Welcome to the Author Spotlight, Frances, and congratulations on the release of your eleventh novel, ‘At Daggers Drawn’. Could you tell us a bit about it and perhaps give us a brief excerpt?
AT DAGGERS DRAWN is a tale of blackmail, sexual jealousy and murder set in a Romance Writers’ Conference. Because I normally write historicals, I used the setting of Hever Castle, and introduced the idea of enacting an excerpt from the winning Romantic Novel of the Year – ‘Crown Perilous’. The thoroughly modern actors are conducting a running battle of jealousy while performing their stately Tudor roles, and that allows for some fun. But the real drama is happening in the present, along with a romance between two people who just don’t want any such entanglement. And, of course, as the hero and heroine start investigating, past and present come together with disastrous consequences.
‘I’ll tell you what I think of Tony Marston,’ she said. ‘He’s a gadfly. He likes to sting people and feed off the results. In others words, he’s a journalist.’
‘Hmnn. Watch your mouth, girl. Some of my best friends are news hacks. What I want to hear is your opinion of him as a male animal. He’s quite a hunk when revealed soaking wet. You must have noticed.’ Suzanne laughed. ‘Come on. At least admit you’ve felt his charm.’
‘I have not. He hasn’t wasted any on me, as yet.’ Ginger grinned back, reluctantly. ‘But I’d like to see him try, wet or dry.’ She yawned again. ‘I’m too tired to think straight. Let’s go to bed.’
They left the public rooms and crossed the courtyard to the portcullis and the covered bridge across the moat. Beneath it the water, still and oily, reflected light from flambeaux lining their path. In the flickering orange glow the castle itself seemed to be afire, and the air felt heavy, thunderous, weighted with moisture. Ginger sagged. Was the ominous pressure merely tiredness, depression after a long flight plus a long day? She mentally shook herself. Atmosphere, pure and simple. A hot shower would fix her, and a good solid eight hours on her pillow. By tomorrow she’d be ready, poised to absorb and record the hints that would enhance her new and fascinating interest.
What was your inspiration for this story and the characters?
I’ve attended many Writers’ Conferences, and I know how hard it is to give them a different twist. So I thought it would be fun to have some mild disruption. I started with a jewel robbery, couldn’t resist a little blackmail, and then somehow slid into murder.
Because I’m a history nut, I brought in ‘players’ – modern day artists performing Tudor sketches taken from the film of the winning book, and each one carrying personal baggage that would overflow into the conference.
Ginger Beaumont is diminutive, curious, feisty and with a big heart. She stands no nonsense from Tony Marsden, a journalist with the inevitable scoffer’s attitude toward romance writing and a fear of emotional involvement. Did I mention that I always have strong women as the heroines? I also enjoyed parodying the stock figures of publisher, agent, grande dame of romance and film ‘stars’.
Of all the characters you’ve created in your writing career, which individual is your favourite?
A hard one. I admire Nicola in DARK PASSAGE, fighting for the rights of other women and to avenge the murder of her friend. But the woman I most enjoyed creating is Peregrine, in ENCHANTRESS. Her paranormal gift sets her apart, bringing her trouble as well as great rewards. And her love story is different, starting in misery and developing into the great passion that we all should like to experience.
Your books are varied in terms of setting – regency romance, paranormal and crime. Do you have a favourite genre? Are there any other genres you’d like to try?
I have a weakness for paranormal romance, in any setting. However, the truth is I jump around, never really staying for long in the one place or time. I like my heroines to be adventurous women, often taking on society’s mores, but they can be set in any time, any place. I’d call my genre romantic adventure.
You are accomplished in regards to awards and competitions, how important is it for novice writers to enter competitions?
I think it is important for novice writers to test themselves in competitions – with one proviso: that the quality of judging should be up to scratch. There are a lot of competitions out there and sometimes inexperienced judges can do damage. Organisations such as RWA who train their judges can encourage and give objective advice. I know that many members have been set on the path to success having gained insight through the various competitions offered by RWA.
In my case, I submitted ENDLESS TIME to a competition offered by Random House/ New Idea, and was runner-up. That was my first published book and it set my feet on the road. Sadly, the kind of in-depth editing that I experienced is no longer offered by the big publishing houses. I should add that this was probably the seventh novel I had written before being published. My second published novel (with SAGA Publishers, now extinct) was also a runner up in the inaugural R*BY – a really valuable competition. I shall always be grateful for the huge boost this gave to my confidence in myself as a writer.
I can’t sufficiently emphasize the importance of editing, over and over again. And most competition judges are doing just that – showing what needs fixing.
Your stories take place in exotic locations – what elements make for a great setting?
China, Australia, England, Egypt, Revolutionary France. I have been to the locations in every one of my books, and I truly believe that this has made them come alive in a way that is not otherwise possible. Of course, historic locations have not always survived, and sometimes extensive research is required. But something always lingers on the actual spot.
The Forbidden City in Beijing has been gutted of almost every moveable object. Only the walls, steps and tiles are left. But enough remained for me to feel the history, the magnificence of the Dragon Throne rulers, and send me to the research libraries. DRAGON WIND RISING is the result. Because I had walked those ancient courts, I could mentally live every moment of my heroine’s adventures in old Peking.
You’ve chosen to self publish some of your later novels, what do you see as the main benefits of doing this over traditional publishing methods?
Control versus responsibility. The search for an agent/publisher can be discouraging. There is a massive emotional element attached to the treadmill of trying to acquire an agent/publisher. And when a ms is acquired by a publisher, the author does relinquish rights over cover art, blurb, distribution, promotion. Authors publishing independently retain these rights, but they also have to do the work otherwise done for them by another publisher. No book should be sent out into the world without independent editing, whether by an in-house editor or someone else qualified through experience.
Cost is another area where the indie publisher can make her own decision and, at first sight this is a winner. If she can do her own formatting and cover art her costs will be minimal, and she can set her book price low enough to attract buyers. The catch here is lack of expertise. Some people have it, many of us don’t. I pay to have my books formatted by an experienced person who also picks up any errors that have got by me. Readers are unforgiving of errors and poor set-up. An author whose book is under contract has her book presented well, and if she’s lucky, money will be spent on promotion and distribution, depending upon the ‘House’s program.
When costs have been balanced out, one advantage the indie publisher has is the longevity of her book. Once published, it will live out there forever. The shelf-life of a contract published book is limited.
Cover art is a minefield. I personally believe that this is so important that I pay more than I want to for my covers. The indie publisher is doing herself a real disservice if she doesn’t find the very best, most eye-catching, different covers for her books. There’s a lot of competition out there, as well as plenty of cover artists with varying charges. My motto is: Make It Stand Out.
The Hybrid authors who publish in both worlds can do very well indeed. If, down the track, the indie author decides to go with a publisher offering a good deal, she should retain the rights to her e-book format. It could turn out to be the biggest earner. Amanda Hocking made her name independently before signing with a publisher. Hugh Howie, author of the runaway ‘Wool’, shows how it’s done.
The indie publisher chooses what to publish. Such freedom is heady, although with the risk that the author’s pet theme just doesn’t interest the reading public. Catching the next new wave is every writer’s dream.
The indie publisher can choose when to publish (or withdraw), can maintain interest between books – particularly with series – by publishing novellas or short stories built around the characters in the novels.
How important is it for a self published author to self-promote? What kinds of promotion do you participate in to build an audience?
Blogs, Facebook, etc. I believe that a writer can waste far too much good writing time on blogging. Announcements on Facebook and Goodreads are a start, and on the blogs of any particular group associated with her work, e.g. The Historical Novel Society. It pays to keep up with what’s going on in one’s particular area. This can also lead to invitations to blog/be interviewed/reviewed. But it’s all too easy to spend half of every morning on reading/responding and creating something interesting for a personal blog.
I don’t have a blog, but I do check in regularly with the blogs of people who know the industry, such as KK Rusch and The Passive Voice. They are at the cutting edge of the indie publishing world and freely give valuable information on that world. I don’t see the point in creating my own blog, without having some amazing way of distinguishing it from all the thousands out there. Why go up against the big, famous bloggers? Better to spend the time writing the next book. The saying that ‘you are only as good as your last book’ is so true. Not every book will be a winner, but the next one could be. And readers who love your work will be waiting on it, so it had better be in the works.
Word of Mouth. This is a powerful method of gaining readers and can be helped along by an author giving public speeches (at libraries, service clubs, etc.) as long as it’s virtually the same speech (no massive re-writes) and not too often eating into the real work. But I believe the very best way of spreading interest in a book is by making it so good that a reader just has to pass on praise to everyone she knows. Whenever I get that jolt in the middle that tells me ‘this is a great read’, I can’t help talking about it. That’s what sells a book.
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received? How did it change your life?
Perform two physical acts – swallow the disappointments, and get back on the horse.
What does the future hold for Frances Burke?
Several million readers – I hope. And the best books I can possibly write.