What’s in a Genre? Part One – A conversation between Celeste Castro and Tagan Shepard

Howdy. I’m Celeste Castro, author with Bella Books. I can finally say that I’m the author of multiple books. I have a body of work to my name, which basically means I’ve spent more time with fictitious characters than actual people. Like all good things, my work in progress, (that is, sitting too much, exercising too little, and speculating whether I should’ve had my main character place her arm on her crush’s shoulder, or around her waist), has come to an end. Time to crawl back to the land of the living and talk to real people.

Naturally, I sought conversation with another author. I interviewed fellow Bella Books writer, Tagan Shepard, also with a body of work to her name. Similar to my books, her collection spans different genres. I wanted to know more about Tagan’s decision to leave the safety of a story set on planet Earth, for an adventure on the Moon. Along the way, I learned about Tagan’s inspiration, what she likes best about writing, and I enjoyed getting to know her.

Our interview begins with a handful of questions that we both answer, (to get the creative juices flowing) before delving into the complexities of our writing. We hope you enjoy part one of our conversation (my interview with Tagan). Stay tuned for part two (Tagan’s interview with me), in September!

Celeste Castro and Tagan Shepard

First things first, nice to meet you! Where do you get your book ideas?

Tagan: Usually from songs, but sometimes from random comments by a stranger. I am much too open to suggestion.

Celeste: The air, observations, memories, mint, dust. One of my works in progress came by way of a nightmare.

 

Writing while being owned by a cat

Why did you branch across genre?

Tagan: I read everything and I want to write everything. There aren’t enough women who love women in any genre, and I want to be a very small part of fixing that.

Celeste:  I wasn’t one of those that found the calling in Mrs. So-and-So’s third grade class. I started writing, like four years ago. I’m making up for lost time, experimenting with storytelling, figuring out how my voice works best.

 

What do you like best about science fiction/ paranormal/ mystery? What to you enjoy most about writing romance?

Tagan: I love the freedom of sci-fi and fantasy (I’m brewing a fantasy novel in my head that I’ll write soon). I love the happy endings of romance.

Celeste: In paranormal works, I love stretching the mind. Through fantasy, I’ve enjoyed bringing to life a magical world as Isee it. I love the introspection of romance and uncovering the layers that get to the heart of a woman.

 

What’s the last book related pilgrimage you’ve done?

Tagan: To Asheville, NC for a contemporary romance set at the Biltmore.

Celeste: To New Orleans, looking for magic, which I found.

 

Celeste finds magic in beignets and Cafe Au Lait from Cafe Du Monde

 

With three books to your name (congratulations!) that span different genres, is there a genre you have found that you enjoy writing more than another?

Tagan: Thank you! It’s been such a journey and I feel like everything I do is completely different from the last thing I did. I do that intentionally, but it does mean shifting the way I think each time I sit in front of the computer. I don’t know if there’s a genre I like more than the others, though I have written far more romance novels than anything else. Mostly I find that whatever book I’m working on at the moment is my new favorite.

Celeste: So so true! When I finished my first draft of The Taking and sent it to my beta readers, I was in deep, totally obsessed, couldn’t think about anything else. To clear my mind I resumed work on my rodeo romance. I’m going to have a hard time leaving it behind to resume edits to The Taking.

 

Through the course of my writing, I read a handful of books to prep, specifically chosen to open my mind, tap into different styles, especially as it relates to books that follow a certain tone that I want to learn. Do you have a similar practice during your writing process?

Tagan: Here’s a funny story- I hadn’t read a romance novel until after I’d written one! I came into writing through fanfic, which generally tends toward romance and erotica. I had the idea for Visiting Hours and just sort of wrote it blind. There was something very freeing about that process that has certainly changed since I’ve read more in the genre and understand the traditional formulas a little more. For my new novel, Across the Dark Horizon, I read several sci-fi novels to get a feeling for the genre. My favorite that I would definitely recommend was The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. Mine doesn’t have the same humor or aliens, but it’s definitely worth a read. Incidentally it has a fantastic scene that shows just how sexy consent can be.

Celeste: I’ll make it a priority to check out her work. I discovered the wonders of romance from reading so many of them. I wrote my first one, probably a little too formulaic, but to my credit, I had no idea what I was doing! I’ve since evolved, have come into my own unique voice and style. I imagine that you’ve learned a lot about yourself through your writing as well.

 

Cover art should catch a potential reader, make them want to pick up the book, flip it over, read the back and buy it. Was it easier, or more of a challenge (more freeing!) communicating ideas to your cover artist for Across the Dark Horizon than for your romances?

Tagan: Cover art this time around was much harder for me. I had a formula that I liked for my romance novels, but I went in a different direction this time. I wanted to give my readers a feel for the space where the novel takes place, but it took several attempts to get it right. In the past, I’ve described what I wanted on the cover with words (that’s my forte after all), but this time I sought out some of the images myself because I couldn’t figure out how to describe what I was looking for. It was certainly a challenge, but I’m happy with the result!

Celeste: I love your cover and Sandy Knowles’ work. When I look at Across the Dark Horizon, I get sci-fi, strange and foreign planet, woman in power suit and power pose realness! I wanted to mimic a comic book cover for Lex Files. For The Taking, I described the feeling I wanted, but left to the designer to work her magic. I’m excited I have a purple book that looks a little like the iconic Flash Dance pose!

 

I wrote Homecoming (my first work) without issue. I knew what I wanted to write and wrote it. With Lex Files, I ran into roadblocks, thinking through the twists and turns that my characters would need to navigate to solve the mystery. I experienced similar barriers writing my upcoming fantasy, The Taking. What got me through was telling myself the following: “I can do whatever the hell I want, this is my world, from my head.” Worked like a charm. Did you experience similar roadblocks in thinking through Across the Dark Horizon? Did you experience that with your other works? What did you do to get past?

Tagan: Oy, were there setbacks! The writing process was great, it was the editing that was hard for me on this trip. My writing style is a little different from other writers I know. I’m a very visual person. When I write a book, I see it sort of like a movie in my head and I just narrate the movie onto the page. That works just fine when the movie is a rom com, but it’s a little harder when it’s a sci fi/ action flick. There is a lot more action in this book and several of my scenes didn’t quite translate for the people who can’t see the movie I’m watching. It took several rewrites, but I think the action got across with more clarity in the end. And I only pulled out half my hair getting there! 

Celeste: Agreed. Books with twists take more thinking through, more “what ifs” and “what would happen when” sort of scheming to get to a logical, believable storyline. I’m excited to read your imagery of what lock up is like for a gal on the moon, what the food taste like and what sort of new technology you’ve developed.

 

Celeste’s Amulet. From the Duwamish Native American tribe in western Washington.

Every one of my stories has a story behind it, for example, my new release is a tale about a powerful amulet, a gateway from one world to another. Why an amulet? I have a special necklace that I wear when I need everything to go my way. Superstitious I know, but it’s never let me down, not once! Do you have a story behind Across the Dark Horizon, or a story that’s influenced one your other published works?

Tagan: My first two books were incredibly personal. Visiting Hours is a love letter to my hometown, Richmond, Virginia. Bird on a Wiregave me a chance to mourn my mother. Across the Dark Horizon I wrote just to see if I could! My favorite author of all time is Jules Verne. His work was visceral and brainy at the same time. Right after I finished writing Visiting Hours and I was wondering if I could make that magic happen again, I started reading Verne’s 1865 book, From Earth to the Moon. I was also reading news articles about how drug companies were refusing lethal injection medication to states with prisoners set for execution. Somehow the two wound themselves together in my mind while I slept and Across the Dark Horizon was born.

Celeste: I like how you wove current events with a classic work into Across the Dark Horizon. I am also sorry to hear about your mom. There’s no better way to work through complex, difficult to untangle, emotions than through painting a beautiful world through words. I wrote Lex Files for my sister, my small way to work through the loss of her best friend, an eleven-year-old two-pound Yorkie named Lexy. Every little bit helps.

Thank you for taking a moment to get to know Tagan Shepard with me. Check out her newest book, Across the Dark Horizon and all of her books at the Bella Books website. Stay tuned for part two of our conversation where Tagan interviews me and I talk about how I read the television! It’s a skill, trust me.

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