Welcome to the twenty-seventh of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with erotica writer Tess Harding. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here.
Morgen: Hi Tess. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Tess: I have lived in the UK since a very young age when my father’s work took him to Wales. I wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. One of my first memories is sitting in our garden – I must have been around eight or nine – writing a story on a tiny school desk my father had found somewhere. I wrote continually all through school and in college, at that time almost exclusively science fiction and fantasy. I submitted short stories to fanzines until they gave in and accepted some. Then I moved on to magazines – all the usual US science fiction ones such as Fantasy & Science Fiction, Analog, Galaxy until they finally buckled too.
Morgen: I like that.
Tess: Alongside I was writing novels and submitting them to agents. I eventually wore one of those down and was taken on, and my first book was published in 1975. Over the next few years several others were published, but the money was terrible and in 1980 I was in a long-term relationship, thinking about kids, and I needed to eat so got a serious job and the writing was set aside. Over the last couple of years I decided if I did not return to writing I never would, so I set time aside, started to write and found (I hope) I can still do it.
Morgen: What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Tess: I currently write Erotic Romance (with the emphasis on the erotic). However, in the past I have written science fiction and fantasy books, and in my real life I am working on a psychic crime thriller. I get ideas for work in other genres all the time, but am trying to maintain some consistency under my author name at the moment to avoid confusing – and often disappointing – readers.
Morgen: Absolutely. Anyone picking up, say, a Martina Cole novel would want to expect her style of writing; I saw a TV programme a while back where they interviewed some women who took the day off whenever there was a new Martina book coming out then meet in the evening to discuss it. That’s dedication (and what we strive for, I like to think). What have you had published to-date? How much of the marketing do you do?
Tess: Under my JT Harding name I currently have three works published, two Novellas: Georgia’s English Rose, a love story between two women in WWII England, and June Bug, a love story between two young people in Maine, and a full length novel The Beach House, a story of an abused wife and a young couple who take her in. I have a fourth (Cherri Red) planned for September. I’m still working on my marketing. At the moment it consists of a website, Facebook page and Twitter. I’m on LinkedIn and try to make comments on a regular basis, as well as posting non-spam entries to Amazon groups. I would love to get some of my work reviewed but am struggling with finding a suitable place for this.
Morgen: Maybe someone reading this will offer. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Tess: I used to have an agent a long time ago. It was a long-distance relationship, although we did meet once which was a rather surreal experience. He wanted me to move to London because in his opinion “real writers” lived in London. I didn’t move.
Morgen: I went to a creative arts networking event today and was chatting to a young lady in the film industry who said that really she should live in London but won’t move either. She does a lot of work from home so I think that helps.
Tess: I didn’t get to be a real writer. When I started writing again I made a conscious decision to go the self-published route. I know I can get published, I’ve already done it. Now I want to produce work myself and take the majority of the rewards, without waiting a year for a book to appear and having no control over cover or layout.
Morgen: Yes, that appeals to me too. Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Tess: All three current titles are available as eBooks, and yes, I read eBooks all the time. I bought a Kindle a year ago, and since then have only read a couple of print books. I read almost exclusively on the Kindle now, and don’t miss the smell or feel of paper at all (though I believe I may be unusual in that respect). I’m a bit of a control freak, but also my mainstream job involves IT, HTML, all the usual suspects, so I was not put off by the process of creating and formatting an eBook. I do all my own cover and interior design, editing (and it used to show, but I’m getting better), formatting and submitting. I believe many self-published authors have a block about ePublishing, thinking it to be far tougher than it actually is.
Morgen: You sound so much like me. What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Tess: As I said in the introduction, I was 24 years old (yes – I really am that old!). And was it a thrill? Of course it was. One of the most thrilling things that has ever happened to me. Not quite up there with being a parent, but close. Whether it would still be a thrill I’m not so sure. I have grown more cynical about the publishing industry.
Morgen: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Tess: Doesn’t everyone? Rejections are tough. When you are young you take them personally… but as you mature you take them even more personally. I’ve had hundreds of rejections, some nice, some nasty. However, rejections tell you to write better, so that’s what I did. If you take rejections seriously rather than worry about them they will improve you as a writer.
Morgen: Here, here. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Tess: Several things. I’ve never been able to work on just one thing at a time. I’m currently finishing up a new book called Cherri Red with a hoped-for release date of September. I’m also editing a long book of existing linked stories published elsewhere called Ali’s Art which is a beast of a book at 150,000 words, all written but in need of some tender editorial care. In addition I’m plotting another three or four things, as well as working on the “real” book in between all this. Next planned is a non-erotic version of a story of mine called Samhain Cider that won a competition last year. It tells of a New England apple famer who meets and falls in love with a strange young woman. It’s going to be in the fantasy/paranormal genre.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Tess: I try to write every day but don’t always succeed. I use a program called Scrivener to write with, which lets me set daily targets – currently 2,000 words – so I can measure how I’m doing. I only work four days a week at the paying job now, so Friday is my writing day, and I try to put in some longer sessions over the weekend. I type fairly fast (over 50 words a minute) and can keep it up for a long time. When I was young I wrote an entire novel in just three days, submitted it and was published six months later.
Morgen: You’d be good at http://nanowrimo.org. What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Tess: I don’t believe in writer’s block, only hysterical writers (oops – I’m going to catch it for that!). I wrote full time for a number of years in my twenties, and I sat down at 9 in the morning, broke for lunch and wrote through to 5. If my muse was absent I sat and stared at the paper until she returned. Or I wrote anyway and waited for her to turn up. I’m a strong believer in writing as a craft, not as an art, and the more you write the easier it gets. In my IT career there is an acronym which is JDI – Just Do It (although more usually it’s expressed as JFDI). In other words: stop complaining, sit down and write.
Morgen: I’ve never thought of a muse having a gender before, but if a car can… Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Tess: Until recently I never plotted, just sat down and started and waited to see where the ride took me. I believe it showed. Now I plot extensively using a technique called the Snowflake Method, and use Scrivener which allows me to break each book or story down into individual scenes. I create a plot from start to finish, outline each scene in turn, run through it again to see if it makes sense and then start to write. It’s a great way of working, because if I find I’m stuck on a particular scene I move on to another because the entire story is laid out for me.
Morgen: Poet Chris Ringrose mentioned the Snowflake (or Snowdrop as he first referred to it as) this in a recent audio podcast episode (19/20) we did. I’d not heard of it before. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Tess: Nope – Everything can be recycled. I have dozens of things languishing on my hard drive, but one day they’ll become the fertilizer for something else. If not they’ll just become fertilizer.
Morgen: Very ecological. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Tess: My favourite is sitting down and writing, losing myself in an imagined world, living and observing my characters. Strangely, I also enjoy all the other, mundane aspects as well such as proofing, editing, design and formatting. Least favourite? Probably marketing – but these days it is definitely a necessary evil.
Morgen: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Tess: 1. Write, and then write more. Someone once said that to get expert at anything (playing the violin, the guitar, playing soccer, whatever (maybe not drums)), you need to do 10,000 hours of practice. The same goes for writing. This means that assuming you write 2 hours a day, 7 days a week it’s going to take just over 13 years to get good at it. I’ve done my time now, so hopefully it’s starting to show.
2. Don’t take rejection personally, but do learn from it.
3. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike – go looking for it, and if you can’t find it write anyway.
4. Read a lot of other writers, find what you like and try to match (not copy) it. When we start out we all write like the people we enjoy reading, only discovering our own voice after much practice.
Morgen: What do you like to read?
Tess: Anything and everything, and lots of it. I probably read two or three books a week, always have. When I started out I was very specific – science fiction and fantasy. As I got older I moved into crime and thrillers and now I’m finally starting to enjoy history and biography, but as my partner will tell you, if I’m eating breakfast and there’s nothing to read I’ll read the side of the cereal pack.
Morgen: Me too. I hate being bored (I’m not often given the chance) and will read anything that goes. Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Tess: I read a few blogs as regularly as I can. Joe Konrath and Amanda Hocking because they are the trend setters for self-publishers. Also a couple of writer-specific things like Publishers Lunch.
Morgen: Publishers Lunch is new to me too (http://lunch.publishersmarketplace.com).
Tess: As far as books go I tend to love reading about writing, so I’ve been through pretty much the whole range from Stephen King (great easy read) to Strunk & White to Writing for Dummies to the Elements of Fiction series. I’m never satisfied with my craft and always trying to improve.
Morgen: In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Tess: I’m based in the UK and have been almost my entire life. Strangely, most of my work is set in the US, but I’m being persuaded to try locations closer to home. We’ll see. As far as hindrance goes, I live among the electrons (William Gibson, Neuromancer – great book) and don’t find national boundaries a problem – in fact I generally choose to ignore them, travelling at will whenever and wherever I want, either virtually or in reality. One great thing about Europe these days is I can hop on a plane and choose to be in any one of a dozen countries and I don’t need a visa and they all use the same money (apart from Britain). The only hindrance at the moment is that Amazon won’t pay my book earnings into my bank account unless I open a new dollar account with an American Bank (which I’m currently doing).
Morgen: Ooh, that’s something to think about. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Tess: I’m on LinkedIn and Goodreads and find them invaluable, both for the information provided, the networking opportunities and the chance to meet like-minded individuals.
Morgen: Where can we find out about you and your work?
Tess: If you’re brave enough you can visit my website at http://www.jt-harding.com – although I write “adult” material, I try to keep the site approachable with nothing that’s likely to put people off.
Morgen: Thanks for the warning. Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Tess: I explained how I chose to self-publish, and I have fairly strong views on this choice. However, at the moment the self-pub market is a minefield. There are people out there – and I was caught out this way – who search websites for stories and publish them in the hope of making a quick buck. In addition, because self-publishing is so easy many people rush into it without spending sufficient time on editing and proofing. However, I have also read books by well-known authors from mainstream publishers that were less well proofread than indie books. Currently the fiction market is like the Klondike during the gold rush, but I think (I hope) it will change. I believe there is a middle ground between big, traditional publishers and small indie self-publishers, where perhaps books can be submitted for a small cost to be stamped as “professional quality”. This would not entail a process such as publisher acceptance, but an acknowledgment that they were of an acceptable standard – layout, proofing, editing. I would like to think this stamp of approval could stratify the market into mainstream, middle ground and indie. At the moment readers have to tread really carefully and often get their fingers burned with poor quality material. But the major publishing houses often seem interested only in “name” writers and it’s hard for anyone else to get a look in. They also concentrate on what they know will sell. This is the way of the world – big business sells what sells, but this attitude cuts out the new and the different.
Morgen: On that cheery note… no, I agree, it’s a new market and like anything it’s got to learn and adapt. Thank you, Tess, very much for taking part and being so thorough, and I wish you well with all your future projects.
UPDATE MARCH 2012: you can read this interview in Italian at http://librini.wordpress.com.
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