Interview with Natale Stenzel

Jen: Please help me welcome Natale Stenzel to Book Talk this weekend. Natale, will you please share a short bio with us?
Natale: An avid reader and an incurable writer, Natale Stenzel has sold seven books for publication so far. The latest three are a series of funny paranormal romances published by Dorchester Love Spell. Pandora’s Box, the first book in the series, was released in February 2008; The Druid Made Me Do It was an August 2008 release; and a third book, Between a Rock and a Heart Place, is scheduled for release in March 2009. Prior to the paranormal romance series, she wrote four books for Harlequin’s now defunct Flipside line of romantic comedies.

Born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, Natale earned degrees in English literature and magazine journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Currently, she resides in Richmond, Virginia, with a husband, two kids and a shamefully spoiled hound.

Jen: Tell us about Between a Rock and a Heart Place and where it’s available.
Natale: This is the third book in my series of funny paranormal romances featuring sexy, shape-shifting pucas, unexpected Druids, temperamental faeries, and even a flabbergasted human or two. The first book, Pandora’s Box, was released in February 2008, and the second book, The Druid Made Me Do It, was an August 2008 release. With this third book, Between a Rock and a Heart Place (Dorchester Love Spell ~ March 2009), we meet another kind of magical being in my enigmatic hero, Tremayne, a powerful nature spirit. His job is simple and yet enormously complicated. For two thousand years, he silently served as jailer to Riordan, the puca from Pandora’s Box; then we met Tremayne and wondered about him in The Druid Made Me Do It. In Between a Rock and a Heart Place, the Druids again call Tremayne into service, this time to keep a watchful — possibly dangerously so — eye over my heroine Daphne Forbes.

As an only child of feuding and exiled Druids — the dethroned king and queen of the weirdo cult, in her opinion — all Daphne wants is to start a new life far away from them. She wants to work and live among normal people who live in blissful ignorance of the existence of magic-wielding types like Druids, pucas and faeries. At long last, she has that new accounting job, that sleek new apartment, that new and utterly normal life lined up and waiting for her all the way on the other side of the country. Of course, this all blows up in her face. A stray thunk with no ordinary cornerstone and suddenly Daphne’s a non-practicing but hereditary Druid wielding puca powers and trying to suppress a lifetime’s worth of rage. The Druids won’t let her leave town now that she’s wielding undisciplined shape-shifting and mind-control powers — a virtual powder keg just waiting for a stray spark to incite flaming chaos. That brings us to Tremayne. He’s charged with helping Daphne learn how to control her powers or, failing that, *destroying* her in order to protect everyone else. This could prove difficult since he’s been fascinated with Daphne for months now. Makes for a bit of a rocky romance, I guess you could say.

Where can you get a copy? Between a Rock and a Heart Place should be available in bookstores everywhere — either already on the shelves or easily ordered at the help desk or at online bookstores. The first two books in the series can be ordered in person or online as well.

Jen: At what age did you discover writing and when were you first published? Tell us your call story.
Natale: I guess I ‘discovered’ writing when a teacher told me to discover it*g*. Seriously, I was about twelve or thirteen when a teacher asked me and a couple of other kids to help her start up a school newspaper because we didn’t have one. (The school was pretty new at the time.) She said I was a good writer. So . . . suddenly I was a writer. And I never stopped writing; not then, not in high school where I wrote for and/or edited the school newspaper, not in college where I earned degrees in English literature and magazine journalism . . . and look, here I am still. A lost cause, I guess*g*.

As for my “call story” . . . actually it didn’t even involve a telephone. It was really much cooler than that. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. I heard the good news in person — at the 2002 Romance Writers of America conference in Denver — that I’d sold FORGET PRINCE CHARMING to Harlequin. (It was published in November 2003 as part of their Flipside line.) When I heard those amazing words — “we’re going to buy your book” — I (cringe) screeched in the editor’s ears, blurted out my news amid tears to a stranger on the hotel elevator, giggled with it over the phone to my husband . . . and then celebrated for days with 2000 other people who knew exactly how much this news meant to me. Amazing. And yet really, really blurry. I slept hardly at all that whole conference. I was too excited to sleep! One really neat part: I wore that pink ‘first sale’ ribbon on my badge for the conference and people would always stop to congratulate me and ask for details. Eventually conversation would circle around to the question of *when* I made my first sale. My response: a mildly hysterical “three o’clock today” or yesterday or whenever. Eyes would goggle.

Jen: Are there any other writers, published or not, in your family?
Natale: There are a few English and journalism types perched in various branches of the tree. Also, my daughter’s been writing stories since she was first able to read them. I think she’s doomed*g*.

Jen: Describe your writing in three words.
Natale: lively, irreverent, dialogue-laden (I cheated a little with that last one)

Jen: Do you have a writing routine?
Natale: Sure. It’s pretty traditional, actually: Monday through Friday, 8 or 9 am to 5 pm, with breaks for lunch, dog walking and Diet Coke runs. I reserve weekends and evenings for my family unless I’m up against a deadline.

Jen: How many hours a day do you write?
Natale: Oh, see, that’s tricky. I’m on the computer a whole lot more than I’m writing. All my friends live there. Plus, productivity varies depending on how the story is going. Some days I get nothing done, some days I delete more than I write, and some days I pound out thirty pages. It all depends. And, if I’m on deadline, the hours get really hairy.

Jen: How do you pick the character’s names?
Natale: Baby naming books and online naming sites. Meanings do matter to me, but you also have to watch things like repeating names from past books, having too many characters with the same initial or same-sounding names. I also try to avoid wimpy sounding names, soap-opera-sounding names, names that remind me of unpleasantness. I will say — obliquely — that the names of my heroes in these books were chosen very deliberately. Oh, and of course, the heroine from Pandora’s Box is Pandemina Dorothy Avery (although she goes by ‘Mina’). Yes, I entertain myself*g*.

Jen: What’s the most challenging aspect of writing? Easiest?
Natale: Challenging – narrative and back story. I tend to skim a lot of it as a reader and generally don’t like writing it much either (probably because I picture other eyes skimming my paragraphs). Easiest – dialogue. I love dialogue. Remember the journalism background? Nothing was more valuable than a good quote. And in fiction . . . I get to make them all up myself! Oh, the power. Seriously, my first drafts always have that talking heads problem. They’re almost pure dialogue, so I have to go in and attach bodies to heads and plant them somewhere.

Jen: What’s the most rewarding aspect?
Natale: I love it when I’m completely engrossed in a story and come upon a blank spot, one I didn’t know how to fill, and yet my fingers just keep typing on through it and I discover something brand new. Just a story twist or dialogue piece that I never saw coming and then there it was. Sure, it’s just the subconscious at work, but it’s really, really wild — magical, even, in a Twilight Zone kind of way — when you’re in the middle of it.

Jen: Do you feel as if the characters live with you as you write? Do they haunt your dreams?
Natale: Nah. Sometimes, though, when I’m really lucky, I fall through into their world. If I’m quiet, don’t make a sound, don’t do anything except single-mindedly type what I see and hear while I’m there . . . It sounds goofy, I guess, but I have to try to get to them; they don’t come to me. Also, they are who they are. I don’t build characters; they already exist and my job is to recognize them and define what I experience. I can’t force or consciously manufacture anything. It’s frustrating.

Jen: What’s the most interesting comment you have received about your books?
Natale: Weeeeeeeeellllll . . . do you mean interesting interesting, interesting cool or interesting scary? I can do any of these. To err on the safe side, why don’t I tell you an interesting cool comment that I received recently*g*. I know a lot of writers clip out pictures of their characters for visual aid while they’re writing. I’ve never done that, but I usually have a mental picture of the character that begins as a vague sketch and then gets increasingly detailed as I go through the story until the picture is clear at the end. Well, somebody read one of my books recently and then e-mailed to ask me if I’d patterned my hero after so and so (an actor/celebrity). I didn’t recognize the name and, as I said, that wasn’t part of my process, so I said no . . . and who was he anyway? (I was curious.) So she e-mailed me a picture . . . goose bumps. Oh, my gosh! It was him! Like she saw right into my head and pulled out the picture of him. Seriously! And I have hair standing up on the back of my neck remembering it*g*. Very, very cool.

Jen: Who are some of your favorite authors and books? What are you reading now?
Natale: Oh, man. You’re kidding, right? You should see my keeper shelves; dh built me a wall full of bookshelves less than a year ago . . . and I’ve already outgrown them. Sssh. Don’t tell — he would weep. There are so many that authors that I enjoy that I can’t help forgetting somebody, but off the top of my head: Nora Roberts (loooooove her trilogies), Sherrilyn Kennyon, Christine Feehan, MaryJanice Davidson, Jayne Ann Krentz (in all her personae), Lori Foster, Julie Garwood, Katie MacAlister, Jennifer Crusie . . . oh, and cannot forget Kathleen Woodiwiss and Georgette Heyer. Who else . . . For romsuspense, I’d also recommend Jamie Denton, Mary Burton and Delores Fossen; for women’s fiction, you have to read Tanya Michna and Isabel Sharpe; for fun romantic adventure, you can’t lose with Lori Wilde or Jane Graves . . . I could go on and on, I told you. I’m stopping now to conserve page space*g*.

Jen: What’s next for you?
Natale: I have a hard time talking about projects while I’m still writing them, but I can say that I’m still really drawn to paranormals and that I’m also experimenting with some fun contemporaries.

Jen: Where can you be found on the web?
Natale: I’m also on Myspace, GoodReads, Shelfari, Facebook . . . look me up:). I love making new friends.

Jen: Is there anything you’d like to ask our readers?
Natale: Yes! What do you want to read? What is the romance novel market lacking for you right now? Anything you’re sick of? Anything you want to see more of? No names, please, just generalities. We aim to please, you know*g*. Just to sweeten the pot . . . I’ll be giving away a copy of either Pandora’s Box or The Druid Made Me Do It to one commenter here on Book Talk. Winner gets to choose.

Jen: Readers, you heard her. She’s giving away a book to a random commenter… so start commenting. I’ll pick a winner on Sunday, March 8 around 5 pm PDT.