Michelle Lauren: Writing is my passion. Even as a child, I loved fairy tales and comic books and I dreamed of one day creating my own worlds to share with readers. Many authors inspired me along my career. I credit Robin McKinley for her fantasy adventures that involved unconventional but passionate romances; Beverly Jenkins for showing me through her work that multicultural romance doesn’t have to be confined to one category, genre or time period. She wrote a fantastic series of Western romances featuring African American characters. I also cannot forget Terri Windling. Her work is so fantastic; I used to fanatically read the Year’s Best Scifi & Fantasy anthologies and the anthology of adult fairy tales she edited, as well as her debut novel The Wood Wife.
Phoebe: As a former editor for Cobblestone Press what were your responsibilities and how did your skills as an editor help you when you decided to become a freelance writer and columnist?
Michelle: Cobblestone Press was such a great place to work as an editor. This publisher is all about quality, so a lot of time is spent in the editing process. My job combined the duties of a copy editor (i.e. checking for formatting, plotting and inconsistencies in research) and a proofreader (checking for basic grammatical correctness). Editing definitely improved my writing. I learned to edit out unnecessary storylines, to use stronger verbs, and to show instead of tell.
Phoebe: Did you know what type of romance you wanted to write about or did you experiment with different genres before you chose the one that you felt was for you?
Michelle: No. Originally, I intended to write contemporary romance for a publisher like Harlequin. I read Harlequin Intrigue and historical novels all the time. My tastes later expanded to include more fantasy and paranormal stories. These stories really intrigued me. I quickly realized that I wanted to write in those genres.
Phoebe: What was the first fiction you ever wrote besides any school work? And do you still have it with you?
Michelle: Oh man, that was a long time ago! I’ve written fiction since second grace. In third grade I wrote an entire series of stories about the adventures of a family of mice. I still have at least one of the stories, along with some of my other early tales. It’s always fun to look back at where I started.
Phoebe: How much research do you have to do for your novels and does it take you a long time to gather that research?
Michelle: I always research my stories. Writing fantasy can require as much research as writing a historical novel. World building can be complex, so it can be time consuming. I consider lots of things, from the languages spoken by the characters, to the food they eat, to the geographical landscape. If the story is set on a different planet, I make sure that I know the history: How did the characters get on this planet? What’s life like there? What daily challenges face them? What’s interesting about this new world? Since I write multicultural romance, I also do linguistic research. I want to make my characters and the world they inhabit feel as real as possible to readers.
Phoebe: How did you come up with the concept for your debut novel, Starstruck: Hunter, which is also the first book in your Celestial Lovers Series?
Michelle: I credit Neil Gaiman. I saw the movie Stardust, based on the fantastic book by Gaiman and the idea inspired me. Stardust is a romantic adventure movie set in the mythical kingdom of Wall. It told the story of a star who fell to earth and fell in love with a shop boy. Although it had some dark elements, the story had a very Princess Bride, tongue-in-cheek feel to it. When I went home, I couldn’t stop thinking: “What if a star fell to Earth now? Or better yet, in a grim future Earth? And what if, instead of witches and space pirates chasing her, she was fighting for her life against some darker creatures?” My imagination took off from there. I immersed myself in creating the world of Starstruck: Hunter, which takes places in the future city of Neptune, Virginia, in a time where creatures that go bump in the night live in uneasy peace with humans. It’s a love story first and foremost, but it has passion, betrayal, knife fights, inappropriate use of snack foods, and, of course, a happy ending.
Phoebe: How did you come up with the concept for your Celestial Lovers Series? And what are your titles and plans for any future books that you may be working on in your Celestial Lovers Series?
Michelle: Once I finished writing Starstruck: Hunter, I couldn’t let the characters go. (Or, they wouldn’t let me go.) I knew, as soon as I typed “The End,” that the story would continue. I wanted to explore the world of Neptune. The book ends on a note that lets readers know more adventures will come in Book # 2 of this series. Books # 2 & 3 of the Celestial Lovers series don’t have titles yet. However, I can say that both Miranda and Noah will appear in Book # 2 of the Celestial Lovers series.
Phoebe: How do you come up with each of your characters for your novels? How do you choose their names out of so many names out there?
Michelle: I love creating character names. I choose names that reflect each character’s personality. The heroine of my debut urban fantasy How to Tame a Harpy is named Siren. According to Greek mythology, harpies and sirens were related in powers and originally were similar in looks. I also like using Biblical names because they evoke such strong, emotional associations. In my paranormal erotica Temptation Eve (Coming November 2009 from Cobblestone Press), the heroine is named Eve. The story revolves around—you guessed it—temptation, which comes in the form of the sexy incubus that Eve falls for.
Phoebe: Do you have a favorite character that you really enjoyed writing about in your debut novel, Starstruck: Hunter? Did you have a character that you felt you could really relate to in your debut novel, Starstruck: Hunter?
Michelle: I love all of my characters, but Noah Benson holds a special place in my heart. He has this whole “fallen angel” thing going for him. He has a dark past but he’s seeking redemption. That struggle really endears him to me. Plus, he’s just cool. Noah rides a motorcycle, can take down a territorial werewolf in hand-to-hand combat, and he’s not afraid to admit his emotions to the woman he loves. So yeah, basically he’s my dream guy.
Phoebe: Do you have a process of how you start to write your novels?
Michelle: I don’t do full-on synopses or plotting until after I have an idea of what story I want to tell and what themes are involved. Next, I write the hook. One of my college lit professors told me to always start a story “in medias res,” or “in the action.” After I’ve written the opening scenes, I go back and flesh out the characters.
Phoebe: Which do you like best, writing a series or writing stand alone novels? How is writing each different for you?
Michelle: Series. Even when I intend to stop at just one book, the characters won’t let me. Each story is different because I try not to recreate the same characters. I’ve seen this happen with my favorite characters when they write a series. After the second or third book, the characters feel like regurgitations of old ones. Every book involves a lot of brainstorming, character research, and world building.
Phoebe: What process did you have to go through to get your first book published and did it take you long?
Michelle: I started writing Starstruck Hunter in the middle of writing another book. I got writer’s block in the middle of this other book, so I took a break and decided to write something for fun. That turned out to be Starstruck: Hunter. I completed the book in about 3 to 4 months. The submission process = nerve racking experience. At the time, I had received several rejection letters from literary agents on a different fiction manuscript, so I felt nervous about submitting this new book straight to a publisher. Still, I took a leap of faith and submitted Starstruck Hunter to Liquid Silver Books. Two weeks later, the publisher emailed me and offered a contract on the story.
Phoebe: Do you ever get writers block? What do you do to get rid of it so you can get back to writing your novels?
Michelle: Yes. It’s a total pain in the butt. Few things disturb me more than sitting at my computer with an idea and not being able to communicate it onto the screen. Thankfully, these periods never last long. I don’t try to force a story when it’s not ready to come. Instead, I shift my focus to nonfiction writing, such as my column or shorter fiction projects during these times.
Phoebe: What is your biggest reader pet peeve, if you have any? (stock characters, unresolved endings, predictability, everything wrapped up hurriedly in the end, etc.)
Michelle: Terrible dialogue, hands down. I once received a free romance novel with dialogue so terrible I couldn’t stop laughing. Not only that, I never finished the book. Clichéd characters, unresolved romances, and superficial or offensive characterization also bother me.
Phoebe: Which aspects of writing do you enjoy the most and why? And what is your biggest writing pet peeve? (overuse of exclamation points, adverbs, bad guys named Wayne, etc.), if you have any?
Michelle: Writing hooks. Hooks are to novels what taglines are to movies. Many readers are like me: if a book doesn’t grab their attention from the first sentence or page, it won’t get another chance. As for pet peeves, I have to say too many adverbs or adjectives. Too many of either slow down the flow of a story.
Phoebe: What is the one writing tool can you not live without?
Michelle: I’ll break the rules and choose two: my computer and a print dictionary. I use both constantly.
Phoebe: How do you handle your writing schedule and your personal life without going insane?
Michelle: Sometimes I dedicate certain days for fun. On those days, I refuse to turn on my computer. I love spending time with my family, so I use this time to reconnect with them and catch up on my pleasure reading.
Phoebe: What do you do to relax after having spent a long while writing? Do you have any hobbies?
Michelle: I’m a Joss Whedon fan girl. When I want to relax, I indulge in a Whedon marathon. Right now, I’m watching Firefly and Dollhouse on DVD, but I also love Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. One hobby is traveling. Recently, I toured Ireland with fellow author Minx Malone. That was fantastic and gave me a lot of great ideas for future stories.
Phoebe: Is there any advice that you would give to an aspiring romance writer that you wish someone had given you?
Michelle: Study the genre. Reader expectations differ depending on the sub-genre of romance. For instance, if I pick up a Silhouette Nocturne® book, I expect the storyline to involve paranormal elements and have a darker tone than if I pick up a Harlequin Love Inspired® romance. If you write for a particular genre or line and your story—even if it’s good—fails to meet the readers’ expectations, it can leave a bad taste in their mouth. And readers—like the IRS—have long memories.
Phoebe: Are there any writing tips, research tips, promotion and marketing tips that you would give to an aspiring romance writer that you wish someone had given you?
Michelle: Study the craft of writing. In other words, go beyond learning how to write a story; learn how to write a great story. Read stories that sell. Look at the common elements they share. You’ll find that, regardless of genre, great writers understand how to craft engaging dialogue; they understand the importance of pacing; and they have great characterizations. Understand what elements work—and which ones don’t—in romance. Certain “taboo” things won’t fly in this genre whereas they might in erotica or even in some mainstream fiction. Promotion-wise: Don’t spend your royalties before you earn them. If your book has only earned $100 in royalties, don’t spend $500 in promotion, no matter how tempting. You might never make that money back. Instead, take advantage of budget-friendly marketing tricks available on the internet or through local writing chapters.
Phoebe: Do you have a favorite genre you like to read? Who is your favorite author(s)?
Michelle: Lately, I’ve read a lot of paranormal and scifi/fantasy romance. I’ve also started re-reading graphic novels and comic books, specifically Marjorie M. Liu’s Marvel NYX: No Way Home series and NBC’s Heroes graphic novels. My favorite authors include Minx Malone, Sunny, Marilyn Lee, Loribelle Hunt, Crystal Jordan, Cora Zane, Shelli Stevens and Emma Petersen. I could name a lot more but there isn’t space!
Phoebe: What are you reading now? And what do you plan to read after that?
Michelle: I’m currently reading Beg for It by Minx Malone (Available from Ellora’s Cave). Then I plan to read The Wolf in the Mansion by Gracie McKeever, followed by Books 2 & 3 of Loribelle Hunt’s Delroi Connection series from Liquid Silver Books. I was Loribelle’s editor for Book #1 of this series when it was published with Cobblestone Press, so I’m thrilled to read the two new books in the exciting, futuristic world she created. I also want to read Marvel’s Wolverine: The Anniversary which features a story by Jonathan Maberry, a multiple Bram Stoker award-winning author that I interviewed on my site back in June.