AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: ANAH CROW and DIANNE FOX
Dynamic author team Anah Crow and Dianne Fox have taken a few minutes out of their busy schedule to let me pester them with questions….
We also have a new short story out from Amber Allure, All Work and No Play. This will be the first in our new Dear Lake, Michigan short story series, in which all of the stories will be set in and around the fictional resort town of Dear Lake.
Tell us a little about Trammel, what inspired you to write Trammel?
Trammel is the second book in the Foundations of Magic series. In the first book of the series, Tatterdemalion, Lindsay is a broken young man rescued by an equally broken savior, Dane. By the end of Tatterdemalion, Lindsay has regained his own strength and has turned the tables, rescuing Dane and helping Dane to regain his own power.
Now, all the security and peace they’ve found is shattered. A new mage, Noah, is given to Lindsay as his apprentice, and Noah is perhaps even more broken than Lindsay once was. But even as Lindsay rises to the challenge, old enemies reappear to kidnap a young girl with a powerful new magic. In the desperate mission to save her, Noah is gravely injured, Dane is lost…and Lindsay is left to save them all.
When we first began writing the Foundations of Magic series, we knew the challenges Lindsay faced would have to be equal to his growing strength—not just magically but emotionally as well.
In Trammel, he’s faced not just with defeating the scientist who tortured him for years and stepping up to a new role as leader of the family but also perhaps the most difficult task of all for a young man whose past has shown him little in the way of healthy relationships—forging a bond with his new family and with Noah, who still struggles with the tragic death of his wife.
When you start writing, do you already have the story plotted out or do you let the characters dictate what will happen?
With two of us writing, we definitely have to have the story plotted out. But that doesn’t mean the characters don’t dictate the plot. We work very hard to make sure the stories we write are true to the characters, that each plot point matters to the characters’ stories.
Also, we’ve tried writing without an outline in the past and…well, writing is too much fun. We ramble and go off on tangents and lose the plot. And then (true story) we spend four years revising and rewriting to finally come up with an actual publishable novel—that was Tatterdemalion. And even then, we ended up removing an entire chapter during the editing process. It’s a major goal of ours to never have to go through that again.
What inspired you to write in your genre? Is this the genre you started writing in or have you morphed to this one?
We both have varied tastes in our reading, and so it followed naturally that we have varied tastes in our writing as well.
We write contemporary gay romance (One Real Thing from Carina Press, our Drive Into Love series and the new Dear Lake, Michigan series from Amber Allure, and Becoming Us and the Renovations series from Torquere Press and our upcoming Pit Road novel from Samhain), gay science fiction romance (our upcoming relaunch of the Pandora Project series from Carina Press), and gay urban fantasy romance (the Foundations of Magic series from Samhain).
When we met almost 10 years ago, we were both writing a mix of GLBT and heterosexual stories in contemporary, science fiction, and urban fantasy settings. As we started to write together, we realized that in order to create a good experience for readers, we would need to focus our attention…but neither of us wanted to give up the variety of settings we were writing in. So instead we decided to focus on GLBT fiction.
It was a natural choice, given that we’re both bisexual and have both had the experience of struggling to find books that included people like us. It’s been incredibly satisfying for us as writers and as people.
Do you have a favorite character you have written?
For this, we’re definitely going to have to answer separately.
Dianne: My favorite of our characters is Lindsay from the Foundations of Magic series. He grows and changes so much over the course of the series, really coming into his own, and that’s been so much fun for me to write. I also feel like, because we’ve been working on this series for so long, I’ve grown up as a writer in the process of writing him.
Anah: I think my favorite character (so far) is Holly, from One Real Thing. Holly has an irrepressible streak of contrariness that makes him a joy to write. I also understand his frustrations and his less-admirable qualities. He was a lot of fun to write as well as a challenge, because he could have come off as too erratic and a cad to boot, but people seem to have enjoyed him.
Who was the toughest character for you to “get right” that you have written so far?
This is another one we’ll need to answer separately.
Dianne: For me it’s Lindsay again, from the Foundations of Magic series. He starts out so young and broken that it would have been easy for us to write him as weak and without motivation of his own. I really had to pay attention to his every action to make sure it reflected the strength beneath his brokenness.
Now that I think of it, though, Nick from One Real Thing was just as tricky. He has a lot going on beneath the surface: his desperate attempts to do the “right” thing to keep from becoming his father, his unending love for Hollister and his deep need to be needed. Because of how closed-off Nick is throughout the first part of the story as he tries so hard to be the man he thinks he ought to be, he wasn’t an easy character to show to the reader. Everything he did had to be weighed carefully against both his surface intentions and his underlying needs.
Anah: Noah from Foundations of Magic has challenged me most so far. Without going into too much detail—he only joins the story in Trammel—I had to walk a careful line with Noah. His immediate past is so overwhelming, and so completely shapes who he is now, it was a fight to keep it from drowning him and yet to make it seem realistic when his “before-self” surfaced.
Sometimes, when an event transforms a character, what I end up writing is really the inner landscape of who they were before, everything they would have otherwise repressed or sublimated. It can be difficult to write a character whose life has pushed them to the extremes of their expressed self. Writing Noah required me to write from both sides of who he is.
Do you have an all time favorite book you have read? written?
Dianne: Of the books I’ve read… Wow. I have too many favorites, I think. Of my recent reads, I really enjoyed Erin McCarthy’s Flat Out Sexy and Suzanne Enoch’s After the Kiss and Lisa Kleypas’s Married by Morning. I also loved Kit Zheng’s recent Deconstruction and anything by Jordan Castillo Price.
Of what we’ve written… Well, we’re not supposed to play favorites with our babies, are we? But I’m partial to the Foundations of Magic series and One Real Thing.
Anah: There’s no way to pick a favorite book I’ve read—some were better than others, some had greater impact on me. My loyalties shift with my mood, too. Of books we’ve written, I am most attached to the Pit Road stories (now to be reprinted as a novel, via Samhain Publishing), and Foundations of Magic.
How do you pick your characters names?
Oh, man. This is a long, drawn-out process and it absolutely has to happen before we start writing, because once we begin to write, the name gets attached to the character (as we discovered when we tried to change the name of a major character in the second Pandora Project novel).
We make a LOT of lists of potential names, and then we each go through and choose our favorites for those characters. We compare, and then usually go back and make new lists. Finally, one of us will suggest a name and the other one will say, “That’s perfect!” and it’ll be set in stone.
Do you prefer the love at first sight approach or a steady growth throughout?
It depends on the story and the characters. For some characters, love is a slow development that takes place over the entire novel and that feels very natural for the characters. For others, love is something that happens quickly and the story is about their struggle to make that love work.
There’s a third category, though, where a good number of our stories fall: love that starts before the first page but needs the time and events of the story to blossom. That’s how the romance in One Real Thing plays out. Nick and Hollister have been in love since college, but insecurities and real life have kept them apart—and from even admitting to that love.
What are your favorite/least favorite plot devices?
Dianne: I love stories in which the characters are “meant to be” —not necessarily fated to be together, but just the perfect match for each other—and have to go through all the trials and tribulations of making life work in their favor because they can’t be truly happy apart. I also love stories in which one (or more) of the characters has to go through a process of self-discovery in order to find happiness.
Anah: Least favorite is anything in device in which events happen off screen, or deus ex machina. It makes my teeth itch. I also generally dislike “love at first sight” (or “love at first lust”) plots. That’s with regard to plots I’m writing, the former because I think there’s always a better way to do it and the latter because it’s not something that works with my style. “Love at first sight” stories I have enjoyed reading end up being complex stories about what people think they need and what they find out they need.
Do you draw inspiration for your characters from real life? Any fun stories you could share?
We draw inspiration from everywhere.
The Renovations series was inspired by a marathon HGTV-watching session and by Dianne’s grandfather, who worked construction all his life and built the house she grew up in.
Slow Bloom and Becoming Us both came from the same sources: the 2008 Summer Olympics, our mutual love of swimming, and both of us living in college towns with high populations of college athletes.
What do you find the hardest part of writing?
The waiting. Once we submit something, we have to wait for our editors to get back to us about it. And once all the edits are finished, we have to wait for the publication date. And once it’s published, we have to wait to find out what readers think of it.
Aside from that, we each have our own favorite and least favorite parts. For Dianne, the hardest part is writing the synopsis…for which she has now passed off responsibility to Anah. For Anah, the hardest part is that initial dread that the edits are going to be more than we can handle…which hasn’t come true yet!
Name one thing that your readers would be surprised to know about you.
We wrote more than a dozen books together before we ever met in person.
Do you have a guilty pleasure?
Not in the sense of something we’re ashamed of, but we definitely have a weakness for exploring certain character types and themes. We’ve written variations on the same character types several times, and we definitely have a list of themes we return to again and again.
What do you need before you start writing? Anything that is just a must have or the creative juice don’t flow?
Dianne needs a list—an outline of the story, a breakdown of the goals for whatever scene we’re writing. She’s very tied to her organization systems that way. Anah needs to visualize the story arc, like watching a movie trailer. She also needs an understanding of what symbols are going to be important in the book and what mechanisms are going to drive the changes that make up the story arc.
Does music influence your writing? If so, do any of your stories have a theme song?
We often share songs that we think suit various characters or relationships between characters, but we haven’t assigned a theme song to any particular story.
Here’s some examples from the Foundations of Magic series:
Lindsay, “Orestes” by A Perfect Circle
Dane, “Keep the Streets Empty For Me” by Fever Ray
Noah, “Like a Stone” by Audioslave
Jonas, “Head Full of Ghosts” by Bush
Kristan, “Women is Losers” by Janis Joplin
Vivian, “Between” by Vienna Teng
Cyrus, “Story of Isaac”, by Leonard Cohen
Lourdes, “Terrible Thought”, by Poe
And the guys from One Real Thing have their own songs as well:
Holly, “King of the World” by Porcelaina and the Tramps
Nick, “Bird on the Wire” by Leonard Cohen
If your story was optioned for a movie, who would play your characters?
That’s not something to which we’ve generally given a lot of thought. Anah has studied filmmaking and knows exactly how much say most writers have in casting, which is to say: none. She’s also superstitious about associating characters with actors.
Where were you when you got your first contract? Who did you tell first?
Both of us were at home at the time and told each other because, of course, we’re both in it together.
How old were you when you read your first romance book?
Dianne: I was probably twelve or thirteen years old the first time I read a Harlequin romance… though I think it was actually in the Silhouette Desire line. Tears of the Rose by BJ James, about a blind supermodel heroine and a wealthy alpha male hero.
Anah: Jane Austen books are romances, right? Shakespeare? That would make me a pre-teen. After I was done reading children’s books, I was raised solely on a diet of books that qualified as “literature” (and no T.V. or movies), so there was nothing you’d expect to find in the Romance section of the bookstore. I did, however, write romantic fan-fiction about all the cartoons I watched at other people’s houses.
If you still have one of those pesky day jobs what is it?
Dianne is a preschool teacher and Anah is a stay-at-home parent to her teenager and her three dogs, courtesy of her partner.
What are you currently working on, and what else is in the wings?
We’ve just finished up writing Ternion, the third book in the Foundations of Magic series and we’re in the middle of writing a novella about an athlete reconnecting with his ex-lover during the Olympics.
We’re also working on edits for a revised version of Runaway Star, which will be coming out in early 2012 from Carina Press to relaunch our Pandora Project series, as well as edits for Pit Road, coming in late 2011 from Samhain Publishing.
Once we finish up that novella, we’re going to be working revising Parallax, the (never-before-seen!) second book in the Pandora Project series. We have several Dear Lake, Michigan stories waiting in the wings as well.
And through all of that, we have an ongoing blog project where we’re experimenting with a new plotting system based on The Weekend Novelist. We do a new set of story-planning and writing exercises each week and we post them to our Write to Work blog (writetowork.blogspot.com) so readers can watch us plot and write a new contemporary gay romance, Together for the Kids.
What is your reaction to people who say one of the following…”Oh you write romance, I thought you were a real writer”, “Romance isn’t a real writing career” or the ever popular “Oh, one of those books”?
Anah was brought up in the cut-throat world of literary academia and has long been faced with this particular bugbear. That doesn’t mean that either of us believes in that nonsense. There is no such thing as “real” writing. There is writing that changes things and writing that doesn’t, writing that moves people and writing that doesn’t, writing that sells and writing that doesn’t, writing that lasts and writing that doesn’t. Romance writing has the exact same likelihood of accomplishing all those things as any other genre.
Harlequin (parent company of one of our publishers, Carina Press) is one of the few publishers that hasn’t had a significant sales drop in the past few years. Also, more than fifty percent of all books sold are romance novels. Beyond the business concerns, we also believe that the emotional connections people make with one another are incredibly important, and in writing about those connections, we’re highlighting that importance.
In pragmatic terms, Dianne is amazingly polite to people all the time and people are too afraid of Anah to say something like that to her face.
Where can readers find you?
Anah Crow’s Website: www.anahcrow.com
Dianne Fox’s Website: www.foxwrites.com
Anah Crow’s Twitter: www.twitter.com/anahcrow
Dianne Fox’s Twitter: www.twitter.com/diannefox
Anah Crow’s LiveJournal: anahcrow.livejournal.com
Dianne Fox’s LiveJournal: diannefox.livejournal.com
The Fox & Crow Newsletter: www.foxwrites.com/newsletter
Write to Work: writetowork.blogspot.com
Pandora Project: www.pandorastories.com
And for the silly side – What is your favorite type of chocolate?
Dark chocolate, definitely. The darker, the better.