The Bride's Protector

Each Precious Hour

Heart of the Night

Her Baby, His Secret

Her Private Bodyguard

His Secret Duchess

Honor's Bride

Lady Sarah's Son

My Lady's Dare

The Stranger She Knew

  The Interviews
Meet Author
Gayle Wilson
by Jean Mason
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 you write?

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 the heroine.

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 to publication?

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 well.

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 they published.

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 the future?

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 future?

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 out in mid-November. It has a wonderful cover--even better than Renegade Heart if 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 you about) 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 new romantic suspense novel, Secrets in Silence, out in a Harlequin single title release along with a reprint of Barbara Delinsky's Bronze Mystique. For 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 giving.

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

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