Tuesday, November 18, 2014

November Author Interview: RITA Winner Joanna Bourne

I met Joanna Bourne at the Books and Writers Forum when I joined in 2008. Immediately, I was drawn to her as an author, teacher, and friend. Over the years she has written some of the best historical romances ever published and I’m thrilled to get to interview her. Her latest Rogue Spy came out on November 4 and I expect it will be in contention for a RITA just like her award-winning The Black Hawk and My Lord and Spymaster. Be sure to check out her blog (there will be a link here) that’s full of info on writing and various research topics she’s uncovered while working on her wonderful books.


For years he’d lived a lie. It was time to tell the truth . . . even if it cost him the woman he loved.

Ten years ago he was a boy, given the name Thomas Paxton and sent by Revolutionary France to infiltrate the British Intelligence Service. Now his sense of honor brings him back to London, alone and unarmed, to confess. But instead of facing the gallows, he’s given one last impossible assignment to prove his loyalty.

Lovely, lying, former French spy Camille Leyland is dragged from her safe rural obscurity by threats and blackmail. Dusting off her spy skills, she sets out to track down a ruthless French fanatic and rescue the innocent victim he’s holding—only to find an old colleague already on the case. Pax.

Old friendship turns to new love, and as Pax and Camille’s dark secrets loom up from the past, Pax is left with a choice—go rogue from the Service or lose Camille forever…


ZM: I’m so excited to get the chance to interview you for In the Shade of the Cherry Tree! Your historical romances are so much more than just romances. The historical accuracy speaks to my historian’s heart and your characters’ intelligence speaks to my mind. How did you come up with the idea of spies in the French Revolution and Napoleonic era as a setting?

Jo: In this era --  from a bit before the American Revolution to the Battlefield of Waterloo -- most of what we take for granted about how we run governments and how we think about personal freedom was decided.  This was a time of Big Ideas clashing. People were fighting over the right to vote. Freedom of religion. Equality under the law. Fair taxation.

Folks on both sides were passionate. People of Good Will disagreed. What better time and place to spy?

ZM: What draws you to the romance genre? Have you ever written any other genre?

 Jo: I’m Historical Romance all the way, though I wrote nonfiction for years before I started writing fiction.

 I want happy endings. I want heroes and heroines. I want brave, clever, principled characters who behave well under difficult circumstances. So I write Romance. Romance is, by definition, generally optimistic and with an upbeat ending.

 ZM: As I said earlier, your characters are full and three-dimensional. Do you have any certain techniques for discovering them?

 Jo: I think the answer to creating rich characters is to give yourself time.  Sit and think about them. Go for long walks and imagine them. When you’re falling asleep, dream about the scenes of the book.

 And then write the story. When you’re writing the characters will reveal themselves by their actions.

 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?

 Jo: I don’t actually read much Romance genre. I have no idea why this should be the case. Maybe I’m scared that I’ll find myself picking up ideas from other writers. Maybe when a story is similar to my own it comes to jostle in my head too much.

 So what do I read?  I read strong stylists in any field. They have lots to teach me if I can only be sharp enough to pick it up. Dunnett, Sayers, Peter S. Beagle, Bujold, Douglas Adams ...many others.

 But mostly what I read for fun is nonfiction. A good bit of that is the diaries and journals of people in my era of interest. I also read just off-the-wall stuff about the weird, unusual corners of reality.  I’m re-reading Plagues and People right now, with its somewhat off-beat version of history. And I recently finished Travels With Charley.   I’m a sucker for road books.

 ZM: Are you already working on the next book, or is it time for a break? What do you do after the final rush of publication is over?

 Jo: What do I do to celebrate the completion of a manuscript?

A nice meal at a good restaurant. Out for coffee with my betas and my friends and I buy everybody chocolates. And maybe I raise a glass of wine.

No time for a long break though.

As to the next work ...   I’m frantically plugging away on the next manuscript. This will be the Severine story.

I’m at the stage when it seems impossible to write and nothing is fitting together and I am totally certain I will never be able to get it right. This stage starts when I realize I have another manuscript due and I don’t know what it is.  It continues until I get the galleys of the book and know it is now  Too Late To Change Anything. 

ZM: Finally, what questions do wish interviewers would ask, but they never do?

 Jo: I want interviewers to ask -- Do you have a Writer’s Cat?

And I will say that I have a Writer’s Cat who contributes bushels of fur to my efforts and lies across my keyboard when I am particularly brilliant and filled with ideas.

Everyone should have a Writer’s Cat.

ZM: ;-) My toy poodles are filling that function at the moment. Thank you for a lovely conversation and for such wonderful reads!


Joanna Bourne is the award-winning author of historical romances set in England and France during the Napoleonic Wars, including My Lord and Spymaster and The Spymaster's Lady. Joanna lives in the foothills of the Blue Ridge with her family, a medium-sized mutt and a faux Himalayan cat. She writes Historical Romances set in England and France during the Napoleonic Wars. She's fascinated by that time and place - such passionate conviction and burning idealism ... and really sexy clothes.


  1. What a great interview! And Jo, I know exactly how you feel when you talk about "the stage when it seems impossible to write and nothing is fitting together and I am totally certain I will never be able to get it right."

    I seem to hit that stage from time to time, but it's been particularly prevalent here near the end. I think I finally discern the path, though.

    Love, love, love your books. Looking forward to reading about Pax's adventures, but I'm saving it till my flight home at the end of the month.

  2. Jo, Your books are a joy to read. I save each one for a time when I can enjoy them without interruption. I want to take the opportunity to thank you for all of the advice and support you give. It is incredibly helpful. I refer to my Jo file and your website frequently.

    Zan Marie, as always, great interview. My pooches stretch across my computer out of sheer boredom with my preoccupation. I wish it was due to my brilliance. :0)

  3. Jon and ZanMarie, that was a great interview.

    My very, very favorite Jo moment is watching her ponder something in the new WIP and say, "I have my MC in a whorehouse and I'm contemplating torture. I wonder why I never get invited out to dinner."

    If anyone ever wants a great writing course on dialogue, they just have to read one of Jo's books. Not to say the entire book isn't great, but the dialogue is luscious.

    Thanks for sharing this.


  4. I have three cats but they know not to bother me at the computer. One of them is heavy enough to squash me and makes writing difficult.

  5. @Beth, you're better than I am, I have to read Jo's books the minute I get them!

    @Thanks, Rose!

    @thanks, Julie! I'll second you on the excellence of Jo's dialogue.

    @Sara, Oooh! Well-trained cats! You're special. ;-)

  6. Good interview to both of you. I loved Rogue Spy. Wasn't much good for anything until I finished it.
    I, too, have several "writer's cats" but mostly they watch. I have a "writer's bird" also, who likes to bite my toes under the desk (and it hurts!)and when he gets on the desk, he likes to eat my keyboard. Ah, inspiration!

  7. J, that bird just wants you to write faster! I'm glad you enjoyed the interview!

  8. Congratulations! And a great interview.

  9. Hi Beth --

    There are 'writer truths' that everybody faces.

    The "this mess is so wide and so deep and so tall. I can not clean it up.There is no way at all." is one of the great truths

  10. Hi Rose Phillips --

    Thank ye kindly.

    Somebody was saying to me the other day, "You have to identify your target audience."

    And I said something like, "Ummm ... They like to read." So I'm glad I can satisfy the itch to read.

  11. Hi Julie --

    I remember that. I did do the whorehouse but I decided against torture in favor of killing somebody.

    Decisions, decisions.

  12. Hi S.P.Bowers --

    My cat bosses me around something dreadful. Keeps the dog in line too. Nothing like a strong-willed cat for interfering with my work.

  13. Hi J. Byrd --

    I love birds myself -- so bright and chipper. I especially love canaries. Unfortunately, I seem to be allergic to them.

    I kept wondering why I started coughing and sneezing the minute I laid down to sleep. Got rid of my lovely feather pillows and my down comforter (that was hard) and I slept like a boaby.

  14. Hi Nas --

    Zan Marie asks such great questions.

  15. Nas, Thank you very much! It's easy when you interview someone as interesting a Jo.

  16. Brilliant interview! I love your take on writing romance and I'm glad to hear you say you don't read too much in that genre. I feel guilty since I read very few romance authors yet that's what I love to write.
    Travels with Charly was lovely! Even the dark bits, when he was having those race-related conversations with folks.


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