Name: Toni Andrews
Found at: Mark Twain House & Museum (Hartford)
You became an author at 44-years-old. What prompted you to become a writer?
The story on my website (toniandrews.com) really is true, even if I did write it with humor in mind. Seriously, when I decided to become a writer, I had a great job that I’d worked hard to get. But one day it hit me – I was a grown-up. And I never planned to grow up to wear a suit and carry a Blackberry and go to endless meetings and have zillions of frequent flyer miles. I wanted to do something creative. As a kid I wanted to be an actress, but when I got out of college, I didn’t have the discipline to go after that career. But I had always been drawn to artists, both visual and performance. I’d been a voracious reader my entire life. The idea of writing had been percolating in the back of my mind for a while. I heard a story on This American Life about the Romance Writers of America national conference, and it had struck a chord with me. The time was right.
What is it about the Mercy Hollings character that has made the series so successful?
I’m not sure I know. Mercy is a difficult person to get close to. She has a real dark side, and she’d like to overcome it and have a normal life with the friends she’s never allowed herself to have. Ironically, in order to help and protect those friends, she has to draw on the very darkness she’s spent years trying to control. Oddly, I’d originally envisioned Mercy as sort of a gleeful psychopath (like the Kathleen Turner character in Serial Mom) but she refused to be written that way.
Who has been your favorite character you've created?
I love my secondary characters. Mercy’s best friend, Sukey, is a favorite. But I always fall in love with the new characters I’m creating. I’m working on the characters and plot for a new series for Harlequin Nocturne, and I’m developing a pretty big crush on my hero.
What drives the continued fascination with fantasy romance and erotica books?
I think that the characters in these books are able to do things that readers feel they could not do themselves. It’s like riding a roller coaster—it simulates danger and fools you into thinking you’re about to die, but deep down, you know that you’re safe. These novels allow the reader to imagine what it would be like to have these experiences, while staying safe from the consequences.
How does your nom de plum Virginia Reede differ from your work as Toni Andrews?
Virginia’s stuff is sexier, and more about the romance. It’s not a secret that we’re the same person, but fans of Virginia Reede are going to have different expectations than Toni Andrews fans – it’s just branding.
Tell me a little about the blog deadlinedames.com, to which you contribute, and which comes across as the world's sexiest and most intelligent coffee klatch.
They are an amazing, supportive group, and I can’t wait to tell them that you said that! In addition to the blog, we also have a private email loop where we can talk about anything, including our insecurities and fears and the occasional rant. On the blog, we try to give as much thoughtful, useful and honest information and advice that we can.
What is the one thing that has defined your life so far?
I’m not sure it’s happened yet.
Favorite weekend activity?
What’s a weekend? As a writer, one day is the same as another. I do attend a lot of writer’s events on weekends, and I go to church. I live on the water and love to sail, kayak and canoe. I especially enjoy traveling, and that includes everything from day trips to long vacations. I have a motor home, and I can write anywhere. I like to cook and have friends over for good wine and food.
Who are some of your favorite writers? What is it about them you hold dear?
I love James Lee Burke, who may be the best American novelist working today. His characters have so much hubris but they really get under your skin. Some day I will figure out how he gets away with using so much description—his settings are characters in the story. Jody Picoult gets me into her characters heads so deeply that I feel like I am actually living in their skins. Jim Butcher has shown me that you can never have too much conflict for your main character.
Best and worst thing about your current career?
The best thing is that I get to do for a living that which I would do for free. The worst thing is that sometimes I feel as if I am, indeed, doing it for free! It can be a very, very long time between paychecks.
Whom do you most admire and look-up to in your life?
There are some authors I know who have achieved such great balance in their lives and careers, all the while turning out terrific books that just keep getting better. Bestselling writer Kristan Higgins is an example.
What is something you have learned this past week?
That there is always more to learn from other authors. As I mentioned, I’m working on a new plot. I reviewed some old notes from a workshop I attended by romance author Cindy Dees, and her advice immediately sparked some ideas I badly needed. And a review of Christopher Vogler’s classic book on character and plot, The Writer's Journey, sparked a few more.
If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would it be and why?
In Provence, in a little village, driving down a dirt road through the lavender fields toward a small winery. There l’ll sit with the elderly couple who run the place at an outdoor table and eat bread and olives and stinky cheese and sample their best wine. Do I really have to explain why? Don’t you want to come with me?
Mustard or ketchup?
Mustard. Spicy Polish mustard with the whole seeds in it.
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