Tell us about your recent Riptide release. What was the inspiration behind it?
A couple of years ago, I spent a weekend in San Francisco with my husband and kids. Usually when I go to the city, I stay somewhere near Union Square. But this time we were up near the northwest corner of the city, across from Lands End and near the ruins of the Sutro Baths. Just across the street from our hotel we discovered a Little Free Library—a colorful little structure where people can borrow and return books on the honor system. My younger daughter, who was 13 at the time, ended up borrowing an 1100-page historical novel and gobbling it with delight.
Then a friend had a great idea: What if a lonely man builds a little library… and thus meets another lonely man? I’m a firm believer in the power of books, so I loved this idea.
What can readers expect when they read a story from you? What would you like potential readers to know about you and your books?
At first, readers might find themselves a little bewildered by my catalogue. I’m an eclectic person, and my books reflect that. I write in just about every imaginable genre, and while some of my stories are dark or angsty, others are quite light. A few are even fluffy.
But readers who are brave and patient enough to sample a variety of my stories will find some consistent themes. The most important is that my characters are authentic. Whether they’re college professors, slaves, or hipster architect werewolves, they have realistic feelings and lifelike flaws. This is true not only of the main characters but the secondary ones as well. All of these people feel very real to me, even if they exist only in my head.
Another theme is that none of my characters are perfect. There’s nothing wrong with books about sexy billionaires, but most of my guys are pretty ordinary. A lot of them have disabilities, some may be carrying a few extra pounds, and almost all of them have insecurities and quirks that complicate their lives. I write these kinds of characters because I find them the most interesting. Also, I think it’s important to reinforce the idea that even those of us who are imperfect deserve love.
What was the most surprising thing you learned about yourself while writing your latest release?
I’ve lived in California’s San Joaquin Valley for almost 25 years. My job brought me here, and it’s probably not a location I would have selected on my own. But The Little Library is set near here, in Modesto—a location I chose because, like my protagonist, it’s rather ordinary and often overlooked. Elliott is living in Modesto because he has to, not because he wants to. But as the book progresses, his feelings about the region change. And so did mine. Writing about this area made me appreciate it much more. There are all the small charms you end up taking for granted, like the friendly, small-town people and businesses and the high likelihood of running into someone you know. There are little perks like easy parking, even downtown. I also like the proximity to many interesting places to visit. Gold rush towns and the coast are both close enough for a day trip (Elliott visits them during the course of the story). So in writing this book, discovered I’m much fonder of my home than I’d realized.
How long does it take you to write a book?
That depends a lot on what else I have going on in my life. I’m a university professor for my day job, which means things get awfully busy some times of the year. I love traveling too, and while hotels make wonderful places to write, sometimes my trips prove too hectic for that. Generally, though, I finish a first draft in less than two months. It usually takes another month or so for my wonderful beta editor and me to whip it into good enough shape for submission (Hmm. That makes editing sound like a form of BDSM.).
Describe your workspace.
I do most of my writing on an elderly laptop while sitting at the kitchen table. Perhaps not the best way to work, but it keeps me from being isolated from my family, who are often hanging out nearby in the family room. I can work with a fair amount of chaos going on around me. I usually have a variety of items close at hand while I write: my phone, notepaper and pen, and a caffeinated beverage of some kind. If it’s evening, Niki the cat often naps on the chair next to mine—occasionally she wakes up long enough to demand some petting.
Since I do travel a lot, however, I frequently take my laptop and story with me. In addition to hotel rooms all over North America and Europe, I’ve written on cruise ships, trains, and airplanes. Sometimes I like to write in coffeehouses, and I think airports are ideal workspaces—which works out well because I’m obsessively early for my flights. I like to think about using the entire world as my workspace (mwah-hah-hah!). I haven’t encompassed the globe yet, but I’m working on it.
Do you ever get writer’s block? What do you do to cure it?
I need to knock on wood before I type this, but no, I never get writer’s block. The bigger issue for me is finding time to write. My ideas file contains probably a hundred story concepts, and it grows faster than I can keep up. As an author, that’s a good problem to have, really.
Now, sometimes I get to a particular spot in a story and have a bit of trouble deciding where to go next. I’m a pantser rather than a plotter, which means I generally have only the bare bones of my story planned before I begin. But remember how I said my characters feel very real to me? That means when I get stuck, I can kind of hand the story over to them and see what they do next. Sometimes they surprise me. Now and then they’re stubborn and they insist on ignoring my ideas and doing something else instead.
I like to think of a my muse as a whip-wielding dominatrix (she looks like a cross between Kathy Bates and Meryl Streep). But I wouldn’t trade her for anything.
What can readers expect from you in the future?
Um… a lot? This calendar year I’m due to have three more novels release (a contemporary, a suspense story, and a noir private eye story in a medieval fantasy setting) as well as two novellas (a dark paranormal and a holiday fantasy). Also at least one audiobook and a slew of translations. I currently have another novel under submission, one in progress, and two more planned to write after that. I think that ought to keep everyone busy for a while!
Do you have a favorite quote?
“Do your f@#%ing job!”
Perhaps not the sweetest quote ever, but I find it inspirational. Okay, maybe that’s more of a motto than a quote. Here are some words about writing that I find beautiful. They’re by Gustave Flaubert, from a letter to his lover, Louise Colet.
“It is a delicious thing to write, to be no longer yourself but to move in an entire universe of your own creating. Today, for instance, as man and woman, both lover and mistress, I rode in a forest on an autumn afternoon under the yellow leaves, and I was also the horses, the leaves, the wind, the words my people uttered, even the red sun that made them almost close their love-drowned eyes.”
Actually, I like the entire letter, which you can find here, on page 8.