The JR Bunnies welcome Author Stephanie Michels
The Calico Heart with Patricia Kiyono published by Astraea Press
Tell us a little about what inspired you to write The Calico Heart?
Patty is my critique partner and she also has belonged to a group of quilters for many years. She realized how unique each woman was and got the idea for a series of love stories about women of all ages and backgrounds who meet once a week to share their love of quilting. She asked me if I’d be interested in collaborating with her on The Calico Heart, and I jumped at the chance. We pitched the story to Astraea Press at a conference and, when they liked the idea, we went to work.
When you start writing, do you already have the story plotted out or do you let the characters dictate what will happen?
For The Calico Heart, we already had a plot idea, the main characters and a bare-bones story. I put together a working outline for the plot then we set about filling in the holes and fleshing out the story. In some cases, we forced the characters to do what we wanted; in other scenes, the characters told us what needed to happen.
What inspired you to write in your genre? Is this the genre you started writing in or have you morphed to this one?
We both love romances and happy endings. All Patty’s books are romances in one time period or another. She’s done Regency, contemporary, Japanese historical, and romantic intrigue. I tend to do stories with either comedy or suspense elements. But under the various elements lurks a heart that is romance. Maybe I’m a product of the Disney generation, but I love a “Happily Ever After.”
Do you have a favorite character you have written?
I can relate to Sylvia in The Calico Heart because she is a baby boomer generation heroine, facing retirement, and the challenges of a change of lifestyle. I recently retired from the business world after more than 30 years in order to focus on my writing, so I know what a difference it makes in your life, and how it can affect relationships.
Who was the toughest character for you to “get right” that you have written so far?
Hands down, it had to be Dave. We had to show a man who captured Sylvia’s heart, but was still riddled with enough misguided beliefs that he almost capsized their love boat. It’s been rewarding to have readers tell us: “Halfway through the book, I was ready to slap Dave, but I cried happy tears through the ending.”
Do you draw inspiration for your characters from real life? Any fun stories you could share?
Not really. Patty is a Japanese-American and I’m of Czechoslovakian decent, so both are backgrounds are a bit distant from this story. However, Patty’s historical romance, The Samurai’s Garden is filled with wonderful characters who may have been drawn from some of her relatives.
What do you find the hardest part of writing?
I’m my own worst enemy. I have an inner editor who lives in my head and tells me how bad everything is and makes me write and rewrite every section. This character never likes what I write. I have to find ways to shut him up and just have fun with what I love to do: telling stories.
Name one thing that your readers would be surprised to know about you.
I have a collection of more than 400 angels. I have them everywhere, but a lot of the collection is packed in boxes my daughter labeled as “Angels That Are Stored On High.”
Do you have a guilty pleasure?
I think every woman does. Mine is cheesecake…any variety. To paraphrase Will Roger’s famous quote: “I’ve never met a cheesecake I didn’t like.”
What TV Show are you addicted to?
I really seldom watch TV. I watch news programs online and only turn on my television to watch “Dancing with the Stars” and “Castle.”
What do you need before you start writing? Anything that is just a must have or the creative juice don’t flow?
Coffee. I drink huge cups of it every day and absolutely have to have one beside me when I sit down to write or I’ll inevitably stop to brew a cup.
Does music influence your writing? If so, do any of your stories have a theme song?
My daughter is a multi-published romance author, and she creates a “soundtrack” for each of her books. I was raised in an age when we were taught to turn off all distractions when we studied. So, my house is quiet when I sit down to write: no radio, no TV, no iPod, just quiet. Hmmm, maybe “The Sound of Silence” is my theme song.
If your story was optioned for a movie, who would play your characters?
Wow! I never thought of that. I think Andie McDowell or Mary Steenburgen could bring to life Sylvia’s warmth. Giles Marini would be perfect for Etienne. Dave would be harder to cast. I’d like to see Colin Firth (although I’d love to interview George Clooney and Sean Connery for the role just for the pleasure of looking at them).
Where were you when you got your first contract? Who did you tell first?
In my living room. Patty sent me a text message that said “Check your email!” After I let out a HUGE squeal, I quickly phoned my daughter and my sister Audrey, who are my #1 fans (they share the position as they encourage me in different ways). Then I called my two sons. After that, I think I shamelessly told everyone I know. It’s a measure of my friends’ love that they indulged me and are still my friends.
How old were you when you read your first romance book?
Do fairy tales count? I’ve read romances for as long as I can remember. However, I credit Forever Amber a 972-page historical romance by Kathleen Winsor as being the book that headed me down the path as a romance writer. I was only in ninth grade at the time. The book was one of my mom’s longtime favorites, and she recommended it to me as I read books much more mature than my age probably warranted.
What author causes you to “go fan girl”/ squeal over/anticipate upcoming books?
I have a library of more than a thousand books; they are all over my house. Needless to say, I have a long list of favorites, but one author whose books I anticipate is Dixie Cash, the pen name of a pair of sisters. My daughter bought me their book Curing the Blues with a New Pair of Shoes as a wink to my slight – okay, serious — shoe obsession, and I’ve been a fan ever since. I get excited about their new books because they don’t release as many titles as some authors.
I also have to give a big nod to both James Patterson and Andrew Greeley. I own every book either of them has ever written.
If you still have one of those pesky non writing jobs what is it?
I recently retired from a career as a Financial Planner/Data Analyst for a Midwest retail chain, so I could focus on writing. However, I also do some editing on the side.
Do you have a favorite movie you have seen in the last few months and/or an all time favorite?
My all-time favorites are pretty dissimilar: Gone with the Wind and Top Gun. As you can see, mytaste in movies is nearly as eclectic as my taste in reading.
What are you currently working on, and what else is in the wings?
I’m working on the second book in The Stitching Post series with Patty, and I am also working solo on a paranormal romance.
If you could co-write with another author who would it be?
Thanks, but I already have a writing partner, so I wouldn’t want to choose another.
How do you pick your characters names?
To avoid confusion for readers, we try not to have similar-sounding names in the same book (example; Mary, Myrna, and Myra). I do this by keeping a book on my desk with 200,000 baby names. I know other authors who use telephone books.
Do you prefer the love at first sight approach or a steady growth throughout?
Seriously, it depends on the plot. Some romances are one, some are the other, and some are the dislike-at-first site variety.
What is your reaction to people who say one of the following…”Oh you write romance, I thought you were a real writer”, “Romance isn’t a real writing career” or the ever popular “Oh, one of those books”.
I smile and say, “Tell that to Nicholas Sparks or Danielle Steele.”
Where can readers find you ?
And for the silly side –
What is your favorite type of chocolate?
Don’t shoot me, but I’m not much of a fan of chocolate. If I do eat it, I eat chocolate covered caramels.
Ranger or Morelli
Wow, that is one tough question. Ranger has that dark and dangerous appeal, but Morelli would bring me Tastykakes. Since I’m something of a cop-groupie, I’m actually rooting for Morelli. Besides, he has his own bad boy side from back in his high school days.