Amber Mitchell Discusses Her Journey To Becoming A Published Author

Today we’re talking with Amber Mitchell about her journey to publishing her first novel, Garden of Thorns, hitting shelves on March 6, 2017. Amber graduated from the University of South Florida with a BA in Creative Writing. She currently lives in a small town in Florida with her husband Brian and their four cats.


Starting from the very beginning, what inspired you to start writing Garden of Thorns?

Every time I see a movie where there is a big ball room scene and the women are twirling around in their ball gowns, I always thought they looked like flowers. It was one of those things I filed away for a later date.  While I was editing a supernatural novel that I was working on, this voice kept tempting me. It grew so loud that I opened up a different Word.doc and I started writing in Rose’s perspective. Her situation, being trapped where she was, resonated with me so strongly that I had to keep writing to figure out exactly what she was so afraid of. That night I came up with the concept of the Dancing Flowers and the Gardener and never looked back. GARDEN OF THORNS was one of the few books I didn’t plot out completely before I started writing. After I got stuck, I started to plot, but I was surprise at how natural it came to me.
 
What were some of the edits you made in order to polish your manuscript before submitting to agents?
 
I went through a lot of rounds to edit GARDEN before I considered it ready. I knew I had something special with the concept and world but I had a lot of problems with the middle half of my book. After getting some feedback from beta readers I was able to refocus the plot and felt the book was much stronger. I also needed to add more world building in. I’d had touches of Delmar’s religion and culture but I needed to amplify it even more before I sent it out.
 
When you decided to submit your work to agents, how did you narrow down the hugeamber-9491 list of agents to a list of those you wanted to query? How did you keep yourself organized throughout this process?
 
My saving grace was Querytracker.net. I lived on that website. It’s really useful because you can track which agents you query, the status of your query and on what day the agent responds. I updated it every day and spent hours reading the comments people posted and what other agents had requested and rejected. When I felt I was ready to start querying agents, I looked at what they represented first and foremost. I was not making the mistake of sending out a query to someone that didn’t represent my genre. Since I was writing a YA fantasy, an agent that represented both of those genres became a must for me. I shied away from those that liked YA but weren’t into epic fantasy since I wanted to save myself as much heartache as possible. After that, I looked at which agents were the most active, who they represented and sent out my queries.
 
Speaking of queries, what tips can you give other writers who are faced with the daunting task of writing their query letter?
 
Do your research. This is such a big one. And after you’ve done your research, make sure you are personalizing every query you send out there to the best of your ability and following guidelines to the tee. Don’t get disqualified before an agent even lays eyes on your work! The other major thing that I find helpful is to give your query to people that haven’t read your book and ask them if it makes sense with their limited knowledge. That will help you weed out those generic phrases and confusing sentences.
 
gardenYou were signed by Nikki Terpilowski and have been working with her ever since. What is it like working with an agent? Was there anything that surprised you?
 
It’s really nice having someone in your corner that will help you navigate the maze of the publishing world so you can focus on the things that matter (like writing). Since this is my first publication, I had so many questions and Nikki has happily answered every single one. She has always been an awesome advocate, giving me great advice, celebrating my victories and also advising me when to take a step back and let things play out naturally. Even now, I have a hard time letting go of control, not because I don’t trust, but because I care so much. However, I’ve learned to breathe easier knowing that Nikki is on top of things.
 
After your book sold to Entangled Publishing, did you have anything that surprised you about how a publishing house operates?
 
Working under deadline has been a completely new experience for me. I’m a slower writer (I used to think I was pretty fast but I’ve come to reconsider that opinion) so while I would always set myself deadlines, it was nothing like what was expected of me during the editing phase of publication. Then there was the added pressure of knowing that people are relying on me to get my job done so they can complete theirs. I loved the back and forth of completing edits and then receiving comments from my editor a few weeks later. It made the novel feel alive, always changing, always new.
 
The other thing I didn’t expect was how many rounds of edits it would need. I was prepared for the developmental and line edits but the multiple rounds of copy edits took me by surprise. I actually found the copy edits to be the hardest because I could no longer move things around and suddenly, I had to justify why I was changing a word or taking one out.
 
When the edit notes came in, did you have any obstacles that seemed insurmountable? How do you approach editing your story?
 
The first round of developmental edits were big and I’d be lying if I said that didn’t scare me. When I first opened up the email, it felt like I needed to rewrite most of my book, which was only partially true. After re-reading the email and speaking with my husband, what I began to realize is that I needed to re-think all of the decisions I’d made and really figure out what made sense. I needed to reanalyze character motivation and relationships to figure out what all of my main characters wanted. After I started thinking about motivation and how that affected everything in the world, the rest sort of flowed onto the page naturally. It helped that I got permission not to worry about word count!
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What is one “writing tip” you learned from editing Garden of Thorns?
 
The question that kept coming up in editing was what was keeping Rose and Rayce from their goals. Was it just for plot’s sake or did I create an underlying reason for them to be unable to obtain their goals (and each other) in the beginning of the story? When I approached the story for that angle, scenes that were lacking tension suddenly sparked off the page.
 
So the biggest trick I’ve learned from editing GARDEN, is to really dig deep and figure out what is keeping your characters from reaching their goals emotionally, physically, spiritually and societally. Points if you can come up with something that does all four! Make them want whatever they want badly, make it impossible and then join in their triumph as they strive, bleed and stretch to reach the unobtainable.  
 
You mentioned in your earlier interview that you found out how impatient you were during the slow moving process that is publishing. Any advice to writers who find themselves staring at their computer screens?
 
Is there any advice they would like to share with me?
 
I kid, I kid. Mostly…
 
The only thing that has helped me besides very cheap champagne and expensive chocolate is to focus on your next project. I hate this advice because it’s literal torture to follow it, but if you really do unplug yourself from the internet, even 10 minutes at a time to fall in love with something else, it will get easier. Not a lot easier, but enough to function.
 
It seems that publishers and agents alike are always advising authors to be building their author platform. How did you approach this?
 
This is something I’m working on even as I’m typing this interview. I started out in the book blogging community so that is proving helpful. It’s also very prudent to test several different social media sites so you can find out which ones are enjoyable for you to use. Personally, I really like Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads so that is what I’ve been focusing on. Try to be active, don’t make every tweet, update or blog post about writing. People want to know the person behind the words.
 
walt disney world - magic kingdom castle fireworksAny exciting plans to celebrate your book’s publication day?
 
I’m going to Disney World with my hubby and friends! No, seriously, I am. Which isn’t a super huge deal since I live in Florida but it seems like a good way to celebrate the fruition of a lifelong dream. I might even get that Gaston plushie I’ve been eyeing and if I want to get really crazy, we might even go to meat sweats (we call Brazilian steakhouses by this lovely moniker) for dinner.

 

For more about Amber and Garden of Thorns check out her website or follow her on Twitter @Amberinblunderl.

 

Author Natalie Charles Dishes On Meditation, Quilting & Story Structure

By Kortney Price

 Natalie Charles is the author of six romance novels, and we are discussing how she deals with stress, craftiness and her latest contemporary romance, Seeking Mr. Wrong.

Do you find it challenging to find the perfect work-life balance? How do you handle it? Can you offer any tips for other busy writers?

The balance comes in knowing your priorities. As a general rule, my family comes first. My children will not always be begging me to read them a story and tuck them in. Time with my husband is precious. Writing is very important to me and I make space for it, but when my family needs me, I set it aside and try not to feel guilty about it. The writing will always be there. That said, dreams take sacrifice. Sometimes I tell my children that I’m working and they need to respect that. But they’re still young and so usually the sacrifice comes at the expense of my own free time. I write instead of watching television or visiting social media.

Some writers meditate, others practice yoga. How do you de-stress? 

I do both of those things. Meditation especially has brought so much peace into my life and helped me to detach. I try to meditate daily, though I’m not perfect. Practicing yoga for an hour and reminding myself to simply breathe can alter my stress level for days. I also enjoy exercise, like running and weight lifting. I’ve also found that calling up a friend and having a good laugh is priceless.

In your last interview with us, you mentioned that you like to “always have a project going” and that you’re “a person who wants to try All Of The Things” Any fun new projects you’re working on?

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Natalie made this cool soap bar!

Yes! I just made a quilt. I thought it would be a fun, quick project, but then I decided to cut it up and make it more complicated.  Sigh. I’m really happy with it, though. I’ve also made a few batches of soap: one with essential oils and one with milk, honey, and oatmeal. It’s fun to stretch other creative muscles.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve received?

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And she made this!

Besides “be yourself”-type advice, learning about story structure changed my writing life. Understanding that good stories follow a similar pattern was profoundly helpful. It’s like seeing the wizard behind the curtain. There are so many resources and books out there but I thought Libbie Hawker’s book “Take Off Your Pants!” was fantastic.

What are you reading now? Who do you read for fun?

Right at this moment I’m reading “In the Cards” by Jamie Beck and enjoying it very much. I just finished “Concrete Blonde” by Michael Connelly (I’m a Harry Bosch junkie but I jump around in the series) and next up I’m reading “The Marriage Lie” by Kimberly Belle. So, a romance, a mystery, and a romantic suspense. I read mostly genre fiction and I’m partial to anything with a puzzle in it.

Do you ever run into writers block? How do you deal with those moments?

So…yes, I have in the past. But I haven’t for a very long time because I’ve come to understand that writer’s block is really about fear–fear of failure, humiliation, rejection and any other nasty thing. Meditation has helped me to release a lot of my anxiety about writing and experience has taught me to surrender and trust the process. That helps. I give myself permission to write something terrible that I would never show to anyone. I write with the mindset that the words are for my eyes only and I never have to show them to anyone else. In other words, I try to create a safe space for myself before I begin writing.

What is your biggest challenge in writing?

Openings are always difficult. Even when I have an idea of how I want a book to progress, it’s like setting off to climb a mountain and being presented with an infinite number of trails. I come to the page with a lot of different ideas and it’s tough to pin down the story: the tone, the voice of the characters, the set-up, etc. It’s not unusual for me to write 40k words before I’m satisfied with those critical first three chapters. Once I wrote over 100k. The trouble is that I’m is usually working on a few books at once and I have to figure out how to separate them.

 How about the aspect of writing that you find comes the most naturally?

Dialogue comes pretty naturally. When characters are talking, I often feel like I’m watching them interact and simply transcribing what they say. I hear their voices.

mrwrong2How do you come up with your story ideas?

Writing a book is a mysterious process that I’ve decided I’m no longer going to pretend to understand. Sometimes stories feel inspired, but not always. Sometimes it’s work at first and the inspiration comes later. When I’m actively trying to plot a story, I like to put unlikely elements together in order to generate conflict from the premise. I ask, “What if?”  So in SEEKING MR. WRONG, I asked, “What if a sweet, mild-mannered kindergarten teacher had to write erotica?” There’s inherent tension from the start.

You’ve been writing and publishing for six years, how do you think the industry for romance writers has changed? Has it been for the better or worse?

Self-publishing has created a huge shift in the industry, particularly for romance writers. I think any time there are more options for readers and writers, that’s a good change, though others in the industry might disagree. E-books have leveled the playing field and allowed writers to connect directly to their readers. I love that people who live in remote areas can find my books in an online bookstore and read them immediately–that’s amazing. But there are also more expectations with technology. Authors are expected to be on all kinds of social media formats, send out newsletters, and blog. Writers can literally spend all day running their social media platforms. I’ve had to make choices about how to use my time and interact with readers while preserving most of my time for, you know, writing and real life.

You’ve published three romantic suspense novels and four contemporary romance novels. What is your favorite genre to write?

Right now I’m enjoying writing light contemporary romance because it brings me to a happier place. I love romantic suspense, but it can get awfully heavy. It’s nice to write about people falling in love when there are no bombs going off.

Is romantic suspense easier or harder to write than contemporary?

It’s harder. Talk about subplots! Right off the bat you have to balance a suspense plot with a plausible romance. The characters’ lives are in danger, but you have to make it seem reasonable that they would fall in love at that moment. Hard, right? And if you’re writing a suspense plot that involves an intricate mystery, you’ve got a lot to juggle. The suspense has to drive the romance and vice versa. It’s an amazing feat when it’s done well.

Do you have a favorite book that you’ve written?b1llzn6xhas-_ux250_

The book I’m currently working on is usually my favorite. But of the books I’ve published, my favorite romantic suspense is “When No One Is Watching” and my favorite contemporary romance is “Seeking Mr. Wrong.”

Do you think fans of your romantic suspense will enjoy Seeking Mr. Wrong? Why or why not?

I sure hope so! I always strive to write an intelligent, independent heroine and a strong hero with a heart of gold. If my romantic suspense readers have enjoyed the characters in previous novels, I hope they will give Lettie and Eric a chance. Even if there are no corpses.

For more information about Natalie and her latest book, Seeking Mr. Wrong, check out her website and follow her on Twitter at @Tallie_Charles!

Amber Mitchell on Great Characters and Writing Inspiration

By Kortney Price

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Amber Mitchell is the author of Garden of Thorns, which is to be released March 6, 2017. She graduated from the University of South Florida with a BA in Creative Writing. She currently lives in a small town in Florida with her husband Brian and their four cats.

On your site you mention that you love movies. Which are your favorites?

I think my favorite recent movie release has to be Zootopia. It was adorable! I can always watch Clueless, the Harry Potter movies and pretty much anything with Ryan Reynolds (loved Deadpool). However, I think the best movie I’ve ever seen is The Princess Bride. I can pretty much quote every word of it. I saw it when I was about 8 and it inspired my love of fantasy.

How have these movies influenced your writing?

I’m not sure how much the movies I watch influence my writing. I enjoy that they have such concise plots (which is something I struggle with in my own writing). Anything with a fantasy setting always captures my interest since I admire how movie makers (and game developers) create even the tiniest details that many people won’t even see for the backgrounds and sets.

You also call yourself a papercrafter. Tell us more about that.

Sure! My husband and I began a small business a few years ago crafting all manner of nerdy subject matter out of card stock. We take the shapes and layer them in a shadowbox frame using foam adhesive dots. It creates a 3D picture. We can make pretty much anything and it’s a great way to relax.

Here is a link to our Etsy shop: A Paper Place by ThePaperPonyPlace

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You seem to really be inspired by fairy tales. Which are your favorites? Have you based any of your writing on them?

There are three fairy tales that I’ve loved since I was a kid: Beauty and the Beast, Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland. I was so excited to see Belle from Beauty and the Beast because of her adventurous spirit and her love of reading. I felt like I was looking at myself! The thing that stuck with me as an adult was how so many fairy tales were originally much darker than the tales I got as a child. I feel really inspired by that blend of childlike innocence and darkness. I think it’s also the thing that draws me toward stories where magic has a cost, a darker side.

As far as basing writing off them, I’d been searching for something that would be a good twist on the fairy tales I love but nothing ever seemed to be original enough. I finally came up with an idea I like for an Alice in Wonderland inspired story which I am writing right now. Alice’s theme of identity makes for a really good young adult novel and I’ll take any chance I can get to ship Alice with the Mad Hatter!

You’ve said that the characters are your favorite part of a novel. Who are your favorite characters and why?

I tend to fall for a different character in every book I read! A few of my favorites:

  • Tris from the Divergent series by Veronica Roth because I really admired her blend of toughness but also her vulnerability.
  • Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling because she was allowed to be clever and bossy but those are the things that made her endearing.
  • Yelena from the Study series by Maria V Snyder because of her unwavering strength

I recently finished Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo and fell in love with the Darkling!

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Any tips on creating awesome characters?

Creating characters is something I still strive to achieve. When I was a newer writer, I worried too much about what they looked like and spent a lot less time trying to understand the world from their view. I’ve found that the best thing I can do in when writing a scene is to look at that scene from every character’s perspective. I do a lot of writing in first person perspective which I enjoy but it also gets me stuck in one perspective. Pulling myself out of the main character’s head and figuring out how the other characters in the scene would react (even if it goes against how you originally saw the scene or plotted it) makes for a more exciting and real character!

One other tip is to give each character a few ticks or mannerisms. Even if they never get revealed in the book, I think it goes a long way to helping understand who they are.

You used to be a 911 dispatcher, how has that position inspired your writing?

Being a dispatcher definitely gave me insight into the different ways people react to stressful situations. I also got much better at reading between the lines of what people said versus what they actually meant. I haven’t had a chance to write an officer into a story yet but I’m also very well versed in police procedures and investigative techniques. Many nights, I would question whichever police officer that walked into dispatch about what it feels like to hold a gun or what they saw on a regular basis.

On your website you write about facing your writing fears. What have been some of the biggest writing fears you’ve faced?

I believe the greatest fear most writers have is that nagging question: am I good enough? Am I good enough to write this book, am I good enough to get an agent, to get a publisher and when all that happens, will people like my book? We spend all this time putting words to paper, having our character face things we’d never face in real life, and infusing our books with things we might not even want to admit to ourselves just to turn around and put it out in the world and let people judge it.

The ugly truth is that failure is part of every step of the writing process and something every writer faces daily. I’m not sure I have a good answer on how to face this yet. I just remember that we can only grow by trying.

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As you’ve traveled along the path to publishing your novel, what has surprised you about the publishing industry?

I’m a firm believer in doing research to prepare myself in whatever I do so I gathered as much knowledge as I could before going through the publishing process. Still, there have been a few surprises along the way. I’m in the very early stages of the process but the biggest two surprises have been how long each step of the process takes and my reaction to waiting. I’ve always considered myself a patient person but the publishing process has shown me that I’m clearly not. I’d always read stories of other writers constantly checking their email and thought that I’d be okay with just waiting for my phone to alert me if anything was going on but I was totally the opposite! Some days, all I could do was stare at my screen and wish for something to happen!

Your first novel, Garden of Thorns, comes out next year. Tell us more about it!

Garden of Thorns is a young adult novel that takes place in an Asian inspired fantasy setting. It follows 17-year-old Rose who escapes from the Garden, a burlesque troupe of slave girls, and joins a rebellion against the current Emperor. There she meets the handsome rebellion leader, Rayce, and tries to convince him to aid her in her quest to end the cruelty of the Garden and free the other dancers still held captive. But she harbors a secret that she fears might force the rebellion to use her as a pawn and she’s not sure who she can trust. There is lots of adventure and kissing and even a bit of science-inspired magic!

gardenMy book will be published by Entangled Publishing (who are amazing) March 6, 2017.

I’m so excited to share my YA fantasy novel Garden of Thorns with everyone! The main characters, Rose and Rayce, have been such a big part of my life for a long time and it has been so surreal to talk with actual people from within the industry who know and care for them as much as I do!

To keep up with Amber check out her website and follow her on Twitter @Amberinblunderl

A Few of Kimberly Belle’s Favorite Things

By Kimberly Belle

One thing I learned about myself when sitting down to write this blog is, I have a lot of favorite things. Sunny days on the beach. Spending time with family and friends. Sleeping in on a rainy Sunday. Salted caramel gelato! How am I to choose just three?

But then I started thinking about what defines my life beyond family and food and writing. What are three things that bring me joy, that I can’t imagine my life without? When I looked at it that way, the list suddenly got a lot shorter. Here they are, my three favorite things, in no specific order.

 

Amsterdam

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If you follow me on social media, you know I’m a little obsessed with all things Dutch. Not just because my husband was born in Holland and half my family lives there. Not just because strolling Amsterdam’s streets and canals feels like walking through a postcard. Not just because of the food and the shopping and the flowers and the museums, all of which are world class. Because of all those things and more.

I moved to Amsterdam a zillion years ago, when I was young and in love and life was an adventure, before there were babies and mortgages and sixty-hour workweeks. Maybe it’s nostalgia for that easier time, but that sense of freedom is what sticks with me the most when I think of that place, the feeling that everything and anything is possible there. You want to play your flute and pass out tulips on the street corner? Cool. Eat salted licorice and French fries with mayonnaise? Yum. Ride your bike naked through the rain? Um, you might be a little cold, but go for it. The Dutch are a little weird, a lot crazy, and always authentic, and even though we haven’t lived there for fourteen years, Amsterdam will always feel like home.

 

Yoga

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I’ve been practicing on and off now for almost a decade, and every time another fitness craze pulls me out of the studio (spinning, anyone?), I end up bored or worse, injured. Sooner or later, I always end up back on my mat.

I’ve never been one of those naturally flexible yoga bunnies who can hook her feet behind her head. In fact, my very first yoga teacher took one look at me (I’m 5’11”) and told me I was anatomically challenged. But like everything else in life, yoga is about hard work and dedication. It’s about showing up on your mat, even when you don’t feel like it. Now, all these years later I can twist myself into a pretzel with the best of them.

But strength and flexibility are not the only reasons why I practice. Ask any yogi, and they’ll tell you yoga is so much more than the physical. It’s also about the mental and the spiritual. The practice is a method of connecting the three, our bodies to our minds and souls. Yoga doesn’t just build my muscles, it balances my mind and restores my being in ways no other workout can, and it makes me a much better writer.

 

EDM

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Maybe this goes back to my love affair with Holland, but I am a huge fan of EDM (electronic dance music), which got its start in the Netherlands back when I lived there. The Dutch DJs were everywhere then, and they still are. Tiësto, Armin van Buren, Afrojack, Fedde Le Grande, Sander van Doorn…the list goes on and on. I’ve seen them all, and multiple times. Yes, I’m double the age of the typical EDM fan, but I don’t care. Have glow stick, will rave.

 

Check out Kimberly’s latest book The Marriage Lie, in stores December 27, 2016!

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To learn more about Kimberly, visit her website and follow her on Twitter at @KimberlySBelle.

Magnolia Smith On Romantic Suspense and Being A Military Spouse

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Magnolia Smith is the creator of the Black Orchid Series. Her debut novel, Tell Me No Lies publishes on May 17, 2016. She was born and raised in North Carolina where, when she isn’t writing, you can find her visiting vineyards and Civil War battlegrounds, watching her favorite shows: Scandal and Homeland, practicing hot yoga and blending her own herbal teas.

In your bio you mentioned that you are a military spouse?  What branch of the military is your husband in?

My husband is in the U.S. Marine Corps. He’s been in for almost 18 years.

Has being a military spouse influenced your writing?

I think so. I traveled abroad before I was married, but I’ve had the opportunity to really travel the world with my husband. My love for travel and diverse locations and cultures is reflected in my choices of story setting and or plot. For example in my novel TELL ME NO LIES, revolves around political intrigue and the Taiwanese government. Time spent stationed in Okinawa, Japan increased my interest in East Asian affairs.

I also enjoy making my heroes current or former military. That definitely comes from living on military bases and seeing real heroes, our Marines and our other armed forces on a daily basis. It also gives you a deeper appreciation for the sacrifices they make when they join the armed forces.

In your bio you also mention that members of the US Armed Forces and American Law Enforcement make great characters. What were some of the challenges of crafting characters in a field you respect so much?

Well, I wanted to be accurate as well as entertaining. I am writing romantic suspense. Readers of this genre are looking for escapism as well as thrills. One challenge – a fun challenge – was making sure technical details in reference to weapons, mission protocol, etc. were correct.

Early reviews of your book have said that your books feature “strong heroines.” What makes a strong heroine? 

I think a strong heroine can be different things for different people. For me, a strong heroine will be intelligent, well-informed and purposeful. As part of their character arc, they may not begin that way but they usually end up strong and determined.

One of the taglines for the men in your book is “Sexy Alpha Assassin.” What makes a “sexy alpha assassin?”

lol I think it’s pretty self-explanatory. The men of THE BLACK ORCHID are gorgeous hunks – tall with ripped muscles, gorgeous faces… and they have Alpha – dominant, take charge – personalities. But they are not all the same. There are degrees of Alpha, and so the male characters in my stories reflect the varying degrees of “Alpha-ness” from hardcore extreme to borderline Beta.

Did your military influence and strong characters, naturally guide you toward writing in the romantic suspense genre? How did you chose this genre as opposed to another?

Yes, I think so. If you just start with a character – a guy who is a former Green Beret now working as an assassin… well, there really aren’t many options are there? lol However, since I am writing romantic suspense and the general audience is women (though I think men will love this book too!!!) I focus on romance and interpersonal relationships too. Something you wouldn’t necessarily see in a thriller. And I’m a big fan of thriller writers like Brad Thor and Vince Flynn. In fact reading those authors is what gave me the idea to write romantic suspense. I would read their stories and wonder about the women in the main character’s lives. As a fan of romance, I wanted to know more about the relationship with a man who was an assassin or spy. It seemed terribly interesting to me. And that’s what compelled me to create THE BLACK ORCHID SERIES.

Do you have any tips for writers who want to craft an “edge of your seat” romantic suspense novel?

Read thrillers, watch action-packed espionage films like James Bond and Jason Bourne for inspiration. Then plot out the suspense separately from the romance – make sure it is authentic, makes sense to both the romance and the action-elements of the story. Care as much about the suspense as you do the romance. The suspense should not be an afterthought.

In your bio you mention several interests outside of reading and writing, such as herbalism, cooking, wine, and travel. How do you balance work, fun, family and writing?

It’s challenging. I have a husband and three school-age boys! Time management is key. And making sure that writing stays a priority. (Along with soccer practice, cooking meals, helping with homework… : )

Let’s talk about your interest in herbalism. Can you tell us more about that?

Sure. I got into natural medicines when I lived in Okinaway and my newborn was allergic to everything! I started researching our food supply, medicines and alternatives to synthetics remedies. I was really afraid to give my son (now 8) anything that would cause him to have reactions. At the time he was allergic to dairy and gluten – would have horrible stomach cramps, gas and eczema.

I discovered essential oils, teas and other natural remedies to combat his reactions. This also included trying to eat mostly organic, non-GMO foods and keeping our home environment clean with plants and toxin-free cleaning products, air fresheners, candles, etc. Sorry, that answer incorporated more than herbalism, didn’t it?

Do you include herbalism in your writing? If so, how?

Not so much in this particular story, but the main character Rain drinks herbal tea, does yoga, eats organic – basically lives a really clean, healthy life. I have plans to write a story featuring a character that is a natural healer, but that’s later!

You mentioned in an interview with JustRomanticSuspense.Com that you view the food and beverages in your stories as props. Tell us more about the part food plays in your stories.

Yes, I love food! I’m a foodie. But really, who doesn’t enjoy a tasty meal, right?  I think a glass of wine or a burger or chocolate truffles, whatever adds… ambience if you will, to the story. When characters are eating or drinking in my stories, I think about what they would really eat. It’s part of the character development. One guy drinks craft beer, while another drinks wine and another shots, for example.  I just pay attention to the food and beverages I write about as if they were another (albeit) secondary character in the story.

Your travels are featured in your books through settings from around the world and a diverse cast of characters. How does this add to your story? Why do you think this diversity is important?

Everyone is talking about diversity right now. But it’s not a new concept. You have only to walk outside, go to the story or work or wherever and usually your world is diverse. I think part of creating an authentic story includes writing about the people that would actually be in the story. For me, there are just naturally characters of all colors, cultures and nationalities in my stories. I don’t make a big deal about it, the characters just are. Kind of like in real life, you know?

To learn more about Magnolia, visit her website and follow her on Twitter at @HunterSmith01.

An Interview with… Katie Oliver

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By Kortney Price

Katie Oliver is the best selling author of the romantic comedy, Prada & Prejudice, the first book in her Dating Mr. Darcy series. She has also written another three book series Marrying Mr. Darcy. Her most recent series, Jane Austen Factor, is being released this year What Would Lizzie Bennet Do? was released in January, Trouble with Emma was released in February, and Who Needs Mr Willoughby? will be released on March 24.

 Trio

What do you do when you are not writing?

I think about writing. Seriously! I start plotting the next book the minute the last one is finished.

Aside from that…I love to cook, and recently fell in love with spiralizing (turning veggies into ‘noodles’) after trying Japchae (Korean street food) at a gluten-free bloggers’ retreat last summer. It was so good that I went out and bought a spiralizer. Creating healthy veggie ‘pasta’ is a fun and healthy way to eat, whether you’re gluten-free or not. Spiralized sweet potatoes are a revelation and my new favorite thing.

What book are you reading now?

I’ve got two books on the go – one on my Kindle (It Had to be You by Lynda Renham) and one on my nightstand (Honeymoon Hotel by Hester Browne). They’re equal parts (1) funny and (2) romantic – a winning combination.

And the Bride wore Prada

What authors do you like to read? What book or books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?

I like to read British writers…Sophie Kinsella, Katie Fforde, Jane Fallon, Phillipa Ashley, P.G. Wodehouse, and P.D. James to name a few. And I love anything by Mary Kay Andrews or Fannie Flagg – their books are pure, southern-fried fun. Rick Bragg is amazing. James Lee Burke is a master of the atmospheric crime novel. His descriptions of the bayou country of Louisiana are poetic and haunting.

Katie Fforde and Sophie Kinsella both inspired me to try writing a romantic comedy of my own. I love a romance but I also like a good laugh, and their books deliver on both counts. Rosamond Pilcher was also an inspiration and a huge favorite back in the day…I think I read ALL of her books.

Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

It started from a love of reading, probably. My dad was a voracious reader and he instilled a love of books in me that remains today. I imagine at some point, when I was immersed in a Nancy Drew mystery or a Little House on the Prairie book, I must’ve thought, ‘someday I want to write stories like this.’ And…eventually, I did.

Love, Lies & Louboutins

When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?

The first book I wrote was in seventh grade. It was a ghost story about a sea captain.  It was heavily influenced by The Turn of the Screw, a spooky novella by Henry James. Of course, James’s book – about a governess who undertakes the care of two children and who may (or may not) be mentally ill – was a supernatural masterpiece. Mine was not. It was pretty awful.

But it was writing practice, and it was fun. I wrote a couple of chapters and brought them to Algebra class and ended up passing the pages around to two of my friends. The teacher caught us and nearly confiscated the pages. Needless to say, I never did that again. I wish I still had the manuscript – I’m sure I’d howl with laughter reading it now. The only line I remember was this, uttered by the (slightly overdramatic) sea captain: “Damn the ocean, damn this ship!”

Damn, I had a lot to learn about writing…

I started my first ‘serious’ book back in 2011. My kids were grown, I was between contracts at work, and there wasn’t a lot for me to do, so I decided to try writing the book I’d always wanted to write but never had time for. I jotted down some ideas on a yellow legal pad, toyed with a few character names, gave it some thought, and ended up with Prada and Prejudice about a year later.

Manolos-in-Manhattan

How did you choose the genre you write in?

Originally I wrote a Regency, but I decided to shelve it. I’d always liked romantic comedies…ahem, films with Hugh Grant, basically…so I decided to try writing one. And it felt right. It didn’t require tons of research, like a historical, which was a definite plus since I worked full time and wrote in my (nearly nonexistent) spare time.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

No matter how careful I am, no matter that each book is meticulously edited and copy edited, there’s always SOMETHING I miss. It might be a typo or a misspelled name that I don’t notice until the book is gone to the printer…when it suddenly leaps out at me and I think, ‘how in holy spell-check did I miss that??’ But it happens. I think as a writer, you get so close to your work and become so enmeshed in it, you don’t always ‘see’ it. That’s why an editor and copy editor are invaluable.

Do you ever experience writer’s block? How do you overcome it?

Oh, definitely. Sometimes I run out of ideas. Or my writing starts to feel stale. Or I can’t figure out how to add a twist to the plot / end the story / make a character more interesting. When that happens, it’s time for a break. I take the dog for a long walk, or get on the treadmill, or bake cookies, or watch a movie. Sometimes just watching a film or TV show (“Fixer Upper” and “Garage Sale Mysteries” are two current favorites) inspires an idea or gives me insight into a character’s motivation. (I got the idea for my first book, Prada and Prejudice, after watching an episode of “Kitchen Nightmares” with Gordon Ramsey. Thank you, Gordon.)

Failing those things, a hot shower usually does the trick. I’ve had more great plot ideas in the shower than anywhere else. Go figure…

Prada & Prejudice

Are you a plotter? Or a pantser? Do you work with an outline, or just write?

I’m a plotter in that I write a (very general) outline of the book, detailing the conflict, the main characters, and the overall story arc before I put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). But once I start writing, I’m more of a pantser, going where the characters take me…as long as things end up where and how I need them to end. Because your characters will often take you places you don’t expect…and the story is often much the better for it.

Are there certain characters you would like to go back to, or is there a theme or idea you’d love to work with?

This is a great question!

I really miss Natalie Dashwood and Rhys Gordon from my first series of books, “Dating Mr Darcy.” I had such a blast writing their scenes. I’d love to go back and write more adventures for them, maybe involving a mystery…

What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?

As a writer, I know that each successive book I write has to be better than the last one. And knowing that can be daunting at times. Each time I finish a book I ask myself, Will my new book be good enough? Long enough? Too long? Is it well paced? Is it derivative or boring?

I heard those last two criticisms on the first draft of one of my books…and although it hurt to hear, and made me want to throw my laptop out of the window and jump out after it, I knew deep down that it was true. I could do better – and with some changes and some serious rewriting, I turned it around into a book I could be proud of.

The best compliment? When snow recently closed northern Virginia schools for a week, my friend’s sister-in-law (a teacher) read the entire Dating Mr Darcy series and said she wished the schools would stay closed longer so she could keep reading more.

Love & LIability

Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?

Just two things. Read everything you can. And don’t just read it; study it. Take it apart to evaluate how the author created conflict, suspense, pacing. What kept you turning the pages? What made the characters unique or memorable? Do the same thing when you watch a film or television program. I learned how to construct plots after watching a soap opera, “General Hospital,” every day. I’d always had trouble with plotting…but after seeing the intertwining and parallel storylines play out visually on screen, it suddenly clicked. I got it.

Secondly, don’t ‘write what you know.’ That’s the worst advice ever. Write what you love. Your passion will come through on the page. What you don’t know you can always research. If authors only ‘wrote what they knew,’ we wouldn’t have Harry Potter, or Alice in Wonderland, or Mary Poppins. And what a shame that would be.

Mansfield Lark

Is there anything that you would like to say to your readers and fans?

I truly appreciate each and every reader for buying my books and for taking the time to Tweet, email, or Facebook me to tell me how much they enjoyed reading my stories. It’s a wonderful, humbling thing to know that someone has read and liked my books. It never gets old and I’ll always be grateful. So many beta readers, readers, and bloggers have generously supported me right from the start, and you know what?

It really doesn’t get any better than that.

Keep up with Katie and follow her on Twitter at @katieoliver01.