Featured Romance Author  

Romance - Southern Style
An Interview with Romance Author Virginia Brown
by Robert L. Hall

When I decided to write an article about romance and romance books, I wanted to hear from a woman. . . a southern woman. . . a “down-home” woman who would tell it like it is.  Then, a friend at the newspaper told me about Virginia Brown, a very successful author of almost fifty romance novels who resides in Memphis.  If she doesn’t know about romance in the South, who would, I asked myself?

So, I called her up and she graciously agreed to speak to me about the subject over coffee.  “Talking is something I’m very good at too!” she said over the phone.

As we sat down together at a bookstore in downtown Memphis, Virginia, in her billowing sweater and dark-framed glasses looked the part of a writer.  With her lovely smile, she was obviously comfortable with her environment and straight forward in her conversation.  I asked the most important question first: “Virginia, what things are romantic to a Southern woman?”

“I can only speak for myself,” she answered, “as Southern women are as diverse as flowers.  What works for one, repulses another.  Most Southern women seem to agree, however, that a man must have the traits of loyalty and honor to be romantic.  How he chooses to show his love for his heroine can take many forms.  One thing that never fails to endear a man to me is kindness to animals.  A compelling romantic gesture is the gift of a single red rose.  That gets me every time!"

Do you think that the South is a more romantic place than the rest of the country?

As I was born in the South,” she explains, “I consider it the most romantic, of course.  I lived in Jackson, Mississippi in my childhood, and reared my children in Southaven, and the South is where I prefer to live.  Who can resist the heady fragrance of magnolia blossoms, and the delicate lace of Spanish moss?  And of course, those sultry summer nights.  Also, I find Southern men to be more chivalrous for the most part.  Maybe it’s their slow drawl, as if they have all the time in the world to speak just to you.  So many men still open doors for a woman, and I find that to be gallant and romantic.  I just haven’t found that many men in the North who take the time to open doors.

Well, how does one then become a romance writer, or write several romantic scenes within certain chapters of a book they are presently working on?

First, I would suggest any new writer learn the basics.  I’ve judged a few contests and have always been surprised by those who submit their work without a clue as to the basic rules of grammar, punctuation, and presentation.  One writer wrote 400 pages, single- spaced, without a single indented paragraph or chapter break!

As for including romance, I have to allow my characters to set the tone and mood of the moment.  I find it very difficult to “force” a romantic scene, and it always rings false to me if I override my better judgment and do so.  Each story is different.  What works in a romantic scene for some characters will not work in another book. 

I have to 'be' that character.  If I’m in the heroine’s point of view, I immerse my self in her emotions, how she views the hero at that point, and how she would react to him.  If I’m in the hero’s point of view, I must approach the scene from how he would feel toward the heroine.  If he is struggling against his emotions, I must incorporate that into his actions, for instance.        

You write romance for a living.  How does romance differ from mainstream in approach to the subject?

There is a certain amount of freedom allowed in mainstream that doesn’t work in a romance.  In a romance novel, it’s based on the premise of ‘boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl” or vice versa.  The romance novels of the 70’s and 80’s, often referred to as ‘bodice rippers” -- a term detested by those in the romance industry, by the way – had heroes and heroines that were allowed to be unfaithful to each other as long as they ended up together.  That would 'kill' a romance in most markets today.  In a mainstream, those situations are dealt with differently and acceptable.  Romance readers demand and expect fidelity between the two main characters.

Within the context of romance writing, how does your technique differ from others in the field?

As Virginia Brown, I wrote books set in the Old West, the Regency era, about pirates, and one novel set in ancient Ireland.  As Juliana Garnett, I write exclusively about the medieval era.  I love that time period.  When I’m writing a medieval, I immerse myself completely, with medieval music on the stereo, or a video playing Gregorian chants, or a video of the area where the novel is set.  When I travel to England on research trips, I take hours of video of the terrain, castles, churches, even flowers native to the region.  It really does help convey the mood, I think, and I’ve had readers write to tell me they felt as if they were seeing it quite vividly.  That makes it worthwhile!

What is your next medieval book about?

My next Medieval is for Berkley.  I’ve recently signed with them again, and am delighted to be working with an editor I’ve worked with before, Gail Fortune.  My current work in progress is titled THE KNIGHT.  The story line is this:

“In 1184 my hero, Stephen Fitzhugh, is paid to find the Holy Grail.  He travels to Glastonbury where it is rumored to be hidden.  There he meets Gillian, the niece of the former abbot, Robert of Winchester.  Although the abbot has died, he left behind a cryptic message pertaining to the location of the Holy Grail.  Stephen and Gillian search for it together, but for very different reasons.  His motives are mercenary, while hers are more spiritual.  Together they embark upon a journey of danger, intrigue, and the discovery of lost souls and love.”

You have a mainstream in progress also.  What about it? 

In 1980, a story idea came to me.  It involved a young boy from Mississippi, a coon dog, and the class struggle in a small Mississippi town.  Over the years it has evolved into a more complex story dealing with the elements of race, bigotry, and murder.  And of course, there is a love story intertwined when the young boy comes of age and returns to his childhood home.  Now that he is successful, will he win the love of the girl who was always out of his reach as a child?  Or will he rekindle his love for the girl of mixed heritage who had been his only childhood friend and confidante?  When murder comes to Parks, Mississippi, he discovers that the old hatreds have only been simmering beneath the surface all these years, and that he is a target for murder.

One last thing.  I think this is such a good true story about you – tell us about your ‘shopping trip’ years ago!

Oh, yes.   Well, I had been writing at night and on weekends. (A year) and many rejection letters later, I met romance author and NYT bestseller Janelle Taylor at a Southaven Kroger store.  She told me I needed an agent, and was kind enough to introduce me to hers.  That agent signed me to her agency and sold my first book within a few months. 

 Virginia Brown Biography 

Since writing her first romance novel in 1984, Virginia Brown has written nearly 50 romance novels.  Many of her books have been nominated for Romantic Times’ Reviewer’s Choice, Career Achievement Award for Love and Laughter, and Career Achievement Award for Adventure.  Her works regularly appear on national bestseller lists.  Having written under several different names about historical eras such as the old West, Regency-era, and the American Civil War, she now writes under a new pseudonym, Juliana Garnett, to focus upon the medieval era. 

A native of Tennessee, Virginia spent her childhood traveling with her parents as a “military brat,” living all over the US and in Japan.  This influenced her love of travel and adventure, which is reflected in her work. 

Twice a year, Virginia visits England to research her novels, and includes Scotland in her travels.  She feels this adds a new dimension to her work, and enables her to more authentically impart the true flavor of the geographical and historical sites. 

In addition to appearing on the nationally syndicated television program What’s Hot, What’s Not, Virginia Brown has been interviewed by Jane Pauley on the Today Show, and regularly appears on local television and radio shows in addition to coverage by the press.  She also experienced a first for a romance writer by appearing on the cover of Memphis, the magazine. 

Virginia is the mother of four grown children, and now enjoys her menagerie of dogs that includes a fat beagle, two part-chows, a hound and five cats.  As the grandmother of three lovely children, one of her greatest pleasures these days is visiting with Justin, Christina, and Gaby. 

Presently, Virginia writes medievals for Berkley Books.  Her next medieval novel, The Knight, is due to be released in May, 2001.


writing as Virginia Brown

Savage Awakening, 1984
Defy The Thunder, 1984
Storm of Passion, 1985
Wild Heart, 1985
Legacy of Shadows, 1986
Moonflower, 1987
Desert Dreams, 1988
Heaven Sent, 1989
Wildfire, 1990
Renegade Embrace, 1990
Emerald Nights, 1991
Hidden Touch, 1992
Wildflower, 1992
Comanche Moon, 1993
Wildest Heart, 1994
Capture the Wind, 1995
Jade Moon, 1996
Highland Hearts, 1997

writing as Virginia Lynn

River’s Dream, 1991
Cutter’s Woman, 1991
Summer’s Knight, 1992
Lyon’s Prize, 1992
In A Rogue’s Arms, 1993
The Moon Rider, 1994

writing as Emma Harrington

Love’s Gambit 1988
Hearts In Disguise 1988
Fair Exchange 1988
Passion’s Tempest 1988
Ivory Temptress 1988
Blue Fire 1988
Prairie Paradise 1988
The Sky Lord 1994
writing as Micki Brown
Once A Rebel 1991
Because of You 1992
writing as Michelle Brandon
Touch of Heaven 1992
Heaven on Earth 1993

writing as Juliana Garnett

The Quest 1995 
The Magic 1996  
The Vow 1997 
The Scotsman 1998
The Baron, 1999  

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.