Q&A with Author Bob Rogers

Bob Rogers, who writes under the name Jean Barrett, recently released Not Without You, a work of fiction taking readers from the Gulf War to Kosovo to modern-day Afghanistan. The Door County resident and accomplished, award-winning romance writer recently answered my questions about various aspects of his writing style and his newest work – a romance following the relationship of TV correspondent Kate Groen and army lieutenant Efrem Chaudoir, who fall in love while held prisoners during the Gulf War.

Sally Slattery: What inspired you to write Not Without You?

Bob Rogers: Basically, it was a challenge to myself. Several years ago my publisher at the time, Harlequin, issued an invitation to all of its interested authors to submit manuscripts for a new line they were developing. It was to be called “Everlasting Love.” What its editors wanted were romances that covered not just weeks or months of a couple’s relationship but stories that were told over a span of years. In short, a saga. These sagas were to be about 70,000 words in length.

Most of the writers I spoke to felt it would be impossible to create what amounted to an epic of mainstream quality in a length that short. I agreed with them.

But as I thought about it, I decided maybe it wasn’t so impossible, that I could rise to this challenge. Not Without You was the result. I felt it was probably the best thing I’d ever done and still do. Harlequin bought it, but unfortunately before it could be issued the line folded. Both my agent and I felt the book was too good to just let it go. Since the rights had been reverted to me, she was able to offer the book to several other New York houses. They liked the characters and their story but felt that the wartime settings were just too different for their markets. It might have ended there if an editor from Tekno in Green Bay hadn’t approached me. Tekno is a packager. They placed Not Without You with Five Star, a hardcover publisher who wasn’t afraid to try something new and different. I was thrilled. I’d always wanted to add a hardcover to my list of published books, and Not Without You is it.

(SS): In your opinion, what makes writing romance different than writing other genres?

(BR): Most people who’ve never read a romance dismiss them as formulaic. That’s no more true than it is of mysteries, science fiction or any other popular fiction. They all have their parameters. Believe me, romance editors don’t want anything written to a formula. What they’re always looking for is something fresh and new within those basic parameters. There are really just two essential requirements in a romance. It must be laden with emotion, and it must have a happy ending. And, no, sex isn’t necessary, although that depends on the particular line you’re writing for.

(SS): What can readers expect?

(BR): “A triumphant wartime love story that will have readers, by turns, smiling or teary-eyed.” At least that’s what Booklist Review said about it, and who am I to argue with them?

(SS): Any specific writers and/or books inspire your work?

(BR): I’m always envious of the huge talents of writers like James Michener and LaVyrle Spencer. Lately I’ve been inspired by the work of Wisconsin’s own Lori Handeland. Authors like these always make it sound so easy, but of course it never is.

(SS): You have published over twenty contemporary and historical romance novels. How is Not Without You different from your others? How is it similar?

(BR): Not Without You covers sixteen years in the lives of the heroine and the hero, taking the reader from the first Gulf War in Iraq to strife-torn Kosovo eight years later and on to the conflict in Afghanistan eight years beyond that. That, alone, makes it different from my other novels. The work also gave me the opportunity to deepen the characters over this length of time and to bring more of a mainstream quality to the writing. How is it similar? Well, it is still a romance with the intense emotions I try to bring to all of my novels.

(SS): Not Without You features a number of real-world events (specific wars and places), how did you go about researching for the book?

(BR): I try to visit the settings for my books. But given the settings for Not Without You, places like Iraq and Afghanistan, that wasn’t something I could manage. I relied a lot on the firsthand knowledge of people who did know these places and were willing to talk to me about them. Beyond that, I consulted many sources both online and in books. A novel like Not Without You requires a good deal of research to make its backgrounds and events as accurate and authentic as possible. I can only hope I achieved that.

(SS): Does living in Door County influence your work? If so, how?

(BR): There’s no question of it – Door County is inspirational. You have only to count the number of writers, artists and musicians who live here to realize that. I’m no exception. Four of my books have Door County settings, and I think they’re among my best. Of course Not Without You isn’t one of them, but its hero was Door County born and bred. I’ve always felt that Southern Door gets a bit ignored, which is why I made my hero, Efrem Chaudoir, a product of the Belgian community in Southern Door. I think he was as proud of that as I was to have him originate from there.

(SS): Any advice for aspiring writers?

(BR): Persistence. It took me years of writing and submitting before I sold my first book. Did I get discouraged? Oh, yeah, often. But I managed to pick myself up and kept on trying. Good thing, too, because along the way I learned my craft. Essential things like how to develop characters, the importance of a strong plot with a story arc, what it means to find your own unique voice and so much more. How did I learn all that? In a variety of ways, like consulting books on how to create characters, books on how to structure plots and books and articles, too, on every other aspect of fiction writing. They’re all out there, available in bookstores and libraries. If you can, take classes in writing or join a writers’ group. But nothing, absolutely nothing, is a substitute for reading the genre you love and want to write yourself. Read, read, read to learn how other authors make it work. And, remember, what one editor doesn’t like another could love.

Not Without You is available at Passtimes Books in Sister Bay, Book World in Sister Bay and Sturgeon Bay, and Novel Ideas in Baileys Harbor. The book will also be available for loan at from the Door County Public Library.

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