For romance fans, it’s likely on your radar screen that Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ newest book, The Great Escape, is out this week. The highly anticipated “Lucy’s story” takes place after she flees her wedding at the beginning of Phillips’ last book, Call Me Irresistible, a.k.a. “Ted’s book.” 

Looking for more hot romance? Check out three romances for July, courtesy of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

Here, we talk with Phillips, a charming powerhouse of romantic fiction:

I understand that you’d planned for Lucy and Ted to wind up together. When did you realize they wouldn’t work?

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I figured it out when I was writing What I Did for Love. As soon as Meg came on to the scene in that book, I saw how perfect she was for Ted, and I also understood why I had never been able to write Ted and Lucy’s story. 

You have such a fun and impactful way with words. Does this come easily?

Thanks so much. And, yes, the right words, descriptions, dialogue come to me instantly. OK, that’s a joke, a pitiful one. The truth is that writing gets harder for me instead of easier. I’m constantly layering, right up to the time they rip the manuscript from my sweaty little hands.

Your characters are deep and authentic. How do you get there?

When I begin writing, I know a few surface facts about each character??not much. I’m constantly rewriting each page, each scene, each chapter. I sit at my computer and write until I run down, which tends to happen much too quickly. I pull out my yellow legal pad, jotting down all kinds of idea until I come up with something that makes sense. Then I start all over.

It’s only as I rewrite that I get to really know my characters and understand their motivations??like peeling away an onion. I feel as though I’m usually about nine months into a book before they flesh out for me. Do you think there might be something significant about that timeframe?

What's your take on publishing right now?

We’re in an exciting period in publishing history. In some ways, it’s the Wild West all over again. The immense popularity of electronic books presents us with difficult challenges, but e-books are also bringing us a new group of readers, and I find that exciting.  

Why romance? What attracts you to the genre?

I believe life is too short to make a habit of reading depressing books, and life is definitely too short for me to write them. I’m basically an optimist, which is what I love about popular fiction in general. Popular fiction gives us all a sense of order. A crime will be solved in the mystery novel; the serial killer will be caught in a thriller.

In the romance, the lovers will find their happy ending, which means babies will be born and civilization will go on. The great romance novel affirms our core values as a society, values we may believe are slipping away from us. We write about love and justice, trust and loyalty. About forming families and community.  What’s not to love about that?

Why do you think romance is such an enduringly high percentage of book sales?

My reader e-mail comes from all over the world and clearly tells me how challenging women’s lives can be. I hear from readers coping with the death of a spouse, a child; readers dealing with serious health issues; with job loss; and readers who simply want a little “me time” after working hard all day.

Our books provide entertainment, inspiration and a sense of order. We write to the big emotions, and readers love that. They clearly know the difference between reality and fantasy. They simply want a good story, characters they care about and emotions they can identify with, exactly what the good romance delivers.

What's the most satisfying aspect of writing romances?

It’s what I do, and there can’t be anything more satisfying than knowing you’ve found the path in life you were meant to take.

But there’s also something special about this genre. Look at its diversity, from historical, to contemporary, to futuristic settings. We have social-issue romances, romantic comedies, suspense and adventure. We have vampires, werewolves and regency bucks.

And, more than any other field of popular fiction, the romance genre has proved to be a fertile creative playground for its authors. Jayne Ann Krentz has an interesting take on this, one with which I concur. She believes that, because the romance genre historically has received so little attention from literary critics and academics, our authors have felt free to fly under the radar and do pretty much whatever they want. No one in the literary establishment, except a few million readers, is watching us all that closely. This freedom has led to an astonishing degree of innovation that makes it difficult to define exactly what a romance even is these days.

Bobbi Dumas is a Madison, Wisc.-based freelance writer who loves romance, a mesmerizing story and the company of friends. You can find her and a few of her talented friends at HowToWriteShop.com, an online writers' resource.