Author in the Spotlight: Susan J. MacGregor

Portrait - Susan at Tess 15 launchI’m excited to welcome today’s guest, Susan J. MacGregor, who I had the pleasure of meeting in Calgary this last August.

Susan has been an editor with On Spec Magazine, Canada’s foremost speculative fiction magazine for over twenty years. She has edited two anthologies, Tesseracts Fifteen: A Case of Quite Curious Tales (Edge Books) and also Divine Realms (Ravenstone Books). Her short fiction has been published in a number of magazines and anthologies (On Spec Magazine, Northern Frights, Urban Green Man, A Method to the Madness, etc.) Her debut novel, The Tattooed Witch, the first in The Tattooed Witch trilogy (Five Rivers Publishing), reflects her continuing interest in history, the Roma people (gypsies), spirituality, psychic abilities, and the occult. Her passions for Spain, flamenco dance and song also feature strongly in the book and stem from familial roots. When Susan isn’t writing or editing, she dances flamenco and teaches it at the University of Alberta, in Edmonton. As well as working on her trilogy, she is also rewriting and re-issuing her non-fiction book, The ABC’s of How NOT To Write Speculative Fiction through her blog at:


#1: Why do you write?

I think anyone who is creative needs to express that creativity. Another way to put this question is to ask, “What happens when you don’t write?” I can go for about a week at most, before I become disgusted with myself for not writing. Everything else starts to look like fill, or fluff, or a waste of time (especially if I’ve had to tend to domestic needs). The same thing happens when I’m blocked, usually when I’m not sure how to write a difficult scene. That fuels even more self-disgust and a frustrated edginess because I’m not meeting the problem.  Writing is my fix that satisfies my need to create. I have other creative outlets, but none fulfill me as much as writing does. When I write, I’m the creator of my world.

#2: What was your earliest writing experience?

My earliest experience was as a nine year-old ghost writer for my seven year-old sister who was supposed to write a story for her Grade Two class. As we talked about her story, I became so enthusiastic about it, that I took over the project.  We had no idea this was wrong at the time. (We got an ‘A’.)

#3: Describe a day in your writing life:

This is an embarrassing question. I waste so much time dithering about with e-mail and perusing Facebook when I should be focused on my writing. I blame this on summer, kids at home, grass to cut, other chores, etc. Now that fall is here, I hope to waste less time. A good day starts after I’ve read my mail (around 9:30). I write for about four or five hours, usually finishing around 2:00 to 2:30. Then it’s time to take the dog for a walk or handle family/house requirements.

#4: What authors influenced you and how?

One of the first fantasy books I read as a teenager was The Compleat Enchanter by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt which included three novellas, The Roaring Trumpet, the Mathematics of Magic and The Castle of Iron. I still love this collection, even though the stories were originally published in 1940/41. I’d never read a fantasy novel before, but I picked it up because I liked the cover (which depicted a guy riding a hippogriff, I think – I can’t be sure. Three kids later, I still have the book, but no cover). Reading The Compleat Enchanter started me on my journey as a fantasy reader and then writer. I ran into L. Sprague de Camp at a convention years later, and stammered my thanks for both the book and setting me on my writing career. I’m sure he thought I was crazy. Since that time, I’ve also been influenced by David Eddings (the Belgariad series), Anne McCaffery (Dragon Riders of Perne), and historical writers like Margaret Mitchell (Gone with the Wind), Phillipa Gregory (The Other Boleyn Girl), and Diana Gabaldon (Outlander series). I also adore Scott Lynch and Guy Gavriel Kay.

#5: What are some things you learned to help with your success?

Never give up. Realize writing entails an apprenticeship – it takes time (years) to learn your craft. Promote your work, but be thoughtful about it. Don’t bombard people. Believe in yourself and trust in your voice, especially if you’re delving into unusual or unpopular themes. Trust that you have something worthwhile to say, then say it.

#6: Describe your writing method:

I start with a plot outline, knowing the major points I want to hit. It might take me up to two weeks of scribbling notes and thinking about plot, character, etc. to come up with a decent outline. I know enough not to hurry this process or be impatient with it. The fun and frustration comes when I need to work out lesser points (for example, points b, c, and d, while trying to get from A to E). With the first draft, I edit as I go, tweaking the language, choosing a better word, rewriting dialogue, fixing typos. I will often review a scene I wrote the day before in order to get my mind into the work before moving ahead. Sometimes, at the quarter point (about 25,000 words mark), I may have a brilliant idea for a new character, which means I have to go back to rewrite. This happened in my trilogy’s second book, The Tattooed Seer. Subsequent drafts seem to go in the following stages: 2nd draft is about structure, what’s working, and what needs to be cut, where major shifts in plot occur, if they occur in the right places, etc. 3rd draft is about chapter dynamics (chapter ends to keep the reader reading, combining chapters that are too short, etc.), and about polishing – looking for word repetitions (especially on the same page), similar sentence structures that need to be varied, making sure earlier ideas are reflected properly later, and so on. The 4th draft is the final go-through, where I make sure the book flows, has proper tension, presents strong visuals and has just the right amount of emotional impact. I usually get a better feel for this after some time has gone by, at least a month. Eventually, the book ends up with my editor, who suggests further changes. Then it’s more tweaking until we’re both happy with it.

#7: Tips for aspiring writers:

Write every day. Read critically, paying attention to how the professionals you admire handle plot, tension, dialogue, setting, etc. Read as many ‘how to’ books as you can, because even if you’ve been writing for some time, you can always afford to learn more from the experts. Don’t release any work too soon: instead, get constructive feedback from others, especially if they write at a higher level than you do. And always, always – strive to be better.

About Susan’s debut novel:

The Tattooed Witch had its infancy in a family myth. For years, my mother’s side of the family contended that their people, the Frankos, were originally connected to Spanish royalty but were kicked out of Spain by the king. The more likely story was that we were either Jews or gypsies who had been forced out of Spain for religious reasons. In 1492, after Ferdinand and Isabella defeated the Moors in Granada (the Reconquista), non-Catholics (Jews, gypsies, and Moors) were told to convert to the true faith or leave. I suspect my mother’s family may have opted to convert, and then later to flee to Austria (now part of the Ukraine) rather than face the Inquisition. I learned through further research that Franko (or Franco, the Spanish spelling) is a Jewish converso name. As for a possible gypsy link, one of my ancestors, Ivan Franko, novelist, poet, and Ukrainian social activist, wrote in great support of the Roma people at a time when they were much reviled there. His outward support may actually reflect a deeper connection.

The Tattooed Witch delves into a number of themes: I wanted to explore the ideas of religious persecution vs. religious freedom, personal spiritual experience, and brushes with the occult. I wanted to paint a bigger reality than what we normally experience with our five limited senses. Finally, I wanted to look at the different kinds of love we experience (physical and emotional/platonic and otherwise), and how love is defined by those involved. Mix in a little magic, tattoos, flamenco, and reflective history, and you have The Tattooed Witch.


Tattooed Witch Cover

When Miriam Medina and her father are accused by the Inquisition of murdering a high priest, Miriam knows justice is impossible. Their accuser, the Grand Inquisitor, is in fact, the real murderer. Miriam’s only hope is to resort to her long dead mother’s magical legacy: the resurrection of the dead through a magical tattoo.


You can read the first two chapters here:

Or, you can read nearly the first four chapters on Amazon here:

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Other: From Five Rivers Publishing – go half way down the catalogue list, and you’ll see it:

Find out more about Susan at:


Facebook: Susan MacGregor

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Author in the Spotlight: Destiny Blaine


Today, international bestselling eBook and trade paperback author Destiny Blaine joins us to answer my seven author spotlight questions.

Destiny began her career as a ghostwriter and freelance writer. Often sizzling to scorching hot, her novels and novellas have various degrees of heat. She enjoys mixing things up and writes paranormal, sports romances, BDSM, contemporary romantic thrillers, and westerns. Destiny and her husband live in East Tennessee with their four pampered dogs. They’re the proud parents of two grown children, with an emphasis on grown, and are enjoying new adventures in life which include the freedom to travel to romance conventions and music festivals around the US.

(Look for Destiny at BDSM Writers Con, Romfest, Rainbow Con, and the East Tennessee Writer’s Workshop)

#1: Why do you write?

Writing is my full-time career so I write for a lot of reasons. Writing is also my passion, but with every passion worth having, one occasionally finds a love/hate relationship, too. At the moment, I’m editing, and it’s hard to enjoy the job when one edit leads to another. Tomorrow, I’ll create a new world, jump into naming characters and cities, and I’ll be the luckiest woman in the world because it’s such a sensational opportunity to tap into a world no one has visited yet. Then, when everything is in place, I can invite others to visit it, too. How neat is that?

#2: What was your earliest writing experience:

I wrote a couple of short stories while I was in elementary school. The first story went to Crown Publishing. It was about dogs and horses. I won’t even begin to try and tell you what I “think” the plot was about. Anyway, it was a very short manuscript, as you can probably imagine. Someday, I hope to find those early short stories and rejection letters and post them on my website.

#3: Describe a day in your writing life:

It varies from day to day. If I’m on a writing sprint, I’ll generally wake up around six or seven. After the coffee is made, I’ll start answering emails, working on blog posts, etc. and start writing right away. Sometimes I’ll write until seven or eight o’clock at night, sometimes much later. If I’m into a storyline, particularly if I’m working on a romantic thriller, I’ll keep writing until the ideas stop churning.

#4: What authors influenced you and how?

A few of my earliest influences were Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, and William O’Steele.  My influences have changed over the course of my career. Norman Mailer and Truman Capote have been great influences. Both men have a writing style I love and appreciate. John Grisham and James Patterson have remained my all-time favorite authors. In recent months, I really enjoy reading Maya Banks and Lorelei James.

#5: What are some things you learned to help with your success?

*Yanks out the handkerchief and starts dabbing the forehead in preparation for the forthcoming sermon*

First and foremost, treat your career like a business and stop wasting valuable time. I always tell my children, if you make a mistake and learn from it, then the error wasn’t a mistake. It was a valuable lesson. Those valuable lessons are costly at times, but always worth every dime. My biggest career errors were typically attributed to poor time management.

The only way to succeed in this business is to take control of your career. Upon reading this, if you’re writing full-time and you aren’t making over forty thousand dollars a year, you are not in control of your career. You have a hobby. Throw stones if you want to but it takes more than forty thousand dollars a year to live above the poverty level in this day and age, even more if you want to live well. If you’re a full-time writer and you write erotic romance and you aren’t making over eighty thousand dollars a year right now in this market, you aren’t using your strengths to capitalize on your talent.

I talk to writers all the time and they’ll say, “How did you make it in this business?” Well, for me, there’s only one answer: Sacrifice. Having said that, it was also learning to manage my time and believe me it’s not always easy. I’ll shake off one time-waster and here comes another. I’ve been called every name in the book because my career comes first and I don’t care who knows it. I don’t owe anyone anything, least of all explanations. Writers, for whatever reason, often apologize too much. They apologize for working. *Shakes head* Why is that?

Because writers are self-employed, others often view us as people with great flexibility. They’ll ask us to do things that consumes a lot of time. They’ll destroy initiative and ignore the fact that we need to work because we have deadlines. Be able to say no and mean it. Don’t be afraid to say, “I have deadlines,” and stick to them.  We used to have a lot of extra kids who stayed here. I shudder to think of what they cost me in terms of writing time and career goals so now, no one stands in my way. I write six or seven days a week and still pay the price for those old time-gobbling obstacles. People are just inconsiderate of writers because we work from home.

I would be at a very different place in my career right now if I hadn’t paused for time-wasting antics. Great lessons were learned from those experiences and now I won’t make time for nonsense. As a writer, stay focused. You wouldn’t walk into someone’s nine to five job and ask them for favors during their office hours so don’t allow others to interrupt your time at the office.

Writers are often those go-to moms because we’re self-employed. We’re the go-to family member because we’re available. Writers, if you’re starting out, make sure others know from the beginning: You are not available. When you’re in front of your computer, you’re at work. Turn off your phone. Don’t look at your email. Don’t care what comes in while you’re writing. Keep writing.  I’m a writer and if I don’t write, my bills don’t get paid. It’s as simple as that.

And one final note on help with success: Ignore the damn emails altogether 99% of the time. Other writers can gobble up your time, too, when they don’t have deadlines. When you see a bunch of emails coming in from your peers, hold off on opening up the first one. When you have time, rip into it, give them what they need and then just keep writing. Answering emails do not pay your bills. Yes, answering reader emails pays your bills but those emails are always, always a priority.  Peer emails, unfortunately, must be filed on down the line. I’ve started telling my writer friends to keep in touch through Facebook because that’s our “social networking” opportunity.  Because of the number of pen names I have, I receive over 500 emails a day now. Fact is, if I’m going to socialize, I’d rather do it face-to-face or on Facebook, which really is a great tool for keeping in touch with other writers.

#6: Describe your writing method:

There isn’t a method to my madness anymore. Thank God.

#7: Tips for aspiring writers:

Most of what I’d offer is stuff I’ve said over and over again, but in recent years, I’ve started to live by one primary “rule” that I used to tell my children and it’s this: Never blame your failures on those who don’t deserve it and never credit your successes to those who haven’t earned it.

I’ve seen this happen more times than I could count. New authors jump in and start crediting this publisher or that one for their successes. I made that crucial error early in my career, but not anymore because when I sit down and write for 17 hours, it’s all me. Nobody gets to own that. No one else wants my mistakes and failures, so they can’t take my successes.

Writers should embrace their successes. When they sit down at the computer, what happens there is between them and their computer. The product of their effort is a success or a failure because of what they created by using their imagination. New writers, don’t let anyone take that away from you. If you succeed, it was because YOU succeeded and your readers loved YOUR work. If you fail, so what. You failed. Don’t blame that failure on the wrong publisher, the wrong editor, the wrong cover artist, blah, blah, blah. Just own it and go on. Write something else. Keep digging. You’ll get there, but don’t dwell on the past, good or bad, because at the end of the day, writers are only as good as their last work. If the last one was a flop, you’d better get busy and start writing.

Be very careful about loyalty to the wrong publishers. You should ONLY have loyalty to those who are paying you on time, every time. And when you have two or three publishers rolling out your income, you have to (really, please listen here because I can save you a lot of grief), you absolutely MUST stay with those publishers. Cut your losses with those who are paying you peanuts and don’t apologize for it. Just say, “It’s too bad we weren’t making money together,” then wish them well and go on your merry way. Some of the best writers out there will tell you, “I make money with these publishers and these over here don’t pay me enough to pay the water bill,” and yet they stay with them. Why is that exactly? They aren’t doing their publishers any favors. They certainly aren’t moving forward in their careers.  Friendships do not pay your bills. If you want friends, go play bridge or poker or take a bus tour. Writing is your business.

Since we’re on the topic of money, I’ll tell you my opinion there, too. Trust me, it won’t be a very popular one but we’re giving tips for writers so here goes: If you’re a producer, ask for an advance and don’t sign without one.  With one and only one exception, I won’t submit my work to any publisher at all without an advance in 2014. By then I’ll be all caught up on proposed works and I’ll have plenty of time to do other things. Publishers will certainly have that right to tell me “no” and that’s fine if they do. Here’s why advances need to be offered to producing authors: They need to have incentives to write for small press. The higher the advance, the more incentive they have to start churning out manuscripts. In this day and age, authors can self-publish without an advance. If small press publishers want to keep their producing authors at home, they need to come off the money for those who are earning the majority of their income. I know for a fact I’ve been one publisher’s bread and butter because I watch the numbers on every third party retail site out there. Think I’d work for them without an advance when I can self-publish and be on the shelves in two weeks? Not a chance. Not in this market.

Authors need to be compensated for their hard work and loyalty and as bad as it sounds, that loyalty can be bought because producing authors work harder for the publishers paying advances. The higher the advance, the harder they work. With the aforementioned, it’s important to note, I’m not an advocate for self-publishing. I’m an advocate for income-producing avenues for full-time authors. Publishers need to be more aggressive if they want to keep their authors at home. They need to recruit by sending their offers and standing by them.

Authors, learn to recognize where you’re valued and appreciated as an author. Know where you can be shown appreciation in the form of a steady income. Finally, don’t follow someone else’s course in life for your books. Follow your own course. Chart your own path. When you work for yourself and own that right, you’ll succeed and that’s when you’ll truly enjoy what you do.

Destiny’s latest release:

First and Ten: Let the Games Begin, is a BDSM sports romance novella published by Carnal Passions on September 3, 2013. It is the start to a new series, A Swinging Gate Sports Romance, placing our heroine in an interesting love triangle, or two!

First and Ten_300dpiBlurb:

Football superstar Kemper Kapertone is caught in a compromising position. Thrust into a media frenzy, Kemper flies across the country hoping to save a relationship now shattered beyond repair. Tired of waiting on the sidelines, Kara Ball decides the role of jilted lover doesn’t work for her. Kara springs into action and pursues her sexy neighbor, an irresistible Dom who is twenty-seven years her senior and the object of her most recent fantasies.

Zak Stone stops by Kara’s condominium to drop off a parcel, but after the sexy seductress learns of her boyfriend’s engagement, plans change.  Soon, Kara opens up a package filled with illicit toys and the naughty ideas start churning.

While Kemper races against time to set things right, Kara invites Zak to stay overnight, hoping an evening of passion will keep him coming back for more. Fortunately for Kara, Zak is only interested in playing for keeps.

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Where you can find Destiny online:


Twitter: @DestinyBlaine


Fan email address:

Author in the Spotlight: Andrew Ashling

Today I welcome author Andrew Ashling, who has answered my seven Author in the Spotlight questions about his journey as a writer. Welcome Andrew!


Tell us a bit about yourself:

I have no great literary ambitions. I just tell stories, and I try to do it as good as I can, hoping other people will enjoy reading them.

Most of them have explicit scenes in them, often of a rather kinky nature. But they’re only the raisins in the pudding, because—as I already said—I actually enjoy telling stories. That means there always is a plot, or, more often, several plots.

I love exploring what makes people tick, what makes them do the often quirky things they do. Also, I enjoy playing with expectations, boundaries, taboos even.

All my stories/books have gay characters, but not just gay characters.

My current project is the Dark Tales of Randamor the Recluse series. There are now several volumes.


#1: Why do you write?

The most classic of answers applies: the books I wanted to read weren’t written yet. So I wrote them.

#2: What was your earliest writing experience:

No embarrassing questions, please.

#3: Describe a day in your writing life:

Most of it consists of listening to my characters, dreaming, drinking coffee, and watching the plot unfold. Surprisingly little time is devoted to typing it out.

#4: What authors influenced you and how?

I have positively no idea who influenced me. I’m afraid I’m a literary  proletarian.

I have read from age eight, whatever took my fancy, and there have been periods in my life I read a complete book a day and started a second one before going to bed. I have read a few of the classics,  some minor classics, and a lot of great and not-so-great books.

In a pinch I’d mention Simon Raven as a writer who influenced me. His Alms for Oblivion series made quite an impression on my young(er) mind. I also love Mary Renault for the ease with which she can make you believe her version of ancient Greece is the true one. (Which it probably isn’t.) Pirsig, Heller, Kennedy O’Toole… The  Belgian writer George Simenon, the French writers Margueritte Yourcenar, Maurice Druon, Albert Camus, Arthur Rimbaud… There are so many, I can’t possibly hope to be complete. I love the sparse style of Caesar as well as the flowery diatribes of Cicero.

We proletarians are omnivores. We just eat what seems tasty at the moment. Or what is available.

I used to take what I call “author-baths.” Read twenty Stephen King novels one after the other in a few weeks. Then Ludlum. Then Asimov or Heinlein. Colleen McCullough. I don’t recommend it if you want to keep enjoying these authors. After a while the latticework starts peeking through the canvas. Maybe that’s where I learned the most. Inevitably you start thinking, “So, that’s how he does it.”

Historians. Mustn’t forget them. Take John Julius Norwich and his History of Byzantium. The man isn’t a great historian — Schama on him —  but, boy, can he tell a story. And I mean, “tell, don’t show.” Same goes for Winston Churchill and his History of the English-Speaking Peoples.

#5: What are some things you learned to help with your success?

Let me get back to you when I have this thing you call success.

#6: Describe your writing method:

I’m not sure I have one. The first thing I know about my stories is how they end. I also know the main turning points. The most trouble I have is where or when to begin the story. Of course, I know my characters and what drives them but sometimes they manage to surprise me.

As for the actual writing: I try to write every day. At least a paragraph.

For me writing is like planning a vacation. My object is not to arrive at my destination as quickly as possible, but to enjoy myself. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, anyone? Before I depart on my journey (start writing), I’ve looked at the map and read the brochures (done my research). I take the scenic route, rather than the more efficient highway. However, maps can tell you only so much. So, it’s possible I arrive at a quaint little village where I had only planned to pass through, but where, as it turns out, I like the people and the atmosphere. I will throw my schedule overboard without the least hesitation and stay there a few days. If they tell me there are these mysterious ruins, ten miles from the village and my planned route, I will visit them.

Sometimes bridges that are on the map aren’t there anymore when I arrive. Fine, I’ll make a detour and figure out a way to cross the river by some other means.

Summarizing: I have a plan, but I’m not it’s slave.

#7: Tips for aspiring writers:

I’m probably not the right person to ask, but here goes:

Read and write. A lot and daily. Don’t be one of those people who has a book in them that never comes out. Except when it’s better for civilization in general that it stays where it is, of course.

Try to determine why you write. Is it because you like to tell stories or because you like money? Not that they’re mutually exclusive. I’m talking about prime motivation here.

Listen to your characters. They know better than you.

Characters beat story. Story beats language/grammar/writing rules.

Be yourself. Do you really want to be the umpteenth Stephen-King-wannabe?

This is probably the most important one: don’t listen to people who give tips for aspiring writers.
(Actually, listen to them but then find out for yourself.)

About Andrew’s Books:

Dark Tales of Randamor the Recluse

An epic series with gay MCs set in a Medievalish world…

Five volumes, one in progress, one projected.

The Invisible Chains Trilogy

  • Part 1: Bonds of Hate (book 1)
  • Part 2: Bonds of Fear (book 2)
  • Part 3: Bonds of Blood (book 3)

The Invisible Hand quadrilogy

  • Part 1: Gambit (book 4)
  • Part 2: Castling (book 5)
  • Part 3: Pawn Storm (book 6)

work in progress

  • Part 4: Mate (book 7)

more projected

cover-dtortr-01-800x1200While the kingdom of Ximerion is threatened at its southern border by a major power, the high king sends his two youngest sons, the half brothers Anaxantis and Ehandar, as Lord Governors to the Northern Marches where minor raids by wild barbarians are expected. Under the guidance of an old and trusted general, the king hopes to keep the young princes far from the major conflict in the south, while at the same time providing them with a valuable learning experience. The estranged half brothers are rivals, but soon they feel attracted to each other. As if this was not enough of a complication, they begin to suspect that they were set up by their own father. The result is a fierce struggle for power where the lines between hate and love become almost indistinguishable and where nothing is what it seems.

You can read the first twelve chapters (60,000+ words) online or download them for FREE in epub or mobi, directly or from Amazon, ARe, Kobo and Apple’s iStore.

I’ve also written a dystopian novel, A Dish Served Cold and a collection of fives humorous short stories, Just Don’t Mess With Us

The links for FREE downloads and more info are here

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