First, let me take a moment to say welcome and thank you for being here today! It’s always a pleasure to have guests in the hot seat…erm, I mean interview chair.
LOL! Thanks so much for having me, Helen! It’s always a pleasure to take whatever seat you want to give me. ;-)
Why don’t you start out by introducing yourself (where you call home, how long you’ve been writing, etc.)?
I first took pencil to paper when I was in the third grade, but I’ve been putting fingers to keyboard writing m/m under the pseudonym of Tinnean since 1999, when a friend brought to my attention the fact that there were stories out there on the Net about hot guys doing delicious things to each other. Having the computer helped, since copying and pasting made it so much easier to transfer whole chunks of wordage from one part of the document to another, or even to remove them to save in a separate file for future use. At that time we lived up in NY, but we’ve been down here in Southwest Florida for the past thirteen years, and I’ve reached a point where I can devote myself completely to writing.
Please tell us a little bit about your current release. What inspired you to write this story? How did it come about?
My husband wanted to know why I didn’t write a “straight” novel. (I’m sure we’ve all been there.) Back in the day I had written m/f, so I thought why not? I dusted off a 25k story I’d written in 2004, called Blue Velvet. By the time I finished reworking it, it had become Where the Heart Chooses and had grown to 104k.
Heart is an offshoot of my Spy vs. Spook series, (as Blue Velvet had been of the Mann of My Dreams series) and tells the story of Quinton Mann’s mother, Portia Sebring Mann. Portia first made an appearance in Houseboat on the Nile, when Mark Vincent interviewed her for the sole purpose of learning more about her son. As he learned more about her, as she revealed more about herself, we both became fascinated with this woman regarded by many as “the ice queen.” One of the things I enjoyed most about writing this novel was discovering the passion she shared with her beloved Nigel. We also see a good many of the incidents in Spy vs. Spook from her POV.
I incorporated events of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, from the building of the Berlin Wall, to the assassinations of John, Martin, and Bobby, to Watergate, and finally the boycott of the Summer Olympics in 1980. I have to confess I had a marvelous time doing that, and I hope my readers enjoy it as well.
- Is there an underlying theme in your stories?
Actually, there is: people are people, whether they’re men or women, no matter what their age or what they do for a living, and most importantly, no matter who they love.
- Your new book is F/M but it’s set in an already established M/M story world. How have readers responded so far? What inspired you to write Portia’s story? Where does she fit into the Spy vs. Spook universe?
At this point, all the readers I’ve heard from are familiar with the series and know Portia from there,
so they’re willing to read her story, even though it’s f/m for the most part. She’s the mother of the “spook” in Spy vs. Spook, and we see how through her training and encouragement, Quinton Mann became the man he is. However, although she’s appeared in every book, we never knew more about her than she was willing to reveal. When it became obvious she would talk to me, I jumped at the chance to tell her story.
- In a recent blog post of my own, I talked about the perceived ideal length for a novel and so I couldn’t help noticing that Where the Heart Chooses is 104,000 words long. Is that typical of your writing? Do you have any thoughts about “too long” or “too short”? (There are a fair number of publishers who didn’t want anything over 80K or 90K.)
I’ve always believed a story is as long as it’s going to be. As you mentioned, Heart is 104k (and I had to take out a couple of sequences which weren’t absolutely necessary). On the other hand, my next release, a novella, runs a little over 15k. When I start a new novel, I aim for 60k, which will get it in print. Once I’ve hit that point, I relax and let the story take me where it will. I do get nervous when it starts climbing close to 100k, but I’ve been lucky in that both Dreamspinner and JMS were kind enough to let me run with the length.
- There’s some controversy about women who write M/M? Do you have any thoughts on the subject you want to share?
I’ve heard of this, and frankly, I don’t understand the controversy. Weren’t some of the authors of Nancy Drew men? Didn’t Robert Heinlein write numerous stories from the female POV? (Podkayne of Mars, The Menace from Earth, Friday) I will say that when I first chose Tinnean as my pseudonym, one of the reasons was because I felt it was gender neutral. And tying this in with the next question:
- “They” tell us that writers should write what they know—do you think that’s true? Why/why not?
I don’t think the men who ghostwrote Nancy Drew “knew” what it was like to be a sixteen-year-old girl. Having said that, I write about spies and spooks who have no trouble canceling someone, and surprise! I’ve never killed anyone. I’ve written about women (and men) who travel through space, and I’ve written about a baronet who lived in 1836 England. I’m a twentieth/twenty-first century woman who hasn’t done either. But I do a lot of research, as do all the authors I know, and I think that’s the key.
- Pantster or plotter? Why?
Oh, definitely a pantster, although I usually know how I want it to start and where I want it to go. If I plot, I’ll plot it to within an inch of its life, and then I lose interest. In the case of something like Where the Heart Chooses, I brought in aspects from Sidebars, which were also part of the Mann of My Dreams universe (which became Spy vs. Spook), I did have to make a list of what incidents I needed to include. One thing though: I have to have a title. Heart began years ago as Blue Velvet. (originally, when Portia and Folana met, Folana had worn a blue velvet gown) When I rewrote it to be published, I changed the title to Violets for My Furs, (on their last day together, Portia gave Folana a broach of amethyst violets, and afterward, Folana always sent Portia violets) and then The Nightingale, Not the Lark. (this title tied in to something that happened before Portia and Nigel married. She wanted him to stay, and he quoted the line from Romeo and Juliet.) At the very last minute, the title changed again, to Where the Heart Chooses, and this was the book making that decision.
- What’s your favorite part of the publishing process? (writing the story, working with an editor, working with the art department, marketing, etc?)
I love writing the story, but I have to say I had the best experience with Heart: I was told since it was such a clean copy it hardly needed any editing!
- What’s your least favorite part of the publishing process?
Writing the synopsis. Condensing a novel that runs over 100k to a couple of hundred words is hard, and many bitter tears have been shed over that.
- How much of your real life experiences go into your writing? Where does your inspiration usually come from? Ever based a character on a real person (friend or enemy?)
The experiences are in there, although thinking about it, not as many as I’d originally thought. In Forever, when Mark told Quinn about the fish he found washed up on the beach and brought home, and which drowned when the basement flooded-- this was a story my father used to tell. When I was in the 5th grade, we went to the Central Park Zoo, where an elephant snatched a classmate’s thermos, and that’s appeared in one of my stories. I wrote Greeting Cards after we received a Christmas card and couldn’t figure out who had sent it to us. Dr. Morse, the vet in The Light in Your Eyes (Pick Up the Pieces), was named after my good friend and beta, Gail Morse. And of course Tom Hansom and his partner Jack Sweet in my first novel, Friends and Lovers, were based on my friend Tony and his partner. I did include someone I was ticked at in a snippet, but I wound up feeling bad about it and deleted all mention of him.
- Do you listen to music while you write, prefer absolute silence, run off to the coffee shop…? If you do listen to music, can you name a few songs off your playlist?
Oh, I definitely listen to music. Usually I have my television set to the Sonic channel that plays oldies. This is how I found what was originally supposed to be the title for Two Lips, Indifferent Red—Brown-Eyed Handsome Man. Some of the songs I listed to for Heart were http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Teshue2qTVk Violets For Your Furs, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=icfq_foa5Mo Blue Velvet, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jlYfaJYn5fU It Had to Be You, and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7kgm-vppxOY Such a Night, which is Quinn’s ringtone for Mark.
- What advice would you give to a writer who’s just starting out but who hasn’t been published yet?
Everyone will probably give the same advice: Write, and don’t let anyone or anything stop you. But I’ll add this: Keep a notepad with you at all times, because you never know when inspiration will strike. And most importantly! If you’re in bed and about to drift off to sleep and you get an amazing idea—write it down! Otherwise, you will not remember it the next morning. Trust me, I speak from experience. No matter how great the idea is, no matter how sure you are there’s no way you could forget such brilliance... you will.
- Do you have a favorite character (of your own creation)? What makes that character special to you?
My favorite character is Mark Vincent, the “spy” in Spy vs. Spook, who started as senior special agent of the Washington Bureau of Intelligence and Security (the WBIS) and became Director of Interior Affairs. He’s snarky, doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and has no problem shooting down (sometimes literally) anyone who gets in his way. He’s someone it isn’t wise to cross. And I’d love to be like him. (except for the shooting people aspect. *cough*)
- What about your current book, who’s your favorite character in that one? Why?
Actually, that would be a couple: Portia and Nigel Mann. They were known in the intelligence community as Mr. Freeze and his ice queen; however they not only had a very passionate sex life, but they were devoted to each other. Many times we’ll read of a couple that’s been married for many years, and when one partner passes away, the other doesn’t survive for much longer. If Portia hadn’t had their thirteen-year-old son to care for, I always thought she would have followed Nigel. And frankly, if the circumstances were reversed, I’m not sure Nigel would have let anything prevent him from joining her.
- Do you miss your characters when you finish a story? Do you try to come up with ideas for sequels, or are you too excited by the prospect of a new project to feel sad that the previous story is over?
I do, to the point where I start planning sequels, even if I’m not sure I’ll ever write them. When I finished Forever, I was certain that was the last of the Spy vs. Spook series. Then I decided to tell Portia’s story, and once that was done, I thought it would be nifty to see how Mark met his friend Pierre. And yeah, there are at least three more novels/novellas waiting to be finished. But let me say that there is one story not tied in with anything else; at this point I’m calling it my Civil War story.
- If you could have a lunch date with anyone in the world, living, dead, or fictional, who would it be and why?
Okay, this is really going off on a tangent, but it would be Kyle Reese, from The Terminator. He was so in love with Sarah Connor. I’d love to know what he thought when he first met her. Did he know his mission to keep her alive would end with his death? How old was he when he first met John Connor, and were there no women from his time who tempted him at all? And then I’d try to write a story where he got a happily ever after.
- What book are you reading right now? What do you like best about it?
Actually, I’m reading two by Kim Fielding: Brute and Buried Bones. I love stories about opposites, whether that’s in looks or abilities, and both of Kim’s books have that.
[I read Brute last year and loved it, too and I'm totally with you on stories about opposites :) ]
- What are your favorite movies of all time?
Casablanca, Jaws, Aliens, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love, Actually, and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. As I get older, my taste in movies has become more morbid. Being a child of the Cold War, I used to be terrified of the end of the world/destruction of mankind scenarios, but now…not so much.
- What kind of music do you listen to? Do you have a favorite musical artist?
I prefer easy listening and oldies, and by oldies, I’m going all the way back to the ’20s. I like Michael Bublé, Billy Joel, and Johnny Mathis, and I’m absolutely blown away by Ramin Karimloo, who’s actually the “high baritone” Portia spoke of having seen in Les Mis.
- What television shows are you currently watching?
Castle is the only show I watch on Network TV. (The ones I’ve stopped watching are much more numerous.) The rest are on satellite: The Long Island Medium, House Hunters, Rehab Addict, and The Incredible Dr. Pol. Oh, and The Walking Dead, although I have to DVR that and watch the next day with the remote clutched in my hand.
- What’s in your CD / MP3 player?
I’ve got a Zune, just like Kipp does in Two Lips, and I listen to it when I go walking. On it I have two podcasts my good friend Tony made for me, and when they come on, I walk through the complex with the silliest grin on my face. As for the music, there’s everything from Fred Astaire singing Puttin’ on the Ritz to Savage Garden doing I Knew I Loved You to highlights of Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables. If I use a song for a story, it will wind up on my Zune.
- What’s next on the horizon for you? WIPs, writing goals, personal goals…?
I need to finish Book 4 in the Spy vs. Spook series, If You’re Going Through Hell, Keep Going. Then there’s Quinn’s novella, Such a Night, (unless I come up with 40k more, in which case that will be Book 5) and finally the Complications stories, which should be Book 5, but may wind up Book 6. I’ve been working on what I call my gay vampire story (remember what I said about titles? *g*) for the past five years, and I’d like to finish that soon and sub it to Dreamspinner. And then there are the sequels to Greeting Cards and Two Lips, and of course the Civil War story.
As for personal goals... I’ll settle for getting a pair of glasses that finally work.
Blurb: Portia Sebring was born into a family that’s considered royalty in the intelligence community, and the fact that she’s a woman doesn’t preclude her from joining the “family business”. A linguistic genius, she’s recruited by her older brother for the Venona Project. While at Arlington Hall, she meets Nigel Mann, a CIA officer known as Mr. Freeze, who’s been vetted to the NSA. Unbeknownst to Portia, her father is behind the meeting. Rumor has it that Portia, called the ice princess, is also a lesbian, and at this time in America—the late ’50s—it could negate any veracity to the codes she deciphers. A match with an equally cold man who won’t distract her from her work seems the ideal solution in her father’s eyes.
Things don’t go quite according to plan, as both Portia and Nigel develop strong feelings for each other. They marry and eventually start a family. However, the lifetime together they anticipate is cut short when Nigel’s jet crashes. Devastated, but with a thirteen-year-old son depending on her, Portia has no choice but to go on after Nigel’s death.
When Quinton, her son, is approached to join the US Equestrian Team for the 1980 Summer Olympics, she’s pleased and proud. However, those plans are dashed due to the government’s boycott of the Games. To distract him, Portia takes him to France on a wine-buying trip, and it’s there that Quinton first feels an attraction for someone of his own sex. Since Portia herself had a same-sex affair in her early twenties, she’s very accepting of this.
Along with Gregor, her trusted bodyguard and devoted family friend, she watches as Quinton follows in his father's and her footsteps in the "family business," and finally finds a partner worthy of him, WBIS agent Mark Vincent. She’s happy for them, but sure that she won’t love again, since Sebrings have their “one” and she's lost hers, but is she right?
I was working a code that I’d been given earlier when the in-house phone buzzed. “Yes, Tony?”
“How do you do that?”
“Do what?” I laughed to myself, knowing full well what he meant. I could tell unerringly when my oldest brother was on the line.
“Never mind. Listen, I need you in here right now. Jefferson’s forwarded a new code to us, and there’s something about it that’s driving me out of my mind.”
“I’m on my way.” I pushed my chair away from my desk and stood, digging my fists into the small of my back and arching to work out the kinks. Then I made sure my blouse was tucked neatly into my skirt. Just because it was nine at night, and everyone else had gone home, there was no reason for me to appear looking sloppy.
His door was closed. I tapped briskly and walked in. “What have you got, Tony? Oh!” I halted abruptly. He wasn’t alone.
The other man had one hand braced on Tony’s desk, his attractive face tight with impatience.
I had seen him occasionally in Arlington Hall, in the corridors, on the stairs. We’d passed each other with nothing more than cool glances. Occasionally I’d wonder if his glance concealed as much fascination as I knew mine did.
He was about average height and appeared to be a number of years younger than my brother, which would make him about twenty-nine. A lock of sable brown hair spilled onto his forehead, and eyes a changeable hazel regarded me with interest. His vest was unbuttoned over a flat stomach, his shirtsleeves had been rolled up revealing muscular arms dusted with dark hair, and his tie loosened.
Abruptly, I was reminded of the seascape that I’d purchased in that little London bookshop. I couldn’t decide to whom I should give it, and I’d wound up hanging it on my bedroom wall, where it was the last thing I saw every night.
There was something about this man that spoke to me of that expanse of sea, aloof, alone, contained, stretching to meet turbulent clouds…
I shook that fanciful notion out of my head.
He gave me a slow, deliberate smile and straightened, and my knees went weak with desire.
“I’m sorry.” I reached up to make sure my hair was tidily confined in its French twist, something I never did, and I felt my cheeks heat. I touched my tongue to my lips.
His eyes seemed to catalogue each of my movements.
“Portia, this is Nigel Mann. He’s been vetted to us from Bryan’s department. Nigel, my sister.” He became aware that Mr. Mann was staring at me. “Yes, we’re aware there’s a resemblance, so—”
“Actually, she’s much prettier than you or either of your brothers, Sebring. Miss Sebring, it’s a pleasure.” He crossed the geometrically-patterned area rug that took up most of the floor in Tony’s office, his hand held out.
“Please, call me Portia.” I’d overheard the secretaries in Arlington Hall discussing him in the ladies room, calling him Mr. Freeze because apparently he’d turned down a play made by one of their number who was decidedly pulchritudinous.
“Portia. And I’m Nigel.” The skin of his palm was smooth and warm, free of calluses, and I fought back a shiver as I wondered what it would feel like stroking over my skin. His eyes, suddenly green, remained fixed on mine, and I was lost in their depths.
Tony cleared his throat. “People?”
How long had I stood there, staring into those mesmerizing eyes?
Nigel turned to my brother with an absent smile. “Sorry, Sebring. You were saying?”
“I was saying that if you’d let go of my sister’s hand, maybe she could take a look at this code and make some sense of it.” But he looked taken aback rather than irritated. He’d never seen me react that way to anyone. Ever.
Nigel slowly… reluctantly?... released my hand, and a line from Romeo and Juliet crossed my mind… and palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss…
I shivered and stared down at my palm, certain I would see my heart line glowing.
“Mann,” my brother growled, “would you stop distracting my sister so she can see if she can make heads or tails of this code?”
I shook myself out of my daze and approached his desk. “What is it, Tony?”
“There’s something about this line….” He handed me the paper, and I studied it. After a moment, I spoke the Russian words aloud.
A soft sound came from Nigel Mann, and when I looked at him, there was an expression on his face that took me by surprise.
“Do you find my pronunciation amusing?”
“Not at all. I haven’t heard anything that flawless outside of Mother Russia.”
“Mother Russia?” I read it over again, and it hit me all at once. “That’s it! The key to this code is in Tolstoy’s War and Peace!” I went to the bookshelf and pulled down the huge tome.
“Portia, are you sure?”
“Tony, I’m more than sure—I’m positive!” I was almost vibrating with excitement as I thumbed through the book and found the passage I wanted. “There! See, there! Oh, that sneaky so-and-so! This is Sidorov’s work, isn’t it? He did something very similar with Anna Karenina. The man has a weakness for Tolstoy.”
“Nicely done. Nothing like a fresh pair of eyes!” My brother had a satisfied grin on his face. “I’ll give this to the team to finish deciphering.” He cleared his throat and looked at his watch. “Mann, why don’t you and my sister go out and grab a bite to eat?”
I frowned at him. Was he trying to set us up on a date? “That’s quite all right—I still have a few hours of work left to do.” I could hardly offer the excuse of having a sandwich at my desk, since I didn’t, and the cafeteria was long closed. However, I was reluctant for my brother to see how eager I was to spend time with this man. Was this what Barnabas Sebring had felt when he’d first seen his Rachel? “Besides, I’m sure Mr. Mann… Nigel… has plans of his own.”
“Portia.” Tony growled at me this time. “It’s been a long day, and I think you could do with a break. Consider it a reward for a job well done.”
“I never say ‘no’ to the man in charge.” Nigel rolled down his sleeves and fastened the cuffs, took his suit jacket from the back of a chair, and slid his arms into it.
Nigel couldn’t see, but I crossed my eyes at my older brother. He ignored that and reached for the telephone, pausing to say, “Just remember, you both need to be back here bright and early in the morning.”
“Just let me freshen up.” I needed a moment to get myself back under control. Where had the ice princess gone? “I’ll meet you in the lobby.”
I went back to my office for my purse, locked my desk, and hurried to the ladies’ room. I patted some cold water onto my wrists. My nipples were tight, and I felt as if I were burning up from the inside out. However, my reflection in the mirror showed just a hint of color high on my cheekbones. I took the compact from my purse and smoothed the powder over my cheeks. My hands were shaking slightly as I applied a fresh coat of lipstick and blotted my lips.
I made sure I didn’t have any lipstick on my teeth, drew in a steadying breath, and blew it out. I stared coolly into the mirror and tucked a stray strand of hair into place. “You are a Sebring. You will behave as such.”
Giving a decisive nod, I returned to my office to collect my coat. Once I had the door locked behind me, I went to meet Nigel Mann.
Buy Link: JMS Books: http://www.jms-books.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=34&products_id=931&zenid=refonpqatg0ukq5mbo27iepac3
Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/where-the-heart-chooses?store=book&keyword=where+the+heart+chooses