Author Spotlight: Katerina Baker

Name: Katerina Baker

Author of: The Corner Office (Self Published)


Can you tell me about the first piece you remember writing? When did you first realize you wanted to pursue writing as a profession? I always thought I would be a full time writer in retirement, but until then I am managing to write in my spare time. As to whether I can call it a profession? I am definitely not the writer who has ambition to release many books per year. I prefer to let the books “stew” and grow, add on shape that can only happen when I take breaks from the novel I’m writing.

The first book I completed was started six years ago, which began my journey as an author. I remember sending my very first query letter to a New York City agent–only one because I did my research and I knew he was the perfect agent for me–and waiting for a phone call from him that same day. I think I even moved my meetings around so I would be available when he called.


That phone call never came, but I made another important one–to the editor who agreed to help me get the book into shape. Many revisions and almost three years later, that book did earn me my agent, which brings me to answering your next question…

Is there anyone who went out of their way to help or advise you during your journey to become a published author? God, too many people to count. But a few people did make a tremendous difference in my writing career. First off, my long-time writing buddy and an amazing author Camilla Monk. She was my first true fan who helped me see potential in my work. I remember how high I felt receiving her comments after she read my work in progress. I think all authors needs a few good cheerleaders, and Camilla was that person for me when I was just starting out.

The other people who really helped me are my agents. They worked with me on many gruesome revisions, relentlessly making me kill my darlings and pointing me in the right direction.
Do you exclusively write romance or have you written in other genres? All of the books I’m writing have strong Romantic aspect, but I’ve decided to not market all of them as Romance because some of them are not traditional romance. My latest novel Under the Scrubs, which will be published soon, will be marketed as Mystery, but there is a very strong romantic element and happily-for-now ending.
What is your schedule like when you’re writing a book? Is it difficult to achieve a work, life, write balance? I am one of those writers who gets up at 5 am to get a few words in and then revise it on the bus to work. I also write at nights and on weekends while my kids are at various activities. Overall, I find myself more productive when I do a few dedicated spurts of writing rather than doing it continuously for many hours. I need my breaks to produce the best stuff.
How long does it generally take you to write a first draft? How long do you spend on revisions? The first draft might take 3-4 months but revisions could sometimes take years. The first novel in a series always takes longer, but sequels come much easier since I already have the special bond with the characters.
Can you describe the preparation/research you do for each book? I prefer to write about a topic that I know about, and my pre-work is focused around drafting a few-page synopsis.
Do you have any quirky writing habits (the things you’d never want anyone to know)? You mean the quirky habits I’d never want to tell anyone but your blog readers? None. Absolutely none. Just kidding. Well, when I get stuck, I like to play “what if” game with my kids. I give them a vague situation and ask them what would they do if they faced it. They win extra points if they find something absolutely ridiculous to resolve it. Under the Scrubs features quite a few of their gems, which is why this novel is that much more special for me.
Have you ever done a literary pilgrimage—or any interesting research—for your novels? If not, do you have a research destination bucket list? I’ve extensively traveled in Turkey for a book I am writing. It’s about two Americans experiencing life in this beautiful country, and I wanted to make it truly authentic.

Inspiration comes in many forms. Can you recall the exact moment of inspiration for each of your projects? The inspiration for Under the Scrubs came when I watched a movie about an FBI agent rescuing a girl-next-door. The movie finished as they walked into sunset together, and I thought, wait a minute. Would it really happen in real life? Would the people like that really get their happily-ever-after and what would it look like? The idea was born: pair up the most different people imaginable and explore their relationship, throw the craziest situations their way and see whether they’d manage to come out together. Would it work out? Would they be able to move past all the conflict? Or maybe life doesn’t really work that way. That’s how the idea started, but it evolved into a really fun novel and some really unusual characters.
Do you have a specific genre you prefer to read? What are your favorites? I love to read all sub-genres of Romance, particularly Romantic Suspense. In humorous mystery, Janet Evanovich is my hero.
Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find or know the real inspiration for? I hide a murder mystery in my books, but you’ll need to read all of them to find out. Just kidding.

I don’t know if this is really a secret but I spend a lot of time making up the names of fictional places in my books. A few of my characters also love to give nicknames for things, and I spent quite some time making those perfect.

Are your characters inspired—in part or whole—by people in your real life? The female characters in my books are inspired by the women I knew and admired. I love writing about smart women: they are leaders, scientists, even hackers. They create their own destiny and make things happen. They show me the world I want for my daughters.

Name one book you think is entirely underappreciated. There are so many undiscovered books that deserve more attention. I love Camilla Monk’s Spotless series. I think it’s a new classic that everyone should binge-read. How could you not love a hitman with an OCD?

Name one book that was a guilty pleasure. You’ll get me in trouble here. I could spend days binge reading Outlander. I am the type of person who can re-read my favorite books over and over again and never get bored. I do sometimes go to my favorite scenes on my tenth read, though.

Be honest: Do you Google yourself? Never. I don’t care nearly enough what people think of me. This is the same reason I rarely read book reviews. I always reply to any direct messages sent by my readers, though. Those are truly special.

As a writer, which animal/item would you choose as your mascot/avatar/patronus?

It would be a pink pussy hat worn during women march.

Is there one thing you think you, as a writer, should be better at, but secretly struggle with? I could improve my world-building skills, particularly when writing imaginary places.

What is one word of advice you’d give to an aspiring writer? Never give up. If you want something badly enough, keep at it. Be open to constructive criticism, no matter how hard it might be to hear. Constantly grow and learn from others, and eventually it will happen. If you never give up, it’s not a question of if, but of when.

What is one word of advice you’d give to a newly published author? Market your book would be the smart advice, but really, do what makes you happy. Write a new book.

In what ways do you “pay it forward” to help other aspiring writers? I spend a lot of time reading work-in-progress by other authors and providing feedback. I would love to be able to do more collaborations on marketing, but there’s never enough time in a day.

Where can people find more about you?


The Corner Office                                                            

Tara Johnson’s sacrifices are about to pay off: a senior executive at thirty-five at a Fortune 500 company, she’s one of the two finalists in line for a Managing Director position. Unfortunately, her rival of fifteen years, the charming, infuriating Richard Boyd, is just as qualified, and unlike her, he’s willing to cross pretty much every line to get what he wants.
Of all the things Tara stored in the attic to make it to the top, it’s her personal life she misses the most. That is, until she starts a steamy affair with sex god Aidan, her direct report. Interoffice relationships with a subordinate can mean the end of a career, and when Richard finds out, it’s the perfect opportunity to take his high-heeled nemesis out, especially since he’s still nursing a grudge against Tara for rejecting him years ago.
But Tara’s increasingly domineering lover has his own dark secrets, endangering more than just her career. As her liaison spirals out of control, salvation will come from the man she always thought she hated, and perhaps the only one to truly understand her.


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Author Spotlight: Sam Boush

Name: Sam Boush

Author of: All Systems Down (Lakewater Press)

From: Portland, OR



Can you tell me about the first piece you remember writing?

The first “book” I ever wrote (as far as I can remember) was also the one that made me want to be a writer. Winnie-the-Pooh fanfic. Me, maybe five years old, making my mom transcribe my words onto six-or-seven sheets of paper. Then I drew horribly on it all and bawled my eyes out when the sheets came apart.

When did you first realize you wanted to pursue writing as a profession?

That fanfic. That was definitely it.

Is there anyone who went out of their way to help or advise you during your journey to become a published author?

Well, dozens of people. I actually think about this topic a lot because there are so many people who have helped me, and sometimes I feel like one of those concert-goers who launch themselves into a crowd. Body surfing, they call it. Except I’m surfing on the outstretched hands of all the people who have helped me.

If you’re looking for names, Tracy Daugherty from my college days at Oregon State University stands out pretty marvelously. He was the advisor for my honor’s college thesis which was a long-ass novel that must have been pretty painful to read. If you listen to the literary agents I submitted it to, you’d come away with that idea, anyway.

I was twenty-one when he pored over this never-to-be-published historical fiction monstrosity. Read the whole thing and marked it up at least a couple times. No one paid him anything to help me out. And this was on top of running the English department, teaching a full course load, raising his kids, trying to pound out his own writing. Man, when I look back at what he did I feel both grateful and, if I’m being honest, kinda terrible.

Do you exclusively write cyber thrillers or have you written in other genres?

Well… I exclusively write cyber thrillers in that All Systems Down and the next book in the series (working on it now, Lakewater Press, I SWEAR!) are both cyber thrillers. But I’m sure I’ll write more widely in the future. My guess is I’ll be sticking to thrillers, though. It’s a fun genre to write!

What is your schedule like when you’re writing a book? Is it difficult to achieve a work, life, write balance?

I’ve got a pretty good situation since I sold my business and am currently focused on just a few things. My kids are a top priority, and I’m kinda Mr. Dad right now, cooking, cleaning, running the kids around and writing in there. If I run into trouble it’s probably from creative juices squeezed out, not really from time.

How long does it generally take you to write a first draft? How long do you spend on revisions?

Are you sure this isn’t just a ploy from my publisher to find out how I’m doing on book 2? Well, I guess I’ll come clean. It takes me forever. FOREVER. I’m such a slow writer and researcher. Sometimes I go down a rabbit hole and spend an evening learning the intricacies of how a building collapses, watching videos on YouTube and reading engineering papers. I’m not even a wonk, but criminy, I can definitely be a dork.

So, first draft? A year. I dunno. Wayyyy to long. If you’re reading this and thinking that’s normal, it’s not. I don’t know why I’m so slow. And revisions? Gawd, I dunno there either. My publisher had multiple editors looking at my last book, cutting tens of thousands (TENS OF THOUSANDS!) of words, making the thing bleed, you know the drill. Took forever.

Can you describe the preparation/research you do for each book?

No. I can’t. It’s a lot.

Do you have any quirky writing habits (the things you’d never want anyone to know)?

I drink three cups of coffee. Then I write. I’m like a Hemmingway without the alcoholism or talent.

Have you ever done a literary pilgrimage—or any interesting research—for your novels? If not, do you have a research destination bucket list?

I’ve got a buddy (I’m looking at you, Lee Corum) who implied he could get me on a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. I implied that I would kill anyone he needed me to kill to get onboard that baby. Still waiting for his hitlist.

 Name one book you think is entirely underappreciated.

A Shine that Defies the Dark

Name one book that was a guilty pleasure.

See above

Be honest: Do you Google yourself?

Sure. Not too often, though.

As a writer, what animal would you choose as your mascot/avatar/patronus?

A bat. I stay inside all day. Being a writer isn’t glamorous.

Is there one thing you think you, as a writer, should be better at, but secretly struggle with?

No, there are dozens of things. But most of all, probably focus. Sometimes I find things to fix around the house when I should be writing.

What is one word of advice you’d give to an aspiring writer?

Write every day. I don’t do this, but it’s good advice.

Where can people find more about you?


All Systems Down 

24 hours.
That’s all it takes.
A new kind of war has begun.

Pak Han-Yong’s day is here. An elite hacker with Unit 101 of the North Korean military, he’s labored for years to launch Project Sonnimne: a series of deadly viruses set to cripple Imperialist infrastructure.

And with one tap of his keyboard, the rewards are immediate.

Brendan Chogan isn’t a hero. He’s an out-of-work parking enforcement officer and one-time collegiate boxer trying to support his wife and children. But now there’s a foreign enemy on the shore, a blackout that extends across America, and an unseen menace targeting him.

Brendan will do whatever it takes to keep his family safe.

In the wake of the cyber attacks, electrical grids fail, satellites crash to earth, and the destinies of nine strangers collide.

Strangers whose survival depends upon each other’s skills and courage.

For fans of Tom Clancy, ALL SYSTEMS DOWN is a riveting cyber war thriller which presents a threat so credible you’ll be questioning reality.


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Author Spotlight: Sharonlee Holder

Name: Sharonlee Holder

Author of: Resurgence; Renegade (coming in 28 May 2018; Changing Tides Publishing)

From: Johannesburg, South Africa


Can you tell me about the first piece you remember writing?

It was so long ago that I think it involved a stone tablet, hammer and chisel. LOL. I do, however, remember writing a short story for my girls when they were little entitled ‘Betty & Bumper Go Adventuring’. I printed it out, drew pictures for it and stapled its ‘spine’ together. I think one of the girls may still have it somewhere.

When did you first realize you wanted to pursue writing as a profession?

I have always written for my own entertainment and spent the last ten years writing characters and telling their stories with others in various collaborative roleplaying communities themed around the world of Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern book series. I also participated in NaNo in both 2012 and 2014. It wasn’t until the April Camp Nano in 2016 (during which the first 50k words of Resurgence were written) that I began to dream about the idea of turning my storytelling passion into a profession.

Is there anyone who went out of their way to help or advise you during your journey to become a published author?

My family and a couple of close friends. I know, that sounds so cliched. But were it not for their encouragement and support, I would never have had the courage to submit Resurgence in the first place. I must give my mom extra kudos for the hours and hours that she patiently listened to me blathering on about my characters like they were real people. She is still my number one sounding board when I need to brainstorm a plot twist or when I’m having a crisis of word flow.

Do you exclusively write paranormal romance or have you written in other genres?

I have a half-finished contemporary MC romance that is a stand-alone that I hope to complete this year and submit for consideration. NaNo 2012 I started but never completed a high fantasy novel, but even that has romance woven into it 😉

What is your schedule like when you’re writing a book? Is it difficult to achieve a work, life, write balance?

As an adult with ADD, maintaining any kind of balance and/or focus can be a challenge at times. This is where my passion for music comes in and helps to centre me during writing sessions. I am also truly grateful to be able to say that writing is my work. While I also design patterns for crochet toys and sell those through my Etsy shop on the side, I am determined to turn my writing passion into a sustainable career. Scary, nerve-wracking but altogether exciting too!

How long does it generally take you to write a first draft? How long do you spend on revisions?

Resurgence took me four months to write, Renegade, five months – longer if you count the break I took when I began writing the MC Contemp Romance I have yet to finish. I’m hoping to get book 3 out in four and a half months.


As for revisions, I am a lineal writer that starts at Chapter 1 and writes straight through to The End, editing as I go. While this approach does to tend to slow me down so far, it has also served to lessen the need for hefty revisions. I am also a total pantster. While I may know the overall plot and how the book will end, my approach is very definitely that of discovery writing. My little ADD brain would get bored and disengage if it knew too much in advance 😉

Can you describe the preparation/research you do for each book?

Since I’m a pantster and revel in discovery writing, I tend to research as I go. Again, it does make for a bit of a stop-start approach but so far, it’s worked for me. That is, if you discount falling down rabbit holes that began with Googling: How long does it take to dig a grave by hand? And somehow ends with: Watching a Facebook video of someone making a three flavour swiss roll. I can’t even claim that I then went on to make said swiss roll for the family. LOL.

Do you have any quirky writing habits (the things you’d never want anyone to know)?

I feel like I should plead the fifth here. LOL. Coffee. There must always be coffee! Coffee and a short one-minute track from the band Thousand Foot Krutch called The Introduction that I listen to on my headphones at the start of each writing session. Not sure if it’s because I’m trying to invoke my muse, or it simply helps to clear the cobwebs from my head, but it seems to get me into the space I need to be in. The lyrics:

Welcome. You have activated all systems. Deactivation is not an option. You must find the truth. Remember, not everything is what it seems. If you don’t stand for something, you might fall for anything. The end is where we begin.

The link:

Have you ever done a literary pilgrimage—or any interesting research—for your novels? If not, do you have a research destination bucket list?

I have! Aside from visiting the local graveyard where Ross, Apollo, Ares and Keanu have their little showdown in Resurgence, my #HEA surprised me with a trip to Underberg in the Drakensberg mountains to the exact location that has inspired the compound that Eros and the resistance take over at the end of Resurgence. It was amazing! There is an old abandoned hospital that inspired the one in Renegade (book 2) that’s just down the road from where I live. However, since it’s listed as one of the top ten most haunted places in South Africa I am way too chicken to check it out myself 😉 There I cheated and relied heavily on Youtube videos taken inside the dilapidated buildings by paranormal investigators and Google Earth for a 3D external view. I’ll be sharing some of those links on my blog and Facebook in the weeks leading up to Renegade’s release.

Inspiration comes in many forms. Can you recall the exact moment of inspiration for each of your projects?

With my #HEA being a patched member of the Hell Razors bike club, inspiration for my unfinished contemporary MC romance is taken directly from my and his involvement in the biker club life. The inspiration for Blood of The Custodians grew from a series of What Ifs after watching the delicious Henry Cavill in the 2011 movie, Immortals – What if the gods of Greek and Roman times still lived among us? What would they look like? What would their politics be? How would they integrate with us and what have they been up to for the past one thousand years?

Do you have a specific genre you prefer to read? What are your favorites?

Paranormal romance all the way with a brief tour here and there through high or urban fantasy as well as historical fiction as written by the incredible Ken Follet. When it comes to PNR, I will admit to having a mega fangirl crush on JR Ward, author of the Black Dagger Brotherhood series and would probably swoon dead away if ever I got to meet her. Ward writes PNR and vampires like no one I’ve ever read before – Edgy, fast-paced, steal-your-breath away, melt-your-bones stuff. Karen Marie Moning, author of the Fever series is a close second – Jericho Barrons is delicious! When it comes to contemporary romance, Lori Foster’s Men Who Walk the Edge of Honor is my all-time favourite series from her so far. In this series, Foster writes the perfect blend of hot alpha males working as white hat mercenaries with steamy romance all while dealing with the grim reality of the modern-day slave trade.

Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find or know the real inspiration for?

Haha. Yes. Yes, I do 😉 There is a scene in Resurgence where Antara encounters Tryston (The Dark Hunter) for the first time that was inspired by a recurring nightmare I used to have as a teenager living at the coast. In Renegade, there is a scene set in Chicago that briefly touches on a strange little house squished between two modern hotels. Back in March of 2013, during a trip to the States, I stood outside in the middle of a snowstorm opposite the real-life inspiration and told my #HEA that one day, I would write a book and put that little double-storey house in it. Total squee moment when finally, I got to do just that! I only wish I could have written more about it.

Are your characters inspired—in part or whole—by people in your real life?

Oh, this could get me into trouble. LOL. One or two of my characters are certainly drawn from real-life inspiration. For instance, Hailey, Antara’s BFF, is a composite of the close friend of one of my daughters and a friend of mine from the Hell Razors all wrapped up in the bounce and charm of a Jack Russell 😉 The real-life sources of Hailey’s inspiration are aware of this. Except the Jack Russell who was more interested in chasing imaginary squirrels than hearing how she had inspired a character.

Name one book you think is entirely underappreciated.

Gladiatrix by Russell Whitfield. I received the first book as a gift from a dear friend back in 2011 and loved reading about Lysandra, a Spartan warrior priestess who fights her way from shipwrecked slave to fearsome victor in the gladiatorial arena facing many deadly foes and circumstances along the way.

Name one book that was a guilty pleasure.

Wheels Up (Out of Uniform) by Annabeth Albert. A m/m military romance I thoroughly enjoyed Annabeth’s exploration of the psychology and dangers involved when a pair of new lovers suddenly find themselves thrust into the forbidden territory of a relationship between a commanding officer and enlisted man due to an unforseen transfer. What an emotional rollercoaster! And…hot, hot, hot!

Be honest: Do you Google yourself?

Haha. Haven’t we all? My results are pretty boring though. It’s all book/author stuff and the various crochet and cross stitch patterns I’ve designed for magazines or that I sell on my Etsy shop.

As a writer, which animal would you choose as your mascot/avatar/patronus?

Given how dragon obsessed I am, that would have to be it 🙂

Is there one thing you think you, as a writer, should be better at, but secretly struggle with?

Putting down more words in a day that by the end of it, will survive my daily edits. My greatest aspiration is to be able to achieve a steady flow of between 3,000 and 4,000 words a day that make it passed edits.

What is one word of advice you’d give to an aspiring writer?

Read. Read, read, read! And I don’t just mean novels in the genre you want to write in but everything about the craft of writing and publishing that you can get your hands on! Sign up for newsletters that offer free advice, read articles by other authors, editors and publishers. Follow published authors, editors, agents and publishers on social media as they not only have sage advice to give but will often share articles on all things related to the craft of writing. Things such as the difference between ‘showing’ and ‘telling’, character growth, plot development, query letters, writing a synopsis etc. Angela Ackerman on twitter is a brilliant place to start. She’s always sharing amazing tips and hints.

What is one word of advice you’d give to a newly published author?

Social media! That’s two. #mybad. Seriously though, get on social media, follow other authors, book reviewers, bloggers, like their posts, share their stuff, retweet. Reach out. ENGAGE! It’s not just about marketing your book. You need to network and build relationships too.

In what ways do you “pay it forward” to help other aspiring writers?

While I’m not as good about blogging as I should be, I do like to reach out one-on-one and share what I’ve learned in terms of what’s worked for me and what hasn’t, what info is out there for the taking and where to find it. I know how lonely and overwhelming the journey can be and how much just even the smallest bit of encouragement can help.

Where can people find more about you?





It’s been a thousand years since the Fates destroyed Olympus, forcing the gods into exile among the humans. Now, led by Eros, the sons and daughters of the Olympians are preparing for war. They are determined to win their freedom, but the Fates will do anything to keep the status quo. A prophesied weapon—said to be able to destroy the Fates—is sought by both sides.  Eros and the resistance want to use it to win their freedom, while the Fates race to find the weapon first and destroy it.


Antara, a hybrid of human and Custodial descent, comes into her ancestral powers as the very Tracker Eros needs to find the weapon. Kidnapped, held hostage and forced to confront the hidden truth about her own heritage, Antara is drawn deeper and deeper into a world she never knew existed. Things would be a lot simpler if she could just hate Eros for bringing her here; if his fate weren’t now bound to her own—and if, despite everything, she didn’t already find herself falling in love with him…


Set in modern day urban South Africa, Resurgence is a fast-paced paranormal romance featuring rich, dynamic characters centered on a smoldering love story and timeless themes.


One Liner: Love has the power to move gods.







RENEGADE – Book two

In the ongoing war between the Fates and the resistance, Colin Murphy, bastard son of Hades finds himself caught between his loyalty to Eros and a past intent on destroying him.

Pursued by Persephone’s bounty hunters with a pissed-off daemon to contend with, there is one thing that Murphy knows for sure – Hailey, the human he now shares his mind and body with, is the innocent in all of it. She is a firefly flickering in the darkness of his black existence and he will do anything to protect her light.

Groomed to be a socialite with a conscience and with her future mapped out for her, nothing could have prepared Hailey for the rude ending to life as she knew it. Or, for that matter, the impact of living in such close, intimate confines with a forsaken son of hell. He’s powerful, dangerous and her only hope of escaping the dark forces after her.

Boundaries will be tested, loyalties questioned, and hearts pushed to the limits in this action-packed paranormal romance that continues the epic Blood of the Custodians saga by Sharonlee Holder.


One Liner: He’ll risk his heart to save her soul.



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Author Spotlight: Susan Pape



Name: Susan Pape

Author of: (with Sue Featherstone) A Falling Friend; A Forsaken Friend

From: A village between Leeds and Ilkley in Yorkshire.

Can you tell me about the first piece you remember writing?

I used to make up a lot of stories when I was a child, and I’d tell them to my mother and her friends (getting into trouble once as I claimed in one story to have been attacked by a whale).

I don’t remember writing anything down until I got to school – but once there, with a supply of paper and pencils, I was off. I think my first ever written-down story was about an otter, because I’d seen a picture of one in a nature book.

When did you first realize you wanted to pursue writing as a profession?

From about the age of five. I remember telling my primary school teacher that I wanted to work for a newspaper. She didn’t think journalism was a ‘nice’ profession for a ‘nice’ girl (this was the 1950s) and didn’t offer any encouragement. She did, however, occasionally read out my stories in front of the class.

Do you exclusively write contemporary women’s fiction or have you written in other genres?

The first two books written with Sue (my co-author) were academic journalism text books. We had both completed degrees as mature students – and were both teaching journalism at different universities – when we saw the lack of good, practical books on journalism. The resulting books, Newspaper Journalism: A Practical Introduction, and Feature Writing: A Practical Introduction were both published by Sage of London and are still listed on university reading lists.

I also ghost wrote two cookery books which, if you knew me and my cooking skills, would make you laugh. But a publishing company approached me and asked me to do it – and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience (especially the lunches the chefs cooked for me).


What is your schedule like when you’re writing a book? Is it difficult to achieve a work, life, write balance?

It’s so hard to write as much as I’d like because real life gets in the way. It’s a luxury if I can block off two or three days in a row to concentrate entirely on writing. But the phone rings, the washing has to be hung out, my husband wants to book a holiday and needs my opinion (which is lovely, but…) it’s my turn to buy and make tea, and a hundred and one other things …

When I’m not sitting at my desk writing, I’m generally thinking about what I need to write next. I make little notes when I’m away from the office, and have plot ideas when I’m out walking or swimming. Churning up and down the pool is a great way of thinking about where your characters are going next.

How long does it generally take you to write a first draft? How long do you spend on revisions?

Our first novel, A Falling Friend, took eight years to write because Sue and I were working full time and had family commitments. The follow up, A Forsaken Friend took eight months because we’d both given up full time work, and family problems had eased a little. The final book in the Friends trilogy, A Forgiven Friend, should be finished by the summer because we both feel more confident about where it’s going, and what we’re doing. I have to admit, though, that the original first chapter of the third book took only a short while to write as I’d composed it in my head while out walking one day. Trouble is, I had deep reservations after I’d sent it to Sue for her approval. We both agreed it was not in the same style as the two earlier books – and would cause us problems further down the line. So I scrapped it.

Can you describe the preparation/research you do for each book?

Preparation means coming up with ideas for characters and plots, which involves meeting with Sue (for coffee and/or lunch) to discuss our thoughts. We agree – or disagree – make copious notes, and go away to start writing. But you can bet that by the time we start sending each other our completed chapters, we’ve both gone off piste. It’s amazing how characters take over once you start writing, and how new plot lines develop as you go on.

Research is vitally important – especially if you’re writing about something you know little about. We might be writing fiction, but we don’t like ‘making it up’ completely especially if there are factual points to be made. I would hate to write about somewhere in Yorkshire – my home county – and get it wrong as there would be many dozens of people wanting to correct me. Both main characters in A Falling Friend and its follow-up, A Forsaken Friend, have travelled – but to places that both Sue and I have visited, so we know what we’re talking about.

Otherwise, our two novels feature academia and the media quite strongly. But that’s fairly straightforward for Sue and I because we’ve both worked in those environments, we know what goes on – and we’re happy to spill the beans!

Have you ever done a literary pilgrimage—or any interesting research—for your novels? If not, do you have a research destination bucket list?

One of my plans is to visit Spelsbury Church in Oxfordshire. It’s where John Wilmot, the 2nd Earl of Rochester is buried. He’s probably the most controversial poet within the restored court of Charles II, and a total libertine. He features in both A Falling Friend and A Forsaken Friend, because he reminds one of the main characters, Teri Meyer, of her one-time lover, Declan – a philandering rake. He will be making another appearance in the final book in the Friends trilogy, which Sue and I are currently working on.

Inspiration comes in many forms. Can you recall the exact moment of inspiration for each of your projects?

The inspiration for my part in A Falling Friend was tripping over a ‘Cleaner at Work’ sign, conveniently positioned just inside the door of the Ladies’ loo at the university where I worked. I tripped and cursed, but there was something about that sign, put in a position where it would cause maximum inconvenience, that summed up my life at the time: ridiculous things were trying to trip me up. I couldn’t get the phrase ‘conveniently positioned’ out of my head and wrote it down… and suddenly there was Teri Meyer rushing into the Ladies’ loo, tripping and cursing as life conspired against her.

Do you have a specific genre you prefer to read? What are your favorites?

It’s difficult to pinpoint a specific genre as I have quite an eclectic taste in books. Of course, I enjoy intelligent women’s fiction but I also love well written novels – from the historic (Philippa Gregory and Hilary Mantel) to the contemporary (Joanna Cannon and Marina Lewycka); but I also enjoy books by Sebastian Faulks, Anthony Doerr and Fredrik Backman – to name but a few, as they say.

Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find or know the real inspiration for?

Some of the situations in the books are exaggerated versions of real events. But I couldn’t possibly divulge further!

Are your characters inspired—in part or whole—by people in your real life?

Oh yes… but Sue says I mustn’t tell! However, I have a mental image of each of ‘my’ characters and they invariably start with someone I know, someone who caught my attention in the street, or an actor, for instance. One of our current characters, Duck’s Arse (or Richard Walker) is actually the actor, Greg McHugh. He doesn’t know it yet, but when the Friend trilogy is turned into a TV miniseries (I wish!), lovely Mr McHugh will be asked to play D.A.

Name one book you think is entirely underappreciated.

Australian writer Kate Grenville’s fifth book, The Idea of Perfection. The story brings together a plain woman with a broken past, a desperately shy man, and a bridge damaged in recent floods. It’s written in such meticulous detail that the reader can feel the heat of the sun on his/her back as the bridge shifts and creaks beneath their feet

Be honest: Do you Google yourself?

The first time I Googled myself I found I was a prominent member of the Law Society! I am now a chief financial officer at the San Antonio Express-News, and also something of a whizz with dressage horses. Clearly, I’m none of these important people!

As a writer, which animal would you choose as your mascot/avatar/patronus?

A butterfly. I love their quiet gentleness.

Is there one thing you think you, as a writer, should be better at, but secretly struggle with?

Marketing and promotion, which might sound strange coming from someone who has a background in journalism and public relations. But I find it difficult promoting myself, and thinking of good things to say about me and my writing. It’s not modesty – because I don’t think I’m particularly modest – it’s more a case of, will people believe what I’m telling them?

What is one word of advice you’d give to an aspiring writer?

Stop talking about it and do it. Any number of people tell me they’ve got a book ‘inside them’ or they’ve always wanted to write, but don’t have time. My advice: get some paper and a pen, or sit at a computer – and start writing.

What is one word of advice you’d give to a newly published author?

Congratulations! Getting published is a huge achievement. Once that’s done, keep going – promote and push your book so that as many people read it as possible.

In what ways do you “pay it forward” to help other aspiring writers?

I ‘meet’ other aspiring and new authors mainly through Twitter and Facebook. I have also been mentoring a young writer who is writing an extraordinary memoir, and I encourage others by listening and making suggestions. But it’s only in exceptional circumstances that I’ll read someone’s manuscript. Let me see a chapter or two, by all means, but please don’t ask me to edit the whole thing.

Where can people find more about you?


Want more information on Susan’s books?:

A Falling Friend on Amazon

A Forsaken Friend on Amazon 

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Getting Back to Business

A few months ago things became quite chaotic.

I quit my job, started a new one, and then went on a vacation (one that had been planned and mostly paid for before I knew I was quitting my job!).

Now, I can happily say I am on the downhill slide from that unruly time period. I’ve settled into my new job and have started writing again. But, I realize how sadly neglected my poor blog has been. I realize that my blog cannot exist on reviews and cover reveals alone (though I love sharing cover reveals and book tours and will continue to do so!).

In an effort to do a better job of blogging, and to add some variety, I’ve reached out to some of the amazing authors I’ve met over the past several years. Beginning this week I’ll be posting author interviews with these wonderful authors. They come from a variety of backgrounds, regions and write across several genres. I’ve included self-published authors, those who work with smaller/indie publishers, and some whose books may be sitting on your store shelves right now.

So, keep an eye out for the interviews. You never know, you may just find your next favorite book…

If you know of an awesome indie author you’d like for me to feature, let me know and I’ll reach out them.

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Do you NaNoWriMo?

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is just days away.

What is NaNoWriMo, you ask? NaNoWriMo is a yearly event in which writer’s set a goal to write an entire novel (or 50,000 words) in thirty days. I know, it seems insane. I think that every time I make the commitment to do it. But I keep signing up.

If you’re wondering if NaNoWriMo is for you–if you can really do it–the answer is yes.

There are still a few days left to prepare. I’ve found my best NaNoWriMo time is when I think about my novel beforehand. I do some research, plan my characters, locations and the general direction I want my novel to travel. I usually start with a loose outline that includes plot points and twists I want to follow. Depending on the amount of preparation time I have, my outline may be far more detailed, but all I need is a “roadmap” to keep me on track.

Some people prefer to use the “pantser” method (ie- fly by the seat of your pants, no outline, make it up as you go, write with the wind). I have “Pantsed” in the past, and while there is something exciting about working like that, I find it easier to keep track and progress in a linear fashion when I have an outline. I’ve also discovered it’s easier for me to revise (and there is a lot of revision to come after November!) when my initial writing had structure.

If you want to try NaNoWriMo the main things to keep in mind are:

  • Nobody judges. Its fun, its a challenge, its a supportive community of writers with a shared goal.
  • Don’t–I repeat, do not–edit your writing as you go. The goal is to get 50,000 words down. They don’t have to be pretty. They don’t even have to be spelled correctly. You’ll come back and make corrections later. You may spend months–or longer–revising this novel. Some people call this their “first draft”, some call it the “zero draft”. I prefer to use the Anne Lamott term “shitty first draft”. I even save my file as “.SFD”. To me, it’s the most basic way of owning and being okay with the horrible quality of this draft.
  • What’s most important is that at the end of the month you’ll have a completed (or nearly complete) first draft of a novel. Even if you don’t quite make it to 50,000 you’ll have a good start on a novel.
  • Save research for the revision phase. As soon as you go online to research something you’re going to get sucked into a vortex of lost time. Enter a place mark/reminder within the text, for example “Moss draped from the [find out what kind of] trees…”. (as a bonus…all those place mark words help reach the goal!).
  • Enlist your family to help you meet your goal. It’s one month. Meals can be easy, the house can be cluttered, the kids can watch movies or play video games and your spouse can freely watch whatever they want (for my husband it’s a month of all the sports he can watch!).

Most important is to keep in mind that this goal can be reached. On December 1 you’ll look back and realize what an amazing thing it is to have written an entire book in one month. And you never know where that book will take you. There are a number of best-selling novels that started as a NaNoWriMo project. My own 2015 NaNoWriMo project was A Shine That Defies the Dark, which is being released on 12/5/17.

For more information on National Novel Writing Month check out the NaNoWriMo website and, if you want to “buddy” up, look for me there.

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Novel Writer’s Playlists

I cannot write in silence!

A quiet work environment causes my brain to send out little stimuli-seeking tentacles that grasp at any, and every, other noise in the world. Once I’m distracted by the guy with the leaf blower, the birds, the plane flying overhead, the lady walking the corgi and my own dogs shifting their position (noisily, I might add!) on the hardwood floor I’m far too distracted to write.

I’ve found that a well planned playlist keeps me in the “zone”. I set up a playlist for each of my projects and listen to them while writing. Each of the songs I add to my playlist helps me set a tone, be absorbed by my character’s world, or dwell on an emotion that’s crucial for the story I’m trying to write. Sometimes my novels, or some aspect of them, are actually inspired by a song.

For my novel A SHINE THAT DEFIES THE DARK my musical inspiration & playlist go back several years to a trip my husband and I took to New Orleans. After dinner one night we asked the waitress for a recommendation on one thing we should do while in the French Quarter. She told us about Preservation Hall, a small venue on a cross street. “You probably won’t even see the sign. You’ll just see people standing against a building. Get in line behind them.” And so we did. And it was one of the most amazing live shows I’ve ever seen. It was a small place, standing room only, hot and humid and amazing! After the show (we stayed for all three sets) I bought a CD and set it aside, knowing I’d want that someday.  I used several of the songs on that disc for my playlist.

I also discovered a band called The Civil Wars. Several of their songs are very raw and gritty and had the perfect emotion for a character I was creating: one who was making very wrong decisions, but for the right reasons. Here is the link to Devil’s Backbone by The Civil Wars, which ended up being my “theme song” as I wrote.

A SHINE THAT DEFIES THE DARK is set in 1930 in southern Louisiana. If you’d like to listen to the playlist I shared it to spotify:” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>My playlist for A SHINE THAT DEFIES THE DARK (releasing Winter 2017 from Changing Tides Publishing).


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When It’s Okay to Not Write

Every writer has hit some sort of a writing slump. Maybe you’ve lost your momentum, your excitement for a project, or maybe you just don’t know how to progress or where your story is going.

There is no limit to the number of tips and articles to help you get past a period of writer’s block. While many of them are very helpful there is also something to be said for putting your project aside for a while.

On each of my novels (including my current WIP) I’ve gone through a period when I’ve put the project aside for several weeks to several months. Sometimes I began another project or worked on editing another. Most of the time though, I used those breaks to really think about my novel. I reviewed my character’s background stories, motivations, I imagine interactions they might have with each other and with strangers. Sometimes I let dialogues be carried out in my head. I even planned a birthday party for a character during one of my writing breaks.

But as “unproductive” as each of those breaks has been something miraculous happened during each one: I discovered a mind-blowing plot twist or element that I hadn’t considered before. And each one of those revelations led me to a renewed and productive writing period.

For my YA medieval I discovered that an integral character would die (okay…there were two beloved characters who died and both came from a similar non-writing period). I also realized that a minor character, one who seemed to have pulled along by the devious plot of another, is actually quite strong and manipulative in her own right. She’s actually been the driving force of a major plot and is about to become the main character’s most formidable opponent. Until I set aside my writing I’d only ever recognized her as a mousy, subservient pawn in the game that was being played.

For my YA bootleggers story I solved two problems through a writing sabbatical: how to bring my character’s best friend back into the story line and whether a main character was going to die (yes, I do spend a lot of my non-writing time determining the death toll of my books).

My current WIP (a YA martial arts fantasy) is still very much in the early stages, but I’ve already taken a break from it to discover that someone I least expected is going to become the new Oracle. There is one potential death pending, but I haven’t gotten a divine answer on that one yet.

I’m not suggesting it’s ideal to stop writing entirely. Sometimes working on another project can push your current one from your mind, making it more difficult to resolve that which was preventing your progress. Taking a break and using the down time to ruminate on your project (or obsess without writing) can open up answers that you’d never imagine when sitting at the keyboard forcing the story onto the page.

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Online Writing Contests: To Join or Not to Join?

There are no limits to the number and types of writing competitions you can join online. You can submit a 35-word pitch or submit a longer manuscript for a more in-depth contest. The goal of the contests is the same: to get your manuscript before an agent/publisher who will (fingers crossed!) love it.

In the past several years I’ve taken part in my fair share of writing contests. My contest experiences have been varied as my results. While I’ve heard of a number of authors finding their agent/publisher through contests I haven’t been so lucky (…yet!). I have entered pitch contests and more involved ones with varying results. I’ve had my manuscripts selected to go on to the agent round, I’ve been selected as a team member, an alternate and I’ve also been completely left out of the running. I’ve had several partial requests, some full requests and (*gulp*) zero responses during the agent/editor/publisher rounds.

While the constant highs and lows of entering contests can sometimes make you doubt yourself and your work it’s important to realize what you are winning with every entry.

First–and most important in my humble opinion–is the support structure that you’re establishing each time you enter an online writing contest. You aren’t alone in your endeavors and dreams. A simple Twitter search for any contest will show you the number of people who are in the same position as you. The conversations that take place, messages of hope, support, guidance and empathy go on all day long. The writers who enter will often follow each other and end up with enduring online support systems. There are a  number of people who I’m still in contact with that I met because we’d all entered the same contest (or contests!) and struck up conversations. We continue to beta-read for each other, offer query critiques, pitch critiques, and even opening critiques. Most important we are there for each other when one is feeling frustrated or when someone has exciting news to share. I’ve also made some lasting connections with people who have mentored me and my novel during contests.

Second, the feedback and help that you get is amazing. There are a number of “pop-up” pitch workshops in which contestants–and writers who just want to help–review each others pitches to make them stronger. There’s no shortage in the number of people who will put out an offer to help by reviewing your pitch, opening lines, query letter, etc. The online writing community is such a supportive one and those who have been helped often give back by helping others.As an alternate for one contest I was given a ridiculous amount of editing feedback/guidance. There is no way my manuscript would be as strong as it is now without that help.

Finally, you get an idea of your own determination and how much you can endure in order to meet your goal. Can you accept rejection, and use it to better your craft or fuel you further, so that you can continue this journey?

I’m not saying you should enter every contest. There are times when you’re not in a good emotional or creative place because of the number of disappointments we face as writers. Those are the times when you should sit out and tend to your creative/emotional self. But do keep in mind all the ways that you can “win” even if you don’t win a contest.

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Slush Pile: Interview With a First Reader

You’ve finished your novel, done no fewer than a hundred proof-reads and thirty revisions. Now you are ready to submit. But what happens between the moment you hit that ‘Send’ button and finally get a response can be a bit of a mystery to many writers. Who reads your manuscript? What’s the process? What gets my manuscript past a first reader and into the inner sanctum?

Sherry Ficklin is a YA author and also wades through the slush pile for Clean Teen Publishing. She was kind enough to answer some questions from the perspective of a first reader about what it’s like to be on the receiving end of so many hopeful queries.

How did you become the “Slush Slave” for Clean Teen Publishing?
Dumb luck. Really. I was at Book Expo with my publishers and they had brought a bunch of subs with them to go over, and me being me, I was being nosy and putting my two cents in. I found out later I’d flagged the same ones they had. So they decided I had a pretty good eye and wanted to bring me in as part of the acquisitions team.

How many unsolicited submissions do you read in a month?
20+ on average. More during certain times (post Nano and post Pitmad). Never less than 2-3 a week. But nearly ALL our submissions are unsolicited. It’s beyond rare that we will reach out to an author and request they send us something. It has happened, but it’s the 0.1%.

What is the process for a manuscript going from the point at which it’s received until a decision is made?
The team is made of three readers, myself included. When a sub comes in it comes to all of us. It only takes one of us to request a full. Once we have a full, we all read the first 50 or so pages, more if we like it. Once we all reach the end, we discuss it together as a committee. The biggest question, even if we love a submission, is always, can we sell this book? It takes a unanimous vote on a full submission to make an offer. And there have been books that we all loved, but didn’t accept because we felt that, for whatever reason, we wouldn’t be the best place for it. If we can’t do a book justice, we won’t take it. And that’s to the author’s benefit.

Is that process different if a writer has an agent?
For most houses, it is. But for us, not really. We look at agented and un-agented submissions just the same. They get no special treatment here (much to their chagrin).

What is the difference in the number of books that you select that are submitted by new authors as opposed to established or previously published writers?
We look at previously published authors much more closely, in fact. We full on stalk them, we look at how much/how well they interact on social media, what their other sales/reviews look like, and we look for professional web presence. Because of this, we seem to take more first time authors. We can help grow an author’s career, but an author who has already had several books out and still isn’t where they should be in any area, well it makes us question why. A successful, experienced author, however, bringing us new material, make us extremely happy. The ratio of new to established authors is probably 3-1 or very close to that. We love launching new authors and helping them build their brands and careers.

What is it about a query or first pages that best grabs your attention?
I look for a book that hooks me immediately. Something that intrigues me from the first paragraph. My biggest turn offs are:
1) When the first chapter begins with a dream or a character waking up
2) A lot of immediate and unnecessary backstory
3) Flat dialogue

Any of those in the first few paragraphs will immediately turn me away. There are RARE exceptions to that. But yeah, mostly those are red flags to me. And a tip, if you only get 15 pages to make a first impression, don’t waste 9 of them on a prologue that I don’t really need to see. Jump me right into the meat of the story. If your first 15 pages are boring set-up, then you need to scrap them and start your story later in.

What are some mistakes you see over & over when reading submissions?
The two biggest mistakes I see are, firstly, books that genre jump. For example, if I’m reading tour contemporary romance and then on page 50, out of nowhere, a paranormal element comes into play, I will immediately quit reading. You can’t set your story up to be one thing, then throw a genre curveball in later. We should know, fairly early on, what the genre is just by reading.
The second mistake I see often is the overuse of tropes. Now, tropes can absolutely work, and I’m not looking for people to reinvent the wheel, but there should be something about your book that sets it apart from others. Often it’s just the voice or the world, but if it feels too similar to something else we’ve read, that’s a bad sign.

Hooks are important. How far will you read into a query letter if your attention hasn’t been piqued right away?
I often skim the query looking for 3 things, the age range of the characters, the genre, and the page count. I don’t put too much weight on a query because, to be frank, I know how hard they are to write. I’ve done it. And I suck at it. So I let the first few pages speak for the work instead. That said, if the query is REALLY heavy in poetic or sci-fi language (ie, oddball names for planets and systems, etc) that is a turnoff for me. But those are super rare.
One thing I see, and I would heavily avoid, is being demanding in your query. I’ve seen queries come in saying things like, ‘don’t show this to anyone else at your house without my express permission’ or ‘I only accept serious offers that come with big advances’ etc. Because it earns you a big red flag and a one way ticket to the trash can.

If a query letter isn’t strong–but doesn’t contain any major errors–are you likely to read the first pages?
I read the first pages no matter what, unless the query is in a genre we don’t represent, or is rude, you get your pages read.

We hear so often about tastes being subjective. That leads a lot of aspiring authors to wonder, does the fate of each submission lie with just one person or is it a consensus to accept/pass on a submission?
As I said, it takes only one to request a full, but all three to make an offer. Each reader on the team has wildly different tastes and opinions, which works to our benefit. We had a sub come in once that I was on the fence on, but one of the other readers argued passionately for it, and once she gave me some examples of similar titles and how they were done, it was a big yes from me. I’m happy to say that book is now one of our best sellers. At the end of the day, regardless of personal preference in genre or POV or tense, we all know what has the hallmarks of a good read, and that’s all we need.

What things are on your Wish List for submissions?
I’d love to see some spicy NA, we have very few on our list, and my personal favorites are paranormal of any flavor, humorous contemporary, and of course, I’m a sucker for a good YA romance. Also historical, or fantasy with historical elements.
Our ideal submission is a book that is part of a series or that has series potential. Standalones are wonderful, but harder to sell. And I love cliffhangers. Give me those all day long. Also,keep in mind that we have an adult imprint, Crimson Tree Publishing, so you do not have to be YA to submit.

Are there any subjects that you are just “over”?
No. I really believe that there’s no such thing as a ‘dead’ genre. A great book will always find an audience, trends be dammed.

There was some recent controversy about a publisher with a similar name to Clean Teen Publishing. Also the company name might cause some writers to wonder if their work is appropriate to submit to Clean Teen. Is there anything you’d like to clarify about your books or the rating system?
Yes, what a nightmare! It is hard, sometimes, for people to understand what we are trying to do at CTP. It’s not about all our books being ‘clean’ but it’s about being able to judge for yourself what level of content you want to read. Our disclosures are done on a four point system detailing the language, sensuality, drug and alcohol use, and violence. What one person considers ‘clean’ might horribly offend someone else. So rather than trying to judge, we simply let you know, right on the cover, how much of those things you can expect in any given book. I will say, out mature titles tend to sell just as well if not better than our less mature books. We love all books, with all content levels. We just like people being able to judge for themselves before they buy a book, whether it will be right for them.

If you are curious about Clean Teen Publishing (or the adult imprint, Crimson Tree Publishing) you can follow this link the their website. You can also review their list and check the submission guidelines.

You can also find information about Sherry Ficklin and her books on her website (I totally recommend the Stolen Empire series!)

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