Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Interview with Author Allison Merritt

A chance to interview Allison Merritt means plenty of opportunities to talk self-publishing, but I enjoyed “The Convict and the Cattleman” so much, I want to know more about her journey with it.

Did "The Convict and the Cattleman" go straight from your head to paper to published?

If only it were that easy. Convict started in late 2008 as a really bad draft that my then computer, an outdated Toshiba Satellite, ate when said computer crashed and I had to start all over again--with an equally bad draft, but it was slightly better than the first attempt. I revised with some help from an online critique group called Rom-Critters (fantastic bunch of folks) in 2009. In 2010, I pretty much hated where it had gone and I started a third draft. I was shooting for submission with Mills & Boon, but I couldn’t make that thing stretch into 75,000 words, which is their requirement for submission length. I was so sick of it, I just crammed it into a dark, dank file on my flash drive and left it while I worked on super-crazy steampunk romances. It was a different tone altogether and it made me happy, whereas Convict started eating my soul (I swear). It stayed in that buried file until January 2013 when I was bored. Reading through it, I thought it was a little absurd in some parts, but it wouldn’t take anything to finish and polish. Five thousand words later, I was feeling a lot better about it. If not for an editor pitch on one of my critique partner’s group blogs for Lyrical Press, I don’t know where it would be right now. Maybe at a different house. It’s hard to say.

What was the inspiration, the thought kernel that birthed "The Convict and the Cattleman"?
All my good ideas seem to come when I’m in the shower. I read an article about how it’s relaxing there, so it’s easy to open up your creative mind. I hadn’t written anything since the summer of 2003 when I was doing my internship at college (that’s a book I swear to you will never, never see the light of day). My dad died unexpectedly that fall and for whatever reason, it drained all my creative outlets. In the fall of 2008, I was really depressed because I’d taken a job I hated, had to quit it and go back to my old job, which was okay-ish (at least it was waiting for me), but I was frustrated with the way my life was going. I started talking with an old writer friend of mine who was querying, had a Golden Heart nomination, and an agent. It seemed like if I should be frustrated about something, it ought to be about books. I’d gone to college to be a journalist--I suck at it, so that didn’t exactly fly--with the intention of writing novels in my spare time. Historicals have always been among my favorite romance genre, but I wanted to write something besides the historicals I was used to, set in the Old West, something that people would look at and go, ‘okay, this is different’. Boom! Penal colony.

Was this story research intensive?
In some ways yes, because I could list the things I knew about Australia on one hand. They have sheep, crocodiles, deserts, kangaroos, and some of their population came from convicts. In the beginning, I had a huge folder I carried around with me that had maps, listed details about every Female Factory in Australia, details about convict life, transport ships, and even some things about cattle. In other ways, it was a typical historical--a little bit before my favorite decades, because I like historical romances set after the Civil War usually, but I never felt uncomfortable writing it. Especially because I don’t know squat about sheep, so I was really pleased that I could make Jonah a pioneer cattleman. Once I got around all the convict stuff, it wasn’t much different than writing a love story set in the Old West.

What was the most enjoyable part of writing this novel?
Writing the ending! I was so surprised when I pulled it out again how close it was to finished. Don’t get me wrong, it needed work mechanically, but the story was all there. It really just needed a few thousand words to sew up the gaping hole between the hero and heroine and an epilogue for the happily-ever-after. It was a lot easier than I had convinced myself in 2010. 

I read that you thought your affair with historical romance was over. Obviously that’s changed. Tell us about your artistic shift after "The Convict and the Cattleman" was picked up.
I really thought when I started writing steampunk and then came up with the idea for the Heckmasters, which is paranormal/historical romance series, that I was done with vanilla historicals. It’s so much fun to manipulate timelines and twist history. When I got the good news that Lyrical wanted Convict, I immediately thought, I need to come up with something else so I can keep writing for them. I hadn’t started any of the Heckmaster books yet, but I was sure I was going to self-publish those (shout out to my editor Holly at Samhain for loving the Heckmasters and changing my mind). I love unrequited love stories where someone has a change of heart, which led to The Wrong Brother’s Bride, the first book I set in the Ozarks. It was inspired by my love of Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield and visiting the Ray House. The deeper I dug into local history, the more inspired I became by places my characters could visit. One thing I should have reminded myself of was to never say never, because I didn’t think I’d ever write in the paranormal sub-genre period. I shouldn’t have said, I’ll never go back to historicals. I think they’re harder to write, but I do love them. Switching back and forth between sub-genres gives my brain a chance to reboot.

What other historical romances are coming from Allison Merritt?
Wildwood Spring is releasing in February from Breathless Press, which is super fast considering it just contracted at the end of November. It’s set in Eureka Springs, Arkansas after the big resort boom in the late 1800s. It’s my ode to Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, which is one of my favorite romances. Minus the beast, because my hero is not beastly, just reclusive, but the heroine is a little odd, and there’s a too-macho-for-his own-good bad guy. It definitely has a dollop of weird in it, but it’s true to the time period, which makes it historical romance.

My other historical release is The Wrong Brother’s Bride, also from Lyrical. I was told the release date is sometime in May back when I first contracted it, but with the switch to Kensington, I’m not sure if that will change. It’s the story of a man who returns home after his brother’s death to find that his brother’s fiance is pregnant and determined to keep the farm where he died. He offers her a marriage of convenience, but he’s loved her secretly for years. She’s not sure she can trust him because he was always unreliable when he was younger and her father never had a good word about him. As they try to make a life together, she’s surprised by the changes in him and she starts to see that she didn’t marry the wrong brother after all. It seems like they’ll live happily-ever-after, but then he’s accused of a crime that happened years ago and things start to look bad for the happy couple. Dun, dun, dun...