Shiree McCarver when her Blasian novels gained the attention of readers at the Narrative. With 13 books to her name, Ms. McCarver is an accomplished storyteller with an admirable tendency to think outside the box and do what isn't being done...industry be damned. It was a delight to complete this interview with her on November 6th, 2010.
Hey there, Shiree! For those just joining us, could you share a few things about yourself?
Hello. Thank you for wanting to interview me. I appreciate the interest. Hmm, about me? Well, I'm forty-six, divorced with no children. I didn't always want to be a writer. During most of my youth I had dreams of being a vocalist or back-up singer for someone famous.
I've always had a love for reading being and only child books were my best friends, my escape from a not so perfect childhood. I was seventeen when I became tired of women in the books never looking like me. I decided then to become a writer and write my own books. I was in my thirties before I actually took writing serious. I have always wanted to be an interracial writer, even though I couldn't find an agent to take me on. I gave up on finding an agent instead of changing what I wanted to write to please them. Also I suffer from the illness my character Mary has in All I Want for Christmas. It is my best selling book to date and I thought being honest by putting my faults and fears on paper for the world to see, people would be repulsed by it. I'm happy to know I was wrong about people.
So when you started to take writing seriously, how did you get started?
I started writing scenes cold turkey. I still do, and when I hit a snag I stop, research and organize my notes and scenes. When I started out I was already reading Arnette Lamb, Jude Deveraux, Johanna Lindsey, Nan Ryan, and Virginia Henley because they were the biggest thing in historical romances (that was all I read back in the late 1970s - early 1980s). Of course, at that time I decided to write my own historical romances because none of the women were black women with these romantic Caucasian, Arabic, Indian, and other such men.
The first book I wrote was a regency romance called Loving Lavina; both characters were Caucasian and I was twenty-two. I thought I could write about Caucasion characters and when I get my foot in the door and my name out there I could write about interracial couples later. That book was almost publish by the very well known publisher back then Zebra, but I dropped the ball on making the correction and changes that needed to be made. I was told what I needed to do, along with a letter to show I was asked to resubmit (so it wouldn't get put in the slush pile). I didn't know how to do it. Instead I end up rewriting the book and taking all the parts they liked about it out, thinking I was making it better. On the second submission it was rejected.
I got depressed and focused on doing a 9-5 job for the next twelve years. My hope was revived by the ebook world and their openess to interracial characters. My first book, The Lord and the Scorpion, was the first interracial Elizabethan romance featuring a Black female lead. It was well-received; unfortunately New Concepts had good intentions, but no follow-through. If I was the one expected to do everything, I couldn't understand why they were getting the chunk of the percentage when they didn't even think they were responsible for adequate editing. The failure was placed on me, but the fact it garnered high response and reviews inspite of the bad editing was a sign.
Ironically, I find the exact same thing happening with J-Pop Love Song; yet another publisher has failed to follow through with their reputation. But I live and learn from my mistakes.
I've never been one to enjoy schooling because it bored me (except for music and theater). I finished high school, but because of my diagnosis senior year, I knew I couldn't have my dream of going to college for music and entertainment. I realized couldn'tt be without medical insurance, and my parents' insurance only covered me until I was 18. So I had to get a job with benefits fast.
I started out with 3 part time jobs and one of them paid off. I worked in the cable industry and got written up from time to time because I worked on my book during business hours. They preferred I sat there doing nothing, rather than work on my dreams which had nothing to do with them. But writing was the only thing that kept me from going crazy; it gave me hope that I wouldn't be doing telephone work for the rest of my life.
I'm still not a good writer by technical standards. What I am is a good storyteller; I just do what I like, tell the story, and for the past year I let Gail Flowers (a fan and great friend) proof all my books before they're released. Since then I haven't got the "it's a great book, but the errors..." emails I use to get. I say God sent me Gail because if she hadn't came along, I think I'd have just disappeared from the publishing world as quietly as I appeared. My fear of disapointing people paying to read my books was very stressful for me. It still is something I worry about with each book.
Who are your influences? You reading anyone special now?
I don't read others when I'm writing because I'm afraid it will influence what I'm writing and mess up my own thought process. I'm currently not reading anyone special now because I'm working ideas in my head but while on vacation I read a ebook by Michelle Pillow. It was a quick erotic read. I didn't have time for much else.
What’s your creative process?
My creative process start with personal fantasies of myself with a favorite actor or muscian. I start asking myself "what if" questions and the next thing I know ideas come into my head and characters start to speak to me and I go from there. There is a little of me in all my female leads. Not so much physical, but instead how they react to certain situations.
How about publishing? What’s your process there, and what are some the obstacles you’ve come up against?
I publish my works through LULU because I got tired of being screwed. There are many publishers talking a good gain about how supportive they are of Interracial romances and how much they want something new, than proceed to not make any effort into making it the best book it can be. Also they intend to give me editors that want to be writers or that are writers themselves and the next thing I know the voice of the story is no longer my own. I trusted 3 different publishers and all of them published books that was full of errors and they screw me on royalties.
The way I do it now, I control it all. My money is always on time. When errors escape me I can go back and correct the mistakes without excuses as to why it's not feasable to do so and forever the mistakes are in black and white with my name on it. The publisher that has one of my books now have it for seven years and after having my book for 2 years, I've seen no royalty only the small advance. She also doesn't send out statments are anything else and I went with this publisher on the word of a friend who made me promises they couldn't keep.
How do you market yourself? And what does “best-selling” mean to you?
I'm so humbled by the fact that people enjoy reading my books that I'm embarrassed about tooting my own horn in any way. Even this interview feels surreal, because I wonder why anyone would want to know more or care about me? I'm just a writer out of so many out there competing hard and sometimes getting really ugly with one another. For what, I wonder? I feel if the story is a good one, I won't have to do anything; it will sink or swim on its merits. So most of my success has come from word of mouth. When people like something they tell others about it because they can't help themselves, and that tells me I did what I set out to do. I created and shared characters people can care about the way I care about them, and it makes me feel like the most outstanding author in the world.
I don't believe in "best-selling" because it just means you're a good salesman or have a good sales team or one with connections to back you. Truly...haven't we read enough bad stuff off the NY Bestselling list and from the Oprah recommended list to know that it has nothing to do with the book and the stories as much as the commercialization of the product? That's why you usually always see the same authors all the time on all the great lists and fan favorites. I'm happy for them but I would be a fool to mark my own success or failures by it; I'd be very disheartened.
I do have one selfish desire and it has nothing to do with success, recognition, or money; it's to see one or all of my books in film. The main reason would be more interracial love stories on television and film if the industry would come to those who write it for a living, and not the populus they pay to create a story for the purpose of ONE project among many.
You’ve sort of gained the title of “Blasian novelist” over on the Narrative. Is that how you see yourself?
No. I consider myself an interracial novelist because all my heroes aren't Asian. However, I am honored to be called a Blasian novelist because Asian heroes are a big part of my collection of books and will continue to be so in the future.
It's a personal love; I adore Asian men. I didn't always. When I was younger, I felt they were to thin and feminine in their frame and features for my taste. As I grew older my taste changed. I learned through personal pains that because the man may come in a package built for being strong and honorable, it doesn't mean he is.
After I learned the true value of a man doesn't have much to do with appearance but the man himself. I soon found out from getting to know more about the Asian cultures we had more in common than not. Still we are the two most unlikely to get together out of all the cultures. I suppose I started writing Blasian romances in hope that the Asian men would see themselves through a Black woman's eyes and hopefully put the "idea" into their heads to see us as possible romantic leads in their lives.
Does your romantic life influence your romances in any way?
The closest idea to how my marriage left me feeling can be read in A Satyr's Tale: Selby and Darius. Selby is me, her pain is mine, her disillusionment with the reality of relationships is mine too. There is also a scene where she meets the hero in a karaoke bar at a hotel lounge; that happened to me when I met a handsome stranger who gave me hope in men again and fed the fire to fantasize and write again. Now if you read that book, note the hot make-out scene in the bathroom is not me, but what I thought I should've done after meeting that man and never running into him again. It was a sweet and innocent weekend which made me feel like a woman, but had nothing to do with sex. You know...like that scene from Waiting to Exhale with Angela Bassett, after her husband left her.
So I wrote The Lord and the Scorpion and Selby and Darius at the same time and they were published by separate publishers. The defunt Ocean Mist published Selby and Darius, and it was another disappointment with the publishing industry.
What are you currently working on?
Currently, nothing. The past 4 years I adverage 4 to 5 books a year and this year has been a vacation for me. I released one book Visual-kei Rock Star.
I just came back from a cruise and I wrote down some premises for future books but I haven't started anything yet. Next year I plan on being more productive until I burn out again and need another vacation.
Four to five books a year is amazing. Do you support yourself writing? How do you stay motivated to accomplish so much?
There is no way I could live off my writing alone. So no one should write interracial books for the money. You might want to consider another genre if you want serious pay...LOL. Then again, if I was out there advertising, pushing my wares, selling to more publishers I might could do really well. I just like working at my own pace and writing the stories I want to tell without being told I can't because it's not the "in" thing at the moment and I guess it means make enough to eat out every now and then, and taking a vacation every few years. Six years ago I made a deal with God. I said, I hate my job. If you give me the chance to work at home full time, I promise you I will become a published writer.
Watch what you wish for. My illness got worse and I was laid off from my day job. I had to keep my promise to God and start writing and selling, or lose everything. When I initially made that prayer to God, I was thinking of God letting me win the lottery or clearing house. LOL...now when I pray, I'm more specific with details.
My motivation is to write about the great love I will never have for myself. I like to give hope to that young woman who maybe reading my works to get them through that 9-5, that bad marriage, or the simplicity of loneliness they might feel when they choose one of my books to read. Many authors have done that for me (I mentioned a few earlier), and with ebooks I've found even more great authors, such as Aliyah Burke, Nona Wesley, Donna Hill, Lena Mathews, Seressia Glass, and Shara Azod.
I just want to return the favor to the universe, in hopes that I'm am bringing the same pleasure for women like me. My books will be the legacy I have to show I was here, and even though I don't write for everyone's taste, I'm proud to have my name displayed on the stories I have created.
Shiree, thank you so very much for "stopping by". Your perseverance is astounding and commendable.