Congratulations on the release of Swift Runs the Heart Mary and welcome to the Author Spotlight. Can you tell us a little about your journey to publication?
Hi and thanks for having me. I seem to have been writing forever. My first attempt at a real book was as a teenager – a time travel/regency, with a woman from the future falling through time and meeting up with an aristocrat in Regency England. It was fun, but never finished and fortunately I have no idea which obscure box it’s now buried in.
I became more serious about writing when I was a mother at home with children. My first real book was written late at night, when no one could interrupt me. Later on, I discovered RWNZ with their wonderful competitions and supportive fellow writers. The feedback from their competitions helped enormously, as did all the information from fellow writers about the secret intricacies of the publishing world, such as the dreaded synopsis, blurbs, and how to write a submission. Along with this I was attending both romance and SF/F conferences , writing workshops and studying for a nearly finished Grad Diploma in English. My background is in the sciences, so I thought I better find out something about the craft of English and how the great writers did it.
Then last Christmas I got The Call from Escape Publishing. Thank you Kate, it was the best present I’ve ever had! My first book, A Heart Divided was released in April this year. I also joined RWA at the start of the year, which has added another big step to my writer’s education and introduced me to a whole bunch of new writer friends.
You write across a variety of genres, which is your favourite?
I see-saw between historical and science fiction. My favourite genre is the one I’m writing at the time, I guess. Currently, I’m working on a science fiction book with romantic elements, and had an SF story included in a local anthology released earlier this year. But ideas for a couple of historical are also bubbling away in the back of my head. I tend to gestate stories for quite a while before actually getting them on paper.
So the answer is neither historical or SF. My SF can be a bit darker in tone, so it also depends on my general feelings at the time. It’s the same in reading; I love paranormals, fantasy, contemporary, suspense as well as my favourite historicals and SF.
Are there any other genres you would like to tackle in the future?
Possibly a paranormal, though I suspect it would end up being a science fiction romance. I do like reading stories with a supernatural element, but my scientific side has an annoying tendency to demand a credible explanation for how my world can work. I do enjoy suspense as well, or anything with a political bent, so a political thriller would be fun to try.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?
I’ve had so many good pieces of advice over the years, but the simplest is often the best. I used to try to be very mysterious in my opening pages until I went to a writing workshop run by the SF writer, Orson Scott Card, who said to name your protagonist in the opening paragraph and just tell the reader what’s happening and where they are. Cut out the fancy tricks, in other words, and just tell the story. Simple advice, but my stories were so much better after that.
From where do you get your inspiration?
My first release, A Heart Divided came from reading about a monument at Gorge Creek, Central Otago to the unknown number of gold miners who perished in a bad snowstorm there. Then I visited a nearby stone cottage from that era, and my story was born. The character of my hero, John, was actually suggested by a boy I knew at primary school. Not an old flame, just someone I had admired as a child!
Swift Runs the Heart was inspired more by old histories I had read of the adventures of the miners at the time of the gold rush. I tend to haunt second hand books shops and have acquired a number of old social histories written by locals. They are great for getting a feel for the language and people of the time, along with old newspaper clippings found online. It’s amazing what you can find. As for the settings, I’ve been familiar with the Central Otago area since childhood, and fell in love with it all over again on a number of research trips.
Where exactly my characters come from, apart from John Reed, I couldn’t say. Books I read, people I have seen in the street, maybe even my own family, though not in any overt way. I do very little formal plotting before writing, but the characters sort themselves out in my head over a period of time, then come to life as I write my first draft.
Of the characters you’ve created, which is your favourite and why?
I love all my heroes, and my heroines are part of me, but my favourite would have to be Bas Deverill, the hero of Swift Runs the Heart. He was so fun to write and has a wicked sense of humour. He does things his own way, regardless of what others may think. Bas says and does all the things I would be far too self conscious to do.
What would we find on your book shelf / e-reader?
Right now, I’m reading the second book in Shona Husk’s Shadowland series – paranormal, but with goblins. Others on my shelf include all of Nalini Singh’s books, Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond series, Catherine Asaro’s Skolian Empire series, Nora Roberts, Gaelen Foley, Thea Harrison and my fellow Escape authors including Tea Cooper, Lena Dowling, Frances Housden, and Ainslie Paton. Plus some years ago I was lucky enough to be given almost all of Georgette Heyer’s book in the old, hardback versions. They feel and smell wonderful.
What do you do with yourself when you aren’t writing?
I work part time, have four grown sons, am currently taking a uni paper, and we recently bought a farm an hour north of Auckland where we live. We lease out the grazing, but most weekends we drive up to work on it. The garden is lovely but also very big, and I’ve lost count of the number of hydrangea bushes to be pruned. Writing is sort of squeezed into the left over cracks at the moment.
Could you please share a brief excerpt with us from your upcoming release, Swift Runs the Heart.
“The Dunstan goldfield, New Zealand, 1862
A hand snatched at the cap on Geraldine’s head. “You’ll do nicely,” said a voice behind her. The accent was the educated English her stepmother tried hard to emulate, the masculine tones too self-assured, and the owner of the voice quite unknown.
Geraldine swung ‘round to do battle, only to find a strange man standing so close she could not move without pushing past him. She froze, looking for an escape route, even as her mouth opened to tell the intruder into the saloon’s kitchen exactly what she thought of his behaviour.
The man showed no sign of shame at alarming her. He was too busy gazing at her uncovered hair with a look of decided satisfaction. Her mouth closed and she groaned silently. Like too many before him, it seemed the stranger was drawn by the hair that was the bane of Geraldine’s life. Like living strands of amber, her father used to say. Wild, uncontrollable and a nuisance, was Geraldine’s opinion. Too many men had lauded its beauty in the past. She set one foot back in slow retreat, even as his hands began again, hauling at the pins holding her hair in place at the base of her neck.
Her hands reached up, but to no effect. He batted them away and continued to release the vibrant curls she had hoped to keep hidden in this new place. He stepped back to admire his handiwork, the widening grin setting his face alight as he saw the effects of his changes. Too annoyed now to be frightened, she gave him back stare for stare.
It was a mistake. Time became irrelevant as her eyes slowly tracked up the newcomer and a strange fancy took her. His face seemed caught in an instant of endless motion. Taut skin tracing lightly over long bones, bright, sun-kissed hair and laughing sea-blue eyes.
Her world tilted sideways. She breathed hard, striving to fight off a rare feeling of confusion. Control. She must take control of the situation.
“What do you think you are doing?”
“Making you pretty for the gentlemen, of course,” said the stranger. “I need someone to distract the fine fellows awaiting me in the bar while I make my escape.”
“Whyever would I do such a thing?” she said, as she vainly attempted to return her hair to some kind of order and her senses to normality.
“Because if you don’t, they will kill me.”
Both Geraldine MacKenny and Bas Deverill escaped to the goldfields in search of something—for him, a fortune; for her, independence; for both, freedom. Neither expected the fields to yield so much more.
1860s, Otago, New Zealand
Geraldine finds the life of a wealthy run-holder’s daughter stiff and constraining. On the goldfields, she has the opportunity to be so much more: independent, responsible, strong. But her freedom is short-lived when she is noticed by notorious bandit Black Jack MacRae — a man who is used to getting what he wants and who never takes no for an answer.
Cheerful, casual, uncommitted — that’s the way Bas likes his life on the goldfields. He may be of aristocratic blood, but he thrives on the challenges of commerce and the freedom of the colonies. Rescuing a beautiful girl from the grasp of Black Jack MacRae, however, throws his whole life into turmoil. Geraldine seems to be a magnet for trouble, and the goldfields are a long way from civilisation. Taking her under his wing only makes sense, but Bas has no intention of letting her get any further under his skin. He might want to bed her, but that is no reason to risk falling to the prison bars of respectability—is it?
Mary is giving away an ecopy of both A Heart Divided and Swift Runs the Heart! All you have to do to be in the running, is leave a comment below. Please be sure to leave a contact email so that we can notify you!
Competition is open world wide and the winner will be drawn on September 8th, 2013.