Welcome to the second in a series of author interviews. Today romance author Amelia Bishop shares some insights about character development, her experiences with traditional and self-publishing, and gives us a glimpse into her recent novel Night Vision.
Sarah: So many of your stories have a touch of the supernatural, whether it’s witchcraft or a mythological curse. Is there a reason you’re drawn to add an element of magic to your work?
Amelia: I think it just comes down to fun. Fantasy and Paranormal are my favorite genres to read, largely because I can totally fall into another world when reading them, and I love that. It’s enjoyable to write for the same reasons. When you allow the supernatural to roam free, you create a world with no limits and few rules. Anything can happen. It’s great fun.
It also allows us to explore themes that might be messy or uncomfortable in a “normal” fictional world. I like the Neil Gaiman quote: “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” Fantasy allows us to talk about our “dragons” openly (whatever they may be), and allows us victory over them, and in that way is really so nourishing to us, both as readers and writers.
Sarah: Reading your work, it’s clear that the emotional journey of the characters is the most important part of the book. Do you start each novel with a map of that emotional journey in mind, or do you find it develops as you write?
Amelia: I usually know where I want them to end up, but I don’t have much planned out. I like to make situations occur, and then work through how my characters would react or respond to those situations. Sometimes, those reactions inform new scenes, or inspire new plot directions. I think keeping things open is a good way for me to maintain interest while writing.
I also think letting the emotional journey develop in an organic way makes everything read more naturally. Maybe the most important quality a writer possesses is empathy. So, in my opinion, having all the emotional reactions of our characters pre-determined undermines that a little. It’s better to be always in your character’s head, letting your own sense of empathy drive their dialogue and behavior. At least, that’s how I rationalize my lack of planning.
Amelia: I think most humans are drawn to romance. Even those who say they don’t care for it, when you ask what their favorite books are, will rattle off a list of fantasy or history or science fiction stories with strong romantic sub-plots. So I think romance is a natural partner to storytelling.
Romance as a genre is a fantastic place to be a writer. In romance, we can write any type of story – fantasy, paranormal, mystery, historical, contemporary, dark, action/adventure, humor – anything at all. So it allows a lot of variation under one pen name. Also, honestly, romance authors are super supportive of each other, tend to be on the cutting edge of technology, and are generally the most in tune with readers. You won’t find a better genre.
As far as writing gay romance, well, I have thought a lot about this and I still have no one easy answer. I have been reading gay and lesbian fiction since my late teens, I just was always drawn to it. When I started writing, those were the pairings that came naturally to my imagination. I think the old quote “write the story you want to read” applies a bit, because for so long there was not much “gay romance.” There was gay erotica (sex), and gay fiction (sad), and a small amount of gay “pulp” style stuff (silly), but no long form, happy ending, gay romances, and I had been craving them. The m/m romance genre has exploded in the past five years, but it still is only a fraction of the romance market. There are still a lot of stories I’d like to see written!
Sarah: You’ve been successful as a self-publisher, and have self-published several books. What advice would you have for someone starting down the self-publishing path?
Amelia: Prepare. Don’t rush. That is probably the biggest pitfall in self-publishing. It is so easy to rush in unprepared. Choose your pen name carefully, get your social media established a little, do research, make friends, read a lot, and listen. And never pay for any “tips” – you can get all the information you need for free. Most self publishers are pretty open and willing to answer questions and offer help to newbies. Take advantage!
Sarah: You’ve also been traditionally published. As someone who’s seen both sides of the coin, can you give us a brief comparison of your experiences?
Amelia: First of all, my experience is only with small press publishers. Big five publishers are probably very different, I don’t know.
I think self publishing is better if you are willing to do a lot of work yourself (or if you are a control freak and want to), and it is also a better choice if your work lies somewhat outside typical genre lines. Readers gamble a lot more easily than traditional publishers.
Otherwise, the main difference is in editing, cover, and marketing. Self publishing means hiring your own editor(s) and cover designer. It’s an up front cost, and a bit of legwork, but you get complete control. The other difference is in marketing and promotion. Traditional will still expect you to market yourself, but I found it a little trickier because there are a lot of things (pricing, free giveaways, vendor selection, back copy content) that are out of your control when you publish traditionally.
Amelia: I’m glad I’ve done both. I had a great experience with my publisher, but I prefer self-publishing, both for the control and the higher royalties. I can’t imagine a reason I’d submit to a traditional publisher again.
Sarah: Can you tell me, in a few sentences, about your recent novel Night Vision?
Amelia: My recent novel Night Vision is actually a good one to talk about in relation to the questions you’ve asked. It has elements of the supernatural, which I use to explore themes of commitment. It’s a gay romance, but does not make a big issue of the character’s sexuality, it just represents them as typical romantic leads. And it was traditionally published, thankfully. If I had self-published it a year and a half ago when I thought it was ready, it would have been less polished, and about six thousand words shorter.
Night Vision is a contemporary paranormal, and I think it is fun and interesting. If you like non-traditional “creatures” (I made one up for this story!), characters who are “normal” (no alpha males here), and hard won happy endings, you might enjoy this book.
Thanks so much for having me, Sarah!
Up next week, we explore what it means to write outside the norm with fantasy author Jeanne Marcella.