Thursday, 4 July 2013

Q&A with Aussie rom-com author Claire Baxter

When were you first published, and how long (and how many manuscripts) did it take you to get there? I started writing in 2003 when I left my job as a corporate communications manager to write a book – just to see if I could do it. I quickly became hooked on writing and knew I had to try for publication. I didn’t know I was going to write romance, but every one of my early stories contained a central love story, so I did some research and – aha! – discovered that I was a romance writer.

I wrote three romances and a mystery, joining Romance Writers of Australia along the way, then pitched my fourth romance at the 2005 conference in Melbourne to a Harlequin Mills and Boon editor who requested the partial. When I returned home from the conference I learned that I’d won a US contest and had received a request for the full manuscript from the same editor. So I sent it off to London and in February 2006 received The Call!

Fast forward seven years (where did that time go?) and I’ve had several romance novels published, as well as numerous short stories. My current release is a romantic comedy from Random Romance (Random House Australia’s new digital imprint), and I have a fun category romance coming out from Entangled Bliss in September. I’ve also ventured into indie publishing with a series of short romantic novellas.

From Mills and Boon to Random Romance, Entangled Publishing and self-publishing eBooks – what’s made you now go the digital route? Well, my own reading habits have changed, so I can easily believe that my readers’ habits have changed too. I still read some print books, but I read most of my romances as ebooks now. As for self-publishing, I thought it would be an interesting experience to have control over all aspects of the publishing process, and it has been very interesting.

Tell us about your latest books with Random Romance and Entangled, and what sparked each title. Anybody But Him from Random Romance is an enemies-to-lovers story with some laughs along the way. Nicola, a corporate accountant, returns to her home town to look after her increasingly eccentric parents. There, she's thrown into regular contact with Blair, her high-school crush and the last person she wants to see because she can’t forget how he humiliated her. Now that he’s grown up, he’s not such a ‘bad boy', and whenever she needs help, he’s there – although she’d prefer it to be anybody but him.

My story from Entangled’s Bliss imprint is about two fire-fighters who work on the same shift crew. They’re friends – Aaron even shares his dating stories with Jasmine – and she knows better than anyone that he’s incapable of commitment, so when they kiss at a wedding reception, she’s well aware that it can’t lead anywhere. Besides, neither of them wants to risk their working relationship, the respect of their colleagues or their friendship.

Why do you prefer sweet romances and beta heroes? Sweet doesn’t mean unsatisfying, and for every reader who wants a steamy read, there’s one who prefers sexual tension without the physical act described in detail. I do read sexy romance occasionally, but for me sex in fiction is like hot chilli sauce. It’s okay to spice things up once in a while, but I don’t want a steady diet of it.

Sweet stories generally focus on the feelings behind the desire, and yes, the characters might sleep together, but if they do, the word count isn’t used up on describing the deed. Instead the story highlights the emotional journey the characters go on to find their Happily Ever After.

As for beta heroes, well, I love a charming, easy-going beta hero who can make me laugh, and a beta hero fits so well into romantic comedy. Of course, he still has to have the core ideals of a hero and be a strong, smart man who will do anything for the woman he loves.

Where and when do you write? I write in my home office. It’s a room I share with a snooker table (which is currently covered in books and papers and folders and...well, anything but snooker balls), but in one corner I have a desk and in another I have a comfortable chair with a footstool. The comfortable chair is where I write (or edit) on my laptop four days a week (in theory).

When you’re not writing, what occupies your time? I spend one full day a week with my grandson, and the remaining time is divided between all the activities associated with writing, gardening, reading, cooking, and now that it’s winter, I’ll also be searching out my knitting needles. I rediscovered knitting last winter after a long time. 

You’re also known for having short stories published in magazines worldwide. What do you love about the ‘short form’? I love writing short stories. I love the change of pace between longer works. I feel free to experiment more in a short story than in a novel, and I’ll try out different genres. Many of my short stories are romantic, but I also write stories without romance. They usually contain humour, or are twist-in-the-tale or feel-good stories.

Did you always want to be an author? And, what would be your absolute book-writing career dream? As a child I adored Arthur Ransome’s ‘Swallows and Amazons’ series and devoured all twelve books. Around that time I had to write a story at primary school and I wrote an adventure in the same vein as ‘Swallows and Amazons’. I was hooked, and the teacher let me continue after the lesson was over. It ended up 30 pages long and I received a gold star for each page! I told everyone I was going to be a writer when I grew up, but it was about 40 years before I made good on that promise.

My absolute book-writing career dream? I don’t really have one. I just want to write books, sell them, and hear that readers have enjoyed them. :)

Favourite writers you like to slip beneath the doona with (figuratively speaking!)? My favourite author is Jill Mansell, British author of romantic comedy, and then there’s Marian Keyes, Carole Matthews, Cathy Kelly. But those names are just a few of the authors I love, and I’m discovering more all the time. I always return to Georgette Heyer when I need a comfort read, and I recently found a YA series by Bridget Kemmerer that kept me riveted. Oh, I could go on and on. Stop me now!

The second in Claire's self-published series, More Than Just Pretend, will be out at the end of July.
(This interview first appeared on the South Australian Romance Authors' blog.)

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Manic Monday: Q&A with romance author Paula Roe

I recently interviewed award-winning romance author Paula Roe on all things ‘90s for DUO Magazine. Here’s the interview...

Do you see any differences between romance books today and those from the '90s? Plus, any fave books/authors of that decade? I read a lot of romance in the ‘90s when the trend was swinging more towards independent career women in contemporary novels. I also noticed that category romance started featuring stories with a male point of view, which was a refreshing change from just the heroine’s point of view. 
Also, the surge of chick-lit, with the publication of Bridget Jones’s Diary in 1996, created a massive need for women’s fiction. I went through a whole stack of these books!  I especially loved the Harlequin Desire line (Eileen Wilks and Elise Title were my favourites).  And I always had to have the next Johanna Lindsay, who, I’m happy to say, is still writing her gorgeous historical romances.

What were your fave love songs or ballads of the ‘90s? I worked as a fitness instructor through the whole of the ‘90s, so I got to hear a lot of new dance stuff and reworked slow songs we used for classes. I always had the best cool new music (and was quite proud of that!) Scanning my CD collection, I spy an old favourite: Favourite Love Songs of the 70s, 80s and 90s. I can remember playing that thing over and over! 
Some of my repeat offenders were Sorrento Moon by Tina Arena, Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover by Sophie B. Hawkins, anything by Shania Twain (I went through a whole Shania phase!), No More I Love Yous by Annie Lennox and Black Velvet by Alannah Myles.

Who was your ‘90s dream guy? And what ‘90s heroine did you want to be like? Oh, gosh, I had a few... Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Johnny Depp.  But my favourite all-time show was Friends. I LOVE THOSE GUYS! I have the whole 10 series on DVD and watch it every year. Plus, I do have a huge thing for Chandler Bing ;-) Love a guy who can make me laugh!
Any funny dating experiences from the ‘90s? Oh, God, I HATED the whole dating experience! The start of the ‘90s was marked by the massive crush I had for my best (boy) friend – an agonising, bittersweet behemoth of a thing that basically took over my entire life.  With all the best friends-turned-lovers shows on TV at the time, my constant dilemma was always, ‘Do I say something and possibly ruin the friendship, or take a chance?’ Needless to say, we kinda/sorta danced around the topic, as you do, and we ended up just remaining friends :-( 

Check out for details on her sizzling books including the new romantic novella anthology, Moonlit Encounters (TWC Press).
And here’s the full article, Nineties Guide to Romance, in DUO...

Sunday, 3 March 2013

90s books vs tomes of today

I I recently chatted to bestselling author and astrologer Jessica Adams about the books she penned in the 90s versus those of today - for DUO Magazine. Here's what she had to say...
"[My debut novel] Single White E-Mail was in the first wave of books about single women in their thirties - mine was set in Sydney, Candace Bushnell set her book, Sex and the City, in New York - and, of course, Helen Fielding set Bridget Jones' Diary in London. In the late 1990s my generation was probably the first to hit the big drop in marriage statistics. We were all in shock as all our fairy stories had led us to believe we would be married by 30 - and so these books (and most importantly, their millions of single readers) were the result.

In the year 2013, the focus has been taken off women's marriage anxiety and anger - and onto adventurous sex instead. That's much healthier. Whatever you might think of the particular kind of sex in Fifty Shades of Grey, it's leading a new wave of female fiction where women are writing and self-publishing their own sexual fantasies. Together with Maggie Alderson, Imogen Edwards-Jones and Kathy Lette, I am now creating a sequel to our erotica anthology, In Bed With, for publication next year - and I can't wait!

Writing is such a different business now. When I wrote my early novels, Single White E-Mail, Tom Dick and Debbie Harry and Cool For Cats, I remember one editor telling me I had to have a happy ending (as in, my heroine married and lived happily ever after). Now, that's less relevant or important.

Writers are free to be more creative than ever, partly because of the massive success of paranormal romance and vampire sex. In fact, with the freedom to also self-publish and promote, there has never been a better time to be a woman, writing about dating, mating and relating. At last, honesty!

In 2013, Single White E-Mail, Tom Dick and Debbie Harry, Cool for Cats and I'm A Believer will be reissued as e-books in Australia through Momentum."  
And here's the full article on a '90s Guide to Romance' in DUO...

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Manic Monday: Q&A quickie with Ali McNamara

British author Ali McNamara has come out with a sequel to her book, From Notting Hill with Love Actually - this time dubbed From Notting Hill to New York... Actually.

It surrounds Scarlett O’Brien, who's utterly addicted to romantic films and is convinced her Sean is Mr Right. But the day-to-day reality of a relationship isn’t quite like the movies. With Sean constantly away on business, Scarlett and her new bestie, Oscar, decide to head to New York for a holiday. Scarlett and Oscar make many new friends during their adventure. And Scarlett finds herself strangely drawn to a TV reporter, Jamie. They appear to have much in common. But Scarlett has to ask herself why she is reacting like this to another man when she’s so in love with Sean.

We put Ali in the hotseat about her latest novel...

Why do you think '90s rom-coms, like Notting Hill, still resonate? In my opinion, they have more thought put into them, better and more interesting plots, and even though you know the ending will be the same - i.e. the girl and boy will get together - the journey you take with them along the way is so much more enjoyable.
What tips do you think people can take from '90s rom-coms, which they could possibly apply to their own love lives? Life never goes according to plan, but as long as you have some laughs along the way, everything is usually OK in the end!

What happens when your life doesn’t unravel like a perfectly plotted rom-com? How to deal then? Start again in a new city, with a new leading man/lady or a whole new set of characters. Failing that, just smile and realise life never is quite like it is in the movies – it’s actually much stranger!
This interview will feature as part of an article, dubbed 'Nineties guide to romance', in DUO Magazine in March 2013.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Q&A with rom-com author Lisa Walker

How would you sum up Sex, Lies & Bonsai in a nutshell? Well, it is very apt that you should use the word, nutshell, because it is a story about coming out of your shell. Edie, the protagonist, is a shy misfit and I wanted to see what would happen if she was brave enough to let all her rich inner life come out.

Whats an average day in your life like? With school holidays, my new book coming out, Christmas etc. it seems like a while since I've had an average day. But as I recall, it goes something like this: wake up about 6.30, go for a surf, see my son off to school, do as much writing as possible until he comes home again, do a bit of yoga or go for a walk, make dinner, tool around on Facebook or read until about 10, then crash out. I lead a pretty quiet life really.

Where did the idea for the funny crab sex scenarios in Sex, Lies & Bonsai come from? Quite a while ago I did a degree in zoology and got a part-time job drawing crab larvae for one of the professors. I decided to give this job to Edie and from there it seemed a very short step to sexual fantasies involving crabs. You know how your mind wanders when youre doing a boring job...

Most interesting thing youve done for book research? I recently did a tour of 'Big Things' from my home in Lennox Head (not far from the Big Prawn) up to Tewantin near Noosa, which is home to the Big Pelican and the Big Shell. I am blessed, or possibly cursed, to live in an area with a multitude of Big Things. These feature largely (ha ha) in my work in progress.

In your debut novel, Liar Bird, your depiction of the fashionable Sydney PR world is spot-on. Did you ever work in that world? Not exactly, but I did work in Sydney for six years and I have worked in public relations, so I extrapolated. I always look at the Sun-Herald social pages too, and that glamorous, but rather vacuous party image is the one that I had in my mind. I'm glad it seemed spot-on!

Youve worked as an igloo builder and wilderness guide in the Snowy Mountains and in community relations for National Parks. Wildlife and nature is obviously important to you. Do you think itll always be a theme of your books? Not necessarily, although it does come naturally to me to write in a character or two with environmental interests as I know a lot of people like that. For example, in Sex, Lies & Bonsai, Daniel, Edies ex, is an environmental lawyer.

Did you always want to be an author? what made you go from radio plays to novel writing? Well, at first I wanted to be a dolphin trainer, but after that, yes. For a long time it didnt seem like an achievable goal, so I did other things. But then I eventually decided that I needed to give it a serious try or stop thinking about it. From that moment it took almost 10 years to get published! The radio play was a bit of a fluke. I just went along to a workshop on writing radio plays, then had a go at turning one of my short stories into a play and, voila, it was accepted by the ABC sheer beginner's luck. Having the play produced was a lot of fun, but I think the novel is my natural medium.

Any hints on what youre working on next? I'm doing a Masters in Creative Writing at the moment and as part of that I have pledged to write a romantic comedy about climate change. It's a funny idea, but someone has to do it, right?

Why romantic comedy? And what do you think makes a story of this genre zing? While I read very widely, my favourite type of novel is one that lifts my mood and makes me feel good. For me, that means romantic comedy. Id like to think that readers will laugh a bit, maybe cry a bit and come away smiling from one of my books. When I think about the romantic comedies I have enjoyed most, they all have in common distinctive believable characters. Great dialogue is also essential. I love those old movies with Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant where the dialogue sizzles. It's so witty and I try to aim for a bit of that feel. 

Monday, 4 February 2013

Being an only child

By Carla Caruso

I’m currently writing a story where the heroine’s an only child. I have two sisters, so have no experience of this. I did some research, asking a writer friend, Laura, exactly what it’s like. Here she fills me in. Perhaps you relate?...

What do you love and hate about being an only child? I love that I really enjoy my own company. I can always find a way to occupy my time and I’m very rarely bored. I genuinely enjoy spending time alone – I recently went to Canada and New York by myself, for example, and had a ball. I definitely think only children learn to create their own fun!

Although I grew up living with just my mum, my dad was always involved in my life and both parents were and are enormously proud and supportive of everything I do. It’s nice to know there’s a team of people who are always passionately on your side! If I’m honest, I was spoiled rotten as a kid, and that was pretty nice.

There was nothing I really hated growing up, though at times I definitely wished for a sibling. Not because I genuinely felt anything was lacking from my own life; more because all my friends had brothers and sisters and the grass is always greener when you’re a kid. I do think there is perhaps more pressure on only children – a heavier weight of expectation from parents and other relatives. (Until I was 12, I was also the only grandchild in my family, so everyone had plenty of ideas about what I should and shouldn’t be doing!)
Did you ever feel envious of those with siblings? Absolutely. I often thought it would be fun to have someone else to hang out or gossip with. In my teens, I even thought it would be fun to have a sister to fight with! Even as an adult, I do still catch myself occasionally feeling wistful that it’s just me, particularly because my husband has a younger brother and sister that he’s really close to – I think it would have been nice to have that kind of relationship myself.

Do you think it has made you more grown-up/independent or more sheltered? Are you more self-contained or less? I wasn’t babied or sheltered – my parents divorced when I was very young and I had some tough times growing up, so I’ve certainly never been under any illusions about the way the world works. But I’m very grateful for that, because it’s made me self-sufficient. As I've said, I’m 100 per cent comfortable on my own, and I genuinely believe this has been a big part of why I’ve always had healthy romantic relationships – I know I’d be OK alone if it came to it, so I’m comfortable about the boundaries I set in relationships. I think being an only child definitely helped me learn to respect myself at a young age.
I also think I’m better with money as a result of being an only child. I’ve always been a good saver, and even though I’ve been married for six years we still have separate bank accounts (in addition to a joint account). I really value my independence, even in the context of a happy marriage.

Who did you look to as a peer not having an older sibling? Hmm, this is a good question! I’m not entirely sure. My best friend and I have been inseparable for 20 years, and there was certainly nothing I didn’t run by her. But thinking about it, my mum and a lot of her female friends were real role models to me growing up. Mum always included me in her social life, so from a young age I was around successful, independent women and involved in adult conversation. I think this played a big part in shaping who I am today.
How do you think being an only child has impacted on your personality? It’s definitely made me strong, independent and self-sufficient, but I do think it’s probably contributed to the issues I have with assertiveness. I really struggle to stand up for myself in a lot of situations, and I think perhaps that has something to do with not always feeling able to speak my mind growing up. With it being just me and Mum, I was (and still am) always very mindful of her feelings, so I probably did bottle up a lot of stuff that would have been better off expressed and dealt with.

If your parents are driving you up the wall, who do you turn to? Haha, good question! These days it’s the husband and my best friend. They’ve heard it all!

Do you think being an only child enriches or plays havoc with your relationship with your parents? A bit of both! I’m close to both my parents and feel I could tell them literally anything. However, there is that sense of expectation as well – there are no brothers or sisters to absorb some of the focus, so anytime I disappoint them it’s magnified. And because they’re super proud of me, I have to be judicious about the things I do tell them, because anything I say is immediately relayed to every other family member and friend of the family. (Sometimes I think friends of my parents who haven’t met me must think I’m the most insufferable show-off, just based on how much the parentals brag about any minor achievement.) I’m glad I’m an only child – I love my family and wouldn’t be who I am today if I’d had siblings. Having said that, if I have kids, I will probably have more than one.


Sunday, 27 January 2013

Hooked on Stephanie Plum

I’m visiting Carla Caruso today to tell everyone how I got hooked on Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series, and why I liked it so much that I insisted all my friends read it. Guess what? They’re all hooked too. J
I picked up my first Janet Evanovich book quite by accident, whilst holidaying in the seaside town of Moonta Bay, South Australia. The rented holiday shack had a huge bookshelf and reading room, so I meandered through the titles and found four Stephanie Plum books. It wasn’t just the bright covers and fun titles (Janet uses the book numbers in them) that attracted me. They were well worn, so I knew they’d been loved. I picked one at random and settled onto the couch.
Shazam! As with every book from this series, it started with a bang and the pace didn’t let up. I was gripped by the interesting plots, but that wasn’t the only thing that made this series stand out to me. It was the characters. They were down-to-earth flawed individuals with redeeming qualities that made me care about them. Janet skilfully takes a personality trait we can all picture in a friend, and magnifies it until it is just shy of ridiculous. The result? Utter hilarity.
My family was concerned I’d finally tipped over the edge of sanity when I constantly sniggered to myself, interspersed with sporadic side-splitting laughter. The crazy and mundane are used to create hysterical situations, woven artfully into complex plots. Janet imbues these stories with loads of details from the local area and observing people, so the reader can picture it well and feel intimately involved.
Naturally, there are plenty of bad guys, some mildly kooky and some genuinely scary, but my absolute favourite thread of the books is the frustrating love triangle between Stephanie, the sexy and laidback cop, Morelli, and the mysterious tough guy, Ranger. I believe there are two camps in the Stephanie Plum readers club, some avid Morelli fans and other (like me) who love the sizzlingly dark and mysterious Ranger. Is it getting hot in here?
In case you haven’t noticed yet, I’m a Stephanie Plum fan. I read all nineteen books in the series (so far) in five weeks and eagerly await the next one. The beauty of this series is that it isn’t critical to read each book in the correct order, because each one has a satisfying conclusion, so take a chance and sample Stephanie Plum. I’m sure you’ll soon be a convert.