MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I am pleased to be interviewing Heidi McLaughlin today. Heidi is a bestselling author now living in Vermont with her family. A movie based on her bestseller FOREVER MY GIRL is currently in production. She’s also got a great story in my “Alternate Sherlocks” anthology coming out soon!
First, tell us all about your latest book.
HEIDI McLAUGHLIN: My most recent release is called BLIND REALITY, which is Big Brother meets Married at First Sight, a fun little romantic comedy that is very reality-television based. If you’re not a reality TV fan, this book isn’t for you.
VENTRELLA: Romance continues to sell, but it goes through trends like all fiction. What is popular now?
McLAUGHLIN: Probably stuff I don’t write! Everyone loves the Alpha male, the down and dirty smut and shock factor. I like to keep everything mainstream and fun.
VENTRELLA: Do you find yourself writing what is popular or do you just write what you want and hope people will like it?
McLAUGHLIN: I write what I want to write. If I have an idea and I can make it work, I’m running with it. Life is no fun when you’re thinking like everyone else. I want to set the trend, not follow.
VENTRELLA: Do you feel there is a limitation with romance in that it pretty much has to have a happy ending? Or am I mistaken in that?
McLAUGHLIN: No, you’re very on point. In BLIND REALITY, it’s a cliffhanger, albeit it minor one, and people flipped out. Funny enough, when I’ve been asked about it and asked in return why they felt that way, the reader was able to answer their own question. Compared to some enormously huge bestselling novels, my cliffhanger is a blip and barely noticeable. Unfortunately, readers don’t see it that way and I’ve paid the price.
VENTRELLA: Perhaps more than other genres, romance has to have tremendously believable characters. Do you agree? How do you accomplish that?
McLAUGHLIN: I absolutely agree. When people read romance the way to feel like they’re the character being wooed or falling in love. They want to live in the happily ever after and avoid reality of a dirty kitchen, loads of laundry, etc… For me, modeling my characters after people I know or have encountered makes them believable. Every character I write I want the reader to feel like they know them, that they live next door or went to high school with them.
VENTRELLA: What’s the difference between romance and erotica?
McLAUGHLIN: Well that’s a loaded question (excuse the pun). Erotica is heavy behind the doors taboo stuff that you don’t discuss at the dinner table with Grandma sitting across from you even though Gram has probably read a good old fashioned Harlequin in her day. Romance is the light-hearted can’t-wait-to-tell-you-about-my-day happy stuff… most of the time.
VENTRELLA: What’s your opinion of FIFTY SHADES OF GRAY?
McLAUGHLIN: E.L. James hit the market when women needed something new to sink their teeth into. Erika is a marketing genius.
VENTRELLA: Have you ever had to censor yourself where you think you may have gone too far?
McLAUGHLIN: No, I’m fairly tame and am often told I need more detail with certain scenes.
VENTRELLA: Why do you think more men aren’t reading romance?
McLAUGHLIN: I have a contingent of male readers and my husband has even read JR Ward! I think some men are just afraid of what those pages hold.
VENTRELLA: What is the biggest misconception people have about romance novels (and romance novel writers)?
McLAUGHLIN: That writing is a hobby, or we’re just writing porn.
VENTRELLA: How did you first become interested in writing?
McLAUGHLIN: When I was little I was an only child for the longest time and my playmates were my aunts and uncles who were older. I had to create worlds to entertain myself when they weren’t around and my grandma always told me to write them down.
VENTRELLA: How much of writing is innate?
McLAUGHLIN: Writing is a craft. you have to learn, process and repeat. No one is “good” out of the gate.
VENTRELLA: What is your writing process? Do you outline heavily or just jump right in, for instance?
McLAUGHLIN: I’ve never outlined. I take notes, and write. I’m a chapter by chapter and never out of order. If I have a scene in mind I’ll write it down and save it, but chances are I never come back to it.
VENTRELLA: Do you find yourself creating a plot first, a character first, or a setting first?
McLAUGHLIN: Lately, it’s been the plot first. I hate naming my characters so I tend to do that last. But show me an image, song, or something on the news and I can give you something to work with.
VENTRELLA: Writers are told to “write what you know.” What does this mean to you?
McLAUGHLIN: To me that means – don’t think outside the box. I’m glad I didn’t listen because I write a Navy SEAL series that I absolutely love, but I’m not in the Navy, nor have I even been though BUD/s. If we only wrote what we knew, we’d be boring.
VENTRELLA: What criticism of your work do you disagree with the most?
McLAUGHLIN: When people tell me how I should’ve ended a story, or assume they know my characters better than I do.
VENTRELLA: How did you get started? What was your first story or book published?
McLAUGHLIN: I wrote a manuscript (my 3rd actually) and shared it with my friend who encouraged me to publish. My first story was FOREVER MY GIRL, which is slated to start production for the big screen this year.
VENTRELLA: Do you think it is important to start by trying to sell short stories or should a beginning author jump right in with a novel?
McLAUGHLIN: Short stories are fun, like the one we’re doing, but serial novels tend to make the reader wait too long for the conclusion. I do prefer a novel though.
VENTRELLA: Do you think short stories are harder to write than novels?
McLAUGHLIN: For me, yes, especially, when you’re limited on a word count.
VENTRELLA: In this market, with the publishing industry changing daily, how important is the small press?
McLAUGHLIN: Every press is important, but you can get lost with the big ones and just become a number. As with anything small, you’re always on their mind.
VENTRELLA: What sort of advice would you give an un-agented author with a manuscript?
McLAUGHLIN: Believe in yourself and the process. It does work. My first MS I queried 45 agents all to be told no, so I published and hit USA the next week and half those agents came back to work with me.
VENTRELLA: What’s the worst piece of writing advice you ever got?
McLAUGHLIN: That social media doesn’t sell books.
VENTRELLA: What’s the best piece of writing advice you ever got?
McLAUGHLIN: Never give up.
VENTRELLA: What advice would you give to a starting writer that you wish someone had given to you?
McLAUGHLIN: Do not trust everyone you come in contact with, and do not share your story with you FB bestie. Keep your work close to your heart and invest in your craft.
VENTRELLA: Who do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors?
McLAUGHLIN: I love paranormal romance, but also contemporary. However, Nelson DeMille is my favorite author.
VENTRELLA: What projects are you working on now? What can we expect next from you?
McLAUGHLIN: Right now I’m finishing up SAVE ME, which will come out April 5th – it’s a Navy SEAL novel, and I’ll be writing my manuscripts BLOW (Virtuous Paradox 1) and LEFT FIELD (The Boys of Summer 2).