Please introduce yourself and your books!
Hi, everyone! I’m Tara Jade Brown and I write romance novels in a wide range of settings, from fantasy and historical to sci-fi, contemporary and post-ap: whichever I need to make a specific story happen.
Although love stories are the spines of my plots, each of them holds a mystery that my protagonists, and my readers, need to decipher.
I love building mysteries for my readers, and I often use my educational background to do this: I have a master’s in genetics and a doctoral degree in neuroscience, so I draw on these concepts in my books. And I try very hard to make them exciting!
My latest novel is called The Mind, which is a sequel to The Senthien, a science fiction romance where a woman and a man, divided by five thousand years and belonging to enemy galaxies, fall in love.
What inspired your creativity?
I’ve been writing fiction ever since I learned how to write letters. I also had an excellent literature teacher in primary school who supported me, taught me, and honed my craft. So I feel that a sense of creativity was with me from the start, and I was lucky enough that someone early in my life helped me to cultivate it.
Also, for better or worse, I have a very vivid imagination. Sometimes it borders on anxiety and paranoia. This can be a real drawback (if I’m afraid that something has happened to my family, I see it all too clearly in my mind’s eye), but it’s fantastic for making fictional events seem real to my readers.
How do you deal with creative block?
I’ve written three books so far, and I have seven more in the pipeline, so I anticipate being block-free for several more years 🙂
I do think that a lot of independent authors don’t encounter writer’s block too often, which likely comes from the extra freedom they have.
Let me give you an example. In the past, authors typically had to rely on publishing houses to sell their work. As a result, what they could write was often restricted by their publisher.
If an author’s romance novel proved a hit, he or she would often be locked in to writing another one. The problem with this is that the writer might want to write a post-apocalyptic novel instead, but they simply wouldn’t be able to. I believe this is one of the causes of writer’s block.
As long as people have complete freedom over their work, I think that they’re better able to keep their creativity flowing smoothly.
What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?
Something that bothers me as a reader, and something I try hard to avoid when I write, is a mistake in a story’s logic.
For example, I recently read a book where two characters have a conversation on the last day of the month. Character A says, “It’s on the third day of the following month.” Character B says, “Oh, that’s tomorrow. I don’t have a lot of time.”
And there were many mistakes like that.
A lot of these inconsistencies can be fixed by giving your work to a good editor, but setting out to write while minimizing such mistakes is something I try very hard to do.
Secondly, characters need to have motivations: they need to want something, to need something. No (good) villain is bad just for the sake of being bad. They should have a reason for behaving the way they do.
Without motivations, characters seem two-dimensional, and this makes it hard to believe in them.
So, to enable readers to root for a character, the writer really needs to dive deep into their personality and know – truly know – what they want and why they want it. They don’t need to write this history into the story, but writers should know it for themselves. When they do, the rest will come out naturally and clearly, even if it’s not spelled out for the reader.
And let me mention a third point while I’m at it.
I usually don’t detail my plotlines in advance. I like to see where things go spontaneously. But the huge problem with this—and I would encourage all writers to at least attempt outlining their plot before their first draft—is that in the end, a lot of the story might need to be deleted, because it doesn’t fit together properly. This could amount to 50K words (or more), which is many, many hours of writing and a waste of your precious time. You could have written that much of your next novel instead.
I believe that not planning at least a basic plot is a mistake that can cost writers dearly. As for me, I’ve learned to have an outline in place before I start with my first draft. It’s helped me a lot.
Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?
I have to be honest and tell you that I’m not the best at choosing titles. I don’t think mine would win any gold medals.
But for covers, here’s a tip: browse at dozens of titles in your genre and see which ones sell well, which ones catch your attention, and which have received awards. And then try to have a similar style.
This is hugely important for readers: they know how to recognize genres by looking at covers. If you mislead them, they’ll probably be disappointed and might drop your book before even giving it a chance.
How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?
First of all, to all the writers out there: if there are good reviews, there will be bad ones too. This is just the way it is, and it’s normal. Not everyone will like your writing. (They should! But they won’t :))
Having said that, knowing logically what I know, it still does hurt. And it probably always will. You as a writer place your heart and soul into your work; you love it, you make it your absolute best, and then someone gives it one star.
And you think … how? Just writing 80K words is worth more than one star, isn’t it?
To pick myself up, I go for a walk with my dog, I do a workout session, or I go to my favorite coffee place and take a book to read, but—very often—I continue writing, because writing restores my energy like nothing else. When I write, I’m happy.
So I write, and within minutes I forget about that one star, and I’m back deep in my characters’ struggles and triumphs.
I would encourage writers to mourn for one day but then to forget it. Leave it. That one-star reviewer doesn’t deserve any more than that. (They don’t deserve a minute of your time, to be quite honest, but we’re all emotional beings and it’s difficult to completely ignore them.)
How has your creation process improved over time?
It took six years for me to write my first book, The Senthien. My second one, a stand-alone novel titled Swift Escape, I finished in two. The Mind also took me two years.
I think one major change was realizing that writing is a habit. It’s not something you do when you get touched by a muse (or not only then). It’s a routine to sit down every day (every weekday, for me) and to write. I aim to finish at least 1K words per day.
A “muse day” gets me around 2.5K.
Also, being able to write in the same place, with familiar surroundings, helps me. Over time, I’ve learned that after a morning dog walk, I can sit at my dining table, my tea on my right and a candle (in the winter months) on my left, and that means “now it’s time to write.” And so I do.
Create a habit, and it will take you a long way.
What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?
The absolute best part, and most writers would probably agree, is when things in my books happen that surprise me as well. My characters say things I didn’t plan them to say, they feel emotions I didn’t plan to write for them, and they do things that sometimes make my jaw drop. And this is so thrilling, so inspiring, such an out-of-the-world experience, that writing is worth it just for this feeling.
These moments are also the most surprising part of the process for me, because I don’t see them coming.
They make me feel like a new reader to my own story.
And for anyone who thinks this is mental, it’s not. Most writers feel this way, so don’t worry.
The worst thing, and it happens with every book at some point in time, is that during one of your readings (and writers read their work dozens of times before publication), you realize all of a sudden how boring, how mundane, and how terribly clunky everything sounds. You think no one will want to read it, and how on earth did you even write something like this, so you close the laptop because you simply don’t know how to fix everything that’s wrong with your book.
The good thing is, writers are problem-solvers too. This feeling will last a day or two (or sometimes longer), but then you pick it up again and see something to add, something to rewrite, something to delete, and through this process your draft changes. And you keep changing it until it’s the best that you can possibly make it.
Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?
I write books I would love to read. And I hope that if I love it, there has to be someone else in the world who will love it too. And having just one more reader like that is enough (the trick, of course, is to find them).
Do you have any creativity tricks?
Make a habit of writing. Try very hard to write, even if it’s 200 words per day. One of my online mentors Joanna Penn, from The Creative Penn, says one needs to create something new every day. As long as you created something, it’s enough. With time, it will be more.
So make it a habit.
Number two: Once you have a habit, make a goal. Aim to write 1K words per day. Or 500. Or 250. This will make a 100K book feel a lot more manageable.
And I use a voice-recording app on my phone to make notes when something related to my writing comes to mind. I get ideas in the most unlikely places.
What are your plans for future books?
After The Mind goes live in early 2020, I plan to start right away on the third (and last) book in the Descendants of Earth series.
After that, I plan to write a fantasy story that happens some 800 years in the past. And as always, love will be in the midst of it.
I have several more stories I want to write, but I think I’ll keep going until I’m physically or mentally unable to write any longer.
Writing for me is like a power socket: it fills me with energy and makes me happy. I need writing to stay happy (and sane).
Thank you for reading my interview, and a large Thank you to NFReads!