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Author Interviews

Author Interviews Featured Authors

An interview with Julie Zantopoulos

How many hours a day do you write?

I love that the question assumes I write every day because I do. I spend at least two hours a day working on writing or author-related tasks. On weekends, I write the majority of the day on/off. Making writing a daily habit was really important to me. 

If you were a casting agent for the movie version of A Curse in Ash who would you cast for the main roles?

As an author with aphantasia (I don’t see pictures in my head), it’s hard to fan-cast my books. However, I do have picture inspiration for characters. You can see the book’s Pinterest board at https://pin.it/6oPmkL4. That may give you the best idea of what I was picturing for my world and characters.

But I can say that Brynach has always been the model Brock O’Hurn and Riordan has always been close to Julian Morris from Pretty Little Liars. Aisling is more a Molly Quinn, but when she was on Castle as Nathan Fillian’s daughter-a feisty and independent redhead. 

What were some of your favorite books when you were growing up?

Young Julie was a voracious reader. I read a lot of Nancy Drew, The Babysitter’s Club, The Secret Garden, and Where the Red Fern Grows. Recently I reread a book I found at my parent’s house that I remember loving. It’s a middle-grade horror that is truly frightening (not to mention problematically sexist looking back on it). It was Christina’s Ghost by Betty Ren Wright-you’ve been warned-but it’s a great book for the spooky season.

What was your hardest scene to write?

There was a scene towards the end of the book that I can’t mention for spoiler reasons, that absolutely broke me. The hardest scenes for me are always the ones that require me to dig deep into emotions and put myself into a character’s shoes. This particular scene happened on the last of three rewrites (yes three) and I truly didn’t know it was going to happen. I was doing video chat sprints with a writer friend and they looked up and I was sobbing and just said, “Something just happened that makes the story so much better, but I’m not okay right now.” And I just let myself cry. So, yeah, that was hard.

Can you tell us all about Pages and Pens, your YouTube channel? 

It started as a passion project where I could discuss books and grow a community. I just wanted to rave about what I was reading, and for a long time, that’s all I did. Then I branched out into author-related content as I got more serious about my writing and querying process. My online community has seen A Curse in Ash from inception to completion. I have a lot less time for reading now that I’m focused on a writing career but the joy that comes from Pages and Pens hasn’t wavered at all. I’m very thankful for my bookish community, which is why A Curse in Ash is dedicated to them. It’s been incredible to be supported and encouraged the way they have. They truly are the best.

What’s next for you? Are you working on a new project? If so, can you give us a teaser and/or an expected release date? 

There’s always something in the pipeline for me! I am currently nearing the end of the sequel to A Curse in Ash and will immediately move on to fast drafting book three (the conclusion-I think). Once they’re both finished I’ll go back and edit book two and get it ready for critique partners and editors. I also have two adult women’s fiction novels, one I’m querying for agents and another that still needs editing. I plan to indie publish the In Ash series of books and traditionally publish women’s fiction. But, who knows, things may change and I may indie publish them all. But, I definitely want to finish telling Aisling, Riordan, and Brynach’s story first. As far as teasers, I can promise the spice and the stakes both increase in future books, and considering how high they were in book one, that’s saying something.

Author Interviews Featured Authors

An Interview with Barbara Delinksy

Which of your books did you have the most fun writing?

The most fun?  That would be my very first, which is no longer in print but which I wrote on a lark.  I had never thought to be an author until I read an article in my local newspaper about women who wrote category romances.  I read a bunch, sat down, and wrote my own.   It took me to the mountains of Brazil with people who had nothing to do with my life at home with three children, a husband, and cleaning, cooking, and refereeing.  I found that I loved the process of writing.  The words just poured out of me.  It was the best escape in the world – the glove of a career that fit me perfectly.

 I love that your website lists all the books you’re reading -how do you juggle your reading time with your writing time? Is it hard to read a book while in the process of writing?

Yes!  For the longest time, I couldn’t read other books while I was writing my own.  I needed to stay in the life of my characters without distraction.  I needed to stay in my own voice, not the voice of another author.  It was only when I began spacing out my books that I was able to pleasure-read more.   Now I have three books going at any given time – one in print, one on audio, and one on kindle.

How do you connect with your characters? Do they tend to take after people close to you, or are they a full concoction from your imagination?

I work really, really hard not to base characters on people I know.  I never want my family or friends to think I’m writing them into books.  That would be a betrayal – which isn’t to say that one characteristic or another, one experience or another from real life doesn’t enter my books.  Of course, it does.  Sometimes it’s subconscious.  I have a feeling that I’ve written about people in my past without ever realizing it!  

Do you ever travel to conduct your research for books? If so, what place has been your favorite?

So funny you ask.  I had always set my books in New England and had a slew of favorite towns that I visited often for research.  But a while ago my agent suggested I set a book on the West Coast.  At the time, my husband and I were making yearly trips to Big Sur.  San Francisco was not far north of there.  So I plotted a San Francisco book and after I’d done an outline and the first few chapters, flew out ahead of him and spent several days touring the city.  For whatever reason, San Francisco didn’t work for me.  In the single week after I returned home, I reframed the story to take place in Big Sur, which I did love.  That book, Coast Road, was a breakout book for me, my first hardcover to hit the New York Times list.

What were some of your favorite books when you were growing up? 

I loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder books.  My mother died when I was very young, and these books took me to a safe family, a different time and place.  Growing up in Boston, I loved books about the American Revolution.  I even loved Nancy Drew mysteries, though I’m not at all a fan of thrillers today.  Life is too much of a thriller.  Y’know?

What’s next for you? Are you working on a new project? If so, can you give us a teaser and/or an expected release date? 

No teaser yet.  I’m a third of the way through my next book but have paused to assess – which actually brings us full circle to your first question, about the book I had the most fun writing.  Writing is fun.  The business of writing is not.  When I wrote that first book, I had a ball.  But publishing has changed dramatically in the years since.  I’m trying to decide where to go from here.

Author Interviews Featured Authors

An Interview with Lucy Smoke

If you could escape into one of the worlds you’ve created in your books, what character would you become and why?

It really depends. Haha. Unfortunately, the majority of my characters have some sort of internal damage and I don’t know if I’d want that. But I’d love their strength and fortitude. I think, though, I’d personally like to go in as just myself and see how I would adapt to a new world–contemporary or fantasy.

What is your work schedule like when you are writing?

I’m a night owl, so my work schedule generally starts late afternoon and moves into the early morning. I usually do my research, outlining, and admin duties in the afternoons, and anywhere between 7 pm-1 am I’ll find myself writing. I’m addicted to writing, so I generally write every day if I can help it.

Do you have a favorite character that you have written? If so, who? And what makes them so special?

I love all of my characters, but with that said, I do love some more than others. In my fantasy works, Barbie is my favorite (from the Barbie: The Vampire Hunter series). In my contemporary works, Avalon is my favorite (from Sick Boys). These two have a lot in common. They’re both brash and aggressive. They don’t back down from challenges, yet at the same time, they have flaws and wounds from their childhoods. They’re special to me because of those flaws of theirs. 

Characters who are perfect and always good don’t interest me because I can’t see them being real people, but these two, Barbie and Avalon, aren’t always likable, but just because they aren’t likable doesn’t mean they aren’t loveable. 

Where do you draw inspiration from?

Pretty much anything and everything. I draw inspiration from real life, from my own past and childhood, as well as stories I hear on the internet, on the radio, from friends and colleagues. I want to make my characters as human as possible with their wants and desires and dreams. They may be fictional to readers, but in my mind, there’s so much beneath the surface of their characterization and bringing them to life on the page. 

If you could ask one successful author three questions about their writing, writing process, or books, what would they be?

Well, first, I feel like “success” is in the eye of the beholder so that makes it hard for me to determine who I would ask and what I would ask because those questions would change depending on the author in question and their expertise. Generally, though, I might ask about the mental fortitude it takes to be an author and what they do to cope or harness the varying levels of their craft and how they are perceived by readers. 

I can only be who I am and they can only be who they are, but other authors will understand that working in the publishing industry isn’t easy. If it was, everyone would be a “successful” author. We do it because we love it and I enjoy hearing people just talk about what makes them happy. So I’d ask what about this industry they love and why they keep writing. 

What’s next for you? Are you working on a new project? If so, can you give us a teaser and/or an expected release date? 

Currently, I’m working on the next book in the Sick Boys series. It’s become my most popular series to date under both my fantasy pen name (Lucinda Dark) and my contemporary pen name (Lucy Smoke). The original trilogy has been completed, but I have follow-up stories in standalone format for the side characters that everyone fell in love with. The expected release date is October 2021 (so next month!). 

Author Interviews Featured Authors

An Interview with Colleen Oakley

If you could escape into one of the worlds you’ve created in your books, what character would you become and why?

It would be a toss-up between the remote and quaint Frick Island (from The Invisible Husband of Frick Island) and Jubilee’s house in Close Enough to Touch because she lives in a gorgeous old Victorian with teetering stacks of books everywhere (dream come true!). I don’t know that I would necessarily want to be Jubilee, though—not being able to touch anyone would not be a fun way to live! 

Can you describe for us a typical writing day?

After shooing all my children out the door for their school day, I walk my dog Baxter, while listening to an Italian podcast (we’re going next summer, so I’m trying to get at least a minimal grasp on the language!). Then I come home, pour my second cup of coffee, make a smoothie and get to work. I generally write about 3-4 hours, take a break at lunch to squeeze in some time at the gym, and then write another hour or so before I meet my kids at the bus stop. When I’m on deadline, I’ll get up earlier, before the kids wake up to get some extra writing time in, and I’ll often go on a 3-day writing retreat by myself to pound out words.

When you’re writing an emotionally draining (or sexy, or sad, etc) scene, how do you get in the mood?

Music! I generally pick tunes that fit the scene I’m working on. For Before I Go and You Were There Too, it was a lot of James Bay and Leon Bridges and Sam Smith—these soulful, emotional tunes that kept me in that headspace. For Close Enough to Touch and Frick Island, which both had a lot more fun, quirky scenes, I listened to music like the Beatles’ lighter songs, as well as Lake Street Dive, a band that’s upbeat and has a lot of character.

Which of your books were the most enjoyable to write?

I would have to say Frick Island because I had so much fun making myself laugh with the cast of quirky characters and their laugh-out-loud quips. I really needed something a little more light-hearted and happy after writing You Were There Too—and I think readers needed something light and happy too, considering all we’ve been through (and are still going through!) these past few years. 

If you could ask one successful author three questions about their writing, writing process, or books, what would they be?

Ooh! This is a fun question. I would love to sit down with Ann Patchett and just find out how her mind works—her story ideas are so unique and involved and so fully realized. Reading her work is like witnessing magic.

What’s next for you? Are you working on a new project? If so, can you give us a teaser and/or an expected release date? 

Yes! I’m super excited to share that my next book, The Mostly True Story of Tanner and Louise, will be released in February 2023. It’s about Louise, an 84-year-old woman who may or may not be an international jewelry thief, and her 21-year-old college-dropout caretaker, Tanner. The two end up on the lam from the police—while Tanner is trying to figure out who Louise actually is.

Author Interviews Featured Authors

An Interview with Jennifer Hillier

What is your schedule like when you’re writing a book?

I used to be very rigid about my writing schedule, and for years I was an evening-to-the-wee-hours-of-the-morning writer. And then all that changed when I had my son. When he was a baby and toddler, I’d be zonked by dinner time, so the only time I could write with any focus was in the morning for 3-4 hours, with the help of a babysitter. 

Now he’s six, and more able to do things on his own, but then the pandemic hit. He spent nearly the entirety of first grade in virtual school, which eliminated any kind of writing schedule I’d hoped to have. I wrote when I could in between helping him with school – an hour here, twenty minutes there – and as I neared my deadline, all night long when everyone was asleep. At least my husband was working from home, so he would help with mornings to let me sleep in.

What risks have you taken with your writing that have paid off?

Probably the biggest risk I’ve ever taken was letting people actually read my work. Which sounds strange, but I was a “closet writer” for a long time. It was hard for me to tell people – especially close friends and family – that I was dreaming of being a published author. I didn’t want anyone to know that I wanted something so badly but was scared I wasn’t good enough. And for years, that was fine. I wrote, but I didn’t have the courage to send my work out anywhere. I didn’t send it, I couldn’t be rejected, right? Which meant I could keep dreaming. 

But then the day came when something switched. The fear of never knowing if I was good enough outweighed the fear of failing, so I started submitting. Sending out that first query letter and writing sample to a literary agency was terrifying. 

Do you play music while you write — and, if so, what’s your favorite?

I actually can’t listen to music while I’m writing, but I do listen to music in between writing spurts. I make playlists for every book, and I don’t delete them until the book is completely written, edited, and ready for publication. For my first book, Creep, I listened to a lot of Radiohead (shocker, I know). Jar of Hearts, my fifth book, was inspired by two songs: Christina Perri’s “Jar of Hearts” (again, shocker) and “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails. 

My playlist for book seven is mostly 90s R&B, as a chunk of the story takes place in the 90s.

What is the most valuable piece of advice you’ve been given about writing?

I’ve received a lot of writing advice over the years, but the one that was most helpful was: write the book you want to read. And what I wanted to read was a really dark, obsessive, gritty thriller with a love story weaved in, where the sex scenes didn’t just fade to black. I wanted a fast-paced, twisty, murdery book that allowed me to peek into the characters’ bedrooms as well, and that’s when I wrote Creep

 Whom do you trust for objective and constructive criticism of your work?

I’ve had the same literary agent my entire career, and I trust her judgment completely. She always tells me what’s working and what isn’t, and that any advice she offers comes from a place of wanting the best out of me, as well as the best for me. I’m also fortunate to have a fantastic editor who is always so respectful of my vision for a book and finds the best ways to help me fulfill that vision without changing it. I’m really, really lucky.

What’s next for you? Are you working on a new project? If so, can you give us a teaser and/or an expected release date? 

I’m right about to dive into edits for my seventh book. It’s a bit lame, but I’m superstitious about revealing anything specific about a new book until the edits are done. But it is another psychological thriller, set half in Toronto and half in Seattle, with some of it set in the 80s, some of it in the 90s, and some of it in 2018 (pre-pandemic). And we still don’t have a firm title, so I can’t even tell you that! But it will be out in Spring 2022.