I’m one of those people that loves to find out everything about someone they know or admire. Within legitimate, non-stalker-ish boundaries (usually).
I need opinions and conversation before I can make decisions. And in both of my chosen professions, teaching and writing, I am always game for looking to the experts.
When you’re reading a really great novel, it’s hard to imagine it was every anything but really great. You don’t think about which of those pages were tough for the author to write or which snippets weren’t part of the original. Because you’re lost in great writing. And that’s as it should be. All authors want you to fall into their books and become part of the world they created. But that doesn’t mean building that world came easy. As a writer, I really appreciate knowing that the people I admire don’t always find it easy either. Maybe it’s a misery loves company thing, but I honestly prefer to see it as more of a ‘okay, she’s been here, too, you can get past this’ sort of thing.
In light of this thinking, I asked my agency-mate, Shannyn Schroeder to share some truths about writing romance and, in particular, writing series romance.
It’s hard enough to create a world for one book, but imagine one that plays the setting for several books, where back-stories overlap. What does it take to keep that going in a believable way? Read Shannyn’s thoughts on this and a few other interesting things like whether she prefers Tom Brady or Tom Cruise (because in interviewing people you admire and like, you ask the really tough questions).
Jody (J): First, thanks for letting me interview you Shannyn. I am a big fan of yours and feel lucky to have not only connected with you, but to be repped by the same agent. You write stories that blend humor and heart. There’s a lot of good stuff going on in your stories: family dynamics, different relationship conflicts, steamy, hot sex, and sweetness. Your books are the full package (no pun intended).
Shannyn (S): Ha! Thank you for saying that. I love the pun!
(J): Let’s get started. You have several books and many of them are connected. I’d like to ask you some questions about not only your series, the characters, and the interconnectedness of your books, but the glamorous image people get in their head when you tell someone you’re a romance writer.
- Be honest. When you are home, writing a book, say on deadline, what does a typical day of writing look like?
(S): My typical writing day, deadline or not, is whenever wherever. It’s a rule I’ve lived by for years, long before I sold. I have multiple part-time jobs and 3 kids. Writing happens whenever I can steal a small block of time. If I’m really in a time crunch for deadline, which happens, I give up watching TV and write extra at night after the kids are in bed. That’s when and where my writing started, so it’s not too hard to slip back into it. Other than that, I’m a pretty steady writer. I don’t necessarily write EVERY day unless I’m on deadline, but it is habit. For example, daughters are at swim practice? I go to McDonald’s and write (In fact, that’s where I am as I type this).
- (J): What are your writing must haves? Music? Snacks? Beverage? Place?
(S): As I said above, I can write anywhere. I do have a soundtrack for every book I write, and I listen to it while I draft. I prefer to have Diet Coke on hand, but that’s pretty much for everything, not just writing. I also have a bowl of M&Ms on my desk, but I don’t always write at my desk.
- (J): When you write a series, like the O’Leary’s or the O’Malleys (sigh…Nora), do you have this whole family built in your mind? Do you start with one person and have it branch out from there? Do you use a flow chart to keep them all connected? Why big Irish families? I know…that was a lot of questions disguised as one.
(S): Yes, that was a lot. Here it goes…When I started the O’Learys, I had no clue. I thought I was going to write a trilogy about 3 women, but when the first book introduced Ryan O’Leary as the hero, I knew he came from a big family and they kind of unfolded as I wrote. By the end of that book, I had a small idea of who each of the siblings were, but it was just enough to give me a starting place for the other books. And in all honesty, I kind of fell in love with them and wanted to write their stories.
I learned my lesson with the O’Learys, though. In book 4, Catch Your Breath, I introduce the O’Malleys, the family that lives across the street. Jimmy is the hero who falls for Moira O’Leary, but the O’Malleys came to me as people and I knew I needed to write them. They became my For Your Love series (but in my mind, it’s the O’Malley series).
To keep all of the characters organized, I do have a family collage I keep on my bulletin board when I’m writing a book in the series. I also have notes in a book that tells me what year they were born so I can have them age as I go through the series. I wish I wasn’t so lazy because then I would get off my butt and do a series bible, which would be the smart move.
And last…Why big Irish families? Because they’re fun and f*cked up in their own ways. The neighborhood I grew up in is what I based the O’Leary/O’Malley neighborhood on. I always wanted to come from a big family like those I knew. And they’re Irish because that’s what I know. Although I haven’t based any single character on one person, I’ve used many people I’ve known over the years as templates for characters.
- (J): Do you have a process? Do you always start with an outline or do you just write?
(S): Outlines freak me out. I wish I could outline. After writing a few books, I developed a process, but I’m still mostly a pantser. I spend a lot of time on character development (collages and sound track and personality stuff). I have a few key scenes in my head, but mostly, I just sit down and write.
- (J): What is the hardest part of the process for you?
If we’re talking the whole industry, promotion kills me. I’m not a salesperson and I don’t have the best social skills, so I dread promoting.
If we’re talking the writing process, it’s revision. Revision is where the real work takes place for me. I love to draft because it’s just fun letting characters do whatever they want.
- (J): You’ve published with big houses and you’ve recently just self-published a book. How do the experiences differ?
(S): Well, with self-publishing, obviously it’s all on me. While I didn’t design the cover or back cover copy, I had to offer ideas and then approve. Since I have no background in those areas, it’s tough. I still stink at promo no matter who publishes, so I’m learning as I go. The process itself wasn’t all that hard. I started early to learn as much as I could, so when I was actually ready, the publishing part was easy.
- (J): Do you have a fondness for one of your characters over the others? Who and Why?
(S): I know I’m not supposed to have favorites (kind of like with your kids), but I do. My favorite O’Leary is Moira. She loud and talkative and so much fun. She’s nothing like me and I think that’s part of why I’m drawn to her. As far as the O’Malleys go, it’s a toss up between Jimmy and Sean. I’m in love with Jimmy, but part of that is because he’s such a perfect match for Moira. But Sean is a dirty talking charmer. I had a blast writing him.
- (J): When you have time to read, who are your go to authors?
(S): I’ve always been a reader, so I have too many favorites to mention. It seems like every week I add some more. Jill Shalvis and Shannon Stacey are always a safe bet for me. I also love Jennifer Cruisie – she was my first foray into contemporary romance. I also really like Lauren Layne, Megan Erickson, Kate Meader…the list could go on for pages.
- (J): What romance book would you/do you read over and over again?
(S): I’m not much of a rereader, but I do have many books on my keeper shelf. Naked in Death by JD Robb is one I can reread. And some of the Janet Evanovich – Stephanie Plus is a light, fun read. And Bet Me by Jennifer Cruisie.
- (J): I just finished doing a post on art imitating life so I’m curious…you write about big families in your series…do you have a big family with lots of siblings?
(S): No, but I always wanted one. I grew up in a neighborhood where there were a lot of big families. My dad died when I was four, but if he had lived, I have no doubt I would’ve had more siblings than the 3 of us he did have. He always talked about a big family. (You know those Irish Catholics…)
This or That
A quick game of which would you choose:
- Tom Cruise or Tom Brady – Tom Brady
- Chris Evans or Chris Hemsworth –not fair! Hemsworth
- Superman or Batman – Batman – always Batman
- Coke or Pepsi – Diet Coke
- Apple or PC – Apple all the way
- Early bird or night owl – night owl, which really sucks once you have kids
- Kit Kat or Snickers – another tough one…Snickers
- Main course or dessert .—seriously? Dessert, of course
- Tropical Island or Big City – I’d love to visit a tropical island, but since I grew up in a big city, this is where I’ll probably always live
- Chicago Med, Chicago Fire OR Chicago PD – I watch them all, but I think Chicago PD is probably my favorite. I have a weakness for cop shows.
Shannyn’s newest book, In Your Arms, releases December 27th. That means, you still have time to read Under Your Skin, featuring Norah O’Malley. I loved this book and have started In Your Arms, but due to serious amounts of editing, have not been lucky enough to get back to it yet. What I can tell you is that Shannyn hooks readers immediately with her characters and their wit. Not gonna lie, she’s also VERY good at writing the sexy scenes.
In case you missed the link above, you can visit Shannyn’s website here to read all about her books. If you’re a first time reader, I would recommend Under Your Skin, but the O’Leary’s are pretty awesome and I really enjoyed His Dream Role.