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.
Tammy Seidick is a graphic designer from Allentown, PA, who designs book covers, among her many talents. She has a BFA (Bachelors of Fine Arts) and an MA (Masters in Publication Design). She’s married with two boys (ages 14 and 10) so she is busy! In her spare time she loves attending her sons’ sporting events and cuddling with her two cats while watching “too many” True Crime videos on YouTube. Welcome Tammy!
LP: Tell us how you got started in book cover design and why?
TS: My mother-in-law, the fabulous NYT Bestselling Author Kasey Michaels, decided to start self-publishing her backlist in 2010. I created her ebooks and covers, and my book cover design business has grown from there.
LP: Do you work independently or are you affiliated with a particular publishing house?
LP: Tell us about your process – how do you go from a “blank computer screen/canvas” to a finished cover?
TS: After consulting with the client, of course, I start with a stock image search. I download dozens of possibilities, and then, in Photoshop, I piece together a select few to form the background of the cover. Then, I add the title/author name. Sometimes I add a series logo. I send the client 2-3 comps to review. After we go through a couple rounds of revisions, I finalize the cover with hi-res images. Then, I deliver the final files to the client!
LP: Why are covers important in your opinion?
TS: A good book cover should quickly broadcast the book’s genre. It should be effortless for the reader to know what type of book is under that cover. It is the very first impression a reader has of your book and it should be professional, eye-catching and discernible at a thumbnail size.
LP:Who are some of your clients and what covers did you do for them?
LP: What have you just finished – that will be out soon?
TS: Lots of romance and thriller covers for Lyrical Press (Kensington Publishing). I’m also currently working on new ebook covers for Kasey Michaels’ “Maggie Kelly” woman sleuth series. Figuring out the look for this batch of covers is a bit challenging since the books are part romance, part cozy mystery.
LP: Indie/self-publishing is very big right now – but not all indie authors hire pros for their covers ––why they should work with a professional cover designer.
TS: A few years ago, an indie author might have been able to get away with an amateur-designed cover, but not these days. Competition for readers’ eyeballs is fierce. Your reader is scrolling through dozens and dozens of book covers, and yours should visually blend with indie-published and traditionally-published books alike. Only a professional designer (or a very good amateur!) can provide that.
LP: Share with us a few of your “Oscar-worthy” golden moments – toot your own horn – about some of your accomplishments that you’re really proud of.
TS: Recently, cover model Jason Aaron Baca has been getting a lot of press. I’ve used his photos on a number of covers, specifically the DELOS series by Lindsay McKenna. Because of that, I’ve been lucky enough to have my covers featured in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Chicago Tribune among others. Other than that fun bit, I’m always pleased when anyone who reviews my book covers says that my covers are well-targeted to the book’s audience. For a graphic designer, that’s what it’s all about — communicating a clear message to the viewer.
LP: Let’s talk costs. How much do you charge for a cover? And do you offer other services – like formatting?
TS: My book cover design costs depend a bit on what an author needs. Anyone interested can go to my website for more info: com. 🙂 I don’t offer formatting services, but I work with an awesome formatter who I can highly recommend.
LP: Who are a few of your favourite authors? What do you enjoy reading?
TS: I’ve recently re-started my horror author kick. Years ago, I read everything by Peter Straub and was greatly affected by his classic Ghost Story. I’m just about finished with it now. I wanted to see if it still scared me. (It did!) I also recently read Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives for the first time. I have pretty varied reading interests. I also recently enjoyed a non-fiction audio book, Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin and a nutrition book, The China Study.
LP: Bonus:When you’re working on designing a cover –what is your go-to snack?
TS: I prefer salty snacks over sweet. My downfall is when I’m working late at night and I reach for something like tortilla chips or Cheez-Its. And I. Can’t. Stop. 🙂
Patricia McLinn is a USA Today bestselling author of more than 30 books that include mystery, romance, and westerns She began her novel writing career with Silhouette Books (Harlequin) and was nominated for and won several writing awards, but her career really took off when she decided to go indie. She made the decision to go indie well before the explosion of indie publishing began.
Before becoming a full time author, Patricia was an editor at the Washington Post for 23 years and a journalist for several years before that. She has a degree in English Composition and a Masters in Journalism from Northwestern University . A truly impressive resume.
LP: You began as a traditionally published author and now you self-publish exclusively. Tell us how that came about?
PM: My traditional career was so up and down that it would be banned as unsafe if it were a carnival ride. With one publisher I had about 32 editors for 25 books – hard to get any continuity or rhythm going. Some of those editors said I was “pushing the envelope.” Huh? What envelope? Where? I never got that.
I became increasingly frustrated with editorial limitations and poor decisions on scheduling, titles, marketing. I did encounter some outstanding editors. Frequently their hands were tied by the hierarchy. The upshot for me and many authors was having our careers ill-served.
Well before there was anything to do with them, I was getting rights back to my previously published books. No matter what, I figured I’d be happier with the rights in my hands.
In 2006 I remember thinking ebooks were going to pop sometime, some way. No idea when or how, but I was on the lookout. By 2008 I had ebooks available online, expanding to the major retailers in 2011.
An unexpected and marvelous benefit of going indie is that writing is a lot more fun now. Writing and publishing are very different activities. My experience in traditional publishing was that they actively conflicted. As an indie author, they do not conflict. They bolster each other.
LP: What are the pros and cons of self-publishing versus traditional publishing?
PM: When the traditional publishing model works the way we all dream it might – think of it as the Richard Castle model from the TV show Castle– it’s marvelous. Brand name authors become an asset that publishing houses tend with some care. It’s different for mid-list or most entry-level authors. I was just listening to a Joanna Penn podcast with Jane Friedman in which they said contracts traditional publishers are offering first-time authors are worse than ever.
The exception is if you have a blockbuster book, everyone agrees it’s a blockbuster book, multiple publishers are willing to pay an advance commensurate with a blockbuster, the publisher you pick follows through on its promises, and all the marketing efforts work so that, in fact, your book becomes a blockbuster.
Traditional publishing can reach a broader audience — the folks who read one or two books a year – while indie authors’ audience are devoted readers.
PM: Now, for the pros and cons of self-publishing.
Pro: Nobody tells you what to write. Some indies might say the market tells you what to write, but that’s only if you listen. 😉 I’m to a stage where I write what I like to read, then try to find readers who enjoy that, too. I do not tailor my writing to trends. Writing is too consuming and too difficult to do if you’re not, first, enjoying it yourself.
Pro: You’re in charge. You decide when your book will come out, what it will look like, how it will be marketed.
Con: You’re in charge of implementing all those decisions. It’s a lot of work.
Pro: You can change things that aren’t working and you can do it quickly. Cover redesign? Tweaking something that always bugged you? Altering the book description? Price change? All that and so much more you can consider, decide on, implement, and then view the results in less time than it takes for a traditionally published author to hear back about whether his/her editor took his/her request to any of — much less all of — the meetings required to decide on a change.
Con: You’re in charge of implementing all those changes. It’s a lot of work.
Pro: You set your schedule. When it comes to “hurry up and wait” traditional publishing puts the military to shame.
Pro: You get paid in 60 days.
Pro: You’ll never fire yourself.
Con: You have a boss who’s a b**ch. 😉
LP: Ball-park figure. How much MONEY do you spend on each self-published book and what are the expenses involved in publishing your own book?
PM: Book cover — $200-900 (largely depending on cost of photos.) Formatting — $100-150. Editing/Proofing — $100-600. Marketing — $0 to the national debt.
I have a couple advantages. I was an editor with the Washington Post for 23 years and a journalist longer. I’m an experienced editor. However, nobody catches everything, especially not in their own work, which is why I always have a proofer.
The second advantage is that from having been published for twenty-six years, I have author buddies I can call and brainstorm with for story issues. In essence, they are my developmental editors. And I repay in kind.
LP: Based on YOUR OWN experience. How much TIME do you spend each day doing marketing and promotion (over all and including social media, newsletter, booking ads etc . . .) Do you think it’s enough or not enough? Why?
PM: Oh, boy, I get to use my favorite answer – it depends.
When I’m deep in writing mode I try not to do much of that because it engages a different part of my brain/personality that is not conducive to writing. When I’m writing I don’t want to think about audience reach or ROI or strategy or any of that. I want my head so thoroughly in the fictional world that I’m astonished to walk outside and discover it’s not the season I’m writing about. (Which is why the neighbors think I’m that strange woman who wears winter coats to walk the dog when it’s 76 degrees out.)
Other times I will spend all day on various aspects of marking and promotion. That’s on top of the time my executive assistant Kay devotes to these areas, along with help from a team of great folks helping with individual aspects. It’s been wonderful to be able to delegate some of this, to free up my writing brain.
Enough? Nah. Because there’s always something else I see out there that I could have done. Another strategy or outlet to try. The possibilities are never ending.
But that’s okay, because all those strategies, all those possibilities are in service of finding the right reader-author match.
LP: You have many series on the go. Including the bestselling CAUGHT DEAD IN WYOMING SERIES. Why do you write series books? Tell us about your series. And what can an author—self-published (or otherwise) accomplish with a series?
PM: I love the interconnectedness of the communities in the series I’ve written. I love how a character learns a lesson in Book 1 and shares it with another character in Book 4. I love how the characters continue to grow past the end of their book. In romances, I don’t believe the ends of my books are Happily Ever After. Instead, they’re Happy Beginnings. What the characters learn and how they change brings the hero and heroine to the point where they can have a Happy Beginning.
InCAUGHT DEAD IN WYOMING each book has a mystery that’s completed by the end of the book. But the story of Elizabeth Margaret Danniher, her friends, and her stray dog Shadow develops over a number of books.
Elizabeth faces multiple crossroads in her life. Her marriage ended, her successful career was pulled out from under her, she’s plunked down in Wyoming, and trying to figure out what’s going on. Between solving murder mysteries, she is also solving the mystery of her life.
For me, writing a series lets me explore that great question “What happens next?”
LP: What social media networking sites do you use? Which one(s) work best for you and why?
PM: Mostly Facebook and Twitter. Some on Pinterest. I am looking at Instagram … mostly so I can inflict photos of my dog and garden on the wider world <eg>. The conversational threads are great on Facebook. Twitter appeals to my newspaper background. I wrote headlines for a lot of years, so 140 characters feels comfortable.
LP: You’ve hit the USA Today Bestseller’s list. What are 3 KEY THINGS THAT an author needs to do whether they are indie or traditionally published?
PM: Enjoy what you’re writing. Both because it comes through to the reader and because it will allow you to keep writing though a long career.
Fulfill your pledge to the reader. From the first paragraphs, you promise the reader a certain kind of read. Heck, before the reader starts Chapter One, s/he has an idea of what kind of reading experience this book is going to give him/her – from the packaging, the description, the title, your previous books.
Respect the reader. Those envelopes I kept being accused of pushing? Well, a lot of them had to do with this point. Readers do not need to be told the same thing 47 times, to have limited vocabulary, to have references constrained to current pop culture. Reading has always been a great education — as well as a great enjoyment – for me because authors didn’t undersell my ability to pick up new information from context or look something up.
LP: What is the most important thing you do when you release a new title?
PM: Inform the loyal, wonderful folks on my readers list via my newsletter. I try to give them any news first, along with deals, behind-the-scenes, and consumer tips. That’s the most important external thing. The most important internal thing is a lot of self-talk about one of the wonders of ebooks being that a book’s life is long and this is only the first day. Lots and lots of days to come when a good match can be made between the reader looking for my kind of read and my books.
LP: WHO are 3 authors that YOU look up to and admire and why?
PM: Limiting this to three is cruel. I’ll go for diversity in these three.
John McPhee in non-fiction. Because he can get me interested in topics I don’t care about beforehand (oranges, geology) and sustain my interest.
Georgette Heyer: Because her books seldom hit just one note – all-angst-all-the-time or over-the-top comedy. Instead, they have moments of humor, of seriousness, of confusion, of clarity – just like life. I especially like this in her murder mysteries.
LP: When readers message you – which series or book comes up most often as a fan favourite and why?
PM: Interesting question. It made me realize that people have contacted me about every one of my books/series.
I see reading as interactive. Readers don’t passively accept a story from the author. They bring so much of themselves to each book they read. A reader’s life experience or where they are at the moment will affect how they react to a book.
Okay, but you asked “most often.” Probably a tie between:
The Caught Dead in Wyoming series, saying they love the realism of the characters and that the mystery has some humor, while still respecting the seriousness of the crime.
(Boy, this was hard, because there are devoted readers of the other series I feel like I’m leaving out.)
LP: Bonus: Dogs or cats and why?
PM: Dogs. Because there’s so much communication with them. Because they pick up on your moods and care. Because they’re inside pets who don’t use a litter box inside 😉 Though, realistically, it’s probably because my family had dogs all along, so that’s what I know better.
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.
If you are a romance writer, an editor, or a publisher, you either know Brenda Chin or you know of her. Over the past thirty years, Brenda has won numerous awards, helped to build stellar careers, and most importantly, has been a big part of making romance novels great.
LP: You’ve been an editor for a long time. Tell us how you got your start? And what drew you to the profession?
BC: I was really lucky. When I finished school with a degree in French Language and Literature, I discovered that jobs in that field weren’t so easy to find. I was working at a grocery store and one of my regular customers, who was a purchasing agent at Harlequin, told me of an opening in the mail room. I applied and got it. Three weeks later, I’d moved into the editorial department (which I’d had my eye on from the moment I started). My grandmother got me reading romance novels (Beatrice Small, Kathleen Woodiwiss, Rosemary Rogers) at 12, so I knew exactly what part of the business I wanted to be in.
LP: Tell us about Brazen and Scorched – and what you’re looking for. How many titles do you publish in these lines per month/year?
BC: I’m really thrilled to be working on Brazen. It’s youthful and sexy—just the type of story I love to read. And we’re all really excited about Scorched, which launches this month. It’s erotic romance, but it has a lot of variety. There will be several different formats (serials, short stories, single titles) and a variety of genres (New Adult, paranormal, contemporary). The stories I’ve read so far have been fresh and innovative. For both lines, we publish between 2 and 4 books a month.
LP: Do you generally know right away when you like/don’t like a manuscript? Or do you have to sometimes go deep into the book?
BC: I generally know pretty quickly. If the voice doesn’t grab me and I don’t like the characters, nothing else really matters.
What do you look for in a submission?
BC: A strong voice, well-drawn characters and an innovative hook.
What does a strong writing voice mean to you?
This is kind of tough. I know it when I see it. But generally, you get a sense of the author as you read the story. It’s as if your best friend is telling you something. You’re interested because of what she’s telling you. But you’re even more interested because she’s the one doing the telling. I know, that’s clear as mud. But it’s the best I can do to explain it.
LP: What do you think about working for a smaller press versus a big house?
BC: Over the last 5 years, I’ve worked for 3 houses – one huge, one small and one in the middle. They’re all very, very different and I’ve had quite a learning curve getting a handle on how each company has worked (I’m really good with books – not so much with technology). Each house had its advantages. When an author is with a smaller house, sometimes they feel they get more attention. With a larger house, there are more possibilities for promotion and distribution…and more authors vying for it. I think an author needs to decide just what they really want for their career and find the publisher that will give it to them.
What do you think about the publishing industry today? The growth in self-publishing? Do you think it will keep growing? Or will the popularity taper off?
BC: I really don’t know. There’s so much out there right now . . . and unfortunately, not all of it is good. Readers have to be really discerning.
On the other hand, self-publishing is a great option for authors who want to break the mold and try something new. And that kind of innovation can only increase readership in the long run.
As with everything, there’s good and there’s bad. But one thing is certain. We have to find a way to increase the readership. And self-publishing, with its lack of limitations, might just be the best vehicle to do it . . . as long as the books are good.
LP: In your opinion, after so many years of working with best-selling authors – what does it take for an author to be a best-seller?
BC: This one is easy. In my opinion, as long as an author is constantly innovating and improving with each and every book, success will come. Some people take a while before they reach the success they deserve. But when it comes, they’re ready for it. They have the skills, the experience and the confidence to deal with everything that goes with success in this business.
I’ve seen other authors rise to the top too soon, and it’s much harder for them to keep the ball going, mainly because they still have so much to learn—about the business and about writing.
I know everyone wants to be a star right away, but I’ve always advised my authors to pace themselves. What they learn and accomplish on their way to the top can never be taken from them. There’s security in that. And in this business, that’s something.
LP: What are three books on your bookshelf (or electronic reading device) that you’ve read over and over – or that you consider “keepers”? And why?
BC: I have more than I can count. But the books I keep coming back to, over and over again, are the Harry Potter books. Aside from the fact that they’re wonderful stories, I first read them at a tough time in my life. They made me feel better then and they still do.
LP: What are some of the conferences that you think authors should try to attend and why?
BC: I think the RWA National conference is a fantastic opportunity for writers–for the networking and all the great workshops.
There are some fantastic conferences out there, and I’ve been to many of them. But I realize they can also get expensive, so the author needs to decide just what she hopes to get out of them. If she’s fairly new, a more general conference, with lots of workshops that will help her understand the business, would make sense. If she’s focusing on a certain genre, smaller, more focused workshops might be better.
So much of this business depends on networking. So it’s important for an author to know who she needs to connect with to further her career. At big conferences, an author can meet a lot of people. But at smaller, intimate ones, she might have a conversation with one person that could change everything for her.
There are pros and cons to both, and as in most things, I’d suggest balance. Try one or two of both, if affordable. Figure out which editor you’d like to sell to and then find out where she’ll be. Many of my former authors claimed to have stalked me. All I can say is, it worked.
LP: What do you love most about being an editor?
BC: My favorite part of being an editor is finding new talent and building talent. When I hear someone talk about their favorite authors, and hear my former ones included in that list, my heart fills with pride. I love knowing I’ve made a difference in people’s lives, that I’ve made one of their dreams come true.
LP: What’s your coffee/tea/beverage of choice that you MUST HAVE by your side while editing a book?
BC: I’m working hard to get my coffee addiction under control. But I don’t always succeed.
When I was about eight years old, my dad put me on the back of his white Yamaha 50cc motorcycle for a ride. We ended up in a field by the shopping center and he asked if I wanted to ride by myself.
Are you kidding me?
He helped me get a leg up and balanced the bike for me. A quick tutorial on the controls, and I was off. Well, off for about fifty feet when I hit a rut in the dirt and promptly fell over, spraining my arm. When we got home, mom wasn’t too happy and that was the end of my motorcycle training.
Later, my older brother by eight years came home with a big, blue bike. It was so shiny and I loved how the paint sparkled in the sun. He’d take me for rides and I’d laugh the entire time; it felt so good to go fast. Then he wrecked it on a busy street and broke his leg. Determined to keep us alive, my mom declared no more motorcycles or riding while we lived with her. She even said no to flying lessons, which seemed a whole lot safer (to me, anyway). That was the seventies, if you’re counting.
In the eighties, I got married, had a couple of great sons, divorced, and forgot about going fast. Until I met Ivan.
By now it was 2011 and here was a guy with a couple of motorcycles who’d been riding most of his life. That’s when I remembered the feeling of going fast. The little girl inside me was excited by the prospect of learning to ride. The fifty-something-year-old woman was feeling iffy about the whole thing, but game to give it a go. I am nothing, if not willing to try most anything at least once.
So, in 2012, I learned to ride.
Four years later, I’ve discovered a lot about myself while motorcycling. For starters, I know everyone in a car wants to kill me. Now, I’m not pessimistic by nature, but people in cars just don’t see motorcycles, so YOU have to always be aware of THEM. Second, I worry too much (see previous point). And, riding is a lot like yoga. I’m always practicing to do something better or with more awareness than the last time I was out.
One of the unexpected perks of riding is how it’s changed the way I see the world. The colors around me are much more vibrant when I’m on a bike. I can’t escape the ‘scents’ of the road, be it a flat skunk, trailer of pigs, or someone cooking on a grill. Everything is more immediate, in the moment. It’s these things, and others, which I believe have made me a better writer, particularly with sensory detail.
I’ve also learned to take risks and I’ve watched that translate over into my stories as well. I’ve never written contemporary mystery, but when tempted with the opportunity, immediately jumped on it. Stepping out of comfort zones is how we grow. I believe strong women are the most interesting ones, so those are who I write about, be it a ninth century healer, a Victorian time traveler, or an ex-Detroit detective returning to her small home town to take over as police captain. My goal is always to inspire others to take chances and live their dreams.
Ten years ago, Emily Miller went missing when she was only five years old. Everyone in town thought she had either drowned in the lake near her house, or had been kidnapped. Some even whispered that her father, Frank Miller was responsible.
No one suspected the old boathouse behind the Miller property, except Emily’s father. Frank Miller knew what had happened to his little girl. He knew the boathouse had her.
Ten years later, thirteen-year-old George Morgan wanders into the same boathouse and discovers a magical secret. At first he’s thrilled. He reveals his secret to his fifteen-year-old brother Eddie, thinking it will bring them closer together. After all, George and Eddie used to be best friends, before they moved to town, and before Eddie started hanging out with a bunch of older boys—the same boys who make it their mission to bully George on a daily basis. But, when Eddie tells his friends about the boathouse, everything starts to go wrong.
Suddenly the cool, magical secret of the boathouse isn’t a secret anymore, and the mysteries of the past come back to haunt them, putting their lives in great danger.