Today on MindMatters we have the pleasure of speaking with multiple New York Times bestselling author Mary Balogh. Mary is the author of over ninety historical romance novels and dozens of novellas. In this wide-ranging discussion Mary shares her thoughts on romance, her writing process, the nature of inspiration, and the meaning and purpose with which she imbues her novels. There's a reason romance is the bestselling genre of fiction, and there's a reason Mary Balogh is among the best of the best. And if you're not already a fan, tune in, and check out her books! You won't regret it.

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Running Time: 01:58:11

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Here is the transcript:

Harrison: Welcome back to Mind Matters everyone. I'm Harrison Koehli, joined as usual by Elan Martin,

Elan: Hello.

Harrison: And Adam Daniels.

Adam: Hello.

Harrison: Today we are very pleased to have with us Mary Balogh, a several dozens times New York Times bestseller and author of over 90 novels and several dozen novellas. It's a pleasure to have you here. Is there anything else we should add to that Mary, that you'd need to get out there.

Mary. No. That's quite enough.

Harrison: We are fellow Canadians so I was happy to find you through others who recommended your work. As anyone who has listened to our previous show on romance novels finds out, we all did this experiment where we started reading this genre that we'd never read before and it was kind of odd. Probably a lot of our regular listeners who listened to that were probably surprised. We had a very good response to it.

I want to start out by asking you two questions. I want to know how you would describe the genre, how would you describe romance and why do you think that men seem to actively avoid it?

Mary: Romance is love stories. Romance as a literary genre is love stories. The main ingredient of it, the main thing that has to be there is the happy ending. There are lots of books, many of them written by men, Nicholas Box comes to mind, who writes what some people claim to be romance although he furiously denies that. I'm quite happy to let him deny it.

To write a true romance, it has to have a happy ending and it's a love story. It's the story of a man and a woman - there are some same sex romances but I confine my remarks to heterosexual ones at the moment - a man and a woman from the beginning of the book where there's indifference, hostility, certainly no real togetherness or love, move through the story to a point at which they are committed to a love relationship, usually marriage. Apart from that, it's such a huge, diverse genre that it's pretty hard to say it must have this, it must have that. It mustn't have anything as long as it works and people read it, except the happy ending.

Romance readers will throw the book at the wall and through the wall if they invest a few hours reading it and the hero or the heroine dies at the end, or even the dog. Not allowed. Has to have a happy ending. What was the other question?

Harrison: About men.

Mary: Yes. I think part of the reason is that it's written mostly by women. It concentrates very largely upon emotion and feelings and traditionally men don't like to talk about feelings or show them or dwell upon feelings. At least this is the stereotypical image of men. I think there's some truth in it. They don't think they would enjoy that sort of literature. Then it's written by women and maybe most men would prefer to pick up books written by men. I'm not sure it works the other way around.

Why else, I'm not quite sure. You said yourself Harrison in your talk and when you messaged me that you once had a bookstore and you never really paid any attention to the romance section. You treated it with - I won't say contempt although it might have been - but certainly as something that didn't apply to you.

Harrison: Yes.

Mary: I think this is common. It's not just men with romance. We have prejudices against certain things, certain genres of literature. We assume we won't enjoy them without ever really having tried them.

Harrison: I will say that in our bookstore the romance section was at least twice the size of the horror section, not quite as large as the science fiction/fantasy section, but we had hundreds of books. I don't think that I was contemptuous at the time but it was just there, right?

Mary: Yes.

Harrison: And I just didn't pay much attention to it. I'll share my thoughts. I thought your description of men, typically, is probably quite accurate. It's a stereotype but it's true for the most part. I think that there's an interesting dynamic because you see that in the male characters in a lot of these novels, right? They start out a particular way. As you said, there has to be a happy ending but along the way and from the beginning there is conflict or indifference or even more than conflict. There are all kinds of problems that have to be worked through and resolved to get to that ending and a lot of the men at the start of the stories probably wouldn't read romance novels if they were given the choice, right? {laughter}

Mary: Right.

Harrison: That can lead me to a question about characters and writing in particular because one of the things I find in your novels, and I've got a couple to hold up. I mentioned these ones in our show a few weeks ago. I've got Heartless and Silent Melody. Can I get them both on the screen? There's two of them. They are great books. You've written over 90 books and you don't write the same characters. Each character is their own person. I think that is a testament to your skill as a writer but I want to learn a bit more about that because each of these characters, all of the men, even if I made my own generalizations there that all of these guys probably wouldn't read romance novels, they're still their own unique person. It's like you've managed to take - and all great authors do this I think - you've managed to take a real person and somehow get them into this story.

So I want to know how has the process changed for you over the years? When you started writing, how did you create a character? How has that changed over the years of writing because you've been writing for over 30 years now.

Mary: I'm not sure there's been that much change except maybe that through experience I've learned to get deeper and deeper into the characters I create. I think maybe at the start I did most of my thinking ahead of time, created a character and then wrote a story for him. Now it tends to be the other way around. I'm creating a story and I have this person in there and with every page I write I realize I don't know this person. I know an awful lot about him or her by now but I don't know them. Almost right up to the end of the story I'm still doing this discovery. They're not characters to me. They're people that I'm trying to understand.

The difference I suppose between characters and real people for me is that with characters they are my own so I can get right inside them, I can become them. I think maybe that's the secret for me. I actually become them and I feel their feelings and I think their thoughts and I remember their memories. Even with ourselves, there are some times where we don't fully know ourselves or understand ourselves. Why did I do that? Why did I say that? Where did that come from?

When it's a character you have to dig deep and try to find out fully why they are as they are and the reason they're all different is that people are different. Sometimes I have a character, especially now after writing so many books, and I start to think, "Oh, I've done this character before." But as the story progresses I realize, no I haven't. I've done someone like him, but they have different backgrounds. They have different families. They have different characters, experiences, education. They're similar perhaps to someone else but they're not the same and my job is to bring that out.

As a reader, I have some favourite authors but I don't like it when I start to feel this author is writing the same old, same old. I like this author but I've read this hero now about a dozen times. There's almost no difference except eye colour maybe and hair colour. I don't want my writing to be like that and I don't think it will be because they are real people and there are no two people - even twins - who are identical in every way.

Harrison: I want to get into that a bit more because you said maybe at the beginning you planned your characters a bit more beforehand.

Mary: Maybe.

Harrison: And now it's kind of the opposite. But I wanted to know - maybe this has changed too - do you consciously take from your personal experience? Maybe a feature of someone you know will say, "I want to put that somewhere" or someone from your past? Or reading other material, maybe a public figure or a historical figure? Or does that all just seep into you and then you just find a character in your mind?

Mary: Sometimes I'll have a character going and this character will be reacting or talking or behaving a certain way and I'll suddenly think, "Oh, this is so-and-so," a favourite aunt of mine for example. I can remember that happening that this character was starting to behave and I thought, "My gosh! That's my aunt." From that point on I could use that in the character development. How would she react to this? What would she say? What would her facial expression be?

It's never a deliberate thing. I never decide, "I'm going to use my aunt now in this book." But sometimes I've found it happening and then once I realize that, I can either stop it if it's something I don't want to do or I can make the most of it and it helps me along. I know how that character would react because I know that person this character reminds me of. It doesn't happen often, but it does happen.

Harrison: That's interesting. When I was thinking about this question, because I'm not a writer - I think the last bit of what I would call fiction that I wrote was in high school - but I'm fascinated by writers. I'm fascinated by the different approaches that different writers might take in their writing. One thing that came to mind was that there seems to be this spectrum from the totally analytical, plan everything by the numbers and say I'm going to hit this mark here and this mark here and then it's like a little toy castle that you put together, almost paint-by-numbers. I don't mean that as any kind of insult because some writers are very good at that, right?

Mary: Plotters. They are the plotters.

Harrison: The plotters, yes. The gunpowder plotters? But then on the other end of that spectrum is what I might call the full stream of consciousness. I have a thing in mind about that because I'm into some weird things to read about. I like reading about parapsychology and old investigators from the Society for Psychical Research back in the 1800s and there was a woman, I think in the early 1900s.

It's a famous case. She did a form of automatic writing where she'd go into a trance and she wrote novels while in a trance. She would get out of the trance, have no idea what she'd written and then maybe a week or two later, go back into trance and pick up mid-sentence where she had left off beforehand. These novels were actually published and this was part of an experiment. There were some scientists who worked with her and documented this.

So there seems to be this spectrum between the analytical portion and complete inspiration. So it sounds like you're more on the inspiration side of that spectrum. I just wanted to know if you had any comment on that. How do you think analytically about your process and how you spend your time writing?

Mary: Well writers can be divided roughly into two camps; the plotters, the first type you described and the pantsers, the second type, the ones who write from the seat of their pants. {laughter} So that's the types that we're known as and I'm a pantser. I can't plan a story ahead of time. Fortunately I've only ever had one editor who insisted on a full synopsis before I started writing a book. I can't do it! Nothing will come. I can get a vague idea of how I want a story to start and a vague idea, maybe, of the main characters. But until I get in there and the characters start acting and reacting and talking and thinking I have no idea what's going to happen.

Sometimes maybe I do have some idea, "I want that to happen later one in the book definitely" but by the time I get there or even long before I get to that point my character is no longer the sort of person I thought he was going to be so he wouldn't do that thing that I really, really wanted him to do. So no, I'm a pantser. The story comes out of characters and how they react to situations and the situations just come from goodness knows where.

I always laugh when some people tell me that I have such good plots. {laughter} I don't have any plots. I feel like a big fraud. Yeah, my stories just develop as they come.

Elan: Something I wanted to ask you Mary, one of the things that I find so appealing about your books is that there is such a brutally honest depiction of the inner contradictions that people have, the struggles and the thought processes that they're one set against the other that rings so true to me and also their reference to memory and how the memory and the pain of certain events has its influence in the present and the choices that they're making in the present. These are the things that I've found so compelling about your writing because I feel like it's so insightful. It was really the last thing I expected to read in these books.

Mary: Stereotyping.

Elan: Yes!

Mary: You were stereotyping, yes.

Elan: Yes, absolutely. But to my utter delight I've been proved wrong. I wonder, after so many years of getting feedback from readers - I have a clear idea of what value exists in your writing to me - what are the things, aside from it being an entertainment, have you heard from readers, things that your books had given them? Is there a single kind of feeling or knowledge or understanding that you seem to get from all the people who have written to you?

Mary: I get a whole spectrum of reactions, favourable reactions, a few negative ones too but I'll stick with the favourable. I'm always very, very happy if people just really imply that they get entertainment from my books. It's not a bad thing to spend your life giving people entertainment, making them happy and comfortable and relaxed. Even if there was no more than that I would feel I hadn't wasted my life. But I get a lot of people commenting on the characters and the depth of characters and that they really appreciate that, that when they read one of my books they sort of get lost in it and in the characters.

Sometimes I get very, very touched by messages when people find that a particular book strikes a particular nerve. When I was writing my Survivors series - I don't know if you have read any of those books - it's about seven people, six men and one woman, who spent three years in a sort of convalescent home during and after the Napoleonic Wars, all there together recovering from various wounds. Then the series tells the stories of all seven of them.

But I had a flood of reactions to that. Really, it hadn't struck me until I started to get this reaction, that what I was describing was the PTSD that people are so familiar with these days and a lot of people who had experience with wars these days really identified with those books. In some ways it's a bit terrifying because I don't do that much hard research when I write my books. I do it all imaginatively, imagining what it would feel like to suddenly lose your sight during war and then have to go through the rest of your life blind. What does that feel like? How do you cope? How do you recover and make a meaningful life for yourself when that has happened when you're a young man?

But you know, hearing from people and how they've been touched by various stories like this, it just wows me and I think, "Goodness! I'm really doing something worthwhile." It's a lovely thing to feel when you're a romance writer. Lots of people think you're just writing fluff.

Elan: Right.

Mary: So to know that people actually appreciate and know what I'm trying to do. Sometimes people will say something and I think, wow, they really got it, what I was trying to say! I don't preach in my books. I don't press a message on people. Some people get it. It doesn't matter if they don't, if they're entertained that's fine but it's lovely to know sometimes that people get it or if they quote a sentence from my books, that means something to them and I think 'oh wow it's just a sentence'. It meant something to me when I wrote it but to know that someone particularly noticed that sentence.

Something happened to me just a few weeks ago I think. Someone sent me a little poster on my Facebook page with a quote on it and I was reading the quote and thinking what a gorgeous quote. Then I looked at it and it was Mary Balogh. {laughter}

Elan: On that note, I have a sentence I wanted to read and this one is from Heartless and it made quite an impression on me because I've never read anything quite like this but I thought, this for me just nails it. You write,
Love, Luke found, though he was not fully conscious of the thought, returned in a powerful rush and grabbed his heart in a vice and did not let go. Love was the most intensely exalting emotion life had to offer and the most frightening. Fear and exaltation mingled and were indivisible, the one a part of the other. Love was what made life worth living. Not the pursuit of pleasure, but love. Love which involved the full spectrum of human emotions.
It was a little bit of a gasp because you're reading this story and you make it even bigger with this realization of Luke's that becomes our realization with all its wisdom and insight. So it's those gems, I feel, that contribute so greatly to your stories because they fit and yet they are their own thing.

Mary: That's nice. Thank you.

Adam: I had quoted one of your books in the previous show that we did, the first book in the Westcott series, Someone to Love?

Mary: Yes.

Adam: Where the main character was talking about the virtues of telling stories and what it is that stories can do and what it can accomplish and I thought that was such a beautiful description of what it is that stories can accomplish. I quoted it in the show because I loved it so much and thinking about it more, one of our listeners had posted on your Facebook page something about the way that romantic relationships seem to be the way that nature gives us an opportunity to work through our past issues and our past traumas. By opening ourselves up to love from another person, we're able to heal ourselves.

So I think that that is a similar thing that your books are doing as a surrogate I guess you could say, or as a stand in, where maybe somebody has a previous relationship that was particularly traumatic for one reason or another and by reading your books they're able to come to some kind of a resolution of that relationship because they have a better understanding of themselves and of the other person with they were in the relationship with.

I can totally understand that if people are just entertained then that's great because they still got something out of it, but there is obviously so much more that you're putting into these books than merely entertainment. I think it's absolutely wonderful and fantastic and I'm totally fanboying out right now and I'm okay with that. {laughter}

Mary: Thank you.

Adam: You're very welcome.

Harrison: You mentioned in your process of writing that you have to - maybe it's not that you have to but that you DO get into that character, you become that character. You feel what they feel. You remember their memories. It's almost like you are the vanguard. You're the person that's going out into the trenches and finding these people and then putting their experiences down on paper and your readers then get to take part in that process with you because by reading your account of what you've experienced and shaped in your own mind, they then get to feel what these characters feel. Not to the same degree but within the framework of your story, remember if they're reading a memory they get to remember with them. If they're feeling something they get to feel that with them.

It's basically an empathetic process where you are experiencing the lives of other people that probably have some things in common with you and some things that aren't in common with you, different backgrounds, different personality traits. And there's a resonance with these characters. I think that the happy ending is that you're taking the reader through a process. You're taking them through all of these different emotions, through all of these different conflicts and then in the process of resolving those conflicts by the end of the story, I think that that has an effect, that something on some level is resolved in the reader, if they go along with the process. Would you agree with that or do you have anything to say on that take?

Mary: I think you're right. The things people say about my books show that that does happen. And I suppose it's the point of writing. When I write I'm not just writing to entertain people although obviously I have to do that before anything else can happen. If a book isn't entertaining it can have all sorts of wisdom and other things in it and nobody's going to bother to read it.

This is what I want to do. I want people to see these characters as real people who really have to go through real life experiences, struggle within themselves, struggle with the other protagonists, struggle with everything around them to come to a point where - I won't say they can enjoy life, that's too trivial - but I think to reach a point where you have what I think of as the three types of love, where you can love yourself, not in a narcissistic way but accept yourself for who you are and feel that you've confronted everything within yourself and you're comfortable with the person you now are. That's important. And you have to, I think, be in that place of accepting and loving yourself before you can offer love to other people. You've got nothing to offer if you're broken yourself.

So you have to start with self love and then love of the other person and just love itself. Love has so many facets and I try to bring out a lot of those in my writing too. It's not just a romantic relationship between two people in my books. I'm not just writing a love story. I'm writing about love. I very consciously do this. I am writing about love because love to me is the most important force in life. It's the only answer to life. There are millions of questions. The only real answer is love and that's what I want my books to be about.

Harrison: And it comes through. Like you said, it's not just the love between a man and a woman in a relationship. There are friends and family members and maybe enemies but not quite that much. There might be characters that are, again, in conflict in some ways and it's this maze or web of love. I'm reading Promise of Spring right now, the book that related to the Web series, right?

Mary: Yes.

Harrison: But one of the things that I wanted to bring up, I think it was in the third in the Web series with James and Madeline.

Mary: Yes.

Harrison: Not just that one, but there are several stories where the conflict is so strong that when I'm reading I'm thinking, "How are they going to get through this? I don't see how this can be resolved." I feel that tension as I'm reading it. The part of me that's engaged in the story is thinking, "This can't work out. I just can't see what can happen to let them get over themselves and actually communicate and say the things that they're not saying and maybe put into perspective this part of their lives that is influencing them so strongly and then the analytical part of me is thinking, "Can Mary Balogh pull this off and will I be satisfied by the end?" So far I'm always satisfied. I don't know how you do it.

But I think part of it is because you hold love as that ideal and I think you do it so authentically that you are able to find the interactions and the events that happen between these characters that will lead to that resolution in a way that actually is genuine. It's not plotted. It's not like this has to happen for them to do it. You discover it just as two people in the real world would discover it by themselves if they were successful in doing it.

I don't know if I had a question about that. Do you have any comment on any of those features? Maybe the conflict. Do you at any point think, "I don't know how these characters are going to get through this?

Mary: Yes. {laughter} Sometimes, but it's always possible. There's always a way out. The more I write the more relaxed I am about it because no matter how bad things get, I think, "Okay, this has happened to me 67 times before and I've always found a way through." So I know it will work out. There have been very few books, maybe one or two in my whole career that I've had to abandon because I just can't make them work. It has happened once or twice, but not very often. Usually there is an answer.

One thing though, I forget the exact thing you were talking about just now but I thought, ah yes, but that takes a lot of hard work. I think you said when you think there's no way through but it is and the reader follows through, but that's not easy. So many times I'll write a story and I come to a point and I think, no, I could make them do that and sometimes I do and I look back and I think, no, that's not authentic, that's not real. That's too jagged. So I have to go back and change and smooth things out.

I often compare this process to icing a cake. You know when you're icing a cake - maybe as men you wouldn't know that. Do you ever ice cakes?

Harrison: I've iced a cake.

Mary: You plop on the icing and then you smooth it out and you keep on. If you're a perfectionist you keep on until it's a uniform thickness all over and it's perfectly smooth, there's not a blemish. But it doesn't come with just a slip slap of the knife. It takes a long time. I think of the writing of a story like that. It's easy enough - well not easy, but it's possible to write a story that's satisfying but I don't like jagged places and things that I've put in only because it's the easy answer but it doesn't ring quite true. 'He wouldn't really say that. He wouldn't really do that.' And I have to smooth it out until it just reads as if I wrote it all in a day, I hope. That's my aim anyway, that everything flows perfectly and there's no problem. It's so easy to write. {laughter} That's what I want people to think when they read, that it's so easy.

Harrison: You said two things there that do match with my experience of reading your books because I've observed that, that it is a smooth process and by smooth process that doesn't mean easy or easy to read. I'm thinking of James and Madeline again just because it's the last book of yours that I finished. But there are several times when I wanted some relief. I wanted them to stop fighting and stop this conflict, but with every sentence and with every fight and argument that they had I thought, "This has to happen because this is who they are." Part of me wants them to just start to get along but I can see that that's just a wish that I had and it wouldn't be correct at that moment, that no, in this moment they are still going to fight and they're even going to up the ante a bit and even get a bit meaner with each other and dig the knives in a little bit further. It's totally authentic and genuine sounding. "This is the way it has to be" and not just with this book but with several others.

You talked about that smoothness and doing it for the readers' experience of it because it has to be genuine. Several times when there is a shift in understanding of the characters, I find that by the time it comes, it's one of those things where you say, "Where did that happen? It seemed so natural" but you didn't see it coming. Again, it's not jagged. That's the word that stood out for me. It's almost seamless to the point where you can't even remember exactly where things started to change. It was a transition, maybe a seed of something there and then it comes to bloom and by the time it's there it's almost like a magic trick where suddenly it works. The craft is hidden within all these pages.

It's magical and remarkable and I think you succeed in doing that so I think you're an excellent cake maker.

Mary: I'm not really but I can do it in writing, not with the real cake. That book, Devil's Web, I think that was one of my harshest books and it's quite an old book. It was written in the 1990s I would think?

Harrison: Yes. 1990 was when it was published.

Mary: I wouldn't write that book now. It's too harsh and there are one or two others because I do think basically a book should be an entertainment. I think it happened I was reading quite a favourite author of mine. She's written a medieval romance and I found it so harsh I couldn't even finish it. I kept saying, "I can't take this. I know it's going to end happily. It's a romance." But I just couldn't take it. And then I thought, "Okay, if you can't take it from her, don't expect other people to take it from you."

So I think it might have been at about that point, when I was still writing books like Devil's Web occasionally. It's just too harsh.

Harrison: Yeah, it's a pretty harsh one.

Mary: Yes, it is.

Elan: Mary, we spoke a few minutes ago about writing your characters and that they're a part of you in a way. Even when some of them behave rather badly - the protagonists - there's still the sense that you love them, that you accept their limitations at that point in the story. My feeling is that that acceptance - and you might even have a character, I'm thinking of Julia and her cousin Fred in Courting Julia, she says, "I could kill you." I apologize, this was in Dancing with Clara.

Mary: Yes.

Elan: She knows Fred very well and there's this humorous but real anger and upset with her cousin for behaving in the ways that he does, even though he's struggling with himself and certain terrible habits he has indulged himself with. But there's still a sense that there is an acceptance for these deeply flawed protagonists which I think is imparted on the reader. You said before about being comfortable with who you are, loving yourself in a non-narcissistic way that comes through in how you write these flawed characters who are very human and who I think are not exactly models but the relationship that the reader has with these characters can be appropriated for one's own acceptance of one's own flaws and one's own shortcomings.

So if you have anything to add to that thought, I'd be happy to hear it.

Mary: Yes, you made me think of being a teacher. I taught high school English for 20 years and of course I had to teach McBeth every year. It was on the grade 11 list. I love the play. But I always noticed in the teaching of that play, the distinction among students; those who couldn't under any circumstances understand or empathize with either McBeth or Lady McBeth. I can remember just about doing everything in my power to see them as people, not to condone what they did, not to forgive them, but to understand them and to know why they did it and to see the fact that they're not totally evil people otherwise they wouldn't be suffering so much from what they've done.

Some students, no, no, no! They are just black, evil. No empathy at all. I can remember, I was a very young person most of the time when I was teaching, but it was a lesson to me that some people are capable of empathy at varying levels. Some people are almost entirely incapable of empathizing with human weakness. To me that's a terrible deficiency because if you can't empathize with other people then you would have to be perfect yourself or you must hate yourself.

But I could never get through to some. We had some lovely discussions, some very heated discussions with students which I always appreciated but it was a real eye-opener. I think until I started teaching I assumed everyone was like me, had the same attitudes to life and people and whatnot, as I did. It was a real eye opener to realize it's just not so and to learn to live with that and with other people. But it seemed to me such a shame that people were totally cut off from empathy.

Harrison: With that experience with the students in your classes, what would you say the percentage was? Was it one out of 10 or five out of 10? Or is it hard to say?

Mary: More than one, probably fewer than five. I think most people won't forgive and they hate those characters but they still can understand why they did it and why they were suffering so much afterwards. The few would say, "Well good for them! They deserve to suffer!" And they did that. And some people couldn't see that. I would say it wasn't a huge percentage but still a significant one.

Elan: I think that's a really good observation because you're saying, "Yes they deserve to suffer but also we can feel empathy for the fact that they've made themselves suffer."

Mary: Yes.

Elan: And this is kind of a complex understanding of empathy and the perceiving of others' development or issues. I think maybe we've been trained in some ways to think uni-dimensionally about other people and their actions and behaviours. That's something else I really enjoy about your books. You give multiple perspectives. One character is thinking about what the other character is thinking and experiencing and we're getting yet another character whose perspective is just as valuable in some ways in the formation of the story.

Yes, Henrietta in Heartless is sympathetic and she makes mistakes and it's an 'and'. You can't define these characters in such black and white terms. I believe that this multidimensional look at characters is also something that allows us to broaden our own understanding of people and of ourselves.

Mary: Yes, I always hope so. I think maybe in some of my books, particularly some of the earlier ones, I may have what I think of as silly villains, ones who are purely evil. I think I've had a few of them. I wouldn't do that now. We all know that in life there are some people who appear to be total evil - very, very few but a really scary few that one doesn't know why but it does happen - but in the main we're all on the spectrum. If it's a colour spectrum, we're all in the gray area. We may be very dark gray or we may be almost white, but we're all in that gray spectrum. I like to bring that out in my writing. Pretty much nobody is purely evil just as nobody is purely good. We're all somewhere in between.

Harrison: That's something that we talk about and wrestle with on this show - the question of evil - because like you said, there do seem to be some people that appear that way but for the most part, the vast majority of us are on the spectrum.

One thing about that very tiny group of people I'd probably consider most of the people that could be categorized like that as psychopaths but the thing about clinical psychopaths is that they're not very interesting aside from their being as psychopaths. If you read a book about psychopathy, these are people who have zero empathy, zero remorse about any acts that they do. They're completely self-serving as far as we can tell, but they're just not very interesting people. So unless you're writing a crime fiction about trying to catch some serial killer, I suppose that a real psychopath could fulfil a role in certain stories, but that's not what you're doing. I can totally understand that.

Mary: Yes. I get so upset too when I think of those poor people who are like that. Why? What's the purpose of it, I don't know. Anyway, I don't want to get into that. But no, I couldn't include those in my books. So I apologize for the few silly villains I have written in the course of my career. {laughter}

Harrison: You are forgiven.

Adam: To change direction a bit, I was wondering about how you saw the attraction between characters where there's an almost instant recognition that seemingly occurs throughout the majority of your novels where there is an instant attraction that is usually upsetting in some way for some reason but nevertheless they can't help but feel this attraction. I'm curious to know your thoughts on, I guess you could say true love in one instance, and kind of like a soul mate type of situation, but also the dynamic of how the characters interact. Is it a purely physical thing that, from the bottom up, allows higher emotions to come into play, or is this more a top down thing where the spirits or the essences of these two people recognize each other and are able to work downward to form a relationship?

Mary: I don't think it has to be an either/or does it? It can be either, depending upon the situation and the couple. I don't think I ever do it the same way all the time. I don't think there's always instant attraction between my characters. But if you think about life and the people you meet, there are some people, whether it's a romantic connection or not, there are some people that you feel an instant connection to or at least a sort of interest in and other people are just strangers passing by. It's an interesting question because I don't think I've ever actually pondered it before.

So what is it? Maybe since I've never actually thought of it, it's just something that comes organically from the characters. What is it that creates this? You could say since I'm writing romances it's convenient. He's a hero, she's the heroine so they have to have some connection otherwise this story isn't going to get written. But what is it in life? Why is it that with some people you think, "I could really have her as a friend." I'm talking about myself now. From a very short acquaintance. And other people I can chat to in a friendly way but never think there's a connection there.

Certainly with the opposite sex yes, there are certainly people from the other sex that you think, "He's pretty nice" or "He's pretty hot." "I like the look of him" or "I like the way he talks." "He's good looking and he's nice and he's this and that." I'm thinking off the top of my head because I've never thought of this before, but it is an interesting question. What is it that connects some people with other people? There doesn't have to be hostility with other people, or sometimes there is, but why is there no connection at all with the vast majority of people who probably could be very good friends or partners or lovers or whatever but there's no whatever it is? I'd call it a spark but that sounds much like a romantic relationship. There's no what some people call 'chemistry'. There's no chemistry there. I'll have to be aware of that as I write. What is it?

Harrison: One of our listeners submitted a version of that question.

Mary: Ah!

Harrison: Maybe we all just think alike but I think we all were thinking the same thing. I liked what you said about "Well it's a romance. In a sense it has to be there, otherwise how are we going to have the story?" I think that's very true. It has to be there, naturally, but we don't know why it's there in the first place because it seems that there is something mysterious. I'll put it this way. You can have an instant attraction to someone and then later find out that that was a big mistake.

So it's not like it's always true love, but I still don't think anyone knows why it happens to a particular person. Is it something about the shape of their face or the colour of their elbows? It could be anything, but it strikes you in life out of nowhere and seemingly totally randomly but it happens. Then I think that in the stories that you write where that does happen, seeing that process unfold from that initial attraction but then, like you said, not all of the stories are like that because sometimes, at least on the surface, there isn't that initial strong attraction and the attraction develops over time. Then the characters might realize, "Maybe there was more of an attraction, there was something going on that I just didn't realize back then." Again, it's one of those seamless things but in this case with the life of the character where it started out one way and by mid or end of the story it has the character re-interpreting their earlier self and what their earlier self was thinking and feeling and that's part of their developmental process too.

So there are all these variations but I guess that's just love. There's something very mysterious about it and it works in all these strange ways. I think that is the mystery, that love is the mystery of life. It's the thing that's hidden and the thing that we're all looking for. In this maze of life, that is the goal that we're all searching for, whether we realize it or not and that's how I see romance novels. It's taking a bunch of those paths in that maze. It's there. It's tangible. It's the purpose of the book and the story and I think maybe that's why as I've heard, I think on one of the comments on your Facebook page, that romance novels are the top selling novels. It's the top selling genre out there. I think that's why. What do you think?

Mary: I think I agree. {laughter} I'm not sure I can add to that. Yes, I do agree. The thing is, we all experience it. It's part of our lives. We need one another. None of us, or very few of us can live in isolation. We need family. We need friends. And we need romantic partners. So working out how we find them and how we create a community and happiness for ourselves through these things is important because it's something we all do whether we're conscious of it or not.

And yes, that is something that romance novels do explore and how this happens. Sometimes there's no apparent attraction between characters at the beginning of a romance. Sometimes it's quite the opposite. Sometimes there's actual hostility and real conflict there. How do you make a romantic relationship out of this? What is it about this hostile relationship that can actually bring happiness and fulfilment and contentment to these same two people? It's a really interesting and really important question to explore in the course of a book because it's something we all do through our lives. This is pretty much what you were saying.

Elan: One of the comments we had gotten to the video we did a few weeks ago was by another author. Her name escapes me right now, but she put the romance novel genre in the terms of a hero's journey, which I thought was terrific.

Harrison: The original romances were the grail stories.

Elan: Yes, and so there was this definite kind of parallel or line of storytelling that's encoded in the best of these stories. Along with them, the terror in some cases, the risk-taking, the adventure that's sometimes acted out with the villain and the drama between the protagonists, but sometimes and quite often, internally, where the hero's journey is a journey into one's self.

Mary: Yes.

Elan: So I was wondering Mary, if you had any thoughts about that dimension to your stories and this genre in general?

Mary: Oh yes. I think in most of my books, both my hero and my heroine have to journey into themselves. I'm trying to think if there are any exceptions. There probably are. But I would say in most of my books the hero and the heroine at the beginning of their stories are not whole as individuals. There's something that's not quite right. There's something that's stopping them from being who they're meant to be, from being happy and sometimes it's a big something, sometimes it's not.

But yes, part of the journey of the book is that they go into themselves and somehow find a way of healing themselves and very often, because this isn't two parallel stories, it's a love story, they sort of help each other in a way. If not helping each other to heal, they're helping them understand themselves. Through the growing feelings they're having for the other and the growing love they learn to - one of you used the word risk just now - they learn to sort of risk going into themselves and letting go of whatever it is that's holding them back from healing and being able to love.

So yes, I would say it's a major part of almost all my books, self-healing, going inside. It's not just an attraction, romance and love story between two people. There are inner works that have to go on as well, plus working out whatever it is between them that's holding them back from being able to commit to each other for a lifetime of not happily ever after. I don't write happily ever after. I write happy endings but I always try to give the sense they're going to have to work on this for the rest of their lives. It's not a given that they will be blissfully happy for the rest of their lives.

Yes, an inner journey is part of the process.

Elan: Something that came to me when we were doing the last show, Adam had a realization about reading your books and I felt compelled to say, "Adam, it's not only you!" This process of healing, of integrating one's self is so personal and intimate. We don't have that much experience with what it could look like or is, or we might be reluctant to engage in it because it can be so frightening, but I think that we get all kinds of presentations of it. "This is what it could look like. This is what it could sound like. This is what, at least in this story, was a crucial piece for the character that helped to make him or her healed and more functional and capable of meeting the future and serving their partner."

So aside from going into therapy or reading a self-help book or any of the number of other ways that people are used to learning about themselves and engaging in the processes that would help them to grow - and I said this last time too - these stories and the work that the characters do are stepping stones. That's not quite right, but they're examples of what you can do too, what it might feel like, what you can think or use. You're reading part of one of your stories and wow! When that happened in my life it was kind of analogous, not exactly but there were enough features of it that resemble one to the other that I can look back and say, that's kind of what happened.

But in your book, this is how the character is now facing that memory, that pain, that trauma and deciding to use whatever resources they have to grow from it and engage in the present. So I think that - even if it's not intended - is one of the wonderful benefits of reading these stories.

Mary: That is a lovely comment, a lovely thing to do. It's so much I think what most of us do, what most of my characters do. The real problem is a problem of honesty, of not really facing the truth and acknowledging it, not just in the form of acknowledging it to other people and apologizing for wrongs done. I don't necessarily mean that, but acknowledging that this is something that's wrong with me. I'm too judgmental. I'm always right. And to actually realize that, that you do this and admit it and decide that 'no, I'm not always right. Other people think they're always right too but they're totally different from me so who is right?' And to acknowledge this. I'm just giving you an example.

To actually learn to tell the truth about yourself. I said earlier we don't always understand ourselves and understand why we did that, why we said that. I think that's part of the reason that we have this image of ourselves. We think we are one way because we don't face the truth of the fact that I'm not perfect and if someone says to me, "You're so judgmental", it's "No!" It's natural human nature. "I only do that because I'm always right!" But to sometimes hear what somebody says to you which makes you think, "That's horrible. That's hurt my feelings." But to think, is there any truth in what they've said? Are they right? And to face it is to learn to tell the truth about yourself or to face the truth about yourself.

If you're writing characters and you're following the same process can help write characters and perhaps as you've just said, it can help readers read those characters and think, "Gosh, that's me! I'm just like that and this is how she worked it out." Is this what you're talking about?

Elan: Pretty much.

Mary: Yes.

Adam: Along those lines then, have there been any particular characters or stories that had personal impact on you in a similar way that reading some of these stories has been impactful for us?

Mary: I'm not sure. I can't think of any specific example. I think maybe all of my writing combined has gradually changed me as a person or at least made me a more complete person. Perhaps delving into characters and working them out is really working out part of me as well, if you know what I mean, if that makes sense?

Adam: Yes.

Mary: So in writing characters who've had to face the fact, to use the same example, that they are too judgmental, maybe I've learned well maybe I am too? Then you see you're a little more open and loving and all the rest of it. Someone recently made a point - I forget where it was - of saying how kind my literature is, that my books show such a lot of kindness and I thought, "Do they?" I really liked that. If that's true, that's wonderful because that comes from me and I can't think of a much nicer thing to be than a kind person.

So rather than me imposing my values on my characters, maybe they're imposing theirs on me? Or maybe I'm working through my own character as I'm creating because I say my characters are not me, they're other people, but really they are me, aren't they? They come from me or through me.

Adam: Yeah.

Elan: On that note, that's very interesting Mary because we were talking and there were some people we're in touch with who are reading your books and also getting back to this question, you said the characters come through you. Do you think that there is an element of you tapping into a kind of collective unconscious or...

Mary: Oh yes definitely. Definitely. I think this is part of the fact that I'm a pantser, someone who can't plan a book ahead of time because it's not there. It doesn't come from here. {points to her head} I can sit and think all day and nothing comes, absolutely nothing. As soon as I start writing, out it all comes. Where does it come from? It doesn't come from here. There's no other part of me it can come from. {laughter} At least I don't think so.

I really believe that. There's a human mind but there's another mind, a universal mind and I think creative people bypass this {points to her head} and go straight into that, but only when they sort of surrender to it. That sounds a little bit extravagant but when they trust it and allow it. I have a daughter who is a hypnotherapist and she wrote a book last year. She wrote it very quickly and she said she didn't write it. She said she just opens herself up and out it comes. As she was describing that to me I thought, "Yeah, she's a chip off the old block alright." {laughter} She's not writing fiction. She's writing books about her hypnotherapy but she's got the same gift, the same gift that I have. It is a gift. I don't claim any credit for it. I claim credit for using it and honing it but I don't claim credit for the gift itself. I'm very, very thankful I have it.

Harrison: And so many other people are too, thankful that you have it.

Mary: Thank you.

Harrison: You said something I wanted to get back to when you were mentioning that one of the important things - I don't know how to phrase this. Truth is important. In these stories, a lot of what happens and a lot of what drives the characters' decisions and mistakes and interactions with others, they are in varying degrees and in different ways blocking off the truth from themselves and others. It's obvious when it's to someone else and the characters themselves are often aware that they are lying to others and oftentimes that is another source of conflict for themselves, of inner conflict.

But then there are the lies that they tell themselves about themselves. They have an image of who they are or who they should be and it's apparent while reading it just because it's true to life, that that is, to a certain extent skin deep. You can see these characters and you can see them pretending to themselves. If you have an experience of that in yourself you can see it. "I've done that before. I can see this character doing it. I can see that their image of themselves, their persona, is only skin deep. Just be authentic! Just tell the truth. Tell yourself the truth. You know that one thing that you've been holding off telling your significant other and you're scared of it for all these reasons and you don't do it for all these reasons? Well just try saying it. Just spit it out. Just tell that one little piece of truth."

I think that when you describe romance as being about love but I think that truth is almost another word for love. They're so intertwined with each other that you can't have one without the other. What popped into mind when I was thinking about it as you were speaking of it was that in a sense you could almost think of love as the feeling of truth and vice versa. There's some strange coin with love and truth on either side of each other and part of the unfolding of this love in a romance is the unveiling of truth as it comes. What do you think about that?

Mary: Yes, you're right. Again, it's something I hadn't really thought about, that truth and love are two sides of the same coin, that they're sort of the same thing. Maybe you can have truth without love. Can you? But you can't have love without truth. If you're in a love relationship with someone and you're holding something back, even if it's nothing to do with the relationship itself, it's not a complete relationship and if it's something you're holding back from yourself then you can't be a whole enough person to give love. So yes, I think truth and love are all twined up with each other even if they're not the identical thing.

Harrison: Yes. It's something to think about. Did you have something to say about that Adam? Otherwise I was going to change the topic.

Adam: Just to say that what you were saying about how could you have or maybe it's possible to not have truth without love I think was the one?

Mary: Yeah. Is it?

Adam: I don't necessarily know that you can because in order to value the truth of something is to want to love it in some way, shape or form, and that doesn't necessarily mean I think a romantic love. It's like you say in your books, love is not merely a feeling. It's more than that. It's a verb. It's actions.

Mary: Yes.

Adam: And you can love people in different ways. So as an example, say somebody is severely addicted to something that is detrimental to them, to continue to support them financially or by other means would be to not love them because you don't value them enough to cut them off from what's allowing them to continue on that dark path and to acknowledge the truth of that situation, as painful as it may be, is to love them, I think.

Mary: Even if it leads to their death and the feeling that they've been neglected and rejected? I'm just playing devil's advocate here. I'm thinking this through with you because I'm not sure of the answer, whether you can have truth. I think maybe there's such a thing as truth without love. I don't know. I don't know.

Harrison: Maybe think about it this way. If you think about uncomfortable truths, maybe to approach the wider truth (what is truth) {laughter} if you have an uncomfortable truth, you really have to love truth in order to get it, in order to find it and to accept it as truth. Basically you have to have a value system, a value for truth in order to value truth so I think that right in the very act of having, just in the word itself, truth, it implies that truth is more valuable, that truth is valuable in some way.

I think that in the intellectual senses that we might think about truth, I think that might just be an intellectual version of love, that love actually is the force that's pulling us towards knowledge or towards facts or all the analytical male brain truths that we might think about. You can even see people who seemingly engage in activities directed towards the truth that maybe don't seem to involve love of some sort but it might be a low level version of love, but I think that if love is everything, then it is at the root of all of those truths, even if they're uncomfortable because to find the truth and to find an uncomfortable truth, there has to be a love underlying that, I think, in order to accept it.

A lot of the truths that people find for themselves, like the characters in these stories, are uncomfortable truths and they have to take that risk - to come back to something we were talking about before - they have to take that risk and there has to be that underlying value for the truth for them to take that plunge, to go into the dragon's lair and to find that truth, to accept it. That's part of why I was seeing this intertwining between truth and love. Do you have any counter examples?

Mary: You're just making me think of the book I'm writing right now, I'm part of the way through it. But it really is dealing head-on, deep down with this question. About 40% into the book the main protagonist discovers a truth and insists on telling it, even though he's advised not to and in the process he destroys the whole happy illusion that his family and his whole neighbourhood have lived through for years and years and years. Total destruction of everything. He goes away and he joins the military and goes off to fight in the Napoleonic wars and then six years later, the rest of the book he comes back and has to deal with the destruction he has wrought.

The whole question of the book is did he do the right thing. Everyone lived with this illusion and most of them knew it was an illusion. They knew it was a lie but they were all happy. Now they're not. It's all destroyed. This is the focus of the book and the more you were talking the more I was thinking of that book and thinking, "Hmm." I'm sort of part on the fence and I don't know how this is going to resolve. Did he do entirely the right thing or did he do entirely the wrong thing or somewhere between the two? And how is it going to be worked out?

Harrison: It could be...

Adam: Just to jump in, I'm reading the Westcott series right now and I think you could make a similar statement about the series in general because of how it all started with the revealing of this very uncomfortable truth where they had been living for the past 20 years under this one illusion and all of a sudden they find out it's not actually that way at all. So the whole series is them coming to terms with that.

Mary: Yeah, the difference is that they didn't know it was an illusion in Westcott. They do in this book. The hero doesn't realize that. He's thinking he's telling them the truth that nobody knows but they do and so he has destroyed the whole house of cards that they've built.

Harrison: Maybe it's possible to err in your delivery of the truth. {laughter}

Mary: Yes.

Harrison: Because the truth can be used as a weapon, maliciously.

Mary: Yes.

Harrison: So there is that. But then again, I think that there are caricatures of love that can be used maliciously and to be used as weapons, right?

Mary: Yes.

Harrison: So those are the questions. What is the actual truth in this situation and what is the love in this situation? That's an interesting question. May I ask, can you tell us a bit about the book that you're working on? Is it part of your current series or is it a new thing?

Mary: It's the start of a new series, a family series, yes and this is the first book so the whole of this series will be built on this telling of truth that happens and it has to resolve itself in this book for the hero and heroine. The future books will deal with the other characters and what effect it has had on them and how they deal with it and adjust their lives accordingly. And of course they'll have love partners who'll have their own issues as well.

But it's the basis, the basic crisis of the whole series, similar to the Westcott series in that way; you get the basic catastrophic situation for the whole family.

b: It starts with a bang.

Mary: Yes. The rest of the series has to resolve it for everybody concerned, not just the main characters of that book.

Elan: Just to comment on a feature of the different series that surprised me a little bit, and that is that even if there are two central characters that are being focused on in a particular story, you have a whole set of other characters who are in their lives, have these significant parts to play in the protagonists' story, and then go on to have significant stories of their own. It's as though what seems to be said is "We each have a greater effect on other people and their lives than we realize. We're all part of each others' lives."

Mary: Yes.

Elan: "When we've grown in some way, we actually have or can have a positive knock-on effect with those people in our lives." Sometimes there's even an impetus on the part of people who have found happiness to help those who are struggling to work out their own issues. It's as though there is a network of positive life-affirming work being done that spans multiple books so that you're not just reading this one-off, two people have a struggle, learn about themselves, come together and that's it. There is this web of relationships.

Mary: Yes.

Elan: Which is just a lovely feature of these books, I think.

Mary: Again, it's like real life isn't it? We're all heroes and heroines of our own stories. But then everyone we come into contact with is a hero or heroine of their own story. So I love writing series for that reason. The hero and heroine are all in all in this book. Everyone else is sort of peripheral. But if they're real people, they also are heroes and heroines of their own stories so I like to go on to tell those stories. It makes it more like real life. It's not just the two people are the important ones in this life and they fall in love, they marry and they live happily ever after. Nobody else matters or they're there as a cast of people in the stands.

I like to think of us as all at different times heroes and heroines of our own lives but we have to realize that the same is true for everyone else.

Harrison: I have two more questions, at least two more planned questions. First, this one also is inspired by some of the things that our readers have suggested as questions. Again, it's a curiosity that I share with them. As a historical romance writer, you focus on a particular time period. Not all of them, but a lot in the Regency. It's a Regency romance, the Regency period, early 1800s, like you said, Napoleonic Wars, that kind of time period. I want to know what you think the advantages are to you for that period of time particularly. Do you think you could do what you do in any period or is there something about that period and what is it?

Mary: It's a very unique - something can't be very unique, it's either unique or it isn't - it was a unique period in British history, coming between the 18th century, the Georgian era and the Victorian era that followed it. It's just a short period. But it was a time when things were changing. Industry was coming on strong. Social conscience was growing. Women were beginning, very, very gradually, maybe hardly beginning, they had a toe in the door, of becoming more assertive and more their own people.

Visually it's a glorious age. If ever you see any movies set in the regency era, the fashions were just gorgeous for both men and women and very different from the eras before and after them. I think when you want to write love stories that have a sort of societal structure and a sort of set value system, which was not by any means perfect - and that's explored in many of my books - but still it gives me a sort of base on which to write my books and it just suits what I try to do.

I always tell people I couldn't possibly write contemporary romance because I don't know enough about my own era. It's so changeable that anything I wrote would be out of date or would be ridiculous to so many readers. It's much easier to take an era that's finished and done with and it's sort of set in stone and you can get in there and write about it. Also I have this sort of voice - every writer has a voice which I always say is one of their most important assets, if not the most important - I have a voice that's suitable for historicals. I don't speak the way contemporary people speak.

So it suits me. I can write in the sort of English that would have been used more or less in the Regency era. But mainly I think it's to have this sort of set society. It's not entirely authentic because my stories concentrate on the upper classes. There was a huge and horrible underbelly to the whole of the Regency era. Although I occasionally touch on it, Promise of Spring, one of you is reading...

Harrison: Yes.

Mary: Have any of you read Precious Pearl? The man who married a prostitute that he took out of a brothel? She was his client in the brothel. Anyway, that sort of gets into the underbelly of it, but normally I don't. So it's just upper class. But taking that fact, it's sort of perfect for the message I have.

Harrison: That's one of the things that our listeners and viewers had said, that it's such a unique period for the reason of that structure even, that it does have a very strict and set moral or societal framework. There are rules. There are very, very specific rules for almost all of these different types of interactions but at the same time for all its flaws, that system actually allows for the little exceptions to those rules. You can have these characters who can break the rules or bend the rules a little bit in order to have...

Mary: It has to be authentic. It was the age in which Jane Austen was writing and she was writing contemporary literature. That was her own age.

Harrison: She was a contemporary romance writer.

Mary: Yes. But if you consider Elizabeth Bennett for example, in Pride and Prejudice, she is a woman of the age and yet she manages to come across as a very strong woman. She refused one marriage offer when she might have been thought to be desperate because Mr. Collins was a horrible man. Her friend came along and married him because he offered the respectability of marriage. But she also refused this hugely advantageous marriage offer from Mr. Darcy because he was so arrogant. And really that is so admirable for a real Regency person, that she would do that, because marriage was everything to women in those days. They had no life, no real respectability without marriage. Being a spinster was a horrible fate for a woman in those days.

You can go to contemporary literature and realize that people could, not exactly break the rules, but break expectations and come out on top. She ends up with Mr. Darcy obviously and very happy, but he had a lot of adjusting to do and growing. So yes, characters can break the rules. People can break the rules. But it has to be authentic. There has to be a good reason for it and you have to be able to persuade the reader that yes, they were real Regency characters but they still did this and somehow it was alright. It worked for them.

Adam: It's almost like you're having to convince the reader that it works in the same way that the characters are having to convince the dragons, as you would call them.

Mary: Exactly.

Adam: That it's okay for them to break the rules as well. So it's this great balance of it being authentic for the times reasons and also for us as readers to experience it as well.

Mary: Yes.

Harrison: We got into some semi-heated discussions about our previous discussion. Maybe it was a poor choice of words but we talked about your books and having traditional values. Of course traditional values, depending on how you define them, can be variously interpreted, let's put it that way. I want to ask you something but I want to preface it by saying that given the discussion we just had about that last question, if you look at the period of time and the stories you're writing, you have all of these characters who are going against their traditional values, or at least finding a way to operate within them. You could call them progressive for their times, that there are all kinds of expectations and rules that might strike the main characters as silly or outdated, or even wrong.

So they find a way to get around that or to work within it. They are the ones injecting this newness into this stale societal framework. I wanted to know if you have any thoughts - because I know you just said that you don't know enough about the present time to write a contemporary romance, among other reasons - but it seems to me that in the present time there is very little social framework, that social structure that keeps everyone in line. It's almost like anything goes.

So sex in a Regency story is very different than I think sex in a contemporary framework. From the contemporary framework the transgressive/progressive characters in your novels are to me, very traditional.

Mary: Yes.

Harrison: Do you have any thoughts on that? Do you have any thoughts on sexuality in modern times, in our time? I'll just leave it like that. Do you have any thoughts about sex today?

Mary: It's difficult to answer. I don't like to impose any ideas of my own, any values, any beliefs, any sort of norms, expectations on other people. Maybe that makes me a modern woman. Maybe that's the way many people are today. I have my own way of living. I have my own beliefs and values I suppose. I was using an example earlier of me being judgmental, I'm always right. I don't think that really is me at all. That was just a hypothetical example.

I'm not judgmental. I try to see where everyone is coming from when they believe something. I have my own beliefs and sometimes I get terribly heated when I read or hear other people who are spouting totally different beliefs, particularly when you get into the area of politics or religion for example. I can get terribly annoyed when I read other opinions, but I try always to think, in most cases these people genuinely believe this, genuinely feel this. It's diametrically opposed to what I feel and believe but does one of us have to be wrong and the other one right?

The only thing that infuriates me most I suppose is that so few people can try to get to a middle ground, to understanding one another and accepting. There are some things that a person feels so strongly about you cannot accept a diametrically opposed view, but in most issues, even if you can't accept it you can say, "That person genuinely believes that and that person is not a monster."

So I'm not sure where we started with this. I'm into this now and not sure if I'm heading off on a tangent or if this was the original issue.

Harrison: It works because I think that given the world as it is and people as they are and all of the conflicts in the world today, I think that also brings to light another advantage of writing in a time and place otherwise, a different time and place because the things that make your books or books written about a different time and place relevant, are the things that are universal.

So it's almost like a way of getting around all of the hot button issues, all of the controversies and you can say, "Here is humanity. Here are individuals. Here are real people." You don't have to think about politics. You don't have to think about all of the things going on but you can find something true in them. You can find something that's universal and that can be applied to your life, even if you're not an upper class Regency duke, etc.

Mary: Yes. It's a good point. Even when you said you were a little bit hesitant about using the phrase "traditional values" because that's a bit of a hot button issue.

Harrison: Yeah.

Mary: So yes, I can write in the values of regency England, but I can make them my characters' own and hope that they don't come across as preachy. I don't even particularly know what traditional values are. I know what some people think they are or should be and then you get into all the conflict again.

So yes you're right. I hadn't really thought of that. Maybe it's why I'm so comfortable in writing what I write. I can just escape into that world, make it my own and I don't have to deal with - sometimes it crops up. People will object to something in my books and I have to defend it or at least listen to their criticism. But I think it might happen a lot more if I were writing contemporary romance. Surely it would because you'd run against people with totally opposite views.

Harrison: I had one question. Did you guys have any questions before I get to it?

Elan: I just wanted to affirm your point Harrison because the phrase that kept coming up for me was that there is a certain amount of freedom within limitation or within the parameters of this world that you entered into..."

Mary: Yes.

Elan: ...that counterintuitively works to really hone in on the timelessness - and there's another word you used - just the universality of some of these key, core issues. So that was one of the final things I wanted to affirm about your choice to use this particular genre to tell your stories.

Mary: That's nice. Again, it wasn't a conscious choice on my part but when you put it into words, I think, "Yeah, that's exactly why I'm doing what I'm doing." So yes, you've done quite a bit of this this afternoon. You've sort of put into words things I hadn't really thought about.

Harrison: Adam?

Adam: No, I didn't really have anything other than to just say how much I appreciate your work and what you've written and how you've done it. I'd like to offer my heart-felt gratitude for your having spent so much time and effort and energy into honing your craft because you've been able to create some wonderful pieces of literature that are enjoyable at the very bare minimum and quite revealing and revelatory at the peak of it. So I just wanted to say thank you very much.

Mary: Thank you. That's very nice.

Harrison: Well ditto for all of that, but I want to have a fun question at the end here. I think I read on your website that you said that you like reading, of course, and that you read a variety of things but it has to grab you and you have to stick with it because after reading Moby Dick you thought, "Okay, I'm not going to waste my time on something that isn't entertaining", right? {laughter}

Mary: Yes.

Harrison: Maybe you can give two answers. I want to know what some of your favourite, recent books have been that you've read, but I want to know if there's anything that you really enjoy that would be very surprising for readers or viewers here to find out. Do you have a guilty pleasure when it comes to reading or something that's way out there, like some strange science fiction or anything weird?

Mary: No, not really. I read a lot of mysteries, which isn't really wild and unexpected. In non-fiction I read a lot of spirituality, particularly centering around Buddhism. I don't even like to put a label, but probably closer to Buddhism. But of course I come from a Judaeo-Christian background. I was brought up as Baptist in Wales, became a Catholic in Canada for many years.

Some people can, but I can't just abandon that. That heritage is very, very precious to me and will always be at the base of who I am but it's no longer where my spiritual journey has taken me. So I do a lot of reading. I don't know if that would be surprising to readers or not. It's certainly not wild and spooky, at least I don't think it is. Maybe it is to some. But apart from that, in fiction, I do read a lot of different types of fiction. You asked me to name certain books?

Harrison: Well is there a book that you've read recently that stands out?

Mary: That really grabbed me. I'm not even sure. I tend to read by author rather than individual book and I can't think, not recently anyway, I can't think of any book that's reached out and grabbed me by the throat and wouldn't let me go more than any other.

I like reading old mystery fiction like Patricia Wentworth - I don't know if you've heard of her. I shouldn't have started that unless I have a little list. I'll think of all sorts of people. Agatha Christie to a certain extent, but I prefer Patricia Wentworth. I like Kerry Greenwood, who is an Australian mystery author. She's a real hoot. I love her books. Michael Connelly. Louise Penny, who's Canadian. I LOVE her books! Donna Leon, who writes books. Her sleuth, her police officer, is in Venice in Italy. There are about 20-some books in that series, very, very well written.

I think there's a common element in many of them, not all of them, but certainly in Louise Penny and Donna Leon; the real depth of character she develops. It isn't just a sleuth solving problems. The sleuth is a real developing character and I like that.

Harrison: I haven't read enough of your books yet, but have you included elements of mystery and crime and solving crime in your books? I know some historical romance authors do that.

Mary: Yes. Sometimes my books have a historical element and I always have a little chuckle if readers said, "Well, I solved the mystery halfway through", and I think, "It wasn't the point of the book!" {laughter} But no, I thought of it many years ago when I thought maybe I should be branching out a bit and I did think of getting a Regency sleuth and writing a series of Regency mysteries, but that's not where my heart is. For over 30 years I've written books that are all different from one another and all very precious and all of them excite me as I write them. I love writing them so why stop doing it?

I know that as a reader I don't always like it when favourite authors of mine suddenly start writing a different type of book. I feel cheated, especially if they use the same name and I get this book and I start reading it and I think, "This isn't so and so." I feel cheated. So I'm happy with what I write and I don't think I'll change now.

Harrison: Great! Well that's a good note to end on. I'll talk a little business at the end. You mentioned that you're starting a new series, you're currently writing that one. You do have a book coming out in June I believe, another in the Westcott series. Then is there one more in the Wescott series coming out?

Mary: Yes. It's going to be labelled as a Westcott book now because there aren't any more coming. I was going to write a whole lot of books about leftover characters from the Westcott series and this one in November is one of a set of twins, a man and a woman that grew to a book for the woman and obviously the man was going to come next. But I was asked to start a new series, which I did. But, I'm being crafty about it. This man is going to link up with one of the characters in this book. She's only nine years old at the beginning of this book but the other twin is in his mid-20's in 1825 and this starts in 1808. So she'll be a good age for him by the time I get to her book so I bring the two series together, if I should live so long. {laughter}

Adam: That's good because I was actually thinking about it. I'm five books into the Westcott series and I'm thinking, "I don't think she's got enough books for all of the rest of these characters." So I'm glad to hear that you're working on it.

Mary: Yeah, well there are nine in the actual series. It was supposed to be eight and then I wrote a little novella in the series so it was actually nine.

Adam: Okay.

Mary: And then this one would be an add-on so it'll be 10. She's not a Wescott but she's very strongly connected to them through marriage, not her own marriage, through her father's marriage. So her twin will, if I live long enough, have his book too at the end of this series.

Harrison: Excellent. Well, it has been a long and interesting and enjoyable and fun conversation. We had a great time having you on Mary.

Elan: Yes.

Mary: Thank you very much for having me. It's been lovely. It's been very different from the usual sort of interview I do. I always love interviews but this is very different. So thank you.

Harrison: Great. Well we're glad that you had a good time and wish you all the best in your future writing and thank you again. We will link to your website in our show description. Is there anything else you want to link to or announce or is that pretty much it?

Mary: That's pretty much it.

Harrison: Oh, you can also find Mary on Facebook. Maybe we'll include a link to her Facebook page because she posts great puns.

Mary: That happened quite accidentally. I started throwing in a few puns and then everybody started sending them to me so I started a folder. Everybody loves them so I post them, mostly one a day.

Harrison: They're very enjoyable. Okay, take care Mary.

Mary: Thank you. Thank you for having me. I've enjoyed it.

Elan: It was a pleasure. Thank you.

Mary: Thank you Elan and Adam, who's off camera at the moment and Harrison. I'm terrible on names but I've got them written down.

Harrison: You've got them correct.

Mary: Thank you. Okay, bye then.