With more than fifty titles and nearly two million copies of her novels in print, Ms. Alers is a regular on the Waldenbooks, Borders and Essence bestseller lists, regularly chosen by Black Expressions Book Club, and has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Gold Pen Award, the Emma Award, Vivian Stephens Award for Excellence in Romance Writing, the Romantic Times Career Achievement Award and the Zora Neale Hurston Literary Award.
She is a member of the Iota Theta Zeta Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., and her interests include gourmet cooking and traveling. She has traveled to Europe, and countries in North, South and Central America. Her future travel plans include visits to Hong Kong and New Zealand. Ms. Alers is also in accomplished in knitting, crocheting and needlepoint. She is currently taking instruction in the art of hand quilting.
Oliver, a toy Yorkshire terrier has become the newest addition to her family. When she's not barking at passing school buses, the tiny dog can be found sleeping on her lap while she spends hours in front of the computer.
A full-time writer, Ms. Alers lives in a charming hamlet on Long Island.
Rochelle: There are times when I do feel as if I’ve been writing for 25 years. It’s when I try and convince myself to stay in bed and sleep away the day. But then I’m not able to sleep soundly because the characters in my current book are screaming at me to get up and finish their story so they can live happily ever after. The moment Veronica Mixon, an editor at Doubleday, called to tell me she wanted to buy my manuscript will stay with me forever. It was December 10, 1997, a cold, rainy day on Long Island, and around two in the afternoon. I worked in a building with lawyers who were seeing clients, so I couldn’t scream. After the telephone call ended I went outside to the parking lot, turned on my car’s radio and let out a primal yell. Once I got home I called everyone who’d held my hand during my journey to become a published author to give them the good news. Exactly one year later I hosted a book signing at a converted firehouse in Freeport, NY with my family, friends and elected officials. 200 people braved single-digit cold to eat, drink, and dance and to take home multiple copies of Careless Whispers.
Lisarenee: LOL It sounds like you had a great time.
So I’m a little curious, in the time period since you’ve been writing, have you noticed any major or minor trends in the industry? For instance, some say romances are becoming more “daring” in their content and the popularity of books like 50 Shades of Grey emphasize this. What do you think? (Side note: If you would prefer not to answer the last bit because you feel it puts you, as a writer, on the spot, feel free to cross it out and ignore it. That wasn’t my intent.)
Rochelle: I don’t mind answering this question, because I also question the major shift in what now constitutes a romance. I grew up reading Harlequin romances and whenever I opened of these books I knew exactly what to expect. In other words, there were no surprises. Even when the sweet romances transitioned – becoming more sensual I still loved reading them. There’s the quote – a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. However, it’s not the same with romance. The rise in popularity of books like 50 Shades of Grey should not be labeled romance, but erotica. I believe publishers are deceiving readers when certain titles in bookstores are shelved in the romance section. The genre may have matured to become more inclusive of what constitutes a romance, while the readers from the 80s who bought enough novels to sink 100 ships the size of the Titanic or the Queen Mary have become much more selective. They are still looking for books with characters that will sweep them away for a few hours. They want sexual tension. And more than anything they want to read about a growing relationship between the hero and heroine, and not impromptu encounters that require safe words. Traditional romance readers aren’t asking publishers to close the bedroom door again. They just want more choices.
Lisarenee: Lately I’ve been seeing a new trend finding its way to bookshelves in bookstores where romances which feature black and interracial couples are being spotlighted and grouped together. I thought that was nice because, quite frankly, before that I seldom saw books which featured those types of romances, and have no clue how you would go about finding them. Do you like this new trend? Was it much needed?
Rochelle: Love is colorblind and regardless of the color of the skin of characters if it is a romance, then it should be shelved in the romance section. There was a time when I had a problem locating my titles in the romance section at Borders. Then I was informed they were in the Black Studies and Literature section. If it reads romance on the spine of the book, then why not shelve it with the other romance titles? And yes, I do like the new trend. Not only is it needed, but a wise marketing strategy.
Lisarenee: Wow! Someone obviously wasn't thinking. Who would think to look there?
We all know great chemistry between the hero and heroine in a romance is important, but what else do feel is necessary to creating a good romance?
Rochelle: Great chemistry is important between the hero and heroine but likeability is just as important. The reader must not only like them but also care what will happen to them.
Lisarenee: That is very true. I once rated a book a one star because I didn't want the heroine to end up with the supposed hero. lol
Could you fill in the following blanks? You will never find _________ in one of my books, but you will always find ___________. (Side note: You can be as vague or detailed as you like, so if you want to fill in the first with a sad ending and the second with a happy ending feel free.)
Rochelle: You will never find gratuitous sex in one of my books, but you will always find the hero willing to sacrifice any and everything, including his life, for the love of the heroine.
Lisarenee: From what I’ve heard from writers, inspiration can happen at the strangest and most inconvenient time. Have you ever had that happen, and if so, can you tell us about it?
Rochelle: Writers are natural voyeurs, listening and watching everything going on around them. My inspiration came from viewing a “60 Minutes” news segment more than 20 years ago. An American woman had asked the FBI to go after her estranged foreign-born husband because he’d abducted her son, taking him to Sweden. The federal agents refused because her husband was a citizen of a foreign country. Her recourse: hire a mercenary or soldier of fortune to get her child back. I found the story so fascinating that I based Hidden Agenda on the storyline, and Matthew Sterling and Eve Blackwell went on to become my most compatible hero and heroine.
Lisarenee: That sounds like an interesting book. Now I'm going to have to get my hands on a copy of it. : )
What inspired your recent book, Haven Creek, and the series for which it’s a part, Cavanaugh Island?
Rochelle: Cavanaugh Island is the result of curiosity. I grew up curious as to why my grandfather, who was born in Savannah, Georgia, spoke with an accent. Yes, I said accent and not a drawl or inflection. I was curious why I’d grown up with my mother adhering to certain traditions and/or superstitions I’d believed were ridiculous. My curiosity was finally assuaged after I made my first trip to the Lowcountry where I found women weaving sweetgrass baskets and many of the older residents speaking the Gullah dialect. I reconnected with my roots with subsequent trips that included several tours, and because of the richness of this very unique culture that has survived more than 300 years I knew I wanted to celebrate it with this very personal fictional series.
Lisarenee: When I read a really good book, sometimes I feel a tad bit guilty that the author who writes the story never gets to truly experience their creation like we, the readers, do. I love reading books where the character is extremely different from me and makes choices I wouldn’t. But then I thought about it-- you get to pick the lives your characters will lead. So that made me wonder have you ever create a character because you’ve secretly always wanted to be or do something? Have you ever draped one of your characters in a career or lifestyle that you’ve always thought would be fun? If so, can you give us an example of such a character or book? Can the writing experience be a bit like playing dress up with words?
Rochelle: I love this question, because writing is exactly that. Playing dress up with words. Whenever I create a character – the heroine in particular – I tend to role-play with her. I give her a career and situations that are plausible. Thereby making her believable and relatable. I wanted to be social worker Kara Newell from Angels Landing who inherits a large estate on Cavanaugh Island and discovers a secret family she never knew she had. Being uprooted from all that is familiar to fulfill the wish of a dead man is both frightening and exciting, but along the way she discovers her Gullah roots, while finding love with a man when she least expects it is an added bonus.
Lisarenee: As you’ve been writing books for 25 years, have you ever picked up one of your earlier works and been able to experience it like reader instead of an author? I once picked up a paper I wrote in college and thought to myself, "I wrote that?" Parts of it I remembered, but not all. It was kind of a neat experience. Now, a paper in college is a small thing as compared to writing a book, so I was curious if writers ever experience the same sort of thing I did? Have you? Is it fun to go back and read something you yourself wrote years ago, or do you tend to not enjoy it because you view it through a critical eye and can’t help but think if you had to do it all again, you’d do certain things differently?
Rochelle: I’ve picked up a few of my earlier titles and ask myself, “Did I really write that?” Or what mood was I in or what music was I listening to when I wrote a particular scene. As a writer I’m very critical of my work. Fortunately there isn’t any title I wish I hadn’t written. However, there are a few given the opportunity I’d like to revise. I don’t know about other writers, but I tend to get into a zone and don’t surface until I’m finished with a particular scene. Overall, I’m quite content with the books I’ve written even if I struggle with attempting to make the current title at least as satisfying as the last one. I’m aware that I can’t please every reader but writing isn’t easy. It takes an active imagination, discipline and a wonderful editor to make the words come alive on the page.
Lisarenee: We, the readers, can live a thousand lives or fall in love a thousand times by reading a book, but do writers experience something similar when writing them? The most frequent advice I hear to new authors is to write what you know, but I’m curious if it should be rephrased to write what you love and are passionate about and what interests you? What is your opinion?
Rochelle: It is all of the above. Firstly you have to write about what you know. If you don’t know, then research it. There are no shortcuts to research. I discovered this when I created a veterinarian who specialized in the study of wolves. Then you must write about what you love and believe. There are some authors who don’t like or believe in romance, yet they write it and this comes across in the novel. The characters may be in a relationship, but it is not a romantic relationship. The result is readers complaining that the novel was more women’s fiction than romance. I’m an incurable romantic, in love with love and passionate about writing about love. As a woman I know what I want and expect from a man in a relationship, and I believe this comes across in my novels. I’d have to question a new author who hasn’t had a positive romantic relationship whether she’s able to write about one. I’d tell her to identify all of the things that went wrong and then list how she would correct them. Again, this means doing a little research even if that research is creating a little soul searching.
Lisarenee: What is the best advice you were ever given regarding writing? What advice would you give to any writers struggling to make it in the industry?
Rochelle: An editor told me to read, read, and read some more in the genre you wish to write. I followed her advice and read more than 2,000 romance novels before I’d attempted to write and complete one. An aspiring writer must believe in his/herself. That it is possible to realize your dream if you remain focused. I usually tell them never show your work to friends and family members, who deem themselves experts and either suggest you change something or want to claim credit for your success once you’re published. Then there are the naysayers who tell you it won’t or can’t happen. Distance yourself from them and carve out time and a space in which to write. Even if you complete one page each day you’ll have a complete book at the end of the year. And please don’t do what I did at the beginning of my writing career: procrastinate. I found every excuse not to write, but once I identified what I could do without the road to publication was easier to navigate.
Lisarenee: Thank you, Rochelle, for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer some of our questions. If you haven't read one of Rochelle's books, here's a some information about her Cavanaugh Island series:
Dr. Asa Monroe is at a crossroads. Ever since the loss of his family, he has been on a quest for faith and meaning, traveling from one town to another. When he meets Deborah, the beautiful bookstore owner with the warm eyes and sunny smile, Asa believes he has finally found a reason to stay in one place.
As friendship blossoms into romance, Deborah and Asa discover they may have a second chance at love. But small towns have big secrets. Before they can begin their new life together, the couple must confront a challenge they never expected . . .
Kara Newell has a big-city life that needs a major shake-up. Her dedication as a social worker is unwavering, yet her heart tells her that there is more to life than just work. Kara gets the push she needs when she shockingly inherits a large estate on an island off the South Carolina coast. Now the charming town of Angels Landing awaits her . . . along with a secret family she never knew she had.
After surviving war, loss, and heartbreak, ex-marine Jeffrey Hamilton takes his position as sheriff of idyllic Cavanaugh Island very seriously. So he is the perfect person to watch over the beautiful, confident woman who has turned her new family's expectations upside down-and stepped into the crosshairs of angry local residents.
But soon Kara becomes more than just a job to him, and he begins to need her in ways he never expected. As Kara and Jeffrey confront the town gossips together, they'll learn to face their fears and forgive their pasts in order to find a future filled with happiness in Angels Landing.
Carpenter Nathaniel Shaw once took a big chance on commitment-and lost. Needing the healing comforts of home, he returns to Haven Creek to join the family business. Nothing in the small town has changed-except for Morgan Dane. The wallflower he knew in high school has grown into a beautiful woman . . . and stirs feelings Nate isn't sure he's ready for.
Together Nate and Morgan find a happiness neither could have predicted. But when secrets from the past come to light, their budding relationship is threatened. Will they play it safe, or risk their hearts to build a life together?
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