Interview: Time Travelling With Craig Hallam

Today on Rock Paper Spirit, we’re doing something a little different. I’ve stolen a time machine and travelled back to Victorian London with author Craig Hallam, who has written the Alan Shaw books, a series of steampunk adventures set in – you guessed it – Victorian London! (Disclaimer: Neither I nor Craig have been paid for this interview, but the post does contain links to Amazon from which I will receive a small amount of commission if you make a purchase)

craig hallam interview steampunk victorian london

Craig, welcome to my site and to the 19th century! Can you tell us a little bit about the Alan Shaw books please?

Hi Lacey. Thanks for having me along on your time machine. Have you noticed that everything is in black and white? How odd.

This is the about the right time period for Alan’s adventures. The series is a trilogy with each book containing several adventures. They chronicle the life of Alan from a young orphan who has just escaped the workhouse to his world-spanning adventures as an adult.

craig hallam interview steampunk victorian london

I had a few different things in mind that I wanted to include in these books so they’re a combination of several passions, really. I’m a fan of damaged heroes who sometimes stray on both sides of the moral line, heroes who don’t always know what they’re doing, don’t always win, and don’t always get some grand destiny. Sometimes people are just people trying to do the best with what they have. Mix that with a love of the Victorian Science Fiction aesthetic and my love of B-movie titles and you have the raw material for The Adventures of Alan Shaw.

I’ve read a lot of Steampunk over the years and one thing I always wanted to see was how the era developed. It’s often a given that we’re in the 1800s and dirigibles and automatons are a regular occurrence. These kind of books are also usually set in either England or America and I wanted to see what was going on elsewhere. So, as Alan grows up, not only do we see how the steampunk era develops from the introduction of a mechanical workforce in the first story “Alan Shaw and the Fate of the Automatons” but also how the technological development affects other countries and historical events when Alan gets wrapped up in the Indian Revolution in “Alan Shaw and the Brass Monkeys”.

So, there’s a lot to pack in there while keeping the pace breezy and exciting with lots of cool and diverse characters. I’ve had so much fun writing these books, it should be illegal.

Wait, we’re in Victorian London. Maybe it is!

craig hallam interview steampunk victorian london

I love that title – Alan Shaw and the Brass Monkeys! What inspired you to write a series rather than one larger volume?

Complete accident! I only intended to write one book at the beginning but as I wrote and fell more in love with Alan and his cast of supporting characters, I realised that there were so many more stories to tell. The idea stretched to a sequel, then I realised that a trilogy would be needed to do him any justice.

I fancy some jellied eels. We should buy some at the market! But I just realised I don’t have any Victorian money. We’ll have to earn some if we want to eat. How would you go about making money if you lived in this era?

Looks like we’ve arrived around the docks, so there’s always some handy work needing doing. I’d love to say I’d be an adventurer like Alan and his Privateer friends but I don’t have the skills or bravery. Maybe there’s a pub that needs some pots washing? That sounds like my level of knowledge.

craig hallam interview steampunk victorian london

Mine too, actually. Alan Shaw seems like a steampunk version of Indiana Jones, from what I’ve seen in reviews and the blurb on Amazon. Is that how you would describe him or do you take another view?

You’re absolutely right. That’s the vibe I was going for. I love those movies and the way Indie rarely really knows what he’s doing. He’s charismatic but also kind of an idiot sometimes. I like the lovable rogue type. And the kind of adventure where the characters drive the plot is my favourite kind.

Do you think it’s important to create books that are truly original or do you think it is more important to give readers what they know and like?

That’s a tough one. I think that any creative has to be true to their own vision, style and ideals. It’s your story that you’re telling after all. How can readers know if something new is what they want if they haven’t read it yet? However, it’s always a good idea for an author to pay attention to what readers are saying. Not in a way that reviews and opinions should tell them how to write their story, but in a way that constructive criticism is vital to making sure that you improve in your art/craft. So if a lot of people are saying the same thing, it’s probably best to bear it in mind.

I’m not a fan of sex scenes or overt gory violence in my books, for instance. Some people have said that they’d like a little more…ahem…let’s call it physical romance from the Alan Shaw books. But that’s just not what I write. I think the characterisation comes in the romantic moments before a sexual encounter, and the aftermath. So that’s what I stick to. I love the “and the camera pans away” approach hahaha.

I agree. It’s sometimes sexier when you don’t “see” the act and it’s alluded to! Would you rather live in the 19th century with a successful writing career but no money or in the 21st century with a struggling writing career but with all the comforts and freedoms we have now?

Oooooh. Tough one. I think that being a starving author in the 21st century is much easier. I can get side work editing and giving writing advice thanks to the internet, I have a Patreon so that I can reach readers all over the world who help me afford to do little things like eat and get to signings across the country. To be perfectly honest, I don’t think I’d make it very well around here in the 19thcentury. I’m too doughy and spoiled by phones and laptops.

Ditto. These streets smell putrid. I wonder what that stench is. Oh wait…it’s industrial effluent in the Thames. Lovely. I did not expect that. What kind of research did you do on the era and the settings before writing the Alan Shaw books?

It certainly is…fragrant, isn’t it? A real treat for the senses. I’ve always been interested in the era so I had the same broad stroke information that other people have, I suppose. It was mostly researching the dates for large historic events and advancements when I started out the series. Then more engineering-based subjects to make sure that while I was stretching the limits of steam power and clockwork, that I wasn’t completely breaking them. Mechanical men powered by steam are ridiculously impractical and probably impossible, but at least making them sound plausible is great fun.

 

What do you think is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?

I’m not sure it is technically unethical but there is something that certainly grinds my gears. I love trees as much as I love books. I hate how much waste comes from books printed by the BIG publishers, or rather the companies that they use to do so. There’s evidence all over the internet that thousands of books a year are ruined in huge deliveries, never sold, and often just thrown away because they’re imperfect. That’s one of the many reasons that I love my publisher, Inspired Quill, they print on demand not because they have to but because they think it’s right. They’re a very progressive group of people who really care about their readers and the world they live in.

That’s a really good answer. Ok, next question. You’re hosting a dinner party in the 19th century. What three guests from this era would you invite? Bonus points for telling us which of them drinks too much wine and lets slip an important secret.

I think it would have to be Emily Pankhurst, Nikola Tesla and Karl Marx. Can you imagine putting the world to rights over a few alcoholic beverages with those three? I think Tesla would be a lightweight and would probably end up gesticulating wildly and throwing together some impressive demonstration with things he’s found in the kitchen and hidden under the sofa.

craig hallam interview steampunk victorian london

Travel and adventure seems to be a big part of this series. How important is travel in your own life? What’s the most interesting place you’ve been?

I’m afraid I don’t get around as much as I’d like. The author life is sometimes a transient one but never a well-funded one in my experience hahaha. Places I’ve loved to visit are Edinburgh, Budapest, San Francisco and New York. They all have a real atmosphere that you can almost taste. I like places like that. But if I have a choice of somewhere to be, it’ll always be somewhere more natural. I’m a lover of lakes, hills, and forests in particular.

And because no Lacey interview is complete without this question, and I like to get down to the important issues, what’s your favourite biscuit?

I’m a fan of the humble custard cream. Give me a glass of milk and few of those little fellas and you’ll have a friend for life.

 

Nice! I’m a Penguin kinda girl, myself. Oh look, now that it’s getting dark they’re lighting the lamps. So much prettier than the bright orange streetlights that we have where I live in the 21st century. Well, we’d better get back in the time machine and go home. Thanks for joining me Craig, these books sound really awesome and I am definitely going to download them. Can you give us some links to show us where we can find you and your books online please?

Thanks so much for having me. I hope the time machine doesn’t use up too much plutonium or anything. You can find me and my books in the usual places:

Facebook

Twitter

Patreon

Amazon UK Author Page

Amazon.com Author Page

Greaveburn

Not Before Bed

The Adventures of Alan Shaw

Old Haunts (The Adventures of Alan Shaw 2)

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Ziffit Review

If you’re a bookworm, and I know many of my readers are, you might be interested in this review. Ziffit is an app I hadn’t heard about until recently but it’s fast becoming one of my favourites. It’s a way to clear out your old books, CDs, DVDs, games etc. and make money at the same time. You can get it from your phone’s app store for free. It’s top left in the picture below. (Disclaimer: I have not been paid to write this post, nor have I received any free gifts as compensation. It is based on my own personal experience)

ziffit review money making apps old books

Ziffit came to my attention because it was advertised during the commercial break of Good Morning Britain. It’s a really simple idea. You use your smartphone to scan the barcodes of books, CDs, games and DVDs and if these items are in demand, or if they don’t have any copies of this already in stock, they’ll give you a small amount of money for them. The first thing I did was download the app to have a look around.

It’s really easy to navigate and the best thing is, you can try before you sign up for an account. I started scanning lots of books to see what kind of money I could make. The average amount for each book they accepted was around £0.45 so that’s pretty good, considering I would just have donated these books to charity anyway.

ziffit review money making apps old books

I tried a couple of DVDs and CDs but apart from the copy of Bhaji on the Beach that I bought for my Open Uni course and never watched, and a couple of exercise DVDs that I’ve had for years, they didn’t want them. They didn’t want any of my CDs.

Just out of curiosity, I decided to scan a few of my own paperbacks. They were only interested in one book and that was Leger: Cat Sleuth. I’m holding onto my mountain of my own paperbacks in the hope that at some point this year, I’ll get the mobile book shop idea off the ground. However, there was one copy of Leger: Cat Sleuth I really wanted to offload. I had gifted it to my former osteopath. He read it and gave it back. That book sat on my bookcase for years, taunting me, telling me that nobody wants my books, even when they’re given them for free – because depression will do that to you. Ziffit were willing to pay me 30p to get rid of that awful visual reminder of my imposter syndrome so I took it.

ziffit review money making apps old books

There were some really good quality, recently released books that they didn’t take. I tried another app, We Buy Books, and they were willing to take some of the ones that Ziffit don’t accept. However, they offer pennies for them. I’ve had about ten books accepted, in principle, by We Buy Books but I haven’t bothered to complete the transaction because I’m only making around £1.50 in total. It’s just not worth it. Ziffit however, are giving me over £15 for a bundle that would have been thrown away. That’s a trip to Nandos in the bag.

Worth noting this though. I got 8p for a copy of Oliver Twist. After the transaction was completed, my husband tried scanning the same book and was offered 59p for it. Do they offer more for books that have already been added to their collection? Do they offer less for books that are unfamiliar on their system? Do search results affect this? I’d be interested to know and I’ll be asking Ziffit for an explanation before I update this post next week.

We Buy Books did however, want some music. Bizarrely, the only two CDs they wanted were PJ & Duncan’s 1994 release, Psyche (don’t judge, I was 14 at the time and subscribed to Britannia music – I had to buy a CD every month) and my copy of Patent Pending’s Other People’s Greatest Hits.

Interestingly, the most valuable book, according to Ziffit, was my Open Uni Creative Writing workbook. It’s worth £4.50. However, I’m still using it and it’s annotated to the MAX so I doubt I’d get any money for it in the end.

ziffit review money making apps old books

My worry was this: I would have to pay more to send them the items than I would make. That’s a valid concern. I mean, books are heavy. When I completed the trade, they asked me to box them up and take them to a local convenience store, where a courier will pick them up. They emailed me a label and then after approval, I’ll find out which books they want and which they don’t. At that point, I’ll update this blog post to let you know if they really do pay out – which is the most important issue. I just wanted to share today because it’s worth letting my readers know that this app exists!

UPDATE: They accepted all the books I sent and the payment was in my account within a week.

If you use my referral code, you can get an extra £5 on your first trade over £10. You’ll also be given your own referral code to give to friends! The code is JZRP1NJXW. I also receive £5 for every 10 friends who sign up and complete a trade.

ziffit review money making apps old books

While we’re here though, do you know of any other apps where I can make money from spring cleaning? Let me know in the comment box below.

Disclaimer: I am not an affiliate of Ziffit. I tried to sign up for their affiliate scheme but their sign up site isn’t secure so I wouldn’t recommend that anyone else try either until they resolve this. I have received no money from Ziffit for this review. However, if you use my sign- up code, I receive £5 for every 10 referrals made. You can earn  this too if you sign up and request a unique referral code.

 

Interview: Ghost Hunting With Fiona Glass

Today on Rock Paper Spirit, I’m welcoming Fiona Glass, author of the paranormal romance novella Got Ghosts?. We’ve come to a beautiful English manor house for this interview, one that is actually from Got Ghosts?. It’s called Greystones Hall and dates back to medieval times. So, as someone who firmly believes that ghosts exist and walk among us, I thought I’d do a spot of ghost hunting.

Welcome Fiona! Tell us a bit about this novella.

Hi and thanks so much for letting me witter on about myself here – I really appreciate it! Hmm, where do I start? Well, Got Ghosts? is no ordinary ghost story, because the ghosts are actually the good guys. Well, most of them at any rate. Emily Price lives at Greystones Hall, and like most owners of beautiful ancient properties, she’s always short of cash for repairs and renovations. So when the hit TV show ‘Got Ghosts?’ asks to come and film at the house, she reluctantly agrees. Of course, nothing goes as planned and the show’s medium stirs up an unpleasant spirit who threatens Emily and her ‘family’ of ghosts. Can she, back-up medium Guy, and her beloved ghostly grandfather Gramps find out what the evil spirit wants before it’s too late? And what do a roomful of missing paintings have to do with the mystery?

fiona glass interview got ghosts paranormal romance author

That sounds like a great plot! What made you start writing paranormal romance? Were you drawn to it as a reader before you started writing?

Yes, I love anything creepy – quietly creepy rather than full-on horror and gore. One favourite which helped to inspire Got Ghosts? was Footsteps in the Dark by Georgette Heyer, which combines adventure and apparently ghostly monks in a really fun book, and I also love some of Mary Stewart’s romance-with-a-touch-of-supernatural novels like Thornyhold and Touch Not the Cat.

Imagine you’re at a medieval banquet. You can pick any three people of that era to join your table. Who do you choose? Bonus points for telling us which of them is most likely to start a food fight.

I prefer less well-known and quirkier people to the usual kings and queens. I’d love to meet a twelfth-century monk called Geoffrey of Monmouth, who wrote a book about the kings and queens of England, and chat to him about where he got his information from and whether he saw any difference between monarchs we see as real people, and the ones we now think of as myths. I’d also like to invite Lisa Gherardini, better known as the model for Leonardo da Vinci’s famous Mona Lisa portrait, and ask her what someone had just said to her to make her smirk like that. Lastly, I think the architect/master mason who built Chesterfield parish church in Derbyshire. It’s famous for having a massive twist in the spire and I’d love find out how drunk he was, and why he didn’t just stop and have a re-think half way up.

As to the food fight, I think the Mona Lisa was the one who started that. She looks exactly as though she’s just chucked a cream bun at someone and is trying to pretend she hasn’t…

fiona glass interview got ghosts paranormal romance author

Uh, Fiona? That suit of armour at the end of the corridor just moved…on it’s own. Did you see it?

Oh, don’t worry, that’s just Sir Philip. He gets up and clanks about from time to time but he’s quite harmless really. As long as you avoid the swinging club– ooops, sorry about that. Have a hankie. There’s plasters in the bathroom cabinet.

Ouch. I’m going to stay calm. Speaking of staying calm, how do you deal with book reviews? Do you read them?

I do, because authors have to do a lot of their own marketing these days so I need to keep an eye on reviews so I can pass them on if they’re any good. After all, there’s nothing like word of mouth to encourage people to try new authors or books, especially if someone has really enjoyed my writing – and been kind enough to say so. And I’ve learned to cope with the occasional clunkers far better than I used to.

What are the ethics of writing about historical figures? Do you make them purely fictitious or do you add in real facts?

All my characters are completely imaginary, even the historical ones. I occasionally use characteristics that I’ve seen in real people, but I mix them up and never, ever, make them recognisable. And although my books contain historical references, I don’t really write historical fiction as such, so there’s less need to put real-life characters such as kings and queens in them.

This manor house is gorgeous, but do you find it a bit chilly? Brrr. Anyway, you studied history, didn’t you? How much has that influenced your writing?

It’s freezing in winter when the rain gets in through the gaps in the roof. That’s why Emily was so keen to make a bit of money to repair the place, but look how that ended up! And yes, I studied (believe it or not) Ancient and Medieval History and Archaeology at university. I don’t use it directly to write historical fiction, but I do find it helps enormously when I need to use historical themes in my books – if only to give me a starting point, and the knowledge of how to do further research.

Let’s go into the library and see what’s books the owner has. *sees a transparent white figure which quickly disappears* Aww, why did he leave? I was hoping to ask that ghost some questions too.

Do you know, I have absolutely no idea who that was! I’ll have to ask Emily’s grandfather – he knows all the ghosts round here. But new ghosts show up at Greystones Hall all the time and I’m constantly bumping into spirits I’ve never met before. It’s quite handy because it’s given me some ideas for a sequel to Got Ghosts that I’m currently playing around with.

Is there a particular book that has stayed with you throughout your life and is a lifelong favourite?

I couldn’t narrow it down to one, but the couple by Mary Stewart that I’ve already mentioned would be near the top of the list, along with Daphne du Maurier’s The House on the Strand (a brilliant mix of historical and contemporary), and Mary Renault’s The Charioteer, and the Lymond chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett. And The Lord of the Rings, and… oh dear, I seem to have listed pretty much the whole of Greystones Hall’s library by mistake…

What kind of research do you do and how long do you spend researching before you finish a book?

I tend to plunge straight into writing a book and then fact-check as I go along. For Got Ghosts I researched the equipment and methods a TV production company would use, as well as reading up on priest holes and other hiding places in medieval houses – and even the basics of exorcism! But a lot of my writing is based on people and the way they react to the events happening around them, and I don’t need as much research for that.

And because no Lacey interview is complete without this question, what’s your favourite biscuit?

Thanks, I’ll have a dark-chocolate-coated ginger biscuit if you’re offering…

fiona glass interview got ghosts paranormal romance author

Fiona, thank you so much for joining me on this tour of Greystones Hall. Can you finish by letting us know where we can find you online and where we can buy your books?

Sure. I tend to er, haunt the internet rather a lot and you can track me down on Facebook, TwitterInstagram  and my blog, where I ramble on about history, art, architecture, ghosts, my writing, and various trips out my husband and I have around our wonderful home county of Cumbria. You can also find out much more about me, my books and in particular where to buy Got Ghosts?, over at my website, www.fiona-glass.com.

Huge thanks to Lacey for posing such fun questions, and to everyone else for putting up with me!

Author Interview: Wedding Crashing With Jessica Goodwin

It’s February, spring is just around the corner and love is in the air! So, what better way to interview my next guest on Rock Paper Spirit than by crashing a wedding! I’m here with romance author Jessica Goodwin at the most glamorous society wedding you could imagine to do some writing research. I brought a toaster and added it to the gift pile so I don’t feel like a freeloader. The venue is gorgeous; chandeliers everywhere, wall-to-wall designer outfits and…oh champagne! *takes a glass* Can I tempt you to a canape Jessica?
I probably shouldn’t, because I’m struggling to lose these stubborn holiday pounds, but… one won’t hurt. Okay, maybe two.
*passes a glass of Moet & Chandon* So, tell us a little bit about your books. You’ve released four novels, am I right?
Five, actually! My latest book, Starting from Scratch, is available for pre-order now! Release day is April 20th! Starting from Scratch is the story of Cookie, a mom of three who is trying to figure out what to do with herself after her husband passes away. She lives in a small town that’s full of gossip, so she kind of wants to show everybody that she can be more than “just” a mom. She gets close with Cooper, a family friend who is going through a divorce… and everyone starts talking about them.
jessica goodwin author interview starting from scratch
That sounds like something I would love to read. What motivated you to start writing romance?
If I’m being perfectly honest… it was because I was desperately unhappy in my first marriage. I started writing romance novels as an escape. Writing became my way of bringing some life to all of the “what if’s” I’d ever had. I wanted my characters to find the ones they were meant to be with so I could live vicariously through them and their happily ever afters! It sounds crazy, but the end of my marriage in 2012 was my happily ever after! I finally realized that I deserved so much better… and I have been so happy ever since!
That’s great! Oh, the bride looks lovely! But she’s giving us a strange look, like she doesn’t recognise us. I’m just going to smile back. Have you ever gatecrashed an event before?
*waves at bride* No, but if this was 2012, I’d probably be screaming at her, “DON’T DO IT! RUN! SAVE YOURSELF!” *giggles* I’ll behave myself, though. I’m not as cynical as I used to be.
jessica goodwin author interview starting from scratch
I read and thoroughly enjoyed The One Who Got Away, but it wasn’t a typical boy-meets-girl romance since it involved some complex relationships. Do you find you try to give readers something different from the usual romance novel set-ups or do you ever strive to deliver tried and tested formulas?
With The One Who Got Away, I tried to show that sometimes it’s not always meet-cutes and love at first sight. Sometimes there are other people involved, and sometimes people get hurt. I love a happily ever after, though. I know that’s not always real life, but it’s really hard for me not to write one.
It’s time for the happy couple’s first dance! How sweet! What do you think is the most romantic song ever written?
Ooh, I’m a sucker for a good love song. James Morrison – “You Give Me Something” still gives me goosebumps every time I hear it. Give a guy a guitar or sit him down in front of a piano, and I just swoon. I love pretty much everything by Matt Nathanson. He’s my favorite.
I’ll have to check him out. This wedding looks expensive. *whistles at the sight of yet another tray of free champagne* What would you say the best money you ever spent as a writer was?
In 2017, I decided to go back to school to pursue my master’s degree in creative writing and literature. I’ve tried a little bit of everything – fiction, creative nonfiction and memoir, journalism, television… I have been having so much fun, writing like crazy, and loving every second of it. Being back in school has totally reinvigorated me as a writer.
Can you tell us about an early experience you had where you discovered that language had power?
Hmmm… The first thing that pops into my head was an article I wrote a few years ago. It was after the birth of my son, so I was reading mom blogs and parenting sites like crazy, constantly thinking, “Is this normal? Is this supposed to happen? It is? Okay, whew. I’m glad I’m not the only one…” I decided to write an article for Scary Mommy, had no idea if it was anything they’d be interested in, but they published it. And they published a few other things of mine, too. Seeing other people go, “Yeah! Me, too!” in response to something so personal was such an amazing feeling.
As an voracious reader of mom blogs, I get that! What does literary success look like to you? Do you feel like you’ve achieved it yet or do you still have work to do?
I have no idea. I’m still figuring that out. And there’s always work to do! That’s what’s so much fun. I’ve written romance novels, I’ve dabbled in journalism, I’ve done work on mom and parenting blogs, I talk about family travel on my blog Go With The Goodwins. And I love it all. I think just getting to do what I love is a success!
This is a really great party. I’ve danced so much my feet ache. I’ll just sit here for a while and people-watch to get ideas for new characters. How do you build new characters? Do you have a process or are you one of the lucky writers who has them just walk into your head without much effort?
A lot of times, a character will spring from something I’m dealing with in my personal life. A woman who is unhappy in her relationship. A mom who doesn’t really know what she’s supposed to be doing with her life. Cookie, the main character in Starting from Scratch, is a mom like that – you think as an adult you’re supposed to have things your ducks all in a row, but then things change, and a lot of times you just have to… well, start over. I took that even further with the main character in the book I recently finished writing. It’s about a mom and her friends who are all at different stages in their lives, and they’re all a little envious of some aspect of each others’ lives, because it seems like they have that area all figured out. Do we ever have things all figured out, though? I don’t know…
jessica goodwin author interview starting from scratch
What’s the most difficult part of the artistic process for you?
Managing my time. My son is almost 4 and I am constantly scrambling to get things done in the small window of time that I DO still have when he’s at preschool or when he’s supposed to be napping. There are always school assignments to do, blog posts to write, books to promote, tweets to tweet, so if I have a few minutes to myself, I’m planning, plotting, or writing. Even on the days when I’m exhausted and would much rather curl up under a blanket with a book or Netflix, I know these books and blog posts aren’t going to write themselves!
They’re cutting the cake! What’s your favourite type of cake? And because no Lacey interview would be complete without this question, what’s your favourite biscuit/cookie?
Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate!  My favorite cookie is a chocolate chip cookie that is buttery-crispy on the edges with big hunks of gooey chocolate in the middle.
I’m craving them now! Oh no, the father of the bride is talking to the manager of the venue and pointing at us. Time to leave. I just hope they like their new toaster. Thanks for joining me on this research trip. Can you finish by telling us where we can find you online and where your books can be downloaded or purchased? 
I’m all over the place. Come find me and say hi!
Twitter (@_jessicagoodwin)
(Disclaimer: Neither Jessica nor I received any compensation for this interview from each other, or anyone else. We just wanted to chat about her book! However, there are a few affiliate links in this post and I will receive a small amount of compensation if you make a purchase)

Romance Author Interview: Valentine’s Masquerade Ball With Atina Atwood

Today on Rock Paper Spirit, I’m welcoming romance writer, Atina Atwood, author of the Holiday Heartbeats series. She’s just released a new book called Love Games so I thought I’d invite her along on one of my research trips today. We’re at a masquerade ball, people watching and observing all the couples falling head over heels in love. Isn’t it sweet?

atina atwood author interview

Atina, welcome to the blog! I love your mask! 

Thank you so much! I’m not necessarily one with off-the-runway fashion sense, but I’m really digging the whole midnight black, silver, and sparkling crystal thing going on here.

Why don’t you tell me a little bit about your latest book?

Love Games is a sweet Valentine’s Day novella, and it the second story in my Holiday Heartbeats series. This is Dante and Marisol’s story. Dante is a player, accustomed to using seduction in order to secure difficult business deals. He secretly despises himself for it and wants to change. When his method backfires, he takes some time to figure himself out. He ends up meeting Marisol, who doesn’t exactly embrace him with open arms.

Marisol is a no-nonsense kind of woman, fresh out of law school and waiting for her bar results. She’s fiercely devoted to her Mamá and her best friend, and she’s just as protective of her heart.

When they meet, sparks fly (as do a few tulips). Can Dante actually prove himself to be more than just eye-candy with a blemished reputation, or will Mari fall victim to the player’s game?

The comment about the tulips is intriguing me, but I guess I’ll have to read the book to find out what that’s about! Isn’t this book 2 in the series? What was the first one about?

Love Games (Holiday Heartbeats #2) takes place around Valentine’s Day. The first story in the series is His Epiphany, and it’s a sweet short story set during the Christmas season. Riley is actually Dante’s best friend; when Riley meets Epiphany, he knows he’s meant for her, but it nearly kills him when she runs into Dante’s arms. Years later, we find out why she ran to Dante instead of him. It’s a quick, sweet read. Maybe one day, I’ll revisit those two and learn more about their happily ever after.

Imagine you’re a fairy tale character. Which one would you be and why?

Presently, I’d be a dragon, because my Little Man (toddler) is totally into them. The more fierce, the better.

Good choice! What one thing that is important to you would you give up if it meant you could become a better writer?

I can actually answer this question in the past tense, because it’s no longer hypothetical for me. Last year, I actually left my full-time university position to start my own business and be able to write full time. This is because I was put in a position that women face far too often — career or family. For me, family will always come first. I’d already been planning for a transition that would allow me more autonomy in my profession, but it takes guts, a bit of foolishness, and a ton of hope to walk away from what you know and also love. In the end though, it has also helped me reclaim a deep sense of self-confidence.

It isn’t easy, and I’m learning and growing every day. Waking up every morning with a strong sense of purpose and excitement is an amazing feeling. The best part is that I’m still affiliated with the university, but on my own terms. It’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, career-wise.

I can definitely relate to having to choose between career and family! What are the hardest scenes for you to write?

I often have difficulty writing the settings, because I’m so focused on what the characters are saying and doing. Sometimes, the background remains, well, in the background. I also have to be careful not to spend too much time describing any place because I’ll get so caught up in the details, and I’m in danger of missing some of the action between the characters.

Like all of the stories in my Holiday Heartbeats series, Love Games takes place in San Diego, California. The characters travel all over the county, and I have to be careful not to include too many details or hard facts, but provide just enough information the reader draw a sketch in their mind’s eye of what I’m describing, and then can focus on the action at hand.

Masquerade balls: creepy or fun?

Lacey, they are creepy AF. Don’t get me wrong — I absolutely love the bling on this gorgeous mask! It looks fabulous with black satin, Swarovski crystals all around the eyes, and the charcoal silk overlay is breathtaking. Of course the raven’s feathers are to die for. Full disclosure — I’m taking this sucker home with me.

But back to your question. Yeah, honestly, it seems as though everyone is parading around, wearing a mask. We’re trying too hard to impress when most of us can barely hold our crap together on a daily basis. Too often, we’re chasing illusions — whether it’s the mask of a political party or ideal, the idolatry of a celebrity, or the fanaticism of social media influencers. We’re losing sight of the fact that it’s okay to be a bit messy, a tad quirky, a little… lost sometimes. But if we keep focusing on the noise and shine surrounding us, eventually we’re going to collectively end up being a grotesque distortion of the superficial image we’ve been striving to become. Ultimately, we’re forgetting to be our true selves. Whatever the heck that means.

Do your family support your career as a writer?

Unequivocally. They also supported my career as an opera singer, which led to so many fantastic experiences, most importantly, meeting the love of my life while I was still a teenager. When I had to stop performing after a car accident, I turned to Academia, which inevitably led to research and a ton of writing. For me, it was a match made in heaven. Writing is a culmination of so many worlds. I don’t write Romance exclusively, but it’s definitely one of my most favorite genres to write. My husband is my biggest supporter, and my sister keeps asking me for more instalments. I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that most of my closest friends are right in my corner as well.

You’re extremely well-qualified in terms of academic achievements, aren’t you? Tell us a bit about your background before you became a writer.

I’ve been on stage since I was five years old, so being in the creative and performing arts has always been an integral part of my life. The only thing that I’ve been doing longer then performing is reading. My mom loves to remind me that I started reading “books with no pictures” at the age of four. The multifaceted story of humanity has always fascinated me. My lifelong dedication to various methods of communication eventually led to me earning my Bachelor’s, Masters, Ph.D., and various certifications in interrelated fields.

There’s something captivating about the Drang, or the urge to communicate by any means available to us. It doesn’t matter if it’s through music, through words, through language, through sounds, or through movement — some people just HAVE TO create — and I’m one of those people. I’m blessed that my family recognizes this and supports me in knowing that I simply must live my life as a creative spirit.

What’s the most difficult part of the writing/publishing process for you? Is it the artistic side of things or the business side?

I think that both sides have their pros and cons. I can see the artistic side being difficult for me because I’m still learning my craft. Despite its undeserved reputation, writing Romance is hard. I’m constantly learning by reading and writing. I ask questions: How much is cliché? How much is too much? Do the characters and plot have enough depth? If not, how can I enhance them?

It’s a learning process, and from the very beginning I decided that I was going to be honest with my followers about my journey into writing fiction. That means with each publication, I expect each one to improve. There will be hits and misses, and I expect to grow with each new release. I’m grateful and indebted to all of my readers and followers who choose to stick with me; Love & Light to those who encourage me every step of the way.

Although I’ve been traditionally published in nonfiction, tackling the business of self-publishing in fiction is no joke. I don’t even have my blog properly categorized, much less with SEO. Rookie moves, I know. But I’m working on it. I believe that in business, it’s about setting a target and doing whatever it takes within the confines of your abilities to achieve that goal, and then repeating the process. As soon as I’m specific about exactly what I want Atina Atwood to accomplish, I can also help my readers know what to expect. (Good luck with that, fam.)

Aww, look at that couple over there! He’s been smiling at her all night and he just worked up the courage to ask her to dance! Makes me all warm and fuzzy. What do you think brought you to the point where you started writing romance? Was it planned or was it something you stumbled upon by accident?

I started reading Romance novels six years ago. I was bedridden for months and so I spent my days surrounded by things that brought me to a positive place emotionally. I discovered that there was nothing more powerful or healing than the expectation of a happy ending.

Although I could say that writing Romance was something I stumbled upon, it wouldn’t be completely true. I’ve been researching the cultural necessity for Escapism and its employment through various mediums and genres throughout international societies and eras for years. One constant theme has always been Romance, unrequited or reciprocated. It’s a basic human theme — we all want to love and be loved.

How do you choose the names for your characters?

Most of the time the names just come to me, as do their stories. In Love Games, Dante and Marisol just introduced themselves to me with a funny scene involving tulips. Marisol quickly became Mari in my mind, and I can’t imagine her any other way. On the other hand, Mari’s best friend, Nhu, is the heroine in Luck of the Irish (Holiday Heartbeats #3 — coming soon!). Because Nhu is Vietnamese, I definitely knew that I had to do a lot of research on her name and understand the significance of her name from a cultural standpoint. Fortunately, I can also rely on some of my family members for #Ownvoices insight to help me with this.

Oh no. That couple aren’t getting along so well any more. Did she just throw cake at him?! 

Um yes. She definitely did. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say the 5’3 culprit looks like Nhu, and Mari is trying to hold her back! And now Dante is protecting them both from… the duck confit.

Darn it. I was looking forward to eating some of that.

It’s turned into a full-on food fight. DUCK! Ok, before we go, because no Lacey interview is complete without this question, what’s your favourite cookie/biscuit?

I love chocolate chip cookies. Soft in the center, and warm all around with just the slightest crisp around the edges. Yum!

Thanks Atina. Where can we find Love Games and your other book, His Epiphany? And where can we find you on social media?

Thanks so much, Lacey! This was fun. You can find Love GamesHis EpiphanyLuck of the Irish (coming soon!) and all of the Holiday Heartbeats series on Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble and wherever ebooks are sold.

Join my newsletter for freebies and news about the series’ progress. Check out my blog for #MotivationalMondays, Tuesday’s blog, and Thursday’s Romantic Thought. I’m also on Twitter, supporting and following back other readers and writers who love to write and spill the tea. I also exist on Pinterest, Instagram, Goodreads and Facebook.

I’ve had a blast. Thanks again Lacey, and have a fabulous Valentine’s Day!