A couple weeks back on our LXL Facebook group, Elizabeth Ann West posted asking for reviews of her geeky romance novel, Cancelled. Being a book addict and a secret reader of romance novels for years, I volunteered!
I found Cancelled to be an engrossing read – not just for the realistic portrayals of life in a startup company, or how the military robotic technology was handled, but also for breaking the romance genre mold in a lot of ways. I immediately asked Elizabeth if I could send her some questions for an interview, and entirely too many weeks after she responded with answers, here we are!
Elizabeth has also organized a special deal with sixteen authors for Halloween - giving away free books, $.99 ebooks, and grab bags! It’s Trick or Treat for Ebooks! HURRY, today’s the last day!
And with no further ado, an interview with Elizabeth Ann West, author of Cancelled.
Tell us about yourself – how did you end up being a writer?
Looking for a career that traveled well, I fell into writing in 2007 when I sold an article online for $7.50 and proceeded to make $1.50 per 1,000 page views. To date, that first article has been read by over 40,000 people. I spent the next three years selling my non-fiction on spec with full control over the price and taking home 65% when it sold. After selling hundreds of articles, more than 80% of my inventory, I wanted a change. I do have a little educational justification for my writing career; I completed a number of classes for minor course work in English literature and wrote for my college newspaper.I call myself a Jane-of-all-trade, mistress to none for a reason. There really isn’t anything I’m unwilling to learn, and professionally I’ve done a little bit of everything. I put myself through college by working as an office temp, in real estate offices, for engineers, at non-profit organizations, you name it. Directly out of college, my first career was as a Quality Technician for Alcoa. I was a political science major making airplane parts. My husband’s naval career became hectic and I volunteered for two years as an Ombudsman and orchestrated a cross-country move for 80 families on his submarine.
Do you write in the genres you enjoy reading?
My goal for my own writing is to explore what I haven’t read before. That’s why CANCELLED bends some of the traditional rules for romances. Many of my story ideas begin with a real-life problem that I’ve been exposed to and haven’t seen presented in fiction. I don’t think CANCELLED is 100% original, but it certainly isn’t expected. That’s what I go for. I don’t know that I will only stick with the contemporary romance genre, as less-than-epic fantasy really appeals to me as well.
What fascinated me about Cancelled is that it’s structured very much like any modern romance novel, but the protagonist is a man – was it a conscious decision to feature a male POV in a romance, or did that happen naturally due to the nature of the story?
For the story, Johnathan’s point-of-view is the most interesting. Did I set out to write a modern romance from a male POV? No, the story was there first and he was always the one my mind followed.
Early in the writing process I tried to balance the story from both Johnathan’s and Alexis’ points-of-view, but it didn’t match up. The only character I intentionally never used as the point-of-view in a scene is Kellie. I wanted her to be as much as a mystery to the reader as she is to Johnathan, forcing the reader to make a few assumptions about her character on that limited information just like Johnathan does in the story.
You touch on the ethics of creating robots for the military — the protagonist’s company was founded to create defensive weapons, although at several points each of the characters make comments that show they’re not naive about the industry they’re working in or the potentially dangerous applications of the technology they’re creating. What is your experience with the military and how did it shape the character’s opinions?
As a military wife, and growing up a military brat, the subject isn’t cut and dry for me. It is patriotic to support the military as much as it is to question the politics that put them in harm’s way. Because it’s my father, father-in-law, husband, brother-in-law, and friends that the politicians ask to risk their lives for their country.
I know, first hand, that everything the military does is not necessarily tied to the loss of human life. There are goodwill missions, taking much needed medicine and supplies to places that need it. There are times when a military presence deters further civil unrest or bloodshed. But there are also times when military force is a tragedy, and it’s our job as citizens around the world to try and prevent those situations.
As far as my characters’ opinions, I tried to show levels, because the three of them are not the in full agreement on the issue. Eric is a reluctant defense contractor. This company is what he does, it is not who he is. There was more to Eric as a character in early drafts that didn’t make the cut, and I might make it bonus material. Johnathan started off more like Eric right out of college, but he has been the front guy for so long, working with the contracting companies up close, he’s become a lot less dogmatic about “defensive weapons only.” I think this really shows in his pragmatic response to the Claw trying to eat the intern. Alexis is by far the most insulated from the practical demonstrations and more about the bottom line. Her stance is more, if it’s profitable, we’ll do it because if we don’t, someone else will.
It’s hard ask about this without spoilers. This book, as I mentioned, is structured like many romance novels – boy and girl are secretly lusting after one another, boy and girl make their feelings known and are happy, boy’s history rears its ugly head and throws a wrench into things – but the end certainly isn’t the storybook ending that most people expect. Due to the nature of the “complication” in the relationship, and the history of the characters, I still found the ending satisfying. Did you ever consider alternate endings?
I did, but you aren’t going to like it. ::laugh:: My 11-year-old stepson saved this story. He was my sounding board for some elements in the book because kids often have a purer reaction than an adult. And he did.
My super stepson hears how I basically make the baby Johnathan’s “Woman of Quality,” which was the original and horrible title of the book. He finishes the Poptart he was eating for breakfast, throws away the wrapper, and says, “The baby has to have someone be Mommy at the end.” And off to school he went, and back to my outline I went.
You’ve self-published Cancelled - what are your thoughts on self-publishing? Are you looking for or sending your works to agents as well?
Self-publishing is both easier and more difficult than I thought it would be, as odd as that sounds. In January, I decided I was going to write a novel this year. By September 13, 2011, it was out and selling copies. During the process, I encountered humps. Just really tough moments where it was me or the manuscript. I had to grit my teeth and show that bitch who was boss! Once you get over the hump, you look back and think “That wasn’t so bad, I could definitely make it through that again.” The key though is buckling down, giving yourself permission to suck, and charging through it.
While I am enjoying the freedom and control of self-publishing, the infrastructure of traditional publishing isn’t lost on me. I know there are still imperfections in my manuscript and yes, it bugs me. But it’s my first one. Not my best one, or my last one. And that’s very important. I now know what my best effort produces, and for my next book I plan to outsource at least one round of editing.
The publishing world is in such an upheaval right now, once things settle, or my do-it-yourself spirit wanes, I will pursue traditional publishing. I’m not even opposed to an offer right now if it outlined a good working partnership between me and the agent or me and the publisher. But I did not query any agents for CANCELLED because I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time. I know there are many clauses of boilerplate contracts that wouldn’t be in my interest, and as a nobody author, I’d have zero leverage to get them changed. When I do approach an agent or publisher, I want to bring experience in marketing, a following, and stories with a unique voice and content to the table. And any publisher that would turn that down? Probably not a great fit to work with me.