Wednesday, February 22, 2012

REV UP WEDNESDAY - A weekly booster shot for inspiration... Catching up with KATRINA STRAUSS

Hello world,

I met Katrina in what seems like another lifetime, although not so long ago, when I had just started writing and she was already shining. Katrina was the first author I met personally who bowled me over with her writing, and with the way she expresses the depth of emotion between her characters. While I went on to learn the craft, she came into her own with erotic romance and yaoi-inspired stories. I wasn't familiar with the genre until Katrina started writing it. Personally, I was already in love with her style after reading her wonderful and heartbreaking, Efflorescence, and some other stories that are presently out-of-print.

Katrina is also grade A on the personal front. She's one of those people you can always count on if you want honest and real. Her writing journey is interesting, and she relates it in detail in this interview. This is some amazing feedback, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it... as I enjoy knowing the wonderful Kitty, as her friends call her.

It's time to let Kitty do the talking now... but please - pay attention to the last paragraph. Kitty's giving away a free copy from her backlist to a lucky winner!

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How long have you been writing?

I wrote and illustrated my first story when I was six-years-old. In my rousing adventure, The Cute Little Pig, main character Pinky ran away from the farm to live in the forest. I decided, then and there, to be a published author someday. I finally realized that dream three decades later with my 2006 release, captor/prisoner fantasy Eldritch Legacy 1: Secrets Revealed. I dare say I’ve moved on to more mature subject matter since Pinky the runaway pig.

What did your family say when you told them you wanted to be a writer?

My mother thought The Cute Little Pig was brilliant and promptly submitted it to a round of children’s book publishers. Thus, at the tender age of six, I learned to gracefully accept rejection letters. My father advised me to get a “real job” if I wanted to pay the bills. Now, he brags that his daughter is a writer, even if he’s not allowed to read my racy romances.

My husband initially expressed misgivings over my writing career, especially one built on erotica. He warmed to the idea after that first decent royalty check came in!

What is your preferred genre both for reading and writing?

I write erotic romance. I originally wrote M/F and ménage, but then switched to the M/M side. I prefer dark romance with BDSM elements, but have a few sweet stories in the bunch. My characters always get their Happily Ever After, even if they take a thorny, twisted path getting there!

As for reading, I admire my peers but mainly read outside of the genre to recharge the brain cells. Not to say my peers don’t stimulate my mind! Writers like Amanda Young, KZ Snow, or Rowan McBride leave me in awe and wondering “Damn, why didn’t I think of that?” but let’s put it this way -- I love pizza, but when I worked at a pizza restaurant, the last thing I wanted for dinner when I got home was more pizza!

I see that you've really found a niche in yaoi - what prompted you to take this path?

I’d read and enjoyed a few slash and M/M stories, but overall preferred M/F. Then my interest in anime, manga, and bishounen (pretty anime boys) led to yaoi. Something about this illustrated Japanese brand of homoerotica clicked for me. I devoured translated works by Yamane Ayano, Haruka Minami, and Miyamoto Kano, to name a few. I was intrigued not only by the genre, but the mangaka behind it -- daring Japanese women who write and illustrate hot, sexy man-on-man action, often in graphic detail! I was hooked.

Around the time I was discovering yaoi, I penned a private slash fic featuring two straight males from my Eldritch Legacy books. (You know you’re bored when you slash your own damned characters…) I was surprised at how much I enjoyed writing it, and even more when author Alisha Steele read it, liked it, and suggested I write M/M. I wasn’t sure I had anything new to offer the genre, but then discovered fellow e-book authors like Jet Mykles, Michael Barnette, and Barb Sheridan were writing yaoi-inspired prose, complete with illustrated covers by yaoi-friendly artists like PL Nunn and Anne Cain. I thought of combining certain yaoi tropes, most notably the seme/uke (top/bottom) dynamic, with the Dominance/submission themes I’d explored in the Eldritch books. I knocked out an opening chapter, and the Blue Ruin series was born.


Do you see yourself going back to writing heterosexual romances?

I’m working on a het story right now, actually -- an M/F/M, even, so my heroine is enjoying all sorts of hetero activity!

So let's go back to the beginning - did you start by writing full time or did you have a day job?

I always made time for writing, sewing, or photography in between parenting and work. It wasn’t until I started staying at home with my youngest child, however, that I could focus on writing full-time. I freely admit it wouldn’t be feasible if not for my husband’s “real job”, though I’ve paid the bills a few times when he’s been laid off or between contracts.

Did you take any writing courses or did you just sit and write a book? Did/do you have a crit group or mentor to guide you?

Outside of high school English class, I’m not formally educated as a writer. During my twenties, I submitted short stories to magazines, but kept getting rejected with no explanation as to why. Acquaintances insisted I was good enough for publication, but didn’t offer valid input outside of basic grammar corrections.

It wasn’t until my fanfiction days that I received detailed advice and critique. My betas included newspaper columnist/author Violet LeVoit, Rhiannon Rhodes who now owns Dark Roast Press, as well as Adrianne Brennan and Kayleigh Jamison who’ve since been published, too. Together, they broke me of those little habits that screamed “Amateur!” (And yes, I wrote fanfic…a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. That’s a hint about which fandom.)
Kayleigh was also my first editor on Secrets Revealed. She ran me through the ringer, although it wasn’t until my second novel that her advice truly sank in as far as trimming the fat and getting to the meat of the story. I’ve also found Stephen King’s On Writing to be the one really useful “how to” book on the craft.

Do you use a/several pseudonym(s) and if so, why did you choose to have one/them?

I use a pseudonym for a few reasons. My real name is very unusual -- I was born in 1970, if that gives you any idea! It’s difficult for people to spell and pronounce, so from a marketing standpoint, I did the opposite of most writers and devised something more “normal” than my given name! I also prefer a bit of anonymity, given the, ahem, steamy nature of my work. (Though if I wrote polite books about gardening or birdwatching, I’d still use a pen name!)

Did you sell the first story or novel you wrote?

My first story, no, nor the next several after. My first novel, yes. (At least, my first intentional novel. One of my fanfics accidentally grew to novel length; of course I couldn’t publish it, but I learned I had the discipline to produce novel length work.)

How many drafts did you write of your first novel before you felt you got it right? What about now - do you still write several drafts of a story?

I ran Secrets Revealed through four drafts, probably more if you count the micro-edits in between. I “officially” run a manuscript through three drafts, although sometimes my final read-through equals a fourth draft if I’m feeling picky. I also tend to micro-edit with what I jokingly call “draft 1.5”, “draft 2.75”, etc.

Do you read industry or writing related blogs? If so, can you share some useful links?

I used to follow several, but found the cliquishness, drama, and snark rather disheartening. (Not to mention time-consuming!) I’ve narrowed down to a few that I find truly worthwhile and helpful.

Neil Gaiman offers valuable insights into the daily life of a writer:
http://journal.neilgaiman.com/

Agent Rachelle Gardner shares some wonderful industry perspective:
http://www.rachellegardner.com/

Emily Veinglory post links and stats specific to erotic romance and e-publishing:
http://www.eroticromancepublishers.com/

Val Kovalin shares “how to” tips in her popular series of articles:
http://obsidianbookshelf.blogspot.com/p/all-articles-list.html

I highly suggest beginning authors check out JA Konrath’s Newbie’s Guide to Publishing, especially his archived posts:
http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/

Did you get an agent first or did you submit directly to publishers?

I’ve always submitted directly to publishers, but then e-pub offers a more open playing field than traditional avenues. I did try for an agent after I had a few publications under my belt, and made it past the query process before my partial was rejected. It’s interesting to note several agents are now spearheading their own e-publishing companies, including the agent who rejected my story!

What, in your opinion, do agents/publishers look for in a new author in the current market? Is it all to do with talent or with trends?

I can only speak for erotic romance. Based on what I’ve personally observed, I think e-publishers look for that winning combination of plot, romance, and sex, coupled with an ability to write. The romance element in particular relies on a certain formula defined by reader expectations. (Even authors like me who twist formula are still playing on tried-and-true tropes.) If an author manages to juggle all of the above while tapping into current audience trends – it could be M/M shifters one week, M/F/M ménage the next -- their stories will certainly be more attractive to a market-savvy editor or agent.

What do you think of the changes going on in the book industry (e.g., e-books vs. print books, and big publishers getting involved in digital publishing)? Where do you see the industry going?

The first e-book adopter I knew is my geek husband. I remember him reading books on his PDA back in ’98 or ’99. I asked him why on earth anyone would read digital when they could just, you know, read a book! He told me e-books were the future. I told him I’d never go for it. Little did I know I’d write for e-publishers some day, or that I’d spend those first few years of publication making the same arguments as my husband. (At the same time, my husband was surprised when romance readers, not the tech set, pushed the demand for digital.)

Regarding the big publishers’ late arrival to the scene -- part of me smirks and asks “What took you so long? Ellora’s Cave, Loose Id and Samhain are waaay ahead of you guys!” Yet I can take pride in saying I’m on board with two of the three publishers that paved the path to the future. I can be proud that my readers were some of the early adopters who helped push e-books until the big names had no choice but to take note and join the party.

How do you feel about so many bookstores closing across the US? Do you think this trend is similar in other countries?

It’s a double-edged sword for me. As an e-book author, I’m happy to see digital publishing has finally gained acceptance. On the other hand, I still enjoy browsing bookstores and libraries. I feel bad for friends who are now unemployed due to store closings, while it’s painful to see my local library struggling to stay afloat. Then again, I used to enjoy browsing the record shop and video store, but the first is now a vague memory while the latter has given way to my new Netflix account. I still indulge in music and movies, I’ve just found a different way to do so. Everything is going digital, and books are no exception. Ultimately, I hope readers continue reading, whatever their preferred format.

As for other countries, I don’t know the exact situation with brick-and-mortar stores, but I do hear from many readers outside the US who rely on digital for authors and genres otherwise unavailable to them. One reader lives in China, another in Kuwait, and they’ve both told me of how they work around firewalls to purchase my books. I’m certainly happy digital publishing has opened up a world of reading to these particular ladies!

Are your books available in print or in digital format?

My entire catalog is available in e-book. Sonoran Heat and Windswept can also be found in print. Five years ago, I could barely convince readers to try e-books in general, let alone my e-books! Now, my digital sales totally outrank my print numbers.

What advice do you think aspiring authors should heed today?

From the creative/private end: Write with no fear and the blinders off – it’s called a “rough draft” for a reason! But when it comes time to fix it, fix it. Learn to accept constructive critique. Know your genre. Research the heck out of publishers, study submission guidelines, narrow down to a short list, then start at the TOP of that list, not the bottom.

On the promotion/public side: Get to know your prospective audience. Build a web presence. Most importantly, build that web presence without flaming everyone and alienating your prospective audience! The send button takes only a second to hit, but the delete button is never fast enough and screencaps last forever.

What is your last release about?

That would be A Forfeit Owed, the M/F/M I mentioned earlier. It’s the fourth Eldritch Legacy book, although chronologically takes place between books 1 and 2. It picks up 25 years after the events of Secrets Revealed and depicts how Inga’s sons, Trystan and Darius, fall for the same heroine. In turn, my heroine Korinne falls for both of them. Should she choose? Why bother when she can have both! Problem is, the Eldritch brothers don’t want to share, making for some sexy conflict. This one’s taken me a bit longer to write than usual, but I’m about ¾ through the final draft and should have it off to my very patient editor soon.


What book inspired you to write romance?

I can’t cite one specific title. My grandmother was an avid reader of old school “bodice rippers” and stacked them throughout her house. I’m not exaggerating – she owned countless Avons, Harlequins, Mills & Boon, by the likes of Rosemary Rogers, Barbara Cartland, Kathleen E. Woodiwiss…you know, the good stuff! My mother strictly forbade me to touch them, informing me “Your grandmother reads trash!” Naturally, my curiosity was piqued! I sneaked peeks whenever I could and discovered one reader’s “trash” is another’s treasure. Sure, the sexual content proved educational for a ten-year-old, but I was equally captivated by dashing heroes, feisty heroines, vivid settings, and oh, what dramatic storylines! I never thought I’d write romance, but years later, when I sat down to draft Secrets Revealed, I realized just how influential Grandma’s “trash” had been.

What is/are your favourite book(s)? Do you read only books from the genre you write in?

Show me a writer, and I’ll show you someone who was a bookworm first. Wow, where to start? After warping my young psyche with Grandma’s books, I read everyone from the Bronte sisters to Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. My father loaned me Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire when I was thirteen, and then wondered why I started wearing all-black and dating boys in eyeliner a few years later.

Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty series (along with Grandma’s books) was a primary influence behind the Eldritch Legacy. Nora Robert’s In Death series (which she writes under JD Robb) is one of the non-yaoi inspirations behind Blue Ruin. (Yes, the very het happenings between Eve and Roarke fueled the M/M fires of Derek and Blue. Now you know.)

I touched earlier on how I mostly read outside of my genre. I’ve been on a YA kick lately. I’d say it offers me a break from the very adult themes I write, but today’s YA is decidedly more “sophisticated” than the brand I grew up with! My favorite series right now are Michael Grant’s Gone and Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games. Both present dark, grim dystopias while providing riveting, addictive reads!

Do you read when you are plotting or writing a story?

It depends. When I’m in creative/production mode, it helps to fuel the output with input. If I’m penning a historical, I turn to books and movies set in the same time period to better grasp the fashions, language, etc. There are times, however, when I truly need to shut out all influences and immerse myself in my own world; otherwise, I grow distracted, intimidated, or worried I’ll inadvertently copy. During edits/revisions, I’m in critique mode, so at that point I avoid other writers lest I stop enjoying their story and start dissecting every other sentence. Nothing pulls me out of a story more than mentally redlining a published book!

What hero/heroine/character was the most fun or challenging to write for you?

My favorite is Derek of Blue Ruin. He’s the modern Alpha male -- slender but strong, patient but stern. He can fix your computer, throw a punch, drive a Porsche, and wield a riding crop, all without getting one sexy, silken hair out of place. As the series has progressed, I’ve delved deeper into his dysfunctional childhood, and some of that’s been hard to write, but I love peeling the onion layers of such a complex character. And did I mention the sexy, silken hair?

How do you juggle work, writing, chores and family/personal life? Do you have a secret to time management that you want to share with readers?

There are days where life flows so smoothly – the house is clean, the table is set with a home-cooked dinner from scratch, and all is well and serene. Then there are ones where I wing it by the seat of my pants – the house is a wreck, we eat delivery in front of the TV, and I thank the gods above for caffeine and chocolate!

I do follow a certain if somewhat flexible schedule, even on the most hectic days – I drive my youngest son to and from school almost daily, a small luxury I cherish as much as he does. That leaves a work day of about 8 am to 3 pm. Aside from sporadic yoga workouts, mornings are usually devoted to e-mail, blogs, and promo. I write from late morning to early afternoon, working around my older kids, errands, chores, Google requests from my Net-less mother, etc. I aim for 1200 words a day, but may eke out 300 in a very frustrating two hours…or churn out 1500 in an amazing half hour! If I’m on a roll, or facing a deadline, I’ll squeeze in work between school pick-up and dinner.

I used to write in the evening, but my husband and kids pointed out that if I had a “real job”, I’d come home at a set time and leave work at work. I resisted at first, arguing the Muse doesn’t punch a time clock, but I had to concede, they had a point. So unless I’m up against a crushing deadline, I relax and hang out with the family during the evening.

Do you have a ritual that you follow when it comes to writing?

I open a bottle of Coke, fire up the computer, and see what happens next. How’s that for a ritual? I used to hit shuffle on iTunes and keep it running all day in the background, but have found it distracting lately.

What do you do when you're not writing?

I started a garden two years ago and find it’s a good way to get off the computer and step outside. I go through yoga and fitness stages. (I really need to stick with those…) I enjoy cooking, reading, and watching entirely too much anime. I used to sew a lot and still dabble in it when a kid needs a costume or something mended. Due to the economy, I’ve rediscovered couponing and free samples -- I’m not an extreme couponer, but I’ve worked some sweet deals!

Share something that few people know about you.

I watched my junior high burn down. Thankfully, we were all evacuated minutes before the century-old building was engulfed in flames. No, I did not set the fire. I was one of those nerds who liked school!

Where do you see yourself, careerwise, in 5 years time?

Um, let me dust off my crystal ball… I know where I want to be. I want to be a bestselling author who can legitimately call what I do a career. I hope to branch out into different genres with other story ideas, like the YA bouncing around in my head, or the steampunk epic that will require a cabin stay. I’d also love to see some of my stories in comic format and on the big screen. I wouldn’t mind a Jacuzzi, either.

What's your website URL?

My author site is at: http://www.katrinastrauss.com

My blog is at: http://katrina-strauss.blogspot.com/

Are you on Facebook?

Isn’t everybody? Find my author profile at:
http://www.facebook.com/katrinastrauss.author

You can also “Like” my reader fan page at:
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Readers-of-Katrina-Strauss/122933872724

How do you connect with readers?

Readers are always welcome to chat with me at my blog or Facebook. I’m also available via Twitter at http://twitter.com/katrinastrauss or e-mail at katrina.strauss AT gmail DOT com.

About Katrina:

Katrina Strauss has been a military brat, goth girl, pizza chef, and pinup photographer, but so far nothing that would land her in jail. As an author, she pays homage to the timeless genre of romance with her own modern, spicy twist. From steamy romance to BDSM kink, her stories are all about finding that special someone. A Texan by birthright with the accent to prove it, she currently lives with her family near St. Louis, Missouri.

Latest Releases:

Available from Amber Allure -- Sonoran Heat

Newly single, Tony sees a chance for a fresh start with 21-year-old Josh, but worries chasing a man half his age will lead to heartache. It’s hard to resist when Josh intrigues Tony on an intellectual level -- and fires the landscaper's libido hotter than the Arizona desert they call home.

Digital art student by day, Josh waits tables at night, but his true dream is to paint. When he falls for Tony, he starts rethinking his goals and how the sexy older man might fit into them. But Tony’s recovering from a failed relationship, one that lasted nearly as long as Josh has been alive, and Josh must prove that in spite of age and inexperience, his feelings are sincere.

As the desert nights heat up, Tony and Josh explore possibilities both in and out of the bedroom, but when each man faces a difficult choice, they must decide on the future. Whether that future is together, or separate, is a matter of reason versus the heart.

Read an excerpt from Sonoran Heat at:

http://www.amberquill.com/AmberAllure/SonoranHeat.html

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Available from Loose Id – Eldritch Legacy 4: A Forfeit Owed

As the daughter of a disowned noble, Korinne has few options. Taken in by wealthy relatives, she finds life among nobility is far from glamorous. Forced to wait on her cousins hand and foot, she wishes fairy godmothers were more than the stuff of childhood tales.

When Korinne visits the royal palace, she finds herself wooed by not one but two handsome princes. As the battle for her hand leads to sensual encounters beyond her wildest dreams, Korinne discovers that fairy tales can come true -- but at what price?

Born third in line to the throne, Trystan is a sensitive poet with a penchant for mischief. Favored by his mother but at odds with his father, the young prince struggles with a heritage he never asked for. Locked in an ongoing game of forfeits with his brother, Crown Prince Darius, Trystan is determined to one up his opponent in their battle of wit versus brawn.

The brothers secretly bid on Korinne as their next challenge. Trystan will do whatever it takes to best Darius, even if it means sharing the prize in the short-term. But when Trystan truly falls for Korinne, the biggest forfeit at stake is his heart.

Excerpt is at:

http://www.loose-id.com/excerpt.aspx?ID=1546

And purchase link is at:

http://www.loose-id.com/Eldritch-Legacy-A-Forfeit-Owed.aspx

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Thanks, Angela, for having me on your blog today! I hope visitors enjoy my answers to your very thoughtful questions. I’ll be happy to answer any other questions in comments. In fact, one lucky commenter will receive one of my backlist titles of their choice, so don’t be shy! I’ll pick a winner one week from today’s post date and let Angela know who it is. Good luck!

~ Natalie ~
No Rules. No Formulas. Just Love... and a little Mystery.