Julie Anne Long
I have a confession to make: whenever I set out to write a novel, my primary objective isn’t necessarily to entertain readers. It’s to entertain myself. I mean, if I’m going to spend 100,000 words worth of time with a finite set of characters and places and circumstances, I’d better genuinely like all of them. Particularly the characters: I want to feel invested in their joys and triumphs and tragedies; I want to laugh with, be intrigued and moved by, and dare I say it, aroused by them (which means, my hero had better be hot). To write a book properly, I know I’ll need to live it for the duration; I know it’ll become a parallel world for me, of sorts. So I’m fussy about how I populate that world.
The thing is, though…it’s all of a piece. If I do my job right—that is, if I keep myself entertained—I think my pleasure becomes the reader’s pleasure.
Take Ways to be Wicked, which is the second book in my trilogy about the Holt sisters, three sisters separated when they were very young when their mother, the mistress of a famous politician, is framed for his murder and forced to flee, leaving them behind.. Tom Shaughnessy, the theater impresario hero of WTBW, popped up in Beauty and the Spy, the first book, and he almost walked off with the scene I was writing. In fact, when by the time he strolled offstage (so to speak) in that book, I wanted to follow him, because I was already a little in love with him. I knew him, in all his cheerfully shameless, wickedly gorgeous glory. I knew his ambitions and weaknesses and the content of his heart, too. He wanted his own book even then, and who was I to deny him one? He wanted his own heroine, too, and Sylvie Lamoureux, a fiery ballerina and one of the Holt sisters, was his match exactly. She was easy to write, a pleasure to write: because I knew Tom, I knew the kind of woman Tom would need. So they're the hero and heroine of Ways to be Wicked.
As I wrote, I tried to make sure Tom and Sylvie were a little complex, slightly unorthodox, proud, quick-witted, because it’s fun for me to write those kinds of characters. And then I populated Tom and Sylvie’s world, the world of White Lily Theater, with other characters I was certain would keep me entertained for the duration of a story: an autocratic dwarf choreographer, an aging diva, ambitious, jealous dancers, and a sweet older woman with a knack for writing filthy, innuendo-laden ditties, for example. I also get a little bored when a story is relentlessly light, the same way I’d get bored with a one-note song, so there’s genuine darkness and grit in the story, too; there’s a villain I ached just a little for while still despising him, because I can't abide characters who . I made sure everyone has a soul even while I’m laughing at them.
All in all, I had a pretty bloody good time writing WAYS TO BE WICKED.
So serendipitously, I think if I’ve had a wonderful time writing a story, my joy in the telling of it will show. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say it’s my responsibility to my readers to keep myself entertained, because it may just keep them entertained. Talk about the best job in the world.