Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Dorothy McFalls

One of the best benefits of being a part of the writing community for me, has been meeting other writers.

One author I have had the pleasure of getting to know is Dorothy McFalls. Dorothy's first book, The Marriage List, was published by Signet Regency in 2005. It was released with rave reviews and has gone on to win numerous awards. Currently, The Marriage List is a finalist in the National Readers Choice Award for Best Regency Romance. Dorothy also has releases with Titan and Venus presses. Her most recent releases include a sensual paranormal suspense entitled, Neptune's Liar and a short sensual regency entitled, Lady Sophie's Midnight Seduction.

Recently, Dorothy graciously agreed to allow me to interview her. (read: I begged and pleaded till she gave in) Here's how that went:

How did you get started writing romance?

I didn't read romance until...let's see...eight years ago now, I think. I admit it. I was a romance snob. Thought those trashy novels were beneath me. Instead, I read mysteries and suspenses and adventure stories. What I didn't realize at the time was that I really enjoyed the parts of those mysteries, suspenses, and action-adventures that had romance in them. It was by happenstance that I picked up a romance to read on a plane in a small airport gift shop. It was one of Catherine Coulter's romances. Oh my, was it a great read! I was instantly hooked. That was what I really enjoyed in those other stories, and here was a book that emphasized the relationship. I wanted more.

A year before I'd discovered romance, my interest in writing had been rekindled. I've always written stories. As soon as I learned to write, I wrote fiction. They weren't very good, but they made me happy. But when I started college, I didn't have time to write and that part of my life was put on hold until one day I was driving home from work and I remembered. I wanted to write! I started out writing mysteries. And then I discovered the romance genre. The pieces fell into place. I was going to write romance novels. And nothing else.

You've written regency, paranormal romantic suspense and sensuals in both categories as well. Is it difficult to write across such different lines?

I like to dabble and try new things, so writing different genres and styles comes naturally to me. I think I would be sad if someone told me that I had to stick to just one. That said, dabbling isn't something I recommend. Readers don't like to jump genres with an author. (I know, I'm a reader. It took me years to read Catherine Coulter's contemporary romances. They didn't disappoint, by the way.) Also, changing styles slowed my learning process. One of the most difficult things for a writer (at least this one) to learn is creating the right tone of the story that matches the publisher's guidelines. It is subtle and involves a blending of the plot, the word choices, and the pacing. You can't just take a Regency, throw in some suspense elements, and get a romantic suspense. Every time I switch genres, I'm having to learn and relearn what it takes for that genre to feel right and to provide the reader with a satisfying experience. If I had stuck to one genre and focused on writing for one publisher, I probably would have found success faster.

You took a big leap when you quit your job to write full time without selling first. What was the drive behind that decision and was it harder than you originally anticipated?

I started to write full-time because, quite frankly, I was exhausted. I was working full-time at a job that required many night meetings and long hours. Add to that, my writing during lunch breaks, evenings, and weekends. I didn't have a social life and I was work, work, work. It felt like I had two jobs and was burning my candle at both ends. I had to make a choice. With my husband's help, we trimmed our budget until my paycheck was no longer needed. Leaving work, knowing that I was chasing my dream, made me feel like I was walking on air. It was the right thing for me.

But it hasn't been all roses, though. I gave myself three years from the time I left my job to get published. That put tons of pressure on me. And I felt every bit of it. Facing loads of rejection letters, negative comments from contest results, and scores of self-doubt has taken a toll. There is also the problem of not getting out enough and not making money. Writing is a lonely business. I didn't realize just how lonely until I quit my job. I missed the team meetings and working toward a common goal. I still do. But I'm not going back to work...well...not yet, anyhow.

I cut it close and sold my first book to Signet three months before my three year time limit had run out. I had already started looking for employment opportunities. It just goes to show, you never know when success will come...

You offer visitors to your website free short stories. As a result, you've even had to have a collection published due to requests. Have you considered working on novellas or anthologies?

I love my short stories, even though they aren't that short. They tend to run about 35-50 pages. I have written a couple of novellas. The last one wasn't plotted out in advance and turned into a novel! I don't do true short well.

I use the short story as a sketchpad to test out new writing techniques and to grow. I started to publish my short stories online because I wanted my writing out there where it could be read.

I don't think I'll write too many short stories for publication anywhere other than on my website, though. Within the confines of these stories I have full freedom to do whatever I want. They can be whatever I want them to be. I have no guidelines, no rules. If I'm happy with a story, that is all that matters.

What is your favorite thing about writing?

I love dreaming up new people, new worlds and setting them in motion. Perhaps it is a control thing. In this world, things happen like I want them to happen (as long as a character doesn't hijack a scene). It's exciting watching the story grow into something that makes sense, something that I can feel proud about. When my writing is going well, I feel like I'm riding on the crest of a wave. My fingers are flying over the keyboard, my mind is humming, and I'm perfectly focused on what I need to do. For me, that's writing in its perfect form.

What is your least favorite thing about writing? (And don't say doing this interview ;-))

Shucks, and I was going to say that, too! Interviews are hard! I write fiction. You know how hard it is for me to keep to the truth? It's nearly impossible, let me tell you. I'd much rather make something up that would sound good and make people sit back and mouth the word, "wow!"

But here's the truth (or as close as I'm able to get). My least favorite part about writing is that it strips away my confidence. Someone once said that writing is easy, you just have to cut open a vein and bleed. I think there is a lot of truth in that. You strip away your defenses and dig deep, touching on emotions that perhaps are raw and painful in order to create characters that feel real. Doing that makes me anxious. I question everything I do while I write, uncertain if I'm choosing the right words, taking the characters in the right direction, revealing enough or perhaps too much. I get myself worked up, worrying about how an editor or a reviewer or a reader might react to my writing. That stinks!

Is there a particular author who inspired you to write or inspired you along the way?

As I mentioned earlier, Catherine Coulter's books are what got me hooked on romance. Her books continue to inspire me. I also have a few authors such as Ernest Hemingway, Laurell K. Hamilton, Kay Hooper, and Julie Garwood, whose writing gets the words flowing in my head. Their books make me excited about the written word. They inspire me to write and to write better.

And now for the million dollar question, what's the best piece of advice you can give an unpublished author dreaming of one day being in your shoes?

Read. Know where you want to sell your book and read everything that publisher puts out. It will be the best thing you can do for yourself. An Avon romance reads differently than one published by Signet or Berkeley or Dorchester.

And one more thing. Never, ever give up on yourself. Writing is one of the few arts anyone is qualified to do. I think that's great! Everyone of us has a different perspective on life in this world. Everyone of us has an important story to tell. Celebrate your writing...especially in the face of rejection. What you have written is important. It is a picture of the world, a slice of life. Treat it with the honor it deserves.

Thanks, Dorothy, for sharing so much about yourself and your writing. Without authors who are willing to share, unpubs would be lost! Well, I would be ;-)



Stacy Dawn said...

Awesome interview April!

Karen Erickson said...

Thanks for sharing that interview!

Very interesting...

Nicole Reising said...

Great interview April!

Thanks for sharing Dorthy! And from someone who loves to write all kinds of things - thanks for the tips!


Sarah L. Castleberry said...

Great interview! Thanks for sharing!
I've got a three year "goal" for getting published too - yeah for meeting her goal! Gives me hope! :)

Julie S said...

Hi April,
Thanks for posting such a great interview!

April said...

Thank you, everyone! Dorothy is so sweet, she's an easy interview. And I'm glad everyone got something out of what she had to say! If only Dorothy could give me the key to getting my wip done... now :-)! And thanks, Dorothy for being so willing to answer all of my questions!

Sue aka MsCreativity said...

Great Interview April! Thanks for sharing.

Stephanie Bose said...

April, you interpid interviewer, you! Great stuff, and thanks for sharing!