Contest Author Interview – Ali Cross

(NOTE: If you haven’t yet heard about the contest I’m running through September 24th, go here to see the entry details, as well as the 50+ different prizes, and please think about entering. After all, there’s no limit on number of entries and there are many ways to enter. If you’ve already entered, remember that leaving a comment about this interview earns you yet another entry!)

The award-winning Ali Cross writes YA and middle grade fiction and is best known for her YA paranormal Desolation series. On top of that, she’s one of the “Indelibles”–a group of indie authors who write middle grade and young adult fiction–not to mention a member of the new LDSIndieAuthors group (to which I also belong). I think you’ll notice her independent streak pretty quickly in my interview. :D

Me:  Okay, a Royal Canadian Mountie I can understand, even a pilot, but you wanted to be Prime Minister of Canada? Seriously? What would be the first law you’d try to pass as PM?

Ali:  You’re assuming I remember anything past last week. Sometimes I feel like I lived my life as different people and their memories are not always my own. Like a dream you only vaguely remember when you wake up but when you try to tell someone about it, you realize you don’t remember anything at all.

I do remember that I was very passionate about Native Canadian rights and probably would have wanted to work on improving their lives and their assimilation into Canadian society and workplaces.

(Good answer! Have you done beauty pageants or something?)

Me:  Tell me about the family you grew up in and how it encouraged (or discouraged) your creative tendencies.

Ali:  I was definitely an “accident” baby, so I was eight, ten, twelve and fifteen years younger than my siblings. My parents divorced when I was four, putting my sister (eight years older) in charge of me. I remember her better than I remember my mom.

There was a lot of ugliness in my childhood. Sexual abuse from both inside and outside the home, violence, poverty.

To escape my world, I read a lot of books (Anne McCaffrey and Lloyd Alexander come to mind) and wrote dark, angsty poetry.

Writing was always just a means of coping for me, never an ambition.

My siblings mostly thought I was a dreamer (which I was) and wouldn’t amount to much (I wanted to prove them wrong), but they’ve all been very supportive of my now that we’re all grown up.

Me:  So what is with the whole Ninja stuff?

Ali:  I have had a thing for the martial arts for as long as I can remember. I’ve watched every martial arts film I could get my hands on (and there are a lot!). For the longest time I wanted to grow up to be just like Cynthia Rothrock (except, maybe a better actress). 

(Okay, this is new territory for me so I had to look her up. She’s an American martial artist and actress, specializing in martial arts films. Here’s what she looks like. Can’t you just see Ali doing this pose?)

But martial arts are hard and it was always too easy to quit. So I always did before I achieved much of anything.

Fast forward to my life as a mom and I find myself married to a guy who loves the martial arts as much as I do. We enrolled our boys in karate as soon as they were old enough, and we also joined.

However, I have Fibromyalgia (Me: Ouch! I know what that is.) and I soon discovered that my body couldn’t handle the sport. I can’t tell you how badly I wanted to earn my black belt, but I was just in too much constant pain.

One night I cried to my husband about how sad I was to have let myself down on the karate thing. I wanted to be a black belt more than anything. *Darn my body!!!* But my husband loves me and is kind and pretty darn brilliant. He talked me through what it meant to me to be a black belt (to be committed, dedicated, to be exceptional at something, to do something hard, to prove to myself that I can be amazing at something).

And then he said, “Sunny (that’s what he calls me), you already are a black belt.”

To which I replied, “Wha???” (I’m a brilliant orator when I want to be.)

Then he talked me through all the things in my life where I have achieved “Black Belt Excellence”–and at the top, was my blogging and writing life.

Simultaneously, I’d been searching for my own “brand,” a way to stand out amongst the sea of blogs, and so . . . the dojo and my ninja alter ego were born!

(What an inspired husband!)

Me:  Did singing opera have an impact on your fiction in any way?

Ali:  Absolutely, 100%! I tend to write my stories very much like operas–a lot of drama, angst, and tragedy.

Opera taught me how to work hard at one thing for a very long time–for instance, I would work on 3 to 6 pieces of music a year. That’s hundreds of hours of practice on just a handful of arias. Long after I thought I had the music “perfect” we were still working on it. That kind of dedication to detail and perfection has taught me how to be persistent and dedicated in my writing.

So from rich and colorful characters to dedication to the details, opera has impacted my fiction writing on every possible level.


Me:  What color is your hair really?

Ali:  LOL! Um, that would be brown.

I’m sad that I had to go back to boring brown when my husband lost his job last April. Not to say that brown is bad, but for me, my hair has come to represent a standard or something. A statement about how I feel about myself and what I hope for myself.

On Monday I’m getting my brown roots touched up, but I’m having her add back in a streak of red–maybe that’ll be enough to help me feel like I’m really me while not breaking the bank. :D (She wanted a smiley face there, but that was the best I could do.)

By the way, I changed my name, too. So between my name and my hair, I’ve created myself just as surely as I’ve created any of my characters.

Me:  Please describe your writing process from the germ of an idea to the finished product.

Ali:  Whoa! You’re not asking for much here, are ya? My heart does this little skip thing and my palms get damp just thinking about answering this! What if I get it wrong? What if I don’t sound intelligent? Because my writing process is kind of visceral and not terribly well thought out. But . . . I’ll give it a go.

Usually I come up with an idea–just a thought or a one-liner. Like, BECOME, was literally, “What if the devil’s daughter wanted to be good?” Then my husband and I will play the What If game . . . until I have a story fleshed out.

I’ll usually write a one- to three-page synopsis based on what we “discovered.”

Usually, I’ll just dive in and start drafting until I get to about fifty pages–then I stop and “beat it out” á la “Save the Cat” by Blake Snyder.

I’ll keep drafting, without stopping to edit or correct, until the book is done. Usually, I can accomplish all of this in four to six weeks.

From there, I begin the revision process–first I start with a basic read through, taking notes as I go with questions I need answered, spots where I need to fill in more, etcetera.

I’ll make those changes, then read through again, this time usually for voice. Do I stay consistent throughout? Can I choose better words? Build better sentences?

Then I’ll do a read-through for setting. I tend to be more emotional in my writing, without paying much attention to the outside details–so I need a revision pass just for that.

Then it’s off to beta readers, back for another revision, then off to my editor!

(Sounds very well thought out to me!)

Me:  Where do you see the future of publishing going and how does indie publishing fit in?

Ali:  Wow, that’s a good question. This will be the first time I’ve actually said what I think in a public forum–I tend to keep my opinions pretty much to myself.

I think we can all agree that publishing is changing. I think indie publishing will continue to grow and will gain more respect as more excellent and well-prepared authors publish that way. I think more authors will be “dually published”–straddling both the traditional and the independent.

I would like to see a publishing world where independent authors are as well respected as the traditionally published, and are judged on the merit of their books alone–not how they came to be.

(Well said.)

Me:  I love writing spaces and can only imagine that yours must be wild. What’s the wildest thing about yours and is it closer to heaven, earth, or hell? (Oh, and I’d love a picture to share with my readers.)

Ali:  My writing space is not wild at all, LOL! I think the only thing that sets me apart from a lot of writers is that I prefer to write during the daytime, and love to see the sun shine in through my window!

And my space is definitely closer to Heaven. :D

(She’s right. It is. And look how organized she is. Boy, was I wrong!)

Me:  Finally, what is the most ninja thing your cat ever did? (I’d love a picture of the cat, too.)

Ali:  Oh my poor cat. She’s a lot like me. You can tell she wants to be an amazing, awesome ninja cat, but the truth is that she’s a big ol’ fraidy-cat!

The most ninja thing she does is move at the speed of a bullet so it’s impossible to catch her in the act of either ninja-awesomeness or fraidy-cat glory. So, sadly, no pics of her and her mad cat skills.

(Aw, well. I can’t have everything.)

Still, I’d be amazed if you didn’t learn something new about Ali in this interview. In fact, I can tell I’m going to have to interview her again some time because this lady is fascinating! Don’t forget to check out her website and blog for more information.

She’s offering a few copies of both BECOME and DESOLATE as prizes in my contest, so comment here and earn another entry.

Originally posted 2012-09-10 06:00:14.

“Wednesday Writer” – Marie Higgins

If you’re into romance, Marie Higgins is your author. She has a clean romance for everyone! If you like heroic rogues, she has a series for you. Victorian Romance, Regency Romance? Covered. She even has Time Travel Romance! But enough of all her sub genres. Let’s get to the heart of Marie! (I know, don’t groan. That was a bad pun.)

Marie HigginsME:  Where did you grow up, and who or what were your earliest influences in terms of your writing?

MARIE:  I grew up between Salt Lake City and Clearfield, Utah. The reason I say ‘between’ is because I was born in SLC, then we moved to Clearfield, and then moved back to SLC, then finally came to plant our feet in Clearfield.

Little Marie age 18 months(Cute little Marie at 18 months)

As for my earliest influences… I really don’t know who influenced me in terms of my writing. I remember as a child in school that I hated to read the books the English teachers made us read for a grade. They were boring! Yet somewhere in my junior and senior year in high school, I started playing with poetry. (Go figure!) I created poems…yet the poems were always in story format.

Marie's Seminary Graduation 1984 (2)(And here she is as a senior in high school)

It wasn’t until my senior year when I started writing skits for my community and church. These skits were performed and judged and I received awards of “Funniest” and “Best Written”. This was what gave me the drive to write after I was married and my daughters were in grade school. I haven’t stopped yet. So maybe my influences were those books I had to read in school that were boring. They influenced me to write fun stories with sweet romance, action and adventure, and suspense.

(A little reverse psychology, eh?)

ME:  Can you share the gist of the first story you ever remember writing?

MARIE:  Oh dear…you’re going to make me strain my brain, aren’t you? (You bet! I dig deep. :D)

I remember having a dream of a ballerina (I don’t know why because I was never really fascinated with ballet), but I remember there was some kind of mystery to the plot. I think the hero was a detective or cop. I had started writing the story to the way my dream had shown me. I don’t think I finished the story, but soon after I started writing, my muse kicked into action and gave me ideas for other stories. The rest, they say, is history…

(That’s all it usually takes, all you writers in embryo–a good dream…that you can remember, anyway.)

ME:  Which romance authors have influenced you the most and how?

MARIE:  The very first romance I read was titled A Rose in Winter, written by Kathleen E Woodiwiss. I was amazed that this author could get me into the story so quickly and make me feel like I was one of the characters. And the plots….woo-wee, what a ride!

Kathleen E. Woodiwiss(Kathleen E. Woodiwiss)

A Rose in Winter

(Woo-wee, indeed!)

From there, I read Judith McNaught, LaVryle Spencer, Jude Deveraux, and Johanna Lindsey.

Judith McNaught(Judith McNaught)

LaVyrle Spencer

(LaVyrle Spencer)

Jude Deveraux

(Jude Deveraux)

Johanna Lindsey

(Johanna Lindsey)

After sweeping through them at record speed, I realized there were other romances out there written by Christian authors. I was very happy to start reading more.

Anita Stansfield(Anita Stansfield)

The two authors that influenced my writing the most at this time were Anita Stansfield and Rachel Ann Nunes. Anita wrote some very emotional stories, while I absolutely loved Rachel’s suspense! (Amen!)

Rachel Ann Nunes(Rachel Ann Nunes)

ME:  I know romance sells best in our country (and perhaps worldwide, for all I know), but besides the money, why do you choose romance over other genres?

MARIE:  Because I enjoy falling in love—over and over again. And I enjoy my readers telling me how much they enjoyed falling in love—over and over again, too.

(Ah, so you’re a true romance novelist. Money has nothing to do with it.)

ME:  You’ve written over 30 novels. Has the content and style changed over the years, and if so, how? Please compare your first novel to your latest. Also, are covers changing in any way?

MARIE:  Yes, the style of romance writing has changed over the years. Back when I first started writing romance, my writing/critique groups drilled into me the need for descriptions…TONS of description. If you’ve never read a Kathleen E Woodiwiss story, she is the queen of description. She could describe one countryside in three pages.

But now…it’s short, sweet, and to the point. Flowery words and phrases are not that popular any longer, and although I still wish I could write that way, now it’s all right if I don’t. As long you can pull the readers into your story and never let them go until the very end, you’re doing great.

Another thing that has changed is pages per chapter. When I first started writing, our chapters had to be at least 20 pages long. Now ten pages for a chapter are appropriate.

(Personally, I think this is because we live in a “fast food”, ADD-type world. Too many interruptions and too often. It’s definitely had an effect on fiction of all genres.)

It’s funny you’d ask me to compare my first to my latest. They are nothing alike. With each story I write, the plots get more complicated, and there is more suspense.

As for covers, I think they are changing. With the first books that I had read (see A Rose in Winter above), some of the book covers looked like paintings or drawings. Some covers just had one or two objects. Now covers have models in period costumes. Personally, I like the covers with models dressed to look like my characters. Of course with today’s technology, it’s easier to find pictures for book covers. There are tons of websites for this now.

(And, by the way, if you want to learn more about making your own covers, among many other things, you should come to the Indie Author Hub Writing & Publishing Conference this Saturday, June 7th, in Provo, Utah at the Courtyard Marriott! I believe Marie is going to be there, along with other fabulous authors like Rachel Ann Nunes, Heather Moore, Liz Adair, and Julie Wright. And there’s a mass book signing at the end.)

ME:  You’re what I would call a fast writer. You’ve said it takes you about 6 weeks to produce an 80,000-word novel. Is that before publication or including the publishing process? How do you account for your speed?

MARIE:  I wish six weeks included the publication process. The six weeks is an average of what it takes me to write a story. If there is stress in my life, the time frame gets stretched. Six weeks is from beginning chapter one to writing THE END.

Once I’ve finished my story, I let it sit a few days, maybe a week while my mind clears. Then I’ll get started on second-round edits. This is reading back through the story looking for mistakes and plot holes.

Once this is completed, I send the story to some of my critique partners, between 3 and 5. They go through and check for errors and plot holes. When they are finished, I add in their suggestions and read through it one more time before sending the story to 3 beta readers. After they give me their feedback, then I go through my story one last time to add in their suggestions and any others I might find.

FINALLY it’s time to publish. This process could take a month, or if I’m lucky, only a couple of weeks.

(Thanks for reviewing the whole process!)

In some of my stories, my characters are very excited to tell me their stories and they can’t stop talking in my head. That’s when my fingers fly across the keyboard so fast, and my fingers can’t keep up with my muse. That’s where the speed comes in.

Another thing I do that’s different than other writers, is that after I’ve written a chapter, I only read through it once before moving to the next chapter. I don’t take the time to go over each sentence, and each paragraph to make them perfect. I wait to do that during my second-edit process.

ME:  What turned you from traditional publishing to indie publishing? And how much more are you earning per month now that you take in 70% of the royalties? Do you miss anything about traditional publishing?

MARIE:  I don’t miss anything about the traditional publishing.

What turned me away was the small amount of royalties we authors get because a portion goes to the cover artist, another portion goes to the editor, and another portion goes to the marketing director, and another portion goes to the publisher themselves. Then…authors get the tiny amount that’s left.

In some publishing companies, they make book covers without the author’s approval, which I think is very wrong. Publishers have a very long release date scheduled for books (some are more than a year).

And my biggest beef with traditional publishers is that no author really knows if they are being cheated. Believe me, I’ve had a few publishers who cheat their authors!

What I love about indie publishing:

  • Finding my own editors
  • Creating my own book covers
  • Choosing my own sale price
  • Seeing my sales every day
  • Writing what I want to write instead of what the publisher thinks I should write.

ME:  How does your family (meaning your husband and children) feel about you writing all of this romance?

MARIE:  When I first started writing nearly 20 years ago (gads, has it really been that long?), my family didn’t like all the time I spent in the computer room writing my stories. It took quite a while, several years, in fact, before they realized that I would rather create a story than watch TV. All my daughters remember from their childhood is that their mom wrote stories and told everyone about them. Hahaha

Family(Marie with her family)

Anyway, now that my books are published and selling, my husband is very proud of me and encourages me to write more. (Go figure!) My daughters are out on their own now, and they have told me they are proud of me, too…because when people discover their mother is Marie Higgins, it shocks them. :D

(I’ll bet!)

ME:  Tell us about your latest release, and what’s up next?

MARIE:  My latest release is titled AMAZON SUNSET. The setting of this Victorian romance is in the Amazon Rainforest. I had so much fun researching this and trying to figure out what things could go wrong in the jungle.

Amazon Sunset

Here is the blurb:

Katrina Landon’s life is about to change. The wealthy father she has never known wants to meet her, but she has to travel from the slums of Boston through the Amazon rainforest to his plantation. As if that’s not bad enough, her guide is the handsome, self-assured, too confident for his own good, Mr. Knightly, who immediately stirs her temper.

Felix Knightly isn’t looking forward to escorting a spoiled rich girl through the jungle no matter how much her father pays. Yet when he meets her, he finds Katrina’s distracting innocence and charming demeanor unsettling. She makes it nearly impossible to concentrate on his job—a problem he’s never had around women. He’d rather fight off the fire ants, howler monkeys, and crocodiles than risk losing his heart to her, since he’s never met an honest wealthy woman.

As they delve deeper into the shadows of the rainforest, they discover they weren’t just wrong about each other, they were wrong about the dangers of the jungle. Someone wants them dead and they have to find out who and why before it’s too late.

(Yummy…sounds steamy and suspenseful. If you’re interested, here are the links for the Kindle version and the paperback version.)

The book I’m working on next is #2 in this series. This story will be about one of Felix’s sisters. Her story is titled Amazon by Moonlight, and will also take place in Brazil in the jungle. So much fun!!

ME:  Finally, please describe your writing space in the voice of one of your favorite “bad boys.” (And I must have a picture of said space.)

MARIE:  My bad boy, huh? Well…I’ll give it a try… Okay Felix Knightly, take it away!

“Bad boy?

Do you realize how long it’s been since I was called a bad boy? The last time anyone referred to Felix Knightly as a bad boy, I was a lad wearing breeches, and I got caught slipping a toad into my sister’s bed. Needless to say, my parents punished me and I never did it again. That being said, I shall try to describe Marie Higgins’ office space as nicely as I can (because believe me, at one point I might not be able to hold back my disgust).

As I stand at the doorway of the kitchen and look into this small room, the desk is to the right of me, and beyond that is the door leading into her bed chamber. On the left side of me is the door leading to the bath chamber which has an indoor latrine. Very interesting concept, I might add. I wish they had thought of it in my era… This is a very old house and over the years rooms have been added on, but nevertheless, the space used is really quite remarkable with a closet and drawers built right into the wall.

The window nearby the closet is always open, and welcomes in the sunlight. Pictures hang on every wall, three depicting old fashioned hats and white, wicker furniture. The other wall has a glorious picture of Christ which brings serenity while gazing upon it. The third wall has a picture of a pirate ship. My personal favorite. Near the desk (which I’ll describe momentarily), stands a bookcase full of Marie Higgins’ favorite books from over the years. Lining the top of the book case are pictures of her family.

Now I’ll describe her desk, and try my hardest to be polite. Never in my life have I seen such a clutter! How could anyone be organized with such a mess? Forgive me, but, I cannot fathom how she’s able to write with so much distracting her from her stories. On the top of the desk she has a lilac scented candle that she lights quite frequently. She has some awards that were presented to her as well. One is a service award given to her from the Romance Writers of America Chapter in 2008, and another plaque was given to her when she was President of said chapter from 2006-2007. Another plaque—that I personally like the best—reads: “Grandchildren complete the circle of Love”. Papers, phone books, camera, lotion, calculator and other miscellaneous items also complete the disorder.

Regardless of this mess, Marie Higgins finds this environment comfortable and this is where she spends a lot of her time away from her full-time day job. Although I do not agree with such a mess to work around, she seems to do just fine with it, for which I’m grateful or else my story would not have been written and I would have never met the lovely Katrina Landon.

So Marie Higgins…I thank you.

Sincerely, your hero, Felix Knightly”

(Delightful! And here are the pictures:)

DSC00599(The view from the kitchen)


(And from the other direction)

Marie has a blog full of details about her books and writing. You can also watch a trailer there depicting her different series and books. And all of her books are available on Amazon.

For those of you familiar with my son Jason, diagnosed with an autistic spectrum disorder since age six, I’m excited to announce next Wednesday’s writer, Tracy Winegar, historical fiction author of KEEPING KELLER about a boy with autism. Be sure and check back next week!

Tracy Winegar

Originally posted 2014-06-04 06:00:10.