The Interviews
Catching Up With...
Roberta Gellis
by Jean Mason
Three years ago, TRR interviewed Roberta Gellis, one of the founding mothers of the romance genre. Her medieval and late 18th/early 19th century novels were models of great plotting, wonderful characterization, luscious love scenes, all set against a rich historical backdrop. She had also written three unique romances which used Greek myths and created a wonderful fantasy world of mages and magic.

However, when we talked to Roberta, she was without a publisher although, like all born storytellers, she was still writing. Since then, her career has taken a new direction. She has published an excellent historical mystery and her fourth “Greek myth” book, Bull God has just been released by Baen, the leading publisher of fantasy fiction. And she has a science fiction book, another mystery and another fantasy in the pipeline.

We thought that Roberta’s many fans would like to catch up with her and discover what she thinks about the way her career is going.

TRR: Your many fans are delighted to see that you are publishing new books again, even if you are now writing for mystery and fantasy publishers. Can you tell us how writing in these genres is different from writing romance?

Mostly the difference is in emphasis. In a romance, the emphasis is on the emotional attachment of the protagonists. They think a great deal about each other and about how the other feels about them. Sexual tension is a major factor.

In a mystery plot is most important. This is not to minimize character development, which is just as important in a mystery (at least in mine) as in a romance. However, in mystery the protagonists think mostly about the problem they must solve and only about each other as a part of that problem. Sexual tension is a useful plot and character development device, but it is secondary to the solution of the mystery. The same is true for fantasy. In this genre, too, there is a problem to be solved. In BULL GOD it is the effect and the fate of the bull-headed child on the protagonists, Ariadne and Dionysus. They must deal with the Minotaur before they can settle into their lives with each other.

Frankly, I find these genres more reasonable to write in. As you know my historical romances were very historical. Even in the romances, everyday life and political problems were as important or more important than s/he loves me, s/he loves me not. I never considered it reasonable to be worried about romance when the world was falling apart around one's ears. When the emphasis in historical romance shifted totally to the romance and virtually excluded historical events, I found it rather a relief to move to other genres.

TRR: It seemed to me that A Mortal Bane, your medieval mystery, could well be the first in a series. Are there any plans for a sequel with Magdalene and Sir Bellamy solving more murder mysteries? And the incurable romantic in me asks, any chance for a romance between the two?

The answer is yes to both questions. In fact, the second book of the series, entitled A Personal Devil is complete and will be published (I hope--publication dates are never cast in concrete) in January 2001. In A Personal Devil, the blind whore, Sabina, takes the offer of the horribly birthmarked Master Mainard and goes to live with him as his mistress. His very unpleasant wife is murdered a few weeks later, and Sabina, fearing that Mainard, whom she truly loves, will be accused, begs Magdalene to find out who actually killed the woman. Magdalene naturally involves Bell, who finally does get invited to her bed--but on her terms; he doesn't have to pay her, but she makes no pledges to be his woman exclusively. There will even be a third in the series, which will be called Bone of Contention, but that isn't written yet.

TRR: Bull God is your forth novel based on ancient Greek myths. Are there any plans to reprint the first three, which I felt were gloriously romantic?

About reprinting all I can do is sigh. Baen, the publisher of Bull God wanted to buy the three previous books and publish them as straight fantasies; however, Kensington will not give me back the rights. The books never sold as romances; apparently romance readers don't like the ancient Greek setting. I hoped since the books were worthless to them that Kensington would give me back the rights, but they won't.

TRR: How did it happen that you decided to write these novels about the Greek myths?

That goes back to my early youth. My mother was a Greek and Latin major in college and she read most of the myths in the original form, some as Greek plays and some in other formats. In any case, when I was a little girl and wanted a "story," my mother told me the myths instead of the fairy tales. (I got to read those when I was older and could read the Red, Green, Blue etc. Fairy Books.) Needless to say the version I got from Mama was rather different than the diluted stuff that Victorian scholars thought suitable for the public. For example, Persephone was a terrible and awe-full goddess to the Greeks. They feared her so much that she was worshipped under pseudonyms. In Greek art, when Hades and Persephone are depicted, it is always Persephone that is in the foreground. When I read that myth about the abduction of Persephone and she is depicted as a little girl wanting her mommy, I was horrified.

That started me off and Kensington offered a three-book contract, so I did the other two, partly because I couldn't bear to have Eros depicted as a chubby baby with a little toy bow (he was one of the oldest of the gods and--as god of lust--pretty powerful). I did Enchanted Fire because I had always been frustrated by the Orpheus and Eurydice myth. I wanted an explanation of why Orpheus was willing to follow Eurydice into the Underworld--so I made one up. I never did find any explanation in my research sources beyond the fact that Eurydice was an eastern witch.

TRR: I notice that you have an ebook coming out in August. The title Overstars Mail: Imperial Challenge - sounds like it’s a sci fi book. Can you tell us something about it? Does it have a romantic element?

Overstars Mail: Imperial Challenge is very soft science fiction. That means that I disregard science completely, ignoring time dilation and things like that. In other words the characters can travel from star to star at faster than light speeds and not find everyone dead and hundreds of years passed when they return. The book is a humorous (I hope) space-opera-type story in which Cyn Lystris, an interstellar mail man, is most unwillingly caught up in imperial politics. Cyn doesn't care who runs the Empire, but when the opposition tries to steal his ship, he fights back. There is a romance, but it isn't as strong a theme as in most of my books. Still, Cyn does end up with a lady friend and the pairing might be permanent.

TRR: Can you tell our readers what you are working on now and what we can look for in the future?

I am currently writing another mythological fantasy called Thrice Bound about the goddess Hekate. She is the most mysterious of the Greek goddesses (actually she seems to have and eastern or Thracian origin) and, although there are no myths about her at all, her characteristics are extremely contradictory. For example, she is connected with black magic but also with fertility and the care of children. The myths of other gods in which she is mentioned imply that they were a bit afraid of her. There is a rather strange love story. Hekate is most often accompanied by a black dog named Kabeiros, but there is also a god called Kabeiros (or a group of them called the Kabeiri). In my story, Kabeiros has been condemned to remain in the form of the black dog and Hekate must find a way to release Kabeiros him from that curse before any romance can blossom between them. That book should be completed by the end of September and probably will be published some time in 2001.

My next project will be the third mystery with Magdalene and Bell that I mentioned in my answer to question 1. I hope to complete Bone of Contention by May of 2001, so it should be published in 2002. After that I will begin a new mystery series with Lucrezia Borgia (who turns out according to modern research to have been a gentle, intelligent woman who was used as an unwilling pawn by her corrupt father and mad brother; Lucrezia never poisoned anyone) as the detective. In this first book, there is a poisoning in the court of Ferrarra soon after she is married to Alfonso, the duke's eldest son and heir. To save herself from the nasty rumors that hurt her so much in Rome, Lucrezia with the help of her two ladies and her husband's younger brothers, solves the crime and exposes the true criminal.

TRR: Any chance that you will write another straight historical romance?

I would love to. I have one written (Red William’s Witch), but it's full of history and very long, and no publisher seems to want it. I could cut it a bit, I guess, but I don't want to take out the historical stuff and, besides, my plate is rather full just now.

TRR: Anything else our readers should know?

Just if you want to remind people that I've moved to Indiana and give them my new address:
Roberta Gellis
P.O. Box 67
Lafayette, IN 47902

June 11, 2000

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