Issue 37 - Fall in Love with Romance Writing - Louisa Edwards, Nalini Singh, Shannon K. Butcher

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ouisa Edwards’s romance writing career started long ago when she snuck Harlequin novels out of her grandmother’s suitcase at the age of 11. Her parents were worried about what type of education their daughter was receiving from these romances, but they were relieved when she decided to attend Bryn Mawr College. However, all she did was switch to longer romance novels and major in romance languages. She fooled them!

After graduation, Louisa moved to Manhattan and got a job as an editorial assistant at Penguin Group (USA), where she worked directly for Leslie Gelbman, the president of Mass Market Paperbacks who guided Louisa as she built her own list.

Louisa proved that she could make a living reading romance novels—her parents were surprised and thrilled. Eventually, she became an assistant editor with her own list of successful authors such as Lucy Monroe, Jennifer St. Giles, and Shelley Bradley. Then she married her husband, and they moved to Ohio. She had several different writing jobs, including critiquing restaurants for the local newspaper. Like Julie Powell, she started cooking her way through Mastering the Art of French cooking and reading cookbooks, and the foodie-romance, Can’t Stand the Heat, was born.

WOW:  Welcome to WOW!, Louisa. We really appreciate you taking the time to talk with us this month about the romance genre and specifically culinary romances. So, let’s get started! What gave you the idea to put together the “foodie craze” with the much-loved genre of romance? 

Louisa:  The Recipe for Love series came about pretty organically, actually—it’s born less from me foreseeing how well a romance/food-pairing would take off than from my own love of both cooking and romance novels. Not to mention my crushes on various celebrity chefs!

WOW:  I don’t think you’re the only one out there with crushes on some of those chefs. Men in the kitchen are sexy! Your descriptions of cooking and running a restaurant are vivid, detailed, and right on target. What’s your experience in these areas? Did you have to do research? If so, how much? 

Louisa:  I’m constantly researching—reading chef memoirs, histories of restaurants and food culture, and cookbooks. I read cookbooks as if they’re novels! But I was doing all of that before I ever started writing the series, just out of personal interest. Since contracting the series, I’ve interviewed chefs and trailed them at their restaurants, taken many professional kitchen tours, and started learning to develop my own recipes. I’m always looking for new angles on the true restaurant experience!

“I read cookbooks as if they’re novels!”

(Photo: Louisa dressed up as Julia Child on Halloween. On her blog she writes, “If you can’t make it out, that’s a whisk I’m holding up so proudly. And yes, if you look closely, there’s a spot on my shirt where I spilled red wine.”)

WOW:  What a great topic to research—food, recipes, and hunky chefs! Your first book, Can’t Stand the Heat, is the first in the Recipe for Love series. It focuses on two wonderful main characters—Miranda, the food critic, and Adam, the chef. How did you go about creating these two characters and making sure to give them characteristics, so they would fall in love with each other? 

Louisa:  I started with Adam. His voice was clear right from the beginning; and his passion for cooking and food, for life in general, made him a joy to write. In the interests of balance, Miranda necessarily took on some of the darker aspects of the story—she has a very definite journey to make; and I thought Adam was just the man to show her how to let go, fall in love, and be happy.

WOW:  What a great idea to start with the character who is the most clear in your head, and then give the love interest opposite characteristics. A good romance definitely has to have some tension in there. I read that you’re surprising many readers by having a “happy alpha” in Can’t Stand the Heat, and it’s a good surprise. Can you explain what “happy alpha” means, and why it’s surprising in the romance genre?

Louisa:  Adam is an alpha male; he’s indisputably in charge of his domain. He’s uncompromising when it comes to his job, and he is aggressive in his pursuit of culinary perfection. All of that is fairly consistent with the dominant alpha male of the romance genre. Where Adam diverges is that he’s well-adjusted. He actually loves his life, his job, his friends—even himself. He’s confident without being cocky, and his take-charge manner isn’t hiding any secret pain or bitterness. He’s not a brooder. He’s a guy you could happily take home to Mom.

WOW:  Yes, Adam is one of those characters that many women will wish is a real person! Another surprise in the first book of the series is Miranda’s brother, Jess. He is gay, and he has his own love story to sort through. What made you put in a secondary love story in a romance novel that already had such a hot one? 

Louisa:  Jess’s subplot is actually a huge part of the main plot—his struggle with how to talk to his sister about his sexual identity propels the story forward. It worked for the book. In more general terms, I love reading romances with subplots—I always have. And since Can’t Stand the Heat was in every way a labor of love, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to add one of my favorite plot elements. I chose to explore a gay romance with the subplot because issues of equality are important to me; it felt fresh; and as an author, you can push more boundaries with a subplot than you can with your hero and heroine.

“You can push more boundaries with a subplot than you can with your hero and heroine.”

WOW:  Jess’s story really does keep the book interesting and fresh. Your second book in the series is out on March 2 (You can preorder it on On the Steamy Side leaves Miranda and Adam and focuses on a minor character from the first novel, Devon Sparks, celebrity chef. Please share with us a little about the plot of your second book.

Louisa:  On the Steamy Side begins when Adam and Miranda go on a two-week vacation, leaving Devon Sparks in charge of the Market kitchen. A celebrity TV chef, Devon is at a crossroads, both personally and professionally—his estranged son is suddenly back in his life; and he’s starting to realize how intensely unhappy he is, in spite of his fame and so-called success. Into that confusion drops the perfect woman to turn Devon’s world upside down: a transplanted Southern belle with a warm heart, a thirst for adventure, and a tendency to meddle. Lilah Jane Tunkle was a blast to write; I hope readers fall for her as quickly as I did!

WOW:  Sounds great. Devon was an interesting minor character in Can’t Stand the Heat, so it will be great to see him in a starring role in book two. Is that the plan for the Recipe for Love series—to use characters from previous novels and feature them in their own love stories?  

Louisa:  The Recipe for Love novels definitely all take place in the same world. The first three books follow the crew at Market, Adam’s restaurant, with a different main couple taking center stage in each book. Jess and Frankie’s story continues through the entire Market trilogy, wrapping up in Just One Taste, out September 2010. The books after that will shift locations; although, some familiar faces will probably appear.

WOW:  How exciting that Jess and Frankie will continue through the novels, and readers will still be with Market! Will all the Recipe for Love novels include recipes in the back and hopefully more lessons on cooking, like how to poach an egg in Can’t Stand the Heat

Louisa:  Every Recipe for Love novel will have recipes in the back—the ones for Steamy are mostly old family recipes that I’m so excited to share with my readers!—but I can’t promise every single book will feature a cooking lesson. That might get old! But all the books will definitely have interesting tips, tricks, and tidbits on food and cooking techniques.

WOW:  Your reviews for this series have been fantastic. But for those of us that are dealing with rejection and so-so reviews, how do you handle it when you read one that isn’t as favorable? Does chocolate come into play?

Louisa:  It’s very important, when reading a not-so-hot review, to remember how subjective this business is. You will never be able to please every single reader. It just isn’t possible. So why worry about it? Once the book is finished and out there, reader reactions are out of your hands. All you can control is your own writing—so work on that. And when you absolutely can’t stop dwelling on the rejection, remember what one casting director wrote in his notes while auditioning a young Fred Astaire: “Can’t sing. Can’t act. Dances a little.”

“When you absolutely can’t stop dwelling on the rejection, remember what one casting director wrote in his notes while auditioning a young Fred Astaire: ‘Can’t sing. Can’t act. Dances a little.’”

WOW:  Well, that casting director obviously got that audition wrong! You are right, this business is subjective—what one person loves, another person might not. Your plots are complex and keep the reader guessing until the end, which is not easy to do when writing romance novels, and we expect the hero and heroine to wind up together. What is your method for plotting your culinary romances, and how do you keep readers turning the pages with your plots? 

Louisa:  Wow. I could write volumes about this. In fact, a couple of writing friends and I submitted a proposal for a workshop on this very topic that will hopefully be presented at the 2010 Romance Writers of America conference in Nashville. I work with something we call The Method, which is just our shorthand way of referencing a process that works for all three of us. I don’t plot extensively ahead of time—the few times I’ve tried that, it stifled creativity so much that I gave up on the book out of boredom. I need the flexibility of discovering new plot twists as I go along. But flying too much by the seat of my pants isn’t practical; it makes me nervous! So the short version is that I come up with a five- or six-page synopsis as part of my proposal to my editor, along with the first three chapters. Based on that beginning, I keep going, outlining the next day’s scene in a notebook the night before. I try to see a few scenes ahead, so I know where I’m going, but still have the chance to surprise myself. It keeps things fresh and exciting, without landing me in a tangle of plot that’s not going anywhere.

WOW:  I like that method of making notes in a notebook about the next day’s scenes. That way, you have some direction of where you’re going when you sit down to the computer. You hold monthly contests for your readers as many romance authors do. Why do you feel this is important for readers? Tell us about a typical contest and prize. Is it easy for fans to enter? 

Louisa:  I love my contests because they’re a way for readers to feel engaged by the author outside of the actual reading experience. I want them to remember me when my next book comes out, after all! And I’ve enjoyed putting together my prize packages, which all have a foodie theme. A fairly typical prize would include a signature Can’t Stand the Heat apron, a set of red rubber spatulas with Recipe for Love on the handles, a Tastebook featuring some of my recipes along with recipes from famous chefs, and a signed copy of my most recent release. There’s an easy link right on my website; just click the Contest button in the navigation bar on my homepage, and you’re there!

WOW:  Great, thanks for letting us know. Besides being busy writing books, you also keep up with a blog and marketing. How do you manage your busy schedule? Please share some tips with us on how you keep writing through the busyness. 

Louisa:  That has definitely been a challenge; no one tells you how time consuming it is to have a new book out! I think the most important thing I learned was to keep plugging away. Even if you don’t make the daily page count you’d normally shoot for, at least write something. Keep your hand in the story, keep the momentum going. Even if all you have time for, around guest blogs and newsletters and interviews, is five minutes a day. Eventually, things will calm down, and you’ll be glad you still remember your characters’ names! And after that first hectic month of the book’s release, it becomes much easier. I dedicate about an hour a day to marketing/PR-type work—I try to cut myself off after that. While marketing is important, it’s not your #1 priority as a writer. Writing is your job. Don’t lose sight of that, and you’ll be okay.

“Keep your hand in the story, keep the momentum going.”

WOW:  Setting a time limit each day for marketing seems like a good way to handle it. But what about the social networking craze? Do you use Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, or Linked In? If so, how do you use these as an author? 

Louisa:  I love Twitter. It’s one of the best things that happened to me this year. I couldn’t begin to tell you how effective it or any other social networking tool is as a marketing device; but Twitter, at least, is *fun*. There’s a thriving community of writers on Twitter, who share support, encouragement, publishing industry news and gossip, buzz about trends—it’s essentially my water cooler. In this sometimes solitary job, Twitter makes me feel part of a larger community of like-minded individuals.

WOW:  We love Twitter at WOW! too, and we often hear what cool things women writers are doing through their tweets. What a great analogy—Twitter is like a water cooler. So true! What type of marketing are you doing for On the Steamy Side? What do you find works the best for book sales and/or connecting with readers? 

Louisa:  I’ll be honest; it’s next to impossible to quantify exactly what works and what doesn’t when it comes to marketing. I’ve bought online ads; my publisher has bought ads in romance review magazines; I’ve done direct campaigns to booksellers and librarians—who knows? My favorite way I connected with readers, and the thing I still get the most feedback on, was a free original short story I wrote, introducing the world of the Recipe for Love novels. Almost like a prequel. I posted it on my website, St. Martin’s put it up on their romance site, She Loves Hot Reads, and Borders featured it in its For Readers section. The story was the first installment in a romance between the pastry chef from Market, Violet, and a farmer she meets at the Union Square Greenmarket. I get at least one e-mail a week from readers asking me when their book is coming out! Well, I’m not planning to give Violet and Jonathan their own book, but I will be continuing their story in installments on my site, as free reads. I firmly believe that the best marketing tool you have, as a writer, is your writing.

“I firmly believe that the best marketing tool you have, as a writer, is your writing.”

WOW:  That is so true—a good writer is often passed around to friends and family members, and books take off by word of mouth. “My favorite thing about romance is that it’s like real life—but the way you wish life could be.” This quote is on your website, and I just love it! It’s so true. So, this is why you decided to write romance? Were you an avid romance reader before this? Did you ever consider writing in other genres? 

Louisa:  I’ve been reading romance since I was about 11 years old, and despite the fact that I’ve enjoyed books from almost every other genre, I’ve really never considered writing anything but romance. I believe wholeheartedly in the power of love stories to transform and uplift, and I want to be part of that.

WOW:  You are a part of it! Before you became a romance novelist, you were an editor at Berkley and edited Nora Roberts, Jayne Ann Krentz, Lucy Monroe, Jennifer St. Giles, and Shelley Bradley. What experience! What do you think are two or three of the biggest lessons you learned about writing romances from these ladies? 

Louisa:  It would be a stretch to say I edited Nora or Jayne—I worked as the assistant to their extremely smart, savvy editor, who was also my mentor. I learned a lot from her about the workings of the publishing industry, and I certainly soaked up as much as I could from each of the authors you mentioned. I don’t think there’s any single bit of writing advice better than Nora’s famous bit debunking the myth of the muse. There is no muse! If you sit around waiting for that, you’ll end up with a lot of blank pages. Just write! It’s a job, as each of the extremely professional women above could tell you.

“There is no muse! If you sit around waiting for that, you’ll end up with a lot of blank pages. Just write!”

WOW:  Yes, I’ve heard so many times that writers must write through illness, rainy days, and heartache. Writers have to write, no matter what! So, for romance novelists just starting out, what are a few tips you can give them for finding success? 

Louisa:  Don’t be afraid to play with different subgenres. You may think you want to write paranormals; but if your voice and style is better suited to light contemporaries, that’s what you should write! The important thing is to find the story that lights your heart on fire and makes you excited to sit down at that computer every day. Don’t write to a trend, stifling any impulse that goes against what someone told you editors/agents want. Write what speaks to you, and chances are, it will speak to your readers.

(Photo, right to left: Louisa’s agent, Deidre Knight; her editor, Rose Hilliard; her husband, Nick; and Louisa sharing a toast at her book launch party at Blue Hill.)

WOW:  Great advice! As writers, we definitely learn from our mistakes. What’s a mistake you made early on in your career that you have definitely learned from? 

Louisa:  Ahem. See the answer above! I started out writing paranormals because I do love reading them—all that magic and worldbuilding!—and then discovered (after spending months writing and revising a full manuscript featuring demons and vampires) that I sort of hated it. The things that make paranormals great just didn’t come naturally to me. That was when my very smart agent told me to take a step back and really examine my interests and passions and decide what I really wanted to write. I looked at the books I’d just read (Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, Heat by Bill Buford, My Life in France by Julia Child) and thought, I know what I’m writing next. At the time, I was pretty sure it would never sell since I’d never seen a culinary romance before; and the conventional wisdom is that there are certain jobs romance heroes aren’t allowed to have: actor, athlete, rockstar. Chef. But I wrote it anyway, and St. Martin’s bought the series in a pre-empt! So seriously, jump off the bandwagon and write what you love.

WOW:  Thank goodness you decided to go for it because you have an excellent, fresh, and exciting culinary romance novel. Who are some of your favorite romance writers today that we should be reading? 

Louisa:  There are so many fantastic authors out there right now! Suzanne Brockmann is probably my all-time favorite. I love her blend of emotion and action—and she’s a perfect example of the power of a great subplot! My other romantic suspense fave is Roxanne St. Claire—her stories are sexy, fast-paced, and full of adventure. For historicals, I can’t get enough of Eloisa James, Loretta Chase, and Jennifer Ashley, and debut authors Tessa Dare and Courtney Milan. In contemporary, I love Victoria Dahl, Carly Phillips, Susan Elisabeth Phillips, and Susan Mallery. For paranormals, I never miss a new release from Kresley Cole, Gena Showalter, Deidre Knight, or J.R. Ward. I’ve also found some great authors in the urban fantasy/sci-fi romance vein: Ann Aguirre, and upcoming debut author, Kristen Painter.

WOW:  Thank you for sharing all those writers with us. I’m sure many WOW! readers’ book lists just grew enormously. What are you currently working on, and when can we expect to see more Recipes for Love?

Louisa:  At the moment, I’m finishing up the first draft of Just One Taste, the third Recipe for Love novel, featuring a hot young culinary student who cons his chemistry professor into helping him with his final project—an experiment testing the potency of different aphrodisiacs! It’s been tons of fun to write and will be out in September 2010, following the release of On the Steamy Side in March 2010. And I’m very excited to announce that 2011 will bring a brand new Recipe for Love trilogy following a group of talented, passionate men and women as they battle it out for the title of Best American Chef in a high-stakes national culinary competition! Sign up for my newsletter to keep up-to-date with all the latest news, contests, free reads, excerpts, and more.

WOW:  All the books sound awesome, and good luck with the Recipe for Love series! Thank you so much for your time, Louisa. We appreciate you sharing your wisdom, advice, and knowledge with us!

To keep up with the latest from Louisa, visit her website (, and her blog Recipe for Love (, and follow her on Twitter (


Margo L. Dill is a freelance writer, editor, and teacher, living in Mahomet, Illinois. Her work has appeared in publications such as Grit, Pockets, True Love, Fun for Kidz, Missouri Life, ByLine Magazine, and The News-Gazette. She is a columnist and contributing editor for WOW! Women On Writing. She is assistant editor for the Sunday Book page in The News-Gazette. Her first book, Finding My Place, a middle-grade historical novel, will be published by White Mane Kids. She writes a blog called, Read These Books and Use Them, for parents, teachers, and librarians. She owns her own copyediting business, Editor 911. When she's not writing, she loves spending time with her husband, stepson, and two dogs—Chester, a boxer, and Hush Puppy, a basset hound. You can find out more about Margo by visiting her website: Find out more about the workshops Margo teaches by visiting WOW’s Classroom Page.


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