Brandi Willis Schreiber

Sensual, Southern Romance

From Christian Fiction to Covert Agents: An Interview with Kim Black

It’s March! And that means spring and a whole new year's worth of books are coming into season! And how happy I am for BOTH things!

Today I’m extra-excited to share with you the book release of a very special author, Kim Black. Kim is a fellow member of Texas High Plains Writers, the amazing writer organization I'm a member of. She's also a dear, dear friend and thoughtful critique partner whose personality and positivity are absolutely effervescent.

This week she celebrates the release of LITTLE BLACK DRESS, the first book in her Little Black Dress Project series, which focuses on covert agent, Evan Tyler, and her weaponized wardrobe. It’s a fun, fast-paced read that takes the reader on a jet-set mission across the world to the City of Lights and appeals “to anyone who enjoys the pluck and style of Audrey Hepburn with a James Bond twist.”

I am so excited for Kim's new series and great accomplishment. Read on to learn about how this talented, Texas author envisions a world of spies, espionage, and intrigue half a world away!

 Kim Black's LITTLE BLACK DRESS is out this month!

Kim Black's LITTLE BLACK DRESS is out this month!

Kim, I am so excited to share a little bit about you and your writing on my website! For folks who may be unfamiliar with your work, tell us a little bit about yourself and what you write.

Thank you for giving me this opportunity, Brandi. Let’s see—I’m a Texan, born and raised. I met my husband (It was love at first sight.) at church, and we’ve been married for 33 years this June. I’m a mom of two grown sons and one daughter-in-law. I have three fur-babies, as well.  I own a home design business that I took over from my dad a few years ago when he retired. I also teach a children’s Bible class every week. I am a great champion of story-telling. (I make up stuff—a lot!)

 

You are a very diversified author! Before LITTLE BLACK DRESS, you also wrote Christian fiction and children's books. Tell us about these projects! How did you decide to transition from children's books and Christian fiction to this fast-paced, spunky, adventure-spy series? What inspired you to write it?

I started writing children’s books because I am addicted to seeing little kids’ faces light up when they hear a story. Right now I have one published, but I have two more that are very close to release. My sons are both graphic designers, so I am blessed to have incredible illustrations close at hand.

I started writing historical Christian fiction because I love the strength of the women in the Bible and how they shaped and influenced the message of the gospel. I don’t see my writing as too much of a transition because I’ve always been a big reader, and for me, writing is just an extension of that. In third grade, I got serious about reading. I read Little Women over and over, then Wizard of Oz, and Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang. I started consuming Nancy Drew Mysteries and Little House Books faster than I could get to the library. All of these books featured strong female characters, and I knew that was important to me in the stories I wanted to tell. I also loved the adventure, fantasy, and technology involved in all these stories. In a way, my Little Black Dress series is just a grown-up Nancy Drew—with better clothes and gear.

 

How has writing this series been different from writing Christian fiction and children's books? What unique things have you learned along the way, and what challenges have you experienced with this genre?

My Christian novels were set in ancient times, so it involved a lot of research. But once I had that figured out, the stories unfolded and were done. They had a definite message and theme. Children’s books have an even simpler theme, and that is nice, too.

When I first started LBD, I hadn’t considered making it a series. The story evolved from a Flash Fiction exercise at a library writing event. Turning a 100-word short story into a five-book (maybe more) series is a HUGE process. I wrote the first book and nearly published it at that point. Then I had an idea for another, and then another, which meant going back to the first one to revise for continuity. It wasn’t until after I finished the rough draft of the three books that I discovered my theme and message. Every day I work on the rewrites and map out the next two books, I am overwhelmed by how much I still need to include or pare away to get closer to that message.

 The LITTLE BLACK DRESS cover is a beautiful design created by Kim's son.

The LITTLE BLACK DRESS cover is a beautiful design created by Kim's son.

Evan Tyler, your heroine in LITTLE BLACK DRESS, is a pretty tough girl. Supermodel turned covert agent, she a combination of beauty AND brains. What was your inspiration for her? And what has been the hardest part of making her "come alive" on the page?

Like I mentioned before, all the strong women of my favorite books have a little part in Evan. I am also a big Ian Flemming fan. He created the character of James Bond, but he also wrote Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang, which is kind of like a kid’s James Bond. Every one of his stories includes the iconic Bond Girls, both good and bad. While they never had the lead, they were often much more interesting than the bigger villains. I decided the world needed a female Bond. I think of [Evan] as an Audrey Hepburn-type: strong-willed, braver than she thinks herself, stylish, and completely able to handle any man that comes her way.

The toughest part about writing Evan is not idealizing her in my own mind. Giving her faults that don’t conflict with the personality type necessary for a covert operative is tough. Getting in that hyper-aware, physically capable mindset is not easy for me. I am known for tripping over my feet, walking into walls, and being startled by my own phone ringing.

 

You live, write, and work in the Texas Panhandle ... a world away from the exotic locations and exciting cities you feature in the Little Black Dress Project. How do you "go there" as a writer? What research tools or methods have you used to create your settings, especially since it's not exactly convenient to hop a plane to Paris from where you live? :)

Paris is my dream destination. (Yes, I actually wept during the opening credits of Midnight in Paris.) When I found the Paris360 website, and then GoogleEarth, I literally did my happy dance. I knew what I wanted to include, so I just had to figure out how to make the setting work for me. And one day I WILL visit the City of Lights. I have had the opportunity to travel a little in my life. A few years ago I had the chance to go to Ukraine, and that experience will feature prominently in the third LBD book. I have a big scene in the second book, Red Heels, that takes place in the London Eye. To get the feeling for that, we took a trip to Las Vegas to ride the High Roller Ferris Wheel. Other places I’ve been will also make appearances in future installments.

 Wise advice from author Kim Black

Wise advice from author Kim Black

Tell us about your journey to self-publishing and the greatest lessons - and benefits - you've experienced along the way. What do you like most about being an indie author? What is the most challenging? What advice would you give to other writers who are thinking about pursuing the indie route to publishing?

I self-published Pockets, my children’s book when indie authors were just getting a piece of the action. With Lydia, Woman of Purple, I worked with a small publishing house in North Texas. It was exciting and very validating to be working with an established publisher. After a few years, however, my publisher decided to close his doors. I was suddenly pressed to get my book ready to re-publish under my own imprint or let it go out of print. I was grateful for the previous experience of doing it myself.

I like having control over things like the title, the cover, the release dates, and what the final manuscript looks like. Indie-publishing gives me that opportunity. I am blessed to have illustrators and artists in my family to help with that. I also have experience working with social media, websites, and various computer programs and software—all of which are necessary for marketing your work. I am not a big self-promoter, so gracious friends as you help me to overcome the biggest challenge of marketing, by giving me the chance to spread the word.

If you like doing it all, and I do mean ALL, and having your fingerprints on every step, then it’s a great joy to self-publish. It’s like giving birth. It takes about the same amount of time (or longer), is just as painful, but it is a great accomplishment and a legacy to the future.

 

The cover of LITTLE BLACK DRESS is so bright, artistic, and attention-grabbing! Tell me about what makes this cover so very special to you beyond its aesthetics. What suggestions or advice could you give to other indie authors who really want a cover that "pops"?

Your cover is your teaser-trailer for your story. It makes a promise to your reader while giving them a peek at your story. It also lets them know what type of story it is.
— Author Kim Black

I couldn’t be more proud of my cover. My younger son, Sean, created it, and it is gorgeous! Evan stands out. I chose three or four actress photos that I thought fit the part and then asked Sean to recreate the look of the ‘50’s/ ‘60’s artist Coby Whitmore, combined with the appearance of a vintage travel poster. He nailed it. Covers are a big deal to me.

I have spent hours in bookstores just judging books by their covers. Your cover is your teaser-trailer for your story. It makes a promise to your reader while giving them a peek at your story. It also lets them know what type of story it is. Coby Whitmore was known for his Bond-style pulp book and magazine covers. That’s the vibe I wanted to send. Lighter cover = lighter story. Evan is dressed in the little black dress, hiding her pistol behind her, and shooting the reader a knowing look over her shoulder. Very Evan. The Eiffel Tower stands beyond her—the story takes place in Paris. The bridge stretches out in front of her—the climax awaits. I think the cover should reveal the author’s passions, too. If it means something to the author, it will resonate with the reader.

 

Kim, during the day you work as a professional building designer for custom homes. That is so cool, but I imagine it's also very time consuming! How do you balance your design career, which must have its own creative demands, with your writing career? What does a typical writing day or session look like? How do you build in time to write and what do you try to accomplish when you do sit down at the keyboard?

That is a challenge, but I have found that if my creative juices are flowing, they gush! I love problem-solving, which is a big part of both careers. The hardest part for me is quitting one project to start the other. I like to work on a chapter until it’s finished, and I work on a sketch until it’s done, too. Sometimes one has to wait its turn for the other. Switching gears sometimes requires mood music—classical or classic rock. Sometimes it requires another cup of coffee.

Lastly, a fun question:  If you could spend a day in the little black dress your heroine, Evan Tyler, gets to wear, where would you go and what would you do?

That’s a tough one. I do love dressing up, but I’m an introvert, so big parties are not really my style these days. I would LOVE to slip my man into a tux and fly out to Paris. I don’t know how much spying I would do, but I would have the dress record every single minute of fun. Well, maybe not EVERY minute.

Connect with Kim on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and subscribe to her newsletter!

 

Writing from the Hero’s Perspective: An Interview with Jezz de Silva

Jezz de Silva is on a mission. First, as personal protection instructor, he’s not a big fan of bullies. Since statistics show women are victimized the most in society, he aims to empower women to lead stronger, happier, and more confident lives through his instruction. “This is not about learning to fight,” he wrote me. “It’s about learning to live.” And “learning to live” encompasses everything from focusing “on identifying and appreciating what makes you special” to ensuring your voice is heard to asking for that raise, concepts that might not normally crop up up in a conversation about personal protection, especially with women.

“Women are conditioned to be nice and put others’ needs ahead of their own. Predators capitalize on this,” he wrote.

His advice to women who may have trouble acclimating to this idea as they learn to defend themselves? “Learn to accept who you are and be comfortable in your own skin. This is never ending journey but gets easier with practice. Trust me, I’ve gone from pretend tough guy to a guy who cries during Pixar movies and writes romance novels.”

About that last part.

As a former automotive engineer and now test driver, Jezz has ventured into new territory that’s a little different than the miles and miles of untamed Australian Outback he’s used to seeing on his long drives.

He’s writing romance with tough heroes and even tougher heroines, the kind of enviably well-written romances that make you laugh and cry in the same five pages and leave you loving the characters as much as you love your own family, your best friend, and ice cream, all in the same moment.

I hope my background gives readers a different perspective into how decent, caring, and supportive heroes behave and feel about their heroines.
— Jezz de Silva

I hope my background gives readers a different perspective into how decent, caring, and supportive heroes behave and feel about their heroines.”

That’s pretty darn heroic.

I contacted Jezz after reading AGAINST ALL ODDS, a book that was one of Smart Bitches Trashy Books’ favorite books of 2017. He was kind enough to visit with me about his new career, what it’s like being a male romance writer in this industry, and his advice to all writers.

 Romance author, Jezz de Silva, with his First Reader and his "zoo of geriatric rescue animals who eat him out of house and home."

Romance author, Jezz de Silva, with his First Reader and his "zoo of geriatric rescue animals who eat him out of house and home."

Jezz, I am so excited to share a little bit about you and your writing on my website! For folks who may be unfamiliar with your work, tell us a little bit about yourself and what you write.

My long suffering First Reader and I live in a tiny one wombat town in the hills outside Melbourne, Australia. And when I say one wombat town I really mean it. I see the little girl when walking Bear, Max, and Zara, my plot, character, and marketing consultants.

Our little patch of heaven is overrun by a zoo of geriatric rescued animals who eat us out of house and home when not sleeping or guilting us into walks. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

When not tapping my fingers or banging my head on a keyboard creating happily ever afters, I love spending time with family and friends, cooking, EATING, gardening, renovating our castle, and teaching personal protection.

I love helping tough heroes and tougher heroines find their happily ever afters.

 

Many readers assume that romance is a genre that is only for women, written only by women, but romance authors are as diversified as the books themselves! What's it been like being a male author in this industry? And how do you feel that it's influenced your writing, your stories, or your approach to your characters and work?

I can't believe how welcoming Romancelandia has been, and I'm so grateful for all the support. I can't even imagine how difficult it is for female writers to be accepted into other genres. This is one of the many reasons I love romance and the romance community.

I write purely for my heroine to give her the happiest happily ever after possible. I also love reading, listening to, and writing stories from both the heroine and hero's points of view. I hope my background gives readers a different perspective into how decent, caring, and supportive heroes behave and feel about their heroines.

 

You've written for Samhain and most recently Entangled Publishing. Tell us about your writing path to these opportunities! How long did it take you to finish your first book and get a contract? What has your writing journey been like? 

My First Reader and I still look at each and shake our heads because we'd never dreamed I'd become a writer, let alone a romance writer. All my favourite stories have a romance arc, but it was only after I started listening to audio books that I truly got addicted to romance and its guaranteed happily ever afters. I started writing about five years when a scene popped into my head and wouldn't get out. In desperation, I wrote it down and then just couldn't stop. I devoured 'how to write' books and writing podcasts while finishing my first manuscript and then joined an online critique group to learn how to actually write. The last creative writing I did was back in high school, so I literally had no idea what I was doing. After about a year and at least a dozen full rewrites I hired a professional editor to help me fine-tune my writing. A few months later I submitted 'Home' as a learning experience without ever truly believing it'd get accepted. A month or two later I got the email from Sasha Knight that changed my life overnight.

'Home' was published in 2015 under Samhain and not long after Sasha accepted my second story. Unfortunately, Samhain closed not long after, and I found myself in limbo. After way too much ice cream and way too many donuts I decided to seek an agent, and after another crazy journey somehow convinced Janna Bonikowski of The Knight Agency to take a chance on me. After a another few months of ups and downs, Tera Cuskaden of Entangled accepted what would eventually become books one and two of the Outback Hearts Series, AGAINST ALL ODDS and A CHOICE OF FATE.

I've done a lot of different things and had a number of different professions, but writing's by far the hardest thing I've attempted mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Yet the highs are like nothing I've ever experienced and make all the tears and tantrums worth it. I started writing when I was forty with zero experience and zero expectations. It hasn't been easy, and I'm only beginning to comprehend how hard the journey ahead will be, but I wouldn't swap it for anything.   

 AGAINST ALL ODDS is the first book in the "Outback Hearts" series

AGAINST ALL ODDS is the first book in the "Outback Hearts" series

 A CHOICE OF FATE, the second book in the "Outback Hearts" series, is available now!

A CHOICE OF FATE, the second book in the "Outback Hearts" series, is available now!

Your first book in the Outback Hearts series, AGAINST ALL ODDS, caught my attention because Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, a well-respected resource on romance books, named it one of their favorite reads of 2017 . That's a huge deal! So of course, I immediately bought it. And loved it. It's one of the most emotional, well-written, character-driven romances I've read in a long time. Tell us a little bit about what inspired this book and what it's been like seeing it in print.

I'm still happy dancing over that review, and it means even more to me because Sarah Wendell was the first person within Romancelandia I contacted to ask for advice about writing romance as a guy.

My stories always start and finish with my heroine. I wanted to give Abi her perfect happily ever after and it just so happened she needed a tough, protective, and loving Aussie hero to make her dreams come true...lucky for Ryder.

I know a story is exactly the same regardless of whether it's electronic or print, but there is something about holding an actual paper copy of your book that somehow makes it seem more real. There's nothing quite like opening up the cardboard box from Createspace and seeing your books shimmering back at you. [Createspace is] where readers can buy a 'print on demand' copy of my books. I usually buy 10 myself for my family and friends to thank them for all the support they've given me. Plus I like holding and staring at them.

 

You live outside of Melbourne, Australia in a "one wombat town" and shared on Entangled's blog a little bit about the beautiful country that provides so much inspiration for your settings. In fact, this is one of the things I loved so much about AGAINST ALL ODDS: the setting was wonderfully structured and made me feel like I was right there with Abi and the whole Harper clan! Have you visited any places that were the inspiration for Wingarra? How did you create such a lovely place for this family to live?

I was lucky to be an automotive engineer in a past life and even luckier to be test driver now which allows me to drive all over Australia and see places not many people get to see (along with giving me plenty of time to listen to audio books and podcasts). One of my favourite parts of Australia is the Outback as there's something truly magical out there that has to be felt rather than seen. When I was outlining the series, there was only one place it was going to be set, and Wingarra (Place of Magical Water) and Baroona (Place Far Away) were born.

 

One of my other favorite things about AGAINST ALL ODDS was the incredible dialogue and banter between Abi and Ryder, the heroine and hero in your novel, and Ryder's entire family. It was witty, fast-paced, and laugh-out-loud funny and lightened the tone of the book given Abi's terrible situation. How do you write such great dialogue that balances so well with such emotional material? Any tips for writers who tend to find their dialogue stilted?

Thank you so much for the wonderful compliment, but the truth is I have no idea. I try to make my stories as realistic as possible and I want readers to feel what my character's experience. Dialogue is a huge part of this. The best craft advice I can give any writer is to listen to their stories via a text to speech app., the more times the better. But I usually save listening to my story for special occasions, as by the time I've reached submission or galley proofs, I can practically recite the story from memory and can't notice what's missing. The computer-generated voice has no inflection and really highlights anything that doesn't flow or fit the story.

In regards to dialogue specifically, I avoid dialogue tags as I feel they take the reader out of the story. Instead, I use action and description to let readers know who's speaking. It's not easy, and it's hard not to have your characters nodding and sighing every page, but I believe this helps readers stay immersed in the world you've created and adds depth to the story.

 

Speaking of craft: Jezz, tell me a little bit about your writing process. What does a typical writing day (or hour) look like for you?  How do you get started, and when do you know to put down the pen or turn off the computer?  Any tips, tricks, rituals, or goals that keep you writing?

I'm very lucky that I work part time and my First Reader and I only have furry free loaders to care for. I'm a morning person so my full time writing day usually starts at 05:00. I write for about two hours and then take the dogs for a walk before writing again for another couple of hours. After lunch and taking care of any housework, I try to fit in another couple of hours in the afternoon. If I'm working, I write in the morning before work, then squeeze in time whenever and wherever I can. I write slowly (about 500 words/min), but I'm trying to finish two to three books a year. Of course all these good intentions crash and burn when edits, promo, and life interrupts.

While writing my second book I started tracking my progress in the hopes it'd help increase my word count. But I found this put even more pressure on my writing and started turning writing into work, which was the last thing I wanted. I now work as hard as I can while ensuring I'm enjoying my family, friends, and life as much as possible.

Jezz de Silva Quote #1.png

Now let's talk about the hard stuff: rejection, "bad" writing days, disappointment. What challenges have you experienced as a writer, and what advice would you give to other aspiring authors (romance or otherwise) who are hoping to publish in this field?

Like most things writing related, I'm definitely way outside the box. I fully expected to spend years learning how to write (still learning) and have half a dozen books hiding under my desk that would never see the light of day. But the first three stories I wrote got published. My really 'bad' writing days happened later when I started overthinking everything and expecting things instead of just writing the damned story. Samhain's closure was a blow, but it was outside my control and only highlighted just how challenging and brutal this industry is. I'm still trying to condition myself to ignore the noise and just write, but it's a constant battle.

There are really no 'aspiring' writers. If you write, then you're a writer. I'm starting to realise the writers who are genuinely happy with simply writing stories THEY love are the truly successful writers. If I've learned anything on this roller coaster it's that all writers can really control are the words, and the best thing you can ever do for your career and happiness is to keep churning out better and better books that YOU love.

Jezz de Silva Quote #2.png

And now back to the fun stuff! Tell us about your latest release(s) and what reader have to look forward to over the next year, including your next book in which Abi's sister, Olivia, gets her HEA! 

I love writing the Outback Hearts series and can't wait to give all the Harpers their very own HEA's.

AGAINST ALL ODDS

The bomb ticking inside Abigail Williams has shadowed every moment of her adult life. With the timer counting down, Abi embarks on one final adventure into the Australian outback before returning to L.A. to fight for her life.

Sergeant Ryder Harper survived over a decade in Australia’s most elite military unit. He’s ready to hang up his assault rifle and drag what’s left of his broken body back home. He dreads the long flight back to Brisbane, until he collides with the stubborn, maddening seductress sitting beside him.

Abi ignites a need deep inside Ryder, leaving him desperate for more time with this woman with mesmerizing eyes and an even more intoxicating spirit. But when Abi finally relents to Ryder’s offer to be her outback guide, she has one condition: When it’s time, he’ll have to let her go

A CHOICE OF FATE

Los Angeles based Doctor Olivia Williams has everything she’s ever dreamed of—a healthy sister, the job of a lifetime, and more freedom than she knows what to do with. And she’s kicking off her new life with a month-long adventure Down Under to celebrate her sister’s wedding and meet the in-laws. But when the groom’s brother shows up to retrieve her from her hotel, the drop-dead gorgeous lawyer is everything and nothing she expected, and she'll have to make a choice she never anticipated.

Australian Jarrah Harper has an Aston Martin parked beneath his penthouse, an overflowing little black book, and an obscenely lucrative legal practice that ensures he’ll never have to wrangle cattle or wipe sweat from his forehead ever again. But he still feels empty. When he sees his family’s home through the eyes of the entrancing Olivia, suddenly he’s rethinking everything. Including the fact that the alluring Olivia spells nothing but trouble.

Jezz de Silva at Amazon.com

 

Lastly, a fun question:  You just boarded a plane for a 14-hour flight. Where is it headed? And what person - out of everyone in the world, living or dead - would you want to sit next to for those 14 hours? 

I can't remember a time when my First Reader hasn't been by my side, so it'd have to be her, and we'd probably be heading to North America for some touring, hiking, and eating.

Jezz, thank you so much for allowing me to interview you and share your thoughts with my readers!

Website: www.jezzdesilva.com

Twitter: @jezzdesilva