Today I’m excited because I have Indie/Self-Published author Nancy O’Toole Meservier joining me here on Off The TBR for a little chat as part of her blog tour for Black And Blue!
Nancy is the author of the Red And Black series, which as of July 29th is now up to two books with the publication of Black And Blue. Red And Black is superhero urban fantasy with perhaps a little bit of a romance twist. Let’s talk to Nancy and find out more…
OTTBR: Hey Nancy, welcome to Off The TBR! For readers of the blog who aren’t familiar with you tell us a little bit about yourself.
Nancy: Hello! My name is Nancy O’Toole Meservier, I’m a professional librarian who spends my days cataloging books, and a writer who spends my nights crafting my own stories. I live in a small city in Central Maine with my spouse and two demanding fur babies. I am also an introvert who hates leaving my house and interacting with strangers, which gives me time to read at least!
OTTBR: You’ve just released Black And Blue, the second book in your Red And Black series. For those who haven’t read Red And Black tell us about the series, and without giving too much away how we get to Black And Blue.
Nancy: The Red and Black series is all about what happens when you fall for your own nemesis. In Red and Black we’re introduced to Dawn Takahashi and Alex Gage. Dawn wants nothing more than to become Bailey City’s first official superhero, and she has a chance thanks to a brand-new set of superpowers. Alex just wants to be able to pay his bills, which leads him to a life of crime. As the two butt heads at night, their secret identities run into each other during the day, and of course they can’t help but be drawn to each other.
Black and Blue is all about dealing with the fall out of Red and Black, and the importance of dealing with the consequences of our own actions (or inaction).
OTTBR: Superheroes are huge these days with the Marvel and DC movie and TV franchises, but why did you choose to write about superheroes, and why a novel format? Were you drawn to superhero stories or comics from a young age or is this something of a new passion for you? And as a follow-up what’s your favorite element of the genre?
Nancy: I chose to write Red and Black as a novel, because I can’t draw. The concepts behind both Red and Black and Black and Blue were actually developed as a web comic over ten years ago. I was a much weaker writer back then, and the story was frankly terrible, but I always had a strong affection for these characters, which is what lead me back to them during National Novel Writing month five years ago now.
As for my own personal history, while I have some memories watching superhero cartoons as a kid, it wasn’t until Bryan Singer’s X-men movie that I got really sucked into the genre. In the years since then, my obsession has leaked out into TV shows, comic books, video games, anime, and novels as well.
As for my favorite superhero element, that’s tricky to decide on, but one of the things I love about superheroes is it’s all about character. Comic books are named after specific heroes, and team ups, after all. Getting to watch how larger than life events impact very human characters is just so enjoyable to experience.
OTTBR: Which character has been your favorite to write? Is it Dawn Takahashi your protagonist or someone else? Do you enjoy writing the villains in your stories?
Nancy: It’s impossible to pick a favorite. Of course, I love writing from Dawn and Alex’s POVs, especially given how their motives contrast with each other. But one perspective I really enjoy writing from are characters that are kind of jerks. Amity, one of my villains, is a huge example of this. In life, we face such pressure to be polite. It’s so satisfying to get to write from someone who purposely tries to get under people’s skin.
OTTBR: What do you find to be the most difficult part of writing books? And alternatively what is the most rewarding aspect of writing books? Do you find writing superhero stories easy or difficult?
Nancy: It’s funny, but both the most difficult and rewarding sections of the Red and Black series are my split perspective chapters. Each book has chapters that are told from Dawn’s perspective and Alex’s perspective, but once or twice a book, there are large chapters that switch back and forth between the two. These tend to be either big set pieces, important emotional moments, or both, so they involve a lot of moving parts. Handling these long, unwieldy chapters always challenges me, but they cover some of the most satisfying parts of the book, so I think they’re worth it.
As for whether superhero stories are easy or difficult, that really depends. They don’t require the in-depth world building of say, an epic fantasy novel, or the super detailed technology you might find in sci-fi, but there are certain tropes that must be fulfilled. They need to be well paced, and exciting, and they need to have characters that you want to go on a journey with. Being able to hit the right highs and lows, both plot and character wise, can certainly be challenging, but it can also be a lot of fun.
OTTBR: One question authors are routinely asked is which authors have been most influential to them. I want to ask that question but broaden it a little because I know art no matter what kind, can be influenced by a variety of people and fields. So my question is who has been most influential in regards to your writing, be they authors or musicians, or painters, or the local baker, anyone else?
Nancy: One of my formative authors is Tamora Pierce, who I read a ton of when I was a teenager. She has this wonderful knack of creating complex, likable characters in really rich worlds that are always presented in this completely accessible way. I recently revisited one of her classic series (The Immortals) and was impressed at how it held up.
As an adult, I’m influenced by Mary Robinette Kowal and Rachal Aaron, especially in the ways which they balance characters and their relationships, with plot. Mary Robinette is big on highlighting healthy relationships, which is really satisfying given how easily toxicity seems to creep into our romances.
Outside of authors, my biggest influence is probably writer/director Joss Whedon from his Buffy the Vampire Slayer era. That TV show had such a huge impact me in my teens. It’s safe to say that influence remains today.
OTTBR: I’ve already noted that you’re a self-published/indie author and I want to ask some questions about that. I’m a big fan of self-published/indie fantasy and I’m always curious about the work and effort involved. My first question is always why? Why choose self-publishing? Or was it even a choice? Did you try the regular publishing path or go straight to self-publishing?
Nancy: Once I got to the point when I was ready to publish Red and Black, I did end up sending it out to a couple of agents, but I found myself dragging my feet the entire time. This probably had a lot to do with the fact that I had tried (and failed) to traditionally publish a young adult trilogy a few years back and had learned to hate the process. While writing Red and Black, I had also learned that that most agents don’t consider superhero novels to be that good of an investment. They may rule the box office, but superhero fiction, unless it involves a big-name authors or characters, rarely succeeds.
So, I began to research indie publishing which I could not afford at the time. It wasn’t until I switched to a better paying job, that I was able to fund Red and Black. And in the process, I found that there was a lot to like about indie publishing. So I think I’m going to stick around.
OTTBR: Do you prefer the term self-published, or indie, or something else?
Nancy: Both terms have drawbacks. The term self-publishing is the most accurate but tends to have negative connotations, because people assume that everything that is self-published is terrible. I like indie (short for independent), but it can sometimes confuse people who might assume that you use a small press. I end up using both terms. Neither are perfect, but they do the job.
OTTBR: What have been the toughest hurdles for you as a self-published/indie author? What has been the most rewarding aspect?
Nancy: As mentioned above, money was a big issue. Before my current job, I had little to no wiggle room in my budget, so producing the cash to pay for cover art and professional editing on a book of Red and Black’s size was just not possible. Of course, it’s fair to criticize me here, as some people manage to self-publish just through self-editing and by making a cover with stock art, but with the massive amount of content out there nowadays, attracting the attention of readers is difficult enough even with a professional looking product.
The most rewarding aspect of self-publishing has been that people are reading my book! It’s hard to describe how wonderful it feels when someone tells me that they liked the story or related to one of my characters. It’s what keeps on going.
OTTBR: What changes would you like to see in the self/indie publishing world?
Nancy: Jason, you could do an entire interview with me around this topic, I am not bullshitting you. But this is getting long enough, so let’s tackle the big one.
In the indie space, too much of the emphasis is on volume, or your ability to quickly build a back list by writing books at record speed. It often leads people with the impression that if you want to succeed you need to put out a book a month. I can understand the logic behind this. If you have more titles for people to buy, you have more products that you can make money off of (this is especially true with kindle unlimited readers who tend to just fly through titles). And sure, some people can pull it off just fine, but for most of us this level of output is unsustainable and downright unhealthy, especially if you’re attempting to do it on top of a day job.
I don’t see anything wrong with wanting to learn how to write faster, but I wish that it wasn’t such a huge part of self-publishing conversation. In place of it, I wish we would talk about craft more, and not just hitting all the right tropes, but how we can improve as writers. I understand I am not a perfect writer, and I want to improve. I know I can’t be the only one who feels this way.
OTTBR: What advice would you give to another author considering dipping their toes into the self/indie publishing world?
Nancy: Do your research beforehand! There are a lot of working parts to self-publishing. Fortunately, there are plenty of free to cheap resources out there. I recommend starting with The Creative Penn podcast.
Secondly, don’t get too ahead of yourself! I see people commissioning cover art and creating marketing plans before they even know if they can finish a book! Don’t forget that in order to publish, you first need to write.
OTTBR: Finally, what is next for you and the series?
Nancy: Next on the docket is Riley’s Story: A Red and Black One Shot. This novelette will tell the backstory of a secondary character in Black and Blue. I hope to make if available to my newsletter subscribers in early 2020. After that, it’s on to book there, which I hope to release next year as well.
OTTBR: Awesome! I can’t wait to see more of this series. Superhero stories are always fun and a great escape. Thanks for dropping by the blog today Nancy and good luck with this new release.
For anyone interested in learning about Red And Black or Black And Blue you can visit Nancy’s website nancyotoole.wordpress.com for more information. You can also find Nancy on social media at the following sites:
Goodreads: Nancy O’Toole Meservier