Laura Kinsale on Writing, Sirens, and “Lessons in French”

Gentle Reader, in October of 2009, I had the privilege of numbering Ms. Laura Kinsale among this blog’s readers. The result? Faster than she could say, “Thanks for this, my second RITA”, I hit her up for an interview. She said yes. 🙂 Please join me in welcoming the NYT best-selling author of twelve historical romances – one of which was released only yesterday – Laura Kinsale. 

There’s one question I’m dying to ask, and I’m certain many readers will share my curiosity: What’s with the hats? If you have a fetish, will you be indulging it in publicity photos for your new book, Lessons in French?  

I love hats!  I have no idea why women are not required to wear hats in public anymore.  Or men either.  (Have you seen Matt Bomer wearing a fedora?)   Some recent scores: I snared a pink and purple Emilio Pucci rain hat on sale, and bought a great fuschia-and-black wool winter hat by an Estonian designer when I visited Talinn this summer.

I guess there’s a danger of ending up looking like those old ladies who wear the big sun hats with bows, but since I began aging backwards at 35 (with sunscreen), I refuse to recognize the threat.  Speaking of fedoras, I tried to talk my husband into one, but he ended up buying it for me.  You can’t look like an old lady in a fedora. 

I’ve read that you gave no real thought to writing until age thirty-five, when you were a geologist often stuck in remote locations. You began to read out of boredom, fell in love with story, and not long after, found a few plots you wanted to execute. Once you decided you wanted to write, can you describe your learning curve and road to publication? 

It wasn’t quite like that.  I have always wanted to write fiction, but could never think of a plot.  I wrote my first story in 3rd grade, about the Lost Colony, and gave it a happy ending.  Then I had a dry spell until high school, when I got a story published in the school magazine.  Another dry spell, until I started writing romances on legal pads during those all-nighters out on drilling rigs.

I’ve never had any formal training to write fiction.  I don’t think it’s necessary and it could actually be counter-productive, depending on the agenda of the teacher. The best training for writing is to read, and then to go back and analyze how the writer did it.  When I did that with some of my favorite writers and scenes, what I found was how little it took to create an emotion, if the right words were chosen.  I think it’s helpful to read outside the genre you write in, too.  Read as widely as you can.


44 thoughts on “Laura Kinsale on Writing, Sirens, and “Lessons in French”

  1. What a great interview – some not-so-common questions. Perhaps you should be a Journalist, Hope? Good job!

    Laura, I should put you in touch with my boss who also has a deep appreciation for hats. She looks like a new person every morning – and her hats reflect her mood.

    Thank you for sharing this with us and I look forward to reading the new book.

  2. I’ve been so excited about this book’s release, and my BFF bought it for me yesterday, before I could get to the bookstore — so I have a wonderful treat to look forward to today.

    Laura, I have always enjoyed the emotion, and the humor, and the characters in your books. They are permanent members of my “Keeper Hall of Fame” (right next to the Georgette Heyers!), because I know I will experience something wonderful each time I read them.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


  3. Brilliant interview, Ms. Tart, take a bow.

    Interesting to read about it being inadvisable to force yourself to write. I went through a two-year blank before I started writing seriously. I stalled on the book I was working on and put it away after ending up deleting stuff day after day after day.

    Love, love, love hats. I used to wear them when I lived in the UK. Sadly, the only hats people wear around here have ‘John Deere’ on them. 🙁

  4. As someone with formal training in writing fiction, I have to say that Laura nails it in one: “it could actually be counter-productive, depending on the agenda of the teacher.” Luckily, reading can undo the damage. 🙂 Great interview! And great hats!

  5. That was a truly fabulous interview, ladies: such great questions!

    I breathed a little sigh of relief reading the advice about it being inadvisable to force writing – there are definitely days when sitting at the keyboard takes real effort and the words are barely there, and I push through those: but I’ve definitely been beating myself up about the longer stretches when I just don’t have any words –or any story at all, for that matter– and maybe I should just learn to relax a little and trust that it will come naturally. 🙂

    Thanks, Laura, for sharing!

  6. Thanks, Laura, for the insights on your writing and on taking care of one’s writerly self (she said, snapping out of her slouch). LIF is now on my TBR list.

    Hope, nice work. If you ever interview me, I promise to do fun things with oranges, too.

  7. Great interview, ladies. I’ll echo everyone above about the dry spells in writing–I’ve been feeling really wretched the last few months about devolving into a big talker instead of an actual writer.


    And, I’m sorry, but I just can’t stop myself:

    “Hope, nice work. If you ever interview me, I promise to do fun things with oranges, too.”

    Tuzki Bunny Emoticon
    If that code doesn’t work, insert snickering rabbit here.

  8. Laura,

    Hello from a fellow historical author and I hope to one day be able to add “New York Times Bestselling Author” to my own covers!

    Thanks for the great interview. I’ve often heard jsut keep writing, no matter if it’s drivel, just keep going. I always feel worse at the end of the day when I do that, like I’ve wasted 8 hours when I could have at least done laundry or dishes. So, thanks for giving me another perspective on that.

    You’re so right, we all have our own process and we need to find what works for us, and then make it work!

    Thanks again and Hope, you did a great job too!

  9. This is a freaking fantastic interview! I can’t believe i”ve never heard of her? Gonna remedy my blank spot in my library now!

  10. Dear The Tart,

    This was an in-depth look at Laura as both a writer and a person. The Q&A was great! I can especially relate to her take on writer’s block. Sometimes it’s just better to hold off and not write until the mood hits me. Whenever I’ve tried to write simply for the sake of writing, it has never amounted to anything, but once the inspiration strikes, then I’m like a rabid writing beast who can’t be stopped! That doesn’t always mean genius on paper, but at least I’m writing! 😉

    Laura congrats on your latest release! Your new website looks great and your dog is so adorable!

    xoxo — Hilary

  11. This was a fun interview, thanks Hope!

    Laura I too have a thing for fedoras. I haven’t worn mine in years….Not since my Duran Duran days, but I loved it. It made me feel braver somehow 🙂

    It’s also nice to know that a best seller doesn’t necessarily write on command. You made us feel better knowing that just because we get a writer’s block, that doesn’t mean we are not, or won’t be successful writers.

  12. Hope,

    What a great interview! I found it fun and very informative. Being able to hear that one can become a bestseller without any formal training in writing fiction is such a complete relief for me. I’ve always wanted to write but never really had the chance or made the time until I was 37 years old; I’ve felt as if I’d waited too long. It’s great to hear that the best training for writing is reading, and that, I do a lot of. 😀

    I will definitely be picking up Laura Kinsale’s new release!


  13. Great interview! I’ve always been a big fan of Laura Kinsale, so it was fascinating to hear about her writing process. And I’m drooling over her desk!


  14. This is, quite seriously, one of the best author interviews I’ve read in a long while. I love all the details about working method. I love that it’s long and that the questions and answers are both really thoughtful. Many thanks to both of you!

  15. I was really interested to see Laura didn’t start seriously getting into writing until age 35. To me, that actually sounds pretty young but I guess most writers start sooner.

    What would you say are the benefits of getting a late(r) start in the writing business?

  16. Of course, Hope, you did an outstanding job!! Par for the course.
    If posting here allows me to be entered to possibly receive a copy of Laura Kinsale’s newest book, “Lessons in French”, all the better!!
    It is an honor to receive comments, from Laura, a widely published author on writing. Thank you, Ms. Kinsale, for being so gracious to devulge tips that might help us *fledging* “wanna be’s”.

  17. I was not at all surprised that Laura agreed to come here. Our lovely Hope is a star on the rise.

    BTW, I ordered Laura’s book after she visited another blog a few weeks ago. Haven’t received it yet – hopefully tomorrow.

  18. Ventoux is so thrilled with his orange debut. I put the fruit down in front of him, not sure what he’d make of it. He often has his own agenda, and I rather expected he’d give me the insulted, “Mom, this is BROCCOLI,” look that he gets when salad falls on the kitchen floor and he checks it out. But he grabbed the orange and began tossing it and rolling it so fast I could barely catch more than a blur!

    I was just watching a video of some SF conference a few years ago where CJ Cherryh and Jane Fancher were holding a seminar of some sort. At one point Jane states very unequivocally that there’s no point in trying to be a novelist before you’re 35 because you don’t know enough to have any thing to say.

    The camera panned around to the audience, where a couple of young’uns looked rather disguntled at this news.

    I think it has some truth to it, tho frankly you do start to forget what you know so maybe it kinda evens out over time. 😉

    Thanks, Miss Tart, a fun interview was had all ’round!

  19. Thank you all for your kind words. I’ve been sitting on my hands all day so that Laura can have the floor; she is the belle of the ball, after all.

    However, I must address one point: Being nice to the host — perhaps verging into suck-up zone — while at all times encouraged — OR posting more than one comment — yes, this means you Becke Martin/Davis — will not change the rules of book eligibility.

    The Tart must, under all circumstances, be fair.

    PS: She also said all the above in a teasing tone, since it hasn’t always been clear today that she tends to be ironic.

  20. I’m really looking forward to reading Lessons in French. Reading this fascinating interview just made me all the more eager to get my hands on the book.

  21. Hope, I am humbled by your greatness and your brilliance in snagging one of the best romance writers of all time! (Is that enough to placate you so that I may now gush over one of my favorite authors? Will I avoid punishment?) *grin*

    While in DC, at RWA’s national conference, I sat in on Sourcebooks’ spotlight and was happy to hear I’d be reading a new Laura Kinsale book soon. I’m thrilled you’re back, Ms Kinsale and look foreward to the story.

    As a writer, I’m comforted to hear you describe your writing process and definitely related to the “blind alley” moments. It makes me feel a little less of an imposter.

    Thank you!

  22. Posting again, with a reminder that I’m not in the drawing for the book.

    I was at the Sourcebook workshop with Rosie, and also found it very exciting and informative. We both left there very buzzed about the publisher and eager to read Laura’s new book!

  23. Oly, the giveaway closes at 0700 MST on Friday, January 29, 2009. Unless you specify otherwise, I believe your comment just qualified you for entry. 🙂

    Rosie, you have escaped a publish thrashing. This time.

  24. when you said:
    When I write, it feels like a pitcher of water: I pour it out, and it just takes a certain amount of time to fill back up again.
    that’s what clicked with me.
    Thanks for the inspiration.

  25. Informative and fun, thank you ladies.
    Love the interview, love the advice on proper equipment for the job – you don’t see professionals in other walks of life do their jobs without it – so we should take the same care. Thanks for the reminder from she who also doesn’t hear alarms 😉
    AND most of all love the gorgeous Ventoux!

  26. I love hats but I don’t have the head for them. I love positively silly.

    I’m always torn between the don’t force it and the write every day discipline camps. I fall in the middle – write every day, unless you can’t and then don’t write?

    Also, Hope, you inspired me to ask a fave author if I could interview her closer to her next book’s release date. I’m so excited b/c even SHE agrees I’m pretty much her perfect reader, so I expect it will be fun and contain a lot of rabbit trails.

  27. ETA: The draw for copies of Lessons in French is now concluded, as is Ms. Kinsale’s formal time at Tartitude. (Winners announced in a coming post.) I’ll leave the comments section open, however, as I have a hunch we haven’t exhausted the subject matter.

    Many thanks to Ms. Kinsale for an awesome interview, to Sourcebooks for the giveaway, and to you – the reader – for being here.

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