As part of our Exploding Hearts series, we’re interviewing as many romance novelists as possible between now and Valentine’s Day. Let your heart grow three – or even fourteen – sizes this February and check out these authors’ books, from the sweet and inspirational to the spicy hot.
Jane Lebak is the author of the romantic comedy Honest And For True, featuring “what may be the most romantic toilet-fixing scene in the English language,” as well as a Park Slope auto mechanic named Lee who can’t stop lying to her lovers. And let’s not forget the guardian angel who’s obsessed with Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours album! If that isn’t a recipe for a romantic comedy, you may also need Jane’s recipe for the best omelets you’ve ever tasted, which is also contained in the book.
If you’re not already fired up to download this book onto your Kindle and spend the rest of the day reading, check out our interview with Jane for a few more surprises.
Who are your top 5 authors or influences, and why?
- Diana Wynne Jones, for her finely crafted worlds. She creates amazingly human characters and forms stories that function as little puzzles, so that when the great reveals happen, you feel as though you kind of knew it all along.
- Stanislaw Lem, who showed me how to write stories that function on many levels. Because he was writing behind the Iron Curtain when it was dangerous to criticize the government, he made his stories look like pulp science fiction, but they’ve got amazing depth and multilayered themes when you want to go deeper.
- CS Lewis, for creating very readable fiction that also has a spiritual dimension.
- Terry Pratchett, for letting me release my tongue-in-cheekness
- Martin Seligman, whose book The Optimistic Child cured my depression. (And yes, I wrote him fan mail to thank him.)
What fuels your writing?
Questions that I have no answers for yet. Oftentimes when I reach the end of a novel, I look back at the end and say, “Was THAT what I was really writing about?” And it’s never something that was on my mind beforehand. A story with an all-male cast turned out to be about motherhood, for example. But the unresolved questions in the back of my mind were driving the story and putting up a framework around the questions I was asking myself.
What inspired you to write Honest And For True?
I’d been writing books about angels for a while, and someone pointed out that chick-lit sold well and I should write that instead. I said, “What, chick-lit with an angel?” and I walked away, and within about two minutes I had an idea for a romantic comedy. I’d take many of the standards of chick-lit and turn them on their head. My main character would be the Anti-Chick. She’d work as an auto mechanic. She would not be looking for love, and she’d have the fashion sense of a rusty doorknob. (That, fortunately, is easy for me, as you’ll know if you ever see how I dress.) And I added in that she could see her guardian angel, a wisecracker who is hopelessly in love with Fleetwood Mac.
And I gave her a penchant for lying. Not to her customers at the shop. She’d never lie about that! No, she only lies to the guys she dates, and only about her job. She’ll tell them anything except about working on cars, and she uses the lies to keep romance at arm’s length.
Once I had the situation, the whole story fell together. Lee and Bucky had this amazing chemistry and could banter all the time. Then I brought in an unlikely human romantic interest for Lee (he’s a straight-laced accountant who’s exploring his dark side through weird foods. Did you know sea cucumber isn’t actually a vegetable?). But then she falls in love and he thinks she’s a personal trainer. Things get really messy after that.
Do you have a favorite quote about the writing process?
E.L. Doctorow described it best, that writing a novel is like driving from city to city at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.
How (if at all) does your geographic location influence your writing?
The setting becomes almost a character itself. Honest And For True is set in New York City, and a lot of the story depends on the main character thinking of the city as her own personal playground. The varieties of opportunities (she comes across a bunch of people standing in line and just gets on the end to find out what’s going on), or the freedom of just being able to hop on the subway and go anywhere, the strange and slightly creepy places you find yourself in (like a junk yard alongside the West Side Highway), these all help form up the character because she lives in that world.
I grew up in New York, so I put Lee into the New York I remember. But when I went to college in upstate New York and later got married and lived there, I found a different pace of life and a different set of challenges. I set Half Missing in a small town in New York state’s southern tier, and the story wraps itself around that kind of setting and the mindset of a character who lives in a smaller world that takes up more space.
As a romance author, what inspires the types of stories you’re drawn to tell in your books? And what kinds of books do you enjoy reading?
I want romance that’s tempered with fun or wrapped in the package of another story, so that’s what I tend to write. I wanted humor, and I wanted people who were flawed but who kept on trying.
What’s your writing routine like? Are you a plotter or a “pantser”?
I’m definitely more of a pantser, although I tend to know where the story is going. In the Lee and Bucky books, though, it’s pretty much all pantsing because Lee doesn’t plan her own life – and therefore I can’t really plan it for her. And that’s fun because sometimes it results in her standing in a line of people just to see what everyone is waiting for. Or her waking up and finding Bucky is dressed like a pirate because it’s Talk Like A Pirate Day.
How much time do you usually spend researching a novel before you begin writing?
It depends on the books. For Lee and Bucky, it’s almost nothing because so many of the stories (and especially the car troubles!) are drawn from my life. For the historical pieces, I need a lot of research because I haven’t lived in ancient Israel or Renaissance Italy, and I don’t know what people ate or what they sat down on or what wild flowers grow in their fields.
Do you have any talismans, charms, superstitions or music that inspires or helps you to write, and what’s the story behind them?
I used to have the idea that I should always hand-write each novel in all the same color notebook and use only one pen for it, but I’ve gotten away from that. Now it’s anything, anytime, anyhow.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
What are some of your hobbies or sports of choice when getting out from behind the desk?
I knit and crochet. I love knitting socks, and I also love charted lace, especially shawls. I’m not really a sweater-knitter yet, but this year I want to make one or two.
What are you currently working on, and why will it melt hearts?
My current work-in-progress is not a romance, but a tale of historical intrigue surrounding an order of nuns at the Council of Trent. It may not melt hearts, but it will definitely tug at them, and there’s also going to be a huge element of “Wow, cool!”
Is there anything else you’d like to mention, that I haven’t asked you about?
I think stories are windows into better versions of ourselves, and romance stories in particular show us that we know completion is possible. The human condition means we’re hungry for something other than ourselves, and a romance novel shows people who are reaching for that other something. It’s so much more than just about two characters meeting and having sex and deciding to stay together. It’s about two people maneuvering around the roadblocks in their lives and reaching for something fulfilling and eternal, that not only makes them happy but somehow makes them better fit for society. I think that’s why romance novels are so satisfying and why we keep coming back to them.