Interview With Author M.C. Vaughan

Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!

Hi there! I’m M.C. Vaughan, a Baltimore-based author of contemporary romance riddled with humor and local flavor. So, if you want to giggle throughout your sexy stories, welcome! You’ll root for my characters as they fall for their perfect people…and simultaneously want to throttle them for being big dummies about love. I grew up in a house crowded with family, friends, books, music, and the occasional ghost. After graduating from Georgetown University with a degree in English literature (and an unofficial major in student-run theater), I worked in sports marketing, higher education, toy production, and software development. Any given day, you might catch me kicking around the city with my husband and three delightful kids.

Currently, I’m writing the Charm City Hearts series. Set in Baltimore, it follows the lives and loves of four roommates–Zara, Grier, Brooke, and Melinda. Each has a career in the arts, and stumble and fumble their way through work and love. The first in the series (Zara’s story), The Reluctant Princess, is on shelves now, and the second (Grier’s story), Pictures of You, is due hit stores in Fall, 2019.

What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?

A few years ago, during the Disney ‘Frozen’ craze, I read a story about a young woman who’d lucked into a lucrative career as a children’s party performer because she bore an uncanny resemblance to the film’s main character, Elsa. I thought it would be hilarious if she didn’t actually like children, and voila! The Reluctant Princess was born. The other stories were inspired by my personal history, hilarious stories my friends have told me… It’s all fair game.

What inspires/inspired your creativity?

Anything can serve as inspiration. An article, an advice column, real life events. For me, it boils down to a contrarian mind. There’s a quiet (and sometimes not-so-quiet) voice that asks, “But what if…” That “what if” voice is creativity, calling me to imagine a different world, different decision, different path.

How do you deal with creative block?

I was *just* talking with a friend about this. Writer’s block happens to me when there’s something wrong with my writing. Maybe a characters’ actions aren’t properly motivated, or the plot needs to leap way too far, too fast. Whatever it is, the block usually indicates a scene rewrite is needed. But if I can’t figure out exactly what needs to be revised, I step away from the keyboard. Then, I grab a pen and a notebook and write the scene in first person POV (I typically write in third), and tell the story as though the character’s writing in a diary. Something about the pen and the different POV allow me to write without trying to perfect it as I go, and voila! Unblocked.

What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?

Hoo boy, there are a million ways to go wrong, but I’ll narrow it down to three things I try to avoid at all costs:

1) Starting in the wrong place. Starting too soon results in a draggy beginning and starting too late leaves the reader confused. Beginnings are so hard, too, because they have to do so much work. Introduce the main characters–with empathy–and establish the normal world. Then, once I’ve done that, I disrupt the norm to continue to hook in the reader.

2) Not properly motivating characters’ actions. There’s a big difference between “I can’t believe she did that!” (in an awesome soap opera way) and “I don’t believe she did that” (in a this doesn’t make any sense kind of way).

3) Not trusting the reader. This shows up in a couple of different ways. Using too many adjectives because I don’t trust the reader to adequately paint the mental picture; providing too many stage directions; all-caps yelling… None of that is necessary.

Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?

Ugh, I am zero help here. I’m the worst at whipping these up. The best advice I can give is that titles and covers are kind of a promise to the reader. At a glance, the reader should get an accurate impression about the book. Not just the narrative, though–the mood, the voice, the setting. You wouldn’t use a happy cartoony graphic for a gritty hard-boiled detective novel, you know? Misleading readers will annoy them.

How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?

Bad reviews are all part of the deal. Once the book is out in the universe, it’s no longer mine. That said… Bad reviews don’t feel particularly great, but if I get them, I have to roll with it. No arguing, no mixing it up with the reviewer. If I choose to read them, I have to sit with the feedback and if it resonates, fold the critique into my next novel. But if it doesn’t resonate? That’s okay–my book isn’t for everyone.

How has your creation process improved over time?

One word: data. That’s such an unsexy term to describe the creative process, isn’t it? But it’s true. I tracked various data points to help me better predict the duration and quality of my output. My first few novels, I totally pantsed the draft. My floofy “I don’t like to be tied down by outlines” philosophy went out the window. When something’s not working for me, I change it up, so I tried plotting… And produced a solid drat with a tighter plot. I also tracked my average word count per day and the amount of time revisions take me. Knowing how long it takes me to draft and revise allows me to create a realistic plan, which in turn saves me stress. Why? Because I don’t perceive that I’m falling behind.  See? Data changed my creation process!

What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?

The hands-down, absolute best thing I stumbled upon while completing my book was laughing at my own work. I realize that makes me sound like an egomaniac, but man, when I’ve been away from my manuscript for a bit, I start to worry that it’s awful. When I giggle instead, I’ll admit it, I’m delighted.

The worst thing I encountered during the process is when I realize something really, truly, deeply isn’t working and I have to rip chapters and sometimes entire acts down to their studs and rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.

The most surprising thing? The insights my critique partners, beta readers, and editors provide. I was educated in the era of incorrectly employed ‘group work.’ By which I mean, I did all the work, and my partners kind of nodded and agreed. I was accustomed to doing all the heavy lifting, but these writing friends of mine are legit and ready and willing to roll up their sleeves. I’m so very grateful for everything they’ve helped me work through in my writing.

Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?

First and foremost, the story is one I want to tell myself and couldn’t find on a shelf. If I want to read it, chances are good someone else does too. Logical, right? I also keep my ‘first readers’ in mind, too. They are my stalwart cadre of friends and family who enjoy my novels. I totally jam jokes and references that they would appreciate in my manuscripts. Nothing too inside, of course. But again, if it makes them laugh and want to keep reading, chances are good readers who aren’t my friends will like it too. More broadly, though, I serve contemporary romance readers by respecting the rules of the genre. My characters always enjoy a Happily Ever After (or Happily for Now).

What role do emotions play in creativity?

Emotions play an enormous role in creativity. A writer needs to feel things in order to adequately capture them on the page. As far as the impact on creativity goes… I can write through pretty much any emotion, but stress is the mind-killer. Don’t get me wrong–constraints and pressure can actually squeeze out some amazing work. When I say stress, though, I mean that self-doubting ‘OMG I’m terrible and this is due yesterday’ stress. When I feel that heart-clenching awfulness, I breathe, step away and come back when I’ve calmed down.

Do you have any creativity tricks?

When I’m stuck, I step away. Wildly mundane tasks, like folding laundry, unstopper my creativity. If that doesn’t work? Another creative pursuit, like painting, coloring, drawing can fire some weirdo creative synapses buried deep in my brain. And when all else fails? Shower! The best ideas always happen in the shower, don’t they?

What are your plans for future books?

The Reluctant Princess is the first in my Charm City Hearts series. The second, Pictures of You, is in edits, releasing in Fall 2019, and I’ve just turned in the third, Divorcing Mr. Right. This past weekend, I cracked into Second Acts, the fourth and concluding title in the series. I have another series planned, and myriad other ideas floating out there and waiting to be written.

Tell us some quirky facts about yourself

I am all about the quirk! So, in no particular order… I have six brothers and sisters. Once upon a time, I worked for a toy and prop replica territory. In college, I went to the same party as Bradley Cooper (yes, that Bradley Cooper). I am a MIGHTY Tetris player. My knowledge of ’80’s-era one-hit-wonders is embarrassingly vast. And lastly, I don’t let my kids win games. If they win, it’s legit.


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