Natalie Charles on Writing, Publishing and Projects

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Natalie is the award winning author of six romantic suspense and contemporary romance novels. Her latest book Seeking Mr. Wrong is scheduled to be released on February 17, 2017.

Where are you from originally? 

I’m from the Hartford region of Connecticut. I grew up in a middle-class town, the oldest of four children in a single-income household. My parents struggled. As a teenager I was acutely aware that some of my friends were vacationing in Greece while I’d never even been to Canada. They were shopping at stores I’d never heard of. (The GAP? What’s that?) The characters in my books reflect this experience: They are often a little bit off, a touch gauche, and slightly uncomfortable with wealth. Their clothes never fit quite right, or they can’t quite figure out how to carry a conversation with certain people. I can relate to that awkwardness.

What do you do for fun when you’re not writing?13051595_986624674763850_5662782988932496113_n

I enjoy reading, exercising (anything that doesn’t require coordination–Zumba is out), and going for walks or hikes. Besides that, I like to make things. I always have a project going. I quilt and sew, I knit, and I bake or do things like make my own sauerkraut or water kefir. Last spring I decided I’d start making my own soaps and lotions from scratch. I would visit with a friend and bring her four bars of soap, I had so much. Now I make my own laundry detergent, candles, carpet freshener…Yes, I realize this is strange. I just like to make things. I get curious about how something works and I go along with it.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Margaret Atwood has had a huge influence on me. I love her writing. I also love Gillian Flynn, Kristin Hannah, Michael Connelly…those are some of my favorites. But I read widely and I’m discovering amazing new writers all the time. I like to go into a bookstore and pull books I’ve never heard of off the shelf.

What are some of your favorite television shows?

I don’t watch that much television and I’m probably about five years behind (thanks, kids!). Some of my very favorite television series are Breaking Bad, The Wire, The Sopranos, and The Office. Project Runway and America’s Next Top Model are guilty pleasures. Also, I’m a little bit obsessed with old Columbo episodes. I get a kick out of the dated clothes and that fact none of the investigators wear latex gloves, or that the key to the crime might concern new technology called “an answering machine”. It’s amazing.
10991260_772062062886780_2681714091044272467_nHow did you get into writing?

I have always been a storyteller. As soon as I could speak, I was asking my mother to write down my stories. I stopped writing for a while when I was in law school but I don’t have any idea why that is. Maybe I was thinking that I was too serious or something. But for years, I stopped writing fiction. I loved law school and did a lot of legal writing, but after I became a lawyer, I was deeply unhappy. I felt mismatched in the profession from the very first day. It wasn’t long before I returned to writing as a way of sorting through this unhappiness. For me, writing is both therapy and escape. It’s saved my life and I don’t say that lightly.

How do you juggle a professional career, writing and being a mother?

It used to be that I would work all day as an attorney, come home to make dinner and put my children to bed, and then sit down at my computer to write. That went on for about four years, and to be honest, I found it unsustainable. It was absurd to put on a pot of coffee at seven o’clock at night so I could stay up past midnight, then wake up at five with my children. Something had to give. My husband opened his own law firm and after a couple of years, I joined him. That has allowed me much more flexibility. I work part-time now doing non-legal work and I’m able to devote the rest of my work day to writing. I’m incredibly fortunate.

Has your career influenced or inspired your books? If so, how?

Some of my romantic suspense features attorneys, and a lot of my books–if not all–touch in some way upon the legal system. But I don’t really enjoy writing about lawyers. We’re sort of boring and we argue a lot. More than anything, my legal training has influenced my work by teaching the value of being clear, concise, and logical.

 

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How do you pick a setting for your stories?

My books tend to swallow me while I write, so I pick a place where I want to spend some time. I love to write about seaside towns for that reason. Lately I’ve been setting my books in Connecticut. I choose the kind of place I want to explore, basically. Most of my towns are fictional. I like the freedom of that. But they’re all inspired by real places.

How much of your story do you plan before you start writing? 

I usually plot the high points of the story: The premise, the first and second turning points, maybe the ending. But I’m more of a pantser to be honest. I like to have a general idea where I’m going but I don’t like to be told how to get there. Plus, the story will inevitably surprise me, so any outline I might make is quickly abandoned

Your bio says you first wrote literary fiction. Do you think you’ll ever go back and work in that genre again? 

Maybe? I’ll never rule anything out. My interest right now is in telling a good story in my own voice. I took myself too seriously when I was writing lit fic. Everything felt like it had to be so profound and important. I’m happier with my writing now.

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The first novels you published were romantic suspense. What made you transition to writing lighter contemporary romance? 

I love mysteries. I devoured Agatha Christie as a child. So when I started writing seriously it made sense to me to write what I loved to read. But reading a book and writing a book are two different experiences. My books consume me while I write them. With romantic suspense, I had to do a lot of research about forensics, which meant that I was reading about blood splatter and horrific true crimes. I’m sensitive, and this brought me to a very dark place. I don’t like violence and I don’t like guns. I like puzzles, but I didn’t want to be inside of a character who feared for her life. Even more, I didn’t want to add to the fear in the world. I felt like this wasn’t my purpose. So I set out to write something happy and joyful. I wanted my readers to leave my books feeling better than when they picked them up.


You’ve published traditionally and self-published some books. What made you want to make the switch to self-publishing and now back to traditional publishing? 

You may have figured out that I’m a person who wants to try All Of The Things. I had to try self-publishing, just like I had to make my own soap. I wanted the experience of choosing my own cover, finding my own editor, funding my own audiobook, etc. And it was great! Self-publishing is a very brave act. There is no one who will validate you or tell you that your book is good enough. I spent a lot of time in sheer terror, but it was important for me to have the courage to strike out on my own. Still, I understand the value of having a team of people who can do things better than I can do them myself. Traditional publishers have leverage that a self-publisher may not. I still have a lot to learn from excellent editors and marketing professionals. So I’m back to publishing traditionally, but not necessarily exclusively.

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What have you learned from self-publishing that you’re looking forward to applying to your new books being published traditionally?

Self-publishing gave me the opportunity to hone my voice without the pressure to conform to a publisher’s standards. It’s liberating to sit down at a computer and think, “I’m going to tell this story my way.” Was I always successful? No. Every book is an experiment. But self-publishing gave me some creative space, and now that I have a better understanding of who I am as a writer and what stories I want to tell, I’m very excited to team up with Simon and Schuster. And I’m also a little more business savvy after self-publishing. For me, the experience of self-publishing has been great.

One aspect of your books that gets constant praise is your awesome characters. Any tips for authors looking to create great characters?

Well thank you! My characters are three-dimensional human beings to me. They have unique ways of looking at the world. Sometimes they are deeply flawed–who isn’t? But they often regret this and strive to be better.

My best advice for an author who wants to create great characters is to come to your page open and vulnerable. Please don’t give us a Mary Sue, some woman whose only imperfection is that she’s too darn good-looking and cheerful. That’s the worst. Give us a character with the parts of yourself that you try to hide. Drag out your shame, because that’s what we relate to. Oh, you’re painfully awkward at times? Me too. And sometimes you can be stubborn, or proud, or quick to anger? I get it. I want to read about something that’s honest and real. Writing is about connection, and those honest moments give us the best opportunity to connect with our readers. I won’t lie, it’s a scary way to write. You feel fully exposed. But if you’re a writer, you’re already pretty darn brave so you may as well go all the way. And then after you publish, stay off the internet. Don’t read your reviews. They don’t matter and they shouldn’t influence your work. Instead, write the next book with another flawed character.

If you could pick one character from your books to hang out with for a day, who would it be?

I’d spend the day with Jessie Mallory from my book A Sweet Possibility. First, because she makes chocolate and loves wine. But also because she is a person without guile: A real innocent. I love that about her.

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Your latest book Seeking Mr. Wrong comes out in February of 2017. Tell us about it!

Lettie Osbourne is a kindergarten teacher who writes children’s books about manners to supplement her income. But when her publisher is sold and Lettie is forced to write erotica to fulfill her contract, she sets out to find the right Mr. Wrong to expand her rather vanilla horizons.

This was such a fun book to write. I can’t wait to share it with you!

Keep up with Natalie and follow her on Twitter at @Tallie_Charles!