Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch (States of Love) by L.A. Merrill
Cover Artist: Brooke Albrecht
Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to have L.A. Merrill here today talking about books, writing, and her latest story, Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch, a States of Love tale!
How much of yourself goes into a character? A little bit (or sometimes a lot) of me goes into almost every character. Sometimes I don’t realize I’m doing it. I have to find a way to connect with my character’s emotions in order to write about them as truthfully and realistically as possible. Like acting, you find an experience or emotion of your own to use as a touchstone when writing or portraying the character. Often it’s only one trait, emotional quirk, or experience of mine that goes into a character, combined with things I’ve stolen from people I’ve met, and all the wonderful, gritty bits of character that my made-up people seem to generate all on their own. It creates (I hope) characters that read as real, and that the reader gets emotionally invested in.
Do you feel there’s a tight line between Mary Sue or should I say Gary Stu and using your own experiences to create a character? I don’t think there’s anything wrong with writing a thinly disguised autobiographical novel. (I’m working on one now, so of course I’d say that!) As long as you are telling a good story, use whatever tools are at your disposal to write it—including pulling from your own life for details. As they say, write what you know!
Does research play a role into choosing which genre you write? Do you enjoy research or prefer making up your worlds and cultures? RESEARCH SCARES ME. Mostly because I am lazy and fear failure. (Combine those with a serious procrastination problem and it’s a wonder I get anything done at all.) I am in awe of people who spend years on research alone, a couple more years writing, and then show up with these amazing historical novels you can just disappear into. I want to be that person, but for now at least, I know I’m not. So I keep writing about what I know or can easily find out (and failing that, just make up).
Has your choice of childhood or teenage reading genres carried into your own choices for writing? Growing up, I read pretty much anything I could get my hands on. Even better if it was fantasy/adventure and had female main characters. I still read across almost all the genres, but fantasy and adventure still have a strong place in my heart. Every time I write I try to tell a different kind of story, and someday I hope I’ll be a good enough writer to tell the kind of magical, escape-into-and-come-back-changed stories I remember reading when I was younger. Probably the one thing that remains constant across everything I read, and hopefully it comes through in what I write now, is humor. Using humor to tell even the darkest stories is fundamentally important to me. Sir Terry Pratchett wrote some of the funniest novels I’ve ever read—and I read almost all of them as a teenager—but his stories carry an emotional gut-punch of angrily optimistic humanism that walks hand in hand with his satire and screwball dialogue.
Have you ever had to put an ‘in progress’ story aside because of the emotional ties with it? You were hurting with the characters or didn’t know how to proceed? No. Usually if I set a story aside it’s because I flat-out don’t know the story well enough. If I’ve made it interesting enough, if I love the characters, I’m in it for the long haul, no matter what dark and twisty corridors we’re heading down.
Do you like HFN or HEA? And why? HECK YEAH, I LIKE HAPPY ENDINGS. Life is hard enough, and we almost never get a happily ever after. I don’t want everyone’s problems to be magically solved, everything tied in a too-neat bow, but if there’s going to be romance, it needs to end with the happy. Don’t throw me off this ship, I just got on board!
Do you read romances, as a teenager and as an adult? I really never did read straight-up “romance” when I was a teenager, barring some Sophie Kinsella (and I was mostly there for the dialogue and character voice in those). I sometimes read LGBT+ romance now, but they’re hard to come by where I live. I like books that have romance in them, but a good story is the most important thing for me. Let’s ride off into worlds unknown—and if we fall in love along the way, so much the better.
Who do you think is your major influence as a writer? Now and growing up? DO YOU WANT A LIST? Norton Juster, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Patricia Wrede, L.M. Montgomery, Robert Louis Stevenson, Barbara Michaels/Elizabeth Peters, Maureen Johnson, Flannery O’Connor, John Green, Willa Cather, Sir Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Diana Wynne Jones, Charles Dickens, Joseph Fink and Jeffery Cranor, Chris Carter, Jennifer Crusie, Georgette Heyer, E. Nesbit, Edward Eager, Maud Hart Lovelace…SRSLY, HOW MUCH SPACE DO WE HAVE? That list was in no particular order. Everything I read then shaped who I was—and consequently, who I was as a writer—and taught me how to be a person. I love them for that, and for the memories they gave me and the stories they shared. It’s no different today, except maybe now, as a working writer, I can see some of the tricks behind the illusions, and I take notes. It doesn’t diminish the magic at all—in fact, it makes me even more impressed. (Especially if you can pull something off without my realizing how!)
How do you feel about the ebook format and where do you see it going? When ebooks first came out, everyone was all panic-shouty about “the death of the printed word!” and I naturally got a bit freaked out because BOOKS WERE GOING TO BE EXTINCT, Y’ALL. And then that didn’t happen. I never bought an ereader, so I was late to the party, but when I discovered LGBT romance ebooks from the library, I was all over that like ants at a picnic. I will always be a physical book kinda girl, but ebooks and I are pals now. They are definitely great for our genre, where we might not be able to read gay and lesbian stories out in the open. I will be interested to see where ebooks go in the future—who knows, maybe we can download directly to our brains! (That sounds like a sci-fi plot right there…)
How do you choose your covers? (curious on my part) I’ve only gotten to work on one of my covers so far—the cover for my upcoming novella, Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch! (Which you are totally going to buy, so you can enjoy the cover as much as you want, EVERY DAY.) The fabulous art department people took my sketchy cover ideas and turned them into an awesome rendition with cool details I didn’t even think of. (Those stars in the background? TOTALLY THEM. Aren’t they pretty?) There were a few iterations, and then we settled on the one that worked best for the story. That is my one experience with cover selection: artistic beings do cool photoshoppy things on my behalf. It was great.
Do you have a favorite among your own stories? And why? I love my stories when I get them, to my mind, right. Sometimes it’s only after I come back to them and reread them months later that I go—hey, that turned out pretty good. Of what I’ve published with Dreamspinner Press, I’m particularly fond of Don’t Let the Light Go Out for what I managed to achieve as far as realism and emotional depth. I wrote a highly stylized microfic called Standby that was published in a literary magazine. It will always be one of my favorite things I’ve done just because I achieved what I set out to do and it was funny and almost perfect in tone. It was also the first thing I ever sold. Somewhere at home I have a screwball Regency romance, written on two yellow legal pads when I was a teenager, that was the first thing I wrote—and finished—that made me realize I was actually pretty good at this writing racket. It was a blast to write, and I think it’s one of my favorites not because of any particular virtue in the plot itself (best friends switch places! the Prince has an insane sister! spies in London!), but because of how much fun I had writing it. Always try and have fun with your writing. If you’re not having at least a little bit of fun, no one else will either.
What’s next for you as an author? TOP SECRET SECRET-ISH THINGS. Nah, I’ll give you a hint. I just started leading a LGBT+ writers group, so I’ve decided to be brave and write A NOVEL while working with the group. I haven’t written a novel in ages. This one is set to feature a Kansas City heat wave, a quirky M/M romance, and the fabulous and scary world of theater camp.
Stay kind, stay classy, y’all.
Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch By L.A. Merrill
David Marks is looking for the perfect place to film his new web series and recover from his latest failed relationship. When reclusive writer Michael Sharp opens his Montana ranch to paying guests, David knows he’s found the right place—but he doesn’t expect to find Mr. Right too.
Forty years ago, Michael Sharp’s father was murdered in front of him. No one believed a six-year-old boy’s testimony against the powerful Carver brothers. For years Michael has lived in self-imposed exile, the only living witness who can bring down the Carver criminal empire. But now the money is running out, and he’s forced to play host to a troupe of temperamental web actors and their energetically attractive director in order to stay alive.
The Carvers aren’t about to stand for rebellion. Michael has outlived his usefulness. Now Michael and David have to find a way to end this fight once and for all, finding justice for Michael’s father and meeting David’s funding deadline—all before one or both of them ends up dead.
Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch comes out with Dreamspinner Press on Monday, May 29!
About The Author
L.A. Merrill is a tiny blonde woman who loves a good story. She has worked as a tour guide and an assistant stage director, and spent one memorable summer as a camp counselor. After five years in vocal performance, production work, and arts education, she now writes full-time. Her work has appeared in Kansas City Voices magazine, on the YouTube series The Blank Scene, and online. Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch is L.A.’s fourth story with Dreamspinner Press, and her first published novella. (There’s an unpublished novella, about murderous husbands and Scottish ghosts, written when she was thirteen, that is sitting in a file at home. It will likely never see the light of day.)
An avid knitter, she has yet to follow a pattern and has made some interestingly shaped hats as a result. L.A. makes handknit and crocheted blankets and hats for local charities, as well as leading a LGBT+ writers group in her hometown. She lives with her family in the Midwest, where she can usually be found reading, writing, and making things up as she goes along. Follow her on Twitter for feminism and fangirling at @la_mer92