CM: I met the lovely romance author Kate Moore at the RWA National Conference in San Diego and I asked her to participate in a brief Q & A, which she was happy to do. Kate Moore, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions about your writing career. It was such a pleasure meeting you and learning a bit about your passions.
CM: What are 5 things that you have done consistently that have contributed to your growing success as an author. (You can include both writing craft and business/promotional things.)
KM: First, I’m always writing. Whether working and raising kids, or working and caring for aging parents, or volunteering and caring for grandbabies, I’ve made daily writing a priority. It helps to be a fan of “Take-out Tuesday” and to teach your kids to do their own laundry. (Of course, they still do it at my house!) You might find Mason Currey’s book Daily Rituals inspiring. 2) Second, I connect with fellow writers at RWA Chapter meetings and local and national conferences, in a long-standing brainstorming group, and twice weekly to write and share works in progress with a group of fellow writers from all genres at our local library. 3) I study the craft of writing. Reading craft books and listening to smart writers talk about craft stirs my brain and spurs creative solutions to problems of character and plot. Ideas are never a problem. Turning ideas into compelling stories takes a playful application of craft. 4) I respect, appreciate, and thank those whose names don’t appear on the cover, but who are nonetheless necessary to a book’s existence—editors, copy editors, agents, publicists and publishers, reviewers, and, of course, readers. 5) As the publishing world continues to change, I say “Yes” to opportunities, experiment with new publishing and promotional avenues, and keep learning to use the tools of social media to reach readers.
CM: What are you currently working on?
KM: For the first time in my career, I’m writing two books at once. Yikes! What was I thinking? One book is a post-Regency, London-set, historical romance that combines Jane Austen-like issues of family and social position with spies. Can a girl find a husband while simultaneously figuring out who betrayed her father, a British agent, before his enemies get to her? The historical is the first in a trilogy from Kensington’s Lyrical line with release dates starting in 2018. Meanwhile, I’m writing the last book of a contemporary series for Boroughs Publishing Group set in the beach towns south of Los Angeles. In the “Canyon Club” series three “princes of privilege” from the same exclusive boys school, reconnect ten years later when all their fortunes have been reversed. The Loner, once a penniless outsider, is now a tech billionaire; the trust fund Golden Boy is now broke; and the powerless class nerd, is now a powerful wounded warrior. Each clashes with a woman of wit and warmth who challenges him to grow and become the man he’s meant to be. Both series are Jane Austen-inspired and fueled by unlikely but undeniable attractions.
CM: What is the best thing a reader ever said to you?
KM: “I stayed up all night with a flashlight to finish your book.” J It doesn’t get any better than that!
CM: What social media sites do you use the most and why?
KM: My go-to social media sites arefacebookandtwitter.I like Twitter for sharing and discovering sudden flashes of writing insight. I like Facebook as an avenue to connect with readers and fellow writers. I love the interactions. You never know who will post a cartoon that makes you snort your coffee out your nose, an image that inspires awe, or a video that restores your faith in humanity. Meanwhile, trading comments lets you discover other fans of the things you love most from Jane Austen’s novels to V.G.’s Donuts in Cardiff, CA.
CM: A lot of authors love to write series while others love stand alones. What do you prefer and why?
KM: I got the series bug in 2005 after publishing seven stand-alone novels. All of a sudden I had an idea in the middle of the RWA Conference in Reno. I couldn’t write it down fast enough on the back of a green envelope stuffed in my goody bag. What if a famous London courtesan had three sons by three different noble lovers, each of them shaped by her tempestuous relationships with their fathers? Then, what if the youngest was kidnapped? The “Sons of Sin” series was born. I had great fun writing the series and learned so much. It took all three novels to complete the story of the kidnapped boy. I enjoyed staying in the world of the work, fully developing the family dynamics, and using recurring characters, one of whom I’m still writing about today. Nate Wilde, the young thug from To Tempt a Saint, will soon appear in his fifth novel. Since writing that first series, I haven’t gone back, (except for one novella in an anthology of connected stories about a magic Irish ring, Ring of Truth).
CM: Please finish the sentence: I’m a Romance writer because…
KM: . . . because of Jane Austen, and because I believe love is the unfinished business of our lives. Romance is an antidote to cynicism and discouragement. One person’s love can bring us in out of the cold to a circle of warmth, love, and laughter among family and friends, as it does for Darcy, Wentworth, and Edward in Austen’s novels, and Scrooge in Dickens’ most famous story. I try to capture that story of being transformed by love in every book I write.
CM: Once again, I want to thank Kate for sharing some insight to her writing style and career.
Catrina Burgess (aka Cat Brown) is an author and blogger based in Arizona. When she’s not writing, she loves to bake and spend time with her husband and three rescue dogs Coco, Trouble, and Ashy and their cat Shitty Kitty.
When did you launch Romance Junkies and what made you decide it was time to step back from running it?
I started Romance Junkies back in 2002. At that time I was a freelance web designer and aspiring romance writer. I’ve always been a big reader and in between working a day job and writing I was doing a lot of reading. I thought it would be fun to start doing book reviews with some of my friends. And since I was a web designer I decided to whip up a little website where we could post the reviews. I thought the site was going to be a small weekend project, but the first week we were open, I got a very nasty email from one of the big romance review sites. The letter had a very threatening tone and was telling us we couldn’t feature certain authors that were apparently “their authors.” I remember reading the email to my husband and afterward saying in an astonished tone, “Who knew there was a romance mafia.” I’m pretty laid back, but I don’t like bullies. I decided that day to spend all my free time working on the Romance Junkies. My goal was to try to make it as big as possible, for no other reason than to annoy the “Romance Mafia.”
After 13 years of running the site, I decided it was time for a change. I wanted to spend more time working on my writing, and I wanted to try some new projects. Some new challenges.
Are you still involved in the Romance Junkies site?
Marie Harte, who writes contemporary romance for Sourcebooks publishing, is the current owner/operator. She is a good friend, and I know she is going to do a fabulous job with the site. I have stepped down from all Romance Junkies management, site decisions, and actual work, but I’ve stayed on with the site as a reviewer. I plan to do a few reviews here and there.
When you founded Romance Junkies back in 2002 what was the online world like for romance authors/novels and how has it changed since then in your opinion?
Big review sites and big blogs filled Romanceland. I remember I would hit my favorite sites and blogs each week to get news and gossip about what was going on. Over the years, social media has expanded with things like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Now I get a lot of my Romanceland news via Twitter and Facebook. Rather than blogs run by a big group of people you see a lot more small, individually run blogs. A lot of young book reviewers are doing their reviews on YouTube.
You’re also an author – when did you start writing and why?
I started writing back in 2001. When I turned 36 years old, my husband lovingly told me, “You need to start working on that writing dream you’ve had since you were a kid, because let’s face it time is running out.” I told him I had no idea how to write a book, and he gave me one of his no-nonsense stares and told me, “Stop whining and go figure it out.” Now in his defense, he does tend to be very straightforward in the things he says. He will tell you the honest truth, whether or not you want to hear it. He is also the most supportive husband—he is one of my main critique partners and has really helped me over the years become a better writer.
I started working on that first book in 2001. It took me eight months to write that first book and five months to edit it. While writing that book, I realized how much I loved the whole writing process. Yes, it’s crazy hard, impossible some days, but so much fun. There’s nothing better than battling through and writing a book and getting to those sweet words—THE END. Nothing cooler than seeing the characters you have in your head become walking and talking entities.
What genre do you write in and why?
I started out writing romance. I have four stories that were published with one of the big epublishing houses. I’m not going to name them since my career with them ended when the house blew up with a bunch of crazy drama. Around that that time I got very sick. So sick I had to give up my day job—I was teaching computer classes and doing freelance web design. My husband, who had always helped me run Romance Junkies, took over the bulk of the work on the site. He also had to take on an extra job since I was no longer able to work. The poor boy had a sick wife at home, was working two day jobs, and was putting up features on Romance Junkies during the wee hours. I told you he’s a very supportive husband. Every year I got a little better and after two years I was able to get back to working on Romance Junkies. Though sadly I was still too sick to go back to working a regular day job.
When I was really sick, every six months I would try to write. The first two years the fatigue was so overwhelming I just couldn’t write. I didn’t have the mental clarity to get words down on paper. And then after year three of being sick I saw that author Candace Haven was offering a fast draft class. I decided to give it a try, even though I knew there was a very good chance I wouldn’t be well enough to participate. To my surprise suddenly I could get the words out. The tips I learned about fast drafting in that class really changed the way I wrote. Instead of editing as I worked, I started just banging out a fast, rough first draft. It was so freeing to allow myself to be creative and to turn off the editor in my head. Of course with no editor on duty, that meant my rough drafts were incredibly rough, and it would take me as much time to polish and edit a manuscript as it did to write it.
Before I was sick, I wrote romance, but now the stories coming out of me were much darker. Even more surprising—they were YA. Working on that first young adult book Awakening was a life saver. When your life is full of fatigue, your world becomes very small. You mourn the high energy person you used to be. You have so many limitations on the things you can do you get depressed. I took all that depression, all those dark thoughts and I poured them into my story. I spent the next two years writing the four books in the Dark Ritual series under the pen name Catrina Burgess. Those characters in the book, the Scooby gang as I call them, kept me entertained and I truly believed helped me get better. I’m still sick, and I still have a lot of limitations on the things I can do, but on a good day I can think clearly. I’m mentally 70% there, which is a huge improvement. More importantly, I’m well enough to write. I never realized how much I loved writing until I couldn’t do it anymore.
You’re published by Full Fathom Five – the publishing company launched by James Frey – who shot to fame years ago with his bestseller A Million Little Pieces – how did that come about and how is it going so far?
I’m with the infamous James Frey publishing through the Full Fathom Five Digital house. I wrote the first three books in my Dark Ritual series and posted them on Wattpad. Wattpad is a teen writing community. I honestly didn’t think anyone would be interested in reading my YA books. I was writing them to entertain myself and my teenage nieces. I was shocked when the series started to get a lot of traction on Wattpad. Before I knew it, the first three books had over 3 million reads. I was getting fan email from teens from all over the world. I decided to enter Awakening, the first book in the series into a Wattpad writing contest. To my amazement, out of 3,000 entries, Awakening was picked as one of ten winners of the Wattpad 2014 Prize. Awakening was named best suspense book. After winning the contest, I was contacted by Full Fathom Five.
I spent a good deal of time researching the new house and their management. It’s always a risk to go with a new house, but I decided to take the risk. It took six months to negotiate a contract we could both live with. Once I was on board with the house, I got to know the staff as I worked with them. And I really enjoyed working with them.
The toughest part of the whole process was the eight months of publisher edits. Since I signed in January and the first three books all came out the month of October, I was under very tough deadlines. But somehow I survived them, though I don’t remember much about last summer, it seemed to have whizzed by in a blur of edits.
I love how the series turned out. I adore the covers. And I would have happily continued working with FFF, but unfortunately the digital house this year decided to downsize. They are not taking on any new submissions. I plan to write a half-dozen books set in the same world as the Dark Rituals series, but now I’m free to do whatever I want with those books. It’s a bit scary having an orphaned series. It’s very unlikely another house will pick up the rest of the series. At the moment the plan is to self-publish the rest of the books. Nowadays when you self-publish you have to consider covers and edits. Those expenses come out of your own pocket. You cross your fingers and hope that the book sells enough to repay the money you paid out of pocket. There is no guarantee it will. There is a risk, but there is also quite a bit of freedom having full control over your book. It allows you to take more risks with the story and the characters.
Given your background at Romance Junkies – what do you think are some key things that every author should do to promote their books?
If you asked me this question three years ago, I would have had a pat answer for you. There seemed to be a roadmap that authors could follow to find success and sales. But in the last three years the publishing industry has been in a free fall. Suddenly authors who had been making a great living writing are having a hard time surviving.
I’ve given a lot of thought to why there has been such a drastic change in Romanceland in the last three years. Is it because Amazon changed its algorithms? The fact that so many indie authors are now publishing romance? Has the avalanche of free books turned readers off from buying books? Could it be that the middle class is shrinking, and people seem to be working more which leaves them less time to read and less money to spend on books? I think it’s a combination of all of the above.
So what can an Author do that will ensure she/he sells a zillion books? If I could answer that question, I would be the most popular person in Romanceland. I think it’s still important to try and get your name out. It helps to be active on social media. Book blog tours, Facebook ads, reviews—I think these things still help with book sales. But when it comes to the big sales I think it’s lightening striking—the combination of timing and luck. If you are lucky enough to have a project that hits big with Amazon rankings and somehow gets found by the readers and those readers spread the word about the book to all their friends–you get this grass roots buzz happening. The rankings and readers interest gets the blogs all talking about the book, and the big sales seem to follow. I don’t know that anyone has found a guaranteed way to make all of those things happen. If they did, I’m sure the whole of Romanceland would be talking about it.
Personally, I’m going to try a few non-writing projects see if I can raise my Author visibility. In the fall I’m going to start doing YouTube videos about paranormal topics. Hopefully, I can make the videos informative yet zany enough to entertain my teen readers.
Let’s say your book has been out there for six months, and the shine is off the apple – what are some key things that an author should do to keep their name out there?
Another good question. The answer seems to be write more books. It’s a tough time in publishing—authors are expected to write multiple books a year and, at the same time, do a ton of social media and marketing. You see many authors struggling to find time to write with all the marketing they are doing. Some authors seem to be able to juggle the two seamlessly. I’ve seen authors who are somehow on Twitter all day long interacting with their readers and yet they still find time to write. I wonder when they sleep.
What do you love reading and who are three of your favorite authors?
You have chronic fatigue syndrome – how does it affect your writing and daily routine? What are some things you do to help keep yourself balanced?
Chronic fatigue is a dreadful thing to have. Most people don’t realize how debilitating fatigue can be. There are days when I feel like I have a house sitting on my shoulders and getting up and putting a load of dishes in the dishwasher seems like an impossible task. I’ve always been a type A personality, but no amount of mental strength or willpower can fight through that much fatigue.
I found what works for me, is if I set a weekly page count. I try to write every day, but that’s not always possible. I find with the weekly page count it helps me push myself to get pages done on those days when I feel well enough to write. But there are many days during the week when I’m too sick even to sit at the laptop. Especially if I overdo it.
Bonus: What are you really good at and why? (can be something silly) J
I can crochet afghans. It disturbs and amuses my friends that I can crochet. I’m someone who lives in graphic t-shirts, jeans, and vans, and I guess crocheting is something that people always think of grandmothers as doing. I’m good at it thanks to my very own grandmother who taught me how to crochet.
Jill Bennett had her life planned out, and then everything changed. Soon after her husband’s sudden death from a heart attack two years ago, Jill’s daughter Rachel was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the very young age of 21. Widowed and scared, Jill threw herself into caring for her daughter 24/7. Now that Rachel is in remission, Jill is finding it hard to let go and give her some breathing room at home and at her new job working for a local vet named Grant Palmer. Grant has a knack for getting under Jill’s skin, especially where Rachel’s future is concerned. The last thing Jill has in mind is getting on with her own life. So why can’t she stop thinking about the handsome Dr. Palmer?
Devoted to Her Cowboy by C. J. CarmichaeL
When rodeo champion Blake Timber returns home as the star attraction of the Sheep River Rodeo Days he doesn’t expect to find his nerdy high school friend Shelby Turner so beautiful and so not nerdy. He also doesn’t expect to find his grandmother, frail and wearing a headscarf. When Grams reveals she has ovarian cancer, Blake is shocked. He’s thankful that Shelby, who works in his grandmother’s flower shop, has been there for her. But he wants to take over the reins and get his beloved Grams the best care money can buy. In spite of his best efforts, his well-intentioned plans are met with stubborn resistance from both women. Adding to his frustrations is his ex-girlfriend Kelli-Jo Calhoun, who is the Sheep River Days organizer. Unhappily married and with a son, she seems hell bent on roping him into something that could put everything he cares about at risk—especially his growing feelings for Shelby.
Her Angel by Kayla Perrin
Tasia Montgomery never thought she’d get “that” phone call from her mom. Stage four ovarian cancer. Tasia puts her job as a chef in a busy restaurant in Atlanta on hold, to go home to Miami to be there for her mother. When her mom passes away, Tasia is left with a huge burden of guilt, sadness, and loss. Now, she is tasked with the duty of packing everything up and selling the family home. She knows her mom didn’t want her to sell but what choice does she have? Her brother Andrew, who is living in Seattle with his wife and their baby, is as distant as can be. Just like their father, who up and left them when they were kids. But when Tasia meets Malcolm Robertson, the contractor her mom hired to renovate the house before she died, Tasia is drawn to him. Her mom treated him like a son and shared things with him that she never revealed to Tasia. Malcolm becomes a good friend to Tasia, but does she want something more with the handsome contractor? As Tasia, sorts through her mother’s belongings she makes a discovery about her mom that shocks her to her core, but will it make her see the truth of her own life or make her head back to Atlanta for good?
MG: I had a chance to chat with Blanche Marriott, a friend and wonderful author who has offered such heartfelt encouragement to me and others in our writing journeys, that I wanted to share her thoughts with you. Blanche writes romance with a great sense of humor, and I’ve enjoyed reading her stories. Thanks for sharing, Blanche!
Tell our audience a bit about yourself, your writing process, and how/why you became a writer.
BM: Like most writers, it begins with an idea, a story playing in your head, or voices acting out a scene. I had a story playing in my head for years until I finally decided it had to be written down. It was a great story, the best thing anyone had ever written! It would sell in an instant and I’d be instantly famous with talk shows knocking down my door for an interview. That story is now covered in dust and sits in drawer somewhere, never to see the light of day. It was AWFUL!! But that’s where the love of writing began. I knew I could do better, so I did.
JMG: When did you realize you wanted to write and why did you choose romance?
BM: I’d always done writing of some sort, even as a child. Poems, short stories. It was mostly for myself. A way of expressing myself. It wasn’t until college when an English professor wrote kind words on anything I passed in. He saw potential and I think that was the first time I took any of my writing seriously. Why did I choose romance? Mostly because that’s what I enjoyed reading. I loved a happy ending.
JMG: How many books do you have published?
BM: 6 novels, 1 non-fiction satire. I’ve written 14 total.
JMG: If you could offer advice to newbie authors, what would you say?
BM: Persevere. It’s a long road, often times frustrating. But if you believe in yourself, you can do it. Don’t think that the first thing you write will sell like hotcakes like I did. It probably won’t. The craft of writing is learned over a period of time, mostly trial and error. By the time I got to my third book, I felt like I’d hit my stride and had some sort of idea what I was doing. It felt right, and it was. That was the first book I sold.
JMG: Tell us your opinion on Indie publishing versus traditional publishing?
BM: Obviously, there’s something good to be said about both. Likewise, there are bad points for both. It’s much harder to get published today with traditional publishers (in my opinion) because they are only looking for the best of the best. When I sold my first book, it had been a long time coming–over 10 years. Nowadays, with the tight competition, and the fewer new authors being bought, I fear that these new authors are in for a lot of disappointment. Indie publishing can satisfy that burning desire to be published, but it can leave one with the nagging question, “Is it really good enough?”
JMG: Have you ever independently published your work? If so, what did you take away from the process? You can tell us the good, the bad, and the ugly, we won’t mind!
BM: After selling 3 books traditionally, I decided to go the indie route because the book I really wanted to publish didn’t quite strike any publisher’s fancy. It was just a little off the beaten track so it was turned down across the board. I enjoyed the freedom of indie publishing. I felt I could write what I wanted, the way I wanted. That can be a drawback, because who says what I want to write is any good? Again, we never know. But when I read the reviews, I feel vindicated.
JMG: I know you’ve taken a break from writing, but do you think you’ll return to it one day?
BM: I suppose I might. They say once a writer, always a writer. I admit I still look at things with a writer’s eye: movies, TV shows, people watching. It’s second nature. Perhaps one day the bug will bite hard enough and I’ll have to bite back.
JMG: Do characters still pop up into your brain yearning to be put in a story? How do you handle it when that happens?
BM: Yes, like I said in the previous answer, things still hit me from time to time. I don’t rush to get a paper and pen anymore like I used to, but maybe it’s a matter of exercising the brain, or greasing the wheels. If I see enough awful plots out there, I might just have to write a better one.
Blanche Marriott began writing romance novels in 1991 while balancing her career as a wood products manufacturing manager. She often joined the troops in the factory, working on sanders, drills, and saws. It gave her time to “talk” to the characters in her head and figure out what they would do next. In 2001 she switched careers and now works for a CPA firm as an accounting assistant, specializing in payroll.
She has completed 14 novels while staying active in 2 writing groups, serving on the Boards of Directors several times, and a number of conference committees. But the best part was the life-long
friendships she’s formed with so many writers, published and unpublished.
Her first published novel, KALEIDOSCOPE, won 2nd place in the 2003 WisRWA Write Touch Readers’ Award for published authors. Her second book, WAY OUT WEST, won the prestigious New Jersey Romance Writers’ 2003 Golden Leaf Award for Short Contemporary. WAY OUT WEST was also a finalist in the 2004 Virginia Romance Writers’ HOLT Medallion Awards.
Her current novels are ONE MORE NIGHT and HIS BROTHER’S BABY. She also has a non-fiction humor book, BORN TO BITCH, chronicling life’s little annoyances.
When she’s not writing, Blanche enjoys gardening, reading, and playing with her grandkids.
He also writes occasional nonfiction, short fiction (some of which is collected in Nine Frights), and comic books, including the long-running horror/Western comic book series Desperadoes and graphic novels Fade to Black and Zombie Cop. With writing partner Marsheila Rockwell, he has published several short stories and a novel, 7 SYKOS. He has worked in virtually every aspect of the book business, as a writer, editor, marketing executive, and bookseller.
I’ve known Jeff for several years and was delighted when he agreed to answer a few of my questions.
DLS: When people see an author’s name, they often see it as a “brand”, knowing what kind of story they’ll get. You’ve written in several genres from science fiction to weird westerns to horror. How do you define the “Jeff Mariotte Brand”?
JM: I’m convinced that writing in different genres has been harmful to my career, because readers tend to like a writer who stays put, who delivers basically the same thing book after book. Once you’re well established, you can switch around–like Robert B. Parker eventually turning to the occasional western after writing a ton of mystery books in different series. But shifting around before your “brand” is established seems like a bad move, career-wise.
That said, I don’t see how I could have done it differently. I have to write what I’m moved to write at any given time. I’d get bored writing the same series character over and over. I haven’t calculated out the wisest career path, but have written the books that felt like they needed to be written as they came along. I’m true to myself, if not to market considerations. My agent might prefer it the other way around, but I am who I am.
I hope that readers know that when they pick up one of my books, they’ll get a compelling, suspenseful tale that’ll keep them turning the page; they’ll get well-written and engaging stories populated with characters they’ll believe in and care about. Regardless of genre, I try to always write books that will brighten a reader’s day and life, that entertain and maybe inform and enlighten. My books are generally optimistic, even when they venture into dark places, and one of my central themes seems to be the idea that there’s magic in the world, if only you know to look for it.
DLS: Who was your greatest writer influence/inspiration when you started? What are some books of theirs you would recommend?
JM: I was a bookseller for years before I got published, so I was reading pretty extensively in my preferred genres–horror, mysteries, thrillers, sf, fantasies, westerns. Consequently, I had (and have) a lot of inspirations. Some have changed over the years, and others have been consistent. In the early days, I was strongly inspired by Robert E. Howard (particularly his Conan stories), the aforementioned Bob Parker (his Spenser novels), Raymond Chandler (Philip Marlowe) and Ross Macdonald (Lew Archer). At the same time, I’ve often been inspired by writers as varied as Stephen King (The Stand, The Shining, On Writing), William Goldman (Marathon Man, Boys and Girls Together) and Wallace Stegner (Angle of Repose, Recapitulation, Wolf Willow). More recent influences include James Lee Burke (any of his books, but especially the Robicheaux novels). That’s a pretty male-centric list, but I could also add in works by Joan Vinge, Leigh Brackett, C.L. Moore, Laura Lippman, Barbara Kingsolver, and plenty of other talented women, as well as one of the best writers I know, Marsheila Rockwell.
DLS: You recently married your writing partner, the talented Marsheila Rockwell. How do your collaborations work? How does collaborating compare to writing solo?
JM: Funny you should mention that…
We collaborate very well, almost seamlessly. We have different strengths–she’s a poet and her command of language is beautiful, while I’m a stronger plotter, for instance–but when we work together, our strengths complement each other, and by the time we’re finished with a story, we usually can’t tell who wrote what. We try to start with a solid outline so we know where we’re going and what each other’s vision of the overall story is (and because we both come out of a tie-in writing background, we’re used to working with outlines). Then we trade off–scene by scene, chapter by chapter, whatever works at the moment and for any given project. On the first book of the Xena: Warrior Princesstrilogy we’re working on, we had a relatively tight deadline and had to be writing different chapters simultaneously, which was a little awkward. But we smoothed it all out, and it came out well in the end.
As for the difference between collaborating and solo work, it is a different beast. A solo story or novel is one person’s vision, and everything in it, good or bad, is a reflection of that one person. A collaboration is necessarily a shared vision. I’ve written a lot of comic books and graphic novels, and because I don’t draw, those are always collaborations. And I’ve collaborated with other writers, too. So it’s not new to me. It does feel more natural with Marcy, and we work together better than I have with anyone else. Ideally, the result of a collaboration is a book or a story one writer couldn’t have written, because each participant brings different skills and life experiences to the table, and that’s what Marcy and I get when we write together. The fact that I get to be married to her is icing on the cake.
DLS: What insights have you gained from owning a bookstore that can help writers be more successful and stand out from the crowd?
JM: I think the experience of working in bookstores, managing them, and being an owner of one, has made me less ready to jump on board the e-book train. I think printed books are an ideal marriage of form and function–they don’t require a power source, they don’t break down or become corrupted, they’re always there when you want to read and you can save your place with a bookmark or a piece of paper or a paper clip or whatever’s handy. At the same time, I have a more realistic view of the book business than some people, who seem to think that Amazon is the only bookseller that matters. The truth is that printed books still far outsell e-books, and other outlets still sell more books in the U.S. than Amazon does, so if a writer focuses all of his or her efforts on Amazon, he or she is leaving a lot of potential sales on the table.
DLS: Not only do you write in your own worlds, you’ve written novels and stories for Star Trek, NCIS, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and other franchises. How does “playing in someone else’s sandbox” compare to creating your own world?
JM: I love writing my original novels, and will always want to do that. Creating my own characters and involving them in situations entirely of my own devising is the ultimate creative experience. But it’s also a blast to be asked to write novels about characters I love, like Conan, Xena, Spider-Man, Superman, and great TV shows like CSI and NCIS: Los Angeles. I get to tell stories in beloved fictional universes, and get paid for it–nothing wrong with that!
The skills that are called on are the same. I have to create characters, plot stories, write in an engaging and entertaining manner. And the truth is whether I’m writing in an existing fictional universe or my own, I have to be consistent and true to the rules of that universe as it’s been developed. So the main difference is that in tie-in work, I have to try to capture voices that were devised by other writers (and sometimes actors). Fortunately, I’m pretty good at that.
DLS: If someone wanted to try their hand at writing and selling a novel in the world of a popular franchise, what would they need to do? How should they start?
JM: They could start by visiting the website of the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers, IAMTW.org. There they can find out a lot about the nuts and bolts of the tie-in business, and maybe find out about licensed fiction lines they didn’t even know existed. The organization has also released a book by its membership that contains more details about the trade.
Typically (although there are exceptions) to write a tie-in novel, you have to have had at least one other novel professionally published. Publishers have already invested a lot of money to acquire a license, so they don’t want to risk more by hiring a writer who hasn’t proven the ability to write a publishable book. And there’s often competition for tie-in gigs, so if it’s a choice between a writer with a solid track record and an unknown new writer, the established pro will have the advantage. So the best thing a writer can do is write a good book, get it published by a reputable publisher, then approach the publisher of the licensed fiction line of interest and say, “Hey, I wrote X and I’d sure like to pitch you something for your Y line.”
DLS: In addition to writing novels, you’ve written and edited comic books. How are writing comic books similar and different than writing novels or short stories? Do you collaborate with the artist ahead of time, or create any kind of storyboard in addition to writing?
JM: As I mentioned above, because I don’t draw the comics, each one is a collaboration, start to finish. I write the script before the artist draws it, so while I’m writing it I’m only speculating about what it’ll look like at the end of the process. Usually what I’m seeing in my head is not much like what comes out on the page. From the very beginning of my career, I’ve had the good fortune of working with some amazing artists, whose work on my scripts has blown me away.
Ultimately, the skill sets the writer brings to the table are similar. You need to tell a story that’s worth telling, that’s interesting and surprising and suspenseful and is hopefully enlightening in some way. The differences are in the techniques and the outcome. In comics, you have to be willing to stand back and let the art tell the story. The writer makes up the story (in most cases), and puts it down in a script that no one will ever see, but the artist is the one whose interpretation of the story ends up being what the readers see. The writer has to let the artist do that job, and keep the words to a minimum so they don’t get in the way of the art.
I don’t try to direct the artist to any great extent. I tell them what has to be in each panel to make the story work, but leave it to them how the panel is composed, how the different panels fit onto the page, etc. I’ve worked, as an editor, with writers who don’t trust their artists and do sketch layouts for them. Fortunately, in most cases, the artists I’ve worked with are far better at that than I would be.
DLS: What kind of research did you do writing the comic book biography of Barack Obama? Did you get to interview the President or did you work from other resources?
JM: That project was fascinating, and required vast amounts of research. I didn’t get to meet or speak with the President (though I’d still love to). I wrote it during the 2008 campaign and the first few months of his presidency, so at the time there weren’t even any books about him other than the two he wrote himself. Obviously he was a well-known public figure, but what had been written about him was mostly journalism coming out on a constant basis, along with a few more in-depth magazine pieces. I read his books and every article about him I could get my hands on, and watched him on TV whenever possible to get a sense of his voice. The scripts were vetted by lawyers, and I had to have every fact triple-sourced, and had to be able to show where every line of dialogue came from. The project was originally three separate comic book issues that were collected into a single hardcover book, which was actually the first book-length biography written about him.
DLS: I sense a certain passion for small towns on the southern border of the United States in your writing. What captivates you about those places in particular?
JM: Borderlands of all kinds are fascinating to me. I have written a lot about the US/Mexico border, but I’ve written about other borders, too–my Age of Conan trilogy, for example, was largely about the border between the Aquilonian Empire and the Pictish lands–which is kind of a parallel to Hadrian’s Wall, where the Roman Empire ended and the wilderness began. Other borders in my fiction include borders between our world and another (or many others). Borders are where different people with different interests and backgrounds intersect. There’s natural drama in that. Along our southwestern border, there are of course political issues, issues of crime and punishment, and the story of the human race–which is the ongoing story of migration–all of which are rich territory for fiction.
DLS: Tell us about your latest novel.
JM: The new book is 7 SYKOS, a collaboration with Marsheila Rockwell. It’s kind of a science fiction/horror/thriller hybrid. Basically, a meteor has brought a spaceborne virus into the Phoenix metropolitan area, which has the effect of turning those infected into raging lunatics hungry for brains. It’s incredibly virulent and there’s no known cure or vaccine. In order to keep it from spreading throughout the nation (or the world), the military has fenced off the Valley of the Sun, and nobody is allowed in or out. But everyone knows that’s only a temporary solution, so if something more permanent can’t be figured out soon, the Valley’s going to be nuked out of existence. Trouble is, the only way to come up with a fix is to get enough of the meteor to study, and nobody can get to it. But it turns out that the unique brain structure of psychopaths makes them immune to the virus. So they can go into the quarantine zone, to look for pieces of the meteor. And all they have to do is agree to perform an essentially altruistic act, learn how to play well together, and survive the onslaught of thousands of Infecteds who want to eat their brains. Nothing to it, right…?
DLS: Sounds amazing! Thanks for the wonderful and informative interview!
LP: You write romance – Regency historical and contemporary – what attracted you to both?
MR: I started writing historical romance because that’s what I was reading—because that’s what my mother read and passed along to me. But I’m so fascinated with the parallels between the Regency world and today and I wanted to explore that in my writing, so that’s why I did a series like the Bad Boys & Wallflowers. It’s about a modern day heroine “writing” historical romances based on her “real life” romance with the bad boy billionaire. This page on my website outlines how the books are connected.
LP: You’re a USA Today bestselling author. What book(s) did you hit with and how high? And how did you celebrate?
MR: I hit the list with What a Wallflower Wants and I celebrated in the usual way: jumping up and down and crying in the kitchen with the husband. I actually wrote a little blog post about it, from my initial reaction, to the champagne, and what my mom said when I called with the news.
MR: I think romance novels have gotten a bum rap because they’re unapologetically by women/for women and they’re mass (read: cheaply) produced and our culture tends to be dismissive of both those things. But that’s also what makes them so powerful and popular! I see this changing, though, as there is more attention and respect paid to women’s work (whatever it may be).
LP: Aside from writing your books, what are THREE key things that you do consistently that help you “put noses in your books” and build a reader fan base.
MR: Well, writing the books is the main thing. The best way to sell a book is by making a reader happy with another book you’ve written. For advice other than that, I’d suggest:
–Cultivating relationships with other authors. Champion the books you love and give shout outs to authors you want other readers to discover. Maybe they’ll do the same for your work, or it might just add to a culture of sharing the love, which helps everyone. 🙂
–Be an engaging person on social media. Connect with and converse with people there and talk about stuff other than trying to sell your books.
— Unless you have a new release and then . . .
–Tell everyone when you have a book out! HUSTLE! Tell your friends and family. Call your local bookstore. Shout it from the rooftops. Whatever it takes to get the word out!
LP: Who do you fan girl over and why?
MR: In Romancelandia, I’d get super bashful and excited to talk to Lisa Kleypas. Her writing is some of the best in the genre, and any fiction I’ve read. Plus, I love how she’s written historical and contemporary romances.
LP: Tell us about THREE AWESOME books you’ve read by newbie authors or authors who haven’t yet “broken through” (can be any genre).
LP: Bonus: What are three fun “romance heroine” lines that a gal could use on a cute guy at a party or coffee shop?
MR: Oh, that is a tricky one! Any romance heroine line is one that is from the heart and probably sounds like “the wrong thing” to say. Or it’s a declaration that she will never marry the hero (haha, famous last words).
Never under-estimate the positive power of romance authors. Or the laughs, when they get together. Romance author Ashlyn Chase interviews her friend and fellow romance author and writing partner Dalton Diaz:
AC: So, Dalton, what are you working on these days? I know we have a mutual project, but that’s nonfiction. I’ll bet you also have another bunch of characters in your head that are chattering away at you too.
DD: I have a new series called Hotel Rendezvous, that takes place at the Menger Hotel in San Antonio, TX. It’s about a couple who go there to celebrate their anniversary. Um, in bed. <g> The first book, Makin’ It Right, was released on March 2, 2016.
AC: Many writers have a hard time balancing family and career, and I’ve admired the way you handle it with a sense of humor. What does your family think about what you do?
DD: They tease me mercilessly. To be fair, they tease me mercilessly about everything. I have no idea where they get it from.
AC: If you couldn’t write, what would you do? I know, that’s a terrible question. I hate it too. I’m just dying to see how you handle it. (Insert evil grin here.)
DD: Read everything I could get my hands on and wish I could write! I seriously don’t know how to answer this question. I’ve been writing since middle school, and I can’t imagine not being able to do it anymore.
AC: What is your number one distraction?
DD: Real life. I can’t get out of my own way.
AC: I know you like to cook. Tell us how you write as if you’re dictating a recipe.
DD: LOL! I never thought of it this way, but they have a very similar process. An idea of what to cook comes to mind. I let it set for a bit, then research the main ingredients I want to combine until that gels. Then, I go for it!
AC: I know the romance genre is important to you. Can you tell us why?
DD: It’s all I like to read. I’m in love with love.
AC: If you could correct one misconception about the romance genre, which one would it be?
DD: That if you write erotic romance, you can’t possibly be happily married and monogamous. It’s ridiculous. No one assumes someone who writes thrillers goes around stabbing people.
AC: Which is your favorite subgenre to write?
DD:M/F, M/M, Menage. It depends on my mood. For now, it all has to be contemporary, and it all has to contain humor.
AC: When readers ask you how long it takes to write a novel, what do you tell them? Truthfully.
DD: It takes me way longer than it should. Can’t get out of my own way, remember? How’s that for truth?
AC: Well this is been ten easy questions with my writing partner, Dalton Diaz. She’s probably going to kill me now. But before she does, I just want the world to know that she’s the reason those books we’ve written together have even seen the light of day. Each time I’ve asked for her contributions, it’s really been a cry for help. I’ve been stuck, or overwhelmed, or sometimes I just felt like I wasn’t up to the task. Not everyone is so lucky to have a person they can turn to, whose writing they love, and whose opinion they respect. I’m looking forward to writing together when I’m not desperate for help, and we can just have fun brainstorming, plotting, and perfecting a new book.
Prudence Hartley has the usual single mom problems: getting her kids to school on time; juggling a gazillion errands while trying to get a full day’s work done; oh, and don’t forget about dinner.
But Pru’s problems become a tad more complicated and a lot more dangerous when she finds a dead man in her house. Or a dead spy to be exact. Suddenly, a federal agent named David Merrick shows up and whisks her and her kids into protective custody. Pru has so many questions spinning through her brain she doesn’t know where to begin. How is she going to keep her kids safe? What was the dead spy looking for in her house? Why are the spies after her? Oh, and there’s one more question . . . just a pesky, minor thing. Why does Merrick have to be so damn sexy and protective?
Maybe he was just doing his job, but Sergeant Merrick was my hero. He coordinated the paramedics, police, ambulance attendants, and an intrepid reporter who came running when three ambulances, an EMT truck from the fire department and half a dozen police cruisers congregated at the hotel. More importantly, at least to me, he calmed Hope and Boone, assuring them that their mother was fine, even if she was sitting with her head between her knees, holding a bloody towel. He got them clear of the chaos and made sure they got safely to their father’s with a police escort.
“I’ll have a uniformed officer stay with them overnight.” he assured.
Once they were away, Merrick signalled the next set of ambulance attendants to help me onto a stretcher.
“We meet again.”
I focussed on the speaker. It took me a moment, but I connected the dots. He checked on us the night before.
“Bob,” he said, in case I forgot.
I nodded. “I remember.”
“It looks like you were wrong,” he said as he helped me onto the stretcher. “Bullet wounds are catching.”
Flashing his badge, Merrick managed to get to us shortly after we arrived at the hospital. He made sure Zeke and I were kept together and stayed with us, even after repeatedly being told by the attending nurses to leave. Then, when we were alone, Merrick asked the big question. “What happened?”
I knew what he was really asking.
“Why didn’t I hide in the bathroom with Hope and Boone? You think I didn’t lock the door properly, but I put the security bar on and everything. I called you as soon as I could. What took you so long?”
I took a dive off the edge of rationality into the deep end of guilt and second-guessing. I burst into tears. I hate it when that happens.
“Give her a break, Sarge,” said Zeke, raising himself up on his good elbow. “She saved my life.”
Merrick, who had taken my outburst calmly, raised an eyebrow.
“Well,” Zeke temporised, “she intended to save my life. She couldn’t know that I had moved out of the line of fire.” He tried to sit up. “I know, I never should have been in his line of fire in the first place . . . probably should stick to the backroom stuff . . .”
In the midst of my sobbing and Zeke’s self-flagellation, Merrick told us to calm down.
Big mistake. That might have worked on Zeke. Don’t know. Wasn’t paying attention. For me, it was like waving a red cape in front of a bull. All my fear and guilt transformed into anger directed at him. I grabbed him by the shirt-front and pulled myself up with the strength that comes with hysteria.
“I’m not a cop. I’m a mother,” I shouted, hopping bare footed onto the cold floor. “I didn’t hide with my children because I figured that whoever it was, they were looking for me. If they found me, they wouldn’t go looking for my kids too. I didn’t know if you’d get there in time to stop Hope and Boone from becoming hostages and I wasn’t going to risk it. I wasn’t going to risk Zeke dying either and I would have done the same for you.”
I spoke in a rush, losing volume and air as I went, losing momentum as I realized the attention I was drawing. Not one of my shining moments.
I started to collapse. I tried to steady myself using my handhold on Merrick’s shirt. He grabbed my shoulders to brace me. He didn’t lose his cool for an instant.
“Call a nurse,” he told Zeke. “She’s bleeding.”
I gave a choke of laughter. There were at least two nurses, an orderly, and three men in uniform ranged behind Merrick.
My vision got blurry. I blinked to clear it, refocused, and noticed that Merrick was wearing red and green plaid pyjamas. I let go of his top and smoothed out the soft material.
Alison Bruce has had many careers and writing has always been one of them. Copywriter, editor and graphic designer since 1992, Alison has also been a comic book store manager, small press publisher, webmaster and arithmetically challenged bookkeeper. In addition to writing, she is the Publication Manager of Crime Writers of Canada and part-time tech guru to the technology-impaired.
Alison writes mysteries, romantic suspense and historical romance. Her protagonists are marked by their strength of character, the ability to adapt (sooner or later) to new situations and to learn from adversity–traits she hopes to pass on to her children, Kate and Sam.
Hands wrapped around a large mug of hot coffee, I enter my office to start my writing day. Not far behind me are my two assistants, my fuzzy, long-haired, angel, Tango and her lean, long-legged, brother Samba. My two rescue cats!!
The computer hums as my babies decide where to settle first. Their positions will change several times throughout the day, but that’s part of the entertainment. At six years old, they are no longer babies – – but aren’t pets our children, our life, our heart forever? She picks the reading chair and curls into a cinnamon bun, her golden, almond-shaped eyes drinking in my work space. He roams, stopping periodically to pat my leg, his large green eyes gazing lovingly, soliciting a head rub.
Within the hour, as I head to the kitchen for my second cup of brew, their dance changes. The minute I sit down at my desk, Ms. Tango pounces, straight into my lap, shifting, turning, repositioning until she is draped over my legs. Her front paws make biscuits before she embraces the outside of my right leg, her security that she won’t slide off the other side. You see, she’s a bit larger than my lap. Her ears tickle the underside of my arms as I type, but the knowledge that she sits cuddled with me while I work is priceless.
Her brother is just outside the door, batting something around. I turn in time to see him prance through the door with his small stuffed mouse in his mouth. He drops it at my feet and this time when he pats my leg, the look in his eyes pleads, “please play fetch with me.” How can I resist? His large round eyes regard me as they blink, blink, blink—a cat’s way of saying “I love you!” I melt into a puddle of Awwwwe. A fifteen to twenty minute break to play with my little buddy won’t halt the creativity. As a matter of fact, the opposite occurs and new, active descriptions fill my head.
The way he struts back into the office with the mouse in his mouth. The tilt of his head as he waits for me to throw it out into the hall. The way he darts after it once more to retrieve it again. And what is Ms. Baby-girl doing while he sprints back and forth? She is stretched out, across the ottoman, her adorable face resting on her front legs as she watches her brother with lazy contentment. It’s almost as if she’s saying, “Go ahead and play. I’m going to nap until Mom is back at work and her lap is once again available.”
So much love fills the room!
I’d chosen this topic several weeks ago because my imagination would not be what it is without my beautiful, loving cats. Isn’t it ironic then, that one day as I stood in line at the grocery store, this magazine called to me. On the cover was a beautiful blonde model nuzzling an adorable light caramel-colored puppy. It was a special Time Inc. magazine; ANIMALS & YOUR HEALTH. The Power of Pets to Heal Our Pain, Help Us Cope, and Improve Our Well-Being. One of the articles called Comfort Creatures shared this: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other authorities have established that the presence of a pet offers health benefits. Simply petting a dog, for instance, generally decreases both blood pressure and heart rate and appears to raise levels of serotonin, the neurotransmitter associated with feelings of happiness and well-being. Studies have linked animal interaction to lower blood pressure, better physical health, and fewer symptoms of depression.
No wonder our pets are our best friends. Not only do they love us unconditionally, they support our health and well-being. They make us laugh and stimulate warm, wonderful emotions. They make our hearts happy!
I have cats, but many friends have dogs—big and small—turtles, birds, iguanas. In the magazine, a woman even had a pet kangaroo. No matter what animal you’re drawn to, the benefits of owning pets far outweighs being alone.
Phaedra Michaels is a small town psychologist who is beginning to lose hope. Two of her patients at the local hospital in Dismal, Alabama have just killed themselves, she’s still reeling from her divorce and what turned out to be a disastrous marriage, and her father has died, leaving her without any notion of who her real mother is.
Just as Phaedra decides to commit herself to a serious drinking problem and an eating disorder, or two, a mysterious spell book arrives in the mail. Feeling desperate, Phaedra uses it to cast spells to save her fading patients. Suddenly, good things start happening. Phaedra’s patients begin to get better and she even starts dating the sexy doctor from the hospital.
Phaedra is so happy she doesn’t notice the small things that start to go wrong in Dismal, or the dark creatures slithering out of the shadows near her house. When Phaedra finally realizes her spells have attracted every card-carrying demon from hell, she has no choice but to accept help from a slightly nerdy, 500 year-old warlock with a penchant for wearing super hero T-shirts and a knack for getting under Phaedra’s skin. Now, if only she could get the hang of this witch thing, she might be able to save her town.
I carefully pulled the twine and the brown paper fell off. Beneath the paper was a large, leather bound book. It looked like an old journal or recipe book. It was tied together with a red ribbon and the ribbon held numerous pieces of paper. I ran my hands over the smooth leather and read the title of the book. It simply said Spells.
I laughed and pulled the red ribbon that held the book together. The book fell open. Inside, it was like a recipe book a mother would pass on to a daughter. There were old typed pages with handwritten notes in the margins. There were pages added with handwritten spells on them and drawings.
“What the hell?” I said as I leafed through the old book. There were potions and summoning spells and candle spells. In-between pages, there were pressed flowers and herbs and some of the pages were stained with old candle wax.
I set the book down and went into the kitchen and opened the fridge. At least the kitchen was done. It looked like any other modern kitchen. It had granite counter tops and marble floors. I’d spared no expense making it look like something that belonged in an old southern mansion. I wanted the house to be perfect and I had Johnny Boy’s money to help me achieve that dream. The lights flickered when I entered. I would have to talk to Lawson about that in the morning. I took a beer out of the fridge and opened it. I had a sip and grabbed a roll of cookie dough. Armed with the cookie dough and beer, I returned to the book. It had fallen off the counter, to the floor, and was opened to a page. I laughed again. The page it had opened to was love spells. That was just what I needed.
I sat down and ate and drank and leafed through the book. I stopped at a page with an interesting picture on it. The spell was an awakening spell. It awakened you to the supernatural world. I hesitated and looked at the script around it.
Something fell upstairs and the lights went out. I fumbled around and found the nearest flashlight and switched it on just as the lights flickered back on.
“Lawson, you asshole,” I said as I turned the flashlight off. “The wiring is done in the parlor, my ass.”
A sudden wave of fatigue washed over me and I picked up my mess and carted my sorry butt upstairs. I climbed into bed with my flashlight. I still had the book of spells. It had been so long since someone had given me something that I had forgotten what it felt like. I knew the book was more than weird. It bordered on creepy. A normal woman would probably burn the damn thing, but I wasn’t a normal woman. I was a lonely divorcée living in a house known to be haunted, but I loved it the way most people love their pets. I was the daughter of a man who had made it clear that he loathed me, with a step-mother who’d bought me toilet paper for Christmas. The creepy book was wonderful to me. It meant that someone out there, even if they were a freak, cared about me, and freak love was better than no love at all.