AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: HEIDI BELLEAU & VIOLETTA VANE
What is your most current work out?
The Druid Stone, from Carina Press.
Tell us a little about The Druid Stone. What inspired you to write it?
Heidi: Well, it was really the result of a meeting of the minds. We knew setting out that we wanted to write an M/M urban fantasy. Violetta said “paranormal investigator”, I said I wanted to set it in Ireland, and it snowballed from there.
Violetta: Unlike Heidi, I don’t have any relatives in Ireland, and I’ve never been there. But I was inspired by a lot of different sources. Garth Ennis’s run on Hellblazer was a big one. C.J. Cherryh’s Celtic fantasies. The mythological poetry of Yeats. Oh, and Father Ted, on the lighter side, which is a hilarious Irish comedy show starring three incompetent priests. So my inspirations are very diverse, but I had the same goal as Heidi: to tell a cracking good story, complicated, suspenseful, just as tight as you’d get in a mainstream urban fantasy… and starring two men who fall in love with each other.
When you start writing, do you already have the story plotted out or do you let the characters dictate what will happen?
Heidi: We always have a very detailed plan in place before we start writing anything. Because we write together and share responsibility across the board (AKA we don’t roleplay), we really need to be on the same page from start to finish. We generally don’t put a single word down until we at least have character bios sketched out and a general beginning-middle-end structure decided.
Violetta: We spent a month of full-time planning and research on The Druid Stone. It’s an epic novel that involves a lot of travelling in time and space, and we needed visual references for many scenes. We actually put up a whole private website on Google Sites to share research. The planning allowed us to make sure characters were making realistic choices in some very unrealistic situations, when the carpet of reality gets yanked out from under their feet.
What inspired you to write in your genre? Is this the genre you started writing in or have you morphed to this one?
Heidi: I’ve been writing urban fantasy since I was a teen. I love the combination of a modern setting with elements of magic. I especially am drawn to the idea that there is magic all around us that we just don’t always see.
Violetta: I’m a lover of the fantastic, period. Everything from gods coming down to earth in The Odyssey to Tang dynasty ghost stories to sheer pulp to magic realism. I’ve always leaned more toward the epic and the paranormal in my reading, and now in my writing.
Do you have a favorite character you have written?
Heidi: I’m always asked this, and I always say the same thing. I am head over heels for Sean. He’s just a wonderful complex person who’s really lovable. Although I’ve made room in my heart for Felix, who’s a character in our upcoming Roman historical.
Who was the toughest character for you to “get right” that you have written so far?
Heidi: A secondary character in The Druid Stone that I can’t name due to spoilers. Because of his very tumultuous and traumatic life, his psyche and thus characterization are very complex beasts.
Do you draw inspiration for your characters from real life? Any fun stories you could share?
Violetta: My husband has a friend who’s something like fourth-generation Irish-American and also a little… odd. He has a large IRA tattoo and resents British people, but he’s never even been to Ireland. I find his sectarianism really over the top, especially since I’m 1.5-generation Japanese-American, and my relationship to Japan is much more tricky and complicated. There’s nobody quite like my husband’s friend in The Druid Stone, but some of these US ethnicity issues definitely make their way into the book, and the push-pull dynamic between Irish and Irish-Americans is in there as well. I guess that’s not a fun story, damn.
What do you find the hardest part of writing?
Heidi: I’d say the connecting the dots bit. You’ve got your mystery/conflict set up and you know how to resolve it, but I always get tripped up on the part where the characters piece things together and get that resolution rolling. Luckily Violetta is very good at the follow-through, because on my own that’s where I always stall.
Violetta: I get very insecure about knowing how much emotion to put into a scene. I’ll decide the characters’ thoughts are too distant and remote, put more emotion in, decide it’s too purple or sentimental, backpedal… I always agonize over that aspect.
Name one thing that your readers would be surprised to know about you.
Heidi: I live in a very remote area. The nearest city is seven hours away!
Violetta: People tell me I have a rep as a hard-ass, but I cry when watching movies and books all the time. And I can’t even count the times I’ve made myself cry when writing a sad scene.
Heidi: It’s true. She cries all the time. Worst dominatrix ever!
Do you have a guilty pleasure?
Heidi: I like to eat raw dough and batter. Not just the usual like cookie dough and brownie batter though. I’ll eat raw pie crust and raw bread dough, too. Twenty-six years salmonella free!
Violetta: I like to smoke PCP in graveyards. No, just kidding, I can’t think of anything.
What TV Show are you addicted to?
Heidi: I can’t miss Masterchef. Team Christine!
Violetta: Intervention. I always like to see the addicted people and their families get happy endings—even when a lot of them relapse later, the moment is still happy.
What do you need before you start writing? Anything that is just a must have or the creative juice don’t flow?
Heidi: Nope. As long as I’ve got an idea and a plan, I’m good to go. With a baby there’s just not much room for ritual.
Violetta: Yep, I’ve got two small kids, so I write whenever and wherever I can, too.
Does music influence your writing? If so, do any of your stories have a theme song?
Heidi: Oh yes! I usually have a playlist for every individual piece I’m working on. Good music really helps moderate the pace and tone, I find. You can’t beat a movie soundtrack in that regard.
Violetta: I love songs that tell stories. I have a soundtrack up to The Druid Stone with different songs representing characters and stages in the story.
If your story was optioned for a movie, who would play your characters?
Heidi: Well we wrote Cormac with a young Paul Newman in mind…
Violetta: Time travel solves everything.
Where were you when you got your first contract? Who did you tell first?
Heidi: My first contract was from Dreamspinner for my short story “Bookended”. I was at my mother’s house, so I told her! As for the contract for The Druid Stone, that call I received when I was at the hospital with my sister. I ran out the door because I couldn’t hear and I ended up locking myself out of the building… in -30 cold. That’s okay though, my happy dancing kept me warm.
Violetta: I was home when I got the call from Angela James for The Druid Stone acceptance. I was probably madly refreshing the Carina thread on Absolutewrite.com at the time
How old were you when you read your first romance book?
Heidi: The first thing I really remember is a romantic YA called Hunter’s Moon (by OR Melling) which I read as a kid and remember well and which most definitely influenced The Druid Stone, but my first Romance Novel was a Native American romance that I picked up on a 25cent shelf when I was 13 or so. I haven’t looked back since!
Violetta: I was 13 when I snuck my grandmother’s copy of The Wolf and the Dove, an old-school bodice ripper.
What author causes you to “go fan girl”/ squeal over/anticipate upcoming books?
Heidi: Rachel Haimowitz! I’m always dying for new stuff from her. She and I just speak the same language, kinks-wise.
Violetta: I’m addicted to the Peter Grant urban fantasy mysteries (Rivers of London) by Ben Aaronovitch. He just can’t write them fast enough for me. I also desperately want Susannah Clarke (Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, The Ladies of Grace Adieu) to publish another book.
If you still have one of those pesky non writing jobs what is it?
Heidi: I’m a substitute teacher, but it seems unlikely I’ll be going back to work until my daughter is old enough to go to school (if I go back at all, fingers crossed writing pays enough of my bills to justify staying home!)
Violetta: I was a corporate manager for almost a decade and didn’t enjoy it. I quit last year to homeschool my oldest son, and write.
Do you have a favorite movie you have seen in the last few months and/or an all time favorite?
Heidi: All-time faves would have to be Moulin Rouge! or PS: I Love You. Those are the movies that no matter what I’m doing, I’ve gotta watch them if I see them. As for recently, I really enjoyed Brave, and bought my daughter way more Merida merchandise than is probably strictly necessary. (I regret nothing!)
Violetta: My favorite movie in terms of rewatching is Swordsman II, a wuxia (Chinese historical martial arts) movie about a genderbending magician rebel.
What are you currently working on, and what else is in the wings?
Heidi: Right now Violetta and I are working on one joint project and one solo one each. Jointly, we’re writing a sequel to The Druid Stone starring a young man (and secondary character from TDS) who discovers Dublin retains more of its Viking past than just the name.
Solo, I’m working on a three book contemporary series of short novels all about an adult video store and the guys who work there.
Violetta: For my solo project, I’m trying my hand at an m/f romance. Like our m/m stuff, it’s also pretty dark urban fantasy. It’s about a young woman who runs to a small beach town in Mexico to escape the magician who enslaved her. But there are other supernatural forces hiding there… It might be a long time before this story sees the light of day, but I’m very excited about it.
Heidi: Me too! It’s been a long time since I’ve gotten to experience Violetta’s writing purely as a reader. As for what’s coming out soon, we have a Roman historical called Mark of the Gladiator coming out from Riptide in November, and we’re doing a brand new extended edition of our Christmas novella The Saturnalia Effect for Storm Moon Press, which comes out in December.
If you could co-write with another author who would it be?
Heidi: Eventually I will convince Rachel Haimowitz to work with me. One day. Oneeee day. But honestly, I’m really happy working with Violetta and I could work with her for a long time and not get restless.
Violetta: Can’t think of anyone else. I have a pretty close working relationship with Ruth Diaz, whose amazing f/f superhero story is coming from Carina on August 20th. We beta each others’ stuff, but we wouldn’t cowrite.
How do you pick your characters names?
Heidi: I’m a big fan of random generators, although I also search by ethnicity on baby name websites to find names with significant meanings. I also name them after people occasionally. (If you’re a fan of a certain British tv show, you might recognize a few familiar names…)
Violetta: I look at baby name lists, etymologies, and census statistics about the popularity of the name during the time period in question. Picking names for our Roman historical set in 26 BCE involved some heavy duty research.
Do you prefer the love at first sight approach or a steady growth throughout?
Heidi: I like either, depending on what works for the story. The Druid Stone’s romance slowly blossoms across the novel, but happens in two weeks of real time. Some novels get through months in just a few chapters. Personally, I just like my UST to build until I’m begging for that first kiss or sex scene.
Violetta: Anything but soul-mates; I’m just not a fan of that trope.
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”.
Heidi: As a teacher I’m pretty used to people thinking a monkey could do my job, so it’s not really something that gets under my skin.
Violetta: Enforcing high versus low culture boundaries is a foolish, classist, and deeply pointless endeavor. So, no
Where can readers find you?
And for the silly side – What is your favorite type of chocolate?
Heidi: 80% Dark, the bitterer the better. Yum yum!
Violetta: I don’t like chocolate *Kanyeshrug*
Thanks, Joyfully Reviewed, for having us over! If you’re interested in finding out more about The Druid Stone, you can find an excerpt and more information HERE