|Leigh Greenwood (continued)|
Leigh Greenwood: I have one major goal which is to develop a sense of unity, to encourage RWA members to think of themselves as one, not of the differences that separate them (published, unpublished, etc.). It's too soon to have made any progress toward that goal.
Leigh Greenwood: It's really too soon to tell, but I don't think it will hurt. I've been a member of RWA for so long everybody accepts me without thinking that I'm different.
Crescent Blues: Was your identity always an open secret?
Leigh Greenwood: My identity has never been hidden. I joined RWA before I was published. I joined the national Board of Directors in 1989. My picture appeared in the Romance Writers Report as well as Romantic Times (RT) magazine. I was in front of the membership at the national meetings. I spoke, I gave workshops, I did anything a regular member would have done. I "exposed" my identity in RT with my fifth book. A year ago, I put up a Web site with my picture. So far I've only had positive responses, but then I suppose those who hate the idea wouldn't bother to tell me about it.
Crescent Blues: How many men do you estimate are currently working as romance writers? Do you see those numbers increasing over time?
Leigh Greenwood: The official number is approximately 1 percent of the RWA membership is male. There may be more published, but I doubt it. Yes, I do expect the number to increase over time. Contrary to popular opinion, men are romantic. We just have more cultural obstacles to overcome. Also, it's very difficult to break into writing and make a living. Since most men are the primary breadwinners in the family, this is a major deterrent. Since we receive no benefits, this is an even greater problem. I couldn't have quit my job to write full-time, even though I was making enough money to survive, if my wife hadn't had a job with benefits. We had three small children at the time, and benefits were essential.
Crescent Blues: What advantages do men bring to the genre? What are the greatest challenges they face? Is resentment by fellow writers, editors or marketing staff a problem?
Leigh Greenwood: First, if there is any resentment, it's probably not going to be apparent, so we can dismiss that question. If you give people a break, they'll do the same for you.
I don't know that men bring any advantages to the genre. Certainly we understand men better than women, but women are constantly telling us they don't like us the way we are, so that may not be an advantage. The challenge is to portray men in a way that is true to men as well as attractive to women.
On the other side, we have to understand women well enough to create a heroine women can identify with. I don't think that's an extraordinary talent -- male and female writers have been doing it for years in other fields -- but I do think it's more difficult in romance. Here we deal primarily with emotions, an area with which women are more familiar.
Crescent Blues: How much do you feel your previous career as a music teacher and choir director contributed to your writing career?
Leigh Greenwood: I do think my musical career was important to my success, but I'm not sure I can say in what way. I'm certain there are similarities in structure and narrative, but they are too dissimilar to pinpoint. Maybe the greatest contribution was the ability to judge the emotional impact of material, which couldn't be measured, which has to be felt or sensed. Studying music, rejecting most of what I saw, had to help in evaluating the written word. After all, the text is an essential part of vocal music.
Crescent Blues: Before your wife threw These Old Shades at your head, did you have any ambition to become a writer?
Crescent Blues: What were the first goals you set for yourself as a writer, and how have they changed?
Leigh Greenwood: My first goal was the obvious, to sell a book, get published. My current goal is to continue to have a successful career as a writer.
Crescent Blues: Would you like to explore other genres or sub-genres? Where do you see yourself in five years?
Leigh Greenwood: I think I'll probably always write romance, but I would like to include more suspense elements. I love mysteries. I also love humor. In five years I hope I can be writing single title contemporaries that can make the New York Times bestseller list. I'd love for my historicals to make the list, but westerns just aren't that popular.
Leigh Greenwood: You're asking me to be able to evaluate my writing, and I can't do that. As I've told my editor, I'm a seat-of-the-pants writer. I expect each book to be so terrible it will kill my career. Personally, I like a story with a strong plot that moves along. I like characters with guts and integrity, but they must have common sense. I love strong emotion, but I also like humor. And I like a nasty villain who gets it in the neck in the end.
Crescent Blues: Do you find your readers respond more to your male or female characters? Which individual characters have prompted the greatest reader response?
Leigh Greenwood: I've gotten the most fan and critical response for my Seven Brides series. I attribute this partly to the fact that this is the first group of books that I'd written that attracted a lot of attention. I think the Cowboys are just as good, maybe even better, but people are expecting a certain level of work from me now, so it's not so noteworthy. Too, fans that wrote me for the Brides don't feel like writing for the Cowboys, too. Most only write once.
I'm getting a lot of e-mail now, which is a lot easier to answer than letters. I think they respond more to the males, but that's hard to say. I haven't kept a running account of who they mention. The individual characters they like best are usually the gunfighter types. The more unconventional, the better. Unfortunately, I'm a rather conventional character and I think of somewhat ordinary people.
Crescent Blues: What do you feel are the most important elements of a memorable character? What tricks do you use to create convincing heroines?
Leigh Greenwood: Never, NEVER, attempt to use tricks in creating characters. Your readers will sense it immediately and pillory you for it. Create people you like, who are admirable, who are faced with difficult situations and persevere regardless of how slim their chances of success seem to be. The whole world loves an underdog, but they like him/her to be somebody who deserves to win, somebody they can root for.
Crescent Blues: How important is research to your western romances and contemporaries? How has the Internet changed the way you conduct research?
Leigh Greenwood: Let's get one thing straight. I HATE the Internet. I was born without a single computer-compatible gene in my body. I think of my computer as a typewriter with a printer attached. I use e-mail and forget the rest.
Research for historicals is essential. You have got to get the period right, but you can overdo it. Readers want an accurate setting. They don't want a history lesson. I don't use the Internet. Period. I believe the best tools are books for history and books and/or articles in magazines or newspapers for contemporaries. Somebody somewhere has written extensively on everything. Some people can find it on the Internet. I prefer to look in the library.
Crescent Blues: What were your inspirations and models when you started writing? How has that list changed over time? Any writers (past or present) you'd like to recommend to aspiring writers?
Leigh Greenwood: My first model and inspiration was Georgette Heyer. There is no better writer of historical romance anywhere. Her historical accuracy is legend and her characters are priceless. Her dialogue is fabulous, and her understanding of the genre was complete. Later I added Louis L'Amour to the list. No one in the world understands the essence of genre fiction better than this man -- make it seem familiar but make it different.
Leigh Greenwood: This list is too long to even begin.
Crescent Blues: Anything else you'd like to add?
Leigh Greenwood: Know your market. You're crazy to try to sell a product to someone who's buying something quite different.
Jean Marie Ward
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