Today we have a rare pleasure to host an author on our blog. Let me welcome Courtney Milan, a writer whose historical romances are full of great, period-appropriate detail, drama, passion and humour.
It is a splendid occasion – the latest Milan book, ‘The Countess Conspiracy’, the final part of the ‘Brothers Sinister’ series, has just been released. As you can see both Rameau and I devoured and reviewed it practically within days. To my great joy Ms. Milan, accepted the interview offer and answered our questions concerning her novels, publishing industry and more – thank you very much!
Rameau’s questions are in dark red, Anachronist’s questions are in green.
1. Why did you choose to write novels set in the mid 1800s?
I read a lot of novels set in that time period. I don’t know pop culture very well, and don’t think I could do a compelling contemporary unless it was for a very niche market, and I feel like there are a lot of ways that the time period is historically similar to the one we’re in: a time of upheaval, when everything is changing, and people are not sure the world will be better for their children. I think it gives me a safe space to explore what matters today.
2. Have you ever based any of your characters on real life people/ couples?
Not really. I sometimes have inspirations that arise from real life people, but it’s usually no more than a shade of a character–never the entire thing. Sometimes I look back on things and wonder what my subconscious was trying to say (for instance, my father-in-law is a hoarder, albeit in a totally different way than in the book, and in the first draft of A Kiss for Midwinter I realized that I’d given the character his name–I’m not sure what that was about?), but I don’t consciously base characters on real people.
3. What are your criteria for eliminating ideas or scenes from books?
I wish I had a strong criteria. The easiest one is because a scene doesn’t fit, it doesn’t work, or nothing’s happening with it. I very rarely have to delete a scene that I absolutely love, and usually when that happens, it’s either for pacing reasons (it’s a slow, talky scene after a great many slow, talky scenes) or because it’s duplicative of something that’s already on the page somewhere else.
4. Romance is often described as a genre written about women for women and by women. It is also criticized for being predictable, with well-known, repetitive tropes, cliches and a mandatory happy ending finishing every story. Do you, as a writer, think such a genre can evolve? If yes, how?
I don’t know what logical process gets from “romance is written by women” to “given that, can romance evolve?” The only way that becomes a cogent question is if a genre written about women for women by women might find it more difficult to evolve. If you can explain why that would be the case with something that doesn’t deserve the stink eye, I’ll answer that part of the question. Otherwise, no.
I’m also not sure what the existence of threshold genre criteria has to do with the question of genre evolution. You want an evolving system? Set up a system of rewards and punishments, add in elements of change and randomness in reproduction, and boom, you have a system that evolves. The existence of strict criteria for meting out rewards doesn’t prevent evolution in a lab, on a computer, or in a genre. It’s dead simple to make an evolving system, and here we have all the criteria present.
I think it’s inevitable that the genre will evolve, and it’ll do it for the reasons that everything evolves: that there ceases to be a competitive advantage for conforming to the known tropes, and the market starts rewarding things that are different. More different things will start and fail (this is what evolution means), but the ones that endure will change the genre.
It has evolved in the past, is evolving now, and will continue to do so in the future.
What will it evolve to? Damned if I know. I’m willing to bet on the fact of evolution, but guessing the specifics is a sucker’s game.
5. What do you think of the contemporary romance trends as a reader? Do you enjoy BDSM themes that have become so popular lately ? Have you ever been tempted to include them in your own books?
I am very picky about my contemporaries because I do not like reading contemporary romances where the heroine feels like she was born in the 1950s, and everyone around her feels the same. So, for instance, I love Julie James for her strong female characters who unabashedly have good careers that they are not shamed for having. I love Victoria Dahl’s books for the exploration they take into female sexuality and openness. Ruthie Knox writes books that just crack me open. (And I’m friends with all three of them–but in the case of all three, I read their books and loved them before we became friends.)
I feel about BDSM the same way I feel about any plot point. I enjoy reading it when it’s well done, feels realistic, feels organic to the story and the characters, and absolutely hate it when I feel like the author is writing in BDSM because hey, let’s throw BDSM in there.
So, for instance, I really enjoy Tiffany Reisz’s Original Sinner series, and I really loved Delphine Dryden’s Theory of Attraction. (I know and am on good terms with both these authors, for purposes of disclosure, so take this for what it’s worth.)
I like good books, no matter where they carry me.
If I ever wrote a book with BDSM elements, it would have to be something where it was really, really important to the characters. I’ve never been tempted to add gratuitous spanking to an otherwise vanilla book. I wrote a first chapter of a book with BDSM elements but the place I had to go to make that a good book was not a place I think I’m capable of going as a writer and so I abandoned it.
I don’t rule out the possibility that I might one day write a book with BDSM elements, but I wouldn’t advise anyone to hold her breath waiting for it.
6. You are an experienced author – you’ve self-published books, you’ve been cooperating with big publishing houses as well. If you were to start your career today, knowing what you know now, what form of publishing would you choose?
I would self-publish. Right now, I can’t see a single large publisher that has had a new author of historical romance that they’ve managed to break out, and the print runs for historicals are falling for basically everyone. Add on that I have serious criticisms about the publishing strategies of most of the major houses (Avon comes closest to getting it right for a number of reasons, but even they’re not perfect–almost nobody else is even really trying to do anything for their historicals), and I think (and I have empirical evidence to prove) that my understanding of the digital marketplace and subsequent strategic choices are better than the ones they would make on my behalf.
Not everyone can say that, and not everyone enjoys taking the time and trouble to figure out how to work things, but I have fun doing it. I also really hate not being in control. It stresses me out. A lot.
I spent more time being stressed about my traditional publisher making mistakes than I do actually doing the work of self-publishing myself now. I have been 100% happier since self-publishing, and the money difference is a very small part of that.
A traditional publisher would have to offer me a pretty massive carrot to get me to sign on with them, and I don’t see them offering that kind of carrot to their very top authors, so, there you are.
7. The next series you’re planning to write after Brothers Sinister—the Worth Saga mentioned on your tumblr—isn’t set only in England, featuring several POC characters. I love this idea and, because I am slightly obsessed: will it also include a heroine who is manipulative enough to intentionally trap a man into marrying her and who falls in love despite herself?
That is a really specific question. Right now, I have no plans for such a book, although I will tell you that the second book (tentatively titled One Month to be Married) is about a heroine who traps a man into marrying her (albeit not intentionally, and for very different reasons), and he refuses to consummate the marriage in hopes of getting it annulled. That may or may not be the actual setup of the book; I’m not really near writing it right now, so everything is subject to change.
But that is not the book you’re looking for, so alas I must disappoint you.
Thank you, Ms. Milan for your time fielding even those a bit weird, not exactly cogent questions – it was a pleasure to host you!
If you haven’t read one of Milan romance books – we highly recommend almost all of them; the titles and links to our reviews can be found in our Book Review Directory.