Welcome to The Cover Contessa's stop on the Siren's Song blog tour!
Jule Welsh can sing. She enthralls people with her bel canto voice. But it takes more than practice to reach her level of exquisite song; it takes siren's blood running through her veins. Jule is starting her senior year at Cougar Creek High when her relatively normal world begins to resemble a roller coaster flying through a carnival scare house. Her mother is diagnosed as insane and committed, a psycho-stalker is snapping pictures of her to put into his homemade Jule-shrine, her voice is suddenly putting people into comatose trances, oh and the gorgeous new guy in town, Luke Whitmore, is interested in her . . . but also wants to kill her.
Today we welcome author Heather McCollum to the blog for an interview!
So great to have you back again, Heather. Take it away!
Thanks so much for having me here today in honor of my first Young Adult paranormal romance, Siren’s Song! I’m ready and excited to answer your questions, so fire away.
Did you always know you wanted to be a writer or did you want to be something else?
I suppose, as with most writers, I’ve been putting pen to paper since I was a little kid. However, by the time I was in high school, I’d decided that I didn’t want people telling me how to write (LOL!), that criticism would take the fun out of it.
So I decided to major in Biology in college, much to the dismay of my English teachers. After earning a BA in Biology, I was accepted into graduate school, working toward a PhD in Cellular Immunology. After a year and a half working in a lab while attending classes, I decided that I didn’t want to work with petri dishes and melanoma cells. I went to work at a pharmaceutical development company.
But most nights when I came home and on the weekends, I’d write. And somewhere along the way I realized that criticism wouldn’t crush me. At last I became brave enough to be a writer.
How long does it take you to write a book from start to finish?
My typical book length is 100K words so it takes me a little time to weave in all my sub plots. The fastest I’ve written a full-length book is four months, but six months is more typical. A 40K novella takes less time, maybe a month if I already know the characters.
How many books have you written so far? Do you have a favorite?
I have six full-length adult, historical paranormal romances out and two novellas. I have a seventh adult historical (in my Highland Hearts series) coming out at the end of the month. I’ve also just finished writing the sequel to Siren’s Song, which should release in January. So if I add all those up, along with Siren’s Song, I’ve written ten books so far (not to mention being part of a non-fiction book on writing).
My favorite book is always the one I’m writing : ) They all have a special place in my heart. That’s like asking me to choose a favorite kid out of my three. Just can’t do it.
How are you able to balance other aspects of your life with your writing?
Balance – now that’s a struggle! And even though I actually give work-life balance workshops, I struggle to plan out my days carefully in an attempt to stay in the middle of life’s teeter totter.
I have three kids in three different schools (high school, middle, and elementary), so I spend a lot of my time running them to sports practices, meet-ups with friends, and school functions. I’m also an ovarian cancer survivor so I spend time educating women on the symptoms. I live by my calendar and try to find time between all my obligations to exercise too. Whew – yes, a struggle. More like a war!
What was the hardest thing about writing a book?
Finding uninterrupted time to write. Breathing life into fictional characters takes a lot of mental energy. And mental energy is non-existent when one is frazzled. Thank goodness for school days when the house is quiet and my frazzled level lowers. Only then does my muse come out to play : )
Where do you write?
Just about anywhere I can find some peace. I do have a lovely little writing desk, which I’ve named Eleri. I can see my tulips coming up outside the window in front of me. I just bought a second-hand tiffany style lamp to set on Eleri, making her even lovelier. I named the lamp Jule after the heroine in Siren’s Song. Now if I start talking out loud to myself, I just tell my family I’m talking to Eleri or Jule so they don’t think I’m crazy ; )
I also escape with my lap top onto the screened back porch if the weather is nice. I can listen to the wind and birds out there. During my lengthy health issues, my back porch was my sanctuary, and it still is today.
Have you gotten feedback from family about your book(s)? What do they think?
They are fabulous and very proud of my writing. My mom talks me up to her bible study groups. And even though my adult books usually have large, naked, male chests on them, her friends buy them.
My husband carries my bookmarks around with him and hands them out. He’s wonderful about that since I never seem to have a bookmark on me. In fact I usually have a tissue sticking out of the book I’m reading. Geesh – you’d think that when you order 2000 bookmarks, you’d actually have one to use! When I do book signing for my Scottish books, he comes in his kilt. He’s my Highland hero!
What kinds of things do you like to do outside of writing?
I’m an ovarian cancer survivor. I was diagnosed in 2011, underwent major surgery, fought my way through fifteen months of hellish chemo, and worked hard for six more months to recover the ability to walk. I was stage II (having found it early due to a completely unrelated accident), so I was given a 70% chance of living 5 years. If I had been stage III, I’d have only been given a 20% chance. So early detection is hugely important. Unfortunately the symptoms are very quiet.
My husband and I started the SHOUT Against the Whisper campaign to educate women on the whispered symptoms of this sneaky, vicious disease that strikes 1 in 72 women. We hand out symptom cards to thousands of women each year and I speak to women’s groups about it.
The main symptoms of ovarian cancer include:
Eating less & feeling fuller
Urinary tract issues
Other symptoms may include: fatigue, constipation, indigestion, back pain, pain during intercourse and menstrual issues. If you experience one or more of these symptoms every day for three weeks or more, please see your GYN.
I am now thankfully in remission and hope to stay that way forever. The youngest survivor I’ve met was sixteen when she was diagnosed, so this is a disease that can strike any woman. Please listen to your body.
What kinds of advice would you give to someone who wants to start writing?
1. Keep writing. Don’t give up if it feeds your soul.
2. Listen to critiques, sometimes the reviewer is spot on. I came in third place in a big contest. The final judge was an editor and told me I’d written the ending wrong based on my heroine’s motivation. At first I was upset, but then I realized she was right. I rewrote the ending and sold that book.
3. Try different processes for producing pages until you find what works for you. I collage, listen to a soundtrack, walk my dog and diagram out the plots on a huge white board. Some people use index cards or computer programs to keep track of their scenes.
4. Use positive affirmations to convince yourself that you will sell. Once you are certain, it’s just a matter of when. “I am a successful, published author.” That was one of my favorites. I used to say it to myself in the mirror every day.
What elements do you think make a great story line?
Conflict – an amazing story requires huge conflict. This is the mountain that might be too big to get over, but somehow the characters manage to do it. The stronger the conflict, the more intense the story becomes. In Siren’s Song the conflict could very easily kill the main characters. Can’t get much stronger than that.
Fully authentic and interesting characters – if the plot is fantastic but the characters are flat, no one will care about the story. It’s like watching a thrilling movie with bad actors. No matter how great the script is, if the characters can’t convince the audience that they are real, with true emotions and actions, then the whole story fails.
Paradox- definition: something absurd or contradictory: a statement, proposition, or situation that seems to be absurd or contradictory, but in fact is or may be true. I love using paradox at the crux of my themes. Examples include: to keep something you must set it free, one must give away everything to be rich, and one can become strongest in spirit when they are weakest in body. The paradox in Siren’s Song: the more Luke loves Jule, the more he wants to kill her.
Do you have any go to people when writing a book that help you with your story lines as well as editing, beta reading and such?
My 15yo daughter is my beta reader for my YA books. She reads YA fiction constantly so she has a very good feel for the genre. She’s also a blatant teen with all the slang, alternative rock band names, and fashion advice I could possibly need. She’s a live teen reference book texting on her phone in the next room. She also helps me with social media (she’s an expert) and brainstorms with me about future projects. I think one day we might collaborate.
Thank you so much for having me here today! For more information about me, my books, and/or ovarian cancer, please check out my web site at www.HeatherMcCollum.com. I can also be found here:
Siren’s Song book trailer on YouTube: Siren's Song Book Trailer