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Thursday, September 10, 2009:
Sweet at heart: spending time with author Leslie Parrish
Anyone who's read my blog over the last few months knows how much I've been raving about this new romantic suspense series about the Black CATS. Well, it's written by none other than Plotmonkey Leslie Kelly, writing as Leslie Parrish since these books are so different from her funny and sexy romances. Leslie was gracious enough to take time out of her super busy schedule to grant me an interview (thanx Leslie! Smooches!) and I got to find out some fascinating things about one of my favorite writers. See for yourself....

S~ You've been published for about 10 years now. During that time, how often did you think of writing something besides the funny, sexy romances you are known for? What finally prompted you to do it?

Actually, I thought about it a lot before I sold because my two favorite genres are romance and horror. (Quite a dichotomy, I know!) If I hadn’t sold romance, I am quite sure I would have eventually tried my hand at thrillers, suspense or horror. Once I had sold, however, I barely had enough times to make my deadlines and trying something else was something I had to put on the shelf.

I was prompted to actually do it when the bottom fell out of my Leslie Kelly single title career. I was still happily writing Blazes, but found myself unable to sell another longer, stand-alone contemporary romance. So it seemed a good time to invent a new creative persona and give it my best shot.

S~ As a writer, what have been some of your most memorable experiences, whether it's a specific character or that "aha!" moment? When you look back, what stands out?

When I wrote BLACK AT HEART I had a picture in my mind of what the story was going to be, who would star in it and who the villain was. But once I started to write, I found myself going in really unexpected places. Then one day, I typed a sentence, without forethought or planning, and the whole thing opened up and went in a different direction. It was really the perfect plot twist because it brought things full circle and so totally matched the theme of the entire book. I had to go back in and layer things differently, but I really love how it all turned out. (Don’t want to say exactly what it was, because it’s a big spoiler. Sorry!)

S~ How is writing and getting published different today than it was 10 + years ago?

Getting published has always been difficult (despite my Cinderella story on my 1st book) but I think it’s now harder to stay published than it was then. There are fewer publishers now than there were a decade ago. Those that are left have gradually wrapped their accountant’s fists around the midlist and squeezed until the pressure is almost at the popping point. Used to be a publisher would stick with an author, build her career, confident in the talent and the books. Nowadays, I know people who have been dropped on the basis of one or two bad-selling books.

In that respect, I am very lucky that my publisher, NAL-Signet, wanted to go back to contract with me even before the Black CATs trilogy debuted. They could have waited to see if it did well, then decided. Instead, they wanted to get me lined up for more release slots in 2010 so they went ahead and bought two books in a completely different series. My hope (theirs, too!) is that the Black CATs will do well enough that we can then add more of those books on another contract.

S~ Out of your Leslie Kelly books, which was the most difficult to write, and why do you think that is?

The books that have always been hardest for me to write are the ones in which I was given certain parameters in which to work and had to develop my characters and stories to fit them. I guess I’m just not a good team player when it comes to writing—I like to do my own thing. So being told I had to write a book about a gorgeous, health-conscious former cosmetics model who had In-Vitro fertilization to have a child when she was only in her twenties (gag!), paired with a really wimpy hospital administrator whose male biological clock is ticking (at 30!!!) so he wants to adopt a baby on his own (double gag!) did NOT make me happy. (This was just so not me!) But when you do a continuity book for Harlequin, you do get assigned stories with that level of detail. So writing THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY, part of Harlequin’s Forrester Square series, was pure torture.

I hated every minute of it, but forced myself to stay at my desk to get it done, ignoring the pain in my back. Then after I sent it off, ended up having to be taken to the hospital and had emergency spinal surgery for two herniated discs.

Damn book almost killed me! (Thank God that didn't happen!)

S~ Writing for the Blaze line must have really been an eye-opening experience at the time, considering how far they were willing to let you explore the possibilities when you leave those bedroom doors wide open. Do you ever see yourself writing more erotic type romances, or are you happy with the level of heat your books currently contain? When do you think it becomes too much?

It’s funny, I really resisted writing Blaze at first. I was very happy writing Temptations and just couldn’t see myself having to come up with “a sexy premise” which was required for Blaze in the early days. Eventually I was tempted by the chance to do a simultaneous-release miniseries with my bud Jill Shalvis. (Love her!)

I don’t think I’ll ever go any further with the heat content in my books. Overexposed and One Wild Wedding Night were about the max for my own personal comfort level as a writer. I love both of those books and think they have just the right amount of heat.

And I think it becomes too much in any story, not just my own, whenever the sexual content takes the center stage over the emotional content. I don’t mind scorching heat as long as the safety net of true emotional connection is always right there.

S~ How did you approach writing the Parrish books as opposed to writing the Kelly books? There's obviously more research involved, so how do you prepare?

Despite the fact that I go away with the Plotmonkeys to plot out my books, I rarely sat down and follow detailed plots or outlines. For me, the work we do on those retreats was always just to talk about the stories and get all my juices flowing. Big picture stuff, not little plotty stuff.

The Black CATs books, however, HAD to be more thoroughly plotted. They were a lot more intricate, have more characters, needed clues and red herrings and villains. Plus there’s a storyline that weaves throughout all three books! There was absolutely no chance of going the seat-of-my-pants route with those books.

I also did a lot of research. Bought books on crime investigation, crime scene analysis, profiling. I spent a lot of time taking notes from the FBI website, and lots of time interacting with an Internet expert who agreed to answer questions for me. Usually my process is to just sit down and write, look up something as I stumble across the moment in the book when I need it. Just can’t do that with the Parrish books or I’ll be stopping every couple of pages!

S~ Having read all 3 of the Black CAT books with the 3rd one at the top of my re-read pile, I'm dying to get my hands on more. I think you've really approached the stories from a realistic standpoint, invested in creating some smart, savvy characters who are utterly believable in their reactions and emotions. I'm totally hooked on the series. What can we expect next from this incredible series?

Thank you so much, Stacy, I really appreciate that! I would love to write more of these books. I actually did a full proposal for B.C. # 4, featuring Christian, a character who is introduced in Black At Heart. I was hoping to get another 3 book contract, his book first, then Anna Delaney, another new team member who showed up in BAH. All that to build to Brandon’s story. That’s the one I would really like to write—I just needed to age him a little, make him the end of another story arc in the 2nd trilogy. (I really hope to read more about Brandon!)

Great plan, I thought. But the publisher just wasn’t willing to invest more in this series until they found out if it was going to do well. So while they are still interested in more Black CATs books, they instead contracted me to start an entirely new series.(It’s called eXtreme Investigations—all the books are about detectives with a paranormal detective agency.)

If the first B.C. trilogy does well, I am very hopeful that NAL will give me the nod to proceed with the next set of books. Fingers crossed! (Mine too!)

S~ You've written some creepy, utterly chilling scenarios in your books, sadly many of which have been or could be enacted in real life. How does this affect you emotionally to write such gritty, horrific storylines? How do you unwind from writing such grim, tragic scenes?

They’re certainly not easy. Writing anything that’s too close to my real life is especially difficult. I have teen and college-aged daughters, so there were parts of FADE TO BLACK that were very difficult. But I knew what needed to happen for the sake of the story, so I just shoved Leslie Kelly the mother into a mental closet and let Leslie Parrish the romantic-thriller writer take over for the day or the week or however long it took to get through the more difficult stuff.

Probably the most disturbing scene I wrote is one that ended up getting cut out altogether because it so bothered my editor. It was to be the prologue of book 3 and was in the point of view of a pedophile on the way to a clandestine meeting. Being inside his twisted head was very difficult and though I thought the scene was effective, my editor convinced me that inside the head of a pedophile was one place romance readers just would not want to be. I took her advice and cut it. (Watch for that deleted scene on my blog in late August!)

S~ Other than the Plotmonkeys (which is a given) which authors' books do you enjoy reading? What book are you currently enjoying?

I go through waves where I read new books and then reread old favorites, obsess on one genre, then get bored and switch. A month or two ago, I got in a mood to read nothing but historical stories so I dove into all of Philippa Gregory’s Tudor books. (Other Boleyn Girl, Boleyn Inheritance, etc.) Then I went into a reread of Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth (one of my favorite books ever, though I wasn’t crazy about the sequel.) And caught some historical romances I’d somehow missed—one of which was Anne Stuart’s Lady Fortune, where the hero is a royal fool—literally. Loved it!

More recently I’ve been glomming horror and thrillers. I just went through a Peter Straub phase and reread Mystery, Throat and Lost Boy, Lost Girl. I absolutely loved Steig Larsen’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and am dying to get my hands on the sequel. Also can’t wait for Chelsea Cain’s new book.

S~ In these days of Twitter, FB and other instant social networking sites which allow you access to information immediately, how do you maintain that edge to keep readers coming back for more?

I am not really that active on those social networking sites. I have different FB accounts, but keep my Leslie Kelly one private, for friends and family I actually know in person. (I do take all friend requests for the Leslie Parrish page, though!) They can be a lot of fun but also a huge time suck, and I’m already really bad about letting myself find any distraction I can to avoid working! (Follow Leslie on Twitter:

S~ I'll be honest. I started reading romance around the age of 12 and gained quite an education because of it, and that was 20+ years ago. How do you feel about having readers that young, and do you believe it is up to you to write for your audience, knowing you might have pre-teen fans, and how they may be influenced by what they read?

I started reading them at the same age, Stacy! I read The Flame And The Flower sitting in a closet with a flashlight, then was stupid enough to ask one of my sisters what a “manhood” was. Busted!

I know younger readers do pick up these books, but honestly, I can’t think about that when I’m writing them. I think of my Blazes as being appropriate for anyone who’s sexually active. These days, that means teenagers. Younger than that, probably not.

The thrillers are definitely less sexy, but there’s a lot of violence in them. (Though it’s probably no worse than you’d find in an average episode of Criminal Minds.) They are pretty dark and I would hope they wouldn’t fall into the hands of really young kids. Hopefully their parents are paying attention (or their older sisters are…lol!)

S~ Your husband Bruce is the definition of a romance hero. How does he stay so down to earth when you write all these stories based on him? LOL

You figured that out, huh? Seriously, he might not be the firefighter or the FBI agent or the journalist, but Bruce is absolutely the soul of every hero I have ever written, and I make no attempt to hide that. I guess because he has such a good, loving, tender soul, he doesn’t let it go to his head. (Awww...)

S~ What do you want your girls to know about romance novels? Do any of them read your stories?

None of the three are into romance novels, possibly because they just associate them too closely with me, and with my writer friends, many of whom they have met. Plus the younger two are really into fantasy and are totally entrenched in these long, epic series (the Terry Goodkind one is the newest fad.) Oldest is very eclectic, goes from reading classics to Christopher Moore.

That said, my girls have all read at least one or more of my books. The oldest two have tried the Leslie Kelly books but I have to paper-clip the sex pages together. They just don’t want to go there…lololol! They do, however, absolutely love the Leslie Parrish books. Oldest even did an entire Bible of the series for me so I could keep everything and everyone straight as I wrote subsequent books. (Any writers out there who need this service, let me know—she did a fabulous job and is looking for part-time work. )

The 13 year old is right now reading her very first book of mine. Fade To Black. It’s a little dark for her, but she is the bloodthirsty one who loves scary books and wants to be a coroner and so far she is loving it!

S~ Okay, let's have a little fun. What actor/celebrity are you crushing on? Have they inspired any of your stories?

Hugh Jackman. Of course, I liked Hugh Jackman before it was totally cool to like Hugh Jackman. Way back in 2002, I even included a scene in Naturally Naughty where the heroine is fantasizing him while she, er…never mind.
S~ Considering your enjoyment of the theatre, have you ever based a story based around the world of the stage?

The same book I mentioned above, Naturally Naughty, has a very sexy scene on the stage of an old theater. It is completely based on the gorgeous old building in which Bruce and I used to do plays when we first met and started dating.

S~ Do you think there's any classic romance novel that's highly overrated? What's your idea of the perfect love story?

I am not a huge fan of Laura Kinsale’s For My Lady’s Heart, which seems to make a lot of readers’ and reviewers’ “favorites” list. I have loved several of her other books, just not that particular one. I found the language too distracting to really enjoy the story.

S~ What's your idea of the perfect romantic getaway?

Anywhere that gives me a chance to be alone with my husband can be romantic. That can be a picnic in my back yard or a week in the wine country. Really doesn’t matter as long as the entire focus is on the two of us as we enjoy the same connection we have always felt. It’s funny, we’re getting older, the kids are growing—two off to college this fall. And we have often talked about how much we like being back up here in Maryland, where we first met, first dated. (We live less than 5 minutes from the outdoor shrine where we got married!) How appropriate it is to approach the next phase of our lives, when it’s just Bruce and Leslie again, in the place where it all started.

S~ Some of the scenes in your Black CAT books are very violent and the stuff of nightmares (beginning of Pitch Black comes to mind). Do you like scary movies?

I LOOOOOVE scary movies! We have big scary movie marathons in October where I dig out all the scary DVD’s. I really love creepy ones that make me flinch rather than in-your-face terror. (IE I’d much rather watch The Sixth Sense than Texas Chainsaw Massacre!)

And actually, when I wrote that scene in Pitch Black, the whole scene played out in my mind like a movie. I can still close my eyes and visualize it so easily. I think that book would be a terrific film!

S~ I can't not ask about the Plotmonkeys! Have the 4 of you ever thought about writing something together, perhaps an anthology? Maybe something about writers?

Yes, we’ve talked about it.

No, I can’t share details. (EVOL!)

I can say that Julie and I have a Blaze anthology coming out in November. It is absolutely adorable (if I do say so myself.) Fairy tales Blaze style, and we had a ball working on it together!

S~ What are some of your guilty pleasures? Favorite beverage? Favorite food? Do you like something that others might give you weird looks about? (i.e. the Chucky movies perhaps?)

I love Nacho Cheese Doritos. Would happily make a meal on them every day if I could. Along with about a half-dozen Diet Cokes. (I console myself with the fact that I do not drink coffee!)

Chucky—lol! I loved the first one! Probably more shocking, though, is that I adore zombie movies. Dawn of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead (even better!), 28 Days Later. And I just can’t wait for Zombietown. We’re all big zombie fans in this house, we always ace the “How would you survive the Zombie apocalypse” and have dinnertime conversations about the best place to go in a zombie attack. (Sam’s Club. Duh!) The girls even got Bruce a machete for Father’s Day, with a tag saying, “Zombie Killer!”

Probably not the typical romance novelist interest, but there you go.

S~ Do you have a book of the heart? One that you hold the most dear?

I have a few that stand out. I really loved the Derryville trilogy I did for Harlequin. Started in Temptation with Trick Me, Treat Me, about a hero who gets conked on the head and wakes up thinking he’s a secret agent. Then Thrill Me, about a timid church secretary who secretly writes hack-em-up horror novels. And finally Killing Time, with probably my favorite all-time hero, Mick Winchester. The guy with the Big Bad Wolf tattooed on his hip and the attitude to match. Just adored him.

Of the Parrish books, I really love Fade To Black. Mainly because of that heroine, something about Stacey Rhodes just captivated me. I wanted to BE her more than I’ve ever wanted to be one of my heroines. So competent and smart and wise and kick-ass. Just loved her. (Me, too.)

S~ If you weren't writing, you'd be....

Working in a job where I could actually make a decent living? lol!

Honestly, I don’t know what that job would (will!) be, but I’m thinking about it a lot these days.

S~ What are your plans for Halloween this year?

Hahahahaha…you do know I love my Halloween! Bruce has been talking for a couple of years about doing a haunted cornfield in our front yard. A major one, with a really scary life-size scarecrow. It’ll be a big project, but I am thinking we’ll try to go for it.

S~ What might people be surprised to learn about you?

I actually have a lovely singing voice. That sounds arrogant, I know, but since I don’t have many talents—can’t dance, can’t draw, can’t paint, can’t play an instrument--I’m going to pipe up on the one I do have!

S~ What are you currently working on?

eXtreme Investigations Book 1. About a psychic who helps locate missing children and the reporter who wants him to help her prove a serial killer is behind a series of local disappearances.

S~ Love the sound of your new series! Anything else you'd like to share? A picture of your favorite hottie? A meaningful quote? Secret to winning the lottery?

Here’s a quote I love, that truly describes my best writing time/process (late at night, when the house is utterly silent):

"At night, when the objective world has slunk back into its cavern and left dreamers to their own, there come inspirations and capabilities impossible at any less magical and quiet hour. No one knows whether or not he is a writer unless he has tried writing at night." – H.P. Lovecraft

PS: If I knew the secret to winning the lottery, believe me, I’d have invested a whole lot of money in advertising this Black CATs trilogy because I SO want them to succeed. Not because I would need the money at that point, but because I am just so darn proud of these books and want readers to find them.

Thanks so much for having me, Stacy! This was a lot of fun, some really great questions and I genuinely appreciate you taking the time to be so creative.
And thank YOU, Leslie, for taking the time to answer my questions and give such wonderful answers. It was a pleasure having you here.
Okay folks, you know I tend to do a contest once I post one of my special interviews, and this time is no different. I'm excited to be offering up all 3 of the Black CAT books for one lucky winner. Stay tuned tomorrow for details.....

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  1. Great post :)
    Lol, I am glad I didn't ask someone what manhood meant, I found out on my one when I started reading at 10. It was such a different world than the horse books I had been reading until then

  2. Hi :)
    That was one of the best interviews I've read!
    Thank you for having Leslie on your site and thanks Leslie Parrish for sharing!
    (I confess I only know Leslie from her Black books, so in my heart she is Leslie Parrish).
    I have the first two Black books and I LOVE them.
    I am looking forward to Book Three.
    Anyone who loves J.D. Robb's in Death series will love Leslie Parrish's Black Cats series!
    All the best,
    twitter: @RKCharron

  3. Blodeuedd, I didn't ask either LOL. But after reading awhile you can kinda figure it out. I was a very precocious kid.

    Thank you RK. I love doing interviews, and doing them with someone like Leslie is easy, and fun. She gave wonderful answers, which is really appreciated. I learned a lot. And I hope you like book #3. Hey if you're interested stop by tomorrow for your chance to win :)

  4. Great interview! I'm currently reading Black at Heart and loving it. I know I'll be searching for the first two in the series.

  5. Leslie - I can't imagine that the Black CAT books won't have more in series... they are terrific. Chilling - but terrific.

  6. Really well done interview on both of your parts. Very fun to read!

    I have Fade to Black on the top of my tbr! I had not heard of your other glad to have them on my list now!

    LOL@ paperclipping the sex pages together. That still has me giggling.

  7. Love the interview! (So many of the interviews all sound alike, but lots of personality in this one.) Can't wait to read your next Parrish series, Leslie!

  8. Stacy thanks so much for the interview. I really enjoyed doing this, some neat questions.

    And funny, I just found out this week that Harlequin is reissuing a bunch of my old titles as ebooks next week. Including Naturally Naughty, Trick me, Treat Me & Killing Time! I swear I didn't know that when I answered these!

  9. Great interview!
    I love the quote about writing at night!

  10. Great interview and I love the covers for the "Black Cat" books.

    I love reading romantic suspense and these are definately ones I would love to read!

    Thanks for the awesome contest!

  11. I hope you'll get to write more Black CATS books, but your new series sounds awesome, too.

  12. Awesome Interview. Great job Stacy. I am going to have to add this to my daily must sees.

  13. Stacy, that's the best interview I've read in a long time !! I'm not criticizing anyone just saying you did a GREAT job !!!

  14. Stacy, this was a wonderful interview with Les. I am somewhat biased because I LOVE HER too...

    Don't count me in for the contest okay.

    Les, next time I see you, I am gonna ask you to sing with answers were great. I got to learn some new things about you. Have a wonderful time creating that gigantic cornfield. I know you will share pics with us in the jungle and hopefully the Cyber Lair.

    I too love your Leslie Kelly books. Like Stacy, I want to see more Black CATs books, especially since you gave me a sense of the line up. My copy of B@H finally came in from Amazon. I can't wait to read it again. You are an amazing writer, and I can't wait to get into your new series "XI" eXtreme Investigations.

    Great job Stacy. I hope to see you in the jungle.

    Peace and love,
    Paula R.

  15. Great interview!

  16. Great interview Stacy & Leslie! I started reading romances at about 12 too. Naturally Naughty is probably my favorite Leslie Kelly book, with Overexposed and One Wild Wedding Night as my other favorites. I'm pretty sure I've read Naturally Naughty about 100 times. That being said, I LOVE your Leslie Parrish books even more. I really hope we get more Black CAT books, but am so excited about your new series too. Do you have any release date information yet?

    Stacy, don't count me in the contest as I own all 3 books(2 copies) already.

  17. *blushes* Wow, thank you all for your kind words. Y'all are so sweet :)

    I really loved doing this and Leslie was such a great sport. It's fun to try and be a little creative, ask different types of questions. Of course Leslie made it easy because I "know" her more than some of the authors I've interviewed, plus with her career, being a Plotmonkey, etc., there was a lot to pull from. She definitely made it easy for me :)

  18. Liza--as of now, Cold Sight (book 1 of the XI series) is coming out in August 2010. Cold Touch, book 2 sometime early 2011.

    Sounds like such a long time away! Then again, neither book is exactly written!

    And big hugs to everyone, this has been so nice today!

  19. Great interview. The Black CAT series sounds great. This is the first I have heard of it but after what I just read I look forward to getting the chance to read them.

  20. Great interview Stacy very thoughtful questions.

    Leslie I too hope you will be able to write more Black CAT stories. The first three were fabulous.

    You new series sounds really interesting as well. Wishing you best of luck with both of them.

    have a great weekend.

  21. Great interview! Now I'm definitely going to track down some Leslie Kelly titles.

  22. Great interview, Stacy!!!

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