Featured Romance Author 

Patricia Potter

Where History and Romance meet

 by

Robert L. Hall

 

Patricia Potter is a bestselling and award winning author of twenty-eight
books and six novellas. She has more than two million books in print.  Her current book is The Black Knave, the first book in a new Scottish trilogy. Her next book is The Perfect Family, a romantic suspense, which will be released by Berkley in January. The Black Knave made the USAToday Bestseller List and was selected by the Doubleday Book Club for its Romance Club.

Also currently available are the three books of her Star Trilogy: StarCatcher, StarFinder and StarKeeper -- and Chase The Wind, a re-release of two of her Harlequin Historicals. In addition to her present publisher, Berkley, she has been published by Bantam, Harlequin Historicals, Silhouette, St. Martin's Press and Harper Paperbacks. She has been published in fifteen countries and has frequently been on the USA Today and Waldenbooks Bestseller list.

She was named "Story Teller of the Year" in l993 by Romantic Times, and received the magazine's l995 Career Achievement Award for Western Romances.  She has also won several Reviewer Choice Awards from Romantic Times and three Maggie Awards from the Georgia Romance Writers.  She is a three time RITA finalist. Prior to writing fiction, she was a reporter with the Atlanta Journal, an editor with a suburban Atlanta newspaper and president of an Atlanta public relations firm.  She serves as PAN Liaison to the national board of Romance Writers of America and is a past member of that board. She has also served as president of Georgia Romance Writers and board member of River City Romance Writers in Memphis.  She has been a speaker at four RWA National Conferences, several Romantic Times Conferences and at numerous regional conferences. 

Pat, you write historical romances.  What is the difference between an historical romance and just a romance novel.

The historical romance novel today usually encompasses history as a major part of the book.   It can be either a backdrop or an essential part of the book.  Mine usually make it an essential part of the story and, as a history minor in college, I try to be as accurate as possible.   For instance, one of my books -- Swampfire -- evolved around the real life character of Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox, in South Carolina during the Revolutionary War.  My latest book has made Culloden, the last battle for Scottish nationalism, the turning point in the plot.   I once wanted to be a history teacher, and now I think many of my historical romances serves that function.   They teach history in an enjoyable way.   At least I hope so.    

As a former journalist, would you say that your work experience slants your view of characters or plot in the manuscripts you produce?

My experience in journalism has been invaluable in many ways.  One is meeting deadlines.   Another is tight writing.   Still a third is exposure to so many different people and situations.  Some have been seeds for books, particularly now that I am branching out into romantic suspense.   

Your book, The Black Knave, was on the USA Today Bestseller List for two weeks.   What do you believe was the attraction of that particular book?  

It's not the first to be on the USA Today List, but I was particularly pleased to see this one make it.  The Scarlet Pimpernel, one of my favorite tales, was the inspiration.   I think one of the major appeals of the book is its Scottish background.   The second is a strong hero but equally strong heroine.   The Black Knave has humor as well as adventure, and I think that combination, as well as the Scarlet Pimpernel connection, made it appealing to a reader.

 

As an author of twenty-nine books, what type of characters and attitudes do you like to portray in your work. 

I like a strong, independent heroine.  I like a hero who is compassionate, even though you may not see that quality in the beginning of the book.   I also like heroes who appreciate intelligence in a woman.   I like people who grow throughout the book because of their relationship.    

Are your women all "A Southern Belle" types, since you lived in Atlanta or Memphis for some time?

Only if you think of a southern belle as a steel magnolia.   As I said, I really like strong, intelligent and independent heroines who take control of their own destiny.     

Are you a member of the River City Romance Writers, or any local  association now and what do you get from meeting with other writers?

I have been very active in writing groups.  I served as president of Georgia Romance Writers for two years, then served on the board of River City Romance Writers.   For the past three years, I have been a member of the National Board of Romance Writers of America.   

I can't imagine being a writer without being involved with other writers.

We are unique in that we have all these fictional people running wild in our brains.   No one else quite understands that, nor do they understand the pressures and agonies of the business side of writing.   Deadlines.  Rejections.  Poor covers.  Low print runs.    

Or the successes.   Bestseller lists, great cover, etc.   You need someone who understands - with whom to commiserate or celebrate.   The bond between writers is perhaps the best thing about writing.   I have friends throughout the country, and it is really quite wonderful.   

If you changed genres, which would you change to, and do you have other projects than romance in the mill right now.

There are genres within genres.   I also write romantic suspense as well as historical romances, and one, The Perfect Family, will be out in January 2001.  I will probably always write romance, though.  I like focusing on the relationship of two people and I like a happy ending.   That's what romance is all about. 

Tell us about The Perfect Family, the romantic suspense book due out in January.

The Perfect Family developed from an episode in my own life.   Because of a violent incident in my family many, many years ago, several members of the family were lost for nearly fifty years.   We all came together in a family reunion some ten years ago and I found relatives I never knew existed.   In the story, a young woman -- a bookseller -- discovers she has a family she didn't know existed.   It seemed a dream come true for someone who thought she was an orphan.  But she soon discovers that some of these new family members have agendas of their own, and her life is in danger.   

Do you plot extensively, spinout character developments or what exactly?

I start with a pretty basic plot, spend a lot of time developing the characters, then let them take over.   Consequently, the plot changes as I go along.   I worry when it doesn't.   The greatest joy for a writer is when those characters do take over and write the book themselves.   Often, I'll re-read one of my books and wonder how I ever wrote it.  The answer is that I didn't.   The characters did.

Name a writer you admire greatly and why.   What writer would you like to be like in some ways?

I have two and probably there are no two less alike.   One is Glenn Meade who writes suspense.   I loved his Snow Wolf as well as his later books.   One reason is extraordinary characterization.   He makes you care deeply about the protagonists, even when they are on different sides.   No one does characterization better, particularly in suspense.   

The second is Deborah Smith, who writes something else altogether.   But the link is, again, characterization.   She writes Southern growing of age books, witty, humorous, and caring.  Both authors make you care deeply about their characters, something that I continue to strive toward. 

Tell us what you can comfortably about your agenting, publishing, and editing wars in your career.  Share those really significant events in your writing timeline, and maybe any humorous sidelines that happened to you.

The most important thing to know about agenting is that not all agents are created equal.   I personally feel it is easier to get published than it is to find a good agent.   They are few and far between.   One of the big problems in this business is that anyone can hang up a shingle and say, I'm an agent.   No experience.  No sales.   No credentials.   And yet they can advertise and often lure hopeful writers into paying reading fees, etc.

I would advise any writer thinking about hiring an agent to check with the Association of Authors Representatives in New York.   Members have to abide by a Code of Ethics and writers have some protection.   Or they can join a writers group such as Romance Writers of America (you do not have to be a romance writer and we have excellent information) and ask members about agents.  

One of the main warnings is to be very, very wary of paying reading fees.

Agents should make money by selling your books, not by collecting reading and editing fees.

As for editing wars, I've had approximately five different editors and have been happy with all of them.   On the most part, their suggestions have been excellent and resulted in better books.   In the few instances in which I've disagreed with editorial suggestions, we've been able to compromise.   I've never been forced to do anything I thought detrimental to a book.   The key is to be reasonable, to understand the editor's viewpoint and to make your own points in a professional manner.

Humorous sidelines?  They mostly involve people who think writing a book is easy.   I was doing a book signing once when a minister approached and wanted to know how much I made.  Since that is akin to asking ANYONE how much he or she earns, I declined to answer.   He then said he really wanted to get out of the ministry and thought he had enough experience to write a romance.  

I invited him to a conference.   He came, discovered how difficult it really was, and disappeared never to be heard from again.   I don't know if he returned to the ministry or not.

Writing a book is a huge commitment, emotionally as well as in time.  It takes real courage to write because then you are sharing a part of yourself.   I have the utmost respect for anyone who completes a book whether they are published or not.   They have done something so many people say they want to do but never have the courage or commitment to complete.

Southern Scribe is a site for Southern writers to share writing research and tips for both fictional and nonfiction books.   What would you like to share with other writers on line in the way of advice?

My first advice to writers, particularly fiction, is to write the book all the way through rather than perfecting as you proceed.

I've seen many writers rewrite and try to perfect the first two or three chapters so long that they get sick of their own book and never finish it.   Write the whole book while it is fresh and exciting and flowing.  Things are going to change as you go along and your characters take over, so you will probably have to do some re-writing anyway.   Write the book through, then go back and perfect. 

Second piece of advice: I try to write everyday.   I set a goal (eight pages a day) and reward myself for meeting that goal (I can read a book).  If I write more than eight pages, I still have to do eight pages the next day.  Discipline is essential to writing.

As far as research . . .I have a large library (accumulated mostly through library sales or discounted books) on periods I enjoy using: the West, Colonial America, England, Scotland.   I have some basic overall books on weaponry, costumes, carriages, ships, and now I really use the Internet.  It's a fabulous tool for writers.

But the secret in historicals is to not overuse history.   No one wants to know the intricacies of a sugar mill, but you can use the intricacies of loading a musket if a character is teaching his son its use, and there is some purpose to the scene  (the boy then shoots someone which ignites a major conflict).   History in a romance should be correct but not overpowering.  

Tell us some stories about how some of your books came into being.

They all came, I think, from intellectual curiosity and looking at a person, a place, a paragraph in a magazine or newspaper and saying "what if."

"What if" is the writer's greatest friend. 

My first book came from a snippet in a history publication, which told of a race across New Mexico during the Civil War.   A rebel general was charged with reaching the Colorado gold fields; the Union colonel sent to stop him was his brother-in-law.   Every bell in my head started ringing. 

Several books developed from places I love.   A suspense novel came from Jekyll Island on the coast of Florida and rumors of German submarines during World War II.   Another came to life when I stopped at a place called the Cimarron Valley in the Black Mountains.  

Some develop from people I know.  Truman Capote once said that everyone who survives puberty has a story to tell.   I love hearing those stories, and the stories of the people who went before them.   Fact has always been more fascinating than anything an author can imagine.  So I listen and watch and read, then wonder, what if. . .

What would you like to be doing a year from now?

Exactly what I'm doing now.


Bibliography:

UPCOMING

The Perfect Family (Berkley) January, 2OO1 
The Heart Queen (Berkley) July, 2001

The Black Knave (Berkley) January, 2001  (Doubleday Book Club)
Star Keeper (Bantam) August, 1999 (Doubleday Book Club) **
Star Finder (Bantam) November, 1998 (Doubleday Book Club) **
Starcatcher (Bantam) January, 1998 **
A Home For Christmas (Intimate Moments, December, 1988

BANTAM:
The Scotsman Wore Spurs (Bantam) '97 ***
The Marshal and the Heiress (Bantam) '96 ***
Diablo (Bantam) April, '96 ***
Defiant
Wanted
Relentless
Notorious
Renegade
Lightning
Lawless
Rainbow


HARPER PAPERBACKS:
Island of Dreams (Harper) (Severn House Hardback)

BANTAM LOVESWEPTS:
The Greatest Gift
Troubadour
Impetuous


HARLEQUIN HISTORICALS
Swampfire +
Samara +
Between The Thunder*
Chase The Thunder *
Seize The Fire
Dragonfire
The Silver Link
The Abduction

ANTHOLOGIES
Southern Nights (Bantam)
Christmas Rogues (Harlequin Historicals) 1995
Harlequin Historical Christmas Stories (199O)
Untamed (Harlequin Historicals) 1994
Unchained Lighting (St. Martins) 1996
To Make a Wish (Bantam) September '97

REPRINTS/BACKLIST: Harlequin Historicals reprinted as single titles from Harlequin
Swampfire (1997)
Samara (1998)
The Abduction (March, 1998)
The Soldier and the Rebel(Previously Between the Thunder and the novella,
Miracle of the Heart), 11/99
Chase The Wind, 4/00

Linked novels: +, *, **,***


This article is by Robert L. Hall - raised in and currently living outside Memphis, TN., writes crime mysteries and tales of a youth with adventures in horsemanship. His books are Mid-South based. Mr. Hall also is a contributing writer for the on-line journal,When Falls the Coliseum , a self-described “Journal of American Culture(or the lack thereof)”at www.wfthecoliseum.com.

A trained musician with a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Memphis and Master of Music degree from Florida State University, he is staff pianist at Trinity Baptist Church in West Memphis and has taught music courses at three institutions of higher learning. 

© 2000 Robert L. Hall, All Rights Reserved