E.V. Mitchell is the pseudonym for award-winning historical romance author Julianne MacLean - and today marks the launch of her new contemporary mainstream e-book The Color of Heaven.
1 - Julianne, you published a previous contemporary romance under your own name in 2003. What prompted your pseudonym for The Color of Heaven?
I’ve been writing romances under my own name since 2000, and this is my first time venturing outside the genre into a more mainstream type of story. I wanted to make sure it was very clear to my long-time readers that this book is not a romance. Don’t get me wrong - there is plenty of romance in it, but it breaks many romance genre conventions.
2 - You've worked with three publishers since 2000, including multiple book deals - Harlequin Historicals, Avon Books and now St. Martin's Press. What led to your self-published e-book release?
I came up with the idea for this book six years ago, and wrote half of it while I was between contracts for my historicals. My agent shopped that around in 2008 to all the major New York publishers, but we had no offers. We were told things like:
“I wouldn’t know how to position this book.”
“It’s too commercial for our line.”
“I wasn’t fully convinced of the book’s commercial appeal.”
“I did not feel connected to the character of Sophie.”
“I was connected to the character of Sophie, but didn’t connect with Cora.”
One editor loved it and said it brought tears to her eyes, but when she showed it to her senior editor… Well, that was the editor who said she wouldn’t know how to position it.
In truth, I think she said she “hated it.”
I had just signed a new deal for two more historical romances, so I had to shelve this half-finished, totally rejected manuscript, and get back to work on my books that were actually selling.
Skip ahead two years to 2010. I still believed in the story and was never able to let go of the characters, so I sent it to a former editor-friend of mine who always seemed to “get” my work. She suggested I rewrite the beginning, because she could see why people weren’t connecting to Sophie. I hadn’t written enough about her life before her near-death experience. (It’s a complicated explanation, but the version I shopped around began around pg. 100, with approximately 8 pages devoted to Sophie’s daughter’s illness and her marriage problems. I basically just glossed over all of that.)
So I wrote all new material from scratch over the summer, just after I came off a three-book contract for my Highlander series. I also wrote the ending – another 150 pages. I now finally had a complete manuscript.
I showed about 60 pages of the new opening to my agent, but she wasn’t convinced it would do any better this time around. However, she was supportive of my desire to self-publish it as an alternative.
So here we are.
3 - You were in the middle of writing an historical series when The Color of Heaven came to you. Were you prepared to deal with this story?
I remember sitting in a white plastic lawn chair by an outdoor pool at a small-town motel, where my husband was competing in a triathlon. My seven-year-old daughter was swimming, and I grabbed a notepad and pencil out of my bag, and started madly scribbling down the plot. The hard part was finding the time to write it, because I was contracted for a bunch of historicals. I worked on it every time I was between contracts.
Did you try to resist it, or did you embrace it?
I totally embraced it!
4 - For this novel, your character speaks to readers in first person. How did you find writing in this new-to-you style?
It was very different and awkward at first. Early on, my agent told me to “keep working on the voice; get the kinks out.” Also, the secondary love story about Cora was originally told in third person, so there was a switch for the reader when he/she came to that section. I have since changed the whole book to first person, which I think is less jarring for the reader and works much better. But honestly, it wasn’t until this second go-around, five years later, that I felt like I was comfortable writing in the first person voice.
5 - Tell us about Sophie Duncan.
Sophie gets knocked about pretty hard in the first hundred pages of the novel, and many of those events are based on events in my own life. I had a car accident very similar to Sophie’s when I was 25, and I am still amazed that I survived it. And I almost lost my daughter to a serious kidney disease when she was two-years-old. Both those events have been impossible to forget, so I guess I needed to write about them.
6 - What about Kirk Duncan?
He’s the quintessential first love - the one that got away. He also reflects Sophie’s true and natural, artistic self. When she finds herself, and finally knows who she really is, she finds him, too.
7 - And Michael Whitman?
He represents the path we believe we should take in order to be successful, but that path does not always mesh with our true and honest self. I think most young people experience this on some level before they figure out who they really are deep down, and what they want. In my case, I equate him to my brief accounting career, when I thought I would be happy if I wore a suit and heels and carried a briefcase to work.
8 - Can you describe a few highlights of preparing this book for publication?
Working on the cover art was pure bliss!
For the first time, because I was self-publishing this book, I was involved in the creative process, and I chose the image myself. You’ll appreciate this Julia - the photographer is a gifted Russian named Vladimir Piskunov.
He took the photo in New Zealand, where I lived for half-a-year, and I still feel a great connection to the place. When I found this photo, I knew instantly that it was the one.
I used a fellow author who is also a graphic designer to do the artwork:
Pat Ryan Graphics
She was great to work with because she understood the psyche of the author as publisher. I was able to look at a first draft and request changes, and she tweaked it until I was happy. She gave me exactly what I wanted.
9 - What about the dark times?
The dark times came when it got rejected over and over and I wasn’t sure it would ever see the light of day.
Yes, published authors get rejected, too.
That was before this option became available to self-publish digitally. Now there can be a Plan B for authors who can’t find a spot the old-fashioned way.
10 - Do you think the theme of the book itself helped when you thought you couldn't tackle yet another roadblock?
Yes, I most definitely think the story and its theme kept me from giving up. Or maybe it’s the other way around – that eternal optimism in me is what made the story come out the way it did.
I believe in second chances, and this story is about hitting rock bottom, rising from the ashes, and starting all over again. I’ve been over some rough roads in my life with my own daughter’s illness, but she’s still here with us, dancing and making us proud. I’ve been rejected as a writer many, many times in various ways, but I always pick myself up and try again.
11 - If readers don't yet own an e-reader, how can they read your book?
I'm working on making a print version available on Amazon, which I hope to release by April 1. But in the meantime, if you have a computer - which you probably do if you’re reading this blog - it’s very easy to download a Kindle App and buy books instantaneously. Here’s the link:
Download Kindle app HERE
It may surprise you to know that I don’t own an e-reader yet either, but I downloaded the Kindle App to my computer last week so I could buy my own book!
It was so astonishingly easy that I couldn’t resist buying a few other books as well. That’s what I love about this new e-book market. You can have the book you want within seconds. Just click a button, and there it is.
12 - You're in the middle of promoting your three-book Highlander series this year, starting March 1st. Did you ever envision a four-release year when you were still chasing that first publication?
Never in a gazillion years. But at the same time, I’ve been off the shelves for a while - my last book with Avon came out two years ago. But I’ve been writing more than ever - so everything seemed to stockpile. I have four novels coming out this year:
The full Highlander Trilogy with St. Martin’s Press
The Color of Heaven
plus two short stories in anthologies:
The Mammoth Book of Scottish Romance
Fall in Love Like a Romance Writer
The second one includes a true romance tale of how I met my husband in 1984. It’ll be a busy year, and I also have two Regency historicals to write!
13 - Are there more contemporary stories in the future for Julianne MacLean / E.V. Mitchell fans?
I would love to write another contemporary, and I suspect I will as soon as I fulfill my current contract for historicals. But before that, I also want to write the last book in my Pembroke Palace Series, which I can now self-publish as an Ebook if it doesn’t soon find a home with a NY publisher. (My agent has been working on that.) I may write it as a novella, I’m not sure, but I’ve left the character of Garrett hanging for too long, and I get a lot of reader mail about his book. He’ll be the next thing I write, when I’m finished this contract.
Julianne, it's been an honor to have your E.V. Mitchell launch here at A Piece of My Mind.
Thanks for having me here, Julia!
And I would love to give away a copy of the anthology Fall In Love Like a Romance Writer to one of the commenters today.
Good luck, everyone!
The contest is now closed - from midnight AST (Atlantic Standard Time) Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011.
The winner will be announced soon - stay tuned.
Here's an exclusive excerpt from The Color of Heaven.
Not long after I crossed the border into New Hampshire, the temperature plummeted. If I had been out walking, I would have felt it on my cheeks. The chill would have entered my throat and lungs, but I was strapped tightly into the cozy confines of my vehicle with the heat blasting out of the dashboard vents, and was therefore shielded from the conditions outside.
I will always wonder what brought that deer out onto the road just as the puddles from the melting snow turned to ice. I saw her out of the corner of my eye, galloping onto the pavement, and my whole body went rigid.
Wrenching the steering wheel left to avoid her, I hit the brakes at the same time, which was, of course, the worst thing I could have done.
The car whipped around 180 degrees, so I was now facing the oncoming headlights from the vehicles traveling behind me. My tires skimmed sideways across the pavement toward the shoulder of the road.
I remember everything in excruciating detail, the noise especially, as my car rolled five times down the steep embankment. Glass shattered and smashed. Steel collapsed. The world spun in dizzying circles in front of my eyes, so I shut them and gripped the steering wheel hard, bracing my body against the jarring impact as the roof collapsed over the passenger side and the windows blew out.
Down I went, tumbling and bouncing over the rocks like a stone skipping across water.
Then all at once, it was over.
There was only white noise in my ears, and the thunderous sound of my heartbeat.
I opened my eyes to find myself hanging upside down in my seatbelt, with the side of my head wedged up against the roof.
The engine was still running. Other sounds emerged. Music blasted from the radio – an old favorite song of mine from the 80’s, The Killing Time, which was ironic, but in that heart-stopping moment, I was not that reflective. All I could think of was getting out of there.
Panic hit me. Hard. I felt trapped, frantic to escape, and began to thrash about.
I groped for the red button on the seatbelt buckle, but my hands were shaking so badly, I couldn’t push it.
My breaths came faster and faster.
I cried out, but no one heard.
Then suddenly, out of nowhere, a whip cracked. The vehicle shuddered.
I froze and tried to see past the smashed windshield in front of me. Everything outside the car was pure white, covered in snow.
If only I knew where I was. If only I could see something beyond the broken glass.
But it didn’t matter what I could, or could not, see. I knew what was happening...
My car was sitting on its roof, resting on a frozen lake. The crack of the whip was the sound of the ice breaking.
My SUV shifted and began to slowly tip sideways...
© E.V. Mitchell, 2011