I've been writing my entire life. I can't remember when I wasn't. I'd gone into visual arts, and the bottom dropped out of the market. I was sitting across the room from my partner while he was reading a book from "that popular trilogy written by a British author." I asked him why he wasn't turning pages and he told me the book was boring. When he told me I wrote much better than she did, I decided to take Nikki, the character I'd had in my head for over 12 years, and put her into a story. That became the book and, before I could get it written, I realized it was a series. And there you have it.
2. Are you a planner/pantser when it comes to writing a story?
I'm definitely a pantser. My plots come to me fully formed, and I just get them down on paper, then start fleshing them out. I always know where they're going, and I usually know who all of the characters are from the get-go. It's not until I've actually finished it that I got back and check it on a timeline to make sure it's all feasible time-wise. After that, it's just proof, edit, proof, edit, proof, edit . . . well, you get the idea.
3. What has been your highlight since becoming a published author?
I gave away books for a contest early in the year (2014). When I told the grand prize winner that she'd won the entire set of my first two books in ebook format, she told me she didn't realize she'd won, she didn't have an ereader, and she was really happy but to just give them to someone else. I asked if she'd like to have them in paperback, even though they hadn't been published in paperback yet. She said that would be okay. It was months before they were published in paperback, so I sent the first two books and the third one, and I didn't just send any books - I autographed the proof copies and sent them to her. I also told her in the enclosed card that I was sending her the last one when it was published so she'd have the whole set. She sent me back a note telling me that she'd had a terrible day and when my package showed up out of the blue, she was overjoyed. And she told me I'd be blessed for being so generous. That was a wonderful gift for me.
4. What do you do in your spare time?
Spare time? Am I supposed to have some of that? Because I don't. I work between 16 and 20 hours a day, seven days a week. I like to kayak, work out at the gym, hike, but recently all I've done is work. I hope I can change that sometime soon. I'm really tired!
5. Do you get writers block? If so, how do you overcome it?
Nope. Wouldn't know what that's like. I've been known to write 11,000 words in a single day; for the 50,000-word NaNoWriMo challenge last year, I wrote 130,000+ words. I asked my partner what he thought made me able to write like that. He said it's because I never sit down and wonder what to write -I always know what I'm writing. And I've got 14 books behind me to get finished, so I've got plenty of writing to do.
6. Can you share a little of your most recent book or series with us?
Wow - I don't even know which one to try to share. Hmmmm . . . the new one coming out , Book 4 in the Love Under Construction series, Planning an Addition, is almost finished. Guess I'll give you a little of that. This is a funny little scene that just gets funnier after this particular passage.
Vic looked at the helmet on top of the boxes in the corner of the garage. He hadn’t worn a helmet in years. But he’d also never been married before. Looking at it made him think about how much he loved Laura and how upset she’d be if anything happened to him. And Tony and Nikki? They needed him. He reached for the helmet and took it into the laundry room, dampening a cloth and wiping it down inside and out before putting it on.
The bike loped to life, and Vic revved the engine. The big Harley Fat Boy was something he’d wanted for years and when he bought it six years before, he’d finally felt like he’d arrived. He pulled out of the drive and headed toward the Shelbyville house to meet Peyton. They were coming back to Lexington so it was very much out of his way, but being out on the road was what it was all about, and he was glad to be riding.
By the time he got to Tony and Nikki’s, Peyton was sitting in the driveway on Tony’s big Softail Deluxe. It was a gorgeous bike, not black like Vic’s but instead a deep burgundy metalflake that glowed in the sun. Peyton and Tony were talking and laughing, and Tony was showing Peyton some features on the bike that were pretty cool.
“A helmet? You getting soft in your old age?” Tony guffawed when Vic pulled up and unbuckled the strap.
“Nope. I’m a married man. I’ve got a wife to think about. I don’t want to leave her a new widow.”
Tony laughed right out loud. “Smart guy. She’d find somebody else pretty quick.”
“Oh, ha-ha-ha. You’re a real scream. Whaddya think, Stokes? Can you handle a big bike?”
Peyton grinned. “Oh, yeah, no problem. I used to have one but I had to sell it.”
“Damn. That hurts.” Tony actually winced.
“Wasn’t something I wanted to do. It was just too hard to ride it. But this prosthesis is much better so it’s not a real challenge now. Might have to buy one myself.”
Vic nodded. “I hear that. Ready to go?” Peyton nodded and started the Softail, and Vic did the same with his Fat Boy. Tony yelled over the engine noise, “So where are you guys going?”
“Lexington,” Vic yelled back. “Just bumming around, having a relaxing day.”
“Okay. Have fun and be careful. It hasn’t been out on the road in a while, so call if there’s a problem.” Tony gave them a wave and headed back into the house.
Vic wanted to scream, I like Peyton, but I wish you could go. But you can’t leave Nikki. The thought of all the time he and Tony had spent together over the years and how it had come to such an abrupt halt made him sad, but he understood.
It didn’t take long for them to make it to Lexington. They stopped at a pub Vic loved and had burgers and fries. “So Stokes, I thought you’d be spending the day with your lady friend.”
Peyton looked glum. “We’re going to the Gatlinburg house next weekend.”
Vic’s brow furrowed. “Yeah? So?”
Peyton sighed. “So she’s seeing someone else besides me. And since she’s spending the weekend with me next weekend, she thought it only fair to spend the weekend with him this weekend.”
“Yeah.” Peyton didn’t say anything else. Vic’s mind screamed, Shit, if he only knew what I know, but I can’t tell him. That’s not my place. But damn, this is awkward.
When their server brought their ticket, Vic pulled out his wallet and opened it. That got her attention. Without looking up, he asked her, “Anything good going on in town today?”
“Yeah! There’s a festival going on downtown.”
“Yeah. Italian festival of some kind.” She looked at him and grinned. “I’m guessing you’d find that kind of hokey, huh?”
Vic laughed. “I know more about Italians than anybody else around here. I am one!”
Peyton busted out laughing. “I’m not one. I’m Chinese.” She stared at him. “No, really! I am!”
Vic kept laughing. “He really is. He’s not kidding. You should see his mom!”
Peyton whipped his wallet out and showed her a picture of him and his parents when he was first adopted, but he didn’t tell her that part. The server gave him a weird look and he wiggled his eyebrows. That made her laugh so hard she was snorting. “You guys are so silly! Check it out, why don’t you? Come back by here and tell me how much Italian stuff they got wrong!” She batted her eyelashes at them, and Peyton almost lost it.
“We’ll do that! Thanks.” Vic smiled at her as she walked away.
Peyton snickered. “Flirt.”
“Whatever.” Vic threw a five on the table for her tip.
Peyton grinned. “Aren’t you going to write your phone number on it?”
“Hell no! I’ve got something better than that. I’m gonna write yours on it.” Peyton frowned and Vic let loose a belly laugh. “Let’s go before you get me into some kind of trouble, damn little Chinese prick.” Peyton couldn't help but laugh at Vic as they paid their tickets and made their way back out to the bikes.
7. What advice would you give for new authors?
Write. You can't be a writer if you're not writing. And please, don't try to be an author if you can't spell, punctuate, or conjugate a verb. Write for your own pleasure and just keep it to yourself. If you fit that description and you just have to see your name in print, for the love of all things holy, hire a good editor. Heck, hire one anyway. It'll save everybody a lot of grief. That old saying about everyone having a book in them? Nah. Not true. I'm not being a snob here. I'm a professional, and it's discouraging to have the market flooded with unprofessional stuff. I'm not saying don't write it; I'm just saying give it to your mom and your sister. They'll tell you it's wonderful even when it's not.
8. What is one thing about yourself you want your readers to know?
I want them to know that writers don't just happen spontaneously - they're grown. I've paid my dues. I've sat in conferences, workshops, critique groups, and writers' groups, and countless hours in English classes, literature classes, and creative writing classes. I didn't just one day decide, "Oh, hey, I think I'll write a book!" This wasn't coincidental or accidental. When you pick up one of my books, you have a well-crafted story with well-developed characters, no plot holes, and copy that's about as clean as you can find, including books by traditional publishers. I write fast, but I edit slowly. I think my readers will tell you that the quality of my books exceeds most of what you'll find on the market now.
9. Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I'd say that's a tie between Barbara Kingsolver and Sue Monk Kidd. Both of them are experts in the art of crafting characters, and well-developed characters are the key to a good story. I read a book once by a major author and at the end of the book, I still cared nothing one way or the other about the main character. That's horrible. I want people to either love or hate mine, but at least feel some emotion for them. It draws them into the story and gets them involved.
10. What books have influenced your life most?
Oddly, I'd say the first volume of Childcraft from the early 60s, Poems of Early Childhood. My mother read to us almost constantly when we were little, and by the time I was four, I could recite from memory a variety of poems from that volume - long, complicated poems. I can still recite some of them now, and even got involved in a conversation about one of them, The Griffin's Egg, with a woman at a Renaissance festival who remembered them too! When I inherited the set, the first book was sadly missing. I paid over $100 on eBay for a copy. It's one of my prized possessions.
11. Would you or do you use a PR agency? Why?
I do - DRC Promotions. I did things a little differently; I wrote books and had no intention of marketing them until I realized I had to. Then I was in trouble because I had no earthly idea what I was doing. I started out with an experience that wasn't very positive, and then met Drue from DRC. They handle me exclusively now. My advice to a new writer would be to find a company like DRC that offers services a la carte, and hire them to do just the things you can afford. Later you can add services. But don't wait like I did - get started NOW.
12. What is your favorite positive saying?
My favorite is from Mahatma Ghandi: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. ... We need not wait to see what others do.” (He didn't really say "be the change you wish to see in the world," but this is where that came from.) I want what I do to enrich the lives of others.
My second favorite is from Henry David Thoreau ("Walden"): “I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” I endeavor to do this. Makes my life a whole lot easier.
13. Do you write full-time or part-time?
Full-time, baby. This ain't no hobby for me. I'm all in.
14. Who designed your book cover/s?
My covers are done by Kellie over at Novel Graphic Designs. She's awesome. I found her through my formatting company, BB eBooks; her mother is a romance writer and one of their clients. And by the way, BB eBooks is awesome too.
15. Do you think that the cover plays an important part in the buying process?
I wish it didn't. I hate to think readers are that shallow, and I'd like to think they'd read the description and decide in that way. Unfortunately, they often are that shallow, so yes, covers play an important role. And sex sells. I wish that weren't true also, but it is. I got chastised for having covers that were conceptual instead of having guys with bare chests. Ah, the things to which we capitulate in order to sell books! And by the way, that's not selling out - that's just good marketing in which you market to your market.
16. What are your thoughts on good/bad reviews?
A good portion of reviews is subjective. "I liked this book," "I fell in love with the main character," "I hated this book," are all subjective comments that are purely opinion, nothing more. I'm not as interested in whether or not someone likes them as I am whether or not someone enjoys them. I hate it when someone uses a review to bash a people group or belief system - so very not cool and very, very low class. But I will say this: If you write a book and at least fifty percent of the reviews mention poor spelling, punctuation, or grammar, or a weak plot or characters, you'd do well to take a step back and get some writing training and experience before try to write more books. I'm not concerned about pure opinion, but I am very concerned about quality issues. All writers should be. We've got a lot of stuff on the market now that shouldn't be, and reviews are one way to point that out.
17. What is your biggest pet peeve?
People who think all writers must be rich, and people who think you should offer all of your books free. Really? People, it costs a lot of money to produce a book, at least a good book. Covers aren't free. Formatting isn't free. And if you have to hire an editor (and most people should), that's hellaspensive, not to mention websites and swag and advertising, and promotion, and the list goes on and on. Writing is like any other business - you have to spend money to make money. You can send me ten ebooks and I can take a quick glance and tell you which ones were written by authors who spent some money to turn out a quality product and which ones were done by rank amateurs. They stick out like sore thumbs. Covers and formatting for $0.99 books don't cost any less than for $8.99 books.
18. Tell us about your family.
My dad was an assistant U.S. postmaster. My mother was a retail clerk. I have a paternal half sister who's 13 year older than me and didn't grow up with me, and I had a sister who died when she was 15 and I was 18. My sister and I spent a lot of time with two of my cousins when I was growing up. I've been married to the love of my life for almost 33 years, and we have two kids. Our son is a high school science teachers, and our daughter has a social work degree and works with kids with emotional and mental disabilities in a residential setting. Oh, and three miniature dachshunds. And you know what they say: Dachshund is German for "little pain in the ass."
19. Does your family support your writing?
My partner is my biggest fan, biggest cheerleader, biggest counselor, and the best beta reader you could ever ask for. If it weren't for him, I would've quit a long time ago. He tells me straight-up if my work is crap - he is, after all, underwriting it. He won't throw good money after bad. My kids are still embarrassed that their mother writes "smut," but whatcha gonna do?
20. What is your favorite recipe?Please include it.
Recipe? Hmmmm . . . here's one that I love.
Stuffed Acorn Squash
1 good-sized acorn squash
1 Granny Smith apple
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
butter-flavored cooking spray
Stevia In The Raw
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut squash in half lengthwise and scoop out all pulp and seeds. Slice a sliver off the bottom of each half so they'll stand up. Spray the inside of the squash liberally with butter-flavored cooking spray, then mix together one teaspoon of cinnamon and one teaspoon of Stevia and spread on the inside of one half of the squash; repeat for the other half. Place cut side up in a baking dish with about an inch of water in the bottom, put lid on the dish, and bake for 45 minutes.
While it's baking, peel and cut up the apple, then dice it until it's finely chopped and drop into a zippered storage bag, and add the walnuts and raisins to it. Stick the nozzle of the cooking spray into the bag and spray a large amount in. Mix up two teaspoons of Stevia and two teaspoons of cinnamon and pour into the bag. Smush all of the bag's contents around until everything is coated with cooking spray, cinnamon, and Stevia. Spray a large skillet with butter-flavored cooking spray and heat, then put in the apples mixture. Stir with a spatula until apples are juicy. Just before removing from the skillet, add a teaspoon of brown sugar and stir in until it melts all over the mixture.
Remove the squash from the oven. Using a spoon, spoon the apple mixture into the squash halves. Return the baking dish, uncovered, to the oven for 15 minutes. Then remove and serve! A half is just right for an adult.
You'll probably have some of the apple mixture left over. It's great warmed in the microwave and put over ice cream!
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