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Q&A (Interview Questions by Ann Montclair)​​​​​​​​​​​ for Alaina Claiborne

Tell me a little bit about you the person, not the writer.
I grew up on the Southern California coast, but always preferred the mountains, which is how I ended up calling Montana home. I originally wanted to be a K-9 cop, then a lawyer, then an elementary school teacher, then a cultural anthropologist, then a chef—now I’m a writer and business owner, so you never know which direction life will take. My favorite days are those spent away from phones and computers. I eat some form of chocolate every day, detest soda, never had a cup of coffee, Castle and Downton Abbey are my new favorite TV shows, I love to be in the kitchen, and I enjoy curling up by the fire with a good historical romance or thriller. And, as far as I’m concerned autumn is the perfect time of year.

Who do you read for inspiration? Who are your influences? Why?
I’d have to say that Kathleen E. Woodwiss and Johanna Lindsey were my original writing influences. They have very different styles, but I enjoyed every book of theirs I ever read, which is rare for me. I knew I wanted to aspire to be the type of author about which a reader could say the same. I read too many authors and genres to list, and my tastes are eclectic, and not necessarily within genres in which I write. I gravitate toward historical fiction first, and then branch into thrillers and westerns. I have a few shelves of non-fiction titles too. One genre I rarely read or enjoy is paranormal—I save that for X-Files marathons.


In your opinion, what makes a book a good read?
If I can connect with the characters—that’s always a priority. Even if a book is in one of my so-so genres, if the characters are awesome, I’m more likely to read it. I love flawed characters—not enough books have them.


In your opinion, what makes a book a poor read?
Dull, lifeless characters, and page after page of too much description. I love to feel a part of the story, to know what the character is seeing and how they’re feeling, but if it takes 5 pages to talk about one meal or two pages to describe a table setting, then they’ve lost me.


What’s your ideal writing environment? Do you have any special rituals you enact or “must haves” before you write?
I’m a complete grouch if disturbed without good reason (sort of like when I don’t get enough sleep), so I definitely like a quiet area in which to write. I tend to wear noise-reducing headphones with soft music playing. If I’m working on a historical western, sometimes I’ll listen to old western movie music. I always fix a cup of herbal tea, fill my water cup, and grab a few bits of chocolate. I’ve recently begun spending about ten minutes doing yoga before I write—I find it helps clear my thoughts and it’s a nice transition between “life” and writing. Where I write depends on my mood. Sometimes I prefer working on my desktop in my office, but I’ll often move around the house with my laptop, or go outside if the weather is fair and conducive to what I’m writing. I like bundling up in the autumn on a lounge chair outside, before the snow begins falling—it’s a lovely way to write.

What inspired you to write the novel you're publishing?
Alaina Claiborne is a story I absolutely wanted to tell because the characters have been with me for many years, and the story did develop slowly over those years. It wasn’t until I began working with my new editor that I realized the potential of the book and the series. I’m not usually inspired by any one thing to write a specific book—the ideas just happen. I mull it over, play out scenes in my mind, and if I can see the characters take on a life, chances are I’ll write their story. I like pretending the characters are starring in a movie, with me playing the part of the heroine (of course). This one was especially fun—handsome British agents, horses, a grand English estate, and travelling the high seas—so fun I want to do it again!


Describe your cover. Is it a scene from your book? Do you like it? Why? 
This is my favorite cover so far, and I’ve had a lot of great feedback on it. It was redone for the second edition release of the book, and though it’s not a specific scene from the book, it probably could be. In fact, I wanted to use the cover image of the woman riding the horse so badly that I ended up changing the hair color of the heroine to match the cover. This is the first time I’ve changed the way a character looks because of the book cover.


Q&A (Interview Questions by Book 'em NC)​​​​​​​​​​​ for Alaina Claiborne


Why did you choose England as the backdrop for your book? What was it about that region and the 19th century that captivated you?

I’ve always wanted to visit England, but have only been as close as their northern neighbor, Scotland. That hasn’t stopped my fascination with the country, from a historical standpoint. Growing up I wanted to be more English, like most of my ancestors. I would have proper tea parties, speak as they do, and even adopted a few of their customs. I’ve since relaxed some of that behavior, but after years of engraining England into my mind, it seemed like a good fit to base a book there. Now I’m obsessed with Scotland rather than England, but that’s another story.

As for the time period—it’s not present-day. Yes, it doesn’t take much to captivate me with any time period during or before the 19th century. So much chance occurred at the turn of the century, and if I had been there I would have wished to go back a hundred years. If you transported me back in time to the 18th or 19th century, I’d fit in quite nicely.

Was Tristan Sheffield's vocation of finding people who don't want to be found based on anyone you've known? Did you have to research ways in which people could be located long before modern technology?

I don’t know any spies or special agents, but what a wealth of information they would have been! There was a bit of research involved, but basically what it came down to was playing it out. Here’s Tristan and he has a problem to solve—he has to find the bad guys. How does he do that? To answer that question, I simply had to take away all possible methods that involve modern technology. After that, you’re not left with much except for a lot of leg work, letters, and reports. I imagine they weren’t in great moods when they found people.

Will Tristan and Alaina return in future books?

Absolutely! They will both appear in the other British agent novels. I originally didn’t plan on a series, but I enjoyed Charles and Devon so much that I knew they needed their own stories. It pleases me not to have to say goodbye to Tristan and Alaina.

How would you describe your writing style?

Diana Gabaldon described it best: “Writing successfully is a matter of figuring out how your own brain works, and doing that—not trying to adopt someone else’s methods.”

I, like many new authors, are works-in-progress—our styles are still developing. I’m certainly getting closer, but I’m still figuring out my own methods.

What advice would you give to new authors?

This answer ties into question four and Diana’s advice—it’s also a recent lesson learned. I have purchased a dozen or so how-to writing books over the years and guess what—I’ve read only one. The others are in the library donation pile. Reading books about someone else’s writing style (or how they think you should write) isn’t going to help an author develop their own unique style. The only way to do that is to write.

The second piece of advice I have for new authors—find a good editor. Whether you’re self-publishing, or preparing a book for submission to a traditional publisher, you need an editor. Trust me, no matter how much you think you know about editing, or the English language, you don’t (yes, once upon a time that was me too). Agents and publishers alike enjoy tossing poorly edited manuscripts in the “I’m not even going to bother” pile.

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