Hello, Riskies! It’s great to be stopping by, though I have to admit I was just a tad miffed Janet failed to mention she was rooming with me at the New England conference. Oh, well. Perhaps it is an experience she would rather forget, though I don’t believe I did anything especially objectionable. And she is a Risky, right?

Anyway, I’m here to talk a bit about writing, specifically how I’ve been writing my Naked books and where I’ve been getting my ideas. If any of you are Nakedly inclined, you might have noticed the fifth Naked noble, The Naked Baron, is taking “his” bows on bookstore shelves these days. The sixth Naked guy, The Naked Viscount, is tentatively scheduled for April 2010, and I’m getting ready to begin writing The Naked King. (No, don’t worry–not George IV. I write romance, not horror!) Little did I know when the first Naked book, The Naked Duke, came out in February 2005, that I’d still be writing Naked all these years later.

I sold the Duke when I finalled in RWA’s Golden Heart and a judging editor called to offer me a two book contract. Great! But I didn’t know if I could write a second book. What should I do?

The first thing I did was to get the delivery date for book two put off as far into the future as my new editor would allow. Then I looked at the Duke. Ah, ha! The main character had two male friends. Perfect! I’d write their stories.

Those of you who are published or just in the know are probably rolling your eyes now. I had a TWO book contract, the Duke being the first of the two. And I was planning a trilogy. Not a smart move. One of the sad facts of publishing is numbers rule. If the first book doesn’t sell well for whatever reasons, there won’t be another contract. Writer and reader are left hanging.
Being a complete babe in the publishing woods, however, I didn’t know this. I wrote The Naked Marquis, saving the duke’s sister and the duke’s other friend for the third book. I even “promoted” the marquis’s brother from an earl to a marquis during the Duke’s copy edits so I wouldn’t have two naked earls.

Fortunately, readers liked the Duke, so I did get a second two book contract. I could complete my trilogy…but what–or whom–would the fourth book be about? Well, the Marquis’s heroine had a sister, Meg, who’d caught my attention…

This all sounds vaguely crazy, even to me. I always thought I was a bit of a control freak–certainly my four sons would say I was. But here I am, letting these people who come out of my head–who are literally figments of my imagination–boss me around.

And of course I don’t find only my characters while writing, I find my plots as well. When I finally started on the third Naked book, The Naked Earl, I was delighted to finally be able to get to Lizzie’s and Robbie’s story. But then I realized I didn’t know their story. Why hadn’t they gotten together earlier? They liked each other; they were of comparable social stature; everyone could tell they were meant for each other. So what was the problem?
That was quite the stumper. I thought seventeen–Lizzie’s age in the Duke–was far too young to wed, but regency people wouldn’t think so. I mused about that for a while until I came up with the reason–Robbie had performance anxiety, an embarrassing disability he would be unlikely to discuss, even with his closest friends. A fellow writer later told me how daring I’d been to give my hero such a problem, but I didn’t think I’d been daring at all. Desperate, perhaps. This was the only thing I could think of that offered me a way out of the box I’d built for myself.

I discovered the hero and heroine of my newest book, The Naked Baron, while writing The Naked Gentleman. The Gentleman’s hero, John Parker-Roth, first appears in The Naked Earl. One of the characters in that book, in a stray thought, reveals that Parker-Roth had been jilted a few years earlier by a Lady Grace Dawson. In the Gentleman I learned that the man hadn’t just been jilted, he’d been left standing at the altar the day of his wedding, which is what turned him against marriage. But then as I went on writing the Gentleman, I met Lady Grace and her husband. They weren’t nasty, evil people. I rather liked them. I wondered why Grace would do something so heinous as failing to show up to her own wedding, leaving her friend John to face all that embarrassment. I wrote The Naked Baron to find out–and I was happy to go “back in time,” since the Gentleman is set near the end of the strict Regency; The Naked Baron goes back about four years to when The Naked Duke is set.

So how do you risky writers discover your characters and stories? Do you stumble along through the mist, do your characters show up and direct your writing, or do you plot everything out before you type “chapter 1”? And risky readers, what draws you into a story and makes you pick a book off the bookstore shelf? Character? Plot? Both? And do you like to see secondary characters get their own stories?

USA Today bestselling author Sally MacKenzie writes funny, hot Regency-set historicals for Kensington’s Zebra line, and her books have been translated into Czech, Japanese, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Russian. Her fifth book, The Naked Baron, is a Romantic Times BOOKreviews Top Pick for May, with the baron himself receiving a K.I.S.S. award. Sally graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Notre Dame (in the first class of women). She’s a Cornell Law School dropout, former federal regulation writer, current swim league president, and mother of four mostly grown sons. A native of Washington, D. C., she still resides in suburban Maryland with her husband and whichever of her sons are stopping back in the nest. To find out more about Sally and her books, visit her website at www.sallymackenzie.net.