In the Mind of Tessa Dare – 2016 PYHIAB Conference

From October 14 – 15, New Jersey Romance Writers will be celebrating our annual conference. We have a fantastic line-up of speakers and workshop presenters. Over the next few Wednesday’s, we’ll be highlighting our four special speakers who were kind enough to allow us to get to know them better.

First up is Tessa Dare. Tessa will be giving a workshop at the conference and is our Special Presentation Keynote Speaker! Her workshop, First Time for Everything, is one of many fabulous workshops we have scheduled.

For more information about the conference and to register, please go to

Welcome, Tessa!


How did you come up with the idea for Do You Want to Start a Scandal and the Spindle Cove Series?

Do You Want to Start a Scandal is actually a crossover book – it pairs a heroine (Charlotte Highwood) from the Spindle Cove series with a hero (Piers Brandon, Lord Granville) from the Castles Ever After series. Both Piers and Charlotte were characters readers had asked to read more about, and it was pure luck that they seemed to fit perfectly together! Charlotte is lighthearted, adventurous, and honest, while Piers is a more brooding and protective hero. They balanced one another well.

Did you have a hard time getting publishers or agents to accept your unconventional heroines?

Not at all! My publisher (Avon) and editor (Tessa Woodward) have always been supportive of my geeky, awkward heroines. They know I write my best books when I identify with the characters, and I consider myself pretty geeky and awkward in real life.

Why did you decide to write historical romance?

 I’ve just always loved period romance – whether it’s a Jane Austen miniseries on the BBC or the Julie Garwood Scottish historicals I spent my teenage years devouring. For whatever reason, it’s the subgenre of romance that feels most romantic to me, and I just enjoy writing in it!

Do you read in the genre you write in or do you avoid it as you’re writing?

 Sometimes… but I’ll admit it can be difficult. I usually stick to contemporaries, nonfiction, and other fiction genres when I’m deep in a current manuscript. Otherwise I’m always comparing my current messy draft to a colleague’s finished book, and it can make for a lot of despair!

How much time do you spend researching for each book? Now that you have so many novels to your credit, has the research gotten easier?

I always love research – I was a librarian before I became a writer, so research is a true joy for me. I will spend hours reading 19th century books on Google Books, or tracking down out-of-print books for my research library… even ordering books on loan from the Library of Congress! My favorite experience was visiting a rare geological text in the ornate reading room of the New York Public Library.

Of course, another fun type of research is travel – I’ve traveled to England for each of my series – Spindle Cove and Castles Ever After – spending time in seaside villages and staying overnight in spooky castles to get a feel for my characters’ environments.

What is your process for writing a book? For example, are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you start at page 1 and write your book sequentially or do you skip around? Do you start with your characters or the plot?

 I always think I know exactly what will happen in the book, from beginning to end – and then I’m always wrong. I love the idea of plotting, but somehow the book never quite works on the page the way it does on post-it notes, and I end up changing a lot. Sometimes I end up changing everything! Whether I start with characters or plot depends on the book. In Do You Want to Start a Scandal, I was starting with characters, since both hero and heroine were already established in different series. As for sequence… I tend to skip all over the place. Whatever scene I can best “see” is the scene I write next. The next draft is like a crazy quilt of scenes stitched together. Then I have to work on transitions and consistent character motivations throughout.

Do you have any interesting writing rituals or routines you have to follow to get into your work day?

I have never been one to have good habits (or really, any habits), but I have found a few things that work for me lately. I’ve started using the Bullet Journal system (you can find an explanation at After years of failing at the usual weekly and monthly planners, bullet journaling was a godsend. It’s linear, not visual, which is how my mind works. (I always say that looking at a bunch of squares makes me itch. I can’t look at them and see a plan.) Bullet journaling is more like writing a story of what I’m going to do each day, week, month.  I pick a moleskine notebook with a design I like (currently I’m on Alice in Wonderland, next up is Ravenclaw) to keep both my daily bullet lists and all my notes and drafting. I take that notebook everywhere!

When you are writing, who is in control? You or your characters?

I firmly believe the author is always in control. But the characters represent different parts of our brains and facets of our personality. So it’s not unusual for a “character” to rebel – and that’s our gut or subconscious telling us that something isn’t quite right.

What are you working on at this very moment?

I’m currently working on the first book in an all-new series. As I write this, the series doesn’t have an official name yet, but the first book will be called The Duchess Deal.

What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned as an author?

“It’s supposed to be hard.” That’s something Nora Roberts said in a keynote address at RWA conference one year, and I repeat it to myself often.

Are you just traditionally published or are you a hybrid author?

I am mostly traditionally published, but have done a few small self-published projects.

What can you tell us about traditional publishing that maybe we don’t know?

That pitching ability and the possibility of rejection don’t magically cease to exist once you have a contract! I’ve had ideas rejected by my editor (and rightfully so, in retrospect).

Do you have an eReader? If so, which one? Do you prefer eReaders or handheld books?

I do own a Kindle, but nowadays I usually just use the Kindle or iBooks app on my phone or tablet. I love the portability of e-books, but I will always love print, as well. I usually end up buying my favorite books in both formats!

What makes a man attractive to you?

Intelligence. Humor. Nice forearms.

What are you reading now?

Sonali Dev’s A Change of Heart – her writing is so amazingly emotional! She knows how to wring your heart.

What is your favorite quote?

“Jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down.” – Ray Bradbury (not exact; he said variations on this in different interviews)

How long have you been writing?

I’ve been writing with the intent of publication for about ten years.

What’s your biggest dream?

I want to retire to an idyllic house in the country with a big porch and with lots of trees with swings, wear toile dresses, and raise pygmy goats.

If you were a millionaire would you still write?

Absolutely! (Have you seen the cost of living in Southern California?)

Cat or dog person?

Both. I had a lovely big brown dog who was my writing companion for years, but he passed away a few years ago now. We didn’t feel ready for a new dog just yet. So we adopted two kittens instead…and then a third showed up a day before Halloween and just wouldn’t leave. So now we have three. I’m not sure how many more I need to get my “Crazy Cat Lady” certificate.

Okay, get ready, we have our rapid response portion. Don’t think about your answers, just say the first thing that comes to mind. Ready?  

Favorite color:  Green

Favorite number: Eight

Favorite food: Mexican food

Favorite hair color on a hero? Dark brown

Favorite eye color on a hero? Also dark brown, and intense

Favorite Actor: Right now, I’m really into Aidan Turner. Will always feel devoted to Colin Firth, however.

Favorite Actress:  I think we really, really need a new queen of the romcom. We had Katharine and Audrey Hepburn, Meg Ryan, Sandra Bullock…but no one has really stepped up to own that crown. I do like Emma Stone quite a bit. I think she has that potential.

Wine or liquor? Wine can give me headaches, so I prefer liquor.

Tea or coffee? Coffee

Decaf or caffeinated? Caffeinated! (Easiest question of all)

Boxers or briefs? Boxer-briefs

Chocolate or vanilla? Chocolate

Channing Tatum or Chris Hemsworth? Channing Tatum. He’s just adorable when he blushes.


Thank you, Tessa! We’re excited to have you as our Special Presentation speaker offering, “Everything I Needed to Know About Writing, I Learned From Kindergarten”.

Want to meet Tessa or attend her workshop? Make sure you check out the information on our conference at Registration ends October 4th!




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