Author Interview: Elizabeth Aton
Hello Elizabeth. Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule for an interview. The first thing I have to ask is, how many tiny panthers is too many? I’ve made you a scale to refer to:
One Cat- You’re fine. You’ve just got a cat. You chill together. You can leave on vacation and have someone stop by and check on your cat. You can travel with your cat. You will be referred to as a “Cat Person,” but with the understanding you can always flip your alliances to dogs. No one questions your judgement.
Two Cats- You’re still okay. You can say you have two cats so they can keep one another company. A few more considerations when it comes to travel are needed, and they still fit in your backseat just fine. You’re officially a fully-fledged cat person. Still no one questions your judgement.
Three Cats- You’re committed. Now you have some explaining to do. You must really like cats. When friends speak of you, they roll their eyes and tell people how many cats you have. Keeping your “pride” happy becomes very important. When their cat politics get touchy, no one is okay. They let you know by making your life harder. Travel becomes more challenging. Who will watch them and make sure Mr. Binky gets his hairball remedy but Angelina Furry doesn’t steal it from him? And Sneak-a-potomus Rex gets his special wet food diet while the other two only get their normal dry food? Where do they all fit in the car along with your family and bags? People begin to question your judgment. You should definitely stop with the cats here. Go no further.
Four Cats- You done messed up, Sis. You should have stopped at three. You now have an infestation of cats. No one wants to come over anymore. When people ask you how many cats you have, you either become an apologist, you besiege your conversation partner with cat pictures and stories, or you lie. You are chronically covered in fur. Your house is devoted to cats the way parents of toddlers have lost their adult cards to the pursuit of keeping their children happy. There are cat toys and furniture EVERWHERE. Still, they hardly use it and instead use your pillow, favorite chair, or piles of clothing, not the expensive things you bought them. All your free time is devoted to keeping the peace between your cats so they don’t make your life a living hell. You can never go on vacation. The intricacies of your cat regimen are too complicated for a pet sitter to pull off affordably, or too humiliating to share. You instead do staycations with your cats at home. You are seen as someone with unquestionably flawed judgement. Who would do this to themselves?
Five cats or more- You’ve taken this whole cat thing too far. You have your own cat rescue, only no one adopts them. Cats multiply invisibly. Your whole day is devoted to caring for them. You have no life. You’re a slave to your cat overlords. They rule with an iron fist. In your home, nothing is sacred. You rush to put their favorite blanket on your favorite chair so they don’t lose their bananas. You’re not okay.
Your first book, Unexpected, is coming out in a month. How excited are you? Did you ever imagine the day you would see a book you wrote in print? I’m sick with excitement. I did, but not how it’s gone down, that’s for sure. I think I always imagined it would be under a traditional publishing house and I would write nonfiction.
Where did the idea come from? This is going to sound cliché, but I had a very vivid dream. So real and emotional that when I woke up, I felt compelled to write it out. That was where there bones of the story came from. It transformed a lot over the course of writing it. Characters I didn’t dream of or invite to the party arrived and wouldn’t leave, things started to happen in the story I didn’t plan. I learned very quickly that when you write fiction, the characters take over and tell the story on the page in real time and you don’t get a big say in that.
Who is the one friend or family member you have who would be mortified if they read your book? Everyone.
At least that’s what I thought. I was sure that writing a steamy romance would cause my whole family to be horrified and my friends to give me the side-eye. I could not have been more wrong. They are incredibly supportive.
Tell us something about the book we won’t expect. Probably everything. UNEXPECTED is a minefield of plot twists. I’ve really made my life harder by writing this way. Marketing it is challenging.
People: So what is your book about?
Me: Ummm…hmmm. It’s about… this guy…and this woman… and…stuff?
Speaking of the unexpected, your ARC sign up form is unexpected. It’s probably one of the best forms I have ever filled out. Would you ever consider writing something more in tune with your sense of humor? Ah, the infamous ARC Sign-up Form. That came about because I read a few samples and thought they were mind numbingly boring. I despise wasting other people’s time. We only have this one precious life and burning minutes you’ll never get back is a serious crime in my estimation. I wrote that as compensation for the time volunteers would have to use from their life to supply me with information I needed. If I rob you of your time, the least I can do is make it fun, right?
I know, it’s kind of maniacal making people pee their pants laughing at my form and then handing them a serious and emotional book after that. Hopefully, it doesn’t backfire on me.
I have a few rom-com ideas festering in my files waiting for me to get these serious stories out of my system.
Correct me if I am wrong, but I read something about a second book in this series. Can you tell us what it is about, or is it too early for that? I’m writing the second book now. This is meant to be a series of connected standalones so anyone will be able to jump in at any point. The second novel, UNDAUNTED, will follow two side characters from UNEXPECTED..
And again, I’ve made my marketing life harder with lots of plot twists in UNDAUNTED. I clearly have a problem with this.
I’m hoping to release UNDAUNTED in December 2022.
Did you always want to be a writer? When I was in my teens and early twenties, I was sure I would one day publish a book, although my lofty goal then was writing a book about how general apathy was affecting society. I never saw myself as a fiction writer.
I was a real snob. I would only read high literature and snubbed my nose at “airport” reading. I look back at that person and think, “Who are you and why were you the enemy of fun? What happened to the little girl who wrote full plays and made your twin brother (quite against his will) act in them in front of your family?”
That evolved to being in a place where I lost my confidence. The only writing I did was commenting online to Facebook posts or emails. I desperately missed writing, but I didn’t think I had anything to say.
Even when the idea came to me, I merely scribbled it down, but didn’t think I would ever do anything with it. It wasn’t until I was asked to help edit a work of fiction that I realized I not only knew what a story should contain to be whole, but that I was capable of writing one myself.
Then I started writing. I was a third of the way done with my first draft when I entertained the idea of actually publishing it. Then it took two years to perfect it to the point I felt ready to put it to print. It’s been a long road paved with overcoming self-doubts.
Why did you choose romance over other genres? Life is full of suffering. No one is immune.
Romance is optimistic. It’s a vital and important relief from suffering.
Romance is full of our best virtues: patience, generosity, kindness, friendship, and compassion. So often, our real lives are missing those things and we need to be reminded they exist.
I think writing romance is an act of courage. I’m putting in print my faith in the best parts of humanity without irony or holding anything back. That’s real vulnerability.
Other genres are lovely in their own right, but as I’ve grown older I’ve fallen in love with happy endings. I want to give my characters and readers a catharsis to conflict that feels good in every way. That world needs to exist somewhere, if only on paper.
What are you currently reading? I’m currently rereading All Rhodes Lead Here by Mariana Zapata. It’s probably my third or fourth read of this book. I’ve been pretty stressed out and I tend to use her novels as self-soothing. Her topics and writing style reminds me a lot of Jane Austen. It’s total romance comfort food.
Who are some of your favorite authors and how have they influenced you? Jane Austen, Madeleine L’Engle, Shakespeare, Neil Gaiman, Charlotte Bronte, DH Lawrence, Anne Rice, Tolkien, Tom Robbins, Mariana Zapata, LJ Shen, Danielle Lori, Laura Thalassa, Tate James, C.M. Stunich, Charles de Lint, Anais Nin, David Sedaris, Diana Gabaldon, Alice Walker.
I could probably keep going.
I started reading the classics when I was in fifth grade and I think they have deeply influenced me. They introduced me to new worlds I could escape into, taught me world history, gave me glimpses into social classes I wasn’t a part of, and highlighted nuanced concepts like classism, sexism, racism, religion, politics, and social awareness. I carry those into my writing style. I don’t write contemporary romance stories in a vacuum. My characters have real, difficult problems that aren’t easily tied up with a bow and they exist in a world that makes their challenges harder, just like real life. Falling in love doesn’t suspend the pressures playing upon them.
Austen and Zapata have given me a love for telling the stories of good honest people who are faced with everyday struggles and overcome them with beauty and simplicity. Shakespeare, Bronte, Lori, Shen, James, and Stunich gave me the permission I needed to really take my characters and tear them all the way down and let it be as dark as real life. L’Engle, Walker, Lawrence, Nin, and Rice made me want to create stories as finely filigreed as they created. Gaiman, Tolkien, de Lint, Gabaldon, and Thalassa made me want to strive for a thoughtfully tuned story that pulls the reader in until they can’t see themselves anymore, just the world they are reading. Sedaris and Robbins give me a desire to do it with humor.
There is a trend happening where people think they need a MFA to be a writer. What are your thoughts on this? What do you think makes a good writer (other than knowing the difference between their, there, and they’re)? I think it’s nonsense. Humans are born with the innate ability to spin a good yarn. Just spend time with children and it will become glaringly obvious they are natural story tellers. If you pay attention, anyone can hone that ability to a fine point. Most avid readers have a good grasp on the language, which is a great starting point. With good editing and help, even a story that needs some work can be polished to a high shine. You absolutely do not need an education in creative writing or literature to be a successful writer.
I do think that in some ways, an education is helpful in that you have a quicker launching point when it comes to knowing the rules. I’ve found when in comes to art, knowing the rules allows you to know where to break them to best effect and which rules are hard and fast for a reason. But education isn’t strictly confined to a classroom. Self-education can be just as meaningful as long as you have structure in place for someone to critique your work. In fact, I would say everything you need to learn to be a good writer is available online for free these days.
Oxford comma. Yes or no? Yes, yes, and hell yes.
Thanks for taking time out of your busy writing schedule for this interview. I’m grateful you are interested in knowing me better. Thank you!