Welcome to the three hundred and seventieth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with romantic suspense novelist Denise Robbins. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Denise. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Denise: I’m a short blonde who loves to experience life and of course write about it. I came to be a writer when one day I was fed up with my day job and decided I needed to do something more, something creative. I always loved writing, so I picked up my laptop, sat down at the dining room table, and just began.
Morgen: I’m pretty much the same although my passion started in a college classroom in my late 30s, and I’m a tall blonde. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Denise: I write romantic suspense. Romantic suspense is what I love to read so it’s what I love to write.
Morgen: It does make sense to write what you read because you’re practicing your craft from the reader’s perspective. I say I write dark and light and I read crime and chick lit / humour. What have you had published to-date?
Morgen: I’m a big titles fan and especially love Killer Bunny Hill – I love titles that intrigue. If applicable, can you remember where you saw your first book on the shelves?
Denise: The first place I saw one of my books on a shelf was the Toadstool Bookshop. Toadstool is a small bookstore that promotes local authors.
Morgen: I don’t know what it’s like where you are but independent bookshops are closing far too often in the UK – we have none left where I live and even the two chain stores we have here are struggling. Have you ever seen a member of the public (whom you don’t know!) reading your book… in any unusual locations?
Denise: I’ve never caught anyone reading my books, but I did have a group of ladies send me their reading group photo while they were all out a local restaurant. That was terrific!
Morgen: How lovely, like a scene from The Jane Austen Book Club. I love hearing directly from readers. Of course it’s great getting (good ) reviews online but there’s nothing like a reader taking the trouble to email. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Denise: I do all of it. Small press publishers don’t really have a marketing department so it is up to the writer to get his or her name out there.
Morgen: They don’t but then top publishers are cutting down as well. I’ve only had one author so far say that they don’t do any of their marketing, that the publisher does it all, but she’s still active on Facebook and Twitter which I think are the main ways of capturing an audience. Do you write under a pseudonym? Do you think they make a difference to an author’s profile?
Denise: I don’t write under a pseudonym. I considered it, but I figured with the Internet being what it is, someone would find the real me anyway.
Morgen: Most people do write under their own names and I don’t think it really matters one way or the other. Ruth Rendell writes as Barbara Vine and Joanna Trollope as Caroline Harvey (to name two) but that’s because they’re writing different genres. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Denise: I do not have an agent. I don’t think they are vital, but I do believe they can open more doors for a writer.
Morgen: I agree. I do think they’re worth their money but now it’s become more difficult to get an agent than a publisher so some authors, myself included, have tried (although I’ve only approached half a dozen or so) so many are turning to eBooks. But never say never. I’m sure all authors want to see their books on real shelves. Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Denise: One of the things I looked for in a publisher was the ability to have my books published in print and ebook. I love ebooks! They are terrific because of the quick access to any number of books in the blink of an eye and also the ability to carry hundreds of books with you without the bulk.
Morgen: Only a handful of authors have said they’ve stopped reading paper books, or that they’d never read eBooks but most love both, as I do; paper for home, e-ink for away. What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Denise: My first acceptance came from my publisher, L&L Dreamspell. It is always a thrill to know that a publisher believed your blood, sweat, and tears are worth sharing with the reading world.
Morgen: They do know their market so they wouldn’t take an author on if they didn’t think they could sell their book, especially these days, and I do think eBooks / eReaders have got more people reading or people reading more. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Denise: Show me an author who hasn’t had a rejection. I’ve had plenty. Here’s my thought on rejections. “Oh, well. Next!”
Morgen: I can count the number of people (that I’ve spoken to) who haven’t on one hand but that’s because they’ve not written much or not submitted. Of course there are loads who have received… er, loads. You have the right attitude – it’s just the right thing for the wrong person. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Denise: I just started my seventh novel and I am already in love with my heroine, a female Delta Force operative. Wicked cool!
Morgen: For me the best bit about writing is creating the new characters and getting to know them. At the moment I’m writing a story a week for Tuesday Tales and a story a week for Story a Day May, and Eddie and Thelma have come up a couple of times and it’s great fun first of all meeting them but then getting to know them better. Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Denise: I don’t get to write every day, but I dedicate my Sunday mornings or more to writing. Oh, I have on occasion managed to write 10,000 words in a day. I tune the world out and focus. I usually do that when I get to the end of a book and want to get to that finish line.
Morgen: Wow. Even 300 words a day is a 100,000 word novel in a year but you could do two of those a month. I’ve done it a couple of times for NaNoWriMo especially last year where I got ahead the first day but then the blog took over (my first year of doing them both) and ended up writing 47,000 words in the last eight days. I’ll keep doing NaNo but not like that again. A 21-hour day isn’t what I call fun! What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Denise: I suffer from it on occasion. I deal with it by doing writing prompts. It’s the beginning of a sentence and then I let my mind go and see what comes. Guaranteed to work for me is a long drive to clear the cobwebs from my mind.
Morgen: I love writing from prompts. I run my fortnightly writing workshops from prompts (which I then put on the Exercises page). I mentioned Story A Day May which obviously ends in a couple of weeks but I love writing a story a day so I’ve created 5PM Fiction so I can carry on (and I’ve invited people to give me prompts!). A question some authors dread: where do you get your inspiration from?
Denise: Life! I like to use what I know and what I am interested in to weave a tale of romance and suspense.
Morgen: There’s so much around with the internet and newspapers that I think if we know where to look we couldn’t run out. Just typing in ‘bizarre facts’ into Google brings up 34 million results. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Denise: I’m a pantser. I let the story take me wherever it wants to go.
Morgen: Me too, I love that. I loosely plotted my first novel and it was the first thing I’d written over 3,000 words and was amazed at how the characters too over and it veered off track. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Denise: I sit down with paper and pen and just start asking questions. It’s amazing how the characters actually answer back.
Morgen: I love what we do. Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Denise: My father is my first-round editor. The minute I finish a chapter I send it off to him.
Morgen: Hopefully he’s firm but fair. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Denise: I edit each chapter after my father has read it and then I don’t do any other editing until the book is complete.
Morgen: Good plan because it must change, mustn’t it. How much research do you have to do for your writing?
Denise: Depending on the story I can spend as much time doing research as I do writing.
Morgen: I’m not a fan of research (although the internet has made it far easier) so I’m tempted to say “oh dear” here but some people love it. Have you ever received feedback from your readers?
Denise: I get feedback all the time from readers. It’s one of the things I love!
Morgen: Isn’t it great, because I know when reading something how easy it is to think, “Oh yes that was good” and move on rather than taking the effort to contact the author and let him / her know. Now I’m on the receiving end I do make sure I do. Apart from being a very solitary life (which I love) to know someone appreciates what we’ve created is a big reason why we do it. Writing should be written to be read. What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Denise: My creativity hits the minute I pull up my work-in-progress or open a notebook and grab a pen. I do not think about what I am going to write, it’s as if the story is just on hold and waiting for the next moment I have to write.
Morgen: Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Denise: I prefer the computer because I can type faster than writing and because I can look up words when I can’t readily think of the right one. But, I carry a notebook and pen everywhere I go.
Morgen: Me too, every dog-walking jacket. Some writers like quiet, others the noise of a coffee shop etc. Do you listen to music or have noise around you when you write or do you need silence?
Denise: I like the noise. I do my best writing in a restaurant with conversations taking place all around. If I listen to music, I keep it turned down low so it’s background noise.
Morgen: Do you? Wow. I struggle to concentrate with too much going on, although I do blot it out eventually. Classical music is as ‘noisy’ as it gets for me. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person?
Denise: I only write third person. It just seems natural to me as it allows me to write his and her point of view.
Morgen: It is the most popular viewpoint. Do you use prologues / epilogues? What do you think of the use of them?
Denise: I have never written a prologue or epilogue. I love reading epilogues because you get to find out about the characters after the ‘real’ story is over.
Morgen: They do get a hard time. I used not to read prologues but I did fairly recently and it made me wonder what I’d been missing. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Denise: Not this girl. I write it for public consumption so whenever I complete a novel I send it off.
Morgen: That’s what I like to hear. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Denise: Marketing! I enjoy interviews and book events where I get to meet the public, but I absolutely hate arranging the events.
Morgen: I’ve not had that pleasure yet (apart from Telling Tales) my writing’s only online but I’ve been to loads of other author events and love them. I say I’ll go to the opening of a rejection envelope. If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Denise: That I’m getting better at it. I guess that’s probably normal, but it’s really great to see where I was and where I am. With every book it’s as if I know my characters better and better.
Morgen: And if you’re like me you curb yourself as you feel you’re going ‘wrong’ (in my case waffling too much). It’s only practice. Tennis players and pianists have to so why shouldn’t we? What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Denise: Go for it! If you want to be a writer then write. Rejections are a part of getting published. Pull up your big boy boots and step into the thick of it. If you don’t get rejected then no one is reading your work. Just remember… it will all be worth it in the end.
Morgen: It so will. What do you like to read? Any authors you could recommend?
Denise: I love romantic suspense and mysteries. Sharon Sala, Carla Neggers, James Patterson, David Baldacci are just a few of the authors I love to read.
Morgen: James Patterson / Michael Letwidge’s ‘Step on a Crack’ is one of my favourites. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Denise: Life is too short!
Morgen: Absolutely. I battle with time every day. Now there’s a plot. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Denise: I play in my garden and recently I have taken up running. I will be running a half-marathon this September in Ireland. Wish me luck.
Morgen: Oh good luck! You’re a braver (and probably fitter) woman than me. In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Denise: I live in the United States. I’ve not found where I live to be a help or a hindrance.
Morgen: Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Denise: I use Facebook and Twitter exclusively. They are fantastic for spreading the word and I use them a lot for brainstorming ideas.
Morgen: They are. I find LinkedIn ideal if you’re stuck with something, people just keep contributing. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Denise: With the push of ebooks, I think writers will be getting to more and more people and faster.
Morgen: And that’s so exciting. If you could have your life over again, is there anything you’d have done differently (writing-related or otherwise)?
Denise: Nope. I’m of the mindset that everything happens for a reason and if it didn’t happen then I wouldn’t be the person I am today.
Morgen: Me too. In the early interviews when authors said they’d started writing young I felt like I’d missed out but now (I started properly in my late 30s) I have all this life experience. Well, thank you Denise, it’s been lovely chatting with you.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
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