In this episode, we sat down with Grace Callaway, USA Today and international best-selling author of historical romances (that are often on the steamier side, with lots of mystery and adventure). Grace’s latest, Glory and the Master of Shadows, is the fourth in her series, Lady Charlotte’s Society of Angels, which is, in Grace’s own words, “a Victorian-era Charlie’s Angels”!
We were so excited to speak to Grace about Glory and the Master of Shadows (and its gorgeous cover), her other books, her journey to writing, advice on research for historical romances, and more! This is a great episode for writers and readers of historical romance, and anyone who is looking for some excellent advice on writing stories that contain many elements all at once. Thank you, Grace, for sharing your expertise!
In this episode:
- We ask Grace about journey to writing, and why she chose to start self-publishing around thirteen years ago, after writing her first book in 2009
- We ask Grace if she was always drawn to historical romance, and hear about the historical romance authors that she loves – and how she would always end up in the romance section at her local Borders bookstore instead of working on her dissertation!
- Grace tells us about the romance writing community, how she has found support and engagement with other romance authors and indie authors in general, and how inspiring that has been for her
- We talk about the joy of writing (and reading!) romance novels, how the culture around writing and reading romance has changed, how there is more diversity in romance writing than ever before, and how this ever-popular but once-stigmatized genre is really in the limelight lately
- Grace tells us about how she researches for her historical romances, and what that process looks like – and how it is especially important in regards to her characters
- We hear about her research for Glory and the Master of Shadows, how she researched details regarding China and England in the 1830s, revised based on her research, and more!
- Grace gets into her series, Lady Charlotte’s Society of Angels, and tells us her inspiration for it – in particular, Charlie’s Angels
- She tells more about Glory and the Master of Shadows (without any spoilers)
- We ask Grace about the beautiful cover and how this cover came to be
- We also ask about writing fight scenes (and sex scenes!), and how she writes them – and get some great advice
- Grace tells about the many different elements of her Glory and the Master of Shadows, and how she balances these elements in her overarching plotline
- She also talks about her newsletter, and the importance of having one in terms of marketing, alongside your author website, and gives some more great advice for authors looking to market their books
- And much more!
Mentioned in this episode:
USA Today & International Bestselling Author Grace Callaway writes hot and heart-melting historical romance filled with mystery and adventure. Many of her books have been #1 National Historical Romance Bestsellers, and she is a two-time recipient of the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery and Suspense and three-time winner of the Maggie Award for Excellence and the Passionate Plume Award.
Born and raised on the Canadian prairies, she is a life-long lover of romances with Jane Eyre and Anne of Green Gables among her earliest favorites. She holds a doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Michigan and lives with her family in Northern California. When she’s not writing, she enjoys dancing, checking out cafes with her rescue pup, and going on adapted adventures with her special son.
Transcription by www.speechpad.com
Laura: Hey, writers, you’re listening to the Kobo Writing Life podcast where we bring you insights and inspiration for growing your self-publishing business. We’re your hosts, I’m Laura, Kobo Writing Life’s author engagement manager.
Rachel: And I’m Rachel, the promotion specialist at Kobo Writing Life. On today’s episode of the podcast, we spoke to Grace Callaway, a “USA Today” and International Bestselling Author of hot and heart-melting historical romance. Her career was launched with her debut novel, “Her Husband’s Harlot,” which was a finalist for the Romance Writers of America Golden Heart Award, and a number-one national bestselling Regency romance. Since then, her books have continued to top the historical romance bestselling charts and retailers everywhere.
Laura: As a big romance reader, I really enjoyed our conversation with Grace. We talked to her about her publishing journey, how indie publishing has changed since her start in 2011, her love of all things historical romance, and the research that goes into her books. We also talked about her new release, which is “Glory and the Master of Shadows.”
Laura: Hi, everyone. We’re joined today by “USA Today” Bestselling Historical Romance author Grace Callaway. Hi, Grace, thanks for joining us today. Can you kick us off by telling us a little bit about yourself?
Grace: Hi. I’m so happy to be here. Thanks for inviting me to be on your podcast. So, as you mentioned, I write historical romance and I’ve been doing it for about, oh my gosh, like a little over 10 years. So, my historical romances are super steamy. I’ve got about 20 of them and they’re in different series, but they’re all set in the same universe. So, they take place in Regency in Victorian England, although you know, it’s kind of my own world that I created. So, there’s some different elements as well. There’s a lot of mystery and adventure. Yeah, so that’s kind of what I do and it’s been great fun.
Rachel: You mentioned you’ve been publishing for almost 10 years now. Can you tell us a little bit about your publishing journey and why you decided to take the indie publishing route?
Grace: Yeah, it’s actually kind of interesting. I think I came into publishing at a really interesting time. So, I wrote my first book in 2009 and back then, like indie, it was sort of becoming a thing, but it wasn’t really a thing yet. Actually, my profession is that I’m a clinical psychologist and writing was really just kind of a hobby and stress relief for me. After giving birth to my first, well, my child, my son who has some pretty significant special needs, I actually started writing as just like something that I just did for me for fun. So, I’d, you know, come home from the hospital and I’d be like working on this book. Anyway, that book took me about a year to write and then I was like, “Well, I wonder if this is something that could get published.” So, I submitted the book to back then, you know, agents were kind of the only route to publishing and I like had no idea about the publishing world at all.
It was just I read a lot of romances and just struck me as something that was kind of like this fun dream job to do. So, I got accepted by an agent who began shopping the book around and then a little bit after that, that book finaled in the Romance Writers of America. Back then they had, I don’t know if they still have it, this Golden Heart contest for unpublished people. So, kind of like everything started happening at once but my agent could not sell my book, and the feedback from, I think back then there were 7 big publishers or 10, I can’t remember, you know, things have changed so much in the last like 10 years. It’s kind of insane when you think about it. But the feedback was people really thought I had an interesting voice, they really liked it, but they literally could not figure out what to do with it. Because my work did not fit neatly in any sort of box.
Like it’s super steamy but it also, you know, it’s historical set but it has like a lot of mystery and adventure and they’re just like, “What do we do with this?” Simultaneously I had some really good friends who had started like honestly killing it in indie. You know, they were sort of at like the ground level with a whole indie publishing thing and they were like, “Well, Grace, why don’t you try to self-publish?” And I was still like hemming and hawing because I’m a hemming and hawing kind of person. So, I was like, finally, okay, well, we’ll see what happens. Like I’ve got nothing to lose. So, I put that first book, which is “Her Husband’s Harlot” up, and like within I think like a month or two it hit number one in its genre. And I was like, “Okay, I was not like expecting this. This is kind of strange.”
So, that’s kind of how I got started. But I didn’t commit to writing full-time for a really long time because I still had this career as a clinical psychologist, which you know, that’s another story. But there was a real struggle to kind of give that up because I really love my work. I found that very meaningful. And so anyway, I continued releasing kind of slowly and you know like that was 2010. So, actually, no, I’ve been doing this for 13 years, sorry, it’s 2023. I lost a few years in the pandemic. Yeah. So, now you know, whatever, 13 years later I’ve got like 20-something books. So, that’s kind of been my journey. I went full-time, like fully 100% writing, only in about 2018, although in 2014 I cut back at the hospital significantly. So, that’s been my journey. It’s been amazing. I can’t believe I get to do this full-time. It’s just the greatest job in the world.
Laura: Has your release schedule changed at all since you’ve been going from full-time versus part-time?
Grace: So, in a perfect world I would like to release two books a year, which probably doesn’t sound like a lot to some writers who are very prolific, including some of my friends and I’m just sort of in awe. For me to write the kind of books that I write, which are very… My books are long, you know, they’re like 100,000 words and they’re historical. So, I have to do like a lot of research. I mean, my latest release is like historical Chinese and English. So, I have to do like a lot of research for that. So, I think, you know, when I was working full-time I was doing maybe like one book every year, year and a half. So, I am so grateful to my readers who like waited for me. They’ve been amazing. So, when I’m really on, I’m like two books a year. For the last couple of years because of the pandemic, I’ve been like a book every eight to nine months just because, you know, my childcare-like issues, and I just wanna make sure the book gets the time that it needs. So, I’m trying to do two books a year.
Rachel: I feel like the pandemic really kind of like either threw a wrench in a lot of people’s writing schedules or just like freed up everything. There’s like no in-between. The past couple of years have been wild.
Grace: Yeah, no it’s been crazy. I mean it’s weird because I feel like the first year… How long has this pandemic been going on? I think the first year or two I felt like super creative like it was my outlet. I was like, “Okay I need to like immerse myself in this fantasy world.” Like the end is nigh. I’ve just gotta pour myself into this and send it out for my readers too, a world that they can escape to. I feel like we all really needed that, especially in the first year or two. And then the last year has been a little bit harder because it’s kind of like the little bit…. You know, it’s just been a little bit more of the like real world coming back. But it’s always like the practical things, you know if my kid is not in school then I have problems getting time in.
Laura: You mentioned kind of the fantasy historical element of your writing, how it’s kind of an escape. Have you always been kind of drawn to historical romance as a reader as well, and was there one author who specifically kind of drew you in?
Grace: So, I love historical… I mean that’s what I primarily read when… Actually, it’s really funny because I have this very concrete memory of like, so I went to the University of Michigan and back then that’s where Borders was headed in Ann Arbor. And it had this like huge Borders bookstore, which is where I went to work on my dissertation. But instead of working on my dissertation, I would go to the romance section. It was so much more interesting than like dealing with all this research. So, the books that really inspired me as a reader, starting off with like Amanda Quick’s, you know, she wrote some great historicals that had a lot of that mystery element in them and I just really loved those books. You know, I think my early love of historicals was her and Lisa Kleypas, of course, Loretta Chase, kind of like the classics of historical romance in the ’80s and ’90s.
Rachel: Do you still read in the genre or now that you’ve started to write your own historical romance, do you find it can be hard to separate the two?
Grace: Yeah, that’s exactly it. I find it very hard to read when I’m writing. So, I have not read a lot of historical romance lately. Yeah, it’s kind of an interesting thing. I’ve heard other writers talk about it, they don’t really kind of read what they write, but it was really great seeing “Bridgerton” get all that exposure and like just, you know, seeing the love of the historical kind of come back. I mean, it was such a big thing in the ’80s, I think that’s when I first kind of encountered them, or some of the bodice-rippers and other steamy books. But I’m glad it’s coming back.
Laura: Do you find yourself connecting with a lot of other historical romance authors online? Like what’s that community like?
Grace: I think romance authors in general are a very generous and, like, welcoming and wonderful group, really more than any other profession I’ve been a part of. Although I guess I’ve only been part of two professions and psychologists, they’re very nice too. But, you know, like just with writers you just kind of speak the same language, you know. So, yeah, I have you know, a lot of friends in the historical romance community and they’re certainly like wonderful. I was just part of an anthology called “Duke in a Box,” which I just thought was the greatest title ever.
Laura: Such a good title.
Grace: Yeah. And actually, credit to that goes to Darcy Burke who is a fabulous historical romance author. So, you know, we all kind of wrote short stories before this anthology and we marketed it together, you know, and shared our audiences and I thought it was like a wonderful thing. So, there’s a lot of collaboration going on I think within historical romance, but then also just within romance in general, I have a lot of good friends who write in other genres. You know, we do a lot of like yearly retreats and we just came back from Carlsbad not so long ago and it was, you know, a blast, like 15 romance writers like writing on the beach. So, it’s great like, you know, and it’s a combination of things. I think as an indie author, you know, there’s a craft aspect of it. So, I have friends who are like just fantastic at brainstorming and I can go to them with like, “Okay, I, like, am stuck here. I need to figure out, like, you know, what is this clue that needs to be discovered here in order for this yada, yada to happen?”
And they can like come up with an answer right away, right? Like they totally, we can speak in shorthand where, you know, my husband who’s also a writer, he’s a poet, but he doesn’t read romance, so it’s a little harder for him. I’m like, “You know, so if it’s like a grumpy sunshine situation, like what?” And he’s like, “What are you talking about?” So, you know, romance, I think authors and readers have a shorthand, right? So, it’s wonderful to do that. But I think where I was also going was with my indie author friends, there’s also like a big business component of it, right? Because you’re basically a small publisher, you’re an entrepreneur and so, you know, at our retreat we did a lot of the craft stuff but we also talked a lot about, you know, business and marketing and all that fun stuff which is ever changing in the indie world.
Rachel: That’s one thing we hear a lot when talking about the indie author community, especially the romance author community, is that everybody is so just open and willing to let you know what works for them. Understanding that, like, what works for one author might not work for the other, but they’re willing to let you know what’s working for them so you can give it a shot. And I don’t know, it’s always so heartwarming to hear that it’s true.
Grace: Yeah and I think, you know, part of it is that it’s a community of women, to be fair. Like I love having all these women friends and I just feel like women can be like incredibly supportive of one another. And we’re all doing something we love and we all understand that, you know, when one person succeeds it’s like, you know, we all do, right? A lot of it is I think raising the visibility of romance, although it’s crazy because romance is so by far the bestselling genre. So, like how much visibility do we need? But for us to be considered, you know, taken seriously for what we do. And it’s very interesting for me because in my other life, you know, people addressed me as doctor so-and-so, and then now when I introduce myself I’m like, “I’m a romance writer.” And it’s a little bit of a different reaction depending on who you’re talking to and I’m like, it surprises me because to me this is like, I just love romance so much. It is like the best thing in the world to be doing, to be able to, you know, make a living creating stories that like lift and inspire people. I mean, just a wonderful job.
Laura: Yeah, I really agree and I think it’s getting a little bit better now, but there used to be like a really big stigma around being a romance reader and I think maybe since COVID we’re seeing people kind of embrace more. And like since COVID and also since “Bridgerton” I think kind of brought it more mainstream, we’re seeing a lot of people kind of learn more about the romance genre and kind of embrace the tropes that they’re into. And book talk has changed this a little bit too. So, it’s always good to see. But yeah, there is still a little bit of that stigma when you say you read a lot of romance, people are kind of like quick to judge.
Grace: Yeah, it’s strange because I’ve always been so happy to say, “I love romance. It’s the only thing I read.” I don’t know what it is, I almost feel like it’s a cultural thing of like, you know, because romance values like the happy ending and the fantasy that this is somehow like simple or like whatever, but that’s what I want. You know and…
Laura: Especially right now, like, we can all use a happy ending right now.
Grace: I don’t need to read like a lot of depressing fiction but I’ve always kind of been like that and I personally think this is because of indie publishing, the diversity that’s available in romance now is like greater than it’s ever been before, I think, in like the history of romance. And, you know, diverse books, I mean like anything it could be, you know, like my next book which features, you know, multicultural characters or like queer books or books about sci-fi monsters. I mean, I just love that writers can write what they want and there’s an audience for it, you know. So, I just think romance is actually very complex and like evolving and wonderful.
Rachel: And I’m gonna take a hard left turn into writing romance because I wanna talk to you about your writing process, especially with historical romance because you mentioned off the top that, like, it involves a lot of research in order to make your books historically accurate. So, I’m really curious how your research process and your writing process kind of mesh. Like do you have an idea for a book and when you wanna set it and then research or do you research and find something and be like, “That’d be cool.”
Grace: So, even though I have four series, yeah I’m on my fourth series, they actually all happen on the same timeline set in the same universe. So, it’s sort of almost dictated now. And I’m in second-generation characters so like her birthday was set like eight books ago or something, my current heroine. So, there are a lot of things already decided for me. But the very first book I said in Regency because I was reading a lot of Regency. And in retrospect I kind of wish I’d said it like a little earlier in the Regency because “Her Husband’s Harlot” was set in like 1818. So, I really only had like one series that could take place in the Regency and then I was like the in-between, between Regency and Victorian. So, like now the historical setting is sort of determined by where I am in my story universe.
But I think like for this current book because it had some elements of like China in the 1830s, I definitely read a lot before I started writing because I felt like I didn’t know enough to write the story. And it’s not just like information. Like I try not to do too much info dumping in, but I think where it really becomes important, it’s kind of understanding the character, which is where I always begin and their point of view, which is so culturally informed, right, by like where they’re from and you know what time in history it is. So, I do a lot of reading before and then you know, during things always come up. Like you know, in the middle of this book I was like, “I should probably read the ‘Tao Te Ching’ like now.” So, you know, but that’s actually what I love because I’m a bit of a nerd.
I love the research, I love learning about new things. I mean, this is why writing will never bore me because there’s like infinite things to explore. So, you know, when I do research it’s not just like the historical research, it’s like research about, you know… I mean, it can be like about clothing and like historical things, but there’s so many research rabbit holes I can’t even. In fact, this is probably a tip for someone who is interested in writing historical romance. I mean, I think it’s important to do some background reading before you start so you generally know what you’re talking about. But if there’s a way for you to kind of save the research if you go along, like to compartmentalize it a little bit and not stop every time like you’re in your manuscript, that will help you get your book done a lot quicker. And that took me about 18 books to figure out. So, you’re welcome.
Rachel: That’s great advice, to save you from falling down wild Wikipedia holes mid-sentence.
Grace: Oh my God. Like, you know, it could be something like, I’m like, “He was unlocking a door.” And I’m like, “One sec. What kind of Chinese locks were there in like 1836?” And so I’m like researching the history of Chinese locks, which go way back, by the way. So, I was fine. It’s just like there are so many little things that if you research everything as you go along, it will take you a long time. And the thing I always say is I’m a mad reviser, like I will revise, revise, revise, like up until the very last minute that I can upload this book, I will be tweaking it. So, you can always take care of that later for sure.
Laura: And especially as an indie author, you can kind of just go in and fix stuff whenever. So, it’s nice to have that control too.
Grace: That’s true. Yes. You have a lot of control as an indie author for better or for worse.
Laura: Yeah, that’s also true. So, we wanted to talk about your series “Lady Charlotte Society of Angels,” which is kind of a historical romance spin on “Charlie’s Angels.” So, can you tell us how that series came to be?
Grace: I think this series is sort of like a culmination of just like who I am honestly, like mish-mashing, like a bunch of cultural influences. So, I loved “Charlie’s Angels” growing up. This is going to age me, but that’s fine. Yeah, so I loved it. Yes, I wanted to be Kelly. It’s all good. She was so glamorous. So, I loved them. I’ve always loved Nancy Drew-type characters, the female detectives. I mean all my books have had like kind of females solving crime but then it was kind of perfect because now I have the second generation of like young women who were brought up to be pretty independent because their moms were all very spirited as well, right? So, I was just like, “This is like the perfect setup where you know, they are just like curious, they’re intelligent, they wanna do good in the world. Yeah, it just kind of fit everything that I like to do. So, that’s how it came about really I think.
Rachel: And your latest release is the next installment in this series, “Glory and the Master of Shadows.” Can you give us a brief spoiler-free synopsis?
Grace: That’s hard. And I’m so close to it right now, but I will say actually I think what kind of encapsulates like the concept of it, it’s kind of “Charlie’s Angels” meets like “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” So, there’s a lady detective and there’s a martial arts shifu, our hero, and he’s on this secret quest for vengeance. And she’s on this case and their paths interact and then it’s like mayhem, you know, they’re on basically. You know, there’s crime-fighting, there’s a dog-napping to be solved. You know, there’s, you know, a quest for vengeance to be fulfilled. There’s a lot going on and there’s some very steamy scenes. So, it was so much fun to write.
Rachel: I think that’s a great synopsis. I think you nailed it. And…
Rachel: So, you and I met at 20Books in Vegas and when we were chatting you were so excited about the cover of this book because it’s your first cover where both the hero and the heroine are Asian and the cover is beautiful. We’ll make sure there’s a link to it or like a photo of it in the show notes because it’s stunning. And I’m just so curious how did this cover come to be?
Grace: Thank you first of all because I am in love with the cover. So, there’s, you know, a lot of different ways to get covers made. You can use stock art or whatever. When it comes to finding Asian historical stock art, good luck, everybody. So, there’s a market for this if anyone’s interested. So, a good friend of mine, Jen LeBlanc, who also writes historical romance, does custom cover shoots. So, it was really fun actually. I got to cast the models myself. So, she sent me like headshots of you know, different people. So, I got to pick my Glory and Wei and I had some ideas for poses, although I’m gonna credit her with the ultimate pose. So, there’s this thing when you’re advertising a book, right? You have to kind of think about is it advertisable because there’s certain, you know, constraints depending on the platform you’re using to advertise in terms of the cover.
And so initially I was like, “Well, I’m gonna have to do you know, a pretty like maybe they’re holding hands or like whatever and he’ll have a shirt on.” And I do have some like, you know, versions like that. But she also took this one and I was like, “I don’t even care if I can market it.” This is great. This is the one and I’m completely in love. They just both look gorgeous. They both look so into each other. So, I choose all the poses for all of my covers. You know, a lot of it for me is like finding the right chemistry that speaks to me, like about whether that looks like the couple to me. So, yeah, it was a custom shot and I’m so happy with it.
Laura: And it turned out really great. Yeah, and we like it.
Grace: Thank you.
Laura: And Rachel and I were talking about it earlier and how we like Wei’s arms, he looks really good.
Grace: Yeah the shirtless thing, like, actually added a lot. I mean and it’s kind of how I imagined him. So, I was like, “Yeah, this is genius.” And my cover artist, Aaron, did an amazing job obviously with the colors and everything, so.
Laura: Yeah, it’s a great combination of the photo and then the art as well. Something else that we wanted to talk about. For anyone listening, Rachel and I just finished the book so we’re both really excited to talk about it. But one of the things that we wanted to talk about was the fight scenes because they’re so realistic. So, how do you kind of block these out and do you have any tips for writers who are attempting to add scenes like these to their books?
Grace: Do I block them out? No, I just gird my loins before I have to write them. I don’t know, I just kind of figured out how to do it I guess. I mean I always like when I’m preparing to do it, I think what can be helpful is if you micro thought out a little bit like the sequence of physically what’s happening. But I don’t know, maybe I watch a lot of like shows with fighting or something. It comes very naturally to me, as by the way do the sex scenes, which people always ask me about. I don’t know, I love writing both so I have no problem doing it, honestly.
Laura: So, maybe the tip is everyone needs to watch more action movies before they write. That can become part of the research process.
Grace: Yeah, well for me, for this book I watched a lot of Cantonese period kung fu movies growing up. Like, I grew up on those. So, this is part of what informed this book too is just like my lifelong love of like martial arts dramas.
Rachel: Do you have any kung fu movies you would recommend for those of us who really enjoy that genre as well?
Grace: I would say my favorite story is “Legend of the Condor Heroes,” which has like, I don’t know, 20 versions of it. So, I’m not sure which is the current one, but it’s like a classic, written by, what’s his English name? So, his Chinese name is Jin Yong and he is like a famous novelist but I think that’s his pen name. I think his real name is like Louis Cha, maybe. But he wrote like a lot of martial arts fiction and they all got made into movies and they’re amazing. I think there is a “Condor Heroes” maybe available on Amazon or something, but it’s in Mandarin, but I think it’s subtitled. Yeah, but the version I watched growing up, I don’t think it’s around anymore, it was like the ’80s version. And they somehow managed them like ’80s hair even though it was set in like, you know, China in the like whatever, 500s. It’s pretty amazing,
Rachel: A period piece with poofy bangs is…
Grace: Totally and like blue eyeshadow. It was everything.
Rachel: That’s amazing. I am gonna be looking into this later today, so thank you very much.
Grace: You’re welcome.
Rachel: Another thing I found really interesting in the book is that, like you mentioned, it has a lot of like Cantonese and Chinese influences and not a lot of, but like a handful of words are honorifics that are in the English version of Chinese words and they’re italicized without any explanation, which I thought was really cool and I really enjoyed. What, I guess, was the decision-making process behind this?
Grace: Well, the decision has not been decided yet actually because I do have a glossary that I’ve been kind of going back and forth and actually I would love your input on this because obviously I want the English reader to be able to understand, you know, the words, but I also kind of feel like the words should be understandable from context. And there’s something about when you have to have a glossary for me as a reader, I’m like, it takes me out. I don’t wanna like have to look at the glossary to be like, “What is this word?” So, I tried very hard to make it clear from the context what the words meant. And I also didn’t wanna have to do too much explanation in the book though because when you’re in the person’s POV clearly, like, they know what this word means. There’s a lot of like decisions that you know come about when you’re adding a foreign language to a novel. So, I guess my question for you is did you understand what those words meant from the context?
Rachel: I mean, if not the exact definition then the context in which the word was used made it clear what it was intended to mean, if not like a direct translation. In my personal opinion, I understood what was happening the whole time. I’m sure…. Yeah.
Laura: Yeah. I would agree. I don’t think there was a moment where I had to like kind of look something up or sit and think about it a lot. I think it all makes sense from context.
Grace: Great. Yeah, I tried to do that. Do you as a reader, like do you like a glossary of terms?
Rachel: Because I read a lot on my e-reader, I’m far too lazy to flip to the back of a book. The only time I ever use a glossary or like any kind of supplementary info is when I’m reading like high fantasy and I have no idea what anybody’s names are and I have to keep looking them up. But that’s my personal extremely lazy reading style.
Laura: Yeah, I would agree. I don’t usually flip back and forth too much when I’m reading on my Kobo, which is what I do a lot of. But I would also say that I always read whatever’s at the end. So, if it’s in the, like in the acknowledgments or something at the back of the book, then I’ll still read it for sure.
Grace: Yeah, I’m kind of the also the same way in terms of not wanting to have to go back and forth and consulting. And then there’s a part of me is like, you know, like there’s Google. So, you know as a reader you can just Google something to get, you know, a definition also. So, anyway, yeah.
Laura: And you can also within your Kobo, like, highlight the word and search it right on your e-readers. So, yeah. So…
Grace: Yeah, that’s very convenient.
Laura: … there you go. We also wanted to talk to you a little bit about the different elements of the book. So, like you mentioned they don’t really necessarily fit just within historical romance. There’s mystery elements as well. So, how do you use kind of the mystery scenes and the romance scenes and kind of balance them to create tension?
Grace: I think that’s what makes my books a little complicated to write. I mean, yeah, there’s a lot of different things going on and in fact, in the book previous to this “Fiona and the Enigmatic Earl,” she’s a lady detective and he’s a spy and both have separate mystery threads as well. So, I’d like to say, yeah, balance it. Well, everything has to reveal character. I think that’s what it comes down to. I mean it’s about the crime they’re solving, you know, it’s about their evolving relationship but everything is told through character. So, it’s really about their reactions to everything, right? And I think that’s what brings the mystery and the romance together.
But I do, when I’m writing, you know, I’m conscious of like I can’t… You know, the best parts are when the mystery and the romance are going on at the same time, which I have, you know, a lot of. So, you’re kind of hitting all of those beats simultaneously. So, it’s a challenge but I like it. There’s wonderful romances out there that are just about the relationship. I’m probably not the writer who could write 100,000 words of like no action going on. And that’s not typically the kinds of books that I enjoy reading as much. Although I know there’s, you know, great books out there. There’s different kinds of action. It doesn’t have to be just mystery and crime-solving.
Rachel: So, I didn’t ask you this up top when we were talking about your writing process, but are you a plotter? Like do you have to have all of this figured out before you go in? Or do you just wing it and see what happens?
Grace: Oh my god, that is the age-old question, right? I’m not a winger but I’m definitely not like a hardcore plotter. There’s always some germ of an idea that draws me in. So, in this book, I mean I kind of already knew the heroine, where she was coming from because she’s been in so many books. But I think I always knew like his mystery line and backstory, like, that’s kind of what my starting point was for like the story in terms of plot. But it changes along the way. Like that’s the thing with me is, like, I will have generally, you know, what I think the first turning point should be, what I think the midpoint should be, but then somewhere along the way, the characters decide to take like some weird detour and this happens, like, every single time in multiple places in the book.
And so there’s a part of me that really thinks that’s just the way my brain works. You know, it’s kind of an organic plotting process where I have a general framework but I don’t really understand the book until I understand the characters and it typically takes me a while, you know. So, that six to eight months that it takes to write me a book, a lot of it’s just kind of getting to know the character and to be honest, I don’t mind that because I like hanging out with my characters. You know, I really actually enjoy it and like kind of getting to know them on a deeper level. So, yeah, I can’t even remember what your initial question was. Oh, plotting versus pantsing, right? You see, I’m not a plotter. I clearly do not know where I’m going but somehow I end up there, so.
Rachel: Well, and you mentioned that all of your books take place in the same universe. Do you have like a Grace Callaway’s universe almanac of information that you refer back to? Or is it all in your head?
Grace: No. So, I do have like a document that has stuff in it about all my characters, but a lot of it is also in my head. And what’s interesting is sometimes when I think something is, like, correct and I go back and I look in the document to just be sure it’s like, “Wow, that was way off about his character.” You know, like, “How did I forget this?” But those tend to be more things like physical characteristics. And I’m also, I was always kind of like this as a psychologist as well. Sometimes I’m not great with names, but I will remember the important details of someone’s history. Like, I will always remember that and what they said to me in a session. But being like, “I don’t know your name,” right?
Rachel: Have you ever had any readers point out, like, a misstep in a character’s history that has been, like, revised in a more recent book? Or do you usually catch them?
Grace: Yeah, I think I’ve been lucky to date, but now that you say that and ask that question I can just see, like, an email coming into my inbox. That’s been fine. There’s been some things I’ve had to do… And I usually catch it in the revision. It has to do with like timelines, right? Like when people were born and like how old they’d be in relative to someone else when you’ve written their parents’ book. Like so my last book “Fiona,” it’s like I wrote both their parents’ books. So, in different series. So, it was just kind of like, “Okay, I have to get like everything really right.” But you know, I’ll just do my best.
Rachel: I hope I haven’t jinxed this for you by like putting that out into the universe. But kind of speaking about your readers, you have a Facebook group for your readers? The, I wanna make sure I get this right, Grace Callaway’s Naughty Bluestockings. Is this correct?
Rachel: That’s such a great name.
Grace: That is correct. Thank you.
Rachel: Can you tell us a little bit about your reader group and what listeners can kind of expect should they join?
Grace: It’s just like a fun group to hang out. You know, I just post like games and like stuff about my books or just like general reader activities. You know, do some fun exclusive giveaways and sneak peeks and stuff like that. But it’s a really cool group. People are book lovers, historical romance lovers, and it’s really nice to see, like, the community that has been built, you know, people supporting one another and bonding over their love of books, which is a great thing, I think.
Laura: You also have a newsletter, so how do you use that in your marketing plan?
Grace: I think for any aspiring author, this is a very important thing. Everyone should have a newsletter and they should pay attention to it, like, early on, unlike me, so learn from my mistakes. No, it’s great because it’s like the one thing, like really when you think about it, that and your website are the things that are like yours. You know, it’s your way of keeping in touch with the people who love your books. So, you know, I’ve been actually improving on it steadily. It’s a way to keep in touch with readers and I do a number of things. There’s like, you know, a little bit of personal updates. There’s stuff about like my new releases, inspirations that like led to writing books, sales, you know, that kind of thing.
Laura: And you also have your VIP extras as well. So, is that different from your regular newsletter?
Grace: That’s just a section on my website that has like some like bonus material and some games and stuff. I’m actually thinking of like changing it and just making that, like, open to everyone and maybe putting the bonus content elsewhere. Yeah, things are always changing, right, with like indie publishing and best practices. So, yeah, that’s actually an area that I’m probably gonna rethink very soon.
Laura: And it’s a little overwhelming when you’re indie because so much new stuff comes out all the time, like Patreon and Kickstarter and it’s like, “Do I do a Patreon? Do I do something else for my VIP readers?” So, it’s a lot.
Grace: There’s always something new, right, to learn. And part of it also is like, you know, I’ve been doing this now I guess for like 12, 13 years and this is partly my personality. I’m not the person to be the first to jump on any bandwagon and then you have to kind of like sift through like what is actually here to stay and like what is actually worth investing your time into. And not only that, I think it’s a bit about the fit of like who you are with, like, this new thing that’s happening. I think some of the best advice I’ve ever been given as a writer is, like, you know, work towards your strength, right? Don’t force yourself to do something that is naturally going to be hard and unpleasant for you to do. I mean, I shouldn’t say that. There’s some things you should probably always do, like a newsletter for example. But you know, social media is one thing. I mean, I think everyone needs to have some kind of social media presence, but there’s lots of ways to do it, right? So, you know, Facebook is your thing, or Instagram or TikTok or whatever it is. Like, I don’t think you have to do everything. I think you just need to pick like one or two things and do it well, probably in my opinion.
Rachel: Has there been any new, what’s the word I’m trying to look for, new marketing tool or a new way to reach readers throughout your publishing career that you think has been a really big game changer?
Grace: That’s a hard one. Like throughout my publishing career or what’s coming up next? Because I think there’s…
Rachel: Either or.
Grace: … a lot of things coming down. Yeah, the first big revolution was really just like the switch from trad to indie, right? Like you all, like the retailers. That was huge. I mean, without you guys, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing. So, thank you by the way. So, that’s been amazing, that ability to just kind of, you know, reach the public without the barrier of like an in-between presence, I guess. You know, social media okay, love it or hate it, is a big way to get out your books. I mean, you can’t ignore what’s going on TikTok. I am not yet on TikTok, by the way, because I told you I’m not like the first on any bandwagon and I know it’s an amazing tool and some people do it so very well. So, I think that’s kind of like a big thing coming up. And then I think the next thing coming up, which I’m not sure where it’s gonna all lead, is the stuff with AI, you know, that’s all frightening, but I’m sure there’s also opportunity in it. So, you know.
Rachel: Yeah, the AI stuff that’s coming out is wild.
Grace: Yeah. And I think it has the potential only to change the whole writing landscape, but pretty much every profession out there. And then in a larger existential sense, like the course of like humankind, but we don’t need to get into that in this podcast.
Laura: This is why we’re all reading romance books.
Rachel: And not watching “Terminator” anymore.
Grace: We know “Skylight” is online people and like we’ve all seen this movie, right? And then I saw somewhere like, “Are they bringing back the dodo bird?” I’m like, “You have seen ‘Jurrasic Park,’ right?” Like I’m not the only one who’s seen these movies. But anyway, I guess we shall see what happens.
Rachel: Yeah. Let’s listen to Steven Spielberg and James Cameron, guys, and let’s leave AI and dinosaurs alone.
Laura: The twist our listeners were not expecting. Before we wrap up, can you give us kind of a hint about what you’re working on next?
Grace: Well, I allude a little bit to it at the end of this current book. So, the next story is Charlie’s story, and for those who haven’t read along the series, well, it’s her angels. So, she’s pretty much like the head of the agency and she has her own past and her own mystery and romance to deal with. So, that is my next book, “Charlotte and the Seductive Spymaster.”
Rachel: That’s a good title.
Grace: Thanks. Yeah, I have a pretty good idea. It’s funny, at my retreat I was plotting this book in the hot tub, which became known as the plot tub, and one of the women…
Laura: I love that.
Grace: It is the greatest thing, right? And one of the women brought us waterproof scribbling tablets. I’d never seen that before, but you can like write, it’s like waterproof paper. And so you can actually sit and like write stuff while you’re in the hot tub.
Laura: This could be a game changer for writing retreats. I think everyone should lead with us for conferences next year.
Grace: Yeah, that’s my game-changer. It’s not AI, it’s waterproof, like writing tablets, guys, that’s where it’s at.
Laura: Yeah, we didn’t have to get that complicated, guys. We could have just gone with waterproof paper.
Rachel: And before we let you go, where can listeners find you online?
Grace: They can find my website, which is gracecallaway.com. My newsletter, you can also sign up via my website, but it’s very simple. It’s just also gracecallaway.com/newsletter. I’m pretty much everywhere except for TikTok right now. So, I’m on Instagram if you wanna find me Grace Callaway Books, that’s the same handle on Facebook as well.
Rachel: Amazing. We will include links to all of those in the show notes so listeners can find you. And, Grace, thank you so much for joining us today. This was so lovely.
Grace: This was so much fun. Thanks for having me.
Laura: Thanks, Grace, this has been great.
Rachel: Thank you for listening to the Kobo Writing Life podcast. If you are interested in picking up Grace’s books, we will include links in our show notes. If you are enjoying this podcast, please be sure to rate, review, and subscribe. And if you’re looking for more tips on growing your self-publishing business, you can find us at kobowritinglife.com, and be sure you are following us on socials. We are @KoboWritingLife on Facebook and Twitter and @kobo.writing.life on Instagram.
Laura: This episode was hosted by Laura Granger and Rachel Wharton with production by Terrence Abrahams. Editing is provided by Kelly Robotham. Our theme music is composed by Tear Jerker. And thanks to Grace Callaway for being a guest. If you’re ready to start your publishing journey, sign up today at kobo.com/writinglife. Until next time, happy writing.