I read excerpts of Curio during Six Sentence Sunday last year and was so intrigued by those short excerpts I ended up downloading the book from Amazon. It’s sweet and funny and hot and I couldn’t put it down… where can I find a Didier? I even learned a new word (I thought Curio was a name, LOL) and when I finished it, I had to interview the author. And she’s even having a giveaway (what a generous author!), so skip to the end of the post if you want that! But then come back and read the interview…
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Cara McKenna!
I live just north of Boston on the coast, in a condo comprised of the slopey-ceilinged top floor of a very old house. When I moved in with my now husband, I took over the front room and painted it chartreuse and turned it into my office. I do ninety-five percent of my writing here, sitting on a yoga ball chair as I am now, typing on a desktop Mac. My front window looks out onto the cove, and on a lucky summer day I’ll see egrets and herons, or in the winter, legions of hardy bufflehead ducks.
2. When did you start writing?
I started writing seriously on July 4, 2008. I was up in Maine visiting my parents for the holiday when I first opened a blank Word document and decided to start writing a romance novel. I finished it about four months later—writing on weekends and in the morning before work, and during my lunch breaks at the office where I did graphic design. I was possessed, madly in love with this new hobby and the thought I might one day be able to do it professionally—get paid to be creative on my own terms, which wasn’t something I was getting from design. I joined RWA in August, I believe, using the Golden Heart as my very first deadline. I didn’t final that year, but I did the next. That first book was never published, and with good reason, but it was the book I used to put all the writing advice I’d absorbed into practice, the book that both taught me to write and proved I could finish a 100,000-word manuscript. I realize now that it kind of sucked, but I’ll always treasure it. That’s my advice for people who tell me they want to write a novel. “Write a shitty one first. It’ll teach you everything you need to know.”
3. What genre(s) do you write?
Contemporary steamy romance, erotic romance, and straight-up erotica. My erotica typically promises a happy-for-now ending or better, but not always. I’ve written vanilla stuff and kinky stuff, menage and male/male and rape role-play, all kinds.
4. Where do you find your inspiration? Do you put yourself in your stories?
Usually, the hero comes first. Either a face will spring to mind, or a personality, or even something as simple as his job. Once I know who he is, I ponder what kind of woman would be both the best and worst partner for him, to make him confront his myriad issues (my heroes usually have a lot of issues, some of them clinically diagnosable.) Occasionally I’ll come up with the heroine first, but not typically. I don’t put myself in my stories…not consciously. I’m sure all of my heroines have a healthy dose of me in them, in their worldview or their sense of humor or their quirks and biases, and some more than others. But I’ve never modeled a heroine on myself, or anyone I’ve met, or someone else’s fictional character. They just show up on their own, chuck full of opinions.
5. Do you have a specific writing routine?
I do. I’ve been writing full-time for the past three years. Typically I try to sit down at the computer by 7:30, and unless I’m mired in editorial revisions, I write until lunchtime (with a break to go running, most days), banking 2,000 or 3,000 new words and smoothing over the previous session’s work. I self-edit as I go. I wish I could write straight through at break-neck speed as some authors can, but that’s not my process. Creatively I’m useless after about 1:00, so I switch to admin tasks or freelance design or real-life chores in the afternoon. Or sometimes I get sucked into a vortex of reality TV and wind up watching Hoarders on Netflix Instant Watcher until it’s time to make dinner.
6. Outliner or improviser? Fast or slow writer?
My answer is the same for either question—both. When I start a book, especially if it’s for Harlequin Blaze, a line with reader expectations I have to be mindful of meeting, I usually latch on to a basic story idea, figure out how the hero and heroine meet, and get writing. By the third or fourth chapter, I have to hit pause and figure out where the story is going to go, so I can get myself on track to wrap things up within the given word count. I hammer out how the book needs to end—who needs to be redeemed and how, what the essence of the black moment should be, how the characters need to change and what complications could spur that change—and then I get back to writing, with a bit more of a map. But I never know exactly what will happen. Finding out is half the fun, and it keeps me going, wanting to know what’s coming next. As for speed, it depends on the day. Some rare mornings I can bang out 4,000 words by ten o’clock without breaking a sweat. Other days I have to tweeze each and every word out of my brain like a splinter, and flick them onto the page in a nonsensical pile. Days like those, I’m lucky if I get 500 words written, and even luckier if half are salvageable. But most days are somewhere in between. Decent flow, moderate count, neither euphoric nor torturous, just enjoyable and challenging and steady.
The next book I have coming out, on August 29, is called Coercion. It’s the first of the five Curio Vignettes, a series of short, follow-up novellas to my 2011 book Curio, which is about a virgin heroine and a Parisian male prostitute hero. This first sequel is a little kinky, and has the characters experimenting with forced seduction role-playing. Sort of quirky and atmospheric, romantic and filthy at once. I love writing those two characters. I’m in the middle of the fifth and final Vignette, and I’ll be sad when I say goodbye to Didier and Caroly. They have such interesting, off-beat views of sex and love and the world at large. It’s fun visiting inside their heads. And beds.
8. Indie publishing or traditional publishing – and why?
A mix of both. My first sale was to Ellora’s Cave, and I’ve now sold them about fifteen original books, plus some anthologies. I’ve had a great experience with them, and they let me write just about anything I want, theme-wise. Lots of creative freedom. I also write romance for Samhain, and enjoy a healthy combination of freedom and structure there, since romance has more boundaries than straight-up erotica. And Harlequin is the most challenging of all, as series romances need to conform enough to make good on the promises each line makes to its readership. But I enjoy the challenge. There’s still plenty of room to play within the line’s structure, and it makes me a more controlled, disciplined writer, coloring (mostly) inside the lines.
9. Any other projects in the pipeline?
Yes, lots! Between August and December, I’ll have a new Curio Vignette out each month. I also have a stand-alone Blaze out in January called The Wedding Fling, which is about a runaway B-list Hollywood bride and the unscrupulous pilot who flies her to a tropical island for her honeymoon getaway, sans groom. Then I have three more Blazes releasing as a series, with the first book, Making Him Sweat, out in March. Those take place between a matchmaking franchise and the boxing and MMA gym located right beneath it, in Boston’s Chinatown. Hopeless romantics and bruised, sweaty fighters in endless, unlikely combinations. In April I have a romantic novella out with Samhain, part of five-book series on the theme of “Strangers on a Train” with four of my favorite author friends. My story strands its heroine and hero in a subway station overnight in the dead of winter—romantic, huh? And I also have some other top-secret stuff in the works, but I can’t talk about it as of the time of this interview. Maybe by the time it posts, the cat will be out of the bag
10. What is your goal as a writer and what are you doing to achieve it?
Just to keep writing, keep getting better, keep evolving, and keep exploring new kinds of characters and stories and avoid boredom. It’s beyond my control to plan that I’ll make this list or that, or earn a certain amount as an advance, or be the next so-and-so. I can only control what stories I write, and whether or not I sit down each morning and get the words on the page… Though I would like to keep making enough money for this to stay a viable day job, since I’ve never been happier. Thank goodness I opened that blank Word doc, four years ago! I didn’t know what I was missing.
If you’d like a chance to win a copy of both Curio and Coercion, just say so in the comments, by noon EST on August 29! I’ll pick a random winner that afternoon. And if you’ve already read Curio, I’m happy to send it to a friend of your choosing instead, if you win.