Our guest on the blog this week is Rhoda Baxter. Rhoda started off in the South of England and pinged around the world a bit until she ended up in the North of England, where the cakes are better. Along the way she collected one husband, two kids, a few (ahem) extra stone in weight and a DPhil in molecular biology (but not necessarily in that order). She had a childhood ambition to be an astronaut or at least 5 feet tall. Having failed at both of these, she now writes humorous novels instead.
Her first novel, Patently in Love was a contender for the RNA Joan Hessayon Award and was a top ten finalist in the 2012 Preditors and Editors poll for romance reads. Her third novel, Dr January will be published by Choc Lit Publishing in autumn 2014.
Hi Rhoda, welcome to the Write Romantics blog and thank you for agreeing to be our guest this week. We’d love to start by asking you a little bit about your writing journey so far and what was the very first thing you did when you heard you’d got a publishing deal?
Thank you so much for inviting me in for a chat. It’s nice to sit here in the warm when it’s so wet and cold outside.
My writing journey was pretty long. I won’t bore you with the details (if you really want to know, there’s a blog post about it here: http://rhodabaxter.com/2013/10/25/two-emails-abo…22nd-of-a-book/). I went to a talk once where they took a poll of the authors around the table as to how many books they wrote before they were published. The average was 3.5 books. I’d written 3 books and was on my fourth by the time Patently in Love was picked up by a publisher.
Yes, please, I’d love a cup of tea. Milk please. No sugar. Thanks.
In all honesty, I can’t remember what I thought when I first got the email. It was a mad old time as I’d just started a new job after moving from Oxfordshire to East Yorkshire and my youngest was still only a tiny wee baby. I do remember buying a celebratory cheesecake though. Very nice it was too.
What are you most looking forward to about your publication with Choc Lit and moving away from the e-book only approach?
Without a doubt, it’s the idea of having a physical book in my hands. Having a book only in ebook format should be no different to have a print book – real people still buy them and read them and review them. But there’s something about the physical book that you can put on a book shelf and stroke and cuddle… I think it’s a generational thing. We grew up with paper books and they ‘feel’ more real to us than ebooks. My Mum reads my books on her computer, but doesn’t really feel they’re ‘real’. My kids, on the other hand, are perfectly at home with ebooks and print books alike. They tend to get jam on things though and a Kindle is easier to wipe clean than a paper book.
I’m also looking forward to doing some real life promotion for my books. So far I’ve concentrated on doing everything online, because I’ve only had ebooks to promote. When I have a print book I can take along with me, I will try and do some talks to libraries and at local events.
Lastly, of course, I’m looking forward to the celebratory cheesecake I’m going to treat myself to. Mmmm… cake… Sorry, zoned out there for a moment. What was the next question?
Do you have any writing superstitions e.g. writing in the same place, using a certain pen etc?
In an ideal world, I would. I’d have a special desk (very tidy, naturally), and a special mug and a special pair of pants to wear when I’m writing. In reality, my desk looks nothing like that, so I end up writing my books sitting in bed at the end of the day.
I don’t really mind, so long as I get to write. I do wish I could see the surface of my desk now and again though.
What are you working on now and what are your writing goals for the next 5 years?
5 years! You make it sound like it’s normal to have a plan! (What do you mean it is? Damn. That explains a lot). It’s not possible to plan that far ahead because life tends to get in the way. If you’d told me four years ago that I’d be relocating to the North East, with a three month old baby and a three year old in tow, whilst DH and I both start new jobs and I try to get a writing career off the ground, I’d have laughed at you on the grounds that no one is THAT mental.
What am I working on now? I’ve just submitted the 2015 book called Please Release Me (which is set in a hospice) to Choc Lit. I’m trying to figure out what to write next. Something with the whole email/prose mix again, I think. I have my characters, but need to figure out what happens to them. I’ve also got to do some promotion for the Truly, Madly, Deeply Anthology which is coming out in February. I’m very excited to have my story included in a book that’s got stories by Katie Fforde, Judy Astley, Carole Matthews and other famous people.
How do you keep creating new and entirely different characters as you write more and more books?
I don’t know. They just turn up. Sorry, that’s not a good answer, is it? But it’s true. It’s like Paddingtion Station in my imagination. Characters turn up in my head and I have to find stories for them. I usually find the men easier to think up than the women. I love my heroes.
I don’t do character sheets and character interviews like some people do. I’m too lazy for that. Quite often I write my way into the characters by writing a few extra scenes before the story really starts so that I can get a feel for their voice. Sometimes there’s a key aspect I have to get right before they ‘click’. Once that happens, it’s easy to hear and see them.
I’ve never tried to analyse where these people came from, in case they stop coming. If it ain’t broke…
It sounds like your professional life and your writing persona are two different worlds. How do you cope with the different approaches to writing and has this ever caused you any conflict?
My work writing is very analytical and matter of fact. Details need to be spelled out. My fiction writing is about subtlety and emotion. In that sense they are very different. On the other hand, the technical writing needs to be structured, with all the introductory information in place, arguments made and neatly tied up into the conclusion. The same is true of a novel.
With work, I’m allowed to be boring in what I write (apparently, people don’t like jokes in their technical summaries. Huh). With fiction boring your reader is a definite no-no.
One of the Write Romantics, Alex, is also a lawyer and it’s not a world that has ever made her think of romance fiction. What gave you the idea for Patently in Love?
Marshall from Patently in Love has been around in my head for a long long time. When I was plotting the book,I realised that the combination of email and prose would work really well as an office romance. So I picked an office I knew and used it as a setting. I didn’t use anyone I knew as characters, but I did include a few jokes about the obsession with hierarchy that seemed to be prevalent in that environment. It also meant that I didn’t need to cross check patent related bits of the plot. (A good thing too because one of the big IP blogs reviewed the book. It would have been awful if they’d found a glaring error!)
Who is your favourite character from any of the books that you have written so far and was (s)he based on anyone in particular?
My favourite character of all is Hibs, the hero of the next book Dr January (due to be released in autumn by Choc Lit). He has a PhD in molecular biology, long dark hair, lovely high cheekbones and is an expert in karate. He’s really funny and sexy and I had a crush on him when I wrote it.
Hibs wasn’t based in anyone real (if only!), but after I wrote the book, I realised I’d effectively taken the character of Edward Cullen from Twilight and split him into two men. The lovely, adoring, caring side (in Hibs) and the controlling, domineering, stalkery side (in Gordon). Both men are gorgeous – naturally.
We’ve heard that some writers use pictures they find, of celebrities or sometimes photographs that they just happen upon, to inform the physical descriptions of their characters and we wondered if you did this or, if not, how you form a mental picture of your characters’ physical qualities?
I don’t do that, although I should. If I found a picture of Hibs from Dr January, I’d definitely enjoy looking at him from time to time.
The mental picture of my characters tend to start fuzzy and solidify as I write the introductory scenes. I know I’ll cut those scenes out eventually, but they’re still useful for finding out who the characters are. Weirdly, I often forget what colour their eyes are, so I need a post it on my laptop screen to remind me.
What piece of advice would you give yourself about writing if you could go back to your pre-publication days?
Remember that it’s a long game. Your first book is not the only book you’ll write (in fact, it’s not even the best book you’ll ever write because you’ll learn and grow as a writer with each subsequent book). Have patience and keep going. You’ll get your break eventually
Oh, and get some sleep, while you still can.
What are the best and worst things about being a writer?
The best thing – you’re never alone. There’s people in your head all the time.
The worst thing – you’re never alone. There’s people in your head all the time, insisting that you write stuff down.
Anything else you’d like to share with us or advice you can give would be gratefully received!
Write stuff you want to read. Even if the first draft is crap.
Find a good critique partner (or join the NWS!) and listen to what they say. You don’t have to agree with everything they say, but make sure you give it good consideration before you dismiss it.
Keep going. The more you write, the better you’ll get. All authors were unpublished writers once.
Read how to books. You won’t learn anything new, but it may shift something you already knew into a new light.
Read a lot of books in your genre. Call it market research if you like.
Enjoy it! Otherwise, why do it?
Thank you very much for having me over. It was a lovely cup of tea.
Good luck with your writing careers. I’m sure it won’t be long before you’re all published.
Find out more about Rhoda:
She can be found wittering on about science, comedy and cake on her website www.rhodabaxter.com or on Facebook or Twitter (@rhodabaxter).
You can buy Rhoda’s books here:
All other formats (including non-DRM PDF) from the publisher’s site: https://www.uncialpress.com/Rhoda-Baxter