Q&A with LG O’Connor, author of Caught Up in RAINE
1. Why do you write what you write?
LGO: Great question! I’ve been an avid reader my entire life, and have read everything from classics to pulp. Being a fast reader, I’ve never let the size of a book deter me. If anything, the bigger the better as long as the story is good and the characters are engaging. I read to escape with characters I can love, and for that profound ‘something’ the leaves me with a book hangover when I’m finished. I try to write with the same things in mind, and since I like to stick with characters for a little while, I’m drawn to series. But when it gets down to it, I write books that I want to read.
2. Given that you are still in the middle of writing an epic Urban Fantasy / Paranormal Romance series that won’t be fully released until mid-2017, what inspired you to switch genres midstream and write a romantic women’s fiction novel?
LGO: Funny, I didn’t choose to be a writer, it chose me. The same thing happened with this story. The first chapter in CUIR was inspired by something that actually happened to me, and became the impetus for writing the book.
Late on a Friday afternoon in August 2013, I made a trip to the hospital to see my childhood friend’s father who had emergency heart surgery. Just like Vera, he was eighty-two years old. I’d known him my entire life, and loved him like an uncle. When I arrived—having just completed a dialysis treatment—he was fast asleep. So I sat there quietly for about an hour and reflected. It was the last time I saw him alive.
At the time of my visit, I was working on final copyedits for my first novel, TRINITY STONES. One of the series characters is rock star, Brett King, who physically resembles the model on the cover of CUIR. When I was leaving the hospital grounds that day, I spotted a landscaping crew planting trees. You guessed it…one of the landscapers looked just like Brett. Tanned, muscular, long blond hair… I was so tempted to jam on the brakes and ask to take his picture. Of course, I didn’t. But that left me with the question: what would’ve happened if I had? The result is Caught Up in RAINE.
3. Are there any writers in the contemporary romance / women’s fiction genres who particularly influenced you?
LGO: First, let me talk a little bit about new adult, which is a sub-genre of contemporary romance. Despite the fact this book doesn’t qualify due to Jillian’s age, that sub-genre is what inspired me. Interesting, if it were reversed, and Jillian was Raine’s age? It would qualify.
When I wrote CUIR, new adult was taking off. I adored the immediacy of using dual first person point-of-view. I decided to go the route of Jasinda Wilder and use first person, present tense. There are a lot of people who find it akin to nails on a chalkboard, but I think it lends itself to a fast-moving story with deep point-of-view. Even though CUIR is classified as romantic women’s fiction, I used the conventions I loved so much in new adult because it was just plain fun to write, and added the energy that I was looking for.
As for the writers who inspired me? The epicenter of it all was Jasinda Wilder’s book, Falling Into You. By then, I’d already read and fallen in love with Cora Carmack’s Faking It, Laura Kaye’s Hearts in Darkness, and Jamie McGuire’s Beautiful Disaster which left me with a book hangover for about a week. Others I’ve discovered and enjoyed since then: H.M. Ward’s Damaged: The Ferro Family, Karina Halle’s The Pact, Vi Keeland’s Worth the Fight, anything by Katy Regnery, Jennifer Armentrout (writing as J. Lynn), and Maya Banks.
4. I understand this book was written during National Novel Writing Month in 2013, is that correct?
LGO: Yes! That question: “What would’ve happened if I’d stopped my car and asked that landscaper to pose as my cover model?” kept rolling around in my head. I’d just turned in the final pages of TRINITY STONES to the publisher, and the first draft of the second novel in the series was staring me in the face. Then in mid-October 2013, I had this weird schedule where I needed to be in Pennsylvania for work three days in a row. I live in New Jersey, so that was a three hour commute each day. On the morning of the first day, the question of the landscaper can back up and grabbed me with a vengeance. I’m a sworn pantser, but by the end of the third day, I had voice recorded an entire outline for the novel. That was a first for me.
My pen hit the proverbial page, and by the start of NaNo on November 1st, I had over 25,000 words written. By Black Friday, I’d finished the novel with more than 50,000 words written during the month of November, for a final word count of 82,000 words. My critique partner read the story as I wrote it, so revisions were being made simultaneously to the story being written. My editor, who was also one of my NaNo buddies, was on standby to copyedit the manuscript as soon as it was completed. My goal was to make a December contest deadline. Honestly, I’m not sure how I did it. The book grew organically out of my brain and through my fingertips. I wish every book was like that…
5. That contest was the RWA Golden Heart® Contest, wasn’t it? How did you do?
LGO: Yes, it was! That year was the last time I would qualify as an unpublished writer, since, technically, the only contract I’d signed at the time was a distribution agreement with She Writes Press.
It wasn’t until a month after the Golden Heart® finalists were announced that I’d received the results. I’d only missed the cut by 1 point. I found that extremely encouraging given the number of contest applicants.
6. You used a local setting close to where you live. Any particular reason why you chose suburban towns rather than the big city locales of your fantasy series?
LGO: Well, for one, I’ve lived in all these places J I’m a former resident of both Chatham and Summit, and currently live about ten minutes from downtown Morristown. I chose a local setting and venues for a couple of specific reasons. Since this was a NaNoWriMo project, I needed to spend my time writing, not researching.
Choosing a local setting gave me the advantage of knowing the locations well enough to write from my own experience. Another advantage in “staying local” is that it gives me a logistical advantage to go deep in my local market without traveling, and yet bring all those relationships and resources to bear. Plus, I get a warm feeling driving through downtown Morristown, and seeing the real-life buildings that I patterned my CUIR locations after… I sometimes wonder if I’ll spot someone who looks like Raine walking across the Green.
7. One of the big questions I think many will have is the age of your heroine, and the choice to do a reverse May-December romance. Are you afraid this may impact your chances to capture a romance audience? Also, this book focuses a lot on the romance and is written in dual first person point-of-view, which gives the male lead equal footing in the narrative – how do you think this will impact your women’s fiction readers?
LGO: In a lot of ways, this is just as much Raine’s story as it is Jillian’s, which distinguishes CUIR from hardcore women’s fiction.
As for Jillian, I think the market needs more books like this for the demographic of readers out there. I think Jillian’s voice resonates with women of a certain age, I being one of them. Jillian is an attractive woman in her 40s, but she’s far from dead. Yet there’s this negative connotation out there about women over forty in the romance market, signaling to me an underserved segment of readers.
Jillian struggles in a very real way over the age difference between herself and Raine. She’s not a cougar looking for young men. Yet that’s how the market is showcasing stories about older women in this scenario. In CUIR, my intent is to realistically show how an almost impossible pairing can be near perfect based on who these individuals are, and what has shaped them.
I think this book will resonate broadly across markets. However, traditional women’s fiction tends to have a higher level of angst and complexity than I write. As much as I enjoy a good Jodi Picoult book, you won’t find that level of intensity here. I try to use enough angst without making it the entire focus of the story. As a result, this book is more of a hybrid between contemporary romance and woman’s fiction, hence the “romantic women’s fiction” moniker. In it you’ll have spicy love scenes, and a “happily ever after” that is well deserved.
8. Is it true that this book may be part of a trilogy?
LGO: Hmm. I can answer that two ways. Caught Up in RAINE will have two companion novelettes that follow it, so I guess you could say it is a trilogy. Kind of. However, I’ve just finished the first draft of a second full length novel with the working title, Shelter My Heart, about Jillian’s niece Jenny and a young CEO-in-training. In it, many of the CUIR characters reprise their roles. I’m also planning on writing a third book that involves… Well, I’ll keep that one a secret for now. That said, I’m not going to declare it a series yet J
9. Are there themes that tie this potential trilogy together beside the family connection between the main female characters?
LGO: There are two driving themes, really. Each of the female protagonists harbors a shameful secret, and in their own way, they’re all seeking redemption. It’s about finding second chances, and surrendering yourself over to living your best life.