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
Starting from the very beginning, what inspired you to start writing Garden of Thorns?
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
Starting from the very beginning, what inspired you to start writing Garden of Thorns?
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?
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?
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.
How 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?
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.
Amber Mitchell is the author of Garden of Thorns, which is to be released March 6, 2017. She
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
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:
I recently finished Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo and fell in love with the Darkling!
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.
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!
My 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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.