Please welcome world traveler and romance author, Julie Tetel Andresen.
You’ve lived in France, Germany, Vietnam, and most interesting to me, Romania. What did you enjoy most and least about each place?
What I always love most: the language! On a bus going from France to Germany, I heard real German spoken for the first time – and not the parody of German we sometimes hear in comedy sketches or in WWII movies. I was very surprised by the sound of it, and my immediate thought was, “How beautiful!” Similarly, I have been in love with Romania and Romanian for some years now. Can I tell you how amazing the language is? So intricate, so rich, so expressive. Same goes for Vietnamese. I spent 6 months in a language school in Saigon last year. Every day was a delight. I know I need a full year in Vietnam in the future to really pin it down.
What I like least about living in Romania (where I am at the moment – I have an apartment in Bucharest where I spend summers) will not surprise you: the language politics. I open my mouth to speak, and since I have an accent and do not look particularly Romanian, everyone wants to reply to me in English. So there are times when I have to say (in Romanian): “I’m sorry I don’t speak English. I’m French.” I have never been challenged on that point, and if I were challenged, then I’d happily speak French. The point is, I am not going to spend all day every day here speaking English. I sometimes say to people who don’t understand my position, “How would you like it if you went to the US and every time you opened your mouth people would respond in Romanian?” I have plenty of friends who like to speak Romanian with me. They are usually people who know English really well and take pleasure in my efforts. Or else they are people I simply know and like, and we have a good time hanging out.
Is there anywhere you haven’t traveled but have plans to?
Every summer I say to myself, “I’m going to Tblisi, Georgia.” The ex-Soviet Republic of Georgia is just across the Black Sea from Romania. A long time ago there used to be Black Sea cruises that would make all the stops, including Odessa Ukraine, but no more. I suppose I could fly to Tblisi, but I’ve checked routes, and they’re not as easy as I think they should be. So one of these days I’m going to Tblisi. I just don’t know when. I also have a very strong desire to go to Ulan Bator, Mongolia. I am seriously thinking of doing that in Spring 2014.
Do you play the piano while plotting?
I haven’t played the piano in years. But those early years of playing the piano were very helpful to me in understanding ideas about themes and variations. When learning to play a piece by Bach or Mozart (or anyone else), you have to study the construction of the composition in order to know how to bring out the themes and do the transitions and so forth. So understanding the construction of one type of art is helpful when thinking through the construction of another type of art.
Does yoga help focus your writing?
Yoga helps focus everything. I found a wonderful yoga studio in Saigon. Since Vietnam is tropical, the yoga studio also felt a bit like a sauna. I would leave every session sure that the pores on my face were super clean, since I had certainly sweated everything out. I have now found a great studio in Bucharest (after years of searching). It’s not quite yoga but more like ballet, which I never thought I could do. However, the workouts are excellent, I sweat gallons, and I leave feeling great. I love the instructor. Her name is Cecilia. She is divine.
How in-depth is your historical research?
Many historical novelists will tell you the same thing: we love to do research (we come by the genre honestly!) but we also know that we will end up using only about 10% of what we research. The historical details are like the spices in a dish – you don’t need a lot, just enough. So I go into a research project and let myself absorb what there is to absorb about a subject. I don’t know in advance what I will use. I just take pleasure in the research. Then when I’m working on a story, I might think to myself, “Oh, yes, I know the perfect detail to put in here now.” So there is an array of historical information on a subject in my head, and as I write I make selections.
The same goes for the use of a foreign language when a story is set in a non-English speaking country. For instance, in writing THE BLUE HOUR, part of which is set in France, I had the whole of the French language available to me. But how much of the language shows up on the page? In the end, very little, and what does appear was carefully chosen. In fact, I think it irresponsible of an author to set a story in a place where they do not have a pretty decent command of the language and culture. I’m not the kind of writer who can write a story set in France and who throws in a “Oui, monsieur” every now and then, imagining that I am conveying some kind of realistic atmosphere. No, the novelist has to have a knowledge base equal to or bigger than that of her intended audience, and she has to choose the historical, cultural, and/or linguistic details of the place and time so that they are both convincing and understandable (without having to explain it all – similar to the idea that you kill a joke when you have to explain it). The art of “adding the correct spice in the correct amount” is the art and craft of the historical novelist.
You’ve written books placed in several time periods. A brief bit about each and why your chose that era please.
I began my writing career with a great love for medievals. Knights and ladies and chivalry. All that! Amazingly, I’ve only written three (MY LORD ROLAND, CATHERINE OF YORK, SIMON’S LADY), all set in England. I got my start reading romance through Georgette Heyer’s Regencies, and so I have a long-term fondness for that era. Again, amazingly, I’ve only written 2 Regencies (THE TEMPORARY BRIDE, LORD LAXTON’S WILL) and one Regency novella (FRENCH LESSONS). (I’m guessing most Manic Readers know what the Regency era is. For those who don’t, it’s the period in English history when George III had gone mad, and his son, the Prince Regent, was considered the head of the government. This period covers the early decades of the 19th century. The Napoleonic wars are always in the background.) In any case, you would think I would spend more time writing stories in the eras that got me started, but that’s not the way it has worked out.
I like to explore new horizons. After writing one medieval story set in a castle, another set in a medieval town, and a third set at the court in London, I suppose I had exhausted the settings. I could have done another castle story, but what would have been the point? I wanted to write something else. I loved the 17th-century London setting I chose for AND HEAVEN TOO, because I had fun with the theme of the theater in the time period after Shakespeare and just before the Puritans closed down all the theaters. For TANGLED DREAMS I chose the rise of the modern stock market in London against the backdrop of the French Revolution. Very exciting. Scotland (think: men in kilts – always nice!) is a strong draw, but here again I’ve only written one novel (MACLAURIN’S LADY) and one novella (THE HANDFAST) set in the Highlands.
Although I do not consider myself a specialist in American settings, I have nevertheless written four related, but stand-alone stories set in the early 19th century: DAWN’S EARLY LIGHT, UNEXPECTED COMPANY, CAROLINA SONNET, HEART’S WILDERNESS. I don’t know how that series came to me. It just did. And I followed a kind of Westward expansion, since DAWN’S EARLY LIGHT begins in Baltimore and HEART’S WILDERNESS follows the Oregon Trail. I put these four novels on sale at Amazon – at 99 cents apiece – for the summer (through September), so that anyone could feel comfortable choosing one of more of my books as a beach read.
I started to expand my settings as I started traveling more in the world.
Is there an era nearest & dearest to you?
At the moment it would seem to be Regencies. Here is why I can answer this question with such confidence: for the past five months or more, I have consumed BDSM novels with abandon. For a while this summer I wondered whether I would ever want to read another story that did not involve erotic bondage! Well, at some point, I had read enough of what I wanted of BDSM, and just last week I reread some Carla Kelly classic Regencies and just loved them. So clearly the Regency is a genre that I default to.
Do you have a favorite character you’ve written?
I’ll give the not very original response: Choosing among characters and/or stories is like choosing among children. You just don’t want to do that. However, having said that, I’ll admit that I do reserve a special place for Roland in my first novel (MY LORD ROLAND) because he is my Pygmalion, the male character I first brought to life. The story is first-person narrated. (Before I got it published by Warner Books, I had several agents turn my manuscript down, saying, “No one wants to read a first-person narrative medieval.” I wondered: “How do you know?”) The idea for my choice of first-person narration (beyond the fact that first novels are very often first-person narrated) was to make a study in portraiture. The narrator, Marguerite, was painting a portrait of the man she was forced by circumstance to marry, while at the same time she was necessarily drawing her own portrait. My goal was for her to be as reliable a narrator as possible, so that the reader could know her and her husband in the most realistic and accurate way. I wanted to make sure the reader could see how and why she came to love him the way she did. So Roland has a special place in my heart.
As a side note, I wrote a Gothic erotic short story a couple of months ago, and I named the two main characters Margaret and Roland, in reminiscence of my first book. The pdf of the story is available for free at my website, THE WEDDING NIGHT.
Why did you branch out into the Timeslip series and why divide them by color?
When I started travelling globally, I realized I wanted to expand my settings from England and the US. I also wanted to expand my time periods to include the present. But since I didn’t want to leave history behind completely, I developed a Timeslip format that has allowed me to work with two time periods in one story – one contemporary and one (as in the fairy tales) a hundred years before. It has also allowed me to write double romances: one that goes wrong in the past and one in the present that has to come confront the errors of the past. So, the settings of the stories are reflections of my travels, totally transformed by events I myself have not even remotely experienced, except in my imagination.
As for the colors, THE BLUE HOUR is set in contemporary North Carolina, Chicago, and Paris, as well as Paris of the 1880s. The color was chosen because the phrase the blue hour feels very moody to me. (Titles are not copyrightable in the US, so there are several books with this title.) There is even a perfume called L’heure bleue. When I think of the phrase I think of Impressionist paintings, and the art scene in late 19th-century Paris is part of the story. Anyway, once I got started with one color, I decided to keep going with the idea. So the crimson of THE CRIMSON HOUR can refer to anger or communism (since part of the action is set in post-communist Romania) or red tides (part of the plot) or wedding dresses (which are traditionally red in China, and Hong Kong is one of the settings). Then the emerald of THE EMERALD HOUR can evoke jealousy (part of the plot) or environmentalism (the story turns around Brazilian rubber trees and the international rubber trade).
I’m finished with this trilogy and will not pursue titles with colors for further Timeslip novels. I’m onto something new now.
An erotic ghost story?
Great idea! I’m already wondering exactly how the eroticism would work.
How hard is it to shift gears between your fiction and non-fiction academic writing?
Surprisingly, not hard at all. (Or perhaps this is not surprising, I don’t know.) The trick is to fall in love with whatever topic I am working on and then everything flows from there. Well, it’s not a trick exactly. I just happen to love both romance and linguistics. I am currently under contract with Wiley-Blackwell (an academic publisher) to write a book entitled LANGUAGES OF THE WORLD with a co-author Phillip Carter. This project is occupying me this summer, and I will be writing it all of the coming academic year. I’ve never written with a co-author before, and I’m thoroughly enjoying the experience. For one thing, it is making me reflect on my own writing process, because now I am responsible to another writer, and I sometimes have to explain to him what I’m writing and how I doing it, because we have divided up sections to write and given ourselves deadlines. I told him at some point, “Oh, I just fell in love with Topic X” (can’t remember what at the moment), and that made the writing of that section easy. If I hadn’t said that to him, I might not have realized that’s how I work, by falling in love with topics.
Is there a genre you’d like to try writing but haven’t yet?
Erotic ghost stories? But that’s only a recent thought (namely, in the last five minutes). More immediately, I’m starting a BDSM-inspired series. So this is something new. A lot of my stories have mysteries woven into the romance plot, so it’s not like I need to write a Mystery. I have never thought about Fantasy or Science Fiction (although Timeslip does incorporate the unreal). Before my BDSM readings, I was reading into the genre of shape-shifting stories, with panthers and werewolves and the like. Every now and then I read a gay romance, like those by A.J. Rose, and I find good characters and plots there, but I probably do not have the right affinities to write a gay romance. The only clearly gay character I have written was the Mayor of York in CATHERINE OF YORK.
So, the answer to your question is that I’m trying out BDSM and seeing how that goes. As for one I haven’t yet tried, I don’t know what that is yet.
What’s your perfect writing day?
Getting up in the morning and having nothing on my docket except to be at my desk. Then writing, maybe pausing to eat something and do email, but basically just writing. Then going to yoga (or Pilates or ballet) at the end of the afternoon, stopping by a friend’s house afterwards to chat, and then going home. It’s an especially wonderful day if I know the next day holds the same. That way I get to go to sleep happy knowing that I get to do it all over again when I next wake up.
Is there anything special you need to get those creative juices flowing?
Iced tea. Other than that, exercise is a sure way to get going. If I hit a plot point I can’t resolve or a theoretical point I can’t quite figure out, a nice walk around the block (or two) is always a great help. A necessary condition: lots and lots of reading. It really doesn’t matter what I read. As long as it feeds me.
Do you have a favorite author, book, or genre to read?
I really wish I could name names under the rubric ‘favorites’ but I can’t. I read so eclectically and so widely that I would have a hard time getting specific. There are many, many wonderful authors around. I grew up reading classic 19th-century and 20th-century novels. Jan Wescott’s The Queen’s Grace got me started on historical romance when I was in junior high. I have no idea how I would react to that particular novel now, if I reread it. It might seem terribly old-fashioned. With ebooks these days, I read even more, especially because they are so readily available and now so inexpensive.
Do you have a favorite character created by someone else?
Hmmm. No one favorite character comes to mind.
What’s your favorite time of day? Year?
I’m a morning person. Always have been, always will be.
My favorite time of year depends on where I am. In Chicago where I grew up, autumn is definitely the best time of year. In North Carolina where I live much of the time, spring is the absolute best. I love summers in Romania. Vietnam has a rainy season and a dry season. I was there mostly during the dry season, and I liked it. But I have to say that there is something about wading through the running surges of water in downtown Saigon during the rainy reason. Just take off your shoes, roll up your pants, and walk. I have a condo in Orlando. There is a reason why a section of Orlando is called Winter Park. Winter in Florida is gorgeous.
Do you have a WIP you can share with us?
It’s a BDSM series. When I read intensively in a genre, I have to respond. There are lots of interesting authors working in the genre, such as Cherise Sinclair and Sierra Cartwright. They write very intense stories. I’ve outlined a BDSM-inspired trilogy set in Vietnam, and this project is the most immediate project I have in front of me.
Anything special you’d like all those Manic Readers out there to know?
Yes. First, answering these questions has been a lot of fun. Second, I love what I do and feel very privileged that I can do it. Some of my stories feature more history, some less, but they all ultimately focus on the development of the love relationship. It is the relationship itself that is the most important “character” in my stories. Third, for me, the center of the center of a good romance is good dialogue. This is true even when the story foregrounds the erotic, because the eroticism is heightened when there is good and/or lively communication between the hero and heroine, even if they are sometimes speaking at cross-purposes. So, my hope for my readers when they are reading one of my books is that they feel they are in good hands, that they are absorbed in a world they could not know any other way than through the book they are reading, and that the unfolding relationship is both engaging and real.
Courtesy of Sami at JKS Communications Manic Readers has Julie’s Americana series (digital) to give away to one (1) lucky commenter! Do you prefer your historicals home grown, European, a mix, or a combination? Giveaway ends @12am est 10-5-13 with the winner announced shortly thereafter. Good luck y’all!