PW: What inspired you in Late Bloomer to connect the romance novel to the plight of the contemporary American Indian?
Melissa Pritchard: I have been living with an American-Indian man and been involved in aspects of Native American culture for five years now. Like Ray Chasing Hawk in Late Bloomer, [the man I live with] is a Comanche artist studying to be a Sun Dancer. While at a used-book store, I accidentally walked down the romance novels aisle and happened upon a whole row of [books whose jackets featured] passionate, bare-chested Indian men. I remembered my sister, who runs a bookstore, years before suggesting I compromise my literary soul and write a romance novel for profit. I can't keep them in the store, she said, especially the Native American ones.
PW: How many romance novels did you read to prepare?
MP: I bought 20 or 30 paperbacks at the same used-book store mentioned above, brought them home, skimmed them in one night, returned them to the store and got my money back. I wanted to be able to mimic the high-flown tone, the emotional bloat and flushed, congested prose. The weird part was, with a couple of the books, I found myself falling into a romantic semiswoon! Dangerous stuff, I thought.
PW: You describe your heroine, Prudence True Parker, as a disappointed idealist who has made "three safe choices: Chastity, Charity and Teaching." Does that also describe you?
MP: Well, it certainly has described my life at times, though chastity has been the most poorly kept of the three Parker/Pritchard virtues!
PW: Prudence regards the staff of a publisher attending a Romance Writers of America convention as "exploitative manipulators of female loneliness, purveyors of stereotype, cashing in on the myth of the savage warrior." So why are readers and authors attracted to the genre?
MP: Romance novels satisfy a very specific fantasy of romantic love that seems to be a powerful part of the female psyche. If men gravitate to pornography, women incline to romance. If men tend to be frightened or alienated by women's emotional attachments and women to be put off or baffled by men's wandering, indiscriminate sexual lust, it makes sense they would each create fantasies, adult fairy tales, to readjust the strangeness of the other sex into something more identifiable and comforting.
PW: Do you feel that the entire romance industry is exploitative?
MP: No, I really don't. But it perpetuates something slightly dangerous, that there's this notion, that there's this perfect love out there, and it can distract you from the work of loving yourself. I'm intrigued by the romance industry.
PW: How does it feel to be perceived as a literary and romance author?
MP: Oddly delightful. Once I'd realized this was happening, that I was writing an antiromance turning into a romance within a romance, that I could have Prudence's personal love story mirror, by the end, a romance, I felt the giddy sensation of having turned some sort of literary pirouette.
PW: What's the difference between a love story and a romance?
MP: A love story takes a lot more work in the real world. One of the reasons people like romances is that they're artificially shaped to give a pattern and meaning. It's not as messy as everyday life or as difficult or thorny. A real love story is sometimes exhausting. A romance is deliberately constructed to yield a certain result; the ambiguities are trimmed out, so it's neater and more pleasing to our hearts. But you don't live a love story, you live a life.
PW: Will your next book be another witty love story?
MP: I believe all stories are love stories, and there are kinds and kinds of love, so I will always write about love, but not necessarily romance.