Because I write and edit for a living, I usually roll out of bed at 9 am or so and go straight to work in my pajamas. I schedule the rest of my life around my writing. Luckily, my family is tolerant of my odd hours, vacant stares, and habit of talking to myself. I prefer the wee hours of the morning for my personal writing, so I often do that from midnight to 3 AM.
When did you start to write and how long did it take you get published? How many stories did you finish before you were published?
I began writing years ago when I had 5 children under the age of 8. I needed to do something to keep my sanity. And I was often up in those wee hours anyway. My first published works were magazine articles. They were short enough that I could squeeze them in between doctor appointments, soccer practices, homework, and working full time.
Once I graduated to novels, I completed four of them before I felt one was good enough to send out. I consider the others my practice novels. Perhaps someday I may go back and revisit them, but most likely not. They helped me learn my craft. And each one was a little better than the one before.
How did you break into publishing?
I was lucky. The first article I sent out was accepted by Highlights. I thought I had it made. Little did I know that was only the beginning of the heartbreak of rejections. I'm guessing I probably have five rejections for every acceptance I've ever had, maybe more. (Some stories have received much more than their share!!) For every acceptance that came easily, I have a dozen more pieces that were difficult to place. And some, of course, may remain permanently hidden in that lower file drawer. Spark of Magic was another stroke of luck. The story came to me full blown, I jotted it down, sent it off, it was accepted a few weeks later. I wish it were all so easy.
What influenced you to write?
Books, books, and more books. I love them, can't get enough of them. From the time I learned to read, I've never been without a book in my hand, on my bedside table, in the car... I consider my life what happens between the pages of the books.
What inspired you to write romance?
I have to confess that I spent lots of time reading romances, and I love “sappy” movies, as my husband terms them. (Though I notice he doesn't mind them nearly as much as he pretends to, & they always bring out the romantic side in him, which is a big plus.) I guess romance is a natural when you have a thrilling, knight in shining armor at home as a model.
What genre or sub-genre do you write? Why did you choose this genre?
I came to romance late. I began by writing children's stories and books (picture books, YA, and non-fiction), and I still do a lot of that (under another name). I got hooked on Wild Rose Press, though, and it sparked an idea for my first story. I sat down and wrote Spark of Magic for fun. It was a short story based around our black Persian cat. Interestingly enough, it was a paranormal—something I'd never read or written before. I didn't really choose the genre, it chose me. And it was rather an odd choice as I also write inspirationals (yet another pseudonym) and non-fiction. I'm also in the midst of writing a historical romance and a time-travel fantasy.
What difficulties does writing this genre present?
One of the biggest difficulties I face is the different audiences I have for each genre. I need to keep my work and publicity for each separate. I don't think the editors for my children's books or those for inspirational would appreciate the public knowing that I also write sensual or hot romances. Thank heavens for pseudonyms! I have plenty. Biggest problem with that is remembering what name to sign when.
What motivated you to write your current book?
One of the books I'm working on now (I always have several projects going at once) is set in China during the Ming dynasty. I traveled to China a few years ago. As I stood in the Forbidden City, a concubine spoke to me, and I knew I had to write her story. It's been a long journey of love. The first draft is completed, but I still have a lot of research to do. I'd like everything to be accurate. I'm thrilled with the story, though, because I almost felt as if I were channeling the book. Perhaps I was.
How much time do you devote to writing each day?
It varies. I make my living by writing & editing now, so I'm technically always writing. I have to make time for my own work, though, in addition to the work I get paid for. Sometimes that's hard. When you set your own schedule, it's often easy to put your work in last place. I do make it a rule to write a minimum of 15 minutes a day. When I do that, I often end up getting lost in the story and sometimes work for hours.
What are you working on now?
In addition to the Ming dynasty romance, I have two inspirationals almost completed. I recently finished a fantasy set in 1050 AD, which I'm hoping to complete final edits on sometime soon. I have a humor book, a parenting book, and a few other non-fiction projects that I work on when time permits. Then, of course, there's always my children's stuff—a few picture books in the works, a middle grade novel that's been knocking around in my brain for a while, a celebrity bio coming out in the spring, etc., etc. And that doesn't include the 20 partially started novels sitting in their Word file folders waiting for me to get to them.
How do you write? Are you a panster or a plotter? Is it your characters or your plot that influences you the most?
I'm actually both. When I first started, I did a lot of plotting. Now I think I've internalized the basic story structure, so my writing process is more organic. Yet everyone who reads my first drafts comments on how well-plotted they are. I'd like to think that my characters hold center stage in the story, but a well-known author & editor recently read one of my novels and said she'd estimate it's 65% plot--45% character. Now I'm not great in math, but even I can see that it doesn't add up to 100%. I think she intended it as a compliment (unless she's as math-challenged as I am), but it's left me wondering ever since.
What was the most usual way you came up with a story idea? I mean, I’ve gotten a plot idea from a song I heard, from brainstorming with a classmate. What unusual thing caused you to think, ‘hey, I could make that into a story?’
Most of my stories come from hearing voices (I know, I know, I should see my psychiatrist more often). I'll be daydreaming—a great way to come up with plots—and next thing I know, I hear two characters talking. Then I rush to write down what they're saying.
If you could spend an hour talking to anyone from any time in history, who would it be? And Why?
Perhaps Empress Cixi, who was the power behind the Chinese throne for many years. I love to learn about women who knew their own strength and defied convention.
Tell us some of the things interviewers are saying about your story or stories.
Here are some of the reviews for Spark of Magic:
From Simply Romance Reviews: "...a fun read. With a hottie like Marc you don't have to be a cat for a man like that to make you purr."
From Manic Readers (Stevi B.): “This is a really cute and funny, short but sweet story!...If you are looking for a quick and humorous story to entertain you, you will enjoy Spark of Magic.” 4.5 books
From The Long and The Short of It (Narcissus): “With magic in the air and a bouncy little toddler you can’t help but love, Ms. Stone’s story was an effortless combination of humor and chemistry (even a little danger!) that became an instant winner and is sure to leave you smiling.” 4 books
Here are a few comments from advance readers on Red Beads, my novel set in Ming China. The first one is from an author who just flew to Rome last week to receive an Italian book prize for her latest novel. The second is from an Emmy-award-winning screenplay writer and actress who read the first few chapters.
“Red Beads was so absorbing that I sometimes found it difficult to put it down. I picked it up (it was going to be just for a moment) while I was working with my MFA students, and half an hour later I had to tell myself I had other work to do. Reluctantly I put it down, but every spare minute I got I picked up your story again. This is the magic you wield. You have the makings of a wonderful love/historical story here, and I enjoyed it immensely. I see a very big advance in your future.”
“This is a compelling story, and I love the setting....your writing is clean, with good action sequences. I love this survival/love story and definitely would like to read more!”
What is your all time favorite book?
I have so many of them, it's hard to choose. As a child, I loved A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I always planned to grow up to be a princess. I'm still working on it.
One book I read recently that is still haunting me is Seeking Sara Summers by Susan Gabriel (Wild Lily Arts). It's a different kind of love story, one that will cause you to redefine romance and reevaluate your life.
How do you do research for your books? What’s the most interesting bit of research you’ve come across?
I like to go to the places I write about—it's a great excuse to travel. Firsthand research is hard to beat—I immerse myself in primary source documents for my historicals. For contemporaries, I prefer to write about what I know (I've had a variety of jobs over the years) or to use a family member or close friend as reference material. Oh, and I LOVE libraries.
What advice would you give aspiring writers today?
Read, read, read...oh, did I say that before? I think one thing that every writer should do is join a critique group. It's absolutely essential to get feedback on your work before you send it out. Family members and friends are not good critique partners unless they're editors, agents, or English teachers. And even then, they may be prejudiced in your favor. A good critique group is honest about what works and what doesn't. Even more importantly, they understand when you start mumbling about how your characters ran away with your story and refuse to adhere to your carefully laid plotlines. They also need to be encouragers when you're discouraged and cheerleaders when you succeed.
How do you like your fans to contact you?
Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org