We have a big interview this week with Deborah Cooke, an author who first began her writing career as a published historical romance author in the early 90s. Now, she is one of the more popular paranormal romance authors who self-publishes her own titles!
In this interview, Deborah talks about her early beginnings, why she made the move into paranormal romance, what her life as a writer is like, and much more!
Please tell our readers a little bit about yourself.
I’ve always been fascinated by stories (reading them and writing them) but was encouraged in school to get a “real job” and keep writing as a hobby. It wasn’t until I had a real job and was bored out of my mind that I started to seriously pursue publication.
It took me a couple of years of sending work off to New York and combing through rejection letter for pearls of wisdom, but I finally sold my first book to Harlequin Historicals in 1992. At the time, that house liked authors to take a pseudonym and since my book was a medieval romance set in France (and I always thought it would be cool to have a French name), the book was published under the pseudonym Claire Delacroix.
I wrote a lot of historical romances as Claire, ultimately eleven for Harlequin Historicals, six for Dell, six for Warner Books, as well as four time travels and four contemporary romances published by Berkley under the pseudonym Claire Cross. (Which I thought readers would obviously link to Claire Delacroix, but I still meet people who have no idea I wrote under both names.) It wasn’t until I sold my Dragonfire series of paranormal romances to NAL that I began to publish under my own name, Deborah Cooke. Dragonfire was eight romances long, with a spin-off YA trilogy, when I left NAL to go indie. I’d also published an urban fantasy romance series with TOR under the name Claire Delacroix, too.
Since going indie, I’ve completed the Dragonfire series with the final three books, republished a lot of backlist titles, published two medieval romance series as Claire, and in 2016 launched both a new PNR series called the Dragons of Incendium (dragon shifters in space! Ha. This is too much fun) and a contemporary romance series called Flatiron Five.
As you can see from the above, I love to write in different subgenres, although all of my books are romances. I also often include paranormal or fantasy elements in my stories because I like a touch of magic sometimes. I live in Canada with my family and (ahem) am a pretty avid knitter. You can find me on Ravelry and see the scary dimensions of my stash for yourself there. (It’s, um, not all documented, either.)
Have you always wanted to be a writer? How long have you been writing?
As mentioned above, I’ve always written stories. I began to pursue publication around 1990 or so and have been published since 1993. (That first book sold in 1992, but the production cycle in traditional publishing is about a year long.)
We know you write Paranormal romance. Do you now, or have you ever written any other genres? If so, which? What makes PNR different than other genres?
I’ve written a lot of medieval romance, some with fantasy elements, and some fantasy with romantic elements. They have a problem with a portal to the realm of the Fae at Kinfairlie, for example, so The Jewels of Kinfairlie series and The True Love Brides series have fantasy elements.
The Champions of St. Euphemia are medieval action-adventure romances set during the Crusades. The Rogues of Ravensmuir are gothic romances. I did write four time travel romances. I’ve written apocalyptic fiction (The Prometheus Project) which features fallen angel heroes trying to save us and our world after nuclear war.
My Coxwell Series is contemporary romance and romantic comedy, as is my new Flatiron Five series. And yes, there are the PNR series—Dragonfire, which features dragon shifter heroes, The Dragon Diaries, which is the YA spin-off series starring the next generation of dragon shifters in that world, and the Dragons of Incendium, which follows dragon shifter princess from space and the men bold enough to love them.
I love worldbuilding, so PNR or fantasy romance offers the opportunity to do that. I like the notion that there’s more in the world than what immediately meets the eyes, so hidden races of dragon shifters works for me. I also like to use mythology in my stories, so the idea that dragons DO exist and that we’ve tamed them in our stories to hide the truth, is also an idea I like a lot.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? What kind of research, if any, do you do for your books?
I was by inclination a pantser when I first started out, as I suspect many writers are. It’s not as open-ended a process as it sounds, since most writers were avid readers first and have an instinctive sense of where the story should go or how it should twist to be unpredictable.
I had to learn to be a plotter when selling to New York publishers, because they buy works on synopsis. I learned how to write those beasts, although I still don’t like doing it. That’s because for me, writing the story is part of the adventure of discovering it. Once I write a synopsis, I don’t want to write the story—in a way, I already have, even if the synopsis is only ten pages long. There’s no thrill of discovery, or much less of one (since stories don’t always follow the synopsis in the writing) but I do find that it demotivates me.
So, now that I’m in charge 🙂 my working style is somewhere in the middle. I always know where the story has to end, as that’s part of the initial idea for me. I doodle a sequence of events or turning points, and write until I don’t know what comes next. Then I work on the next sequence of events, or rework the progression from the beginning. It’s less efficient in a way, but I think it yields better results because it accommodates both having a plan and letting the characters change the plan. Characters always have the best ideas, after all, and when they run off with the plot, it’s best IME to listen.
From start to finish, how long does it take you to write a book? How many rounds of revisions to you go through before the story hits the shelves?
That depends upon the length of the book. I write a 90-100,000 word book in two to three months. A novella of 25,000 words will often take me two months, because I don’t write short. When I write a novella, I write it long then throw out big chunks of it as I condense it. It’s a very inefficient process and an annoying one, so I tend not to write novellas. A short story, though, can be a lovely clean week’s work of 10 to 15,000 words. I suspect the issue is that I’m trying to fit a whole book into the word count of a novella when I write one, whereas I can think of a short story as being just that.
Because I go forward and back in the book file as I write, I don’t work in drafts. Everything behind me, so to speak, has to be clean. Typically, I’ll write the first 3000 to 5000 words of a book, then revise those words the next day before writing the next piece. I work always in order, from start to finish. When I’m stuck or discover a change that has to be worked into the book, I go back to the beginning and make the revision up to my current place in the story before continuing. This means that when I write the last scene or series of scenes, I edit them, and am done. I spellcheck, then send the book to my editor. I often think of small additions or changes while the book is off my desk, so to speak, so this phase of separation from the manuscript is important to my process.
When I wrote for traditional publishers, there would be many editorial passes on a book, and I’m used to that routine. So, I’d deliver a book and my editor might request revisions or changes. I’d revise and resubmit, and if she approved it, the book would go to a copy editor and then a line editor. It would come back to me for review, then go back to the house for typesetting etc. I’d see the book one last time, after it had been proofread and typeset, before it was published. I don’t use as many steps now, but the editor I work with routinely will go through the book twice, typically. I use the spellcheck in my word processor, as well as Grammarly, and I have some beta readers with very sharp eyes. The beauty of digital publishing and of being indie is, of course, that ebook files can be updated at any time, if an error is discovered later. There was nothing more irritating in traditional publishing than to find a typo on the publication date and know that it would never ever be fixed.
Well, not quite never. As I republish backlist titles that have reverted to me, I’m fixing those typos!
What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk? Do you have any writing rituals or habits that others might find a little odd?
I think that writers are a bit odd, no matter how you look at it. Most people who define themselves by their creative work are—and that’s a good thing! I like to listen to music while I write, and usually it’s pretty loud. It’s common for me to listen to the same music over and over and over again while writing a book—it become associated with that book as I write. Even though I don’t consciously hear it anymore, it helps me to find the thread and the mood of the story.
When I send a book to my editor, I clean my desk and usually my office, too. I might get crazy and clean the house. It feels like sweeping out the old ideas and making room for new ones, something I need because I usually change subgenres with each new project. Is that odd?
What’s your favorite genre/sub-genre to read? What are you reading now?
I read to be surprised, so my taste in reading ranges all over the bookstore. I buy books because I’m drawn to their covers and I finish reading them only if they intrigue me. I like to see how different authors play with words and voice and story, and because I want to try every single option available at least once, I seldom read more than one book by any given author.
On the other hand, I also tend to read bestsellers. If there’s a megahit book, I’ll pick up a copy to try to see its appeal. Sometimes I can’t. But I believe that popular fiction is a mirror of popular culture, so when a story is resonant for a large segment of the book-reading population, I want to know why.
Tell us more about your Dragons of Incendium series. Is each story a stand-alone book, or is this a serial where we will follow the same characters throughout?
The Dragons of Incendium are fun. In my Dragonfire series, the dragon shifters were all male (except for one female at any given time, who was a seer called the Wyvern. The YA spin-off series tells of the coming of age of the new Wyvern when she turns sixteen.) I wanted to explore the notion of female dragon shifters, so there are twelve princesses on Incendium, each a royal dragon shifter.
There is a second planet in the same system as Incendium called Regalia, and the parental notion was that the oldest daughter of Incendium should marry the oldest son of Regalia to form an alliance. Relations are uneasy between the two empires. That plan didn’t work out well, as we learn in book #1, which created even more problems between the kingdoms. I love peeling back the layers of this conflict and revealing the history of both these shifters and their world.
Each book in the series features one of them finding her HEA. The other characters may appear in cameo roles and we do keep up with their news a bit, which means it’s best to read the series in order. My current release is book #3, Wyvern’s Warrior, which is the story of Thalina “the quiet one” who has a fascination with automatons. Thanks to Thalina, I discovered that androids are outlawed on Incendium—an irritation for her, as she desperately wants to learn more about them. When an intruder breaks into the palace and Thalina guesses that he’s an android, she knows she has to intervene, isolate him and seize the chance to study him before he’s annihilated. That android, Acion, has just has his programming enhanced and is a little disoriented by that. He has no idea what’s in store for him. I like characters who challenge and surprise each other, and this pair do just that.
Structurally, the Incendium series is different from Dragonfire. Both series have an overarching story arc and should be read in order, but the Dragonfire novels are about 100,000 words long each. The Dragons of Incendium stories were supposed to be shorter—a novella for each princess, followed by a short story that showed more of the world. You’ve already read about my issue with novellas, so you won’t be as surprised as I was that my novellas are running closer to 50,000 words than 25,000. I’m not cutting them down, because I don’t have to make them fit someone else’s specifications (as is the case when there will be four novellas published in a single volume, which should be the size of a 100,000 word book). I’m having a huge amount of fun with my dragon shifters from space, and am loving the world building.
One of the things I decided to do to support this series was to give it a website of its own. I also have a glossary on that site, as a reference for readers, and probably need to add some downloadable family trees. You can find the Dragons of Incendium site at http://dragonsofincendium.com
And now for the silly… if you had to choose one paranormal creature to be, which would you choose? Why?
Obviously, a dragon. 🙂 I think dragons are pretty awesome. There’s the cleverness and the fascination with solving riddles, the affection for building a hoard, their protective nature, their passion and beauty, and—of course—their abilities to breathe fire and to fly.
Could you tell us a little about what you have in the works that readers can look forward to? Is there another book in the making?
Next in the Incendium series will be a short story. I know what it’s about but not what it’s called yet. It’ll probably be published in February. I have a medieval romance coming out in March, The Crusader’s Vow by Claire Delacroix, which completes the Champions of St. Euphemia series, and takes the quest to Scotland. The next book in my Flatiron Five series will be published in June, and I’m hoping to have another Incendium novella published in the spring. It all depends upon how cooperative my dragon princesses decide to be.
One of the things that I’m hoping will happen soon is that the rights for the rest of the Dragonfire novels will revert to me. As of today (January 3), I have the rights to five of the eight books originally published by NAL. When I have the rights to the first three books in the series back, I’ll republish the entire series in new editions, along with a companion volume. I’m really looking forward to that, and hope it happens in 2017. Fingers crossed!
Can you share a short excerpt of your newest release?
This is the synopsis and an excerpt from Chapter One from Wyvern's Warrior:
A stranger arrives on Incendium in secret, but is intercepted by Princess Thalina when he tries to break into the palace. Thalina knows the mysterious mercenary is more than he pretends to be, so lets him abduct her to uncover his secrets. Acion is seldom surprised, but this dragon princess challenges all of his assumptions—while Thalina’s realization that Acion is her destined mate changes her own plans. Can she win the heart this warrior doesn’t appear to have—or will Acion be executed for breaking Incendium’s law first?
There were no dragons on Incendium.
Acion wasn’t disappointed because he didn’t have the programming for such an emotional reaction. He wasn’t surprised, since didn’t have that capacity, either. All the same, he had a sense of something lacking.
That was new, so he analyzed it.
It was a strange awareness, unlike anything he’s experienced before. It was so unusual that he couldn’t even compare it to anything. (He tried.)
He walked through Incendium’s capital city, seeking explanations in his vast datastores.
There was a fifty per cent probability that this reaction was due to the fact that he couldn’t add to his log by investigating a life form he hadn’t previously encountered. But still, it was illogical that he’d never experienced this sense of lack before. He’d been confronted with such obstacles many times in the past and had simply created new strategies to correct the omission.
There was a ninety-five per cent chance that this new experience was due to the enhanced programming that the Hive had insisted upon installing before Acion’s departure on this mission. That would explain its novelty.
The notion satisfied Acion. He calculated a ninety-seven per cent probability that the Hive was testing this new software. That was logical. He existed to serve. Acion gave full rein to his newfound sense of incompletion, knowing that the data from his sensors could only help the Hive to continue to refine androids such as himself.
But where were the dragons? Incendium was ruled by a king who was a dragon shifter, who was married to a dragon shifter, and who had twelve dragon shifter daughters. Incendium had a population that was predominantly humanoid, but which also included about seven per cent dragon shifters. This information was in his brief. Given the number of people in Incendium’s capital city, Acion found it reasonable that he should have seen at least one dragon. In fact, by his calculations, based on the number of humanoids he’d counted since leaving the starport, he should have seen forty-three.
But he didn’t.
Oh, there were dragons on pennants, dragon-shaped jewelry, dragons embroidered on clothing and dragons in shop windows. He paused before one window, that of a clockmaker, his attention caught by a glittering display. The dragon flapped its wings and took flight, circling around a castle tower and breathing fire. The castle was about half Acion’s height and the dragon could have sat on his hand.
The children on either side of him were clearly delighted, but Acion didn’t understand. The dragon was made of metal. The ‘fire’ was a twisting piece of orange glass, fixed in the dragon’s mouth, which spun as the dragon ‘flew’. The dragon was secured to a metal stick, which terminated in a track that circled the castle. It was mechanical and not a real dragon at all.
He considered that as an illusion, it was somewhat lacking. What was the appeal?
The children chattered to each other in their excitement, using the universal galactic tongue. Acion heard an inflection on the vowels, which must be the local variant, but knew he could mimic that well enough.
“Where are the real dragons?” he asked one child.
“You’re not from here,” the little boy declared, startling Acion with his conviction.
A most unexpected assertion, and one worthy of investigation. “How can you tell?” The boy’s reply would help Acion to improve his ability to blend into local society.
Not that he would be on Incendium for long.
“Everyone knows they’re in the palace,” the boy said with scorn and pointed to the castle that loomed over the town. It was built of local stone cut into large blocks and constructed upon a natural hill. Acion knew this from his brief, but found that the actual castle appeared much larger than in the records he’d reviewed. The biggest dragon pennant he’d seen so far snapped in the wind above its high tower. It was deep blue with a golden dragon on it.
He recognized the colors and insignia of the reigning monarch, King Ouros.
High above the tower, Acion could detect the Starstation of Incendium in low orbit, with shuttles rising to it and descending from it. They appeared as lights in a line, moving slowly up or down. Just hours before, he’d been on that station. He’d rented a Starpod of his own, as instructed, in order to ensure that his own quick departure from Incendium city wasn’t hampered. He estimated that he would be on that station again within 9.4 local hours.
Acion realized the child was still watching him, waiting for a reply.
“Then I’ll look there,” he said and bowed to the little boy. The brief had said that bowing was important in Incendium society, but Acion’s move seemed to amuse the boy. “Thank you for your assistance.” Acion turned to stride to the castle.
“Where are you from?” the boy called after him, but Acion ignored him.
That data was not available to that individual at that time.
It occurred to him that he might have just spoken to a dragon shifter, who had chosen his humanoid form for the moment.
Acion reviewed the information provided to him. The dragon shifters of Incendium came of legal age at eighty-one Incendium years, but there was no clear information as to their age when they gained the ability to shift shape in the first place. He made a notation on the Incendium file in his memory, drawing attention to the missing detail, then continued onward.
What was this strange sense he felt? He might call it desire, but it wasn’t sexual. He might call it a need, but it wasn’t like his body’s imperative for food or water or sleep. Acion searched the thesaurus in his databank and found a curiously apt word.
He tried it out. He yearned to see a dragon. That sounded true. It sounded right. It felt right, which was even more interesting. Acion nodded, satisfied by the Hive’s modifications to his programming. What nuance. What subtlety. His reaction was almost organic.
What was the cost of the change? Would his other reactions, the ones that ensured his survival, be compromised?
Acion ran a check of his systems and found all operating at full capacity.
The Hive had called the modifications ‘enhancements’. There was, after all, a ninety-seven per cent probability that Acion and his mission was a test of the effectiveness of these enhancements, whatever they were.
This was as it should be .
Acion existed to serve.
Where can our readers find you? Do you have a newsletter they can sign up for?
I have a FB group for readers of my paranormal romances. You’re welcome to join:
I blog most weekdays on my website:
My newsletter goes out once a month with news of sales and new releases, contests, discounts in my online store and more. In recent months, I’ve been participating in some multi-author promotions which require each participating author to send out a newsletter, so I’ve been sending out a few smaller bulletins each month in addition to the main newsletter. You can subscribe to my newsletter right here: http://eepurl.com/UCUdf
I also send out a new release alert when I have a new book out. It’s shorter and sweeter but some people prefer that. You can subscribe to it at:
You can shop my online store and download free reads as well as free samples, right here:
Right now, I have a GoodReads giveaway for book #1 in the Dragons of Incendium series, Wyvern’s Mate. It ends soon, so don’t miss your chance to enter:
Many thanks to Deborah for taking the time out of her hectic schedule to speak with us!