Today I’m thrilled to be chatting with the lovely and uber-talented Ashlyn Macnamara. She is one of my RWA® Golden Heart sisters, and her debut novel, THE TALE OF TWO SISTERS, comes out in early 2013. According to Ashlyn, it’s “a Regency romance, partially inspired by Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility – only with more love scenes.” Sounds yummy to me! Read on to learn more!
TB: Ashlyn, thank you so much for joining us today. Please tell us a little bit about your current work in progress and which aspect of this particular story you love the most.
AM: Surprisingly, my WIP is not A TALE OF TWO SISTERS, which is the manuscript that finaled in this year’s Golden Heart®. That manuscript has sold to Ballantine-Bantam-Dell and is due out in early 2013. I haven’t gotten my revisions letter for that yet. So in an attempt to keep myself from chewing my nails worrying about how bad the revisions letter is going to be, I’ve started the second book in the series. It features the best friend of one of the heroes of SISTERS, a character I developed a crush on when writing the first book. He’s snarky, cynical, a little rakish and about to fall in a big, BIG way. Oh, and in my head, he might resemble Russell Crowe just a bit. What’s not to love?
TB: Mmmm, I do love him already. It’s fun to fall for one’s fictional leading man and it certainly makes those hours at the keyboard ever so much more fun. What do you plan to work on next?
AM: Oh dear. I’ve got so many manuscripts at varying stages of completion, I feel a little guilty thinking about it. I really, really should go back and rewrite TERMS OF SURRENDER. It’s a little bit outside the box as historical romances go these days, because it’s set during the American Revolution. I doubt I could turn it into a Regency if I tried, but it’s the book of my heart, and I want to go back and do it justice. Plus it’s got series potential, as the heroine has a lot of brothers. If only I can find an interested publisher.
TB: I adore Colonial settings. Please write it, and I promise to buy it. Too bad I’m not a publisher, but I’m sure you’ll find a home for this story, too. At what point in your career did you first feel confident in calling yourself a writer?
AM: I think I’ve always felt confident enough to call myself a writer. I’m still wrapping my mind around calling myself an author. That may sound uber confident, but confidence is something I struggle with all the time. I still can’t quite believe I’ve acquired an agent or sold.
TB: I can believe it! You’ve got everything it takes. But I can imagine how surreal it feels to be making progress in a business that goes three steps forward, two steps back. What inspires you? Books? Music, People magazine’s most beautiful people edition?
AM: The voices in my head, mostly. Although when I get stuck I find inspiration reading other historicals. Authors who write lovely, lush prose and amazing characters inspire me, people like Sherry Thomas, Julie Anne Long, Tessa Dare and Meredith Duran.
TB: Sherry Thomas is my hero, and I adore those other writers as well. I was working on a contemporary story when I read Thomas’ “Not Quite a Husband.” Her word choices amazed me, and kept me captivated. She has certainly made me more aware of how I write (and I hope she’s made me better!) I set that contemporary aside and now I’m working on a historical. Besides, you history girls have all the cool blogs. What techniques do you use to help develop your story?
AM: Daydreaming, mostly. I’m pretty much an unrepentant panster, and a lot of times my ideas come to me in a chunk. Mostly, it’ll be a feeling for who the hero and heroine are, along with the inciting incident, and possibly an idea for a turning point or key scene. I’ll write that down in my notes, and usually get another idea or two while mulling it over—or, worse, a flash will hit me in the shower. That never fails. And then, if I want to figure out what else happens, I have to write. I won’t outline until I have a draft done, so I can see where the plot points fall. Then if I need to flesh anything out, I see where I have room to do it.
TB: You need a waterproof white-board for when those flashes of inspiration strike in the shower. And I envy your pantsing ability. I’m an obsessive plotter, so much so it slows me down. I’m learning to just sit and write and let the characters do the talking. What is your go-to snack of choice when your characters are ignoring you?
AM: Chocolate. Or vodka. Both if it gets too extreme.
TB: Three words for you, girlfriend. Godiva® Chocolate martini. It will either help you write, or make you not care that you’re not writing. Who was the first person you contacted when you learned your first book had been purchased by a publisher? What was that conversation like?
AM: You know, I was an idiot and I didn’t even think of calling anyone. I got the call during the day when I happened to be off work, my husband was out of the office and my kids were in school. The first person I told was my younger daughter when she got home. She was immediately under the impression we were about to be rolling in dough, and I, unfortunately, had to tell her that wasn’t very likely.
TB: My kids and husband are waiting for our cash windfall from my labors, as well. I’ve explained to my DH that he’ll be lucky if we get back what we’ve spent on conferences. If you had to choose a 2nd genre to write in, what would you pick? What would the title of that book be?
AM: I have never envisioned myself as writing anything other than historical romance, even though I’ve written some varying eras. I’ve been toying with the idea of a fantasy romance for years now—except it would be fantasy only in the sense that the story would be set in a fictitious kingdom, rather than fantasy in the sense of elves and dwarves and magic. It’s odd, in a way, because I am a huge fan of Lord of the Rings, but the world building intimidates me. I love YA, as well, but I don’t think I have the voice for it.
TB: Well, if you find what you love and you are good at it, which you clearly are, then you may as well stick with it. I’ve never considered YA, but as my girls get to the teenage stage, I sense an abundance of drama heading my way, which I could mine for ideas. What will you do to celebrate your first release day?
AM: I don’t know when I’ll do it, exactly, but I want to do a book signing to celebrate my release. Let me explain. I used to be pretty heavily involved in fandom—in fact, I got my start writing fanfiction—and as a result I have made a lot of online friends, friend who live all over the world. I have met many of them in real life during planned meet-ups, either for book releases of series we all followed. So I want to do a book signing where we have a meet-up. All my friends would congregate at a central location, and we’d arrange a book-signing party if we can find a bookstore that is willing to accommodate our craziness. The presence of my friends will add to the party atmosphere, and contribute to loads of sales. As long as no one calls the cops on us. You never know. Some of our previous meet-ups have involved fake mustaches, rubber chickens, copious amounts of alcohol and a megaphone.
TB: Sign me up! Nothing says party like a rubber chicken and a megaphone. Who are some of your favorite authors/books?
AM: Besides the ones I mentioned above, J.K. Rowling for her Harry Potter series. The fandom I was involved with so heavily was Harry Potter, and if it weren’t for this series of books, I doubt I’d ever have started writing. Writing fanfiction taught me I could write. I’ve also just recently read The Hunger Games trilogy and it blew me away.
TB: That’s on my TBR pile. My entire family has read it, but I keep putting it off because I know once I start reading it, I’ll stop all other activities of daily living. Do you have writing rituals? Habits?
AM: I write my first draft longhand on paper. I can’t compose on my computer, because I’m terribly undisciplined and the internet distracts me. Usually, I’ll put on my PJs, climb into bed, and scribble in my notebook for an hour or so before turning off the lights.
TB: That’s very old school. I love it. And you’re right, the internet is such a mixed blessing. The good news is you can do research at 3am. The bad news is, it’s always beckoning. Do you have critique partners and if so, how do you ‘work’ together?
AM: I have a few. I’m involved in a critique group with the Hearts Through History Romance Writers. We usually upload a chapter or two at a time and everyone who wants to will download the file and critique. We’re supposed to upload at least a chapter a month, and crit two chapters for every chapter we upload. I also have a CP, who I met through that group, and we exchange bigger chunks with each other. I also participate in another group of writing friends and we occasionally crit for each other. That group tends to concentrate more on the opening 50 pages and synopsis, though, because the point of the group is to encourage each other to improve our MSs enough to final in the Golden Heart (and, hey, it worked for two of us last year).
TB: Yes, it did, and look how far you’ve come since then! Where was your first writer’s conference and how did you feel attending it? How are they ‘different’ for you now?
AM: The very first one I attended was a small regional conference in Troy, NY back in 2010. I chose it because it was within easy driving distance of my house, and I figured it would be way less intimidating than attending Nationals as a conference virgin. Boy, was that one of my better decisions. It was far less scary with less than 100 writers present than it would have been facing the 2000 plus at Nationals. And I made a friend at that conference. We were roomies together at Nationals.
TB: How long have you been writing? How has your process changed over the course of your career?
AM: I started writing fanfiction about ten years ago. I didn’t try original fiction until 2008. I have to say my process hasn’t changed very much. I was a panster then, and I’m a pantser now. Back then, I used to bounce plot idea s off friends in chat. Sometimes I even blocked out scenes with them. I can’t really do that anymore, but I still don’t feel like I can write in a vacuum. I need to know other people are out there working on their fiction the same way I am, otherwise I can’t write. I would never have made it in the days before the internet. I love my writer peeps.
TB: Amen to that! I can’t imagine sending things to an agent or editor without having my trusty critique partners look it over. What does your family say about your career success and your professional journey?
AM: They’re proud. DH doesn’t say much, but I think he’s still in shock, too. My mom has told everyone in their retirement community. But my biggest surprise came from my brother. My oldest brother has written most of his life. He studied journalism, was a reporter and eventually became an editor. I remember back in the 70s he was working on a novel off and on. I’ve seen parts of it, but I don’t think he ever finished. And it was serious stuff—literary fiction. When I was 18, we went to visit one of my aunts, who asked me if I liked love stories. At that age, I was into Tolkien and had yet to discover the wonder of romance fiction. So I told my aunt, no, not really, and kind of rolled my eyes at my brother, who was trying to hide a snigger. Well, my aunt opened up her closet and it was *packed* floor to ceiling with Harlequins. Now both my brother and I were coughing to hide our laughter.
So I spent years not saying a thing about my own romance writing, and when I sold, I was a little afraid of my brother’s reaction. Was he going to laugh at me, or, worse, berate me for selling out? Neither. He was really happy for me. He said it was about time someone in the family got some recognition for their literary talent. And he didn’t even remember the incident with Aunt Nora. I had to remind him of it.
TB: I’m assuming you are referring to some other Aunt Nora, and not Nora Roberts. Because how funny would THAT have been? What is your favorite board or card game? Are you competitive?
AM: I am very competitive when it comes to word games. Scrabble, Boggle, you name it. I also used to be pretty mean at Trivial Pursuit, but I haven’t played in years. Just don’t ask me the entertainment questions—I’m not much of a movie or TV person.
TB: I’m sad to say that Entertainment is about the only Trivial Pursuit questions I can answer. Maybe we could be on a team together. What a five things (not including live beings J) would you take with you to live on a deserted island for one year. Let’s say this island has food, shelter and plumbing!
AM: My laptop, my e-reader and a credit card. That’s only three, but it’s enough to keep me entertained for a good, long time.
TB: Okay, I won’t point out that you can’t really use the credit card. But I guess if you had a laptop, you could on-line shop. And you might want to buy yourself an airline ticket to rescue you, when you were ready. What advice would you give to an aspiring, newbie writer?
AM: Don’t ever give up. Keep at it. I had to query my agency with three different projects before they signed me. The book I sold also racked up several rejections—both from agents and editors. The second book I wrote is one I wasn’t able to sell, but I’m not giving up on it yet. Yes, I need to rewrite it, but I know what I need to do to fix it now.
The one way to ensure you will never sell is to quit.
TB: Words to live by! When I was starting out, I heard writers talk about their first book that ‘never went anywere,’ and maybe they had two or three more finished manuscripts languishing under their bed. And I thought, “I only have this one book. How do you write another if the first one doesn’t sell?” But, we do. I’m working on books two and three while still waiting on number one. It may sell, it may not, but either way, I’m not stopping. What, if any, advice have you received that has been particularly helpful?
AM: I don’t know who said it—probably numerous people—but whoever said not to take every single piece of judge’s critique from contests. I have had some doozies in my time, including one judge who contradicted herself. She said my pacing was too slow on one part of the scoresheet, and then turned around and said I needed more backstory elsewhere. Another judge rewrote my entire entry. She didn’t change anything substantive. She just rewrote it in her own voice. If I’d tried to please everyone, I don’t think I’d have a story left. With SISTERS, I ended up sticking to my guns on almost every aspect, and it’s worked out well for me.
TB: Contests often feel like a lottery to me. I’ve had entries with a 5-point spread out of possible nine points. I use the ‘rule’ of odds. If one person criticizes something, I’ll consider it. But if several people catch me for the same issue, then I know I have a problem. But ultimately, you have to write your story the way you feel it. Where and how do you do your research?
AM: Google and I are very, very good friends.
TB: Yes, I have a love/hate relationship with them. What are a few ‘myths’ about being a writer that you’d like to dispel? (Aside from the one about us making loads of money!)
AM: What, you mean I’m not going to be jet setting all over the world in the next year and a half? I demand a recount.
TB: Well, you might! But it’ll be on your dime. Tell me something most people don’t know about you and would be surprised to learn. Like you play the ukulele or have a photographic memory or something.
AM: I do have a photographic memory. My memory is strange, though. It retains all this useless trivial stuff (which generally means you want me on your trivia team as long as we’re not talking entertainment categories), and forgets essentials, like are we out of milk? My husband says I’ve got this cassette recorder in my head (or that’s what he said in the 80s when we met and he first noticed), and if I needed to remember anything, I just rewound the cassette to the right place and bingo. Instant recall.
TB: That’s freaky. But very handy. What question would you like to answer which I haven’t asked???
AM: What is the average speed of an unladen swallow?
TB: Is that an African swallow?? (And btw, if I didn’t already adore you, the Monty Python reference would’ve sealed it.) Thanks, Ash, for sharing your story with us. Can’t wait to attend your first release party!!
Stay tuned for the release of Ashlyn Macnamara’s debut novel, A TALE OF TWO SISTERS. And please visit her at http://ashlynmacnamara.net for more great information.