Internationally Published Romance Novelist Featured at Festival of Books

Susan Elizabeth Phillips featured in Festival events Sept. 20 & Sept. 22

By Ryan Woodard

The heroines in Susan Elizabeth Phillips' books are known for their various journeys in life. This week, an internationally-published romance novelist journeys to the Black Hills to entertain South Dakota Festival of Books fans.

Phillips kicks things off tonight with "Women Behaving Badly: Then and Now" from 7-9 p.m. at the Dahl Arts Center in Rapid City. She'll co-host with a writer from a different genre – non-fiction author Karen Abbott.

"It's going to be an interesting dialogue," she said in an interview before the Festival. "It's a nice combination. I'm glad they put us together."

As for what will happen at the event - well, what happens at the event may have to stay at the event. Women will be misbehaving, after all. It will be an evening of offbeat humor, drinks and, to the delight of readers, two authors who have sold a lot of books.

Abbott is the New York Times bestselling author of "Sin in the Second City," "American Rose" and, most recently, "Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy," named one of the best books of 2014 by Library Journal, the Christian Science Monitor, and Amazon. Sony optioned the book for a miniseries.

Phillips is an international bestseller whose books have been published in over 30 languages. She's the only four-time recipient of the Romance Writers of America's prestigious Favorite Book of the Year Award, and a recipient of their Lifetime Achievement Award. She'll be featuring her No. 1 New York Times Bestseller, "First Star I See Tonight" during the book festival.

'Behaving Badly'

Phillips is well-suited for the Rapid City event, as her female characters tend to behave badly at times. That doesn't mean they don't find their way. In fact, heroines finding their way is usually the point. Phillips approaches her novels more from the "heroic side of literature," rather than literary fiction.

"There is a sense of order and justice to the world (in my books) which you don't always find in real life," she said. "So that's one of the things that I focus my books on. My heroines are always on a journey, capable of doing something they couldn't do at the beginning."

Her books, which fit in the genres of women's fiction and romance address themes like women's friendships, women overcoming odds, and much more.

"I love that journey of them finding out who they are and finding their own strength."

Humor in Writing, Life

The theme of Phillips' personality, meanwhile, would perhaps be best described as "having fun."
Her not-so-serious approach to life shines through in her bio (she calls herself a " lazy gardener, horrible singer, passable cook"); in her interviews (she joked that she "doesn't care about the guys" who read her books) and in her bio photo.

It's also reflected in the title of her Friday night event at the Deadwood Mountain Grand Event Center (7:30 – 8:15 p.m.), "Friday Night Fiction: Life's Too Short to Read Depressing Books."

Not wanting to give away any spoilers, Phillips said of the event, "I think they can expect a laugh."

Phillips is called the "Queen of Romantic Comedy." Her devotees laugh out loud at her books. In fact, sometimes they laugh so hard they manage to hook their husbands on romance novels, which aren't exactly intended for male audiences. Phillips fans have relayed anecdotes about laughing out loud while reading in the living room with their husbands.

"After this happens a few times the guys will pick up the books," she said.

The 'Sports Romance'

Men tend to especially enjoy the "sports romance" genre, of which Phillips is the founder. How did that invention come about? It certainly didn't stem from her love of professional football - or professional anything else.

"I care nothing about organized sports," she said, laughing at the irony of having created sports-themed books. "Anything that involves a ball is not part of my life. I'm a walker and a hiker."

It started with an idea about "super macho football players matched with heroines." Her tinkering led to the creation of the fictitious Chicago Stars, a professional football team from Chicago.

Instead of featuring the firefighter or policeman-type typically featured in romance novels, she developed a new archetype - football players. In "First Star I See Tonight," the plot is as follows:

"He's the former quarterback of the Chicago Stars football team.
She's trying to make a success of her very own detective agency.
Her first job? Follow him.
Let's just say it's not going well.
Not well at all...."

"I had so much fun writing these characters and playing with the stereotypes," she said.

35 Years of Writing

Phillips has had a lot of fun over her 35-year writing career, but it didn't start with a detailed plan with a selected genre and distinct story lines. All she did was sit down and start writing. All she knew was that she wanted to tell women's stories.

"I didn't approach it thematically at all. When I started writing, I simply had stories I wanted to tell. I wasn't thinking in terms of theme."

Now she has a devoted following in the United States and massive catalog of books published in 30 languages.

"I love that sense of internationalism with the books," she said. Her second largest audience made up of German fans, who are now demanding more Chicago Stars books.

"Something I'm most proud of is my international readership. I feel so connected to these readers all over the world." For any of her fans who are considering a writing career, Phillips suggests a similar approach.

"My best advice is to write. Not thinking about publication not thinking about anything but get the work on the screen."

Phillips says not to allow writer's block, which happens to her six times per day, to get in the way. After all these years, "I still sit and stare at that screen and think my career is over."

In short - don't take things too seriously, and don't be afraid to behave badly. And if you want to be a writer, sit down and start writing.

See Susan at the Festival of Books