When the winner of this year's Rita for the best Romantic Suspense novel
was announced, there was a gasp of surprise and then loud and
enthusiastic applause. Gayle Wilson had won the award for her Harlequin
Intrigue, The Bride's Protector. Considering the competition in
this category, Wilson's victory is a tribute to her ability to create
compelling and suspenseful stories, something she does with amazing
frequency. She also writes powerful historical novels for Harlequin
Historicals. Even before she won her Rita, Gayle had agreed to do an
interview with TRR about her career as one of Harlequin's most popular
authors. With Rita in hand, Gayle tells us about how she started writing
romance and why she likes writing for Harlequin.
TRR: You were nominated for Ritas in two categories, "Short Historical"
and "Contemporary Suspense." How did you feel when your name was
announced as the winner of the latter category?
I can promise you I was the most surprised person in the room--and frankly,
I think there were a lot of surprised people in that room! [G]
Being nominated in two such diverse categories was a tremendous honor and
enormously gratifying. Because my historical was in the ballpark
lengthwise with the other finalists in "Short Historical," that was the
only category I felt I might even have a slim shot in. When Judith Ivory
won--and her writing just blows me away, by the way--I settled back in my
chair, knowing I could relax and enjoy the rest of the evening. After
all, my Intrigue was up against two hardbacks and two books by Nora
Roberts. And the only other Intrigue to ever win the RITA in romantic
suspense had been written by the glorious Anne Stuart. I knew I certainly
wasn't in their league, so it was a total and complete surprise when they
called my name. A very pleasant one, I should add.
TRR: You are rather unusual amongst romance authors in that you write
both historicals and contemporaries (and do both exceedingly well, in my
opinion). Can you tell our readers why you have chosen to do this?
Thanks for the lovely compliment! Actually, I have always read both, so
it just seemed natural when I started writing to try my hand at both.
Now, I think switching back and forth keep me fresh. After I've done a
couple of contemporary romantic suspenses, I can't wait to get back to the
Regency period. It's as if I'm entering a totally different world, and I
suppose I am. My Harlequin Historicals editor, Tracy Farrell, has
recently become my Intrigue editor as well. She told me the other day
that she's reading my Intrigue backlist. She said that she thought she
knew my writing and my voice from editing my historicals, but in the
Intrigues both are totally different. I think they are. That switching
worlds/switching voices is what keeps me interested and enthused about
each new project. I truly love writing both sub genres, and I hope I can
continue to do both.
TRR: Do you have a secret preference between the two kinds of romance
Usually the other one--the one I'm NOT struggling with at the time!
TRR: You write exclusively for Harlequin in their Intrigues and
Historicals lines. I imagine that many of our readers, like me, wonder
if you have ever thought of moving into single titles with their longer
shelf life and (let's admit it) greater prestige. Can you tell us the
reasons you like writing for Harlequin?
I have thought about moving into single title, but when I do, I want to do
it right and at the right time. Because of the huge print runs, category
is a great place to build a readership, which, if a writer is very lucky,
will follow to single title romance or even to mainstream. If you look at
the names consistently on the Times list--Linda Howard, Nora Roberts, Iris
Johansen, Tami Hoag, Sandra Brown, Kay Hooper, Barbara Delinsky, Tess
Gerritsen and many, many others--they all started in series romance, either
for Harlequin/Silhouette or Loveswept. They built their names and their
readership there, and I think each of them would say they also learned a
lot about pacing and characterization in category, lessons which they have
carried over into their current stuff. I personally think those lessons
are part of the reason they are so successful.
As for why I like writing for Harlequin-the editorial staff is truly
wonderful, the print runs are huge, and the money is very good, especially
if you are prolific. Also, they let me switch back and forth in the two
areas I love, and they have even let me push that infamous envelope many
believe restricts what one can write in category. They haven't shied
away from the controversial elements I included in books like My
Lady's Dare or Only a Whisper or even from those in The
Bride's Protector (the
RITA winner), which has a CIA assassin as the hero and an aging model as
TRR: Are there any disadvantages to staying with Harlequin, any
limitations it might impose on the stories you can tell?
There are limitations, of course. Length and language are the two that
spring immediately to mind. And there are limits on how much or how
graphic the violence that may be included in an Intrigue.
They've allowed me to kill off quite a few people, however, in a wide
variety of fairly gruesome ways.
Length will, I think, be the restriction that eventually drives me to
single title, simply because, as I heard Linda Howard once say, "I have
bigger stories to tell." Having said that, I should add that I'm very
happy doing what I'm doing. Harlequin has been enormously supportive of
me, and I'm very grateful for the opportunities they have given me.
I do hunger for the greater respect that seems to be given automatically
to any book printed as a single title. There are some readers who have
never read category romance, but who assume that if a book says Harlequin,
the writing must be of lesser quality. There are wonderful books and
highly talented writers in the Harlequin/Silhouette fold. I suppose I
just wish people wouldn't make the assumption that if it's a series
romance, then it's not as well done. I think that's one reason winning
the RITA in romantic suspense this year was so gratifying. I can't tell
you how many Harlequin/Silhouette writers told me that my win in that
particular category was gratifying for them as well.
TRR: You are obviously a very productive writer, since you publish
about four books a year, on average. Can you describe your work
routine? Where do you get your ideas for your plots?
I'm a workaholic. I write full time, and I write every day. I do a
certain number of new pages each and every day, and I always polish, edit,
and revise the previous three or four chapters before I begin to add new
material. That process gets me back into the flow of the story and helps
with continuity, I think.
As for ideas--I think most of us who write have more ideas than we have
time to get them down. I used to worry about running out of ideas, but
now it seems that everywhere I look, there is the germ of a story staring
me in the face. Most of my romantic suspense plots come from the news.
Something in a current event will trigger a creative chain reaction that
will eventually lead to a story premise.
I did a trilogy set on the
Texas/Mexican border which was sparked when I read a newspaper article
about an 80-year-old woman who was guarding her Texas ranch against drug
runners. There was a picture of her patrolling her ranch with a rifle,
physically protecting her property. Since I had lived on the border for
three years, that article had a strong emotional impact on me. I
developed a series about a border family who must fight the increasing
violence drugs have caused in that area. And by the way, people will tell
you with a perfectly straight face that you just can't write about
something like drug running in category romance.
TRR: Why did you decide to write romance? Can you describe your path
I was always a compulsive reader. I had been introduced to the works of
Georgette Heyer by one of my supervisors when I was a dorm counselor in
grad school. She was a Wellesley graduate, by the way. I think at the
time I felt that if she could read Heyer, it must be acceptable for me to
As an English major and then later as a high school English teacher, I
certainly read the classics. I taught the English Romantics during the
day and went home and read Nora Roberts' and Linda Howard's Silhouettes at
night. I was a closet romance reader.
Finally, after many years as a reader, I decided to write my own romance.
My favorite authors just weren't writing as fast as I could read! I sat
down and wrote what I thought was a Regency, and then I had no idea what
to do with it. I wasn't a member of RWA. I didn't even know it existed.
So I went to the library and checked The Writers' Market for publisher
addresses and mailed my 75,000 word Regency off to Walker, who at that
time was the publisher of Sheila Simonson, one of my favorite Regency
writers. They rejected it because it was 20,000 words too long for what
I went back to the library, discovered that Fawcett
published Regencies of about that length and sent it to them. They also
rejected it, telling me it wasn't really a Regency, but a Regency-set
historical. Back to the library, where I discovered that no one (this was
in 1992) was accepting 75,000 word historical submissions. The publisher
who took manuscripts nearest that length was Harlequin Historicals, who
published books from 95,000-105,000 words. I blithely added 20,000 words
to the end of my book and sent it off.
Harlequin asked for revisions, I made them, and they bought the book. No
one mentioned that add on! The book was my first RITA finalist and will
be reprinted in April of 2001. If you read it, you can tell exactly where
I expanded the story. It must have worked, but of course, I can't
imagine doing that now. I guess ignorance really is bliss!
TRR: How do you envision the romance genre developing and changing in
I'm not sure I'm much of a prophet, but I know Harlequin is making a push
to attract new and younger readers to romance because their reader base is
aging. They're looking for books that will appeal to the kind of women
portrayed in HBO's Sex and the City. And erotica seems to be hot--pun
intended, and yes, it's a bad one--as does romantic comedy. Personally, I'm
hoping the romantic suspense is going to be alive and well for a long
time to come. Other than that, I don't really have a crystal ball,
except to predict that there will always be readers like me, who want the
positive elements we've come to depend on from romance. As I told
someone the other day the "world" I create in my books belongs to me. In
that world justice will prevail-as will the promise of happily ever after.
TRR: Can you tell us what Gayle Wilson books we can expect in the near
To end this year, I have the third of the More MEN of Mystery trilogy I'm
doing for Intrigue. This one is Midnight Remembered, and it's
mid-November. It has a wonderful cover--even better than Renegade
you can believe that--and a hero who is, I believe, my favorite among the
mystery men of the CIA's External Security Team, the guys I've been
writing about for the last two years.
And in 2001--so many exciting things are happening for me! My first two
reprints ever will be out. The Heart's Desire (the book I told
will be re-released in April in a volume with a short story by Heather
Graham. Then in July my fourth historical, Raven's Vow, will be reprinted
in the Timeless Love collection along with a Kasey Micheals' reprint.
As for new books, in March of 2001 the second in The Sinclair Brides
trilogy I'm doing for Harlequin Historicals will be out. This is
Anne's Perfect Husband, which is Ian's story. (Dare and
Elizabeth play a big
role for My Lady's Dare's fans!) In October I'll have a brand
suspense novel, Secrets in Silence, out in a Harlequin single title
release along with a reprint of Barbara Delinsky's Bronze
November, the wonderful and fabulously talented Anne Stuart and I are
cooking up a two-in-one Intrigue to be called--we think-- Night and Day.
(You can probably guess who's doing night and who's doing day.) And
finally, The Cowboy's Secret Son, Book #5 of the Trueblood Texas
continuity series, will hit the shelves just in time for Christmas gift
TRR: Will you share something about your personal life with us?
I'm an ex-high school English and history teacher. I live in the same
small, unincorporated Alabama community where I grew up, within a half
mile of my mom's house. I've been married for 31 years to a man I met on
a blind date! Neither of us was particularly enamored of the other when
we met, but we dated for about six weeks, until he went off to Vietnam to
be a helicopter gunship pilot.
I had promised to write to him--I think I thought of it as my patriotic
duty--and we exchanged letters for the entire year of his tour. He
proposed in a letter and I accepted in another. Three weeks after his
return from Nam, we got married. When I got into the car with him after
the wedding reception, I remember thinking, "What in the world am I doing
in this car with this strange man?" Thirty-one years later we're still
together--and I still occasionally think he's strange, but he is, and
always will be, my hero.
We have one son, who is also a history teacher and who has his own house
now. (The attractions of an empty nest have been much underrated.) We
live with a very stubborn English shepherd and six cats. A friend once
told me that owning more than five cats qualifies you for the dreaded sobriquet "cat woman." Yikes, I think I qualify!
October 15, 2000