A Quick Q&A with Erin McCarthy: Bad Boys and More!
February 6, 2006
Over the past couple of years, I've had the pleasure of reading a number of short stories and single title contemporary romances from Erin McCarthy, whose first book published was the 2003 anthology Bad Boys Online, featuring three of her short stories. Since then she's published additional short stories in Brava anthologies and had full length single title romances published both by Brava and Berkley. I read two of her single titles, Mouth to Mouth, and Houston, We Have a Problem, in 2005, and enjoyed them both.
McCarthy's writing is sexy, funny, and, at times, surprisingly touching. Her bad boys and naughty girls are vivid creations, and my recommendations for her include the Bad Boys Online anthology, both of the single title releases I mentioned above, and these additional short stories: Fuzzy Logic (from Bad Boys Over Easy) and Blue Crush (from Perfect for the Beach).
Mouth to Mouth, a book I recently added to my conversion kit, is not only a fun and sexy read, it features a deaf heroine, and the heroine in Miss Extreme Congeniality, from Bad Boys in Black TIe, is the divorced mother of an autistic son. I add this not because I'm a fan of message or illness/condition romances; on the contrary, I generally find authors who write books or stories featuring these themes are too preachy, but in both in neither of these instances did I feel that for a moment.
Erin McCarthy has become an auto-buy author for me and I appreciate her spending some time answering questions for this brief Q&A. I hope you will too. The questions may seem disjointed or odd, but her answers are engaging and revelatory enough to leave them in this format.
--Laurie Likes Books
Erin McCarthy's was
the only story I liked
in this anthology
Erin McCarthy and
stories were the
strongest in this
You write for Kensington's Brava line. Do you consider your stories to be straight contemporary romance, or more erotic romance, particularly the short stories?
I think they are all very sensual, however we want to label that, because to me sexual tension plays a huge role in a developing relationship. My novellas sometimes seem more erotic to me, but I think that's because there isn't a larger plot surrounding the story of the characters getting together. Because of the short length, and because Brava readers are expecting a certain level of sensuality, I have to cut to the chase. <g>
Can you talk about the rationale for the trade-size Brava releases, and whether or not this helps or hurts you with romance readers?
This is not something I know anything about. That is a publisher's decision to release books in different formats and I couldn't possibly speculate as to what is their rationale.
Writing full-length books and short stories requires an author to do different things...can you go into some of them?
To me a novella has a beginning and an ending, and not much of a middle, which is why they are so satisfying to write. I get to write all the fun stuff, then I'm done. <g> The plot has to be simple, with a fairly straightforward set-up and conflict, and not a lot of secondary characters so you have time to concentrate on the main characters. I usually only use the point of view of the hero and heroine. A single title needs more to hold it together because of the length, so there needs to be more layers, more conflict, more back story going on for the characters. I don't find it hard to switch between the two... it's actually a nice change of pace. When I think of an idea, I can usually tell within a day or two if it is going to be a single title or a novella.
Mouth to Mouth featured a deaf heroine. What sort of research was involved in her creation? The book also featured a quirky secondary romance...what made you decide to include that?
I read a ton of books on hearing impairments, the experience of growing up deaf, the battles in education over mainstreaming. I hung out on deaf message boards and talked to people with various levels of hearing impairments. I tried to learn ASL, but was lousy at it (I failed at learning French, Spanish, and Russian too!). I was terrified I wouldn't do justice to Laurel, but the story just wouldn't work without her being deaf. I really have to give Kate Duffy and Kensington a ton of credit for not balking when I brought up the idea. Kate just told me to go for it, and I owe her a huge thanks for trusting me.
As for Cat and Jerry... I don't know what made me to decide to include them. They weren't in my original mental outline of the book. But Laurel needed a fun friend, and Jerry's girlfriend was so wrong for him that I couldn't leave them like that. I also knew I couldn't make them the hero and heroine of their own book because of their quirkiness - his name is Jerry, after all, and Cat is pierced and tattoed everywhere - but I wanted to hook them up. Pierced people need love too.
The interplay between Cat and Jerry was funny because of all the insults they traded between themselves. People are sometimes aghast when I share that, in my marriage, my husband and I will sometimes try and see who can insult the other "best" - do you and your husband sometimes toss insults at each other in a loving and funny way?
My husband and I don't really do the loving insults... I'm too sensitive. <g> My hubby learned early on in our relationship if I'm angry, do not try to joke me out of it. But I do think marriages have different forms of communications, and for a lot of couples it can be fun and endearing to constantly spare with each other. My husband and I are actually very goofy together and we like to outwit each other.
There's a good amount of humor in your single titles, and yet they aren't necessarily piffles. How do you create a good balance?
Well, I try to create the balance that real life has between humor and seriousness. We can laugh at one thing and cry at another in the same day. I love to write funny, but it's like when someone you know won't let a joke go... sometimes you just need to quit the wisecracks and be serious for a minute.
My sense is that Brava is doing a lot with new authors by bringing them in via short stories. Is that right? There's been some speculation that they looked at the success of the Secrets anthologies and began their own set of erotic romance anthologies, eventually leading to the Brava line. That may or may not be correct, but as you understand it, how did Brava come about, and how were you picked up by Brava?
This is another one of those publisher questions... and I really just don't know how to answer it. I can't speak for the editors as to why they created Brava. I do know that they started with historical single titles and anthologies and moved into contemporaries. Lori Foster's Too Much Temptation was if not the first, one of the very earliest contemporary Bravas. Right from the beginning, Brava was very successful, and I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time. I entered Lori Foster's novella contest right when Kensington was looking for new authors for Brava. Lori passed my entry on to Kate Duffy and she bought it, which became the first story in Bad Boys Online.
What was the first romance you loved? Who are your Romance influences?
When I was a teenager, I read mostly horror, thrillers, true crime, and literary fiction. I was kind of a grim kid. <g> I didn't start reading romance until I was in my early twenties and I was at home with my baby. I started reading Harlequin Tempations because I could just enjoy the story and not have to take notes on who all the characters were. I could pick it up, read ten pages while my daughter was nursing, put it down, come back later, and still be right there in the thread of the story. My mom introduced me to Nora Roberts about the same time - the Quinn brothers - and I was totally hooked. Around the same time I started reading Jane Austen and absolutely fell in love with Elizabeth and Darcy.
In your short story for Bad Boys in Black Tie, the heroine's son was austistic. I think it's fairly unusual to bring in an element like that to a short story. What was the thought behind it?
Actually, CJ's son being autistic wasn't planned or thought out at all. I didn't even know I was going to write that story when I was writing Smart Mouth. As I was writing that book, I needed partners for Knight, so CJ White and Wyatt Maddock appeared, immediately squawking at each other. By the time the characters were heading to New Zealand, towards the end of the book, I was curious why CJ was so reticent. I also decided I wanted to keep her home instead of accompanying them to NZ, so suddenly she had an autistic son. But then it all made sense when it was time to write her story. Being protective of her child, and consumed by his care, she's lost sight of herself as a person. In the end, I was satisfied with the way it played out, and I heard from a mother of an autistic child who said how happy she was to read about a character who deals with the same issues she does. That made me so pleased that I had written the story, regardless of how it came about. I think a woman's fierce love and intense worry for her child is a universal theme we can all relate to.
Houston, the hero in Houston, We Have a Problem, was extremely commitment-phobic. In your Bad Boys Online anthology, each of the heroes acted as pursuer of a long-term relationship. Which type of hero is more fun to write (and why), and are both equally realistic?
They're both fun to write. The reluctant ones are fun to watch dragging their heels and gnashing their teeth, and it is very satisfying when they finally admit they're in love. They always fall hard, and have to humble themselves to make up for being to slow to get it in the first place. The hero who wants the long-term relationship is great because he knows his mind and heart, and he's determined to win the lady, which I think is completely sexy. I think they're both realistic.
A couple of readers expressed interest in possible differences between your Brava books and those for Berkley/Penguin. Are there any specific differences, other than toned down love scenes, between the two, and is that a requirement from Berkley?
It's not a requirement from Berkley that I tone down the love scenes, but I do that to help create a distinction. My Bravas need to be hot because that's what the reader expects. My Berkley books all have some element of the paranormal in them, and I'll really be diving into the paranormal with my Las Vegas Vampires trilogy. The first book, High Stakes, hits the shelves in August '06 and I had a blast writing it.
During the first love scene in Mouth to Mouth, Russ decides a woman like Laurel should be made love to, not f_cked, but she makes her point after being disappointed the first time. Where did that idea come from, and is writing a scene like that empowering in any sense?
I have no idea where that scene came from... once I know the characters, they just do what is organic to their personality and the situation. I do think Russ is the type of guy who was raised to see women as those you marry and those you don't, and he sees Laurel as the marrying kind. I think it was very empowering for Laurel to ask for what she wanted. She has reached the point in her life where she doesn't want to settle anymore.
In a couple of answers to my questions, you mention that your characters take on a life of their own. I've interviewed authors who talk as though they are either channeling characters or taking dictation. What is the process like for you?
I don't really consider it like taking dictation. It's just that I'm a character driven author and I can't sit down to write a book until I understand and know the characters completely. The plot is more of a loose concept in my head, and the blanks get filled in as I'm writing. But the character is fully formed for me and so their personality and behavior sometimes affects where the plot is going. So my writing process is to let the characters simmer in my head for awhile, sometimes months. I ask myself a lot of questions about why they do what they do, who they are, what motivates them, etc, then I sketch out a loose plot all in my head. Then I sit down and write a first draft quickly so I don't lose the thread of the story or where I'm going with it.
What's being published throughout 2006?
|Heiress for Hire (Berkley)
|When Good Things Happen to Bad Boys * (Brava anthology)
|Bad Boys of Summer * (Brava)
|High Stakes (first in a humorous vampire trilogy set in Las Vegas, Berkley)
|You Don't Know Jack (Brava single title, sequel to The Pregnancy Test)
The Night Before Christmas (paperback release of 2005 trade anthology from Brava)
|Bit the Jackpot (second title in Vegas vampire trilogy, Berkley)
(*These two anthologies finish off the bowling friends who first appeared in Bad Boys Online)
Thanks, Erin, for talking to us!