If you’re one of the three people on the planet who’s not familiar with Pauline Trent, then I don’t know what you’ve been doing with your life. I really don’t. She’s a talented novelist and is every bit the extraordinary heroine as the ones she writes about in her books.
I recently sat down with Trent and caught up with her on a number of topics: writing, the publishing industry, as well as her latest novel, FALLEN HEART, the third installment of her popular Lambert Fall series.
DRU: Pauline, always a pleasure. I realize I’ve never asked you this before but how long have you been writing?
PT: This is a tricky question for me. One answer is all my life. I remember writing stories to pass the time on family vacations as a kid. In school, I always loved the creative writing assignments and would turn in far more than required. Another answer is since about 1998. My father died in late 1997, and a friend suggest I write a novel for her as a way to distract me. Eventually, that turned into my first sold, but never published book. Eventually. Because I didn’t sell it and go under contract until about 2006, somewhere in there. At which point, I really became a full-time author. So, feel free to take your pick: all my life or six years. Either will be correct.
DRU: Who are your writing inspirations/influences?
PT: Andrew Greeley made me want to be a writer. I didn’t consider it as a real option for years, but whenever I would read his stuff – especially his Father Blackie stories – I would think about how very much I wanted to do this.
DRU: Any favorite romance authors?
PT: I think we all love Nora, and there’s a reason for that. Beyond her, though, I’m a big fan Barbara Delinsky and Debbie Macomber, for contemporary. Delilah Marvelle is one of the best historical romance writers out there, but Jackie Ivie can get my heart racing, too.
DRU: Favorite writers in general?
PT: Dr Seuss. Margaret George. William Shakespeare. Isaac Asimov. The aforementioned Andrew Greeley. Alexander Dumas. Alexander McCall Smith and JK Rowling At least, I am a huge fan of their most popular franchises, The Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency and Harry Potter, respectively. I haven’t been able to get as wrapped up in his other works the same way, but NOLDA puts him on this list, anyway. It’s that good. And I will be interested to see how Rowling does with adult literature.
DRU: As am I. Now with so many genres out there, why romance?
PT: Mostly, those are the stories and the characters that are in my head. Romance tends to be character, rather than action, driven. Even when there is action or adventure taking place, they are secondary to the characters and the relationship. The stories in my head lend themselves to that. But also, my family tree is laden with great love stories. Hollywood, movie worthy, love stories. That goes a long way to giving me insight into great romances and helps me create believable characters and situations.
DRU: How has the genre changed in your view?
PT: In so many ways. First, rape is off the table. No one is writing rape scenes and calling them seduction any longer, for which I am grateful. The female characters are stronger, in general, and they are getting stronger with every new generation of writer that comes along. Also, the characters aren’t having to end up at the altar. More and more, happily right now and for the foreseeable future is acceptable. I appreciate this, as well, because the average romance novel takes place over the course of a few weeks. Let’s be honest, in real life, it takes more than a few weeks to decide if you want to spend the rest of your life with someone. But it can only take that long to know you really want to spend a lot of time with someone and he makes you very happy and you are open to seeing where this really lovely thing goes. So, I think, in that way, they’ve become more realistic.
DRU: The publishing industry is going through a shift. Obviously part of it is due to the recession, bookstores closings, markets folding up, etc. As a novelist, what are your thoughts?
PT: I think it’s an interesting, exciting, nerve-wracking time to be a writer. The rules are changing, right under our noses. Major publishing houses are closing, but more small houses are opening up. Self-publishing is become so respectable that major authors are opting for it. The internet gives authors access to readers at unprecedented levels. Within moments, anyone can upload a story onto the internet and call themselves a published author. On the one hand, that’s amazing. People who might never have reached an audience before have a real shot now. On the other hand, when anyone can publish a book, you risk market saturation.
Everything’s changing. Authors, editors, publishing houses, we’re all scrambling right now, trying to figure out where we fit in to the new scheme of things. It will all level out eventually, but it’s going to be a wild ride before it does.
DRU: Despite the turmoil of the industry, it appears (at least to me) that the romance genre in general is doing considerably well. Why do you think that is?
PT: Several reasons. First, romance is eternal. We all love it in our own way. As a general rule, we are all looking for it in our own way. It’s the brass ring. That being said, I also think it’s because the genre has kept up with the times. You can find stories where the couple ends up married. You can find stories where the couple ends up living together, but not married. You can find stories where the couple decides to see where their relationship goes. Also, there are so many different ways to write romance these days. Whatever your own feelings about romance are, whatever you’re looking for personally, the odds are very good that you can find a story out there that models what you want. We’ve moved away from the cookie-cutter romance of the past, and embraced that not everyone is looking for the same thing. The broader appeal keeps the genre alive and successful. Plus, it’s escapism. Real life love includes dirty socks and morning breath and empty coffeepots. That’s real and that’s important, but occasionally living the life of an undercover heiress who falls for her bodyguard is nice, too.
DRU: Romance has also made an impact on other genres such as mystery, urban fantasy, etc. Your thoughts?
PT: I think there is more crossover than ever before because we admit that life isn’t compartmentalized. Relationships happen. Cops and CIA agents and international men of mystery have relationships. The core story may not be about the relationship – shouldn’t be about the relationship, if you’re writing a mystery – but totally leaving it out is no longer all that interesting to readers. Romance readers aren’t the only ones who want to be able to relate to characters in some way. So, as much as I would love to claim that it is the genre that has impacted the others, I think it has more to do with the readers themselves, demanding more of all of us who write.
DRU: Have you ever considered branching out into other genres?
PT: I have, but again, the stories in my head are primarily romances. Much to my husband’s chagrin. He would love me to write something with lots of explosions. I tell him I will, so long as the woman on the bomb squad can fall in love with the INTERPOL agent in charge of catching the bad guy. It’s just where my head goes.
DRU: What is your writing process like?
PT: As I started to answer this, I realized I don’t have one single process. Some books have come to me fully formed. Others, not so much. There is always a lot of brainstorming. I have a small group of friends I will run ideas by, ask their opinions, get their help figuring out whatever potential glitches I can see early. One I’m working on right now, I got the initial idea for almost a year ago and have been rolling it around, but haven’t had any real success figuring it out. Very recently, it came to me – the characters, the plot, the set-up, everything – fully formed, out of the blue. But it had taken a year. Another story I’m working on right now popped into my head, ready to go from my imagination to the paper. Most people say there are pantsers – authors who write by the seat of their pants – and plotters – authors who know every step of the story before they start writing. I’m somewhere in between. I know the beginning; I know the end. If I’m really lucky, I’ll know a few beats in between. Usually, though, I have to come up with a way to get everybody from point A to point Z – by the seat of my pants.
However long it takes, once I start the actual writing process, it becomes more uniform. I write long-hand, in composition books. This makes my best friend very happy, because she always knows what to get me for my birthday, or just to say she’s been thinking of me. I tend to be more creative at night. My prime hours are from about nine at night until two or three in the morning. Life does not always lend itself to keeping those hours, but when it does, I’m grateful, because it’s easier. And I write in front of certain television shows, when at all possible. They keep me just engaged enough that I don’t over think my own work and freeze up. My favorite shows to write to are White Collar and NCIS. If you ever see hints of Tim DeKay in my heroes, you’ll know why. However, I can write anywhere if I need to – and have done so.
Once a scene is in the composition book, I’ll transcribe it onto the computer. This actually ends up being my first edit, so by the time the words are on the computer, I’m already on the second draft of the book.
Add more brainstorming, the inevitable email or two to my favorite English teacher, and some mid-way critiquing by that same small group of friends, and eventually, I end up with a finished novel. I’m four in and it still surprises me when it works.
DRU: For the few uninitiated out there, tell us about the Lambert Falls series.
PT: The trilogy is based in Lambert Falls, North Carolina, and follows the lives of two sisters, and the uncle who raised them. FALLING IN LOVE, the first story, is about Angie Kane and Chris Montgomery. Angie is quite happily a small-town girl and Chris is a Green Beret who has seen more than his fair share of the world. FALL INTO ME, the second story, is about Bobby Granger, Angie’s uncle, and Michaela Howard. Bobby is the sheriff of Lambert Falls, and Michaela is the big city writer from New York, who turns his world on its ear, in ways Bobby doesn’t necessarily like. Finally, FALLEN HEART tells of Carter Anne Kane, Angie’s little sister, and Trevor Davenport. Years before Carter Anne had been the college student that challenged Trevor in all his classes, but Professor Davenport had just been the teacher that got under her skin. They reunite and discover they can still challenge each other.
DRU: What inspired the story?
PT: FALLING IN LOVE was the first story, and I had no idea it would become a trilogy at the time I started writing it, so that’s the inspiration I’ll talk about. For all of my earlier talk about the genre keeping up with the times, I was having a hard time finding a story that I could truly relate to. I’m not a size 2. I wasn’t actively looking for a relationship. I was really, really happy in my life, and I didn’t see anyone writing that story. All the heroines I was reading at the time were skinny, and, if not lonely, were at least willing to throw out perfectly good lives for a man. Love was always enough to make everything right. Only, sometimes, as much as we don’t want to admit it, love isn’t enough. I simply could not believe that I was the only one dealing with these issues. And I know for a fact that being a size 2 doesn’t make you any more worthy or beautiful or sexy, in spite of what society tells us. So, I decided to write a story that could be taken as a fun, little beach read – or could reach deeper than that, if you wanted it to. Angie shops at plus-sized stores and eats dessert almost every night and is really happy in her world. When she and Chris fall in love, it adds to her happiness, but when he wants her to move away and leave her life, she struggles with this decision. Now I’ll leave it there, so you will go read the book.
DRU: Have the stories and the characters evolved in unexpected ways from what you originally envisioned? I would imagine so after three novels.
PT: Again, it wasn’t supposed to be a trilogy, so Bobby and Carter Anne have certainly come into their own, simply by being interesting enough to have their own books. But Bobby has also become far more interesting than I thought he was originally. He’s more intelligent, deeper, kinder, than I’d realized when I first had him opening FALLING IN LOVE. Carter Anne hasn’t changed as much, and that’s noteworthy because I tried to get her to. The plot of FALLEN HEART changed completely about three months before my deadline, because she was simply not cooperating. Of course, I was trying to make her behave in ways that we contrary to her character, but still.
DRU: Now romance isn’t usually my cup of tea. I don’t say this to put down the genre because I do respect it but to provide context when I stress how much I have loved the Lambert Fall series. I think the biggest reason behind that is that character development is a priority in your narratives. These aren’t cutouts or cliches. These are complex characters I actually find myself becoming invested in and wanting to know more about and wanting to see how things play out. Has anyone else pointed this out to you?
PT: Thank you. I’m honored. And yes, I have had readers tell me this before. It’s always very flattering. It also gives me a swell of pride to know I accomplished my goal. As I’ve said, I like character driven stories. You can’t tell those well if you are only dealing in clichés or stereotypes. Again, though, thank you.
DRU: Now tell us about the latest Lambert Falls installment, FALLEN HEART. Where are the characters at this point?
PT: The book takes place about five years after the end of FALL INTO ME. Angie and Chris are married and expecting their first child. Bobby and Michaela are living together, mostly in the Falls, but with some time up in New York. Bobby has hired more staff on at the station with an eye toward moving more to a 50/50 split of their time in each place. Carter Anne has been gone for four of those five years, up in Washington D.C., first in graduate school, and now working. She is back in the Falls because Angie is having a difficult pregnancy and has been put on bed rest after an emergency.
DRU: Carter-Anne, the heroine, definitely has some challenges to contend with. It seems to me that the story takes a heavier tone than it did with the previous novels. What were your goals when it came to conveying her story?
PT: In many ways, Carter Anne had always been protected. By her uncle, by her older sister, even by the town of Lambert Falls itself. She was the Golden Child. I wanted to get her out of her comfort zone, away from a place where she always had a safety net and could always trust people to do right by her. She needed to learn to stand on her own two feet and, not so much learn that the world is an ugly place, because I don’t believe that it is, but to value the people in her life who do care about her and who she can trust. To risk getting deep here, Carter Anne is that loss of innocence that many of us have to deal with when we become adults, at whatever age that happens. That moment when we realize that we have to take responsibility for our own lives and we can neither expect someone to fix it, nor blame others for our decisions.
DRU: FALLEN HEART seems to bring the Lambert Falls saga full circle, was that intentional or was that simply how the story progressed?
PT: I think with any trilogy, it’s intentional. You, as the writer, have to have an end game.
DRU: Is this the last we’ve seen of Lambert Falls?
PT: Let’s go with yes, for now, and I will reserve the right to change my mind. Readers absolutely love a couple of the side characters, and I certainly wouldn’t mind revisiting them all. But, for now, the trilogy is complete. The sisters are happy. Bobby’s peaceful. I’m good with where I’ve left everyone.
DRU: Now for FALLEN HEART, you decided to go a different route in terms of releasing the novel. Tell us about this direction and what prompted this decision.
PT: What prompted the decision was my publishing house didn’t pick up their option on the third in the series. To be completely honest, if they had, I would’ve been more than happy to stay with the traditional route. However, they didn’t, so I looked at other options. Considering FALLEN HEART is the third in a trilogy, I knew it would be difficult to get another house interested in publishing it and I didn’t want to wait too much longer. So, I’ve gone the self-publishing route. We’ll see how it goes. What is very nice is that my previous publishing house has released FALL INTO ME in e-book form, so you can get the whole trilogy in the same format now. I’m just neurotic enough that I found that bothersome.
DRU: Authors taking the reins with publishing their work has definitely been a growing trend. Why do you believe that is?
PT: Getting published in the traditional way is hard. It’s time consuming, relies entirely on other people, and can bruise your ego like very little else. In the past, self-publishing meant getting a crappy book cover, with cheap paper and hoping to get it on the shelves of your local bookstore. If you were really, really lucky, you could get it on the shelves of the bookstore in the next town over, too. If you were lucky. Now, a self-published author can get e-books on Amazon and Barnes and Noble’s website and iTunes with the click of a mouse. Print on demand (POD) books are of higher quality now than ever before, and there are more places willing to offer that service. Access to readers is greater than ever, too, with social media. We don’t need publishing houses to market us any longer. We don’t need their connections with bookstores to get us into readers’ hands any longer. All this without the time delays or the blows to the ego. The internet changed the way we all do business, authors included.
DRU: E-books have definitely been a game changer for the industry, is that fair to say?
PT: Absolutely. Borders is gone. A major bricks and mortar bookstore chain. Gone. When I first joined Romance Writers of America five years ago, being e-pubbed didn’t count as being a “real” author. Now, in a blink of an eye, it’s respectable. More people ask if my books are available in e-form than they ask about print. Libraries have figured out how to lend e-books. We’re at the beginning of it now, but I am eager to see where we are in another five or ten years. I don’t think print will ever go away. Too many of us love the full tactile experience of a book. But between the advent of self-publishing being respectable and e-books, we are at the tipping point of something very interesting with the industry.
DRU: And what lies ahead for Ms. Trent?
PT: I’m currently working on three new novels: an LGBT adventure romance; a small-town romance; and a contemporary romance. While I’m very excited about all three of them, I don’t really like to talk about projects until they are further along than these three are. It’s funny, I wasn’t superstitious until I became a writer. Since that doesn’t seem to be keeping me busy enough, I’m trying to figure out GoodReads. Any advice or tutorials are welcome. Along with all that, I’ve also launched a new blog, Random Acts of Romance, over at my website. On the first and fifteenth of every month, I offer little ways to tell someone you love them, because I do believe we could all use a little romance in our lives. You can always find me on Facebook and Twitter. Or please, just drop me an email. I love hearing from readers!
ETA: Ms. Trent is giving one lucky commenter a free e-book copy of FALLEN HEART. To be eligible in the drawing, all you have to do is leave a comment. The drawing will be held tomorrow, Thursday 3/22/12. Enter now!!!!!