Regency romance queen Stephanie Laurens has been in the top 100 Romance of the Year lists many times over. She is one of the most successful and popular romance novelists of all time, with over 80 works of historical romance, including 40 New York Times bestsellers.
Hi there, I’m your host Jenny Wheeler, and on Binge Reading today Stephanie talks about switching from cancer research to romance and the changing tastes of romance readers.
As usual, we’ve got free books to give away. This week it’s a range of historic adventures. Check them out here: https://claims.prolificworks.com/gg/GBTyjjv9LFfGQ1X5JI9vA
And don’t forget, you can get exclusive bonus content, like hearing Stephanie’s answers to the Getting To Know You, Five Quickfire Questions, by becoming a Binge Reading on Patreon supporter. For the cost of less than a cup of coffee a month, you can get special bonus content, including a new one starting next month, Encore, where authors who have already been on the podcast talk about their latest book. It’s a shorter episode, quick to get through and exclusive to Patreon.
Links for this episode:
The Legend of Nimway Hall:
Devon Monk: https://www.devonmonk.com/
Sam Quinn series: https://www.fantasticfiction.com/k/seana-kelly/sam-quinn/
Faith Hunter: http://www.faithhunter.net/wp/
CS Harris: Sebastian St Cyr series https://csharris.net/sebastian.php
Where to find Stephanie Laurens:
What follows is a “near as” transcript of our conversation, not word for word but pretty close to it, with links to the show notes in The Joys of Binge Reading.com for important mentions.
But now, here’s Stephanie.
Introducing Stephanie Laurens
Jenny Wheeler: Hello there, Stephanie and welcome to the show. It’s great to have you with us.
Stephanie Laurens: Thank you. It’s lovely to be here.
Jenny Wheeler: I am in awe or of having the chance to talk to you because you are one of the legends of romance publishing.
You have been working since the early 90’s, you’ve got more than 80 books now published and many accolades including landing in the top 100 Romance of the Year many times. You have an international army of fans, so tell me about how you got into this career. Give us a little bit of a helicopter view of all of those years.
Stephanie Laurens: Okay. I got into writing romances because I literally ran out of Regency romances to read. At that time, back in the late 80’s, it was 1989, I used to read Regency romances because I was working as a scientist and writing scientific grants and reviewing scientific grants and papers and stuff like that. It was all very, very dry as you can imagine, so I liked to be able to read at night. After I put the kids to sleep, I would read.
At that time in Australia there were only two Regency romances brought in a month by Mills & Boon and that was nowhere near enough. I had already gone through a lot of the libraries and what Regency romances they stocked, and so in order to keep myself occupied I started writing one. I assumed that I would never get to the end because you know how you start projects. I always have projects lying around for literally years, incomplete.
A hard beginning in Regency romance
But, lo and behold, I found that because I wanted to find out what happened I got to the end of the book, so I actually wrote a book. I read it over again and I thought, this is not bad, and so I started to write around, to find out where to send it. It was my mother who told me, send it here. She pointed to the back of a Mills & Boon romance and said, you could send it to them. So I did. They came back and said, there’s this and this and this that’s not quite right and I said, let me have a try at fixing it. So, they let me fix it, and that was my first book. That’s how it all started off.
Then I just continued to write more or less to amuse myself more than anything, and they kept taking the books. In 1993 I decided to retire from science, not because of the writing or because I thought I’d have a life writing, but because it was getting too stressful. So, I did retire from science and then of course you open a door, and you have extra time. What are you going to do with it? I kept writing.
I switched to writing for the American market which is a little bit different. Their books are longer, and it enabled me to write a bigger story, so that’s what I did. I got into the American market. In 1996 I was first sold there. Subsequently I sold all my books to the Americans, and I have continued doing that ever since.
Interest in Regency romance ‘constant’
I’ve generally written about two a year, but occasionally that goes up to three and sometimes it has been four, which was a lot but those were some of the quartets I did. It helped to be writing them very quickly one after the other because it was a continuous storyline.
I have generally had fun writing and I’ve made a lot of friends in the States because I used to travel there at least once, sometimes twice a year, for either the conferences or for retreats or book tours for a while when book tours were a thing. That’s how it all came about and how it all evolved.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s remarkable. Taking you back to that comment about there only being two regencies released a month at that time, has the taste for Regency grown in this last couple of decades? Did that reflect the level of interest there was in Regency romances at that time?
Stephanie Laurens: No, actually. I would have said that over the last two decades the interest in historical regencies may have gone up and down a little, but it’s stayed pretty constant. It was always there, but it was Australian publishers who didn’t think there was a market, so they didn’t supply it. What they didn’t realize was that instead we were getting supplied by the Americans. The American market was reasonably developed and developed more subsequently, but I don’t believe the readership has changed in breadth and depth all that much over the entire period.
The fascination of the Regency period
They have maybe switched from this author to that author, to something else and back and around a bit. And like most genre fiction readers, they don’t just read Regency romances. Some do, a lot of others read more widely, but it’s usually genre fiction.
Jenny Wheeler: The other thing that’s very interesting is this particular niche that Regency has in the romance market. There are lots of other periods that you’d think would warrant equal interest. I think of the Gilded Age New York. That’s coming through a little bit now, but Regency fascinates people, doesn’t it? Why do you think that is?
Stephanie Laurens: Yes. There are all the carriages and the balls and the ball gowns. There is a lot of color in it which is different to now. That is an attractive thing. It is very visually colorful, which helps when you’re writing. You can make it exciting, adventurous, quite dramatic.
But underneath it all is the fact that at that time, socially, in the upper echelons of society, you could start to marry for love. And they didn’t. That particular band of society didn’t prior to say, 1800. But through the romantic movement, which was very late 1700’s and through the Napoleonic Wars and so on, there came this questioning of marrying for love instead of marrying for dynastic purposes or for convenience or whatever, but not for love. Love was not a criterion for marriage in that band of society prior to then.
It means that the females in particular can make a decision. Do they want to marry for love or do they want to marry not for love? Do they want to marry at all? Because again, if you’re dealing with the upper echelons, then the women didn’t have to marry. It was expected but if they really wanted to dig in their heels, they generally could not marry and go and do something else with their lives.
Regency freedom squashed by Victorians
That is the same questions women of today, or certainly in the last few decades, have also had to face. What do I do with my life? I have a choice. I think that echo has always made that time period particularly useful. It’s less so in the Victorian era where I’m now writing. It’s harder to generate that resonance with modern times.
Jenny Wheeler: That is a fascinating answer and it’s one I never, ever really thought about. So, there was an evolution, because obviously the Victorians are after the Regency. That little burst of freedom, so to speak, gets squashed a bit in the Victorian age.
Stephanie Laurens: It does. Exactly. The Regency and the early post Regency, the 1830s for instance, before Victoria came to the throne and even just after, before she had an impact and Victorian society evolved, that band of time between say 1805 to the early 1840s has a different feel to it socially when it comes to love and marriage in the aristocracy.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s fascinating. Looking over this wonderful body of work, you have got a number of series, but one name stands out and that’s the Cynsters. More than half your books are related to that particular family. The most recent one, the one we must talk about today, is Foes, Friends, and Lovers. That’s number 10, and this is the next generation of Cynsters.
You have had a lot of books, 20 books, with the first generation. This is the next generation down. Tell us about the differences. It feeds in wonderfully to your explanation about the Regency and Victorians. How is it different to do the two books because they’re in different generations?
Moving out of London for stories
Stephanie Laurens: There definitely is a distinctly different feel. I’ve explored to some extent in order to find the opening for a romance, particularly from the woman’s point of view, because I tend to write very strong female characters. I’ve had to look more deeply into other things for the situations where a woman would be more able to face those questions.
For instance, in Foes, Friends, and Lovers I have what is essentially a runaway heiress who has taken refuge in an estate that was run by very eccentric older women, both of whom were widows. When they die, she remains as the chatelaine of the estate. Cynster is the one who inherits the estate – a Cynster male.
In the next book after that, which is coming out in the middle of the year, the woman is running a steel mill in Sheffield. I have had to go out further in society rather than staying in the London ballrooms and the social circles of London. I’ve had to go out and find different areas in order to evolve a more interesting type of romance.
Jenny Wheeler: Foes, Friends, and Lovers is set in Nottinghamshire, towards the north of the country, and she is Scottish in her family relationships. I did wonder if that also helped to free it up a little bit from that London situation.
Stephanie Laurens: Exactly. You’re right. Because I tend to now go out into society, some of the women, although they may be well born, they’re not your typical London miss.
Situations which create strong women
The one I’m writing now is very funny because she is a London miss but she’s taken a bit of a different tack. She is very outrageous when she’s in London, and she is very much country and managing a big estate when she’s at home. As I said, I have to keep looking for these unusual situations or creating this sort of situation where I can have a very strong female character.
Jenny Wheeler: In Foes, Friends, and Lovers there is a community of artisans that revolve around the estate. In modern day terms, and they talk about it this way too, they have multiple streams of income. In those days the estates were starting to struggle a little bit for their income and so they’ve got all these extra things on the side.
They’ve got furniture making, apothecary medicines, all sorts of things going on to support the farm. You have a lot of fascinating detail about those various enterprises and my mind boggled about how you got all the research for that because it goes into quite a bit of detail about some of those extra enterprises. Is this stuff you’ve mainly collected over the years, or did you have to do a lot of extra research?
Stephanie Laurens: Some of it was stuff that I knew from my own eclectic interests over the years. As a writer you tend to start, right from the beginning, collecting little bits of information that you slot away and you may never use them, but they’re there. The rest of it was a lot of fun research. The basket weaving in particular I did not know much about.
The benefits of online research
You watch YouTube videos. I love YouTube. I love Wikipedia, and I do tend to spend quite a bit of time going into those sorts of details. Even though they may be only two pages in a book, they put a lot of authenticity into the work – that this is all real. All of what was described in the basket weaving, which was quite extensive, was real. The furniture making I had already known a bit about because I’m always interested in antique furniture, and I did a bit of research on sculpting as well.
Jenny Wheeler: Is the way men and women interact in this period with the next generation very different from how their parents interacted? You set it up beautifully with this very capable woman steward with this mysterious past. At the beginning, he doesn’t realize her class although he quickly starts to realize that she isn’t quite what she presents herself as. She is hoping that he’s going to satisfy himself that the place is running smoothly and hie back to London and leave them to get on with it, and she’s a bit concerned that he takes such an interest in everything.
You’ve got that classic situation of conflict at the beginning with them wanting different things. How does that play out on the wider field of male/woman relations in this time?
Stephanie Laurens: That’s probably reasonable edging into mid Victorian. It does seem to be that men and women lived very separate lives – far more so than in the Regency, for instance. As I said, I tend to write about the aristocracy or certainly wealthy people.
‘Life purpose’ important to Victorians
The males did not so much interest themselves in what we might call work of any sort, and that’s what the hero in Foes, Friends, and Lovers is addressing. He doesn’t have any really deep interest in anything, whereas his brothers and sisters and so on all have something they’re doing with their life, a purpose in their life.
This is what has changed. By the time you get into the Victorian era, having a purpose in life, particularly for the men, has become more clear. They need to have something else, not just sitting at home or counting the investments coming in. That’s not quite the same. They could be interested in investments and in investing in companies and so on. That would be acceptable. But sitting at home, being nothing and using the money, doesn’t work anymore for them.
They can’t spend all their time riding their estates and not contributing to the wider society anymore. That has changed. And of course, the women also have a role to play, but women always did have a role to play, because they managed the household, they managed the family, they managed this man. For the women it’s not such a big change, but for the men, it has been. Therefore, they are not necessarily spending all their time together.
Jenny Wheeler: Do you think the expectations of romance readers have changed over the time that you’ve been writing?
Have reader expectations changed?
Stephanie Laurens: Some yes and some no. I find there’s the same older readership that was always there. I don’t mean older in terms of age so much as the people who were heavily into romance in the 1990s. They’re still the same. Some of them might have been quite young in the 1990s.
They’re still around. That group is still coming through. But there is a newer group. I still get people who have only just started on my books. For some of them it may be the first romance they’ve ever read. A lot of them are, oh, this is what it’s all about. I never knew. You get that newness of people who are coming to them and what they’re getting out of it is not just the romance, but the adventure or the other thing that’s in there.
All my books have some other thing. There are very few books of mine that are solely about the relationship. I think there are two, and even the second one also has something else in it. There is usually some other major plotline running through it, and because of that my books are still spanning the reader expectations.
Jenny Wheeler: I did notice when I was looking through your back list that you’ve got a recent series called The Legend of Nimway Hall, and it’s been published with some other authors as well. It looked to me like you might be setting up one of those publishing houses where you mentor and encourage other authors. I wondered what that was about.
A collaborative project with friends
Stephanie Laurens: No, that’s not actually the case. What is the case is that I have had a very long friendship with, in particular, five other American romance authors and we’ve been running little retreats once a year, just the six of us. We get together and we take off for the coast of Oregon. That just happens to be the place we’ve all decided to come to because it’s easy for the others to get to and it’s not too hard for me either.
We spend a week and in that week we write and we do brainstorming in person, which is lovely. All through the day we write and we brainstorm at night. This idea was sparked at one of our retreats and the next year we worked on it a bit more and sorted it out. We decided that each of us will write in a different time period about the guardians of Nimway Hall.
It was like a collective brainwave that gave rise to this. It was literally us sitting around in a very comfortable lounge room with the Pacific Ocean crashing in the background, and we came up with this. It just evolved. Different ones of us put in different bits and then we each chose the time period and wrote in that. I ended up with the first, which was the Georgian, and it went on from there.
Jenny Wheeler: Each of you chose a period that you don’t normally write in. Was that how it happened?
Stephanie Laurens: No, because Suzanne Enoch was Regency, and Karen Hawkins was the next one after that, which was also later Regency. Victoria Alexander was quite a way later. Hers was 1880, but she had started writing in that period herself at that time. We all sort of spread out in the time period. I had written The Promise in a Kiss which was also Georgian and so I wrote in that time period because that wasn’t a time period the others were very familiar with. They also wanted me to start.
Nimway Hall a new intiative
Jenny Wheeler: So you indie published this. You did it as a collective.
Stephanie Laurens: Yes, between the six of us. We each published our own, but we put it under the banner. We haven’t finished that, I think. There might still be more to come on Nimway Hall. I don’t know yet. It’s not closed off.
Jenny Wheeler: That opportunity to get together obviously has been a little restrained by the pandemic.
Stephanie Laurens: Yes. Unfortunately, we’ve missed two years now but we hope this year we’ll be back. We usually gather in November so we’re hoping that this November we’ll be able to do it again.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s great. I wondered with your very intense scientific background – you were in cancer research as well – whether this last couple of years, observing from afar what’s been happening with the pandemic, you had any little pangs of, I’d love to be in that field still because there’s so much going on.
Stephanie Laurens: No, quite the opposite. I was very glad not to have been in that field. The pressures must have been significant. Having worked in pathology labs and in fact developed pathology tests myself, I take my hat off to the people who were running those labs. That must have been so challenging. It is useful because my husband is also in science so both of us can analyze all the data that comes out in possibly a more detailed way than most people, so that does feed into things.
Stephanie’s scientific strength to fore
Jenny Wheeler: And you have been doing that analyzing?
Stephanie Laurens: Oh yes, absolutely. In this latest wave, as always, I’ve got a graph going and I chart the relevant figures every day, just to convince myself that yes, all is going as it should, which it is. So that’s good.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s wonderful. Looking at your wider career, is there one thing you might have done that you would credit with being the secret of your success?
Stephanie Laurens: I would have to say learning to plot, which I did not do for the first I don’t know how many books, but after the second book for the Americans, which would have been book number 10 by that stage, I realized that there had to be an easier way. I can obviously write stories, but surely I can be more efficient because the idea of writing a lot of stuff and then going back over it and rewriting it again and then rewriting it again wasn’t a very efficient process at all.
Gradually, over the years, I trained myself using other people’s different plans, if you like. I gradually taught myself how to plot for me. That is one the things that allowed me to keep writing for so long and enjoying it still – that I’ve slimmed the whole process down. I’m a lot more in control and I don’t do a lot of stuff that is thrown out in the wider scheme of things.
Jenny Wheeler: Book number 10 sounds like it might be significant because you are quoted as saying that your advice to beginner writers was not to expect anything to happen until they got to book 6 and maybe even to book 10.
Stephanie Laurens: Yes, that’s right. You look back at people who have had a long career in writing, not people who were flashes in the pan, but people who have been steady writers for decades.
Keeping writing steadily for decades
You may have your first book published, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to really turn anything on. By the time you get to book 10, you have a lot better idea of what you’re doing.
That isn’t just my advice. It’s built on the advice of a lot of authors who have been around for a long time and had long careers, as distinct from those who were there for a short time.
I actually think – and I have seen this happen so often – that getting too much attention with a first or second or third book can be detrimental to having a longer career because the expectations are built too high, too early, when as an author you still don’t know what you’re doing.
It’s so hard to meet those expectations, not just that are put on by other people, but that the author has for themselves. They can become very disillusioned very quickly, and very dejected.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s fascinating. We are starting to come to the end of our time together. This podcast is The Joys of Binge Reading and we always like to ask our guests what they’re reading and if they are or have ever been a binge reader, and to make a few recommendations for our listeners as to what would be good genre fiction to read right now?
What Stephanie Laurens is reading now
Stephanie Laurens: I have just finished, or not finished but brought myself up to date with a series – the Sam Quinn series. That has been very interesting. I do like some of the, I won’t say they are quite young adult but they are towards that, and they have vampires and werewolves and all this sort of stuff. Not so much in a romance as an alternate universe type thing.
Devon Monk has an alternate universe in a town called Ordinary. I do tend to read a lot of alternate universe type stuff. Faith Hunter – I read her a lot and again, now I’m up to date with her. I also read a lot of historical mysteries, for instance, CS Harris with that excellent series. I read numerous others going back to medieval. It has always interested me. Mysteries – I suppose they’re more like crime type stuff, not just a general mystery. They’re more a seeking of justice.
Jenny Wheeler: A lot of your own books have an element of mystery, don’t they? They are romances with a mystery subplot, whereas the other ones are more mysteries with a romance subplot.
Stephanie Laurens: That’s it. Exactly.
Jenny Wheeler: Looking back down the tunnel of time, if there was one thing about your creative career that you’d change, what would it be? Is there anything? There might not be.
Stephanie Laurens: I’m not sure that there is anything I would change, no. It has all been very interesting and I’m very content with where it is now.
Jenny Wheeler: Are you still traditionally published?
Stephanie Laurens: No.
From trad to indie publishing
Jenny Wheeler: You’re self-published now.
Stephanie Laurens: That’s right. I left traditional publishing deliberately some years ago and I’ve been very happy with how things have rolled on. I much prefer to be in charge of my own life, thank you very much.
Jenny Wheeler: Things changed so much in the publishing field, didn’t they, around 2009-10, that it became very much more practical for people to do indie publishing?
Stephanie Laurens: Definitely. By 2012 I was saying, time for me to start to find a way onward. But I stayed. I was like a hybrid. I was self-publishing and also publishing through traditional publishers up until 2018, so quite a long while. Nowadays I’m wholly self-published.
Jenny Wheeler: You had the luxury of transitioning comfortably.
Stephanie Laurens: I did, and as I said, the transition went from 2012 to 2018, so it wasn’t all that fast.
Jenny Wheeler: What is next for Stephanie the author, looking ahead over the next 12 months?
Stephanie Laurens: I’ve got another book in the line which is in July. I’m dropping back to two releases a year now rather than the three I’ve been doing. That’s simply to balance life, as it were. The book I’m writing at the moment will be released in March next year, and that’s another Cynsters. I’ve got two more of that arm of the family to do.
What Stephanie is working on now
After that, I suspect I’ll be going back to the Barnaby Adair mystery series. There are a few more I want to do of them – maybe up to four. After that – and we are years ahead now but I’ve always been well known for having these very long-term aims – I think I’m going to go back, or go forward as it were, into the 1920s.
I’ve got an Adair spinoff from the Barnaby Adair mysteries, leaping ahead 60 years, or more than that, to the 1920s to one of his descendants and one of his great friends Stokes’ descendants.
They come together again in a similar sort of series but set then. It’s different because moving forward, you have to take into account things like cars and telephones and telegraphs. You have to change things a bit.
Jenny Wheeler: When I was thinking about talking to you, I wondered if you had a huge bible to keep track of all these characters. Do you record absolutely all of their details like birth and death, and track all the relationships?
Stephanie Laurens: I have all of that in each book as I go along. But what I don’t have is a spreadsheet. The Cynster trees are made up and they are very easily found. The thing that really throws me is when a reader has read one of my early books and asks me a question about a minor character.
A back list of more than 80 books
It takes me days to get my brain back into that book to figure out who the hell are they talking about and what were they doing? That is an issue. There is no way you can keep track of that many books worth of characters. It’s over 80 now.
Jenny Wheeler: I would imagine also that there might be a little bit of peril in choosing names because we’ve all got names that we particularly like. You suddenly think, oh, I had a Cyril in book three or something. I can’t use that one again.
Stephanie Laurens: Yes there is that. I’m pretty lucky with the main characters names, but I find – like in the book I’m writing now, I just realized that I’ve used the name Harold twice. I can’t do that, so I had to go back and change one to Henry, which for once I have not used in this book.
The truth is that, in different time periods, like between the Regency and the Victorian era, they did have a habit of using, particularly for men, a very small number of first names, so you sometimes are reaching a bit to find unusual male names.
Jenny Wheeler: Especially when the first heir was named after the father.
Stephanie Laurens: Exactly. Or an uncle or something like that, and both of them in the same book.
Where to find Stephanie online
Jenny Wheeler: I’m sure you love to interact with your readers. Where can they find you online?
Stephanie Laurens: I don’t do a lot of direct online. Of course my Facebook page, and on the website we send out a newsletter whenever there’s any approaching release, so people know about it. Other than that, I don’t do a lot of direct stuff because that would eat into my writing time.
Long ago I realized that what readers really want is the next book and for me, concentrating on writing the next book is more important than talking to a few individual readers. When you’ve got a very big audience, if you’re talking on those social media platforms, then you’re not talking to your wider readership. Your wider readership is through the books.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s great. Stephanie, it’s been wonderful talking. Thank you so much, and we will have the links to your books and website in the show notes for this episode, which will be there online for evermore, so they will be able to find you very easily.
Stephanie Laurens: Thank you.
What you might like to read next
If you enjoyed hearing about Stephanie’s historical romance you might also enjoy Grace Burrowes Best Selling Regency romance. Grace was first heard in Episode #43.
Next week on Binge Reading
Next week on Binge Reading we have Lynn Hightower, a New York Times bestselling author whose latest thriller, The Enlightenment Project, has been recommended by none other than author Lee Child of the Jack Reacher series fame. He’s called it a spooky suspenseful masterpiece that’s super recommended. That’s next week on The Joys of Binge Reading.
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