What Do You Get When Two Writers Marry? A Great Interview!

Today is exciting – it’s a two-fer on Women’s Fiction Writers!  I “met” Denise Dietz (aka Mary Ellen Dennis) and her husband Gordon Aalborg (aka Victoria Gordon) when I interviewed Keith Cronin. Gordon was Keith’s editor for Me Again and contributed to the conversation in the comments section. Deni emailed me that they really enjoyed the blog. Ta-dah! An interview was born.  Deni and Gordon write mostly romance — but don’t get your I-don’t-write-romance panties in a bunch — I don’t write romance either. (See the tagline? That’s me!)  They offer insights and advice that span genres (’cause they don’t discriminate) and like Gordon says below, “A good book is a good book.”  Please welcome them to Women’s Fiction Writers!  Enjoy! (I sure did.)

Interview with Denise Dietz (aka Mary Ellen Dennis) and Gordon Aalborg (aka Victoria Gordon)

ASN: Since we’ve never had a dynamic duo on the blog before, would you introduce each other and your books to Women’s Fiction Writers?

DD: Gordon Aalborg, writing as Victoria Gordon, is widely credited as being the first significant male writer in the Harlequin stable of authors. His first Harlequin, THE SUGAR DRAGON, came out in 1980 and was followed by nineteen more before he moved into writing thrillers, then more romance, and eventually into book editing.

GA: Denise Dietz, aka Mary Ellen Dennis, is addicted to writing books. Reading them, too. Writing and reading and true love and chocolate; life doesn’t get much better than that—unless you are married to a macho Aussie/Canadian women’s fiction author or watching The Princess Bride while munching crème donuts. 🙂 Denise’s first book was a romantic mystery about diet club members getting killed off at goal weight (and eating as if their very lives depended on it).

ASN: What’s it like working in the same industry? Is it like having an in-house critique partner or do you keep your work and muses in separate corners?

GA: Every author needs a good editor, so we benefit from having that covered “in-house” as you put it. And yes, we critique each other’s work, at least to some extent. The best part, when we’re both writing romance, is the research

DD: Gordon’s office is upstairs, mine downstairs, and we often send each other emails that say, “Want to meet for coffee?” It’s terrific working in the same industry because we never run out of things to talk about  We do proof each other’s manuscripts. My favorite Gordon novel is CAT TRACKS, a gem of a book told from the viewpoint of a feral Australian cat (think: The Incredible Journey). I read the manuscript straight through while Gordon said, “It’s time for lunch, honey,” then “It’s time for dinner,” then “It’s time to go to sleep!” and, finally, “Do you need more caffeine?” To which I muttered, “Yes, please.”

ASN: Gordon was Keith Cronin’s editor.  A guy writing women’s fiction edited by another guy.  I feel the estrogen rising in the blogosphere!

GA: A good book is a good book and Keith Cronin is a unique and talented author. His splendid ME AGAIN is a genuinely unique story told in a way only Keith could tell it. I would consider it mainstream fiction with a decidedly feminine bias.

DD: Gordon was so impressed with Keith’s book, he couldn’t stop talking about it. So even though I didn’t do any of the edits, I definitely became part of the process. Gordon didn’t ask me for advice. As a women’s fiction writer himself, he really didn’t need any.

ASN: How do each of you define women’s fiction?

GA: Women’s fiction is, ostensibly, aimed at the female audience. Usually because the content involves “emotions,” but often just because the author is female and/or the major characters are female. Various sub-genres such as “romance” and “erotica” do little to clarify the simple fact that every reader has an individual taste. I loosely use the formula that Romance is all about feelings and emotions, Erotica is Romance with more graphic sexual content, and Pornography is (too often) poorly written erotica with too much sex and not enough emotion … or genuine story.

DD: Adding to what Gordon said, I believe women’s fiction needs a “growth arc.” And although it’s almost become what I call an “enigmatic cliché,” a women’s fiction author must “show” rather than “tell” (literary mainstream novels often “tell” and get away with it because they are literary mainstream novels ). What do I mean by show vs. tell? Here’s an example:

“I’m impressed with the work you’ve done,” said Mr. Boss.

John Hero smiled. “Thanks, sir.”

John had begun working for Boss & Co. 6 months ago. He had earned the nickname “workaholic” after his wife’s sudden death…

Okay…now try this:

“I’m impressed by the work you’ve done,” said Mr. Boss.

John Hero smiled. “Thanks, sir.”

His smile faded as he stared at Mr. Boss’s Wizard of Oz paperweight. He remembered how his wife had loved the song “Over the Rainbow,” how he had sung it to her every night as she lay dying, how she had said, “John, you can’t carry a tune in a bucket,” her voice a caress. There was no doubt in his mind that Laura’s sudden death had turned him into a workaholic…

The first way isn’t wrong. It’s just that I feel no empathy for John because the author told me about his wife’s death. Add the paperweight, or any personal detail from John’s POV, and I know the character better, feel his pain. Do you see the difference?

ASN: What is your best advice specifically for aspiring authors of women’s fiction?

GA:  Aspiring women’s fiction authors should remember that the name of the game is emotions. If the sad bits don’t make *you* shed a tear, you’ve likely done it wrong. If the sexy bits don’t turn *you* on, they likely will fail to do it for your reader, either. You need believable characters in believable situations, with REAL emotions your readers can share.

DD: Try not to make your characters TSTL (Too Stupid To Live) by sending them into danger without, at the very least, a rottweiler.

An aspiring writer needs the following “tools”:

1] Discipline

2] A loner’s temperament.

3] An unhealthy preference for the company of people who are imaginary or dead.

And be careful about a character dropping his or her eyes. They could get stepped on.

Gordon’s women fiction novels includeThe Horse Tamer’s Challenge (written as G.K. Aalborg), Finding Bess (written as Victoria Gordon) and Wolf in Tiger Stripes (written as Victoria Gordon). “Wolf” received starred reviews and was chosen as one of Booklist’s Top 10 Romances of the year. Gordon’s entire backlist, including Victoria Gordon’s 20 Harlequin Classic Romances (most set in Australia), are up at Kindle.

Writing as Mary Ellen Dennis, Denise received starred reviews for The Landlord’s Black-Eyed Daughter, a women’s fiction novel inspired by the poem “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes (with a happier ending ). “Landlord” will be out in paperback this August, along with an 1875 circus historical, The Greatest Love on Earth.  Mary Ellen’s Heaven’s Thunder: a Colorado Saga, published May, 2011, encompasses the Cripple Creek gold rush and the Ludlow Massacre (coal strike against John D. Rockefeller), with an emphasis on Colorado’s silent film industry, and is Denise’s all-time favorite women’s fiction novel. It took her 10 years to research and write her generational saga, and another 10 years to market it. Denise’s mantra: “If you drop a dream, it breaks.”

13 thoughts on “What Do You Get When Two Writers Marry? A Great Interview!

  1. Oh brave world of marrying another writer, esp one like me . . . ungh! Lawd! *laughing* — it sure is working for the two of you – brava! Wonderful interview…..

    (I will add that I write “literary fiction” but I “show not tell” – :-D)

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  2. Amy, it was all good, but especially loved this advice: “Try not to make your characters TSTL (Too Stupid To Live) by sending them into danger without, at the very least, a rottweiler.” It’s something I’m grappling with in my current WIP. Characters have to get themselves in sticky, even dangerous, situations without seeming like brainless wonders–something that happens often in movies, even good ones. I’m going to add this to my snippets of advice stuck to my computer monitor.

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  3. What fun having two writers in the house – this coming from a woman whose husband only reads technical/engineering articles… I believe the grand total of “books” dear husband has read is “1.” I love so much about this article, perhaps the last line the best: “If you drop a dream, it breaks.”

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  4. This is a great interview and a great couple! Although my husband is an engineer, we frequently collaborate on one of the books I’m writing because it’s about a husband and wife — and it’s such fun to talk about it together and discuss the different POVs! You sound like so much fun, and I LOVE Denise’s three tools that writers need…so funny and so true!

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  5. Thank you for your wonderful comments. I’m glad you enjoyed the blog. Gordon is training our chocolate Lab, Magic, for a retrieving trial (when he should be writing, but what can you do?!) 🙂

    Before he left, he asked me to tell you that all his “Classic Harlequin Romances” have been Kindled and are available for $1.99 and $2.99.

    I met Gordon on-line, through a writers loop. He was living in Australia, I was in Colorado, we decided to collaborate on a book, and fell in love, sight unseen. And I have to add that you’ve never been romanced until you’ve been romanced by a romance author! 🙂

    We got married at a writers conference, we live on Vancouver Island, and we will celebrate our 11th anniversay this October.

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  6. This was great! Although I’ve worked with both Gordon and Deni over the past year and a half, I learned a LOT more about them by reading this interview, and realized I have more in common with them than I knew!

    Like the two of them, I live with another artist, and her office is downstairs and mine is upstairs. It’s something I have to remind myself not to take for granted: the incredible support and understanding that come from being with somebody who not only “gets” what you do, but is herself immersed in doing something similar. I know so many authors and artists whose spouses or partners show far less understanding and support, so I’m thankful for the situation I’m in – Deni and Gordon are a great example of how powerful that kind of combination can be.

    But the coolest thing about both of them is their positivity. This is a hard, HARD business, and it’s easy to become cynical – if not downright negative – about all the hardships and injustices you encounter within it. But Gordon – a man whose job ostensibly is showing writers what they’re doing wrong – instead takes a very positive approach, making his enthusiasm for the book very clear, while pointing out areas where it can be even better. It’s a great model for the editor-author relationship. And I’ve witnessed Deni serving as a combination of den mother and voice of reason within an online community of writers under the same imprint, never losing her patience and always focusing on the positive. In a business as tough as this one, it’s a great way to be, and I’ve learned much from both of their examples.

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