power to step inside the pages of any book for 24 hours, which one would you choose and why?
Any book? I could go down the rabbit hole with Alice? Or cross swords with CAPTAIN BLOOD? It certainly wouldn’t be Grimm’s Fairy Tales. LADY RELUCTANT by Maggie Osborne. I was charmed by Blue, the pirate’s daughter and her desire to be a lady. The book had a terrible cover but what delightful, zany characters (there is that character/plot question) and the plot was equally wonderful. Very funny, witty, and loving. I wish they would re-issue it.
If you could use that same power to jump through the screen into the world of your favorite television show or movie, which would it be and why?
I am wrapped up in HOMELAND. Fabulous acting and writing. I’ve only watched two seasons so far. Can’t wait for the third to come out on dvd. The show appeals to the former military officer in me. When I was a kid, I dreamed of being in the Foreign Service.
Over the last few years, books of an erotic nature or with taboo subject matter have become more acceptable—even popular—in the mainstream marketplace. How, if at all, has this change affected the way that you write your own “love scenes”?
I’ve always believed that everything in the book should be justified by the story, and therefore, nothing is taboo. Sex is another from of communication between the characters. If it fits the story, then the reader will go with the writer anywhere. If it is jarringly out of place in the story, well, the sex could be little more than a kiss on the cheek and it wouldn’t fit.
Have I changed the way I’ve written sex? No. But I may be changing the stories I tell. I’ve always played a bit with different sorts of heroes and heroines. With the Chattan Curse Trilogy, I have tried to push my story telling. The Brides of Wishmore Series is also expanding how I think of romance. I’ve run subplots and not everyone is an infamous lord.
The Romance genre is always evolving. I find that challenging and fun. That being said, Tom and Sharon Curtis’s THE WINDFLOWER is still one of the most evocative books I’ve ever read . . . and an abused cabin boy steals our hearts. So, look at the first paragraph to this question. There are truly no limits to romance. I believe everything should be on the table. The only rule I follow is—does it work?
There was once a time when authors had to rely almost solely on mainstream media like newspapers and magazines to find reviews written on their latest book. Now that the internet has made it possible for anyone with a keyboard to become an armchair critic, has the sheer number of reviews available for your books made it easier or harder to deal with criticism?
The internet dialogue about Romance has given us more engaged readers. Criticism is not a bad thing. Everyone is entitled to an opinion. It would be worse if no one cared enough to read the book. Yawn, Maxwell has a book out? Yuck, that attitude would be the kiss of death.
Is it hard to deal with negative criticism? Yes. It bites. We all want to craft a brilliant book. However, criticism is part of the gig. I used to be in theater and then there was that stint reading the local television news. Oh, and let us not forget being a female military officer. I learned that if I want to follow my dreams, I couldn’t let others’ negativity get in my way. Their opinion of me is not my business, but my opinion of myself is. Sometimes I agree with the negative criticism and there are occassions I find I disagree with a rave review. No one is a harsher critic of my work than I am. But I’m not going to stop creating because of someone else’s opinion. I love this job.
Hmmmm . . . as an extra thought, fans of the genre often decry anything new until they embrace it. I remember when the first paranormal romances came out. It took awhile for the readers to discover them. However, if we writers don’t push ourselves creatively, then the genre will become stagnant. Part of the fun of e-publishing is that it is easier to experiment.
Many authors have branched out into multiple genres over the years. Is there a particular genre of fiction that you have always wanted to tackle but, haven’t tried yet?
I think of stories all the time. I have one of those minds. But I keep my focus on the book on my screen.
If you could choose one historical/contemporary romance from your own or another author’s library of work to be made into a feature film which would it be and why?
I always wanted to see YOU AND NO OTHER made into a movie because it is a fun story. That being said, I think Tessa Dare’s ROMANCING THE DUKE would be a charming story. I also think MY LADY, MY LORD by Katharine Ashe would make a wild film.
Tell us a little bit about the project you are working on now or share something about your newest or upcoming release(s).
I’m finishing up THE GROOM SAYS YES (Oct ’14), the third book in the Brides of Wishmore series. I really enjoyed the Davidsons. Sabrina has two brothers off in the military so who knows if we shall see them someday.
We started the series with THE BRIDE SAYS NO (Feb ’14), which is about a divorce woman struggling to make sense out of her life after the failure of her marriage. The second book is THE BRIDE SAYS MAYBE (Mar ’14) . It is a fun Beauty and Beast/Dog vs. Non-Dog Couple learning that love always has the last laugh.
Then I’ll begin plotting a new series. I’m calling it The Duelists, for now. I’ve always loved a good duel story where justice weighs in the balance and all is fair in love and war.
Cathy began her writing career in 1991 while her children were still small. “It wasn’t easy,” she says. “I worked full time, my husband traveled, we had three kids, I volunteered and I was writing from four until seven every morning.” Now, twenty years later, she is the author of seventeen national bestsellers and her novels appear regularly on The New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists. A rarity in the book world, Cathy has published every one of her novels with the same publisher, Harper Collins/Avon Books.