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Book Talk: Sexy Times With Four Romance Novelists

So much romance, so little time...



Contemporary romance author Kate Curran, USA Today bestselling romantic comedy author Tawna Fenske, New York Times bestselling romance author Marie Harte and mystery and western romance author Paty Jager have all been novelists for quite some time.

One of the authors, Tawna Fenske, is a Bend local and a USA Today bestselling author who writes humorous fiction, risqué romance, and heartwarming love stories with a quirky twist. Her offbeat brand of romance has received multiple starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, one of which noted, “There’s something wonderfully relaxing about being immersed in a story filled with over-the-top characters in undeniably relatable situations. Heartache and humor go hand in hand.”

Tawna lives in Bend, Oregon with her husband, step-kids, and a menagerie of ill-behaved pets. She loves hiking, snowshoeing, standup paddleboarding, and inventing excuses to sip wine on her back porch. She can peel a banana with her toes and loses an average of twenty pairs of eyeglasses per year.

Here's some interview questions we asked the authors, ahead of their book signings in Bend.

Source Weekly: Do you think novels in particular are more important as an escape or as something to challenge and generate discussion?

Marie Harte: I think a novel's sense of importance falls squarely on the reader. Book groups who gather for discussion want to talk about a book's themes and issues. Many readers  like to read to escape, to be entertained. There's no wrong reason to read a book, it just depends on who wants what and why.

Paty Jager: I think it depends on the individual. There are times I prefer to read something that will entertain me, and other times I prefer something that teaches me something and gets me to thinking. That’s what is so wonderful about the world of writing. If a person has a story and can tell it in an entertaining way, they will find readers whether the book is a good conversation piece or an escape.

Kate Curran: I think it just depends on the mood of the reader. We all need a little escape sometimes and when I do I go to Janet Evanovich. But if I want something more challenging my go-to read would be John Grisham's "The Bleachers" or an old favorite "The Trouble With Being a Mama," by Eva Rutland.

Tawna Fenske: That’s like asking if I think crème brule is more important than steak. They’re both important, and delicious for different reasons!

While all my books are romantic comedies, I write at two different ends of the spectrum—my fluffy, super-risqué series books (Marine for Hire, The Fix Up, etc.) and my longer rom-coms that Publisher’s Weekly described as, “heartache and humor go hand in hand,” (About That Fling, Now That It’s You). The former are fun, smutty beach reads that fans devour like truffles, and the latter are popular with book clubs that want to sink their teeth into subjects like divorce, death, and alcoholism, but still want a love story and some good laughs. I love writing (and reading!) both kinds of books, and couldn’t imagine having to choose between the two.

Now I’m hungry for a steak and crème brule.

SW: Tell me about what got you into writing mysteries in particular?

Paty Jager: As a teen and young mother I read every mystery I could get my hands on. When someone I called a friend stabbed my family in the back, I wrote two mysteries, killing that person off in both books. It was very cathartic. Back then it was hard to get into a mystery writing group. I veered into writing romance and have two historical western romance series as well as my Shandra Higheagle mystery series.

SW: Tell me about what got you into writing romantic comedies in particular?

Tawna Fenske: I've always loved romance novels, but the comedy element stems from the fact that I'm a magnet for absurdity. Like the time I waxed off my own eyebrow, then accidentally chose the green eyeliner to draw it back on. Or the time I dropped gristle in someone's purse at a fancy luncheon and got caught trying to fish it out. These things happen to me on a daily basis, so it makes sense for me to write comedy instead of tragic literary fiction.

SW: Tell me about what got you into writing romance in particular?

Marie Harte: I'm a big reader and I've always been fascinated by writing. I'm drawn to the romantic elements in books, especially. All the great stories have a love story central to the plot, I think. Family-centered romances are my wheelhouse, as I like playing with the dynamics of family and falling in love, and watching how family impacts how characters deal with their significant others. Heat, heart and humor—the tools of my trade.

SW: Tell me about what got you into writing contemporary romance in particular?

Kate Curran: I love reading authors like Nora Roberts, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Debbie Maycomber and I love writing about small towns with quirky characters so I just gravitated toward contemporary romances. All my books give readers a few laughs, a tear, a catch at their heart, and a happily ever after ending.

SW: Who are some of your inspirations? Some of the most underrated current authors?

Marie Harte: Madeleine L'Engle's "A Wrinkle in Time," read as a child, was one of my biggest influences because her main character was a strong, young girl, and the plot was like nothing I'd ever read before. Totally outside the box. Yet even that book had a hint of romance between the female protagonist and a boy she likes. As I grew older, I started reading Avon's historical romances, moved to romantic suspense from Silhouette and Harlequin, and was hooked.

It's tough to say what authors are underrated, because I have read so many good ones. In the Kindle's infancy, small press houses (like traditional publishers, but mostly electronic-first and with a smaller author base) were the majority of my library. I found a lot of joy there. For fans of great erotic romance, Cherise Sinclair, Emma Holly, and Lorelei James should be on your must-buy list. Paranormal romance is a favorite of mine, and there are so many terrific authors I could mention, but I think Denise Rossetti, Erica Hayes, and Jory Strong were really underrated. I could go on and on... 

Paty Jager: This is always a hard question. From reading their books- Agatha Christie, Nora Roberts, Tony Hillerman, and LaVyrle Spencer. From contact with them, my first critique partner, my small RWA chapter in Salem, and the group of writers in Bend that I have lunch with once a month. Underrated current authors…JL Simpson, Wendy Delaney, Cindy Nord.

Tawna Fenske: I love Kristan Higgins, Emily Giffin, Jonathan Tropper, and Jennifer Weiner for their ability to rip my heart out, make me laugh, and make me tingly in the swimsuit area, all in the span of a few pages. Barbara Kingsolver, Kurt Vonnegut, and Judy Blume are three authors whose books I could read over and over until the pages fall out. As for underrated authors, I think Linda Grimes is one of the funniest writers on the market today.

Kate Curran: My most current inspiration comes from pod casts and in particular Radio Lab. I’m inspired by people who succeed against incredible odds. I also recently read Grit, by Angela Duckworth which I found very inspiring. I still love Nora Roberts, JD Robb, Debbie Maycomber and some new authors are T. R. Ragan, Wendy Delaney, Steve Kluger.

SW: Do you like diving into series with your stories? Is it mostly because it gives you more time to spend with your characters?

Marie Harte: Yes and yes. My stories are centered around a main couple, but without rich secondary characters, a book can fall flat. I get invested in the lives of my characters, their families, hobbies, etc. So though I'm writing about A and B, in the back of my mind I'm already thinking about  A's brother and who he's going to fall in love with, or B's cousin who needs an HEA (happily ever after.)  Typically I know I'm writing a series before I begin the first book, as I tend to write on proposal for my publishers. This means I need to draft a rough layout of the series and get approval before writing.

Paty Jager: Yes, I do like writing series. Most readers like to have that continuity with the characters or story line. A series, especially like my mystery, allows me to show growth in the main characters and a few of the secondary characters. I like moving their lives forward. My first historical western romance series dealt with a family of five brothers. Each one had their story; including the whole family in each book. When readers wanted more of the Halseys, I added three more books and a novella to finish out the next generation’s stories. My current historical western series, Letters of Fate, deals with each hero receiving a letter in the beginning of the book that propels them toward the woman they marry. This series uses a device to connect them but allows me to skip around in time and place.

Tawna Fenske: My agent has been smart about structuring my schedule so I write one fluffy series book, followed by one meatier rom-com, followed by another series book, and so on. I love the mix of the two. I write all my series books as standalones, so there’s no plot thread running between them. Just a character or a setting you might recognize from a previous book. Sometimes readers surprise me by falling madly in love with a character and flooding my inbox with requests to write his/her story. The Front and Center series features siblings in each of the four books, and I introduced the family matriarch in book two (Fiancée for Hire). Readers went NUTS for Stella Patton, so I ended up giving her appearances in the final two books.

Kate Curran: I love having a series because it allows me to keep going back to these characters I’ve come to love. It also gives me an opportunity to develop the secondary characters from the previous book into a new book and really delve into their stories.

Book Signing and Q&A

Saturday, Dec. 10. 1pm

Barnes and Noble, 2690 NE Hwy 20, Bend


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