When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I am an avid reader. In fact, I would consider myself a reader before being a writer. I love to read anything with a fast plot, great dialogue, and a dash of romance. Nothing excites me more than a good book.
I am also an obsessive fangirl of certain television shows. "Sherlock," "The Big Bang Theory," "Game of Thrones," and "Once Upon A Time" are some of my favorites.
Describe your desk
Messy. Very messy. I have a tendency to do a lot of research (I once spent three hours researching apples and cross-referencing where they are grown and when they come in season); so there are usually books, notes, and papers everywhere. There are also speakers all around because I listen to music as I write in order to stay focused.
I do a lot of preparation and planning before I commit to writing a book. For THE RAKE'S TALE, this meant I had to design out (first by hand and then on my computer) what the Hamilton Estate (the setting for the novel) would look like and where everything is located. The finished product then got pinned to my wall. I also did a lot of research on the fashion of the times and pinned up all these pictures of ladies in empire-waist gowns and gentlemen in their evening clothes (or "kit" as they would call it) on my walls. Lastly, I type out the big facts/character traits/basic demographic information about the main characters and pin them up everywhere. Fortunately, doing these kinds of things helps me stay in the world of the book I have created, which makes it easier for me to write about it. Unfortunately, it ends up making my desk area look like a serial killer works there.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Yes. I was 14, and I had what I thought was a great idea for a series of novels. The first book was about a woman raising her 12 (Yes, 12!) siblings with her aunt after the unexpected deaths of her parents. She is also the manager of a longstanding and legendary hotel in California which just got bought out by its major competitor. The competitor sends out a lackey to review the hotel and its records in order to see where changes need to be made. The woman takes an instant dislike to the lackey and sparks fly. (Of course!) Things get more chaotic when she finds out the "lackey" is actually the new owner. (Convenient plot twist!)
I learned a lot of lessons with this book including the role of research in writing (especially if you have never been to California), the importance of keeping a plot simple (too complex confuses the reader AND the writer), and that writing about 12 siblings is way more complicated than anyone should ever attempt to do. (Just keeping up with the names was torture.)
In the end, I wrote one and half books for this series before deciding I would be better off picking a different plot. I still have these writings, but they will never see the light of day in the publishing world. I could burn the pages in effigy and dance around them backwards in ritual garb, but I hang on to them because they remind me of where I started and how far I've come. As bad as the stories are (and they are really bad), I can see snippets of potential here and there.
How do you approach cover design?
It's vital that the cover be professional-looking, unique, and eye-catching. It should also have a real connection to the story inside. (As a reader, I hate when the cover is nothing more than eye candy that has little or nothing to do with the book.) I usually have an idea visually of what I want based on the story I wrote. Then, I look at photo after photo after photo until I find what clicks in the back of my head. From there, it's just a case of putting together something that looks the most like I had originally pictured. If it's right, I know it the second I save it. If not, I start again. This process can take hours, days, weeks or months. But I don't stop until it is right.
For THE RAKE'S TALE, I knew I wanted the cover to embody Sarah's attitude in becoming a female rake. She's confident in her revenge plan, and I think that kind of confidence is beautiful and eye-catching. I wanted the reader to pay particular attention to smirk on the model's mouth, which is why cutting out a third of her face is important. That way, your attention is immediately drawn to her lips.
What are you working on next?
A contemporary romance series (made up of three books) which all center around the quirky people and humorous happenings within a tiny, Southern town.
What do you read for pleasure?
I love romance. I think that's pretty much a given since I am a romance novelist. My favorite author of all time is and always will be Jane Austen. But I will often read stories from other genres as well. It pretty much depends on the mood I am in and how well the story is written. I am also a huge fan of science fiction, action/adventure, suspense, and young adult novels.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I am a Kindle kind of woman because I can read it either on my Kindle or through my phone. I love the convenience. I do, however, also have several novels on my iBooks app.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in a small town in South Carolina. Southerners are one of the sweetest, most accepting, and supportive groups of people you will ever come across. Others hide their crazy family members. Southerners bring them out, call them eccentric or "touched," and put them on display next to the pecan pie. Plus, as a lot of famous writers have Southern roots, writing is pretty common art form here. This means when I "came out" to my family as a romance writer, they were immediately accepting. When I mutter to myself about characters, interrupt Sunday dinner to scribble down notes to some issue I just worked out, or ask them weird questions like "Have you ever thrown a naughty bachelorette party for senior citizens before?," they aren't going to send me to therapy. It's nice.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
It depends on what I'm in the mood to read. I typically write romance, but I read pretty much any genre. Right now, I'm going through a dystopian-world, science fiction craze. (Last month, it was vampire-hunter, young adult novels.) In any case, I look for books in my chosen area first. Then, once I scan the blurb and cover and check out reviews, I download a sample. If the writing is high caliber and fast-paced, I buy the book. If not, I delete and move on. Since, on average, I read a novel every two days, I'm constantly checking out books.
Who are your favorite authors?
Jane Austen and William Shakespeare take the top. After that, it's the following (in this order):
1. Jennifer Crusie 2. Julie Garwood 3. J.K. Rowling 4. Stephen King 5. Julia Quinn
What are your top ten favorite books, and why?
1. "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen: I read this book for the first time when I was 21. It's one of those stories that hit me immediately in a where-have-you-been-all-my-life kind of way. I was hooked pretty much from the second famed hero Mr. Darcy was blatantly rude to feisty heroine Miss Bennet. I just had to know what was going to happen next. When I finished it, I started it again. I read it ten times through until I was ready to return the book to the library and buy my own copy. Now, I have six copies in all. I read the book every Christmas, and it never fails to make me sigh with happiness.
2. "The Princess Bride" by William Goldman: I watched the movie first. All these many years later, it is still my favorite movie. I read the book many years later, and it was an experience like none other. There was so much more complexity to the book, but it still was chock-full of the humor, sarcasm, and fairy-tale-lore that made me love the movie in the first place. This was the book that taught me it was OK to be snarky and funny in a story. In fact, audiences love it.
3. "Bet Me" by Jennifer Crusie: This was a book I picked up in the dollar bin at a used bookstore one afternoon. I really didn't think it would be anything but your run-of-the-mill romance novel. But I was wrong. It's funny, snarky, and truly pokes fun at the fairy tale tropes in a lovingly tender way. It's fast-paced, great dialogue, and gave me a unique appreciation of chicken marsala and Krispy Kreme donuts that I still enjoy to this day. When people who love romance ask me to make recommendations for a book to read, this is always the one I give. It never disappoints.
4. "The Bride" by Julie Garwood: This is one of the first romance novels I ever read. I was so impressed by it because it wasn't the cheesy stereotypical romance novel my mother used to enjoy. It was sassy and funny and had lots of witty banter between the hero and heroine. I loved it so much that I immediately went out to buy everything she had. I am still a huge fan of Garwood's historical romances. They are fabulous.
5. "Different Seasons" by Stephen King: I am not a huge fan of scary stories, but I do love Stephen King. His writing is so beautiful and prolific that I find myself devouring each story (even if it isn't in my favorite genre). This book is actually a collection of short stories he wrote. I love each one, but my favorite is "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption." As you may have guessed, this is where the Academy Award winning movie "The Shawshank Redemption" came from. As this is one of my favorite movies, it was again one of those times when the story was so much more complex. I loved the characters, the plot, and the wonderful twist at the end.
6. "What Dreams May Come" by Richard Matheson: Again, this was later made into a movie. However, this was a time when I actually read the book first. The book is so much better than the movie. It's richer, broader, and so much more comprehensive in detailing the heartbreaking and hopeful journey from life into death and from hell into heaven. It's one of those books that truly makes the reader think, and I enjoyed that so much.
7. "The Scarlet Letter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne: My love of this comes from my high school English teacher. She introduced it to the class in such a human way that you couldn't help but fall in love with it. The writing can get a little dry in places, but the drama which unfolds when a married woman all on her own in a 16th century settlement town suddenly comes up pregnant and refuses to name the father is just as real today as it was then. The stoic strength of the heroine, Hester Prynne, and the failings of the men in her life is an intriguing dichotomy which still strikes a chord in me to this day.
8. The "Harry Potter" Series by J.K. Rowling: The caliber of writing is wonderful for this tightly-woven, seven-book fantasy story. The world Rowling creates is so intricate and realistic that one can easily believe there really is a platform 9 3/4 out there somewhere. My favorite book of the series is #3 ("Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban"). It's one of those series I can revisit and get hooked on again and again.
9. "Natural Born Charmer" by Susan Elizabeth Phillips: Take a too-gorgeous football player on a road trip and add in one angry woman stuck in a beaver costume and you have the makings for a one-of-a-kind romance. This is one of those novels that doesn't take itself seriously, and I appreciate it all the more for that. Again, funny dialogue (that is key for me if you haven't figured that out yet), fast pace, and a lot of interesting twists and turns gives you one wild ride.
10. The Hunger Games" (Trilogy) by Suzanne Collins: I loved this book from the second I started reading it. It's one of those stories I literally could not put down. I finished the books on my e-reader in a 12-hour span and then bought them all in hardcover the next morning.
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