Nan is a good friend of mine, someone I've helped navigate the rough waters of publishing in this Brave New World. She's been hopping up and down with excitement as her first two books are being e-published, and she's been working with Storywonk and Lani Diane Rich so you know these books are beautifully edited. (One problem with trying new writers on the internet is that you never know what kind of production values are in place. Brilliant books can be unreadable if there isn't an editor to help.)
Anyway, I was curious how a new writer looked at things, and what made her decide to go it alone even though she has one of the top agents in the business.
Here's my interview with her:
You released the first two books in The Women of Willow Bay series on the same day. That’s pretty ambition, my dear. Why two at once?
That was actually at the suggestion of my editor, the amazing Lani Diane Rich at StoryWonk. We did the books together, and they were all ready to go, so we thought it would be cool to give readers both stories at the same time. I’m not really sure the old publishing model works so well with e-books. We wanted both books to be available so that if you buy one and want to read the next one, you won’t have to wait several months for it to release. They’re both right there, right now.
Tell me about Willow Bay, Michigan. Why Michigan? You don’t live there.
My mom loved Michigan and she took us there to vacation all the time when I was a kid--especially the west coast and up in the Traverse City area. I fell in love with Michigan too. Willow Bay is fictitious, but it’s based on a small town up near Traverse City that I love and try to get to every few years. It’s a beautiful area and there’s the lake--I’m such a lake person.
What were the inspirations for Once More From the Top and Sex and the Widow Miles?
I’ve always had a thing for arty, kinda nerdy, gentle guys and classical musicians fall into that category, I think. I never ever was attracted to bad boy/tough guy types. I saw a movie about a musician/conductor over 30 years ago and one scene in that movie, where he’s conducting, stuck with me and Liam and Carrie’s story in OMFTT just grew from how I reacted to that scene. I had so much fun writing Carrie’s best friend Julie Miles in that book, I just couldn’t let her go. She kept popping back into my head. So I knocked off her husband and gave her a story in SATWM.
Are your characters pretty much all fiction or are they based on people you know?
There are probably elements of everyone I know and love in my characters, but generally, they’re fiction. You draw from your own experiences, so you can’t help but give your characters traits that you may love or hate in people you know. So there is some truth to the old adage, “Watch yourself or you could end up dying in one of my novels.”
If you had to choose, what writer would you consider a mentor?
Probably if we’re talking from the time I started writing as a child, Gene Stratton Porter and Lucy Maud Montgomery. I read all their books over and over--still do, actually. Today, definitely Lani Diane Rich and Liz Flaherty and my crit partners, Sandy James and Cheryl Brooks.
What drew you to romance, as opposed to other genres?
Oh, my, the HEA, without a doubt. I’m an incurable romantic and live very happily in my little fantasy world. Always have. From the first moment I realized there were characters in my head who needed stories, I knew they had to be the happily-ever-after kind.
What’s the toughest criticism you’ve received as a writer? The best compliment?
The criticism that hurt me the most was from the first agent I showed the first draft of OMFTT, she told me to burn the book and start over. That was just painful. But the toughest, most useful criticism came from my current editor, who just lays it on the line, but has taught me so much about storytelling. For instance, when she read the first draft of SATWM, she told me, “Your hero is coming off like an asshole...” and you know, she was right. Revisions turned him into the sweet, sexy guy I’d intended him to be, but without that brutal honesty, I’d still be trying to figure why it wasn’t working. She’s the best...I wouldn’t want to work with anyone else, so I’m glad I’ve got her.
Best compliment again comes from my editor, who when I finally got it right, was as generous with praise as she was with criticism. Example? Revision after revision later on OMFTT, her comments included, “Lovely...fucking perfect...great job!” She makes me think and stretch, and even though sometimes I seriously doubt my own abilities, she believes in me and that means more than I can ever say.
You released these books on your 60th birthday, so you had a double celebration going. What advice would you give to your younger self?
“Take some risks, kid--don’t be such a fucking weenie all the time. Have some fun. Do something daring.” I didn’t get really bold until I was into my 50s--I wish I’d been bolder sooner. But maybe who I was is what makes me who I am today, and I’m really okay with who I am today.
Are there occupational hazards to being both a writer and an editor?
Yes--for one thing, I’m a slow writer because the editor kicks in and I start revising while I’m writing and then get distracted from the storytelling. Also, it makes me really hard on myself, harder than I’d be on the nonfiction writers than I edit for living. I give them a pass because most of them aren’t actually writers, they’re experts in their fields, so I think they don’t have to be good because I can make them sound good. But, the good news is that when I turn in a manuscript, editors love the fact that it’s clean and well presented. The story may need work, but by God, the spelling and grammar are as near perfect as I can get them.
What is your favorite quote?
Unquestionably my favorite quotes comes from my mom who repeatedly told me to “Snap out of it!”
Notice she fails to tell you all how magnificently helpful I've been, but she figures you guys know that, and if you didn't, I'd be sure to point it out. ;>
And here are links for the books:
Love never ages…