Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Leigh Greenwood Breaks the Glass Ceiling, in Reverse

If you’ve been following The Blood Red Pencil blog this month, you know that our theme is men and the romance novel. Leigh Greenwood, aka Harold Lowry, is one of the earliest and most successful male romance novelists to break through the glass ceiling, in reverse, and I’m honored he consented to an interview.

Polly: So delighted to have you here, Leigh. I’m going to veer from the usual questions because many of the answers are on your website, but first give us a little history of how you became a romance novelist.

Leigh: I guess I’ve always been a romantic. I like happy endings, and I insist that the bad guys get it in the neck or I won’t read your next book. (Tweet) When I was growing up, I used to read romance comic books (yes, they used to have such things) along with Donald Duck and various cowboys. My introduction to romance (though I didn’t realize it at the time) was Georgette Heyer’s These Old Shades. It’s still one of my favorite books and a perfect example of the dark hero. I searched out every Heyer romance and read them all at least twice. After that, I asked my wife to suggest some books. I don’t know why I got the urge to write my own book. I’d never done anything like that before. In college I took only the required English courses. Nevertheless, I did get the urge and wrote two and a half books before I heard of Romance Writers of America, joined my local chapter in 1985, and attended my first national conference that same year.

Polly: Did you know when you started writing that other men had written under women’s pseudonyms? Did you ever get to meet any of them?

Leigh: I’m ashamed to say I didn’t know anything about anything when I started. I’d never heard of Tom Huff though I’d read Jennifer Wilde. (I didn’t really care for his books. They are a good example of some romance in the early days when books were more about sex and survival than romance. There was a lot of brutality in them.) I later learned of one man who wrote with his wife, but I never met him, either. Tom Huff never came to RWA and died before I attended my first Romantic Times convention. I’ve met a few other men who write romances, but they seemed to disappear after a few years.

Polly: Did your publisher suggest that you choose a female or androgynous name, or was that your idea? When did you let the reading public know you were a man?

Leigh: My first editor told me I had to choose a female pseudonym.
The idea didn’t bother me, but I wanted an androgynous name rather than something like Phyllis or Bambi. I’m six feet three and have a mustache. I’d look ridiculous with a name like that, so I sat down and came up six names I could use. Then I looked for last names to go with them. I don’t know where I got them nor do I remember what they were, but I sent my editor six names. Leigh Greenwood just happened to be the first name on the list. If I’d known there was a well-known country singer named Lee Greenwood, I might not have chosen the name I did.

Starting from my first RWA conference in 1985, I’ve always made it clear I was writing under a pseudonym. If I remember, I wrote an article for Romantic Times when my fourth book came out with my picture and a bit about myself. I never heard anything back from that. It wasn’t until I finally convinced my editor at Dorchester to put my picture on the back of my books that my gender became general knowledge. I got lots of letters expressing surprise and support and not a single one that was negative.

Polly: You’ve been writing for 25 years. You’ve published with Harlequin, the Zebra imprint of Kensington, the Leisure imprint of Dorchester, and now with Sourcebooks Casablanca. When you first started, did you find an agent or did you submit directly to a publisher? If an agent, do you still have one?

Leigh: You forgot Silhouette and the Bouquet imprint of Kensington. I did begin by submitting directly to editors. They didn’t buy my first two books, but several were very helpful in explaining the problems with my synopses. When I wrote my third book, I contacted several agents, but agents are harder to get than editors. One offered to read my book and offer a criticism for $25. If she liked it, she’d accept the book and drop the fee. She liked the book and sold it to Kensington. I subsequently had another editor before finding the agent I’ve been with for more than twenty years.

Polly: Besides Georgette Heyer, what other writers inspired you?

Leigh: I don’t know that any writer has been an inspiration for me. However, there are several writers I’ve admired. Heyer has wonderful heroes and heroines, but she also has delightful and quirky secondary characters. Anyone who reads my books knows I love my secondary characters. The hero and heroine have to fit a certain general pattern, but there are no limits to what you can do with secondary characters. They can be anything from George and Rose’s terrible twins to Dodie in Lily who went on a drunken binge when she realized Zack would never love her.
I particularly love children probably because I taught school for nineteen years. They can be sweet without being maudlin, innocent without deception, or mischievous without being bad. They can see the sides of people adults miss. Still, the main reason for secondary characters is that no one exists in a vacuum. Things others do affect our actions and our choices, even loyalties we wish we didn’t have.

I have to mention Louis L’Amour and Agatha Christie. They helped me realized it was the story that drew the reader. You can write like Shakespeare, but if you don’t tell a good story, the readers won’t come.

Polly: Though not as popular as her Regency romances, Heyer also wrote detective novels. Have you tried your hand at other genres? If so, which ones? Have you written romantic suspense?

Leigh: I read all of Heyer’s detective novels and loved them. However, I don’t seem to have that kind of mind. I have incorporated a bit of mystery in some of my books, Pete being the best example, but Love On the Run (Kensington Bouquet) is my only romantic suspense. It received good reviews, but I never felt the desire to write other books like that.

Polly: You write series, and most of them have western settings. Why westerns for a North Carolina man? Were you influenced by movie westerns and the strong male cowboy figure? Did you find that era romantic?

Leigh: There has always been a kind of magic about the cowboy and the West. I listened to the Lone Ranger on the radio and watched all the westerns on TV in the 50’s. The image of the hero in the white hat and the villain in black was perfect for a child’s unquestioning mind. But having history as a minor in college, my initial interest was historicals. My first three books (I never finished the third) were historicals. At my first RWA conference, I was told that editors were no longer buying books about the Civil War – the book I never finished was set during the Civil War – so I went home and wrote a western which sold. I later sold those first two books, but I fell into a pattern of alternating westerns and historicals.

It wasn’t until I got the idea for The Seven Brides that I settled with westerns and started writing series. (Having read every western Louis L’Amour ever wrote at least twice probably had something to do with it.) The Seven Brides have been my most popular books so it was only logical to look for another idea for a series. After watching John Wayne’s The Cowboys, I got the idea for writing a series about orphans. For the Night Riders, the unifying element was hunting down a traitor. My Cactus Creek series was about brothers separated during childhood finding each other again.

I had never planned to write series, but I found that I really liked being able to bring back characters from earlier books. The element that ties all these series together is family which fitted perfectly into a series. You can bring back characters from earlier books showing how they grow and continue to love, see the growth of a character from childhood to adulthood, and see how family manages to hold together people who are very different. You can even write a spinoff for a minor character (Salty in Rose became No One But You.) I wrote seven contemporary romances, but apparently I don’t have the insight it takes to connect with the modern feminine mystique.

Polly: Do you read any current female romance writers? Which ones are your favorites, and why? What genre do you read when you’re not reading romance? Do you have any favorite authors of other genres?

Leigh: I have several favorite authors. Up until now I’ve refrained from naming them, but I’ve retired and no longer go to conventions so I feel more like a reader than a writer. Like everyone else, I read Nora Roberts and J.D. Robb. I also read Karen Rose, Tami Hoag, Iris Johannson, Catherine Coulter, Jane Ann Krentz, and too many others to name. You will notice a distinct lack of traditional romance though all the writers used to write romance. Maybe it’s that I’ve read too many romances and spent too many years writing them, but I seldom read straight romance.
I mostly read suspense of any kind, but I don’t like it too gritty or grizzly. I guess that’s the romantic in me coming out. James Patterson and David Baldacci are two of my favorites.

Polly: Do you feel your older contemporary romances hold up in today’s more open culture? Do you write your sex scenes behind closed doors? How has your style changed over the years?

Leigh: After more than twenty years, The Seven Brides is still my most popular series. The books are still selling well in e-book form so I guess the answer is yes. I have never written sex behind closed doors, but I quickly got past the part of going into detail. For me, sex is just a part of the process of falling in love. Therefore, the emotional element is the most important. The sharing of this last bastion of intimacy, of privacy, is a step in their emotional commitment to each other, a step they can take only when they have developed complete trust and a feeling that this is the most important person in their life. Everyone knows the mechanics so I don’t need to draw a picture.

Polly: How do you feel romances have changed from the time you started writing to the present? Do you think these changes are positive or negative? Did you ever consider writing erotica?

Leigh: I have never considered erotica. I know it’s extremely popular, but much of the time I find it vulgar and tasteless. There, I’ve said it so go ahead and hate me.

Romance has changed dramatically from the time I started writing until now. You only have to ready Woodiwiss, Rogers, and Small to see rape, abuse, and incarceration in harems. I once asked a successful writer why these early books had been so popular. She said that they showed that a woman who had been reduced to her lowest could finally bring the most powerful man to his knees begging for her forgiveness and her love. Maybe it took that extreme to launch the genre, but we moved away from that as more and more women became interested in writing romance. Along with spotlighting social issues of every kind, books began to center around the problems of ordinary people. We still wrote about love and sex but within a framework of reality. I suppose the fact that the stories were relevant to everyday life is why contemporaries finally pushed historicals to the edge of the market.

Polly: How did you work around promotions? Did you go to conferences? If you won awards, how did you collect the prize?

Leigh: When I started, everyone had to promote because publishers didn’t. I used to send out bookmarks through Romantic Times. For a while I even sent advance copies I made myself to reviewers and owners of independent bookstores. I held booksignings, went to conferences, gave workshops, and collected all but one of my awards in person. I was also active in Romance Writers of America at the national level. About halfway through my career I stopped promoting. I figured if people didn't know about me by then they never would.

Polly: Did you find it difficult to write from a female POV (point of view)? I personally feel I write men better than women. Do you feel you write women better than men?

Leigh: I’ve never felt that I did one better than the other though I’m sure you’ll find readers who think differently. I believe one of the reasons no one picked up ON my gender for so long is because I wrote both POVs equally well. I have a mother, a sister, numerous cousins, a daughter, two daughters-in-law, and an ex-wife. If I hadn’t learned something about women after that, I would have had to be terribly dense.

Polly: I see your backlist is published for electronic readers. Has the e-reader gained you new fans?

Leigh: I really can’t say. The books are selling, but I have no way of knowing if they are new fans or my regular readers moving over to e-books.

Polly: What’s next for Leigh Greenwood? Will you ever consider writing a book as Harold Lowry?

Leigh: After fifty-three titles and more than thirty years, I retired during the summer of 2015. I’m seventy-four and want to spend more time with my garden and my grandchildren. I also want to travel, become more active in my community, and go to concerts and programs I never had time for when I was writing.

Polly: Enjoy your retirement, Leigh, and thanks for the pleasure you've given readers over the years.


Leigh Greenwood has been steaming up the pages of historical romances for more than thirty years and fifty-three books. He is the author of the award-winning series The Seven Brides, The Cowboys, and the recently completed Night Riders.

Check out Leigh's books on Amazon here.


Polly Iyer is the author of seven novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and three books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, and Backlash. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

22 comments :

  1. I enjoyed this interview, Polly. The author's reply to your questions were detailed and well thought out, and his literary journey fascinated me.

    A number of his responses also intrigued me for other reasons. His stand on erotica, for example, makes me inclined to seek out his books because I neither read nor write that genre. Also, his inclusion of children in his stories struck a chord. They add a realism I especially enjoy because they are a part of life. Finally, it's a rare man who understands how and why women think and act as they do, so I am intrigued about his comment that he writes both genders equally well. This requires some investigation. Bottom line: I will visit Amazon to learn more about his books and perhaps even become fan. :-)

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    1. I agree, Linda. He was very professional in his responses. He has a lot of fans.

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  2. Fascinating interview! I loved hearing how such a popular romance author got started. I admire his approach to writing romance novels. It sounds like he worked hard getting the best product out, and deserves his retirement!

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    1. I think you nailed it, Morgan. I wonder how long he'll be able to stay away from writing in his retirement. :-)

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  3. Fifty-three titles? Holy schnikies! That is impressive enough ... let alone the whole romance thing. Kudos, Leigh.

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    1. I agree, Christopher. That's a lot of making people happy.

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  4. That is a wonderful legacy: 20 years of making readers happy.

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    1. I just posted that on Christopher's comment. Definitely.

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  5. In the mid 90s, when I was 15, my dad was the coolest dad ever and took me to a romance novel convention. Of course being one of the few guys there my dad talks to Leigh Greenwood and he signed my new copy of Laurel, my first of his books. 20 years and I still reread his books over and over and have every single one he has written. Great author! My favorites are the Seven Brides and The Cowboy series! I have been given so many hours of joy because of these books.
    Thank you for writing!!!
    Katrina

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    1. What a great post. Thanks for sharing, Katrina.

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  6. What a marvelous interview - thank you so much for sharing with our readers. I'm disappointed in a couple of things: I haven't read any of your books, but will change that today. And that you didn't choose the name Bambi... with the mustache. LOL. That might have gotten me to a romance writers conference a few years ago. Enjoy your retirement.

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    1. That's funny, Dani. Bambi indeed. A lot of writers choose androgynous names or initials to hide that they're either male or female. Leigh is a nice choice.

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  7. I'm hunting down print versions of Seven Brides and The Cowboys. Not easy to find, but I did notice this page on his website. http://www.leigh-greenwood.com/page/backlist.htm I expect he'll be getting a check from me soon. ;)

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    1. Yes, he said they were out of print. Do you not have an ereader?

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    2. I have two - but I've decided to read paper books at night to eliminate sleep disruption. And the romance novels are not for daytime reading. ;)

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  8. Thanks for this, Polly. I enjoyed reading it.

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    1. You're welcome, Elspeth. I enjoyed writing it. :-)

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  9. I loved everything western when I was growing up. I think I'll start reading Leigh's books now and relive my early years when I enjoyed all the cowboy stars as well as the Zane Gray novels. Good blog.

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    1. Me too, Gloria. I wanted to marry Roy Rogers. So many people have said how good his books are. Thanks for commenting.

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    2. I read some interesting cowboy novels in a college class that focused on "the only truly American hero" in literature: the cowboy.

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  10. Unfortunately western romances aren't nearly as popular as they used to be. I know several fine writers of western romance that have moved to other genres at the request (insistence?) of their publishers

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    1. One thing about novels, what goes around comes around. After one hit movie or book, all the publishers will want romantic westerns. The genre may have slowed down, but it will eventually reinvent itself.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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