Welcome to the four hundred and twenty-ninth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with horror, humour and steampunk, with just the occasional shot of erotica, writer Tonia Brown. 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, Tonia. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Tonia: My roots are southern, though I was raised in a military family all around the world, so it’s kind of hard to tell. I have an identical twin sister, have been married for fifteen years, and currently live in North Carolina. I live so far out in the country they have to pump sunlight out to us! I’ve always written something, be it poetry or services for my church, but I started writing fiction a few years back on a lark, and never seemed to stop.
Morgen: We’re having a really grotty summer here in the UK, if you have any sunlight spare could they pump some our way please. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Tonia: I tend to shift between horror, humour and steampunk, with just the occasional shot of erotica. If I had to pick one, I would want to say horror, but my funny bone might have something to say on that matter.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Tonia: I’m up to five novels, seven novellas and many, many, many short stories. I have in the past written erotica under the name Regina Riley.
Morgen: Erotica’s always been popular but I’m sure even more so now because of the infamous Fifty Shades of Grey. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Tonia: Do I have any rejections? Asking a writer that is like asking them if they have a toilet in their house. If they say no, the must be full of crap. I kid! I kid! Seriously though, yes I have my fair share of rejections. Dealing with them involves anything from bouts of self-pity to extended periods of weeping to killing zombies on the Wii. (I find killing zombies on the Wii to be the best form of therapy for most anger issues.)
Morgen: A handful of authors I’ve spoken to haven’t had any but usually because they’ve not written much and either not submitted or have had everything that has gone out accepted (are we the slightest bit green?). Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Tonia: I had an agent until a few weeks ago. To be honest, he didn’t really do anything for me. What little success I have had, I made for myself. The author / agent relationship these days is a strange one. You probably still need one to make it into the larger publishing houses, but only because an agent vets your work and makes it easier for a large house to find you. Otherwise, you’re a microscopic fish on an oceanic planet.
Morgen: I’ve had a few interviewees say the same; that they were as productive as their agents (if not more so). It’s harder now for them and I know some have become publishers because of the way the industry is at the moment, especially with many authors going it alone to self-publish / eBook. Are your books available as eBooks? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Tonia: Yes, all of my work is available in eformats. I self published my last three books and handful of novellas, and formatted them all myself. I read both paper and ebooks, though I find myself favouring ebooks as of late. It’s just more convenient for me.
Morgen: I still read more pBooks but only really because I’m at home more than out and my house is a library but I love having 400+ books with me at any one time when I do go away. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Tonia: I am horrible at marketing, though I do try. My brand is basically just me being my silly self. I don’t have as much money as I would like to sink into advertising, so most of my marketing is through social networking and relies on good old word of mouth.
Morgen: That’s the great thing about being an author today; we have potential readers ‘on tap’… it’s just so time-consuming finding them. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Tonia: If I had to pick a favourite, I would say that Badass Zombie Road Trip is my best book. This book makes me laugh, and I’m the one who wrote it! It would also make the best film because the feel of the novel was based on the old “Road to…” movies. I am not really sure who I would cast in the leads, but it’s a shame Bing and Bob couldn’t take it on.
Morgen: The authors should have a positive reaction to their books because if they don’t it’s likely the readers won’t either. Did you have any say in the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Tonia: I was really involved in almost all of the covers for my novels. I’ve only been disappointed with one, but that was years and years ago. As for the titles, I’ve only been asked to rethink one of them, which in the end worked out better thank my original title ever did.
Morgen: The two cover photos you’ve given me here are great. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Tonia: Currently I am writing a humorous fantasy novel with just a touch of horror. Think zombie gnomes. Oh yeah. I just said zombie gnomes.
Morgen: <laughs> Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Tonia: I try and write every day if I can manage it. And no, I don’t believe writer’s block is a real thing. I think there are slow days, that folks get burnt out or tired of a project, that sometimes a story won’t move in the direction you want to force it, but I don’t think there is a real “I just can’t write a single word” time a writer can blame for his inability to produce. My last novel, Sundowners, took me two years to finish. But that was two years of picking up when the ideas flowed and putting down when they dried up, while I worked on other stuff in between those dry spells.
Morgen: I write a short story a day for my 5pm Fiction slot and knowing it has to go up gets me writing. It’s like NaNoWriMo, knowing I have to produce 50,000 words by 30th November gets my bum in my chair… well, it’s rarely out of it but actually writing (although I do also write when I’m walking my dog). Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Tonia: I am a total on the fly writer. The only clear things I ever go into a project with are the beginning and the ending. Everything else is up to the characters.
Morgen: And they usually rise to the challenge don’t they – that’s my favourite aspect of writing fiction. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Tonia: I don’t have a set method for character creation. I find some come to me as complete entities, and some evolve as the storyline unfolds. Sure, you might have to change a character’s profession once or five times, but that’s all part of the writing process. As for names, that all depends on my mood. Sometimes I like to go out of the way to hide little things in character names, while other times I can’t be bothered. I think it’s the mood of the story that controls the importance of names. What makes characters believable to me is their dialogue. Characters that talk like normal folks are easier to read than those who are either too high brow or use far too much slang.
Morgen: Absolutely, that would drive anyone nuts… everyone has to be flawed somehow. Do you write any non-fiction, poetry or short stories?
Tonia: Oh yea, a bit of poetry and tons of shorts. I don’t like to spread my poetry around too much, but I do love to share my short stories. In fact, I put out the occasional collection of shorts every so often. The Triple Shot Series consist of three stories that share a theme, such as zombies or werewolves or steampunk.
Morgen: I’m more shorts than anything else and like you do a bit of poetry but it’s not where my heart lies. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Tonia: While I get better and better, I find it pays to pay someone to double-check your work. Luckily, I have a great editor in Stephanie Gianopoulos. No one is one hundred percent edit free. No one. In fact, I guarantee if she comes across this interview, I’ll probably get an email from Stephanie asking me why I didn’t run this by her before I turned it in.
Morgen: It looks OK to me. But yes, no writer should put their work out (although I do with my daily flash fiction) without running it past someone else. I’m hoping to get a 105K chick lit online soon but am waiting for my three first readers, one of whom I think is almost done so I’m now looking at covers, one of the fun parts. Do you have to do much research?
Tonia: I’m a research junkie. I love to spend hours prepping for a work. But it’s easy to get lost in research. There comes a time when you have to stop reading about something and start writing about it. Wikipedia has written many a novel for me.
Morgen: What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Tonia: I like the intimacy of first person, but the challenge of third. First allows you to tell so much more about a character, but there is a danger of long strings of narrative from inside the person’s head, which is never good. Third is harder to write, because you have to be careful of head hopping or quick pov changes, which are never good. I have never tried second and I don’t suspect I will.
Morgen: That’s a shame. I love it (and every Friday’s piece is in that pov) but it certainly isn’t to everyone’s taste, and invariable to few editors’. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Tonia: I firmly believe that with a little spit and polish, and in some cases a heck of a lot of elbow grease, every story has a home and an audience. Granted, that audience might be a select few or that home might be in a small venue, but every story has worth. I have tons of work just sitting around on my hard drive, not because I can’t find a home for it or I am unwilling to send it out, but because they aren’t ready just yet.
Morgen: I’m hoping the same is the case for 100+ shorts I have on my Mac. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Tonia: I hate marketing. I don’t mind the process of putting together a book as far as editing and stuff goes, but I hate selling it. Again, I’m just not very good at it. I’d have trouble selling ice water to folks in hell. What I’ve found surprising is the amount of folks who equate bombarding you with hourly reminders about their new book as clever marketing. Remember folks, Spam is only good on a sandwich, and even then it’s an acquired taste.
Morgen: Absolutely. I’d say 95% of my interviewees have had marketing as their ‘necessary evil’. I think I’m at the other end of the scale where I don’t tout myself enough (although I do feel sometimes that I talk about myself too much in these interviews) but I do think I’m building my ‘Morgen with an E’ brand by having the blog and doing so much with it. That said, I do plan to be more proactive on other sites when the novels come out. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Tonia: Write. Edit. Repeat.
Morgen: If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Tonia: I’d love to have dinner with Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe and Neil Gaiman. I’d make crockpot lasagne, because that’s always so good. I think I’d just spend most of the meal listening to them say clever things.
Morgen: I wouldn’t mind being a fly on the wall at that party. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Tonia: “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it by not dying.” ~Woody Allen
Morgen: He’s doing pretty well so far. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Tonia: I occasionally write chants or dramas for my church, the NC Piedmont Church of Wicca. I’ve also written a song or two in the past. Oh and I run a weird western webserial that updates once a week on Mondays about a steampunk train and its strange crew.
Morgen: Maybe you’d like to come back and do a guest blog, talking about songwriting? What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks?
Tonia: I love to crochet and play games. (Video games, board games, role-playing games, I love them all!) As for party tricks, I can juggle, though not very well.
Morgen: Not a skill I have… flipping a dozen coins off the back of my right elbow is as good as I get. Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful?
Tonia: Terrible Minds. Uncle Chuck always posts the best tongue in cheek and totally not safe for work lists on how to improve your craft. I repeat, totally not safe for work, or anywhere else for that matter. In fact, forget I even mentioned it.
Morgen: Aw, it sounded like fun. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Tonia: I am a Facebook whore, and am also on Goodreads and a few forums here and there. I find social networking is a valuable tool for the indie writer. It’s the best and cheapest way to get word about your work to the readers.
Morgen: It is, and there seem to be new sites appearing all the time – I get requests to join people on sites such as Netlog, Klout etc but just accept and do nothing more, I don’t have the time at the moment, although I do see the potential with Google+ so want to investigate that more. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Tonia: Editing. Lots and lots of editing.
Morgen: Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Tonia: I love feedback from readers. The best thing you can do for an author is give them feedback, be it a review on Amazon or Goodreads or just an email letting them know your impressions. Even if it’s bad, we want to know what you thought of it!
Morgen: Absolutely. I have some bad reviews on Goodreads (everywhere else seems to make up for it, fortunately). One lady had read April’s Fool and loved it but then read Feeding the Father and hated it so much that she vowed never to read anything else of mine. I found that quite amusing actually (and at least she’d read them) so I clicked the ‘like’ button. Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Tonia: If you had to choose a single day from your past to re-live over and over, what day would it be and why?
Morgen: Ooh, good question. It would probably be a day with my father in it. I’d want a happy memory but the day that springs to mind is the last time we were together as a family. It was my 34th birthday, he was in hospital, drifting in and out of consciousness (he had dementia) but he just looked at us (my mum and brother were there too) and said “you are a lovely lot”. It’s a memory with mixed emotions as it was the last thing he ever said to me but I wouldn’t want to live it over and over. This is a tough one (I’m tempted to add it to my questionnaire!) – I loved my birthday last year, staying in a dog-friendly hotel in Norfolk and going to the beach with my Jack Russell-cross. The sun beating down and laughing at him biting at the surf is a tough one to beat. Thank you, Tonia.
She lives in the hills of NC with her spouse of many years and an ever-changing number of cats.
When not writing, she raises unicorns and fights crime with her husband under the code names “Doctor Weird and his sexy sidekick Butternut”.
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