Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is very happy to shine our Friday spotlight on debut romance author Stella Stevenson. Stella is a mom of two toddlers living in central Massachusetts. She’s been writing stories since she was 4, but recently returned to story-crafting when her oldest started preschool. She majored in psychology and creative writing in college before teaching in early education for several years. She left the classroom to stay home with her kids.
My first question to you Stella, is where can people find your work? (Besides Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester–though they should totally check here first!)
My book(s) are available in print at any online retailer. The ebook is on Amazon. I also have copies available at Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester and am hoping to do some local fairs and festivals in the coming year.
How can we follow your work and share your awesomeness?
I’m on social media. My biggest and most updated accounts are TikTok and Instagram. Both are under the handle @stellastevensonwrites. I have an additional TikTok account where I share book teasers, @booksbystellastevenson. I can also be found on facebook and at my website http://www.authorstellastevenson.com
For readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what you write? What can readers expect from The Trope?
I try to write real and relatable stories with happy endings. I want my books to be an escape for readers, one where they find themselves in the pages. I affectionately call my genre “spicy brain candy.” It’s meant to be consumed in a sitting or two, and leave you feeling warm and fuzzy while still talking about real issues and topics we all face in our daily lives. My debut novel features a main character with generalized anxiety and panic disorder, but the book isn’t about how she overcomes that worry. It’s just a facet of who she is as she tries to write and publish her first book. My second book has a plus-size heroine and focuses more on family relationships after the mother of her ex drives them apart.
What kind of research went into writing this book? What is your favorite research story? What cool facts and findings didn’t make it into the book, but you loved discovering?
I have diagnosed anxiety so a lot of the bits and pieces of Maggie’s worry comes from my own experiences, but I’m not a blacksmith. It was so much fun researching smithing techniques and styles to write Mac. I talked to several specialists, read a lot of non-fiction books and articles, and binge-watched “Forged in Fire” to help get all the details right. For one of my works-in-progress I’ve been researching rodeos, specifically saddle-bronc riding. I never knew how much went into each 8 second ride. It isn’t just about staying on (like I always thought). I’ve spent a lot of time around horses but this piece was totally new and different for me. I love doing research, even if my search history looks a bit deranged.
What was the inspiration for The Trope? What were the steps you took to bring it from initial inspiration to the finished book?
The idea for The Trope was really brought on by joining the book community on social media. There were so many discussions around common tropes and it was clear that people love or hate them because we all know how they’re going to end. That’s part of the beauty of romance as a genre (which is incidentally great for my anxiety). There will always be a happy ending. I kept seeing lists of what people liked and didn’t like, what they wanted to see more of, and thought “what if someone tried to use these as a blue-print for their actual life?” “What if it was a writer trying to use it as a form of research?” “What if the catch was that real life isn’t a romance novel?” The story formed from there and really blossomed.
What was the biggest challenge in writing and putting out The Trope? How did you overcome that challenge?
I think the biggest challenge is knowing what to do. I love the writing/editing/revising process (I know not everyone does). The beauty of self-publishing is that I can tell my story the way I want to, and I get to keep complete creative control. The downside, is that I have to do everything. Cover design, marketing, print logistics, formatting, etc. I can hire outside help, but that still means choosing someone that I trust and giving them direction. There is a wonderfully supportive indie author community, but there are no “right” answers in publishing. What works for one person might not work for everyone. It was a lot of trial and error and a lot of research.
What character did you love or hate the most while writing? And why?
I don’t think I hated any of my characters while writing. My stories don’t have traditional villains so everyone has strengths and weaknesses. My favorite character to write was probably Audrey. She’s Maggie’s best friend and Dean’s sister. She is fiercely protective and torn about how to keep the secrets she needs to while still supporting her loved ones in their decisions, but she has no problem telling them when they’re being idiots. If I had to pick someone that frustrated me the most, it would probably be my main character, Maggie. She had such tunnel vision on what she thought would work that she was missing all the obvious clues around her. Sometimes she frustrated even me, but it was who she was and it was important to let her character build and figure things out for herself. I think it’s easy as a reader to think we’d do things a certain way, and I wanted Maggie to be a realistic portrait of someone who really just missed the clues. Something we are all capable of.
What draws you to the particular genre or style that you write? What do you think draws readers to these kinds of books?
I touched on this above, but I’m drawn almost exclusively to romance novels (although I’ll read any sub genre within that). I love knowing exactly what I’m walking in to: a happy ending. For me a good romance novel is about the characters. They need to draw you in and make you feel something. I love figuring out who my own characters are. Most of my story ideas start with the people and an important scene. Then its about discovering what they can give each other, how they can grow together.
What is your favorite part of being a writer? Of the whole writing and publishing process? What do you think has been your greatest lesson in the journey thus far?
I love crafting the stories and I love hearing from readers, but honestly so far I’ve enjoyed all the pieces. Probably because it’s still new. The best lesson I’ve learned is that you need to be flexible. No matter how well you plan your publishing timeline, or plot out your draft, things can and do change in an instant. Characters take on lives of their own, shipping delays can happen to the best of us.
What piece of advice would you want to share with other writers?
Write the first draft. You can fix anything on the paper, but you can’t fix nothing.
What question do you wish interviewers would ask you, and what would the answer be?
“What is the best way to support authors” I think a lot of people know that purchasing books is helpful, obviously, but rating/reviewing/sharing the names of authors and books that you love is even more important.
What else can we expect from you in the near future?
My second book releases at the end of February. Its about a plus-size woman who is hired to be a contestant on a dating show without knowing that her ex is the lead. I currently have two more books that I plan on releasing this coming year, and maybe a holiday novella.
While you’re writing, do you prefer music, silence, other? Please elaborate!
I don’t do well in full silence. I usually have the television on in the background while I work. Often playing shows i’ve already seen. Recently i’ve been “re-watching Schitt’s Creek” while I write. If I find myself getting too distracted then I’ll switch to music. Sometimes there’s specific genres I prefer, and other times I’ll put on the current top-hits and wait for inspiration from the music. I’d love to make a playlist for one of my novels someday. I’m not quite there yet, though.
Writers very often have furry or feathered or otherwise non-human companions to “help” them through their work. Do you? What do you have? How do they “help” (or, “not-help”) with your writing?
I do have a furry companion when I write. We have a mostly black cat named Stella (you can guess the connection there). She’s about ten, and a grump with almost everyone. She definitely never signed on to have a toddler in the house, let alone two. She spends almost every writing session with me, curled up next to my legs or on my lap. Sometimes I bounce ideas off of her, but she’s not really helpful that way. She green-lights almost everything I say.
What do you consider the most challenging part of the writing process? And how do you overcome that?
Imposter Syndrome is the most challenging. The absolute terror that you’re a fraud and nothing you’ve written is of any value. Or that no one will like it. Every writer struggles with this, but I definitely find myself triggered and spiraling thanks to my anxiety. No sales in a few days? Spiral. Low page reads? Spiral. No reviews in a while? Spiral. It’s helpful to have a supportive community of authors to talk you down. And I don’t read reviews. Ever. My husband keeps an eye on them and reports anything I might need to know.
Are there any groups, clubs, or organizations that you would recommend to other writers that have helped you in your career?
I’ve found the most support in the author community on social media. Someone is always available to offer advice, commiserate, celebrate the small things. Friends are helpful, but you need people in the same trenches. Even if its to talk about the importance of QR codes. I don’t yet have a group in person, although I’m working on that. I think Covid through a lot of in-person meetings out of whack. Social Media is a good one though since someone is always available. Especially when your friends live all over the world.
Thanks so much for taking the time to answer all of these questions, Stella, and good luck with the Trope.