Elle writes humorous romance and I promise you’ve never met a more intriguing and fun cast of characters then those who populate her Liberty Heights (NJ) series.
Here’s the blurb from the latest Liberty Heights installment that published June 20--Wait Watchers.
Straight laced literary agent Portia Hart is hiding out in Liberty Heights from a crazed writer. She’s sprained her ankle, minus her eyeglasses and can’t see a thing. Newly widowed Truman Wilder is home after a mystery surrounding his wife’s death. The last thing he needs is Portia but this is Liberty Heights where lunacy and romance abound. Portia’s stuck at LouAnn Freedbush’s bed and breakfast. Sister BettyAnn is hysterical due to her eviction from Registered Witches of America. Uncle Rupert Freedbush is big game hunting in the backyard. Why? Because Uncle Rupert insists he’s Ernest Hemingway.
The Valentine clan snatched the property Truman needs for his optometry business. They want to be florists. The Valentines are experts thanks to attending loads of funerals only nobody knows where the bodies are buried. This is New Jersey, after all.
Portia isn’t sure how it happened but Elmo, an Alaskan Malamute, has been left in her custody. Elmo’s diet consists of her shoes. What does Wayne, the psychic beagle say about this? How did everyone end up at 1920s Parisian Lost Generation party? Will Elmo eat the town out of footwear?
Men definitely make passes at gals who wear glasses or are nearly blind without them. Romance rules in Wait Watchers!
You can imagine the fun I had with this. Anything that involves a Freedbush is bound to be entertaining. Of all the eccentrics in Liberty Heights, any Freedbush inevitably wins the grand prize.
ZM—How did you discover that humorous romance was the genre for you?
Elle—First of all, thank you so much for inviting me to visit here. I really appreciate it.
Okay, here it goes. My first book To Catch A Cop, was my practice book. More or less, to figure out how to write a book. I wasn’t concerned with genre, but more interested if I had a viable story. Just trying to see if I had anything remotely resembling a novel. No further ambition and I certainly wasn’t thinking about publication.
Fast forward to publication. I found it interesting that the book was reviewed as a romance and mystery. I never saw the mystery myself and I still don’t but that probably doesn’t matter. Let readers decide. They’re smart people and will figure it out. As I wrote, I found humorous material creeping in. Didn’t plan it. It just happened. Humor is subjective and I wasn’t sure if the things I thought were funny would be to other people. Since I wasn’t setting out to write humor, I didn’t think it mattered all that much.
Over the years, I think I have improved in terms of craft but also I’ve allowed my voice to truly express itself rather than suppress my natural instincts. That voice apparently translated into romantic humor. First of all, I like romance books. I like courtship stories which is essentially the romance formula although there can be lots of sub-genres such as romantic suspense, historical romance and so forth. I like the idea of people discovering each other and themselves in the process. Fine. That’s the romance side.
I come from a family with some excellent raconteurs (and a few who think they are and definitely are not <g>. Don’t tell them, they will be crushed). Undoubtedly that helps because I think of myself as a storyteller. Quite a few of those family members were not only great storytellers, but incredibly funny. Terrific timing. Snappy. Witty. The kind of people who can read the phone book and you roar with laughter.
I think I absorbed some of that by osmosis and it became part of my life view. Laugh as much as you can because it beats crying. I laugh harder at myself than anyone else and I laugh a lot. I also come from a long line of eccentrics and that fits nicely with humor too. So yeah, I think being true to myself, creating a world within a book that has humor and quirky characters seems to be where my natural voice works best.
That doesn’t mean everything I write is funny, nor would I want it to be. There has to be something serious to balance it out, to make the humor appropriate and a relief from tension. I do tend to have a “straight” man (or woman) as a character. The other characters provide the humor, the zany behavior, the quirks that whirl around that “straight” character. You can think of it like any comedy duo—there’s the partner who feeds the lines and the funny one. I also don’t think you can force humor, it has to happen naturally.
ZM—Your books are delightful. Tell us about your journey from draft to publication. How do you like working with Muse It Up Publishing?
Elle—Draft to publication? Hmm. Most of the time I start with a germ of an idea. I don’t sit down and plot, write character sheets or anything like that. I allow the story to unfold in my head. This generally starts with a scene and almost always, as I am in the process of writing that scene, another one will start to form. Eventually, I have a story, a story that might need filling in to link those scenes, but a story. I do know what I am writing toward although not necessarily all the twists and turns to get there.
MuseItUpPublishing was a brand new company when I started with them. The founder and owner, Lea Schizas, was someone I had had contact with previously. She was timely, supportive and always kept her word. I thought a small publisher would be best for me and submitted Animal Crackers to Muse not realizing it would evolve into a series. I have found the “Musers” to be a terrific group of people. The company has grown tremendously with over 200 writers in a number of genres but the flip side is that it still is not too big to get personal responses from Lea and often, very quickly. That says something about her work ethic. I also appreciate that she gets my voice and my editors are devoted to Liberty Heights. They urge me to keep writing the series because there always seems to be a loose thread of a story somewhere and they want to know what happens next in town. That’s pretty good and I’m happy with that.
I do have several beta readers although increasingly, I feel less need for them but nevertheless, they too are devoted to all things Liberty Heights. Once I am sure I have completed a manuscript, I send it to them for feedback. Without fail, they find scenes that require tightening and point out typos. They ask questions that force me to look critically at my own work. Inevitably, that leads to a much better, tighter manuscript before I submit.
ZM—I’ve read TO CATCH A COP and OUTBACK HERO, but I think you’ve found your stride in the Liberty Heights series. What’s in the water in Liberty Heights? Everywhere you turn there’s a new zany character or romance springing into bloom. What inspired your wonderful New Jersey town?
Elle—Good question. I was originally writing Animal Crackers as a stand-alone book. Basically, I liked the idea of a laid back veterinarian (I’ve met a lot of vets through my pets and they are always really nice people) and a stressed out workaholic. Opposites attract—a fairly common theme. Nothing unusual about that. I knew immediately his name was Jake Marx and Animal Crackers had to fit in somehow with that allusion to all the zany antics of the Marx Brothers.
Around the same time, I was discovered, or more correctly, found by my high school classmates. From New Jersey. I’ve spent my adult life outside the US. Couldn’t wait to travel, have adventures and experiences and I did. I still don’t know how they found me in Australia at the time but I am so glad they did. I never dreamed anyone thought about me or missed me but it seems they did and I was overwhelmed by the volume of emails begging me to come to the next reunion since I had never been to one. I gave my word that okay, wherever I was in the world I would come. Rash promise.
A few years later, that promise came back to nag my conscience. At the time I was living in Israel but I kept my word and flew over to Jersey with some trepidation which was totally misplaced. I had the time of my life, the most wonderful weekend of reunion activities. It was as if there had been no huge gap of missing years. It’s not a great leap to figure out that setting the book in New Jersey, in the fictional town of Liberty Heights had something to do with all those memories and reconnections that were happening.
Why Liberty Heights as a name? New Jersey has a fair amount of colonial history and I thought that name fit in those terms but also I had the idea in the back of my head that relationships might entail giving up some things—previous ideas, beliefs, even one’s life view but that can also be liberating and provide a new sort of freedom. Liberty, right? Of course, it takes effort and self-examination, a bit of a climb. Heights. Yeah, corny but I still liked it.
As I was writing Animal Crackers, Jake Marx, that cutie veterinarian, kept talking to his cousin Ellie. The problem was Ellie Marx wasn’t in the book. No matter what I did, she kept getting in the way. I could see and hear her very clearly. I understood there was another story, another book that would arise from Animal Crackers and it truly pleased me because I didn’t want to leave Liberty Heights.
As the series evolved, several fortuitous things happened. In writing a series, even just the first two books, (I still didn’t know if it would go beyond two books at that point), I had created quite a few peripheral characters in Liberty Heights. I liken these characters to packages left by Arctic explorers in the event of an emergency. You can pick them up and use them later. Those characters were my packages and each one had a story to tell. The most interesting thing to me was my acceptance that Liberty Heights itself is a character too and I love that. I love the town, everyone in it, especially the more eccentric people and there are quite a few. I love that these books are not exactly traditional romance novels in the sense that characters grow and develop and reappear in the series so we find out how their lives are progressing.
I especially like the age range of characters. Because it is a series, I’ve had the chance to develop senior citizens as characters (and Liberty Heights seniors are pretty feisty, Must be something in the water. Or the air. Or it’s a Jersey thing <g>). I’ve also enjoyed having kids as characters and slowly watching them grow up. Quite a few readers have written to me telling me how much they enjoy the Liberty Heights kids and I’m so glad they do.
Is Liberty Heights a real place? Yes and no. Mostly no, although it’s real to me. It’s situated in Bergen County and all the towns mentioned in the book are real. Ft. Lee, Teaneck, Oradell. Real places. Check on any map.
My mom grew up in Englewood. I was raised in a town not far away so I know the territory even if I haven’t lived in Jersey for years. Jersey is a state of mind. Jersey people do things their own way and my experience of growing up Jersey included more than its fair share of feisty, funny and quirky people. I’m so glad Liberty Heights gives me the chance to tell those stories. The series is my love letter to a New Jersey childhood. BTW, the park and lake for skating in the winter are based on my childhood home town. We all did that every winter, watch for the flag (the one that looks like the Japanese flag—it appears in Hanky Panky—I honestly couldn’t make that up), and head to the lake with our skates.
ZM—Many craft books stress that writers must read and read a lot. Who is your favorite author, or what is your favorite genre? What draws you to a book you read for enjoyment?
Elle—Reading is absolutely required. Not even negotiable. I read pretty much anything and everything and have a long list of authors I love. This is not a full list, just a few. Diana Gabaldon tops the list. Who doesn’t love Outlander? :-D
ZM--I hear you on Outlander!
Elle--I also love Amy Tan, Louise Penny, Rhys Bowen, Lawrence Block, Sharon Penman, Shelby Foote, Thomas Friedman, Dee Brown, Larry McMurtry, R. F. Delderfield, Bill Bryson, Faye Kellerman, Janet Evanovich, Jennifer Crusie and many, many others.
I read fiction in many genres. Mystery. Romance. Historical. Thriller. Fantasy. Young adult. A great story is a great story and will suck the reader in and I love getting yanked into a compelling story.
I read quite a bit of non-fiction too and I’m particularly partial to history. American history. World history. Medieval history. Pretty much anything. I find it all fascinating. To me, hardly anything tops a great book. It’s the ultimate pleasure (okay, there might be one or two things that top a great book but not more than that!) Thanks to Kindle and other devices, I always have a book with me. Everywhere. On the beach, on a bus, lounging around the pool, in waiting rooms. Give me a great book and I’m a happy camper.
ZM--Thank you, Elle! This was a ton of fun, just like your books.