My work

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Live Q&A with Roberta Pearce – Summary of Posts

First of all, thank you to everyone who came by to ask questions and chat. And especially thanks to Indie Author Central Group moderators Heather Dowell [author of  Summers & Winters] and A.S. Oren [author of the Spearwood Academy series] for hosting the event. Cheers, women!

Secondly, I was excited that several authors dropped by, including Martyn V. Halm and Angie Martin!

The following is a distillation of the Q&A about my novel A Bird Without Wings and bits about writing in general. I’ve left my answers largely verbatim, but some questions are melded together as they touch on similar subjects.
A Bird Without Wings cover

Q. Who is your favorite character in the book? Why?

A. For me personally, my favourite is Callie herself, naturally. She’s complex, endlessly showing new facets of her odd personality. And ultimately, comes to her own "rescue" emotionally.

Q. Who was the hardest to write or annoyed you the most?

A. Mmmm . . . in many ways, it was Callie again, as she is so annoying at times! LOL. Making her sympathetic and likeable was not always an easy task, but readers love her, so I guess I did okay.

Secondary characters are usually the toughest, making them whole people instead of cardboard cut outs. In this regard, Lucius’ family posed many problems, but in the end, I ended up with a charming group of oddballs.

Q. The plot is carefully woven, so I wondered if you planned the plot/novel before you started writing or if you created the characters and let them drive the plot? Or something else?
A. Thank you for that lovely compliment! I had the idea for the Birds when I was just a kid. Independently of that, I imagined a scene of a young woman waiting to go into the big-boss’s office while trying to control her crush on him. As I imagined who that woman would be – she had to be someone very special for the boss I was conceiving behind that closed door – I remembered my long-ago idea of the Birds . . . and Callie and that mystery evolved from there.

So essentially, she drove the plot, for the Birds were just a vague concept. The mystery had to be complicated enough for her to: A. Show her skills and B. Not be solved too easily, despite those skills.

FYI, I’m a pantser, not a plotter, so I’m usually just tying random images together . . . then kill myself editing them into one fluid piece!
Q. What was your inspiration for the plot?
A. That scene of the young woman outside the boss’s office had been hanging out in my head for a couple of years. I imagined it while killing time waiting on a client who was late for a meeting – though the circumstances were different, I tend to write in my head during downtime [as I’m sure most authors do!], taking random situations one finds oneself in and twisting them around to make the everyday interesting. Presto! A scene.

The character of Callie was also inspired by a bit of weariness on my part after reading novels with heroines who weren’t as smart as the hero. I wanted to create the reverse. Lucius is brilliant, but as he notes himself, he’s got nothing on Callie.
Q. Like Callie, did you move around a lot as a child or worried about money?
A. My childhood was quite stable. But not too long ago, I was struggling. Callie’s attic bachelor? I lived in an almost identical space! Actually, I’m a little nostalgic about it.

The problem was that Callie had to know what love was, but be confused about what it meant. And considering the age-old argument about whether it’s love or money that makes the world go ’round . . . LOL. So I imagined the circumstances of how an essential war of attrition by her parents [loving her without actually producing any evidence of it – sheer lip-service] married with extreme [and unnecessary poverty] would mould Callie’s character.

So, not direct experience . . . but touches of it in my own life.
Q. It’s funny how sometimes readers get annoyed with the main character and the writer does too. But hey, the characters are who they are and we can’t make them all perfect or their story would be a lie.
A. ’Zactly! No one wants to read perfect Mary Sues! So long as they are annoying in a realistic way, and not to the point of dislike . . . I regard it as a friendship. Is this someone I’d like in my life, even when he/she annoys the crap outta me from time to time?
Q. I love smart characters, it’s so hard not to make them too condescending, because when someone is smart and they know it, it’s difficult not to show it, and people tend to be uncomfortable around or dislike those who are smarter than them.
A. That really was a challenge! And that inspired Callie’s quiet reticence about being a centre shot. As the character Rachel notes: "As far as brains go, she’s smarter than anyone thinks she is—and we all think she’s brilliant."
Q. Love that line!! Would definitely want her as a friend.
A. :) Me, too!
Q. Did you use baby books/sites to come up with the character names? P.S. I love the name Lucius, Harry Potter nerd.
A. Haha! I never made that connexion! But of course . . .

I do use baby-name sites a lot, especially for minor characters. For me, I have to be careful naming characters, because they become
real, and I can’t just arbitrarily change their names later without great anguish! ;)

If I recall correctly, I was watching
Gladiator when I came up with "Lucius" – inspired by Commodus’ nephew; and Lucius is half-Italian, so . . . But the funniest thing about the name is that I kept keying it in wrong – over and over: Luscious! That’s how he got his nickname . . . pure accident.
Q. Are you on Wattpad? If so, what do you think of it and how do you utilize it?
A. I’m on Wattpad, but I use it very little for my own work. I have three chapters of my 2013 NaNoWriMo novel posted there – Famous Penultimate Words – but simply don’t have the time to dedicate to Wattpad. I am hoping to finish and publish that novel, though, for fall, before NaNoWriMo starts again in November . . . but I have two others to finish in the meantime.

I think Wattpad is great, and I’ve found a couple of gems there. It’s an awesome venue to hash out your work and get feedback on it before publication, but I choose to go a strict beta-reader route instead. Just a personal decision.
Q. I really admire Callie, she’s determined to live the life she wants, purposefully, not the life she could have drifted into, as her parents and brother seemed to do. I’ve known a lot of young people who just follow their parents’/family’s footsteps without even realising they aren’t putting any effort into their futures. Callie’s message to the reader seems to be: "you can break away and live your own life, it’s up to you." Were you doing that purposefully yourself in writing her character?
[This question – and the  two following – were posed by Lucy Gray, soon-to-be published author of All Hallows at Eyre Hall.]
A. Absolutely! I mean, not consciously, but since that is a baseline belief of mine, it’s going to creep in [or splash over!] my writing. I don’t always like characters who “fall into” their dull lives and need an external force to shake them up and out of it.

Q. Do you think reading a novel can/does influence reader’s views of the word in any way?
A. Yes, all the time. First of all, I’ve never read anything that didn’t teach me something new. And I’ve read all kinds of novels that either changed my world view of a thing, or at least tempered it. I’m pretty open minded, and like to have outside influences that force me to re-evaluate my opinions . . . even if I don’t change my mind, I come to better understanding of myself, and the views I hold. I just read an ARC of The Day I Became a $py, which led me to rethink a lot of my assumptions about the financial collapse a few years back - all couched in a fun and sexy thriller.

Q. Do you think as a writer you have the responsibility of helping/guiding/instructing (not only entertaining) your readers?
A. Hmm . . . that’s tough. My responsibility is not to lie - that is, not to represent as good/factual that which I personally regard as bad/untruthful. In complex [or morally ambiguous] matters, I like to have characters with varied points of view to inspire the reader to consider other sides. Since I’m on the fence about many things, I have difficulty making categorical statements about the right and wrong of things. Sometimes, both sides have valid argument. I’d like readers to consider the other side of their own.
Q. When you create characters, do you start with a name – like Lucius – then work out who and what he is, or do you start with the character and think up a name later?
[This question was posed by Martyn V. Halm, author of a brilliant series that I’m totally in love with, Amsterdam Assassin Series, featuring the amazing heroine Katla Sieltjes. In case you couldn’t figure out from the name of the series, it is not romance . . . though it has romantic elements!]
A. I only once started a story [as yet unfinished] with naming a character before even having an idea of a plot. All other times, the scene comes first, with Character X and Y; or, since I write romance, I frequently use "h" and "H" - as I noted earlier, I think, I find it hard to rename characters once done.

Q. Is your working method different for protagonist/antagonist vs. minor characters?
A. I’d say so, yes. Minor characters are to drive plot, or to reveal pertinent information, or give the protagonist/antagonist someone to bounce off of, revealing their own character. Sometimes I write scenes with these minor players and lose control of it, ultimately coming to the decision that these characters aren’t suited to this conversation/action . . . which is a good thing, as it demonstrates to me that they are more than my tools – if they’re behaving independently of me, they’ve become real.
Q. There are cultures where children aren’t named until they reach their second or third year, because the name has to be part of their character and you might inadvertently give a child the ‘wrong’ name if you decide too early. Do you think it works that way with characters too? If you name them before you have fleshed them out, that they might have the ‘wrong’ name?
A. Sure! That’s why I hesitate before I commit . . . decisions are frequently made with wine . . .

But the "wrong name" could work ironically. I’d like to do that sometime, name a character "Rockford Steel" or something, and make him a soft-bellied, short, balding accountant with Coke-bottle-bottom glasses.
I have a habit of naming secondary characters "Dave", "Steve", etc. Nothing against those names – there’s a reason they’re popular in the real world: they’re strong and identifiable.

A good site for picking appropriate names is the Social Security site, which lists most popular registered baby names by year – so, you’ll know if your h is a 30ish North American, naming her "Jennifer" is demographically reasonable, while naming her "Beyoncé" is less so!
Q. I wanted ask about your book covers. They are very unique and fun... did you make those yourself or do you have a designer? What is the inspiration for them?
[This question was posed by Angie Martin, whose new novel Conduit has a gorgeous cover . . . and is on my TBR!]
A. Thanks for liking my covers. People either like or hate them . . . And yes, they’re all mine, and all my responsibility! LOL.

Theoretically, as I write romance, I should have gone with the naked-torso look [which admittedly is
really frickin’ hot]! But when I thought about it, I realized that I can’t personally tell one cover from another in the genre: “Did I read this one? I remember those abs . . . Oh, same abs as the others.” I wanted something to stand out.

So I thought about minimalism and branding and strong colours —
Q. As an esthetic, I think your covers have a lot with older movie posters.
A. I looked at a lot of noir movie posters [I’m a fan of film noir] –
Q. I really love noir... maybe that’s why they speak to me so much! :)
A. In a future work, I actually draw comparisons between the h and Gilda - the epitome [to me] of American noir!]
In specific research on minimalism, I found a site where an artist had taken big-name contemporary movies and made simple vector-graphic posters depicting the essence of the central plot. I ran some ideas past some designer friends [who are still split evenly on love/hate of my ultimate design decision], and ended up with my current brand.
Q. I think you really have the branding down! It makes your books very recognizable as your books and that’s a great thing in the current Indie marketplace. As you said, all abs start looking alike after a while . . and sometimes they really are the same abs! I don’t know why people would hate [your covers], except that they are outside the box. But that’s what makes me love them . . . they are unique, quirky, and fun. I think that’s so smart of you to do the covers this way.
A. I think once I have a couple more books out, they’ll stand apart as a definite statement, easily recognisable.
Q. I must admit, I had mixed feelings about your covers at first, but they sort of “grow on you”. They’re certainly very distinctive.
A. From your keyboard to someone’s ears . . . or eyes!

Q. I’ve read two of your novels and I love your writing. I found the voices of your characters very unique and fresh. How do you make them so authentic? Are any of your characters based on actual people?
[This question was posed by Katerina Baker, soon-to-be published author of The Day I Became a $py, that I cited in an earlier answer.]
A. Oh, thank you! No character is really based on anyone specific, but [confession time] I had a stint as a bartender once, and found endless inspiration for, um, quirkiness in that world. Mostly, though, my characters embody some part of me, of attitudes I have or have once held. Or of situations in which I’ve found myself - or narrowly avoided, or wished I hadn’t! The writing process is like stripping down what I think to the molecular structure . . . and then rethinking it. So if that lends it freshness, I’m most glad of it!
Q. I think it’s cool how authors pay so much mind to a character’s name and sometimes fall for them in a sense.
A. I agree. We do fall for them. In a way, we have to fall for them, in order to care enough to nurture them and draw them out. And if we don’t love them, how can our reader be expected to? Not that readers have to feel anything at all for our brilliance [!], but at least an author has a shot at it if he/she loves his/her creation.

I’ve read many books where I didn’t like the MC[s], but other readers did, and obviously the author did, too. I respect that every time, even if I’m not coming along for the ride. And just because I don’t like
this character the author created, doesn’t mean I won’t like the next . . . and the author’s love will bring me back to check out the next creation.
Q. Do you name all your characters, Roberta? Or will you leave some orphaned without a name?
A. Most everyone who gets a line gets a name, for the most part, but I rarely deal with a cast of thousands as some writers do [mostly through sheer laziness], so it’s not difficult to come up with a handful of names. My next novel, The Value of Vulnerability, has a couple of mooks who don’t merit a name, and in the final analysis, I’ll end up identifying them with simple monikers.

I reserve cool names for my MCs. Giving too cool a name to secondary or tertiary characters flags them as important, running the risk of confusing the reader with a red herring.
[End Q&A]
There were also some asides in conversation, about Tycho Brahe and Thelonious Monk and PBS . . . It was an awesome time, and again, thank you, everyone, who made it such a success!
Please check out visiting authors’ works on Goodreads, look for them on social media, and don’t forget – please write reviews! They are much appreciated, whether short, long, neutral, or ecstatic!


  1. Apparently, a reader had difficulty posting a comment here, but just to let you know, this blog posts to my blog page on Goodreads, so members can comment there if necessary!

  2. Awesome!! I love how you threw all of this together!!!

  3. Beautifully summarized, Roberta. Your Q&A was one of the few that I found interesting from beginning to end.