Monday, March 7, 2011

Best Interview Ever from a Legend: Portia Da Costa

APRIL: Portia, I'm so excited to meet and talk with you today. Your name and brand have been around for a long time and when I first started seeing your name on the forums, I was in shock. I knew your name and every time I ran across it, covers of books would scroll through my mind. No.. this couldn't be the same woman. And I was delighted when I found out it was -- in my mind, one of the legends of Erotica and romance. It's so good to have you here today.

As I mentioned, you've been writing for a few years now -- since the early 1990's. How has romance changed?

PORTIA: Wow, thanks for your very kind words. I never think of myself as a legend or a famous author brand, but it’s wonderfully flattering to discover other people see me that way.

Romance has changed quite a bit for me since the early nineties, mainly because I’m so much more aware of its grand scope now. When I first started trying to write novels for the Mills & Boon imprint, I wasn’t online, so I didn’t know what was available globally. I only knew what I saw in our British bookshops, which was mainly Mills & Boon romance, British regional and period sagas, the beginnings of chick-lit, and also women’s contemporary fiction that often contained a love story along with other elements. So I had no idea of the broad array of historical romances that were written by American authors, or of the early flowering of paranormal romance and urban fantasy. Mills & Boon didn't differentiate its contemporary lines in those days, so there were no distinct Presents or Romance titles. There was a Historical line, but surprisingly, I seem to remember a slightly wider variety of time periods than today.

So the big change purely from my own perspective is the vastly increased choice of themes and genres available to me - which is fantastic! Oh, and lest I completely overlook the fact, there certainly wasn’t anything much in the way of erotic romance then. The growth of that sub genre has been another terrific development as I’m concerned, as both author and reader.

APRIL: I know you've done contemporary, romance, erotica (The Tutor is on my list at Amazon -- how did I miss that one?)... and now you're writing historicals (which I'm thrilled to hear). The market is constantly shifting and changing. Anything you wish would make a big comeback or would disappear forever???

PORTIA: That’s a tough one. I don’t think I’d want any particular type of romance writing to disappear. It goes back to my previous answer. The more choice available, the better for everybody, I feel.

APRIL: I know my absolute favorite books are those bodice rippers of the 80's (sshhhh... it's my naughty secret... there aren't many that would want that to come back but I'm ever hopeful). I also like Single Titles but absolutely adore Harlequin's. I cut my teeth on my Gran's old Mills and Boon's that she'd hoard from her trips to Scotland. So I have to ask -- it's got to be thrilling to write for Harlequin with your Spice Briefs and the upcoming Harlequin Spice. Do you want to tell us a bit about your experience and those scorchin' hawt books???

PORTIA: Oh, I love those old Mills & Boons myself. I was a librarian for much of my earlier working life, and I used to read loads of Mills & Boons then. This was long before I ever thought of becoming a writer myself. I just read for pure entertainment.

Bearing this in mind, it still feels like a miracle to me that I’m writing for Harlequin, because it's the parent publisher of all those books I loved back then, and still do love. To put it simply, it's a dream come true. The day I got the email saying I’d sold my first Spice Brief, I jumped up and down and shouted for joy. I just seemed totally unreal.

The first Spice Brief I wrote was CHANCE OF A LIFETIME, a naughty but quite light hearted BDSM romp about a sexy modern day British aristocrat and the adventurous girl who goes to work for him. What starts as a temporary job for the heroine quickly becomes forever as she falls in love with the handsome Marquis and the spankings he gives her. After that, I wrote quite a mix of stories for Spice Briefs. The Risqué Reunions trilogy [TWICE THE PLEASURE, SECOND TIME AROUND, NO LONGER FORBIDDEN] is three stories set at a school reunion, with old schoolmates getting together to explore threesomes, dominance and spanking, and for one heroine, a forbidden love that couldn’t be fulfilled back in the day but which can finally flower at the reunion.

After that, I tried some historical Spice Briefs and had a wonderful time with my Ladies Sewing Circle stories, A GENTLEWOMAN'S PREDICAMENT and A GENTLEWOMAN'S RAVISHMENT, both set in the later Victorian era. These are tales told by a group of not quite so prim Victorian ladies who swap sexy experiences and fantasies over their needlework and cups of tea. The general image of Victorians is prudish and uptight, but a lot of research reading has revealed to me that all was not as it seemed, and a lot of them were really quite frisky minded beneath the surface.

The Gentlewoman stories led to me selling to the Spice single title line too. The editor enjoyed my historical voice and encouraged me to tackle an outline for a novel. I did, and she liked it and commissioned IN THE FLESH, which is a sort of late Victorian “Indecent Proposal” with a side of “Upstairs, Downstairs” and a dash of “Jane Eyre”. The heroine, Beatrice Weatherly, is a gentlewoman who’s down on her luck and has had her reputation ruined through no fault of her own. When she catches the eye of a rich, attractive and rather notorious man, she’s pragmatic enough to accept a sexual arrangement with him as a way out of her dire financial situation. She doesn’t expect to fall in love with Edmund Ellsworth Ritchie - but of course she does. In The Flesh is the story of their up and down journey towards happiness. It was wonderful fun to write, and I’ve recently submitted a proposal for a book that's linked to it. Both these novels feature supporting characters who appear in my Victorian Spice Briefs.

April: Wow… I think I need to devote more time to your newest books, especially that story with the school friends reuniting. That might be ahem… really good. (April – stop drooling – get back to work :>) Right back on track.

Harlequin's Spice Briefs is so huge and Carina, Harlequin's exclusive ebook line, is making a lot of waves in the writing community, really bringing epublishing to the forefront, how do you see things changing for new writers coming up through the ranks? Any advice for the long-haul?

PORTIA: It’s a tough time for all writers with the prevailing economics, but I also see it as a time of opportunity, with the further growth and development of epublishing and the rapid rise of self publishing on various platforms. I’m thrilled to be writing for Harlequin, as I say, but I think even if I hadn’t got a New York contract, I’d still feel optimistic and motivated to write for epublishers like Samhain and Total-e-Bound and other houses, and also to try my hand at self-publishing for Amazon Kindle and elsewhere. I think an epublishing/self publishing career is every bit as valid as a print publishing career, and participating in digital publishing has the exciting quality of embracing the future and being a part what lies ahead.

April: So true. So true --- there’s lots of opportunity for agile authors and aspiring businesswomen (and men). The downside is that those that can't change with the times are going to slowly die -- not just authors and publishers but bookstores.

Markets change too. Erotica was hot in the 90's but has had a slow decline with the onslaught of erotic romance. One of the casualties was Black Lace. I loved Black Lace and couldn't believe when they stopped publishing. It was a sad day. But that's led to some exciting new things for you like Spice Briefs and Harlequin Spice. What are your future plans?

PORTIA: My future plans? Well, I’ll be writing my second Harlequin Spice novel this year, and I hope that I’ll be able to do more projects for the line after that, as well as write more Spice Briefs. I have a few already in the pipeline - a couple of contemporaries, ANOTHER CHANCE and A VERY PERSONAL ASSISTANT and two more Ladies’ Sewing Circle stories, A GENTLEWOMAN'S RESCUE and A GENTLEWOMAN'S DALLIANCE, which will be published in 2011, 2012 and 2013. I also have quite a few other Spice Brief and Spice ideas that I hope will also come to fruition in the next year or two.

I’m also extremely excited to be writing for Samhain Publishing. They’ve been a "dream" epublisher of mine for quite a while, but I've been waiting for the right moment and the right project to sub to them. That project turned out to be FAR FROM PERFECT, which is out now, and I also have A TOUCH OF HEAVEN, due to be published in July - which I’m also pretty stoked about. A Touch of Heaven is a light but quite emotional paranormal, in which a prime time heroine, who thinks love has passed her by, meets a gorgeous and mysterious young man who turns out to be far more heavenly than even his fantastic lovemaking suggests. I’ve also been working on a romantic BDSM novella with Samhain in mind, as I love writing a mix of styles and subgenres.

April: There's so much more I could ask but I'm dying to hear more about your new book from Samhain -- Far from Perfect. Would you like to tell us a bit about that? When it comes out?

PORTIA: FAR FROM PERFECT is a project I’ve worked on and nurtured for a long time, in and amongst my erotic writing. It’s what I’d call a sensual romance, and it’s the type of story I attempted to craft when I very first began to write with a view to publication, targeting Mills & Boon. Back then, I didn’t really know what I was doing at all, and what I wrote was truly terrible. But in the intervening years, I’ve learnt a lot about story craft, and now, because I waited until the time was right, I feel that FAR FROM PERFECT is a much better book than it would have been if I'd tackled it earlier.

As I said, this isn't a full on erotic romance. It has hot love scenes, but they’re sensuously described, rather than graphic. It also has many classic category romance themes, the sort I’ve always loved. For example, the heroine is in love with a very rich, powerful and absolutely drop dead gorgeous Italian male, who’s also a longstanding friend of her family. So this makes it a "friends to lovers" story, and also, in another of my favorite tropes, an "engagement of convenience" tale. There’s also a fast and very glamorous car in it, another thing I love to include in my stories. As I remember it, the hero of my very first Mills & Boon attempt drove a Lamborghini.

In FAR FROM PERFECT, Anna and Nick are a very spiky pair of lovers, and they have some difficult emotional issues to surmount on their way to happily ever after. But even when they’re arguing up a storm, they’re still raving hot with simmering desire for each other and despite their efforts to remain in control, their passion often gets the better of them.

April: I love the friends to lovers theme and I couldn’t help but sneak a look at your excerpt before our interview and it was .... HAWT. Wowser. This is going to be a good one. I hope everyone goes out and buys a copy today :> One of the great things about ebooks is that we don't have to wait forever to get books from across the pond (YEAH!!!! Between Portia and Kate Pearce, I can be a very happy woman for a very long time :>)

Thanks Portia for your time today. Good luck with your future sales!!!!

Portia: Many thanks for allowing me to visit. It's been enormous fun!


Savanna Kougar said...

Hi Portia, great to see you here, and get a chance to get caught up on your impressive career. Mucho success always.

Portia Da Costa said...

Thanks, Savanna. Lovely to be here. I really enjoyed doing the interview. :)

Mary Quast said...

Great interview! Love your work, Portia! Thanks for joining us today!

Portia Da Costa said...

Many thanks, Mary. My pleasure to be here. :)