Interviewer Joey Sterzinger: First, let me introduce my critique partner and debut author Shirley Karr. Her first book, WHAT AN EARL WANTS, hit the shelves December 28th. It's a hysterical romp through Regency England with a cross-dressing heroine and a wounded ex-soldier. Well ... I'll let Shirley tell you more herself.

Joey: Hi Shirley and welcome to RBL. Thanks for agreeing to do this interview. First, the gals always like to know about the authors ... hobbies, other interests, what you do in your free time.

Shirley: Free time? That's a good one! *g* Oh, you're serious. Um ... I probably spend too much time with "Stargate SG-1" � those hunky guys, great stories, alpha and beta heroes - it's research, I tell you! Ahem. A few years ago I discovered an interest in designing jewelry. I love working with pearls and gemstones, and got carried away, so now I go to craft shows and markets, peddling my Shirl's Pearls wares to support my addiction, er, hobby. Since a book takes so long, it's very satisfying to have a finished jewelry project in an evening or two. I like to unwind by playing classical guitar, though my sessions are often interrupted by my cat demanding lap time. He does the same thing when my husband plays, so we've decided the cat is simply jealous of our guitars. And I love the outdoors. We just bought a four-wheel-drive truck, so we'll be able to do a lot more camping and mountain biking this year.

Joey: Okay, now tell us a bit about your writing life. Why'd you start writing? And why romance in particular?

Shirley: I didn't start out with the intention of writing romance � my story idea just happened to include two people falling in love. It was supposed to be a short story. I was bored at work, and one day up popped an idea. It kept growing, getting more detailed, with characters demanding their story be told. Once I got going, did research and made plot notes, I couldn't stop. When the writing is going well, there's nothing else as satisfying.

I've always been a voracious reader. I went through phases � Louis L'Amour, Isaac Asimov, Stephen King, Alistair MacLean - and read everything in the school libraries. I tried a couple Barbara Cartland books in high school, and found they were very much *not* to my taste. In my early twenties I discovered Sylvia Thorpe and Victoria Holt, and realized I was reading romance - and enjoying it. Then I found Mary Jo Putney, Michelle Kasey/Kasey Michaels, and Mary Balogh. Wow! Regency-era historical romances became my absolute favorites. Still are. I love the time period, the bits of history lessons, the language. I didn't have to work hard to imagine the British settings because I'd actually been to many of them when I was younger, thanks to my family's four-year stint in England courtesy of the US Air Force. And I especially like the happy endings you get with romance novels. I like knowing that, no matter how bad things get, no matter how many trials and tribulations along the way, true and lasting love will win out. That's important. I need that. It doesn't happen often enough in reality. (I've been fortunate in my own happy-ever-after � my husband and I just celebrated our nineteenth wedding anniversary. We met on a blind date, and married five months later. How could I not become a romance writer?)

Joey: Can you give us a hint as to how your ideas for stories come to you? Do you ever use real-life people or stars for inspiration?

Shirley: Most of my story ideas come to me as if I'm viewing brief clips of a movie � two people, in a situation. Who are they, how'd they get here, and what happens next? I have to write the story to find out. Actually, now that I'm under contract, I write the synopsis to find out, and then enjoy the surprises that come up as the manuscript is under way.

My first hero was inspired by the model on the cover of Mary Jo Putney's THE RAKE AND THE REFORMER, though my guy was nothing like Reggie. His personality was a blend - a little Magnum, a little MacGyver, a little make-believe. My image of Sinclair was influenced by Adrian Paul in the TV series "Highlander". I know writers who have folders of pictures they've clipped from magazines and catalogues, for inspiration for their characters. I've only used a real-life picture twice so far � Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow for my current wip, and Michael Shanks in a pre-Stargate publicity photo for another. Can you blame me? *g* Characters are often an amalgamation of real people, but I've never written one who was based on just one person. I've heard more than one writer say that every character is that writer � just younger, taller, thinner, smarter, whatever. There's some truth to that.

Joey: Most romance novelists are avid readers themselves. Can you tell us some of your favorite authors to read and any who've been of particular inspiration to you?

Shirley: I write Regency historicals because of Mary Jo Putney. I read THE RAKE AND THE REFORMER in one sitting - stayed up until 4:00 a.m. , sipping Mountain Dew to stay awake. It was a huge turning point for me. I had been working on my first manuscript, a contemporary romantic suspense. I loved the process of turning an idea into a book, but the farther I got into it, the harder it became to write. I finally recognized the problem � since I was constantly reading historicals, in my head the characters wanted to speak with a Regency cadence. You can imagine the problems that created in a contemporary. After I read MJP, I realized that if I wrote historicals, my voice would be similar to hers. Quite nervy for a novice writer to compare herself to MJP, but that's a 4:00 a.m. Mountain Dew-induced epiphany for you. After agonizing over the decision, I changed my characters' names, set them back 180 years to Regency England, started over, and was finally able to finish the book. And the next. And so on.

I have a *huge* keeper collection. Among my current favorite authors to read are Suzanne Enoch, Cathy Maxwell, and Sabrina Jeffries - all of whom have a wonderful flair for comedy in their dramas. Linda Needham's books are always a must-read. And once I started YOURS UNTIL DAWN by Teresa Medeiros, I couldn't put it down until I finished.

Joey: Okay, now for those ladies who haven't picked up or read WHAT AN EARL WANTS, tell them a bit about the story and the characters. And maybe a bit as to what inspired your fabulously love-to-hate character, Lady Serena.

Shirley: Since interaction between the genders was so limited during the Regency, I was intrigued by the idea of a woman and a man working together. But what if the man didn't realize he'd hired a woman until it was too late? I've always had a soft spot for lad-in-disguise stories, though I have a strong opinion about how they should be handled. And the servants creating chaos by pairing off and eloping � they pretty much did that on their own. I don't remember consciously plotting that part of the story, but it was great fun writing it. As Jo Beverly puts it, I'm kind of a fly-into-the-mist writer, with only vague ideas about the plot when I start. Discovering the plot twists and turns along the way is part of the fun of writing, the joy in the journey.

Ah, Serena, the villainess. Remember those girls in high school that drove you crazy and made your life miserable? They're Serena. All of them, rolled into one duchess. When Quincy figured out how to give Serena what she had coming, well, that was a very satisfying day's work. *g*

Joey: What about a sneak peek into what you've got coming up next?

Shirley: I'm very excited - I just accepted a two-book contract with Avon . The hero of the next book is Sinclair's younger brother, Anthony. He's a lively scamp, and has gotten himself involved with a lady who's running a smuggling operation. The high concept is Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs meets Pirates of the Caribbean , and I'm having a lot of fun with it. The working title is MY LADY SMUGGLER, subject to change of course, and should be released in spring 2006. I'll post details on my web site as they're confirmed.

Joey: Finally, we always like to end by asking authors to contribute advice to any budding romance writers.

Shirley: Write, revise, submit. Repeat as needed. And write the kind of stories you most enjoy reading � your passion and pleasure will communicate itself to the reader, and elevate your story-telling skills. This is a tough business, so do everything you can to enjoy the journey, the actual process of writing.

Thanks again, Shirley, for taking time to chat with us! I know I can say that I loved WHAT AN EARL WANTS and can't wait to see what you come up with next. Of course, as your critique partner, I get lots of early looks. *smile*