Please join me in welcoming Laura Kinsale to my blog. She’s the author of 12 novels and a career that has spanned more than twenty years. What’s truly spectacular about her career is the impression she’s made on both the romance industry and the writers who are part of it. Nearly every romance author will name at least one Kinsale book as having a profound impact on them.

Today, Laura joins us celebrating her return to romance after a five year break between Shadowheart and Lessons in French. Lessons in French is a fantastic story and though she specifically mentions that it’s a lighter fare than usual, her characters are no less intense or lovable. What makes Laura’s books so memorable are her strengths in characterization and Callie and Trev are notable additions to an already memorable cast.

While Lessons in French was lighter in it’s tone, I found myself just as engaged with characters as much as Jervaulx and Maddie in Flower From the Storm. One reader from Austin’s RWA (where your books are used as examples in many classes): “I’ve always been amazed by her characters. She takes these wounded or deeply flawed people and makes them so sympathetic you just ache for them. They are so memorable.” So how do you create such memorable characters?

I’ll admit that my characters are very real to me while I’m writing them. This may make me a crazy lady, but I seem to be able to put myself into their heads with ease. I don’t have conversations with them, which is a technique some authors use–I just sort of slide into their point of view in my mind as I’m writing each scene. If I can’t do this, things aren’t going well.

Since I spend so much time in their heads, they have to be interesting to me or I’d get bored pretty fast! So while writing I am thinking, as the character, what I’d do next, and at the same time observing it. I’m curious about them. I like them. But I don’t mind putting them through hell, either, just to see what they do and how it feels.

This is one reason I don’t start with the plot (and why my plots spin out of control.) I start with a character, or both characters, and a situation, and then I think about it all a lot, and talk about it with my small circle of trusted readers, and inch forward, discovering the characters along the way.

I also draw on books I’ve read, and my research. Sometimes it helps to fill out a character fact sheet–at least to get the basics, hair color, etc–and even those basics can suggest things about the person. For instance, Callie’s red hair and skin that easily turns pink in the wind fit with the strong emotions she keeps hidden inside. I do have a blank “character sheet” which has questions like “What is X most ashamed of?” and going back to that can help if I get stuck.

It is the most fun part of writing for me, learning about these imaginary people. If they are memorable to readers, that’s even better.

I don’t want to give away anything to spoil Lessons in French for your eager readers, but how did you come up with the idea of Hubert and the adventure he causes?

In stages. First, I always know I will have a particular animal in my books, so I was looking for an animal I hadn’t done yet. Second, I knew I was writing a “romp,” and if you’ve ever been to the stock barn at a rodeo or fair, you know that tame bulls are pretty amusing just standing there chewing their cud. (Sort of like some heroes, big dumb and cute). Given all that, I’m also highly aware of the destructive capacity of a large animal. I once stood by helplessly while a loose steer chased my horse across a pasture and over the fence. Then the steer went right over after him! If you are handling an animal like Hubert, taller than many women, nearly 12 feet long and weighing almost a ton, you’d better know what you’re doing.

I won’t say I put myself in Hubert’s point of view, but I can certainly hear the floorboards thudding and creaking perilously as Callie and Trev led him out of the kitchen.

In both The Shadow and The Star and Lessons in French, you bring up the French as less than savory to the English. While they are held up as somewhat deplorable to the people around them, as a reader, it only endears them to me further. What is it about the French that draws you into creating them and us into your characters?

I think the English have a love-hate relationship with the French. Maybe we Americans do too (there must be something about them!) In both Lessons in French and The Shadow and the Star I was drawing on the cliches about how romantic and “in love with love” the French are. In fact I’ve only been to France for a couple of brief visits, but I certainly thought the people were elegant and seemed to truly enjoy life. On a weekend evening in Avignon, whole families were eating out at sidewalk cafes, or just sipping wine while the kids ran about the square. We don’t do that much, do we? Just sit and enjoy the time passing.

In addition to your stunning characterization, many readers want to know about how you manage to convey emotions so precisely. I know when I read one of your books, I’m going to get characters that I deeply care about so that when things hurt them, I ache. The only times I’ve cried this year at the end of a book (other than Black Hawk Down), was at the end of Flowers from the Storm and Seize the Fire. How do you bring your readers so deeply into your stories?

That, I have to say, is almost an impossible question to answer. The best I can say is that I’m deeply into my stories as I’m writing. If I’m not, I don’t think the reader will be either. I think every aspect of a book, from the plot, to the word choice, to the characterization, to the pacing, work to bring the reader into the writer’s world. The reader has to care about what happens to the characters, and be curious enough to read on and find out. Making that happen is the essence of a writer’s job.

Laura, your fans are eager for any news so before we close, what are you working on next? What can we look for regarding your website’s future content and updates?

I’m writing! That’s all I can say at this point. I don’t plan to keep up a regular “blog” on my site, but in the Laura Makes Tea section, I’ll post some commentary and essays on things that pique my interest. I will keep readers more updated on what’s going on with my books than I was before I got the new website up. (The old site had simply become so out-dated that it seemed like a huge job every time I thought about dusting it off, so I quit doing it.) The best way to be sure of updates is to sign up for my extremely-rare-to-never-newsletters. Just type your email right into the box in the footer of any page, and click. Voila, you’re signed up!

Thank you for having me on your blog, Jessica. I hope Lessons in French gives readers a smile and takes them away from their troubles for a while.