Looking…and Finding…a Whole 'Lotta Trouble: an Interview With Victoria Dahl
by Kiersten Hallie Krum
We’re thrilled to have contemporary romance writer, Victoria Dahl, join us today at Lady Smut. She’s had a few busy recent weeks with the release of her novella Fanning the Flames at the start of July and the new release of her full-length novel Looking for Trouble tomorrow. I caught up with her just before she heads off to explore Alaska (I KNOW!) and asked her about the differences between erotica and sexy contemporaries, Girl’s Nights Out, and all that tumblr pron.
Be sure to read all the way to the end for a prize!
KHK: Thank you so much for joining us today on Lady Smut. Do you think it’s fair to say you’re the Jennifer Crusie of erotic romance? Do you consider yourself to be a writer of erotic romance or one who writes sexy contemporary romance? Do you see a difference in the distinctions?’
Ms. Dahl: I’m not the Jennifer Crusie of anything! Ha! But I do consider my work to be sexy contemporary romance. Verrrrrry sexy, maybe. I see a distinction between sexy romance and erotic romance, although the lines are certainly more blurry than they used to be. For me, the question is whether the plot and story can stand without the sex. To be clear, my books wouldn’t be nearly as interesting without the sex, but there’s usually a story going on that *surrounds* the sex scenes as opposed to be woven into them.
I have written one erotic romance, a novella called The Wicked West. That story was entirely driven by the sexual relationship between the hero and heroine and the conflict that arose from their attraction.
KHK: They say that pioneers get slaughtered and settlers prosper. Are you one of the first authors to successfully use a lighthearted tone and oodles of humor in writing contemporary erotic romance? (If not, who came before you?)
Ms. Dahl: You know, I think I was one of the first to write funny books that also included intense, no-holds-barred sex scenes. Not the first, I’m sure. I hope your readers will chime in with names. And there are so many great women writing that way now. I love it.
The only problem I encountered is that my publisher wasn’t sure whether to go with covers that conveyed the humor or the sex. My covers have been pretty light in tone because of that, but the new Jackson series has a redesigned, much sexier look, and I am so excited about that.
KHK: It’s thought that a character in an HQN novel may own a vibrator and wave it around, but you’ll never see her actually using it. Indeed, one of your heroines does exactly that. Does HQN limit you when it comes to what goes on in a sex scene?
Ms. Dahl: No way! My heroines always use their vibrators! In both Talk Me Down and Too Hot to Handle there are comical moments with a vibrator, but both heroines were using them at the time. 😉 And in Real Men Will, the heroine uses several sex toys on-screen, one at the urging of the hero. Nobody has ever told me not to write those scenes, I’m happy to say! Because girls love vibrators. Or at least my heroines do.
KHK: You’re damn funny on Twitter and your Tumblr pron is the stuff of romance legends. Do you spend much social media time anywhere else or is it important to just stick to what works and forget the rest?
Ms. Dahl: Thank you! I am so happy I found Twitter. SO HAPPY. It totally fits my personality and my slight tendency to get distracted by shiny, sparkly things. Oh, and then Tumblr came along!!! That fits my tendency to be distracted by masculine, hairy things.
I absolutely believe that writers have to find the social media platform that feels like fun instead of work. Your followers can tell. For example, I’m sure my hardscrabble group of fans on Facebook have noticed I only sign in twice a year. I’m sorry Facebook folk! That place scares me and every time I go in it looks different. It’s a castle of constantly shifting horrors.
KHK: Before your mad rush of contemporary titles with HQN, you wrote a few historical romances. Do you intend to ever return to the historical genre? What made you switch genres? What do you find attracts you more to contemporaries than to writing historicals? Is your “voice” more comfortable in contemporaries?
Ms. Dahl: I wrote quite a few historical romances and even a lonely little paranormal romance, and I love those genres. I love the potential for so much drama and angst. And dirty, secret sex. For a couple of years, I was writing both historical and contemporary, and I really enjoyed that, but my sales were much better in contemporary. I suppose that means my voice is a more natural fit there, but I have long-term plans to write more historical. If I can only find the time.
KHK: Romance is all about hurdles the hero and heroine must overcome to be together to have their HEA or HFN. Are those internal conflicts hard to create in an age where a woman can drop her panties and get her groove on anytime, anywhere?
Ms. Dahl: I find believable conflicts much harder to make realistic in contemporaries. I mean, just tell him the truth or move to a new town or tell your parents to sod off already. Be strong and take control! There are so many situations that would work in a historical that wouldn’t work in a contemporary.
I can’t remember who gave me this advice–maybe my brilliant critique partner, Jennifer Echols–but a good starting point in contemporary is to take two people with totally opposite goals and throw them together. I don’t always pull it off, but if you’ve come up with one character you love, it’s a great place to start brainstorming. Who would throw a wrench into this person’s life?
KHK: Your characters have real-world jobs—barely a doctor or cop among them—in a genre where employment is often a short-term character sketch, particularly for the hero. From where do you mine those somewhat uncommon professions and character traits, like Alex’s groundwater engineering in Looking for Trouble or Walker’s learning disability and Charlie’s financial contretemps in So Tough to Tame?
Ms. Dahl: From using the technique above!!! LOL! I have written cops before. In fact, I’m writing a U.S. marshal right now. I usually write a law enforcement character when the other person in the story has a lot to hide. They usually have opposite goals.
I made Alex a groundwater engineer because I needed a good job for him that would let him travel to adventurous places, because Sophie’s issue is that she can’t leave Jackson and she really, really wants to travel. His life was an immediate draw for her. And Walker’s learning disability played into his fear that he wasn’t good enough for Charlie, but it also helped to make him really good with people and very charming. Voila! Instant conflict!
KHK: Your heroines are frank and mouthy, particularly about sex and their desire for it. In the past, they’ve spurred strong, polarizing responses from readers and reviewers. Do you still receive blow back? Have you ever received similar objections to your often equally raunchy heroes?
Ms. Dahl: No, people never complain about my heroes being bitchy or too strong or sexual. But I’ve heard so many times that my heroines aren’t good enough for my heroes. It makes me angry, especially when the issue is sex. After all, the hero is participating in the exact same sex acts as the heroine, but she’s the easy one? Nuh uh, sister. I don’t play that way. And my heroes are damn happy with their mouthy, raunchy heroines. What’s not to love, after all? 😉
KHK: Here at Lady Smut, I reviewed (and j’adored!) your new novella, Fanning the Flames, which features a couple in their 40s getting in on and on…and on. What made you decide to feature a middle-aged couple? Did you receive any blow back from your publisher about it? What has been the reader reaction? Do you think a middle-aged couple would be acceptable in a full-length romance novel or do they need to be limited to a novella quickie to enjoy readers’ leniency?
Ms. Dahl: What inspired me was turning 40. I’m 42 now and I love being this age. I feel much more confident than I did when I was younger, and I think a lot of my friends feel that way, too. I wanted to write a romance about a woman who was at that same point of being sure of who she was and what she wanted. Well, this heroine isn’t exactly sure what she wants, but she’s ready to find out!
The reader reaction has been amazing. I’m honored by the women who’ve told me that they also wanted to read about heroines who were more like them. As for a full-length novel…I’m sure it will happen. As soon as I finished this short story, I started my 2015 release, Flirting With Disaster, and I wanted to make that heroine 40 also, but my editor wasn’t sure I should jump immediately into that. So I made her 36. And very sure of who she is.
KHK: Let’s talk Looking for Trouble, your new full-length novel that releases tomorrow, Tuesday, July 29th. Can you tell us a little about what inspired this book about a sexy librarian with a secret and the prodigal biker who returns to the home he hates for his father’s funeral?
Ms. Dahl: I can tell you exactly what inspired it. My family was on a road trip and we drove through a small town. On the corner was a local government building that housed both the town library and the fire department. Ohmygod. The librarians and the firemen all under one roof? I was fucking enchanted. All that fantasizing about what kind of naughty librarians might work there led directly to Sophie in Looking for Trouble. And of course, to Jake and Lauren’s story in Fanning the Flames.
As for Alex… Well, I’m not great at seeing the obvious sometimes. When I wrote Shane’s story in Too Hot to Handle, Alex was just a bit of characterization. When several readers asked when he was getting his story, I figured out that he needed to be a hero. And soon.
KHK: Looking for Trouble is the first book in the Girl’s Night Out (GNO) trilogy. Your personal GNOs are so infamous, you’ve made them a biddable item in Brenda Novack’s Annual Online Auction for Diabetes Research. Has anything from those real-life GNOs make it into the books?
Ms. Dahl: All the girl talk!!! All of it! My favorite part of girls’ night out is when someone new joins in and she hears the kinds of things we talk about…there’s a sort of scandalized delight. Like, “We can really talk about these things?” Yes!!! We can talk about anything! It’s GNO!
KHK: What made you create the World of Dahl in Jackson Hole, Wyoming? Did you throw darts at a map or were there firm reasons why Jackson Hole was chosen as a setting for your ongoing series.
Ms. Dahl: I live in Park City, Utah, a town that is very similar to Jackson, Wyoming, which is why Jackson feels so familiar to me. It’s a ski town populated with a lot of rich people and tourists, but it’s really a small town at its core. Most of the full-time residents of both Jackson and Park City are hard-working, middle-class folks or people working in the service industry. The towns are also a fascinating mix of tourism and agricultural work. Honestly, I could drop almost any character into a town like Jackson and it would work.
KHK: Having read nearly all of your oeuvre, I can safely say this is probably one of, if not the most, explicit book you’ve ever written. In fact, I found myself put in mind of some of the images you’ve posted on your tumblr in recent months, no doubt some writing inspiration. Does your editor ever tell you to tone it down? Do you think you’ll ever reach a place where HQN finally says “enough” or “We need a new sub-genre just for Dahl”?
Ms. Dahl: Hehehehe. You’re totally onto me and Tumblr. Yes, I use it for a lot of inspiration. It’ll be interesting to see if I go too far for HQN. When I first started with them, I wanted to insert (Heh) a little anal play into one scene and my editor thought it might be too much. But a few books later, she told me to go ahead and do whatever I wanted. I wore her down!
But I’d love it if they came up with a sub-genre just for me!!! Think about it, HQN.
Fast and Dirty Round:
What is your favorite curse word? Fuck.
What is your favorite alcoholic drink? A greyhound. That’s (good) grapefruit juice and vodka.
What is your Starbucks order? Skim-milk latte. A skinny Frappuccino if I’m feeling frisky.
What do you think is the sexiest piece of lingerie? Hmm. Little black panties?
What is your favorite physical feature on a man? There are so many! Eyes. Forearms. And the most obvious.
What is your favorite physical feature on a woman? Way too many to name. Women are so pretty! I have a crush on Zoe Archer’s eyebrows, though.
What is your favorite cheat food? Cake.
Which is your favorite pair of shoes? My red patent pumps which are actually COMFORTABLE. Relatively speaking.
Where is your favorite place on earth? This is a tough one. I’ll say… Floating on the ocean.
What is your favorite sexual situation…to write? Ha! Good girl getting very bad.
Ms. Dahl: Thank you so much for having me. This was a very fun interview.
KHK: Well, we do our best. Thank you, Ms. Dahl, for being such a wonderful and game interviewee!
Find out more about Victoria Dahl and her books at victoriadahl.com and follow her on Twitter @victoriadahl for some saucy fun.
But wait! There’s more!
We have not one, but TWO copies of Looking for Trouble for a pair of lucky Lady Smut readers. Leave us a comment on what you love about Victoria Dahl’s books–or the lady herself!–and one randomly chosen winner will receive a digital edition of Looking for Trouble. Limited to U.S. and Canada readers only.
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Special thanks to Madeline Iva for question contributions.