Rebecca York

About Rebecca York

NY Times & USA Today best-seller, Rebecca York, is the author of over 150 books. She has written paranormal romantic thrillers for Berkley and romantic thrillers for Harlequin Intrigue. Her new romantic-suspense series, Decorah Security, is set at a detective agency where agents have paranormal powers or work paranormal cases. She also writes an Off-World series where each story is a science fiction romance taking place on a distant planet in the far future.  View website

The Fun of Historical Research

The Author’s Billboard group came up with an interesting idea—Spanish Gold: a series of novellas that are related to gold and jewels seized from a pirate ship in the 1600’s. The booty is cursed. If you use it selfishly, you will come to a bad end. If you use it for good, you will be rewarded.

The project, which will start coming out next spring, appealed to me for several reasons. The stories could be set in any era—from the 1600’s and even into the future, and there’s a magic element because the gold is cursed. But how to narrow down a time period?

I attended Thrillerfest in New York in July, and I went to an interview with Stephen Hunter where he was talking about his research for suspense novels about the FBI in the 1930’s. He’d had trouble finding research material, and I suddenly started thinking about my master’s thesis. It was on 30 years of advertising in the Ladies Home Journal—from 1910 to 1939. Since the 1920’s were so different from the decades before and after them—did the values the ads appealed to change? Like luxury versus frugality or made in America versus appeal to the exotic. And how much emphasis was there on time-saving products?

A Luxury Chevrolet

I found less change than I’d expected. But I did learn a lot about domestic life in those decades. Lead paint was advertised as a good thing. So was spraying insect repellent in a baby’s room. And Vienna sausage was the new way for Mom to get dinner on the table quickly.

Another revelation was how many companies have gone out of business and how a few products, like Campbell’s Soup, look virtually the same. When was the last time you encountered a Leonard refrigerator or Wolf undergarments? Or washed your silk blouses with Lux soap?

Campbell’s Soup Hasn’t Changed Much

I went up after the Thrillerfest session to tell Hunter that he could discover a lot about life in the 30’s from reading the Ladies Home Journal. His talk stirred my interest in the era, and I thought—why not use it for my story?

I’ve started writing my novella while at the same time doing research that will make the era feel real to the reader.

Here’s a Subtle Ad for Toilet Paper

Because I needed to pick a year, I decided on 1935. When I wanted my hero to read a story to his daughter, it had to be something published that year or before. Did you know Mary Poppins came out in 1934 or that the Wizard of Oz was published in 1900?

What about the price of gasoline? It was seventeen cents, which seems pretty high, given the economic conditions, but I’ll take Wikipedia’s word for it.

I also bought a January 1930 Ladies Home Journal, and I’m having fun looking at the ads—some of which you can see here. I’m also finding a lot of old photographs online.

A Racy Ad for Cannon Towels

It’s easy to get caught up in research. And, of course, the temptation is to use everything I’ve learned. I’ll have to make sure I don’t include every fascinating detail—just drop in enough to plant the story firmly in the thirties.

Do you like historical fiction? Why or why not? Do you read anything from the 20th century?

The Werewolf Diet

I would never dream of writing a romance without a HEA. But a lot of my heroes are werewolves, and there’s one aspect of marrying a shapeshifter that’s problematic—they don’t eat quiche. Or any of the foods a lot of other guys will tolerate. You can’t even say they are meat and potatoes men. They are meat, meat and meat men.

Now, I like a good steak as much as the next omnivore, but I don’t want it to be the only ingredient in my recipe box.

In Fire on the Moon, Francesca and Zane are on the run, and she notices right away that his diet is heavy on animal products. He doesn’t order salad, pasta, or omelets, and when he gets a burger, he’s likely to throw the buns away.

Long ago, before Norman and I were married, I wanted him to know that I was a good cook. To that end, I remember making spaghetti sauce and chili for him in my mom’s kitchen. I’m sure my powers with the Dutch oven weren’t the only reason he thought I might be good wife material. But I’m also sure it didn’t hurt.

Poor Francesca is going to have problems in that department. But luckily, I may be able to help her out. In addition to writing romantic suspense, I also write cookbooks, including one called Fabulous Lo-Carb Cuisine. You may know that meat is a major ingredient on the low-carb menu. Which means I have a lot of suggestions—such as this yummy baked brisket of beef.

Barbecued Beef Brisket

If you’ve never cooked this cut of meat, you’re in for a treat. There’s nothing like a well-seasoned brisket roasted to perfection in the oven. Look for lean brisket, or trim off excess fat before cooking. For easy clean up, line the baking pan with aluminum foil before adding the meat and seasoning ingredients.

Makes 6 servings

3 lb well-trimmed beef brisket
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 cup water
1/3 cup tomato sauce
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup Splenda or sugar
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp minced garlic
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1 bay leaf

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Arrange brisket in a 9 1/2- by 13-inch baking pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  2. In a small bowl, combine onion, water, tomato sauce, vinegar, Splenda, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, and cloves. Pour over brisket. Tuck bay leaf into sauce in pan bottom.
  3. Tightly cover with aluminum foil, and bake for about 3 1/2 to 4 hours until meat is tender.
  4. Remove meat to a cutting board. With a sharp knife, cut meat across the grain into thin slices. Keep warm.
  5. Meanwhile, place baking pan on stove burner, and cook down sauce over high heat, stirring frequently, until reduced by about half, 8 to 10 minutes. Return sliced meat to pan, and spoon sauce over top. Serve from pan, or transfer meat and sauce to a serving platter. Leftovers will keep in the refrigerator 3 or 4 days.

Do you like to cook? What’s your specialty?

Fun Research

I love researching my stories, and one of my favorite kinds of research is visiting the place I’m going to write about. I always come away with wonderful little details that will add to my story.

Take Fire on the Moon, which I’ve just put up for preorder (on sale at Amazon for 99c). It’s the story of Francesca Turner who goes to Naples, Florida, to visit her estranged uncle and ends up in the middle of a murder plot. And, of course, only werewolf Zane Marshall, one of my Decorah Security agents, can save her life.

If I hadn’t visited Naples, I would never have known about Tin City, a quirky little mall where all the buildings are made of corrugated tin. I don’t set a scene in the mall, but I invented a nearby bar called The Tin Man that echoes the ambiance of the real thing. When the hero and heroine go there to get a line on one of the guys who tried to kill or capture them, they end up in even worse trouble.

I had been to Naples, Florida, before. But when my husband wanted to go for a big birthday celebration—I quickly agreed and vowed to use the locale in a book. Maybe from reading the story, you can tell that we stayed at the Ritz-Carlton—a fabulous hotel right on the Gulf. (And you can walk around it with me.)

We took a short cruise along an inlet that was lined with million-dollar-plus houses. I used one of them for the heroine’s uncle’s digs.

In Naples, we particularly enjoyed the state parks along the Gulf, and I send my hero and heroine to one of them when they’re trying to evade the killers hot on their trail. The layout of the park came in very handy for Zane’s tricky plan to ditch the bad guys. And I even include the raccoons we saw at one of the picnic areas. He encounters Francesca while she’s hiding in the bushes

I visited several parks and wildlife areas and included descriptions of the foliage there. I hope, if you read the book, you’ll feel like you’re immersed in the Florida atmosphere and landscape.

Do you look for authentic setting details in the stories you read?

Idea-Filled Week

When you tell them you’re a novelist, they ask, “Where do you get your ideas?” I say that, if you’re a novelist, ideas leap out at you from behind every tree, building, and overheard conversation.

I’m back from an idea-filled trip to my husband’s 60th Harvard reunion, where some of his fellow classmates asked me―guess what?

Angela Merkel

There were plenty of ideas floating around the oldest university in the United States. Some of them were supplied by German Chancellor Angela Merkel who spoke to the annual alumni association meeting on commencement day. She gave me an idea for a short story at the beginning of her remarks, when she talked about growing up on the wrong side of the Berlin wall.

John Harvard

But there were lots of other moments for a writer to catalogue. I watched many of the graduating seniors pose with the famous statue of John Harvard. They were with their families, and I thought about what it would be like to have raised a child who was now graduating from a prestigious university. Or what it would be like to be that son or daughter. Where are they going from here? In a lecture room in Emerson Hall, I listened to a talk by Professor Theda Skocpol on how the development and organization of the Tea Party and the Anti-Trump Resistance paralleled each other. That sent me contemplating political passions and dedication. Then, on the ground floor of the building, I came face to face with a statue of one of the great thinkers of my own education—Ralph Waldo Emerson. Seeing him took me back to my American Studies classes at The George Washington University. And that led me to thinking about a good friend from GWU who recently died. I usually write happy endings. Do I want to write about loss?

Ralph Waldo Emerson

There are authors who have an easy time with writing humor. I have to struggle with it. But seeing the Harvard Lampoon building put a smile on my face. Who came up with that whimsical facade? It made me think about college-age humor writers sitting around a table trying to outdo each other—which led me to speculation about the groups of writers who came up with the jokes for the TV shows of my youth.

Harvard Lampoon Building

Then there was the art museum where Norman’s reunion class enjoyed a wonderful dinner. (The first wonder was that they served us very nicely prepared fish instead of chicken.) The courtyard could have been in an ancient Roman building. Then I looked up at the huge mobile hanging above our heads and the newly-installed glass upper stories. Around the courtyard were art galleries with both modern and more traditional art. I thought about the men and women who had produced those paintings and sculptures and how writers and artists have a lot in common.

And we had a final fun surprise. After the reunion we went to a barbecue restaurant in Kendall Square. We sat near a long table where a large group of men were laughing and talking after dinner. They were all fit and good looking―romance-hero potentials. Most were informally dressed, but one was in a Navyl officer’s uniform. After dinner, we walked out in back of the Navy guy, and I asked him about the group. He said they were in town for their 25th Harvard reunion—and they were all members of the Harvard football team. No wonder they were so impressive.

Fogg Art Museum Sculpture

If I don’t get a story out of this trip, I’ll be surprised. What do you think about when you tour new places?