Perils of Publishing: Rumson girl Kathy Milmore, pictured as one of her own heroine creations from for the historical romance novels she pens as Kaitlin O’Riley. The author and her alter ego will be making a signing appearance Tuesday night at Borders in Eatontown.
By TOM CHESEK (First published on Red Bank oRBit April 6, 2009)
Most Mondays through Fridays, Kathy Milmore nukes her tea in the breakroom microwave at the L.A. private school where she teaches third grade for a living; putting pen to paper only for the latest lesson plan in decimal place values or Madam C.J. Walker.
Ah, but at night — at night, when fantasies run feckless and free as horses on the beach at Rodanthe, Kathy Milmore slips Snuggie-like into the persona of Kaitlin O’Riley, enigmatic authoress of historical romances with titles like Secrets of a Duchess and One Sinful Night. The sort of books that would qualify as guilty pleasures — were the guilt and the pleasure not so starkly two sides of the same savage, primal desire.
The 1985 graduate of Rumson-Fair Haven High — a divorced working mom to a ten-year old son, and one of four sisters to stage/TV comedy writer Jane Milmore(who you’ve met here in oRBit), often manages to make it back to her old stomping grounds for the odd personal appearance in between family visits — and Tuesday night finds her at the Borders store at Route 35 North and Wyckoff Road in Eatontown, where she’ll be reading from and signing copies of her latest book,When His Kiss is Wicked (Zebra Books Inc.).
Her third published novel and the first in a projected five-part series of tales centered around the quintet of Hamilton sisters in Victorian-era London, His Kiss involves bookish, independent sister Colette with one Lucien Sinclair, a noble-born playboy who secretly pines for “a plain biddable woman without the curse of beauty to endanger his heart.”
Even if you’ve never been a consumer of these pink-covered, bosom-heaving, bodice-ripping stories with the curiously contemporary looking couples on the front, you’ll have to admit there’s an allure to the staggeringly best-selling genre that kind of mimics the circumstances in which the heroines do their thing: the novelist constrained within the tightly corsetted templates of the chapter-romance formats, only to break out every X number of pages into a sexstorm of forbidden passions.
In fact, as Milmore/O’Riley told Karyn Collins of the local Gannett papers, “The sex stuff is the hardest part to write. The (historical) research just comes second nature for me…and let’s just say I have a very rich fantasy life.” The author and educator chatted with Red Bank oRBit for an interview in which we came away having learned a few things.
RED BANK ORBIT: I guess the first and most important question to ask is, to whom are we speaking here — Kathleen or Kaitlin? Do we have a persona to maintain for this conversation?
KATHY MILMORE: No, nothing like that. My real name is on the inside front cover of my books. And it’s not like I’m being sent cross-country on a glamorous book tour with limos and hotels — I’m just doing this one local appearance; I figured I might as well try to schedule something while I’m here in town for a few days!
I know that one of the reasons you’re in the area is your sister Jane’s party celebrating the big anniversary of her writing partnership with Billy Van Zandt. Was Jane instrumental in helping you kick-start your career as a novelist?
Not at first, because I just sat down one day to write a book for myself, without passing it by Jane or anybody else. I was reading romance novels since I was 14, and I’ve always been writing journals and things — my first novel took me about a year to write, and then I was lucky enough to have an agent read and love it, and want to shop it around.
Now I show my work to Jane; she’s my best critic. She’s really good at seeing the whole picture in a story.
Would you be Jackie Collins to her Joan?
Oh no; no, I hope not!
How about Barbara Cartland? Wouldn’t you like to aspire to a lifestyle like hers? I can picture her hundred-year old carcass propped up in bed; spitting out bits of feather boa as she dictates book number 762 to the personal assistant who probably wrote the last thirty of ‘em…
It would be great to have an assistant, but I have a long way to go before that point. I enjoy writing all my books myself — my fourth book is finished and it’ll be coming out soon. Plus I’m working on book number five!
That’s a pretty good pace! What is it, roughly one book a year? Is that the way your publisher prefers it?
It’s one a year, basically — most romance readers want one a year from their favorite writers. Although Nora Roberts does four a year!
Yeah, but she probably has help maintaining that kind of momentum, wouldn’t you think?
I don’t think so, really, I believe that she’s good for it. Of course, she doesn’t have to work a full time job either!
So what can you tell us about the forthcoming novel?
It’s the second in the series about the Victorian sisters — each book will concentrate on a different sister, so each one of them can be read on its own, without having to follow them all in sequence. Apart from that, I can tell you everything except for the title — we’re still working on that!
That title and the cover art are big business, I guess; you have just a second or two to hook the person who might be browsing the book racks…
I’m responsible for writing the books, and then I consult with the editor when it comes to the title. I’ve had arguments over them in the past. Apparently books with words like “wicked” or “sinful” in the title still sell better than books that don’t have them!
Do you sometimes chafe at those hidebound rules of the genre? Ever feel like coloring outside the lines sometime?
It’s not so much a formula with the publishers, it’s just that the readers expect certain things from you — now if I were writing for Harlequin, doing what they call “category” romances, there’s a real formula there. Just pages and pages of writers’ guidelines.
I write what’s called single-title romances; historical novels that don’t need to be read in a certain order. And what I do is just one of many different types of romance novel. There are Regency romances, Contemporary romances — even Sci-Fi romances and Vampire romances, which have gotten very popular.
So the whole romance genre is holding its own in the face of all the troubles in the publishing industry? And how does a new writer get a toe-hold in the business these days?
I went straight to writing novels, but there’s a market for short stories for women’s magazines. And some people start out doing e-books; there’s a lot of activity now with the e-companies. But the best thing to do is get involved with the Romance Writers of America — they have these huge conventions and local chapter events; it really helps with networking.
What, ultimately, are the things that your readers come to you to provide? Is it the sex? The escapism of the historic settings?
My readers are college-educated, many of them in a long-term relationship — and they like a fun story, nice escapism, but if there’s anything that must happen in a historical romance, it’s that it’s got to be about two people who end up in a committed relationship. It needs to reaffirm the idea of a committed relationship — and the most important relationship for the romance writer is the one that you build with your readership.