First Alexandra, can I say how great it is to interview another romance author, especially one that writes sheikh romances!
Great to meet you, Katheryn! And thank you for having me on your blog. As Jane Austen says, "If the heroine of one novel be not patronized by the heroine of another, from whom can she expect protection and regard?" For "heroine" read "sheikh romance novelist"!
First, I believe you have been writing for quite a few years, including writing romance novels for Harlequin.
Yes, my first book was published in 1980, by Dell. And my second was then commissioned by Harlequin, and after a few more books I went to Silhouette, which was then a Simon & Schuster imprint. Harlequin had to buy the whole imprint, I like to think, to get me back…
Can I ask you what it was like when you first got ‘the call’ when Harlequin said that they wanted to publish your work?
There is nothing in the world like it, is there? It was Vivien Stephens who called me. She was the editor at Dell then. She moved to Harlequin later, too.
Was your first book a sheikh romance?
Not quite. THE INDIFFERENT HEART (dreadful title!) was set in Morocco, but my hero was French. I was utterly entranced by the magic of that world. I can still remember seeing a donkey eating an orange, and the colours! The image burned into my retina forever.
You have published many romances, how many are sheikh novels?
I think about seventeen of forty are sheikh romances.
What first got you interested in sheikh romances?
I've been focused on the Islamic world for a long time now, with great love and admiration. I read stories from THE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS at the age of 9 or 10, and I think that laid out the road for me. Then in my twenties I came upon THE SUFIS by Idries Shah, which was another body blow to my narrow western worldview. Subsequently I read many more of his eye-opening books. That got me so interested that finally I took a degree in Persian and Religious Studies at the University of London, graduating in 1992. I didn't do any of this with the idea of writing sheikh romances, but one day my editor suggested that I should put all that background to good use.
What inspires your books?
I'm glad you asked that question. Love.
Have you visited the Middle East? What did you think and did you meet any handsome sheikhs?
Yes, many times, if we include the Near East and Central Asia in the definition of Middle East—I've been to Egypt, Israel, Iran, Turkey,Yemen and Morocco. I love all those countries and of course the men can be breathtakingly handsome! Also with a wonderful proud posture and an inner strength and authority that is very attractive.
In your sheikh romances, how much is fantasy and how much is based on reality?
Well, if you are asking about the background, of course the souks and palaces and mosques are real, up to a point. This is the premise of my Sons of the Desert world: neither Genghis Khan's horrifically destructive invasion, nor the equally ugly Crusades, nor the later western conquest of the Arab nations, ever happened—or at least, did not affect the countries where my stories are set. That vitally important world that existed up to the 13th century: the Golden Age of Islam which inspired our own Age of Reason; the great seats of Arab learning in Baghdad and Damascus and elsewhere; the unmatched and unmatchable art; the breathtakingly beautiful palaces and mosques; the magical souks; the power, the authority…that world still exists in my books. I take ruins—for example, the Sheikh Lotfallah mosque in Isfahan, that even today is so soaringly, tenderly beautiful that the only possible response is tears—and carry them alive into the here and now. In my world, the nations of the Middle East were allowed to progress and develop in their own organic way, neither trampled under by Mongol hordes and Crusaders nor hot-house forced by the power greed of the British Empire nor the later, broader western world greed for oil and dominion.
If on the other hand you mean emotional reality—of course. Love is real. It inspires, it transforms, it solves every problem, if we let it.
Sheikh romances have been very popular ever since E. M. Hull published The Sheik in 1919. Why do you think this particular genre has had such a long-lasting appeal?
I don't think it's always been as popular as it is today, by any means. I think there was a decades-long gap when not much was happening in sheikh romance. When I wrote my first sheikh novel in 1997—BRIDE OF THE SHEIKH—there really weren't all that many sheikh romances being published. Now of course there are at least half a dozen sheikh romances published every month across various lines. Why? Well, partly I think it's a cosmic forces, collective unconscious thing—the world needs balance. There is so much Islamophobia and so much hatred of the Middle East and Arabs going on that our psyches are in danger of being taken over by that hatred, whether we consciously share it or not. And so nature finds a way to redress the balance with love.
In a more ordinary way, I think it's because, contrary to popular notions amongst so many hidebound and 'brand conscious' romance editors at the moment, women like to read about the mysterious and powerful masculine. And that role is easier for an Arab prince than for most other men.
What are you working on at the moment?
Several things—first, I'm re-issuing some back titles in eBook. CAPTIVE OF DESIRE and FIRE IN THE WIND are available now, and I've just finished the revisions on SEASON OF STORM—one of my favourite stories, with a Canadian Indian hero—and that will be released as soon as it's ebook formatted.
I've also now got POOR LITTLE RICH GIRL'S SHEIKH ready to go, another story in my SONS OF THE DESERT series, and it looks as though I'll be self-publishing that, too. The current formula across the board is so very, very restrictive that it becomes impossible to maintain the integrity of character and story within the demands of 'line branding'. One of the worst of the new demands is the hostility to narrative. Narrative slows the reader down, apparently, it might make her savour the story, or even pause to think about it. And that would mean the reader spending too much time with one book when she could be buying another to get the next hit of 'zippy dialogue'. I don't know how readers stand it. I know as a writer I can't.
And thirdly, I'm working on a psychological thriller that's been gnawing at me for years. I hope to finish that next.
Where can readers find out more about you?
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Thank you very much Alexandra and good luck everyone!
Thank you very much Alexandra and good luck everyone!
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