A Chat with Hybrid Romance Author Audra North

AudraNorthOur guest on the blog is Audra North, contemporary romance author of more than twenty romances, including the Stanton Family series from Entangled Publishing, the Hard Driving series from St. Martin’s Press, and the Pushing the Boundaries series from Samhain Publishing. She’s the owner and publisher of Pink Kayak Press, which focuses on the publication of diverse romance works. Winter Rain, a Pink Kayak Press anthology, won a gold medal in the 2015 Independent Publisher Awards. Audra enjoys speaking to writing groups and at industry conferences. She’s also an avid jogger and loves running marathons. She has three children and lives with her family outside of Boston.

Cara: Welcome, Audra! Tell us a little bit about yourself and your writing. What made you want to write romance?

Audra: I’ve been reading romance for nearly 20 years and it’s the only genre I’ve consistently loved. When I had my second child and quit my job, there were a lot of quiet hours for the first couple of months of his life, and I decided to fill them by trying my hand at writing one of the books I loved so much. It probably helps that we don’t watch TV in my house… those long hours required some project to make them pass more quickly!

Cara: For a lot of us romance authors, it all started with our love of reading. What do you like to read?

Audra: I love to read contemporary romance, historical romance, and nonfiction books. I love parenting books, books about marketing, and books full of interesting anecdotes about the history of an object, such as Salt by Mark Kurlansky or Color by Victoria Finlay.

Cara: Tell us about your path to publication. Do you have an agent?

Audra: I do, and she’s amazing. Courtney Miller-Callihan of Handspun Literary is my agent and has been for two years. She does a stellar job of placing work at traditional pubs and is really supportive of hybrid authors and self-publishing, as well. Not many agents are like her and I’m really lucky to have her on my team.

Cara: When you sit down to write, do you plot your stories or wing it?

Audra: I plot plot plot! I have a heavy writing schedule with a mix of traditional books and self-published ones, so I have to have an efficient plan for writing in order not to fall behind. That includes detailed plots for my works.

Cara: In today’s crowded marketplace, discoverability is all-important. How much promotion do you do?

Pushing Her Luck 1600x2400Audra: I used to do only a little promotion, like a couple of blog posts and release day tweets. But since I’ve started self-publishing more, I’ve learned a lot, and now I understand just how much is required. It’s a lot more than I was doing, I’ll tell you that! I recently hired a PR firm, Barclay Publicity, to help me. The Barclay team has been doing such an amazing job, and I’m so happy to finally have that part of my career moving in the right direction.

Cara: What’s next for you?

Audra: I have a book out on June 14th from St. Martin’s Press. Crossing the Line is the third book in my NASCAR-inspired series. The second book in my Lucky in Love series is due out later this year, and I have a women’s fiction project in the works that I’m hoping to wrap up by the end of the year.

Cara: Wow, 2016 is a busy year for you! Thanks for taking time out of your schedule to chat with us. Good luck with all your releases!

A Chat with Elia Winters, Author of Geeky, Kinky Romance

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.

SinglePlayer-192x300TiedScore-193x300EvenOdds-193x300

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!

Lonnie McManus Shares Her Inspiration and the Best Writing Advice She Ever Got

Today I’m sitting down with long-time CR-RWA member Lonnie McManus to talk about why she loves writing romance, and why she thinks CR-RWA is a great resource for writers at all stages of their careers.

Cara Connelly: Hi Lonnie! You’ve been a familiar friendly face at CR-RWA ever since I joined back in 2010, and I’m so glad to have this chance to find out a little more about you. For starters, I’m wondering how you got involved with the chapter, and what it means to you.

Lonnie McManus: I joined CR-RWA in 2003. I was looking for a writing group and saw an announcement in our local newspaper about the chapter having a meeting and decided, after checking it out, the chapter was just what I was looking for. I’ve learned so much over the years from fellow members, the monthly workshops, and had the opportunity to meet with well-known authors and industry professionals who’ve always been willing to share information about writing and the publishing industry. I can’t stress enough how much the chapter can help both the beginning author and the seasoned pro through the opportunity to meet and exchange ideas and news.

Cara: I couldn’t agree more! What got you started writing romance?

Lonnie: I write romance because I love the genre. It has so many opportunities to write any type of story you want, from contemporary inspirational to science fiction to mystery. It seems like there is a spot for everyone. Plus I a love a happy ending, something you don’t always get in other genres or even in real life.

Cara: What type of stories do you write?

Lonnie: I write romantic suspense with paranormal overtones. I’ve tried writing historical as I love the genre but keep slipping back into suspense and the paranormal. I think it’s because I’ve always wondered about things that go bump in the night and I love thrillers.

Cara: Can you tell us some of your favorite authors, and any who’ve inspired you along the way?

Lonnie: I’ve been inspired by a diverse group of writers, from Dean Koontz who told me “Lonnie, May you always have a silver bullet when you need one” in a letter. I always read the awesome storyteller Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb to study character and story development. I love Robert Crais and Michael Connelly who have let their characters grow throughout their various series. I especially like JoAnn Ross, Karen Robards, Amanda Quick, Eileen Dreyer and Kristan Higgins for their wonderful stories and interesting, layered characters.

Cara: So many of my own favorites are on that list! How about writing advice? Have you gotten any that stuck with you?

Lonnie: The best writing advice I ever got was from agent Steve Axelrod during a CR-RWA panel discussion. Someone in the audience asked him how valuable was it to attend lots of conferences to listen to other writer’s workshops. He said in his opinion the best thing you can ever do for your writing is to sit down and write. The only conference he recommended was RWA National and that was for networking. Nora Roberts always says pretty much the same thing—“Sit your butt in the chair and write.”

Cara: Great advice, indeed. Thanks for sharing it, and for taking the time to answer my questions today. I know you’re busy revising your paranormal thriller THE LAST DARK ANGEL for submission. I was lucky enough to hear you read the opening pages, and I can’t wait for the rest of the story!

Good luck with revisions, and thanks for stopping by the blog!

 

Getting Drunk (on writing) With K.A. Mitchell

Cara:  This month I had the pleasure of chatting with CR-RWA’s own K.A. Mitchell, and as usual, she had lots of interesting things to say! Read on as she takes us along her path to publication, gives us a window on her writing process (and a glimpse of her “office”), explains how CR-RWA and her critique group helped her along the way, imparts some words of wisdom (listen closely, people, she knows what she’s talking about!), and more. Welcome, K.A.!  

Available now!

Available now!

K.A.:  Hi! I’m coming at you live from my favorite place to write, what I call my summer office. (See pic) Well, actually lying on the beach is my favorite place for almost everything, but I’m not as productive there. This is a patio table with bar chairs on my 8×8 deck, under an umbrella screened in by netting. It sounds kind of tropical, but it’s just in a back yard in my city. My back yard does open on a stretch of land designated “Forever Wild” by the state, so that’s nice. I get some interesting visitors. Hello, turkey!

SummerOfficeKAMitchell

I’m lucky enough that this is my day job now, though it took about 14 books worth of back list to get to a living wage—being married to someone with health insurance is a huge help. For those who may have missed my loud mouth at chapter meetings, I write gay romance, usually contemporary. I’ve tried other genres before realizing that what I loved best about all genres was the relationship story. The only books I saw where people earned money were heterosexual romance, so despite always loving stories of same-sex couples (particularly two guys) I tried to write male-female romance, though I was always telling same-sex love stories on the side and all my books had gay characters in them, even if I was the only one who knew that.  As for what happened next, CR-RWA played a huge part in that.

I joined a critique group formed by some other members of CR-RWA. I was working on my fourth unsold novel, had been getting close but no thanks detailed rejections, and finalling or winning chapter contests. I wrote a lot of male-male romance to keep myself happy and sane and to not give up on writing. One of my critique partners said, “By the way, you know they’re buying that genre now. My publisher has a call out for submissions for a short story anthology.” My brain, heart and soul lit up. In three weeks I’d submitted a new short story. It sold to my wonderful editor Sasha Knight at Samhain and we’ve since worked on seventeen books together. I can say I don’t think I’d be here in my summer office, lying to make a living if it wasn’t for CR-RWA and the awesome people in it.

I’ve always been a pantser. I write stories mostly to amuse myself. I always have a bedtime story to tell myself that helps me fall asleep. If I know everything about the story before I sit down to write it, I will be too bored to do it. However, if you plan to make a living with publishers, you need to get on the schedule in advance. To do that, you have to sell on proposal, and for that, you have to have a synopsis. Most of the time I’ve found that editors don’t need every detail for a selling synopsis. If you’ve proven you can tell a complete story, they are looking to see if you have enough conflict, strong characters and a beginning, middle and plausible resolution. I can keep things vague enough to keep me happy and concrete enough to sell a book. It works for this pantser. The joy of discovery is still there.

I’ve probably gone way over the limit in answering questions. I’ve never met a word count I couldn’t exceed. (That first short story had to have 5,000 words cut from it before I could submit it and meet the criteria), but I wanted to end by sharing things that have helped me. The best piece of writing advice I know is “Change your seat.” To me that means if things aren’t working, switch it up. Write long hand, write outside, inside, in your car, on the couch, in bed. Switch point of view, setting, scene order. Do something different. The writer who to me speaks to my heart and soul as a writer is Ray Bradbury. He talks about story and fiction the way it is to me. Something I have to do, something I love to do, and something that is my job to do. I highly recommend both his work as a writer and reading his views on writing. He offers my other favorite piece of writing advice, “You must stay drunk on fiction so reality cannot destroy you.” To me that’s everything about reading and writing in a nutshell. Stay drunk, my fellow word-workers.

Contact K.A. Mitchell:

@ka_mitchell