Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Interview with Nara Malone

For my turn to blog this week I decided to interview my critique partner Nara Malone. Nara's debut romance novel comes out Friday March 12 with Ellora's Cave Publishing and I want to help spread the word!

Okay Nara, I’ve read your upcoming Ellora’s Cave release The Tiger’s Tale several times! But others haven’t, so tell us a little about it.

The Tiger's Tale is a story about Marie, a tiger-shapeshifter who was orphaned at birth and raised by humans, unaware of her dual heritage as tiger and woman. Humans have always shared the earth with Pantherian shifters, and while folklore is rich with stories of creatures both human and animal -- therianthropes who can shift between the two states -- humans have always believed they were a myth.

Adam and Ean are tiger-shifters who have discovered that Marie is not human and carries unique genetic traits that could save the species from the terrible wasting sickness that kills most baby girls. They have a week to convince Marie -- a woman raised with conservative views about monogamy and sex -- that she is a tiger and that as a Pantherian female, she must be part of a traditional mating triad to conceive.

The first time I read this, I thought what an ingenious concept this was for a menage story! Of course there's much more to it than the menage, although it is very hot. What inspired you to write this story?

The Tiger's Tale began as a pact between my sister and I. My father was in the end stages of heart disease, she was taking care of him, and the emotional toll on all of us was heavy. We're Texans and were raised up on my Dad's tall Texas tales. We'd both been successful writing short fiction and non fiction, so I thought writing a novel would be a good way to help us get through the time spent hanging out in medical facilities waiting for our father to undergo this test or that procedure. We joined RWA and signed up for a short story workshop. It happened to be an October workshop which took us right into Nanowrimo in November. So we signed up for that too. She finished Nano but I'm a slower writer. In January I polished up what I had, sent it off to Passionate Ink's Stroke of Midnight, and learned I finaled that spring. I will never forget going to visit my Dad at the dialysis clinic, him so small and frail, but his smile as big and bright as ever.

When I told him I was in the running for an award he just nodded and said, "It's about time someone noticed what a great writer you are. I always knew." And if that wasn't enough to make me cry, when we got home that evening, my sister handed me a folder she'd found in the safe with his important papers. It contained the curled yellow pages of a manuscript, The Horses of Hidden Valley, that I wrote with a friend when I was twelve. I can't believe he saved that, that he kept it in the safe. Smile. Sniff.

So with a final under my belt and my father's faith in me to give me courage, I went to work to finish The Tiger's Tale before the winner was announced that summer. I thought if I did poorly in the final evaluation at least the novel would be finished and any criticisms wouldn't derail my progress.

But as I dug deeper into the story, the work stopped being about a pact, or a contest, or even my Dad's expectations. These characters were telling me a story. Marie told me what it is like to land in the wrong nest and grow up trying to be something other than what you are. She taught me what it is like to find the real you and how hard it can be to embrace a version of yourself that the people who know you might not accept.

Adam and Ean taught me about a different view of women and girls, a culture where females are rare and precious. They taught me about making love with all those primitive instincts and desires unleashed.

My research led me to discoveries about human-animal hybrid research, the experiments that involve adding human brain tissue to animal brains. I started wondering what it would be like to be human trapped in a body that didn't allow you to communicate as a human. The story took over and I felt like I was just along for the ride, like a journalist recording events as they happen. As I was wrapping up the story, word came that I had won the contest.

I love how you've learned from your characters. They do become so real, don't they? What were your feelings when The Tiger’s Tale was accepted and when you saw the cover of your very first book?

The actual request for The Tiger's Tale came from an online query workshop put on at Passionate Ink by the editors at Ellora's Cave. Raelene Gorlinsky likes sexy shifters and my first page caught her eye. She asked for a partial and then later the full. The Tiger's Tale was accepted right between Thanksgiving and Christmas 2009. It was like the best Christmas present ever.

I was at work when I opened the email with my first book cover. I'm usually working on five things at once and talking on the phone and helping a customer at the counter, but when I saw that image fill the screen one line at a time, I sat in a chair with my mouth open and just stared. The phone was ringing and I heard the bells on the shop door ring when someone came in. I just sat there staring. My name was finally on a book cover. I can't think how many times I imagined what that moment would be like. I do recall thinking at the time, that it does really happen, that thing you work and struggle to achieve does really happen if you keep hanging on.

Describe the space where you write.

I have so many favorite writing places. This might sound strange, but the primary place is in bed. I wake up at about 4 AM and keep a notebook by the bed so I can start writing first thing while my mind is still close to that dream state and the internal critic is still asleep.

Another place I like to write is when I'm out on the lake at dawn in my kayak. There is something so magical about the sun coming up turning mists purple, gold, and silver. The sound of water slapping the hull, the gentle rocking motion, and even the old blue heron stalking me along the shore, carry me to another state of mind, a journey into that magic creative space. Ideas start bubbling up and I pull my notebook out of a Ziploc bag and start to write. Once I stopped in a tiny cove while the light was still low. I could barely see what I was writing. When I looked up the sun had risen enough to reveal a herd of deer scattered along the shore grazing in the thick grass. It was the perfect place to get into wild mind, that mental state I need to access the world through an animal POV.

Obviously atmosphere is important to you when you write, and nature is wonderful inspiration. When you're inside, do you use mood music or candles? Do you need complete quiet to concentrate?

When I'm writing in bed or in my office I do use things like nature CDs, instrumentals with a thunderstorm or ocean sounds playing in the background. I like the light low, but tend to be absentminded when I'm deep in a story, so instead of wax candles, I use those battery powered candles in colored jars. They flicker like a real candle, but if I forget them the battery runs down instead of the house burning down. I write the first draft or two long hand. I've tried and tried to change that habit. It saves time and paper to write directly to the computer. The words just won't come if I skip that step.

Using battery powered candles is very wise! So easy to get distracted when writing. And I learned something I didn't know about you, that you write your first verions long hand. What other projects do you have in the works?

I'm in the final revisions on the Dungeon Gourmet. I love the central character in this story, Le Marquis de Bond. I call him a blogging French Bondage Chef because he whips up great meals in the kitchen and great lovemaking in the dungeon. He shares tips on the art of cooking and the art of sensual domination in his blog.

I'm mid stage on Mind Games. This story finaled in the Southern Heat contest. It's another Pantherian story and involves a face blind heroine. Face blindness is a rare condition few people know about or understand. I have gone through most of my life thinking if I just learned to pay better attention to people I'd be able to tell them apart and recognize them. My husband heard a news report about face blindness and said they described me perfectly, so I took the test. I scored better on my first calculus test than I did on facial recognition. I got two people right. Two! I didn't even recognize Oprah. But it was liberating to discover it was a brain processing error rather than a personal defect causing my problems. I was able to see the humor in some of the situations that have cropped up in my life and while there is no cure or treatment in the real world, love finds a way to conquer all in Mind Games.

I'm working toward a second big dream that involves new ways to tell stories and the evolution of the book. It's a great time to be an author. Hopefully I'll have something unique and exciting to share about that project in the near future.

I love Bond from Dungeon Gourmet, and can't wait for that story to be out as well. Congratulations Nara on your first release with Ellora's Cave! It's almost as exciting as my own, having gone through this long process with you!


Meg Benjamin said...

Hi, Nara. Welcome to the Naughty Nine. Tiger's Tale sounds terrific!

Erin Nicholas said...

Welcome Nara (what a beautiful name!). I'm going to have to check Tiger's Tale out--- what an interesting concept!

Anonymous said...

Hi, Meg and Erin. Thank you, Kelly and all the nine for having me today.