Erin O'Quinn - History and Men

Hello everyone!  Today we welcome the lovely Erin O’Quinn!  Give her a big hello!
Hi, Marion . . . and hello to all your readers. I’m happy to be here to share my cover, and a little of myself.  I am a small town person, from the high desert and mountain region “out west.” I attended USC and spent many years teaching English to college-age students before giving up the academic life altogether. Now as then, I’m most comfortable squatting on a sidehill or taking long walks instead of standing in a classroom. I think in a way my books are my way of teaching a large unseen audience.

I write romances under the pen name Erin O’Quinn. Of the nine I’ve written, the last five have been M/M (that is, manlove) romances. About two-thirds of my books are historicals, set 1500 years ago during the time when St. Patrick was converting Ireland. So they’re kind of history with a twist of folklore and legend for flavor. And that’s what I mean about still being a teacher!

The cover you are presenting today is for the publisher Amber Quill Press, and its scheduled debut is May 5. So we don’t yet have a buy link. The link I’m providing is to my latest work for them, called The Chase. Your readers can follow that same link six weeks later and trace the book we’ll be discussing today.

In a nutshell, Heart to Hart (series title “The Gaslight Mysteries”) is a retro comedy, a romance and a mystery all tied up in one crazy bow. It was written during last November’s writing frenzy called Nanowrimo and perfected through three months of self-editing before being submitted and accepted for publication.

I’m especially pleased with the cover you created, Marion. It reveals the character, and even the looks of its protagonists:  good natured Michael and surly, uncooperative Simon. The  front and back covers clearly hint at the era of gaslight and old motor-cars, and a setting with a foggy “old London” flavor.

Marion: What was the first book you ever read that really blew your mind, that you couldn’t stop thinking about after you’d finished?

That would have to be Lolita, the genre-bending novel by Vladimir Nabokov that even today is talked about in whispers. The great public, thinking it was a book about pedophilia, gobbled it up all the while condemning the content. Imagine their surprise when they found (if they indeed finished it) that it was a paean to magnificent prose, a love poem to the English language. I don’t think Humbert Humbert ever once even touched Lolita. All the seduction, all the sensuous content, was in the way Nabokov used English, his adopted language.

Marion: How do you start thinking about a book?  Is it the characters that first pop to mind, or the setting, or the plot?  Where do you usually start?

For me, there can be no book without vibrant, memorable characters. And so that is usually where I start. I normally have an idea of the time period and the setting, but absolutely no idea of a plot. If a character comes to haunt my dreams and walk through the house, invite him- or herself to dinner and otherwise set up residence, I give in to my muse and begin to write a book.

Marion: When was the last time you just had to write, and what inspired that feeling?

The reason I’ve signed up for Nanowrimo the last two years is that the easy-peasy rules “force” a writer to write. That is, each participant is asked to write a 50K word novel in 30 days. So I started out with a skeleton, an idea, and I “just had to write” the whole thing in a month. That is how Heart to Hart was born. Not conceived, but born.

Marion: What is your absolute favorite sentence--just one sentence--from your book?  Why?

My favorite sentence (actually a sentence and a frag) is a little naughty, so cover your eyes: Michael decided that love bites were definitely how Simon should dress. Love bites and a jock strap.

I love that sentence, because it reveals the comedic content and something of the relationship between the characters Michael and Simon.

Marion: What one scene do you think you spent the most time editing?  What was it about it that you couldn’t seem to get right?

With this book, I found both the first and the last chapters the most challenging. The first chapter of any book is what hooks the reader. It must set just the right tone, it must introduce one or more characters that a reader will want to get to know, it will hint of action to come. And the last chapter must wrap up all the action in a pleasing way, so that when the reader closes the book it’s with a sigh of satisfaction and not a scowl of annoyance.

So I wrote both chapters right away, then I spent weeks getting them “just right.” And I’m still not satisfied.

Marion: What’s your worst writing habit?  Something you know you shouldn’t do, but just can’t seem to stop?  AND what’s the one thing you wish you were good at, but just can’t seem to master?

To me, these two questions are almost the same. I wish I could see a whole book as I’m writing— the plot turns, the character development. But that just never happens. As I’m writing, the action veers in directions that I can’t seem to control. The characters begin to say and do things that force me to change their backstory or to flesh them out in a way differently than I’d planned.

For instance, in a chapter I am now writing, I seriously mean to get my current characters from point A to point B, each one separately, and they’re to meet at a certain place. But as each one is approaching that meeting point, things are starting to happen. I’m fighting it, but the characters are telling me to quit fighting and let it happen. *sigh* I hope I can go back if necessary and slap them upside the head and get them to see my simpler vision . . . Because the direction they’re going now, both of them are telling me that they are more than my playthings.

Marion: How do you ‘get into character’?  Are there certain characters you find it harder to write than others?

Each time I approach my MS anew, I go back and read a few, or several chapters, to get into the mood again. As I’m re-reading, I often tweak and change and even get new ideas about what I need to write that day. While I’m re-reading, if I find myself cursing and hacking and changing too much, I know I’ll need to spend that day in retrograde, not in a fresh writing place.

The more I write about the love between two men, the harder it’s getting to write M/F romances. I suppose I’ll never go back to my old vanilla ways. There will always be something deeper than just sexual attraction between my characters, and the women will have to be especially unusual and compelling. I already have a few in mind, both women in their forties-to-fifties and out of the “romantic” glow of the mainstream.

Marion: What’s your favorite book title?

Of the books I’ve written? I like Warrior, Ride Hard. It captures the historical nature of the book, the fact that the character has to ride hard on a “mission” of sorts. And of course, being a M/M, it is a play on words so that the reader can see right away that it’s a manlove romance . . . else why draw attention to his state of arousal?

Of the books others have written, I am especially drawn to The Seedling Stars by James Blish. He got it just right. The stars themselves are the seeds of the universe.  Each of us is made of star dust. (Homage here to Hoagy Carmichael also!)

Marion: What project are you currently working on?

I’m about halfway through a sequel to the book under discussion, Heart to Hart. It’s another in “The Gaslight Mysteries,” and the working title is Sparring with Shadows.

In the first book, Michael and Simon, unlikely partners in a private investigation service, solve the mystery of who killed Simon’s former partner. In this one, the mystery deepens in a sense, because one of the coconspirators escapes. The relationship between Michael and Simon matures even more, as Simon begins to look squarely at his sexual identity; and as Michael begins to see him more as a person and less as a sex object.

Marion: About how long does it take you to get from first draft to polished manuscript?  What does that process look like?

Each book is different. The time it takes depend on where the muse has sent me for that particular one. In the beginning, I was fond of writing books from 80K to 100K, and the process would take a few months, just to get the first draft right. In those days, I was writing six to ten hours a day. The good old days . . . before Facebook, before promo emails and blog appearances. Nowadays, I’m more likely to write from 50 to 60K words, and it takes about six weeks from first chapter to last, just to arrive at a working document.

Each book is in a little blue folder on my computer . . . one doc per chapter, all lined up as though sitting ducks in an arcade. There are folders also titled “research,” “pix,” “time chart,” “language,” and so on. When each of these chapters is as polished as I’m going to make it before I throw the whole thing out from boredom, I join all the chapters into one document with page breaks between chapters, and then I read it as one doc. When finally quasi-satisfied, I format it and send it off to the pub.

I doubt that I shall ever be fully satisfied with a book.

Any parting words?

Marion, thanks again for allowing me to guest here today. And special thanks for creating a cover I truly love. You’ve captured the nature of my characters, the setting, the spirit . . . As usual for Marion Sipe, you’ve created a cover that should compel readers reach out and buy it.

Erin’s Blogs:  Gaelic Spirit  The Man in Romance  
Erin’s Historical Romances: SirenBookstrand
Including The Iron Warrior (MM) series
Erin’s Contemporary MM Romances:
FB  Erotica Writers & Readers group founder. You’re invited to apply.


Diane Nelson said…
Wonderful blog. I am *really* anxious for round two with Michael and Simon. Great cover BTW!
Erin OQuinn said…
Thank you, Diane! Round Two is almost there...the bell is being brought ringside...Michael and Simon are raising their, ah, fists to commence the next bout of champions.

Thanks for the compliments! :~)
Sessha Batto said…
Fantastic cover, and a most intriguing look inside your writing process, Erin ;)
Erin OQuinn said…
Thanks, my friend. I appreciate your stopping by today, and reading about my often crazy writing process.

Yes, I think this is one of those all-too-rare covers that reach out an dsay BUY that truly captures the spirit and even the looks of the characters and the content.
Miriam Newman said…
Wow, Erin, I don't think your writing process is crazy at all. You sound very well organized to me! And your books show it. Best of luck with this one.
Erin OQuinn said…
Dear Miriam, it really is pretty wild, the way my muse rides me and goads me and makes me go off on tangents... and the way my characters have of doing whatever the hell they want.

As long as it all ends well, eh? Thanks for the good wishes, my friend. This is my fave of all so far...except for the one I'm writing. You know that deal.

Morgann Peters said…
As with all the interviews in which Erin O'Quinn and her writing have been featured, I found myself digging in to this one with gusto, looking for more of the wonderful flavour of her writing. As always, I found it and more. Marion, you have a beautiful blog here, and thank you for posting such an indepth interview of one of my favourite authors!
Erin OQuinn said…
Mo, would you consent to be my publicist? I always feel better after reading one of your paeans. Like I could go away and write another book.Thank you very much.
Trinity Chase said…
I really love the new cover!
Erin OQuinn said…
Thanks, Trinity. Beyond a doubt, it's the best Erin O'Quinn cover of all.

I appreciate your stopping by to comment.
Marion Sipe said…
Thanks for stopping by Erin, it was lovely to have you!
Erin OQuinn said…
I am happy that people were able to see this very attractive site, and the quality of your covers.

The format, and the content too, have made this one of my fave sites. I wish you much success.

Sincerely, Erin Bon

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