Our Pages

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Guest Interviewer: Mary Chen

Recently on Facebook, I noticed avid reader and book reviewer Mary Chen was engaged in a conversation with several authors after she asked the question “are you a plotter or more spontaneous when it comes to writing?” She had some great questions, so I asked her if she would be our Lady Scribes’ guest interviewer today, and she graciously agreed. Welcome, Mary!

Mary: It’s such and honor to be on Lady Scribes.

Samantha Grace: We are so happy to have you join us today. Let’s dive in, shall we? 

Mary: What are your favorite/least favorite tropes?

Jennifer Lohmann: I love bad boy stories and books where the hero is tortured in some way (I love The Outsider by Penelope Williamson). I've never written one of those though. I don't generally read baby books (surprise, secret, or otherwise) and my January title is a surprise baby/marriage-of-convenience, so go figure :-)

Andris Bear: Enemies to lovers. I love the all the festering acrimony that bubbles up between the hero and heroine. It makes for the most delicious chemistry. And violence. We all know how I love fisticuffs. 

Samantha Grace: I love the younger sister/brother’s best friend trope. I also love arranged marriages that turn into love. I think a talented author can pull off just about any trope, but the one that I think is a little too unbelievable is the virgin widow in Regency. The whole point of marriage was to produce an heir, so there better be a valid reason the marriage wasn’t consummated, or I’m not buying into it. (I know, I’m a tough audience! LOL) 

Mary: Which of you are plotters and which are more spontaneous when it comes to writing?

Judi Fennell: As I think long-term about writing a series with a lot of books, I find that I have to plan more than I used to. (Notice I said "plan" not "plot.") I have to make sure I introduce characters that will show up in future books and think of events that they can all attend as part of the world building. And then there's the proposals for more books in the series. A proposal is (for me) a five-page synopsis and three chapters of a book, so when you're selling a four-book proposal, you do have to plot a little more. But I try not to make hard and fast things in the synopses in case the story decides to go left when I'm planning for it to go to the right. That's the joy of writing--that I get to learn the story instead of dictating it.

Terry Spear: I'm a pantser, seat of the pants writer. I plot only what the characters' main goals are and what motivates them, first meeting, and the rest is an unknown. I could never outline a paper first before turning it in. I'm the same way with writing fiction stories. I couldn't outline a story for anything.

Ava Stone: I am most definitely a "pantser". I often will have an idea of how my book will end, I am just never sure of the path I will take to get there. I think because I'm very character-driven that path is often dictated by the characters once I start writing. 

Jennifer Lohmann: I fall somewhere in between, I think. Maybe like a chess board, I can't see the entire game (the characters will change it on me), but I can see several moves ahead. So I write about three chapters, plot out what I know about the book, write another three or so chapters, fill in details, write ... I usually know the ending of the story, so as I'm fleshing out the plot, I know where I'm going.

Deb Marlowe: I actually did a workshop on this topic at RWA with Sabrina Jeffries (hardcore plotter) and Claudia Dain (utter pantser)  I fell in the middle and was labeled the Plotser.  I have to have certain turning points in the story worked out...something to aim for.  But I have to have freedom to write myself there.  It's a weird process, I know, but it works for me!

Mary: Do your publishers set an absolute deadline for when the book must be completed?

Terry Spear: Yes! They don't like to have to reschedule because it throws off the release date, but if there's extenuating circumstances, they'll try to work it out.

Jennifer Lohmann: Yes, and no. I have an absolute deadline to meet and both Harlequin and I expect me to meet it. However, I recently had some rough issues in my personal life and my editor was happy to renegotiate the deadline with me. There should be courtesy on both sides.

Samantha Grace: I’ve found there is usually some wiggle room when needed, but the most extra time I’ve ever asked for is two weeks. I’m a fairly decent judge of how long it will take me to write a certain amount of words, so if I know I’m not going to meet the deadline, I let my editor know early. Open communication is the most important thing.

Mary: Do you have the freedom of coming up with your own titles?

Judi Fennell: I always have a title. Whether or not it sticks is something else. Out of my ten traditionally published books, I've been able to keep six of my original titles, three of my second choice, and one the publisher suggested. But they've always asked for my input.

Sara Humphreys: My publisher asks me to submit a list of ideas for titles for each book in the series but more often than not, they don't get used. If I really hate what they've selected, I'll voice my concerns but I usually like what my publisher chooses. 

Ava Stone: I didn't when I was NY published, which drove me crazy. I was given some AWFUL titles and had little to no recourse. It was like a knife in my chest. So now that I'm indie pubbing, and I can do all of the choosing myself, I am much happier. 

Jennifer Lohmann: I submit a list of suggested titles to Harlequin. Out of my four books (including the ones scheduled for January and June of 2014), two of them have titles from my suggestions. The other two don't. In both the not cases, the titles Harlequin came up with are better than any I had.

Samantha Grace: I submit ideas to my editor, and so far I’ve titled all but one book. Lady Vivian Defies a Duke was my publisher’s suggestion.

Mary: How do your families cope with your writing needs (or idiosyncrasies)?

Judi Fennell: My kids have the pizza delivery number programmed into their phones. And though the pizza place decided not to take checks from anyone, we're such good clients, they'll take my check. Both a blessing and a curse...

Andris Bear: They cope, but not happily. I’m a short-tempered, fire-breathing sociopath (also known as a redhead. Or a dragon) when my writing is interrupted. Mass carnage ensues.

Samantha Grace: I’m lucky because my family is so adaptable and easy-going. It makes my life easier in every sense. But then again, I’m pretty adaptable and easy-going too. My daughter is very social and needs interaction with others, so when I need to write, I tell her to invite over a friend. Then I put in my ear buds and listen to instrumental music to block out the noise. My husband really is my best supporter and totally cool about things. He hired a regular cleaning service for my birthday last year. He never complains if we go out to eat or get take-out. And he’ll take our daughter and one of her friends to the YMCA on the weekend so I get uninterrupted writing time.

Mary: One author I talked to said she only has time to write at night, when her family's gone to sleep. Is that true for any of you ladies?

Sara Humphreys: It was when I was still at my day job because that was the only time I had.  I transitioned to writing full-time about a year and a half ago, so now I write all day while they're at school. Unless I'm on deadline...then all bets are off.

Judi Fennell: I write whenever I can. Weekends are a great writing time. It helps that my kids are a bit older--they don't want to hang with Mom. LOL

Deb Marlowe: Absolutely not! I have to write during the day. It's when my brain is engaged, my energy level is up and I'm most productive.  Evening and night are my family and veg time--when I recharge so I can start again in the morning.

Christi Caldwell: For the longest while, the only time I had to write was at night when my son went to bed at 630 until about 1030 during the work week. Then my husband would allow me to write on the weekends and he would be a full time hero, umm, I mean, full time daddy for a stretch of time so I could write. 

Mary: How do authors deal with distractions from social media and/or family needs for attention? 

Terry Spear: I take mini-breaks from my writing to check emails, etc. I take care of my emails, blog posts, FB first thing and then start to write on the current work in progress. When my kids lived at home still, my daughter would tell me something, and she'd say, "Mom, you're not listening to me. You're thinking about your story." Lol. But then again, if I talked to her while she was reading a book, it was the same thing. She won't let me work on my stories when I visit her. Which makes for a nice break for me too.

Ava Stone: Social media is necessary evil. You have to post on Facebook and send out Tweets for promo and to be accessible to readers, etc. But doing so makes it difficult - for me - to be working on my next book. It interrupts my chain of thought, if that makes any sense.

Christi Caldwell: Poorly! LOL No, joking aside...that has been the hardest balance for me to strike. Authors need social media and yet, it can have a tendency to eat into your writing time...if you let it. It's a matter of self-control, which of course sounds so cliche. For me, the hardest thing is balancing out my family
who I adore beyond measure with writing. My son has special needs, which adds a whole other dimension to the balancing act; it includes therapies, specialist/doctor appointments. The secret to that balancing act, for me, is an amazing husband.

Andris Bear: Refer to the previous answer.

Samantha Grace: Every weekday morning, I spend about fifteen-twenty minutes promoting Lady Scribes and seeing what other people have posted overnight. Then if I think of something funny or possibly interesting during the day, I’ll pop over to Facebook to post a status update. Then in the evenings it’s just fun time on social media. It’s a chance for me to chat, kind of like a really late lunch break with friends. Otherwise, I try to stay off social media so I can focus on writing when it’s one of my writing days.

Mary: How important is the cover?

Terry Spear: Very. A cover can give a hint to the reader what the book might be about. Think of a medieval romance set in Asia, and it has an Asian elephant on the cover--to show that it's set in Asia. Readers wouldn't automatically get that the story was a medieval romance. Put a couple on the book in medieval costume with an Asian backdrop, and they're looking at each other adoringly, and you don't even have to have a title. You already can guess what the book is about.

Sara Humphreys: Extremely important! The cover is what will grab a new reader and that's what we all want....discoverability. Word of mouth is at the top of the list--readers telling other readers--but after that it's the cover.

Ava Stone: One of THE most important things in the world. Even though there aren't pictures inside, we are still visual beasts and a pretty cover still captures our interest more than anything else.

Deb Marlowe: Extremely important! First impressions are key and so is the chance to tempt the reader to pick up  the book or click on it to give it a try. Creating good cover art is a skill, one that writers depend on!

Christi Caldwell: This I'll answer as a life-long reader of romance. For me, the cover has always been important. It's a kind of glimpse into the story; it can (if done correctly) be tantalizing. A lure, that draws you into another world.

Andris Bear: I might be biased because I adore covers and playing around with them, but I think they’re one of the most important aspects of a book, second only to craft.
Thanks again for everything, Mary! Now let’s ask readers a question: What is your favorite/least favorite trope? 


  1. Thanks for interviewing us, Mary!

    My favorite trope at the moment is a pretend marriage--because I'm writing one! :-)

  2. Hi, Mary!
    Thanks so much for being our guest today. I'm looking forward to what others have to say. :)

    Feel free to ask the ladies your own questions too!

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. I honestly don't have a favorite trope, but as a cover designer I would like to think that next to the actual story they are most important aspect on a book. The cover is the first thing a book buyer is going to see. If a cover is not done well typically the book suffers in sales, unless it is a known author or a book with a lot of buzz.

    1. I can provide testimony to how important a cover is at gaining attention. I know some people bought my second book just because Paul Marron was on the cover. LOL

  5. These were such fun insights into your writing worlds! Thanks for sharing!
    (And I also love Penelope Williamson-I just started re-reading some of her stories. SO good!!)
    Tweeted and shared

    1. Nancy,
      What would you say you are? Are you a plotter, pantser, or in between? Spell check kept wanting to say panther. :D

    2. Me, I'ma pantser, but lately I've taken to plotting a scene ahead in my mind. Of course if I've tortured my characters, they will torture me back and go in a totally different direction than what I planned!

  6. The interview is simple awesome. :)

    I honestly don't know the exact meaning of "trope" (discovered it for the first time today) but I guess I love reading about friends turned to lovers/forbidden romance/betrayal.

    1. Those are all awesome tropes! It's a funny word, isn't it? I'd never heard the word until I started writing romance. I had to look up what a trope was the first time I heard it. :)

  7. I like the brother's best friend or friends to lovers trope. Not thrilled with the secret baby or pregnancy, although it does work in some books (Carolyn Brown did it in a couple of books that were really good!)

    1. Sharlene,
      I love both of those tropes! I just have to be careful and branch out a little so I don't write the same book all the time. :)

  8. Thanks for being here, Mary!! I loved reading everyone's answers!

    My favorite trope is probably brother's best friend/neighbor...when they've known each other most of their lives and finally discover they're in love with one another. I also love a good love triangle. I've written a couple, and they were very fun and interesting to write, especially since I'm a pantser and had NO IDEA who the heroine would end up with! :)

    1. Ooh! I forgot about the love triangle, which is funny since I recently wrote one. Doh. But your two favorites are at the top of my list too, along with the marriage of convenience. :)

  9. Thanks for letting me participate in this! Ladies, your answers were fantastic :)

    My favorite tropes are disguise themed (lady masquerading as a maid, female as male), class differences, and friends-to-lovers.

    1. Mary,
      We are so happy to have you with us today! I love the mistaken identity stories too. :)

  10. Thanks for joining us today, Mary! The interview questions were fun! I love reading what everyone had to say!

  11. I love the enemies to lovers, it adds so much angst and usually a lot of sexual attention which I love.

    1. I agree, Steph. The sexual tension can be off the charts with enemies to lovers stories. :)

  12. I would say a marriage of convenience is definitely my favorite. When I look for a new book to read and see that mentioned, BANG, it grabs my attention and I’m checking the book out closely!

    1. That's cool, Connie. I was trying to think if I had any auto-buys when it comes to romantic tropes, and I can't think of anything. But I do like a good marriage of convenience romance. :)

  13. This was a great interview! Sorry, I wasn't able to chime in. I'm frantically trying to make a deadline. The one question I will answer is the plotter, panster question. I seem to keep learning the same lesson over and over and turning around and trying to make myself different. I'm a panster. I want to be a plotter, because my basic nature is to be extremely organized, but in writing I am a panster. I need a skeletal plot, which I accept may even change. Hopefully, I have finally learned this lesson about myself and will forget trying to plot everything out before I sit down to write a novel. I have never, not once, ever stayed with my pre-written plot!

    1. LOL. Me either, Julie. But I think we approach our work the same way. We plan out a basic story and know the main elements. As far as scenes to get to the main elements, I have no idea what they're going to be even as I sit down to write it. :)