A: My road to publication was a bit more like crawling up the Himayalas and less like a smooth highway. All told I spent 20 years seriously writing before I published with Harlequin, then Kensington and now also with Entangled Publishing. I actually got my first New York agent in 1996 and after eight years together we still hadn’t sold anything because I was writing historical romance and the market for it had tanked. I had two manuscripts that went to revisions with Harlequin editors only to be ultimately rejected. I let my agent go and did some serious thinking about what I wanted to write. I sold a book on my own to a small publisher, did all the promotion and marketing for it, only to have the publisher go bankrupt, with no warning, three weeks before the release date of my book. That was devastating. By that time I felt like I’d been sitting on the fence of almost published so long I had a permanent crease in my butt. Two years later I went on the great agent hunt again and was lucky enough that my top pick wanted to work with me. We had a sale to Harlequin within a few months for their new paranormal line. I’ve been writing like a madman ever since. When they say it takes a magical shift in the universe for everything to come together just right in publishing, they aren’t lying. Publishing, no matter if you do it yourself, or you want to work with a smaller house or one of the biggies in New York, is always a luck of the draw. You never know how things are going to turn out.
Q: At one time you wore a book publicist hat. How has that impacted your approach to being published yourself? Any words of advice that you as a publicist have given you as a published author that you’d like to share?
A: I’m very grateful that while I was working away at becoming published myself, I spent a decade being a book publicist with some of the biggest publishers out there and for numerous authors, including many New York Times bestsellers. It gave me tremendous insight into what careers at the top of this industry look like and entail. I’ve gotten the opportunity to go on a national book tour. And let me tell you is that grueling! Imagine a different airport and flight every morning at 4-6 am just so you can make it to the next city for the morning talk shows. Being a publicist made me more realistic about what to expect, how to attain what I wanted, and underscored the critical importance of always being professional. As for advice I’ve given myself? That’s harder. I’ve had to learn to let go of things and find people that I know do outstanding work to accomplish marketing and publicity activities. I had to realize that I couldn’t expect from them the kind of things I’d done for my own clients because every firm is different. But on the up side, it’s helped because I also know that every author is different. You can’t do the same kinds of things and expect the same results. There’s just too many variables. That allows me some measure of sanity when I start thinking, “hey I should do this and this, and this” to calm down a bit and realize that just because I can, doesn’t mean I should. I’ve learned to pick and choose and constantly tell myself that there’s only one thing no one else can do for me—and that’s write the book.
Q: Can you talk a little about the transition from unpublished to having three different publishers? How did that change your writing life?
A: It made it a lot busier! LOL. I’m very grateful to be writing such different material for my publishers. It allows me the opportunity to build different worlds and explore a lot more in my own writing. Overall it changed things in that now I have to be very disciplined about the writing. I always set myself deadlines before, but now there’s very little flexibility to them because I know that if one thing gets bumped, it impacts everything else down the line for up to a year. It’s also made it harder to jump on opportunities that pop up. I was invited by Harlequin to be part of a wonderful holiday anthology, but fitting that into the schedule made writing the next four books harder because it compressed my time schedule.
Q: What drew you to writing paranormal romance and steampunk?
A: I’ve always been kind of predisposed to the supernatural. My mother always did things with us kids like talk about the elves and fairies in the woods as if they were real things. When you grow up with that sense of the otherworldly being real, it seeps into your work. As for the steampunk, well, I was kind of born with that too. I’ve always been a Victoriana nut. Other kids asked for calendars with puppies and kittens. I wanted the one with the Victorian houseplans so I could dream up families to live in them. When I got paper dolls they were the Victorian ones. Until age 13 I grew up in the Bay Area where there was a lot of Victorian architecture around. My first novel I started at age 17 was set in Astoria, Oregon in the 1880s. I loved writing historical romances. To find that there were other people just as enamored with the time period as I was, and welcomed imagining it differently with fantastical inventors or possibilities for women in society, who loved to create costumes and gadgets was just a huge bonus! So really I kind of fell into writing steampunk only because I didn’t realize that’s what it was called.
Q: Since you were published with children hitting the active years in school can you offer advice to writers who are juggling family demands with writing demands about how you coped?
A: You mean how I’m still coping? LOL. Yes, I have very active kids. There isn’t a day where I’m not driving to two, sometimes three different things. I also work a day job part time because writing doesn’t come with health benefits or retirement programs, so it’s a challenge to write and fit in life, family, chores, kids, and still be human. I keep a notebook with me all the time. If I have five minutes, I’m writing, not playing games on my phone. If for some reason I just need to scribble down a bit of dialogue or a scene note, I’ll use EverNote on my phone. I use my laptop at lunchtime at work. I use scene sheets based off of my plotting board so I know where I am in the story at any given time and can just go to whatever scene I can get down at the moment if I get stuck. But not every person is the same. I find new places or changing the environment gets me moving again in the story. Some people need the same space and time everyday to make the words happen. My best advice? Do what works for you. If it isn’t working, try something else until you do find what works for you. Learn how to set boundaries with your family and stick with them. You deserve the space and time to write.
Q: I love hearing about the research you’ve done for your novels. What do you think research has added to stories about the weird and unusual?
A: I think research adds that textural feeling to a novel that allows you to immerse yourself in a time or place and feel like you’re there with the character. Normally the research in my writing isn’t just laid out in a lump. It’s woven into the context of the story, like a special color of thread in a tapestry. How much research I do completely depends upon the story. I do a lot more for my steampunk than I do for my fae or vampire worlds. For my latest steampunk, The Chosen, there was quite a bit of research because it spanned a trek from Tombstone, down through Mexico to the coast, then travel by submarine, until they get to the Aztec ruins and finally end up flying by airship to Krakatoa. That meant I needed to research not just Tombstone at this time period (complete with street maps and images of actual buildings), but also travel routes from Arizona through Mexico to the western coast. I loved being able to use Google Earth to actually see some of the areas I was describing. You’d be amazed how many pictures are out there! I also needed to research submarines from the Civil War era through the 1880s and see what was available and what my inventor character could have added on to existing technology at the time. There was research on the Aztecs and the Spanish Conquistadors. And research on the Aztec temples in the area and their construction. I did research on Krakatoa and the huge eruption that happened there. I even did research on slime molds that live in sulfuric acid in underground caves. It’s crazy what goes into a story to give it some solid grounding in reality for the totally fictional, paranormal world I’m creating.
Q: What do you wish you’d known starting out that you know now?
A: I would have liked a time line! LOL. Seriously, if someone had told me, look, you’re going to be working for 20 years at this without a paycheck, I might have been a little more creative about my financing and put more away from the day job early on into retirement accounts. I wish I’d known that the whole idea of writing what you love is nice, but not realistic. You have to write what readers want to read. No one tells you it’s all about the reader, not about you, so you need to get over yourself. I spent a lot of years just writing whatever my little heart wandered to at the time. I also would have liked to have known how to handle the prejudice better. You go to school to get a degree in Mass Communications and Journalism, and then when you do publish, even multiple books, you find out that academia doesn’t see that as worth anything. It’s fiction. It’s not even literary fiction in their eyes. Once you realize that it doesn’t matter, you find a space of freedom. You realize that the impact of your work is at the grassroots level, reader by reader. That’s where you are making a difference. Your books may not be touted as pivotal to society, but when they impact readers, that’s all that truly matters.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your next release [which is always on my MUST BUY list]?
A: Thank you! My next release is the third book about my Jackson brothers in the Legend Chronicles series. The Chosen, deals with middle brother Remington Jackson, who’s an attorney by day and a Hunter whenever it suits him. Out of the three books this was by far the most difficult to write because it involved dealing with a relationship triangle between Remington, his younger brother Colt, and the shape-shifting thief China McGee who is not only Colt’s former lover, but also archdemon Rathe’s daughter. Talk about family issues! Remington and China have to locate the last missing piece of the Book of Legend and I send them on a daring journey through the deserts of Mexico, into the jungles, fighting Viperanox (snake demons), giant jaguars, Aztec bone warriors and much more only to end up at the mother of all battles at the gates of Nyx against Rathe and the Darkin on his side and our three brothers, their supernatural women, and a host of our favorite characters (including Le Renaud the female airship pirate and our intrepid inventor Marley Turlock). It’s a true showdown in Western style.
Q: Any final words of wisdom for other writers?
A: Keep writing. Only you can write the book. And to say you’ll do it someday isn’t going to get you there. Start now. Do a little every day if that is all you can manage. Just a few paragraphs a day can turn into a book over a year. The stories are locked inside you and no one will ever know, or enjoy them, until you set them free.