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Marquita Valentine Chats with IndieReader

Young ethnic couple in loveNew York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author, Marquita Valentine, writes sexy heroes that make you swoon and sassy heroines that make you laugh. She’s the author of the bestselling contemporary romance series, Holland Springs, and the new adult romance series, Boys of the South.

Marquita met her husband (aka Hot Builder at Sonic) when they were in high school. She suggests this location to all of her single friends in search of a good man–and if that doesn’t work, they can console themselves with cheesy Tater Tots. She lives in North Carolina in a very, very small town with Hot Builder and their two children.

Loren Kleinman (LK): What makes someone sexy? What makes a character sexy?

Marquita Valentine (MV): Confidence in the way they walk, talk, and act is always sexy as well as having a self-deprecating sense of humor. For a character, I’d say the same thing.

LK: You describe your female characters as sassy and funny. How does the sassiness relate to their likeability? Do you use it as literary foreplay?

MV: I think a sassy woman can get away with saying what she means without a great deal of blowback from the reader. As a whole, I find readers more forgiving of the hero’s flaws, but not hers. So you have to find a way to make her human, yet able to call the hero out when he’s over-stepping. Yes, banter is completely foreplay. Hello, Pride and Prejudice.

LK: Holland Springs, and the new adult romance series, Boys of the South were New York Times and USA TODAY bestsellers. How does your success impact your personal life? Does it inspire it? Motivate you to work more?  

MV: Personally, it’s an amazing to goal to have reached, but honestly, my readers motivate me to work more. They don’t care about the status of my books.

LK: Describe how you would define craft.

MV: Craft is always related to your profession, and you should strive to become the best at it. For writing, this means honing your writing skills, never settling for good enough, reading your contemporaries as well as the classics, and constantly improving your writing voice.

LK: List five things that your readers don’t know about you. Why is it important that they know these?

MV: 1. I don’t drink coffee because I hate the taste- you’ll rarely read about a character drinking it in my books. 2. I’m a Christian- I don’t write inspirational romance, but my books do a have major themes of forgiveness and second chances because I believe that everyone deserves both. 3. I used to be an elementary school teacher—I have strong opinions on the American Education System and sometimes I do talk about it on my fan page. 4. I’m terrified of heights but not of flying—It’s kind of cool and weird [laughs] 5. I can’t think of a fifth one. Sorry, I’m boring.

LK: Talk about your writing process. What was it like writing your first novel? A success? A nightmare? How did you improve throughout the years? And what advice would you give to a writer working on their first novel?

MV: The first novel or three I ever wrote will NEVER see the light of day. They were a complete disaster of course—or at least in terms of what I did wrong, but they were a great learning curve. And I kept at it. I kept reading, writing, joined my local chapter of Romance Writers of America, and when I was satisfied I had something that was ready for the world, I went for it. I’ve never stopped learning from my peers. Joining RWA seriously helps with that. I’ve made so many wonderful connections who’ve become my friends and whenever they’ve critiqued my work, I’ve learned something from them.  My advice is to not stop learning, to avail yourself to the plethora of online programs so many chapters offer. Also, whatever path of publishing you take, be a professional and treat your books like a product not a baby. You have to emotionally divorce yourself from each book and look at them from a marketing standpoint. What can I do to improve? What can I do to make sales better? What would I do to make my book stand out in an agent’s or editor’s slush pile?

LK: How do you feel about Jane Austen? Is she the original romance writer? Why or why not?

MV: I love Jane Austen and yes, she’s the original romance writer—her books focused on relationships… working through them, ending them, or beginning new ones.

LK: Do you think that we escape to romance novels because we need to forget about our lives? Is it OK to want a distraction every now and then? And when does that distraction become unhealthy?

MV: Of course it’s okay to want an escape. Why else would we need vacations from work? But to live on vacation forever—not so much. A distraction becomes unhealthy when it becomes the sole focus of your life and you forget about the real world all of the time and begin to neglect your job, your family, and ultimately you.

LK: Do you think there are stigmas attached to the south about men, women and sex? If so, what are they? How do your books break them?

MV: It’s a weird mix, I think. We’re so defined by the Bible Belt label and stereotypes that are portrayed in movies. We’re either sexed up southern belles and uncaring, get-me-some-tail rednecks, or we’re pearl clutching prudes and religious nuts who want to subjugate women. None of those descriptors are very flattering or apt.

In my books, I try to take the shame out of shaming for shame’s sake—if that makes sense. Very recently, I was criticized and then praised into two different reviews for the same book because I failed to slut-shame the ex-girlfriend of the hero.

Actually, it was a very conscious decision on my part.  But one thing I don’t shy away from is that my hero and heroine enjoy sex, and that the hero is keen to make the heroine feel special, and that he doesn’t look back at the other women he’s been with as whores or sluts. In my mind, no real hero would think about the women he chose to sleep with, yet not stay with.  In any case, I try to write a hero that I would want my daughter to date and my son to be like—though their dad is the ultimate example of a good man.

LK: What’s been the hardest book or series you had to write? How did you motivate yourself to finish them?

MV: The hardest book I have to write is always the current book I’m writing. But, I have to say that it was easier to write before I was published because I had no expectations or timetables but my own.

LK: How would your husband describe you? What were you both like in High School?

MV: She is passionate, extremely intelligent with a trusting and loving heart. In high school we were completely head over heels for each other.  I am not sure that we even knew anyone else existed.  In school I was involved in sports and she was involved in books.

LK: Do you believe in love at first sight?

MV: I do. I know I’ve fallen in love with paintings, with songs, with nature, and especially with my children as soon as they were born.

LK: What made you go indie? How do you define indie?

MV: I decided to go indie once I started getting the same feedback from editors and agents—we don’t know how to market you. Your voice is strong, but there isn’t a market for this. My friend Sarra Cannon had spoken about her journey as an indie and I thought, after doing the research, why not go for it? So in July of 2012, I published my first contemporary romance.  Recently, however, I signed a multi-book deal with Penguin Random House, which makes me a hybrid author now.

LK: In the book Eat, Pray, Love, Author Elizabeth Gilbert writes, “in romance I have been a victim of my own optimism.” Do you think, in romance, we too can fall victim to our own optimism? How do characters in a romance novel deal with this optimism?

MV: It’s like the old saying goes, ‘Hope for the best but prepare for the worst.’ The world is what it is, and despite that I love a happily ever after—it takes work. Lots of hard work. Perhaps Elizabeth meant that she’s fallen victim to thinking that romance can solve everything or change a person, and when that doesn’t happen, she’s completely let down.  In books, I think our characters are like us—they love and want to be loved in return with reservation or fear of judgment. But by the time the author gets to their story, very often the h/h is jaded by love or has been burned. They deal with that by refusing to take chances, indulging in unsafe behaviors, or writing off the opposite sex altogether. Until the one they are meant to be with comes along. However, even then, it’s an uphill battle.