Writing and Reviewing Romance

Interview with Author Linda Fausnet


Linda Fausnet writes romance novels and reviews romance on her blog Romance Novel Addicts Anonymous.

In this interview, we cover her journey from screenwriter to self-published novelist, what would cause her to give a 1- or 2-star review, and how to avoid the “Most of the conflict is based on a misunderstanding” plotline as a romance author.


Lori Puma: I’d love to hear a little bit about you. Your website says that you started out as a screenwriter and I’m just curious how one goes from being a screenwriter to writing romance novels. How did all of that unfold?

Linda Fausnet: I’ve always wanted to be a writer, for as long as I can remember. I officially started writing in 1994. I was in college. I had seen a lot of movies and was really into that format and I started writing screenplays. I did that for 15 or 20 years before I started writing novels. I enjoyed writing screenplays and for a long time I never really thought about writing novels. I had my heart set on screenwriting and I wanted to see my work on the screen.

LP: I know nothing about screenwriting and I often talk to other novelists who think about possibly wanting to sell their work to production companies. I’m just curious, how was that for you?

LF: Having pursued traditional publishing and screenwriting, it’s a similar process. Again, I started in 1994. So we did actual letters, where you would send a query letter.

First, you had to get the Hollywood Creative Directory, the industry bible that had the production company’s name, sometimes the contact person, and the contact phone number. You would send the query letter through snail mail with a self-addressed stamped envelope. With a one page explaining this is who I am, this is what my screenplay is about, this is the length. Then, they would send your self-addressed stamped envelope back, which would almost always be a rejection letter. But sometimes, people would say, send me your screenplay, I’ll take a look.

One time, I got a call from Mega Films Incorporated and they were interested in optioning my script for six months. Just to shop it around and see if they could turn it into a movie. I’ll never forget, I lived in Maryland and we were in the middle of one of those just massive snowstorms. I still lived at home with my family. I was a sophomore in college. And there were like three feet of snow outside. And I get a call from LA.

When I went back to college, I was taking a winter interim course and as an icebreaker the teacher asks “What’s the most exciting thing that’s happened to you lately?” I was like, oh, well, as a matter of fact, I just got a call from a producer about my screenplay. It’s being optioned. And the other people in my class were like, “Well, I don’t want to go after that.”

Then two years later, it happened again. I got another option on the same screenplay, although I had changed it so much that it was almost like a different story. Nothing ever came of it.

But the way I came to novel writing was that I had a screenplay that I was just so attached to it that I didn’t want to let it go. It’s called Queen Henry. Once it got rejected by pretty much everybody in the Hollywood Creative Directory, I decided to turn it into a novel.

LP: Did you do traditional or self-publishing for Queen Henry?

LF: That one was the first one that I self-published. But it wasn’t the first novel that I wrote. I had shopped a previous novel around to traditional publishers and I actually had some interest in it. This was a middle-grade story based on the screenplay that was optioned twice. To this day, the most heartbreaking thing in my career that happened with that novel is an agent actually told me via email that she wanted to represent me. And then two weeks later, changed her mind. I decided that I’m too busy and can’t take you on as a client.

That’s one of the reasons I went into self-publishing when it came time to publish Queen Henry. Because I don’t know how you can do that to someone. Dangle their big break in front of them and tell them that their dream came true and then take it back. My plan was to self-publish that book and only that one.

Queen Henry is about LGBT equality in sports. I decided to donate all the proceeds to the Harvey Milk Foundation, because publishing this novel is not about making money. I just loved this story so much that I couldn’t let it go.

It was so exciting to have control over it. I could hold the book in my hands. It was available on Amazon. People were buying it. And I thought, why the hell am I not publishing everything? Why am I going to go send out a bunch of query letters and let my fate be in someone else’s hands, especially given what happened with that agent. They have all the power. Whereas when you’re a self-publisher, you have all the power. You don’t have to wait for someone to tell you that it’s ok to publish. You have control of your own career.

LP: So you publish the novel Queen Henry. How did you get from there to writing romance novels?

LF: It’s funny. Queen Henry is a story that has male/male romance in it, but it is not a romance novel. It’s obviously a work of fiction, but it’s about a really homophobic major league baseball player who has asthma and doesn’t want anybody to know, because he’s a macho type. He takes part in a clinical drug trial where the pill that they give him [to treat his asthma] actually makes him temporarily gay. So he’s freaked out about his reputation and what are people going to think and you know, I have to hide this. Then he falls in love with a man and learns a lesson that love is love after all.

Spoiler alert: the pill lasts much longer than it should have, so he’s starting to question maybe I really am gay and kind of almost wants to be gay because he loves this man, but in the end the pill wears off. And it has a bittersweet ending where he’s still very close to his lover, but they can’t be lovers anymore because of the way things have changed.

I did get a couple of reviews where people were really angry because they read it as a romance novel. Because if you do read it as a romance novel,  you would be furious. In the romance novel, you’ve gotta have the happily ever after. But I never billed it as a romance novel, I billed it as LGBT fiction. But the reason I’m talking about this book, is that I realized after writing that book that my favorite part of that book was the romance. And I thought I want to start trying to write romance novels. That’s all I’ve done since then. So now, I’m focusing on the good part.

LP: Did you start doing your blog around this time?

LF: At the time I had a writing blog, which is still up right now, but I think it goes down in January, because I’m not paying for the licensing anymore.

For the Romance Novel Addicts Anonymous, I started with the Facebook group first. I started with the Facebook group maybe two years ago. Since then, I’ve started to branch out into blogging and an email list. I try to get a lot of readers onto the email list, because it’s an opportunity for writers to get some publicity for their book even if they don’t have a lot of money in their budget for advertising.

It’s my dream to build up Romance Novel Addicts Anonymous to this wonderful thing where we have all these rabid romance readers that are looking for books on sale or new releases. I’m focusing now on the blog and building that email list. Right now when you join the email list, you will get a free romance box set. And that’s the box set that I’ve written.

LP: So your blog now is mostly writing reviews or posting about new releases.  What is it that would lead you to give a negative review?

LF: My rule is that if I can’t give it at least 4 stars, then I will tell you and say, look, I’m thinking about a 3-star rating, will that help you or would you prefer that I don’t post that at all? Because a 3-star review is kind of borderline. I will not post a 1- or 2-star review on a blog or on Amazon or anywhere else. So, if someone gives me a book that I don’t feel like I can give a positive review, I will email them privately and say “these are my concerns.

LP: What is it that would make you give a 3-star or a 2-star review? What are some of the common problems you run across?

LF: The number one thing for a 1-star or 2-star review would be grammar and poor editing. And you know, with self-published works, it’s the nature of the beast, where there are going to be more typos sometimes than traditionally published books, only because we don’t have the budget to hire five different editors - a developmental editor and a line editor, and then the proof editor.

So, if in the first chapter you’ve got like two typos, that’s not a deal breaker to me. But there are some books where there are two or three typos on the first page. I can’t honestly give that a positive review. I’m such a promoter of indie work and I want to promote quality work. I don’t want to highlight work that just doesn’t meet the standard.

So editing is the number one thing for a 1 or a 2-star review. Also, formatting. For the story, if it’s just really slow and not going anywhere, or if it’s poorly structured and all over the place. Some of that’s a judgment call. I might be bored, but someone else might love it.

I really try for that 4-star review. I am deliberately looking for a reason to champion your book. If I can’t give it a positive review, then it’s possible that it probably needs some work.

LP: So now that we’ve talked about what leads to a 1-star or 2-star review, what would lead to a 4-star or 5-star review?

LF: Well, one of the best things about indie writing is that we can and do write about anything. Any kind of topic that you want to read about in romance, it’s out there. Someone has done it. If you want like a shifter romance between two men, two women, or three men and a woman, it’s out there. I just think the sheer originality out there is amazing.

LP: Do you have any examples of recent books that you’ve read that you were like “Oh my god! This was so original and amazing!”?

LF: Yes, it’s called Believing in Wishes by Jennifer DeCuir and it was so interesting because it was a small town romance, but the kicker was there was this touch of paranormal in that there were fairies that existed in the town. To the point where everyone knew that they were there. It wasn’t a big secret. I found that so fascinating. It was just a small town romance with a touch of paranormal and just so clever. And so original. And you don’t go, “Not another story about small town fairies.”

LP: Can we talk about alphaholes? I saw at least two reviews that mention them.

LF: That is the best term ever. It just says exactly what it it. It’s an alpha male character who’s just an asshole and reader love it. I don’t get it. A large number of readers seem to just love this really strong alpha male character that just kind of orders the woman around. To my way of thinking that is not romantic.

The difference to me is an alphahole would say, “I protect what’s mine.” meaning the woman. Meaning “You’re my property.” The heroes that I like would say, “I protect the woman I love.” So then it’s more romantic. He’s still alpha. He’s still big and strong. Because who doesn’t love a hero like that? But he’s not being disrespectful or cocky about his own ego.

There’s another thing I will say about ratings, is that when you’re reading a novel, I think it’s important to keep in mind your own preferences. I can’t stand alphaholes, but if I read a book that’s called Bad Boy Alphahole and the main character is a jerk? They’re telling you in the title. So if you don’t like bad boy romances, don’t read them or write a review that says Well, this guy was just mean. But if you want to read about alphahole aliens from Mars, go for it. I’m not gonna make fun of you. No one should make fun of you. But it’s just not my thing.

LP: One of the other things I wanted to ask you about, is the “Most of the conflict is based on a misunderstanding” plotline.

LF: Yeah, that’s definitely a pet peeve. And that’s not just me. You’ve got to be careful not to have the entire book based on a misunderstanding where if they literally sat down and had one conversation there would be no plot.

As the reader, we know what the misunderstanding is. He thinks that she feels this way. But she actually feels that way. Or, he thinks she did this terrible thing, but she didn’t. Then, throughout the whole book there’s a lot of near misses where he almost finds out the secret, but then he doesn’t. He almost finds out again, but then he doesn’t. There’s really no new information being introduced. You’re just kind of pushing and pulling and it gets frustrating to the reader.

LP: I’m curious for you as a writer, how do you avoid that or what would you tell to a new writer who might be tempted to do this? How do you avoid doing that in your stories?

LF: In my stories, I try to make my stories not just about the romance. The romance is front and center, because otherwise it wouldn’t count as a romance. And there are plenty of books out there that are just about a man and a woman or a man and a man, or what have you and their relationship. I love to write books and read books that are about something else.

I have a series called the Gettysburg Ghost series. It takes place in modern day Gettysburg where there are the ghosts and spirits of dead soldiers that look just like re-enactors. And you don’t really know that they’re dead until you go up to touch them and you go, oh, this guy is dead. The conflict there is that you have a dead, ghostly soldier who’s in love with a living woman. And it’s this whole story about how can they possibly have a happily ever after with this situation.

That fairy book that I was talking about is another example. They had emotional conflict in the relationship. The heroine was always a good girl and then she was bad one time and slept with her professor. So, she’s a single mom and she’s kind of scared off of men. And then, the man is a widower. He has the same kind of fear of losing people. There’s good relationship stuff, but also, there’s a central conflict where the hero had a traumatic experience with one of the fairies when he was younger and hates the fairies. Then, the heroine moved to town because she wants to start a business that has to do with the fairies.

He wants to become President of the Chamber of Commerce so he can stop all this fairy nonsense and she’s here trying to rebuild her life with a fairy business. So, there’s terrific conflict that intersects with the romance, but it’s not just the romance conflict. They’re totally opposed to each other when it comes to their goals.

LP: What are you working on right now?

LF: Right now, I’m working on a new series. Book one is already out. Book two will be out in January. I call it the Wall Street to Broadway series. The first book is called Losing His Shirt and basically, it’s about a billionaire who all of a sudden loses his money and then has to learn to cope on his own for the first time.

He falls in love with his former secretary who he treated like garbage. He lost all of his money and then had to come crawling to her and she’s a theater actress. Losing His Cool will come out in January. That is the sequel to Losing His Shirt. It has some of the same characters in it, but it is a new romance with a new couple.

LP: Where can people connect with you?

LF: You can find all the info on my books, and read the Romance Novel Addicts Anonymous blog at my website lindafausnet.com.  If you you sign up for the Romance Novel Addicts Anonymous email list you'll get a free book. You can also join the Romance Novel Addicts Anonymous Facebook group, or follow me on Twitter.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.