Interview with Margaret O’Neil

PJM_cover_cream_2Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and who you are as a writer?

I grew up in NW Indiana, several miles from Chicago. I started reading romantic stories when I was eight, devouring library books written for teens, usually one a day. This love of romance carried into my adult life. I now have over three thousand romance novels in my collection and am rarely willing to part with any of them. It seemed only natural for me to write romance.
My books are primarily contemporary “relationship” books—stories about people falling in love and making that love work for them. My protagonists might have idealistic differences, but I don’t dwell on “love-hate” themes used to create conflict that we find in a lot of formula romance.

Who is your intended audience and why should they read your books?

Readers who like a good old-fashioned romance, character-driven and emotional, might like my books. I’m not heavy into complicated plots; I like to concentrate on a good story about the process of finding the happily-ever-after (HEA). I was pleased when romance novels opened the bedroom door and let us see the physical love between two people. Reviewers who rate “heat” have rated my love scenes mild or medium heat. I also try to keep the language relatively clean.

Peter Jordan’s Marriage is an unusual title—how did you come up with it?

Peter Jordan’s Marriage (PJM) is a special book for me. It’s about making a love and marriage work, and I wanted the title to reflect that. So, even though the hero is a pro-football player, that’s not the focus of the story. When Peter Jordan finds the one woman who is right for him, he scraps all his ideals of a stay-at-home mom to marry the woman he loves. But making his marriage work with her career becomes an obstacle both have to face, making this book about Peter Jordan’s Marriage.

I am a huge sports fan, though, and was actually sitting in an NFL stadium on a Monday night football game, when I saw a player, a wide receiver, get hit exactly as described in PJM. As they took him off the field in an ambulance the idea for this book sprang to life.

Football players, both in college and the NFL, often get a bad rap, because of the few that make headlines for their abusiveness to women and children. We encounter abusive men in all walks of life, not just sports. I wanted to show a “good guy” sports figure who is looking for a woman he can love forever, a woman who will give him the family life he missed as a child.

Who is your favorite character from you books and why?

Peter Jordan, no question about it. A true “gentle giant” Peter Jordan epitomizes the “nice guy” most any woman could fall in love with. My heart kicks up a beat every time a I get a response from a reader that points out how nice it is to read about an athlete who isn’t a jerk.

How about your least favorite character? What makes them less appealing to you?

I’m assuming were talking about the hero/heroine in my books. Less favorite characters, of course, are the obvious villains and need no explanation for my dislike. Although I often try to find redemption for my obvious villains, trusting my reader might like them as well by the end of the book.

I suppose my least favorite heroine might be the one I’m writing about now in The Handsome Contractor. Beth is not very likeable at first: career-driven, hiding her dysfunctional family background, wanting no part of a future that includes a man. (Almost sounds like the clichéd formula romance, doesn’t it?) She is a successful architect, wielding great power in the business world, but she’s got to come a long way if I’m going to like her. I do see some improvement in the last two chapters, but she’s been a tough character for me to develop and has given me writer’s block more than once.

What other books are similar to your own? What makes them alike?

Other than being contemporary romance or the general themes, (i.e. Million Dollar Wife a marriage of convenience, or the friendship into love theme found in Here For You Always) I like to think my books are not that similar. For example, when I first submitted Here For You Always for publication, editors liked the story and my characters, and particularly commented on Leigh’s son, but the idea of the hero loving the heroine from the get-go didn’t fall into the formula at the time. Editors insisted characters couldn’t admit love until the end of the story or it ruined the tension. Also sports heroes were definitely taboo. Susan Elizabeth Phillips was one author I admired because she ignored that rule and was successful doing so.

What can we expect from you in the future?

I’m hoping to finish The Handsome Contractor in time for Christmas. My contractor is Matt Spicer, running a family business with two grown delinquent brothers and a widowed mother he feels responsible for. The last thing he wants is more responsibility in the form of a wife.

Readers have asked for a sequel to Million Dollar Wife that includes Bryce’s sister, Ann, a successful entertainment lawyer, and the private investigator, Jarret McGraw. At first I couldn’t seem to come up with a story, but in the last few weeks I found Ann snowbound with two orphaned children. She just might have to contact Jarret for help. Who knows what might happen?

What can readers who enjoy you books do to help make them successful?

Reviews on Amazon, or Goodreads or any other websites help a great deal. Telling their friends is also helpful. I hope to have a website soon, so I can communicate directly with readers; find out what they like and don’t like. I think having some direct contact would be especially fun.

How about a taste of one of your books?

Here’s an excerpt from Peter Jordan’s Marriage…
Her voice was so soft Pete wasn’t sure he heard her. “What did you say?”
“Do you want to make love to me?”
Incredulous, he stood with his arms at his side. “Now? Tonight?”
“Right now.” She gestured toward the white fur rug. “Right here.”
He stared down into her eyes, a pool of blue lights, unfathomable, dewy from unshed tears. This wasn’t the way he’d planned this moment. Something was terribly wrong. “Does this mean you love me, Bobbie?”
“I just want us to make love—tonight.”
“Why?” The word came out harsher than he meant it too.
“Why?” she countered. “Why does anyone make love?”
“For a lot of people, it’s not love, Bobbie. It’s just sex. I want to be sure you know the difference.”
“I thought this is what you wanted.”
“I do,” he said, ignoring her trembling lips, “but not like this. Do you know how this feels to me?” He didn’t give her a chance to reply. “Like a command performance. I’m not taking your test, Bobbie.” She didn’t answer him.
Watching the expressions of hurt and bewilderment play across her face, Pete took a step forward. There was so much at stake he had to find the right words. “I love you, you little idiot, and you’re risking our entire future on one night. If I don’t perform on demand, like some trained animal, if I can’t make sex acceptable for you on the first try, you’re going to walk out of my life, convinced it will never be right. That’s not fair, Bobbie, to yourself or to me.”
“You’ve got this all wrong, Pete,” she said sadly. “I wasn’t testing you. I was testing me. This whole thing makes me feel guilty. I can’t seem to be all the things you want in a woman. I haven’t been willing to take the chances you need me to take.” Her voice broke.
“So you’ve offered yourself as the sacrificial lamb? Is that supposed to make me feel good?” He could see in her expression that his words cut deep.
“Stop it,” she said. “I got your message. What do you want from me, Pete?”
“What I don’t want is your guilt. You are the first woman I’ve ever loved. The only woman. And I want all the things that go with a first love. A love without reservations or doubts. I want marriage with you. A family . . . “ His voice trailed off. Despite all of their obstacles, his values that didn’t match hers, her goals so different, miles apart from his own, none of it mattered. He’d just asked her to marry him. The situation was so far from his fantasy of candlelight and wine, red roses and a velvet ring box, it was almost laughable.
God, this was for real. He wanted her under any circumstances.

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