Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Today my special guest is erotic romance author Cecilia Tan. She contacted me about being interviewed and being a guest blogger here at TAMFA as well as having her current releases Mind Games & The Hot Streak reviewed as well. Today you will be enjoying an interview between me and Cecilia Tan that I had fun reading as well giving it. Thursday, June 11 Cecilia Tan will be guest blogging about how she came to write her current releases Mind Games & The Hot Streak. Also be on the look out for my reviews of both her books, her current releases Mind Games & The Hot Streak, here on my blog.
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Phoebe Jordan: When did you know that writing erotic romance was going to be the thing that you would do with your life? Which author inspired you to start writing romance? Cecilia Tan: I knew erotica was going to be a major part of what I wrote when I had first graduated college. Up until then, I had thought I would be a science fiction/fantasy writer, but when I finally got out of school and started working my first day job, I thought "okay, now you have to start your writing career, too." So I started writing stories at night. I sat down at the computer every night for several weeks and I wrote five stories in five weeks. The only one that was worth anything was the one really erotic one, which I called "Telepaths Don't Need Safe words." It mixed together science fiction and erotica, and was also really different from the rest of the erotica out there. I didn't know this at the time, but the vast majority of erotic fiction out there is based on "the encounter." In other words, two people meet, then they have sex. It's nearly always the first time they meet, and even when it isn't, it's usually the first time they have sex. Whereas I started out with two characters who already knew each other and were well into an epic lifelong romance when the story took place! So that was in 1991. I've been writing stuff that goes against people's expectations and mixes together sci-fi, fantasy, erotica, love stories, and anything else I feel like ever since. Honestly, I didn't think I would end up writing romance. I won't name names, but I tried to read a romance novel while I was in college and it was plainly awful. The writer's idea of a description was to write "he was good-looking." The characters didn't make sense and the dialogue made me cringe to read it. It was a bestselling novelist, too, but maybe she had gotten lazy by her 20th book or whatever it was? I don't know what the story was behind it, but I was turned off the genre for almost 20 years as a result. My career moved more toward science fiction and fantasy, and I was making friends with a lot of sf/fantasy writers. And several of them had started writing romances under pseudonyms. They were all like "oh, you should try it again! It's so much fun. Romances are so much better now than they used to be!" But I was busy and I always have a million books I want to read, so I didn't really try reading a romance again until I had read some of the sf/fantasy writers who people told me were popular with romance readers, too. Like Catherine Asaro and Anne Bishop and Laurell K. Hamilton. Because of that bad first experience, I was really leery, but reading and enjoying the books by these women showed me there were other styles of romance and that good writing was more the norm! Phoebe: Did you know what type of erotic romance you wanted to write about or did you experiment with different genres before you chose the one that you felt was for you? Cecilia: I always knew I was more interested in the paranormal romances. I just love fantasy and magic. But when the idea to write one with a baseball theme came along, I didn't hesitate to write a "real world" romance, too! Phoebe: What was the first fiction you ever wrote? And do you still have it with you? Cecilia: I have tons and tons of old notebooks from when I was eleven, twelve years old. Some might be older than that. I wrote a lot of attempts at fantasy epics like the Lord of the Rings, and space opera like Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica (the OLD series of Battlestar Galactica). And erotica, too. When I was a teenager I wrote stories pairing my friends with their favorite celebrities! So I guess it's not a big surprise what I ended up writing! Phoebe: How much research do you have to do for your novels and does it take you a long time to gather that research? Cecilia: So far I have always stuck with milieus I am already familiar with. I've been setting my books in towns and cities I know fairly well, and when it comes to things like major league baseball, that's a world I know very well, too, from my nonfiction writing work. (I've written and edited several baseball history books.) What's funny is the romance novel I'm working on right now is set at Harvard University, which is not even a mile from my house, and I'm spending probably an hour a day researching things like the names of buildings and university history and such! The book I'm writing right now is called MAGIC UNIVERSITY, and the concept is sort of like the Harry Potter books, except college. And with a decent love story! Phoebe: How did you come up with the concept for your novel Mind Games? Cecilia: I had this image in my mind of the two characters, the detective and the telepathic woman, just spring into my mind about ten years ago. I tried to write a short story with them, but I didn't get beyond writing a kind of moody fragment. So I put them on the shelf in the back of my head for a while (ten whole years!) figuring when the time was write, I'd take those dolls down and play with them again. I was having dinner with the editor for Ravenous Romance one night and she asked me if there was anything in paranormal romance I wanted to explore, and I burst out with, "what about this?" And described to her the idea I had for the characters and how they connect. She was like, go for it! So I went home and out poured a whole plot synopsis, which Ravenous Romance bought right away. I was so happy to finally have a home for Wren and Derek! Phoebe: How did you come up with the concept for your novel The Hot Streak? Cecilia: What's funny is THE HOT STREAK originally grew from another project entirely, a non-fiction book, where I was going to help the wife of a major league player write her autobiography. Since I write about baseball, but I'm a female writer also, she wanted someone who knew both about the baseball business and who could portray a woman's point of view. In the end, publishers weren't interested in the book, though, except for a romance publisher, who wanted to know if it could be done highly fictionalized as if it were a romance novel, but the "real names have been changed." But then they decided they weren't interested in that either. Meanwhile, though, I had a meeting with the editor there, and she suggested maybe I should start from scratch with a baseball-themed romance that wasn't related to this real story at all. So I started plotting out my dream romance between a baseball star and a twenty-something working woman... Ultimately that publisher decided baseball just wasn't their thing, so lucky for me Ravenous Romance grabbed it immediately! Phoebe: How do you come up with each of your characters for your novels? How do you choose their names out of so many names out there? Cecilia: Sometimes a name just comes to me the moment I think of a character, but other times I only have their first name or a nickname. I sometimes page through the phone book. There are also lots and lots of sites on the Internet where you can look up the meanings of names, which is really useful! Baby names sites and family genealogy and so on. I try to pick names that sound nice to say out loud, that have a nice look on the page, and that have a meaning or association with the character that seems fitting. Wren in Mind Games is kind of a fragile character, so a bird name worked well for her, while Casey, the heroine in The Hot Streak, is kind of a tough cookie, so even though she's a very feminine character, I wanted a gender-neutral name for her, plus the fact that "Casey" is a name that comes up in old time baseball history a lot. Phoebe: Do you have a favorite character that you really enjoyed writing about in your novel Mind Games. Did you have a character that you felt you could really relate to in your novel Mind Games? Cecilia: In Mind Games I was in love with both of the main characters, Wren and Derek. Wren is like me at my most introverted and scared of the world, while Derek is me at my most bold, but very nurturing. So putting the two of them together was really fun! Phoebe: Do you have a favorite character that you really enjoyed writing about in your novel The Hot Streak? Did you have a character that you felt you could really relate to in your novel The Hot Streak? Cecilia: Casey was very much like me when I had first started working my day job in publishing back in the 1990s, and I was starting to think, what's next? I got good grades, so i could go to a good college, so I could get a good job... now what? Of course my family was starting to ask when I was going to "settle down." The next step was supposed to be get married, have kids, right? But I knew I didn't want to do that. I knew if I had kids it would derail my writing career. The kind of emotional commitment I would give my kids, and which I think all kids deserve, would preclude the kind of involvement necessary to write fiction for me. So I got off of that "track" pretty quickly. But Casey doesn't, or not for the same reason. She just keeps meeting boring guys who want to add her to their To Do list. Well, until she meets Tyler, of course. Phoebe: Do you have a process of how you start to write your novels? Cecilia: I have to start with a character. I can have all kinds of plot ideas, but if I don't have the feel for who the story is about, it'll never go anywhere. Ultimately regardless of what happens to them in the exterior plot (do they get kidnapped? get married? get the flu? get a dog?) it is what happens to the character inside that is the real story. How do they change? Do they learn and grow as a result of the joys and pains they suffer in the story? Phoebe: Which do you like best, writing a series or writing stand alone novels? How is writing each different for you? Cecilia: I'm writing a four book series right now and it's really fun, but really different. For one thing, there are so many more characters to introduce because I'm setting up the plots that are going to run through four books, not just one. In Mind Games there are really only four characters, our main couple, her best friend, and a villain, but you don't even meet him until late in the book. In The Hot Streak we have our heroine, the ballplayer, her best friend, all the rest are people with cameo parts like her parents, her boss, etc. But in the Magic University books we have our hero, his love interest, her roommate, his rival, his rival's boyfriend, his best friend, other students, professors and deans, it's a huge cast but it just wouldn't be realistic to have it set at a college and just focus on three or four people. Plus there is a mystery plot going on there, too, so there has to be a culprit and also suspects who are believable. Phoebe: What process did you have to go through to get your first book published and did it take you long? Cecilia: Way back when I wrote "Telepaths Don't Need Safe words" there were no publishers of any kind who would publish a story that mixed together sci-fi with erotica like that. Paranormal romance hadn't really take off yet, the sf/fantasy genres were very, very sexless and loveless, and the erotic and porno publishers were scared off by both the science fiction and the love story! I ended up self-publishing the book myself by starting a company called Circlet Press. I was still working my day job in publishing at the time, but I decided to leave off working and go to grad school and get a masters in writing. Meanwhile I had tried writing some other stories and sending them around. On my very last day of work, my very wonderful boyfriend (who I am still with 17 years later!) took me out to dinner. When we got back to the apartment, there in my mailbox was my first acceptance letter! I had sold a short story to HEROTICA, which was an anthology of erotic stories by women, for women. It felt like a sign from Fate that I was doing the right thing. Phoebe: Do you ever get writers block? What do you do to get rid of it so you can get back to writing your novels? Cecilia: I have gotten writers block, but never on a novel yet. There are times in the novels where it's hard, where it feels like the plot doesn't want to move or the characters just aren't gelling the way you want. I just force myself to go through and tell myself "it's okay if it sucks. Just get it out and you can go back and fix it later." What you learn eventually is that it's never as bad as you think at the time. I think most writers go through an "I suck" phase in every project, and you just have to trust that after doing it as long as I have, that it's not reality. Just because I feel that way, doesn't make it true! And inevitably when I go back and look at what I was working on later, I'm surprised at how good it is. Phoebe: What is your biggest reader pet peeve, if you have any? (stock characters, unresolved endings, predictability, everything wrapped up hurriedly in the end, etc.) Cecilia: The thing that probably bugs me the most is when writers actually close the door on their sex scenes or short-change them by just giving a quick summary. It's like they spend all the time building up a believable get-together between two characters...and then they cheat you out of seeing what happens. It annoys me for two reasons. One is it feels to me like it panders to conservative and sex-negative attitudes that I don't agree with, and two, it makes the assumption that once they start having sex the plot stops and characterization stops. As if once the sex starts, it's all Tab A-Slot B and therefore not interesting or relevant to the story. That's not the way it is in real life. People do talk during sex, they have revelations, they learn about each other, and the reader misses a huge chance to learn about the characters themselves! You wouldn't spend pages and pages building up a sword duel between two characters and then not describe what actually happens, would you? Would you say, oh, but it's just fighting, all I need to tell you is who won in the end, that's good enough, right? No, it's really not. Skipping the sex scene means skipping crucial aspects of characterization. I'll throw a book across the room that does that. Phoebe: Which aspects of writing do you enjoy the most and why? And what is your biggest writing pet peeve? (overuse of exclamation points, adverbs, bad guys named Wayne, etc.), if you have any? The Hot Streak by Cecilia TanCecilia: I really enjoy discovering what my characters are going to do. Sometimes I think I know, and then they go and do something other than what I planned, but usually once I look at how it went, I see how the way it turned out made much more sense than what I had predicted. Writing a book is as much fun as reading one a lot of the time because of that sense of discovery and finding out what happens. I always write a plot outline, but usually the second half deviates from the plan, and it always comes out even better. In my own writing, my biggest pet peeve are I can never get right the difference between "that" and "which" and between using "as if" versus "like." It's like I learned them backwards as a kid and have never been able to reverse it. Phoebe: What is the one writing tool can you not live without? Cecilia: Oh, my word processor, for sure. Without the computer and being able to type on the screen, I'd write a third of what I do, or less. Phoebe: How do you handle your writing schedule and your personal life without going insane? Cecilia: It's always a struggle. I do not know a single writer in any genre who has "enough time to write." It helps that I have the experience to know how fast I usually write, and also how fast I can write when really pushed, so I can plan ahead. It means training myself to think about writing like a job, though, and blocking out time to do it. It also means training everyone in your life that thy have to respect your work time. Just because I work at home doesn't mean it's OK to interrupt me every 20 minutes or that I can just run off to a museum or shopping any old time. I am "at the office" just like anyone else, except my office is only five feet from my bedroom. Phoebe: What do you do to relax after having spent a long while writing? Do you have any hobbies? Cecilia: When I want to refill my brain with new ideas and not write, I like to travel. Going places that force you to experience new things, whether new countries or just cities we haven't been to... or even going back to favorite cities again. I am also a big foodie. Going out to a fancy meal and engaging my senses completely in the taste and scent and appreciation of a fine restaurant and gourmet food really uses parts of your brain that just writing about food doesn't. I also am a second degree black belt in tae kwon do. Martial arts are another great thing for getting you "out of your head." Phoebe: Is there any advice that you would give to an aspiring romance writer that you wish someone had given you? Cecilia: Actually, I was lucky that I've always gotten really good advice from people, all throughout my career! My advice to someone new, though, would be find that one thing that really lights you on fire and keep writing that. Don't let people's judgments about what you "should" write get in your way. If it's a genre, if it's a type of character, if it's a type of story, it it really keeps you up at night to write it, if you'll skip meals to work on it, then that's something to grab onto and cherish. Phoebe: Is there any writing tips, research tips, promotion and marketing tips that you would give to an aspiring romance writer that you wish someone had given you? Cecilia: Always keep making friends. Writing can be really solitary and lonely. Make connections with other writers, through the Internet, through conventions, through writers conferences, through local writing groups, the National Writers Union, etc. These are the people who not only will help you find writing gigs (and whom you'll help in return), but they are the ones who will help get you through those times when everything seems to be going wrong. This is also why it's not a good idea to burn bridges. It's a very small world out there, and you'd be surprised at how closely connected you might be with people and not realize it. Be nice, be honest, and conduct yourself with loyalty and integrity. Phoebe: Do you have a favorite genre you like to read? Who is your favorite author(s)? Cecilia: I still love fantasy and science fiction, but I have so little time to read now that I am writing full time! My latest favorite author is Naomi Novik. She writes these historical fantasy novels that are a lot like the sea stories of Patrick O'Brian. Age of sail, Horation Hornblower sort of era, but her twist is that in her world they also have dragons. They are wonderful and fascinating books, and the characters are just incredible. The first book in the series is called HIS MAJESTY'S DRAGON and is just brilliant. I really liked Anne Bishop's SEBASTIAN, which was a romance and a fantasy both. And I just read a young-adult fantasy romance that blew my socks off, TITHE by Holly Black. It was everything I want from a romance and from a fantasy book in one package, and I didn't feel like I was reading a "book for kids" at all. Phoebe: What are you reading now? And what do you plan to read after that? Cecilia: Well, I'm desperately waiting for Book Six in the Naomi Novik dragon series. And I just saw online that Holly Black has more YA fantasy books out, so I am probably going to try to grab those as soon as I can. I also read a lot of nonfiction, though, to clear my head. I'm just finishing reading a book of essays, BEST FOOD WRITING 2007, and when I'm done with that I'm going to start on a book I just picked up which is the history of the pencil. Not kidding, it's called The Pencil, by Henry Petroski, and it's a history of the human engineering and sociological forces that developed the simple pencil and what an important role it has played in civilization. I'm sure that something I learn in there will work its way into one of my romances. I just can't predict how...

3 comments:

  1. Telepaths don't need safe words, I suppose lol. Great interview, Cecilia! I love how you started by sitting and writing 5 stories in 5 weeks. And you never know what you can mine from those stories today.

    ReplyDelete
  2. @Isabel, so true! What's funny is that the other four stories that kind of fell flat? I've since rewritten two of them to have an erotic component and bam, sold them right away! I think maybe the erotic side of my writing was just really fighting to get out, and once I quit suppressing it was when things took off!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Cecilia, I love your taste and style in literature, and I feel absolutely terrible that I have yet not been able to bring your works to the top of my to-read list. I'm big on mixed-genre erotic romance, myself, much of the straighter romance falling flat in my book. Great interview!

    ReplyDelete

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Phoebe Jordan
I'm a part-time aspiring romance novelist, book reviewer and blogger. I've always wanted to travel the world and learn everything I can about other countries. Learning the Italian language is one way of trying to make that dream come true. Traveling will help me with my writing because I'll be learning about the history of the U.S., Latin America, England, Italy, and Ireland, the countries I find so fascinating while reading the romance genre.
 
I read and review romance novels of almost every subgenre along with erotic romance, mystery, sci-fi/fantasy and young adult novels. You can find the reviews at my blogs, Talk About My Favorite Authors and Phoebe Jordan's Reviews. I’ve also started a live podcast show called TAMFA | Phoebe Jordan hosted on Blog Talk Radio. This show is dedicated to everything I love about romance and young adult novels. I love having romance and young adult authors live on my show to be interviewed and showcase their books.

I plan to write contemporary romance, romantic suspense, erotic romance, paranormal romance and young adult when I get my writing career started with help from Keta. I'm not sure what genre I'll write to begin with since I love to read so many different romance genres.
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