When I first read your work, the first thing that struck me was the degree of realism in your writing. I thought I was reading a romance writer and by the time I was done I wasn’t sure anymore. If you had to pick a genre, how would you classify your work?’
I guess I should take a moment to confess. I didn’t know which genre I was a part of either. For a while there, I did want to be a romance writer. I loved reading romance and once drove in that lane. My characters started to lead me astray. Now I feel more at ease writing within the contemporary, realistic fiction genre.
How do your stories come to you? Character first, or plot first? Give us an example of one of your favorite characters? How’d they come to be?
Most of the time it would be the characters that appear first. I spend some time getting to know them, to find out what they want to reveal. Usually when a few of the characters interact and marinate in my head, that’s when I get reactions from them that lead to the plot.
As for favorites, I adore Javier Fernández (‘Yours’). Javier appeared while I was writing a story about Teresa. He suddenly appeared sitting on a bar stool the same way the readers met him. I have no idea how he came to be, but when I figure it out I hope I can make it happen again! For me, Javier was just fun. Javier was a guy that knew what he wanted and went after it. The story came to me after meeting him, after Javier led me to it.
So, one of my favorite complicated stories of yours was in your book ‘And Then’. Veronica and Darius—have we really seen the last of them?
Good question. I was actually thinking about them earlier today and wondered the same thing. I am content leaving the whole ‘Love Sessions’ crew where they are, but if I were to ever go back and visit them again I would include Veronica and Darius. I know a lot of readers are wondering what happened to them.
In ‘Playing for Love’ you introduced your readers to the idea that deep love isn’t always romantic love. Carlos and Paige have that kind of love. Tell us more about where you were going with them?
Paige and Carlos get each other and have since the day they met. With the type of friendship they share, that temptation and question of ‘do we or don’t we’ has probably always been there, but they respected their friendship more than curiosity (for the most part).
I shared their bond with readers because I believe all successful relationships need to have friendship at its core, but not all friendships should lead to something more. Hopefully readers will understand what I mean by that once they read ‘Playing for Love.’
I think I develop crushes on some of my male characters when I write them, so I probably go easy on them a little more than I do the female characters.
Actually, I do hear a few grumbles about the women more than the men. For example, Paige and Kenneth Wilkerson (‘Playing for Love’ and ‘The Engagement Season’) both had a LOT of issues. Readers sympathized more with Kenneth’s issues, but were annoyed with Paige. Sometimes I heard how Kenneth’s struggle left a few “heartbroken”, but Paige was considered weak.
I had similar responses about Mya and Shelby (‘The Love Sessions’ and ‘And Then’). Mya struggled with allowing a relationship to develop with her best friend and her being on the fence annoyed readers. Or when Shelby battled her insecurities. The men, however, had challenges readers accepted without complaint.
Perhaps it was how I delivered the characters, but I do think women are harder on female characters. Probably just like I develop character crushes and want the best for my hero/male lead, I am sure some readers do, too.
I have a theory that every writer has a ‘tell’ or several—little hints of who they are creeping into their writing no matter how hard they may try to conceal it, or completely without their knowledge. What are some of your ‘tells’ that keep popping up in your writing?
Something sports related always finds its way into my stories. I can’t help it.
As a fan of your work, I noticed that you often write about loss. What draws you to this theme?
A person makes a random Facebook post about killing off a character and now I am labeled as the ‘loss queen.’ *wink* Actually, I never really thought about it like that. I do know ‘The Love Sessions’ is the most obvious story dealing with loss. I can think of another story or two that involve some sort of loss. Wow, I guess that’s a ‘tell’ of mine, too.
When I do bring a sense of loss into the story, I don’t want it to feel final. I allow it, no matter how bad it hurts ripping off that Band-Aid, because I want to show healing or newness that will follow. It feels tragic at first, but everything has a cycle. As a writer, my characters are living and breathing in my imagination. Of course I want the best for them at all times, but I also understand that to bring that real quality to their stories I need to show all facets of who they are. Some characters will have highs and others will go through lows. In the end, no matter what my characters encounter, they may not have a traditional HEA (happily ever after) but they will find peace.
Sometimes we have to let go and lose something in order to gain what we need the most. Since my characters are realistic, most of them seek some sort of peace after whatever ordeal they encountered on the previous pages.
Okay, back to more lighthearted matters. Carlos. I am just about dying to see this man have his come-uppance and fall deeply and heavily and hopelessly in love. What can you tell us about his upcoming book, ‘Taste for Love’?
I can tell you that Carlos Ortiz has met his match with Shelly Gauthier, Kenneth Wilkerson’s cousin. Carlos and Shelly have always had a love-hate relationship. Carlos loves to tease her, and well… Shelly just hates him. Now that Shelly has scorched the bridge between her and the Wilkerson family (and Carlos, too), Shelly is focusing on rebuilding her life. Carlos will be either an ally or an enemy, depending on whose version of the story you want to listen to.
Carlos is surprising me in ‘Taste for Love’ and so is Shelly. This one is something I have never written before and I think a lot of that has to do with Carlos and Shelly. They are fun to watch together. That’s all I’m going to say about that, but you can check out a few preview excerpts on my blog (tiawithapen.com) to get an idea.
Writers are always told they have to be thick-skinned but I’ve never met one who truly is. Our work is deeply personal to us whether we like it or not. What kind of feedback stings the most?
Oh my goodness, where do I start? There has always been something that stung, but the most difficult feedback has involved Paige. Ever since I released ‘Playing for Love’ I’ve said it is not my best work, but it is my most personal. When I hear feedback that criticizes Paige, I sometimes feel like they are attacks against me even when I know it isn’t. That story was fictional, but I knew Paige the most out of all of my characters. Paige and Kenneth are work-in-progress characters; ones we will see evolve as their series continues. Perhaps some of that critique will change over time.
The other one that came close to stinging were comments made about ‘Yours.’ Teresa Clarke was on the eve of her fortieth birthday and had grown tired of sacrificing her happiness for her adult children. There was a reference during a love scene where Teresa ponders how she will sneak out of the two pairs of Spanx she is wearing while wondering if Javier would notice any of her body imperfections. Her questioning thoughts translated somehow as being insecure and weak. As a forty-year-old woman that’s dating again, I have some of those thoughts and I know a few other people that do as well. I would not consider myself to be weak, just human. So feedback that feels like an attack toward me or someone else will always sting.
Sometimes it surprises me (pleasantly) the things that people glean from my writing. What have you heard from readers about your work that pleasantly surprised you?
‘The Love Sessions’ and ‘And Then’ have drawn out the most surprises. From hearing people feel like it would make their relationships stronger (it was not written as a self-help or relationship book) to just how those characters clicked. I felt it because I knew the characters and story, but to have readers tell me they noticed it, too… that’s special. ‘The Love Sessions’ happened by chance. When I get messages from someone saying they still want more, that is a very big surprise. A writer dreams about the day when someone wants their character to live on forever.