Inspiration, Rituals, Favorite Characters with Zahra Owens

April 19, 2015

A big thank you to Zahra, who agreed to do this interview and answer the questions of her readers. I also want to thank you, the readers, who came up with the questions and thus made this interview possible.
What made you start writing M/M novels?
I come from fanfic, which has a longstanding tradition of ‘shipping’ men with other men, because the chemistry between them absolutely splatters off the screen, but all it ever becomes in the TV series and movies we watch is a bromance. And some of us believe these characters deserve better ;-) Then after a while, just writing better story endings for your favorite characters wasn’t enough anymore. You want to make you own…

Do you think your style of writing is affected by the reason that English isn’t your native language? Or do you have adopted more and more of the Americanese from book to book?
I was raised bilingually, so I’ve been speaking English since I was a small child. I couldn’t write in my native language. That said, well, I guess we all carry our own culture with us, not so much in the words we use, but especially in expressions. I once baffled an editor by writing that “the baby slept like a rose”, which is a perfectly fine expression, but apparently not so much in English!
I do admit my English has improved over the years, but I blame reading more than writing in that respect.

While being all busy with writing, do you even find the time to read? What are your favorite books you can read again and again?
I have to admit I don’t read as much as I’d like. I also have a day job, which takes up a lot of time and writing is a very time-consuming hobby! I do proofread for other people, which means I get to read every story once. I wish I had the time to reread some of the books I’ve read over the years. (to name some on my to-reread list: Amy Lane’s contemporary books, Ariel Tachna’s vampires and wizards and anything by Mary Calmes)

I hope this question is not too personal; if yes you of course don’t have to answer it. How do you unite your writing with your private life (family, friends, partner, etc.) without neglecting anyone or anything?

It takes some balancing. Everyone who knows me knows what I write, so no secrets there. That helps. It means they understand that a lot of my spare time goes into this. It also helps that I have something to show for it. Being published earned me a lot of understanding too. That said, I do my best not to neglect my family and friends. My parents are getting on in age, so I do try to spend time with them regularly. I guess I’m lucky (if you can say that) that the people closest to me are also very busy, so we often need to take out our calendars to find the time to do stuff together! Takes away from the spontaneity, but the planning is half the fun. To give you an example, my birthday was in February, but my birthday dinner is planned for May 1st.

Do you work at several books at the same time or do you rather focus on one?
I usually have about three books in the “Work in Progress” stage because I’m too easily distracted to work on just one. And I get stuck a lot, so only one book at a time would mean I’d never get to finish anything!

What would you say are your strengths and weaknesses as an author?

I’m terribly at humor. I love people who have the gift of the gab and who can make me laugh. I couldn’t write humor if they held a gun to my head.
On the positive side I’ve been told I’m good at pacing my books and I love making all the puzzle pieces fall into place at the end of a story.

Where do you get your ideas from? What inspires you? Do certain events or people you met inspire you when writing?

People always ask me this and it’s a difficult question to answer because they always expect that it’s big things that provide inspiration, but it isn’t. I love sitting outside a café to watch the people walk by. I love observing people and imagining their story. The entire story of my new novel Conflict of Interest was inspired by one scene, which is part of the last scene of the book. I was in London walking around in the area around the Old Bailey and a side door opened. Out came a tall, handsome, middle aged man in court robes, his collar dislodged, the wind playing with the flowing robes. He was closely followed by a younger, shorter man in jeans and a leather jacket, carrying heavy looking binders full of papers. They were engaged in an animated conversation, clearly about what had just happened in court. I had no reason to think there was anything more going on than a barrister and his investigator talking, but in my eyes they were much more than that and this story ended up in a novel.

Are there any rituals you practice before you start writing?
Not really. My biggest challenge is not only finding the time to write, but also to make myself sit down behind my computer and start. I’m a terrible procrastinator. I write best when there’s things going on around me. I can completely understand people taking their laptop to a coffee shop and sitting there to write. I also do great work on transatlantic flights with flight attendants hovering around me and other passengers trying to read what I’m writing.

When you write a book, do you plan it before you start writing or do you let things just develop themselves?Do you plan a book series in advance or do you take things as they come?
I don’t plan much. I know how it will start and where (but not also how) it will end. I think it’s more fun to see where the characters take me on the journey from A to Z than it is to plan it all out. They hold the strings and I just record what they tell me to record.
I didn’t plan my cowboy series. When I was writing book one (Clouds and Rain) I felt that Grant needed his redemption story, so I followed it up with Earth and Sky. Floods and Drought came about because I felt Rory had this heartbreaking story of lifelong rejection and I had the perfect guy for him already in Tim. And then in the course of the three stories I’d mentioned this disbarred lawyer turned ranch hand and his story became Moon and Stars. See, I don’t plan anything, but sometimes my characters do!

Do some protagonists grow dear to your heart more than others? If yes, which are the ones you like best?
I can’t write the story of a character who doesn’t worm his way into my heart, so at some point, they all made their little nest. I like the hopeless cases. Rory who never knew love and only rejection. Kelly who married a woman when he knew he was in love with a man. Jack who married a woman because the diplomatic corps was not ready for a gay diplomat. But I also love the men who opened their hearts to those hopeless cases, often against their better judgement. They’re my heroes. Because we all want someone to fall in love with us, despite all our faults.

Are you one of the authors that get kicked by their muse all of the time, especially when she wants something that doesn’t really fit into your writing timetable in that situation?
Yes, this is the reason I work on more than one book. I need to fall in love with my characters, but this means they pull at my heartstrings all the time. And like it always works with love, it appears when you least expect it, so in full swing with writing one story, another character might clamor for my attention and then I need to write his story too.

How long does it take you on average to write a story and what does your daily writing routine look
It takes me between a year and two years to finish a novel. So I guess it’s a good thing I write more than one story at a time!
I write best late in the evening, which means I sometimes end up only sleeping four or five hours. Not good, but I need to follow the muse!

Have you ever got insulted because of your books? Or have your books ever got insulted? If yes, how did you react to it?
I’ve never been insulted. I’ve received some not so favorable reviews for some of my books, but I try to ignore them. Well, I ignore them on the outside, but they hurt, because I love the characters I wrote and then someone gives the story of my beloved characters a one star review. I wouldn’t mind so much if the review was well executed (thoughtful and constructive) but often they aren’t.

Last week DSP published the german translation of Floods and Drought. Many German Readers don’t know you grew up in Europe. So why are many of your stories set in America’s West? Do you have a special connection to this part of the country?
I grew up in a city, but I’ve travelled extensively since I was a child. The wide open vistas of the Western US are absolutely breathtaking. In the city you’re lucky if you can see past the next house, but out there, you can see for miles. It’s liberating. I don’t think I could live there, but I can admire it (and write about it). Also the men out there are rugged and hardened by a life of manual labor. That holds an appeal all in itself!
Most of my other stories are set in cities I could see myself living: like Madrid, London and New York.

Moon and Stars is the forth and also the last book of the Clouds and Rain series at the moment. Will there be more books or do we have to say goodbye to our darlings?
I always said there would be a fifth book to tie up all the loose ends. It will take some time, though. (see next question)

Who was the most difficult character to write in the Clouds and Rain series?
The most difficult character in the Clouds and Rain series is the one glaring at me from Book Five and who doesn’t want me to write about him (I did mention these characters live inside my head, right?) And if a character refuses to speak to me, I need to figure out what I did to piss him off before I can start writing him again.

Last but not least: What are you currently working?
Right now I’m working on a series of three books (yes, all at the same time) revolving around a homeless shelter in New York City where every book features a character with a physical disability. Like all of my series each book will have its own couple, but the others will play a part in every story as well.

Thank you for all the great questions! I hope you like the answers I came up with!


One Response to “Inspiration, Rituals, Favorite Characters with Zahra Owens”

  1. Denise dechene says:

    Thanks for the answers. I really enjoyed the Cloud and Rain series. I have read the blurb on your new one and it sounds good. I have a lot of respect for authors because I have a difficult time putting words on paper. You sound like you keep really busy. Anyway. Happy belated birthday for February (great day to have a birthday

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