RC: Did you always know that you wanted to be a romance writer?

SM: No, not at all. I have a degree in accounting.

RC: Really?

SM: I know. It’s appalling to me too. I had always been a reader and I found romance novels when I was like thirteen and I loved them. But no, I grew up in Burbank California. Writers are exotic and live in france and wear turtle necks. I don’t speak french and I have trouble — I think I was hanged in a previous life. I can’t wear turtlenecks. They just — I can’t have anything touching my neck. So it never occurred to me that I could do anything. I got a very sensible degree. I enjoyed having a roof over my head and eating food so I thought an accounting degree, I could always support myself. While I was in college, I saw this “how to write a romance novel” class. It was at a local adult education center like where they teach calligraphy and that sort of thing, aerobics. I kept saying “i’m busy, I’m busy” and one day I thought “she is not going to teach this class forever” and I signed up for it. It was eight weeks long and by week six, I’d suddenly realized “oh my gosh, this is what I was meant to do!” But I was eighteen months from graduating, and it was complicated. So I finished my degree but I never took a job in accounting. I just started writing and submitting. I managed to sell actually just a couple months after I graduated, and I never looked back.

RC: That’s great. I feel like accounting is not something that you would tend to think a writer would be interested in at all, in the beginning.

SM:  I would love to be as quirky and artistic as some of my friends. I’m just not. I’m pretty pragmatic. I’m a little left brained. I have some weirdness, don’t get me wrong. You can’t be a writer and not be incredibly strange. We spend all day, by ourselves, having imaginary conversations. That is inherently weird. But I just have always felt I’m a little less fringy than some. I’d love to be more fingy. I think it’s fun. Everybody likes to be quirky. I’m less quirky than most but my husband would tell you I have many quirky moments.

RC: So you have fans all over the world. Can you tell us some of the ways that you interact with them?

SM: I love my fans and I am very blessed. I do have fans everywhere and it is so fun to hear from them. Plus, Harlequin publishes all over the world so I get foreign editions that are always so interesting. We try to guess what they are from the language. Sometimes we’re okay. I’m very bad at the slavic languages and also the nordic languages. Very, very bad. I can not tell Swedish from Danish no matter what. But we interact a lot on facebook has opened a whole world for us where we get to be a part of conversations going on literally around the world. So that’s tremendous fun. For the first time I’m going to be — well I’ve traveled internationally before but not for work. In late April, later this month, I’m going to Europe and I will be attending a conference in Germany, which will be fun. Gosh I hope they speak English. I don’t have any german. I will be smiling and waving but they said actually most of the readers do speak some english. That’ll be really fun and it’s great. TO see the copies, one of the best things for me– I love getting is my novels in Japanese, in graphic novels. So it’s manga and they’re fantastic. I can tell by about four pages, what book it is just from the drawings because of course my Japanese is as good as my german. They’re wonderful. So I was desperately curious — how do you do sex in a novel without it being icky? It is an interesting question. I can tell you, they kiss and then there’s clothes flying — just clothes, no people– then there’s an explosion. You know like a bat man explosion? Then they move on with the story. It could not be more perfect. It’s fabulous.

RC: That is so interesting.

SM:  And most of the time the books are printed normally but every now and then, I think it’s a special copy for some reason, the ink is pink. I mean like hot pink. It’s fabulous. I keep those.

RC:  When we were talking a little bit earlier, you were telling me how you were letting fans name some of the businesses in Fool’s Gold. Can you talk a little about that too?

SM:  Fool’s Gold has become very interactive so the fans get involved. I will post questions, for example, we were discussing that when I decided to open a coffee shop in Fool’s Gold, people offered suggestions and I picked their suggestions. So it’s called Brew-Ha-Ha. They have named characters, they’ve named businesses, they’ve named pets. We did a design-a-hero on facebook. Cameron Mckenzie, he’s the local vet in town, he was going to just be a walk on but I was so intrigued by him that I needed up — it started out a an e-novella. It’s called Only Us. It’s been reprinted in the back of — when the Christmas Books come out usually there’s something in the back of them. So I think a couple Christmas Books ago, in the mass market version, there is Only Us. But it is still available digitally. So Cameron and his daughter, and their sheltie, Noah. I still remember that — was completely created on facebook. We do all kinds of things and if you name something for me, I will use your last name somewhere in the book. It’s very helpful. It’s hard to name a town. It’s exhausting and you want the names to be fun and quirky and have emotional significance. Something else we do, which is one of my favorite things ever — every Christmas book we do a scavenger hunt. What that means is, I post on facebook and ask for random objects and people send them in and then Janelle, my amazing, wonderful, virtual assistant  will pull the list and she will pick the top hundred. Often it’s just random. We’re big fans of random.org where you just tell how many you have and it gives you the random selection. We try to be fair. So she’ll pull a big list and then I will go through the shorter list and then we’ll cull it down to about twelve to sixteen objects. I try to do a combination of really weird and emotionally meaningful. By emotionally meaningful, we’ve done a firefighter number for a reader whose brother was a firefighter and he lost his life in the line of duty. Or we’ve had a little giraffe — the significant ones stay with me always — a little giraffe for someone’s daughter that was the only toy she could have with her in the hospital because you could wash it and it could be sanitized. So we put those in the books. Some of them are quirky. Sweet tea and a porcupine was in this year which will be in JOhnny Blaze’s book. So we come up with this list of twelve to sixteen random things that I then work in the novel, then we post on the website, the scavenger hunt list and readers can then print the list and then find them in the book. It’s just a little personal moment we get to have together and I love doing it. I like it when it’s a little bit harder. Because it’s fun to think “well crap, how am I going to do that?” The sweet tea and porcupines, that was the challenge this year but it’s there. It’s funny, I forgot to send the list to my editor, so she’s editing the Marry Me at Christmas book and I get a margin note saying — because I’m describing this Christmas tree and it’s decorated with dog ornaments including a daschund, which was on the scavenger hunt list — and she’s like “this is very specific and seemingly random” and I’m like “oh sorry! It’s a scavenger hunt!” So that is a very fun way we interact and I know we’re not really doing it together but for me it feels like we’re doing it together. It feels like it’s a group project. It’s fun for me. It’s really fun and I hope it’s fun for the reader.

RC:  I love that because a lot of times when you think about the relationship between the reader and the author, it seems really one sided that the reader is getting the most out of the exchange. But it really seems like this is helpful for you, when it comes to writing, that you’re having people help you name things and help you have a fun time while you’re putting things into your book.

SM:  Absolutely, and it provides a connection. I have wonderful readers. They have been very giving to me and very faithful and some of them have been with me literally for decades. So I am always looking for a way to give back to them, to say thank you, and this seems like one of the ways that really works. They get the connection that I”m trying to establish and it does. It makes it really fun for me to do things like this and plant little easter eggs in the book where if you haven’t read it’s fine, you’ll just pass over it but if you’ve read another book of mine, I will have these cross references. For example, one of the scavenger hunt items a couple of years ago — I have  women’s fiction series set on this fictitious island of Blackberry island so one of the scavenger hunt items was a Blackberry island t-shirt or a sweatshirt. So if you’ve read the Blackberry island books, you’ll get a giggle. If you haven’t, it doesn’t take away from the story.