Laura is giving a print copy away of The Chocolate Thief to one lucky commentator. Leave a message and we'll select a winner at random. The winner will be announced on Monday.
I first found you through a review at Dear Author. I think it might have been Sunita who raved about the Chocolate Thief – but I actually hesitated because I saw that it was released in Trade because I wasn’t sure if it was a traditional romance. Now it was anything but traditional with how wonderful and unique the setting was, but it was also an absolutely satisfying romance. Can you speak a little about why your publisher decided to go that route? Was it just because of the foreign setting or were there other factors?
I asked Alicia Condon, my wonderful editor at Kensington, if she could speak to that, and this is from her: “We decided to publish in trade because we felt that the book would appeal both to traditional romance readers and women who tend to read women’s fiction and look for their selections in trade format. The explorations of Paris, artisanal chocolate making and fairytale themes will intrigue women’s fiction readers, while the intense sexual tension between Cade and Sylvain will more than satisfy lovers of romance. And the to-die-for descriptions of the chocolate itself? That’s a treat everyone will enjoy!”Isn’t she nice? I could never have said that about myself! So I’m going to just keep my mouth shut now and say, “Thank you, Alicia!”
Can you tell us how when/how you started writing? Do you consider yourself a romance author? Or simply a contemporary author who writes stories with romance in them. Do you think there is a difference?Are you ready for this level of drama? Third grade, two girls, best friends and rivals for teacher’s pet. We were told to write a two-page story, so I was pretty proud of myself when I wrote four pages. Then she called, and she was at five! Fifteen minutes later, I called her back—six. And so it went. The next day, I had an incredible nine pages...and she had twelve. I’ve really never gotten over it. I probably should dedicate a book to her one day.
I don’t know if I set out to write a romance in the sense of giving myself a set of parameters and trying to fulfill them. My first published book was a memoir. (And let’s not talk about all the many, many unpublished books I wrote to completion and should now probably burn, between the age of nine and thirty-four, when BLAME IT ON PARIS was published.)But absolutely, my books could be called romances. They’re romantic, they have a happy ending, the love story is the central narrative arc, and they’re, in addition, very sensual. I don’t really know how to write a story where falling in love isn’t the central narrative arc; when people have asked me to write another memoir, this one about when I lived in Tahiti, I never can, because there’s no love story to drive the narrative.
Can my books also be called contemporary stories with romance in them? I don’t think it’s a contradiction in terms, really, since to me, to fall in love and establish a happy relationship means that both characters have to successfully negotiate that balance between self and other—how are you going to keep one and integrate well with the other? Especially since very few people come into a relationship with a completely whole, healthy, and happy sense of self, and the love story becomes part of the process of establishing a happy self as well. (If they do have a completely whole, healthy, happy sense of self, they might think twice and even fifty times about letting someone else in close enough where they could hurt that happiness, which is also an interesting story.)This negotiation of self and love is a really complex and challenging thing to do in real life—many, many people fail at it, and sometimes you can’t even tell they’ve failed at it from your outside viewpoint, and you think you’re observing a happy, healthy couple. But many people succeed as well, and it’s that process that compells me.
It can be an ongoing process. For example, I love Turning Up the Heat so much because it’s a love story ten years later, where everyone involved, wife, husband, their social circle, all thought they were such a happy couple, and yet they both so desperately need to renegotiate who they are and how that fits with the person each loves. A good love story is a neverending story, and you renew it when you need to.It’s not a simple story, or a light story, even though it can be told in simple, light, fun ways. To me it’s one of the most fundamental stories of human existence, so I think you can say you’re writing a love story, writing a romance, and writing a work of literature that reaches into the very heart of what it is to be a human being, and have them all be true.
I don’t expect other people to necessarily think of my work that way—if they just feel happy reading a good, fun romance, that’s all I need—but I approach writing that way, really trying to get at the heart.Trying to get at the heart...I was going to say that’s the essence of writing a romance, but then I thought...no, it’s the essence of almost any great book.
Turning Up the Heat might be one of my favorite novellas of all time. This was a self-published effort. Can you talk about why you chose to self-publish? Did you plan to self-publish something and this story just fit? Or did you feel like this story was better served publishing it yourself?
Thank you, Stephanie. Turning Up the Heat is a very vulnerable, emotional story for me, and it means a lot to me when it speaks to someone.In terms of my decision: On the one hand, I did have a growing awareness of self-publishing and just purely from the business perspective, I did have the increasingly strong conviction that writers who were being traditionally published would do well to experiment with some self-publishing as well. I certainly wanted to try it at some point, yes.
But the real reason is this. Most publishing contracts have in them a clause along these lines: “The publisher shall have sole discretion in deciding upon cover and title of the Work. The Publisher shall have the right to copyedit the Work and to make such other changes to the Work as the Publisher sees fit.”
Or: “The Publisher shall have sole discretion to change the title of the Work and to make deletions, revisions or additions to the manuscript or any edition, and to use the name of the Author as Author of such varied Work.”
I have a great deal of difficulty with this. I have held up contract negotiations for multiple rounds just to get the word “reasonable” inserted before “additions” in clauses like that. There is something so profoundly wrong in the attitude towards an author and her work, and the ownership of the same, that you might say my whole being rises up in revolt against it. Imagine Sylvain Marquis being told that someone else could do whatever they wanted to his chocolate and put his name on it—his reaction would be my reaction.And at the time, I had just been through a fight against a ghastly copy edit. You can get wonderful copy edits, that help you realize you’ve used the same word fifty times, or that a sentence isn’t clear, or that you said someone had lived somewhere twelve years in one place and eleven in another. But this one just went in and tried to stamp some giant personal cookie cutter down over my work. It was really bad.
It was scarring, as a writer, to see what my book might have been turned into because I had released control of it. Fortunately, my editor supported me. But the thing is...if I had had a bad editor, the contracts would have allowed the house to make these changes and utterly ruin the story. I really couldn’t stand it. I love that book. Some people say, It’s a business, let it go. It’s not so much a business to me. My chocolatiers and I are very different, but in some ways, we come from the same spot about our work. Money’s always nice, don’t get me wrong. But telling the story I want to tell is more important.So I just couldn’t turn Turning Up the Heat over to anyone else, not on the heels of that copy edit battle. I couldn’t. If you read it, and like it—if it’s a story that speaks to you—you might see why. It’s a deeply emotional story and just too close to me and tender. I wanted to keep complete possession of it, and yet share it, too. To me, self-publishing was a way to do that.
I honestly think all writers should be mixing a little bit of self-publishing with their traditional publishing. Not so much for the income, although it is VERY smart to experiment with sources that aren’t dependent on one publisher, but because it is good for a writer not to yield all control of what she pulls out of her heart. It makes you too cynical, or makes you see your stories as a commodity you owe to other people.That seems to me a very sad thing. But I’m not the most practical of people.
One of my concerns with the self-publishing is authors putting the work into the “publishing” part of the book. Some people use friends, I paid a copyeditor a pretty significant amount of money, what is your process for polishing the product before you “publish”?
I am obsessive. I polish and polish and polish. I’ve talked to writers who write it through, revise structure, polish—just 3 rounds—and send it off. But that is not remotely my process. I do value keen outside eyes—that person who says, “I don’t get this, what’s your reference?” or, “Are you sure this belongs here? It’s cute, but I feel like it really interrupted the pace, maybe cut?” Or, “His jaw has tightened five times in the past two pages. I know she’s annoying, but still...”. But the buck stops with me. That’s actually one of the joys of self-publishing for me—it really does stop with me. No one else can change a word of it, they can only make suggestions. That final document is in my hands.Meanwhile, if you have a good team working with you, one of the joys of traditional publishing can be knowing it doesn’t stop with you! That you have a wonderful editor, a great production manager, an experienced cover artist, a top-notch publicist, a great marketing team. I think I’m very fortunate to be writing at a time and in a situation that permits me to juggle both right now and to enjoy the benefits of both, to my writing and my ability to get the story I want to tell, in the best form possible, to readers.
Paris is without a doubt my favorite place on this planet. I hope to go back next year. So maybe I have a built in love for your stories. Why did you chose to write a French setting? Are there other places or nationalities you want to explore? Would you consider a book set in the US?A French setting because I’ve lived that setting so much, and really is there any better place for love and romance and adventure than Paris? There’s certainly no better place for chocolate! Although...I’m really enjoying writing this new series in Provence. That’s such a vivid world.
Definitely I would consider a book set in the U.S. In fact, I have plenty of ideas and scenes jotted down, for U.S.-set books, but there are so many more books I want to write than I can ever actually fit in, and the next story is always the one that just kind of drives itself to the top and takes over against all the others in my brain.For other nations, besides France or the U.S.—Turning Up the Heat is in Tahiti, or rather one of the more remote French Polynesian islands that often get grouped under “Tahiti”, but I used to live in Tahiti. I don’t like superficial use of setting and I really dislike superficial use of people from other countries—you know, the Frenchmen written by someone who has never actually met one. When I was in Italy for The Chocolate Thief’s book launch there, everyone wanted to know when I would write an Italian hero, in an Italian setting, and the problem is—how would I know what a real Italian might feel or do or think? I can’t just give him big gestures and dark hair and make him say Grazie and mio caro, as if that means someone is Italian. I mean, I could if I knew the other side of those stereotypes and how to question them and play with the humor in them, which is a bit what I do with Sylvain in The Chocolate Thief, but I couldn’t just from a superficial knowledge. That doesn’t work from me.
This week at Storytelling Rules is all about things we love. Paris, Chocolate and Laura Florand books is a good start for me. Add red wine to that list and I’m pretty much the happiest person in the world. What about you? Who do you love to read? What do you love to eat and drink?
I love Martha Wells, Lois McMaster Bujold, Sarah Addison Allen, Ilona Andrews, Thea Harrison. I laughed my head off at Elyssa Patrick’s butt-shaking hero in her novella One Hit Wonder—he was so much fun—and hope she’ll write more. I loved the island setting of Donna Kauffman’s Cupcake series and Virginia Kantra’s Dare Island series.
You can probably guess what I love to eat from the titles of half my books. But honestly, I love exploring food. I always pick the weirdest thing on the menu...and then steal bites of my husband’s steak when my weird thing turns out to be not nearly as good as that rare beef. Being French, he sometimes orders tripe or steak tartare to spike my guns, because I do have a few more limits to my palate than he does. But mostly...I just love food. Good food, I mean, that someone has put some attention and care into. I reviewed restaurants for a while in Paris, and I can’t say I always liked the purple octopus tentacles I could find myself trying, in fulfillment of my duties, but...it was fun.
Finally everyone should know that The Chocolate Kiss is now available in stores and on line. And if you haven’t read it check out Turning up the Heat too for only 2.99. What’s next up for you? More Chocolate?… Which can’t be anything but a good thing.Yes, at least two more in the Chocolate series: in August, THE CHOCOLATE TOUCH, the story of CHOCOLATE THIEF hero Sylvain’s mortal enemy, chocolate rebel Dominique Richard, and Cade’s younger sister Jaime. (Hint: the development of this relationship is going to be very hard on Sylvain.) And a fourth book in December. There will be 2 more books in the Chocolate series as well, but I can’t say much on when, where, and how yet; not this year! Meanwhile, you’ll see the start of my Provence series in a novella in a Christmas anthology with Kensington in October.