Welcome back, Melanie!
Since your Sept 2020 interview, when the UK thought Covid was on its way out – we have had two further lockdowns – how did you fare in the States?
I live in a sparsely populated state, so my experience is certainly different from a lot of others. My city had a couple of lockdowns, but at this point, it feels like a lifetime ago.
Did you make it back to the UK for your research trip?
I did! I recently made the transition to full-time author and said goodbye to my day job. A few weeks after that, I flew out to the UK and spent two months traipsing around the country. I’ve visited a couple of times before, but I really wanted to spend a lot of time there, immersing myself in the history. There are so many amazing estates to tour and museums to see, all of which have information and experiences I can’t get from studying books.
Congratulations on making this the full-time day job. What lovely historic sites did you visit?
I spent one month based in London, but then hopped the train out for day trips to Bath, Bristol, York, Plymouth, and a handful of other places. Then, I spent the second month moving all over the place, spending time in the West Country, the Midlands, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland.
What in particular inspired you?
If I were to share all the things that inspired me, I’d end up writing an essay. This was my second major research trip to the UK, and every time I find so many details and historical titbits that spark ideas. If I had to list some of the most inspiring things I did, I would say the Plymouth Historic Dockyards, the Royal Opera House Tour (and going to see a couple of performances there), the Theatre Royal at Drury Lane Tour, the London Canal Museum (and tunnel boat tour), the National Railway Museum, and…if I don’t stop now, I’ll end up listing every museum I visited.
And all the amazing ruins… *sigh*
Of course, the historic estates, houses, townhouses, and the like are super important for my research. I took over 11,000 photos and hundreds of pages of notes, most of which are all the little details I find when I’m wandering those historic properties. The sights, sounds, smells, and all the other possible descriptions that can later be used. I’m not a very visual person when I’m imagining my stories and don’t generally see clear, vivid pictures in my head, so I use those photos to help me design and describe my books’ locations.
Oh, and in a very real way, that trip inspired a scene in my latest book, “To Have and to Hold.” I needed a picnic scene, and I had visited quite a few ruins on this trip. I ended up creating a fake one (since the area in which my book is set didn’t have any readily available ruins that suited my needs), which was an amalgamation of two ruins I’d visited.
I love the new cover designs – what was their inspiration?
Honestly, part of the inspiration was that I wanted a style that would be easy to manipulate. Swapping out the model’s head or hands or some other feature can look weird if not done right, so adding the watercolour style over the top makes it easier to Frankenstein an image together from different bits and make it look uniform. Not to mention, finding male historical stock photos can be difficult, and even when you do, I think they often look slovenly or not period accurate. With this style I can use historic paintings for their bodies. For example, on “The Shameless Flirt,” the male torso is actually from a painting and the head is from a stock photo.
But also, I just really love it. I spent months playing with different ideas and styles, and one day, I stumbled upon some stock photos that someone had manipulated into looking like a painting. I watched a bunch of YouTube videos on how to do it, experimented a ton, and came up with the style.
Have they proved successful?
Depends on what you define as successful. Financially, they haven’t helped my sales, and in some ways, I worry that they may have hurt them a little. While being unique seems like a good thing, a common bit of advice to cover designers is that you don’t want to do that. If a book looks too different from the rest of the genre, it may turn off readers. So, yeah. I worry about it.
Artistically, I love them, and I’m so proud of the work I did on them. It was a massive effort to get them to where they are, and I have no interest in changing them again. And while some fans say they like the old ones better, most love them, too.
And they definitely fulfil the original purpose that inspired me to make the change in the first place. They’re more work, but I have a lot more artistic freedom when it comes to the base photos I use.
I think they look fresh and attractive!
I was recently at the Historical Novel Association conference in the ancient city of Durham and the question of how much time authors spend on social media came up. Do you think of social media as a friend or foe?
A bit of both. Personally, I’m not a fan of social media. I don’t use them in my personal life at all anymore because I prefer personal contact. But as an author, I use it all the time. I don’t view it as a marketing platform in which I can find new readers but as a place in which I can connect with my readers and fans. One of my favourite things to do is sharing behind the scenes info or research titbits. All those little things that are interesting to me an author but never made it onto the pages of my books.
It is a bit of a chore for me at times to come up with content, but I’ve developed a system that works for me.
How do you split your time between research/writing/ marketing?
I write every work day. Or I try to. I need an outline before I can write, and that isn’t always ready when I’m sitting down to start for the day. Generally, that takes up 3-4 hours a day. Then I spend the afternoon editing, outlining, researching, and any other prep work so that the next day I can sit down and write.
Generally, I do my marketing in the evening. A lot of it is stuff I can do while watching TV, so I’ll take my laptop down to the couch and relax while I input stats, work on my ads, or create social media content. This isn’t something I do every day. I’ve always heard that the best marketing is putting out a new book, and I ascribe to that mentality. I do a few traditional marketing things, but I try to keep it to a minimum and focus on creating new stories.
Researching is something I try to fit in wherever I can. Sometimes it happens as I’m writing or creating an outline, when I realize I need to know something. But often, I’m just always trying to watch documentaries, read books, listen to podcasts, and learn stuff I don’t know that I don’t know. You can’t learn it all, but I try to keep learning new things because I never know what’s going to spark an idea.
What are you currently working on?
I’m writing my first Christmas novel, “The Christmas Wish.” It’s part of my Victorian Love series, and I’m outlining my next project, which will be my first novella. I’ve wanted to try my hand at shorter stories because I have some ideas that just won’t work in a longer format, and I think now is the time to do it. I’m not entirely sure what it’s going to be because I have a lot of ideas right now, but we’ll see. I don’t always know what I’m going to write next until right before I need to start writing the 1st draft.
What is next?
Now that I’m writing full-time, I’ve put together a pretty amazing publishing schedule. I’m alternating between novels and novellas, and the plan is to publish 4 novels and 4-5 novellas in 2023. While I am focused on Regency & Victorian right now, I would like to branch into historical western romance sometime in the near future. And maybe a bit of historical paranormal romance maybe…
What can I say? I’m an eclectic reader, and I like writing in different genres. I started off in fantasy and would love to do more with it.
You are certainly inspiring. I wish you every continued success with all your projects.
Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to do the interview.