Interview with writer Ann Lister, author of the Rock Gods series
It’s been a long time since my Facebook interview with an author, but I’m back with something great. The amazing Ann Lister, author of the Rock Gods series that we all know and love went through hours of questions from me. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did! Oh, as always, this is part interview, part conversation, part me fangirling over a favorite author and her books. Check out my reviews of Make You Mine and Take What You Want before you start reading.
Alina: Let’s start at the beginning! When did you start to write?
Ann Lister: I used to write short stories as a kid but it was purely for my own enjoyment. Then in the early 90’s I started writing short erotic gay stories and sold quite a few of them to men’s magazines.
The money was great but my daughter’s were starting to require more and more of my time and I had to put the writing on the back burner.
Alina: That is so awesome though, writing erotic stories for men’s magazines. Seems to me it’s a tough crowd to please.
Ann: I have very vivid dreams, more like MGM productions, really and my first full length novel came from a naughty dream I had about a very famous rock star. I won a private guitar lesson from him in a contest. It was during this lesson that we had a steamy hook-up. My novel, Sheet Music, came from this dream.
I loved writing the erotica/porn. It was something I could do quickly, maybe an hours worth of my time, and the money (back then) was really good. Now a lot of that is free online and there is no money to be made.
It was my friends that urged me to write down some of my ‘dreams’ and make them into books. That’s how it all started.
Alina: That happens with a lot of things, they become free and it’s not as fun anymore. What made you finally decide to switch to writing novels and how long did it take you to finish drafting the first one?
Ann: I loved the room I had to run in a full length novel. 80,000 to 100,000 words allows for a LOT of character development versus 1,000 words. Once I made the switch, I’ve never gone back to writing the short stories.
I was mainly writing m/f novels, once I got back into writing. I finally made the switch back to M/M in 2013 with the release of Fall For Me, Book One in The Rock Gods series.
As far as time to write the first draft to Sheet Music? I don’t really remember. I do remember vividly how long it took me to write the first draft to Fall For Me though. Three months. That story was so real to me, it nearly wrote itself. The characters were extremely tangible and it flowed easily and quickly.
Alina: And we get to where my fangirling started. Why rock gods? Are rockers the archetype for male sexiness?
Ann: LOL – I have always had a fascination with rock stars. The power behind what they write and play, how their fingers work their instruments to make the most amazing sounds….it’s always left me breathless. And the sexy factor is off the charts. I’ve told many people that I didn’t chose to write about rock stars. It seems they chose me to tell their story. Not all of my rock star romances are m/m. I have three other titles in print that are m/f rock star romance.
I thought bringing two alpha male rock stars into the love story would be the perfect combination of my two favorite loves: rock stars and gay romance.
Alina: Note to self: track those down. You said the characters in Fall For Me were tangible. I found them to be very real, as if you could just go around the corner and bump into them. Was there any real life inspiration for any of the characters?
Ann: Fall For Me was a serious turning point for me. The story literally hit me like lighting. It was that powerful and instant. I didn’t use the personalities of real-life people at all (I did do that in Sheet Music). Dagger and Ryan were already real to me when Dagger first introduced himself to me. I know that sounds weird, but that is really how it happened. I sometimes feel I am channeling real people through me. The deeper I get into the story, the characters become more demanding that I tell their story. Names of bands, character names jump into my head. I don’t choose them. They present themselves to me and it is instant. It used to freak me out but now I’m used to it. Once I go into writer’s mode, it all becomes clear.
With Fall For Me, the ending is what flashed in my head first so I actually started that book with the ending. Turned out the ending I had written didn’t remain the ending. Upon my editor’s suggestion, I added another whole section to tie up some loose ends with Dagger’s family.
My beta readers offered the same suggestion so I altered the ending a bit from what I had originally.
Alina: Characters generally take you where they want to be, regardless of your process. Saying your characters were real to you, that explains a lot of how easy it is to feel what they feel. Can you tell us a bit about your writing process? Do you have a time or day when you like to write? Is it in order or do you write the scene that most inspires you?
Ann: My typical writing day starts with the business end of things. I answer emails and market/promote for a good portion of the morning. Then if I need to do a mail run (these days that is almost daily) to ship books to readers, I do that right before lunch. After lunch it is all writing. That can go well into the evening. Some days it’s mostly writing and other days it is mostly marketing. But this goes on 7 days a week. Many of my friends think I don’t have a real job but I’m willing to bet I work more hours than they do in their 9-5 jobs.
I almost never write the story in order. I write the scenes most visual to me at any given point in the story. I found that works best for me. Then I go back and have to smooth out all the transitions and that can be dicey. Writing out of order leaves lots of holes that need to be filled before the story goes to print. I have to be very careful nothing in the story is left out. The beta readers are a tremendous help with this.
Alina: Yes, that is a common misconception. Would you say it’s a 50-50 divide between writing and promoting?
Ann: Make You Mine hit #1 in Gay Erotica, Gay Romance and Gay Fiction. I am finding lately I am doing more promotion than writing and that drives me crazy. Right now I have the characters to Book Four screaming in my head to tell their story and I’m busy doing the marketing end of Make You Mine. It can be tough at times.
Tough at times to find a balance to the day. I am finding my books are requiring more and more promotion as the popularity of them has grown.
I’m getting a lot more emails from readers commenting on the Rock Gods and other types of distractions. I always try and get back to a reader asap because they have taken their time to reach out to me to say they love one of my books, I feel it is the least I can do is to acknowledge their email. But that all takes time.
Alina: Would you say that’s also because fans are quite demanding these days? We’re all used to find our authors everywhere online, be able to hang out with them, and have this friendly connection to them.
Ann: Exactly! You hit it dead on. I LOVE connecting to the readers and it is a thrill every time I get an email from one of them. Hearing how my books make the readers feel is a wonderful feeling. I will never get tired of that! They are the reason I keep writing so to have that connection to them is priceless. But on the flip-side to that, it does take a lot of time to keep that personal connection going.
I have a fan page that helps and I have a handful of lovely ladies that help me keep up with all the questions about books etc.
I write two books a year and for me that is a lot. I know other authors do 3 or more books a year. It is important we keep our names in front of the reader. If too much time passes in between books, you name is forgotten and the author that releases six books a year is in the forefront of their minds.
Alina: Do you also have a street team? I know they require more time, but they are also very effective.
Ann: Well, there are several ladies on my fan page that act as a street team for me, but I don’t have a specific ‘street team’.
There are SOOOOO many facets of social media and they are all important to have your name on there. That is daunting to keep them all updated. I find I am good at facebook and okay with twitter but fail miserably keeping my blog updated.
Alina: Can you explain for everyone what goes into releasing a book, apart from drafting it? Just to make it easier for them to understand why two books a year is actually a lot and getting more from one author means you’re very lucky
Ann: I self publish so the entire process is up to me to keep on track, keeping all the ingredients to the end product motivated to finish their end of things. Soon as I finish the first draft, I hand it off to a few beta readers. They get back to me with their suggestions and I create the second draft from that. Then I hand it off to my editor and we start the process of finding all the typos and grammatical errors. That brings me to the third draft. While all this is going on I am creating ideas for cover photos, lining up models and reaching out to them to see if they’re on board with what my cover concept is, and so on. For my last book, Make You Mine, I found two lovely married young men to pose. They live in the UK. I sent them pose ideas and they ran with it, sending me several good shots we could use. I forwarded the few I loved the most to my graphic artist and she started working on the final cover art. She’s doing this while I am working on the fourth – or fifth draft to the story. The final stages of getting a book to print are LONG and can be frustrating when certain elements are out of your control. In the end we all hope to be done at the same time. My editor finishes the interior files while my graphic artist is polishing the final draft to the exterior (cover) file. Even typing that all out is tiring! LOL
Alina: Exactly! It is, and there’s a lot of work going into it, especially if you choose the indie way. I’ve heard people refer to it as requiring an author to be crazy to do it. So, why did you choose this path?
Ann: When I got involved with self-publishing it was cutting edge and few had heard about it. That was back in 2008. I took a lot of heat from doing it this way. Other authors saying you weren’t a ‘real’ author by self-publishing, anyone can self-publish, etc. The stigma attached to it back then was HUGE. Now it is so common place, it isn’t funny. For me this route made the most sense. I love having control over every element in the process. I also like going by my own schedule. Sometimes life gets in the way and it is nice to have my own hours to work with.
Last November my dad was diagnosed with cancer. We lost him December 15th. I had to stop writing and marketing for nearly six weeks straight while I dealt with that situation. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Having that time with him at the end is priceless, but being a self-published author I could allow myself that time needed. I got back to the writing in January and we went from there.
Alina: What would you say are the traits or abilities an author needs to self-publish and not to crazy while doing it?
Ann: Develop a THICK skin. And have an open mind about everything. What you want isn’t always what you can have. Like cover poses. I always have very clear idea in my head and I can’t always get that image onto my covers. The reviews can be killer, so if you don’t have a thick skin, you’re in for a very long depression. LOL.
I developed my thick skin back in art school. We had weekly critiques from our classmates and the instructors. Our work was ripped a part from every angle. It was all constructive but it can still hurt when it is something you created from your soul.
Alina: First of all, I am sorry for your loss and for having to go through all of that. If I remember correctly, it happened right in the middle of the Take What You Want tour. Did the massive positive feedback the book got help in any way?
Ann: What truly got me through that whole span of time was the blogs, facebook fans and friends. They would be sending me private emails until late into the night. My father’s illness did hit right in the middle of the Take What You Want blog tour and it was difficult. I felt bad I couldn’t do more with the tour, but my dad had to come first.
The out pouring of sympathy, even from other authors, was enormous! It is because of them that Take What You Want did as well as it did. I can’t thank them enough.
I think the momentum that came from that book and blog tour is what fed into the Make You Mine release and the momentum has continued from there.
Alina: I think everyone understood that decision and supported it. Plus, we were too busy drooling all over the book, it was awesome. You also popped my MMF cherry. Reading some of the comments and reviews, I have to ask: do you think people in general and readers in particular find it easier to accept a relationship between two individuals, regardless of orientation, than one so out of the ordinary as the one in Book 2 of the series?
Ann: I still laugh at the reviews I get from Take What You Want. Some of the readers really did not like Danni’s presence in that story! I came off of writing Fall For Me with such a huge m/m buzz, I immediately jumped into writing Take What You Want. If you remember in that story, Alex/Zander meets Chase first and their relationship is established while Danni is out in Colorado taking Pilate instruction. Many of the readers loved the connection between Chase and Alex but feel I failed to pull Danni into it fully. Danni was my ‘voice of reason’ in this whole m/m/f dynamic. She was the one that was left with the chore of questioning what they were doing, the one that wondered what this would mean for their future. Whereas Chase and Alex quickly fell for each other and were mainly thinking with ‘the little heads’ on their body. lol
I love all reviews – the good and the bad. If the comments are constructive, I can walk away from a bad review having learned something and that is still a positive thing to me. I’ve learned a LOT of things from my reviewers; what works, what doesn’t, etc. That makes me try harder with the next book and I feel it has made me a better author. It is the hateful reviews that are unnecessary. And serve no purpose.
Thankfully, I have only gotten a few hateful reviews. The rest have been great – even the ones where the reviewer said they didn’t like the book. If I can walk away with just one nugget of information I can take to the next book, it’s all good.
Alina: To be honest, I think Danni was supposed to generate a strong reaction. Even if at first it was dislike. She just came home to a whole new reality. Yet the bond between Chase and Alex is so strong, it’s hard to deal with a character threatening it.
Ann: Exactly. She honestly felt Chase would work this ‘out of his system’ and she’d come home to the same old relationship she had with him. She didn’t understand this was who Chase is, his true self, not a passing fancy.
Alina: Yes, it actually felt as if she thought it was a bit like an ice-cream craving in the middle night. You get it, and then you go back to sleep.
I sometimes feel like people get stuck into assessing the characters’ morals or views, and not how well they are written or how gripping the story is. Do you ever feel like readers don’t exactly know how to review a novel?
Ann: I very much feel that about the reviewer not understanding how to write the review. I laugh when they’re blasting me for my lack of writing ability and they don’t even have the story elements correct in their review. Sometimes the character names aren’t even correct! But as an author, I’m supposed to bite my tongue because we’re not supposed to engage the reviewer like that. That is difficult to do when your name is being trashed in public forums.
Danni was comparing her fantasy of being with her girl friend to what Chase was feeling toward men. She didn’t understand the dynamic of bisexuality.
Alina: No, authors can’t do that, even if we are also reviewers. Thankfully, JP from Multitasking Momma posted something about how reviews should be written. She was however targeting it at book reviewers, not those that buy the book, read, and review.
Let’s talk a bit about Make You Mine. I honestly loved the twist in this one: no major conflict, just two people learning how to love, and pretty late in life, I might add. How did you get that idea?
Ann: LOL – my editor thought I should rewrite it to add more angst but that is not the story that the characters told me to write. There’s was a simple boy meets boy and they fall in love for the first time and do their best to navigate through this new emotion.
Cooper is a happy go lucky guy and his character’s personality pulled me in that direction. Both these men were running from commitment but for different reasons. I was drawn to the idea of two men that made a hobby about sleeping around and finding love. You can hear the screeching of tires on pavement when they both realize they want something ‘more’ from the other. It is an emotion neither had experienced and for the first time they felt torn open and vulnerable. It rocked their worlds.
Alina: I have to say I am happy you did not listen to your editor. We rarely get to read story about every day challenges, so people overlook them. What have you prepared for us for the next book? I know you told me whose story it is, but I have to say I have a hard time seeing that particular hottie settling down.
Ann: Book Four in the Rock Gods is Wheland’s story, titled “Looking At Forever”. After watching his closest friends (Alex and Cooper) settling down, Wheland finds himself lonely with his lifestyle and wanting something more for himself. Wheland has a darker edge to him than the others. He’s more complex, more of a thinker, but he doesn’t typically spend a lot of time thinking before he jumps into the decision he’s made. He is a natural top and loves the power behind it. He also has a serious curiosity to restraints; which he will use a bit with his new love. Wheland finds his love in an unlikely way but once he opens himself to it, he falls hard.
Also, in this story, the guys from ivory Tower and Dagger’s band, Black Ice hit the road to tour together so there will be all sorts of chaos spinning off of that. There will also be some interesting updates with Alex, Chase and Danni and Cooper and Jayson will be seen in this story too.
Alina: Now I regret asking! I will die way before this book is released…
And yes, I know it’s a short wait, I want it yesterday though. I am but a greedy reader
Ann: LOL – I really wanted/needed to get these guys back to doing what they do best: performing on stage. And I loved writing the stage scenes in Dagger’s story. Alex’s had a few tidbits of stage life but on a smaller scale. Wheland’s story will be on stage in large arenas they are used to being on.
Alina: There is a certain theme that’s recurring in all of you books in the Rock Gods series: that is the media as less of a news breaker and more of an ugly gossip machine. Can you talk a little about that?
Ann: The ugly media thread. Yes, Dagger suffered a lot from it. Alex was better able to handle it and Cooper being happy-go-lucky, he was able to shrug it off for the most part.
The media element in my stories is real though. I’ve talked to performers that can speak about it in reality. It is definitely a force they have to deal with but they have to learn to keep it in prospective. They need the media to promote their work so it is definitely a love-hate relationship.
Alina: I’ve heard a lot of things being justified by “People have the right to know” but I think there is no right about it, not with outings like what happened to Dagger. In real life, we saw what happened on American Idol after extensive coverage in the media about Adam Lambert’s sexuality.
Ann: Sadly in this day and age with the media all needing their ‘money shot’ they can get too close to the celebrities and the celebrities feel in danger of being hurt or having their private lives smeared on false claims. Cooper didn’t care what anyone thought and did his best not to pay much attention to the media. His pain comes from seeing Alex get hurt by what was printed about him and also Dagger.
There is a fine line to all of this but the media keeps testing the boundaries. They are driven by money. If the public didn’t want the shots, then the paps wouldn’t have pictures worth taking.
Alina: True, and it’s always easier to entertain than to educate. And these money shots are a great distraction from what’s really going on. Is there a favorite scene in each of these book that has stayed with you, outshining everything else?
Ann: Favorite scene? Hmmmm. There are so many swoon moments in Make You Mine. It is seriously difficult to pick just one.
Alina: How many books will there Rock God Series? Do you have a certain number planned out?
Ann: I definitely have Book Four underway. In that story Wheland falls for another musician from another band. That opens the door to other spin off stories, much like I did with Dagger/Black Ice shifting into Ivory Tower territory and Alex’s story. I’ve also been toying around with the idea of writing an f/f rock star romance. I’m not sure if I should jump genres like that, from m/m to f/f but the characters in that f/f story are getting louder and louder in my head.
Bottom line: I’ll keep writing my rock star romances as long as the readers keep begging me for them.
Alina: That will be a very long series then! Are there things you can’t write without? Like music, or something to drink, or a snack?
Ann: I always have to have music playing. LOUDLY. I try and match the timbre of the characters voice in my head to the singer’s voice on the music I’m listening to. For Make You Mine, I listened to a lot of Puddle of Mudd, Staind, and my go-to CD of choice is anything by Shinedown.
I write rock star romance so the music is always rock.
There could be a few more books in the Rock Gods series but I do try and make each book as close to being a stand alone as possible – for obvious reasons.
Alina: I love that about your books. And every time a new one comes out, it’s my new favorite.
Now a few quick and fun questions. How long can you stay away from everything Internet related without feeling the withdrawal?
Ann: Hmmmm, on a personal level, I could walk away and not be all that bothered. On a professional/business level, I think my name would very quickly be forgotten if I wasn’t on facebook marketing the hell out of my books. It’s the ‘job’ that keeps me on facebook, twitter, etc.
Alina: I envy you for that one, I am way too used to being in touch with people from everywhere by now, it kills me to be away. Coffee or tea?
Ann: I am one few people on this planet that doesn’t text and don’t care to, either.
Neither coffee nor tea. I’m a hot chocolate girl all the way!
Alina: Woohoo, one million bonus points! One year, 3 books limit. What would you choose?
Ann: I would eat anything with chocolate on it. It is a seriously a major food group for me. Dark chocolate, to be specific.
Books that are already printed? I have a few favorite authors, so I guess I’d pick something from their catalogs.
Alina: They have to be printed, and they can be from anywhere in the world, published since the dawn of time
Ann: Just to be clear……I’d grab the chocolate stash on my way out of the house to the storm shelter before the tornado hit. I never travel without it either.
Okay, books. I really loved Starfish and Coffee by Kele Moon, so I’d definitely bring her book. I have an old Sandra Brown book I keep re-reading and that is 22 Indigo Place. I love anything Ella Frank and Kindle Alexander, too.
Alina: I think I’d take coffee before chocolate, but it’s coffee, chocolate, and my tablet, if I’m stuck on a deserted island. Okay, last one. Ebook or print? Which is your favorite?
Ann: Well, I used to be a diehard paperback lover but now I LOVE my Kindle.
Alina: Same here!
Ann: I do still ‘collect’ my favorite books on paperback and try and get the author to sign them if possible. So the paperbacks I have here in the house mean something to me.
Alina: I try to do that too, but I switched to ebooks because they get here without me having to wait for a million years
Thank you so much Ann! I know I took up a lot of your time for this.
Ann: I hate the wait involved with the paperback, plus they take up a lot of room.
No worries about the time! This is all part of that process we talked about earlier! It is as important as the writing.
Thank you so much for inviting me to this interview! It was a lot of fun – even if did get reported to facebook in the middle of it!! LOLOL
And yes, she actually got reported for a picture, never quite managed to get why. Now, I could have removed that part, but I think it speaks volumes about what’s going on on Facebook right now. Not nice at all!
More about Ann
Ann Lister is a native New Englander currently living on the island of Martha’s Vineyard with her husband. She has pulled details from her years living in the New England area and uses many local settings and landmarks in her novels.
After graduating art school and raising two daughters, she established her own video production company. Her nearly two decades working in video production included work within the music industry and won her a coveted Telly Award. It was this ‘behind-the-scenes’ exposure to the music world that inspired many of her novels.
In 2013 she released Book One of her new rock star series: The Rock Gods. Book One is titled, Fall For Me. This novel is her first full-length gay, erotic romance and it is also a Finalist novel for the 2013 Rainbow Award. Book Two in the Rock Gods series is titled, Take What You Want. This story is a m/m/f menage and released in early November 2013. Book Three, titled: Make You Mine, is expected to release in Spring of 2014.
When not writing, she enjoys reading, creating stained glass, and traveling.
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/ann.macconnelllister
Goodreads Author Page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/519355.Ann_Lister