Tell me a little about yourself and your background. What were you like at school? Were you good at English? What are your ambitions for your writing career? Which writers inspire you?
I grew up in San Antonio, Texas--though I did live for two years in the Philippines when I was four and five years old. As a student, I was what is called an "egg head," because I loved learning and made good grades. English was my favorite subject. I think I spent much of my life reading. My little sister used to beg me to go outside and play kickball or baseball (because they needed another player to even up the teams), and I would sometimes go reluctantly, and, more often, not at all. I am thrilled that now my books are enthralling readers in the same way I used be be enthralled by books as a child. When an uncle gave me his college literature anthology, I read it from cover to cover multiple times.
I hope one day my books will make it to number one on the New York Times bestseller list and have movies or television series that will bring the stories to life, just like the books of Stephenie Meyer, Suzanne Collins, Veronica Roth, and Cassandra Clare--all authors who inspire me.
What was your life like before becoming an author?
For years, I was a den leader and cub scout master for my sons and a girl scout troop leader for my daughter. Once my children became more independent, I turned my attention to writing. For over twenty years, I have taught literature and writing at a local university. Recently my increased sales have made it possible for me to retire from teaching altogether, even though I enjoy it and will likely miss it. I won't miss grading all of those papers, though!
What made you decide to sit down and write your first novel? Was it even really a decision or just something you had to do?
I loved to read as a child, and by the time I was in the sixth grade, I started creating my own stories, purely for my own entertainment. In high school, I wrote a fable for an assignment in English, and mine was chosen to be read out loud to the class. One of the students in the class asked if he could publish it in his Dungeons and Dragons newsletter. I was thrilled.
In college, I took every creative writing class that was offered. My school didn't have a creative writing major, so I majored in English. My goal was to teach college English and write on the side. I wrote as often as I could.
So the ambition to write stories that would be read and enjoyed by others grew from my childhood.
Did you ever want to be anything other than an author? If so, what? What made you decide to be an author?
I started college hoping to be like Anton Chekhov—both a writer and a doctor—but my struggle with organic chemistry changed that plan. Instead, I earned a Ph.D. in English, so I suppose I did become a writer and a doctor of another kind. Becoming an author wasn’t so much a decision as it was a compulsion. For me, writing started as an avoidance mechanism that eventually grew into a full-fledged obsession.
How did you feel once you learned that your first novel would be published? Do you get the same feeling with each consecutive novel?
I was both excited and terrified. I was excited to be finally sharing my work with a wide audience, but I was also terrified that readers wouldn't like it. And yes, each time, those feelings of excitement and terror are there, but with each book, I've become more and more confident that people--not all people, but MY people, MY audience--will love it.
What sparked the idea for your books?
The idea for The Gatekeeper's Saga was inspired by a movie starring Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins called Meet Joe Black. Death wants a chance to see what life is like. I felt like the movie left too many unanswered questions, and it made me want to answer them. Since I love Greek mythology, I chose to write about Thanatos, the god of death. This series also gave me the opportunity to defend Hades, the father of Thanatos, from the demonic way he is portrayed in Disney's animated film Hercules.
The idea for The Mystery Box came to me when a box was delivered to my house by mistake, and I began to wonder about the person it was intended for. The Mystery Tomb was inspired by my grandfather's efforts to discover his Native American heritage. The idea for The Purgatorium came from another novel called The Magus, by John Fowles. This book showed a character experiencing staged situations, and, as a reader, I wished for a more behind-the-scenes look at what was really going on. I actually left The Purgatorium on a back burner for years until a boy in my neighborhood committed suicide. That event made me want to get the book out, since it tries to show that no matter how mortified you feel over your mistakes, you can go on to find happiness.
The idea for The Vampire of Athens came from a dream. In the dream, a sexy vampire bit me, and though the single bite wasn't enough to transform me into a vampire, it did give me his vampire powers for one night. For that one night I had speed, flight, invisibility, x-ray vision, and mind-reading and mind-controlling powers. It was an amazing dream! When I woke up, I just knew I had to write about it.
Many of your novels deal with Greek mythology. What originally got you interested in this topic?
My eighth grade English teacher had a book of Greek myths. I fell in love with the stories, especially the one about Persephone and Hades. Later, as an adult, I watched a movie starring Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins called Meet Joe Black, in which Death wants to experience life. The movie made me wonder how the story would be different if the main character was Thanatos, the Greek god of death. My series took off from there.
Have you ever had a chance to visit Greece to see where these stories got their start?
No, but it's definitely on my bucket list!
Which comes first? The character's story or the idea for the novel?
I usually begin with a concept for the novel and develop the characters around it. For example, right now I am working on a mystery/suspense in which three empty-nesters decide to buy and flip a house together. As they rebuild and remodel the house, they uncover its dark and secret history. This history has to do with "invisible women," or women who suffered from depression and were locked up in this home for "treatment." Playing on this idea of "invisible women," I am giving the three empty-nesters personal conflicts in which they are also "invisible."
How do you come up with your characters? Do you plan their personality out in advance or create it as you go?
I spend some time getting to know a character before I write a story. I borrow parts--such as appearance, mannerisms, speech, and personality--from different people in my life to build this new person. I also use Tarot cards to learn what this character really wants, what's holding him or her back, and what hidden talents he or she might possess.
Then, as I write the story, other aspects of the character emerge to help shape a whole person.
What is the best part about writing Young Adult Fiction? What is the worst?
The best part is capturing that feeling of undergoing important moments in life for the first time--the first kiss, first love, first adventure away from home, or first time having to take on responsibilities with consequences that affect more than yourself. Maybe the fate of the world hangs in the balance, and everything you're facing is both exciting and terrifying, but also brand-spanking new.
The worst part is the expectation some people have that young adult fiction--unlike works for adults--must be socially responsible by teaching a lesson, creating a role model, avoiding all taboo behavior, and maybe even sprinkling in strong morals. While I consider my young adult fiction to be clean (no sex and very few instances of bad language), and while I do hope to inspire young readers to become independent and empowered people, I strongly feel that my stories should first and foremost be enjoyable experiences that take readers through the whole gamut of human emotion and leave them feeling like they want to read the whole story all over again.
Why do you write?
Because it brings me pleasure.
So, what have you written?
The Gatekeeper's Saga is a six-book series about a modern teen who becomes entangled with the ancient gods of Mount Olympus when Thanatos, the god of death, wants to meet her.
The Vampires of Athens is a three-book series about a teen from New York who studies abroad in Athens and discovers that vampires and demigods are real at a time when war is brewing between them. She makes friends on both sides and unwittingly becomes a catalyst to an uprising led by Dionysus, lord of the vampires.
The Purgatorium is a three-book series about a teen who's sent to an island by her parents for experimental suicide therapy, where things get out of hand.
And The Mystery Book Collection is a collection of mystery/suspense novels for adults all dealing with the theme of how narrators lure us into their stories and "abduct" us with their tales.
Where can people buy or see them?
People can find these books at all major retailers, which are listed at my website here.
Give me an insight into your main character of The Vampires of Athens. What does he/she do that is so special?
Gertie Morgan has been ignored by her parents and is now being forced to leave her home in New York to study abroad in Athens. An avid reader, her knowledge of Greek mythology and vampire lore saves her life and the lives of others more than once, and her challenges abroad force her to actually live the adventures she's only read about. Because she's always felt like an outsider in her family and at her school in New York, she is able to sympathize with the vampires of Athens, who have been subjugated for centuries by the gods and demigods, without economic resources. She also learns that she has a connection with the lord of the vampires, and this begins a journey of self discovery that empowers her beyond her imagination.
What is your favorite book that you've read so far this year? Favorite book of all time? How about movie?
I read at least two books a month, and sometimes more, so I have many to choose from this year alone. I was going to say I can narrow my favorite down to two: Stephenie Meyer’s The Host and Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. But then I remembered I read Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides, this year, and so that one’s the winner. Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein was another!
My favorite book of all time. Hmm. Gosh. That would have to be either Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver, or Remarkable Creatures, by Tracy Chevalier. In young adult, it would be Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling.
My favorite movie this year was The Dark Knight (but I haven’t seen The Hobbit yet!). My favorite movie of all time is Pride and Prejudice. Update: My favorite television series are The Flash and The Walking Dead.
How do you market your books?
I use a combination of paid promotions, Facebook advertising, a publicist, and social media interaction.
Do you have any advice for other authors on how to market their books?
Yes. I recommend that you write a series or a collection of similarly branded books and make the first one permafree. Use that permafree book as your "loss leader" to lure readers into your series. Invite readers to subscribe to your newsletter, and send out news to them once or twice a month, being as personable as possible so that they get to know you and your work. Your email list can become a powerful tool if used in the right way. Then just be sure to produce a book at least once a year--more often if possible. I try to release three a year. I have more resources for writers here.
What do you do to get book reviews?
Before I had a solid fan base, I hired a blog tour company to help with that. I also approached reviewers on Goodreads who were interested in my genre. Nowadays, I offer some of my regular fans a free digital copy of a new release in exchange for a review.
What advice do you have for someone who would like to become a published writer?
First spend a few years exploring the craft of writing. Read books, attend seminars, and read a lot of books by bestselling authors in your genre. Once you have written a manuscript, see if you can find a few critique partners who are willing to exchange manuscripts with you, but take each person's advice with a grain of salt. Don't allow your voice to become watered down because you change your work to please too many different people. Once you have a complete manuscript that you've edited a million times, you can send it off to agents in your genre if you're interested in going the traditional publishing route.
If you would rather self-publish, then you will need to assemble your own team of professionals. Hire an editor, a formatter (unless you want to learn to format your manuscripts yourself--that's what I did), a cover artist, and maybe even a publicist. You can find vetted professionals at Indie-Visible. You should also attend a writer's conference that focuses on the publishing industry to make connections and learn the ropes. Here are more resources.
How can readers discover more about you and your work?
Explore this website, and if they have further questions, they can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.