Written by Alison Hill. Paid Advertisement by CTS Agency. This content was not created by the Observer and does not imply any endorsement.
Love can blind even the smartest among us, as victims of online dating scams can attest. Searching for love online sometimes yields a disastrous outcome instead of a romantic “happily ever after” moment. And for the many writers and readers who never tire of exploring the human need for love, these stories of romance gone wrong are clear examples of how we are drawn to connection, no matter the risk.
One sad-but-true story of a college professor whose pursuit of an online lover landed him in a Colombian jail inspired award-winning romance author Julie Tetel Andresen to explore the phenomenon of online love scams.
“It’s shocking what people are willing to do for love,” says Andresen, a prolific writer and prominent linguist, who weaves together a fascinating international love scam plot with a paranormal storyline in her Shapeshifters trilogy.
“People know somewhere inside them that it’s not real, but they’re still willing to continue, as they don’t want the illusion of love to stop,” she says, noting that cyber love scams remain prevalent despite all the warnings. “Why would I not want to write about love, one of the most powerful forces in the world?”
Andresen, who earned the rank of Full Professor at Duke University, has no problem reconciling what she calls ‘neck-up’ academics with ‘neck-down’ romance fiction writing.
With over 30 novels under her belt, and a new novel just released, she comfortably inhabits the art of romance writing. Drawing on her vast experience as a writer, linguist, traveler, and people watcher, she creates gripping narratives with just the right combination of mystery, intrigue, setting, and action.
Wealth Whispers: TransPacific Adventure Concludes Multinational Shapeshifters Trilogy
Andresen’s newest novel completes her Shapeshifters trilogy, set in a multi-layered world of werewolves, werepanthers, and werebears. These human-like were creatures occupy normal societal roles, such as law enforcement and security, while skillfully hiding their ‘otherness.’ Operating in the shadows, they protect their clans and the planet, co-operate with humans to solve crime, and fall in love – sometimes even with humans.
“For shapeshifters, love integrates their two selves,” says Andresen. “They achieve integrity through making themselves available to a love relationship. The two sides come together.”
The love scam storyline runs smoothly throughout the trilogy, as all three species of werecreature uncover new details and players involved in this complex international operation.
“There was a four-year gap between writing the first and last book,” says Andresen, who expected online love scams to have fizzled out. But she was surprised to learn that cases skyrocketed during the pandemic.
“Just think of the Tinder Swindler,” she says, referring to a con man who swindled women out of millions of dollars after wooing them on the dating app in the late 2010s. “These were young, beautiful women, not people who couldn’t get a date,” she adds. “This is how powerful love is.”
The first Shapeshifters book, Buy Me Love, is set in London. Zelda Sachsen, a werewolf with the ‘best nose in the business,’ meets Moses Reilly of Scotland Yard while dating undercover to bait love scammers. They team up to work on a bizarre murder case which feeds into a larger love scam plot, only alluded to in this book.
Money for Nothing takes us across the Atlantic to Miami and Orlando. Two werepanthers – private investigator Wendy Osceola and Jackson Cypress of the Miami PD – join forces to track down disappearances that may relate to the love scam case. Amid murder and intrigue and a mysterious piece of tech called the Holy Grail, we’re offered clues about the scammers. Are they Russian criminals? American? Japanese? All three?
In the finale, Wealth Whispers, the magnificent scenery of northern California and Japan sets the stage for the series’ exciting denouement. With Andresen’s younger son living in Japan and her sister in California, these locales are familiar to the author, who delivers an entertaining, culturally rich tale and a testament that love knows no boundaries.
In the novel, an ancient clan of werebears in California and Japan sees that justice is done – their way. This tense adventure revolves around the search for a missing victim of the love scam, a Silicon Valley hacker, dangerous Japanese gangsters, and an unfolding love story between a woman and a manga artist/werebear. The story and the series culminate in Osaka, Japan with an epic confrontation between the gangsters and the werebear community.
In and Out of the Romance Circle
With such compelling plots, diverse characters, settings, and themes, it’s little wonder that Andresen’s work attracts readers from outside the ‘romance circle’ as well as traditional fans of the genre. She refuses to be pigeonholed or restricted, relishing the opportunity to unleash her imagination in pursuit of a compelling story.
While love relationships are at the heart of Andresen’s stories, the relationships flower (or flounder) amid complex fantasy, historical, sci-fi, mystery, adventure, or contemporary life plots. After reading one of her romances, a colleague even told Andresen, “Oh my God, it’s like a regular novel!”
Likewise, when Money for Nothing won the 2022 Indie Reader Discovery Awards in the paranormal category, the announcement described it as “a truly tantalizing murder mystery and fantasy novel complemented with a bit of romance.”
But then again, Andresen reminds us, what isn’t romance? “Melville subtitled Moby Dick ‘A Romance’,” she says. “What is Star Wars but a Freudian family romance space opera?”
Throughout the centuries, romance writing has been demeaned by literary elites, but despite the naysayers, the genre remains popular among readers. Sales have soared since the beginning of the pandemic, proving that romance fiction is thriving, with communities of fans, new and old, popping up all over social media.
Like many writers of romantic fiction, Andresen has encountered the age-old disrespect and stigma attached to the genre. Some people in literary circles continue to believe the notion that romance novels aren’t considered ‘real’ literature.
Andresen reminds us that the things that get ridiculed are often the things that make people very uncomfortable. “What do we fear most? Rejection and isolation. The pandemic proved that. What do we crave most? Acceptance and love.”
“I’m a linguist. I love language, and I love the language of love. I have yet to find a topic more compelling to write about than love.”
Language and Travel: Bringing Settings and Dialogue to Life
Andresen, who has enjoyed a distinguished academic career studying language, is no stranger to the question: ‘What’s a linguist like you, at a respected university, doing writing romances?’
“Nobody ever thinks, ‘I wonder if she brings the same intelligence to her romances that she brings to her scholarship?’ That mental step never occurs,” she says. “But I don’t see the two activities – high-minded scholarship and romance writing – as being at odds.”
As a professor and scholar, Andresen has woven together the social and biological sciences to show how language emerged in the human species and how it develops and is maintained. One of her greatest concerns is the alarming number of endangered languages worldwide.
In Languages in the World: How History, Culture and Politics Shape Language, Andresen and co-author Philip Carter describe in their last chapter the conditions that lead to the diminishing pool of global languages, noting that ‘when we lose a language, we lose more than words, we lose a worldview.’
In her fiction, Andresen similarly emphasizes a strong sense of place, which includes the judicious use of language of that place. “I really like telling stories with global reach, it’s very continuous with my linguistic world,” she explains.
“I can’t write about a setting I don’t know well. I want a reader to feel like they’ve been there and experienced its magnificence,” says Andresen, who has visited all the countries featured in her work. She has spent months at a time studying languages in places like Mongolia, Germany, Vietnam, and Romania. “I travel a lot. Some people do adventure travel; I do language travel!”
Most recently, Andresen flavored Wealth Whispers with a subtle taste of the Japanese language, after familiarizing herself with the language during regular visits with her son, who teaches near Tokyo.
“I would never write a character whose language I don’t know,” she says, “and I never shy away from checking my work with native speakers.”
She researches and does language travel for her scholarship as a linguist. The added benefit is that, as a novelist, she is able to avoid the inauthentic use of foreign languages and/or regional dialects. To Andresen, a “miss” with a character whose native language is other than English reflects poorly on an author; after all, the reading audience is now global, and inaccuracies will be noticed.
Andresen speaks French and Romanian, in addition to German, and has a working knowledge of other languages, including Mongolian. Always the adventurer, she spent six months living in Vietnam to study and conquer her fear of tone languages. “Vietnamese is a language with six tones,” she explains.
“When I was in Vietnam, a trilogy sprang to life in my mind and after I left, I wrote the Forest Breeze series. I happily set it in Vietnam and added touches of Vietnamese. The linguistic flavoring always has to be delicate. You’re not reading one of my stories for a language lesson.”
But whatever language the characters speak, dialogue is the key. “If you don’t have good dialogue, you don’t have a good romance,” she explains. “Dialogue is the verbal sculpture of the characters, and their dialogic interactions sculpt their chemistry.”
Boots on the Ground Research
In addition to her language studies, Andresen does meticulous on-site research for her novels. The results are visceral descriptions that pull readers into her creations – whether she brings to life the fragrant California forest or the bustling cities of Tokyo and Osaka.
“It’s all about attention to detail,” says Andresen, who explains that authenticity in fiction comes from ‘boots on the ground’ research. She delves into any locations, phenomena, cultures, customs, or history that could add layers to her stories – like taking a walking tour of London to absorb the city’s atmosphere or studying native plants and wildlife in the Sunshine State.
In Wealth Whispers, readers are introduced to Japanese pop culture – manga, cosplay, and anime. “When I was in Tokyo,” she said, “I took an otaku tour of Akihabara, the anime center of the world.” She had fun learning that otaku is the Japanese word for ‘nerd’!
Because Book 2 of her Vietnamese trilogy involves a motorcycle club, she went to Daytona, Florida, during Bike Week. The third book was inspired by mixed martial arts, and so she attended a fight night in Pensacola. “I go to the places, and I go to these venues,” she says. “It’s just another form of research.”
She is currently studying the fascinating world of coral for another series, which involves, among other things, reading Science magazine every week to read up on coral restoration projects, genetic manipulation, and the impact of global warming. To learn about DNA amplification, she visited a lab, asking in-depth questions to strengthen the science behind her fiction.
Andresen hopes readers of her work will come away feeling they have had a satisfying, sensory-rich experience. “I would like my work to be so dimensional, so complex, that you truly think you’re in Florida, London, or Japan,” she says.
Ecological Origin Stories
Research also informs Andresen’s characters, who she crafts with appropriate worldviews. In her Shapeshifter trilogy, Andresen fused her own strong ecological stance into the shapeshifting characters she created.
Andresen’s blended creatures work together to try and alleviate problems like the effects of climate change. She can’t imagine a contemporary shapeshifting creature who isn’t vitally concerned about their habitat as well as the habitat of all earth’s creatures.
“Think of the ‘weres’ as the ‘other’ in a society, stigmatized, and ostracized,” she suggests. “But it’s the people on the margins who see things more clearly. That, to me, is how the ‘were’ population works. They are closer to nature and more concerned about it.”
While these creatures are of course imaginary, their creation also required real (and thorough) research. She created for each species of ‘were’ their own ancient origin story and their own contemporary world. They tend to live in strong, connected communities. Most of them are in complete control of their shifts, have a code of conduct, and co-exist with humans.
“I want to introduce readers to worlds that are layered with humans and animals,” says Andresen, noting how much she enjoyed creating the werepanthers’ origin story in the context of the amazing ecosystem of the Everglades. She also studied bears, panthers, and their natural habitats.
“Part of this was picking and choosing what characteristics the ‘weres’ would likely have in their human form,” she explains.
Werewolves have traditionally been portrayed as tormented predators who cause fear, death, and destruction. As imagined by Andresen in her Shapeshifters series, werewolves are sophisticated, civilized, and considerate.
For the werebears who are featured in Wealth Whispers, Andresen chose the attributes of strength and an unusually good sense of smell. As blended creatures, she also gave them a strong immunity against viruses that plague the human population and – like their fully animal counterparts – their society is matriarchal.
“The whole notion of the beast as monstrous is so nineteenth century,” says Andresen. “We’re no longer in Victorian England when our animal nature was believed to be, in Tennyson’s phrase, ‘red in tooth and claw’.”
From Studying Language to Writing Romance
Even at a young age, Andresen wanted to understand how human beings came to have language. “It was always a driving question: how did language arise and develop in the human species, and how is it maintained?”
While studying for her master’s degree in French literature, she took a French phonetics course, discovered the International Phonetic Alphabet, and found her driving question had a discipline – linguistics. She went on to pursue a PhD and a distinguished academic career as a linguist.
Growing up, Andresen enjoyed reading authors like Victoria Holt, Daphne du Maurier, Mary Stewart, and Jan Westcott. “Through these books I was transported into another world,” she says, explaining that later in high school and college the focus of her reading was more ‘highbrow’ and academic. “I was reading hifalutin French literature…in French,” she says.
It was only later, through her academic studies, that Andresen discovered another passion – writing romance.
While attending the Linguistic Society of America Summer Institute, a fellow student handed her a Georgette Heyer novel. That book inspired Andresen to start writing her first romance novel, My Lord Roland, while simultaneously working on her PhD dissertation “Linguistic Crossroads of the Eighteenth Century.”
“My interest in linguistics and my interest in romance have always intersected,” she says, explaining that she never stopped being an academic to become a novelist. Andresen may well be the only romance writer in the country who also achieved the rank of Full Professor at a Research 1 University.
Romance Writing as an Art Form
Andresen’s first novel was published by Warner Books and to date she has written over 35 novels. In addition to being published by Warner, she has also had novels published by Fawcett Crest and Harlequin. Andresen has now assembled her own publishing team and puts her novels out only as eco-friendly e-books. With a variety of settings, plots, time periods and characters, her work appeals to every taste, and she has fans all over the globe.
Whether in modern-day Miami or Regency England, Andresen is willing to tackle every sub-genre imaginable. Readers of her work can explore not only the paranormal but also murder mystery, medieval, time travel, BDSM, Western, as well as the contemporary world.
“Romance is a capacious art form. I want to tune my ear to sample the breadth of its possibilities and offer my interpretations.”
To Andresen, romance writing is an art form, which she likens to the artist Paul Cezanne’s Mont Sainte-Victoire series of paintings. “He would paint the mountain perhaps at 4:30 pm from one angle and it would have these contours. Next time he might paint the same mountain at 8 am from another angle and there would be different shades,” says Andresen.
“The love relationship is my Mont Sainte-Victoire – how many ways, how many contours, how many shades and shadows can I find in this central love relationship?”
For Andresen, it might be castaways on an island, two people in the middle of a murder mystery, paranormal creatures, or reincarnated beings. “I just take something and play with it and make it appropriate to the time. It’s like endless improvisation, there does not seem to be a limit to the creative possibilities.”
Andresen is currently updating her Time Slip trilogy, which involves reincarnation – a topic which opens even more creative doors.
“For this series, I wanted three global locations, karmic pods of characters who would get reincarnated from one life to the next, and then a science mystery that runs through the two time periods,” says Andresen, who wants to enhance the series as well as update some of the science.
“In order for these stories to have the kind of impact I want them to have, the science has to be current.”
As a busy and accomplished academic and author, Andresen has developed a range of habits that fuel her creativity.
“It took me ten years to formulate the idea that writing is an aerobic activity, akin to mental breathing,” she says. “You don’t just tie on a pair of shoes and run a 10k. I want to set a pace and keep it going. It’s a discipline, and I will take breaks, but there is such a thing as being in good writing shape.”
As a longtime yoga practitioner, Andresen quickly noticed the parallels between her yoga and writing practices. Her video series, Vinyasa Writing (available on her social media and website) applies the wisdom and practice of yoga to help aspiring writers get into their ‘writing flow’.
“In one yoga class the teacher noted that the reason we do so many twists is to release stale air from the body. That was an ‘aha’ moment for me,” Andresen says. “I suddenly realized that the point of a plot twist is to release air from a story before it gets stale.”
The Greatest Healer of All
As Andresen sees it, it’s not money that makes the world go around, it’s love.
“We all need connection. We do best when we have contact, like cuddling and kissing, all the things that stimulate the release of oxytocin, a powerful feel-good hormone,” she says, emphasizing that oxycodone, a highly addictive drug, is very close in chemical composition to oxytocin.
“Our addictions are fueled by the hole left when we are not given love,” says Andresen, referring to comedian Russell Brand who talks about his heroin addiction in terms of filling the hole caused by not getting enough love as a child.
“If we don’t get love in our lives, then we seek it in drugs,” she adds.
“Let’s say you come to me and tell me you’re not feeling well. My response would be: read two romances and call me in the morning!”