An Interview with Mandy Michelle
Authors for Authors
How did you get published?
I participated in #Pitmad on Twitter. Four times each year, writers can tweet their pitch for completed manuscripts in 280 characters. Publishers, in my case Scarsdale Publishing, and agents read the pitches and contact those they are interested in hearing more from. It’s a fun event and I recommend giving it a try.
What is it like working with a professional editor?
I love it. At first, it was intimidating to see all the red marks on my manuscript. I’m not the kind of person who likes to give up control, especially with a world and characters I created, so I thought I would struggle with it. But I found the more I went through the edits, the better the story became.
What is your favourite writing exercise?
I like free writing. In my writing group, we sit for about an hour with a prompt and just write. No plotting, no planning, just pure creativity. It takes the pressure off, and often, I’ve come up with ideas for full novels that way.
What advice would you give first-time writers?
To write daily. I wrote fanfiction for years and years, posting about 1500 words every day. I didn’t plot, I just wrote. My stories weren’t polished, but the process helped me develop a voice and a style. I had readers, too, so there was incentive in knowing I had people waiting for more. It built confidence and I think quality, too.
How do you start your story?
At the beginning. I always write chronologically from start to finish. The first meeting between my main characters is everything for me and my favourite part of every book I read or write.
Do you have a favourite part of your own book? If so, which part and why?
In Ready to Burn, I love the part when Ronan slips into the office at the bar and he and Alison get time alone to just talk without all the noise and interruptions of the event. It’s the little moments of eye contact and nervousness that make characters on the page come to life for me.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
I find I try to write more polished first drafts. Now that I’ve learned better editing practices, I tend to apply them to my new work. I’m always conscious of the “rules.”
Do you believe in writer’s block?
I do believe in it, but I have two remedies. The first is to skip the scene and go one to something else that inspires you. The second, it to outline. I find when I have a general direction for the story, it’s hard to get stuck.
What is your favorite romance novel trope?
I love working with class disparities, rich and poor come together despite their differences, which falls under “Forbidden Love” as the relationship is often frowned upon by someone in the hero’s circle. “Forced Proximity” is also fun, and the trope I used in Ready to Burn. Alison must work the Firefighter Calendar night at the bar where she works, and therefore, is stuck with Ronan all evening. It gives him the chance to win her over.
Authors to Readers
If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?
Talkative, Opinionated, and (I think) Funny.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
It energizes me. I have endless ideas floating around in my mind and I find it soothing to get them out of my brain and put them on paper. I also love playing with my characters. I laugh at things they say when they take over the novel. They have a story that wants to be told, so it makes me happy to tell it.
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
Yes. Writing fiction comes from your imagination. It is not an autobiography. You don’t have to have lived the same life or experiences your characters have in order to write about them.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
Nothing. I would much rather write men than women. They’re fictional, so I can make them as idealistic as I can dream up.
What was your hardest scene to write?
I find physical fight scenes the hardest to write. There are so many logistics of where arms and legs are and what the characters’ physical reactions are to each hit. I would much rather write a verbal argument. Emotions are my favourite.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
I’ve written quite a few books in about a month, thanks to the communal, group pressure of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo.) In November, writers from all over the world try to write fifty thousand words in thirty days. Once I started, I haven’t been able to stop. It’s been a fantastic way to get ideas out of my head and on paper, then I spend the rest of the year editing those books. Before NaNoWriMo, books would take me six months to a year to write.
Favourite quote (doesn’t matter the source).
“Oh to be a pear tree – any tree in bloom! With kissing bees singing of the beginning of the world!” – Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God. This is my favorite book ever written and I recommend it to any writer. Hurston’s words are art, and her descriptions are beauty on the page.
How many books have you written? Which is your favourite?
I have written thirteen books, though about half are still in the first draft stage. I have a couple more started, but nowhere near finished. My favorite book is always the one I’m currently writing or editing.
About Your Book: “Ready To Burn”
What inspired you to write Ready to Burn?
A friend of mine invited me to go with her a local firefighter event quite a few years back, and while some of the firemen were shirtless, I was focused on one of the waitresses. She looked so miserable to be working the event. I told my friend, who is also a writer, that I had to tell her story and try to figure out what her issue was. She was the perfect heroine and the catalyst for my novel.
What is your personal favorite part of your book?
Without giving away spoilers, I get chills when the clock strikes midnight. Every single time.
Are there any characters based on or inspired by people you know?
No. Someone might say something that triggers a thought, or something might happen that inspires an idea for a scene, but I don’t write real people. Making them up is so much more fun. I enjoy the escape from reality as much as the reader does.
Is there significance to the title, Ready to Burn?
I can’t tell you the amount of titles we ran through for this book before we chose Ready to Burn. We needed a play on the word fire, and I absolutely love the final decision.
How do you think your book reflects on the world today?
I think Alison reflects a lot of women today: those who have been hurt in the past and are reluctant to let another man in their life. She has trust issues. With the way dating apps are popular at the moment, I find that people are treated almost as though they’re disposable. You don’t like her, swipe once more for someone else. I think heroes like Ronan are fast becoming the ideal man. He is the kind of guy who is dedicated to one woman. I love an old-fashioned man in a modern world.
Who would you cast as your main characters?
I’m obsessed with Lucy Hale, and I think as a petite brunette, she would make a great Alison. The model Cole Monahan is exactly how I imagine Ronan. A cut physique, long, sandy hair, but that All American sweetness rolled in.
If you had to describe Ronan in three words, what would those three words be?
Respectful, Loyal, Engaging.
What is the future for the characters? Will there be a sequel?
I think these two will have the forever kind of happy ever after. I don’t have plans for a sequel, but I suppose there are eleven other months besides July. I’ll never say never.
Questions about Writing
What advice would you give a new writer just starting out?
I think what helped me the most was writing. As simple as it sounds, the more you write, the better you get. I wrote daily for a couple years before I attempted to write a novel. Then of course, I took writing classes, read articles about writing, watched video conferences from other writers. Also, reading in the genre you want to write is helpful. You learn what you like and what you don’t, what works and what doesn’t.
What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?
Strong characters who feel like real people, who are relatable and well developed are key to good writing. If you have characters that readers care about, they’re going to want to keep reading because they are invested in their lives. I think description is important, too. The little details matter and they bring a story to life.
What comes first, plot or characters?
If I had to choose, I would say plot. For me, it’s the basic idea of the meeting between the two heroes. A spark of a plot, the beginning, the intention of the book. From there, the characters take over and then it’s back to a plot.
When you’re writing an emotionally draining, or sexy, or sad scene, how do you get in the mood?
I find the story, as it moves, builds emotions in the reader. I usually reread what I have written and just let the story flow from there. If that doesn’t work, or I’m not feeling the scene at the moment, I skip it and come back later.
Is there lots to do before you dive in and start writing the story?
I usually just start. I like beginnings. Once I have the first few chapters written and a good feel for the characters, I will stop and write a brief outline. I research as I write, so that doesn’t need to be done before starting.
How much world building takes place before you start writing?
I write contemporary romance, so any modern setting works. But, when I walk my dog, or while I’m in the shower, I plan scenarios in my mind, I think about settings and relationships and secondary characters. This is before and during the writing process. I research online and watch TV and movies to get an idea of what different cities look like. I do like to make up towns, like I did in Ready to Burn, so the streets and businesses look the way I want them to look as opposed to matching reality. That’s a lot trickier. Hello, Google Maps.
What is the most difficult part about writing for you?
The endings. I could stay in the beginning of a story forever. That probably wouldn’t make a great book, but the beginning, when everything is new and fun is so easy for me to write. The big fight/complication/misunderstanding that keeps characters apart, is such a challenge for me because I hate hurting my characters.
When writing a series, how do you keep things fresh, for both your readers and yourself?
Ready to Burn is a standalone, but I am working on a series with Scarsdale Publishing. My trick to a series is to keep the world the same, but to change to main characters. So, the first novel will focus on one couple, the next book in the series will focus on people connected to those in the first book and bring their story to light, and so on. In my upcoming series, it tells the love stories of three brothers, each one getting their own novel. They could be read individually as a standalone story, but if you read them in order, you get to know them all as a family unit.
“A Slippery Nipple for you.” Alison set the glass on the table before the blushing bride-to-be. “And a Screaming Orgasm for your mother.” She set the second drink in front of the older woman seated to the bride’s left.
The table of bachelorettes laughed, the mother of the bride clearly having the best time of all the girls at the table of ten. They were sweet and fun and, holy hell, they were good tippers. She had to send Roseanne a basket of something to thank her for catching the flu. The night had turned out to be a blessing for her post-holiday empty pocketbook. Baby Emmy would be spoiled. As she should be.
“All right, ladies,” Megan’s voice reverberated around the room and the bar quieted to near silence. “It’s time to meet the sexy boys of your 2019 Rapid Falls Firefighter Charity Calendar.”
The women screamed twice as loud this time around, and Alison took a moment to lean against the wall and catch her breath. No one would be ordering drinks for the next ten minutes. Not when there was eye candy to be devoured instead of sugary sweet cocktails with the raunchiest names this side of the Mississippi.
Not to mention, she wanted a real look at the flirty fireman. She hadn’t really been offended by his comment. In fact, she’d been flattered, but she could never admit it. Especially not around the rest of the waitresses.
On an average night, Roseanne, Roxy, and Ruby—not triplets, but based on their bleached blonde hair and double D breasts, they could be—cleaned up with as many phone numbers as tips stuffed into their aprons. Alison still had five pounds to lose after giving birth to Emmy, but she received lots of men’s phone numbers scribbled on napkins and business cards. She had publicly sworn off men, which meant the girls would be merciless if they found out how much the pickup line had melted her.
“Put your hands together for Mr. January,” Megan said over the microphone.
Alison smiled as the crowd roared. A sexy forty-something stud emerged from the office and strutted past the tables and onto the stage in a tight tee and a pair of uniformed pants complete with suspenders. He flexed and laughed as the women screamed.
Mr. February and Mr. March followed, a blond and a redhead. Both buff, both smiling like movie stars. Tonight, at Andie’s, they were.
“Hey, have a drink with me,” Joey called to Alison. “Take a load off for a few.”
Alison hurried behind the bar, took a seat in the soft leather office chair he must have rolled out for her, and kicked off her shoes. “This is the life.”
Joey passed her a ginger ale with a few maraschino cherries effervescing at the bottom of the flute. “You should wear loafers. No one’s looking at your feet.”
Alison’s laughter was drowned out by another round of screams and catcalls.
“Can you see from back there? Mr. April is pretty cute.”
“Too bad you’re married, Joey.”
Joey smiled and took a swallow of his beer. “Not for me, Ali. For you. Still swearing off men, huh?”
She nodded and took a second to shut her eyes. Emmy was teething, so some nights, sleep was almost nonexistent. It was funny how a loud bar filled with screaming patrons and clanging glasses seemed quieter than a crying baby in a small apartment.
“I’m paying you double time,” Joey said.
She opened her eyes. “Aw, Joey, you don’t have to do that. I volunteered to take Roseanne’s shift.”
“And we appreciate it. Considering you hate New Year’s Eve as much as Valentine’s Day, it’s the least I can do.”
“I hate it more than Valentine’s Day.”
He laughed. “Why? New Year’s Eve has champagne.”
“One word, Joey. Chocolate.”
“Chocolate is February fourteenth’s only saving grace,” she said.
“Better than sex, huh?”
“It’s a very, very close second.” Alison shrugged. “And the best I’m going to get, at the moment.”
“Well then, we truly appreciate you coming in. I’ll even bring you chocolate on your next shift.”
“You’re my favorite boss.” Ali looked up at the stage. “Don’t tell Megan.”
“My wife knows I’m irresistible.”
“Seriously, though. I don’t mind being here.”
“You’re exhausted.” He held up his hands in defence. “Not that you look tired.”
Alison laughed. “Well, thanks for that, at least. It comes with the mom territory. I’m not complaining. I love her to pieces, but the crying”—she grimaced—“is brutal.”
“You know what might help?” he said. “Mr. July.”
“I don’t need a man.” When Joey quirked a brow, Alison stood and looked over the bar. “I don’t. But I’ll cave. What’s special about Mr. July?”
Then she saw him. Soft, sandy blond hair, long and wavy, brushed over cheekbones that rivaled those of a male supermodel. Full lips pulled up at the corners as the crowd cheered for his seeming shyness. His eyes were downcast, and it was obvious he wasn’t comfortable as a calendar boy. Which was insanity, considering he looked the most like one so far.
“You don’t recognize him?” Joey asked from behind her.
“No. Why? Should I?” She couldn’t look away as Mr. July rubbed the back of his neck, then quickly slid to the right and halted beside his boisterous co-worker who hadn’t stopped laughing at his expense.
“He’s the one who offered to fuck you.”
Ginger ale shot out of Alison’s nose, and she choked as the bubbles burned her throat. Joey patted her back and howled with laughter.
“That was weird.” She wheezed once her windpipe cleared.
Mr. July stood on the stage, hands clasped in front of him like a good little boy at church.
Alison picked up a clean bar towel from the stack sitting beside the sink and wiped her face. “That was some pickup line.”
Joey smiled. “You would be surprised at what I’ve heard over the years.”
“Ditto. But never that one.”
“Busy night.” Roxy joined them at the bar and passed her order book to Joey.
“And this is the just the beginning,” Alison agreed.
Joey started filling Roxy’s orders. “I think Mr. July likes you, Ali.”
“What?” She blinked. “How can you tell?”
Joey grabbed a beer glass from the mini cooler and began filling it at the tap. “He looked really bummed when he struck out.”
Alison shrugged. “I doubt it happens a lot.”
Joey set the beer on Roxy’s tray alongside two other drinks he’d made.
Roxy lifted her full tray. “I want details later.” She disappeared back into the crowd.
Joey took the bar towel from Ali and dabbed at the corner of her mouth. “You’re drooling.”
Ali rolled her eyes. “I’m going to go fix my lipstick, then get back to work.” She winked at Joey. “Earn that double time.”
He waggled his brows. “And maybe talk to Mr. July?”
She shook her head. That ship had sailed. No man wanted to get mixed up with a divorcee whose nights were filled with diapers. It didn’t help that the baby wasn’t her ex-husband’s, but the result of a one-night stand with a married man.
Alison was happy with life. Just her and Emmy. Their dreams and all their shoes. There wasn’t room in the closet for turnout gear. A mental picture rose of Mr. July out of his turnout gear. Those pectorals would feel hard under her hands.
Alison turned and froze
Hell, he was looking right at her.
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