Julie Elizabeth Leto

Julie, it's a pleasure to meet you and I am glad that your schedule allowed us time for this interview.

In preparation for this interview, I read your bio page on your website. I was struck by the fact that you decided on your intended career path while still a teenager. Had you done a lot of creative writing while still in high school? Did you have a teacher who was particularly inspiring?

My writing in high school was pretty much limited to skits for various clubs and organizations--and essays, I'm afraid. But I wrote novels when I was in middle school. I didn't get back into writing fiction until college, and I did have two particularly inspiring teachers. Linda Flowers taught my Honors Senior English class. She loved romance novels and never once looked down her nose at my chosen reading material. She encouraged me to work hard and dream and never to take no for an answer.. .which was great since I later went to work for her as a teacher in her department! She's remained a wonderful support for me. My other great influence was a professor at USF, Dr. Paschal Collins. He nurtured my love for genre fiction and was always encouraging, no matter my wild ideas. I was fortunate to work with both of them...and many, many others.

The decision to write full-time is always a difficult one. Had you already sold a few books to Harlequin before you quit working full-time?

I actually had a journey toward writing full-time. First, I decided to change careers rather than quit entirely. I had been teaching high school, which I loved, but which drained me creatively and emotionally. After seven years in the classroom, the timing was perfect for me to go to work for my family's manufacturing business. I worked for my father and my brothers. Mom was there, too. Great place to be! Keep in mind that I'd sold my first book only a few days before I found out I was pregnant. I sold and wrote my second book shortly before I delivered. I'd planned to stay home twelve weeks with my daughter and then go back to work, taking her with me. But then my husband accepted a better job and I didn't have to go back. So here I was staying home...and no contract! Thirteen months later, I sold my first multi-book contract and have worked steadily ever since. I've been extremely lucky.

What is a "normal" day of writing for you? Readers are always interested in the behind-the-scenes mechanics.

The word "normal" doesn't exist in my vocabulary! But I guess I sort of have a routine. I prefer to write late at night. I'm a night owl by nature. Unfortunately, so is my daughter, who is five but isn't in bed before ten on most nights. After she's asleep, I stay up until about one o'clock writing. We generally sleep in and are late for school (though we have to get better next year). Then I read email, drink coffee and try to get in a few hours while she's at preschool. In the afternoons, I mostly do promotional stuff and actually take care of the house. I do cook and clean, unfortunately. Generally, I get about three to four hours a day to write...none of it all together!

In beginning a book, do you start with the idea for a story or choose a setting first? Are you one of those organized writers who outlines the story sequence and main themes before starting to write?

Organized? Me? Yikes. Not likely. Every book is a different experience. Sometimes I start with setting...I LOVE traveling, so this is a draw for me. In fact, on my website, I actually have a "Character Connections" page that sorts my books by setting. This has become my way of doing a series. The "Tampa" books...which feature my favorite private investigations firm. My New Orleans books and the Deveaux family. I have two "Chicago" books this summer and a series of Atlanta books next year. I've also started overlapping the stories, too. I do not do much outlining ahead of time anymore...just enough to write a synopsis that my editor will buy from. It's a product of my lifestyle.

As an innovative author specializing in sensual romance, how have your family and friends handled the attention that your books have created?

Innovative? Thank you! That's quite a compliment. As for my family and friends, they handle it the way I tell them to. I'm not kidding! I'm not embarrassed, so for the most part, neither are they. My father and oldest brother (and his wife) read all my stuff. My mother, who is incredibly proud of me, doesn't read my books, but I don't think it's because she's embarrassed--she doesn't read any fiction. But I simply don't allow anyone around me to be anything but supportive--and they are. I'm very, very lucky. My booksignings are usually peopled with lots of friends and family! One trick is to be tough and have a good sense of humor. At least, it's always worked for me.

Your work has included several collaborations and extended series pieces. Do you enjoy the interaction between authors? How difficult is the process of creating that kind of story arc?

I'm a flexible writer, so I love working in series with other authors. Takes the pressure off me to carry the whole shebang! And I choose very carefully whom I work with. Mainly, I pick my friends. We're chatting long hours on the phone anyway...might as well make it a business call! My favorite collaboration was with my critique partner, Susan Kearney, on what we call the "Double" books (DOUBLE THE PLEASURE and DOUBLE THE THRILL.) Very careful collaboration had to go into that because the books were intricately tied to one another. The Bad Girls Clubs books were the most outrageous fun! I mean, come on...Leslie Kelly, Tony & Lori Karayianni (aka Tori Carrington) and me? What a party. We had and continue to have sinful amounts of fun. We're going to do it again, too! And my books coming out this summer are part of INVITATIONS TO SEDUCTION. This series gave me a chance to work with my idol and now great friend, Vicki Lewis Thompson, and two of my dearest buds, Carly Phillips and Janelle Denison. Don't you want to be me?

Is there one character that stands out from the memorable personalities in your books? A favorite love scene or setting?

Oh, my...to pick! I'm a heroine writer, so I have to say that the women really inspire me. I mean, the guys are dreamy and hunky and romantic...but I really love exploring the dynamic between a really strong, resourceful woman and her world. One of my favorite characters is Jillian Hennessy, who had her romance in my Blaze, JUST WATCH ME.... She's shown up in two books since (WHAT'S YOUR PLEASURE? and BRAZEN & BURNING.) She's strong and capable and doesn't always play on the right side of the law. I love her! Same goes for Cassie Michaels, my nineteen year old recurring character from WHAT'S YOUR PLEASURE?, BRAZEN & BURNING and my online "Red Hot Read," ROCK & ROLLING. She'll get her own story someday, but right now, I'm enjoying writing her at nineteen. I'm not ready to age her enough for a real romance.

As for love scenes...I'm partial to the "garden hose" scene in GOOD GIRLS DO! mainly because the buzz on this scene brought me to the attention of a lot of readers who'd never heard of me before. I'm partial to love scenes that involve water and so far, only one book doesn't have a "water" scene. I think this is called a fetish, LOL! As for settings, I love New Orleans with all the sensual atmosphere and great food. Same for Tampa, my hometown, which is also hot and sultry and is so close to the most gorgeous beaches. Chicago is my favorite big city...I guess the bottom line is that I don't write about it if I don't find it charming!

You have contributed several pieces to the eHarlequin site. Do you have any plans for an ebook? What do you think of the growing trend, especially among erotica writers?

I don't have any plans right now to write a book that is exclusive for the ebook market. I'm reaching so many readers in the print format, I don't see any reason to make a switch. I'm very fortunate. I'm also one of the many readers who likes her books in "book" form...on paper. Even the ebooks I read, I buy in POD format. Costs me more, though, so I have to really want it. As for the growing trend, I think it's wonderful that so many erotica writers have found readers through this venue. Many of them are now writing print books, as well. For me, so long as readers are enjoying it, I think it's great. I don't think the format should matter so long as the readers are getting what they want.

Many series authors have gone on to publish single release novels. Do you have any projects in mind?

Boy, do I get this question a lot! First of all, I love my series books. Unless someone pays me obscene amounts of money, I don't foresee myself ever not writing for Blaze or Temptation, even if I pursue other projects at the same time. But I never say never to anything...I'm opportunistic. If the right chance comes along, I might take it.

Your website offers writing tips. What advice would you give to aspiring authors? How supportive is your local writing group, Tampa Area Romance Authors?

OH! How long do you have? The Tampa Area Romance Authors is the most amazing group of women and men that I've ever had the pleasure to know. I dedicated my Blaze launch book, EXPOSED, to my TARA! I'm actually the longest continuous member of the group, having joined back in 1988. So I'm a fixture, so to speak. They are amazing to me. They were there for me through the long nine years before I published and have been supportive and enthusiastic for my successes ever since. They even let me bitch and moan when I need to. Who wouldn't love that?

As for advice for aspiring writers, I have a bunch (hence the articles on my website!) But mostly, people need to understand that this is a hard business. A wonderful, creative, amazingly fun business where you get to work in your pajamas...but there's a reason why a lot of writers drink, LOL. If you don't have a tough skin, don't write. If you don't have the natural ability to stick to something, don't write. At least, not professionally. And if you're writing romance, love romance. You owe it to your readers.

You have to have a very strong sense of self to make it through this industry. And a sense of humor. Oh! If you don't have one of those, get out now while you can!

Thanks again, Julie! I truly enjoyed meeting you and I'm sure our readers did too!

Interviewed by Paula

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