Interview: Mary Billiter

Billiter headshotJen:  Today we welcome Mary Billiter, who also writes as Pumpkin Spice, to Romancing the Book.  Mary, will you share a short bio with us?
Mary:  Mary Billiter is a weekly newspaper columnist and fiction author. She also has novels published under the pen name, “Pumpkin Spice.”

Pumpkin Spice is the published author of adult romantic fiction. Her naughty fairy tale line Scarlett Hood & The Hunter and Goldie Locks & The Three Brothers Bear is published by Evernight Publishing along with her Cupid Conquest romance, “The Hart Moment.” Pumpkin’s favorite time of year is fall when the leaves are turning, the weather is crisper and the nights are a whole lot longer.  Follow her on Twitter: @PumpkinSpiceU2

Read more about Mary and her work at:  Website | Twitter

Jen: Please tell us about your newest release and where the idea came from.
May: After wrapping up a very chaste, G-rated, sweet romance, I found myself utterly bored by the saccharin ending. And I wrote it! Then a red-headed chef popped into my head and Lucy Baker came to life.

Lucy Baker is in the airport with her bestie, Rachel waiting to check her bags, get her boarding pass and make the big jump from Orange County, California to a new job that’s waiting for in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Lucy’s nervous, scared and excited. The pastry chef is leaving the life she knows for something she knows nothing about.

When an impatient, outspoken cowboy in line tries to hurry them along with an off putting remark, Lucy turns on the heels of her boots and takes the bait. She comes eye-to-eye with two cowboys. But the sparks that ignite immediately between Lucy and Ben can’t be ignored. They bicker back and forth in a heated verbal repartee that is laden with sexual tension. Lucy wants nothing to do with Ben but they keep getting thrust in situations with each other that make their desire impossible to deny.

Ben and Lucy popped off the page and onto the plane, train and back onto the plane before I had a chance to put the brakes on the heat that happened between them. This story wrote itself. So while I had never written erotica, once Lucy started to describe her baking techniques to Ben, sparks flew. It also didn’t hurt that it was New Year’s Eve, because, really, anything’s possible on the cusp of a New Year.

Jen: Are there any other writers, published or not, in your family?   Who has influenced you as a writer?
Mary: I’m going to tie two questions together! As the daughter of a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist my father greatly influenced my writing. His influence on my craft happened around the dinner table.

Every night my father would come home in his suit, tie and black Fedora – this was an era when everyone dressed like Don Draper from “Mad Men” only my father looked more like Charlie Brown. Still even with his round head and little ball of hair on top, when he arrived home from the newspaper everyone in my family had the same reaction – excitement.

During suppertime he would tell us stories from his day – who he interviewed, where he went, and what he saw. My father was the voice for the common man and often his human interest stories were about their struggles.

He painted a picture with his words that captivated me and made me want to meet these people and experience their life because I felt their plight.

I earned my Bachelor of Arts in journalism and as a 29 year career journalist my foothold in the newspaper industry has been as a weekly columnist.

It happened by accident when an editor needed someone to fill the slot for the opinion page. I found that I could use my voice for those who didn’t have one – victims of the domestic violence, sexual abuse survivors and most recently through my own diagnosis breast cancer.

As a novelist, I have published works that unearth a bevy of emotion for my readers because of the back story within the novel (“Not My Kid…” “The XYZ Affair”) Other times I find two characters like Lucy Baker and Ben whose sexual attraction toward each other is undeniable and intensified by their verbal sparring that truly ignites the fire.

In any romantic relationship it’s the build-up that provides the greatest return. The sexual tension between Lucy and Ben heightens throughout the story for the maximum pay-off.

However whether I’m writing for the newspaper, a short story or a novel, the essence of good writing is painting a visual picture for the reader through setting, dialogue and character.

I always imagine how I would tell a story around the dinner table to hold my audience captive. And if I can do it half as well as my father then I’ve got a good start.

Jen: Describe your writing in 3 words.
Mary: Raw, emotional & real
Other times it’s Clever, witty & sinfully naughty
It all depends on my mood.

Jen: Are you a plotter or pantser?
Mary: I’m a seat of the pants writer all the way. Plotting is a helpful tool for some writers, however, I have found that it interferes with my creativity. I don’t even like writing a synopsis in advance because afterward I feel as though I’ve already written the story. I’ve done it when it’s been required, but it’s not my writing preference. I prefer flying by the seat of my pants.

Jen: How do you remember ideas that come to you at odd times?
Mary: Whether it’s overhead dialog or a newspaper clipping, I have a file labeled “Fill Copy.” Any time I hear something or see something, I either write it at down on whatever piece of paper that’s available – napkin, ATM receipt, or take-away menu. Or if I have my cell phone with me, I text it to myself. If it’s in the newspaper or magazine, I rip it out.

Regardless of how I gather these gems, I put them into my “Fill Copy” file. For all things saved electronically, I place them in my word document of the same name. This allows me to pull from the well at any given time.

Here’s an example of how one newspaper clipping turned into a naughty fairy tale. This post originally appeared on USA Today’s Happily Ever After

Goldie Locks and The Three Brothers Bear began from a headline in our local Wyoming newspaper that sparked my attention: Woman Arrives Home To Find Man Sleeping In Her Bed. Isn’t that how all good fairy tales begin? In this news story, a local woman returned home from an evening away to find an unknown man literally sleeping in her bed!

Apparently, the guy tied one on and wandered into her home instead of his own. Footnote: In Wyoming, people leave their keys in their cars. So an unlocked front door isn’t that uncommon. By the time the police arrived, they found the unknown man still passed out in her bed. The guy ended up being charged with public intoxication.

Still, while it wasn’t meant to be funny, the article had me laughing. In my mind, it had all the makings for a modern-day romantic fairy tale — with a twist. Instead of the golden one tormenting the bears, I opted for the three brothers Bear to each individually crash into Goldie’s life — accidentally, of course. The result? Goldie Locks and The Three Brothers Bear will hopefully have you laughing from start to finish. As one brother Bear upon the next stumbles into Goldie’s bed, crashes her dinner date and tanks her girls’ night out at the tavern, each brother makes a debacle of Goldie’s life. Goldie can’t wait to rid herself of the brothers Bear — except one. Because isn’t that how fairy tales are supposed to end?

Sometimes, as writers, we search for inspiration anywhere and everywhere we can find it — in crowded coffee lines, eavesdropping on conversations or people-watching at malls. Who knew that a good story could come out of a seemingly bad-news story?

So the next time I’m stuck in a writer’s slump, I’m not going to grab a coffee and hope that the person in front of me in line has some juicy gossip I can grab. And I’m also not going to head to the mall, rubber necking for someone to do something worthy of a plot. Nope. I’m going to go as far as my front door. That’s where my newspaper carrier tosses my paper each and every morning. And if he’s ever late, I’ll log online. The headlines alone are worth reading. Here was one today: Managing Imaginary Cash Pays Off For Student, which, of course, is how the emperor should have paid for his new clothes.

About Goldie Locks and The Three Brothers Bear:

In the merry village of Amāre, love isn’t just the town’s namesake—it’s a way of life. When Goldie Locks unexpectedly meets the three brothers Bear, she soon discovers that oldest brother, Dylan, is charming, but too passive. Youngest brother, Camden is attractive, but much too aggressive. But the middle brother, Hayden, with his brooding eyes, delicious body and keen sense of timing, well he’s just right.

Jen: What’s been the highlight of you career to this point?
Mary: Pumpkin Spice’s debut novel — Scarlett Hood & the Hunter — was nominated by readers as a finalist in the 2015 Third Annual Evernight Readers’ Choice Awards.

Scarlett was a standout at the awards — it was nominated only a month after its release, competing with others that had been out for up to a year, and became a finalist. Additionally it was nominated by LR Café Readers and was a finalist in the Best Fantasy novel for 2015.

I was extremely humbled that readers recognized and embraced my work. It was a first for me and so it remains the sweetest.

Jen: What’s next for you?
Mary: I have two completed manuscripts – one romance “Do Not Disturb” and one psychological thriller “A Divided Mind.” It is my greatest hope the gods of publishing chose to pick either, if not both, to release.

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