Go to Homepage   Samantha James: Romancing the Odds

 
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Samantha James (Photo by Tim McCants, courtesy of Nancy Berland Public Relations)

Who says you can't have your knight in shining armor and your Regency rake too? New York Times bestselling author Samantha James specializes in delivering both, plus the occasional gypsy, to an ever-increasing number of devoted readers. James considers overcoming insurmountable odds and making the impossible come true all part of a day's work -- her favorite part. 

James writes what she likes to read, intense "three-hanky" stories which take advantage of their historical setting to create and sustain the conflict between hero and heroine. Fans compare her characters to the tormented heroes and heroines of the Bronte sisters, which puts an entirely different spin on the notion of making the impossible come true. What does it take to give Heathcliff a happy ending?

Crescent Blues: Most of your historical romances take place in the Regency period or in medieval British locations. What allows you to bridge the gap between two such disparate periods?

Samantha James: Simply put, what allows me to bridge the gap is a love of history -- but mostly a love of historical romance. As a romance writer, my aim is not to give a history lesson, but to involve my audience so that the reader feels the ups and downs of falling in love.  

Book: Samantha James, A Promise GivenIt's my job as a writer to see that a sense of time and place is present; I particularly enjoy using the history of a period to set up the conflict between my hero and heroine. I did this in A Promise Given, where the backdrop is the struggle for the Scottish throne in the early 1300s, and My Lord Conqueror, which is played out after the Norman invasion of England.  

Book: Samantha James, My Lord ConquerorMy emphasis though, is on my hero and heroine, their motivations, making the sparks fly between them and maintaining the conflict, and getting them together for the final, inevitable conclusion -- the happy ending.

Crescent Blues: What do you enjoy most about working in the two periods?

Samantha James: I'm the first to admit that towering stone castles and knights in shining armor have always held a certain fascination for me, and I think they always will. But I also love being able to see my heroine dress up in a glittering ball gown and go to a London gala on the arm of a dashing earl.

Crescent Blues: How does the research process differ for the 19th century and medieval period? Do you research books individually or do you do research for several books at once?

Samantha James: The medieval period encompassed many more years (and countries) than the Regency period. When I'm writing a Regency-era historical, I don't have to worry about what kind of swords and armor were being utilized in what country! But in the Regency, there's also a great deal to consider -- fashion, etiquette, furniture and furnishings -- the list goes on for both periods. Although I love adding to my library of materials as I write other books, generally I do the research for each book individually.

Crescent Blues: How do you go about getting the "voice" right for each period and individual characters? What sources do you use to get the feel of the language in His Wicked Ways, for example?

Book: Samantha James, His Wicked WaysSamantha James: I strive for a readable style in any book I write, one that gives a realistic feel for the era yet also appeals to today's reader. I strive to do this in subtle ways, via dialogue and narrative, and by working in the customs and clothing of the time. I work hard to achieve the right balance. For example, in the book I just finished, part of my editing process involved going through the manuscript to make sure I didn't burden the reader with excessive use of 'tis and 'twas.

Crescent Blues: Could you tell us something about the period and setting of His Wicked Ways?

Samantha James: His Wicked Ways, a tale about the healing power of love, takes place in the Highlands of Scotland during the early 1200s. Cameron of the Clan MacKay and Meredith of the Clan Munro are avowed enemies. The long-standing feud between their clans has been rife with treachery and deceit. Determined to avenge the murders of his father and brothers and reclaim a part of all he's lost, Cameron abducts Meredith from the priory where she has sought refuge and carries her off to the Highlands, where the sparks begin to fly.

Crescent Blues: Could you tell us something about the role of women during this period in Scotland? How do you integrate these realities into the characterization of a heroine like Meredith Munro?

Book: Samantha James, Just One KissSamantha James: Since Scotland in the 1200s was primarily a male-dominated society, there really weren't many avenues open to women. If a woman didn't marry and take care of home and hearth, the church was often the only option available, since this was before the trades came into play. This was what Meredith Munro faced. Without giving away too much of the plot in His Wicked Ways, I'd just like to say that while many of life's important decisions were made by men, Meredith was able to influence the decisions made by the men in her life. And though this is a romance, I don't mean by using feminine wiles!

Crescent Blues: Recently you began giving lectures on women in historic times. Like many of your heroines, you're shy by nature. What inspired you to start these presentations?

Samantha James: Ahem -- I'm chuckling here. To be honest, my publicist stuck my foot in the door and wouldn't let it close! Seriously, though, I view myself as an entertainer. In order to get my books into the hands of my audience, not only do I have to sell my books to a publisher, I also need to continuously put my stories into the hands of new readers. By speaking publicly, by sharing my enthusiasm for what I do and what I write, I can interest new readers in my stories.

Crescent Blues: Do the experiences of friends and family ever come into play in the creation of a book? (For example, didn't the inspiration for the "Gypsy Lord" of One Moonlit Night arise from hearing about a friend's Gypsy grandmother?)

Samantha James: Actually it was a kind of dual inspiration. While sitting in the waiting room of a doctor's office one day, I came upon an article in a magazine. It was a nostalgic piece where the writer recalled a band of Gypsies coming through town when he was young. When I mentioned it to my daughter, I discovered one of her friend's had a Gypsy grandmother.

Crescent Blues: The Gypsy background of One Moonlit Night gave it a special character. What special challenges did you face researching this aspect of Regency life?

Samantha James: I read everything I could lay my hands on about Gypsy history and heritage. One of the things that first struck me was how much and how long these people have been misunderstood throughout the ages. One reviewer commented that this book sent out a strong message about prejudice. When I started this book, I certainly didn't set out to write a book about prejudice -- I found the idea of a Gypsy hero incredibly romantic! Granted, in reality a story like this would probably never have occurred. But for me, that's one of the joys of romance -- making the impossible come true, overcoming the insurmountable, helping the fantasy come alive.

Crescent Blues: When preparing for a new book, what comes first: character, plot or period?

Samantha James: You know, it really depends on the book. For a long time I knew I wanted to have a book begin with the line "Be not afraid. " I'd also wanted to write a book about a woman who harbored a fear of men, and the two fit together perfectly for His Wicked Ways. Meredith's character was born from there.  

I've also gained inspiration from movies, in particular Braveheart and Rob Roy. Both made me long to set a book in Scotland. Braveheart is one of my favorite movies. I especially loved the drama and conflict depicted in the movie -- not to mention the fact that Mel Gibson is pretty easy on the eye! One of the things I love about medievals is being able to drop characters into the midst of turmoil and letting them grow and the plot develop from there.

Crescent Blues: How does the book grow from there? Do you write "in a straight line" or do you skip around and restring the scenes later?

Samantha James: For the most part, I write "in a straight line" and don't restring scenes later. When I begin, I know what the major scenes will be, the beginning and the end. I'm a slow writer, and I tend to edit as I go along, but I'm always thinking ahead. Very often I know exactly how I want a chapter to end, what words or what particular scene or revelation. I hesitate to call myself a structured writer, because sometimes my characters do take off on tangents I didn't anticipate. However, I always have little snippets of scenes, descriptions and dialogue that I want included in the story, and occasionally, these do get reworked or moved.

Crescent Blues: As a child and as an adult, which fairy tales had the greatest impact on your life? Do these stories still speak to you the way they did then?

Book: Samantha James, Gabriel's BrideSamantha James: Without a doubt, "Cinderella" was always my favorite -- in fact, it still is. I like to think of romances as adult fairy tales… or women's adventure stories. I love the tried 'n true, classic plot lines, and I've never grown tired of the rags-to-riches theme. In my opinion, the Cinderella theme is one that lends itself very well to historical romance. I used it in Gabriel's Bride, which still remains a reader favorite.

Crescent Blues: To date, your historical novels have been single title releases with characters whose "life spans" last exactly one book. Any chance we will see a series featuring a set of characters related by blood or circumstance anytime soon?

Samantha James: Good question! Actually I just finished writing a spin-off to His Wicked Ways; it features two secondary characters introduced in His Wicked Ways, Egan and Glenda. It wasn't something I'd planned, but during the course of writing His Wicked Ways, there was something compelling about Egan. And poor Glenda… she tugged at my heartstrings! I knew Egan had to have his own book, just as I knew Glenda would be his perfect soulmate. I'll be putting the finishing touches on soon, and the book should be released in the late summer/early fall of 2000.

Book: Samantha James, Every Wish FulfilledIncidentally, I have done one other set of "connecting" characters. There was a lame little girl named Heather who appeared near the end of my novella "Scandal's Bride" (in the anthology Married at Midnight). Heather has her own story in Every Wish Fulfilled.

Crescent Blues: Although most famous for your Regencies and medieval romances, you've also written a western, Outlaw Heart, as Samantha James and contemporaries under your own name (Sandra Kleinschmit) and as Sandra James. Would you like to revisit either of these genres? If you do, what sort of stories would you like to tell?

Samantha James: Because one never knows when the muse will strike, I certainly wouldn't rule out either genre. I love reading westerns, and I also enjoy reading contemporary stories. At the present, though, I'm perfectly content writing historicals set primarily in England.

Crescent Blues: How did Sandra Kleinschmit become Samantha James?

My very first book was a Bantam Loveswept, so I used my own name for this book. My next sale was to Silhouette Desire, and again I used my real name. About the same time, however, I sold to Harlequin Superromance, and we decided to use the pseudonym Sandra James. When I made the switch to historical romance, I wanted to use something similar to "Sandra James" in order to alert the readers I'd already garnered in the contemporary market. The name we came up with was Samantha James.

Crescent Blues: Where were you when you found out you'd made The New York Times bestseller list the first time? What was your first reaction?

Samantha James: A woman's work is never done…. My husband and I were busy building a deck on our home when my agent phoned with the news. My husband, who never had a doubt, had a bottle of Dom Perignon already chilling in the fridge.

Crescent Blues: How did the achievement affect your expectations of your writing? Did it change the expectations of friends, family and colleagues?

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Oregon author Samantha James seldom can be found without a book in her hands.  (Photo by Tim McCants, courtesy of Nancy Berland Public Relations)

Samantha James: My goal remains the same -- to write the best book possible. Making a list isn't going to change that -- it hasn't changed that. Being a sentimental person, my goal is to write books with feeling, books with heart and soul, to elicit emotion from my readers, the same emotions my characters experience, whether it's laughter or tears. But I guarantee there will always be a happy ending. Above all, it's my goal to generate hope and joy and faith in the power of love and family.

Crescent Blues: What is your next writing goal? Any personal or non-writing goals you'd like to share?

Samantha James: Now that I've finished the spin-off to His Wicked Ways, my next goal is to complete my next historical -- to finish in time to visit my daughter in Ireland next spring, where I hope to mix a little business with pleasure. I've yet to set a book in Ireland, you see….

Jean Marie Ward 

Click here to learn more about Samantha James 

Click here to read a review of His Wicked Ways.