Tuesday, September 4, 2012

10 Questions with Romance Author Elaine Levine (@ElaineLevine)

This Author Spotlight features Elaine Levine, author of The Edge of Courage.

Elaine Levine lives in a small town on the Plains in Colorado with her husband, as well as a blind German Shepherd and a middle-aged parrot (who feels he raised her two children and lives for visits from her son as well as long-distance phone calls from her daughter in the Coast Guard). Elaine’s first published story, Rachel and the Hired Gun, won Romance Writers of America’s® Golden Heart® Award for Best Long Historical in 2007. Elaine is also the author of Shattered Valor.

1. How did you get into writing?

I was a big reader when I was a kid. I discovered romance fiction in my teens and decided, when I was in college, that I wanted to write it. There’s something cathartic about happy endings, good trumping evil, and hot, smexy sex.

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

The answer to both questions is “writing.” Seriously. I don’t like writing, but I love being a writer. The story I see in my head is invariably eloquent, emotive, and lyrical, but something happens when the words hit the paper. They crystallize into ineffective, bland, and chunky prose. I have to constantly carve away at them until I create something that’s close to what I imagined. It’s work. I don’t like my first drafts. If anyone were to read them, they’d think a first grader wrote them. But somewhere, in my final drafts, I begin to hear the echoes of my story vision. And that I love. That is what I want to give to readers.

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’ve written seven books now. Five of them have been publishedfour by a traditional publisher, one I self-published. I have yet to write a book the same way twice.

I’ve tried plotting, outlining, writing synopses, using note cards, and standing on my head. Nothing makes the process any easier. My stories, even though I write romances, are very hero-centric. Most are told significantly from the hero’s point of view. I can’t draft the story until I fall in love with my hero. Once that happens, I can hear him. I know what his hopes and dreams are, what he yearns for, what he fears. And then, I start listening for the woman who is his other half. She’s always the opposite of what he thinks he wants. She always makes him reevaluate who he is and what his life is about. I love that personal transformation. It never gets old to me.

So many authors suggest the only way to write a book is just to write the darn thing. They commit to one or four hours a day writing. Or x-number of days a week. Or 2500 words. Whatever. I’ve tried that, and it just doesn’t work. I can sit in front of the computer for hours. If I don’t have the words, nothing gets put on paper. If I try to force myself to just freaking concentrate and produce something, I can probably write a sentence an hour. It’s excruciating.

I’ve learned that I have to have thinking timewithout the expectation of producing words on pages. Lots and lots of thinking time. I need to daydream. I need to ponder. I need to wonder about stuff. That fills me with words. I run to my computer and vomit them onto the screen, then go off to daydream again. I get so forgetful and distracted while I’m in the conception phase of a story. When my thinking is good, when the story will be strong, I find I’ve shed myself and stepped into the skin of my characters, wearing their souls, feeling their fears, being them.

I know. I’m crazy. Thank God for my husband who cleans the house and does the grocery shopping and cooks our meals. It’s sometimes hard for me to get started writing a book because of that weird process I have. I warn my husband that I’m going under when I begin a new story. He always says, “No worries. I got your back.”

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

I love, love, love JR Ward and Lara Adrian. Kurt Vonnegut, Kenneth Roberts, and Jack London. Carolyn Jewel, Melissa Mayhue, Jennifer Ashley, Nalini Singh, and Anna Campbell. Kiana Davenport's House of Skin anthology is absolutely haunting. There are so many, it’s impossible to name them all. What a wonderful time to be a reader. Now, more than ever, authors are cutting loose and telling the stories they want to tell. No subjects are taboo—everything is open to investigation by the prying eyes of an author. That means an explosion of new, original, exciting fiction for readers!

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

No idea. That’s what editors are for.

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

We should talk about this. I can tell from your last two questions that you are concerned (or curious) about keeping to the rules in fiction. I am an advocate for good grammar, punctuation, etc.--as long as it doesn’t get in the way of a story. The interesting truth is that rules don’t make a good story. While a good story can be poorly punctuated, with plenty of structural and grammatical errors, and still be a phenomenal hit with its readers, nothing can fix a bad story. A bad story is not improved by proper use of English. And conversely, the improper use of English will not kill a good story.

Here’s whywhen readers are into a story, they cease being aware of the act of reading. They enter another dimension that is a cross between listening to the story and experiencing it. Their eyes move so rapidly over the page that they aren’t even seeing every word. That is the magic of reading. They don’t care if a comma is there or not, or if a sentence ends with a preposition, or if any of the standard rules of grammar and punctuation are being followed.

Yes, Elaine, we should talk about this.

You are correct: when I read, I do indeed enter that other dimension in which I am experiencing the story as I am reading. 

As my eyes move over the page, they do not see every word . . . unless a word is missing, misspelled, or there is a punctuation error. I seem to have a knack for noticing such things.

For me, and this is just me, I absolutely 1 million percent DO care if a comma is missing. (Prepositions are another matter, as sometimes ending a sentence with one is a deliberate stylistic choice. I sometimes do such things in my own writing. But everything I do is deliberate.) However, if said comma is missing or there is an outright screw-up, it stops me dead in my tracks and yanks me out of that ethereal dimension, the thetic erupts, my disbelief is no longer suspended.

As a practical example, last year I discovered Tanya Huff's Valor series. They are phenomenal, exciting Sci-Fi military adventure novels starring a bad-ass Gunnery Sergeant named Torin Kerr. The problem is that the books were LOADED with grammatical problems. The errors grew more numerous as the novel progressed, and each book was worse than the one before it. Whomever was tasked with doing the proofreading was asleep at the wheel. I found it mind-boggling that such wonderful stories published by a major publisher (DAW) could be so blatantly amateurish. Because that is what typos scream when I encounter them: AMATEUR. 

As writers, this is what we do; proper grammar/punctuation is important. In last week's Author Spotlight, fantasy writer P.B. Dillon offered a practical, unforgettable example; PB wrote:

The best example I’ve found of its importance [it being the Oxford Comma] is the sentence, “We invited the strippers, Oprah, and Hillary Clinton”. Without it, Oprah and Hillary Clinton become the strippers. With it, they were invited along with the strippers. Without the Oxford comma, it’s impossible to distinguish what is meant.

It's stuff like this which makes me a stickler for grammar and punctuation. 

Unless you're defying convention for a reason, but that is a debate for another time. 

Okay, Elaine, back to you!

7. What is your book, THE EDGE OF COURAGE, about and how did it come to fruition?

I had some readers challenge me to write a contemporary western. Consumers of genre fiction have expectations about how a story in any given genre or sub-genre will unfold. The story ideas I had for a contemporary western kept sounding too saccharin to me. I knew I wanted to write the book as part of a series, so it would need to have a significant story arc that would not be resolved for several books. I wanted, in this first book, to tackle the issue of PTSD and what our warriors returning from Iraq and Afghanistan might be facing. Since I tend to write a little dark, I decided that I need to step into an entirely new sub-genre of romance for meromantic suspense. It was exciting and different. I love the historical western romances that I write, and I do have plans for many more, but it was fun to diversify a bit.

THE EDGE OF COURAGE is the first in a planned nine-book series called the Red Team. It’s based on the premise of nine special operations warriors who’ve left the military and have joined a private firm providing security and intelligence to the U.S. government. In the first three stories, they discover an enemy they made while serving in Afghanistan has followed them home to the U.S.

8. What’s your current writing project?

I’m currently working on the second book in the Red Team series, SHATTERED VALOR. I had hoped to have it out by the end of August, but I’m definitely moving closer to late September now (remember all that thinking time I said needed?). I’m hoping to get three books a year published in the series, which is a lot easier now that I’m self-pubbing them.

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

None. I can’t read while I’m writing a story. I wish I could. I just never enjoy a story while I’m creating my own. I never finish any of them.

10. Who or what inspires your writing?

The happily-ever-after ending that my stories give readers is what makes me want to write. Life is scary. It’s hard. It’s rarely as rewarding as we’d like it to be. A romance is like a vacation for the brain and the soul. You know whatever bad things the characters are dealing with in the story will be resolved to their benefit. It feels as if you’ve tackled a hurdle and won. It feels good.

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

Thanks so much for inviting me to visit your blog, Ryan! My books are available at Amazon and B&N. You can learn more about my books at my website, www.elainelevine.com. I have a Facebook page, but I hate the darn thing. I can’t ever figure out how it works. I do Tweet a lot, so I’d love it if you followed me on Twitter @ElaineLevine.

You're welcome, Elaine. Please let us know when subsequent installments of your series become available.

Be sure to visit Elaine's website and buy a copy of one of her books today!


  1. Thanks so much for all you did to get this post up today, Ryan! I wasn't the easiest (or most organized) guest you've ever had!

    And I absolutely agree with you about using proper grammar and following the rules in fiction...for me personally. But I don't read as a reader does. I cannot turn off my internal analyst. When I get into a story I'm reading, I always am looking at why a certain passage does or doesn’t work for me. What techniques did the author use to achieve that coolness? Are they something I can add to my bag of tricks... Reading like a reader is one of the things I miss since I became an author.

  2. You're welcome, Elaine. It was a lot of fun. An interesting debate. Try not to let your understanding and study of the magician's tricks ruin the enjoyment of the show!

  3. I've alrady read The Edge of Courage and loved it. SO ready for the second book! epub

  4. Glad you liked it, Jenifer! I'm hard at work on. I can't tell if you left your email (Ryan might be able to). When I get it, I'll send you the ePub version.

    Thanks for visiting!

  5. Oops- that last post was incomplete! I meant...hard at work on Ty's story!

  6. I loved The Edge of Courage and have been waiting (im)patiently for the next book. So glad to hear it might be later this month.
    I would love an epub copy.

  7. Hi Judi! Thanks for stopping by! Hope you'll enjoy Ty's story, too. I'm shooting for end of Sept...ish.

    I'll get The Edge of Courage sent right out!

  8. Sounds like just the kind of thing I've been looking for. I'd love an epub copy. cwrydbom(at)knology(dot)net

    Also, I can see both points of view with grammar. If the story is really moving along, it's easier to overlook errors, but sometimes, that sort of thing will pull you right out of the story.

    Thanks! Cheryl

  9. Hi Cheryl! Just sent the ePub file to you. Thanks for stopping by!

  10. Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    Jenifer, we need your email address.

    Cheryl, you're absolutely right: a great story with a few errors is fine, but eventually they begin to pull down the entire story. Thanks again!

  11. hi Elaine! thanks for sharing your thoughts about writing, grammar and your book. i enjoyed the grammar part a lot. thanks as well for being gracious!

    aobibliophile(at)gmail(dot)com & i prefer epub

    hi Ryan!
    great interview and discussion. thanks!

  12. Hi AO! Thanks for stopping by! Ryan and I did have a great chat about grammar and the rules of writing. He certainly made me think about what I do and why.

    I just sent you the .ePub file. Hope you enjoy Rocco and Mandy's story!

  13. Kindle format please. Loving reading from my kindle.

    gaileee at yahoo dot com

  14. Just sent it your way, Gaileee! Hope you enjoy it! And I'm with you--I LOVE reading on my Kindle. Makes it so easy and comfortable to read whenever and wherever I want!