An exclusive AUTHORLINK interview with Sarah Morgan
The Christmas Sisters
Sarah Morgan is a USA Today bestselling author of romance and women’s fiction. She has sold over 16 million copies of her books and is a 3-time winner of the prestigious RITA® Award from the Romance Writers of America. Her books have received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and Booklist.
In her recent release, The Christmas Sisters, Suzanne McBride is dreaming of the perfect Christmas in the snowy Highlands of Scotland. Her three adopted daughters are coming home for the holidays and she can’t wait to see them. But tensions are running high. Will this new togetherness teach the sisters that their close-knit bond is strong enough to withstand anything – including a family Christmas?
AUTHORLINK: Ms. Morgan, thank you for talking to Authorlink today about your recent release, The Christmas Sisters, given your busy traveling schedule. We thoroughly enjoyed the story of a family finding its way back to each other over Christmas, and as you hoped in your acknowledgments, it definitely produced a sense of comfort.
MORGAN: I’m pleased to have the chance to talk to you, and I’m so happy you enjoyed The Christmas Sisters!
AUTHORLINK: Both How to Keep a Secret (HQN, 10 July 2018) and the Christmas Sisters are about the bonds of family – the dynamics of parenthood and sisterhood – and how these bonds can never be broken. Your writing is thoughtful and perceptive giving weight to these themes, as well as the insecurities with which people burden themselves. What draws you to write about relationships, romance, and family? Which of the McBride siblings in the Christmas Sisters is your favorite and why?
Having been a working mother myself, I really felt for Beth and the dilemma she faces,…with the emotional side of life…
MORGAN: I’ve always been interested in relationships. At any sort of gathering, I’ll be the one asking couples how they met. I’m fascinated by what draws two people together, not just romantically but also in friendship. I think that kind of deep personal connection is something we all want, which is possibly why my books sell so well globally. It’s a theme that has relevance to everyone, wherever you live and whoever you are. Family relationships invariably come with extra layers of complication, and as a writer that’s fun to explore. One of the things I enjoyed about writing The Christmas Sisters was the dynamic between the different family members. Out of the three sisters, I don’t have a favorite – I had fun with Posy, because so many of the scenes with her were hilarious to write. Having been a working mother myself, I really felt for Beth and the dilemma she faces, and my heart broke for Hannah who struggles so hard with the emotional side of life.
AUTHORLINK: You write well-crafted characters in such an effortless, entertaining way that their dialogue feels authentic. Individual personalities shine through:- a nervous mother going back to work; a professional terrified by intimacy; an adventure-seeker finding courage through humor, and even a father that needs a refresher course in parenting. They’re all distinct from one another and believable. Did you map out the whole storyline before you started writing, or did the story arc of each character unfold as you went along?
MORGAN: I’m pleased you love the characters! Before I start the book, I do write a bare-bones outline so that my publisher knows where I’m going, and that will include basic character details and a story arc, but I’ve learned that for me the book develops as I write. Sometimes it’s not until I’m halfway through a book that each character’s ‘voice’ will come to me clearly, and then I go back and read each scene carefully, editing as necessary. It’s a real thrill when you reach the point where you know your characters so well you know how they would react in any given situation.
…I’ve learned that for me the book develops as I write. Sometimes it’s not until I’m halfway through a book that each character’s ‘voice’ will come to me clearly…
AUTHORLINK: What are the differences between writing a Harlequin romance to a stand-alone book (other than a longer word-count)? Did you structure your stand-alone books a little differently? Change the style?
MORGAN: It’s totally different. In the Harlequin romances I wrote, the focus was on the relationship between the couple. In photography terms (I love photography, as you can see from my Instagram!), it’s like taking a close-up photo. The novels I’m writing now take a much wider view, so although there is romance I’m seeing those characters interacting in a bigger world, and with a larger number of people. And we learn about characters as we see them operating in different areas of their lives – for example, a heroine might be super confident in her work life, fun with her friends, but less sure in her romantic relationships. I enjoy exploring the nuances of character, those small subtle differences that make them individual. The stories I’m writing now are bigger in scope, but they also go deeper so there is more insight into the characters. Having said that, I think my author ‘voice’ is present whatever I’m writing and probably hasn’t changed much. I always aim to bring humor, warmth and emotional depth to my work whether it’s a series romance or a standalone novel.
AUTHORLINK: The analogy with photography makes it very clear. How do you get the chemistry right between two characters who are attracted to each other on paper? You write this so deftly and make it real-to-life for the reader.
MORGAN: Great chemistry between the romantic leads is so important because it’s part of what keeps the reader turning the pages. Sometimes in real life, you might see two people who have such great chemistry you can almost feel the sparks flying, and that’s what you’re trying to recreate in a book. You want the reader to live the relationship with these characters, to feel the connection and the excitement. As a writer, I’m trying to convince the reader that these two should end up together, that they are totally right for each other. And that will be achieved by a mixture of great dialogue, banter, and action, but it’s also about escalating the tension so that it builds slowly to a point where readers are desperate for them to get together.
AUTHORLINK: You used to be a nurse before writing full-time. How many books did you publish before you decided to become a full-time writer? Had you ever done any writing courses? How do you think your writing has evolved since your first novel?
MORGAN: I can’t remember exactly how many books I’d written when I decided to make the leap to writing full time, but it was about four years into my career. Writing was going well, I had young children at home and liked the idea of being more in control of my time, so it was a decision that worked for me.
I didn’t do writing courses, I just sat down and wrote. I’ve attended craft sessions at conferences, and the odd weekend with screenwriters etc, but nothing formal. And although I do occasionally read craft books (I’m always hopeful of discovering an easier way to do this!), I think the best way to learn is to write a lot and read a lot. Reading teaches us so much about what works and what doesn’t, what we admire and what we’d do differently. I’m interested in what makes people keep some books forever and give others away. What makes us stay up all night reading one book, while another might linger untouched on the nightstand? In terms of how my writing has evolved, that’s really interesting to consider. I think my ‘voice’ is probably the same, but over the years I’ve learned more about character development and emotional tension. My confidence has also grown so I’m excited to tackle books with a more complex structure and a wider cast of characters.
I think the best way to learn is to write a lot and read a lot.
AUTHORLINK: I think they’re very interesting observations. It’s such a compelling idea – how to keep the pages turning. Have you always had the same agent/publisher? If so, what works for you? And if not, why have there been changes (if it’s not too personal).
MORGAN: When I first started writing for Harlequin, I didn’t have an agent. They encouraged direct submissions and there was nothing to be gained (for me, I can’t speak for all authors!) in having an agent at that stage. When I moved from writing series romance to single title, I signed with an agent. It’s a different business model and requires a different approach. I’m lucky because my agent is fantastic.
I’ve had the same publisher because staying has always been the right thing for me (again, that may not be the case for every author). I’ve been incredibly fortunate in my writing career, in that whenever I’ve wanted to make a change, my publisher has been very supportive. Harlequin has an impressive global publishing programme and that has been very exciting for me. I love hearing from readers all over the world and seeing my books translated into so many different languages. In the next month, I’ll be traveling to Sweden, Germany, and the US to meet readers and that is such a privilege.
AUTHORLINK: Your publishers sound wonderful. And now just for fun, if you could invite anyone over for dinner from the past or the present, which two people would it be and why?
MORGAN: I love this question! Assuming I can’t ask my husband (because he IS my favorite dinner companion) then I’d pick JK Rowling because I’m sure she’d be interesting to talk to (and maybe she could get me a place at Hogwarts), and also the Queen because I’m sure she’d have a story or two to tell!
AUTHORLINK: Ha! What a great group. Ms. Morgan, thank you so very much for your time today. We really appreciate it! All the best for your continued writing success and we are looking forward to your next book.
MORGAN: Thank you.
About the Author: USA Today bestselling author Sarah Morgan writes hot, happy contemporary romance and her trademark humor and sensuality have gained her fans across the globe. Described as ‘a magician with words’ by RT Book Reviews, she has sold over 15 million copies of her books. She has been nominated five times for the prestigious RITA© Award from the Romance Writers of America and won the award three times; in 2012 for her book ‘Doukakis’s Apprentice’, 2013 for ‘A Night of No Return’, and 2017 for ‘Miracle on 5th Avenue’. She also won the RT Reviewers’ Choice Award in 2012 and has made numerous appearances in their ‘Top Pick’ slot.
As a child, Sarah dreamed of being a writer and although she took a few interesting detours along the way, she is now living that dream. Sarah lives near London with her husband and children, and when she isn’t reading or writing she loves being outdoors, preferably on vacation so she can forget the house needs tidying.