An interview with Pam Rosenthal
Monday, November 17th, 2008 Nov 17th, 2008 leave a response

Kate Pearce interviews Pam Rosenthal

I first met Pam Rosenthal at one of the Romance Writers of America’s annual conferences. We were both getting drinks at Starbucks and I saw her name badge and had a complete fan girl moment because I’d loved all her books. She was nice enough to say she knew who I was too, but I was still struck dumb to meet someone whose beautiful literary style of writing I admired so much.

Later, I got to know Pam even better when we collaborated with some other erotic historical romance writers over at the Spiced Tea Party blog. Her posts made me think for days and I also found out that she had an alter ego-Molly Weatherfield who wrote the classic erotic novel Carrie’s Story. By that time I was also a Lustie and Molly’s name came up frequently as someone whose writing was greatly admired-and I knew her! Pam very kindly consented to her first interview as Molly on Lust Bites and now she’s back to share her new erotic historical release “The Edge of Impropriety

Take it away Pam!

Kate. Why do you write in this particular time period? Is it the politics, the frocks, the repressed emotions?

Pam: All of the above. And Byron, Keats, and Shelley as well. The odd thing is that when I started writing romance, I thought my time period would be the French Revolution. Because that’s where my first romance, The Bookseller’s Daughter, was set. And because Carrie, the heroine of my Molly Weatherfield BDSM erotica, was a lover of French literature and a disciple, in a sense, of the Marquis de Sade. So I thought I’d want to write in the Marquis de Sade’s period – and never, never, in that stodgy old English Regency.

But it turns out that the English Regency wasn’t so stodgy after all, and that it was profoundly influenced by the French Revolution and by its own revolutionary geniuses like Mary Wollstonecraft. And so what I try to write about is the meeting of two worlds – the very proper ton, and the more raffish, interesting world of rebels and reformers that you’d find east of Regent Street.

K. Do you have a writing process? Do you plot or see it as it comes at you?

P. I start out with a beginning and an ending – in romance, these aren’t so far apart; the ending rather recapitulates the beginning, with all the wild desire now satisfied. It’s the middle that makes everyone crazy.

K. How many hours a day do you get to write and do you have a set schedule?

P. I try to write every morning for a few hours. When I’m not promoting a book, that is – promotion being God’s way of teaching us to appreciate the days when we actually get to write. And also (with a good interviewer like you, Kate) an opportunity to sit back and think about what we do, what works, and what doesn’t.

And what I’m thinking these days is that I ought to trust my own daydreams and fantasies more. The point of craft, I’m coming to think, is that when the daydreams and fantasies really get cooking, you’ll have the words, the syntax, and the general fluidity so you can get it while it’s hot.

K. How much research goes into your books? And do you do it all yourself?

P. A fair amount of research. And no, thank heaven, I don’t do it by myself. I have a wonderful research partner in my husband Michael – and I can’t describe it any better than I did in this guest post at the Wet Noodle Posse

K. What do you consider your strengths as a writer, what about your weaknesses?

P. My major strength, I think, is that I seem to be able to write about sex, to put experience that lies on the very edge of consciousness into words, syntax, and verb tense. Part of this strength, I think, is that I’m patient enough (and love the craft enough) to keep at it until I get it right. And part of it is that I probably have a few wires crossed in the erotic and intellectual parts of my central nervous system. So I think that even at my advanced age I’m still drawing on the energy of my own shy, wonky adolescent erotic curiosity and discoveries.

My major weaknesses are: first off, that I sometimes get so enamored of all that complexity and fragmentation that I don’t always move my plots along as quickly as the romance genre wants them to go; and secondly (as readers know, and I am sorry, really), that I’m a ridiculously slow writer. Which is why I think I should do more daydreaming and fantasizing up front and more writing it down (fast! And trusting to my craft!) after I’ve got the fantasies hot and bubbling (see above).

K. Do you fall in love with your heroes?

P. You bet. And my heroines. Gosh, don’t we all fall in love with our heroes and heroines?

K. Do you have a favorite character from all of your books so far? Is there anyone you’d like to keep writing about?

P. Not a favorite, exactly. But someday I’d like to find out what happens to Alec Hervey, David’s son in Almost a Gentleman, who in his sweet, brainy reasonableness is rather modeled on my own son. I haven’t thought of Alec for a while, but when the Library Journal reviewer told me how much she liked the preadolescent niece of my current hero (in The Edge of Impropriety) I found myself rather wanting to introduce this young woman-to-be to Alec – after she grows up, of course. (And hey, can I plug the Library Journal review of Edge?

K. Where do you think your books fall in the erotica/erotic romance spectrum?

P. Well, I know that these things are usually seen as a kind of spectrum from plot-driven erotic romance to episodic erotica. In the world of romance publishing, erotica’s seems to be measured by the number of sexual encounters per thousand words. While to some scholars, it’s erotica if the book is structured around its sexual set-pieces. see Teach Me Tonight.

Neither view works for me. I like to mix it up. And once in a while I get a reader or reviewer who sees it as I do – as in this recent Romantic Times review of Edge, where Kathe Robin says that “Rosenthal’s… always looking for new ways to burn up the pages and keep your mind focused on characters and plot, not just her wonderfully erotic love scenes.” I was thrilled that at least in that sente
nce Kathe sees it as an and rather than an or kind of thing, just as I do. And I cherish this comment from some long-ago blogger, who said of Phoebe and David in Almost a Gentleman, “even when they’re across the room from each other, there’s always this feeling that you’re walking in on them in the middle of fucking.” I’d add that when they’re fucking I want there to be the feeling that the plot is progressing.

That said, and (at last) to answer your question, I think I write the erotica I want and need. Which changes with time. In the Carrie/SM books, it was about youthful freedom, intellectual honesty, and curiosity. But youth ends in maturity and commitment. And so finding a possible happy ending for Carrie led me to romance, which is about how we love and want to be loved. And it led me to try to write successful, and also erotic, romance novels.

These days I may be going somewhere different; I’m not sure yet.
But again, I wouldn’t be interested in writing (or reading) erotica that wasn’t as smart, as plot- and character-driven, as informed, and as technically adventurous as it can possibly be.

K. Who has influenced you as a writer?

P. Probably the only two books I’ve really entirely comprehended are Little Women and Story of O. So those are probably the deepest influences.

K. What’s coming up next for you?

P. More erotica, of course (see above). Hot retellings of some canonical nineteenth century fiction. What I don’t know yet (again see above) is whether the stories will have happy endings or not.

Thanks Pam!

And thanks so much, Kate, for your wonderful questions and the opportunity to answer them.

Pam is offering a copy of “The Edge of Impropriety” to one lucky commenter!
Or buy it here

19 comments to “An interview with Pam Rosenthal”

  1. Louisa Edwards
      · November 17th, 2008 at 2:12 pm · Link

    What a lovely, informative interview! Thank you both for doing it. Also, I feel like a total idiot that I didn’t know Pam Rosenthal wrote Carrie’s Story under another name. Wow. I think that’s definitely a reason to re-read!

  2. Laura Vivanco
      · November 17th, 2008 at 5:34 pm · Link

    I’ve arrived here via the link to Teach Me Tonight. Pam’s really having an impressive blogathon to publicise The Edge of Impropriety. I’m impressed, and I’ve enjoyed reading Pam’s answers to your questions, Kate.

    But can I clarify here, as I did on Lust Bites that the person who guest-blogged at Teach Me Tonight wasn’t arguing that “it’s erotica if the book is structured around its sexual set-pieces.” I know it may seem a bit picky of me, but since Pam linked to TMT, and the person linked to was a guest-blogger, I feel a sort of responsibility towards her and her post.

    And then, so as not to misrepresent Pam, I also feel I should add that Pam’s clarified her position on this: “I got it wrong. I got scrambled in my own distinctions, hoist on my own whatever. AgTigress said that pornography is episodic, not erotica. The problem is (and the reason I goofed) is that I don’t believe in that distinction either.”

  3. Kate Pearce
      · November 17th, 2008 at 5:51 pm · Link

    Louisa it took me a while to work it out, despite the fact that Pam mentioned it more than once!

  4. Kate Pearce
      · November 17th, 2008 at 5:52 pm · Link

    Laura-nothing like a bit of clarification-glad to see you here!

  5. Pam Rosenthal
      · November 17th, 2008 at 5:56 pm · Link

    don’t feel like an idiot, louisa, for not knowing Pam and Molly are evil twins. As a slow writer, it’s great to feel I can still surprise someone.

    And Laura, once again mea culpa — what a drag to have discovered some dimensions of what I think, only to have muffed an important point for all the world to see. Those of you who want to follow up this thread might want to read my whole apology comment here

  6. ddurance
      · November 17th, 2008 at 6:23 pm · Link

    Very interesting and thought provoking interview, Pam and congratulations on your good review in Romantic Times.


  7. Pam Rosenthal
      · November 17th, 2008 at 7:29 pm · Link

    Thanks, Deidre. I was pleased by what RT said as well.

  8. Anna
      · November 17th, 2008 at 8:27 pm · Link

    I can’t believe I haven’t read you before, Pam, your books sound like the sort of thing I look to pick up. I look forward to reading your work.

    Any suggestions on what a new Pam Rosenthal reader should pick up first?

  9. Pam Rosenthal
      · November 17th, 2008 at 8:43 pm · Link

    The thing is, Anna, different people have rather strongly varying opinions of my work. I posted about that on my own blog, and you might want to check out that post and follow the links to the review sites to see where you might fall on the taste spectrum.

    I’d say the popular favorite is Almost a Gentleman (which has the advantage of being in mass paperback) and the challenging, envelope-pushing one is The Slightest Provocation (lots of flashbacks and perhaps the only romance novel I know of to use the term habeas corpus). The Edge of Impropriety might be somewhere in the middle, though my husband thinks it’s one of the sexiest of the romance novels.

    Hope that helps. 🙂

  10. Kate Pearce
      · November 17th, 2008 at 9:19 pm · Link

    Don’t ask me, Anna, I like them all!

  11. Anna
      · November 17th, 2008 at 11:36 pm · Link

    Thanks, guys. I will look forward to picking up a copy of Almost a Gentleman.

  12. Pam Rosenthal
      · November 17th, 2008 at 11:38 pm · Link

    Hope you enjoy it, Anna.

  13. bamabelle
      · November 18th, 2008 at 1:13 am · Link

    Wow, excellent interview Pam and Kate! I’ve read The Slightest Provocation under Pam Rosenthal, and Carrie’s Story by your alterego Molly Weatherfield. I think you have a great storytelling ability whatever genre you write in. What other books are in the works under both Pam and Molly? 🙂

  14. Pam Rosenthal
      · November 18th, 2008 at 1:33 am · Link

    thanks bamabelle,

    Pam’s working on some fan fiction — or that’s what I call it anyway: some sexy retellings of some classic 19th century fiction. In its very early stages, so I won’t say more. While Molly… well, I’d love to write more as Molly, but I’m not sure what yet.

  15. janegeorge
      · November 18th, 2008 at 5:36 pm · Link

    Hi Pam & Kate!

    Lovely interview.

    I have to say I'm totally confused regarding what the industry and romance readers consider sexy, hot, erotica or pornography.

    I wonder if Pam's intellectual honesty regarding sex doesn't make it rather more real, and therefore more scary to some readers, who then pronounce it beyond the pale, in the same way that an insistence upon historical accuracy in historical romances sucks the fun out of the fantasy for some readers.

    Okay, that was a really long sentence, and I'm not trying to be judgmental here, just musing… I recently read a column that called American culture "erotophobic." (It was Violet Blue's take on the passing of Prop 8.) And the combo of that column and this interview got me thinking.

    PS, please don't enter me in the book draw, I'm buying it and stimulating the economy, dangit!

  16. Pam Rosenthal
      · November 18th, 2008 at 6:00 pm · Link

    still chewing over that one, Jane, but I do thank you in behalf of myself and the economy.

    And while they don’t make ’em much smarter than Violet Blue, I don’t think our culture is “erotophobic.” Just parts of it, and even then you never know how stuff is going to go — just look at some the sexual subtexts underlying this past amazing election.

    Which is why I feel myself so fascinated to be an erotic writer during this period.

    Oh, and if you want another brain-teaser (one I more or less subscribe to)… Well, you dealt me a Violet Blue; I’ll raise you a Michel Foucault, the fancy French thinker who asked, “What led us to show, ostentatiously, that sex is something we hide?” and went on to point out that “what is peculiar to modern societies… is not that they consigned sex to a shadow existence, but that they dedicated themselves to speaking of it ad infinitum, while exploiting it as the secret.”

  17. janegeorge
      · November 18th, 2008 at 7:05 pm · Link

    Pam, you always make me think and smile at the same time, a talent I much appreciate. I’ve yet to read Foucault, that’s kinda my Fulbright-scholar-sister’s territory, lol. But I’m sure she’d appreciate it if I were able to converse with her so I should make the effort. 🙂

    I agree, this is a very interesting time to be on the planet, isn’t it?

    Best of luck and success with The Edge of Impropriety!

  18. Sue
      · November 19th, 2008 at 12:13 am · Link

    Great to read your interview,
    I’m a big fan of all your books because I love the way you reveal that other sexier and seamier layer hidden beneath the more proper ideas of Regency and other historical periods, Can’t wait for more new ones,

  19. Pam Rosenthal
      · November 19th, 2008 at 12:16 am · Link

    thanks, Jane and Sue.

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