It’s not often you meet a novelist as accomplished as Keren Hughes …
Keren lives in the UK, and is one of the veterans of Black Velvet Seductions Publishing. She’s a wonderful teammate in addition to being a literary veteran, so let’s get to KNOW her better!
(All opinions and statements contained in this interview are solely those of the author providing them, and may not necessarily reflect my own. – Virginia)
When did you start writing? What made you first decide to try your hand at it?
I first started writing when I was 15. I was an avid lover of Point Horror and Point Romance books at the time. I wanted to be a Point Horror author, so I concocted a story about a woman who babysat for people and stole their children’s souls. I write it in pencil, by hand on A4 lined paper and illustrated a cover for it (badly, as I sadly lack any artistic skills). My mom was the only person who ever read it, and she gave me feedback. Then when I was 16, I wrote another. Nobody ever read that one.
Years passed and I never thought I’d actually get published. But when I had an operation on my spine that left me permanently disabled at the age of 29, I had plenty of time on my hands, so I tried my hand at another story. I was a book blogger/reviewer at the time, so I asked a couple of author friends to read it and tell me what they thought. They loved it and encouraged me to pursue getting it published.
What was your first published work? What do you think of it now?
My first published book was called Stolen. It was a paranormal romance, and played with the idea I’d had at 15, only a bit more refined. It was published in 2013. I got the rights back to it after 5 years and signed a contract for it with a different publisher, but after a while, I concluded that I didn’t want it to be published again. The fact as I see it is that my writing has come a long way since then. I stopped writing PNR after that one and found a love of writing contemporary romance. I’ve written many books since that one (I’m now on my 18th) and I see each one of them as a learning curve. A chance to learn more about myself as an author, about my voice, what I want to say and how I want to say it. So now I look back on it as the book that opened a door for me into the writing community, but no longer wish to see it published as it isn’t my best work.
How do you balance writing with your personal life?
I am permanently disabled, so I have a lot of time on my hands while my teen son is at school or on holiday from school. I am a single mom, so I juggle trying to be the best parent I can be to him and the best friend I can be to those I love, whilst still taking time to cultivate love stories for people to fall in love with.
Do people you actually know make appearances in your stories?
Yes and no. The Jagged Scars Duet (Safe and Home) are based on a real-life once upon a time couple I knew when I was in my 20’s. I gave them the happy ending they never got in real life.
Other than that, I take personality traits and/or physical traits from people I know and combine them to make characters. I’ve used my best friend on more than one occasion. I base any grandmothers on my own late grandmother Pat. I’ve also used both good and bad traits from my own exes to make love interests or bad guys.
Do family members or friends help with your writing? Your marketing?
I don’t have any family. My late grandmother used to help financially. She bought an exclusive model image for me to use on one of my books. But she also helped when I did my first signing, in that she helped me get copies of my books and things to make swag until I could afford to pay her back.
My friends help me out a lot by sharing teasers and excerpts, by posting in book groups and getting the word out about my books on social media.
Do you have stories you want to write that you haven’t yet?
I have an idea for another MM story that I want to write, which I intend to get to after the MF romance that I’m currently writing.
Is there a story you’re afraid to write for some reason? Why?
Possibly FF. I have a small comfort zone––or should I say I did have. Once, I. only wrote MF contemporary romances of differing sub-genres. I was thinking that I wanted to try my hand at writing MM but wasn’t 100% sure I could pull it off. Some people say to “write what you know”, and obviously, I know nothing of being a gay man. I was scared to step out of my comfort zone, but I did it. Then I wrote another and another. The most recent of which being an enemies-to-lovers story, which I feared writing in case I didn’t get it right. But I have valued alpha and beta readers, with whom I entrusted that story, and they were all of the opinion that it was one of my best books yet.
In that story, I had an FF couple. I was asked if I. would give them their own book, as people wanted to know what happened to them. But I declined because I fear stepping out of my––albeit expanded somewhat––comfort zone.
Do you ever target differing age groups or demographics with your writing?
Not really. I would say my books are 18+ but are received well by both younger and older readers.
Have you ever written non-fiction? If so, what?
In short, no I haven’t.
Are you a ‘normal’ person who likes to write, or do you consider yourself more of the tormented/driven ‘artist’ type?
I would like to think I am normal. But what really is ‘normal’ these days? It’s all about perception.
Do you drink? Why or why not?
I do. I like whiskey especially. But I’ll also drink beer, wine, gin and vodka. I don’t drink a lot, as I am on medication for my ailments.
If you could see one of your stories made into a movie, which one would you pick and why?
Honestly, I don’t think I’d like to see any of them made into a movie because I fear that they’d want to change things about my story. I see too many movies that don’t stick all that closely to the original story. BUT, if I was consulted about changes and had influence, then I would have to go with Whiskey Lullaby. It’s one of my personal favourites. It’s about a country music star who is tired of the limelight. He’s jaded. The music he once held so dear no longer seems to call to him. So, he takes a break (mid-tour, much to the chagrin of his manager) and ends up in small town River’s Edge. There he meets a feisty pink-haired single mom. I won’t say much about their story but suffice to say that sparks fly and although he didn’t go looking for love, it found him anyway.
How does your life experience influence your writing?
There are things that happen in real life that I take to the page. It might be a person I’ve met that becomes a character, or it might be an experience that I, or someone I know, has gone through. I like to write about realistic things, relatable people and things that could happen between them, whether those things be good or bad.
Do you try to keep your stories within their pre-determined genres, or do you just tell the story your way regardless of genre expectations?
I don’t think of myself as writing to tropes. Yet in the end, they mostly end up in one. It’s subconscious though. Except for when I wrote my MM enemies-to-lovers. That one, I wanted to prove to myself that I could write ETL, so I did. But normally, I will just write the story that comes to me, no matter what sub-genre/trope they end up in.
Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what kinds? Does music influence your stories?
A big fat YES. Music is a big influence for me. I used to play a little guitar and a little piano as a teen. I’ve grown up with a love of a lot of genres of music, and a lot of different artists. I am a fan of 80’s/90’s stuff mostly, but if pushed to choose, I am actually a country girl at heart. I love country music with a passion.
As for writing, I have separate Spotify playlists available for all of my books. I’ll add songs to them as I write. Like, this one I’m working on now has mostly 80’s/90’s––almost cheesy––music on it. I’ve got a lot of boybands from my youth on there like Westlife, Boyzone, A1, but also female artists such as Lisa Loeb, Shakespeare’s Sisters, Meredith Brooks (the song ‘Bitch’) and Alanis Morrisette.
I usually include some sexier songs for when I’m writing sexy scenes, romantic songs for when I’m feeling mushy, and a lot of the playlists end up having bands like The Cure, The Smiths, New Order, Depeche Mode… I have eclectic tastes, but they’ll always come back to country 😉
Have you ever written a story based on a personal experience you had? If so, what was it about?
I have. Admitting this takes a lot, but the duet I talked about before––Jagged Scars Duet––was based on me and an ex-boyfriend. In the story, Elise is a disabled single mom, the same as me. Drew is a paramedic she dated in her 20’s and they meet up again when they’re older and fall in love all over again. I gave them the HEA that my ex and I never had. It was intended for me to only write SAFE––I tend to write stand-alone novels––but ‘Drew’ asked me if he’d get a story. At first, I said no. But the more I mulled it over, the more I liked the idea, so that is where the book HOME comes from.
Their story is not written the way our story happened, but it isinfluenced by our past. I would say it’s about 70% made up.But then the other 30% consists of real-life experiences, such as being in a DV relationship for years prior to meeting ‘Drew’––which I was, for around 4.5 years, and the fact that Drew had demons of his own.
Is your writing time planned out or structured? Do you go on writing ‘benders’?
I write when I feel inspired. I won’t force the words to come. I learned the hard way that doing so only ends up in me having a bad case of writer’s block. I used to approach writing very goal-oriented and cared about the word count for the day/week/month. But then I tried a different approach that’s now stuck. Instead of writing for the word count, I write for the words themselves. It doesn’t matter how much––or little––I add in one go; it matters that I make those words themselves count. They matter to the story and that’s what matters to me. So, I could add 1K one day, but 10K another.
What to you is the most rewarding aspect of being a writer?
There are several things that are rewarding about being a writer, but my two main ones are getting my stories out there for people to read, and readers loving those stories. When I am emailed by a reader, or they message me on social media to say that they loved a certain story or a certain aspect of it, that really makes me happy.
Who is your favorite author, and why?
Oh my goodness, I have so many. Too many to name really. I would say at the moment, I am loving reading books by CM Albert, Casey L Bond and Rue Volley.
Which character of yours is your favorite? Why?
It’s most likely to be between Tyler and Zach (MM enemies-to-lovers story called Love This Pain, which is under contract) and Houston and Culhwch (another MM under contract, about a rockstar and a firefighter, called Tempting The Rockstar and will be my next release).
Why? Well because as flawed as they may be, those characters mean a lot to me. Houston is a rockstar who isn’t ‘out’, whilst Culhwch––which is easier to pronounce than it looks––is a firefighter who is ‘out and proud’. They meet and quickly fall in love, but because of how he believes he’ll be perceived by his bandmates and fans, Houston is reluctant to admit that he is gay. Sometime after they split, they meet again and––not without difficulty––try to start afresh. This time though, Houston knows he has to come out to everyone and live his truth.
As for Tyler and Zach, well, that’s another story altogether. They meet on a dating app because they both come from neighbouring small towns where everyone knows everyone else’s business. They fall for one another, but Tyler has been hurt before. He was bullied throughout high school for being gay––having been out since he was 15––and he finds it hard to trust people to love him the way he is. Zach has his own personal demons and it’s up to the two of them to try and find love in the last place they expect.
Do you prefer to read fiction that’s similar to what you write, or do you pick different types of stories?
I read a lot of different genres and tropes. Mostly, I stick to MM, contemporary romance and PNR/supernatural.
What’s one quirky thing about you that your readers might not know?
Quirky? Try my whole personality LOL. Ask anyone in my ARC group, my PA, my alpha/beta readers and my friends in general. They’ll tell you that I am definitely quirky.
What’s your favorite movie? Why?
City of Angels. I cry every damn time the candle goes out, right up until the end.
But there are also a lot of other films I love, like Dirty Dancing, Grease, The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, The Lost Boys, IT, Beetlejuice, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline, Corpse Bride, UP, The Little Mermaid…Also Iron Man, most Marvel films (except Black Widow and Captain Marvel). I am a big Disney nerd, and I love Disney and/or Pixar films. Then there’s Harry Potter. My favourite of those being Prisoner of Azkaban.
Do you set up events to meet your readers, or is your interaction with them strictly online?
I have anxiety and social anxiety, so I have only ever done two signings. One was at my old high school, set up by my old English teacher-turned headmaster. The other was a huge event in Birmingham with other authors such as Jodi Ellen Malpas, Sophie Jackson, Charlotte Fallowfield, MB Feeney, and many more.
The main place I interact with my readers is in my ARC group.
What’s a question I haven’t asked that you’d like to answer?
Umm… I don’t think there are any really. But I’d like to thank you for the chance to talk books with you. I do so love to talk, a lot, about a variety of things. But there’s nothing like talking about the fictional world and our contributions to it.
THANK you for joining us, Keren! It was an honor to have you!
CONNECT WITH KEREN!!!
On Twitter, look for Keren_Hughes (Sorry, the link made my page go all buggy.)