Chrysteen Braun is a California native, born and raised in Long Beach. The mountains, where she and her husband had a second home, were the inspiration for her first three books, The Guest House Trilogy. These fictional restored cabins from the late 1920s all had their own stories to tell. Her writing crosses genres of Women’s Fiction with relationships, and a little mystery and intrigue. She’s published articles about her field of interior design and remodeling, both for trade publications and her local newspaper. She lives in Coto de Caza, with her husband Larry and two Siamese cats.
Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or www.chrysteenbraun.com
Today I have the pleasure to chat with the amazing Chrysteen Braun, author of The Guest Book Trilogy.
Jann: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Chrysteen: I think every author “always knew” they wanted to be a writer. I was around twelve when I wrote my first book. I have no idea what it was about, or where it ended up, but I do recall being so proud of myself. I actually knew how to type at that age since my parents worked from home and I learned to type and use a 10 key adding machine. Did I just date myself? I joined a writer’s group in the 80s and then got sidetracked with business, so I wasn’t able to write much more than newspaper articles about decorating. Our business was remodeling and interior design. It wasn’t until I retired that I decided I only had so many summers left, and if I wanted to write my novel(s) I’d have to get on the ball.
Jann: Was your journey to publication easy? Tell us about it.
Chrysteen: I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I was going to write; I knew I didn’t want to write romance, but I also wasn’t a mystery writer, so I had to figure out how to combine the two. Then I had to decide whether to publish traditionally or go indie. I listened to a lot of seminars and webinars about everything writing related, and honestly got so overwhelmed, I had a difficult time figuring it all out. Then, I wrote the first drafts of five novels while they were fresh on my mind. That threw me into another state of overwhelm, along with Covid-19, and I knew if I didn’t make some decisions, I’d never get anywhere. I decided to jump into indie publishing, and began editing the first book, which is the first in the Guest Book Trilogy. Three years later, I’ve published two books, am working on the third, but have gotten sidetracked with a sequel novella, and a prequel novella, (which is turning into another book.!) I went with a company called Bublish, who does everything; book cover, ebook and paperback layout, book description, ISBN, NetGalley, editorial reviews, and initial Amazon and Facebook Ads. I’ve paid for these services, and they’re all under roof, but I knew I’d never be able to finish my books if I tried to learn how to do it all.
Jann: Book One in The Guest Book Trilogy, The Man in Cabin Number Five, made its debut on May 10, 2022. Which came first—plot or character?
Chrysteen: The overall story. Then I had to figure out who my characters were, and since I’m a pantser, I didn’t do an outline. I did, however, keep track of all my characters, and I made up a timeline since the story itself is set in the 1980s but works up to that. I really got myself confused a couple of times and have learned how important it is to keep track of it all.
Jann: Would you share with us what The Man in Cabin Number Five is about. Where did you get the idea for the book? Who are the main characters?
Chrysteen: I read about an unsolved murder in the 50s. and knew I wanted to add it to the story, and The Trilogy is about Annie Murphy who moves up to the mountains in Lake Arrowhead, Ca, to move on with her life after discovering her husband was unfaithful. There she reinvents herself and restores a series of cabins. She complicates her life when she meets a new love interest. She also meets Alyce Murphy, whose story runs parallel. Alyce discovers her father didn’t die of natural causes as she was led to believe but was involved in a murder/suicide in one of the cabins Annie now owns. You don’t know until the very end, what really happened, until Alyce’s father John Murphy tells his story, The main characters are Annie, Alyce and Noah.
Jann: On November 28, 2022, The Girls in Cabin Number Three, Book Two in the Trilogy came out. Tell us about Annie Parker and Carrie Davis, the book’s main characters.
Chrysteen: In book two, Annie makes a wrong turn in her relationship, but also meets Carrie Davis, whose mother Elizabeth, also stayed in one of the cabins during prohibition. There was a (real) speakeasy up in Lake Arrowhead in the 20s and 30s, and as with book one, the reader doesn’t know the real story until the end, when Elizabeth tells us what happened.
Jann: Are you working on the third book in the trilogy? If so, can you give us a sneak peek?
Chrysteen: Book Three is about a Starlet named Celeste Williams who stayed in cabin number seven when filming a movie. Annie meets her son, and he describes growing up with an ‘absent’ parent, and again, it isn’t until the very end Celeste tells her story.
Jann: What would you like the readers to come away with after reading your books?
Chrysteen: I don’t write for causes; I write so my readers close the book and say, “That was a good read.”
Jann: What preparation did you do for the launch of your books?
Chrysteen: I stressed about it, but Bublish launched both books. I wish I knew more about book launches, and hopefully with the next books, I’ll have a better idea of what I can add.
Jann: What still excites you about writing?
Chrysteen: I thought for sure I was going to run out of ideas, but I’m finding I can hardly wait to finish one story so I can go on to another. That’s what happened with the prequel novella; I kept coming up with more ideas so it’s not turning into another book.
Jann: What’s the best writing advice you ever received?
Chrysteen: Oddly enough it’s from my husband; “When in doubt, just write it.”
Jann: Do you have a website, blog, twitter where fans might read more about you and your books?
Chrysteen: Website, www.chrysteenbraun.com and I’m always available to chat at email@example.com
Jann: Do you ever run out of ideas? If so, how did you get past that?
Chrysteen: I wish I had a writing ritual. I absolutely have to get all my ‘busy work’ done (like answering emails, doing marketing, listening to seminars, bookkeeping) before I can focus on writing, but sometimes this takes me into the afternoon and I’m burned out. I’m constantly making notes on little pieces of paper, and then when I’ve finished a draft, I go through them and see where I can add or embellish. And when I think I’ve run out of ideas, I go to my husband and ask something like “Where would they go next?” “What could they do?”
Jann: What profession other than your own would you love to attempt?
Chrysteen: Would I sound pretentious if I said I’ve done everything I’ve loved, not always successfully? Interior Designer, retail store owner, contractor, writer….I haven’t had a ranch or been a court judge. Hmm
Jann: What’s your all-time favorite book?
Chrysteen: I have several. Everything written by Jonathan Kellerman, Sue Grafton, Robert B. Parker to name a few.
Jann: What’s on your To-Be-Read pile?
Chrysteen: Any Jodi Picoult books, The Bookwoman of Troublesome Creek,
Jann: What’s your favorite song?
Chrysteen: The Wind Beneath my Wings, Bette Midler, and Conte Partiro, by Andre Bocelli
Jann: What is the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
Chrysteen: Waterskiing in Capetown harbor.
Jann: What is your favorite word?
Chrysteen: “Dork” when I’ve done something dumb, but “love you” would have to be my favorite
Jann: What is your least favorite word?
Chrysteen: The “F” word and shut up.
Jann: What turns you off?
Chrysteen: People who go overboard with a cause or are totally opinionated.
Jann: What’s the funniest (or sweetest or best or nicest) thing a fan ever said to you?
Chrysteen: “You don’t look as heavy as your photo.” No, just kidding!!! “I’ve read your book and I’m buying six more to give to friends for Christmas!”
Chrysteen, is was great doing a Q&A with you. Thanks for giving us a peek into your writing world. Good luck with Book Three!!
Book One Buy in Links
Amazon ebook: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09Y9KGZ3R
Amazon paperback: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1647044626
Amazon hardcover: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1647044642
B&N paperback: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-man-in-cabin-number-five-chrysteen-braun/1141373079?ean=9781647044626
B&N hardcover: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-man-in-cabin-number-five-chrysteen-braun/1141373079?ean=97816470446402 1 Read more
Barb loves reading, writing and animals, not necessarily in that order. She writes contemporary and paranormal stories of love, laughter and magic, and you’re going to know there’ll be a feature creature in there somewhere. Her short stories appear in several anthologies, including Secrets of Moonlight Cove, Love for Christmas, The Truth That Can’t Be Told, and The Truth That Can’t Be Told 2. She is currently working on a paranormal romance series called Keepers of Magic, about a society of witches desperate to keep their existence a secret. The first in the series, The Witch Whisperer, is currently under contract with The Wild Rose Press. A transplant from the Canadian cold, she enjoys sunny Mission Viejo, California, with her husband and a pampered, blue-eyed, ragdoll cat.
Today is a day I’ve been waiting for—to interview my close friend, author Barb DeLong, about her debut novel. So, let’s get started.
Jann: When did you decide that you wanted to be a writer? Barb: I loved creative writing classes in elementary and high school and won a few writing contests. I was in ninth grade when the writing bug really bit. My favorite TV shows were westerns, so I decided I’d write a historical western. It wasn’t until years later that I realized it was a romance. I still have those pages, typed on an old typewriter with a faulty ribbon that tinted the bottom of all the letters red. I’ve been writing one thing or another ever since (my letters are all black now).
Jann: Tell us about your journey to publication.
Barb: I’m self-published with short stories in a number of anthologies, but my dream was to sell or contract one of my books to a publisher. I’ve started and abandoned many stories, some of which I pitched to editors at conferences in years past but never submitted. Lost opportunities. Had a bite from Harlequin on an early completed novel. My stories have won or finaled in several contests. I decided in 2019 that it was now or never to fulfill my dream, so I knuckled down during NaNoWriMo that year and by May 2020, completed a rough draft of my first fantasy romance, The Witch Whisperer. Since one of my problems is letting go of my work, I took way too many months editing and revising. Finally, by early March 2022, I put a pin in it and sent out my first round of query letters with the first three chapters to publishers that didn’t need you to be agented. Within a week, The Wild Rose Press, a small but popular e-publisher, asked for the full manuscript. By April I had my first publishing contract. I was over the moon! My editor is anxious to see book 2 in my series, which I’m more than half way through.
Jann: Is Fantasy/Paranormal your preferred genre to write?
Barb: I’m romance through and through, whether it’s contemporary romance or fantasy/paranormal, I love to write both.
Jann: Why Witches?
Barb: Out of all the paranormal/fantasy beings, like vampires, shifters, fairies and the like, witches appealed to me more with their magical powers, and the fact that people who were believed to be witches were persecuted through the ages. Visit Salem, Massachusetts today to see the modern appeal of witches.
Jann: January 30th your first novel, The Witch Whisperer, book one in the Keepers of Magic series made its debut. How exciting for you! What inspired you to write this novel and series?
Barb: I’d been writing paranormal romance for a few years, witches in particular, trying to get a handle on the genre while reading extensively. Oddly enough, the title came to me after rewatching The Horse Whisperer. I thought, huh, The Witch Whisperer. Just the title. No plot. I usually let an idea (in this case, a title) roll around in my brain for weeks, even months before putting much down on paper. Then I started jotting copious notes while still editing a story that was proving difficult. Finally, the story of the Witch Whisperer became my focus. Difficult story went in the drawer. Soon into The WW, I recognized it was more fantasy than paranormal, and that I’d have to make it a series. Fantasy series sell better than standalones, I was told. Yikes! Three books. I named the series Keepers of Magic. Book two, The Keeper’s Code, is a work in progress.
Jann: What sort of research did you do for the book?
Barb: I read a lot of fantasy and paranormal romance. I researched conventional witch lore and covens and wiccans. I decided that my secret, pacifist witch society, having come from another realm to this modern world, would worship a goddess of nature and have their own form of governance and ritual. I did keep some conventions, like magical powers, elemental magic, herbs and potions, and other details. No magic wands. I took world building and fantasy workshops, read every blog I came across about writing fantasy and series writing. I have a giant book of spells that I refer to frequently. I went down so many rabbit holes. Ended up in Wonderland a few times.
Jann: Your main characters, Willow Gladstone and Never Ravenwood are fabulous. What challenges did you set for them to overcome? Will they achieve their HEA?
Barb: Willow seeks perfection in all things, especially herself. She already feels flawed because she has weak magical powers, so not in keeping with her magically Elite, over-achieving and judgmental family. When her already weak magic becomes glitchy, she must seek a cure or risk incarceration in the secret witch society’s dreaded Haven. The legendary Witch Whisperer, the one person she’d like to avoid, is her only other option. He’s messy, undisciplined, frustrating and way too sexy.
Never Ravenwood, The Witch Whisperer, likes his solitary existence. He’s happy to live out his sentence for past misdeeds on a secluded estate while treating witches with magic problems through his on-line forum. Then along comes beautiful Willow for a rehab residency to disrupt, beguile and baffle him. She forces him to confront his greatest fears, and to question a guilt so heavy that living without love seems an apt penance.
As for achieving their HEA? The Witch Whisperer is first and foremost, a romance, so…
Jann: Did anything about your characters surprise you when you were writing?
Barb: Yes. I began to realize during the editing stage how much I identified with Willow and her need for perfection, to never feeling good enough. I became quite attached to her. Never Ravenwood’s love for his blood brother Blaise became much deeper than I’d first imagined. Nev demanded I add emphasis to their relationship throughout the story.
Jann: When starting this series, did you think of character, plot or theme first?
Barb: As I mentioned above, the title came to me first, then the character Never Ravenwood as the WW himself. I did extensive character analyses in One Stop for Writers’ Character Builder on the main characters and major secondary characters. Once I had an idea of their goals, motivations, and conflicts, I could work on an outline to achieve their character arcs and story ending. Theme is almost always something I discover after a first draft.
Jann: How many books do you have planned for this series? Are you working on Book Two? Can you tell us about the characters and their story?
Barb: I mentioned that I’ve planned three books in the Keepers of Magic series. I’m working on the first draft of book two, The Keeper’s Code. I took a secondary character from the WW, powerful witch Ash Hunter, and made him the protagonist of book two. He’s a Keeper of magic in their secret witch society that is desperate to remain secret, an ever-more difficult task in this contemporary world of cameras on every corner, cell phones, and social media. He’s adept at lying, can mesmerize with a touch, and wipe memories. Who to pair him with? Why not a beautiful Reg (a person with no magic—think Muggle), who’s an award-winning investigative journalist with major trust issues and a killer witch stalking her.
Jann: What do you hope readers will take away from this series?
Barb: I hope they will be entertained, chuckle here and there, and wonder if that weird next-door neighbor is actually a witch. Seriously, books one and two have underlying themes, like perfection is unattainable (accept yourself for who you are), and something like learning to trust and trust in love. Still working on that one for book two.
Jann: Do you plan to stay with fantasy/paranormal genre?
Barb: For the foreseeable future. I need to finish the Keepers of Magic series in some kind of timely manner because I have so many other witchy stories I want to write.
Jann: The Great Leaving is an origin short story you wrote for the Keepers of Magic series. What is it about? Is it available to purchase?
Barb: I wanted to tell the emotional tale of the witch society’s forced abandonment of their homeland, the fantasy realm of Tae-wen, back in our time of 1690. For this snapshot in time, I chose the point of view of immortal witch Aris, whose adopted name in our world is Elizabeth Trowbridge. In The Witch Whisperer, she’s still alive, living in the society’s Haven and the owner of Trowbridge House, the secluded estate where The Witch Whisperer is incarcerated, and where Willow comes to have her broken magic fixed. She plays a much bigger role in book 2. I plan to use the short story The Great Leaving, a small e-booklet that is available through BookFunnel, as a free promo item at various events and for an eventual sign-up bonus when I start my newsletter.
Jann: I see that you have also written several short stories that are published in several anthologies. Would you share a bit about those stories?
Barb: I like writing short stories in between longer novels. Secrets of Moonlight Cove anthology was a fun one because all the authors got together and mapped out a fictional coastal town and set up a Google doc so we could share the details of our stories. In our own stories, we referenced characters in other stories and their businesses. Mine was a contemporary romance called Maggie’s Mystery Man.
Love for Christmas anthology was a labor of love with my critique group. I wrote a paranormal romance called Love for Christmas, about a cursed witch with a Christmas deadline.
In both volumes of The Truth That Can’t Be Told anthologies, I wrote a darker fantasy in two parts about cursed witches, plus a couple of contemporary pieces. All are available on Amazon.
Jann: Barb—Wishing you all the best on your debut novel, The Witch Whisperer and the Keepers of Magic series.
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I started out working as a reporter writing articles for a travel magazine based in Beverly Hills and then as a columnist for a computer magazine where I wrote about technology ‘Sweet Savage Byte’, as well as writing for academia, radio commercials and PR copy for a local AM/FM station. I’ve also had three plays produced in Malibu and I worked for a time writing scripts for children’s and daytime TV before publishing nonfiction books about Japan, and then later fiction.
Jann: You have an amazing writing career. How did it get started?
Jina: I’ve always written, having grown up with my Irish grandma who inspired me to write – a fine woman who was never without a story on her lips or a rosary in her hands… blue or white or green beads fastened together by her nimble fingers into a holy circle. I’d sit at her feet, holding my crayons in my left hand and coloring in my ballerina book or playing with my paper dolls, all the while making up stories of my own.
My first writing job was an article about the uniqueness of European bathrooms called ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Loo’. After college, I was torn between working part time as an illustrator for Frederick’s of Hollywood or working as a reporter for a travel magazine. I needed to pay the rent, so I wrote articles under different names and never looked back.
Jann: Why romance, time travel and World War 2?
Jina: Romance makes the world go round no matter what century you’re in… time travel because I spent a lot of my childhood in museums. The voices of the past speak to me through stiff ivory-colored crinolines and worn satin slippers. I’ve always wondered what it was like to walk in those slippers when they were new. World War 2 because I love the clothes, the sophistication, the Victory Red lipstick… the drama and power of the women who helped win the war. They were feminine and daring and strong… and fell in love with brave pilots. Who doesn’t love a guy in a sheepskin leather jacket and aviator sunglasses?
Jann: Historical romance readers look for accuracy from the author. What are your favorite sources for research and how much time did you spend on research. Do you research before, while you write a first draft or after?
Jina: Re: doing research, I love the joy of finding old books or films produced during the time I’m writing about; e.g., there is an enormous amount of material from the 1930s and 1940s, both first person accounts published during the war as well as films. Newsreels, but also home movies shot by participants on both sides. I have a wonderful ‘coffee table’ book that’s filled with scenes of Paris during the Occupation, as well as detailed timelines both in print and on the Internet that help me in setting up scenes so I can drop my characters into the historical moment, then turn them loose and see what they do. They always surprise me!
I research during all phases of the writing process… from creating the characters to researching the weather on a certain day to the phases of the moon (I have RAF landings in France that depend on moonlight). I never hesitate to check a date or place at any time, right through the proofreading.
Jann: Your new historical, The Orphans of Berlin, is described as Heartbreaking and based on a true story. How did you find the story this book is based on?
Jina: It’s based on the Kindertransport, the children’s transport. It’s well documented in films and books… I was fascinated by a documentary featuring an American couple who orchestrated a Kindertransport at a time when the US limited immigration, making it impossible for German Jews escaping death at the hands of the Nazis to come to America. I discovered that Jewish children from Germany and Austria and other European countries were sent to England and also to France by their desperate parents. Since I write about Occupied France, the story took off from here.
I also write about a personal journey in The Orphans of Berlin related to my American heroine (all is revealed in the acknowledgements).
Jann: What major conflicts do your leading characters in The Orphans of Berlin, Kate Alexander and the Landau sisters, have to work through?
Jina: Kay Alexander is a debutante albeit a reluctant one. It’s a life chosen for her by her society mother, but Kay is determined to be her own person in spite of her mother’s domineering ways. Kay has to work through the delicate balance of finding her independence, yet never giving up hope her mother will see her as an individual. She loves her mom and is proud of her heritage, and wants to use her fortune to help others.
Rachel is twelve when we meet her, a time in the Jewish religion when a girl becomes an adult. We follow Rachel through the trials and tribulations every girl faces growing up: her maturing body, feelings for boys, seeking independence from her parents whom she adores, and yearning to be her own person. What makes all this so difficult is that Rachel faces the trials of impending womanhood in a time when the Nazis set about destroying her world of tradition and ancient culture… and also taking on the duty to keep her younger sisters safe in a dangerous time.
Jann: I understand there is a handsome British pilot. What can you tell us about this character?
Jina: Max Hamilton-Jones is a daring pilot from a tough, English upbringing in Blackpool in Northern England. He grew up around airplanes and joined an air circus when he was a teenager. He has a fierce sense of protecting the innocent and uses his flying skills to fight in Spain before WW2… he’s an avant-garde artist who captures human foibles with his amazing sketches featuring slices of life. He loves beautiful woman and sees into the soul of his models with his pen… he’s sexy, witty, and protective of Kay and Rachel and her two sisters. I love that.
Jann: Are you working on something now that you can share with us?
Jina: I’m writing my fourth book about the Holocaust in Occupied France… this time I’m tackling the subject of rape during the war: how many cases were never reported and the stories of these Frenchwomen lay buried in the shadows.
I want to shine a light on one such story…
Jann: You’re a multi-published author, is there a character in one of your books whose personality most matches yours? If so, which book and character and why?
Jina: Aye, it’s Ava O’Reilly, my Irish heroine from Queenstown in The Runaway Girl, my story about the Titanic. Ava pokes her nose where she shouldn’t, is outspoken with her opinions, and is filled with colorful, witty phrases. Of course, Ava speaks her mind; me, I write it down in stories, but there’s a lot of Ava in me.
Jann: Where can we get your books?
Jina: Readers can find my books published by Boldwood Books at Amazon US, UK, CA, AU, and international Amazon sites, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple, and in the UK, in brick and mortar stores, The Works and Waterstones.
The Orphans of Berlin
Jann: What’s your all-time favorite book?
Jina: Time and Again by Jack Finney
I love exploring the science behind traveling through time, the whys and what ifs. Mr Finney made me believe in time travel. I love his wit, his passion for the lady he loves in his time travel novel, his historical accuracy and gripping detail that put you there.
A true gentleman and a scholar for any time.
[I wrote two novels about time travel: Her Lost Love – WW2 on the home front where a lonely woman goes home on a magic Christmas train to save her fiancé who died in the war; and Love Me Forever – a female re-enactor goes back to the Civil War dressed as a soldier and meets her double, a Confederate spy.]
Jina, its been great to have a peak into your writing world. You write amazing stories. Good luck on The Orphans of Berlin. Have a wonderful holiday season.
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Fae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes that she can live anywhere but the present. As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.
Punished, oh-no, that’s published as a co-author of a math textbook, she yearns to hear personal stories about finding love from those who read her books, rather than the horrors of calculus lessons gone wrong. She is grateful for good friends who remind her to do the practical things in life like grocery shop, show up at the airport for a flight and pay bills.
A “hard” scientist who avoided writing classes like the plague, she now shares her brain with characters who demand that their stories be told. Amazing, gifted critique partners keep her on the straight and narrow.
Fae: This is going to sound funny, but it seems that all my friends are more excited than I am. I’m very happy to finally share this story, but even though I have lots of work still to do—there’s marketing and social media to do, PRISM 2 to write, another series to revise the first two books that are already written, and a third series that I’ve finished the first two books “in my head”—for now, I’m learning how to make social media more user-friendly for me. Next week I’ll start plotting and writing PRISM 2 and begin the final revision of Keeping Athena, the first book in my adult science fiction romance series. I’ve been working such long hours for the past eighteen months, it’s nice to just take a breather and bask a little in the congratulations. And…there is a kind of sadness that I’m not hanging out with these people in the same way anymore.
Fae: More than five years ago, Jenny Hansen, Laura Drake, Sharla Rae and I started a blog for writers: Writers in the Storm. Jenny said we needed a platform for when we got published, so I climbed on the blog train along with them. It took a year before I finally understood the technology and idea behind a blog for writers.
Everyone says to write the best book you can, so I did. Every chapter went through the WITS critique shredder. I probably re-wrote the beginning of the book eight times. When I finished the book, I had an hour-long “session” with Michael Hauge. I felt like I’d been steam-rolled, but his questions and suggestions helped me clarify the soft-points in the book that I hadn’t seen. It’s amazing what he can cover in sixty minutes! I entered it in half a dozen contests to get feedback. Young adult science fiction is not a large sub-genre, so I didn’t expect much, but it finaled in just about every contest. I took it to an Immersion Class with Margie Lawson. Because I wanted to put out the best book I could, I worked with Tiffany Yates Martin, my editor, through four revisions to bring out themes I hadn’t even known were there. Remember, I’m a math major who avoided writing classes. I’m a pantser who abhors plotting and cringes when someone asks the theme or turning points of my novel. Luckily, I’ve always been a voracious reader, so those story-telling “landmarks” have been absorbed by osmosis. (More on this below in the answer to question #3.)
Eighteen months ago, when I decided to self-publish, I attended as many of the self-pubbing workshops and panels at RWA 2016 San Diego as I could. I filled a notebook with tips, timelines, and scheduling calendars. I thought I’d have my first book out (I was thinking it would be Keeping Athena) within six months. Ha! That deadline got pushed back four months, then another four, then two more, then two more. What caused all the changes? I was very picky about my cover, so that took two months longer than I’d anticipated. (But I love the results from Deranged Doctor Designs. They are marvelous to work with.) I reworked my website, with help from June Stevens Westerfield. I looked at other author’s newsletters and websites. I took a social media class. A few months later I started looking at my Facebook page once every two weeks. I started a Pinterest site to collect pictures and quotes that are pertinent to my genre in general and my books, specifically. Both Keeping Athena and P.R.I.S.M. required a fourth pass with Tiffany, requiring another couple of months. I joined a blog of YA authors, and I started telling people in my circle of acquaintances that I had written a book. (I have this secretive streak…)
Fae: I don’t get inspiration about characters. The weird thing is, long before I ever start typing, my characters and their story show up in my brain. Don’t ask me how that works. One morning, I wake up, and they’re there. They aren’t fully fleshed out and I don’t know much more than the beginning and the end of the book, but I hang out with them. If they are persistent enough and I’m engaged in their lives, I write their story.
A very spiritual friend says she thinks I channel my stories. If that’s true, I wish I channeled better writing! I know my characters—and I believe that the exile world of Prism is also a character—very well. I’ve “lived” in their heads and in their surroundings. I know why they react as they do because I know their backstory. In the early drafts, when someone asked a question about some detail I invariably left out—because heck, I live there—I know the answer immediately. This has happened during pitches with agents and editors and they seem shocked at the information I can give them about what doesn’t appear in the book.
When I started P.R.I.S.M. I was hiking fifteen miles a week and eating more than a normal person would of protein shakes and bars. On the beautiful trails I wondered what it would be like if there were no ducks or squirrels or rabbits or lizards. I remembered what the Middle East was like when I spent a month there a few years ago. Long stretches of desolate sand dunes, very different food, a language I didn’t understand. I’ve been all over the world, but I couldn’t even figure out the road signs. All these bits of my past end up in the world of Prism.
Music has always been important in my life. I wrote my first book to only one song. I played that song the entire nine months I wrote that story. I played the song at work, too. Sometimes, brave co-workers asked if I had any other CD’s. Now before I start a book, I’m lucky to hear new songs on the radio that mesh well with the story. I end up with a playlist for each character, so when I’m writing a scene in that character’s POV, I listen to that playlist. For instance, Guardian (Alanis Morissette), Bring Me to Life (Evanescence) and I Drove All Night (Cyndi Lauper) are three of O’Neill’s songs, while every time Cal thinks about Jericho, it’s He’s a Pirate from Pirates of the Caribbean or when he’s with O and their friends it could be Uprising (Muse). Jericho’s POV comes to life with Geronimo (Say Hey to Single Life) and Satellite (Rise Against). Selecting my playlist is not a one-time chore, but more of an organic growth as I drive and listen to the radio. Once I identify a song for my playlist, I purchase it and listen to it until I find the next song. Usually there is a scene in each of my books that is based on a song on the playlist.
O’Neill has a lot of me in her. I didn’t realize just how much until Tiffany kept after me to dig deeper into O’s character arc. And Cal. Ah. He was just perfect for O. They came to me as so-in-love teenagers. Caring, always there, supportive Cal to balance O’s brashness and tight-leashed temper. They were, literally, destined to be together. And then Jericho shows up from Earth, just after O’s father goes missing. Can I just say right now how much I love O’s father? If Jocko Neill walked through my door, I’d be a goner. How did I not see when I was writing the book that he’s got so many of my husband’s good traits?
That was a really long answer. I guess the short answer is I find my characters in my life, in the people around me. But I couldn’t really match one character to one person. My characters are bits and pieces of what several people are—and my impressions of who they could become.
Fae: Thanks for asking. I’m so glad you visited my website. I wish I had time to hang out there more. I love writing the character blogs. And posting my “other” writing from what seems like a previous life.
Keeping Athena is an adult science fiction romance. When I wrote the book, a long time ago, I planned to write “sequels” about her two brothers. I wrote Keeping Athena and Contracting Joy, about Athena’s younger hot-shot cocky fighter pilot, before I started P.R.I.S.M.
Maybe I should mention here that I didn’t start writing to publish books. Did I say before that I might be considered weird? I started writing to tell the stories that accosted me every night when I turned out the light. (I was lucky to have a husband who was willing to eat corn flakes for dinner when, after work, I couldn’t stop writing in the middle of a space battle.) The Keep Sphere is populated with several planets, all having wonderful places and people with stories that could keep me busy for a long time.
Keeping Athena is filled with space battles, lies and betrayal, and two worlds at war. This is the kind of science fiction that made me a science fiction freak, and the romance that made me love the romance genre years later—all rolled into one story. Think Star Wars and Gone with the Wind, if Rhett and Scarlet ended up together and madly in love. Athena, an Agran fighter pilot and trained assassin, crashes behind enemy lines onto Drake’s tiny asteroid, becoming his prisoner. Drake is the second-in-command of the Keep forces, but he hides that fact from her, pretending to be a space bum. She struggles to escape. He struggles to decode the secrets in her nav boards. They both fight against the attraction they feel.
I got the idea for the Hangar Bay that’s on my website (www.faerowen.com) from the flight deck in what will be my third series, The Regent Fleet Academy. I wish I had a clone, because the first two books in that series are fully written in my head, I just need time to type them out. And, as usual, I’m in love. With a bad-boy hero, which I’ve never written before. Can I just share a song from Fire on Roof, the first book in the series? Shut Up and Dance by Walk the Moon is on my main character’s playlist the first half of the book, then it flips and is on the hero’s playlist. There is a scene for each of them based on the song, and they just might be my favorite scenes in the book.
Fae: “The book won’t write itself.” Laura Drake told me this when I complained that I wasn’t getting the daily word count I wanted. She asked how long I was sitting at the computer. Uh…not long.
Fae: I’d love to write about Navy SEALS and special ops. I’d be willing to do the research for that, but I don’t think I could pull off the on-going suspense. I can tell you that I will never write historicals, even though I love to read regency romances. I don’t have the patience for hours of research that passionate readers know much better than I ever will. And because I don’t plot, mysteries are out. My stories are too convoluted with lots of subplots to be short. (P.R.I.S.M. came in at over 125,000 words.) My first book, still under the bed, was a medieval fantasy romance. I liked writing about knights and swords. But I have a lot to deal with in the future, and I’m good with that.
Fae: I love being able to work whenever I want to-late at night, early in the morning, all day and night if I want to. And it’s great not to have to get dressed for “work” with make-up and hair to impress whomever.
Fae: Are you kidding? Beam me up!
Feedback from readers keeps her fingers on the keyboard. When she’s not hanging out at Writers in the Storm, you can visit Fae at http://faerowen.com or www.facebook.com/fae.rowen
Fae also blogs at YA Outside the Lines on the fifth of every month.
P.R.I.S.M., a young adult science fiction romance story of survival, betrayal, resolve, deceit, lies, and love is available now at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Sarah Vance-Tompkins was born in a small town in northern Michigan. She earned an MFA in Film Production from the University of Southern California before working in feature film development for ten years. Prior to film school, she began her career in media as an on-air radio personality. She has worked as a staff reporter for a weekly entertainment trade publication, a fashion copy writer, and for a brief time was the social media maven for a personal lubricant manufacturer.
She has published two YA books with Inkspell Publishing. Her first adult romance with Tule Publishing, ON CHRISTMAS TREE COVE, was released in October 2021. The second book in the small town series, WISHING FOR MR. RIGHT will be published on September 29, 2022. She and her husband live in Southern California with a glaring of unruly cats.
I’m so excited to be doing this Q&A with Sarah Vance-Tompkins. She a wonderful woman and fantastic author. Let’s see what she has to say!!
Jann: Tell us about your path to publication.
Sarah: I went to USC for film school, so my background is in screenwriting. I made all the rookie mistakes in my first romance manuscript. Filter words. Telling, not showing. Head hopping. Dialogue tags for days. I did it all. Gah! I had so much to learn. I’d come back from conferences after taking every craft class offered, eager to apply my new-found knowledge. After several false starts I finished a manuscript I loved. Even better I sent out queries and got full requests. Finally, it attracted an agent’s attention. I got the call! I was joyful. I’d made it. I was on my way – next stop a five publishing house bidding war! Then the agent ghosted me. I was devastated and unable to write for a long time. But like the Energizer Bunny, I kept submitting stuff. I published a couple of short stories with Inkspell, then sent my manuscript off to Tule Publishing. They gave me the nicest rejection ever. They said it wasn’t for them but asked if I had any interest in writing a Christmas romance. I love Christmas! And romance. I came up with several different ideas. One of their editors gave me helpful feedback on my synopsis and first chapter. I was thrilled when I found a contract in my email box one morning. But I can’t emphasize it enough my success is a direct result of rejection.
Jann: Setting, Theme, Plot—these are questions authors are faced with every day. How important are they to you for your stories?
Sarah: I started out writing as an unabashed and deeply committed Pantser, but with each manuscript I became more and more of a Plotser. Now, I’m really leaning into being a full-on Plotter. It really seems to be best, especially when you’re trying to communicate with an editor. But it’s been long evolution. Not gonna lie, after I turned in my last project, I made color-coded Excel spread sheets to plot my current WIP. We’ll see how it goes…
As far as setting, theme and plot are concerned, it’s always setting and theme, then plot. They’re all equally important in my mind, but the setting and theme always need to be settled first. It’s the plot I wrestle with every day from beginning to end.
Jann: What inspires or excites you to write?
Sarah: I became a K-drama addict during the pandemic. One of my favorite authors (Kate Clayborn) mentioned something on Twitter about her undying love and devotion to a series called “Crash Landing On You.” I watched one episode and was completely hooked. The stories are always filled with my favorite romance tropes: Fake Dating. Forbidden Love. Celebrity Dating. Enemies to Lovers. Soul Mates. And the actors are gorgeous and dressed in the most beautiful designer clothes.
Jann: September 29th, Dacey Adair and Luke La Fontaine, make their debut in Wishing for Mr. Right. What would you like the readers to know about them. What major conflicts do they have to work through on their way to HEA?
Sarah: Dacey is a perfectionist working her way up the corporate ladder to world domination. When she’s knocked down a rung or two, she falls far and hard. has to always be right. Even if she’s wrong. Luke is local heartthrob who is so far from perfect, he’s developed a bit of bad boy reputation. He totally owns it. They are complete opposites, but secretly they’ve both been craving love with a special someone. But neither one would admit it. Until they fall for hard for each other.
Jann: Which character did you develop first, Dacey or Luke?
Sarah: Dacey was the no-nonsense sister of Morgan Adair in On Christmas Tree Cove. I totally identified with her. She was a workaholic who didn’t take any time for herself until time off was forced on her when she was fired with cause. She always tried to be perfect, so I knew she’d have to have an imperfect hero. And I think Luke LaFontaine is the perfect imperfect man for her. He a total hottie with a reputation for being the “town tomcat.” You can read the blurb on the Tule Publishing website:
Jann: What preparations have you made for the launch for Wishing for Mr. Right?
Sarah: It’s funny how much promotion changes in a year. I find myself doing things very differently than I did for On Christmas Tree Cove. I’m sending out packages of books and swag to bookstagrammers and book bloggers. I’m hired someone to help with a social media push. And then I need to get a push on to get reviews and do some giveaways. Next week I’ll probably book a small plane to do skywriting. I’m kidding but I’m open to suggestion and it seems like my to-do list is never-ending.
Jann: How do you come up with name for your characters? On Christmas Tree Cove, you have main characters, Morgan Adair and Jesse Taylor, I put a Spell on You, a romantic comedy, Aviana Willowbrook and Nash Nolan, Kisses on a Paper Airplane, Hannah Evans and Theo Callahan and What’s Better Than A Book Boyfriend, Charlie Bishop and Hank Carter. Do character names have importance to you?
Sarah: I carry a teeny tiny notebook around in my purse. When I hear a name I love, I jot it down on what is has now become a very long list filling almost all of the pages. When I’m working on a new story I go back and forth over it. I’m not really able to see and hear my characters until I settle on the name that brings them to life. I’ll write a few at the top of the manuscript, but I can’t usually decide on my characters’ names until I’ve been working on the synopsis and the first few chapters.
Jann: What are you working on now? Can you tell us about your next project?
Sarah: I joined a writing collective called SMUT U in 2020. The group includes writers of all genres from around the world. Every day at 7am PT we gather on a Zoom call and use the Pomodoro Method to get words down on the page. One morning I decided I wanted to write a story about a woman who falls in love in her forties – since I was a first-time 48 year-old bride. She makes a lot of mistakes. It truly is my passion project. It’s been an absolute blast to write.
Jann: What’s your all-time favorite book?
Sarah: Underfoot in Show Business by Helene Hanff
Jann: What‘s on your To-Be-Read pile?
Sarah: To Catch a Raven by Beverly Jenkins
Nora Goes Off Script by Anabel Monaghan
Circling Back To You by Julie Tieu
Heartbreaker by Sarah MacLean
Jann: What’s your favorite song?
Sarah: A Song For You by Leon Russell
Jann: What’s your favorite movie?
Sarah: Now, Voyager
You can find out more about her latest release by following on BookBub. https://tulepublishing.com/books/wishing-for-mr-right/
She also hangs out on Twitter. A lot. Follow @sarahvtompkins
Sarah, thank you, thank you for sharing with us today. Can’t wait for the debut of Wishing for Mr. Right. Best of luck!!0 0 Read more
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