I first "met" Shana Abe' when she visited a romance board we were all posting on at the time, before RBL Romantica had been established. She had just had her first book published, and she came online and talked a little about herself and the book. She gave us a link to her Web site, and I checked it out. The site was so funny and interesting that I just had to find her book - and I'm so glad I did, because I discovered an author who writes wonderful, sensual historicals. I'm really pleased to be able to present her to the RBLs ...
Judy: We always like to learn a little about our authors. Would you tell us about yourself - your background and your family, where you live, any special pets (*s*), etc.? What do you do when you're not writing - do you have any special hobbies?
Shana: Wow, where to begin? I've always been a bit of a nomad, and so I'm one of those people who can never really give a clear answer, for example, when anyone asks me where I'm from. My family's from Texas, where I was born. I grew up in Colorado, but lived for a short while in Mexico (as an exchange student) and a much longer while in Japan (as a model). I love seeing the world! I went to college in L.A., where I now live with my husband and six assorted pet house rabbits. *s* And they take great delight in ruling my life - the rabbits, not the husband.
(I'm not a breeder; people tend to ask me that. I'm the opposite of a breeder: all my bunnies have been rescued from bad situations - snake shops, abusive people, laboratories, abandonment. And they're *all* spayed or neutered, because rescuing rabbits has taught me, quite vividly, that there are far too many unwanted animals in our world who suffer miserable lives through no fault of their own. There. Now I'll get off my soapbox!)
What do I do when I'm not writing? Usually feel vaguely guilty about not writing, LOL. I read a lot; sometimes, if I'm feeling quite ambitious, I paint. I use watercolors because I'm too lazy to work with oils. *g* And I try at least once a week to drag my hubby along with me on hikes in the San Gabriels, just behind our house.
Oh, and of course, I play with the bunnies. Usually that involves either me following them around to corral them, or them following me around for treats. Rabbits can beg for treats quite shamelessly, and it's very effective because they're so cute. One of them is so good at it that she's actually on a diet now; she's mastered the pitifully woeful "but-WHY-can't-I-have-one-little-carrot-don't-you-love-me-anymore?" look. She sits up on her hind legs to deliver it, with her little front paws crossed over her belly and her ears pinned back. Imagine a sad-eyed Disney bunny - but much rounder. *s*
Judy: How and why did you get started writing? Why did you select the romance genre? How long did it take for someone to sit up and take notice? What was it like to sell your first book, A ROSE IN WINTER?
Shana: I've always been a writer. I'm sure you know what I mean by that - even as a child, I wrote. Stories, plays, poems. Whatever. When I was a model I began to take my writing a bit more seriously; modeling has a lot of down time while shots are set up. I'd haul this ratty notebook around with me to auditions and jobs, and when I was seventeen, over the course of one long, hot summer in Japan, I managed to write The Silliest Romance Novel Ever. (Okay, I *was* seventeen!) But it was an entire novel, for better or worse, and I was hooked.
I chose romance because that's what I've always enjoyed reading most. I crave that happy ending. It sounds simple, but sometimes the simple truths are the most powerful.
So, that first book was filed away, never again to be graced by the light of day. Eventually I wrote another one, a contemporary like the first. It was slightly better. In fact, it took third place in a genuine writing contest. I got a little onyx plaque! It had my name on it! (I still have that plaque, btw, proudly displayed as a paperweight in my office.) I was greatly encouraged. At that point I'd never heard of RWA, or RT, or writing groups, or any of that wonderful stuff; I was just merrily doing my own thing. But then I started to get comments from agents like: "Nice voice - but what line are you writing for?"
Me: "Um ... 'line'?"
Because I knew nothing, not one little thing, about the market. I was just writing, which sounds blissful and lovely but really isn't all that practical. When I started to do the research I should have done ages ago, I discovered there were *rules* to writing romance. Rules! I admit right here and now that rules tend to set my teeth on edge. The more I researched, the more rules I found, and finally there came the wild and tremendous moment when I decided I'd ditch what I'd been doing and switch to historicals, because I couldn't find any rules for writing them.
Because, frankly, I didn't look that hard. LOL.
Lucky for me, historicals hit the spot. I decided, rather grandly, that I would write the story of my husband and me, since (I was a newlywed at that point, which is really almost as bad as being seventeen) it was just so bittersweet and poignant and wonderful and what could make a better romance? I made him a knight; I made myself a damsel in distress (more or less), and that became my first published book, A ROSE IN WINTER. God bless you, Bantam Books.
As for what it was like to sell ARIW, I can only tell you that the day I got the call from my agent, it took the greatest force of will I had not to dance into my fluorescent-lit, cubicle-bound, soul-sucking day job office and holler: "See ya!"
And I only didn't because I knew I wouldn't see a check for a long, long, time, LOL.
Seriously, there are no words for that first sale. It's just one the best feelings in the world.
Judy: How do you approach writing? Is it a nine-to-five job for you? Where does the inspiration for your stories come from? Do you plan the characters and basic plots in advance, or do they just sort of develop as you go along?
Shana: Perhaps you might have noticed from my previous answers that I'm a bit of a rebel. *g* I hate outlines. I hate being confined in word or thought. I'm not very fond of deadlines either, but I know that publishers are rather attached to them and sometimes ya gotta do what ya gotta do. So ... although I'm sure I *should* set scheduled hours for my writing, and that my life would probably be a great deal more pleasant and efficient than it is now if I did - I don't. Now that you mention it, I'm feeling vaguely guilty about that, too.
I *do* write every day, though. I try to. When you work at home, sometimes it's a little too easy to slip into housekeeping mode rather than face that difficult scene that's been giving you fits, or the character who just won't behave. Okay, honestly, I'm far more likely to go play with my pets rather than clean the house, LOL, but it's the same issue. Discipline is a necessity. No one else is going to write that book for you.
And I'm absolutely one of those writers who just lets the story flow, rather than plotting it all out in advance. Usually I'm as surprised as anyone when this actually works.
Judy: I love the medieval settings of your books. What makes this time period so appealing to you? Where and how do you do your research?
Shana: Thanks, I love the medieval setting too, although I should confess straight off that my upcoming release isn't a medieval. It actually takes place in three different time periods - but more on that later. *g*
I think I enjoy the medieval genre because there is a great sense of dichotomy about it. It inspires thoughts of grandeur, of courtly grace and manners and chivalrous knights - but at the same time there's a gritty, raw aspect to the period that just cannot be denied. I don't think that anyone today imagines it was an easy time to live in, but we're still fascinated by it. Women had to be strong but were expected to act weak; men were fallible but were expected to remain invincible. Simple mistakes - underestimating an enemy, the weather, your food - could get you and/or your entire family killed.
I love discovering extraordinary characters and putting them in that time frame. I love nurturing the true love between a man and a woman while they're surrounded by all that gilt and glamour and peril. I think it's sexy. And romantic.
As for research, yes, I do have a big fat shelf of Very Important Books to help me with some of the finer aspects of period living. I think it's crucial to remain true to the backbone of the era - the plot, the details, must remain believable - but at the same time, I'm not writing non-fiction. Actual medieval life was dirty and smelly and blood-soaked. I'm writing a love story. To me, that should always be the focus.
Judy: Where do you draw your characters from? Do you draw them - especially your heroes - from real life? In your estimation, what qualities make up the perfect hero in a romance book - and what qualities make up the perfect heroine? From all of your books, who are your favorite hero and heroine - and why did you choose them?
Shana: I suppose my characters are all a part of me, different aspects of me. I was a drama major in college, and the empathic skills of acting always came naturally to me. When you act the character, if you're good enough or just lucky, you *become* the character, at least for a while. Otherwise, there's no emotional honesty in the moment, and the audience -and, by extension, the readers - can sense that. So I guess it was just a matter of shifting my perspective from acting a character (using someone else's words) to conceiving a character (using my own words). And to be honest, situations come to me before characters do:
"She's a teenaged noblewoman who gets to wed the knight of her dreams; he turns out to break her heart and then dies in combat. What does she do? She changes her identity so she never has to marry or love again. And then - surprise! - eight years later he shows back up. And she's really, really pissed off about it."
(That was THE SECRET SWAN, btw.)
From there, their personalities always take over. It's really like *they* tell *me* who they are, what's going on, instead of me dictating to them. *g*
A perfect hero is an imperfect man who isn't afraid to admit his flaws and work to better them. He can be emotionally dark yet still honorable, a man of strength in both body and mind, and despite his personal power and will - which are considerable - he falls utterly, completely in love with the heroine.
She's pretty much the same, except as the woman, it's a more delicate balance, especially in medieval times. She's intelligent and resourceful, capable of holding her own against any man, but for some reason *this* man, this hero, touches her in a way none other has or could. Her love for him (usually in my stories he falls in love with her first - I guess I like him to chase her a little!), once given, is absolute.
In other words, these two people deserve each other in the very best sense.
I honestly can't tell you which of my heros and heroines are my favorites. They are all special to me, and that's the truth.
Judy: I recently reread THE TRUELOVE BRIDE (for the umpteenth time - it's dog earred!), and was reminded again of how beautifully sensual the love scenes are in your books. How do you go about writing these scenes? Do you find them difficult to write? What do you think are the ingredients for a great sex scene?
Shana: Wow, THE TRUELOVE BRIDE. I have to admit, that book was a complete pleasure for me, from A to Z. Sometimes when you write it's like you're randomly sprinkled with the purest essence of creativity; you're plugged into something bigger and better than you are. Every word flows like water. TLB was like that. I was blessed.
In that case, the love scenes were prompted by those two incredible characters, Avalon and Marcus. They were so real to me. But I endeavor to make all my love scenes as tender, as genuine as I can. Some are more difficult to create than others. To me, these particular moments in the book represent not merely the physical, but the emotional and even spiritual connections between a man and a woman. I try to honor all that - and still keep it steamy. *g*
Judy: Do you ever have time to read for pleasure? If so, what genre do you read and what are some of your favorite books? Who are some of your favorite authors?
Shana: I love to read. I really, REALLY love to read, and that pretty much encompasses all genres except true crime and slash-and-gore horror. (Violence for the sake of violence is appalling to me, and true crime is just gruesome and sad.) Of course I cherish romances, but I also read plays, both historical and contemporary. I love Voltaire and Moliere and Marlowe, and Christopher Fry. I adore Margaret Wise Brown's children's stories, and J.K. Rowling's as well. My most favorite book ever is Richard Adams' WATERSHIP DOWN, and everyone teases me about that, as you might imagine. But it isn't a tale about rabbits. It's about human nature, the best and the worst of us.
And I read travel books, because I relish discovering the little esoteric details of other cultures, other people in other lands. *s*
Judy: I really look forward to your books coming out! Your next one, THE LAST MERMAID, is due in June. I know it's quite a departure from your previous books. What can you tell us about it?
Shana: Ask a simple question ... LOL!
A few years ago I came up with the idea for a trilogy, three separate but linked romances joined by the common thread of a legend of a siren and a fisherman. Each story would take place in a different time period. My editor at Bantam loved this idea, and came back to me with the offer to publish all three romances in one big-ish book. So that's what we did.
THE LAST MERMAID contains three unique stories, with three different couples, with either the heroine (first part) or the hero (second part) or both (third part) descended from the siren and the fishermen in the legend. The legend itself is told in each of the three prologues, from three different points of view: a different voice for each one, "Rashomon"-style. I did that so the reader could gain a little more insight into the legend, and all the subsequent characters and action, as the stories unfold.
Book One takes place just after the Romans abandoned what we call Great Britain, where a warrior prince discovers that the woman who has just pulled him from the sea, and saved his life, is much more than she first seems. Aedan is torn between his duty to his people and his growing love for Ione, his mysterious savior who lives alone on the Isle of Kell, a small, lush island in cold blue waters of the North Atlantic (part of today's Scotland). Outside threats are about to tear them apart, but Aedan will fight to the death to keep what's his, and that includes Io.
Book Two takes place in eighteenth century London and then Scotland. I loved doing the research for this time period! I already knew (I thought) a great deal about it, but the more I researched, the more interesting stuff I discovered. I was captivated by the idea of setting a romance in a time of corsets and hoop skirts, powder and lace - and then having this heroine who completely kicks butt, despite all that! In this story the hero is Ronan, the Earl of Kell, a powerful, secretive man who knows he's been marked for death by an enemy. Then he meets Leila de Sant Severe, an exotic beauty with quite a few secrets of her own. Their attraction is instant and scorchingly mutual - too bad she's the assassin who's been hired to kill him.
And Book Three is a contemporary, which was a huge mental shift for me as a writer, but also a great pleasure to create. Ruriko Kell is an American who has just inherited an island she's never heard of, from a family she's never known. Her world is turned further upside-down by the arrival of Iain MacInnes, a gorgeous Scottish stranger hell-bent to get her back to Kell with him one way or another. With one look, Iain has recognized the truth about Ruri that she doesn't even suspect: that without her, his destiny will never be complete.
THE LAST MERMAID has 581 pages, which is absolutely my longest book yet, but still not as big as I was afraid it would be. Michael Palmer, a friend of mine who writes bestselling medical thrillers, pointed out to me that there's an actual physicality to a book that shouldn't be exceeded, where they become too hefty to stock in shelves or to be comfortably held up for reading. (We had that conversation when I was about halfway through with TLM, quite possibly the Darkest Hour for most writers. I panicked for about a week, but then sucked it up and got over it.) Happily, TLM has turned out to be a wonderful size, not too heavy or thick ... just nicely substantial! ;-)
And my God, that cover. I could just kiss the artist who did it! It is, without question, the most exquisite, dreamy cover I've ever seen. I'm so lucky it's on one of *my* books, LOL.
I'm also running a contest for THE LAST MERMAID, my very first one. I've
always wanted to have a contest for my books, but never really knew what to offer as a prize beyond autographed copies of the books. But TLM has a single silver locket prominently featured throughout all three stories, and - ta-da! The light clicked on! So I hunted around jewelry stores until I found a lovely
sterling silver locket on a sixteen-inch Figaro chain. Finally, a cool prize to
offer - along with, of course, autographed copies of the book. *g* Come on by my Web site if you'd like to enter; the contest goes until June 2004. :-)
Thank you so much, Shana, for taking the time to do this interview for RBL. I'm so looking forward to THE LAST MERMAID, and I'll definitely be entering your contest - and I'm sure many other RBLs will, as well!
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