Friday, June 24, 2011

Guest Author Day with M. S. Spencer

Can you tell us a little about how you started writing; was it something you have always wanted to do?

I have been writing since I could hold pencil to paper (incorrectly as it turned out, which is why I still have a callus on my right ring finger). As an adolescent I of course wrote interminable sappy poems, some of which were actually published. I turned to stories as a young adult, and even a couple of novels. But I suffered from “submission anxiety” and never got beyond sending queries. Then a few years ago I had the luxury of a six-month hiatus when I was laid up and finished, sent, and sold my first book, Lost in His Arms. Thank God for on-line submissions!

What do you consider to be the key elements of a great story?

First, characters must be believable—by which I mean characters who don’t act out of character and who have a modicum of intelligence so you don’t spend more time rolling your eyes than reading. Second, description must be fresh, rich, and integral to the action (i.e., no long-winded paragraphs as the sun sloooooowly sets while the characters sit inanimately). And third, an excess of dialogue over than narrative and action over introspection to maintain a fast pace and the reader’s rapt attention.

Could you tell us a little about how you develop your characters? Who has been your favorite character to write? The most challenging?

I usually start with the setting and the plot before the characters evolve as real people. By about the third chapter they are fully formed, at which point they acquire their proper names and leave my little brain nest to wend their independent way through the story. Some secondary characters may materialize on their own. I try to be as hospitable as possible, although my editors aren’t always so welcoming. As to physical description, I like each heroine to have a completely different one—it’s so much fun to dress them!

Favorite character? Michael Keller, hero of my first book, Lost in His Arms. He’s my perfect man—comfortable with himself, master of many skills, funny, and capable of deep, quiet love without a lot of slobbering.
Most challenging character? Probably Rose Culloden, heroine of my second book, Lost & Found. She’s so unsure of herself, so lacking in self-esteem that she suffers unnecessarily. And gets herself into pickles.

Have you ever found that you didn’t like your Hero or your Heroine? If so, what did you do to change that?

Maybe Rose, but there’s not much I could do to change her, any more than you can fix all the flaws in your friends. Her insecurity, which comes with growing up very privileged, is not one people often find sympathetic, so I had my work cut out showing my readers that she strives for perfection and wants to do the right thing as much as anyone else.

If you were to start again, with the knowledge you have now, what would be the first thing you do?

I would have submitted any and all pieces of writing I’d ever done. I would not feel guilty about writing during the day. I would have married someone rich so that I could afford to hire someone to do my publicity.

Can you tell me a bit about your most recent/upcoming release?

Losers Keepers, due out July 27 from Secret Cravings, is a full-length contemporary romantic suspense novel, M/F, 3 flames. Unfortunately we’re still in the editing stage and I can’t provide an excerpt here. But I can offer you the blurb:

Dagne Lonegan expected that spending a year in Chincoteague to write a novel would clear her sinuses, if not her heart, of any feelings for Jack Andrews, erstwhile lover and long-time jerk. It's just her luck that her first week on the island she's in the right place at the right time to be involved with a murder. Only she doesn't know it. Unfortunately, the murderer doesn't know she doesn't know. Strange and dangerous things begin happening to her, interfering with her new romance with Refuge Manager Tom Ellis. It gets even more complicated when her Jack arrives to take charge of the murder investigation.
Will Dagne stick with the tall, cool glass of a wildlife manager or fall back into the arms of her first tempestuous passion?

Is there a genre you haven’t done that you would like to explore in the future?

I have written several children’s stories, as yet unpublished. The adventures of Edward the Fly are Disney-like stories pitched to a late elementary/early middle school reader. Edward travels to places like the Wild West, Antarctica and Atlantis, where he uses his fly powers to rescue humans from peril. Other stories resemble parables or Aesop’s Fables—fantasies with a lesson that are wonderful for reading aloud. My favorite is called Lila’s Island, which relates the story of the dove who Noah sent to seek dry land. I would like to see them published and write more of both.

If you could throw a party with any five people (living or dead) who would you pick and why?

Jane Austen, Winston Churchill, Calvin Trillin, Douglas Adams, Dorothy Parker. I think all would contribute to the conversation in very different ways, but all with a sense of humor. They are/were all extremely articulate, imaginative, well-read, funny, and not too cynical (except for Ms. Parker, but I believe underneath that cynicism lay a kindness that matched Jane Austen’s).

Do you listen to music when writing? Do you feel like some stories write themselves a soundtrack with specific music? If so, what book and what kind of music influenced it?

No, I don’t listen to music when writing—I’m not very good at multitasking I suppose. If I were to listen to anything, it would have to be Mozart. Studies show his music actually makes you think better—plus he’s so cheering!

What are your thoughts on love scenes in romance novels, do you find them difficult to write?

Not really. The trick is to find new words to describe ancient feelings and behavior. When writing a scene I might close my eyes and try to feel what the heroine feels—how would she describe it? What words would she use to explain the sensation of a loved one’s lips on hers?

What are some of your favorite things or hobbies to do?

I love to swim, kayak and bird watch. I love to eat and drink. I love to stare out my study window at the wildlife in the meadow rather than settle down and work. I am a news junkie, absorbing everything C-Span has to offer, and then like to debate politics as reasonably gently as possible.

What do you have coming up next for you? Care to share any details with us?

Triptych, a novel set in Washington DC, has just been accepted by Secret Cravings. It’s a tale of three sisters and their lovers, of the famed Three Sisters Rocks in the Potomac River (the stuff of legend), and lost masterworks of art (the stuff of intrigue). Here is the blurb:

Miranda Cabot lost all interest in love after her husband Edward crashed into the rocky islets called the Three Sisters in the Potomac River. Her sister Honor likewise prefers her tower and her writing to romance. Not so their sister Sybil, who longs for a dashing Frenchman to sweep her off her feet. Being a modern woman, she advertises for him on Craig’s List and is rewarded with the Chevalier du Bon Arnaque, who comes to Washington from Alsace on mysterious business.

Believing the Chevalier is a crook, Miranda and Honor ask their neighbors Dieter Heiliger and his grandson Corey to act as chaperones. Three beautiful, strong-willed women living in a house with three handsome, virile men results inevitably in an intricate web of jealousy, sex, and intrigue. Add to that long-lost master artworks and stolen prototypes. Who will end up with whom, and will the Three Sisters take another life as the legend calls for?

In addition, I have just finished the draft of a fifth romance, a fun one set at the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. The heroine, Georgia Delaney, is an artist in love (reluctantly) with a lawyer whose goal is to transform the Torpedo Factory into a box store. Several murders and accusations later, all is resolved in a satisfyingly dramatic fashion. Here is a rough blurb:

Waiting out the rain, Georgia Delaney takes stock of her widowhood and the handsome man standing in the door to the bar. Little does she know she will meet that man again and again under both passionate and terrifying circumstances.

Hugh Brody waits for his date, too conscious of the beautiful woman sitting by the door. Little does he know that she will hate him for trying to destroy her beloved art center, and even suspect him of murder. Nor that she will be drawn inevitably into his arms.

Little do either of them suspect they will be embroiled in not one, but two murders, in which the fate of the Torpedo Factory, an art center housed in an old munitions factory on the waterfront in Old Town Alexandria, will be decided.

Who are some of your favorite authors, and if we were to visit your home, what books would we find on your bookshelf, end table, floor or e-reader?

I love British fiction, including the old murder mystery writers like Christie, Marsh and Allingham. Since I recently moved from my house of 25 years I have had to seriously downsize (from 3 floors of floor-to-ceiling books to 2 small bookscases). (Urp.) On the upside I now have a Kindle!

On my meager current shelves you’ll find some classic science fiction/fantasy (Tolkein, Adams, Azimov), piles of history and biography, and some hilarious novels of Christopher Buckley. And of course my collection of Wizard of Oz books. And cookbooks. Lots of cookbooks.

If you could be any character of any book or movie, who would you be?

I can’t decide between these two, both movie characters, but perhaps our readers can: (1) Shirley Valentine because she broke free and found herself again; or (2) Auntie Mame (the late great Rosalind Russell’s Mame) because she was willing to open her heart to any idea and embark on any adventure, wings unfurled.