Please welcome Marilyn Baxter to Writer Wednesday. She’s been a friend of mine for a long time, way back when we were on a couple of email loops together (Brainstorming Desireables and From The Heart Romance Writers, I think), so I’m thrilled to have her here.
CA: Hi and welcome, Marilyn! First off – what can I get you? Coffee, soda, beer, wine, or a mixed cocktail?
MB: Hot tea, please. With raw sugar and a splash of milk. Yeah, I know. I’m different.
CA: That sounds like my hubby, but he likes to add a drop of brandy in his tea! So, tell us about you. What drew you to writing?
MB: I almost hate to say it because there’s so much plagiarism in fan fiction, but that’s where I got my start in fiction. I’d written some angsty teenage poetry in high school and some non-fiction stuff for an online magazine, but about 15 years ago I began writing fanfiction about Lois Lane, Clark Kent and Superman. Because someone on our fanfic boards was suspected of plagiarizing, I was called upon to see if I could find the book, read it and confirm. Sadly, she had taken a Silhouette Desire and copied it word for word, merely changing the character names. But on the upside, I had read my first romance novel and fell in love with it! I sought out more books by this author, got to know her after I joined RWA and she even dedicated a book to me. One day the light bulb went off and I thought why write about someone else’s characters when I could write about my own? And maybe have it published?
CA: What a cool story! What genre do you write in, and why?
MB: I write short contemporary romance because that’s my favorite genre to read. It requires research, but nothing like a historical romance. I’ve researched sperm banks, certification for image consultants, document disposal privacy laws, family law, the history of tea and more, so I can’t imagine the research that goes into a historical! The authors who write those and other research-intensive genres have my utmost respect. I like the here and now and seeing how people deal with the problems facing couples today.
CA: So, how did you start this particular book – with a title first, a character first, or a situation first?
MB: This book (a novella, really) was started with a situation: an almost-bankrupt image consultant is hired to spruce up the image of her college boyfriend. Of course there’s a lot of history and conflict, but I don’t want to spoil the story for you. 😉 As I was writing it and brainstorming part of it with a friend, she asked if I’d ever heard Kenny Chesney’s song “Better as a Memory” because it seemed to fit the hero’s conflict. I hadn’t, but I downloaded a copy of it and the lyrics helped me get a better grip on my hero. Fast forward to the winter of 2013 and Boroughs Editor-in-Chief Chris Keeslar came to speak to my RWA chapter. He talked about a contest they had going on called “What’s in a Name” where the story had to be based around a song title. Uh… bingo! I finished writing the novella, entered it, worked my way through the preliminary rounds and finaled in the contest. I didn’t win overall (the editors chose the winner), but I did have the highest popular vote. By virtue of being one of the Final Four, my novella was published earlier this year. Most of my manuscripts start with a situation – a “what if.” From there I develop the characters’ GMC, pick character names (oh how I struggle over names!), decide on a setting, figure out the black moment (I have to know what train wreck drives them apart before I can figure out how to get them TO the wreck and how to clean it up), outline a plot and start writing.
CA: I’ve read this novella, and I love it! So, what do you do when you’re not writing? Do you have a Day Job?
MB: I was a stay-at-home wife and mom until five years ago when I divorced after a long marriage. Three years ago I began working as a part-time administrative assistant for – get this – my divorce attorney! I heard she was looking for someone to fill the position, I applied and she hired me. I like to think it was because she knew I was not only qualified but I was not a wacko. LOL! I also like to think it shows God has a pretty awesome sense of humor. Cue the Twilight Zone music because the first book I wrote was about a divorce attorney and it was before I’d ever had any dealings with one. When I’m not dealing with other people’s divorces or writing, I like to read and I love crime dramas on TV. My DVR is always set to record Law & Order: SVU, CSI, Bones, Rizzoli & Isles, Major Crimes, Perception and a new series called How to Get Away with Murder. I also obsess over Hugh Jackman. <g> He’s an amazing performer and you never hear any bad press about him. He adores his wife and his two children and just seems to be an all-round good guy. We need more good guys like him in the world. And he’s also darn hot as Wolverine in the X-Men movies and uber sexy in the bucket-shower scene in Australia. Hoooo boy! If you haven’t seen it, search for it on YouTube. Be prepared to swoon! Maybe my Hugh obsession should be part of the next question. LOL!
CA: LOL!!! We’ll just insert that little fact in here. *writes down* Marilyn obsessed with Hugh Jackman Ahem. Onward! So, name three things your fans would be surprised to learn about you.
MB: (1)I was in a New York City disco in March of 1970 when a pipe bomb was planted there and exploded. I was part of a group from my college studying the relationship between the arts and religion. I still have a scar on my leg from the bombing, but nothing bad. (2) I lived in West Germany for 4 years and traveled quite a bit. I have ridden a camel at the pyramids in Egypt, walked among the ruins in Rome and Athens, stood atop the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, crossed through Checkpoint Charlie to visit East Berlin, ate escargot for the first time in Paris and found out I was pregnant with my first child in London. (3) Despite 1 and 2, I really do live a mostly unremarkable life. I get up, do stuff around my apartment, eat lunch, go to work, come home, eat dinner, read, write or watch TV and go to bed. Lather, rinse, repeat.
CA: Wow. I think you’ve lived a fabulously adventurous life! So, where would you live, if you could live anywhere in the world?
MB: In the Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina. I attended college in that area and didn’t really appreciate it while I was there. My younger son lives in that area now and I love to visit. It’s just gorgeous and there’s so much to see and do.
CA: Name 3 simple joys in your life.
MB: A cup of hot tea, a good book and my two young granddaughters. See? Unremarkable. Though my granddaughters are pretty remarkable. After raising two boys, I have had SO much fun shopping in the girl’s department.
CA: I have two boys, too, so I know what you mean! Now, if you could have dinner with any person, living or dead or fictional, who would it be and where would you go to eat?
MB: My father died in 1970 when I was just a few months shy of my 19th birthday. I’d love to sit down to dinner with him and let him meet my two sons and see what wonderful men they are and then introduce him to my two granddaughters who would have him wrapped around their little fingers in the blink of an eye. We would just stay in and eat at my apartment and have pinto beans and cornbread, one of his favorite meals.
CA: If you could give just one piece of advice to a writer just starting out, what would it be?
MB: DON’T COMPARE! I hear many people lament because they’ve been writing and submitting for X years and haven’t sold, but they just saw that So-and-So sold after writing for just a few months. Over the past five years I’ve learned that “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.” In November 2008 I FINALLY finished my first novel during NaNoWriMo. About four months later it finaled in an online pitch contest on eHarlequin and I got a request for a full manuscript. To the world, it looked like I had the world on a string. What they didn’t know was that my almost-36-year marriage was falling apart around me. I was hanging on by that string, bargaining with God over everything. “If You’ll let me have health insurance, I can deal with living in a dingy trailer park. And if you let me test negative for herpes, hepatitis and HIV, You can let me have syphilis because that’s curable.” No one should have to bargain like that.
The muse left. Packed every one of her belongings and bought a one-way ticket to parts unknown. It took everything I had to write a coherent grocery list! Not only could I not write, I couldn’t focus long enough to read one chapter of a book at a sitting. I used to read 4-8 books a month. During all of 2009 I read 10 books. TEN! I learned later that inability to focus is a symptom of grief, and divorce is the death of not only your marriage, but all your dreams for the future. You work through the grief or you pay for it later. I worked very hard on that because I wanted to come out the other end in a good place.
I learned that what we see of people’s lives – looking from the outside – isn’t necessarily a true picture. Stuff happens. We have kids to raise, bills to pay, husbands to divorce, elderly parents to care for. And you just deal with it because that’s what you have to do. Winston Churchill said “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” That’s the truth!
My local RWA chapter was so supportive. Heart of Dixie is without doubt one of the best groups I’ve ever belonged to because it IS so supportive. They still love you even if your full manuscript got rejected (I received the letter a few weeks after RWA Nationals in 2009). And they don’t kick you out when your muse enters the Witness Protection Program (I swear that’s where she was because I couldn’t find her ANYWHERE).
She did eventually come back though she and I still share a very tenuous relationship. I sold a novella and a short story to Boroughs in 2013. And that first novel that was rejected after Nationals 5 years ago? My editor loves it and offered me a contract – not quite 5 years after I received the rejection letter. And she offered a contract for a sequel to it over breakfast in San Antonio back in July.
Lament away because it’s good to get it out of your system (I have paid good money to a therapist to tell me this). But stop comparing yourself to others because you are only setting yourself up for disappointment. Along this journey I’ve made so many great friends – friends who’ve dropped everything to listen to me cry, a friend who changed weekend plans to invite me to her home for dinner, friends who took me out to dinner after divorce mediation so I wouldn’t have to go home and face HIM, friends who gave up a Saturday to help me move, friends who’ve kept me from sinking into a deep hell-hole of depression, a friend who offered to loan me the money for Nationals, interest free, until I got my divorce settlement. And the list just goes on and on and on. And I think if it came down to a choice between the friends and a contract – I mean a choice where I could ONLY have one or the other – the friends would win hands down. But fortunately, we don’t have to make that choice.
Hang in there. And here, you can share my string. *smile*
CA: Marilyn, you’re awesome. Giving you BIG HUGS right now! Folks, check out this book!
Max jangled his car keys in his hand as he waited at Victoria’s door. He felt as nervous as a fifteen-year-old on his first date. He wore the gray pants and navy blazer Victoria had approved together with a brilliantly white shirt and a yellow tie with small navy dots. He wiggled his toes in his new black oxfords and marveled at how comfortable they were. True to her word, Victoria had steered a wide berth around wing tips and had showed him that style and comfort were not mutually exclusive.
He knocked a second time and nervously straightened his tie. And when she finally opened the door and he got his first glimpse of her, he let out a low whistle. His gut told him he would have a hard time keeping his hands off her.
And hard was the operative word as his body twitched below his belt. The black dress had a ruffled skirt that skimmed her knee. The V neckline teased at her cleavage but left plenty to the imagination. Simple sapphire and diamond earrings sparkled as they caught the light, and he saw a matching bracelet circling her wrist. While her high-heeled shoes were plain, they made her legs seem as if they went on forever. And when she bent to pick up her purse from a table beside the door, he caught a glimpse of her black lacy bra and gritted his teeth in an effort to will his body to cooperate.
This might be a very long and very frustrating night.
After taking her arm and helping her negotiate the steps down to the drive, he held her purse and wrap while she settled into the passenger side of his SUV. She had certainly taken her own advice to heart. She was stylish and understated, but he wasn’t so sure her classic beauty wouldn’t make her stand out like a diamond among pieces of coal.
They chatted about mundane things for most of the drive to his parents’ estate, but when he turned into the long drive lined by towering pines, he posed a question. “Are you okay with me introducing you tonight as my image consultant? I mean, that won’t make you feel like…well, you know.” He was at a loss for words.
“What you are trying to ask is if I’ll be insulted if people think I am your employee.”
“Well, yeah. I mean, you’re not, but in this crowd, that’s liable to be what people assume. I was just thinking you might drum up a little business when people see how you turned the beast into Prince Charming.”
“Too bad I didn’t tame his raging ego, too.”
Victoria laughed, and once again Max had to scold his misbehaving libido.
Folks, here’s where you can find her:
A little more about Marilyn: In 2001, Marilyn discovered romance novels quite by accident, which led to a renewed interest in writing. She’s had over forty stories published in the confessions and romance magazines and taught a class in how to effectively write for this genre. She is a member of Romance Writers of America and her local RWA chapter, Heart of Dixie Romance Writers. Her involvement on the local and national levels has combined to give her a great love of the romance genre and to develop friendships that span the globe.
In addition to reading and writing, Marilyn loves to knit simple things, cook in the crockpot and garden in a few pots on her patio. Her motto is “Have passport, will travel,” and she recently added Ireland and Wales to the list of 32 states and 21 foreign countries she has visited.
A native of North Carolina, she came to Huntsville, Alabama by way of Frankfurt, Germany. She has lived there longer than anywhere else and calls it home. After raising two great sons, she loves to dote on her two granddaughters. And somewhere amidst all the above, she fits in a day job as an administrative assistant for a boutique law firm.
Thanks for dropping by! Please let me know if you pick up the book. Marilyn will probably be in and out today, so feel free to ask her questions.
Thanks for having me, Christine! I’ll check in when I can. From noon til around six p.m. I’m dealing with traffic and work, but before and after I’m home.
Marilyn–what a fantastic attitude you have. You are very inspiring! May your muse never desert you again:)
Wonderful interview! Thanks for sharing to both of you.
Nice interview, Marilyn.