The Interviews
Meet Author Jennifer Greene
by Linda Mowery
Jennifer Greene, Jeanne Grant and Jessica Massey are pseudonyms of Alison Hart, the award-winning category author of over fifty books. As one of her long-time readers, Iíve been enthralled with her strong heroines, her to-die-for heroes and her plots which take everyday people coping with the problems and trials of today, struggling to make the best life they can. Her longevity and awards highlight something that most readers have always known: Alison Hart is one talented, terrific writer.

Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself...your education, your family, your hobbies.

A: I'm 49, blond, blue eyed, l00 pounds (as long as I'm carrying a substantial purse)...I was raised in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, graduated from MSU in l970 with an English and Psychology degree. Two kids, married 28 years. Hobbies: reading, history, travel, pets. (Our Newfoundlands have been characters in a couple books.)

Q: Are you a full-time writer? If so, what's an average day like?

A: Average day: Yes, I've been writing full time for almost 20 years now. I'm usually up at 5--my best creative time is morning--and I work 7 days a week when I'm 'on' a book. (Although that's not a schedule I'd recommend for anyone else--I just have had a hard time letting go a story once I've started.)

Q: Your characters are frequently wounded, yet you never allow them to become victims. What do you expect of your characters?

A: One of the main reasons I write is to support women, and I've always seen romance as an unbeatable medium to do that. When I create a conflict, I'm seeking the kinds of contemporary problems that 'wound' women today. What I want my heroines to do is go through a growth process--the story starts with a seemingly unsolvable problem, something standing in the way of her going forward with her life. But a lack of esteem is often what's blocking her more than the problem itself--women don't grow up believing they have a right to stand up for what they need in their lives. In a romance, both the hero and the problem serve to force the heroine to confront those esteem issues--e.g. she has to do whatever she's afraid of--and in the process she 'wins' the confidence she needs in her life. She also gets love and the guy [g]--but what makes me believe in her happy ending is her gain in faith/confidence in herself.

Q: Who has influenced your writing? Are there other authors whose work you particularly admire?

A: I read voraciously, and my keeper shelves literally have dozens of authors there. There is no one kind of author I like, or only one type of book I've learned from. In romance, I've followed Emilie Richards, Nora Roberts, Sandra Canfield, Barbara Keiler, Anne Stuart from the start...outside the genre, wouldn't miss books from Pat Conroy, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Crichton, Thomas Harris, the Kellermans. I wouldn't miss a Jennifer Crusie, ditto for many wonderful fantastic newer voices in the field.

Q: You do a wonderful job of balancing humor with pathos. Which is harder to write?

A: I can't imagine writing a book without some humor in it. This isn't a choice, whether humor is hard to write or not. :( I doubt I could trust (or like) someone who couldn't laugh at themselves--and that certainly applies to characters. I honestly think of humor as a survival skill. Every situation certainly doesn't call for laughter, but in the toughest/most traumatic times, I believe the need to touch base with the things that give you joy is something that sustains us.

Q: You've been writing romances for a long time, under different publishers. How has your writing changed? Is it as easy to write today as it was in the beginning? Harder?

A: I love writing and can't imagine doing anything else; that hasn't changed. But I think most long term authors come to some stop points. In the beginning, discovering writing is so euphoric that it tends to overshadow everything else and becomes 'who you are'. Later it becomes 'what you do.' This isn't as much fun as that first-stage euphoria, but it's sure more sane. [g]

Q: Do you have a favorite author? Favorite book?

A: No, I love too many authors for different reasons. But if I had to pin down one book that specifically inspired me to try writing, it was Mrs. Mike.

Q: Your characters have had interesting careers. Do you research the occupations? Which one was the most challenging?

A: Yes, I research the occupations--and love that part of writing. One of my research methods is to subscribe to a magazine for a year--like R.N. or Firefighter--if I'm going to use characters in those jobs. That doesn't give me a complete picture, but it does help me get into the 'mind set' for a particular career. (I also tend to choose some careers and re-use them--like teachers--because I think they're unsung heroes & I just want to put them in a heroic role.) I can't think of a career that was particularly hard to write--I worry about getting this accurate if I don't personally know the job well. But I love the researching part, so I can't say this is a hard aspect of writing for me.

Q: You have chosen themes that don't often appear in romances, yet you carry them off with such aplomb. What made you choose such difficult themes--homosexuality in Sweets to the Sweet, male virginity in Ainít Misbehaviní, sterility in Tender Loving Care, alcoholism in Broken Blossom, community ostracism in It Had to Be You.

A: The toughest theme I took on was in Heat Wave--the whole plot revolved around a heroine's yeast infection, which is not exactly the most romantic subject in town. [g] But I never choose that story (or any other) because it was 'difficult'...that particular one came from research; most women by the stats are going to suffer painful intercourse sometime during their lives--so it was never just to give my editor a stroke that I took this on. :) I think of romance as womens' books...a medium where we can be honest with each other, particularly on some touchy, difficult subjects.

I'm sure critics would have a field day with that comment--obviously many romances have a fantasy base, and for sure we work more with 'the ideal' than 'hard-core realism.' But beneath the covers, romances have always represented the most serious of values. I don't believe readers always want a 'heavy' theme, but when I've tackled more taboo topics like alcoholism or impotence, it's from believing we shouldn't have to hide real life problems in a closet...romances are a way to offer support to each other and ideas about coping.

Q: Youíve got an impressive body of work about people with low self-esteem: Dear Reader, Secrets, Devilís Night, Night of the Hunter, Pink Satin, No More Mr. Nice Guy, Canít Say No. What is it about the person with the faulty mirror that appeals to you?

A: Well, have you ever met a woman who was happy with her looks? I don't think all women suffer from low self esteem to a crippling extent--but I do think we're all bombarded with messages about being 'faulty'. Every ad we see from childhood echoes the same messages--you're not okay as you are; you need your hair colored, your face made up, your weight changed, different clothes (etc. etc.)--or no one will ever love you. We also tend to grow up believing lightning will strike if we're selfish--e.g. if we dare admit we have needs in our lives beyond taking care of others. I believe in love or I wouldn't write love stories. But I also believe the answer is never 'the right man', but in taking care of personal business: that is: fulfillment comes from the inside--no one can give it to you--and when we deal with those self esteem issues, we're on the right road, not just to love but to expanding our lives and our potential in all ways.

Q: Do you have a favorite book you've written? Favorite characters? Any story you'd go back and make major revisions on?

A: There's no book I've ever sent off that I didn't want to immediately snatch back from the jaws of the mail box and write all over again. [g] I own some of the prize real estate on Doubters Street, and neither awards nor years of experience has ever changed that. But for a favorite book, I think maybe Broken Blossom. The heroine was an alcoholic, and partly she appealed to me because I think people who recover from addictions are heroic..but actually the message I was trying to do in this book was never about addiction. Good people sometimes do bad things. I don't think you should be crucified for a mistake, but judged for what you do about a mistake. I've never believed in a hero or heroine who's never been tested.

Q: I know you've won various awards. Any one more meaningful/a surprise?

A: Every award was a huge surprise. [g] But the first Rita was a wonderful memory for me. I was so positive I wouldn't win that I'd kicked my shoes off under the table & almost took for the stage in my stocking feet.

Q: Any advice youíd give to aspiring writers?

A: Write what you love. This is not Pollyanna corny advice; I swear it's the most practical, realistic advice there is. Writing's hard, lonely work. The one thing that makes it always worthwhile is what it gives back to you creatively and emotionally. If you try to write something you don't love, you lose that.

Q: Do people who know you as Alison Hart know that you're an award-winning author? How does it feel to see your work on bookshelves?

A: Most of my neighbors know I write, but I keep a low profile on the award-winning history. Fame isn't my thing. On the other hand...seeing a stranger pick up one of my books in a bookstore is one of the biggest thrills there is!

Q: What's next?

A: Right now, I just started a trilogy for Silhouette. After that, I can't guess. I truly love the category field--the books, the writer/reader relationship, the helping-other-women thing that is inherent in this field for me. But the Creative Muse is a capricious monster. :( I can't guess what ideas will come up down the line--except that I can't imagine writing any book that wasn't a love story.

If youíve never read one of Alison Hartís books written as Jennifer Greene, Jeanne Grant or that one Jessica Massey, youíve got weeks of wonderful reading ahead of you. Once you start, weíll be able to recognize you. Youíll be the one with the big, satisfied grin on your face. --L.M

June 21, 1998

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