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An Interview with Dorothy Garlock

by Mary T. Knibbe Sr.



I recently interviewed New York Times bestselling author, Dorothy Garlock, about life, writing and romance. Here's what she had to say:


Q:  I know you started writing for a newspaper. What made you decide to write a book, and why romance?

A:  When I quit working at the newspaper, I needed something to do. In other words, I was bored. I started writing for my own pleasure and wrote four books before I even tried to get one published. I entered it in a contest for unpublished writers. An agent was one of the judges. I didn't win the contest, but he called and offered to sell my book. I sent all four and they sold in a couple of weeks. That was in 1978.

Q:  When you first start a book, do you use an outline? Do you know how it's going to end, besides the happily-ever-after aspect?

A:  I do not outline. I pick a time, a place and a conflict and start. I, too, like to find out what happens.

Q:  Earlier in your career, you wrote many contemporaries. Why did you later decide to concentrate only on historicals?

A:  A writer builds a readership. My readers like historicals. It's that simple.

Q:  What authors do you read and why? Have any influenced your writing style?

A:  The only author I can think of that has influenced my writing was Louis L'Amour. He once said "write short sentences, short paragraphs, make your story go fast. Do not use a long word if you can think of a short one."

I like to read something that's written better than I write. If I read a poorly written book, I don't learn anything. I'll read anything written by Celeste DeBlasis, even the telephone book.

Q:  You write romances, but do you read them?

A:  Seldom do I read a romance. I like mysteries or books that are romances, but are marketed in the mainstream genre.

Q:  Your newest release, WITH HOPE, due in August, takes place in the depression era of the 30s. Why did you decide to write in that time frame?

A:  The Great Depression is an important time in American history. It's seldom written about. WITH HOPE is not a GRAPES OF WRATH story. It tells of the hopes and dreams of the people in a small town in Oklahoma. They suffered the same emotional problems of people in other years. I want the readers to know that it was not all "doom and gloom" and that there were happy times too.

Q:  Did you have a difficult time getting your publisher to accept that time frame?

A:  I have an editor that all writers dream about. Fredda Isaacson was a Vice President at Warner. I was lucky enough to get her for an editor. We have been together now for 26 books. Her name should be on the book next to mine. When she retired, she took me home with her and edits my books at home. She never "rewrites" my books—she has an open mind and listens to new ideas. She is not stuck, as some editors are, in "her nipples get hard, he gets a lump in his britches" syndrome. She likes a story with realistic dialogue and characters and that's what I try to give her.

Q:  What intrigued you about the 30s? It wasn't a very happy time in this country's history. Was it easy or difficult to write WITH HOPE, since this wasn't a happy period?

A:  Why do you say it wasn't a happy period? People were out of work, but they loved, laughed and used their ingenuity to get by. In some ways, they were happier than people are today. The families were closer, kids more respectful, drugs were unheard of, and you could walk down the street without getting mugged. Just because the economy is good, doesn't mean that people are happier. I'll get off my soap box.

Q:  Will there be more books in that time frame?

A:  Two more. WITH SONG in April, l999 and WITH HEART in November of l999.

Q:  Tell me something about WITH SONG.

A:  WITH SONG is set in 1935 Kansas. A couple of Kansas City gangsters hold up a country store and kill the parents of a girl who was upstairs at the time. She looks out the window and sees them. A G-man asked her to say that she can identify them and lure them back to the store to do away with a witness.

Q:  Are there other time periods that you would like to write about?

A:  Someday, I may write a book about how it was when the men came home from World War II. There was not a lot of whining in those days. People got on with their lives, married, had families and gave us McDonalds, Burger King...Wal-Mart. Not that all of those things are the greatest, but it's progress.

Q:  Some authors take from six weeks to six months to finish a book. How long does it take you?

A:  I can write a book in four months if I don't have other things to do like travel and promotion...or vacations abroad.

Q:  Do you write every day, and if so, how many hours do you spend writing?

A:  I write five days a week once I get started, and then I write until the mood leaves me.

Q:  Do you listen to music while you write?

A:  No.

Q:  What writers do you think will still be popular ten years from now?

A:  If you mean romance writers, I wouldn't know.

Q:  Is there any subject you won't write about?

A:  Yes, incest. It's repugnant to me.

Q:  Do you have any suggestions for aspiring writers?

A:  If you want to write and have talent...start. That's the magic word. If you discover that you don't have the talent, for heaven's sake...stop.

Another thing, don't get the big head after you've sold your first book and start giving workshops on how to teach other writers. Writers should write, teachers should teach.

Q:  Where do you think the romance genre is headed?

A:  I'm afraid that in the not-to-distant future there will be very few "romances". They are being ruined by editors who want the same story line and get pencil happy and edit out the guts of a story, and by writers who think that the more raunchier the sex, the bigger the sales.

Q:  So many publishing houses are now defunct, and many of the romance lines have disappeared...and more are to follow. Do you think this is the beginning of the end of the romance genre? Do you think it will survive?

A:  I think the answer to the above applies here.

Q:  How do you feel about used bookstores? Do you think royalties should be paid to writers whose books are resold over and over by used bookstores?

A:  I think the used bookstores have had a bum deal. I have a right to sell my used car, and a reader has a right to sell or trade their used books. Many of my readers started reading me by being hand sold a book at a used bookstore. If I've done a good enough job in telling my story, that reader will buy my book when it comes out new. 'Nuff said.

Q:  Do you attend booksignings and do you enjoy meeting fans?

A:  I sign at stores if I'm invited. I like to meet readers. I always think they expect to see someone that looks like Jackie Collins or Danielle Steel. Fun...nny!

Q:  So many authors have left the romance genre, do you have any plans in that direction?

A:  I'll keep writing the same books I've always written. The genre might change, but I won't.

Q:  How do you feel about reviews and reviewers?

A:  I don't take exception if a reviewer doesn't like my book. A lot depends on the mood of the reviewer. For instance, if one doesn't feel well the day they read my book, more than likely they wouldn't like anything. I've started books that in my opinion were so bad...I didn't finish them, then read where someone gave them rave reviews. It's a matter of taste in reading material.

Q:  You must get a great deal of fan mail, both pro and con? Do you answer it?

A:  Yes, I get mail from all over the world. I don't like to call it "fan mail" because it sounds like someone in the stands at a baseball game. I call it "reader mail". I get mail on letterhead stationary or on a sheet torn from a tablet and written with a pencil. They are all equally important to me. I answer each and every one, and if they request it, I send a notice when my new books come out.

Q:  Men also like to read your books. Do men make up a significant percentage of your readership, and how do you feel about this?

A:  I don't know the percentage. Women tell me their husbands read my books, and I get some mail from men readers. (Some from the prisons, where I have a captive audience. Old joke.)

Q:  You've been called the "Mistress of Pioneer Romance". Would you have liked to live during the times you so often write about?

A:  No. I'm too fond of deodorant, Tampax and indoor toilets.

Q:  Of all the books you've written, do you have one or two sentimental favorites?

A:  RIBBON IN THE SKY and HOMEPLACE.

Q:  What about Dorothy Garlock, the person? If you could choose one word to describe yourself, what would it be and why?

A:  Earthy. Because I'm very realistic in my approach to life.

Q:  What does your family think about your writing and do they approve?

A:  It's been so long now, they think nothing of it. My grandsons grew up thinking that all grandmothers wrote books, and that all grandchildren went to the bookstore and moved their grandmother's books up to the eye-level shelf.

Q:  Is there anything you'd like to say to the many fans who read your books?

A:  Thank you. You invested your dollars in my books, and I'll do my best to entertain you. I'm not trying to give you a history lesson or show you how many different ways to have sex. I want you to forget the dishes in the sink and the laundry in the basement and get lost in my story.

Thanks so much for your time. I hope we can do this again someday.

Comment:  If you don't mind, I do have a few more questions that I'd like to ask to satisfy my own curiosity...

A:  By all means, go ahead.

Q:  Is that really your hair color?

A:  It depends on when you're asking. If it's before I get it dyed...yes!

Q:  Do you really only have a third-grade education?

A:  I wood like to clare up this bite of imforation rite now. I got started in 4th, but got preganut and had to qite.

Comment:  I love your face lift.

A:  Which one? I've had three.

Q:  Are you honestly a multi-millionaire?

A:  If you mean: do I have two cents to rub together? —Listen up, kid, I can rub nickles together. I even got me one of them endoortoilets. Ain't used to it yet. I'm thinkin' of planten flowerrs in it.

Q:  Is it true you have a 32-year-old boyfriend that you keep?

A:  Absolutely untrue! Stop spreading rumors and ruinin' my reputation. He's 31 and the cutest little bugger you ever did see.

Q:  Do you really have your own stretch limo?

A:  I don't know if you'd call it a stretch. The fronts a Ford, the backs a haywagon. I put sides on it, too, and haul my hogs to market in it.

Comment:  Again, Mrs. Garlock, thanks for your time. I'm sure your readers will find this interview very insightful. Boy, I sure did.


*      *      *


As all of you may have guessed those last few questions were an attempt to give readers a hint of Dorothy's terrific sense of humor. It's one of the reasons I love her books.

—Mary T. Knibbe Sr.
   July 1998





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