Interview: Liz Crowe Part 1
Liz, as you know, you are one of my favorite romance authors. However, many of our readers have never heard of you nor read any of your books. And, of course, I think they are truly missing out! So let’s get this started by YOU telling our readers who “Liz Crowe really is” and you’re a bit about your background.
I will use my current location and situation as a good example. I’m sitting on my patio at home in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on a Sunday evening. I have a Wolverine State Brewing Company Amber Lager at my elbow, my Pandora radio Black Keys station blaring in my ears, as I watch my two standard poodles pace around wanting a walk. My 17-year-old, middle daughter has just returned from a weekend spent with her 21-year-old brother up at “college” and is in full-throated complaint about the lack of “quiet,” so she can study. My youngest is sitting on the couch detoxing from a long, stressful weekend playing high-level travel soccer in Chicago by staring at “Cupcake Wars” on the Food Network. There is a giant mound of laundry on the couch, but everyone had a decent dinner because I know how to order takeout.
I have spent the last 48 hours in a whirlwind. First, by hosting a giant catered brunch in my brewery’s tap room early Saturday morning for the Michigan and Air Force Rugby teams. (My brewery is an Unofficial Sponsor of the Michigan Rugby club). Second, by visiting the various tailgates I sponsor near The Big House (look it up) for three hours. And, finally by pouring my beer and chatting with Ann Arborites at a downtown local food and beer event for five hours. Today, Sunday, I had four whole hours to myself, which I spent revising my next book and answering phone calls from my Tap Room staff.
I have been writing for 4 ½ years now and have had 16 books published. I own and handle marketing for a highly successful craft microbrewery. I have 3 kids: a 21-year-old son and 2 daughters, ages 17 and 14. When my son was five and first daughter was three, we moved to Hiroshima, Japan, for my husband’s work. I had my youngest daughter while we lived there. After that, we spent a year in Overland Park, Kansas, and two years each in Istanbul, Turkey, and the east London ‘burbs of England. I’ve had my passport stolen in Spain, ridden elephants in Thailand, pretended to be Canadian in Paris (long story, tell ya later), have a borderline obsession with Prince Harry, and have been drunk in more Asian and European countries than I care to admit. Speaking of Prince Harry, I make a point to go to Las Vegas at least once a year and pretend to be someone else. It’s a blast and a necessary mental break for me.
Oh, yeah, I have a degree in English from the University of Louisville, and am a RABID sports fan, following the Louisville Cardinals, the Michigan Wolverines, and the Real Madrid (La Liga soccer team) so closely that I have the little ESPN Sports Center noise as a ring tone.
Describe The Stewart Realty series. How many books are there and can any be read as a standalone, or must they be read in order?
The Stewart Realty series began its life four years ago as a giant, rookie novel rife with the usual maladies: head hopping, passive voice, the usual. As it developed (while simultaneously winding down my own real estate career and picking up the reigns of a totally new thing: “Sure I’ll buy into your brewery AND handle marketing”), I learned a LOT, including how to take rejections (this series received no less than eight, including every major e-publisher and four agents) and turn them to positives. It went through at least four major rewrites and revisions, because one thing kept me going—the consistent comments that I had the “nugget of a great story” and some “very compelling characters” and my sex scenes were “nearly flawless.”
Currently, this series exists as five published books with book six in editing and three more planned. In addition, there are two off-shoot series taking some of the side characters/plot points and making them into something else entirely. Floor Time, Sweat Equity, and Closing Costs were the “first book” I started with. The Jack Gordon/Sara Thornton tale has readers typically going in one of two directions: they love it, or they hate it. And, frankly, I’m good with that, because that tells me I’ve crafted something that is worthy of strong feelings (and the “lovers” outweigh the “haters” so far).
The three books above are the best way to start the series, although the fourth book ,Essence of Time, COULD be read first…however, I don’t necessarily recommend it because of spoiler potential, when you go back to read the other three. The fifth book, Conditional Offer, as well as the subsequent, upcoming books, truly do need to be read in order; so readers can appreciate what has come before, in order to get the characters to the point they are in their book. Conditional Offer is “Craig’s story.” Craig Robinson is the potential “other man” in the first three books and developed his own “Big Time Following” amongst readers. So he got his own book.
How did you come up with the characters and how they all intertwined? For example, Jack and Rob attended college together with Suzanne. Did you have a similar experience?
To be perfectly frank with you, Rob Freitag was one of those characters who was inspired by a real human being (I know there is a question further down about this, but bear with me) but was originally intended to be one of those throwaway characters who move the main story along just enough then fade into the background. However, the more I wrote and contemplated the potential for a deeper connection between these characters, the more I liked it.
To be honest, along with my aforementioned frankness, I have a series that ended up published BEFORE the Stewart Realty series that was, at one time, a part of it. I signed The Brewing Passion series earlier, and I used what I learned in the small pub business, being professionally edited and what not, to keep working the realty series and getting it ready for….more rejection…then finally publication. The characters in The Brewing Passion series WERE Suzanne, Evan, Julie, et al. (for those of you know the series). Since two different publishers ended up with them, I had to make changes.
The REALLY GREAT news? I have regained the rights back on The Brewing Passion series and will be doing a major revision next year, weaving it back into the realty series. However, it won’t be as it was originally intentioned, so the breweries in question (Suzanne and Evan’s Big House Brewing, Rob and Blake’s The Local Brewpub, and the Erin/Trent/Owen one from Brewing Passion) will be distinctly different, albeit connected by a thread whose name is Jack Gordon (that guy gets around I tell you).
I LOVE to read books with strong secondary characters and plot lines, as long as they do their job moving the story forward. One thing I dislike so much of the current trending best selling fiction and “erotic romance,” in particular, is the characters somehow existing in a vacuum. Not making them part of the real world with real friends, real work colleagues, and other connections that make life the rich tapestry it is to me thus robbing me (the reader) of a richer, fuller story. And to have secondary characters feel extraneous, added in unnecessarily (like random and egregious sex scenes that do nothing but sit there and interrupt the story’s flow) by an unprofessional writing/editing team. That’s another huge pet peeve of mine as a reader (and I am, above all things, a reader.) Weaving the realty series characters as tightly as I did felt real to me; so I did it.
What was your favorite book/chapter/part from The Stewart Realty series to write and why?
I have so many of those “favorite moments;” truly it’s hard to say. Anyone who has worked as hard as I have on a such a massive project—writing, submitting, revising, self-editing, beta reading, more revising, more submitting and rejection then the final successful, accepted iteration, which then goes through yet MORE revision before release—knows that by the time the damn thing sees the light of day, you could recite parts of it by rote. I still dream about a couple of scenes in the first book that I feel are among my best sex scenes (and I have a ton of them out there) but mainly because I think they show so much about the main characters, Jack and Sara, and are the ones that captured a fast growing fan base.
The “office hallway” scene, which is a kind of spur of the moment, first official encounter between these two stubborn, difficult people, is among the ones that got such great praise in rejection letters….yeah. And the Open House scene? It’s epic, in my humble opinion and the opinions of many “big time” rejecting editors. However, as the characters develop and reach their natural pinnacle of plot, the ending of Sweat Equity is probably my favorite. It shows so much about how far Jack and Sara have come…and far they have yet to go.
I write “romance for real life” and use those words a lot—although I promise to not beat you over the head with them. As a reader, I prefer characters who go through life-making mistakes, emerging on the other end of the story, changed a little (no one changes THAT much, but don’t get me started) and willing to put in the effort to make a loving relationship work. As Carrie Bradshaw once said (and I’m paraphrasing): “The three-way sex is easy. It’s real intimacy that’s a bitch.”
That said, I will admit that Essence of Time (book four, which is the longer back story novel) is my favorite. I loved giving Jack motivation, and once you read Escalation Clause (book six releasing November 4), his “front story?” (The opposite of “back story”– I just made that up) will make even more sense and be more meaningful for all those Jack Gordon fans out there.
Think “When Harry Met Sally,” only…..sexier…and then go past the “happily ever after,” digging deep into the motivations and the natural progressions of humanity, passing through life’s stages, including parenthood, the evolution of close friendships, and the development of new ones.
Which character has been the easiest to write and which has been the most challenging to write? Do you have a favorite character that you created?
I am gonna come right out and say it here. Sara Thornton is as close to an autobiographical character as I have ever crafted…and not because I necessarily lived her life. I write FICTION….meaning I “make stuff up” for a living. However, I use what I know (real estate, the beer biz, overseas life) as settings and plot points. But I took a ton of my own strengths and weaknesses and poured them into a younger, thinner but equally motivated and highly strung young woman who spends a lot of personal energy resisting the very thing Jack Gordon represents. When Sara is compelled to submit to his innate controlling (personally, physically, emotionally), it is a damn hard process. And I hope that she will someday be seen as a strong woman who ONLY gives up when Jack TRULY earns her trust. But also, I want readers to understand my take on the whole BDSM, Dom/sub lifestyle that is such a hot topic these days. I have researched it, read books, talked to people who have lived it, are living it, and who take it very seriously. The overarching theme is that calling it a “lifestyle” is a bit of a misnomer. It’s a part of life, at least for these two, and a fun part. But the sex bit comes a lot easier than the actual trust required for a healthy relationship.
Jack is a fairly typical Alpha male hero, with the added “bonus” (or not, sometimes he doesn’t think so) of having a strong, take charge “dominant” personality. It is part and parcel of him. Something he can’t change or control, but that he tries very hard to sublimate, as it lead to his first serious heartbreak once upon a time. He is also a realist. He’s a “millionaire” but spent his whole life working hard, first for his father’s construction company during high school and college, earning top grades and playing a couple of sports along the way. Then he went to law school, thinking that a natural progression for his “type” of personality. But once he moved back to Ann Arbor to start a practice, he worked at a title company (where real estate deals are closed). He got a look at a few of the commission checks passing through his hands, and a new goal was born. By the time we meet him in Floor Time, he has made his first million, is a licensed broker (one step beyond an agent), and is a serious control-freak, workaholic. He’s got the killer black book and has “christened” all of the Stewart Realty offices (but one) with various fellow agents, employees, and clients. It’s all in the name of fun.
When he meets Sara, the dominating piece of his personality emerges once more. He wrestles with it but finally lets it fly. And she responds—slowly at first, and after a series of what I think are natural screw ups, misunderstandings, rejections, and trust issues for them both….well….I’ll let you read it for yourself. It is not an easy road. It is not meant to be a fairy tale. It’s as real as I can make it—because that’s how I like my fiction.
As far as favorite, I guess it’s a toss up between Jack and Rob. They are great as friends. I love their comfortable interactions as they move from college freshmen at Michigan State through life and trauma—and some SERIOUS moments of confrontation in the next book.
There was a 10-year interval in Closing Costs when so much time was skipped over. What was your thinking when taking this route?
Actually, a careful reading of Closing Costs shows the story picking up when a crucial event occurs for the heroine at the end of book two (Sweat Equity) that changes her forever. Then the plot moves through about 7 years in 180 pages touching on high and (some very) low points as the characters react and adjust to said event.
Frankly, if I say much more, I would be spoiling the fun for future readers; but the “crucial event” I mention is something that forces a lot of our lives to go into fast forward. Adding the sort of element the way she insisted on it forced her life to move quickly, and I tried to reflect that in a brisk forward motion of the plot.
Which of your characters would you most like to meet in person and why?
Oh guys, I know all of my characters intimately. I “meet” them every time I return to their story! That’s one of the advantages of creation. Sometimes I wish I could AVOID them; I know them so well.
Which character do you most closely relate to?
As I said above, Sara comes very close to “Liz” in terms of personality. I think that’s why some of the more vitriolic declarations of frustration, and even outright anger, at her hits close to home for me. But as I travel through this publishing journey, I learn that these visceral responses to characters I create are a “good thing” as opposed to a “bad thing” overall.
There seems to be a lot of controversy, as well as lots of tears, over the ending of Essence of Time. Would you change the ending now, if you could?
No. I am going to share something with this group that I have held close to my heart. At the end of April this year, I went through an extraordinarily difficult period of my life, pretty much at the same time I felt compelled to craft the “Rob and Blake” novel. I piled my daughters on a plane to Galveston, Texas, on a total “where is the best weather this week?” whim, began the novel on the plane pointed south, and wrote the bulk of it on the verandah of the Hotel Galvez, one of the coolest, most hauntedly historic hotels in Texas.
As I worked my way through Rob’s and then Blake’s stories, taking them towards a seemingly natural, more obvious ending, it occurred to me that life just is not as predictable as that. So I took it in a different direction.
It was very, very, tough on many levels. And my editor and I shared some long, emotional discussions about it. But it was the ending that needed to be told, and I have had many readers agree with me, while cursing me and clutching tissues at the same time.
At the end of the day, as a writer, it is my job to “move the story.” And the ending of Essence of Time did that, in spades, for the rest of the characters involved.
You are an extremely gifted storyteller. Do you base some of your stories on past experiences, the past experiences of friends, or are they a compilation of people you know? Do people try to guess who Jack “is in real life” or Craig, etc.?
Why thank you dear….I like to think that I entertain a few people with my books.
One of the most common questions I get asked is the inevitable “Wow, you must have a killer sex life” or “So, who IS Jack Gordon really?” There is an office pool at my former real estate company on this. I take both of those as a compliment because I have created characters that FEEL real enough or situations/sex scenes that seem like ones readers could imagine themselves in. I have done my job. The funny part about the “who is Jack” thing is this: I do know two Jacks. They know who they are, and they “inspired” me in the early days for many reasons that should, and will, remain private. However, I was also inspired by a real life “Rob,” who is a very private but successful businessman in my world.
Honestly, if I had to use my real life as my only inspiration for characters or situations, I am not an author; I’m an autobiography writer. And while THAT story will be told (‘cause as you can see above, it would be damn interesting) Jack, Sara, Rob, Blake, Craig and all their supporting casts of characters are fictional but also amalgams of people that I’ve known—very well.
Is there a particular theme you wish you had explored in any of the books or a theme you’d like to work with in the future?
I have a ton of projects and so many concepts rolling around in my brain that it’s hard to really say. I will share with you that I plan to write two books in the next six or seven months with much broader and somewhat difficult themes. One will address what would happen when a vulnerable young woman is taken advantage of by a man posing as a “dom” and how she escapes his abusive clutches, both emotionally and physically, and learns to love again. In addition, the “big project” that I’m starting in a few months will address issues of institutionalized racism, reproductive rights, and the pervasive influence of the 24/7 media access we all love/hate at the same time.
Prior to the second book, did you realize that the series would continue into so many books?
Well, as I’ve said, the three books that exist now began life as one big doorstop of a novel. So yeah, pretty much the entire first story arc, Floor Time/Sweat Equity/Closing Costs has been in existence from the beginning.
As for the rest of the books, I felt compelled by Hans, my well-known, 6’5” hot, blond, lederhosen wearing, beer-toting muse to write that sucker. Craig and Suzanne’s story began life as a “free short story” I was going to issue to the fans in July. But frankly, Hans had other ideas, and it became something very much different and very much better. (Conditional Offer, book five).
Escalation Clause allowed me to tell Jack’s sister, Maureen’s, story. Jack and Mo are a fun brother/sister pair, and I wanted to explore her personality and the way she coped with her own tragedy and moved on with her life. Of course, there are the many story threads that MUST be told about how everyone copes with the aftermath of the ending of Essence of Time.
Like I said, these people go through ALL of life’s stages in my books, including parenthood, which will lead to the 20-year reunion for all the members of the “Stewart Realty” family, including adult children of the original cast. Anyone who has read the epilogue of Conditional Offer knows things stay kind of complicated….
The sixth book in the series is scheduled for release in November. Will that be the last book in the series?
Nope. Escalation Clause (book 6) will be an epic along the lines of Essence of Time but with fewer tears of sadness (promise). It develops a really great plot line between Jack Gordon (he of the huge Facebook following and main hero of the original series) and his sister Maureen. I loved developing Mo’s story. She and Jack are so much alike, and her early, deep love for Jack’s high school friend, Brandis, is a highly emotional, sexy love story. But it ends tragically, which I touch on but don’t belabor. Mo has moved past her personal tragedy, alongside all the women in the Stewart Realty story arc, including the much-maligned Sara. I won’t say anything more at the risk of spoiling anything, but here is the proposed remaining release schedule including the side series:
- Escalation Clause: November 4, 2012
- House Rules: March 2013
- Good Faith: (the 20-year reunion of the original Stewart Realty series) August 2013
Do you have all your characters lined up prior to writing, or do you fill in as you write?
I am a total “pantser,” meaning I write from the seat of my pants. I don’t outline, I don’t character map, I don’t do anything resembling organization. (Just ask my kids who use the “laundry room” as a “closet” most days.) But honestly, I prefer it that way. As a perfect example, Essence of Time fully formed in my head in about a 24-hour period. As anyone who has tried to write a novel knows, the “thinking it up” is the easy part. It’s the “writing it down” that takes some guts.
You seem to take stories that come from real people. For example, they’re not billionaires or rock stars, but real people in extreme situations, which I think impacts readers more because it hits closer to home. Is that on purpose?
Romance for Real Life guys…I stand by this, not just as a marketing gimmick. When I began The Stewart Realty series, I took a simple premise: “What if a couple of very successful, hard-working agents hooked up?” Hot, for sure. But what if they have such strong, compelling personalities that it becomes an actual STORY….then…what if they let their less appealing personality quirks emerge? What if they get really, really real? What if they piss off readers? But what if they are SO interesting, SO well constructed that the pissed off readers want more? Well, that is Romance for Real Life in a nutshell.
Read Interview Part 1
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