Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Ghosts, goblins and romance: An interview with romance writer Michelle Garren Flye

Michelle Garren Flye is a novelist and short story writing living in coastal North Carolina. While some of her early work dealt with the darker side of life as a horror writer, her novels take a little more sensual, and definitely lighter, tone. Her third novel, Weeds and Flowers, is being re-released today, on Valentine’s Day  
JOHN: I first met you a few years back while hanging out online with a group of horror writers. As I recall, you had a number of short stories published over the years, but you've since moved from writing horror to romance novels. That's quite a change, so the first question that pops in my head is how did that change come about?

MICHELLE: I had a long dry spell in my writing after my second son was born. I'd been slowly moving away from horror, writing more literary (I guess you'd call it) flash fiction. One day I realized I didn't want to write horror anymore, even the pretty gentle ghost stories I'd been writing (and thank you for classifying them as horror). I've always been a romantic, a fan of soap operas and romantic comedies, but more than that I love fairy tales with happy endings. I just decided to go with it and I've never regretted it. I am very glad I spent some time hanging with horror pals, though, and I'm still a big fan!

JOHN: You have three kids, right? They aren't something like a television that you can simply turn off when you need to write. How do you balance meeting their needs with writing?

MICHELLE: I write when I can, where I can. I have an "office", but I tend to write in a big chair in our family room while my four-year-old plays nearby or at a basketball practice or dance class. And I stay up too late way too often when the words are flowing. I almost think the distractions help. I have this fantasy that one day I'll have a whole weekend alone to write. But if I didn't have plenty of distractions, I might just sleep instead.

JOHN: When you're a horror writer, people who read your work sometimes look at you funny, as if they're afraid you're about to whip out the chainsaw and attack. When you're a romance novelist, people sometimes look at you slyly, as if they're trying to figure out if you're writing from experience -- particularly the steamier scenes. You ever get either, or both, of those reactions from people?

MICHELLE: Honestly, I got much weirder reactions from people when I wrote horror. Some people even said, "Wow, where did that come from? You seem like such a nice person." Maybe I don't get any really weird reactions now because what I write now is closer to reality, nobody's questioned me. Or maybe they're just embarrassed to ask!

JOHN: Any particularly funny or embarrassing reactions from others?

MICHELLE: I assume you mean about the sex scenes. I'll have to say no. I've been very upfront about my romance novels. I got kind of uptight about my first one Secrets of the Lotus, so I actually wrote a blog entry about it entitled "28 Days and the Dreaded Subject". I knew a lot of people, including parents, teachers, my family and friends would be reading my novel. I wanted them to know right off the bat that if they read my book, they'd find a sex scene in it and I felt the scene was necessary. (As a sidebar, I'm actually considering inviting some romance and women's writers to my blog to form a sort of panel to address the necessity of sex scenes and how to write a good one on my blog later this month.)
JOHN: There seems to be a hot and ongoing debate between the relative merits of self e-publishing and the traditional route, which includes a pretty rigorous vetting process before a book ever makes it to publication in paperback or hardback. You seem to have bridged that gap - your novels, Winter Solstice and Secrets of the Lotus, represent both. You had to go through the regular submission and editing process common with the so-called legacy publishing industry, yet your publisher is an e-book publisher. Why did you choose this path to publication?

MICHELLE: After I wrote Secrets of the Lotus, I tried the more traditional route of finding a print publisher and/or agent. Many emails and letters later, I felt I had failed. Then I started on small presses and happened across a listing for Lyrical Press. Lyrical Press, at that time, did have a print program but all books went the e-publishing route first. Lyrical has since discontinued the less profitable print program. My next novel will be published in late summer/early fall by Carina Press, the e-publisher for Harlequin, so I guess I'm putting my eggs in the e-publishing basket. I truly believe—now—that almost all genre fiction will be published exclusively electronically within the next decade. I'm sure the bestsellers will continue to have a print market, but with more and more people reading books on e-readers, I think print fiction books will become more and more scarce. Don't get me wrong. I want what all writers want. I dream of having a bestseller, book-signings, a tour, etc. But the print part of that equation is becoming less and less necessary.

JOHN: Your latest novel, Weeds and Flowers is being re-released today. You opted to do the self-publishing thing with this one. Why?

MICHELLE: Weeds and Flowers is very close to my heart. Of my three novels, I actually wrote it first and I feel like it has much more of a story to tell than any of my others. Again, I tried the traditional publishing route, then I even looked for an e-publisher for it. But it's not a traditional novel in a lot of ways. It's written from the point-of-view of a teenage girl, but a lot of the themes in it are too adult to classify it as a young adult novel. It has a mystery in it, but it's not a mystery. It's even got a ghost in it, but it's very far away from horror. And yes, there's a little romance, too. When I failed to find a publisher or an agent for it, I let it sit for literally years on my hard drive. One afternoon I made a decision I didn't want it to sit there any longer, went on Amazon and found out how to self-publish it for the Kindle. I'd never imagined doing that before, but I ended up really enjoying the process. Of course, lacking a professional editor, I found so many mistakes and typos in the released novel, I decided to release a "second edition" (or new and improved version), which is what's coming out today.

JOHN: Okay, some non-writing questions. Mountains or beach for vacation?

MICHELLE: Mountains when I can since I grew up there, but beach when I only have a day or two because it's only about an hour away.

JOHN: For full-time living?

MICHELLE: Beach. No doubt about it, my heart belongs to the coast now.

JOHN: Three favorite movies?

MICHELLE: Batman Begins, The Princess and the Frog, and Pirates of the Caribbean

JOHN: If you could visit any place on earth, money is no object, where would it be and why?

MICHELLE: Bristol, England. I spent a month there with my husband while he was in medical school, but money was definitely a constant worry for us. I'd love to go back and really see it without the limit of that particular worry.

JOHN: Favorite author and why?

MICHELLE: This is a tough one. I admire a lot of authors. Stephen King, for instance, probably knows everything you need to know about writing. Anne McCaffrey has always been a hero of mine. I admire authors like J.K. Rowling, Nicholas Sparks and Nora Roberts for what they've done with their talent. But I guess my favorite writer would be Jane Austen for her amazing understated sense of humor.

JOHN: If you could undo one thing from your past, what would it be?

MICHELLE: Trying to be a sports reporter. I love basketball and baseball and can write competently about them. I faked my way through the soccer season by taking some pretty decent pictures. But when it came time to unravel the mysteries of high school football, I totally embarrassed myself.

JOHN: Favorite restaurant (either by name or by type)?

MICHELLE: Greek. Anything with olives.

JOHN: Okay, back to writing. You started an effort called Helpful Outstanding Novelists, Editors and Others in the Writing Profession, or HONEOWP. Tell us a little about what that is.

MICHELLE: Last year I decided to donate my royalties to charity because I wanted to feel my writing was somehow benefiting the world. Because I don't sell a whole lot of books yet, I decided to set a minimum amount to donate of $25. I also asked my friends to help spread the word, join in, whatever. What I wanted to form was a network of writing professionals working to help each other promote their work and donate to a good cause at the same time. Although I ended up donating several hundred dollars to charity last year and met some pretty great people who tried the HONEOWP thing, it didn't really amount to much. I haven't given up, though. I'm planning to launch another effort later this month, although I haven't totally decided how to do it. If you're interested, stay tuned to my blog.

Incidentally, by asking that question, you qualify to be listed on my blog as a HONEOWP. That's really all it takes.

JOHN: That seems so contrary to what many people dream about when choosing to pursue writing as a vocation, either full-time or part-time. Many have visions of best-seller lists, book signings and fat royalty checks dancing in their head. Your approach seems to be the opposite. Tell us a little about your motivation -- why give away all the money you made on writing over the course of a year?

MICHELLE: I don't write for the money. In fact, unless you're somebody like Stephen King or Nicholas Sparks or J.K. Rowling, you can't afford to write for the money because there's just not that much to be had. I do write in the hopes that some day I will have a best-seller. I want to know enough people have read my books to give some credence to what I do. Otherwise, I might as well stop transcribing the voices in my head and get a real job contributing to society in another way.

That's not to say that the money won't come in as a handy side-effect, though.

JOHN: I know you've focused on novel writing in recent years. Do you still pen the occasional short story?

MICHELLE: Yes, I do. I have three or four novel ideas right now but can't seem to settle down to any of them, so I'm actually working on a short story. A few months ago, I wrote a short story "Life After", which ended up winning third place in a writing contest. You can read it in Hyperink: The Best of All Sins: Stories of Love and Heartbreak, which is available on Amazon in both electronic and print formats.

JOHN: What genre do those tend to fall in?

MICHELLE: Well, "Life After" was pure romance. My current story is a romance with some different elements in it, though. Not sure what it'll end up being at the moment.

QUESTION: Do you intend to continue your focus on novels, or will we eventually see more short stories from you?

MICHELLE: .I love writing novels so much I don't think I'll ever return to writing short stories full time. However, I do still enjoy writing one occasionally and I probably always will.

JOHN: Tell us about your upcoming work.

MICHELLE: My next novel, currently titled The Sixth Fold, will be published by Carina Press this summer/fall, although it may not have that title. It's about the widow of a Marine killed in Afghanistan who moves to her dead husband's hometown to take care of his parents. Here's my unofficial blurb:
Even a broken heart keeps beating.When a soldier dies, his flag is folded exactly thirteen times before it is handed to the next of kin. Each fold represents something, but to one woman, it’s the sixth fold that haunts her, for it represents where the heart lies. Can she be sure her Marine husband’s heart was with her when duty was so important to him? A heartbroken widow and mother of two, Alicia Galloway returns to her husband Ty’s hometown, determined to carry out her Marine’s final wishes. She takes over his ailing father’s business, lives in his childhood home and begins to put her life back together. Ty’s family, neighbors and old friends are ready to help her, giving her the support network she needs. But Alicia soon finds that Ty’s family and friends have secrets, and it’s those secrets that begin to give her some idea of where Ty’s heart was when he died…and where hers is now.

JOHN: Wow, that definitely sounds intriguing. I’ll be looking for that when it’s published. Where can we find your work, both new and old?

MICHELLE: The best answer for this question is to do a Google search. I've still got a lot of short stuff available out there for free (and there's a free fiction page on my blog, too). My romance novels are available at any e-bookstore, including
Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Weeds and Flowers is only available for Kindle on Amazon. If you want one of my better horror stories, try "The Grove" in Horror Library Volume 1, "Squalus" in Tooth Decay, or "Caveat" in Our Shadows Speak
. Those are the ones that really made people look at me funny.

JOHN: Thanks for much for chatting with us today, Michelle. To keep up with her work, visit Michelle's website.

MICHELLE: Thanks for having me here, John!

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