A Chat with Romance Author Jacquelyn Middleton

Jacquelyn Middleton is an award-winning author located in Toronto. Besides Jacquelyn loving the UK (all three of her novels have a connection to the UK) and her dog Zoey; you will find her love for writing intoxicating. If you have never heard of her, here is a chance to get to know her and an opportunity to gain a small insight into the life of an author.  

When did you realize you wanted to become an author? 

I think I've always wanted to be an author. My mum read to me when I was a little kid and books just naturally became one of my favourite things. We'd always receive them for Christmas and birthdays, and my first stop whenever we visited the mall was the bookstore. Having such an early appreciation of books and novels, I wanted to write one myself. It's funny, though. As a kid, I hated creative writing class. I think it was more about being told what to write than the actual writing. I used to draw and make my own comic books. That was really my first foray into telling stories.

Who are some authors that inspire you? 

There are so many authors I love. I'm a huge fan of Colleen Hoover, Mia Sheridan, Christina Lauren, Jill Santopolo, KA Tucker, Karma Brown, Taylor Jenkins Reid, Karen Swan, and Renée Carlino. All brilliant.

How many hours a day do you spend writing?

 It depends day to day, but I try to get at least five hours in a day.

How do people react when you tell them you are an author? 

Often they're surprised—I guess they don't meet writers too often. After the initial, "wow," they usually ask the genre, or, "would I know any of your books?" I write contemporary fiction and contemporary romance, and it's funny when you throw romance in there, you get all sorts of preconceived ideas. People go to extremes usually—Fifty Shades of Grey territory. Most people don't realize that there are so many sub-genres of romance (and heat levels, too, from closed door romance to full-on graphic Fifty Shades scenes), so I often have to set them straight.

There are some folks in the book world who think romance novels aren't as difficult to write as other genres and they couldn't be so wrong. Writing emotional and heartbreaking scenes (not to mention realistic and heartfelt sex scenes) takes talent and lots of practice. Love is one of the most complex emotions we have. Many of us aren't great at communicating love or other associated emotions, so it makes sense that it's also very difficult to write. I think since most romance authors are female, there is a tendency to pass the genre off as fluffy, socially unimportant, and easy to write. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

It's also worth pointing out that the romance genre was one of the first to showcase diverse characters and provide a platform for own voices authors to explore different races, religions, abilities, health challenges, and more. Consent and birth control are regularly featured. Today's romance is very progressive, and has moved on considerably from the novels with Fabio on the cover that our parents and grandparents read years ago. And for the most part, women have lead this charge towards change.

Why do you find it important to represent mental health in your books?

I’m proud to be an own voices’ author—I’ve had anxiety, panic attacks, and depression all my life, and all three of my novels include characters with mental health challenges. I’ve always felt that there should be more representation of mental health in novels. And by more representation, I mean realistically and empathetically portrayed mental health. I’ve seen many novels where mental health issues are treated like a character trait and nothing appears on the page to show its reality. Anxiety and depression aren’t disorders you can try on like a trendy pair of jeans. So, who would be better equipped to show anxiety and depression in a true-to-life way than someone with those very challenges? I’m pleased to have this platform to inform people about it. My goal is to entertain AND bust the stigma—one book at a time. If one person with anxiety or depression comes away after reading my books and feels understood and not alone, I’ve done my job. The biggest problem with stigma is that it often keeps sufferers from speaking up and seeking help. We're not embarrassed to have a broken leg mended. Why should we feel ashamed if we need to fix our minds? We shouldn't—period.

Where do your ideas for novels come from?

I write what I want to read. Ideas come from many places—travel, songs, a real life experience. I like to write stories set in places I love and have visited. London, New York, Dublin, Manchester—they've all played a part, and I'll be adding Scotland to my next book. My novels are character- and relationship-driven stories about people dealing with the triumphs and disasters we all experience. They’re also love stories for hopeful romantics—I say hopeful because my novels are always full of hope and a "happy ever after" is important, now more than ever. But life is messy, relationships are messy, and my books aren’t afraid to go there, too. When I've come up with a few characters, the settings, and what they want (characters always have to want something), then I get to work.

How do you come up with characters names?

Names are tricky! Some names in my books are family names (Joan is one, and Alex Sinclair is a combo of two names in my ancestry) while others are names I like such as Mark, Lucy, Riley, and Ben. And I try not to use names of people I know, but that's really hard sometimes! There's no rule in fiction that you have to use names that were in fashion for a specific year, but I do consult baby name lists to see if, for example, Riley was a popular name for the year she was born. I like that real factor, and I'm not a fan of weird or wacky names. I do have a Tarquin, but he's a posh character who needed a posh name. It's not one you hear every day in Canada, but it's known in Britain, and for him, being an upper-class bloke in London, it works.

What do you do when you can’t come up with ideas for your writing?

Panic! That's where my anxiety sometimes gets the best of me, and I do everything I can to fight it off. I try to start with a character and see where I can take them. One thing that makes it a bit easier is that my books are companion novels. They can be read on their own as standalones (for example, you don't have to read my second book to understand what's happening in the third), but some of the characters will cross into other books, and the storylines happen in the same universe. So, in other words, the actor from my first books will be mentioned in my third, or a character from my second book may pop up in the fourth, stuff like that. But all my novels can all be read as single stories. I just find it more fun when characters you know and love show up in other books by the same author. 

So writing companion novels helps with coming up with ideas, because once you introduce a character in one book, you do tend to think about where they might go, who they might become, and before you know it, they've got their own story happening. When I'm really stuck, I listen to music, walk my dog, workout! Mindless activity is a great tool for sparking ideas or getting unstuck.

What advice do you have for new authors? 

Write! I know everyone says that, but for a good reason—it's true! It's also important to read a lot. It's the best way to learn. There are also some great books for writers that get into structure, plot points, character goals. And read Stephen King's On Writing!

Why did you choose to write women’s fiction/romance?

I chose them because I love them. Women's fiction always features a journey for the main female character (sometimes it has romance, too, but not always), and I'm a sucker for such stories about women overcoming odds and fears to triumph. As for romance, well, I'm even more of a goner for an amazing love story with a happy ending (and there must be a happy ending for the couple for the story to be a romance). Love IS everything. Can you imagine a world without it? With all the awfulness out in the world, we need stories that celebrate love and hope more than ever before, and women's fiction and romance do that and more.

Check out Jacquelyn's most recent novel, Until the Last Star fades, here.