PW: First of all, congratulations! We heard you won $79,000 on The Weakest Link.
Julia Quinn: I did. It was very fun, and as a matter of fact, I just watched it again last night. My husband, who's very sweet, said, "It's the only show that gets better every time I see it."
PW: Did you have to endure many of Anne Robinson's infamous put-downs?
JQ: No, actually, she didn't really pick on me. You know, she's from England, and they don't have romance novels in England in the same way that they do here. They have what are called clog-and-shawl sagas, so she kept calling me a "romantic" novelist, which is what you'd be called in England, as opposed to a romance novelist. I think it has a slightly more literary cachet. So I don't know that she understood that in America, romance is the picked-on segment of publishing. And then I won, so you can't pick on the winner too much.
PW: Your newest book, To Sir Phillip, with Love, deals with some weighty issues. Did you consciously decide to add a more serious element to this novel, or did it just evolve that way?
JQ: It's been a personal goal of mine to write a book that is funny and entertaining but that weaves in some more darker, serious themes. So, yes, it was purposeful. To me, it's a wonderful creative challenge to try to do that because, in the end, if you write a very funny book, people will like it. But if you can write a very funny book that also touches their emotions, people will remember it.
The other one of my big creative goals is not to write the same book over and over again, which is a trap that I think writers of genre fiction are more likely to fall into because we're working with more specific parameters. For me, the best way to ensure that I'm not doing that is to give my characters histories that will shape them in very different ways. In To Sir Phillip, with Love, I decided to make his life affected by the fact that he had been married to a woman who was clinically depressed.
PW: But Sir Phillip is far from an ideal father. Were you concerned that readers wouldn't find him sympathetic?
JQ: Actually, my biggest concern was the issue of spanking because he does spank his kids once. He doesn't beat his kids, but it's a fine line in today's world. Spanking is not considered very acceptable, but this book is set in 1824. That's exactly how people would have disciplined their children. As far as him not being the ideal father, I felt that readers would still care for him because he wanted to be a better father, and he just didn't know how.
PW: With a few exceptions, love at first sight doesn't occur in your novels. Are you trying to bring more realism to the genre?
JQ: I don't know if realism is really the right word. It always cracks me up when people say, "How can you read romance novels? They're not realistic." People fall in love and get married every day, but how often do you have a housewife in Maine who stumbles across a dead body every month? In truth, I don't want to write a book where, at the end, the reader puts it down and says, "Well, that was a fun story, but man, they're getting divorced in two months." I want to make it clear.
PW: Though you have a handful of bestsellers under your belt, you're still a young writer. Do you see yourself writing romances for 20 or 30 years to come?
JQ: I don't know. Can I answer that in 20 or 30 years? I have no plans to do anything else right now, but the minute I say that, who knows what will happen?
PW: What are you working on now?
JQ: In theory, I'm working on the next Bridgerton book. It got pushed aside a little bit because the Lady Whistledown anthology was so successful that [Avon] asked for another one. So I need to do that novella first. Next year, there will be a novella, probably in the spring, and then it looks like my full-length original novels will continue in July.