In 50 words or less, tell the readers something about ON FIRE that will heat them up and make them order the novel.
On Fire is the type of love story I enjoy. One in which the hero and heroine’s love is tested by outside forces as well as each other. Also, their internal and external conflicts are completely entwined. They have to solve one to resolve the other.
On your website, you state that ON FIRE was the first manuscript you completed – but as we know, it’s not the first book you published. What moved you to go back to ON FIRE? Were there any major changes to the novel from the original?
Well, I could say I went back to On Fire because I had a two-book contract and I thought it would be easier to revise On Fire than to start a whole new manuscript. But that’s only part of it. And, actually, it wasn’t easier.
I love all of the story’s characters and its theme. The heart – or theme – of Sharon and Matthew’s story is trust. Trust is the foundation of every relationship. Without trust, the relationship will die. That’s a truth I wanted to explore with readers, and it’s the reason I never gave up on that manuscript.
Your question about major changes to the manuscript is an excellent one, Shon. Thank you. On Fire changed a lot. When I returned to the story more than 10 years after completing the manuscript, I was horrified by its condition. I’d learned so much about the craft of writing during those 10-plus years, which allowed me to see just how bad the original manuscript was. The biggest problem with the story was Sharon’s goal, motivation, and conflict. Originally, her goal was to get married and her conflict was finding a man who would understand the demands of her career.
Shon? Wake up. Wake up!
Yeah, pretty boring goal, motivation, and conflict, huh? But by redirecting Sharon’s conflict to Matthew’s trust issues, it strengthened not only the romance but the suspense plot. Eureka! Of course, that meant I had to change pretty much the whole story. But that’s OK. I was able to keep three or four scenes. Of a 400-plus-page manuscript. Oh, the cutting and slashing I had to do. (Does anyone have a tissue?)
There were smaller changes, too. For example, originally Sharon had a brother, sister-in-law, and nephew. I merged all those characters into her mother. Much, much cleaner. And I expanded Matthew’s work environment, which made him more three dimensional.
What are three of your guilty pleasures?
That’s hard to narrow down, but I’ll try. (smile) For today, I’ll say reading, eating, and sleeping.
I could spend every free moment with a book. One of the hardest things for me to train myself to do was cut back on my reading so that I could work on my own stories. It’s still very hard for me to put down a book and write. I recently finished Gwyneth Bolton’s Sweet Sensation. I’m reading Beverly Jenkins’ Sexy/Dangerous. And J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is whispering to me from the bookshelf. So many books so little time.
Regarding eating, I haven’t met a pastry I haven’t loved. I’m like Cookie Monster, Jr.
As for sleeping, let’s just say, if someone paid me minimum wage to sleep, I would rack up some serious overtime.
Talk to us about your journey to publication – how long did it take you to get an agent? To get published?
I actually was offered my first contract on a Wednesday – March 1, 2006 – and received representation the next day. To make a very long story short, I’d spent months researching agents. The agent who agreed to represent me, Roberta Brown, was on my Dream Agents list. I’m thrilled to have her representation.
I’d been writing for about 15 years when I finally was offered a contract. For about eight of those years, I’d been writing on my own and received numerous rejections on the manuscript that is now On Fire. In 1998 or 1999, I joined the Romance Writers of America. That’s when I realized I didn’t even know what I didn’t know. RWA is a wonderful organization. Its mission is to teach authors – published and aspiring – the craft as well as the business of writing.
Do you have a standard process to your writing? Are you an outliner or a jump-right-in writer?
I’m an outliner. I tried jumping right into the story, but – oh, it was disastrous. I got panic attacks, not knowing what I was going to write next. Where was the story going? Was I hitting my plot points? I started outlining in self defense.
First, I chart my hero, heroine, and villain’s goals, motivations, and conflicts. Then I create my list of 20 Things That Have to Happen. Then I write a scene-by-scene chapter outline. Once I’m comfortable with the outline, I start the manuscript. These lists probably sound like overkill, but I find them very, very helpful.
I write at night before going to bed. Once I’m done with that day’s writing, I review my outline for the next scene so I can mull it over as I’m preparing for bed and throughout the next day.
What are your favorite music genres/artists?
I like a lot of different music genres – pop, R&B, rap, gospel, reggae, calypso, jazz. Some of my favorite artists are Mary J. Blige, Patti LaBelle, Fergie, and Pink. Actually, I mention several of Patti LaBelle’s songs in On Fire. The heroine, Sharon MacCabe, is a huge Patti LaBelle fan.
What’s your favorite thing about ON FIRE?
I love the trust theme. But as always my absolute favorite thing about my books are the characters. I really connect with my characters, and I hope readers will, too – especially since I’m bringing most of them back in On Fire’s sequel.
What three adjectives best describe ON FIRE?
I may be biased, but: suspenseful, fast-paced, sensual.
How do you spend your time when you’re not writing?
Reading, eating, and sleeping. (smile)
For my day job, I’m a writer in the marketing division of a state agency. I love what I do, which is tracking and analyzing customer feedback in an effort to improve the agency’s policies and procedure. The goal is to make those policies and procedures as customer-friendly as possible.
As a published author, what advice might you offer to writers hoping to get published?
Find and develop your writing voice. A strong, unique writing voice is so important. You may have a great story, but you must make it unique to you, otherwise it won’t resonant with an agent or editor.
Case in point, there are a lot of damsel-in-distress type stories out there. Still, they keep selling. Why? Because the author has told the damsel-in-distress story in a voice that is uniquely her own.
I’ll give you examples. Take L.A. Banks’s Vampire Huntress series and Christine Feehan’s Dark series. When you strip these books down, they’re both vampire series, correct? However, you can’t imagine L.A. Banks writing the Dark series and you can’t imagine Christine Feehan writing the Vampire Huntress series, can you? That’s because both series are unique to their authors. It’s their voices.
Another example, Patti LaBelle and Celine Dion both sang “If You Asked Me To.” Same music. Same verses. Very, very different renditions. Why? It’s their voices, their treatments of the song.
Turn off your inner editor and write your story your way. Worry about polishing your writing later. Reach inside yourself and find your voice.
Dream-on: The movie adaptation of ON FIRE is greenlighted! Who would play the main characters, Sharon MacCabe and Matthew Payton?
Morris Chestnut would play Matthew. Matthew’s character starts out with a similar chip-on-his-shoulder attitude as Morris Chestnut’s character in movie The Brothers. And I think Nia Long would play Sharon.
What three adjectives best describe you?
Oh, another really tough question. Here goes. Introvert. Imaginative. Professional.
What are you currently working on?
On Fire is actually the first of a trilogy. I’ve finished the proposal for the second book. This romantic suspense features Sharon’s friends, Allyson and Andre, who you’ll meet in On Fire. Next up is the proposal for the third and final installment, a romantic suspense featuring characters you’ll meet in the second story.
Shon, thank you so very much for the opportunity to visit with you and your friends. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you.