An Interview with Annabel Joseph


Annabel Joseph is the author of numerous romantic erotic or 'romantica' novels. These deal with adult themes. She writes two or three novels each year.

Her web-site is here

Ravenshead (RH) interviewed Annabel Joseph (AJ) and the interview is reproduced here:

Annabel Joseph
RH Please tell us a bit about your background.

I grew up an Army brat and spent most of my formative years on military installations. I think the military life -- moving a lot, constantly having to lose and then re-make friends -- had a lot of influence on the person I am today. I think it predisposed me to writing, or at least bred in me a fascination with diverse people and their stories. Even now that I've settled down with my husband and started a family, we still lead a pretty peripatetic life.

RH When did you start writing?

Oh, I remember writing little short stories and plays as soon as I figured out how to read and write. I was literally five or six, stapling multi-page stories together and illustrating them. They were always about things like misunderstood flowers or grouchy worms that learned to be friendly. Then I went through my emo poetry-writing phase in my teens and through college, and had my first experiences with being published. College was also my first exposure to formal writing classes and critique, although I eventually earned a degree in another field. I dabbled in screenwriting, which taught me worlds about story structure, visual writing, and economy of words.

I think I've been writing for so long because it's always been an emotional release for me, perhaps a way of coping with the upheaval of my childhood. I remember bursting into tears while doing a poetry reading in front of my entire high school. It was so embarrassing, but looking back I don't regret the turmoil of those years. That raw emotion is something I still try to tap into when I'm writing. If I move people with my writing, if I can get them to laugh or cry, that's a huge victory for me.

RH Where do you write? 

I write on a laptop, so I'm pretty mobile. I do most of my writing at the kitchen table, just because that's the center of our family life and I can write while I'm helping the kids with homework or putting dinner together. I've been known to write in a lawn chair out front while the kids are riding bikes, or on a couch in the living room next to my husband. I've trained myself to write on the fly because I have so little solitary time. But when I'm coming up on a scene that's especially emotional or intense, or a love scene, I wait until night time and write those scenes in bed. 

RH What makes you write? 

For me, it's like therapy. I work through a lot of my own emotional issues on the page. I'm also motivated to write because I've been lucky enough to find an audience. When a reader takes the time to email you and say, "Your book really resonated with me. When will you write another one?" there is nothing on earth you want to do more.. 

But I think my main drive to write is my desire to create those moments. Moments when we feel very human; when we are hurt, or exultant, or terrified, or a mixture of all three. Those moments that raise the hair on the back of your neck. I guess that's why I've been drawn from the start to writing drama and romance.   

RH What's the easiest thing about writing? What's the hardest? 

For me, the easiest thing is crafting the language, the style and metaphors. Words have always flowed for me. A lot of times I read back and think, wow...I wrote that? That's pretty good! I get in this zone where the words just come to me, and I find it very easy to express myself. I'm grateful for that ability.

The hardest part is what I call "Middle-Of-The-Story-Purgatory." I don't often have writer's block, but when I do, it comes in the middle. In the beginning, I'm always enthused about the new characters, fleshing them out, setting up the plot points and establishing the theme; and at the end, I'm motivated by that build to the climax, and the satisfaction of tying up the loose ends. But when I'm in the middle...ugh. Sometimes it's a grind, forcing myself to go on and write through the chapters when I really want to skip to the happily-ever-after. That's something that Write It Now has really helped me with, pushing through that no-man's-land, because I can click over to my ideas and notes and stay focused by seeing the chapters laid out for me on the left.

RH Have other people's comments affected your writing?

Oh, definitely. I'm an audience-aware writer. I google myself and pore over any reviews I can find. I'm not one of those writers with the conviction to let my soul pour forth and not tidy it up somehow to try to please others. As such, the editing process is probably not as excruciating for me as it is for some writers.  

For me too, I write in a very specific subgenre, and the houses I publish with have various conventions you have to adhere to. I know there are certain things readers expect to find in my stories, and I want to deliver them so they'll come back for my next release. It's a balance...fulfilling the conventions while still making my storylines and characters as original as possible. When a reviewer calls my work "different" or "fresh"  it is the most wonderful feeling in the world, considering I write in a genre where there's not much room for unconventionality. 

RH Which writers have influenced you?

When I was younger, I was very influenced by the romantic poets: Shelley, Keats, Byron. I read a lot of poetry in general, which may be how I developed that ease with language. I read a lot of mythology too, which gave me a good sense of classical story structures. It's funny how the themes of so many current stories have mythological origins. 

As far as modern writers, Flannery O'Connor had a huge influence on me, both as a writer and a person who was a "southern misfit" like me. Her work astounds me. She used such a light hand to deliver moments that were like anvils to the head. She was a master of the "moment" and her work remains a great inspiration to me.

As a romance writer, I really admire Laura Kinsale. I believe she is the most skilled romance writer of our time. I corresponded with her briefly a few years ago, when I was still on the fence about actually attempting a novel, and she was so encouraging. I sing her praises whenever I can.

RH How long does it take you to write a typical book? Do you have to revise or rewrite it much?

In my genre, and being primarily e-published, quantity is everything. I try to finish at least three to four novels a year, ranging in length from 50,000-80,000 words. I did complete one at 99,000 but that was my upper limit. The revising and editing process for a book that length was brutal and the final published version ended up cut back to 89,000 anyway. I would be hard pressed to put an actual time length on writing my books, since I rarely write a book from start to finish. I usually switch between two or three, and sometimes I'll be eight chapters in, put a book away for six months, and then come back to it with a fresh view.  

As for the editing process, I don't do a lot of revising myself, usually just one or two passes through the manuscript before I submit it. Once my editor gets her hands on it, I expect another couple passes of edits. Occasionally, the publisher requests more extensive changes where I have to soften things or spice things up, or tweak characters. But editing is not that distressing for me. I find most of the time that the changes they suggest improve the finished book.

RH Do you work on more than one novel at a time?. 

I've had up to six open manuscripts at one time! Since I'm not an outliner, I sometimes reach a point in a story where I don't know where to go next. When that happens, I set it aside and begin a new manuscript if I've had an idea for one. If not, I go back to one that was previously put away and start on it again. I find that putting some chapters aside and coming back to them with a fresh eye helps me see things that are missing, and more often than not, see where I need to go next.

Although I rotate between books, I do always write chronologically. I don't let myself skip around, writing the beginning and end before I write the middle, or writing specific scenes before I arrive at them in the book. I feel that gives my books a better flow and more cohesion. It's just a rule I've set for myself. 

RH Was it easy to find a publisher for your first book?

Actually, it was!  

The funny thing is, I self-published my first three novels because I assumed it would be too difficult to find a publisher. I thought I would need to wrangle around with agents, deal with a bunch of rejection letters, so I just published them at Lulu for fun. I joined a few BDSM sites to promote them and I happened to start messaging with a gal there about my writing. It turned out she was an editor for Loose Id, which is one of the bigger romantic erotica publishers online. She agreed to look at a partial and liked it, so she asked for the full manuscript, and after a few points of contention were ironed out, Loose Id accepted it. 

If I had known it would be that easy, I would have taken that route from the beginning. At least now my self-pubbed titles get some traffic from readers who discover my work at Loose Id. 

RH Can you tell us more about the "romantic erotica" genre?

Romantic erotica (sometimes called "romantica") is a sort of melding of traditional romance themes with the more explicit sexuality of erotica. A lot of readers enjoy romance but are looking for more spice in the sexual encounters. By the same token, a lot of readers enjoy the "heat" of erotica but are turned off by the storylines, which tend to be contrived at best, and downright offensive at worst. With romantic erotica, readers get the best of both worlds. They get the heat they want, and characters with a positive emotional connection too.  

RH What drew you to writing romantic erotica?

It was actually a bit of a journey to get there. I had always loved mainstream romance novels and read a ton of them. The genre felt comfortable to me, but I knew I didn't have a 125,000-word historical novel in me, and I wasn't interested in doing the serials. At the same time, I began writing erotica as a hobby while I was staying home raising the kids. It was a way of keeping things spicy with my husband while we were drowning in diapers and Barney reruns. I shared them with a few close friends and they begged me to write more. They were like addicts for the stories, and I thought...hmmm...maybe I'm on to something here! I wrote the erotica in the context of romance just because I enjoyed it, even though I knew Harlequin wouldn't touch something so explicit with a ten-foot pole. I had no idea there was a huge, mostly-online community of readers who wanted this exact combination -- the romance they loved, but with a lot more explicit sex. 

When I realized what I was writing was actually called romantic erotica, and that there was a big market for it, I started looking at houses that published it. I discovered places like Loose Id and Ellora's Cave that were already well established. I was really thrilled that I could write what I wanted, and that other people were totally into it. The only downside has been the issue of secrecy. When you are a suburban housewife with kids from a really conservative family, you can't exactly shout it from the hills when you have a new book out, or when you've received a great review. Only my husband and a few friends know what I write, and unfortunately, it has to stay that way.

RH Which classical and modern authors of erotic literature do you most admire?

Molly Weatherfield's two novels, "Carrie's Story" and "Safe Word," seemed revolutionary to me in a genre that tends toward lazy story development and tropes. Her books inspired me to craft deeper, more thoughtful relationships between my characters, even if the onus in erotica will always be on sex. She helped me see that the sex is hotter when the people involved in it are interesting, when their relationships are more complex. Her books inspired me to try to transform the genre from the inside out. 

Another erotica author I admire for sheer artistry is Anneke Jacob. She writes much more intense kink than I normally read, but her characters and scenes are so vivid and well-written, you can't help but get caught up. With erotica, a huge part of what we try to deliver is sensation and arousal through the written word. Anneke is truly a master of that craft.

RH How has your writing developed and changed over the years?

I've become more aware of the conventions of different genres and the expectations of readers. I've also tried to improve the readability of my work by cutting out distractions like unneeded adverbs and convoluted sentences. 

I also used to seriously overuse the word "murmured" as a speech tag, so much that my editor flipped out one day and told me I was NEVER to use it again. Now every manuscript I submit to her has one and only one use of the word "murmured," just to tease her. She inevitably finds it and puts a big balloon there -- CHANGE OR DELETE!! It's fun.

RH Where do you get your ideas for settings and plots? Do your readers suggest ideas that they would like to appear in your stories?

I'm pretty active in the online BDSM community and in my local kink community, and I find a lot of inspiration there. A lot of times people will share an experience or kink that tickles my fancy, and I'll file it away to use in a book. For instance, an online friend was talking about how he liked to chase his girlfriend as a form of foreplay, literally chase her around the house or even through the backyard. Now, that's something I never would have thought of, but as he described the effect on her, it sounded crazy hot. The adrenaline, the fear, the excitement of being caught and dragged off to be "ravished..." That ended up inspiring a major scene in a recently-completed book. Another friend was telling me a story about her current partner's obsession with origami and shibari, or Japanese rope bondage. I am building an entire novel around that right now, where the intricate shibari is a metaphor for the hero's complex feelings about the heroine. It's just pure gold, and I never would have come up with it on my own because me and hubby are not particularly into rope. So being able to hear my reader's suggestions, fantasies, and ideas is unbelievably important to me. It's something I actively work at soliciting. I always want to be coming up with new and compelling erotic scenes.

RH Your characters are often artistic people. Why is that?

I am a big proponent of creativity. I think it would solve a million problems in the world, if everyone was more tuned in to their creative side. I find myself drawn to creative types, so I have a lot of friends who are artists, photographers, performers, and writers. I suppose that's why a lot of the storylines that come to me involve those types. My current work-in-progress, though, is actually about a surgeon and a translator. I suppose surgery and translation might both be considered art forms from a certain point of view. 

RH What do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing?

I like to exercise. I love aerobics and walking or hiking. I actually solve a lot of story problems when I'm doing mindless exercise. It must relax my brain or something, and let the ideas leak in. I also do a lot of stuff with my kids; I really enjoy being an active parent. On the weekends we always try to do stuff around town as a family. I like to read when I have time, but I also have this horrid addiction to mindless computer games and that cuts into that time. 

Then of course, I spend as much time as I can seeking the company of interesting people and chasing inspiration. For me, that is what life is all about. 

RH Finally, do you have any advice for anyone who has just started writing or is thinking of becoming a writer?

My best advice would be to talk to other writers, and just talk to as many people in general as you can. Be a participant in life. Join local writers' groups, or writing forums online, and utilize them to help yourself grow. This is especially important if you have hopes of getting published someday. You can be the best writer in the world, but at some point you'll need to depend on another person to give your work a chance, whether it's an agent, a publishing exec, an editor, or someone with helpful connections you happen to befriend.

All the contacts I've made in the writing world, and all the inspiration I've found didn't fall into my lap. It was me taking a chance and writing that email, or messaging someone interesting who turned out to be someone who could help me. And I'm a really shy person! You just have to get your face out there, get your voice out there, and talk to as many people as you can manage, not just to network but to find new things to write about. Writing may seem like a solitary pursuit, but it's really an eternal collaboration between the writer, the reader, and all the crazy little moments that make up life. 

RH Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, and good luck with the books you are publishing soon.

Thank you.