Robin Van Auken (writing as Madeline Sloane) is a writer with more than 25 years of experience in journalism. In addition to fiction, she writes regional history books. Her educational background is in Anthropology/Archaeology and she is an adjunct instructor at a private, liberal arts college. Her books include elements of her passions – travel, boating, history, and archaeology. The characters are generally from idyllic Eaton, a fictitious town in Pennsylvania, although most of her books feature exciting and exotic cities her heroines (and their lovers) visit during the course of their romantic journey. Travel with the women and men of Eaton as they explore the world, and themselves, in the Eaton Romance Series.
Hi and welcome. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to be with us today. I understand you have a new book out by the name of Consequence. How did the concept of Consequence first come to you?
Police Chief Alec Boone, the central male character in Consequence, is a stoic man who appears in my other books. I thought it would be interesting to explore his vulnerabilities and tragic past. He needed to unbend and experience joy again. Bridget Cormac, the heroine, has an interesting job investigating history’s mysteries but sometimes, she’s a bit too smart for her own good. Working on historic topics has disconnected her from reality and she needed to remember that mysteries aren’t always about places and things, they sometimes include people with secrets worth hiding.
How did you come up with the title of your book?
I’m a fan of the PBS series “History Detectives,” and I’ve done a little detecting through time of my own. I thought it would be a cool career for one of my characters. My husband tossed aside my unoriginal working title “History Detective” since it was a blatant rip-off of the PBS series (sigh), and we brainstormed a new title. Consequence is the story about Bridget Cormac’s overzealous efforts to unveil the truth, and her crisis of conscience when Boone uses that information to enforce the law. Dismayed by the consequences of her investigation, her guilt and misplaced frustration threaten the lovers’ happiness. It’s a redemption story on several levels.
How do you set about the initial crafting of your characters, and do they ever creep up and surprise you while you’re writing?
The characters in my stories constantly surprise me. I try to prepare ahead of time. I know what they look like, where they live and work, and what their goals are, but I don’t know how they will react in every situation. I have a journalism background, so often I feel as if I’m “reporting” when I’m writing a scene. As in life, my characters act spontaneously and I’m there to witness it. At other times, I have found, my readers see something in a character I have not necessarily noticed. That’s a great thing about weaving these stories around the town of Eaton — people are becoming familiar with the people in my books, and they are asking to learn more about them.
Describe a typical writing day for you? Do you have any unusual writing habits?
I’ve recently changed my writing habits, creating a separate space physically and mentally for creative “binge” writing. This came about because I spend too much time promoting my published books, working the “author’s platform” and connecting with others via social media. I’ve learned that working at my desk on my main computer brings out my analytical, disciplined and responsible side, and I spend my time answering e-mails, updating Facebook and Twitter, maintaining various websites and focusing on chores for other people. It’s only when I break away from Internet that I can be creative, undisciplined and irresponsible. I take my laptop outside to my swing overlooking a spot in the river behind our house where Bald Eagles like to fish. Or, I sit in a quiet corner in a recliner, and work on my books. A typical “binge” writing day for me is a great day that leaves me productive, exhausted and happy.
What authors, books, or ideas have influenced you?
I would like to think I’m influenced by superior women authors such as Rachel Carson and Harper Lee, but the truth is, every writer influences me. Whether the book is good or bad, when I read, it’s with avidity. I love to learn and strive to improve, so if a writer has done a poor job, then I tuck away a mental note to self: “Don’t do that.” If it’s a great job, I tell myself to emulate it. I also enjoy reading blogs by and interviews with other writers, and am grateful the resource is available. I recommend Joanna Penn’s website, The Creative Penn, the Warrior Writer’s website with Kristen Lamb’s blog, and your own blog, Getting Published for Fiction Writers. I’ve also been impressed with Eri Nelson’s noble endeavor, Supporting Authors One Read at a Time. She spends much of her time and energy giving authors a voice and promoting their books. She’s inspirational.
What is your motivation to write when you are having a bad writing day? Do you write anyway, or do you take time away from it?
Everyday is a bad writing day for me unless I can go on a binge, but, that doesn’t mean I’m not getting work done. If I’m not writing on a book, I’m thinking about it. If I’m not thinking about it, I’m working on marketing my published books and making money from other projects. I’m most useless when I’m reading a novel because I can’t stop until it’s finished. I tell myself that it’s research, not to kick myself too hard. Even being lazy can end up being productive. When we sit in the spa outside at night and listen to owls hooting, the conversation often turns to romance — literally.
How do you handle writer’s block?
I don’t have writer’s block. I have writer’s guilt, that nagging voice that says, “Why are you wasting time on something frivolous? Get to work, you!” It’s much worse than block because it refuses to give me permission to work on fiction. I’ve spent the majority of my career in journalism and producing non-fiction books, so writing creatively is like skipping work. I wouldn’t be able to do it though, without my husband’s assistance and encouragement. His support enables me to work on my fiction, and he will cook the meals when he knows I’m on a binge. One way to keep moving forward, to avoid the dreaded “block” is to set a deadline. Each day, I have to show positive results (book sales), or it’s back to the salt mine.
How do you maintain a healthy lifestyle while working on a book? Do you have any type of exercise regiment in place?
I have no exercise regimen, although I occasionally hike with my husband, go kayaking with him, or walk the dog down the country road where we live. I said I am disciplined mentally, not physically. I sit at my desk all day, leaving my office only to refresh my coffee cup. In the evenings, I crash on the sofa, sipping a glass of wine and watching television with my husband. I don’t recommend my lifestyle choice — it’s too indulgent. So, having said that, I guess I should reform.
As an indie published author, how do you market your books?
Carefully. Indie authors walk the razor’s edge. We don’t have the funds a traditional publisher has to effectively market our books, but we do have free social media. Instead of spending money on posters and ads, we can use Twitter or Facebook or email to promote ourselves to thousands (maybe millions) of people. If we do blatantly promote, we’re shunned for “spamming.” The indie author has to be careful to get their name out without alienating others. It’s confusing to know how to behave since social media is a recent invention, so I try to be gracious and modest. The best marketing tool we have is time. A publisher once told me a book has the “shelf life of a tomato,” but with indie digital publishing, my books have limitless potential. I love the power I have over my books. I just have to remember to use that power responsibly.
In your opinion, what are the most important elements of good writing?
The most important element of good writing is good editing. The second most important element is patience. Too often, we’re impatient to wrap up a book and we forgo proper editing. I think even today’s most successful authors sometimes finish a book before it’s done. Every book has to end and we need to push it out, move on to the next project, but how many of us are truly content with our work? In the digital world, we have the ability to revise our work and I think we should take advantage of that. I’m constantly battling myself about improving my existing books instead of writing new ones. If I rewrite, I may get one more star! One more positive review! My husband tells me to ignore the battle, to complete my other books. Since I’ve a deadline to meet, I comply.
What, do you believe, are must-have tools for writers?
Time, space and encouragement. You can write with anything – a pencil and pad of paper, a typewriter or a laptop, but if you don’t give yourself permission to take the time and space you need to work in solitude, and if you don’t have encouragement to work on such an ambitious project, you probably won’t do it. Be selfish, if that’s what it takes.
Is there a message in your book that you hope your readers will grasp?
Many of my characters are flawed and sometimes they behave badly, but they always acknowledge their mistakes and apologize, when needed. Forgiving themselves and forgiving others is an important message in my books.
Where and when do you prefer to do your writing?
I write at home and I like quiet, private corners. I will sit in a swing in the corner of the yard, or in a chair in the corner of the room when writing. I must have a pot of coffee and my dog by my side, though. They are critical to my concentration.
Is there anything you’d like to say to your readers and fans?
I am humbled by the fact that I have readers, much less fans. I love that they are becoming invested in my stories and ask for books on particular characters. All I can say is “Thank you for your interest in my books.”
Again, thank you very much for taking the time to join us today. It has been a true pleasure getting to know you.
***Readers, you can find books by Robin Van Auken (writing as Madeline Sloane), including the free novel West Wind, on her website at https://handsonheritage.com/ and at all major booksellers.