Whenever I meet someone who’s got a really cool job, who runs a thriving business, or who has completed an amazing project, I always want to know: “How did you do that?”
I’m always curious to hear the “behind-the-scenes story” — who they emailed, what they said, how they got their first client, how they got their foot in the door — the exact steps that they took to achieve their goal.
HOW DID YOU DO THAT? is an interview series where we get to hear the REAL story behind someone’s success—not the polished, neat and tidy version.
To see a complete list of all the interviews that have been completed to date, head over here.
Name: Linda Mercury
Location: Portland, Oregon
Tell me about yourself. What made you decide to become a writer?
I’m a writer and creator of really unusual fictional worlds. More than anything, I care about compassion, connection, and intimacy. Prior to becoming a writer, I used to be a librarian, historian, and professional clown (but not all at once).
But then, something happened: September 11, 2001. After the attacks, I felt great sadness and even greater determination. I knew there had to be a better way to bring people together, make good times happen, and transmit the values of love and caring.
So I started my research. I read a lot, I wrote a lot. Now, seven books later….here I am.
Today, my life’s work is to share what I know about love, history, and passion with as many people as I possibly can. Sometimes, my work looks like very sexy paranormal romance novels. Other times, it is blog posts on history, feminism, and intercultural understanding.
Ultimately, all of my work is about coming together. Because life is way better when people tell each other the truth of who they are.
For many people, writing a book can feel like a daunting, impossible-feeling project. So many pages. So many details to keep straight in your mind. So overwhelming! But Linda, you’ve written not just one, not just two, but six novels! That’s quite a feat!
I am curious to know… When you’re writing a book, what is your process? Do you do a bunch of research before you start writing? Do you just start typing and see what comes out of your brain? Do you figure out the characters first, and then the plot, or vice versa? Walk us through your process.
I’m so thrilled you asked. My books usually start with a character, usually the heroine. For the Blood Wings series (Dracula’s Secret, Dracula’s Desires, and Dracula Unleashed), I realized that a lot of the myths and legends about Dracula would make perfect sense if this historical character had been born a woman and had to hide her gender her entire life. From this tiny thought, a whole person emerged.
For Curse of the Spider Woman, I thought about a woman who had nothing left to lose. Where would she go from there? How would she handle having someone put demands on her last days of life?
After I get a glimpse of the woman, I wonder what she wants. Who would love her? What kind of world does she live in? What are her secrets?
I usually hand-write while I brainstorm. I research as I go along, seeing what I need to know. I have an academic background in history and librarianship, so research is really second nature at this point. (Side note – if anyone needs tips on how to do research that makes your writing shine, contact me!)
I do write a synopsis to give myself a general idea of what has to happen, but I have learned that the story and the characters will change as I write along.
Every project has the same stages of fear, anxiety, and confusion, but as you write more and more, your process gets more efficient. Instead of worrying for months if what you have to say is worthwhile, you get it over with in a few days.
You’re known for writing sexy, sensual stories with lots of risqué themes. When you say to people, “I write romance novels,” or “I write erotic fiction,” how do people react? Have you ever gotten any negative responses? Raised eyebrows? Shocked gasps? Unfriendly words?
Rarely! I tell people, “I write very sexy paranormal romance”, and they usually respond with a big smile. One time, I did have a gentleman make a crack about how I wrote porn/smut. I looked him right in the eye and politely said, “Nice try, but you can’t shame me.”
Because I refuse to feel shame for my writing, I will reframe comments on how a person prefers something more “substantial”. I ask them what they like to read. This leads to a fun conversation about books, reading, and literary themes. Once they realize I’m not going to call them a prude, they relax and we have a good time. Sometimes, they will then buy my books because they now know me and realize I write smart, feminist fiction.
I don’t take anyone else’s responses personally. Their thoughts about the suitability of romance or sexually honest books are not my responsibility.
Recently, you got invited to be a panelist at a writing conference in Oregon, where you live. There’s a stereotype that writers are quiet, solitary people who don’t enjoy speaking in public. Is that true for you… or not? How did it feel to be on that panel? Would you do it again?
Writers are quiet people- until you get them going on something they love! I was nervous before the presentation, but once I got up there and saw that people wanted to hear what I had to say, I was on fire. I would absolutely do it again.
I gave a presentation called, “From Arousal to Zipper: Writing the Best Sex of Your Life.” Much to my surprise, the room was packed. Everyone had something fabulous to say, especially about how much readers want love scenes that are emotional and integrated into the story. We had so much fun, a number of us ended up talking in the lobby of the hotel for an hour and a half after the lecture.
Do you ever get stuck with your projects? What do you do to bring yourself out of a creative slump?
Oh, boy, do I ever get stuck. It can be very painful, for upon that road lives the squalid houses of Despair, Depression, and Self-Loathing.
I have taken a long time to figure out that getting stuck is part of the process. It’s a sign that I need to go back to the beginning, read my character studies, look over my plot, and see where I have written myself in a corner. In addition, getting bogged down means I need to take a break to feed my imagination.
To get out of the slump, I must get some intellectual stimulation, if by traveling (even just over to the park), looking at art, or listening to different music. A rich life of the mind is not optional if you want to create or problem solve. Everything I take in gives my writing depth and power.
Don’t ever starve yourself of what your soul needs. I do it all too often and I always pay for it.
Have you ever gotten a nasty review about one of your books? What did they say? How did that feel? Do you have any advice for someone who’s terrified of receiving criticism?
I have gotten truly nasty reviews. The very first two reviews on my very first book were mean. The first review left on GoodReads called my romance novel “Nazi Snuff Porn.” The first review on Amazon called it, “The worst book (she) had read that year.”
Those were a shock. My poor little book! Don’t we all want people to love our work and call it genius?
Fortunately, I had already read Carolyn See’s Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers. She had the best advice ever on dealing with rejection and bad reviews. Here’s a tiny taste of her smart, wonderful, compassionate, funny, and genuinely useful book:
It goes without saying that ever since you say your [rejection]…, you’ve been suffering the tortures of the damned. It’s as if every ion of your body has been reversed; as if you’ve literally been struck by lightning, as if your liver has ruptured and your spleen’s been set afire and your vision has blurred – is it just tears or a brain tumor? It’s going to last, this ghastly, terrible, unspeakable rejection, from a period of about two hours for the rest of your life….
There’s a better way. Remember the hypothesis that life (and writing) are like courtship, romance, even sex? Instead of thinking of rejection as a life-blighting event, make it into a dating game. (p. 88-89)
I applied her suggestions to my life and bad reviews don’t bother me much anymore. Also, living well truly is the best revenge. Keep writing, keep doing what you love, and the nasty stuff will be much less important.
How did you select your pen-name, Linda Mercury?
It wasn’t easy! I needed something with more pizzazz than my legal name, something that said fast-paced, sexy, thought-provoking.
My favorite band is Queen. I took Freddie Mercury’s last name for my pseudonym since he has inspired me since I was a young woman. His fearlessness, his willingness to be different, his stage presence, his unique soaring voice – all of his attributes have helped me be brave and honest in my writing.
Has there ever been a period of time where you got really frustrated with writing… or even wanted to quit all together? What happened? What changed your mind and helped you to keep going?
I had two major crises of faith in 2017. In the early part of the year, I got really down on myself because I wasn’t on best-seller lists after writing since 2001 and releasing six books. I had to take myself to the coast for a few days for journaling and re-affirming if writing was really what I wanted to do or if I was fooling myself.
I was fortunate. I was able to find compassion for myself. I had created the goal of being a “Best Seller” without putting together the framework of support that a writer needs to achieve that dream. I remembered that I loved writing; I loved moving people; and finding ways to create a better world. I had to start over with the tragedy of September 11, 2001 and what drove my passion.
Later in the year, my normally manageable chronic pain issues went nuts. I was on a merry-go-round of physical therapy, exercise, and depression. I had to completely rethink the way I worked – not just my physical writing space (I got a sit-stand desk, a new office chair, and other ergonomic fixes), but my emotional needs. I have amazing friends – they willingly gave me good advice and reminded me that I do write well.
So surround yourself with people who love you, want you to be happy, and tell you when you are doing a good job.
I highly recommend joining the Romance Writers of America. RWA is the best of the professional writer organizations out there. They work tirelessly to educate writers on the art, craft, and publishing aspects of writing. Finding a local chapter will go a long way to finding a support group.
Prior to becoming a novelist, you worked as a librarian! What was the best part about that job? What were the parts you didn’t particularly love?
I loved being a librarian! Helping people make their lives better is one of the best things in the world. Information literally is the lifeblood of a society and librarians are the heartbeat that keeps that blood moving. For example, I helped people find resources on landlord/tenant agreements, on life-threatening diseases, and especially on job-hunting.
The hard part? Knowing my career was at the mercy of funding measures. So vote for libraries!
I’ve heard a rumor that your next book will be a different genre than your previous books. You’re working on a YA (Young Adult) book featuring a teenage girl as the heroine. Can you reveal any info about this new project?
This new project is eating my brain! It’s been years since I’ve been either a teenager or a young adult. I am diving into research, learning what young people today care about and need from society.
Unlike my other books, this book, tentatively titled The Dream Factory, will not be a romance. Instead, it will be fantasy – a coming of age story about a young woman who revitalizes a depressed town with her new job in a costume shop.
Imagine someone out there who dreams about writing a novel, but feels intimidated, or doesn’t know where to begin. Can you give 3 pieces of advice to that person?
Far too many beginning authors never get started because they worry about what other people will think. Start small and write what makes you happy.
• Protect the Work
Too often, beginning writers get all excited about their story and show it too soon to people who have no idea how to give proper feedback. We share our passion with those whose approval we crave, with people who can hurt us like no others.
Second, once we do start writing, we shove it aside for everything else. We start refusing to take the time to do this thing that makes us happier than anything. It brings richness and joy, but we don’t guard the writing. Protect what makes you happy, protect what feeds your mind, protect yourself from unnecessary cruelty.
• Dare to be Average
Don’t be worried about writing deathless prose! I’ve had so many writers tell me they want to write books that will be studied in college for decades. Seriously, just start with writing a book. Write two or three or ten. Have fun with it. Learn. Play. If you don’t agonize, you will get so much more done.
Lower the stakes for yourself. Ease out of perfectionism and enjoy what you do. If you having trouble with perfectionism (and who doesn’t!), check out Chapter Fourteen of Feeling Good by Dr. David Burns. I also recommend reading up on imposter syndrome.
I’m darn sure that once you embrace being average, you will find out that your writing is pretty fabulous.
• Feed your head.
Writing needs its writer to be immersed in life. Listen to music, look at both the visual and performance arts, watch a tree drink the water pooling at its base. Your brain takes in so much stimuli during the day – make sure you take in information that stimulates you, which makes you laugh, dance, and feel grateful. You don’t have to go on an expensive trip to experience magnificent food, get near water, or try something new. Read books on writing, hang out with your friends. Live your life zestfully and your writing will sing.
Good luck and keep writing!
If you have any questions for Linda, you can drop her a line at LindaMercuryRomance@gmail.com. All of her books are available on Amazon.com.
ONE MORE THING…
Do you have “one more quick question” that you’d like to ask Linda? Email me and tell me what you want to know! I might choose your question for my ONE MORE THING… Podcast (Coming soon!!!)
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