Words – Interview with Author Casey Hagen

Shadow Lake, the inspiration for Casey Hagen's latest work.
Shadow Lake, the inspiration for Casey Hagen’s latest work.

Robin:  Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing author Casey Hagen.  Hi, Casey! Nice to have you here.

Casey: Hi Robin! Thank you for having me here. I’m excited. This is officially my first interview!

Robin:  You are, I believe, as yet unpublished, but you write contemporary romance with a bit of suspense.  When did the writing bug first hit you?

Casey: I had a phenomenal English teacher who turned me on to banned books. I read Lolita and we had a one-on-one book discussion. I told him I was horrified by Humbert’s obsessive love for Dolores. He asked me, “Are you truly horrified by that or horrified that you feel for him despite who and what he ultimately is?” And he was right. I felt for Humbert despite the fact that what he was doing was so wrong. I hated reading. My teacher shifted my direction entirely. I earned my BA in English Literature and made up for all the reading I hadn’t done in high school.

Casey Hagen and her best friend
Casey Hagen and her best friend

When I graduated that teacher told me I should write a book of my own. He knew I liked edgy, controversial, and gritty and believed firmly that I should stick with what I love. I started plotting books with my best friend who was, and has always been an avid romance reader. We would record ourselves coming up with character ideas and scenes. Those cassette tapes lay buried in my closet for at least fifteen years before I dusted them off, struggled to find a cassette player to play them on, and listened to them again. At the time, I had never even read a romance novel, although when my former mother-in-law gave me Debbie Macomber’s This Matter of Marriage, I devoured it and became an avid romance reader ever since.

Robin:  What type of setting do you give most of your stories? Exotic? Small town? Big city?  Based on the name of the novel you mentioned to me, Sunset at Lake Crane, the story takes place at or near a lake. Do you have a specific affinity? Is the location based on somewhere familiar and/or important to you?

Casey: Sunset at Lake Crane is the first of three books I have planned for The Livingston Valley series. Just recently I decided to add a novella to the series that will come out last. It’s a small town setting and the hero lives on Lake Crane. Lake Crane is similar to a lake I loved to visit during my teen years. Every time I wrote, I pictured Shadow Lake in Glover, VT. Last summer, our family all met in Lake Ann, Michigan and that Lake Ann was a close second to Shadow Lake so it also served as inspiration.

Shadow Lake - pretty inspiring, huh?
Shadow Lake – pretty inspiring, huh?

Small towns come naturally to me. I grew up in small towns. I spent most of my time in Walden, Vermont going to one room school houses. Like Little House on the Prairie. Don’t laugh…I’m completely serious! Although, my settings aren’t quite that small, they are similar in size to the town where I attended high school. St. Johnsbury, Vermont has a population around 8000 so I like to stick to that size. It gives me a good frame of reference.

Casey's cover for her novella, Falling in Fiji
Casey’s cover for her novella, Falling in Fiji

I do have a completed novella I plan to release this fall also. It takes place both in a big city and an exotic location. The characters live in San Francisco, but end up taking a trip to Fiji together. That one required a ton of research since I based it on real places. Places I’ve never been to in real life to boot!

Robin:  Where does the suspense aspect come in?

Casey: In Sunset at Lake Crane, my heroine, Erynn is given an assignment to do an in depth interview on a wildly popular, mysterious writer. He writes under a pen name and no one has ever been able to find out a single detail about him. When she comes face to face with him she’s shocked to discover it’s none other than the man she walked away from eight years earlier…

She left, to protect him. Now that she’s forced to return, little clues crop up that lead her to believe whoever blackmailed her is still there and watching. The question is…who is it?

Robin: Where do you find your inspiration for your writing?

Casey: My friend and I used to talk about unlikely couples and how it would be possible to make those relationships work. In this case, I wanted to write a student/teacher romance that didn’t take the safe route of a college student and teacher.  I dance close to the taboo line without really crossing over it. Everything is perfectly legal, between two consenting adults. The issue is, they can’t prove that their relationship developed after graduation so that’s why she takes off.  She doesn’t want to risk his career.

Robin:  You shared with me the news you are pitching to an editor and to an agent at RWA in New York City this July.  How much time have you spent in front of a mirror honing your pitch? Are you nervous at all?

Casey: Ummmm, none. *Casey hangs her head in shame* I quite literally have not written my pitch, logline, synopsis…anything. I need to, but I’ve been so wrapped up in this book and getting it to my editor that everything else has been on the back burner. I’ve also encountered some personal challenges so it looks like the month of July will be for my pitch, *cough* impending panic, and tearing my hair out.  Am I nervous? Actually no. These pitching appointments are more for my practice and experience than about end results.

Robin:  I know you have a plan to self-publish if you are unable to find a home with a traditional or indie publisher.  What timeframe did you give yourself for that decision? What do you feel are the pros and cons of traditional and self-pub?

Casey: You know how to hit with the hard questions! With each passing day, I solidify my decision to self-publish. This is my story, and I plan to do it my way.

Casey's gorgeous cover for Sunset at Lake Crane
Casey’s gorgeous cover for Sunset at Lake Crane

As for a timeline, I want this book and stand-alone novella out by this fall. My goal is to have the rough draft of book two finished by the time I release book one so I can keep the momentum going.

Robin: I recently interviewed a singer/songwriter and asked him about his routine for creating, and he told me he often will write while doing household tasks, such as laundry.  I know I perform a lot of the mental creative process in my car, and then spend the evenings hunkered over my keyboard. How much time do you devote each day to your craft? Do you have a space set up for the sole purpose of writing, or do you type away with your laptop on the kitchen counter while you cook the evening meal?

Casey: First, I’m better at writing in the morning. Early morning. Before my kids can fill my head with a million different things they need me to do for them. I have to write with the TV on. I don’t watch it, but I hear the noise and that works for me. From 6am to 7am I listen to music on my computer as I get going. By 7am…I’m writing and listening to Parking Wars on A&E. At 8am I put it on Hallmark and listen to The Golden Girls. I know, I need help. After that it’s a series of court TV and Dr. Phil playing in the background.

Robin: Lol!

Casey: Those are my best days for writing. Of course, like most writers, I have to earn money too, so I own and operate my own residential cleaning business.  My husband has taken over dinner duties so I work right up until dinner and then after dinner, we all settle in the living room to watch our favorite shows together. I bring my laptop with me and keep it in my lap until we go to bed at night. It’s working for me for right now, but I’m getting my own office.

Ideas strike while I’m cleaning at customer’s houses, particularly during vacuuming. I don’t know what it is about vacuuming, but it’s very zen for me. I carry a small, leather bound notebook in my purse at all times. In one day I came up with three short story ideas and plotted them out, all during vacuuming.

Robin:  Are you currently working on another novel?

Casey: I am. I’m working on Nightfall at Hunter’s Ridge, which is the second story in The Livingston Valley series. In the first book, Erynn’s best friend Kat makes several appearances. Kyle, her love interest in the book is also in book one as sort of a surrogate brother to Erynn. Kyle has had a thing for Kat for quite some time, but she can’t stand him. He’s a cop and she hates cops.

Robin: When you picture the future of your writing career, what do you see?

Casey: I’m easy to please. My financial goal is to replace my cleaning income with writing income. I don’t clean that much so it really shouldn’t be too difficult after a few years. My husband views me as his retirement plan. I don’t like to get my hopes up to high so I’m not disappointed. He thinks I’m going to take off with this, he’s supportive like that!

I want to increase my output. I want to be able to put out four books a year. I don’t want to sacrifice quality to do it. If I can make that happen, I’ll be happy. I need to write. That’s what it all comes down to. If I can make some great friends, earn some fans, and continue to learn and grow, I’ll have achieved all of my goals.

Robin:  Well, thank you, Casey, for taking the time to speak with me.  Good luck at RWA. Let me know how everything works out!

Casey: Thank you so much for interviewing me! And for the well wishes at RWA…I’m going to need all the good mojo I can get since I’m working on my pitch, logline, and synopsis at the eleventh hour!

Words – Interview with Author Kelly Jensen

Chaos Station, by Kelly Jensen and Jenn Burke
Chaos Station, by Kelly Jensen and Jenn Burke

Robin: Today I am interviewing author Kelly Jensen. Welcome, Kelly. It’s nice to have you.

Kelly: Thank you for having me!

Robin: When I write, I use my own name for sweet to sensual romance and the pen name Celia Ashley for the spicier variety. Do you use a pen name?

Kelly: Not at the moment. I write under my own name. When my co-writer (Jenn Burke) and I submitted CHAOS STATION, the first male/male manuscript for both of us, I considered using a pen name simply to separate the book from what I already had published. I’d heard so much about author branding, I thought I should use one name for male/female romance and one for m/m. But I loved CHAOS STATION so much, I wanted my name on the cover. Same went for my co-writer. Also, I only had one previously published title, so it wasn’t as if I already had a brand. 😀

Now that I have four m/m titles listed under my name (with two more to come in June!), I may rethink the pen name if I ever get around to publishing more m/f. It won’t be anything wild, though, and I’d like to have a clear connection to both names, with works by both represented on the one site.

Robin: That makes sense. I know a lot of authors have their pen names as separate tabs on their website menu and gain crossover readership that way. Now, your career writing romance began relatively recently, but you have spent more than a decade reviewing video games. Your first romance, LESS THAN PERFECT, is set in a post-apocalyptic America. Can we assume the setting was influenced by your gaming experience, or is this backdrop something that has always inspired you in your writing, separate and apart from the worlds of video games?

Less Than Perfect by Kelly Jensen
Less Than Perfect by Kelly Jensen

Kelly: I always dreamed of writing science fiction. I read a lot of it, and I love the idea of imagining our future. Tuck a love story in there somewhere and I’m a very happy reader. So when it came to writing my own stories, there is always an element of romance. But science fiction, particularly post-apocalyptic settings, is my first love.

I get some of it from gaming—the Fallout series is one of my favourites, and don’t get me started on the subject of Mass Effect (which is more impending apocalypse, on an inter-galactic scale) or we’ll be here forever. My obsession with post-apocalyptic environments originally stems from fiction, though. As a teenager I devoured books like Earth Abides, Day of the Triffids and Footfall. I could list a hundred books and tell you how each one influenced me, but it’s really a theme in general: new beginnings. To me, that’s what science fiction is all about, whether it’s post-apocalyptic, dystopian or optimistic. It’s us doing something new.

Lonely Shore by Kelly Jensen and Jenn Burke - Book #2 of the Chaos Station series
Lonely Shore by Kelly Jensen and Jenn Burke – Book #2 of the Chaos Station series

Robin: What made you switch from male-female to male-male romance? Was it based on the story you needed to tell, or…?

Kelly: I have other male/female WIPs and I intend to write more of it—with romance as the focus and with romance as an element. Jenn and I have written a fantasy novel together that has a male/female romance tucked into a tale of swords and sorcery. But when considering this project, we really wanted to write two men because there aren’t a lot of stories out there combining science fiction and male/male romance. Essentially, we wrote something we’d like to read. The setting lent itself beautifully to being able to explore a same sex romance without having to consider the constraints of a contemporary romance as well. There is very little prejudice in our world (which is set two hundred years in the future), and being who you are is more important than who you sleep with.

Robin: Do you think you will always write science fiction, or would you consider a different sub-genre?

Kelly: I read really widely, so I’d like to write widely too. I’ve written science fiction, fantasy, and contemporary at this point. I’d also like to try something historical—even though I’m sure the research would kill me—and perhaps even a mystery or suspense. Jenn and I are also fleshing out a light paranormal world.

Robin: On your website, I saw that you and your co-writer for CHAOS STATION, Jenn Burke, are best friends, but does that make the process of writing easier or more difficult? Would you tell me a bit about how your method of co-writing works?

Kelly: I think it makes it both easier and more difficult!

The first thing that applies to co-writing of any sort is you have to check your ego at the door. You’re not going to love every word your co-writer puts down and she’s not going to love every single one of yours. It’s definitely good if you like most of them, though. 😉 Thing is, it’s not a solo project, so you have to learn to compromise, and not to get your knickers in a knot while doing so. Sometimes that’s hard. None of us likes to hear criticism. Thankfully, Jenn and I have the sort of relationship where, for the most part, we can say: “This scene isn’t working for me and here’s why.” Sometimes we’re not that tactful. But we both love these characters and this world. We wrote the story arc together, we built the world together. We’re equally invested in making the series work. So we’re invested in making it work together.

Our method is fairly simple. Both of us write from the point of view of a single character—one of the two “heroes” or “main characters”. We share a third point of view character, taking on writing his scenes when we have a feel for what needs to be accomplished in that scene. When we wrote our first novel together—the fantasy one—we spent a lot of time sending the file back and forth with questions like: “What would your character do here?” A few chapters in, we gained enough confidence writing one another’s characters that we were able to complete an entire scene or chapter without asking for specific direction. Of course, if she has one of my guys making a gesture I don’t think fits, I can change it, and vice versa. Sometimes it’s a word choice. Usually simple things. We’ve been writing together for so long, though, that we know the personality and quirks of every character.

Nuts and bolts—we use One Drive. Sometimes we’ll work in a file together, at the same time. More usually, one of us will write a scene/chapter, then sit back and wait for the other person to write the next scene/chapter. We’ll alternate like that until the book is done. Then we edit the entire book together, leaving one another comments and suggestions.

Robin: Do you have other books planned together? Do you have other books planned on your own?

Kelly: We have so many books planned together. Honestly, we’re going to have to live to be 150 to write them all. We really enjoy world building and writing together, though, and our voices and style are very complimentary.

I also have a number of solo projects that I plan to fit in between the series I’m writing with Jenn. They range from short stories, which I love to write, to complete novels across a few different sub-genres.

Robin: The publishing world has changed so much since my first release (too many years ago to mention, lol). There are so many opportunities for writers now, though conversely, more struggles, too. It’s often difficult to know which path to choose. Are you published via small pub, self-pub, NY pub, or a combination thereof?

Kelly: Small pub. I have titles with Entangled Publishing, Carina Press and Dreamspinner Press. I’ve enjoyed working with all three, and feel small press is a great fit for me. There is more individual attention, and you have the opportunity to really connect with your editor. Small presses also have a strong cadre of loyal fans who eagerly await each new release, which helps with promotion.

Robin: Great to hear! CHAOS STATION was, I believe, released by Carina Press in March of this year. Is there a particular reason you write for each of the three houses? Was it a matter of what the editors at each were looking for at the time you were seeking publication, or something else?

Kelly: We specifically chose Carina Press for the Chaos Station series and were delighted when they opted to contract all five books. We chose them based on their catalog of offerings, which included a good number of both male/male romance and science fiction romance titles.

My submission to Entangled was in response to a call for geeky girl stories. Same with Dreamspinner—my story there was for an anthology call. I would consider both publishers again if I write more short fiction.

Robin: Do you have an upcoming release?

Kelly: I have several!

5/25/15 – LONELY SHORE (Chaos Station, #2) – co-written with Jenn Burke (M/M SFR) 6/1/15 – NEVER TOO LATE (A Daily Dose Anthology) (M/M Contemporary Romance) 6/1/15 – OUT IN THE BLUE (A Never Too Late Story) – My contribution to the anthology also releases individually on the same day June-July – WRONG DIRECTION – I don’t have a firm date for the release of this novella. (M/M NA Contemporary Romance) 10/5/15 – SKIP TRACE (Chaos Station, #3) – co-written with Jenn Burke (M/M SFR)

Robin: That’s an impressive amount of work! Thank you, Kelly for taking the time out from your writing to speak with me. I wish you all the best!

Kelly: Thank you for taking the time to chat. Writers love to talk about their work (as you may know). I hope we have the opportunity to talk again—about your work!

Robin: Thanks, Kelly. I’m sure we will be talking again!

Words – Interview with Tony Lucca

Tony Lucca's latest release
Tony Lucca’s latest release: Tony Lucca

Robin: I have with me today singer/songwriter Tony Lucca.

Welcome, Tony. Thank you for agreeing to let me interview you.

Tony: Certainly, my pleasure!

Robin: You are my first interview for the “Words” segment of my blog, in which I hope to celebrate the singular power of words, from those who write them to those who organize words into a format for others to enjoy. It is my intent to interview authors, songwriters, editors, recording engineers, publishers, poets, visual artists (because, as it is said, a picture is worth a thousand words) and those who aspire to this type of creativity. Speaking of pictures, your most recent tour is called the Paint a Picture Tour. I’m sure most of your fans already know the reason for this, but this particular fan isn’t quite sure if the tour is named after the next to last song on your current release, or if there is more to it than that.

Tony: Well the song itself was actually, at one point, on the chopping block. Basically it’s a bit of a departure from the rest of the rather “rockin’” record. However, my kids really grew attached to the song, having been some of the first listeners of the initial demo. When I told them I didn’t think the song was going to make the record they were quite upset. My son, Liam, said “well then your record’s gonna suck!” I’d like to think he was kidding, but it turns out he was right. The song needed to be on the record. Fans seemed to fall in love with it right away and so to acknowledge my near-mistake, I decided to name the tour after the song.

Robin: Thanks for enlightening me! And thanks to Liam for speaking up. I’ve often been asked at what point the writing bug infected me, so let’s start this interview with that. When in the course of your life did you realize music was your gift and/or your goal?  Was your desire to be a musician obvious to you at a young age, or something you came to recognize later?

Tony: I think I made my first effort to write something as early as 7 or 8. But it wasn’t until I got up in front of a crowd to play some original songs that I realized this was what I was going to do for the rest of my life. Certainly after receiving my first pay check, it became even clearer. I think I was 12.

Robin: I love classical music and, as a writer, I will use the music—a different piece for each story I’m working on—to shoot me straight into the mindset I need to be to write. Do you have a certain routine you use to get into songwriting mode?

Tony: For me it’s more about creating the space, both physically and mentally. Oddly enough, spending a day at home alone, usually while knocking out a few loads of laundry, seems to be when inspiration is a little easier to come by. It becomes part of the pace of things. Pick up the guitar, get a strong melody in my head, brainstorm some ideas, switch out the colors for the whites, make a few drive-bys looking things up on the computer or pulling books off the shelf. It can get fairly intense but usually within a few hours I’ve got something that’s either going to hold up or something I’ll let go of and move on from.

Robin:  [Laughing] Okay, then. I kind of like that image of going through the laundry motions while creating. When I write, I find I perform research first for historical novels, and let the characters develop from the past, and conversely in contemporaries I develop the characters first and let the story grow around them. When you write songs, do you write the words or music first, or does it vary? Also, do you have a preference for the instrument used when putting lyrics into song?

Tony: It always varies. The best songs seem to come all at once. And although I’ve experimented with everything from a simple shaker, to the bass, to the piano, the guitar just seems to be the one I go to most frequently. It’s probably just a convenience thing.

Robin: I can understand that. Plus dragging the piano into the laundry room might be a little unwieldy. On Under the Influence, you give a nod to artists who have influenced you over the years with a cover of each of their songs, including Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, the Rolling Stones, and my particular favorite from my high school years, Led Zeppelin. If you could pick only one, however, which artist or band would you say influenced you most? Would it be one of those from the cd, or someone else entirely?

Tony: Impossible. Sorry.

Robin: Don’t apologize. I don’t think I could choose just one author or event that set me on the path to writing, believe me. After the recent passing of your uncle you made a post on your Facebook page about his influence on you musically, and about the artistic talent of your family in general. Do you want to share a little bit more about that?

Tony: The older I get the more I realize what a blessing it is to be a part of such a wonderfully talented family. Sadly, the bigger the family, the more you have to be prepared, emotionally, when it comes time to say good-bye.

Robin: They live on in our hearts, which is always a comfort, and with you, in your music. How, exactly, would you brand your style of music? Can it be summed up as a particular style? Has it changed over the years?

Tony: It’s always been tough to try to classify myself. I gave up trying years ago. Though being a “guy with a guitar” who plays his own songs technically makes me a singer/songwriter, I feel there’s an inherent soul element to everything I’ve done as well. And with my latest record I was able to incorporate more of the classic rock sound I grew up on.

Robin: Writers are usually somewhat introverted, or at least used to working in a very solitary fashion. As a singer/songwriter, you are often engaged with the public. How important is this to you as a writer? As a performer?

Tony: Boundaries are extremely important, as is the ability to compartmentalize your time and attention. There are times when you need to be reachable, approachable and personable. There are other times when you need to keep it tight, focused and isolated. I feel that for an artist to arrive at something truly inspired, it’s inevitably going to require some degree of solitude and introspection.

Robin: Did you know you had been referred to as a “young Sting”?  How did that make you feel?

Tony: I’m a big Sting fan.

Robin: Me, too. So I guess you’re pleased by the reference. I must confess, I hadn’t seen that previously, even though it’s a reference from a while ago. I smiled when I saw it.  It is obvious to those of us who enjoy your music that each song is inspired by something in your life. Some are rocking and other songs are quite moving. My particular favorites of the latter type are “Bad Guy” (Shotgun) and “Nobody But You” (Rendezvous with the Angels), released at the time when you were a budding family (a quite lovely and engaging family, I might add). On the self-titled Tony Lucca, released early this year—which, to me, is a perfectly balanced compilation of energy and soul—you have a lovely tune called “Sparrow”, which we all know is written about your daughter. Do you feel your music echoes your contentment? Or do you continue to delve into past experiences—as a lot of writers do—for use in your songwriting?

Tony: I’m always amazed at the power of songs and their storytelling magic. And though it’s fun to revisit earlier experiences by playing older songs, it always a bit more fulfilling when you can connect to your most recent set of experiences through your more current material. I know with regards to the new record and current tour, I’m having a great time connecting to the material each night. People can tell when you’re taking pride in what you do and I’m real proud of these songs.

Robin: I had no plans to bring up your stint on The Voice, but I would like to mention your acoustic duet of the Beatles’ “Yesterday” with Adam Levine. You have commented to certain people that you enjoyed that experience immensely. If you could choose someone else, anyone else—whether current or from the past—with whom would you most like to perform a duet today?  Perhaps not just to perform a duet, but to co-write the song for that particular performance?

Tony: I would Love to work with David Crosby. I think he had a way of writing that was so mysterious; honest and cryptic at the same time. Not to mention all the ethereal harmonies he seems to come up with. I feel I could stand to learn a great deal working with him.

Robin: What are your professional plans for the future?

Tony: More writing, recording and touring I suppose. I’ve got a batch of songs that I wrote for some of my Kickstarter backers. The songs were very inspired and came out really nice. I’m really looking forward to getting in to record those. I’ve got ideas of doing a live recording of my 2006 release, Canyon Songs, possibly for the 10-year anniversary. We’ll see.

Robin:  Sounds wonderful!  A live recording of Canyon Songs would be perfect. I look forward to your next project. Thanks again, Tony, for your time!

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I hope you enjoyed this interview with Tony Lucca! To celebrate the release of my novel, Dark Tides, from Lyrical Press today, I will be giving away a gift digital download to three randomly selected readers who comment today.  Thanks for your interest.~Robin