Q&A With Mary Balogh

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Q&A With Mary Balogh

Today’s Q&A is with New York Times Bestselling author of historical romance Mary Balogh. Mary’s romance novels are in many series, trilogies and standalone novels. Some of Mary’s many standalone novels are A Masked Deception, The Double Wager, The Constant Heart, Secrets Of The Heart, & The Ungrateful Governess. Some of Mary’s many series are The Bedwyn Saga, The Simply Series, The Huxtable Series, The Westcott Series, & The Ravenswood Series. Mary’s two trilogies are The Courting Julia Trilogy, The Horsemen Trilogy. Mary has also written in anthologies and has co-written with various authors. 


Q: Mary what made you want to write historical romance novels? What is your advice to anyone wanting to write great historical romance?


A: I knew at a very early age that I wanted to write. I just didn’t know what. I tried writing contemporaries when I was in my twenties, but without any success or any real satisfaction. Then I discovered the Regency and Georgian historicals of Georgette Heyer and was instantly enchanted. It was a world with which I felt strangely familiar and one in which I wanted to live. It took me a little while—duh!—to realize that it was what I should be writing. I have never wanted to write anything else since then. Everything about the world of Regency Britain seems to fit me like a glove. And since I grew up in Wales in the middle of the 20th century, I believe I have a voice that fits the era far better than it fits 21st century North America. My advice to anyone wanting to write historical fiction is to do extensive research, both of history books and of contemporary literature. Immerse yourself in that world and avoid the temptation to write a contemporary novel dressed up in period costume. EVERYTHING will be different about that historical age except human nature itself. Characters and situation must seem authentic.


Q: When in your life did you realize that being an author was your calling? 


A: I knew very early. I was a voracious reader, and even before I could write I used to make up stories which I enacted in my head when lying in bed at night. It was how I put myself to sleep. Once I could write, I used to fill blank notebooks (a favorite Christmas and birthday gift) with long, long stories about children having wonderful adventures and always coming out triumphant. When anyone asked me what I hoped to be when I grew up, I would say I wanted to be an author (though in those days I used the word “authoress”). Alas, when I grew up I discovered that I had to eat, and to be able to do that I had to earn some sure money. I became a teacher—of high school English. I was in my thirties before I got back to my primary love and started to write in the little spare time I had.


Q: If you ever have writers block, how do you deal with it and would you give that same advice to aspiring authors who deal with the same issue?


A: Writers’ block is something that strikes every single day. When I sit down to continue my story, there is always a great blank in my mind and I don’t know where to start or how to start. I deal with the problem by exerting a rigid discipline on myself. I refuse to recognize the block and will never give in to it, no matter how tempted I may want to go and put in a load of laundry or take the day off in the hope that by tomorrow inspiration will have hit. I sit there until I have thought my way back into the story and the main characters’ minds and can carry them forward. If all else fails, I follow the seemingly nonsensical advice I heard during a session at a convention I was attending (I can no longer remember where or who). If you don’t know what to write when you sit at your computer, the advice went, then write anyway. The idea is that if you write any old stuff that comes into your head, after a few sentences your thought processes will have organized themselves and you will know just how you should have started. You can either erase what you have already written, or keep going. And yes, I would offer other writers the same advice. Don’t glamorize or excuse your mental torpor by calling it writers’ block.


Q: If you had to choose a series, trilogies and standalone novels you’ve written, which ones would be your favorites and why?


A: I stand by them all. They were all my favorite when I was writing them. However, I am confident that if a poll were taken of readers, it is the Bedwyn saga (the six SLIGHTLY books) that would be named the reader favorite, largely because it includes everyone’s favorite hero, Wulfric Bedwyn, Duke of Bewcastle. I am also very attached to the more recent 10-part Westcott family series, perhaps because it is about a large extended family and enabled me to develop all the main characters and a whole host of supporting characters over many books. I am busy on the new Ravenswood series (only Book 1, REMEMBER LOVE, is out so far, but two more are written (Book 2, REMEMBER ME, will be out in hardcover in June) and I am about to start on number four.


Q: What advice would you give to new authors on how to deal with negative critiques whether it’s from reviews, online trolls or family and friends who don’t support their writing goals?


A: Anyone who does not support a writer’s goals needs to be soundly ignored. We all know that social media has given thousands and millions of people all the permission they need to be as cutting and nasty as they wish to be while they remain virtually anonymous. I almost never read reader reviews of the amazon variety. Negativity can be gut-wrenching. This does not mean that one ought never to listen to anyone else or never read reviews. It does mean that one should consider the source and the motive. Are these people who wish you well? Are they people who read a lot? Are they people who are giving a definite, specific critique? Writers are very thin-skinned. We have just poured our hearts and souls for many months into the writing of this specific book, and we do NOT want our babies to be criticized. But I have learned that the criticisms of the various editors I have had need to be considered. I have found (ALMOST without exception) that when I make the change they suggest to my manuscript, the book is the better for it. It becomes a matter of trust on my part. I know that my editors want the very best of the book I have written. If they say something weakens the book, they are very probably right. They are doing their job.


Q: Mary if you were to write in a genre that wasn’t historical romance, which genre would that be and why?


A: I love reading other genres—mystery, contemporary romance, for example—but I honestly cannot see myself writing anything other than I do. I feel thoroughly at home in Regency England. I know and understand the period, and I think I have the right voice for it. It may sound absurd to say I don’t know enough about contemporary life to write convincingly about it, but it is true! I know a number of writers who write in multiple genres, and I admire their ability to do so. I do not share that ability. Fortunately, I don’t share any wish to do so either. I am perfectly happy with the type of book I write, and many readers seem happy with it too. Why change?

Q: I’m sure you’re working on many projects right now. Can you reveal any details? 


A: I am writing the seven-part Ravenswood series, again about a family. The main characters are the wife and the six children (including one illegitimate son) of the Earl of Stratton. Many readers who have enjoyed the Westcott series but know it has now ended are disappointed about two “left-over” characters for whom they would have liked a story. I am hoping to incorporate one of those characters (Bertrand Lamarr) and possibly the other one too (WInfired Cunningham) in the new series.


Q: Does Hollywood have any interest or the rights to all of your novels? Hollywood is long overdue for originality and I could see your novels making great series on Masterpiece Theater on PBS. 


A:  There have been a few nibbles over the years but nothing that has ever come to anything. I am actually happy about that. In many ways it would be lovely to see my books enacted, and the Regency era lends itself to truly lovely visuals. However, I am absolutely sure I would hate what a screenwriter would do with my stories and the actors they would choose to fill the various roles. It would break my heart to have my books massacred or changed beyond recognition. I would probably trust Masterpiece Theater or the BBC more than I would any other filmmakers.


Q: You’ve collaborated with other authors on anthologies, and novellas. What would be your advice to anyone wanting to co-write with someone else? Is there an author who you haven’t co-written with yet that you would love to co-write with in the future?


A: Contributing to multi-author anthologies is fun. I remember with great nostalgia writing novellas for a number of years in a row with fellow Regency authors and friends of mine for the Signet Regency Christmas books. There was no real collaboration. We all just wrote stories on the theme decided upon by our editor at New American Library. Collaborating or co-writing a whole novel with another author would be quite impossible for me, however. My stories come from a place deep within myself—deeper than my mind. I do not know either my story or my characters when I start or even while I am writing because I cannot THINK about either. Writing for me is a deeply personal process. I could never involve anyone else in any way at all. No one sees my manuscript before the book is written. I know there are co-writers who produce successful books and enjoy the process. It is proof of the fact that we are all very different from one another. I can’t give advice to other writers for that very reason. Each writer has to find what works for her/him.