Hi, I’m Mark O’Bannon. Welcome to this rare look into the secrets of storytelling from published authors. Today, I’m joined by award winning Zoë Archer, the author of Devil’s Kiss, Skies of Steel, Sweet Revenge and Warrior.
Life as a Writer
How did you get into writing?
I started writing pretty much right after I learned to read. But it wasn’t until I won a fiction contest sponsored by a literary magazine that I really started to think of writing professionally. I started fielding calls from agents, but I was in a PhD program for Literature at the time and had no manuscript to show them. I wound up finishing that program with an MA, and left to get an MFA from the University of Iowa. Once I had my degree, I came home to Los Angeles, got a day job, and wrote in the mornings (and sometimes at work—shh!). Agent queries were made, and one accepted, then manuscripts were sent out, until one got accepted. That was in 2006, and since then, I’ve had twelve novels and novellas published, with more on the way.
When did you first realize that you have what it takes to be a writer?
I’m not sure what it takes to be a writer—talent, definitely. But persistence and discipline are very important, too. Maybe I realized I could really make it as a writer not when I won that contest, but when I received rejections and kept going.
Where do you get your ideas from?
They come from everywhere, but I’m really a fan of history, and there are always stories to tell about the past. I think I find it a lot more interesting than the present.
How do you develop your ideas into a story?
Much of my process involves my husband, fellow romance author Nico Rosso. He and I talk about an idea—sometimes just an image, sometimes a “what if?”—and flesh it out through lots of discussion and plotting sessions.
What kind of stories do you enjoy working with?
I’ve written in several subgenres within romance, from historical adventure, to paranormal historical, to sci-fi, to steampunk, to straight historical. The constant for me are strong heroines who often operate outside society’s norms, and the heroes who respect and admire their strength. Those are the stories I like to tell.
What genres would you like to explore in the future?
I’ve written one literary fiction novel under my real name (Early Bright, by Ami Silber), and I’d love, someday, to write historical fiction with perhaps a little less emphasis on the romance. But I do need that romance element in my writing, so it would never go away entirely.
Do you work from an outline?
Very much so. I don’t start writing actual pages of a book until I have a solid outline that has the major beats as well as the hero and heroine’s emotional journey. I’m not shackled to the outline. Almost always, I deviate from it while in process because I’ll learn things about the characters and the voice of the story that don’t quite work with my initial conceptualization of the plot. But I’m kind of in awe of people who can write without any outline at all. I think I’d be frozen if I didn’t know where I was heading.
How do you build your story?
A lot of it comes from that phase with my husband, where we slowly tease out elements of the plot. Usually, he’ll propose something, and I’ll do a lot of asking “why,” which we both answer. Also, since I generally write within a historical time frame, aspects of history shape the plot.
For you, what makes a great hero?
Or heroine, I should add! The characters need to have drive and determination, even if they don’t know it or aren’t certain of what they want. Ambition makes for a very dynamic, strong character.
If one of your characters were to describe you, what would he/she say?
She needs to get away from her computer more and leave us alone for a few days.
How much time do you spend researching the setting for your stories?
It can be pretty extensive, depending on the story and the subject matter. I seem drawn to writing about things I don’t know much about, so it forces me to research. But I don’t mind. I was once a graduate student, and I really do enjoy research. When I’ve written paranormal, sci-fi, and steampunk, the research comes in the form of worldbuilding, that is, creating the rules that form the foundation of this alternate world. You can’t put everything on the page, and you shouldn’t, because that would be boring, but just knowing that you know makes a huge difference.
What settings would you like to explore in the future?
Historical romance is usually set in the British Isles, but I’d really like to explore other parts of the world. I already have in some of my books, but I wouldn’t mind continuing to do so. Or perhaps less written-about time periods in Britain.
Do you like to know the purpose of your story before you sit down to write it?
Absolutely. This is what my husband calls “meta writing,” or the overarching theme or idea behind the story. It’s critical for me to have a broader sense of what I’m trying to accomplish before actually writing it. Most of my stories address issues about inequality—between the sexes, classes, races—so that is often present in my mind when I’m plotting and writing.
Do you have any favorite lines from your stories?
I have to say that Bennett Day, the hero from SCOUNDREL, gets off a lot of good zingers. Some examples:
-“There’s always truth in seduction. That’s why it works.”
-“Do you ever have ordinary days?” she asked as they ascended the stairs.
“Why would I want them?”
-Also from that same book, the expression, “Monkeys in hats.” When you read it, you’ll understand.
Do you have a routine? A certain place to write? Do you listen to music?
I’m fortunate enough to write full time, and I don’t have kids, so when my alarm goes off, I get up, noodle around on the internet (hopefully not for too long), have breakfast, then write. There’s a break for lunch and errands, then back to work. I do listen to music when I write, both to help get me in the mood and to block out the sounds of leaf blowers and barking dogs. My husband and I actually share an office, and our desks are eight feet apart (we measured). He also wears headphones because we have different taste in music, and the musical demands of our stories are also different.
How do you deal with writer’s block?
Honestly, that hasn’t happened to me yet (knock on wood). I hit blocks when it comes to plotting, but not when it comes to new ideas for stories.
How do you go about fixing a story?
I’m going to sound repetitious, but my husband is really helpful here. He gives me notes on everything I write, so if there’s something not working with a story and I don’t see it, he offers on-point suggestions. Or if I’m actually writing and hit a block, I’ll run the problem past him and together we work out a solution. The power of a critique partner!
How do you know when to stop?
I’m on deadline usually, so I can’t hold on to something forever. I’m actually impatient to turn a book in, so I have to remind myself to slow down and give the piece its due.
Words of Advice
What words of advice would you give to new writers?
Writing is the only way to get something written. You have to sit down and do it. The story won’t write itself. Sounds trite, maybe, but it’s so, so true. And once you’ve written, don’t stop. Don’t give up in the face of rejection, no matter how many you receive. There’s a reason why so many people want to write, but so few do. Because it’s hard. But it wouldn’t be worthwhile if it wasn’t difficult.
So, what is YOUR plan for the zombie apocalypse?
Stick close to my husband. He’s the one with all the zombie apocalypse plans.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever written?
There are pieces of every book that I absolutely love and feel proud for having written.
What are you working on now?
I’m just finishing up my final Steampunk romance for the series I created with Nico, and then it’s back to the world of Victorian England for my new series for St. Martin’s Press.
I’d like to thank today’s author Zoë Archer for being with us today.
I’d like to thank you as well. Please check out the other great interviews in this series with authors, and remember to keep writing! The next published book could be yours.
– Mark O’Bannon
About the Author
Zoë Archer is an award-winning romance author who thinks there’s nothing sexier than a man in tall boots and a waistcoat. As a child, she never dreamed about being the rescued princess, but wanted to kick butt right beside the hero. She now applies her master’s degrees in Literature and Fiction to creating butt-kicking heroines and heroes in tall boots. She is the author of the acclaimed BLADES OF THE ROSE series and the paranormal historical romance series, THE HELLRAISERS. She and her husband, fellow romance author Nico Rosso, created the steampunk world of THE ETHER CHRONICLES together. This Spring will see the beginning of her new gritty Victorian romance series, NEMESIS, UNLIMITED. Zoë and Nico live in Los Angeles.
Visit Zoë Archer Online:
Written by Mark O’Bannon
Mark O’Bannon is the CEO of MEOw Publishing and is the author of “The Dream War Saga.” His books include: “The Dream Crystal”, “The Dark Mirrors of Heaven”, and “Aia the Barbarian.”
You can find Mark on Google+ and Twitter. Over the past 15 years, Mark has taught Writing, Self-Publishing and Internet Marketing for authors. Visit his blog, “Better Storytelling” or his website, www.MarkOBannon.com