Plot is vital. Characters are defined by the story. In order to write a compelling story with characters who make you want to like, associate with, fantasize about, I feel it is tied to the story and background. Otherwise, you just get a quick read without really getting into the story and rooting for, booing , or falling in love with your characters.
1. How do you create your characters? Do you have a specific process?
The story background defines who the characters will be. Once I get the time period down, or in the case of my Borne Vampire series -- which vamp I lead the story with, then I create the hero and heroine.
2. Do your characters come before the plot? Do you sketch out your plot or do you let the characters develop the route to the end?
Sometimes. I've had a few who I built the story around. For instance, Lucian Martine in Lady Thief. I searched for a historical pinpoint that would bring my hero's strength and weakness out.
3. Do you know how the story will end before you begin? In a general way or a specific one?
Most times in a general way. Sometimes the plot and the characters change the ending.
4. Do you choose settings you know or do you have books of settings and plans of houses sitting around?
I try to find legends, little know historical settings to bring to readers, giving them a fresh story. My main source of research is the History Channel, the internet (but I have to triple check on resources used there), and real estate ads.
5. Where do you do your research? On line or from books?
Guilty of using online more than from books. Quicker and easily checked for accuracy.