Kate Walker writes for Mills and Boon Modern/Harlequin Presents. Her stories have included adaptations of the classics, sexy Italian billionaires and now she’s added a European prince to her tally. She was kind enough to visit the TGTBTU office and answer the questions thrown at her by intrepid reporter Lynne Connolly.
The author of a great non fiction book, Kate Walker’s 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance, as well as 61 (yes, 61!) category romances, Kate shows no sign of slowing down soon and is working on her next book. We can’t wait!
KATE WALKER: Where do you get your ideas from? I always feel that if someone has to ask that, then they don’t understand what it is to be a writer. Writers are plagued with ideas, more than they can ever use in a lifetime. I usually answer ‘Life’ if asked the question. In fact, I once pointed out to my accountant that life should be a viable expense for a writer – but he wasn’t convinced and I doubt it the tax man would be either!
DC: I’ve heard writers often say their stories take them in surprising directions, or dialogue flows from some unknown place. Is it the same with you? Do your characters surprise you sometimes?
KW: When I first started writing I used to plan my books more than I do now. These days I ‘write into the mist’ – setting out on a story to see what happens. So the dialogue and some of the events can often surprise me – it’s like listening to two people I’ve introduced to each other. Those surprises can be really productive (see the answer to the question below), because I can then investigate why they happened, which helps me dig deeper into my characters’ personalities and motivations. It’s rather like watching really good acting – where the person is not speaking ‘lines’ but saying the only thing that character could say.
DC: Do you ever argue with your characters while you’re writing? Who usually wins?
KW: I don’t exactly argue. More like have a concentrated discussion/interrogation! If they’ve done something like in the above question – suddenly take the story in an unexpected direction or say something I wasn’t anticipating – then it’s almost as if they’re in the room and I’m going “What? Why did you say/do/think that?” And they always are the winners – because my characters just are. I’ve learned that forcing them in a direction they don’t want to go can ruin the flow of the story and create unconvincing motivations. When I know why something happens, I see that it must be that way.
DC: What is sure to distract you from sitting down and working/writing?
KW: A good book! One of the problems about writing for a living is that I don’t get enough time to read. So if a really good book grabs me, then I want to stay in the world and the mood of that book, and it can be a real effort to pull myself out of it and into the world I’m creating.
DC: What has been your favorite book cover from all of your releases and why?
KW: Not an easy one to answer – I’ve been writing so long that there have been so many styles of covers, particularly in the UK! I had one back, way back when (1988!), Man of Shadows, which I loved because the hero and heroine actually looked like the way I’d imagined them in my head.
The cover of my 50th title, The Sicilian’s Red-Hot Revenge, was great – the hero had a wonderful strong, powerful back, and as someone once said to me, there was so much sexy, sensual non-touching going on there. The perfect image of sexual tension as opposed to a sex scene.
And I have to mention the UK cover of the recent The Return of The Stranger – you can’t beat the image a sexy hero staring out at you from the cover. My only regret is that the model didn’t have the single emerald earring that my hero Heath was wearing in the book.
DC: How about your least favorite book cover? Why?
KW: Bad ones? There was the cover of A Desert Affair – a huge sand dune, which was OK on the paperback, but on the UK library edition, where the title cut off the top, it just looked like a someone had spilled a large blob of ink across the cover.
Or The Golden Thief where the hero was the ‘golden boy’ of the film world – he was supposed to look like Robert Redford. RR’s older, fatter, less attractive brother perhaps!
The UK cover of the current book is dividing opinions – some people find the lone hero on the cover again looks broody, intense, withdrawn – all of which fits the hero of a book where my working title was The Black Sheep Prince – but the brown suit, the waistcoat and the strangely squared-off handkerchief in his top pocket are not what my Alexei would wear, even under sufferance.
But perhaps the biggest disappointment was (sadly) my very first ever published book – The Chalk Line (1984), where the hero had jet black hair – but on the cover he was a blond! That was the UK library edition – they changed it later for the paperback versions.
DC: How do you feel your male or female characters have evolved over your career? Do you think you write them differently now than you did when you started?
KW: Romance is not a static genre and although the ‘tall, dark, handsome’ – add in ‘rich, powerful – hero seems like a cliché, in fact the hero of 2013 is distinctly different from the ones I wrote in the 1980s/1990s, etc. For one thing, I can now bring in the hero’s point of view, where before I had to just suggest what he was thinking/feeling through a change of expression or a movement. Some readers couldn’t interpret those hints, so they believe the hero was just the brute he appeared to be, rather than someone who had misread the situation pretty badly. When I was first published, my heroes were rich and powerful, but they had jobs – my first hero was a hugely successful photographer, another was a renowned artist, another ran a company that restored and sold classic cars. In the Presents line, the heroes have become much more the Billionaire/Sheikh or Prince that fulfills the fantasy element of the line. A Throne for the Taking has my first ever Prince hero – but interestingly he’s also a hugely successful photographer, so things have come full circle!
I need to be aware of the fantasy promise of the Presents line – passion and escape—glamorous international settings, captivating women and the seductive, tempting men who want them. But my heroes are men first and foremost; the riches, the private jets, etc. are trappings that create that fantasy. Heroines too have developed as they have become more feisty, have independent lives, jobs, past relationships, marriages, sex lives. All of which make them so much more interesting to write. And there are some things where moving with the times means something just doesn’t work – the hero of my second novel Game of Hazard smoked pretty heavily! I don’t think I would create a hero who smoked now.
DC: Is there a genre you haven’t tackled but would like to try?
KW: I’m fascinated by a really good ghost story. I’ve tried reading a lot of recent ones, but find that they tend to move into the ‘horror’ genre rather than the supernatural .
DC: What is the best thing about being a full-time romance author? What’s the most challenging?
KW: The best thing is twofold – one is being able to enjoy those voices inside my head, the ones that demand I tell their story! The other is being able to run my own working life – I can write early in the morning or late at night, whenever and wherever I want. And I can wear whatever I want. The most challenging is that ‘running my own working life’ and combining it with home and family. Inspiration doesn’t stick to a controlled timetable.
DC: What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever learned by Googling your name?
KW: Not exactly strange – but I’ve discovered there are quite a few Kate Walker’s involved in publishing, There’s me. There’s an Australian author who wrote a book called Peter about an adolescent boy questioning his sexuality. And there’s a book distributor in Canada. I’ve often had emails and queries meant for all of them – and I suppose that they will have had messages meant for me.
DC: What would you say your “voice’s” tagline is?
KW: Emotionally rich & passionately intense!
This was given to me by a reader who reviewed several of my books and this was the heading she listed them under. I asked if I could use it and she agreed. (Thanks, Virginia!)
DC: If you had never become an author, what do you think you would be doing right now?
KW: I trained as a librarian and I worked as a children’s librarian before I had my first book accepted. So I expect that I would still be doing that, though I don’t know if there are actually ‘Children’s Librarians’ anymore.
DC: One of your books was recently involved in a legal case, where another unpublished author, who had entered a number of contests sponsored by the RWA, claimed similarities between your book, The Proud Wife with her book, How to Love a Billionaire. The case was dismissed with prejudice. How did this affect you and your writing?
KW: The judgement in this case was very important, as it pointed out so well that there are many tropes that are common to romance novels and these are not copyrightable. I have read so many romances that are on similar themes, have similar characters – we all have. The skill of the writer is to take these themes that are almost clichés and turn them into a story that has a freshness about it, in spite of repeating those tropes yet again. After all, they have become so well worked because they work so well. The secret baby, the runaway bride, the marriage of convenience, estranged lovers reunited, friend to lovers – readers love them and a good writer can take them and make them her own. After 25+ years being published and 61 romance titles to my name, I know that I have reworked these tropes and so have all the other romance writers I know. The skill is giving a fresh look on a well-worn theme. When I teach writing romance, I point out that it is so very difficult to be genuinely original when writing romance – but it is possible to be true to yourself and create your own version, to be, as I call it, ‘authentic.’ It’s the differences in a writer’s story, her voice, her individuality that make the book enjoyable.
I don’t need anyone else’s stories to keep me writing – I have enough trouble with the ideas and the characters who are buzzing in my head demanding that I find time to write them down. But there is one other side of this situation that truly saddens me and that is the effect that it has had on the relationship between published authors and many as yet unpublished writers working hard to learn their craft and looking for help and advice along the way.
One of the things I have always loved about the world of romance writers is the way that so many of us have been only too willing to help unpublished writers on their way towards to goal of being published. Published authors have judged contests run by the RWA and other organisations. We have read and critiqued scripts for new writers. We have offered our professional expertise to help new writers and important charities like Brenda Novak’s annual auction for a cure for diabetes. But this generosity is what this case has damaged. I have had so many messages from fellow writers who would have donated a reading/critique as a lot in this valuable auction or who would have volunteered to judge a contest to help unpublished authors – but this has made them have more than second thoughts.
That’s a real loss. I can only hope that the more people who read the judgement learn the truth about what is copyrightable and what are “. . . scenes à faire. . . The details of these scenes are similar not because of infringement, but because they flow logically from the plot elements,” the more we as writers can hope to create a better balance in the future.
– dark or milk chocolate? — Milk – though I’m not a great chocolate eater (is that a crime for a romance writer to admit?)
– smooth or chunky peanut butter? — Definitely chunky
– heels or flats? –I love the look of heels but being tall, don’t wear them often. Because I work from home I’m usually in bare feet anyway, so although I love shoes the ones I buy don’t get all that much wear.
– coffee or tea? — It’s close but probably coffee.
– summer or winter? — Can I have spring? I like warmth but not heat.
– mountains or beach? — Beach
– mustard or mayonnaise? — Mustard
– flowers or candy? — Flowers, definitely
– pockets or purse? — Is that USA ‘purse’? Probably purse anyway
– Pepsi or Coke? — Neither
– ebook or print? — Both
And because we still enjoy the answers we get:
1. What is your favorite word? — Acceptance (well- I am a writer!)
2. What is your least favorite word? — Rejection (see above)
3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? — Creatively it’s mysteries – how did this happen, why did it happen? An ambiguous hero – or heroine – again they’re a mystery, which side of them is the real one?
4. What sound or noise do you love? — Just one? The sound of my husband/son/sister’s voice. The ebb and flow of the tide on a shore. A cat purring.
6. What sound or noise do you hate? — Anything high pitched – screeches, nails on blackboards – a soprano singing
7. What is your favorite curse word? — It’s not a word – it’s a phrase I’ve inherited from my Irish mother – Hell’s bells and buckets of blood!
8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? — I’d love to have some skill in another form of the arts – singing, painting, acting
9. What profession would you not like to do? — I used to think I wanted to be a vet, but I know now there is no way I could deal with sick animals in distress.
10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? — “Not bad!”
DC: Thanks so much for visiting with us today, Kate!