Outside My Comfort Zone — An Interview with Author Tegan Wren

One of the reasons I chose Curiosity Quills over other publishers was the promise of a close community of writers. And I’ve found that in spades. There are so many great people who share the imprint and I’m honoured to know all of them. One of the writers I connected most strongly with was Tegan Wren, whose tweets about the guilty pleasure of Captain Crunch spoke to me on a deep and hungry level.

Tegan’s greatness as a person lead me to seek out her book. I was surprised when it was a contempory romance novel! It turns out that CQ had just launched a romance imprint and Tegan was one of their first big “gets!” As some followers might know, I have a taste for trashy historical romances. You know, the ones with naked Fabio on the cover clutching some debutante in a rose silk gown. But I’ve never been much for contemporary romances, and especially not ones with single POV!

But I liked Tegan – a lot. So I decided right then and there that I was going to read this book whether it was my type of thing or not. Even if I hated it, this person I liked so much would pocket some royalties!

Right, so, I most definitely did not hate it.

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You can get a copy of Inconceivable! on Amazon!

Tegan Wren’s Inconceivable! is a novel wherein forthright American university student Hatty catches the eye of the handsome, popular Prince John while belting karaoke. John is tickled by her folksiness and honesty, and Hatty is charmed by his Prince Charming looks and noble nature. They begin a romance fraught with sexual frustration, contracts, and secrecy, dogged by paparazzi and gossip-mongers. Part 1 of the book follows their courtship and eventual engagement, while Part 2 and 3 get into the real twist of the story. There’s no royal happily ever after waiting for Hatty and her prince because they can’t conceive an heir.

The novel is deeply insightful, poignant with emotion, and incredibly personal. It’s also funny, charming, sexy, and a bonafide page turner. I’d say this book kept me up late many nights, but I burned through it in only two, unable to put it down. Even after crawling into bed and turning the lights out, my e-reader ended up back in my hand as I devoured eagerly, quivering to find out what happens next.

I’m so glad to have Tegan here today on my blog answering questions about the book. In a fun double feature, she’s doing the same with me! It turns out that, like me, Tegan bought the book because she liked the author and then got totally swept away. You can read the sister to this interview over [here]  and find out how the contemporary romance writer fell in love with my fantasy mystery novel the way same I fell for hers.

1. First off — what would you say to someone (like me) who thought your book sounded interesting, but wasn’t a habitual reader of first person contemporary romance?

I’d say that I’m also not a habitual reader of first person contemporary romance, so I wrote the story for readers like me who simply want a beautiful, complicated, messy love story with a healthy dose of humor and reality thrown in. I’ve realized over the years that even though I read across many genres, one theme that shows up in a lot of books I love is a compelling love story. I thought about the things I enjoy in a romantic story line and tried to incorporate those things into my narrative. So, it’s my hope that INCONCEIVABLE! will appeal to readers who DO enjoy contemporary romance, but it will also appeal to people like you and me who bring a bit more skepticism to these types of tales.

2. Well, let’s dive into the big question. The reason you capture the struggle of infertility so well is because you’ve been through it yourself. How did it feel to tap into those experiences and  relive them with Hatty?

Yes, I drew on my own experiences with infertility to write that part of Hatty and John’s story. It was intense to tap into my memories and relive the roller coaster ride that played out every single month we were trying to get pregnant. I’m thankful for my editor, Christina, who knew what it was like to obsess over pregnancy tests, hoping for two lines, and then being disappointed when there’s only one. She played a big role in helping me achieve authenticity. It was cathartic to write this book at a time in my life when I know my own happy ending: my three children, all of whom we adopted from outside the U.S., keep my arms full and my heart happy. I always knew that Hatty and John would also find their own happily ever after, too, and that it would turn other people’s expectations upside down.

3. I can’t help it — I’m a fantasy writer at heart! One of the things that I loved most about Inconceivable! was discovering the culture and history of the fictional European nation of Toulene. Your world-building could put any of us fantasy types to shame. Could you talk a bit  about the process of creating Toulene?

First, that’s a HUGE compliment, so thank you! I love that you asked about this because creating my own country was one of the most fun aspects of writing this book.

I had to decide whether I was going to set the story in the U.K. or elsewhere (my idea for the royalty angle came from wondering what it would be like for Prince William and Duchess Kate to experience infertility). So, this will tell you how my brain works: the idea of creating a new country seemed way less daunting than doing the research to set the book in the U.K. I’ve visited many countries in Europe, but I’ve only spent about an hour in London, and that was at Heathrow. I didn’t have enough firsthand experience with the country to set the story there and have it be believable.

(When you read the book, I hope you can tell I’ve walked the streets in Ghent and Paris because I tried to bring that sense of authenticity to the story.)

Then, I started to think about where my country would be. I’ve traveled a decent amount in the area where Toulene sits (between Belgium and France). I’ve long been a student of the French language and culture. So, it seemed like a fun idea to position my country in a place that’s somewhat familiar to me.

I wanted the dominant language to be English, so I had to come up with a history that supported that. That’s when I decided that the country was founded by disgruntled landed gentry who left England.

I don’t know how you lovely “fantasy types” do it, but I basically built my Toulene “box” and then used whatever I could fit inside it. My husband had the idea of Hatty’s grandfather having done a spread for LIFE magazine in Toulene after World War II. It’s those little details woven into the story that I think (hope!) make the country seem like a real place.

Consistency was very important, as was uniqueness. Why go to the trouble of making your own country if it’s similar to ones that already exist? I’ve had some readers ask me if Toulene is a real country. I absolutely love that question because it means I achieved some level of authenticity.

4. One of the most interesting characters in the book was “Kendra27,” an online friend of Hatty’s. Knowing you struggled with infertility yourself, how much is Kendra27 based on your own experiences?

I knew Hatty had to interact with other women online because for many of us, it’s the most immediate way to connect with other women who are going through infertility. There were five women I met through an infertility discussion group online. I chatted with them multiple times a day when we were trying to conceive. In fact, I’m still friends with one of them on Facebook and we still send each other Christmas cards. Like us, she and her husband ended up adopting kids from overseas. I suppose it’s because of the anonymity and the sense of sisterhood, the online infertility community is a place where women can be ugly-honest with each other about their infertility, how it makes them feel, and the questions they have about procedures. I felt like I was a more informed patient because I’d read so much online about other women’s experiences. I knew which procedures were likely a waste of time and money, and which promised the highest success rates.

The online infertility community is also full of cheerleaders and shoulders to cry on. There was no way I could tell Hatty’s story and leave that out. Obviously, her situation was a bit more unique because she’s royalty, but knowing Hatty’s personality, that wouldn’t stop her from engaging with the online community.

5. Where did the idea to thread newspaper articles throughout the book come from?

Very early in the process of developing this story, I imagined the snarky headlines from the tabloids. I knew they had to be a part of the book because it showed the additional pressure Hatty was under as a member of the royal family. Almost as soon as I thought about a royal couple going through infertility, the “barren-ness” popped into my head. Having worked as a journalist and being a closet-fan of celebrity gossip rags, it was quite easy to write the stories, though it pained me to imagine Hatty and John reading them. Having the articles themselves in the book was also a way to bring in some outside voices and to step outside Hatty’s head for a few moments. I thought it brought a nice change from a pacing stand point.

6. Inconceivable! is a romance novel, but it doesn’t follow any of the usual formulas for the genre. Was it challenging or liberating to colour outside the lines like that?

Honestly, I just wrote the story without a genre in mind, thinking it would end up being women’s fiction because I read a fair amount in that genre. But based on some wise feedback I received from several agents, I knew I needed to rework it to fit (somewhat) into the romance genre. It’s still an awkward fit in some ways, primarily because so much drama happens after the wedding. But, I felt confident that my story would find an audience, even if it didn’t fit the traditional mold. I think that’s why Curiosity Quills acquired the rights; they were looking for compelling love stories with satisfying endings that challenged the formulas of the genre. So, it was liberating to write a story I wanted to read, but then I did have to do some tweaking later to make sure the love story was the driving force. I really adore where the story ended up.

7. I can’t even imagine how much research went into this book. While you were learning about European royals, nobles, and locations, did you find any particularly interesting tidbits you couldn’t work into the book?

Honestly, I can’t think of anything I found in my research that didn’t end up in the book or inform a part of the story in some way. I implied earlier that I don’t like to do research, but I really DO love research. For some of Toulene’s history, I made up the stories. The tale of the uncle who married a commoner and died this miserable death was something out of my imagination. If you read enough about the history of Europe’s royal families, it’s easy to see how a scene like that could really happen.

I researched old issues of LIFE magazine and found a famous photo shoot I could credit to Hatty’s grandfather to flesh out a bit more of her family’s history. (It comes up in conversation the first time she meets Prince John’s father.) One of the cool things that started stirring in my brain as I did my research was wondering what role Toulene would play in World War II. I’ve started writing a novel that has a major story line involving this part of the country’s history. However, it’s lower on my writing priority list than a couple of other projects I have going.

(Kate: I’m so excited that Tegan is going to take us back to Toulene some day! What a great tidbit!)

8.  Part 1 builds the sexual tension between John and Hatty to a fever pitch, and yet the consummation of their relationship occurs offscreen during a timeskip. Was this a constraint of the book’s structure, or a stylistic choice on your part?

I’m surprised more people haven’t asked about this, so I’m glad you did! It was a stylistic choice. As a reader, I really admire writers who play with my expectations. So, in a romance where there’s clearly this unbelievable attraction between two people, you’d absolutely expect this mind-blowing scene on their honeymoon…(surprise: I wrote it but I never submitted it to any agents or publishers…only about four people have read it). Because of the infertility aspect of the story, I knew there would be plenty of opportunities to address that aspect of their relationship, so I wanted to reveal it slowly through that part of the book. One of the reasons I wrote the book was to pull back the curtain on how infertility invades a couple’s life behind closed doors. Even though discussing infertility is not as taboo as it once was, most people don’t discuss the full ramifications of this medical challenge, and I wanted to explore that as a way of increasing compassion for what infertile couples experience.

Finally, one of the reasons I think a lot of people don’t give romance books a chance is because of the fear of too many hot and heavy scenes. In hoping that my book would have broad appeal, I wanted to ensure I addressed this part of their relationship in a tasteful way that framed it within the context of their infertility.

9. Any hints about what’s coming next from you? I can’t wait to dig into your next book!

Thank you!

Well, I’ve finished a young adult contemporary novel, but I’m currently revising it. I’m getting deeper into a time travel romance tentatively titled CHANDELIERS. It’s about an American French teacher who is doing a reenactment at Versailles when she experiences a time slip. She finds herself at court with Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. And surprise! There’s another person who’s there from present, and he happens to be a handsome doctor. The pair are going to help the monarchs as they struggle to produce an heir. (Sound familiar?) Not long after our time travelers realize they’re madly in love with each other, they stumble upon a way to come back to the present. But they think it may only work for one of them. Will they risk being separated for the chance to return home? Or will they choose to live together in the past? You’ll have to read CHANDELIERS to see what they choose.

The best compliment Tegan Wren ever received came from her sixth grade teacher: “You always have a book in your hand!”

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Tegan Wren with her beautiful book.

Guided by her love of the creative process, Tegan grew up acting in theatre productions and writing poetry, short stories, and plays. She turned her eye to writing about real life when she worked as a journalist, producing reports for various radio and television stations in medium and large markets in the Midwest and also filing some stories for a major national news network. She spent several years writing online content, which ranged from creating descriptions of toilets for a retail website to composing a blog post about visiting Maui.

She’s had the opportunity to travel overseas, and uses those adventures to inform her writing. She also draws inspiration from her own struggles and life experiences. Tegan and her husband, Patrick, struggled with infertility for five years before becoming parents through adoption.

Tegan is excited to have her debut novel, INCONCEIVABLE!, included in the launch of the new romance imprint Curiosity Thrills from Curiosity Quills Press. She’s a proud member of Romance Writers of America.

 

Please check out Tegan’s book and get yourself a copy! It’s a wonderful tale of romance and heartbreak and triumph and it’s worth the effort for sure. You can get it here on Amazon for Kindle or in Paperback!

 

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