Our readers often ask TRR to check up on their favorite author and find out what their plans are for future books.
The name we most often kept hearing was Carla Kelly. Long time Regency romance readers have known for
years about the charm, wit and depth of Carlaís stories. The staff of TRR tracked her down and complied a
set of questions.
Welcome to TRR, Carla! Is it true that we can look forward to more of your Regencies in the near future?
I signed a contract for two Regencies. Beyond that, I canít say. The first is due to Signet on Dec. 1 of this year, and the second on July 1, 2001.
Can you tell us about your decision to leave writing for a time? What prompted it?
I never left writing; I was just writing other things that are equally important to me. Iím still finishing one project, which is the WWII memoirs of a regimental surgeon with the First Marine Division in the South Pacific. I did quit writing Regencies because I seem to be trapped there, and didnít want to be. I also have a novel about the surrender of Sitting Bull that needs to be finished.
Why do you think the popularity of straight Regencies has declined in recent years? Is it reader taste or does it have to do with publisher failure to promote or support the genre?
I donít know about Regencies declining in popularity because I donít read them. In my own case, I donít think publishing houses go to much effort to do any marketing for them because itís a small, somewhat specialized sub genre. Has the writing quality declined? Canít say. You tell me.
Have you ever considered moving to the longer Regency historical format? Would you be comfortable writing in that format rather than traditional Regency?
Iíve thought about moving into the longer form of Regencies because it pays better, I think. From what I hear, they tend to be geared to more high-octane sex than I put in mine. (I was going to write ďhigh-octane passion,Ē but thereís plenty of that in my novels.) Others can do that, if they choose. If I write any more after these two, Iíll probably stick to the traditional Regency mode, if thatís what it is I write. I have a fairly good following that likes what I do.
Tell us about your background and job experiences. Is writing something you always wanted to do?
Iíve always been a writer, starting at age 6 with the mystery novel ďThe Old Mill,Ē which consisted of two typewritten sentences on Momís old Olivetti-Underwood. In high school I fell into the clutches of a fabulous journalism teacher who never let go. What she did for me helps me every day of my writing life. I have a BA in Latin American History from BYU, and an MA in American History from University of Louisiana-Monroe. My background includes work in the National Park Service (Iím doing that now again at Fort Union Trading Post NHS), then home for years to raise five kids, and then work for 10 or so years in hospital public relations. I think this medical interest comes through in my books sometimes.
Iím currently working part time as a park ranger, and doing some free lance writing for the state tourism magazine. Fun. Iíll be doing archival work on the state level and then in the National Archives this fall regarding a project at Fort Buford, which is 2 miles east of Fort Union.
How did you find time to write with five children? Are your children older now and leaving you more freedom to write?
My children are grown and out of the house now, so writing is easier (but so is wasting time). Before, I did it the way that suspect most writers with children do: get up early, stay awake late. A teacher (he has 12 kids) gave me good advice: ďLearn to sleep fast, Carla.Ē Heís right. I did.
Tell us about working for a National Historic Site. That must be fun, with your love of history. And are you still teaching history?
I love working with the National Park Service, even if gray and green arenít my best colors (tee hee). Itís the hat thatís fun. We get issued straps for our hats here in Nodak, where the wind never stops. This summer Iím involved with special projects, which include doing all print matter, ads, photos and tracking and coddling of presenters for the upcoming Fur Trade Symposium. Iím also helping to organize an Elderhostel program for next summer, in combination with Williston State College and Fort Union. The focus will be on Lewis and Clark, the fur trade, the Indian Wars.
Iíll be teaching one only one history course this winter, the second half of the basic American History course. I was hoping for Civil War. Maybe next year. Iíd also like to teach a course on World War II.
Your first novel, DAUGHTER OF FORTUNE, was set in the American Southwest. What caused the switch to Regencies?
I switched to Regencies because after I wrote Daughter of Fortune, I asked my agent at the time what I might try. She asked if I had ever thought about writing a Regency (I did read Heyer), and I said no. She said, ďWrite me 150 pages and Iíll sell it.Ē I did and she did, and off we went.
Had you ever been to Britain before you wrote your first Regency?
Iíve still never been to England. It probably shows, but my readers are kind. Was supposed to go to England last Thanksgiving for a wedding, but the wedding was called off. Maybe some day.
You've never hesitated to employ story elements that might be considered difficult: alcoholism; characters who are low-born; prejudice against the Irish and Americans; wastrels and gamblers. Character reformation is a strong element in many of your stories. What draws you to that theme?
Talk about tough subjects; wait until you read the sequel to Libbyís London Merchant. Iím drawn to character reformation because I know how imperfect I am. And maybe I wouldnít call it character reformation-I might call it an appreciation for the need we all have for forgiveness, and that redemption is real. No one is worthless in the sight of our Heavenly Father. I believe that.
Your dialogue is noted as a standout by most of your readers. How did you get it to sound "just right" to your ears? (Practice in front of a mirror? Read it to the dog? Critique partners who were ruthless? [G])
Iím flattered that my readers like my dialog. Itís ironic, because I have a minor stammer. Consequently, I have always spent more time listening than talking. Itís funny; when Iím lecturing, the stammer isnít a problem. I just have a good ear for what people say, I suppose. I do listen a lot. Beyond that, no secrets.
We noticed that MISS MCVINNIEíS LONDON SEASON was dedicated to ĎJeannie McVinnie herself.í Was there a real Jeannie McVinnie?
Oh, yes, there was a Jeannie McVinnie, and she did live in Kirkcubrightshire. She married my great great grandfather Thomas, a stone mason. They came to Minnesota in the late 19th century and Thomas built some beautiful buildings that are on the National Register. I borrowed Jeannieís name, if not her story. I treasure my Scots heritage.
Unlike many other romance writers whose characters had an unhappy first marriage, you have written about widowed heroines who had a loving and fulfilling first marriage (MRS. DREW, MRS MCVINNIE) and find new love. Why?
Why not? Many women are happily married, lose a spouse, and do honor to that first love by wanting another love like it. Iíve never subscribed to the theory that just because other writers do something one way (i.e., first husbandís a bastard), that I should. Thatís trite writing. I go my own way, and if readers choose to follow, lovely. If not, Iíll write something with footnotes (probably will, anyway).
You have used heroes who are not the perfect specimen of manhood. Some are balding and [GASP] in MISS BILLINGS TREADS THE BOARDS, Hal was even a bit pudgy. What draws you to heroes that are more like ordinary men?
A hero to me is someone who goes through life in an honorable way, doing the best he can, facing obstacles with dignity and courage. I am fond of several men in my life who are this way, and none of them are handsome, except to me. What they have is character, and thatís what counts. I appreciate other Regency writers who write handsome, tortured heroes all the time; that way, I donít have to. Thanks, ladies. Besides, I only know ordinary people. Maybe I have no imaginationÖ
Do you think there was any chance Hannah (in MISS WHITTIER MAKES A LIST) talked Daniel into moving to America after the war so she could be near her Quaker family?
I donít know if Hannah can talk Captain Spark into a change of address. I do believe that Hannah was astute enough to leave the decision entirely to him. I am reminded of Frances Thomas of Troy, New York, who was asked during the Civil War if she had been a moving force to keep her husband, Gen. George ďPapĒ Thomas in the Union (he was from Virginia). She quietly informed the journalist that a choice like that was his alone to make.
Even more, I am deeply touched that you would ask such a question. Hannah obviously became quite real to you, and you cared to know what happened to what may have been a rather fragile marriage. I worry about them, too.
Ever considered writing a sequel to REFORMING LORD RAGSDALE set in Australia and featuring Emmaís younger brother Tim?
No, I havenít considered writing a sequel to Ragsdale. Iím beginning to think that readers do want to know more, however. That is so kind.
Many of your books have a military theme and, in particular, in MISS WHITTIER, much time was spent at sea. Is military history an area that particularly appeals to you?
Yes, Iím a military historian, which does surprise some people, especially since I look so benign, so unmilitary. Iím always more comfortable researching and writing about war. I enjoy the sea, I suppose, because my dad was in the U.S. Navy, and life on ships and in port was always motherís milk to me.
What do you like to do when youíre not writing?
When Iím not writing fiction, I like to take photos and write other stuff. I write and edit The Confluence News, a fun little quarterly about Fort Union, Fort Buford and the Confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers. (If you want to get on the mailing list, contact Fort Union.) This summer Iím doing a series of feature articles for the local Williston paper about the forts, park personnel, and related subjects. This winter Iíll be editing a manuscript ďfoundĒ that includes an 1853 incident at Fort Union.
I like opera-Mozart and Rossini mainly, and Puccini-and when not reading or writing history, enjoy reading silly escape mysteries that my sister Lynn Turner shares with me. I just finished 5 or 6 grand books by Jill Churchill. Now Lynnís sent me a bunch of kitchen-related mysteries. Iíll take those along to San Diego next week for airplane reading.
I also enjoy cooking. My chocolate chip cookies have achieved a certain fame in NPS circles out here, all out of proportion to their actual worth, I suppose. Two weeks ago, I was dressed in my 19th century laundress/camp follower duds and cooking over an open campfire at a reenactorsí encampment at Fort Buford. I do have fun, as my good husband reminds me (I believe heís envious).
What authors do you enjoy reading?
I like reading Tony Hillerman, and whatever light mysteries Lynn sends my way. Serious reading includes B. Traven (His Jungle stories, especially), Cormac McCarthy. Iím currently reading David Lavenderís ďA Fist in the Wilderness,Ē (Ramsay Crooks and the American Fur Company), Gaileyís ďPeleliu: 1944,Ē ďThe Experience Economy,Ē and of course, ďHarry Potter #4.Ē Note: for those of you who are interested in Lewis and Clark, Ambroseís ďUndaunted CourageĒ is OK, but Lavenderís ďThe Way to the Western Sea,Ē is better.
Letís talk movies. As a historian, what did you think of The Patriot? Did they get it right? And was Tavington/Tarleton really that evil?
The Patriot. Hímmm. No, they didnít quite get it right, but thatís OK. I think the actual battles of Cowpens and Guilford Courthouse stand on their own merits, with Cowpens being absolutely a great battle. Why not leave them alone? Tarleton was definitely a hard ass soldier, but no, he was not psychotic and he did not burn people in churches. He did cut down some Colonials who were surrendering, but then the conflict between the Colonials and the Loyalists in the Southern states was Nasty Business. (BTW, I did enjoy putting Tarleton into ďMiss Milton.Ē)
What I really enjoyed about The Patriot was showing-even if milder than it really was-the terrible warfare in the southern colonies. Talk about a dress rehearsal for the fratricide of the Civil War! Too many Americans think that the American Revolution began at the Boston Tea Party and ended at Bunker Hill. The Patriot points out that this was not so. Anyone wanting a good read on the American Revolution might look at Stokesburyís ďA Short History of the American Revolution,Ē or Middlekauffís ďThe Glorious Cause.Ē
P.S. If the wonderful Tom Wilkinson (so fine in The Full Monty), doesnít get a Supporting Oscar for Cornwallis, Iím giving up on the Academy Awards. And I wish Chris Cooper had played Mel Gibsonís part. Now thereís an actor. I do like Gibsonís comment about criticism of The Patriot, to the effect that if the movie makes someone turn to a book, then it was worth it. I agree.
July 27, 2000