I recently had the honor of being interviewed by Executive Editor Howard Lovy of Foreword Reviews for the publication’s weekly newsletter. Here is a link to the interview on the web. For those who don’t like to click through, the review in its entirety is posted below.
Many thanks to all involved (including the wonderful Christie Jenuwine) :). And thank to any of you who take the time to read it. Feel free to comment or ask any additional questions, and I’ll do my best to answer them!
Foreword Interview: M. Reed McCall
You had a pretty decent writing gig going with HarperCollins. Is there a short version of why you decided to break free?
Timing, genre, and content issues all played a part in the decision. The short version begins with a bit of background: after having had seven books published with HarperCollins in six years, all while teaching HS/college level English full time and raising a young family, I needed a break from the constant creative output under deadline pressure. So, after submitting the final book in my Templar Knights Trilogy to my editor in the fall of 2006, I took a self-imposed hiatus to refill the creative well and see what I should write next.
I played around with several possibilities over the next two years, but Moose Tracks on the Road to Heaven ended up being the project that took hold. By mid-2014 I had a completed manuscript. Although there was an option clause in my final HarperCollins contract, I knew the finished novel was something very different from what I had previously published and perhaps not considered as readily “marketable” in the current traditional publishing landscape. Nor was I certain I wanted to go that route with it; while decidedly fiction, Moose Tracks on the Road to Heaven is very personal to me, and I knew I wanted more control over the publishing aspects of it than I had had with my previous HarperCollins titles. Ultimately, after exploring large and small publisher possibilities, I decided to go completely indie with the book and registered my own publishing imprint called Teabury Books toward that end. It was simply the best choice for me and this book.
What about all the marketing, editing, and other help you get at a big publisher? Do you miss that? How do you make up for it on your own?
Having to take on the marketing, editing and other help my former publisher provided has been both daunting and exhilarating. Of course I miss the ease of simply submitting the finished manuscript to my editor and waiting for her revision letter, professional copy edits, cover art (though not having a say in the look of my covers was always difficult for me), and final galleys. Knowing that respected review sources would automatically pick up my titles and that my books would appear for sale online and in bookstores internationally (even though the size of my print runs and any marketing plans were out of my control) is indeed a perk of traditional publishing that I enjoyed during my time with HarperCollins.
However, thanks to those years of experience, I had a firm idea of what I needed to do when it came time to launch my novel independently. For the book itself, I wanted to craft a finished product that was polished, professional, and as close as possible to the look and feel of a novel put out by one of the big publishers. I hired Bri, of Bri Bruce Productions to help me with that, and she was truly instrumental in helping me achieve those goals. Marketing the book also has been a formidable task, not only because I lack the financial resources and clout of a major publisher, but also because of the time commitment involved for someone who is working full time and raising a family in addition to writing. My marketing campaign has evolved into a grassroots process of sending out advance copies and press releases, securing cover endorsements from generous bestselling authors such as Julianne MacLean and Margaret Porter, as well as entering indie author contests or contributing copies of my book to writing chapter giveaways. I’ve also purchased a few ads and taken advantage of opportunities to have the book represented at events such as BEA. All of this has been supplemented by readers who enjoy the book and are generous enough to undertake “word-of-mouth” marketing for me by leaving a review at various online sites or recommending my novel to others.
You’ve gone from writing medieval historical romances to a more-contemporary story. Are you done with writing romances or just branching out?
My gut instinct is that I’m just branching out. I don’t know when I’ll write another romance, but I still have story ideas brewing all the time. At the moment, I’m working on a sequel to Moose Tracks on the Road to Heaven, so I know it won’t be in the immediate future.
It’s strange how many people call romance novels trash, yet they always seem to sell very well. Is it just everybody’s dirty little secret?
I believe that many of those who consider romance novels “trash” haven’t really read much from the genre. Also, it’s sadly easy in our society to denigrate a genre that is largely written by women, for women. There are exceptions of course. Nicholas Sparks writes romance, but the marketing of his novels is quite different from the presentation of many romances authored by women.
In my opinion romances sell well, not only because romance readers tend to be loyal readers, but also because they’re onto something important psychologically. The genre reflects hopeful and affirming aspects of life, rather than cynical or negative ideals. Who aspires to be miserable and alone? Who looks forward to experiencing tragedy and disappointment in their lives? Yet many genres more respected than romance seem to offer those outcomes in high doses, focusing on the darker experiences of life, sad events, and wrenching situations, with no real resolution other than acceptance or more suffering. Of course tragic or awful outcomes can and do happen in real life – and I’m not saying that challenge, pain, and a host of other darker aspects of life are not a part of romance novels as well; they are. In romance, though, the reader expects that even the most harrowing journey will lead to a more positive outcome. Romance novels focus on the good possibilities in life. They are about protagonists facing struggles and obstacles and unfairness and tragedy, and coming out on top of it anyway. To me, they reflect the kind of outcome people aspire to in their real lives. We want things to turn out all right in our families, careers, and relationships. When they do so in the fiction we read, it’s empowering and inspiring.
In *Moose Tracks on the Road to Heaven,* our reviewer notes how you capture “the unique voices of different personalities and their relationships with one another with evocative and heartfelt precision.” How do you get these characters to seem so lifelike?
As a writer all of my novels begin with character. The plot – and many other aspects of the work – spring from that for me. I enjoy paying attention to nuances of human interaction, behavior, expression, and motivation. To me, my characters are real people. Before I ever dig into a new manuscript, I spend several months engaged in brainstorming, much of which involves thinking about my characters and developing them, asking myself questions about them…sinking into their psyches and trying to capture their essence. Of course I continue to learn more about each character as I write. I am emotionally invested in them and often know far more about them as “people” than will ever appear in the pages of the actual book.
Because it is very loosely inspired by some actual people, events, and life circumstances, Moose Tracks on the Road to Heaven does contain a few characters crafted from kernels of real-life counterparts, but as I mention in my Author’s Note, even those characters “remain fictional composites that couldn’t possibly do justice to the real versions”. The vast majority of characters in the novel were entirely created by me. Thus far, readers – some of them my own family members – haven’t been able to distinguish between those who are loosely inspired by someone real and those I crafted from the world of my imagination. And that’s exactly what I intended. I write novels, not non-fiction, and character development is important to me as part of the journey I’m asking readers to take with me when they read one of my books.
What is romance?
As a noun, I’d say the definition of what it is – what it means, looks, or feels like – is going to be different for everyone. As for its meaning within the context of romance fiction, I’d say the basic message of the genre is that love is the most powerful force in this world (and perhaps in the next one, too, if such is your belief system). It provides the motivation for a great many things in life, and when we allow it to guide and carry us along paths of internal and sometimes external growth and change, the trip it offers will be more than worthwhile.