Bound to the Highlander — Q and A with novelist Kate Robbins

How’s this for an international splash?

A Newfoundland-Canadian author gets a publishing contract in Ireland for her historical romance set in Scotland in the 1400s. On the eve of publication it wins a literary award in Florida, U.S.
Bound to the Highlander by Kate Robbins - TARA - 500

Kate Robbins’s novel Bound to the Highlander has just won the 2013 Tampa Area Romance Author (TARA) Award for Historical Romance and is available now at Tirgearr Publishing, on amazon.com and a host of other retailers.

Bound to the Highlander is a racy, enthralling tale of a noblewoman Aileana Chattan who is compelled to wed James MacIntosh, a man whose actions caused the death of her father. Though Aileana despises him at first, James soon awakes something that forces her to question her own notions of loyalty…There is passion, betrayal, kidnapping, and true love all set within the swirling mountains and barrens of the Scottish Highlands. I spoke to Debbie (“Kate’s” nom de non-plume, so to speak) about the romance genre in general and Bound to the Highlander in particular.

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Q: The first obvious thing about Bound to the Highlander is that your novel has so many features — landscape as metaphor, constant sensory engagement — that we associate with the “higher” literary arts i.e. literary fiction, and yet there seems to be a cultural divide among readers. Is the divide unjustified and is historical romance for everyone? And, if not, should it be?

A: Genre fiction focuses on a specific preference in storytelling style and so fans of romance, for example, know what they’re getting when they approach that genre. The same is true for sci-fi, fantasy, thrillers, mystery. Romance must have a Happily Ever After (HEA) otherwise it’s not a romance novel. Those who read specific genres want that same ‘something’ when they select that kind of novel. In literary fiction, the focus tends to be on the writing technique as much as the story itself. Same thing but different? Maybe. But literary fiction is not bound by the same expectations as genre fiction in the sense of formula – Romance must have a Happily Ever After (HEA) – Fantasy and Sci-fi must have world building upfront.

I’ve often heard people say that genre fiction novels like romance are ‘junky’ because they’re poorly written or it’s the same old-same old. I’ve read both good and poor in all genres actually so I can’t say I agree with that. I read everything and if the story is good, I’m not worried about the genre or lack thereof. However, there are many readers who gravitate toward the same kind of novel because they know what they’re getting every time. If this were not true, Harlequin would not be the mega giant and household name it is. Their novels are not my preference, but there are thousands of readers out there for whom they exist.

Romance novels are primarily about one hero and one heroine (H/H) and while there may be some variations, typically those are the only Points of View (POV) the reader will see. What will you not see in a well-crafted romance novel that you may see in literary fiction? Author intrusion and head-hopping. A romance novel should put the reader as deep inside the H/H’s POV so they feel right along with the characters. The reader should anticipate, yearn, crave, and despair as deeply as the characters do.

Readers know what they want. Those who read genre or literary fiction do so for very personal and subjective reasons. I think the sandbox is big enough for us all to play in.

Q: I loved the pacing of the book, the fact that it’s a story always in motion. This makes the writing look effortless. I’m wondering how long it took from beginning to end, from first idea you would write this  story to its actual publication?

A: Thanks Paul! <<blush>> The first draft of Bound to the Highlander (BTTH) took me six months. While the beginning-middle-end and character development was always there, I realized early on that I did not have the mad skills to pull off a romance novel good enough for historical romance readers. They know their history and they know what they want to see in terms of quality and style. As I learned the craft, I also developed my voice and that’s a tough one for a writer to find sometimes.

Further to your point on pacing, that comes down to defogging. It took me a while and some online courses to learn just how to defog my writing, but I think I’m getting there. In a nutshell, it’s all about omitting needless words. Want an example? Of course you do.

Take this sentence. “Sally was going to go to the market, but she decided to go to the mall instead.”

Wordy and awkward right?

How about this? “Sally went to the mall instead of the market.”

By changing “was going” to “went” and removing “to go to” and “decided” we get to the heart of what happened? We don’t need a play-by-play. We just wanna know what happened.

Make sense?

Bound to the Highlander was five years from initial idea to publication.

Q: I note you have both a full time job and a family(!) How hard is it to stay focused on the story? What techniques do you use to stay on track?

A: I am a juggler with no balls LOL. Time management is a constant struggle for me and we’ve developed a full-on negotiation strategy for my writing time which balances time with my family and time to get my Butt in Chair Hands on Keyboard (BICHOK).

Right now my writing schedule during the weekday evenings is Monday, Thursday, Friday. I usually write all day Saturday and Sunday unless the boys have something I need to attend. Tuesday evening is one on one time with Daniel and Wednesday evening is Nicholas’s. Where does hubby fit in? Saturday and Sunday nights LOL. I know, it’s nuts. I drink a lot of coffee.

Q: What kind of rewards do you give yourself when times get tough? How do you encourage yourself?

A: If I’m stressed or feeling overwhelmed, I usually grab a bottle of wine and watch something very different from what I’m writing. This time of year I watch a lot of horror movies and so I find it a great way to remove my thought process from whatever is snagging me with the rom novels.

Q: I’m always in awe of people who write within genre conventions and do it well. How do you juggle your instincts about where this story might go on the one hand and genre dictates on the other, i.e. what readers might demand or expect? Are you constantly aware of guidelines? (Note: it doesn’t look as though you are as the story is certainly satisfying yet unpredictable)

A: I have broken some rules, yes. And by that I mean I’m not following the exact formula. The backstory has always played a role in what’s happening with the characters outside of their budding romance, and so BTTH may not have the black moment in the exact spot you might expect, for example. But I don’t like doing what is expected to the letter, otherwise I personally would get bored with it. I’ve held true to the expectation of how the H/H’s romance develops, but I’ve not caved to getting them together too early in the novel. I’m a fan of the slow build and as long as a publisher will take a chance on me and readers want that, that’s what I’ll give them.

The key is, you have to know the rules before you can break them. Still, the central theme of this novel is the love story and I gotta say I’ve had a lot of fun writing it. I love it when the main characters get under each other’s skin. <<wags eyebrows>>

Q: This is the beginning of a series. Can you give us a hint of where the saga is leading? Where are you in the actual “writing” stages of the series?

A: Bound to the Highlander is the first of three books in my Highland Chiefs series. There’s a plot to usurp the king introduced in the first book that involves four other clans besides the MacIntosh (hero of book one). As each book progresses, the plot is unraveled a little more until the ultimate conclusion. So there’s a secondary story happening in the background the whole time, but each book is about a certain clan chief and his love story.

Book two, Promised to the Highlander, is written and I’m currently polishing it to submit to my publisher hopefully by the end of October. I’m gonna take a little spell after that and then dig into book three, Enemy of the Highlander in January.

Thanks for hosting me today Paul!!

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