I’m so excited to host Debi Matlack, animal lover, self-proclaimed pen whore (visit her Facebook page for an explanation!) and author of Old Dogs. While her debut is character-driven and centers on a love story, Old Dogs is not what Debi describes as a “regular romance,” and that’s part of the reason why she chose to publish independently through Amazon. If you’ve ever thought about self-publishing, read Debi’s candid description of her experience.
How long have you wanted to be a romance writer? When did you decide to write a book?
I’ve always loved reading and writing. My first original work was an illustrated book, made for an assignment in first grade. The hero of the story was a worm. Romance was never my first choice as a genre to write in. My reading preferences growing up started out with science fiction and moved on to fantasy, but the books I really enjoyed were always very character-driven. I enjoyed watching these people grow and evolve through the trials foisted upon them, like poor Frodo trying to get rid of that ring.
What inspired you to write this story?
In my epic fantasy novel that will never see the light of day, my main character’s love interest resembled Clive Owen in my mind. He’s a particular celebrity crush of mine. I decided to use him as a model for a contemporary story, just to see if I could write something that didn’t have people using magic and swords. As it turns out, Valerie, the female lead in Old Dogs, had a lot to say. The story became about more about her and her journey.
Describe your process for writing this particular book.
All of my writing is pure seat-of-the-pants. Like my friend and writing buddy, Juli Page Morgan, I write in scenes. A situation or a phrase may catch my attention and that evolves into a scene or story idea. Even a picture will evoke a spurt of my imagination running around, scissors in hand, while I try to keep up. Sometimes, my characters just let me know what’s going on. The very first scene I wrote for Old Dogs was them meeting, but it ended up somewhere around page 25!
[Read an interview with Juli Page Morgan: https://romancedebuts.wordpress.com/2015/10/05/juli-page-morgan-writes-romances-that-rock/%5D
Was this the first book you had written?
Old Dogs is the first book I completed. As I mentioned before, I started out writing a huge fantasy novel. I still pick it up from time to time–the characters are old friends–but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to gather up all the threads of story and make it into a solid book. Old Dogs was more of an experiment than anything.
Did you work on simultaneous projects?
Oh boy, is that ever a loaded question! I have at least three books in the works, one of which is the sequel to Old Dogs, another a contemporary paranormal story which has already expressed its desire to be more than one book, and another, possible stand-alone story. That’s not even mentioning the several ideas that I’ve written five, ten, fifteen pages on, or the files that have just a few lines containing the kernel of an idea, based on something I dreamed, some flight of fancy inspired by a movie or television show I’ve seen, a piece of music, it never ends!
What was the rest of your life like while writing the book?
I was working full time as a veterinary assistant while I wrote Old Dogs. When I worked for a university, I would take my lunch breaks in the library or a quiet office, where I could use a computer to write. Doing NaNoWriMo a couple of years helped me enforce that daily writing discipline, but sadly, that has gone by the wayside. My husband and I are now living with my parents for our mutual benefit, and getting the time to write without distractions has proven to be a challenge. I’ve committed to NaNoWriMo again this year and I have a little office out back that I plan to hibernate in soon to get the words flowing again.
Were you involved in a writer’s group?
I’ve taken several upper level university creative writing classes, two of which were with Jill Ciment, a wonderful author and teacher. She taught me a lot about the process of writing. But my best support has come from Juli Page Morgan and S. A. Hussey. We ‘met’ in a writing forum and split off to make our own.
Who gave you feedback as you worked through writing the book?
Juli and Steph have helped me the most. These ladies have given me wonderful advice, caught my typos, been my cheerleaders and offered a sympathetic ear when I needed one. Even though I’ve never met them face to face, I consider them very close friends.
Did you have a market in mind when you started writing the book?
Not really. Old Dogs is not what I feel is a regular romance. Really, it’s just a story about people, what they go through daily, how they find each other, what they have to do to make their relationships work. While I do love a happy ending, it doesn’t always work out that way, and a little angst makes for some great story-building.
How many submissions did you send out?
Over the course of a year I probably made dozens of inquiries to literary agents. The vast majority replied with a polite but generic this-isn’t-something-we’re-looking-for-at-this-time. After that, I got impatient and decided “F^@# you, Jobu, I do it myself.” *gratuitous movie (Major League) quote*
What made you decide to publish independently?
I had sent inquiries out to agents, all of whom politely rejected my story. I doggedly continued my search for an agent. I finally got a request for my entire manuscript. Let me tell you, I was excited! I thought that I finally would be on my way to getting my book published. The agent got back with me and told me that they all liked my book, but it didn’t fit their company’s formula for a romance novel. According to them, the lead characters needed to meet much sooner in the story, the point of view should be fifty-fifty between the two of them. For them to publish my book, I needed to do a MAJOR rewrite. I politely declined and decided to self-publish.
What was the biggest challenge of publishing independently?
For me, it’s marketing. I’m not a particularly forward person and I don’t like jumping up and down, yelling ‘Look at me!’ But, if I expect anyone to ever hear of me and my books, I’m going to have to get over that and make some serious effort. Maybe a sandwich board alongside the road.
What advice would you give aspiring writers?
The same thing I have to tell myself every day: That thing won’t write itself. Sit down, grab some coffee/tea/name your poison and just write something. Anything. If it’s crap, at least you’ve written something. Making a story out of the stuff that falls out of your brain is what editing and revisions are for.
After a bitter divorce from her snobby, unfaithful husband leaves her with the dog and only enough possessions to fit in her Chevy Vega, Valerie Roark retreats to the dark water and pine woods of her Central Florida childhood. In spite of her overprotective and loving family’s well-meaning efforts to draw her out, Valerie only wants to hide away and lick her wounds in private. She’s discovered a benefit to living a hermit’s life: no one can stomp on your heart.
She didn’t expect to become friends with her new next door neighbor. Daniel Hollingsworth is kind, handsome and British, the very combination she is most attracted to. But Daniel is nursing his own wounds–the death of his wife–and plans to move back to England soon. Neither is looking for a relationship, but when a surprise from Valerie’s past plays a visit, both realize that a good friend is what they really need, and friendship can transform into something more…
Debi Matlack is that rarest of creatures, a native-born Floridian. She still lives there with her husband, another Native Floridian, and four cats. She hopes that someday her writing might prove popular enough to support her in the manner to which she would like to become accustomed, probably becoming a crazy cat lady, but a well-financed one.