Photo from the cover of “The Man For Her”, by Alice Valdal
We’re visited today by Alice Valdal, historical and contemporary romance author. Her first book Love and Lilacs is a hardcover from Avalon press. The Man For Her, and Her One and Only were
published by Kensington. Alice earned her B.A. from Queen’s University at Kingston, Ontario. with a major in English and a minor in history, then went on to teach those subjects at a high school level. Through several career changes, her love of romance and belief in happy endings never wavered, a fact that makes her books so hard to put down. Alice lives with her husband and two cats on Vancouver Island. When not writing, she enjoys gardening, needlework, music and the ocean view from her kitchen window.
CWF: I speak for everyone at Eve Laments when I say we are excited to talk with you about your work and yummy stories. The logical place to start is at the beginning. When did you start to write, and why?
ALICE: I’ve heard so many authors say they’ve wanted to write stories since they were old enough to read, but I can’t make that claim. I remember writing a very boring story in grade five where a group of kids went on a picnic. Nothing happened and they all came home “tired but happy.” After that, I gave up creative writing. Then, in my mid-twenties, I moved away from job and friends. I spent a lot of time reading Harlequin romances and the notion that “I could do that” took hold. I didn’t write the book for another two years, but eventually, that notion became Love and Lilacs.
CWF: Your story-telling skills are wonderful. I love how you capture the time and place of a story, but also use emotions that transcend time. In “The Man for Her”, for example Lottie is constantly reminding her son to put on his coat before going out into the cold. The story takes place in the 1880’s, but it wasn’t even 10 years ago I was telling my son to do the same thing on a daily basis. Does this come naturally to you, or do you have to think of connections to make with modern day?
ALICE: It comes naturally. Once I’m in the story, I really sink into the character’s mind and heart. That’s what’s so much fun about historicals, even though the trappings of life, houses, lights, transportation, work, change with the time period, the commands of the heart are unchanging.
CWF: Where do your story ideas come from?
ALICE: Through hard work! I wish I had a great imagination, but I don’t. I’ve been at workshops where a group brainstorms a book idea. Other people are throwing out plot twists and red herrings, dreaming up secret babies and deranged uncles, while I’m sitting there feeling stunned. I need to sit quietly by myself with pen and paper to get a story idea.
CWF: Do your stories just pour out and evolve as you write, or do you outline and do detailed character sketches?
ALICE: I’m an “into the mist” type of writer. Hopeless at plotting and outlining in advance. I try and try, especially after listening to a brilliant author outline her method, but I can’t write a book that way. Again, the paper and pen are my friends. One friend says I’d use a quill if they were still available. There’s something about the act of writing by hand that stimulates my brain. I can’t say the story “pours” out, more like it “leaks” onto the page, but that’s my process and I’ve got to honour it.
CWF: Are there bits of you in your characters, and bits of your life in your stories?
ALICE: Sure. And bits of other people’s lives and bits of fictional lives. I might have seen an actor portray worry in a film. His gestures and actions, may show up in my story to show a character who worries. I believe that an author brings her own experience to the act of writing. Even though I’ve never robbed a bank, or crossed a river in a basket, it is my personal experience of fear, that allows me to write about fear in those situations.
CWF: As a reader, it seems like writing styles come in and out of vogue. How have styles changed since you wrote your first novel, “Love and Lilacs?”
ALICE: Absolutely. Now-a-days Love and Lilacs would be considered a “sweet” romance. At the time I wrote it, that was what romance looked like. Since then, the whole world of erotica, women-in-jeopardy, kick-ass heroines, vampires and aliens have flooded the romance market. An author today has many more choices regarding the type of book she writes for sale,(authors can write anything they wish, but if they want to sell it to editors and readers it has to have popular appeal.) but the elements of good story-telling don’t change. Solid, likable characters, interesting plot lines, clear, grammatical writing, – these things apply today as much as they did in Jane Austen’s world – today’s hero just might have fangs.
CWF: “Love and Lilacs” is your first published novel, but is it your first completed novel?
ALICE: No. My first novel was published in 1979 but never went on sale because the publisher declared bankruptcy. So, I have a box of books, but never received a cent in royalties from that one.
CWF: How long did it take you to go from your first finished manuscript to a published book?
ALICE: After my first discouraging foray into the publishing world, I gave up for a while. The next manuscript I completed was Love and Lilacs. Since it’s publication I’ve written about ten books that live under my bed, as I try out different sub-genres.
CWF: Did you have an agent, and do you have one now?
CWF: What is the best thing about being a writer?
ALICE: I can read novels and call it market research. I can go to a coffee shop with my paper and pen and say I’m working.
CWF: Are there any down sides?
ALICE: The lack of a regular paycheck. The uncertainty of the publishing world. Since I’m a slow writer, I can’t follow trends. By the time I’ve finished a book, the trend is over and done with, so I’m always exploring uncharted waters.
CWF: What advice would you give to hopeful novelists?
ALICE: Being an author can be a lonely and frustrating occupation, and, at the end of all your effort, you may not be able to sell your book. If you write only for fame and fortune, you may be disappointed. If you write because you love the process of telling a story, then be a writer – and one day, you may be published.
CWF: The ground is shifting underneath the publishing world. Do you have any predictions about where paper books will land when the tremors settle?
ALICE: If I had a crystal ball? Well, me and my quill pen hope that paper books stay around for a very long time, but I suspect electronic books will capture a much larger share of the commercial fiction market. I have a friend who is an avid reader. She bought a kobe because she travels a lot and packing books makes for a heavy suitcase. To her surprise, she finds herself using the e-reader at home, even when the paper book is on her shelf. I suspect she is in the forefront of a sea change in reading habits.
CWF: Do you read ebooks, paper books, or both?
ALICE: So far, I only read paper books, but since my friend is such an evangelist for the e-reader, I’m tempted. Our local library will loan out a kobe, so I plan to give it a try.