Hard to Swallow with Aubrey Gross

unnamedAubrey’s been reading and writing since she was about two and a half, and has been a storyteller for as long as she can remember. Early on, she discovered a love of romance, reading her first Harlequin somewhere around age twelve (it featured an F1 race car driver, as this was long before NASCAR was cool). She wrote her first romance novel in high school. It was admittedly not very good, but she wrote another, and another. She thinks those first few might still be on a floppy disk somewhere in a storage bin.

Aubrey eventually honed her writing abilities through undergrad creative writing courses and eventually graduate school, where she earned a Master of Arts in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. These days she writes books she likes to describe as “stories about broken people healing, finding love, and laughing a little bit, too.”

Editor’s Note: this is part one of a three-part interview. Parts two and three will be published September 13th and September 20th, respectively. Also, this interview was originally conducted in March through August of 2016.

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Now, to get started, I ask all of my interviewees the same starting question, and that’s this: how do we know each other?

We go way back to our freshman year of college at Hollins University. We were in the same creative writing class our first semester, and a small group of us just kind of gelled and nicknamed ourselves The Merry Bandits. We’ve been brain twins ever since. 😉

Brain-Twins FTW!!!! Hollins was and is known for their creative writing program. Given you’re from Texas, why did that inspire you to travel so far?

Well, the politically correct answer would be “because Hollins is a great university.” And that is true. But the honest answer is that I needed to get away from home for a multitude of reasons, and Hollins offered me a scholarship (not to mention much-needed distance). Their creative writing program was definitely a draw, as were the statistics about how well graduates fared post-college as compared to co-ed universities.*** Even though I ended up transferring after my first year (again, for a multitude of personal reasons) and coming back to Texas, I still look back on that year at Hollins very fondly and am incredibly grateful for the friendships I made while there (like you! *g*)

***Editor’s Note = Hollins’ undergraduate program is for women only.

So aside from meeting totally awesome people, like yours truly (ha!), do you feel Hollins helped shape you into the writer you are today, and if so, how?

Hollins gave me my first real experience with being critiqued. Considering not all of those critiques were genre-friendly, it definitely helped prepare me for the people out there who don’t like genre fiction (especially romance). Overall, though, I don’t really think it did, mostly because the focus was on poetry and literature (the one thing that truly helped, though, were the free-writing exercises in PK’s class — remember those?). My experience at Hollins did give me a different perspective and experiences I wouldn’t have had otherwise, which definitely influenced my writing in the first few years after I left Hollins.

I’ve slept long and hard since the days of Pauline Kaldas’ creative writing workshops! I remember little, except that it was your poetry that brought us together as friends, and I remember Julio the pool boy. Tell me, did Julio survive critique? Did he ever make it into one of your published novels?

LMAO! Oh, Julio the Pool Boy. He was a character in a short story. I can’t remember the prof’s name, but that story got SLAMMED in my crit session. Not because it was poorly written, but because it was genre fiction. Even worse? It was ROMANCE. OH NOES! That entire story didn’t survive the critique, and after that experience I actually couldn’t write fiction for like a year or something because I was a bit shell-shocked. Julio has not made it into any of my published novels as of yet, but I’m sure there will be a need for a hot pool boy at some point. 😉

Just goes to show you how crappy my memory is: I don’t remember the story getting slammed. I do remember Julio being a hit! So with that in mind, let’s #bringbackjulio!

*snort* Oh, believe me when I say that the comments written on that story were not pretty. :-p

Fine, I’ll believe you, but only if you insert Julio in every story you publish from this point on. He doesn’t have to get it on with your characters, but he has to be there. A kind of “Where’s Julio?” for the Merry Bandits. Deal?

Y’know, I might be able to turn him into an Easter Egg for my next series. 😉

SHU Graduation
Brain Twins! Seton Hill Graduation June 2008

 

rainExcellent…. My evil plan for world domination is coming to fruition! Now that I’ve got that out the way, let’s get serious: thankfully, the workshop environment did not scar you for life: not only are you the published author of four books and one novella (with more on the way), but you also got your Master of Arts at Seton Hill University. What made you decide to get your graduate degree in Writing Popular Fiction, and how did Seton Hill’s program differ from what you were used to?

You were actually the reason why I applied to SHU in the first place. After undergrad I wasn’t interested in grad school at all — I already had enough student loan debt and was just tired of school, to be honest. But then you started SHU and convinced me to apply. I had nothing to lose other than postage, so I did. And then I got accepted and had a decision to make, and figured that, yeah, it would be adding more student loan debt but this degree would be for ME — not a degree that I figured would make me employable (ends up I’ve actually received job offers because of my master’s degree — writing and storytelling is an important ability for a marketer to have *g*). The WPF program was SO different from my experiences at Hollins, most notably the fact that everyone there wrote genre fiction. Having crit group experience probably helped to an extent (as I’m sure it does everyone who’s had prior crit group experience), but the atmosphere was just different. Even when the critiques were hard to swallow (and boy were they that first residency!), there was a feeling of support there, too. I mean, after my very first crit session three of the other writers who’d given very blunt critiques (the amazing Maria V. Snyder, Penny Dawn, and Mary SanGiovanni) came up to me afterwards — outside of the classroom — and offered not only their support but also further insights into what they thought was great and what they thought needed more work. The fact that you can be in a crit session (or just a class) with writers who have won numerous awards and been New York Times best sellers as well as writers who have published a few short stories as well as the writer just starting out is one of the things that makes the WPF program unique and special, in my opinion.

You self-publish your fiction. I’ve heard it said, perhaps by you, that to go that route, you really have to be a business owner at heart. And a business owner is responsible for EVERYTHING. You just said you’re a control freak: do you like all of the extra work that goes into being, to borrow Chuck Wendig’s term, an author-publisher?

Y’know, I honestly do. In the traditional publishing world, the only things authors aren’t responsible for are editing, cover design, and retailer distribution (for the most part). We still have to do all of our own marketing, because unless you’re Stephen King or Nora Roberts your publisher isn’t going to have a huge marketing push. I like having control over what my covers look like, and designing something that visually represents the book (or the characters) as I see them in my head rather than having someone else’s vision applied to MY vision, if that makes any sense. Editing’s easy enough to take care of, too; there are so many freelance editors out there. And uploading to retailers is simple enough, even though some of the bigger indie authors actually have assistants who do that for them. I actually enjoy doing all of that stuff, but I’m very much a DIYer at heart, so there’s a lot of satisfaction that comes from doing something from start to finish and knowing I’m fully responsible for all of it. On the backend of things you have the financial and accounting stuff, to which all I can say is thank God for QuickBooks — it makes my life SO much easier when it comes to tracking writing and publishing-related expenses.

So you do ALL THE THINGS yourself? Editing? Even your book covers? Do you hire anything out to others?

Editing is a combo of myself, my husband (who’s my first beta reader), and other beta readers. That doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for me. As for covers, I actually design my own. I’ve been doing layout for publications since high school, and have been interested in graphic design since then, too. I’m admittedly self-taught, which is one reason why I believe in keeping things simple (although I’m admittedly a typography geek). But I love my covers and others seem to, too — the cover for Big Girls Need Love Too won the BookDesigner.com eBook Cover Design Gold Star award in August 2015. I’ve also branched out and have designed covers for some other authors, too. And considering I design my own covers, I also design my own marketing materials (and have done some of that for other folks, too). So I guess you could say I definitely do ALL THE THINGS myself (remember when I mentioned being a control freak?).

What’s the one thing you know now that you wish you’d known before becoming a published author?

Y’know, I honestly can’t think of anything. I’d been researching how to get published since I was in junior high; I would go to the bookstore or the library and painstakingly pore over the latest Writer’s Market (this was pre-internet), writing down tips and tricks, agent and editor info in spiral notebooks. When I read books I really enjoyed and felt like, “This is the type of writer I can see myself being,” I would look at the copyright page to see who the editor was. I always paid attention to publishers back then, and up until a few years ago my dream was to be published with Avon Romance. I knew from a young age that I wanted to write as a career, so I did a lot of research on what that took (yes, I realize this was not the typical behavior of a sixteen-year-old). Seton Hill really helped to prepare me for publication, too, and the network I now have from the WPF program is invaluable. So really, I was very aware of what I was getting myself into. I think the only thing I couldn’t have known before hand was how well my books would or wouldn’t sell. You have to have a certain amount of confidence in order to even think about publishing your work, and I figured I had some stories that at least a few people would buy and enjoy. While I haven’t had what you would call break-out success, the past year has been slow and steady and I’m very firmly mid-list, which is nothing to sniff at. With success — even as small as it is — does come some added pressure, though. Pressure from yourself. Pressure from your readers. Pressure from the market.

Actually, the market is probably the one thing I wished I’d known about before becoming a published author — I had no idea how crazy it would be and how rapidly it would change. Then again, I’m not sure many of us could have foreseen the changes that have happened over the past few years.

From the sound of it, I think you knew more about the publishing industry than I do now. You mentioned one of your goals used to be getting published by Avon Romance. What are your goals now?

Early in 2015 when I decided to pursue this indie publishing thing, I sat down and created a five-year plan. That plan involves a publishing schedule and broader goals to help build my brand. It’s also flexible, because at the time my financial goal was very much a guesstimate, so at the beginning of this year I looked at last year’s goals and revised from there. So I have small goals that feed into my BIG goal, which is to write and publish full time. I’m not 100% sure when I’ll get there, but everything I’m doing now and will do over the next few years is with that goal in mind. My ambitious goal is to be there by the end of 2017. My realistic goal is to be there by the end of 2019. Some days it feels like that will never happen. Others, I feel like it’s so close I can taste it.

Well, I’m definitely rooting for you! I can say I knew you back in the day!

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Come back next Tuesday, September 13th, where Aubrey will talk about why romance gets such a bad rap, her least favorite tropes in the genre and her favorite authors!

2 thoughts on “Hard to Swallow with Aubrey Gross

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