Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Writing with Betty: Interview with Ilana Miller

Betty Ilana looks like she knows secrets and might share them.
Perhaps she is going to tell the new Baroness that
she IS a Baroness whether she wants to know or not.
Sadly, this will end with a cup of coffee being spilled
down her frock.
As an Adjunct Professor of History, Betty Ilana is super smart. But I also feel that she is the kind of Adjunct Professor of History who would nod approvingly and cast a sympathetic eye over my plan to wear a bedazzled tiara when I totally watch the entire broadcast of the upcoming royal wedding (even the part--no, especially the part where guests are dropped off in mortifying mini-buses, decanting on the sidewalk in their big hats and wedding finery.). I loved how game she was for this interview. Let's go.

When and how did you get your start writing?
I’ve been writing since I was in the 2nd grade.  It began with a trip diary that was given to me before a 5 month trip to Europe and Israel (when I first visited Holland and mother bought me a pair of wooden shoes which I never wore!), onto the third grade when I wrote short stories, and on after that. Mostly I just wrote for my friends and myself, but later I thought I would try to write a Harlequin Romance.  Like most people, I was under the mistaken impression that it was a piece of cake.  Boy, was I wrong!!  Those little romances are very difficult.  
Yes, Tom Hanks. They are. They really, really are.
I tried a couple, even got an agent, but nothing happened.  Later on when I was doing my Masters, someone suggested that I submit my thesis to a medium sized British history publisher.  It was accepted, and the rest, as they say, is …er…history...

Where did you get your love of royal history?
My mother bought 3 volumes of My Life  by Queen Marie of Romania in New York city in the late ’40’s.  She was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria and her memoirs were fascinating and chock-full of amazing photographs of the Queen and her huge and varied extended family, “The Royal Mob” as QV called them.  I was about 9 years old when I pulled them out of the bookshelf.  I spent hours pouring over these photographs and eventually reading the memoir.  Along with that, I had also read portions of  Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert Massie and was completely enthralled with the mystery of Anastasia.  As a graduate student I read a massive amount of biographies and memoirs of QV’s family and the Romanov’s and have been writing about them ever since. 

You write non-fiction* which I imagine must be so rich but so frustrating since you're not making up the people in your books and you have to take them as you find them. Who is the coolest person you've researched?
*Historical fiction too.
Even her pen name sounds smart
Actually, I suppose I like the limitations of writing non-fiction.  Although you can project some of your theories (hopefully thoroughly grounded in facts), you have an outline and you just go along for the ride, the story is already there.  The most wonderful person I’ve written about is Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine, who became Princess Louis Battenberg and later the Marchioness of Milford Haven.  Her family name was translated to “Mountbatten” and she is the mother of Lord Mountbatten, the grandmother of Prince Philip, the sister of the Empress Alexandra, and first cousin to 41 other grandchildren of Queen Victoria.  She was smart, practical, she weathered great tragedy in her life and was completely honorable.  She was also someone who did her duty, not a virtue that is celebrated these days.  She became a role model for me. I wrote about her and her three sisters in a book called The Four Graces: Queen Victoria’s Hessian Granddaughters.

Whose story have you been sorry you couldn't change?
A couple.  I guess like most people who are interested in this, I wish I could have at least saved the five children of Nicholas and Alexandra.  The parents, I have very little use for, but I hate that the four daughters, one son and five servants, completely guiltless, were murdered with the pair.  I might also change who Nicholas married as Alexandra was completely unsuitable to be Empress of All the Russias.  However, theirs was personally a devoted and passionate love story.  I don’t imagine one of them would have liked to have lived without the other.
I would change Prince Harry's story, of course. Putting off growing a
beard for so long was a massive blunder.

You have worked with a co-author. How does that make the process harder? How does it make it easier?
Easier since I didn’t have to write the whole book.  However, with the gentleman with whom I collaborate, I don’t get the impression he puts half the thought into things that I do.  However, he is also my publisher, so I am grateful get things out there.

Where do you get the ideas for what to write about next? Do you have much choice?
My publisher gives them to me mostly.  He publishes a royal history magazine and I am responsible for a feature called “Who’s in the Photograph”.  

With a follow-up feature called "Who's Taking the Photograph?"

He owns nearly ½ million rare royal photographs and he choses one and I write about it.  He has the awareness of where my specialties lie and so usually gives me one with people about whom I have many opinions.  Since it’s a feature, I can serve up those opinions at will.  As far as another royal biography, it is possible I will write one in collaboration with my publisher about the Greek Princesses, cousins and sisters of Prince Philip.

I imagine non-fiction writers to be more organized and systematic about their writing since they can't just go where their imaginations take them. What would I be surprised to find out about non-fiction writing?
I think you would be surprised to know how much of one’s own emotional experiences go into writing about historical personages.  I think, for me, it was like understanding a friend's problems and issues and putting myself in their shoes.  Because of that, there is an amount of perspective that is personal.  I’m not sure that’s the right approach, but it works for me.
Araminta liked when Maise the Ward Maid confided her problems,
but she wondered if it was bringing her down.
Let's pivot and talk about your own reading tastes.
My favorite books are historical novels, non-fiction biographies (big surprise),romances and science fiction.  My favorite historical novel has to be Katherine by Anya Seton.  Other favorites were Gone with the Wind, Exodus, The Nun’s Story.  In the 1970-90’s I also read lots of what were pejoratively called “bodice rippers” with lots of trips to Brighton, but I also loved the time-travel ones, and also like time travel science fiction.

What do you find appealing about the works of Betty Neels? (It can't be the royals because they hardly show up--a couple of minor British royals open hospital bazaars and then there's the Dutch edel but otherwise hardly a mention*.)
I actually remember one of the RDD’s living near Het Loo, which is of course one of the residences of the Dutch Royal Family.  I discovered TGB in the 70’s when one of my girlfriends lent me of those Harlequin Omibuses which contained Fate Is Remarkable.  I loved it.  A few years later I was in London and looking around for some airplane reading in the book section of a department store and there she was  — another double header which of course I read on the plane with great pleasure. Eventually I started collecting as most of us because I found that these books, despite their formulas were good for constant re-reads.  Why?  I’m not sure…I know we’ve all said how cozy, comforting and relaxing a read they are.  
Better if they're well-creased paperbacks.
Better yet if they're all on Kindle.

I suppose I like that most everyone is friendly, good, honorable and does the right thing.  I love that they eat scads of food and don’t get fat.  I love that they have servants who love them and whom they love.  Their appeal is that they are the epitome of NICE.  Also, they are better than sleeping pills.

*I remembered that the Dutch queen does pop in at a garden or tulip farm in at least one of the books. 

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Writing With Betty: Interview with Alina Voyce

Today we have the pleasure of hearing from long-time Betty, Sue Grainger. Her pen name is Alina
Voyce and you've likely read some of her offerings on the TUJD FB page from time to time. Her
Amazon author page says this about her: "Sue Grainger is a wife, the mother of two adults (at least, that's what the law calls them - but they're fighting it), and has lived in East Yorkshire, England, for her entire life. It's an area she's proud to call 'home'."

Our interview was lovely and I was gratified to discover so much more about her. Away we go!
Betty Keira wondered if she could winkle the secret of
Betty Sue's gorgeous hair from her if she kept her talking long enough.

What full-length novels have you published?
All my full-length novels are shown on my Amazon page, but my collection of short stories (which I
put together after a couple of the Bettys asked if I’d ever thought of doing that) is published under
my ‘real’ name, and Amazon doesn’t allow me to link it to my Alina Voyce page, unfortunately.

Add caption
Here is the blurb to Lifelights, the first book in her Lifelights series:
"It seems to Mara Austin that the Lifelights have always been a part of her life. They’re a secret she cherishes, the nearest thing to a family that she has and the one anomaly in her otherwise predictable existence.

On the day of her 22nd Birthday things begin to change. An American businessman, Sebastian Oran, visits ‘The Tea Cosy’ cafĂ© where Mara works and a telepathic voice invades her mind.

Drawn to Sebastian, Mara’s main concern is for the Lifelights. It wouldn’t do for someone like him to find out about them…

But as attraction is transformed into a deeper bond, the result is unexpected. ‘Her’ secret reveals a truth that spans the globe - a supernatural species with the power to enlighten or destroy."

And here's a link to her Sue Grainger author page.
Do they all tend to share the same genre and Brighton-rating?
I would say that all my full length novels definitely share the same Brighton-rating –there’s the
occasional trip, all the way into town, but Brighton is generally covered by a thin veil of mist, turning
the scenery from high-definition to slightly out-of-focus. I never have been able to write graphic
‘Brighton’, and anyway… where’s the mystery in that?
The biggest compliment I’ve ever been paid, with regard to my Brighton scenes, was when an
adult reader told me that she thought those parts were ‘steamy and hot’, but at the same time,
she’d have no qualms about letting her teenager read one of my books. She felt that I’d written
those sections without ‘actually’ saying much of anything, and by leaving the ‘heat’ to the reader’s
own imagination. I was absolutely thrilled with that analysis, because it was exactly what I’d been
aiming for.

Betty Sue wanted her prose to be steaming, but not too hot.
Much like a good cuppa.

I loved the short story you posted on the TUJD Facebook page about the soldiers returning from war. Do you often work in short stories?
I love writing short stories, and have quite a few up on my website under the
‘free reads’ heading. I like the fact that I can explore an idea briefly, but hopefully leave the reader
with something to think about, long after they’ve read the last sentence.
I try to write at least one short story a month; for either my writing group, or as part of an online
What are the challenges to working in the shorter format? Some authors take 30 pages just to clear their throat.
Keeping it short is THE challenge. You need to create a focus for the reader within the first few lines,
and keep the ensuing story as tight as possible (depending on what word-count you’re aiming for).
As you’ve noted, some authors (and I can definitely be one of them) take pages and pages to get into
their stride. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, so long as there’s plenty to keep the reader
interested, but at some point the plot line needs to take centre stage; and make it difficult for the
reader to put the story down. With a short story, you haven’t got the option to slowly pull the reader
in, which makes it a very precise way of writing.

Betty Sue does not need extra pages to be awesome.
However, along with the challenges of writing in the short form, I think that, on occasion, they can allow a writer to explore a subject in MORE detail than a novel. A novel needs to be filled with ideas that are intertwined and woven together. Keeping a reader entertained over 40,000+ words is no easy feat. However, with a short story, although it still needs a beginning, middle and end, I can focus on one particular idea or view point. For all the constraints, short stories can be liberating, too.   
Your pen name is Alina Voyce. I think it must be terribly hard to come up with pen names. What made you choose this one and was there a reason you didn’t want to use your given name?
My pen name came about through one of my early stories, and a website. When I first joined the
WeBook site, I needed a ‘pen name’. This seemed a sensible precaution more than anything else,
as this was the first time I’d joined an online writing community—and I wasn’t sure if the experience
would be favourable!
Betty Sue liked to keep a pen name in her back pocket
for just these occasions.

At the time, I was writing a fantasy adventure called Thalamia (not that great and quickly discarded) in which the mother-figure was called Alina. So, as I am a mother, I decided to make my pen name Alina’s Voice (Mother’s voice).  A year or so later, after I’d finished writing the first of the Lifelight books, and made some good friends on the site (all of whom knew my real name), I happened to mention that I didn’t think ‘Sue Grainger’ sounded like a supernatural romance author. One of them suggested changing Alina’s Voice to Alina Voyce… and that seemed perfect!
I think that many Betty Neels novels explore themes surrounding how you should conduct yourself bravely in the most difficult circumstances (unsurprising from someone who served in WWII). Have you noticed threads that come out in your own books, repeating themselves even if you don’t mean them to?
Oh yes… I’d say that the threads repeated most frequently in my stories are about people who are
‘lost’ or feel ‘unworthy’, but discover something wonderful and special about themselves, which gives
them confidence and strength. I also love writing about strong relationships; families, friendships and
partners. Redemption and leaps of faith are other themes that seem to keep cropping up, whether I
mean them to or not!
What do you like most about your characters?
Their strong sense of loyalty, and their ability to change and grow; I try to write characters who start
out with quite a narrow outlook on life, and end up with a much broader understanding of themselves,
the people they interact with, and the world they live in.
What appeals to you about Betty Neels novels?
So many things! Where to start? I love her scene setting, the morals she weaves through her stories,
and the language she uses. Her stories are understated, yet powerful enough to make the reader
‘think’ beyond the words. One of my all-time favourite lines is from ‘The Right Kind of Girl’: February,
tired of being winter, became spring for a couple of days… - for me, these twelve words immediately
conjure up the feeling of joy I associate with bright, unexpected, early spring days, infused with
sunshine, clear blue skies, and that delightful freshness, with just a hint of warmth.  I also love the
strength of the bond between her couples; whatever the twists, turns and obstacles in their way,
there’s always that moment when all the inconsequential ‘fluff’ is blown away, and one solid truth is
left standing: their love for each other.  
What’s the hardest part of writing? The difficulty of making time for it? Self-publishing? Marketing? Querying? Editing? (That whole list looks impossible?)

Betty Sue's marketing window had OPENED.
First, I’ll confess that self-publishing, technically, hasn’t been difficult for me because my husband is
an IT specialist, with a talent for formatting books and producing cover art. Without him, even with the
excellent platforms like Amazon’s ‘Create Space’, I have a feeling I would have run into difficulties.
So, for me, a dip in self-belief is the hardest part of writing. If I don’t feeling good about the story I’m
working on, and my ability to do it justice, I flounder… and believe me, there are days when
floundering is all I do. Sometimes, it can last for weeks!    
Another major struggle is marketing, which definitely doesn’t come naturally to me. That said, I am
now making an effort to ‘network’ with other authors who have more experience in this area (and
useful tips), and to read-up on the subject through publications like Writers’ Forum. There’s a wealth
of help out there for self-published and traditionally published authors alike—and the good news is:
spending hours on social media is not necessarily the way to go about it…Hooray!!
Who is your ideal reader?
My ideal reader is someone who isn’t totally rooted in the reality of every-day life, and who isn’t afraid
to let their imagination take over. My genre of writing is not for everyone; you need to be able to make
a mental leap, in order to enjoy supernatural story lines. I like to take an idea and run with it… I’m a
daydreamer who has never quite let-go of the feeling of wonder I experienced as a child, when I first
immersed myself in books like The Narnia Chronicles. So, I guess, my ideal reader is someone who
remembers that feeling too.
I seem to remember that you’ve been traditionally published and self-published. What is the best thing a fan can do for an author in either of those fields? Write reviews? Share posts? Write encouraging letters to the author?
Professor Grainger was helpful in his own way.
I think the best thing that any fan can do, for an author in either of those fields, is leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads (or both), or a star-rating if they don’t have time to write a review. Readers who are considering trying a new author take note of how many stars/reviews have been left and what previous readers thought of the book—so ratings and reviews are incredibly important.
I am currently a solely self-published author. My first book, Lifelights, was published by a third party publisher for a few years, but due to some difficulties with them, and a lack of promotion of any kind, I have recently got my full rights back.  

Thank you again to Betty Sue for such an enjoyable interview!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Writing With Betty: Interview With Violette Woods

For Betties on the FB page, our featured author is known as Betty Kat. I use pen names in my titles because I want each of the interviewees to feel like they could post a link to a professional page or Twitter account and have fans of their work know who the heck I'm talking to!

Violette was hesitant to be interviewed here since her work is far racier than anything we regularly consume at TUJD but I told her that as long as we dealt in euphemism and made our clear disclosures up front, that it would be totally awesome to talk to her. And Reader, it was.

Due to competing turban factions on the FB page,
Betty Keira was adept at dancing around tricky topics.

What full-length novels have you published? Mostly self-published or traditional? Tell me a little about them.

Both of my novels, The Way to Their Hearts and Sweet Temptations, are listed on my Amazon page.  
My nom de plume is Violette Woods, and I’ll tell you a Bettys-only secret:  When I was searching for the perfect romance-author name, I was inspired by the bluebell wood in Heidelberg Wedding!

Do they all tend to share the same genre and Brighton-rating? (Now would be a great time to give readers your best Brighton euphemism. Example: “My books explore the Brighton suburbs but tend to avoid the downtown commercial district.”)

Yes!  My books are both categorized as MFM Menage by the publisher, Siren Bookstrand.  
They… provide full and in-depth group tours of Brighton’s biggest hotspots, complete down to
architectural details, with no euphemistic curtains left undrawn.
Betty Keira wondered if it was
fair to say they were on the warm side.

There’s also a good thread of suspense going through them, because my second love after Romance is Mystery, and nothing keeps me turning pages like wondering where the bad guys will strike next!

True. Here is a snippet from her Amazon author page:

"She also loves Victorian-era novels, fantasy and science fiction, golden-age mysteries, and cozies - the kind of mysteries that feature cats, teacups, and occasionally recipes. She dreams of being summoned into a drawing room by a brilliant detective with a mustache, and asked if she has been wondering why he's called everyone there today."
It was obviously Veronica. He only had to figure out
how she hid the weapon in that skimpy sequined jumpsuit.
Certainly not in her bosoms. She hadn't any.


What drew you to romance writing (or other genres if that’s where you also write) and is it your full-time work or do you have to find time to shove it into a schedule chock-full of other commitments?

I think I’ve always wanted to be a romance writer.  I started reading romance really early, and while
I read a lot of other genres, it’s always been my favorite.

I do have a day job, as well as a household to run, so I publish far less often than I would prefer.  
Fortunately, I have a loving and committed Mijnheer who also has a day job and an artistic dream
job (he’s a professional opera singer!) and we are really good at teamwork.

For those of you who are interested, he is six foot three, truly vast, and has a Dutch last name,
a version of which appears somewhere in the Canon.  And his hair is silvering. But I must point
out that he only drives a socking mid-size Toyota.

As does my Mijnheer. Fiscal prudence is my jam.

What’s the most fun part of writing and which part is the part that you would rather walk barefoot across a room full of Legos rather than start?

Starting a new work is the best part!  Finishing a novel is the hardest. I keep going back and
tweaking this and editing that, and second-guessing whether it’s ready or not.  

But pressing that Send button on the email that submits a manuscript to a publisher…  that’s
definitely the barefoot-over-Legos part. The doubts and worries really set in at that point.

Do you work with a community of writers--trade organizations, critique groups, press-ganged best friends--or do you prefer to work solo?

I definitely work solo.  I’ve tried collaborative writing, and I do a lot of it in my day job, but when it
comes to my romances, I’m best as a solo artist.

Who is your favorite character that you’ve written? If you could be that character’s get-a-grip friend, what would you tell them/warn them about? (I’m always wanting to tell Gold Medallist Rose Comely to slap on some flattering lipstick and un-do the uppermost button. She would follow none of my advice and still wind up with the man but I would feel like I’d gotten something off my chest.)

I’d have to say Sara, the heroine in my current WIP [work-in-progress], is my favorite so far.  
I’m still deciding how she’s going to face down her personal demons, but for a woman who begins
her story by being abandoned at a truck stop and manages to wind up in a happy-ever-after romance,
she’s doing pretty well for herself!

A runner-up would be Kris, my crafty and clever heroine from Sweet Temptations.  I don’t want to
give too much of her adventure away, but she is pretty brave when armed with nothing but yarn!  
Who among us hasn't taken out a hit man
with a well-timed stockinette stitch?

I tend to insert the get-a-grip friend right into my books, so if you’re ever wondering what I would say to one of my heroines when she’s being stubborn or silly…  look no further than the next time she talks to Jill or Maria!

How do you introduce your work when you meet someone? Which book would you want them to try out first? (and why?)

Oh, gosh.  I tend to not mention it until I really get to know them.  I mean, who wants to know that
the nice co-worker in the next cube who bakes cookies also writes smut on the weekends?
Reader, I am the person who wants to know. I always want to know.

Who has been the most supportive person in your life, when it comes to your writing? What are your biggest obstacles?

Definitely Mijnheer is the most supportive person in my life, without a doubt!  He is always there for
me, and cares for me beautifully. Sadly, he is not a millionaire, or even a thousandaire…  but I am
a good cook and a thrifty housekeeper, and I am comfortable shopping at the American equivalents
of the British Home Stores.

I’d say my biggest obstacle is procrastination.  It’s so easy to say, “Oh, I’ll finish this crossword,
then I’ll start writing,” or “Let me get the chicken in the oven, fuss with the laundry, and then I can
start.” Keep that up, and you’ll never start.

Thank you again to Betty Kat!