My guest for this first instalment of the Under the Covers interview series is New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Mandy M. Roth. With a catalogue of over 100 novels and sales of well over a million ebooks, Mandy is one of the top-selling authors in the wildly popular genre of Paranormal Romance.
DC: Mandy, thanks so much for letting me interview you for Under the Covers. What first got you interested in writing Paranormal Romance?
MMR: I’d been working in marketing for a long time and was heading up a marketing department. Someone mentioned to me that my youngest son wasn’t speaking—and he was pushing four at the time. I’d been so busy working that I hadn’t noticed. Needless to say, I put in my notice that day and within two weeks I was home with the boys, and—long story short—I started running the house similar to the marketing department.
I’m very efficient, and my older son suggested strongly that I get a hobby. I took up reading and really fell in love with Paranormal Romance (though, at the time I wasn’t aware it was called that). Thirteen years ago the bookstores didn’t stock much in the way of it, and within two weeks I was through all they offered. The writing bug struck and I foolishly thought, it can’t be that hard to write a book. Seriously, looking back, and knowing the industry now, as I do, it’s so embarrassing to admit it out loud.
Within eight weeks I had a full novel. I let a friend read it and she said, “If you don’t send it off, I will”. I utilized my skills in marketing to research to see who would accept an unagented, multigenre Romance submission. I sent it to five and four said, yes. It was in readers’ hands within six months of that. I thought that was how it was done. Yes, I really was that naïve.
DC: Wow. Now, when you say it was multigenre, was it multigenre beyond Paranormal Romance?
MMR: Yes. Actually, in addition to being Paranormal Romance, there were a lot of other subgenres that I didn’t even realize were subgenres at the time. I was still surprised the publisher wanted to list my book under the umbrella of Romance at all. Back then I thought of Romance as only one thing—I hate to use the term, bodice-ripper—but that was what went through my mind because I really wasn’t educated about Romance (and am happy to report I am now). When I look back now I’m so embarrassed for myself. I decided that I was going to learn more around the Romance genre and its subgenres and I was going to learn to market a book. After learning more about Romance I realized that was where my book belonged and I’m proud to say I write it!
DC: You’re incredibly prolific. You have over a hundred titles out in ebook, print, or both; I do know that you sometimes start work as early as two in the morning, and you seem to regularly produce upwards of six or seven titles a year. On top of that you have a family, and you’re very active on social media. How do you do it?
MMR: I still run everything like I ran a marketing department. I’m very efficient. I used to have a whistle—I kid you not—and I felt like I needed a referee’s shirt at home with the boys. I’m very big on schedules.
DC: Do you write them down?
MMR: I do. I have a very strict schedule and the boys, as they’ve aged, have adjusted to it, so…it’s worked out well. They know, when mom’s working don’t bother her unless it’s really important, like the house is on fire or something. But they always know too that they can knock on the door if they have a question, or need to get something off their chest. And I’ll stop what I’m doing and they can talk with me.
DC: How many hours a day do you spend actually at your desk or station writing?
MMR: I would say a minimum of six hours of writing a day. There have been times, especially as I’m on a really hard deadline right now, that it’s more like fourteen to sixteen.
DC: What suffers? What do you wish you had more time for?
MMR: You know…my health actually is what suffers. You just sit so much in this job that it’s really not good. So I set a reminder on my phone every forty-five minutes to stand up and to go around the house. That’s when I’ll throw a load of laundry in, and I’ll take the dogs out for a quick walk around the block or something. It’s always my health, I always treat myself last.
DC: I know you’re also a painter and illustrator and that you produce artwork for book covers. Do you also do any non-commissioned work, fine art rather than commercial, just for your own pleasure?
MMR: You know, I don’t anymore. I did many moons ago. Then I got into the industry and began working first in art marketing and my whole focus became doing other people’s creatives for them and constantly figuring out what would make their product thrive, what would make their business work; and that was really the creative fix I needed and that worked for me. And then when I started writing, that filled that void for me. And I still do all my own marketing, I don’t outsource that at all.
DC: Do you do all your own book covers?
MMR: Not anymore. There was a point where I was doing them all. I’ve done just under a thousand in the industry.
DC: Oh my gosh!
MMR: Yeah. (laughs) I don’t do them much anymore. I predominantly just write now, and I outsource probably seventy-five percent of my covers now.
DC: So what part do wine and chocolate play in your writing life?
MMR: (laughs) A very big part. Wine more so than anything else. Yeah, I’m a…I’m a big fan!
DC: A great writer I know once said he never trusts writers who don’t drink.
MMR: I would have to agree. (both laugh)
DC: So you’re surrounded by men in your life: you’ve got a husband and you have three boys aged between fifteen and twenty-one—that’s a lot of male energy around. What’s that like for you?
MMR: You know, I don’t even notice, I don’t recognize it, and this is going to sound so horrible but…I kind of rule the roost here. (laughs) I’m the nurser of the wounds, I’m the talker through whatever problem they’re having. But I’m also the disciplinarian—the one they do not want to want to have look at them and say, “I am extremely disappointed in what you just did”. Their dad they don’t worry about; me, they’re like, they don’t even know what’s going to happen there—she’s creative, this punishment could get real.
DC: So you’re a classic alpha.
MMR: You know, I’d hate to say it out loud but I think so. I say to my husband, “Honey don’t you want to step up?” and he says, “No, everybody needs a minion: go ahead!”
DC: You write empowered, proactive, and strongly sexual female characters, in keeping with the more feminist tone of contemporary Romance. Your stories are rife with hot and well-written sex scenes and you don’t shy away from kink. You provide your readers with wonderful fantasy reading. What do you see as the difference in the way men and women relate to erotica?
MMR: I don’t necessarily know that there is a difference. When I first came into the industry and I was so naïve about everything, I really didn’t think there was a male readership out there for Romance, it just didn’t occur to me. And then when I began doing book signings and developing a larger fan base I realized there were men out there who valued it just as much, who got as much enjoyment out of it, if not more, in some areas. And you know, a lot of them weren’t shy about it, weren’t embarrassed about it, were fine coming to the event. And others, I’ve had others send women up to my table to have books signed. I say, “come up here, it’s not a big deal…own it.”
DC: Men need love too, then.
MMR: Well, I love military memoirs, it’s something that I love to read, and that always surprises authors when I show up—there’s not a lot of women in the line normally, and I say “Hey! I like this, too!”
DC: It seems to me that even in a happy, committed relationship, people do need a fantasy life, and that fantasies, including sexual fantasies, might play a role in our emotional health and in maintaining happy relationships. What are your feelings about that?
MMR: I personally agree with that. I can’t speak for everyone but…I’ve been with my husband now for twenty-three years and I enjoy reading and having an outlet for all that. We have a very good relationship and a very complete one, but I love getting to escape into a book, and I don’t have to make any apologies for that.
DC: Do you believe in the perfect partner, the Love that Was Meant To Be, the Mr. and Mrs. Right? Or is no relationship going to be perfect and provide both partners with everything?
MMR: I’m probably going to get into a lot of trouble for saying this, but I feel like every person needs to first and foremost love themselves and completely know who they are before they can have anyone else come in and compliment that. I think if you know yourself and you’re happy with yourself, then the people you surround yourself with will naturally work for you; they’ll naturally make you more and make you happier; and things will work easily and they won’t be a struggle…. That’s just my own philosophy, and I’m really big into cutting toxic people out of my life; if people aren’t fitting into that, they don’t have a place with me and I move forward.
DC: Okay, so your readers are not entirely, but probably overwhelmingly, women. If you could change one thing about Joe Average, about men in general, and give them your best advice about maintaining a happy relationship, what would it be?
MMR: Hmm. I would say, listen with both ears. Sometimes people listen but I don’t know that they hear. And I feel that if you just listen to your partner and you really are hearing what they’re saying, even if you don’t agree with what they’re saying…for me it’s always putting myself in their shoes for a moment to see how they’re seeing it. Because there are times, I will admit, when my husband should get a medal for being my husband, he really should! (laugh) I do have to sometimes stop and think, okay, well he processes things differently to the way I process them. So I do try to listen with both ears, and when I don’t, I try to recognize that I didn’t, and I sop. I wish people would try to do that, and I wish that—not even just men, but partners, period—I wish they would do more of it.
DC: They have to be given a safe place in which to do it, don’t they?
MMR: They really do. And I’ve always believed that you should really avoid the, “You, you, you,” in a discussion or heated moment, and instead go with, “This is how I’m feeling.” Because I think a lot of people can shut down and become distant and combative if they feel they’re being verbally put on the spot, so to speak.
DC: I know you like ’eighties music; what are your favourite bands and songs from the period?
MMR: Oh my gosh! I think the easier question would be what didn’t I like from the ’eighties!
DC: Pick three without thinking too much.
MMR: Ah…George Michael. Michael Jackson. And Depeche Mode. (laughs) Strange to go there, but…
DC: And one favourite song that you couldn’t live without?
MMR: Oh my goodness…wow. I would say, Careless Whisper. As silly as that sounds, whenever I’m having a writer’s block moment, I will put on Careless Whisper on loop, and I’m able to listen to it and sound it out and just write for hours on it. I don’t know what it is about that song, but I can just go.
DC: Do you always write to music?
MMR: I tried to give that up about two months ago and couldn’t figure out why my wordcount really dropped; then it hit me that maybe if I just turned back on the playlist…and then suddenly, I think it was fourteen thousand words in one day?
DC: Wow! That’s a good week’s output for most writers.
MMR Yeah, that’s how much my brain just gets in the zone. And I don’t even hear the music, it’s just there and I’m—I can just have one song playing all day and I don’t even notice it.
DC: Since you mentioned the term, have you ever suffered writer’s block, and how have you dealt with it?
MMR: I have, but I don’t know that that what everyone assumes is writer’s block is what I suffer. I have project block sometimes…the project I need to be working on, I can no longer see clearly in my head. And it doesn’t matter how long I’ve spent outlining and how many notes I’ve detailed, I can’t shut off and be in the moment and get my mind to see it like a movie or a TV episode and just write. But I’m able to then take the energy that’s there creatively and I’m able to then open other documents and other unrelated projects and I’m able to channel it there, and then quite often I’ll be able to come back to the original project and pick up.
DC: So following on from the ’eighties question, do you still own any leg warmers?
MMR: (laughs) I do!
DC (chuckling) I ask because you mention them on your Facebook page as something you wish would come back into fashion.
MMR: I have pink ones, I have rainbow ones, and I have cream-coloured ones… (both dissolve in laughter) I still have banana clips from the eighties and I’m not letting those go! I don’t wear them, but I’m holding onto them.
DC: I remember leg warmers. They looked great.
MMR: I love them, and I’m waiting for the comeback!
DC: Okay. So I know you like reading Military History—what’s the attraction for you?
MMR: I love to learn. I love talking to people about their past and their lives, and I love reading different points of view on history, different opinions…I think it’s so subjective that you should read as much you can on it.
DC: If you could have lunch with just one historical figure, who would it be?
MMR: Oh my goodness! (thinks) I don’t even know because there are so many. I have too many.
DC: Following on then from Military History, your own hugely successful PSI-Ops and Immortal Ops series are best categorized as…Paranormal Shifter Military Romance, I’d say. That’s quite an achievement to blend all those genres: what gave you the idea for these series?
MMR: Well, I have quite a few friends and a lot of them have served. And we’d sit and all be drinking wine together and talking, and they would tell me of their time serving and some of the things that would happen…and one thing led to another, and I said to my husband one day, “What would you think if I did a team of shifter males who were in the military and they were a paramilitary group, a black ops type thing?” And I said, “What if I took from history, from eugenics, which so many assume was just a Nazi thing, and let’s go with that? Because a lot of it started in America, it started here. And what if I play with it and build off it, that America was making super-soldiers behind the scenes, and then drew back and wanted to cut ties and stop everything when Nazi Germany rose and the backlash from that hit…but in reality they didn’t stop, and this is what would happen; and then what scientific advances would play into that?” And my husband just looked at me and said, “Your mind’s a scary place, honey! Have fun.” (laugh) He just nods and walks away. But he is really good and reminds me to say I love you in the Romance books…it’s so cute because he’s definitely the more romantic of the two of us.
DC: You have a number of ongoing series, and looking down the book list on your website I note that you have several titles marked as being in outline or editing phase. Do you work on multiple books or series at once?
MMR: I do; usually four to six, depending.
DC: And what’s your own personal favourite among your series and characters?
MMR: Ahh. You know…usually I dislike whichever one I’m working on. (laughs) Whichever one I’m working on, I think, this is just utter crap! This is so bad I can’t even—if I have one more minute with this, I…. And then I will step away from it and come back a couple of days later, and I’m thinking, oh! this is so great! I can’t wait to see how it ends! And then I’m, ohh…I have to think about that now.
DC: Do you find your characters live in the background, in your heart, and it’s as if you have this shadow army of people who live with you as your books build up?
MMR: No. I find when I step away from the computer I’m able to detach and leave them there. In strange times they will talk to me—they will wake me from my sleep and I’ll just have this urge to say, do you have first scene, or I’ll have this really funny idea for a dialogue. And I will have to run to my office to jot it down. Other times it happens when I’m walking the dogs, and I never have pen and paper with me then. And my dogs, they are ridiculous: if they see anything—a squirrel, a leaf, the wind—they pull…so being able to even take an audio recording on my phone is not a possibility, so I have to keep repeating it in my head on the way home. And I sometimes start to mumble it aloud, and people in the neighbourhood probably think I’m crazy!
DC: It’s the local crazy author lady!
MMR: Yeah, talking to herself with the dogs.
DC: Okay. So you’re really active on Facebook, where you often post several times a day. Besides being very funny, you’re extremely gracious and personable in your interactions with fans. Do you see a strong social media presence as vital for any author today?
MMR: I do. I feel like it’s important to connect. In this world of everyone connecting, if you stay removed from it I don’t think you’re doing yourself a whole lot of favours; and these people, they’re taking their hard-earned money and they’re buying one of your products. The least you can do as author is to come on and acknowledge them and be gracious and grateful for that.
DC: Do you have any real-world interactions with fans? Do you go to any of the Romance Writers of America or other genre conventions?
MMR: I do. I was actually very heavy in the circuit for a while, and the last three years I’ve pulled back and I’ve just been focused on writing: it was getting to the point where I was traveling so much that writing time was suffering.
DC: Talking of travel, I know you’ve recently moved to Mississippi, which is a state not generally known for progressive values; on the other hand, the South has always valued its writers. What’s the most memorable reaction you’ve encountered as people discover your work?
MMR: You know, I moved to Oxford, Mississippi, which from my understanding—I haven’t really ventured that far into other cities here, and I’m going on three years (laughs)—they are extremely open and welcoming to authors. William Faulkner’s home is here; John Grisham, I believe, has a home here; and there are many others. People are very supportive of the arts and the authors that come here, so I actually have found them to be more supportive than where I’d come from.
DC: That’s interesting. I’ve found the same thing in the Mediterranean—people view authors with rather more respect and regard than people generally do in North America.
MMR: Yeah. I have not had anyone here say to, “So why do you live here?” I would get that all the time up north, and I’d just stand there and think, am I supposed to move to a mythical little author island? Where would you have me live?
DC: You’re one of an elite few fabulously successful indie authors; you’ve risen as high as number eight on the New York Times bestseller list, you’ve hit the top ten on Amazon, and you’re also a USA Today bestselling author. So while the upside of indie publishing is that you have full control and retain a much greater share of royalties, you also have to spend a great deal of your time doing all the marketing, accounting, book design, et cetera; do you ever look back and just wish you could spend all your time writing, without having to everything yourself?
MMR: I’ve actually never had that. Even when I went in from the start with a small press, I never had that. Very quickly they learned I could do cover art, very quickly they realized I could do marketing. And I’ve always been my own marketing entity, I’ve never had anyone else doing it for me. The only thing I can say that used to be done for me is that I would send the book off and their team of editors would handle it and I would get it back; now I employ those same teams—it’s the same people—and I am responsible for sending it off. I always joke that I have to pay to be told that chapter two was crap. Someone else used to pay to be told that!
DC: Do you employ a secretary or assistant at all?
MMR: I did for a while, I don’t now. My oldest son—he’s a computer science engineering major at Ole Miss—he and his best friend actually help. Sometimes when I’m getting overwhelmed and I need a lot of work done on my website, I’ll pay them on a per project basis to handle that…and sometimes I’ll pay them to handle the art review team or something, and they’re really great about that.
DC: So given the success of some genre works—I’m thinking obviously of the Twilight series—have you had any interest in your books from TV or Hollywood?
MMR: I have, actually. I’ve been approached multiple times over the years by different houses looking to acquire the rights for something. None have felt right at the moment, if that makes sense?
DC: It does.
MMR: And then I was approached to write for television—but because of NDAs and that, I’m not able to go into that further. But it was a wonderful opportunity; I wasn’t able to accept it at the time with my schedule and current commitments but it was nice to asked.
DC: I know a lot of times books are optioned by a film company or studio just to stop someone else getting them, and then they’re never produced. I guess that’s also a concern.
MMR: Yeah, that’s a biggie for me, and I’m holding out hope. I’ve been in this industry and I’ve seen the advent of indie publishing, seen it take off and seen the vendors open their doors to indie. I’ve seen so many things. I’ve seen this happen with audio, and I’m seeing it happen with foreign translations. I have hopes that production for TV and that will take a similar course.
DC: Do you have a favorite leisure activity?
MMR: Reading. I do. And it’s so bad….in fact I spend so much time writing and reading now that I will often have to get a lot of my books on audio now to help my eyes take a break.
DC: That’s another casualty from sitting at a computer all day.
MMR: I love it because then I can turn on my phone and turn the app on for it and put my earbuds in, and I can walk or I can go out. I made sure in the house we have here that I tried to incorporate as much nature and walking paths in the yard and in the property so that I can just go out and be alone and think and listen to books.
DC: Finally, and speaking of the outdoors, is there a place on Earth that you really, really want to visit?
DC: Ahh. Well, as an Italian, of course I think you’re right!
MMR: Yeah. I would love to go while my grandfather’s still alive. And I would like to be able to take him with me if possible. I think it would mean a lot to him, to go home.
DC: Well, Mandy, thanks so very much for your time. It’s been an absolute delight talking with you. Is there anything else you’d like to add for our readers?
MMR: Well, I wanted to thank you for this, and for the opportunity; and to say congratulations, I saw that you posted a cover recently?
DC: I posted a cover to my own last novel a couple of months ago, Black Easter.
MMR: (laughs) Facebook just showed it to me!
DC: Good old Facebook! (laughs) Thank you, Mandy, and I wish you all continued success with your career.
Mandy’s Amazon Page: http://www.amazon.com/Mandy-M.-Roth/e/B002BLOYH6
Full book list: http://www.mandyroth.com/full-book-list
Did you enjoy this interview with Mandy? Let us know with a comment!
Don’t miss next week’s Under the Covers interview with multiple award-winning Science Fiction and Fantasy author KEN LIU, live right here on Saturday March 12!