He’s dashing and driven, she’s sexy and strong. The high-temperature chase is on. Christine Ennulat interviews Harlequin romance writer Leanne Banks.
1 of 2
Author Leanne Banks
Photo by Tyler Darden
2 of 2
Author Leanne Banks
Photo by Tyler Darden
One day, a suburban Virginia mother of two decided that she would write a romance novel and finish it within two years. Twenty years later, in May of this year, Leanne Banks celebrated both her 50th birthday and her 50th book—Billionaire Extraordinaire (“because a million just isn’t what it used to be,” she quips). She’ll turn in three more by November: From Playboy to Papa! comes out in January, The Playboy’s Proposition in February, and the third, no title yet, in March.
These latest are for Harlequin, a company that seems recession-proof and has reported revenue increases over the last year. Harlequin releases 110 titles per month under a dozen imprints that find love everywhere from Regency period boudoirs to NASCAR tracks. The romance genre’s popularity makes sense—people tend to crave happy endings during hard times. And, says Banks, “There’s always going to be a happy ending in a Leanne Banks book.”
No doubt that’s the reason many of Banks’ books have been best sellers. At their center, readers can expect to find a buff, successful hero who has pulled himself up by his bootstraps, paired with a “shero” who’s young, professional and not fully in touch with her own beauty, strength or passion. She disarms him; he helps her find the fires deep within her. Banks’ characters, situations and settings vary widely, and her books are salted liberally with humor.
Virginia Living spoke with the Roanoke native at her home in Chesterfield County, where she lives with husband Tony and her Pomeranian, Bijou (“She thinks she’s Killer,” says Banks).
Your book Trouble in High Heels [March 2009] is the fourth with shoes on the cover—what is it with you and feet?
I know, I know! But it didn’t start out that way. The three for HQN [a Harlequin imprint] were based on a shoe company, so that’s why they had the shoes on all the covers. It’s partly a marketing thing, because covers with shoes tend to sell better. Who knew? But people like shoes, even if they can’t wear them. In fact, there’s a lot of them I can’t wear. I’m always either in tennis shoes or barefoot.
What was it like, selling the first book?
I was so depressed. I’d only been writing two years, and I’d gotten back some contest critiques that felt like bullets. Then the phone rang, and it was Kate Duffy [then an editor with publisher Meteor Kismet]. She said, “I love your book—I want to buy your book.” And I was shocked. Shocked. It had been turned down three other places.
That was in 1991—Never a Bride.
I did not want to send that to you. I thought, “Maybe I should send her the German version.” A lot of people say they have books sitting under the bed—I have two that maybe should have stayed under the bed. But I’ve been very fortunate, because I’ve sold almost everything I’ve written.
And now there are 50 of them. Over 20 years, that averages to 2.5 a year. How long does each take you?
It depends on the kind of book. It also depends on the story. Some books are a lot easier to write than others. Sometimes it takes me three months to do a short book, but to do a long one, it’s six. It does require a lot of hard work, a lot of discipline, and I still use an egg timer sometimes: “I’m going to write now, and I’m not going to pick up the phone, no matter who it is.”
Do you work on more than one book at once?
No, I’m a monogamous writer. I can’t—I would love to be able to, but my brain just does not bend that way. … Sometimes I think I’m a writer because I’m pretty much unemployable. A BS degree in psychology: “Do you want fries with that?” It qualifies me to treat fictional characters.
What assumptions do people have about romance writers and romance writing?
The crank-them-out thing. It’s like it’s a vein, maybe. But it’s not that easy. That’s one of the things that I get, because I’ve been prolific, though not nearly as prolific as Nora Roberts—she’s got close to 200 now. She’s bionic.
How do romance and erotica differ?
Erotica is about sex. They probably have sex within the first 10 to 20 pages, and it’s all about the sexual experience. Romance is about the relationship. And the mystery in romance, especially in the Silhouette Desires [the imprint Banks writes for most], is not if they’re going to get together, it’s how they’re going to get together.
Yours are kind of juicy.
Gosh, I hope so!
There’s almost no violence, though. Are there other boundaries you won’t cross?
I always said I didn’t think I could write a sheik. I would have to brainwash myself in order to [do] that. … Sheiks are very big in series romance. It’s a whole different culture—the woman doesn’t have control. And that giving up of the control is part of the fantasy for women, because then they’re not responsible. It’s not that women want to be totally irresponsible, it’s that they get tired of being responsible all the time.
What is the most unexpected place this career has taken you, where you thought, “I can not believe I’m here”?
For one of the books—I believe it was Footloose—they had me come up during Fashion Week in New York City. There was a shoe fashion show, and the women were wearing painted-on bustiers. The catwalk was a bar … and it was packed. I don’t know how many people were really looking at the shoes. They had a martini made up in honor of my book. Midori—it had midori in it.
Any favorite letters from readers?
There were two, one from a reader who said she’d tried to act out the love scenes with her husband. She thanked me [and] said the closet was kind of hard to do—she had a knee problem. The other one was about one of these little series romance novels, which are supposed to be fluff, right? And this person wrote, “Thank you so much for your latest book. It got me through my chemotherapy today.”
It’s bigger than you think it is. You don’t know—you don’t always know. I just think books are friends. They can get people through rough times. You don’t realize it when you’re doing it. Sometimes it’s just really, really work.