Welcome to the one hundred and fifty-ninth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with multi-genre author Caroline Clemmons. 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 Carolyn. Please tell us something about yourself.
Carolyn: My name is Carolyn Smith and I write as Caroline Clemmons.
Morgen: OK, let’s go with Caroline from now on. Please carry on Caroline. 🙂
Caroline: You think there are a lot of Baileys? Try making Smith or my maiden name, Johnson, stand out among the masses.
Morgen: There are loads of Baileys, and quite a few Morgan Baileys (construction company, coffee company and porn star!) but as far as I know only two other Morgen Baileys (one in the US and one in Australia)… on the internet anyway. How did you come to be a writer?
Caroline: As long as I can remember, I’ve been an avid reader. I wrote newspaper articles and for a while I worked as a reporter and featured columnist for a newspaper, which was a fascinating job. I had never tried a book until my mother-in-law suggested it. I wrote such long letters that she insisted were interesting and each was a chapter, and she was convinced I could write a book. My husband agreed and has been constantly supportive of my writing. My first book was pretty bad…
Morgen: oh dear.
Caroline: …but the second one worked and was published.
Morgen: Yay! 🙂 What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Caroline: Because I enjoy reading an eclectic mix, I write an eclectic selection of romance novels — historical, contemporary, and time travel. I’ve also written mysteries, but haven’t had them published as of yet. I have just begun to market the cozy mysteries and I have listed one about a deputy sheriff, Almost Home, on Amazon recently.
Morgen: Wow, you’re as mixed-genre as me. 🙂 What have you had published to-date? If applicable, can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
Caroline: My first book was published by Kensington in 1998. Seeing it on the shelf was a thrill. When my second book was published in 2003 (yes it took a while between them), the biggest thrill was seeing it on the grocery store shelf. My daughter was with me, and she was as impressed as I was. She said, “Now you’ve really made it as an author!” I’ve also been published in non-fiction. I love family history and have contributed articles to several heritage books, historical journals. I’ve written two family history books, one on my mother’s family and one on my mother-in-law and her family. My brother and I are now compiling a book on our father’s family.
Morgen: My dad spent 8 years building his family tree. I keep saying to my mum that she should write her autobiography (she used to work for racing driver Stirling Moss’ sister, amongst other things). Have you ever seen a member of the public (whom you don’t know!) reading your book… in any unusual locations?
Caroline: No, but I’ve met people online who tell me they’ve read my work. For some reason, I’m always surprised but extremely pleased they not only read my books but also remembered my name.
Morgen: So many authors have said that, it’s lovely. 🙂 How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Caroline: I do ALL my marketing. Now my publisher is The Wild Rose Press. They are wonderful people and they do have a lovely website, but basically, the promotion is up to me. Promotion is time consuming and not my favorite thing, but it’s a necessary part of the writing / publishing process.
Morgen: It is so, now more than ever I think. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Caroline: I’ve been a finalist in competitions including the Holt Medallion, Reader’s Choice, and the EPIC. If I had won instead of being second, it would have been a coup. I’m not sure being a finalist is that beneficial.
Morgen: But something to add to a CV. 🙂 You mentioned earlier that you write under a pseudonym, do you think it makes a difference?
Caroline: I write under a pseudonym as suggested by a well-known bookseller. For brick-and-mortar bookstores, the bookseller said it’s important to choose a name in the first five letters of the alphabet. She said many readers come in, start with the A’s, choose four or five books, and then check out and leave. Now that I’m with a small press and our sales are online only, I wouldn’t need a pseudonym. As I mentioned above, my real married name is Smith and my maiden name is Johnson, and there’s nothing distinctive about those names. I like my pseudonym of Caroline Clemmons, and both are family names in my father’s family.
Morgen: Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Caroline: I would love a good agent! I had a very bad one and she was much worse than none. Getting a good agent in this changing publishing market is difficult.
Morgen: It is, more so than a publisher, which you have so I guess that proves the point. Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Caroline: My Kindle is a constant companion. I love ebooks, and can carry an entire library in my Kindle. There are still authors whose books I buy in paper, those I want to save and reread. My own books are available in print or ebook here, and my backlist is available on Smashwords and Kindle.
Morgen: What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Caroline: My first acceptance was BE MY GUEST for the short-lived Kensington Precious Gems line. When friends told me Hilary Sares was acquiring short romances for the line, I cut my 75K romantic suspense to fit the word count of 55K. Just before my book went to press, Kensington’s powers that be decided to change the line to 50K, and there was no time to send the manuscript to me and return it. Hilary cut the extra 5K words. After all that cutting, the book read choppy, but I was so pleased to be published that I really didn’t care. My husband’s cousin Glenn was so proud of me he bought nine copies and gave eight away.
Morgen: Ah… 🙂 Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Caroline: Everyone has rejections, right?
Morgen: Almost everyone I’ve spoken to; those that haven’t have either not submitted (something I should do more of) or they’ve had everything picked up.
Caroline: The only thing an author can do is file the letter for the IRS and keep trying. I recently read that one of my favorite books, THE HELP, had 60 rejections. If Kathryn Stockett’s wonderful book had that many rejections, I don’t feel so bad when I receive a rejection!
Morgen: And Harry Potter 14-16 depending on where you read about it. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Caroline: Right now I’m working on a contemporary time travel that an editor has asked to see. I hope she’s still interested by the time I finish. It’s the first of a time travel trilogy, all set in North Central Texas near where I live.
Morgen: Time travel is very popular. Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Caroline: I do write almost every day. Some days all of it gets deleted the following day. The most I’ve ever written in a day was 20K to finish a project in a write-a-book-in-a-week sponsored by my local RWA chapter. That was for the novella Save Your Heart for Me, and it was plotted out really well with help from my friend Sandra Crowley. All I had to do was stick with our plot outline.
Morgen: 20K… wow wee! This sounds like it doesn’t apply but I’ll ask anyway… what is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it?
Caroline: When I have a bout of writer’s block, I trick myself out of it. One of the ways is to read back a few paragraphs and start writing as if I were telling a friend about the story. Soon, I’m writing seriously. Once in a while, I become exhausted, though, and have to step away for a day or two. During those times, I read.
Morgen: Every author I’ve interviewed has said to read. Very important and it clearly helps you. A question some authors dread, where do you get your inspiration from?
Caroline: A line on TV or the newspaper, a story, imagination. BE MY GUEST came from an incident that happened to someone I knew, and I took the kernel and made it a story. The Most Unsuitable Wife came from my grandmother’s brief mention of a girl who lived in her town. The sad story had no ending, but I decided the girl deserved a happily-ever-after tale. The linked book, The Most Unsuitable Husband, came to me in church as our minister talked about Nathan / Bartholomew. The preacher said changing his name showed how completely the man had changed, and that’s what I wanted for my hero. He changed from a con man and gambler to an upstanding citizen. Out of the Blue was the result of an editor saying she would like to see a time travel in which an historic heroine came forward in time. The Texan’s Irish Bride arose from a newspaper story about Irish Travelers and a terrible accident my husband and I just missed, in which Irish Traveler boys were killed. Even though my book is historical, the interest in Travelers fueled the story. Home, Sweet Texas Home came to me from thinking about my sweet uncle who lived in West Texas and an editor saying fairy tales made good stories. Home, Sweet Texas Home is a modern day Cinderella story, but the heroine has a few problems Cinderella never dreamed existed.
Morgen: And all our characters need problems. 🙂 Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Caroline: My stories are plotted. I’m fortunate to have a cp friend, Sandra Crowley, who works with me so well to plot. We both attended an all-day workshop of “Story Magic” presented by Laura Baker and Robin Perini and it really clicked with us. Sandra lives in Colorado now, so I only see her once or twice a year. In the meantime, my friends Geri Foster and Ashley Kath Bilsky and I meet alternate Sunday afternoons to talk over our work in progress and critique the pages we’ve written since our last meeting. It’s also group therapy for writers. As I said, I’m very fortunate to have talented and cp’s who are also wonderful people and a lot of fun.
Morgen: Ditto my writing group. 🙂 You’ve mentioned a few characters, do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Caroline: Great segue into a class I teach on www.SavvyAuthors.com and Characterization Made Easy. I think the next round is in November. My method includes all the things I’ve gathered over the years from Laura Baker, Robin Perini, Vicky Taylor, Margie Lawson, and others as well as my own twists.
Morgen: You write non-fiction, how do you decide what to write about?
Caroline: My father told me a creative person could write a story about a fly speck on the wall. I truly believe that. When I worked as a featured columnist, I wrote human interest stories about people in the community. There’s always a story. I mean always. Now my non-fiction is confined to family history.
Morgen: Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Caroline: As I mentioned, my brother and I are compiling a book on our father’s family, the Johnson / Johnston / Johnstone family and lateral lines. I think we have enough information already, but my brother seems determined to go back to at least Noah. I foresee a lot of editing in the near future. 😉
Morgen: Which is no bad thing… maybe there could be volumes 1 and 2? You mentioned a few people earlier, who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Caroline: My first readers are Ashley Kath-Bilsky and Geri Foster. I trust both of them to be honest in their comments.
Morgen: Ooh, are they writers? Would they like to do an interview and / or author spotlight? 🙂 You’ve just said about editing, do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Caroline: Thank goodness, my writing has changed and I think is better than when I began. But I’m a perfectionist and always edit looking for the perfect word here or the perfect sense there. There’s always room for improvement. Eventually, though, I have to stop and submit or one unpublished book would become my life’s work.
Morgen: And an editor will always hack it about regardless of how finished a writer thinks it is. How much research do you have to do for your writing? Have you ever received feedback from your readers?
Caroline: Research is important, even if it isn’t all in the book. I soak up research so that I am in the time period or setting. I believe it shows. Readers have told me they feel immersed in my books.
Morgen: Then it’s worth doing, I think it’s especially important for historical (which I don’t write because history was my worst subject at school and research my least favourite aspect next to editing… which I’ve been putting off recently!). Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Caroline: I write on my desktop in my office. The room used to be my youngest daughter’s room, but is now totally mine — except for two cats, Sebastian and Bailey.
Morgen: Nice names. 🙂
Caroline: When I’m in my office, I’m happy. Sitting down at my desk with my fingers on the keyboard kick starts my creativity.
Morgen: 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?
Caroline: When I’m reading email, I listen to Carole King, James Taylor, et al. But I prefer classical music when I write. I love many kinds of music, but lyrics distract me. In addition to classical music as a pleasing background, I think it stimulates the muse. I’ve read Donald Campbell’s MOZART EFFECT, and have his DVDs. I also like Yo Yo Ma and other great performers. If I’m feeling down, I listen to chakra aligning DVDs.
Morgen: I’m the same, classical for me, I get engrossed in the songwriter’s words otherwise. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person?
Caroline: Third person is my choice for romance, but I write cozy mysteries in first person. I like both.
Morgen: Do you use prologues / epilogues? What do you think of the use of them?
Caroline: Prologues can set the tone for a work, but I don’t use them. I’ve heard many editors cut them, so what’s the point of writing one?
Morgen: True. I have one which was a chapter 1 and may revert to being. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Caroline: Do I ever!
Morgen: 🙂 I mentioned my love for research and editing earlier, what’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Caroline: My favorite is writing, creating a new manuscript. My least favorite is promotion.
Morgen: You join a long line of interviewees who’ve said the same. If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Caroline: That I haven’t run out of ideas. When I began, I wondered what would happen when I’d used up all my ideas, so I kept a notebook of possible storylines. Ideas seem to be endless, and I’ll have to live to be 200 to use the ones I have now.
Morgen: Me too, sadly. You just have to cherry-pick the best ones but then I write short stories more so than novels so perhaps I’ll get through them quicker. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Caroline: Remember Winston Churchill’s quote: “Never, never, never give up!”
Morgen: What do you like to read?
Caroline: I love books that leave me happy: Amanda Quick / Jayne Ann Krentz, Nora Roberts, Jodi Thomas, Lori Wilde, Carola Dunn, Alice Duncan, Celia Yeary, Paty Jager, Nicole McCaffery, Anna Jeffrey, Rys Bowen, Amy Corwin, and too many more to name.
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks? 🙂
Caroline: No party tricks! I love reading, spending time with my family, family history, travel, browsing antique malls and estate sales. I’m one of those people who is never bored.
Morgen: Me too, no time to. Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Caroline: My books are usually set in Texas, so I love the Texas State Historical Association’s online handbook. In my personal library, I have numerous books on Texas, the West, THE WRITER’S GUIDE TO EVERYDAY LIFE IN THE 1800S, THE WRITER’S GUIDE TO EVERYDAY LIFE IN THE WILD WEST, 1897 Sears catalog, fashions, memoirs, anecdotes, Time Life books, and anything I can buy without spending a fortune. Of course, there’s also the internet, but one must be careful about relying solely on the world wide web. A lot of information is incorrect or in dispute.
Morgen: You’re based in North Central Texas, do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Caroline: With the internet, I don’t think it matters where an author lives, do you?
Morgen: I don’t actually, no. I guess if an author were in Outer Mongolia or Timbuktu on prehistoric dial-up (if they had any connection) then I can imagine it would be frustrating but they’d still get in touch with a potential audience and it just takes one person to know a dozen readers who know a dozen readers… if only it were that easy. 🙂 Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Caroline: I’m part of several team blogs. Sweethearts of the West is a site where I post on the 26th each month. On the 6th of the month, I post at Seduced by History. On the 20th of the month, I’m at Slip into Something Victorian. I’m on Goodreads and LinkedIn, and can be found on Twitter and Facebook. I’m not sure how much value, but it’s the best available for free. I do see value in my blog and Twitter for marketing. I’m a member of Savvy Authors, The Wild Rose Press, Hearts Through History RWA online, Dallas Area Romance Authors, and Yellow Rose RWA. I have no marketing budget, so I have to rely on people like you, Morgen, to assist my promotion.
Morgen: And I think there are a few of us out there. 🙂 Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Caroline: No one can predict the future, but I HOPE it holds success.
Morgen: I think it will for those who don’t give up. 🙂 Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Caroline: Thank you for hosting me for this interview, Morgen. It’s been a pleasure.
Morgen: You’re really welcome, thank you for helping these interviews tick along another day. 🙂
I then invited Caroline to include an excerpt of her writing and this is from ‘HOME, SWEET TEXAS HOME’:
When Jimmy saw his sister in bed, he rushed over. “Sis, what happened? What’s with the towel and the ice packs?” He frowned at Derek. “What’s going on?”
Derek figured the bizarre situation defied description. He patted Jimmy on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, she’s okay now. We were at the cemetery putting flowers on Sam’s and Maggie’s graves and your sister got trapped in the bathroom.”
Jimmy shook his head. “I don’t understand. How could that hurt her?”
Courtney sighed. “The knob came off in my hand and I couldn’t open the door. So, I climbed out the window.”
Jimmy looked from his sister to Derek. “I still don’t understand what happened.”
Now that he knew her to be okay, the week’s tension suddenly snapped Derek and he lost his perspective on the whole situation. He grimaced at Jimmy. “She, um…” He coughed to keep a straight face. “When she tried to go out the window, she got stuck with her head and one arm sticking outside and the rest of her inside.” He stood like a bird with a broken wing to imitate Courtney’s position. A grin spread in spite of all his efforts.
Both males burst into laughter.
Caroline Clemmons writes romance and adventures—although her earliest made up adventures featured her saving the West with Roy Rogers. Her career includes stay-at-home mom (her favorite job), newspaper reporter and featured columnist, assistant to the managing editor of a psychology journal, and bookkeeper. She and her Hero live in rural North Central Texas with a menagerie of pets. When she’s not writing, she enjoys spending time with family, reading, travel, browsing antique malls and estate sales, and genealogy/family history. Her latest romance releases in print and e-book from The Wild Rose Press include The Texan’s Irish Bride, Out of the Blue, and Home, Sweet Texas Home. Her novella Save Your Heart for Me is available as a download only. Her backlist of contemporary and historical romance is now at Smashwords and Kindle. Read about her at her website and blog. She loves to hear from readers via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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