Today I'm sitting down and chatting with novelist Norma Beishir, who's worked in the publishing industry with earlier books such as A Time For Legends, Angels at Midnight, and Dance of the Gods. These days she's moved into the self publishing side of the industry and new genres with books like Final Hours and An Army of Angels. As well, we're working together on a joint project we're calling Same Time Tomorrow, a project which looks to be the first of a series.
Norma lives in St. Louis with her son Collin and her bird Sam.
How long have you been writing, and what got you into the profession?
I've been writing since I was eight years old, but I've only been getting paid for it for the past twenty-two years.
What got me into it? Desperation. I suck at everything else.
Which authors have influenced you?
My first major influence was E.B. White. I loved Charlotte's Web so much, I kept checking it out from the school library--until they wouldn't let me have it anymore. My mom found out and bought me a copy.
Later, it was Walter Farley. I'm a lifelong horse lover, and I was crazy about his Black Stallion and Island Stallion books. I was also a huge fan of the Timber Trail Riders books.
When I was in my late teens, it was Jacqueline Susann. Valley of the Dolls got so much notoriety, I had to read it! I didn't really like it, but I was a fan of two of her later books, The Love Machine and Once is not Enough. From Susann, it was a short jump to Sidney Sheldon. Sheldon was a former screenwriter, and his books moved with the rapid pace of a screenplay. I have the attention span of a flea, but I read his books in one sitting.
Your earlier books were in the romance genre under the Silhouette banner. Your current genre certainly leans towards fantasy and sci fi. What brought about that transition?
Easy. It's more fun.
Seriously, I loved The Omen. It's still one of my favorite films. I'd always wanted to write a novel in that vein, featuring a protagonist who would be born to save the world rather than dominate it--but it couldn't be easy. The character had to be someone who struggled with his extraordinary identity. He was thrust into a role he didn't want and had to be forced into it by circumstance.
You've advocated often for the ebook and self publishing side of the publishing industry. Tell us why you feel that way.
Two words. Creative control. I wanted to be in charge of every aspect of my creations. This new dimension of publishing gives unprecedented control to the author.
Think about it. With traditional publishing, the author has almost no control. A few are lucky enough to get large advances and a good spot on the publisher's list...but very few have any real control. The publisher chooses your covers art, your title, how your book is categorized and marketed. And the royalties are pathetic. When I started, I got 8-10%. Most of my friends were getting 6-8% or less. Compare that to Amazon, which pays a 70% royalty for e-books!
And e-books are environmentally-friendly. Need I say more?
When you self-publish, you write what you want to write. I knew I had a problem when I gave my agent a proposal and she dismissed it because the protagonists weren't "glamorous."
Having had known you and worked with you for awhile now, I've seen from time to time that you've used anecdotes and experiences from your own life and transferred them into characters. How have personal experiences influenced you as a writer? Give us a couple of examples.
Let me think about that one. What am I willing to confess to?
In Chasing the Wind, Connor is supposedly epileptic. So am I.
Lynne shares her memories of Christmas in the Midwest with Connor. One such memory involves the family's two cats and an outdoor Nativity set. Our cat, Fat Cat Jr., used to kick Baby Jesus out of the manger so he could sleep there himself. There was a light in the manger and it was warm there, so....
Tell us a bit about your current projects and what you've got in store for down the road.
Final Hours is the only book I've ever written in first person, but it would not have worked any other way. The premise is simple--what would you do if you knew with certainty that the world would end in twenty-four hours?
Chasing the Wind was always intended to be the beginning of a series. In that book, I've introduced Connor Mackenzie, who believes his visions are epileptic seizures. He's actually been chosen to serve as a prophet, and the visions are God speaking to him, directing him.
In An Army of Angels, I introduce Connor's clone, Alex Stewart, a gifted artist who has terrifying visions...which show up in his paintings.
The third novel in the series also features a clone who may or may not be Connor's. The story will open thirty years ago at a monastery in the mountains of Nepal. A frightened young woman--a very pregnant young woman--seeks refuge as she's about to give birth. She tells an unbelievable story of how she was hired to serve as surrogate for a child created in a lab....
And then there's our joint project, Same Time, Tomorrow. It went from erotica to love story, featuring a couple who met on the internet....'
Your use of the concept of clones in An Army of Angels is certainly timely, given the ongoing debate over the ethical implications of cloning in science. How much of that debate influences the narrative?
The idea of cloning started with Chasing the Wind, which went through at least ten drafts (I lost count!). The original premise was a rogue scientist who wanted to use DNA from the Shroud of Turin to clone Jesus Christ--but that idea was so overused, I realized by the third draft that my plot would have to change. My protagonist, through a strange series of events, became a super-genius whose paternity was never established. His mother was said to be insane because she heard voices and claimed he had been given to her by an angel. A powerful cartel saw him as the embodiment of a prophecy they sought to stop from being realized.
He was cloned...at least once. That clone was Alex from An Army of Angels. There is another clone, but his origins are in question. Is his DNA from Connor, or did the obsessed scientist actually obtain DNA from the Shroud? Is the resulting child a true clone, or was DNA from more than one source used?
One of the things I've learned from you has been in the blog format, getting us into your characters' heads with your blog In Their Own Words. Particularly with Final Hours and Army of Angels, the technique of giving them a blog is really handy for getting into a character's head. Where did you pick that up?
I don't know. I just thought one day that it might be fun, since a large number of my characters are kind of smart-alecky. Wait'll you see the blogs by Robyn's brothers.
Any thoughts about revisiting characters from your earlier genre and plunging them into a new genre?
As a matter of fact, yes! In the third book of the Chasing the Wind series, photojournalist Phillip Darcy will team up with Jaime Lynde from my third novel, A Time for Legends...unaware that her work as a photojournalist is a cover for her real profession: CIA operative.
Since Alexander, the protagonist of my first novel, Dance of the Gods, headquartered his conglomerate at the World Trade Center, I've considered bringing him to the present and dealing with the impact of 9/11 on his life and his fortunes.
Something you've touched on with both Final Hours and Army of Angels has been the theme of relationships. Would you comment on how they play out in those books?
It's funny because I really resisted the "romance writer" label with my early books. Hated it, even after I wrote for Silhouette. Looking back, I think the real problem was the glitzy romance image. Too, I didn't like the fact that all writers are writing about relationships in one way or another, but only female writers get the schmaltzy romance writer image.
I was thrilled when a reviewer said Final Hours was a love story but not a romance novel. This is my objective--love stories that aren't cheesy. How am I doing so far?
I like writing about couples who are opposites--I've always felt that not only do opposites attract, they balance each other. Alex and Robyn in An Army of Angels are one of my favorite couples to write about because they're so right for each other in spite of their differences. Without giving too much away, their devotion to each other transcends death itself. Besides, her family's a hoot. I had a great time at Alex and Robyn's unorthodox wedding.
As for Final Hours, I found that a strange situation to be in as a writer, as I don't condone adultery at all. Yet here I was, writing about a man who carried on a fifteen-year affair with the woman he loved, while married to another woman, the mother of his children. Jamie is a character readers either love or hate. There's no middle of the road there. Personally, I loved him. He'd made a mess of his life and couldn't find a way out without hurting someone. He's not a bad guy, really. Give him a chance!
What advice would you have for writers honing their craft?
A couple of things: first, don't try to do any editing until you've completed that first draft or you'll never finish the book!
And try self-publishing. You won't regret it! (Besides, if you release it as an e-book first, the publishers will find you. It's a well-known fact that editors search for new talent there.)
Here you can find Norma's blogs: