“She was a battlefield of possibilities.”
“The moment fell between them like a ripe fruit.”
“He wanted to slurp her down like she was milk and he was a starving cat.”
Ms. Bourne, how does one come up with prose that sticks to the reader’s mind years after you wrote it and they’ve read it? Holy Cow! I am so sorry! First, let me welcome you and thank you for finding the time to visit with me. This is a rare opportunity and a privilege, so I hope not to blow it! Okay, now you can answer the question…
JB: I jest use the iProse app, available through the Apple Store for $79.
But, more serious now. Story prose comes to you the same way the next sentence comes to you when you’re sitting with a cuppa coffee, chatting with your friends in a lively dialog. You don’t think about the exact words you’re going to say. They spill out of your mouth and later you think, “Gee, that was clever,” or, somewhat more often, “That was lame.”
I’ll add this though. Nothing is going to emerge in your writing, or your conversation either, that you haven’t put into your head sometime or other. The bucket can only draw water that’s down in the well.
If you want to write good language, you have to read good language.
I was fortunate enough to hear Deanna Raybourn speak at our local RWA Chapter. She asked, “Does anybody here read poetry?” And, of course, my hand went right up. Bang. There I was, having something in common with Deanna Raybourn.
A second way to ‘fill up’ that creative well is to live alertly. You remember how Thoreau went out to the woods so he could live deliberately? This is how a writer lives all the time. He opens himself to the world. He notices.
So, if you want to improve your writing, you actively look at the shape of a roof against the sky. You add it to the photo album in your head. You take mental notes of what’s on people’s faces when a baby starts screaming at the next table in a restaurant.
So a writer doesn’t get his words and images from watching TV or reading books. He doesn’t walk around in a gray haze. He looks at the world.
b2b: [scribing Thoreau] Reading any of your books is like ‘living them’…I ‘feel’ everything as I read…Instead of writing “Barely touching.” You wrote “Barely, barely touching.” (Doyle and Maggie’s story) and that made me feel that touch!
When you’re writing it, do you feel it as you’re writing it? Or do you have second thoughts and agonize about it?
JB: Generating the rough draft is a highly emotional experience for me. I ‘live’ the scene.
It’s like being dropped bodily into the fictive world. The scene around me is colors and shapes, sounds, smells, textures. I feel the anger or fear. If it’s sad, I cry. So embarrassing.
The agonizing second thoughts arrive with the second draft and the third draft and the . . .
b2b: [smiling, thinking: she's just like me!] The characters in your novels, and I include secondary as well as the villains, are all multidimensional, especially Adrian. This boy, later youth and now a man has so many facets to him; it would have been a shame if we never heard his story.
Let’s talk about “The Black Hawk”. How is Adrian different from your other heroes? And speaking of, who is your favorite hero (not including your work; I’m not making you choose) from the written word (oh, and no classics either)?
JB: The biggest difference is that Adrian is not really, or not completely, a ‘good guy’. He doesn’t have an internal moral compass the way my other heroes do. If things had gone just a little differently, Adrian might have ended up a ruthless villain, instead of a ruthless hero.
I try to show a progression of morality in his life, something I don’t do with the other male protagonists. Adrian had to learn ethical behavior almost from scratch. Even as an adult, he’s still working on the fine tuning of a conscience. His life story is, in a way, that of a man building a soul for himself.
Now, I don’t say that’s how the reader has to interpret him. But, for me, part of the fun of writing the whole life story has been to see a madly intelligent, off-balance, feral Adrian pulled out of his niche and grappling with the alien manners, morals and ethics of the wider society.
My favorite hero in fiction?
I like many of the old YA science fiction heroes. I’m talking Heinlein, in particular. These are men of ingenuity, practicality, and a nonchalant acceptance of duty. Homo habilis engineeri. The hero MacGyver.
Good writing can make me fall in love with any sort of hero. But, all else being equal, I’m not so much attracted to the brooding, stalking the moors with a flapping cape type man, or to men who party like frat boys into their twenties and thirties. But I find adult men with an intelligent competence tremendously sexy.
b2b: [scribbling to look up the translation of Homo habilis engineeri] Who surprised you more while you wrote their story, Hawker or Justine?
JB: Justine. Definitely. I came into the first draft of Black Hawk with a pretty good idea of Adrian’s life story. I had a ‘voice’ for him at all the ages I was going to write about. Thank Goodness for that. The structure of Black Hawk was so complicated I would have gone bonkers if I hadn’t had one of the protagonists tacked down.
So Justine was the character being created in Black Hawk. I knew almost nothing about her when I started. My original goal was to create a woman Adrian would care about deeply. Somebody who’d be a match for him.
The dynamic that developed between these two surprised me. I’d originally seen Adrian as much more aggressive in the relationship. Turned out that wasn’t necessary.
Adrian really needed a lady with a steel spine. He could relax and be himself with somebody as hard as he was. So Justine turned out a little different from the way I’d originally imagined her.
b2b: I’ve been looking forward to his ‘tale’ and wanted to thank you for sending me the ARC of it, but I hadn’t finished reading it. This past week I went through all three books (The Forbidden Rose, The Spymaster’s Lady and My Lord and Spymaster) preceding Adrian’s story and it just reminded me of how truly amazing, romantic and full of excitement all the stories are!
Have you had to cut many scenes from the book and if you did, which one did you dread the most? And can we have it for the Excerpts …
JB: In the past, I’ve had to discard some good writing because it just didn’t ‘fit’ the story I ended up with. That’s a sad thing for a writer to do, believe you me. I’ve been trying to do more outlining and scene pre-construction.
As I said, Black Hawk was a tremendously complicated story to structure. I planned that puppy within an inch of its life. It turns out I didn’t have to discard any big chunks of writing. I’m delighted to be so efficient, but it does leave me without any appreciable outtakes. I will say that the hardest scenes to write were the two love scenes.
b2b: [scribbling-make sure to pay attention to the love scenes] What’s up next for Joanna Bourne? Will you be sticking with the same time period (1794-1818) or will you be venturing out?
JB: The next story is Pax’s story, placed in late 1802 and early 1803. Home gamers will recognize this as coming after the events of The Spymaster’s Lady. This is also just after the 1802 section of Black Hawk. 1802-1803 is an interesting year in history. That’s the one-year hiatus of peace in the middle of the twenty-year war between England and France.
b2b: Oh, now you make me so happy! Something to look forward to!
A famous author once asked this question from another, and I thought to finish this interview with the same:
What do you consider the Historical Romance canon?
JB: For a book to get into canon — for me — it has to have been around for maybe a decade; it has to have been innovative when written; it has to be re-readable. I like it if the book had an effect on the works that came after it.
So this is not a list of books on my keeper shelf or the best books being written today. Those are different lists. I’ve included only one book per author. And I list books I like. I’m not an academic or a reviewer, so I don’t have to be even-handed.
Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen; Simply Love, Mary Balogh; An Unwilling Bride, Jo Beverley; Tregaron’s Daughter, Peter O’Donnell w/a Madeleine Brent; Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte; Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte; A Woman of Virtue, Liz Carlyle; Lord of Scoundrels, Loretta Chase; The Proposition, Judy Cuevas w/a Judith Ivory; The Windflower, Tom and Sharon Curtis; Rebecca, Daphne DuMaurier; Alinor, Roberta Gellis; Angelique in Love, Serge and Anne Golon w/a Sergeanne Golon; Outlander, Diana Gabaldon; Frederica, Georgette Heyer; The Sheik, Edith M. Hull; By Arrangement, Madeline Hunter; Flowers From the Storm, Laura Kinsale; Curse of the Pharaohs, Barbara Mertz w/a Elizabeth Peters; Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell; The Scarlet Pimpernel, Emma Orcy; The Rake, Mary Jo Putney; Tokaido Road, Lucia St. Clair; Gaudy Night, Dorothy Sayers; Katherine, Anya Seton, My Brother Michael, Mary Stewart; Forever Amber, Kathleen Winsor; The Gamble, Joan Wolf; Shanna, Kathleen Woodiwiss
b2b: Holy cow! That’s some list! Just for fun, I underlined the one’s I’ve read as well…as for the rest, I’m sure that I’ll be looking into, checking them out and adding them to my wish list. After all, they come recommended by JOANNA BOURNE :)
Jo, you’ve been awesome! I had so much fun! Say the word and we’ll have you back ANYTIME!
Now, bookworms, Jo is giving away a spanking new, signed copy of THE BLACK HAWK to one commenter that answers her question (oh, and its open WORLD WIDE) and here it is:
I’ve cheated in Black Hawk and written my characters at several different stages in their lives. Mostly, you can’t get away with that.
What age do you want your hero and heroine to be?