Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Welcome to Susan Lyons/ Susan Fox's guest blog

Welcome Ms. Fox to Love Romances and More, thank you for joining us.

Thanks for inviting me, Danny. I’m delighted to be at Loves Romances and More. I’ll take the liberty of participating both as my brand-new identity, Susan Fox, and also as my more established one, Susan Lyons.

Who or what has been your biggest influence as a writer?

Reading. I’m an only child and books have always played a huge part in my life. I’ve received so much pleasure and enlightenment that I want to give the same to other readers. Personally, the stories I most enjoy are character-driven and emotional, a little on the intense side but often with a touch of humor. So, that’s pretty much what I write myself.

What do you consider to be the key elements of a great story?

A protagonist the reader cares about, who faces some kind of challenge, and grows into a stronger, better person as they meet that challenge.

Do you have a strict writing schedule? How do you balance your personal and writing time?

I’m not much for schedules. My muse gets cranky when I try to impose structure . However, I do set weekly goals and I know how much I need to write or revise during the week. Each day I find a comfortable balance between writing, promo, admin, day job (I do a bit of consulting work), volunteer activities, fitness, family and friends, chores, and relaxation. If I find by mid-week that other activities have been taking priority over writing and that I’m falling behind in the number of pages I’m producing, then I know I need to shove some other things out of the way and devote more hours to writing. I love the fact that each day is different. One thing I know about myself is that I’m more of a morning person than an evening one, at least in terms of being creative, so usually I get up by 6:00 and try to put in my writing time during the day, and leave some of the business/promo activities for the evening.

Could you tell us a little about how you develop your characters? Who has been your favorite character to write? The most challenging?
A timely question, because I’m currently developing six characters for a 3-novella antho set on a Greek island cruise. Usually, I start with a general idea of my heroine – her personality, her job, her goals and dreams, where she’s currently “at” in her life. I need to know her issues, because I’ll have to give her a hero who makes her confront them (that’s the “challenge” I mentioned as one of the key elements of a great story). So, then I start to get a feel for my hero, and how he’s going to be challenged by the heroine. Sometimes I pull out a great book called “The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes & Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes” by Tami Cowden, Caro LaFever and Sue Viders. I’ll think, is my heroine kind of like Katharine Hepburn in The African Queen, or kind of like Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality? Is my heroine like Dennis Quaid in The Big Easy or Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark? Then I’ll read about those character archetypes, and how a certain heroine archetype interacts with different hero archetypes. Of course, archetypes aren’t stereotypes, they’re just starting points to get you going. For me, characters keep developing as I write them. I’m often still learning new things about them when I’m 3/4 of the way through the book, so I do a lot of rewriting as I keep adding dimension to them.

Favorite character to write? Hmm. Maybe Ann Montgomery in Touch Me (w/a Susan Lyons). She’s career-driven, raised by a strongly feminist single-parent mom. When I started writing her, the poor girl was coming across as so serious and stressed out, I felt sorry for her but she sure wasn’t a lot of fun. Then I realized, she hears voices in her head, the way all of us do. She hears her mom chastising her, and she answers back. And she talks to herself too, as we all do. So, when writing Ann, I added those internal chats, and they added so much fun and dimension. The RT review even referred to the “laugh-out-loud inner monologues.”

Most challenging character to write? That’s usually the one I’m writing at the moment. It’s always a challenge figuring out what makes them tick, so they’ll really come alive for readers.

Do you feel your writing is character driven or plot driven? How do you balance these two elements?

Definitely character-driven. My stories aren’t plot heavy at all. The plot is just a frame for getting the two characters to spend a lot of time together, talk a lot, push each other’s buttons (emotional and sexual ), and do some learning and growing. I read and enjoy romantic suspense, mysteries, and thrillers, but I’m more drawn into character-driven romance and women’s fiction, and that’s my natural writing style and voice, too.

What do you feel is the most important aspect a new author should remember when writing/creating their own stories? Any advice for aspiring authors?

Write about people and themes you love, otherwise it’s going to be really hard work and may not ring true for readers. Other than that, learn the craft, practice, finish books rather than quitting part-way through, revise and polish, submit, and move on to the next book. Persevere, and have faith in yourself.

Have you ever been nervous over reader reaction when a new book come out? How much does reader response mean to you over your books? What do you hope readers get from your books after they read them?

I’m always nervous about reader reaction. My characters are so much a part of me, I want readers to love them as much as I do. Positive reader response is absolutely wonderful. Nothing makes me happier than for readers to say they were moved to laughter or tears, that a message resonated with them, or that my characters gave them insights or hope. What I’d like readers to take away is a positive message that, though life isn’t easy, at least some things are within our control. That we can confront our fears and vulnerabilities and grow into stronger, happier people.

What season is your favorite and why?

Spring. Partly for all the buds and blossoms and spring sunshine, and partly because winter is my least favorite season and it won’t be around again for many months.

What would we find on your bookcase if we looked? What is one of your favorite authors?

Almost 100% fiction, except for a few writing and research books. Lots of women’s fiction and contemporary romance, a fair bit of romantic suspense, and a smattering of everything else. Lots of books by writer friends, and thanks to them I’ve tried subgenres I’d otherwise not have ventured into. Three of my favorite writers are Kristin Hannah, Susan Wiggs, and Luanne Rice.

What was the last book you read (e or print) and did you like it?

Jodi Picoult’s House Rules. It’s a book I had trouble putting down. The central character is an 18-year-old boy with Asperger’s (a type of autism) who is fascinated with crime scene forensics. The female college student who works with him on social skills dies and he’s charged with her murder. The other characters include his mom and younger brother, his lawyer, and the cop investigating the murder. It’s intriguing as a mystery, but even more so for all the character dynamics and for the way it makes you think about people who are different in a significant, noticeable way – what life is like for them and for those around them.

What character out of all your books is the closest to your personality?

Possibly it’s Theresa Fallon in Sex Drive (w/a Susan Lyons). I was nowhere near as bright as she was, but I did skip a grade and certainly did better with schoolwork than with boys. She was a first child and I was an only, and we had a lot of the same parental pressures.

What is your favorite movie of all time? The one where you can watch it and still get affected at the same spots each and every time?

To Kill a Mockingbird. I think all of my heroes have a liberal dash of Atticus Finch in them.

What is your favorite way to relax after a hard day working and writing?

A glass or two of wine, yummy food that someone else cooked, and a TV show from the collection I’ve taped. Preferably “Castle.” Or a really good movie. Then a bubble bath and a good book. Mind you, an actual evening “off” hardly ever happens. Mostly, my time in front of the TV is spent signing promo items, then it’s back to the computer for admin/promo work.

How long does it take to write a book for you? Is there much research involved in your stories?

It takes me roughly four months for a single title romance. First, a couple of weeks of getting a rough idea of my characters and story and doing preliminary research. For example, the book I’m planning right now is set on a Greek island cruise so I need to get a general idea of the boat they’re on and the islands they’ll stop at. Then I write, going back to revise as I go along, and also stopping to do research. My books aren’t research-intensive but even so, I need to find out details about people’s jobs, places they go, subjects they discuss, and so on. While I’m writing, I send chunks to my critique group and, after our discussions, revising accordingly. I aim to have a good 2nd-3rd draft finished in 3 months. That goes to my second critique group, who has it for 2 weeks (during which time I start work on the next book). When I get their feedback, I have 2 weeks to finish the book.

Where did you get the idea of your new series Wild Ride to love?

In a casual conversation with a former editor, we were talking about travel being sexy and it just popped into my head that it would be fun to do a series of romances using different forms of travel. And so, “planes, trains, and automobiles” – and later, a cruise ship got tacked on. So, that’s the “travel is romantic and sexy” aspect. The other aspect is that the series is about 4 sisters. With my Awesome Foursome series, I’d really enjoyed writing about 4 girlfriends, and this time I wanted to explore family dynamics. The relationship between sisters can be way more strained and emotionally fraught than that between good friends, and I really loved the idea of 3 older sisters who all live far away from home having to come back (by various means of travel) for their baby sister’s wedding – and that the baby sister would be the only one in the family who’s been lucky in love. Of course, by the time the 3 older sisters arrive home, they’ve all found their own luck on the journeys. So, each story is one sister’s “wild ride to love.” But also, the sisters get to know themselves and each other better over the course of the series, and develop a much closer bond.

Each of your books has a certain message to it, do you set out to with this message in the back of your mind or does it come while writing the story?

I usually have an idea when I start (e.g., I knew Ann in Touch Me had issues re balancing work and personal life; I knew Rina in She’s on Top had body image issues; I knew genius Theresa in Sex Drive wasn’t self-confident as a woman; I knew Kat in Love, Unexpectedly had to figure out why she kept sabotaging herself when it came to love), but the theme really develops as I write the book.

Big congrats to your latest release, can you please tell us something about the book?
Thanks, Danny! Love, Unexpectedly is the 2nd Wild Ride to Love book, so it’s the “trains” one and the heroine is the 2nd oldest Fallon sister. (It’s written under my Susan Fox name, for Kensington Brava. The 1st book, Sex Drive, was a December 2010 release w/a Susan Lyons, from Kensington Aphrodisia. And, by the way, it’s Cosmo’s red hot read for May!)
But, I digress. Back to Love, Unexpectedly. Kat’s one of those women who really wants love, marriage, and a family, yet has terrible luck with men. She has a pattern of falling quickly and passionately for “larger than life” guys (e.g., a NASCAR champ, a gold medal skier) and the relationships never work out.
For Kat, I wanted to write a very special love story. Sometimes, we fail to see what’s right under our nose. Personally, I love romances when best friends turn into lovers (do you know the song “Tonight I Celebrate My Love For You” by Roberta Flack and Peabo Bryson? – love it!), so that’s what I gave Kat. But not the “When Harry Met Sally” kind, where they were like middle-aged squabbling spouses from the beginning – but a romance with excitement and passion as well as trust and true friendship.
There’s a twist, in that Kat’s neighbor and best friend, photographer Nav Bharani, has been in love with Kat for quite a while. She doesn’t see him that way, though – or at least, she tries not to. He’s the closest friend she’s ever had and, given her disastrous track record with lovers, she refuses to risk her friendship with Nav.
So, Nav needs a game plan to break out of the buddy trap and win her. And that’s where the trains come in!
I love those old movies like “North by Northwest” and “Silver Streak,” where strangers meet on a train and fall for each other. Trains can be pretty darned romantic! So, when Kat takes a cross-Canada train trip from Montreal to Vancouver for her baby sister’s wedding, the desperate Nav grabs the opportunity.
To spice things up, I gave him a dramatic strategy to open Kat’s eyes and make her see him differently. He has a make-over and transforms himself into an exciting “stranger,” a Bollywood movie producer, the kind of man she typically goes for. If she opts into playing “the stranger game” (pretending he really is the movie producer rather than her old friend), she can explore her secret passion for Nav without consequences. She can have the stranger on the train, and her best friend when she returns home.
Well, of course it’s not going to work out that way! For Kat and Nav, once they start their wild ride to love, there will be no turning back.

Are you working on anything right now, and can you tell us a teaser about these projects?

I’m just finishing the 3rd Wild Ride to Love book for Brava – working title, His, Unexpectedly, tentatively scheduled for next February (w/a Susan Fox). The 3rd sister, Jenna, is the family free spirit. She’s never stuck with one job or one man for more than a few months. She starts home from Santa Cruz in her old MGB convertible, and when it breaks down along the way she hitches a ride from Mark, a marine biologist. He’s all work; she’s all play. But that’s about to change, for both of them!

Any day now I’m expecting copy-edits on my Brava Christmas novella (“Tattoos and Mistletoe” in The Naughty List, an antho with Donna Kauffman and Cynthia Eden). An unexpected inheritance forces my heroine to return to the town that treated her like trash, and there she comes to terms with her past and, of course, finds love!

Then in December, it’ll be Sex on the Slopes, from Berkley Heat (w/a Susan Lyons). It’s set at a destination wedding in Whistler. Three couples find ways of sizzling up those cold winter nights as they embark on secret romances. It’s a similar concept to my Belize-set January book, Sex on the Beach, and the Greek islands book I’m beginning to plan now.

Excerpt from Love, Unexpectedly

[Nav appears on Kat’s train, disguised as Pritam. He looks and sounds so different that at first Kat’s convinced he’s not her old friend Nav, and they flirt. But then she figures it out.]

“Nav! Oh my God! What are you doing? What’s going on? Where did you get those gorgeous clothes and the expensive jewelry?” I put my hands to my cheeks, laughing, shaking my head in amazement. “What crazy game are you playing? I can’t believe you took me in. And here I said you were older, by years. It’s your face, it looks so much leaner without all the hair. Why did—”

“Kat,” he broke in.

His tone was so serious, I lowered my hands and stared at him. At that totally intriguing face that was his, yet not his. My friend Nav’s, yet also the sexy stranger Pritam’s. “Yes?”

“You meet fascinating people on a train,” he said. “A train’s a special world. Normal rules don’t apply.”

The words were my own, ones I’d said a few nights ago. And now, the truth really sank in. He’d deceived me. Stiffly, I said, “So you decided to play a trick on me?”

His lips twisted in a small, wry smile.

Even though I was growing increasingly pissed off, I had to marvel at the sensual, expressive mouth he’d been hiding behind the mustache and beard.

“A game,” he said. “I knew you’d call me on it eventually.”

Remembering how I’d responded to his flirting, the way I’d become aroused, I flushed. “Not a very kind game. You made a fool of me.” Nav would never let me live this down. If he’d finally listened to my advice about cleaning up his appearance, he ought to have been honest with me.

Annoyance was rapidly turning to anger.

He shook his head. “No, that wasn’t my intent, Kat. I only—”

“You jerk, Nav! What the hell were you thinking?”

He gazed steadily into my eyes. “That you might enjoy Pritam’s company on the train trip to Toronto. And I knew Pritam would enjoy yours.”

Confused, I shook my head. “I don’t understand.” Maybe he hadn’t meant it as a nasty joke. After all, Nav had never, in two years, done anything mean to me.

“Nav and Kat are good friends, and that friendship is important to them. But there’s an attraction between them, right?”

“Okay, sometimes,” I admitted. “But the friendship is more important.”

“Pritam’s a stranger,” he said. “A stranger Kat met on a train. If they flirt, if they—” he waved a hand in one of Pritam’s suggestive continental gestures—“what does that have to do with what she and Nav have together?”

“But you’re both of them. I don’t understand.”

“Pritam is a . . . fantasy. People can enjoy a fantasy without it affecting reality.”

This reminded me of Nav’s photography, which was all about different perspectives and realities.

What was he saying? If he played this Pritam role, we could flirt as if we were strangers and—oh God, maybe even have sex—without jeopardizing our relationship back home? My breathing quickened. “You mean, afterward it’d be as if Pritam never existed? We—Kat and Nav—go back to being good friends as if . . . as if Nav had never left Montreal?”

He swallowed. “Do you like that idea?”

It was crazy. But tempting. Because he was Nav, I could trust him. But with the “stranger,” Pritam, I could let go, give in to the powerful attraction I felt.

I could satisfy my curiosity. The sexual curiosity I’d felt since the day I’d first seen Nav in the hallway, eyes sparkling, muscular brown arms clasping an elephant. When I’d begun to flirt with him before my then-boyfriend Jase Jackson had come along and I’d remembered I was in love with him.

Nav and I could even, if we wanted, be lovers in an anonymous hotel room in Toronto, and not jeopardize our friendship. If I could buy into this game and pretend he was a sexy stranger named Pritam.

His face was all lean, unfamiliar angles, his eyes dark with a determination and challenge I’d never seen before. A very male and very appealing one.

“Who do you want to sit beside on this journey to Toronto?” he asked. “Nav or Pritam?”

Reviews of Susan's books:

Love unexpectedly
Sex Drive


Kaylea Cross said...

Hi Susan! What an awesome interview, and you continue to isnpire me to be a better writer. I have SD ready to go on my e-reader, but L, U has to come first now. I love curling up in the little time I get each night before bed to escape into a hot romance novel. So keep them coming!

Susan Lyons said...

Thanks, Kaylea! What a lovely compliment. Whichever Wild Ride book you start with, I hope you enjoy it. Yes, there's nothing like finishing up the day with a little hot romance. LOL.