The girls of Night Owl Romance are pleased that you have granted us an interview
We would love to get to know you
Thanks. It's great to be here.
Could you please start by telling us a little about yourself?
Dragged to Canada from Scotland at the tender age of seven by well-meaning parents, I survived childhood and adolescence by immersing myself in books. Thirteen years later as a University of Toronto graduate, I convinced the federal government to hire a Fine Arts specialist as a computer programmer. In another four years, I graduated again, this time to full-time homemaker and mom, raising two wonderful sons. Plunging back into the business world, I started a management consulting company in partnership with my second husband. This marriage survived because we pledged never to work on the same project again. Ever.
After a century in the consulting world, I grew weary of wearing snappy power suits, squeezing into panty hose, and fighting rush hour traffic. I still didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I was certain of one thing - it wasn't a consultant. I made a life-changing decision, ignored advice to the contrary and quit my day job to attend a 5-day seminar entitled How to Write a Novel. How hard could it be? Look at the bookshelves. Thousands of authors pulled it off every year, some of them more than once. Little did I know the challenges that lay ahead. Between as much travel as we can squeeze in, my husband and I live in Ottawa where I volunteer for an addiction family program, play bridge, and slave over a computer to improve my writing skills.
If you could be one of your characters - Who would you be? And why?
The heroine of The Jaguar Legacy, Charley Underhill, is my favorite. While loving the flaws and foibles that make her human, I admire her complexity, spunk, and wit. Never boring, Charley is full of contradictions and more than a few hang-ups. And no wonder. An independent woman at heart, she has lived under the thumb of her manipulative and alcoholic mother her entire life. Honest and ethical at heart, she sees no alternative but to tell a lie that nearly destroys her in order to save her mother's life. Charley's passion for life bubbles over, while her tendency towards bossiness, rash actions, inquisitiveness, and mulish obstinacy trip her up at every turn. When feeling nervous, which happens a lot around the hunky Alistair Kincaid, she falls back on smart-assed comments, witticisms, and a quirky sense of humor to mask her discomfort. Courageous and resolute, if she believes in a cause, nothing will stop her from doing what she feels is right. In the end, Charley finds within herself the strength of character to overcome emotional trauma, supernatural evil forces, and mind-numbing fear to save the man she loves.
What's your favorite genre to read?
I love reading romance. Any romance. Call it escapism. In a world of growing uncertainty, constantly bombarded with news about disasters, tragedies, wars, murders, deaths, and corruption, I crave an antidote. A world of wonder, a world of falling in love, of unlimited possibilities, of overcoming impossible odds, and of living happily ever after is more to my liking. What better way to escape than to curl up in front of a fire with a cup of tea and a good romance novel?
Romance novels are addictive. Here's the thing. I'm a psychologist wannabe, a voyeur of the human psyche, an emotional junkie. I suck up internal conflicts like a Hoover sucks up dust--emotions, feelings, and emotional baggage that characters drag around, providing their motives and affecting their actions. A good romance novel is a psychological jigsaw puzzle that never fails to feed my craving for an emotional fix.
I love everything about romance novels. I love the loyalty. I love the treachery. I love the courage. I love the frailty. I love the hope. I love the despair. I love the honesty. I love the deception. I love the humor. I love the tears. I love the well-rounded characters, particularly quirky characters that are so flawed, yet appealing, they feel like old friends. I love clever, smart-mouthed heroines who say and do all the things I would love to. I love complex, tortured heroes who overcome their personal demons in the name of love.
And if the interviewer asks me whether I think men should read romance fiction, my answer will be an unqualified, "Yes." How can any man in his right mind resist learning more about feminine secrets--what we love, what we hate, what turns us on, what turns us off, in short, what makes us tick? In my opinion, romance fiction provides unlimited opportunities for men to plumb the depths (so to speak) of the mysterious world of Venus. Who knows? In the process, they might even reach new insight on Martians.
I leave you with this thought. Picture a man sprawled in a chair at the airport, waiting for his flight, briefcase and laptop propped at his feet--a manly man, a man who is truly comfortable in his own skin, a man who has tossed aside his business report documenting recent financial trends and who is dabbing his eyes, happily engrossed in the latest Nora Roberts bestseller.
After all, only real men dare to read romance fiction.
What do you do on a typical writing day?
My creative juices tend to flow early in the day. I generally get up around 7:00 a.m., grab a coffee and some cereal, skim the newspaper, and by 8:00, I'm seated in front of my computer. When 11:30 rolls around, I crawl into the shower and clean up. If I'm on a roll, I will write some in the afternoon or early evening. Generally, my brain stops functioning after 9:00 p.m. unless a major deadline looms. I try not to schedule any appointments during the morning. Whenever life creeps in and I fall off my self-imposed writing schedule, my husband usually steps in and reminds me of my priorities. He even helps me re-shuffle some of his responsibilities and shoulders some of my load.
When you have writer's block how do you break free?
Writer's block is terrifying, painful, paralyzing, humiliating, and demoralizing. I must have moaned to my husband a gazillion times or more, "What if I've lost it? What if I never write another word again? WHAT IF I NEVER FINISH THIS BOOK?"
The issue was self-evident. I couldn't crank out that final scene, not even if several body parts and a couple of lives depended on it. The causes were less obvious. After a full week of sober and due consideration, I grew to believe that my recent writer's block was (a) a temporary and necessary delay caused by little grey cells percolating, (b) compounded by the two ugly sisters of perfectionism and self-criticism, and (c) fuelled by the stress and panic of an inability to put two coherent sentences together while the clock ticked on---a self-fulfilling prophecy, so to speak.
Now, here's the thing. For me, like many others, the creative problem solving process takes time. Time to for concepts mature, time to formulate new ideas, time to produce a finished product that is more than the sum of its parts. I need to suffer through this necessary incubation period of inactivity interspersed with frantic bouts of trial and error, even as I writhe and twist on the hook of frustration.
So what do I do with this new insight? What amazing strategic solutions have I formulated?
For those of you who have persevered to this point, you will no doubt be pleased to know that I have decided to take a brand new approach to this creative problem solving thing:
Can you please give us a sneak peek at any of your upcoming books?
The Jaguar Legacy
My first book, The Jaguar Legacy, is a vivid story of romance and humor, peril and suspense, betrayal and trust, healing and absolution.
What if she had lived before? What if she had created a legacy of betrayal that spanned several millennia? What if passion could heal her soul and love could release her from bondage?
Despite baffling panic attacks that devastated her career, journalist Charley Underhill barges in on a Mexican archaeological dig, bent on sniffing out a juicy expos‚ that will restore her reputation and earn enough money for her mother's life-saving treatment. Haunted by past betrayals, Dr. Alistair Kincaid isn't about to let a smart-mouthed reporter leak word of his latest discovery, an ancient Olmec city, to the press. A battle of wills and wits ensues. Strands from a past life intertwine with the present, drawing the couple into a vortex of chilling evil where ancient danger stalks the jungle on velvet paws. Torn between redeeming her soul and betraying the man she loves, Charley faces impossible choices.
Fur Ball Fever
I am currently in the throes of writing the first draft of my next book, Fur Ball Fever, a comic romantic suspense. It represents the first salvo in the Condo Capers Series. Whirlwind action alternates between the seamiest side of Atlantic City and an upscale Jersey Shore condominium complex called Saltwater Village, proud sponsor of a hoity-toity pet charity extravaganza called The Fur Ball.
Sporting a dwindling bank account, an overwhelming debt load, and her family's censure for a lifetime of impetuous mistakes, renegade Grace Donnelly faces catastrophe. Her first case, a dog-napping prank turned nasty, blows up in her face and she finds herself embroiled in trouble up to her eyeballs. How can she launch her new career as private investigator if word of her incompetence spreads? Unless she nails the perp, Grace faces the humiliation of failure and bankruptcy when yet another career bites the dust.
Grace's suspicions focus on several candidates: a slick televangelist, a neighbor's trophy wife, and her former flame, Nick Jackson, finest PI east of the Rockies. Her persistent investigation nearly blows his cover in his quest to nail the phony preacher whose corruption killed his twin. Unable to save his brother's life during Desert Storm, Nick finds himself re-living his worst fears when confronted with Grace's rash actions. To salvage his case, his sanity, and Grace's skin, Nick sees no choice but to join forces with the sassy crusader who rubs him the wrong way -- and so many of the right ways.
Locked in an uneasy alliance, their joint investigation leads the reluctant couple into unexpected romance against a wacky backdrop of animal politics, drag queens, a dominatrix or two, the swinging scene, and a fascinating underworld of fetishism and bondage. The two cases converge in a zany roller-coaster ride of murder and mayhem, culminating in a Fur Ball extravaganza the locals will never forget.
In 5 years, where do you see yourself? In general and in you're writing career.
I'm a firm believer in big dreams. I visualize a slimmed-down version of myself as a New York Times bestselling author, accepting awards with aplomb, delivering workshops to salivating audiences, wearing out countless pens at international book signings, and rubbing elbows with the stars at the Academy Awards when the movie of my best-selling Jaguar Legacy wins the `Best Picture' Oscar.
Who is your perfect hero? And why?
I must confess, I'm a Beta male type of gal. My hero in The Jaguar Legacy is a good example of my perfect hero. Alistair Kincaid has a wry, extremely dry sense of humor. He loves to laugh and tries not to take himself too seriously. Eccentricities include a love of hideous Aloha shirts (he believes the well-dressed man should have a dozen or so) and he plays the bagpipes when trying to clear his mind -- a habit that drives his crew and friends crazy. Kincaid enjoys and appreciates the richness and variety of what life has to offer, perhaps because of his losses as a child. A good leader, he motivates people, often by setting an example. An academic and a born problem-solver, he tends to be a tad pedantic when describing a topic of interest (such as the religious beliefs of the ancient Olmecs). As his friend puts it, "Sometimes it's easier to stop a runaway train than to stop Kincaid once he's started discoursing on his favourite topics, particularly if he thinks he has an interested audience. The man can pontificate for hours without pausing for breath. Don't know how he does it. It's not uncommon for folks to nod off long before he runs out of steam." As an analytical male, Kincaid is skeptical of anything he can't see, hear, touch, feel, or smell, but handles intellectual problems as if they were a game or puzzle, the tougher they are, the better. When his friend kids him that he's, "Stubborn, ornery, and a pain in the ass," Kincaid counters with, "I prefer to think of myself as persistent, sensitive, and refreshingly outspoken."
What kind of research do you do for your books? Do you enjoy the research process?
I do research on a `need to know' basis -- only as much as required to make the story plausible and avoid factual mistakes. For The Jaguar Legacy, I interviewed an archaeologist who could give me enough details to create a realistic dig in Mexico. I researched the ancient Olmecs and the use of peyote by reading several books and conducting Internet research. Best of all, I visited south-west Mexico, Oaxaca and the nearby ruins twice, gathering realistic details about the location, history, local customs, etc. On our second trip, our guide was an Olmec expert, and he provided little details that bring the ancient race to life in my book.
One of the reasons I chose the Olmecs to write about, instead of, say, the Aztecs or the Incas or Zapotecs, was that the Olmecs are so ancient, no one knows much about them, only a few facts such as: they were an advanced race with complex cities and temples; they worshipped the jaguar and snake; they believed they could shape-shift into the jaguar; intact Olmec remains have never been found; some experts believe the Olmecs originated in Africa.
For FUR BALL FEVER, I have friends who live on the Jersey Shore. I chose the Jersey Shore and Atlantic City as a setting for this reason. Of course, the setting for this book requires research into casinos, transgender issues, and fetish clubs.
Do deadlines help or hinder your muse?
I work best under pressure, but tend to drive myself crazy. I always worry that writers' block will strike, causing me to miss the deadline.
Do you outline your books or just start writing?
I'm a plotter, not a pantster. With an analytical background as a computer specialist, I need the rigor of an outline. Of course, all outlines are merely a starting point that can be changed at any time.
I generally start with a concept (e.g. Start with one archaeological dig -- a lost city in Mexico -- where occult energy triggers past life flashbacks; add one hunky archaeologist who hates the press; combine with one smart-mouthed reporter on a quest for an expos‚; throw in one vengeful ex-wife and a mysterious shaman. Stir well until mixed and stand back from the fireworks.)
From there, I move to characterization, creating characters that fit my concept, and, yes, I use a character template to describe everything about them, from physical appearance to personality to backstory to favorite foods.
I then expand my concept into a synopsis, and use the synopsis to create a scene by scene outline.
Do you belong to a critique group? If so, how does this help or hinder you?
I am a firm believer in critique groups, and have belonged to one for five years. I also have a couple of critique partners. There's nothing like an outside perspective to fine-tune a manuscript, find areas that do not work, and provide support, encouragement, and a shoulder to cry on.
I fell into the novice trap of writing and polishing each chapter of my first draft as if I were submitting it to an editor instead of a critique group. At the time, none of us understood that the first draft is supposed to be rough, generally for the author's eyes only. I doubt that more than 5% of the pages I slaved over so diligently survived the revision and re-write process. With my second book, I intend to push ahead and write my first draft in its entirety without submitting it for critique. When the book is structured to my liking and all required scenes are present and accounted for, I will layer in the various edits such as characterization, setting, dialogue, etc. before submitting chunks to my critique group.
What was your first published work and when was it published?
My first published work was The Jaguar Legacy, published in March, 2007.
What would be the best way for readers contact you? Do you have a website? Email address? MySpace site? Blog? Message Board? Group?
My website at www.booksbymaureen.com contains an excerpt from The Jaguar Legacy, allows readers to purchase a copy through Amazon, and points readers to the Romance Readers Daily Blog (Midweek with Maureen) at: http://romancereadersblog.com/category/midweek-with-maureen/. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org and I have a site at MySpace.
Thank you for this opportunity!