Today we would like to welcome Tere Michaels to the PBA site. As well as being an established author with Dreamspinner Press, Tere has one self-published work and gives writer’s workshops. Marc, with the much appreciated help of Kaje Harper, has written the interview from the mindset of a new author. So get ready to take notes…
Why should I write stories in the M/M genre? What would be the benefits of writing books that will probably never make it into the mainstream?
I think the decision about what genre should always boil down to – what are the stories you want to tell? Who are the characters in your head? What stories do you love – what worlds do you feel comfortable in? Let the answers to those questions lead you to the “right” genre. Forcing yourself to write in a genre you don’t feel will never work out!
If I don’t want to limit myself only to M/M, should I choose a second pen name? And how do I come up with a good pen name anyway?
A good pen name should be memorable without being over the top – unless that’s your writer persona! There’s a difference between Tere Michaels and Organza Starlight, after all. So think about the type of stories you’re going to write, think about the way you want to market your career and then pick a name you like.
As for different genres and different names – that’s up to the individual authors. I personally don’t want to separate my various genres under different pen names. My style is always the same, regardless of the gender of the main characters.
You have written M/F/M as well as M/M under one pen name, how has that worked out for you? Are readers unhappy about the genre switch?
Honestly, I just write the stories that are in my head! Those characters were sitting around in an unfinished story and I had to give them an ending. (Little known fact – “Three to Get Ready” is basically the alternate reality of “Love & Loyalty.” I wanted to play around with what could have been another option for Jim’s story. So I created a different character to explore with!) And sure, there are readers who aren’t into that sort of story but I’m okay with that. I can’t be everyone’s writer – and I shouldn’t want to be. I can’t please everyone.
How should I start coming up with a story? Character? Plot? A scene? A theme? Or should I just decide from book to book?
I think it’s organic to each writer and then to each book. Sometimes it’s a word, sometimes it’s a thing you’ve read/seen. Who knows what a trigger might be? For writers, it’s important to constantly be adding to your “idea” file – it can be a file on your computer or a notebook you carry around with you. You never know when inspiration will strike. Literally anything can start the ball rolling! That’s why it’s good to live an observant life. Everywhere you go, in everything you do.
There’s a great book called “Steal Like an Artist” by Austin Kleon, which stays on my desk at all times. It’s terrific for keeping your brain fresh and invigorated and creating new ideas.
Is there a common mistake many writers in this genre commit that I should try to avoid?
Trying to sound like someone else is a big one. Your best asset in writing is your personal voice – no one else has it! It’s uniquely yours and it cannot be taught. That is your advantage. So tell your story in your voice.
And get some tough beta readers/editors to look over your manuscript before you send it off. People who love you are great cheerleaders but you need people to point out problems and mistakes – the goal should always be to submit the very best work you’re capable of.
Should I look at the flaws my readers find? Is it a good idea to read my reviews or would they influence the way I write my stories too much?
In the first days of one’s career, it’s tempting to read every review, every word written about you! Googling yourself becomes both a pleasure and a bit of torture after awhile. At some point, it’s important to remember you cannot please everyone. Ever. You can’t write the book every fan expects. All you can do is write the very best book you can – put your heart and soul into it – and you’ll find your audience.
Now, if many readers – and editors, and beta readers – come back to you with similar comments about a particular thing, you should probably take a look at it! Does everyone seem to complain about your endings? Is there a seemingly universal issue with tone or dialogue? Talk to your editors.
Can you give me an example of something a fan has told you per email or in a review that really moved you?
Oh gosh – there have been some really amazing words from my fans! After “Duty & Devotion” came out, I had emails from men around Evan’s age who had experienced a very similar internal struggling during their coming out – it’s not just how other people perceive you but how you perceive yourself. That was very powerful to me.
I also met a fan in person, who is the mother of a gay son. She reduced me to tears with her kind words. It was one of my favorite memories of meeting fans.
What should I think about if I want to write a good short story?
Is this a story I can tell in this form?
When I wrote my first short story, it was an exercise and a test of my skills. Could I tell a complete story without my usual wordy ways and half the state of New York popping in?! Could I tell a convincing love story in half the words I usually use?
So when you decide your form is “short” – consider your plot and your characters. You want to do them justice in the format you choose.
Should I focus on one sub genre or try new things? Are there any sub genres you haven’t written, but would like to try?
I think you can look at it a few ways. Do I write in different sub genres until I find the one I want to spend the most time in? Do I wait to see what readers respond to best? Or do I build up a readership in a particular area before branching out?
Writers have to consider their own “nerves” on this one! If you’re willing to move around in sub genres – and understanding that all your readers might not follow you around – then go for it. If you want the comfort of building up an audience in one genre, then do that. It’s such a personal thing!
I’ve really only written contemporaries with a trope-y vibe to them, and really, that’s my wheelhouse. That doesn’t mean I won’t some day write a paranormal!
How can I keep my characters consistent throughout a story? Should I write out extensive character bibles?
I like character bibles, mostly because it helps me find the plot of the story. I tend to start with people over scenarios, and getting to know all their intricacies make for a better story. This way, I can craft a plot that challenges and grows my characters, and in that way, connect the readers to their struggles.
Consistency comes from listening to your characters and not forcing them into scenarios that go against their programming! You are always in control of your characters, which means you have built them from their names to their souls. That also means you have to stay true to your creation.
How can I come up with good names and book titles? And how much will different names and titles change the perception of a character or story?
Oh, I think names and titles are very important to perception!
Finding names – I start with a baby name book (always on my desk) or a baby name website. I think about where this person is from, how old they are, the way I want them perceived and then I start bouncing around. A fellow writer pointed out my love of alliteration when it comes to naming my characters! And makes me change some names during editing because of it!
There are a ton of overused name in romance – there are a lot of Jacks out there, okay? So consider trying to find names somewhere in between “overused” and “wait, how do you pronounce that?”
The title of the book – so tough! Many times the titles are the first things that come to me, sometimes I have to search around. For my current book, I thought about the themes of the story and then spent time at the Brainyquote website. Eventually I found a title by combining two quotes I felt related to the emotional narrative of the story.
How important are secondary characters? Should I actively try to include women characters to balance the male focus of my MCs?
I could literally write a book about this one! Secondary Characters is one of my most requested workshops – I think they are so, so important to telling a story. They inject your world with color and life and dimension, they reveal plot and character of your heroes through interactions, words and deeds. They give you different voices to use within the story. I am the biggest cheerleader in the world for secondary characters.
As far as including women – I think of this in the same way I respond to the question “how do you write gay romance as a woman?” My answer is always that I write people. That’s it. I tell my story with the voices that start talking – and yes, they are always a mixture of men and women! Treat everyone fairly, use them as people not caricatures or stereotypes, and you’ll write the best story you can.
Who is your literary idol and what could I learn from their writing style?
Okay, this might sound weird but my two literary idols are Jane Austin and Dean Koontz! It took time for me to figure out what they have in common and then I realized it was – they wrote the stories they wanted to. They didn’t necessarily adhere to the genre guidelines or the expectations – they wrote (write) in deeply original voices the stories they wanted to tell. That is my mantra.
Should I keep a file with plot ideas? And if a story is not working out for me, should I just abandon it and move on?
Yes – a plot idea file is a great idea. My file has random words, pictures, character names, and pictures in addition to plot ideas. They’re fun to play around with when you’re stuck.
If a story isn’t working, don’t stay so long you get frustrated. BUT it can help to try and figure out why it isn’t working. Have you backed yourself into a corner? Are your characters annoying you? Does it feel flat? Figuring out the reason why can often solve the problem.
Should I try to get distance from a first draft, drive right into editing or edit heavily while I’m writing?
Put it away! A week, two if you can. Send it off to other people for a read through but you? Stay away! You need to have time so you can come back with fresh eyes. One of the problems with reading your manuscript over and over is that your brain automatically fills in the blanks for what’s not on the page. There needs to be some “forgetting” space before you can see it properly.
Editing while you’re writing is entirely personal. I can’t work unless I go back and read from the beginning, edit here and there – then I can add new words. That’s my style, that’s the way my inner editor has to be managed. Others just write until the end and then go back. Try it a few ways and see what’s more comfortable.
With so many new authors, what can I do to stand out and produce something fresh?
Like I said before, each author comes to the table with their own unique voice and their own very personal retelling of a story. That’s your best marketing in the world – the best story you can write, in the most emotional and loving way you can manage.
Listen, no one is reinventing the wheel! Romance is one of the most specific genres in the world. People meet, fall in love and 99.9% of the time, there is some sort of positive ending. Readers expect that – it’s why they bought the story in the first place! The question is – what are you bringing to the table? A retread of an old favorite? An imitation of another author? Or a voice and a vision that’s so personal that people can’t help but be intrigued? That’s your calling card. You!
Should I try to self-publish, or find a publishing firm even if I have to give up some of my freedoms?
I have written nine books and one is self-published (“Holiday Roommates”). I enjoyed the experience of working entirely on my own schedule with the self-pub but for me, personally, I like being part of a publishing family. There are always trade-offs. Freedom is great but it’s also nice to have people to lean on if something goes wrong.
How can I promote my books without pushing them too hard and should I add them to book lists if they fit?
I think promoting books is a delicate balance. You want your fans and perspective fans to know you have a new release but you also don’t want to be just about pushing your books. Talk about your process, discuss the industry, let fans get to know you, promote your fellow writers! There are lots of things to talk about. And it also keeps people from looking at you as just an advertisement!
You can also help yourself by learning the etiquette of all the various social media platforms. How to use them in the best way possible will save you lots of missteps.
How available should I make myself to fans, how should I communicate with them and would it be a good idea to go to conventions?
I love conventions. Starting small can be a good starting point – find a local chapter of RWA and attend a meeting, see if they hold an event. They are a great way to meet fellow authors, editors and fans.
How available you make yourself is dependent on your comfort level. Facebook, Twitter, a website – there are so many ways to interact with fans. But you need to pick a place to start and grow your outreach. Keep it manageable and something you enjoy. The more positive you feel about it, the more likely you are to continue.
How many WIP should I maximally work on? How many WIPs and future projects are you working on right now and can you share something from one of them with me?
I tend to work on one project at a time, with a few things alternating in the background. The background stuff isn’t necessarily writing but planning – character sketches, “casting” (gathering pictures of faces that fit the characters, pictures of settings), research, etc.
Currently I’m writing a “super hero” gay romance, which is very exciting for me because I am a big comic book fan. This is something new for me, world-building wise, while still being familiar since it’s emotional guys with things to work out, coming together to fall in love! With wise-ass dialogue, of course!
Thank you again, Tere, for your time, words of wisdom and generous giveaway! We look forward to another visit from you in the future.
Tere Michaels has kindly offered 1 lucky commenter an eCopy of the whole of her ‘Love, Duty and Devotions’ series (3 novels and 1 novella)!!!
Contest ends 8 Feb 2014 @ 11:59pm. Must be 18 or older to enter, etc.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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