Holly was born in New Jersey and moved to the Pacific Northwest at the age of eighteen. She’s always loved writing and expressing herself and scrupulously kept a journal at a young age. She started her first book around the age of nine, although she never completed it, and in high school was co-editor of her school’s literary magazine. She enjoys blogging and writing poetry as well as writing novels and reading. Although an American, Holly is fascinated with British and Scottish
history and culture; this interest is reflected in her choice to often use British spellings for words because she likes them better.
Holly likes exploring how a character’s personality changes and adapts as they are introduced to new experiences that are challenging. She also enjoys creating worlds and tales that are deep and complex that are driven by a solid story, yet have intense erotic elements.Much to her chagrin, Holly has many interests and has a hard time keeping up with them all. She enjoys cooking and has made wine with friends; she likes gardening, drawing, reading, video and board games, dancing, eighties music and yoga, to name a few of her more regular preoccupations.
She welcomes comments and questions at her website: http://www.hollyblackstone.com
1) What is the first book you read that comes to mind? Why is it so important to you?
H: I love reading and always would try to find something to read, whether it was a catalog of my mom’s, Reader’s Digest, National Geographic or her Archeology magazine. Probably the earliest ‘reading’ memory I have is of grabbing one of those and finding an article. My parents also didn’t let us read at the supper table, but at the time Kleenex’s ‘Man Size’ tissues had blurbs about America printed on the bottom, my dad kept a box of them at the table and I would periodically sneak a peek at it; I memorized Patrick Henry’s ‘Give me Liberty’ speech from the bottom of a box of tissues!
With regard to books specifically, one of the earliest memories I have about them is reading the ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ by C.S. Lewis – I still have the original box set from when I was six or seven. I loved the series because there was depth to them, (from a child’s point of view anyway!); the characters even in retrospect were more complex than you might expect, (for example, Eustance Clarence Scrubb), and some of them made mistakes, (Edmund is the easiest example), and grow from them. The world was rich, the story was interesting, and even though the series eventually dealt with difficult themes, (dying and materialism in the “The Last Battle”), I thought it was done well. I fully appreciate that there are clear religious overtones to the series, and am familiar with Lewis’ life and realise how big a part faith played in it, but it doesn’t detract. There are good lessons children can learn from the series, whilst being entertained simultaneously.
Perhaps a year or two later, I began to branch out and read other books that shaped me, particularly “A Night to Remember”, “Blade Runner” and a book about airship disasters, (I’m not joking!). If you’re tempted to think I couldn’t possibly have read those books at the tender age of seven or eight, I should add that I entered Kindergarten at four, knew my alphabet and could read at that time, and I kept a diary for nearly a decade beginning around the age of six. I’ve always loved words.
2) What made you start writing books?
H: Well, as I said I’ve always loved words, and the concept of ‘a book’ is powerful and frankly, beguiling. At any given moment, hundreds or thousands of people could be – unbeknownst to you – reading something you have created. Words are, (when taken care of), immortal, and can convey powerful and moving ideas about any topic you care to name, and the only barriers are language and access. (When I say language, what I mean is whether or not someone reads the language you’re writing in and access is whether a person can obtain books.) I started my first ‘novel’ at around nine or so, (I believe), presaging the fascination with a post apocalyptic world by decades. I never finished it, and lamented that I ever would. In late grammar school/high school I wrote a fair amount of poetry and short parable-style stories, was on my school’s literary magazine, but didn’t revisit the novel concept until a few years ago, although I’ve continued to read during that time.
About four years ago I had an idea for a fantasy story and tried to write it, but was apprehensive about finishing it, and whether it would be any good; I don’t want to write, (pardon my French), shitty books, and frankly, I think I was bogged down in a lot of minutiae, although some of the ideas were good and one in particular was clever.
I eventually put it aside until I once more became motivated to write something big; I was away from home managing a project, had my computer with me, and started reading erotica. (I had already read the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ series and other erotica years before.) I read “Fifty Shades of Grey” to see what all the hoopla was about and on the whole I was gobsmacked, but not in a good way. I was shocked at the poor portrayal of BDSM, how immature supposedly adult characters were, (gave it a creepy vibe for me), the sophomoric story and dialogue and how terrible the grammar was, yet it sold. I had some time, was in a small town and had little to do, so I decided to see if I could write an erotica novel and I finished, “An Accidental Affair”, in about two and a half weeks.
3) How much of you and/or your surroundings is a part of your stories? Is the influence based on a conscious decision, or do you periodically recognize yourself in one of your characters and it wasn’t planned?
H: I consider myself an observer of life and I write what I see and what I know,( to a good degree). I haven’t rescued anyone from a car, nor am I famous, so clearly the reactions of my characters to those events are extrapolations based on other things I have seen, and how I feel the characters I have created would respond.
There is at least a little bit of me in all of my, (major), characters, emotionally (as an investment), but also as a human. For example, I put a lot of heart, thought and emotion into trying to construct believable characters on paper, but many of them also contain certain attributes that I feel I have. I have been broken up with a lot, so I possess some of Lily’s relationship insecurity for example, but clearly that’s not all *I* am, and so I wanted to ensure it’s not all you come away with when you think about Lily either – although with regard to the story, it is an important aspect, especially in the beginning.
I set the first series in Washington because I love the Pacific Northwest, I live here and it felt good to write about it, to try to bring it alive for people, but when I describe places I haven’t been to, I read about the location to try and represent it faithfully.
On the whole then, there is a lot of planned inclusion of familiar themes and locations, but periodically I do re-read something and realise it is more telling or reflects something familiar to me more than I anticipated.
4) What author/actor or musician do you ‘fangirl/fanboy’ over?
H: This is that most difficult question yet! I actually don’t have a lot of people I fangirl over when I think about it. A long time ago I loved The Police and Def Leppard, and I’ve been periodically obsessed with Big Country and some other bands. When I saw “Man of Steel”, I saw a little of the pull that women felt for Henry Cavill. I guess the CLOSEST to someone I would fangirl over is the model David Gandy , and there is a reason for that. I was writing the Lily series and talking to my boyfriend, (Ray), and describing Stuart; we were waiting for a car to be serviced, and Ray was flipping through a “Men’s Health” magazine as we chatted. He stopped suddenly and said, ‘Is this what Stuart looks like?’, and showed me a picture of David Gandy in a Dolce & Gabbana ad for their Light Blue fragrance. Except for the slicked back hair in the ad, he looked A LOT like what I imagined Stuart to look like, and I’ve seen several pictures since where he looks just about perfect.
Now you probably think I am a bloody moron because David Gandy has been around for years; I’m sure I had seen him previously in advertisements but it didn’t click, or subliminally the archetype he represents was working on me, and it fell into place when Ray showed me that photo. As a result, I have a soft spot in my heart for him, and that’s probably as fangirl-y as I would get, although I would be absolutely petrified to meet him.
As for the closest author I would fangirl over… I actually sent an email to Sir Martin Gilbert, Winston Churchill’s official biographer because I LOVED “Churchill: A Life” so much. It is an amazing chronicle of the life of one of the greatest men in history and Sir Martin was kind enough to email me back! I couldn’t believe it, and I think I yelled out, “Holy shit, holy shit, he wrote back!”, or something similar and scared the cats. =) I don’t know how Sir Martin managed to keep so many facts and details straight but he did, and it resulted in a masterpiece of writing.
5) What does your perfect writing day look like? Do you plan when and how long you write, or does it happen without planning?
H: Well, things needs to be attended to in life and I can’t support myself entirely by writing yet, so “the best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft aglay”; as a result, it is difficult to plan a schedule and adhere to it daily, (for me, anyway). At the minimum, I promise myself that I will do at least one writing/book related item a day, (including Saturday), and at maximum, spend a good six hours or so writing.
Regrettably, being an author is more than just putting fingers to keyboard, and requires managing your book distribution, engaging in social media, proofreading, answering mail, writing blogs, doing research, etc. Some of it I don’t mind, (like the research bit and interacting with readers personally), whilst some of it – like managing distribution or figuring out how to market – are difficult.
An ideal writing day would mean my calendar is pretty clear, and I get to sit down and just WRITE. I actually write very quickly when I can get on a roll because I’m not interrupted and seem to just write faster and faster; this is how I was able to write my first book in just about seventeen days. If I get ‘stuck’, (I don’t usually get writers block, but might need to ruminate on how to work in something to the story), I’ll edit a book, do research or write in one of my other projects until I feel I can go back to my primary book.
There are some days where I try to clear everything off the docket as much as I can and devote it to writing, and those are great days!
6) What genre is the most intimidating when you think about writing in it? Explain why!
H: LOL. It took me a second and then I realised what it was – (male) gay erotica! I’m not a gay man, and so I would be worried that the fact I have no frame of reference would make the book terrible, that the characters, situations and interactions wouldn’t be believable and would feel forced.
7) What do you like to do when you are not writing? What do you think your profession would be if you were not an author?
H: Writing is never far from my mind, but when I’m not actively engaged in it, I have a lot of hobbies and interests to keep me busy. Besides my furry quadruped children, (my beloved cats), I love cooking and gardening, (it’s mostly container gardening, unfortunately). I love computers, and computer and board games; I REALLY enjoy art and like oil painting, sketching and watercolouring, and of course I also read. I like yoga, walking and spending time with Ray and my friends, and answering questions from awesome readers. =)
As for my alternate profession, I’ve been in the computer industry off and on for years, and I love science and math; my other ‘dream job’ would be working on nuclear rockets with someone like Robert Zubrin and trying to get humans to Mars.
8) What is the most touching reaction you have ever received from a fan?
H: I’ve been really lucky and I have great readers! There were so many people who were kind when my mom got sick and died – people who emailed/messaged and said, “I’m so sorry – take your time, don’t worry about the book”, to “My mom is in remission, I understand some of the stress of cancer”, or similar comments. I tried to get the last book in ‘The Liliana Batchelor Series’ out before Christmas, but it was a difficult Christmas for a lot of reasons, not least among them because it was the first one since my mom died and also my birthday, so I knew there were no birthday wishes or cards from her any more, and I was depressed. When I mentioned why I couldn’t finish on time, that I was struggling with being sad about it all, I got a lot of support from people who commiserated and reached out; that meant a lot.
I had someone from Europe make contact with me, and we’ve become good friends and communicate pretty regularly, despite the time difference, and we’ve even met! I was so surprised that someone would have a strong reaction to something I created, and be moved enough that they wanted to chat; it’s humbling. I also had one reader say she got a reading hangover from one of my books because she stayed up all night reading it!
I would love to be able to have a, (monetarily), successful career as a writer, but those moments… when you connect with someone, when you make a friend, when someone is so taken by what you have produced, the words you’ve typed, that they forgo sleep – that is pretty awesome and is incredibly gratifying! It’s difficult to throw your personal creations to the aether for judgment, so when someone takes a moment and says, ‘Hey, I like this!’, it makes you feel good, and takes away some of the apprehension, (for me, anyway!).
9) In your opinion, what is the most important feature a book needs to have?
H: I need to connect with the characters ; even if they are a bit dark, I don’t want them to be one-dimensional – they need to have depth and complexity. I go back to something I’ve mentioned in my comments and blog – erotica is an amazing genre because the whole of the adult experience is spread out before you, but even though a story has sexual/sensual elements, the remainder of a person should not be ignored. I want to see the sensual side, the parts of a person that are in conflict, that are imperfect and please *show* me some of it, don’t tell me. I am not a huge fan of flashbacks in books for this reason, because you are taking a person who is ostensibly the product of all their life experiences and the character is shown to you, but not the components that made them the way they are, so it can feel as if they are constructed of whole cloth, flimsy, especially if they have some really dramatic behaviour or traits.
Books, including erotica, are generally about people and their relationships and interactions with the world, so as far as I am concerned it is vital to make the character breathe for you and the readers. I also want something a little intriguing, I like the character to be a bit unique and not just superficially unique – as in they like seafoam green ; I want who they are to be thought out. When I put down a book, I want to feel as if I’ve had a bittersweet parting from a friend.
10) What is the most difficult part of writing a book, (including the preparations and after-publication-process)?
H: For me, without a doubt it would be marketing. The fact that Independent publishing has taken off is a mixed blessing in some ways because the barrier for entry is low. What I mean by that is, if you write something, even seventeen pages like some ‘books’, you can get it published pretty easily though any of several venues.
This is great, because it means that the big publishers aren’t the gatekeepers any more, and books can be published that might not fit into whatever niche they are chasing after at that point, (sort of the Indie musician idea). The way it ties in with your question is that there are now a LOT more books out in electronic format and it is difficult to get noticed in the sea of published erotica that is out there. I was told by someone who works for a marketing service that reviews are important, but only a tiny percentage of people who read my books publish a review, and the few two-star reviews I’ve received have no explanation, so readers can’t easily judge what it was about the novel that specific reader disliked. You can plop a bunch of money down and try to get a review in Romance Times or Kirkus or Publisher’s Weekly, but we’re talking $400 or more and it’s not certain that you can make that back, or how easily anyway.
Also, there is the whole idea of what tack do you take when you present your book to the public; for example, what do you want the cover to look like? I thought I wouldn’t make any money, so the first few covers I made were just photos I took and didn’t spend a great deal of time on them, but when I started to make a little money I invested some of that in buying professional photos.
You have to also think about your book summary, keywords and all that – what do you put in the synopsis, what do you reveal, and how do you get someone interested? Keywords I have yet to figure out, so I won’t even go there! But all of that isn’t enough… how does someone stumble across your book in the first place, how do you get the word out and try to distinguish yourself? That is what I am struggling with – how do I reach all those readers that don’t know about my books?
I also have three series – one of them is contemporary, the other two are cyberpunk and fantasy. The latter are specific and unusual genres that are not nearly as popular as paranormal, mob, MC, or a dozen other erotica sub-genres, so how do I market those books? Traditional science fiction can have erotic elements in it, and some sword and sorcery has too and both series have interesting stories, so do I focus on the erotica or the genre story aspects more?
I probably have gone on in too much detail to try to drive home my frustration – you can write a book, even be told it’s pretty good, but there are still so many people out there who haven’t heard of it and you want to just hit the keyboard and continue to write, but you also have to market.
11) If you had the chance to influence the questions people ask you in interviews, what question is the most annoying and you would love to never hear again? What question would you really like to answer that you have not been asked yet, and what is your answer to that question?
H: This is my first interview and you all have been gentle with me since it’s my first time, so I am lucky in that no question has been quite worn out yet, but I will say this: every time I tell someone that I write erotic story driven fiction, people think immediately of “Fifty Shades of Grey”. They ask if my book ‘is like that’, and to me, that’s akin to saying, ‘do you use words in your books?’ On a basic level, books all have something in common – there are words, characters and a setting. Erotica books can vary SO much that it’s a pretty shallow observation to combine all erotica into one pot; it’s such an open ended question that I can’t even begin to adequately parse it. In what way are you trying to draw a comparison? Is there explicit sex? Yes. Is there BDSM? Well, not the ‘BDSM’ portrayed in “Fifty Shades…”, no. Are there heterosexual characters? Is one of them successful? Is it set in America? Do you write in first person? I mean, what is the interrogator really asking? In some ways that question is perhaps more indicative of a stereotype that people have about erotica than anything else, but it still grates a bit. =)Wow, a question I’ve never been asked… so far you’ve been pretty thorough. I guess I am expecting people to ask, “Stuart, book five… what the fuck?!” I should maybe make inroads in addressing that. =)
I know Stuart seems a bit off sometimes… a lot off perhaps. I wanted it to be clear that there were a lot of things going on for him, and he was under a lot of pressure; people under huge stress can say and do things that are surprising. Stuart loves Lily… loves her immensely, but I think it is clear in book five that he takes her and what they have for granted; that he becomes so consumed with everything else that he becomes callous and neglectful when it comes to them. He is so certain he has found his soul mate and that bond is inviolate that he can borrow against it. How often do you hear people using ‘the greater good’ as an excuse for poor behaviour? People use it as a flimsy excuse all the time, and when you learn what Megan accused him of… I was hoping people could see how that would have affected him.
When I was writing it, I was trying to think of this; Stuart is clearly capable of deep, abiding love and is protective – you’ve seen it in all the books. Take that emotion and extend it for how he would feel for his child and then CRUSH those emotions the way Megan did; try to strip him of his sense of self decency.
Lily has been great for him because their relationship has renewed his faith, but it has also inadvertently brought up things that he has suppressed; because he wants to get rid of the negative things in his life, it is inevitable he will clash with Megan and that will bring up the betrayal, which he conveniently put into a little box and didn’t deal with, and instead surrounded himself with beautiful women and casual sex as distractions. Once he meets Lily and realises their potential, he holds off on making love to her for the first time until she is committed – he doesn’t want to risk himself and be hurt again, and he wants reassurance that Lily is as dedicated to seeing things through as he is. He realises he wants a committed relationship with her, which just dredges up the ghosts of the past and what happened the last time he made that choice.
As he tries to expunge Megan once and for all, the bitterness, anger and hurt finally come to the fore – they’ve been suppressed all this time, and have been simmering, which has only made them more powerful and they are so consuming, so painful that it is all he really has room for. Can you imagine realising the person you wanted to share your life with tried to emotionally destroy you, and that you’ve put a lid on it for a year and a half only to have it suddenly erupt in your face because the feelings can’t be contained anymore? I think I have used the term ‘man possessed’ but in this case he is consumed with the need for resolution, for revenge, for closure. I wanted Stuart’s out of character behaviour to be an indicator not of some hidden side, character flaw or something similar, but a barometer for just how deeply and fundamentally he was affected by Megan.
We all have dark aspects to us – everyone has their hot buttons, people with calm and composed demeanors can get angry and in book five we saw a limit of Stuart’s. So that’s what happened. =)
12) Name three characteristics of your writing style that are important yet different from other authors.
H: Well, I generally write in third person present tense which is unusual, especially for erotica.It’s because I prefer third person over first person, and I feel present tense sounds more immediate and interesting. I can appreciate why some people might like first person, and several readers have commented on how my writing is from a nonstandard point of view and how it took getting used to – I realise it can be a barrier for some people because they expect first person.
To elaborate further on why I write in third person… there are a few reasons. I don’t enjoy books that switch narrators –I feel if you’re going to do that, you can just write in third person and not have the flow of the book change when you switch to a different PoV, (point of view). Also, a lot of authors don’t try to significantly change the ‘feel’ of the stream of consciousness when switching between two narrators (the H and h). No two people think exactly the same, yet when a book changes from ‘Sue’ to ‘Joey’ both of them think in the same voice, they sound the same, but I’m told it’s now Joey. This doesn’t feel genuine to me, and pulls me out of the narrative. You also do not get the benefit of other character’s reactions, and I feel first person really limits the part that ancillary characters can play in a novel because the focus is solely from one PoV and therefore minimises the role that other actors in the story can play. Present tense was an interesting choice and after a while I decided I really wanted my stories to feel as if they are unfolding in front of you as opposed to the reader getting a revue of stale events.
I also write in my own bastardized version of American and British English, which is unique, and perhaps not in a good way! I like some British spellings or terms better, so I’ve adopted them and use them in my writing.
It’s also my intention to write erotica that isn’t just about getting to the exciting bits, (pardon the pun! =), but publish novels that tell an interesting story. I want the whole package to be there – hot sex, a compelling story, complex characters and a believable setting and events – I hope that all comes through! I also try to do research on things I am not familiar with so I get the facts correct. While these other elements aren’t perhaps unique, they are not necessarily part and parcel of every erotica book you pick up either.
13) Which of your characters seems to be the most independent, and has taken on a life of their own?
H: Actually, all of them to a different degree but Lily and Stuart more than any, probably because I’ve written a lot more about them. Sometimes I would write dialogue or a reaction and it wouldn’t sit well and I’d go back because I realised it was out of character; other times I thought perhaps I wasn’t getting enough of their personalities through, or I struggled with slightly exaggerating their reactions and words in order to emphasize a trait they had. This is the curse and joy of writing, especially a series – you may have a good idea in your head about who the players in your story are, but you probably don’t appreciate their full depth and breadth until you put them through the paces and they have some mileage under their belt; at some point I think they come into their own and you feel you’ve hit a bit of a sweet spot when it happens. =) I feel like I’m getting to that point with Julianna (‘The Void Chronicles’ series), and to a slightly lesser degree with Abigail, (‘Sine Qua Non Cycle’), and I’m excited to write more of their tales. =)
14) What do you want tell your readers at the end of this interview?
H: A few things…
First, I appreciate that they spent their money and time on my creations; I’ve been writing a little over two years, I’m not a big name, there are a lot of choices out there, and despite the fact that I’m an Indie nobody, a lot of people, (more than I imagined I would see in my first two years), picked up my books! Thanks for taking a chance on me. =)
Second, I enjoy interacting with readers, answering questions, and getting to know them, and I look forward to more of that!
Third, I wanted to give a little preview of my next project; I’m working on the follow-on books in my two remaining series but before they are published, I will complete a standalone paranormal dark erotica novel. Right now it’s at 80,000 words, and I’ll need another 50,000 or so before the first draft is done; I’ll post more details on my site when I am closer to completing it.
And last, thanks to the lovely bloggers at Jeri’s Book Attic for a chance to chat. =)
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