by Bansari Kamdar
Best-selling novelist Susan Elizabeth Phillips has been crafting funny and beautiful love stories with smart and sassy heroines, highly desirable heroes, and happy endings for more than a quarter of a century. Her latest novel is Heroes Are My Weakness.
You are considered among the top authors in the genre of contemporary romance novels. What draws you to this genre?
That is what my natural voice is. I think if you want to be successful you have to write into your own worldview and you have to work with your natural voice, and that’s mine.
How would you describe a romance novel, and how do you distinguish a love story from romance?
You can kind of distinguish in a way between a love story and a romance. I think a love story doesn’t have to end happily and the romance is going to have a satisfying ending. The hero and heroine will get together in the end and they will still both be alive. In a love story you can have a tragic ending like Romeo and Juliet. In romances, on the other hand, you don’t find that very often.
Many romance novels after a while can become clichéd; how do you overcome the stereotyping often associated with the genre?
[Stereotying] is associated with all kinds of genres in popular fiction. If you are writing a mystery, the mystery is going to be solved, and if you are writing a thriller, the serial killer will not be caught [right away]. Same way, if you are writing a romance, the hero and heroine will end up together. There is a sense of order in popular fiction that you don’t get with literary fiction. It is a sort of recipe and it wouldn’t be romance if the order weren’t followed.
There is also some bad publicity associated with romance novels. How do you respond to people who belittle the romance genre?
There is no bad PR about it anymore. That kind of went away with the popularity of the books. I haven’t had to defend the genre in a while. Not since the 80’s and early 90’s and not when you see the incredible success of so many romance writers. It’s difficult now to decide what romance is and what isn’t, because the genre is so flexible.
You have remarkably strong female protagonists in your novels from female presidents to owners of football teams and startup business owners to bestselling authors. The strength of conviction and character is often common in all these women, but what is often endearing is that they are not idealized and they also have their flaws. What is your thought process behind these characters?
You see, they achieve all this by the end of the book. My heroines since the beginning have strength of character, but are often at a low point of their lives. The process of my stories is the process of them becoming everything and the best they can be. This is an issue for a lot of women and one that interests a lot of women. [The] journey of my books is the journey of the heroine finding herself. If you look closely, the male protagonists in my novels are not perfect either. They have their flaws, and you often see them grow too, throughout the novel. If the hero is perfect and the heroine is perfect, you have no story. That is where the conflict will come from, the characters’ weakness and their needs and what they need to face about themselves.
How would you describe your ritual of writing?
I write almost every day unless I am travelling. I don’t like to take time off, even if I write just an hour a day; it keeps the work fresh. I work just like anyone works a job. I go to work in the morning and I write and I deal with all the social media things that come along. I follow a regular writing schedule.
Writers block is often a writer’s worst enemy. How do you overcome it?
Well, it’s a job. You just sit there and do it. I probably have writer’s block over twelve times a day, and so I just stay in my seat and keep working until I get through it. If it were easy we wouldn’t call it work.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
It’s hard work, and the only way you can get anything accomplished is by actually doing it. That’s the hard part. It is easy to go to workshop and meetings, but sitting down in the chair and doing the writing is when it actually happens. So my advice always is “Write, just write. “
What do you do in the time you are not weaving romances on paper?
There is always hiking and travelling. We also have family close by so we do a lot of family gatherings. And of course I love to read.
So, what would you say would be your 3 favorite books?
No, I am not answering that question. It’s just too hard.
I just finished reading The Great Escape last month, and, as an ardent follower, I am wondering what is next in the books for Susan Elizabeth Phillips?
As you must have read on my blog, I am coming out with my new book Heroes Are My Weakness. A sneak peek of the novel is available on the author’s website.)
The Chicago Stars series, with its football-playing heroes and daring heroines who fall in love with them, is a public favorite, and two of my favorite books are also a part of these series. Are there going to be any more Chicago Stars books after Natural Born Charmer?
I have always said that I have written my last Stars book, but if I get an idea for another one I would definitely write it. I just have to be able to bring something fresh to it.
I remember reading It Had To Be You in high school and how motivated Phoebe made me feel, and I am sure a lot of women around the world associate themselves the same way with many of your characters. What would be your advice to these women who are still on the journey of seeking themselves?
My advice would just be that, keep testing yourself and keep growing.