Cara: Our guest on the blog today is erotic romance author Elia Winters, who presented our chapter’s April workshop on Romance Tropes and Feminism. Before we get down to chatting, here’s a bit of background on Elia.
Elia Winters has always been a New England girl. Although she spent much of her childhood in Florida, she returned to her home state of Massachusetts as a teenager and has remained in New England ever since. She was blessed with an artsy, creative, somewhat quirky family that nurtured her eccentricities and helped shape her into the sassy woman she is today.
Elia holds a degree in English Literature and teaches at a small rural high school where she runs too many extracurricular activities. She balances her love of the outdoors with a bottomless well of geekiness; in her spare time, she is equally likely to be found skiing, camping, playing tabletop games, or watching Doctor Who.
A writer all her life, Elia likes to dabble in many genres, but erotic romance has been one of her favorites since she first began sneaking her mother’s romance novels. In high school, she kept her friends entertained with a steady stream of naughty stories and somehow never got caught passing them around. Her erotic fiction and poetry have been published online at Clean Sheets and Scarlet Letters under a different name. She loves BDSM erotica and men who can use semicolons.
Elia currently lives in New England with her loving husband and their odd assortment of pets.
Cara: Thanks for joining me today, Elia! With your eclectic—and geeky!—background, what made you want to write romance?
Elia: I didn’t set out to be an erotic romance author. I have been writing novels since high school, writing across multiple genres, with multiple failed attempts at publication (which I’ll get to in the next question). At the same time, though, I’ve held a great fascination with romance. I used to sneak my mother’s romance novels and became adept at skimming through them for the sex scenes and then replacing them exactly as she’d left them. I started writing my own steamy scenes at about the same time. These became very popular with my friends: we’d pass them around at school – Catholic school, of course – and somehow never got caught. Even so, I didn’t think about writing a full-length romance novel until my tenth year participating in National Novel Writing Month. I decided that year, I’d write a book just for me, something that catered to all my kinks. Ironically, once I finished that book, I realized it was my best book so far, and I set about publishing it.
Cara: Another NaNoWriMo success story—I love it! Tell us about your path to publication. What have you published to date?
Elia: If you only look at my first published book, my road to publication seems very straightforward, even enviably so, but there were many failed publication attempts beforehand. I started trying to become a published novelist in high school, back in the days of paper submissions and SASEs, a lot of money in postage, and endless rejection letters. I wasn’t querying agents, back then, but only publishing houses that took unagented submissions. When that didn’t work, I queried agents, to again receive many polite replies of “no.” I stopped trying to publish for a while, then, and began writing for me, only for fun. I participated in National Novel Writing Month year after year, wrote a novel for my undergraduate capstone project, and finally managed to draft a novel that I’d been trying to write for years, a high fantasy called Finding Frost. Over the next few years, I revised that novel in my spare time while continuing to draft new novels. I gave it to beta readers, revised endlessly, and finally polished it as much as I could. Then I began querying it to agents. In the meantime, I wrote Purely Professional, my “just for fun” BDSM erotic romance. I kept getting rejections for Finding Frost, and the more I worked on Purely Professional, the more I realized that my other novels just weren’t very good. It was a difficult realization. My high fantasy couldn’t hold the attention of beta readers, it was fairly derivative, and it didn’t have any kind of spark. I set it aside, and mostly for curiosity’s sake, started looking for agents who represent erotic romance.
When I found Saritza Hernandez, I knew I wanted her to be my agent. She was every bit as geeky as I was. As “the epub agent,” she was focusing on digital publishing, the preferred format for many readers of erotic romance. She had a small client base that she clearly cared about, and she wasn’t afraid to take chances on non-mainstream titles. I started following her on Twitter to get a sense of what kind of a person she was, and everything I saw made me want to work with her. I polished Purely Professional for a year. After I had edited it, I sent it to my beta reader, Wren, who wrote back right away. She said, “I’ve been binge-reading this since you sent it. They’d be crazy not to take it.” With that vote of confidence, I polished my first five pages, my synopsis and query letter, and sent them to Saritza. She emailed me back two weeks later and requested a full manuscript. I got the email while checking my phone in bed at midnight and couldn’t stop screeching and flailing. I sent her the full manuscript, and six weeks later, she called and offered representation. A few months later, once I’d completed more edits, she began shopping it around, and it was picked up right away by Harlequin’s Carina Press line.
Since then, I’ve published Playing Knotty with Simon & Schuster’s Pocket Star line, Combustion with Samhain, and I have a trilogy releasing this summer from Pocket Star again.
Cara: WOW! Congratulations on your perseverance, and on all your success. Your writing schedule must keep you chained to your keyboard. Do you have a favorite place to work? Any writing rituals?
Elia: I sit on the couch with my laptop to work. I don’t have a desk anymore, so the couch is my desk. Since my husband likes to keep the television on in the background for noise, and I can’t write with TV noise, I put on my headphones and listen to classical music. I have an instrumental playlist on Youtube that I listen to on loop. Other than that, I don’t have any specific writing rituals. I just sit down, plug in, and type.
Cara: Tell us about your latest book.
Elia: I’m really excited about the trilogy I have coming out this summer from Pocket Star, the “Slices of Pi” series. The books follow the adventures of employees at PI Games, Players Incorporated, a game design company out of Tampa, Florida. The trilogy epitomizes my brand of “geeky, kinky romance” better than any of my books so far. In the first book, Even Odds, Isabel Suarez decides to forego her straight-laced professional persona and let loose at a gaming convention, participating in a risque scavenger hunt and having a weekend fling. What she doesn’t realize is that the man with whom she has her fling, Caleb Portland, has just been hired as creative designer at her company, and he can’t bear to tell her. When they end up coworkers, they have to find a way to work together professionally, but their chemistry will not be denied. Even Odds will come out July 4th, Tied Score on August 15, and Single Player on September 26. All books are available for preorder now.
Cara: You’ve had an interesting path to publication, and now you’re on a roll. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Elia: Write what you enjoy reading. Don’t write for the market, or for what you think will sell. If you write what you love, your passion will come through in the book, and your audience will come. Plus, you’re going to spend so much time reading your book over and over that if you don’t enjoy it, that’s a lot of time to be miserable.
Cara: That’s great advice, Elia. Good luck with your upcoming series, and thanks for stopping by the blog!