Please join me in welcoming today’s guest author Cynthia Owens. I’ve kicked things off by asking Cynthia a battery of questions but I’m sure I missed a few things that inquiring minds will want to know about. Please do your part to make Cynthia feel welcome. Ask her a question or leave her a comment in the comments section following this post. Cynthia will be awarding a sterling silver Claddagh pendant (US/Canada only) to a randomly drawn commenter during the tour, and a second randomly drawn winner will receive winner’s choice of an autographed copy of either Cynthia’s first or second book.
Q: Please tell us a bit about yourself – when did you first know you wanted to write – what was your journey to publication like – do you have a spouse or significant other – kids? Pets? Where in the world do you live? Where did you grow up? What real life events and experiences fuel your writing?
I’ve always wanted to write, from the day I discovered the magic of stringing a few words together into (hopefully coherent) sentences that would entertain people and make them see the world I created.
I wrote stories from the time I was a child. I was shy and solitary, and the characters I created became my “imaginary friends.” Several years ago, while attending a Romance Writers of America conference, I came up with an idea for a tiny, wind-swept Irish village. I couldn’t wait to get home and begin serious creation of that village, which eventually became Ballycashel, the setting for my first novel, In Sunshine or in Shadow.
I live in the same small town I grew up in, just north of Montreal and about an hour away from “ski country” – the famous Laurentian Mountains of Quebec. I’ve been married for almost 23 years and have two teen-aged children and one African pygmy hedgehog named Hagrid, who was my daughter’s 16th birthday present this past summer.
Q: To tell or not to tell – do you tell people what you write? Do your close friends and family members read your books? What have some of their reactions been?
Of course! When people ask me what I write, I tell them I write historical romance novels. I’m proud of that. I’m proud of the fact that I research my books, not only the historical details, but also the setting, the language and vernacular, and the people. A (male) friend of mine likes to tease me about “smut,” but on the whole, most of the reaction has been positive. In fact, I’ve had more compliments about my storylines and characters than I have on my love scenes. One of the best remarks I’ve received was from an Irish friend who said Siobhán Desmond, heroine of In Sunshine or in Shadow, sounded “just like a wee Irish girl.” Needless to say, I was beaming after I heard that!
Q: What really makes you tick as a writer? What drives you? What inspires you?
I think what drives me as a writer is an absolute need to tell stories. Not just “I’d like to tell a story,” but “I need to tell this story.” When I come up with the idea for a story, it’s almost a physical thing, an almost unbearable excitement knowing there’s a new story to be told, a new set of characters to meet (or revisiting beloved familiar ones), a new batch of research to delve into.
Ireland inspires me! I’ve been in love with Ireland and everything Irish for as long as I can remember. I love her history, her music, her myths and legends, even the mist that hangs over the land like a warm, comforting blanket. Her people inspire me too. The Irish author Edna O’Brien said this about the Irish, and I think it personifies them: “When anyone asks me about the Irish character, I say look at the trees. Maimed, stark and misshapen, but ferociously tenacious.”
Q: Please tell us a bit about Playing For Keeps.
Playing For Keeps is the third book in the Claddagh Series, historical romances set in Ireland and beyond. My Irish heroine, Katie O’Brien, has returned to the genteel world that spawned her late mother. She’s looking forward to getting reacquainted with her aunt, uncle and cousins, but the reunion most definitely does not go smoothly. There are buried secrets and old rivalries awaiting her in Baltimore, and Katie finds herself longing for the loving family and friends she left behind in Ireland.
Until she meets Lucas Howard. Lucas is an actor with the Shannon Troupe, a handsome, golden-haired man with wit and charm – and a passion for Katie. But is their love just a brief interlude, or are Lucas and Katie Playing For Keeps?
Q: Please tell us a bit about the idea behind Playing For Keeps. What inspired the story? What part of the story did you get first? How did it build on itself till you had the complete story? What was it about this story versus other ideas that compelled you to write it?
Playing For Keeps was born from a throwaway remark made by Rory O’Brien (Katie’s father) in In Sunshine or in Shadow, when Katie was ten years old. When I wrote In Sunshine or in Shadow, I wrote it as a stand-alone story. I never planned to write a sequel to it, let alone two or more. But something happened while I was writing that first book. I like to think of it as a sort of magic. The people of Ballycashel, my fictitious village on the Galway coast, became very dear to me. They were flesh and blood, not figments of my imagination, and I grew to love each and every one of them.
And they demanded that I tell their story.
Katie O’Brien, the heroine of Playing For Keeps, was the first to demand a story of her own. A lonely little girl in In Sunshine or in Shadow, she was unsure of her father’s love for her until one day, they went for a ride and found themselves at the edge of Ballycashel land, where lush green grass gave way to cold, damp, pitiless bog.
It was there that Rory told Katie the story of his past. It was there that he confessed his deep love for his daughter. It was there that he told Katie that he planned to marry Siobhán Desmond, then Katie’s governess and friend.
And it was there that Katie demanded her own story.
Katie held out her hand, then hesitated. “Papa?”
“Yes, my love?”
“Does this mean I can stay here?”
He paused, frowning. “Stay here? You said you thought the cottage was haunted. Why would you want to stay here?”
She shook her head vigorously, her eyes downcast. “Not here at the cottage. I mean at Ballycashel.”
Stay in Ballycashel? Where else would she be staying?
“Kathryn?” He hooked a finger under her chin, forcing her to look up at him. “Of course you’ll be staying here. We’ll be living at Ballycashel with Ashleen and her mother.” A thought struck him. “Are you saying you want to go back to Baltimore?”
“No! Oh, no, Papa, I love Ireland. I was meant to come here. It’s so beautiful, being close to the sea, and the people are so happy and friendly. I love listening to Paddy Devlin play his tin whistle, and Liam Brady’s fiddling is magical.”
Kathryn’s lower lip trembled, sending fissures through Rory’s heart. A terrible suspicion entered his mind. He gazed soberly into her eyes. “Kathryn? Where do you think you’d be staying?”
“Then you won’t send me away?”
He shook his head firmly. “No, Kathryn, I won’t send you away. Although one day, if you want to go, I’ll send you back to Baltimore. But only for a visit. You still have cousins there, you know.”
I’ll send you back to Baltimore for a visit. As soon as I wrote that line, I knew Katie had to have her own story one day. And I knew it had to be set in Baltimore.
Q: Which comes first for you? Characters? Plot? Setting? Conflict?
A little bit of everything, depending on the story! With In Sunshine or in Shadow, I knew I wanted to set a book in Ireland, but had to decide exactly where in Ireland it would be. I’ve always loved the sea, so I chose Galway, in the sea-swept west of Ireland. Then I had to come up with the characters: Siobhán Desmond, a survivor of the Great Hunger, and Rory O’Brien, an exile from America who returns to the village of his birth. The secondary characters came next, then the plot and the conflict. With Coming Home, book two of the series, and Playing For Keeps I already had most of the characters, but I had to build them up. I really had fun with that! Most of my stories are character-driven, probably because I enjoy creating the characters so much!
Q: Was there one particular scene that was your favorite in Playing For Keeps? Please tell us about that scene. What happens in the scene? Why is it an important scene in the book?
There are several favorite scenes in Playing For Keeps, but I think my absolute favorite is the scene in which Lucas tries to convince Katie to go to Ireland with him. In this scene, he’s being both incredibly selfish and incredibly tender. He knows how much Katie misses Ireland, but his reasons for going are also self-serving, as leaving Philadelphia offers him an escape from the situation there (I really don’t want to give anything away here). It was a tender scene, and it brought out so many emotions in the characters. It also gave me a chance to reveal a bit more of Katie’s Irish roots, which was very enjoyable for me!
Q: What are your boundaries as an author? Are there certain things you won’t write about? Are there certain situations that you will never put your characters in? Are there certain sexual practices that your characters will never indulge in? Why have you adopted these particular boundaries?
I don’t like to think of writing in terms of boundaries. I like to keep an open mind about what I write. My stories tend to stay on the sensual side, rather than containing explicit sexual scenes. I’m not sure if this was a conscious choice or not, maybe I’m just old-fashioned. I stay with the heat level I’m comfortable with.
Q: Are there any subgenres you absolutely cannot envision writing? Why?
Probably science fiction. I am not a scientific person, and I really don’t think I could write a good science fiction story.
Q: Please tell us about the characters in Playing For Keeps. What strengths do the characters have? What weaknesses?
Katie O’Brien’s greatest strength is her capacity to love. She’s had so much love in her own life that she wants to share that love with everyone she cares about, be it her cousin Lissa, her hero, Lucas, or even Lucas’s father, Marcus. But her weakness is her desperate need to fit in with her American family, which causes her to subvert her own nature in an attempt to fit into the mold in which they’ve cast her.
Lucas’s strength is his ability to adapt to almost any circumstance, which is what makes him a good actor. His weakness is his refusal to face his past. Feeling responsible for a family tragedy, he ran away ten years ago, and when he’s faced with the ultimate sacrifice, he’s tempted to run again.
Q: Most writers know a lot of things about their characters that never make it into the book. What can you tell us about your characters that didn’t make it into the book?
Lucas has a major weakness for roast beef, mashed potatoes, gravy, and chocolate cake. His mother loved to cook, and he has deep-rooted memories of Sunday dinners with the family.
Katie has a mole on her right shoulder blade. Her favorite color is green, because it reminds her of the fields of Ireland. Her favorite food is Colcannon, a dish of potatoes and wild scallions her step-mother cooks. She had an isolated childhood until she moved from America to Ireland with her father.
Q: What internal conflicts or character weaknesses did your characters have to overcome in order to reach their happily ever after ending?
Lucas had to come to terms not just with his brother’s death, and his feelings of responsibility for it, but with the fact that he ran away from his family, rather than staying and facing it. He stayed away for ten years without even considering how his family might have suffered for his absence. Katie has to deal with her feelings of inadequacy in the face of her upper-class family. She wants to belong with her mother’s people, and she must struggle to be herself in the face of disapproval from her aunt and her cousin, Felicity.
Q: What do you envy about the characters in your book(s)?
Since my books are historical romances, I guess I envy the fact that they experience things of the past that I never could. The romance of going to the theatre in marvellous gowns, with glowing gaslight and elegant carriages. A world that’s all but vanished today.
Q: Angst or humor? Which is your favorite in the books you write? The books you read?
Always angst! I can’t resist a tortured hero, whether it’s my own heroes or those I read about. I like dark, brooding heroes, and I love the way a heroine can draw out the good in them and heal their wounded spirits. All of my heroes are spiritually damaged, and it’s up to my heroines to heal them and make them whole again.
Q: Please describe your book in five words that are not in your blurb.
Passionate, touching, romantic, sequel, Ireland.
Q: What aspect of writing do you find the most difficult?
Probably editing. It’s so hard to delete scenes – or snippets of scenes – that I’ve agonized over!
Q: What kind of writing do you find the most fun?
I love the first flush of excitement that comes with beginning a new story. There’s a feeling very much like falling in love for the first time. The excitement, the discovery, the absolute magic that only comes with first love. It’s free writing, not worrying about getting it just right (you can always go back and edit after the first draft).
Q: What do you know now after writing and publishing a book that you wish you’d known at the outset?
The importance of promotion. Yes, your publishers will do everything they can to “get the word out,” but it’s up to the author to do her own publicity. Whether it’s social media, contests, or word-of-mouth, there’s nothing like personal publicity to help sell your book.
Q: What advice, resources, or useful information can you offer aspiring authors who might be reading this interview?
Read extensively, not just in the genre you aspire to write in, but in other genres as well. Write – every day. Practice sentence structure, dialogue, POV, and especially grammar. Few things can turn an editor from a manuscript than poor grammar. And if you want to write romance, join the Romance Writers of America, and one of their local or special interest chapters.
Q: Which drives your novels more – the plot or the characters?
For me, it’s all about the characters. I love everything about a story – the plot, the setting, the history – but it’s the characters that drive the story. I do extensive background research about my characters before I begin writing. I describe them, interview them, write short sketches about incidents from their past, and in doing so, I often find they begin to tell me their story.
Q: What are your favorite television shows and do any of them impact what you write?
I don’t watch a lot of television. Criminal Minds, Revenge, and Smash are pretty much the extent of my regular viewing, and I suppose I sometimes take a little of the psychology away with me. I’m a fan of Antiques Roadshow as well. I love to hear the history behind a featured piece.
Q: How far is too far in erotic romance? What are your limits for your books? Do you like to color inside the lines or push the boundaries when it comes to the love scenes in your books?
Oh, I’m an “inside the lines” writer, to be sure! My stories tend to stay on the sensual side, with lots of tenderness and emotion rather than explicit description.
Q: What makes the hero of Playing For Keeps the ideal hero?
His deep love for and loyalty to his friends and family. Even as he struggles against that love and loyalty, he can’t deny it.
Q: What has been the hardest scene you’ve ever written and why?
Probably the scene in In Sunshine or in Shadow, when Rory O’Brien returns to the cottage on the bog where he spent his first ten years of his life. It’s a flashback scene, and the memories it evokes of the abuse he suffered at his father’s hands still brings tears to my eyes.
Q: Authors have to develop thick skins to deal with reviews. Most books receive some mixture of good reviews and bad ones, simply because tastes are different and people like and dislike different things. Please tell us about one of your most memorable reviews and how it impacted your writing.
One reviewer referred to Ballycshel, my fictitious Irish village in In Sunshine or in Shadow, as a character in itself. I loved that I was able to create such a vivid setting! To this day, I try to make my settings as believable as possible.
Please Answer These Questions As A Reader:
As a reader I am always curious about the reading habits of the authors I enjoy, so I have a few
questions about your reading habits.
Q: As an author, where do you learn about books you might want to read? Do you research the books in depth before you buy them, read an excerpt or do you buy without a great deal of research?
All of the above! I have some favorite authors, and I’m always waiting for their next book. I love to discover the “story behind the story,” so yes, I do research possible reads, and read excerpts when provided. But I’m just as likely to buy a book I find when browsing the bookstores (on-site or on-line). I’ve discovered many a new author this way.
Q: When you are learning about a book what five words are most likely to get you to buy the book?
Historical, sensual, adventure, Ireland, passion.
Q: When you are learning about a book what five words will make you decide against the book?
I don’t think there are any words that are a “turn-off.” I’m pretty much open to reading anything if it looks interesting.
Q: What can you tell us about your book that isn’t in the blurb?
It’s a story about healing, family and friendship, about respecting your past and embracing the future.
Q: As a reader are you finding the advent of self-publishing to be a positive or a negative within the industry? Are you finding more good books or are you having to search harder for good books? Please explain your answer.
Self-publishing has allowed many new authors to have their work read without having to go through the traditional step of submitting to a publisher or an agent. Is this a good thing? Maybe. It depends on how skilled the writers/editors/researchers are. I’ve read some wonderful books that were self-published, and I’ve read some that were really BAD. One story that stands out in my mind was written at about the sixth-grade level, with “he said” and “she said” after every bit of dialogue. That I could have forgiven, but the fact that the research was totally wrong (names, dates, etc.) was a complete turn-off.
Q: Has the way that you shop for books changed since the rise in the popularity of ebooks? Has how you shop for books been influenced by the rise in self-publishing?
I don’t think my shopping habits have changed at all. I love to browse through books, any books, and I still do. It doesn’t matter who the publisher is – I just look for a good story with interesting characters.
Q: What are your favorite sub-genres to read? To write?
I read mostly romance fiction, but I enjoy a good mystery or adventure novel. To date, I’ve only written in the genre of historical romance. I love writing in this genre, and I don’t see myself switching any time soon.
Q: What are your least favorite sub-genres to read? To write?
Science fiction and spy novels. For some reason, I just can’t get into those genres.
Blurb For Playing for Keeps
by Cynthia Owens
Never as dutiful as his older brother, Lucas Davenport was a thinker, a dreamer of dreams. When tragedy overtook his family, he fled to the bright lights of the stage. Can he make the Shannon Theatre Troupe a success – or is he doomed to once again be “the other son?”
She sought the past she barely remembered.
Mary Kathryn O’Brien returns to the genteel world her mother left behind – but can Irish Katie ever truly hope to belong? Or will old wounds and new rivalries destroy the threads of family forever?
Lucas and Katie must battle prejudice and buried secrets before they can learn to trust each other. Is their love just a brief intermission, or are they Playing For Keeps?
An Excerpt From Playing For Keeps:
Luke stared in silent horror as glowing red flames devoured the warehouse.
What have you done this time?
The words resounded through Luke’s brain, condemning and inevitable, in his father’s disapproving tones.
What had he done? He’d secured the warehouses. He had, he was sure of it. He’d made certain all the forges were out.
Hadn’t he? Or had his head been too full of the play he’d been studying in secret, the characters he was determined to flesh out, the pages he’d obsessively filled with his own dreams and interpretations?
Clanging bells and pounding hooves hammered in his ears.
Thank you, God.
But as quickly as relief flared, terror chased close on its heels.
Dear God, was anyone still inside? Tobias, his father’s most trusted clerk—surely he’d left long ago. And the two young men Matt hired last month—hadn’t they spoken of going to The Dancing Horse to spend their first pay packets?
He struggled for breath, the acrid smell of burning wood and molten steel tearing at his throat.
Bleak realization swept through him. It was his fault. It had to be. But it was an accident…
Matthew. Matt would take care of everything. Matt always cleaned up his little brother’s messes, covered up Luke’s many shortcomings.
“Mr. Lucas? Mr. Lucas!”
Dazed, Luke stared in disbelief at the normally impeccable clerk. Tobias had lost his coat, his once pristine white linen shirt was torn and covered with soot. Luke’s gut clenched as he took in the other man’s wild hair, the bloody gash slashed cruelly across one cheek.
Luke grabbed Tobias’s arm, his head thudding, his fingers gripping convulsively. Fear struck ice cold in his heart. His entire body shaking, he ran his dry tongue over his ash-covered lips.
“Tobias, where’s Matt?”
The clerk gazed at Luke, pity darkening his eyes. Tears trailed slowly down his soot-blackened face.
“Mr. Matthew’s dead, sir.”
About Cynthia Owens
I believe I was destined to be interested in history. One of my distant ancestors, Thomas Aubert, reportedly sailed up the St. Lawrence River to discover Canada some 26 years before Jacques Cartier’s 1534 voyage. Another relative was a 17thCentury “King’s Girl,” one of a group of young unmarried girls sent to New France (now the province of Quebec) as brides for the habitants (settlers) there.
My passion for reading made me long to write books like the ones I enjoyed, and I tried penning sequels to my favorite Nancy Drew mysteries. Later, fancying myself a female version of Andrew Lloyd Weber, I drafted a musical set in Paris during WWII.
A former journalist and lifelong Celtophile, I enjoyed a previous career as a reporter/editor for a small chain of community newspapers before returning to my first love, romantic fiction. My stories usually include an Irish setting, hero or heroine, and sometimes all three. My novels, In Sunshine or in Shadow and Coming Home, set in post-Famine Ireland, are available from Highland Press. Playing For Keeps, the third book in the Claddagh series, will also be published by Highland Press.
I am a member of the Romance Writers of America, Hearts Through History Romance Writers, and Celtic Hearts Romance Writers. A lifelong resident of Montreal, Canada, I still live there with my own Celtic hero and our two school-aged children.
The Claddagh Series: http://thecladdaghseries.com/
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