Q/A

Q: Why have you chosen to write under a pseudonym?

A: Who is Star Swan? She could be a housewife who lives in a three-bedroom house with a husband and two kids, in a Midwest farming town. Or, she could live vicariously through reading and the Internet, without ever leaving her McMansion in an upscale Los Angeles suburb. She could have spent decades conducting a combination of vicarious and empirical research, to achieve the expression of the deepest romantic and spiritual love. The 
Herstory series of books satisfies every woman’s desire: the quintessential synergy of profound, unconditional love and evocative erotica. Star Swan could be a nondescript woman sitting beside you on the New York City Subway at 5:48 P.M., or in Business Class on a transatlantic flight. She could be commuting regularly between New York and Los Angeles on a Gulfstream G650. You could see her draped from head to toe in a burka, during her interviews on talk shows. She could be a household-name celebrity.  None of this matters. The anonymity afforded by a pseudonym enables a level of writing that frees an author to unleash all of her/his creative dragons and take no prisoners.
 

Q: Where’s your Ph.D.? What educational background qualifies you to create the psychological thriller component of your romance novels?

A: You show me yours, and I’ll show you mine :-).  I have a post-doc in Life’s graduate school, which is a higher ranking than Road Scholar, experience being the best teacher. Seriously, it’s not for lack of trying that I don’t have a Ph.D. I quit the ed biz after I relocated from the East Coast to the Midwest, and the university in my new community wouldn’t allow me to transfer my completed graduate course work from my former school. I was told that I would need to repeat a whole year of courses that I already had gotten all A’s in. The new university wanted my money, that’s all!  It means I would have occupied real estate in a classroom that would have prevented someone else from having valuable, first-time exposure to the course work. I think that’s unconscionable. Nor would my former university take my dissertation from the new one and award me my parchment. I said “Screw this, I’m never going back to school again,” and I haven’t. Frankly, I think there’s very little I can learn in school that I can’t learn on the Internet, which in my view is today’s most powerful teacher. Formal education is way overrated; the ed biz is a royal ripoff. Few days go by without my assimilating a novel insight or theory, and adding same to my wheelhouse. That’s how my brain stays focused and in working order, which in turn keeps the sex organ between my ears (my favorite) available and interested.

Q: How does the Herstory trilogy stack up against the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, by E.L. James?

A: There’s room for both of us on the planet. She and I have succeeded in elevating tasteful titillation to a high enough plane of expression so that it fits seamlessly within the framework of complex, human relationships. One distinction is that my characters and story lines tend to be heavily influenced and altered by world politics, current events, and financial markets. Both of us are brave enough to push the envelope with intimate details in our writing. I think these details add to, rather than subtract from, the literary merit of our books. Ms. James is an inspiration—a pioneer who has proven to the rest of us writers that it’s possible to achieve global success in the mainstream with narrative that features beautifully expressed, explicit love scenes.

Q: Will you write more books about Sherrill Meleney?

A: At this juncture I don’t know if I have another book in me. I remember I made that statement when I finished writing A Woman’s Book, and for a number of years I was convinced that it would remain my only work of fiction. However, I was wrong about that, and ended up writing two more books. I guess the appropriate answer is, simply, “Time will tell.”

Q: Is Sherrill Meleney your alterego?

A: I think the most succinct response is that there are elements of me in her, and elements of her in me. I lived with her character for years, and I’m sure she’s had some influence on my journey through life. That said, are my books autobiographical? No.

Q: Is John Lauria based upon anyone real? If so, where can I find him?

A: I wish I knew! If I find him, I’m sure there’ll be a long line of women willing to shoot me and take my place.

Q: How do the male leads in your books differ from porn stars?

A: My books capitalize on the distinction between authentic lovers and technicians. Their talent and experience in the bedroom might be comparable, but that’s where the resemblance ends. My male leads are the greatest lovers, with unique humanness and spirit, both of which engage readily with their partners. Master technicians are simply task-oriented, with well-tuned strategies and tactics to meet specified goals. The master technician was called a “gigolo” back in the day. In today’s parlance he’s a “player.” Players will easily roll over and go to sleep after lovemaking, whereas lovers are willing to stay awake and share meaningful words of intimacy with their partners. Players will reinforce their noninvolvement with “distancing” behaviors, like taking a shower after lovemaking, getting dressed, and going home, in the wee hours of the morning. I think such behavior is suboptimal and should earn the perpetrator a lethal dose of negative feedback and a zero-star review! Female lead Sherrill Meleney has a firm, fast rule: If you’re going to love her body, you’re going to love her, too. Love means she can be as kinky as she wants and still feel safe with her partner. The lovers in my books are genuinely engaged in each other’s journeys and supportive of each other’s walks through life.

Q: Do you have any tips for writers?

A: Build yourselves up, and "non illegitimi carborundum" - Don’t let the bastards grind you down! Try to maintain a modicum of self-belief. I would suggest that in order to sustain the high level of energy that our work requires, we writers must choose to believe the people who are in our corners giving us encouragement and support - not our worst critics. Most, if not all, writers receive some negative reviews. It’s a matter of extracting and utilizing the constructive bits of feedback from such reviews - taking what we want and leaving the rest. What works well for me is test marketing my stories to a heterogeneous selection of writers and readers, so that I can practice experiencing both applause and rejection. As for content, I think we writers are more successful when we propagate only those messages that resonate with us on a personal level. I think the least fulfilling approach for me as a writer would be to zero in on a “hot” issue and write it, just to be popular.

Q: What are the steps in your authoring process? Which steps do you like/dislike the most, and why?

A: I like to build a basic story line that works for me. I use a sequential outline construct for this. Along the way I ask myself, why and how will readers identify with my characters and plot? What are the profile and demographics of the typical reader I want to attract? Also, what will readers like and dislike about my characters? Reader involvement with our characters is key, and we need to capture it early on. By "involvement" I mean either extreme like or extreme dislike. Apathy is the hearse for a writer. Moreover, along with a plot line, we need to deploy a parallel process of character development. It’s a good idea to check in with other writers/colleagues at this juncture for suggestions. Joining a writers’ workshop can be extremely rewarding, with two caveats. We need to have respect for the other writers in the workshop, and all of our writing must meet our minimum quality standards to be taken seriously. Once I see that my outline resonates with me and is compelling, I begin my favorite job, which is fleshing out the skeleton with meat. I love all these steps, all the way through the last rewrite. A major challenge for me is deciding when it’s time to let go, and call it finis. It’s possible to rewrite a book ad nauseam, and that doesn’t do anybody any good—not me and not the reader. I don’t get to move on, and the reader never sees my book! When the substantive rewrites have been executed, it’s time to call in the editor. Many writers labor under the assumption that they don’t need an editor, or that editors "make a mess of things, and change our meaning." Don’t believe it! If I can work with an editor, anyone can, and the result will be a finer product. Even the best editor screws up a few times (Who doesn’t?) but will catch enough of my screw-ups to add significant value to the process.

To me, the marketing process is the most distasteful component of publishing. It's a necessary evil. Eventually I become burnt out/weary of blowing my own horn. The way I cope is to ask for help and get it. I seek the advice of the experts—in web design, search engine optimization, and social media—and follow that advice to the letter. Most importantly, during my rewrites I solicit feedback from the typical readers I am targeting, so that I can make mid-course corrections.

Q: What’s the current status of the second and third books of the Herstory trilogy, Hearts of Fire and Gangsters of Love?

A: Both are 100% written and rewritten, and the next stage for both is editing, which I envision will begin with Hearts of Fire after
 A Woman’s Book launches.

Q: What research methods do you use for your writing?

A: In vivo, in vitro, interviews, and the Internet. Gathering intelligence is one of my favorite activities. The process has been thoroughly enjoyable.
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