Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Writers' Wednesday Welcomes Sophia Johnson

Please help me welcome Sophia Johnson, whose medieval romances I adore. Sophia and I met serendipitously a couple of years ago at the RWA National Convention in Orlando. We introduced ourselves in the hotel lobby, sat down, and the conversation went roughly this way:

“What do you write?”
“Historical romance. Medieval.”
“So do I.”
“Have you published?” I asked.
“Yes. I write as Sophia Johnson.”
At that, my mouth dropped open. “Sophia Johnson?” (I sounded like a parrot.) “Oh, my gosh. I love your books.” We spent a long time talking about writing, and the era and how much we liked it. And how difficult it was to place medievals. Even so, she said, she was at work on another series, still medieval.

She was a delight. Humble, even self-deprecating, and funny. A few months later, I learned she had decided to self publish those new medievals she’d talked about. This weekend marks the release of the third, RUTHLESS.

Now, I’ll be quiet, Sophia. Tell us a bit about your first trio of novels.

ALWAYS MINE, MIDNIGHT’S BRIDE, and RISK EVERYTHING are published by Kensington, Zebra.

I set the tales several years after the Norman Conquest. The first book, ALWAYS MINE, was a time travel with a twist. A modern woman's soul went back to the eleventh century while her body was in a coma in the present time. When she discovers she's in another body and century, it was heaps of fun to write. The second book was MIDNIGHT’S BRIDE. This was light and fun, though it had a sinister part to it. RISK EVERYTHING ended the trilogy. It was the most intense. It also came out as the first book in 2005. You confuse readers when a trilogy starts with the ending book, then the beginning of the story and finish with the middle tale. Now, Zebra publishes them as ebooks. I call them the Blackthorn Castle Trilogy and warn people to read them in sequence.

Since then, I've written a four-book Raptor Castle Series taking place in the middle of the twelfth century.

What draws you to this era?

I've always been fascinated by historical books and films. I started with Alexander Dumas and THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK. I went through all the usual books by men. I think schools influenced me into believing only men's books were true literature and romance writers were inane and sexually deprived. *snort* Then I realized I couldn't buy a book until I read the last two pages fist! I believe you're cheating the reader when they develop feelings for the characters only to have it end with some terrible tragedy. If I wanted to cry, I could read the newspapers to be depressed. I needn't pay $10 for it.

I discovered historical romance books held a lot of information. I can't count the times I read a
book with encyclopedias beside me. I enjoyed the new vocabulary from different times, too.

I absolutely agree. Please tell us a little about your writing process.

I'd like to have a dollar for every time someone has said to me, "Your writing is a labor of love. It can't compare to working." Well, let me you something. People who haven't written anything longer than three page letters should try writing twenty pages. I worked as a Computer Systems Analyst and it was a heck of a lot simpler than writing a long historical tale of 100,000+ words.

I take at least a month to research the time that I want to place the story in and hunt for something in history as a background. Then there's finding characters and selecting the correct name for the time and country. Once that's done, I write a two-page biography so I'll know what's in the mind of the character and how he/she should react to any circumstance. Only then do I start to think of how to get the story out of my mind and into a book.

There's something you should know about me. I write long. For the NY Publishers, I've always had to cut at least 11,000 words.

You’ve been published in print but your new titles are available as ebooks. What made you decide to move into epublishing?

I wrote the Raptor Castle Series. Each one has a unique beginning and story to tell. And they were long medieval stories. Like I said, each one was too long, so I cut and cut and cut. I had two wonderful agents, Jenny Bent and Holly Root. Zebra turned them down. Neither could find a publishing house for me because the editors said they liked the books but didn't know how to place them in a category, or how to publish it in a big way, or the story was too unique, etc. Both agents said they loved the stories and didn't understand why they couldn't get them published.

Well, the series sat in my hard drive for four years and I finally decided to ePublish in September of 2011.

Would you mind telling us how that’s going?

Don't let anyone tell you it's easy, because it isn't. Some of the many things I miss are an editor, a cover artist, a skilled writer for the inside teaser and back cover, advertising, mass market books and easy-to-get reviews.

What I don't miss is having someone tell me I can't write a story where the heroine isn't heroic because she wasn't a virgin in the beginning of the book. Or a story can't begin with a monk who ends up having children after he's forced to leave Kelso Abbey. I won't tell you why. Read Forbidden. Or, I can't write a story about a woman whose elderly husband convinces her to seduce a man younger than he is, or… You get the drift.

I love looking up (every day, if I wish it) the royalty statements to see how many books I've sold in the last day, or week or month. I never could get a feel for how many books I'd sold each month by the publishing house statements. And why should an author receive 8 percent of what remains after they pay themselves for everything else? I like having 70 percent of the profit. After all, it took me ten months to write the tale, so why should I take the leavings?

How long have you been writing? Do you have a special place where you like to create?

I've been writing since 1999. It seems like only yesterday that I started ALWAYS MINE. In 2002 I finished RISK EVERYTHING. It was the first book I'd entered in the Golden Heart, so I was very surprised when I came home from vacation and found a letter that I was a finalist. I didn't win the Golden Heart, though. I didn't expect to.

We converted a small bedroom into an office for me. It's my favorite room in the house. Huh! Probably because I spend 80% of my time in here. Awake time, that is. I can't write anywhere else. Not even on a laptop. I can think only here in front of my screen. I have poster boards with pictures of people who look like my characters, one on each side of my CPU, so I can look at my heroine or hero and ask. "So, what trouble are you going to cause today?"

Your Golden Heart story about receiving the letter is interesting. Now people gather around the phone to await that call, while they check different loops for announcements. Actually this year's ‘golden’ day is coming in less than two weeks.

So now that three of your Raptor Castle series have been published, what’s next?

FORBIDDEN and SEDUCED are on Amazon Kindle, B&N, Smashwords and others. The third book, RUTHLESS, came out this weekend. Soon I'll start reading through SURRENDER again before I have it edited.

I send a letter called Sophia's Ramblings (that's what I do – ramble on and on) once a month after writing. That's something else that I miss. Time. This do-it-yourself thing eats away at your time to write.

What one tip would you offer writers?

Don't take rejections to heart. They harden your feelings. When you get a rejection from an editor or a low review, you can laugh about it. Sometimes you can tell they haven't even read the book, else they get their jollies from tearing someone else down.

I hope you brought us a peek at the new release.

I did. Below is the teaser that'll appear before Chapter One in RUTHLESS.

Muriele rose to her feet. Magnus did not move. Just stared at her. His eyes narrowed to cold slits. Promising something. What? The room became deadly quiet. No one moved. The dancer stood still, her eyes studying them.

Muriele took a step, then two. She didn't dare look behind her. When she reached the doorway, the sound of his footsteps matched her own.
When she started up the stairwell, she grabbed her skirts above her knees and ran up the stone steps like all the wolves in the forest nipped at her heels. When she turned a corner, she hesitated. Listened.

Had Sir Magnus returned to the great hall?


He slowly climbed.

Each booted step rang an ominous warning.

Muriele burst out onto the landing. She rushed past the torch flickering in its wall bracket, her eye on the doorway, her hand outstretched far ahead of time.

She chanced a quick glance behind her. Oh, Saints! She wished she had not.

He stepped out of the gloom into the light as he stalked her, his steps measured, his lips set in a grim line. His large hands clenched and relaxed as if they longed to wrap themselves around her neck.

The length and tempo of his stride quickened, eating up the distance between them. Her heart thudded. She reached the door. Frantic knowing he was so close, she fumbled with the latch. With all her might, she shoved the door until it was open enough for her to squeeze through. Turning, she pushed with both hands, her feet anchored to the floor. It near closed. With a sharp, loud noise, his boot slammed against the outside edge. She was but a finger's width away from latching it.
Now, relax and let your imagination take you into this tale of love through the ages.

My favorite cover is also on RUTHLESS. Now, I dare you to tell me he isn't sexy! And don't say I didn't warn you about rambling once I get started!

LOL, Sophia. And no argument about the cover. That's one luscious hero. Thanks so much for being here and best of luck with the books. I hope you'll come back to visit when SURRENDER is ready to go.

You can reach Sophia's publications, and Sophia, with these links.

The Blackthorn Trilogy and Bks. 1 thru 3 of The Raptor Castle SeriesAvailable now at Amazon Kindle, Smashwords, B&N and all major distributors.http://www.sophiajohnson.net/ ; http://sophiajohnsondotnet.wordpress.com/ http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1216026114http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=37441594

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Writers' Wednesday Features Shellie Foltz

I’m happy to welcome Shellie Foltz. I met Shellie a few months ago when she spoke to our local writers group, Ozarks Romance Authors, and she graciously agreed to drop by Writers’ Wednesday.

Hi Shellie. Glad you're here today. Your books NO PENALTY FOR LOVE and LOVE UNDER A DARK SKY are both romantic comedies. What draws you to this genre?

I like writing contemporary romantic comedies because I enjoy reading and watching them myself. I am so blessed in my marriage to Bruce. We often say we are a romantic comedy. I spent much of my life being a very serious and worried person and, though I still care very deeply about people and about important issues, I have also learned that there is a time to lighten up and have fun. I learned that from Bruce and I’m very grateful. It’s a change in perspective that has made my life much better!

Your personal hero sounds terrific. Please tell us a little about your work.

NO PENALTY FOR LOVE is set in St. Louis and the romance centers on Patricia, a high school English teacher (I spent ten years teaching high school English) and a Josh Northshore, a professional hockey player whose younger brother is her student. I really enjoyed writing the hockey scenes in this one as much as I did the romantic ones. I wrote NO PENALTY during the summer months when I was really missing hockey season. It was a good distraction for me. I had a lot of fun writing it. I submitted to Avalon. It was about three months later that Chelsea Gilmore (then an Avalon editor) phoned to say they’d like to publish it. After the shock wore off, I was really inspired to get going on another.

LOVE UNDER A DARK SKY was also published by Avalon. While Chelsea was the one to request the manuscript, she made the move to Maria Carvainis Agency as a literary agent before Avalon contracted with me. This novel became Lia Brown’s first acquisition with Avalon. Dark Sky is set in Minnesota. My husband and I vacation there every summer and I find it so beautiful and inspiring. I wondered if I could adequately communicate what I felt about that area in writing, so I challenged myself. I think I did a fair job.

(excerpt from LOVE FROM A DARK SKY)

I’d neglected much of what makes Minnesota beautiful over the past few months and so had failed to nourish my soul properly. It was early enough that a wispy fog still hung over the harbor. A ship, the Edgar L. Massey, was docked and quietly awaiting departure. Out on the breakwater, two fishermen cast lines which got lost from view in the shimmer of water. A sprinkling of loons bobbed and dove, competing with each other and the fishermen for the catch of the day.

Here the deer, and there was an abundance, were relatively tame. Used to the continual parade of people coming to stay at the B&B up on the hill or walk the paths and breakwater for exercise or watch the ships as they arrived in the harbor, the herd simply paused in its grazing to watch me with soulful eyes as I passed.
In and out of an inconsistent fog, I wound my way up the popular path and to a place I remembered where one could circle back toward the large, public parking lot and the docks or climb down an irregular stairway of stone to a less-worn trail leading deeper into the woods.

Lake Superior was within sight the full distance and I stopped a few times along the way to walk out onto the rocky shore and take it in. The word majestic was not comprehensive enough to capture the essence of the lake. I’d once read how many ships had sunk to its depths and had heard the ghost stories as varied in their details as those who repeated the tales. The incredible depth of it was unimaginable to me.

The horizon was a thin blue line, barely distinguishable, and when a ship appeared along it the effect was of magic, as if a conjurer had spoken it into existence suddenly and for a long time, watching it trail along the horizon, one couldn’t be sure if it was truly there or simply a figment of the imagination, something created by the mind to lend an element of sense and stability to the incomprehensible vastness of the view. Sometimes, afraid of losing my balance if I stared into it too long, and with the hush of the woods all around me, I would plant my feet more firmly on the rock or say something very softly just to make sure I was still there, that I hadn’t fallen away into someone else’s dream and become lost.

# # #
DARK SKY is the story of Willa, an unemployed woman in her upper-thirties who has had to give up her organic oats business. She meets Daniel who is a university professor and science fiction writer. Oh, did I mention he’s quite a bit younger? Besides the beauty of the Northshore, I also took some inspiration from my quirky obsession with Dr. Who in writing this one. I am very proud of it. I think I grew in my writing from NO PENALTY.

Both of them are terrific stories. How long have you been writing?

I have been writing stories since fourth grade (so, since 1977). My first published / paid work was a play, Welcome to Joe’s, which was reprised at the beginning of the current theatre season. Next came Related Spaces, another play. Both of these were performed and subsequently published by Stained Glass Theatre in Ozark, Missouri. The novels came a few years later.

Stories, plays, novels--rather different genres. Do you have a special place in which you create?

It depends on what I’m writing. If it’s a play or a story set in a lively environment (Joe’s and No Penalty), I like to take my laptop to Mudhouse. I like the energy of the setting. And the coffee. If I’m working on something I consider very personal or which causes me to be a bit contemplative in the process (Related Spaces, Dark Sky, and my current project) I like my own living room. I prop up on the couch with my dog and a cup of coffee and let phone calls go to voice mail. No music. Just quiet.

I identify with your love for peace and quiet when writing. What’s your next project?

I have a literary (or perhaps upmarket) manuscript in front of an agent right now and am working on another novel with a similar theme. I have a romance for Avalon kind of simmering in my mind and a really strong desire to get going on another play. I don’t sleep very well these days!

Hope you hear good things from the agent soon. What one tip would you offer writers?

Tend to your craft. Grow in characterization, build strength in structure on every level from plot to word choice. Don’t compromise good writing.

Wonderful advice, Shellie. I’ll be looking forward to your next release. And to your next play. Stained Glass Theatre isn’t so far away here. Thanks so much for being here.

You can find Shellie online at http://www.shelliefoltz.wordpress.com/. She is also on Facebook as Author Shellie Foltz and on Twitter. Her online oasis is Goodreads.com. She invites you to peruse her shelves and compare titles.

Both of Shellie’s novels are currently available at Barnes & Noble in Springfield, Missouri. They can also be purchased online through Barnes & Noble and through Amazon.