Saturday, December 17, 2011

10 Questions with Romantic Comedy Novelist Elle Lothlorien (@ElleLothlorien)

This week's Author Spotlight features Romantic Comedy novelist Elle Lothlorien.

1.     How did you get into writing?

I had professors in college who urged me to become a writer, but the desire just wasn't there.  About ten years ago, I woke up in the middle of the night with a story idea.  I sat on the floor of my bedroom with my laptop and began my first book, a literary novel.  It turned out that writing an entire book was much harder than writing a college paper!  I finished about 25% of it before abandoning it.  My second attempt was a suspense novel. I finished about 50% of it before the same thing happened.  My third attempt, the thriller VIRGIN
was the first book I ever completed; however, it was my romantic comedy THE FROG PRINCE (fourth attempted novel and second completed for anyone keeping score) that was published first.

2.     What do you like best (or least) about writing?

Best: When the characters are transmitting and my receiver is tuned in to that frequency, and I can hear them loud and clear. When this happens I’m “in the zone,” and the story comes into my head faster than I can type the words on the keyboard. When I feel like I’m not so much actively writing a book as I am listening to my characters and transcribing their stories like a court reporter—that’s the best feeling in the world.

Least: The discipline required. It’s very much like going to the gym: you don’t want to go to the gym, you don’t want to work out, you swear you could go your whole life without doing another pushup or lunge. But then you get there, you start working out, and suddenly you’re thinking, “This is great! I can’t believe I didn’t want to do this today! I wish I could exercise all day! I can’t wait to get here tomorrow and work out again!” But the very next morning that feeling is gone, and you start all over again with making excuses about why you don’t want to/need to/have to go. Writing is no different.

3.     What is your writing process? IE do you outline? Do you stick to a daily word or page count, write 7 days a week, etc?

I used to outline, but gave up after VIRGIN when I realized that my characters just do whatever the hell they want to do. I’ll hand out a detailed itinerary that reads: “You will take the train to Cleveland where you will find a clue about your Great Aunt Minny.” My character will look it over and say, “Cleveland? I’m not taking any goddam train to Cleveland. I’m going to Hawaii. My Great Aunt Minny is a bitch, and I’ve always wanted to learn how to scuba dive.”

I long ago abandoned the idea of controlling the story. For me, it makes for a better story when I have only a vague, “big picture” idea of what’s going to happen in the novel, and I just let the characters fill in the details themselves. Of course, it’s a little nerve-wracking too, because if they suddenly stop “transmitting” the story, you’re left in a blind panic wondering if you’ll ever get another page written.

I do try to stick to a daily page count. My goal is three to five pages per day. That way at the end of a few months, I at least have a decent first draft I can start editing. I don’t write seven days a week, but I try to always shoot for at least five to six days, otherwise it’s too hard to “get back to the gym.” Plus, the longer you’re away from the story, the more you run the risk of losing that oh-so-important transmission from the characters. In between books I will usually take at least a month off to rest my brain and to allow for the next book idea to germinate.

4.     Who are some other writers you read and admire, regardless of whether they are commercially “successful?”

As my last name would suggest, I have always loved J.R.R. Tolkien, most especially THE LORD OF THE RINGS. You can’t help but admire anyone who takes twelve years to write a book (well, yes, it is a trilogy, but still)! And Tolkien didn’t just write a story, he invented whole mythologies—cultures, places, and languages that are as real as the Vikings, the Forbidden City, and Latin. Let me just tell you who wouldn’t have the patience to spend twelve years on one project: me. If it takes longer than six months to finish a book, I’m ready to throw myself off a cliff.

When I’m working on a novel, I try not to read a lot of fiction, because I find it’s very easy to adopt the voice of another writer. I’ve always been a huge Jane Austen fan, and have a dog-eared compilation of all her novels next to my bed. That’s my go-to collection when I’m writing a book. Because let’s face it: if you accidentally pick up Austen’s voice and import it into your novel, your characters are going to go around saying things like: “Mr. Biggles, you must needs sit and make yourself comfortable. Did you see that Ms. Courtney came to the ball in a hack chaise? I could hardly keep my countenance!”

5.     Should the question mark in the above question be inside or outside the quotes?

Seriously? It’s nine o’clock in the morning. I’ve tried it both ways:

1)    …they are commercially “successful?”
2)    …they are commercially “successful”?

They both look swell. In the real world, though, I would just let my beta-readers and copy editors cage fight each other until there was just one person left standing. Then I’d use whatever that person thought was correct. It’s a little like the Grammatical Fight Club, but it works.

6.     What’s your stance on the Oxford Comma?

“Oxford Comma” is a catchy song with a great beat you can dance to. Plus, I’ve always loved the band Vampire Weekend.

If you’re referring to the punctuational (I think I just made up a word there) debate of whether or not coordinating conjunctions should be preceded by a comma, I would refer you to the opening lines of the Vampire Weekend song: “Who gives a f**k about an Oxford comma?”

However, a quick look at the list I made in question number four—“… that are as real as the Vikings, the Forbidden City, and Latin”—would seem to indicate that I prefer the Oxford comma.

But seriously, that is a really good song.

7.     What led you to pursue indie publishing as opposed to going the traditional publishing route?

After I completed my thriller VIRGIN, I queried and quickly found an agent. My agent found an interested publisher almost immediately.  Unfortunately, in the end the editor from that house left to start a literary agency before a deal was finalized.  Despite several rounds of submissions, VIRGIN was never picked up by another publisher.  To say that this was a huge disappointment is an understatement.  I finally withdrew my manuscript from consideration and parted ways with my agent. It was such a disappointing experience that I didn’t write another book for two years!

In June of 2010, after months of querying, I had two offers of agent representation in-hand for my romantic comedy, THE FROG PRINCE. One was from my “dream agent” who represented several New York Times bestsellers. Although the second offer was from an agent from a newer, smaller agency, I found her enthusiasm attractive. In the end, and for various reasons which aren’t worth going into here, I chose to pass on both offers.

Which, of course, left me right back where I was before I’d ever queried anyone: unpublished and depressed as hell about it. My friend and thriller author, Boyd Morrison,
was the first author to leverage his indie-publishing success into a four-book, traditional publishing deal. I’m also friends with his wife Randi. She’d read FROG PRINCE and really liked it, sure that it would be my “breakout novel.”

After my agent search hit a dead-end, Boyd called me and suggested that I upload THE FROG PRINCE to Amazon for the Kindle. Honestly, I didn’t do it right away, because it seemed like the learning curve was incredibly steep (and it was). When I did finally take the plunge, I mostly did it so he’d stop harassing me about it. Four months later it became an Amazon best-seller. I keep promising to buy him a drink someday to thank him, but I don’t really mean it.

8.     Given what you now know and have learned, what advice or words of wisdom would you like to impart to a writer struggling to choose between going indie or traditional?

Don’t choose—pursue both. Keep all your irons in the fire. If you’re querying for traditional publication, think about e-pubbing a novel or short story to gauge reader interest. If you’re antsy about how legacy publishing will view your e-pubbing, then use a pen name. If the book is a success, you may be able to use it to leverage a better traditional publishing deal. And if it bombs? Well, no one’s the wiser (except you, but at least you can lick your wounds in private).

In my opinion, it’s foolish to only pursue traditional publishing. You will wait, wait, wait, and wait some more to find an agent. Then you’ll wait, wait, wait, and wait some more to find a publisher. Then you’ll wait, wait, wait, and wait some more for your book to come out. This whole process can take anywhere from two years (which would be lightning fast in the legacy publishing world) to, well, never. Why wait? You could be published in 48 hours on Amazon, and launch a writing career now.

However—and this is important—if you do go indie, be sure you understand what you’re getting yourself into. Because all that stuff a publisher normally does for you—designing a book cover, marketing, formatting a manuscript for e-publication across several platforms—is now your job. Graphic designing not a part of your skill set? Too bad. Those who can’t do either hire or learn on the fly.

So if you e-pub, do it right. No shoddy book covers, no manuscript riddled with typos, bad grammar, or, god forbid, Oxford commas (unless you, like 99.99% of the world’s population, are not a print newspaper journalist—then those Oxfords are A-okay).

9.     What book(s) are you currently reading?

My friend Owen Laukkanen sent me an ARC (Advanced Review Copy) of his highly anticipated thriller THE PROFESSIONALS, which comes out in March. Lucky me! I just started it and I can tell you one thing: it’s torture to have to put it down.

Owen Laukkanen's debut thriller, THE PROFESSIONALS, will be published by G.P. Putnam's Sons on March 29, 2012. Hardcover pre-order available now.

I’m also doing research for my next romantic comedy RAPUNZEL, so I’m reading other nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat, high-octane books such as THE WRITER’S GUIDE TO EVERYDAY LIFE IN REGENCY ENGLAND and  WIG MAKING AND STYLING: A COMPLETE GUIDE FOR THEATRE & FILM.

10.   Who or what inspires your writing?

Anyone who is a writer knows how hard it is. As I said during a recent local TV news interview (begins at 4:33): “Writing novels is not for sissies.”

It’s worth saying again (no, not the ill-advised sissy comment): Writing is hard. Finishing a book is hard. You can be emotionally ground down by the experience. Sometimes you’ll be in the pit of despair, wondering if you’ll ever finish your book. Sometimes you won’t shower or sleep for days (let’s hope this takes place on the weekend if you have a day job). So you’re going to need some kind of inspiration to keep going and not give up. Find that something or someone, because that’s what will keep you going in the days, weeks, and years to come!

For me that “something” is reading. There are times (usually when I’m about half-way through writing a novel) when I think, “I’m not sure I want to do this anymore.” All it takes is reading one fantastic novel before I wonder how I ever let a crazy thought like that enter my head.

And back to the keyboard I go…

Finally, is there anything you’d care to add? Please also include where people can read your published stories, buy your books, etc.

My romantic comedy THE FROG PRINCE is about a Denver sex researcher who meets the man who would have been the king of Austria—if the monarchy there hadn’t been abolished in 1918. It’s available on Amazon as an e-book and in paperback.

My romantic comedy SLEEPING BEAUTY tells the story of a woman with Sleeping Beauty Syndrome—a condition that causes a person to sleep or black out for weeks at a time—who “awakens” to discover that she’s been involved in a whirlwind love affair for over a month.
It’s available on Amazon as an e-book, and will be out in paperback after the first of the year.

My novel VIRGIN is a thriller about a religious cult expert and a DNA technician who undercover evidence of virgin births that go back to the time of the Virgin Mary. It’s available as an e-book on Amazon, and will be out in paperback sometime in February.

My next book is another romantic comedy, RAPUNZEL. I anticipate releasing it as an e-book in March or April.

For authors interested in the “nuts and bolts” of e-publication, I will be doing a four-hour workshop for the Douglas County Libraries Writing School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado on Sunday, February 12th, 2012 from 1:00PM to 5:00PM at the Highlands Ranch Library. The cost is $60. For those of you who aren’t local to the Denver metro area, it will be available as a webinar at the time of the presentation, and afterwards as a webcast through my website at

For authors planning to attend Left Coast Crime in Sacramento, CA in March 29-April 1, I will be doing a presentation on e-publishing there as well. Other speaking engagements and presentations will be added to the Events tab of my website as they are confirmed.

Be sure to visit Elle's website and follow her on Twitter:!/ElleLothlorien

Thanks, Elle!

If you're a novelist/author and would like to be featured in a future Author Spotlight, please contact me:

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