That’s a really hard question. I can define other people’s styles really easily, but my own is hard! I guess I could name my style something. Early “Matlock-if-it-had-vampires-in-it”, maybe.
Was Carrie’s limited perspective and her character always a factor in your world building for Blood Ties?
I don’t think I planned it that way, but it certainly did shape it. When I started writing it, I thought I would have the vampires be able to do all sorts of different stuff, like each vampire would have his or her own traits. But as I started writing it from Carrie’s POV, it felt like having Nathan suddenly say, “Oh, by the way, I can fly,” when it came up in the plot seemed too convenient
What prompted such a drastic change in writing style between Blood Ties and Queene of Light?
I wanted to write something completely different from the Blood Ties series. I know the Holy Grail of paranormal romance and urban fantasy is the series that goes on and on forever, and I guess I could have done that. I probably could have given Nathan a long-lost brother or gone on to talk about Bella’s sexy werewolf cousins, but I’m not that kind of writer, and the story and writing would have suffered. I have a tendency to get bored and wander away, so I wanted to create something that could go on, in an infinite universe. I have so many time periods I can create within Lightworld/Darkworld, so many mythologies I can play with, prequels, sequels… I could write it for years and not get bored with it. Of course, now that I’ve done three books in that universe, I’m returning to contemporary vampires, so I’m probably never going to be committed to one particular style.
What are the joys of switching between styles in this way?
It’s fun to tell a story from the perspective of a narrator, and not a character. Blood Ties was always about Carrie. Everything related back to her. It was even written, for the most part, from her point of view. Pretty much anything that went on with the other characters, she knows about. It was freeing to work with characters who had secrets.
What are the struggles?
There was definitely a desire to show too much of the world, to make my characters like little Forrest Gumps seeing everything in the Underground. In Blood Ties, there was always a question of, “How will this affect Carrie? What is the point of her seeing this?” Without those boundaries, I was very, “OMG ORCS! I COULD HAVE ORCS!” So, I really had to rein myself in.
What kinds of writing excercises did you use to develop the world in Queene of Light? What did you use to rein yourself in?
It wasn’t an intentional exercise, but when I wrote the first draft of Queene of Light, Malachi and Ayla couldn’t speak to each other. There was too great a language barrier, so I had to show the emotion between them developing wordlesly. Later, my editor thought that it would be beneficial to the story to skip the language barrier element, but when I went through and changed their actions to dialogue, it felt like there was still some underlying distance and uncertainty between them that made their relationship more real. As for reining myself in, I had a lot of big plans for the first book, including a subplot in which Ayla notices the progression of a dead body in the Darkworld go from a fresh corpse, to a wraith, to that wraith sucking the soul from another victim and leaving the body behind. I wanted to show how brutal everything around them was, but ultimately I decided that it seemed too much like I was setting up something for later. I never wanted the readers to feel that there was going to be some “gotcha” moment they weren’t expecting so that their attention was driven away from the main story, and that was Ayla’s journey.
What projects are you thinking of for the future?
I am currently writing a contemporary vampire novel for Mira, one that isn’t connected to the Blood Ties series, at least story wise. It was originally an idea I’d had for a Blood Ties novel, before the series went in a different direction. It’s about a guy who’s a vampire, and finds himself stuck in a survival situation in a town that’s been held hostage by paranormal forces. I’m trying to keep him as far from human, as far from likeable and relatable as possible, because it’s a challenge to write someone like that, and I think it’s a challenge for readers, to ask them, “Look, this isn’t a nice guy, he isn’t someone you’d ever want to meet, but you have to admit, you feel sorry for him in this situation.”
Will there be a prequel to Queene of Light?
I do think it would be interesting to go back and write about the humans fighting for their freedom against the creatures who took over their world. I hinted at the idea that there was one great leader who united everyone, so it might be cool to write about him, maybe from the perspective of someone who came to the movement later and sees this guy go from being a freedom fighter to a demigod.
What was your first story?
The first story I ever completed was a historical romance novel that I wrote and let my friends read when I was in seventh grade. I went back and read it last year, and it was actually pretty good, which surprised me. I used to spell “which,” “wich,” though, and it drove me nuts. I was like, “Where was this kid’s editor?” It was about a young English girl who is the daughter of a wealthy landowner, and she falls in love with this young Irish guy who is a groundskeeper on their estate. I think he falls out of a tree and breaks his arm, and that’s how they meet. It’s not a particularly memorable piece of writing. I do remember that they go to America and have a baby and I think the English girl has an affair with a boxer who isn’t a handsome guy, he’s all ugly and mean-looking, but eventually she gets back together with her husband. It’s probably better that I write urban fantasy, rather than historical romance.
Haha! Besides the need for an editor, what were some other things you learned when you first began writing?
I’ve definitely learned that, when it comes to descriptions, a handful of key words and phrases are better than whole paragraphs of unrelenting detail. I actually learned this before I started my writing career proper. When I went to see the first Lord of The Rings movie that Peter Jackson did, I was completely blown away that the worlds I had imagined in my head were right there, exactly as I had imagined them. I went back through The Fellowship of The Ring and tried to find these amazing descriptions, and they weren’t there. There were just a handful of comments about the places, yet everyone I’ve talked to has said that what they had imagined was exactly what they’d seen on the movie screen. So, what I took away from that is, the right words, not necessarily a lot of words, can make everyone have this universal experience.
Do you consider yourself a feminist author?
That’s a tough question. I consider myself a feminist, but a lot of people self-apply that term and then produce a lot of crap that isn’t very friendly to women. The “kick butt heroine” is an example. She’s always able to throw down physically, but inside she’s this broken, helpless thing, until a man makes her whole. And when I think about my Blood Ties series… there are practically no women in that, aside from Carrie and Bella. Except for the evil ones. I think that’s probably because of some weird, cultural American thing where women are supposed to be jealous of each other. Maybe I didn’t want any other women around because I was worried that Carrie wouldn’t be the star anymore if there was another woman around. And I always seem to write a crazy bitch character, which is such a negative stereotype of women. So, I guess I would have to say, no, I’m not a feminist author. I would consider myself a feminist, but now that you ask, I definitely see problematic things within my writing that make me hesitant to self-apply the “feminist author” label.
Wow! That’s an amazingly honest, self-reflective answer. Is that a label you want to work towards?
You know, I don’t think I could be a feminist author in the romance industry. I think the fomula and tropes are such that you couldn’t reconcile them with a feminist mindset. I know a lot of really smart people are working hard at disproving this, but from my point of view as a reader, I think the appeal is that it’s not feminist, that it’s taboo. I work to support my family. I’m the breadwinner, I make the rules, and I wouldn’t in a million years want some big, oily guy going, “You are MINE,” while he’s having sex with me. But when I read, I want that. I want for the characters I’m reading about to have something that I don’t want in my real life. Maybe that’s what the industry is catering to, because even the cliche kick-butt heroines have a bit of that in them. I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be feminism in romance novels, I guess I’m just saying that I’m not smart enough to figure out how to get it in there. Maybe if I just start sneaking it in, a little bit at a time, I can fly under the radar and still please readers and make money.
This is such a fascinating answer!! Why do you, as a reader, find these tropes so satisfying? What do you get out of them?
Personally, I find the alpha male/damsel in distress trope satisfying because I can put myself to the role of someone who doesn’t have to have control. There is a huge readership in the erotica market right now for D/s stories in which the males are dominant. I think it reflects an interesting trend in what’s going on right now for women, sexually. We’re told from so many outlets that we need to take control of our sexuality, take control of our orgasms, take control in the bedroom. I think that the women who like to escape into the fantasy of the alpha male, at least some of them, just feel overwhelmed and want to escape into a fantasy where someone else is taking charge. At least, that’s why I find those tropes appealing. No one is asking me to be in control of another thing.
What would be in a feminist romance novel?
Ideally? A relationship in which the man and the woman work together to build the life they want, and no one feels that their relationship is unfair or unbalanced. The Greek Tycoon would ask his Virgin Bride to sign a prenup that protects them both equally, he wouldn’t demand that she quit her job and move into his high rise in Sydney and do nothing but be pregnant forever. Maybe he would give her controlling interest in his company, so she could run it with him as an equal and not just the boss’s wife. I think one of my favorite romance novels I’ve ever read was a Blaze or a Temptation from like, ten years ago, in which the couple who fall in love are business partners trying to open a hotel. There was no power imbalance between them, they were good friends and it was their mutual respect that created the hurdles in their relationship because they were worried they would destroy that.
What authors do you go to for inspiration?
I really enjoy Jim Butcher’s books, and Gail Carriger. Mostly, though, I read stuff that isn’t in my genre, so I get kind of a break from it. I read stuff like Amish romances and the Virgin River series by Robyn Carr. Which is probably the least feminist romance series in the history of ever, so you should probably banish me from this site.
What do you do when you’re stuck creatively?
I don’t generally get stuck, because fear of losing my house, getting my electricity turned off, starving to death, those are all great motivators. You’d be amazed at how inspired you can get when you’ve got a deadline looming and bills to pay!
Any time I get down on myself or think that no one likes my work, I think about Herman Melville and it inspires me to work harder. I don’t want to lose my house, my family, and my sanity because I switched gears and wrote some existentialist crap about a whale. Every book I write, I keep that in mind, and balance commercial marketability with something I can live with. I don’t want to write Moby-Dick! It ruined him!
How have you been mentored as a writer? How do you mentor other writers?
When I first started, it was at the urging of my grandmother, who is also a romance writer. She got me to join RWA, a group that was really helpful, but that I ultimately chose to leave due to some political differences. Through RWA, though, I met my first critique group. They are and continue to be my greatest influences. As for mentoring other people, the writing group I’m a part of right now, The Grand Rapids Region Writing Group, has a mentoring program, and through that I’m mentoring a very talented fantasy writer, Emily Love. I’m fairly confident you’ll be seeing her books on the shelves in the next couple of years.
Do you have any favorite books on writing?
I feel really bad answer this question, because you’re going to know that I’m not out there honing my craft. I don’t read books about writing. I just read like, The Dresden Files.
If you could be any writing utensil, what kind would you be, and why?
I got asked this on a job interview once about ten years ago. I’m going to give the same answer now that I gave then: A no. 2 pencil, so I would be good at standardized tests.
What would you write if you could write your guilty pleasure?
Well, funny you should ask, because I am writing my guilty pleasure. September 7th, my first erotic romance ebook will be available from Samhain publishing, under the name Abigail Barnette. And Abigail is going to be a busy woman, she’s got a book coming out almost every other month next year, all of them erotic romance.