Before you read this interview, I just want to say that I had a blast coming up with questions for Ms. Sutton, and was thrilled to have the opportunity to interview her! Onwards:
TETOR: First, I’d like to congratulate you on your debut release, All the Right Places.
SUTTON: Thank you! I am really excited about the book and the opportunity to share Quinn and Amelia’s story with romance lovers.
TETOR: One thing that really drew me to All the Right Places was the denim empire at the heart of it. Contemporary romance definitely has that ‘wealthy businessman’ trope, but it’s rare to see that businessman engaging in something so concrete as Riley O’Brien & Co. What drew you writing about a denim company, in particular?
SUTTON: I know it sounds just a little weird, but I think jeans are really fascinating. Can you think of any other piece of clothing more ubiquitous than jeans? With the exception of a few isolated spots on the planet, jeans are everywhere. At any given moment, at least half the world is wearing jeans, and the vast majority of people own at least one pair.
Jeans have an almost universal appeal, yet they mean different things to different people. Some people wear them because they’re comfortable and durable. Some wear them as a statement of style or status.
For me, it’s not just the jeans that make Riley O’Brien & Co.’s denim empire so interesting; it’s the company’s history and the generational element. I’ve been fascinated with the idea of generational businesses—those that have been passed down from generation to generation—for a long time.
As a journalist, I covered many retail chains and fashion brands that were generational businesses. Nordstrom is a great example of one. For more than 100 years, the department store chain has been run by the Nordstrom family. Today, it’s in the hands of the fourth generation of Nordstroms. They’ve managed to keep their family company at the top, staying true to the brand and serving their customers, while also evolving and growing.
In my Riley O’Brien & Co. series, staying relevant and maintaining market share is the challenge for this generation of O’Briens. Unfortunately, competition from designer denim is eroding the company’s bottom line, and the women’s division is in really bad shape. The company has alienated its female consumers, and it must find a way to win them back.
The three heirs to the company—Quinn, Cal, and Teagan—have differing opinions on how to do that. Responsible, risk-averse Quinn clashes with smart, headstrong Teagan, while easy-going, witty Cal is kind of stuck in the middle.
TETOR: Who are your go-to authors? Do you read a lot of contemporary romance, or romance more broadly?
SUTTON: For the past several years, I’ve read romance almost exclusively. I used to read other genres including mysteries, legal thrillers, women’s fiction, and the occasional non-fiction book. I’m trying to be a little more inclusive in my reading choices, but I really crave that happily ever after. I don’t like to invest in characters and then have something terrible happen to them. I feel cheated and angry, not to mention weepy. Ugh.
Within the romance genre, I definitely prefer contemporary romance, although I read historical, new adult, romantic suspense, and erotica. I have a fairly long list of authors I like, but the books on my keeper shelf—the ones I read over and over again—are written by Lisa Kleypas, Rachel Gibson, Elizabeth Hoyt, and Anne Stuart. And I have discovered some great new authors over the past several months including Penelope Douglas, Elle Kennedy, and Jackie Ashenden. I love scorching hot sex scenes, and these women really deliver.
TETOR: You worked for several years as a journalist, and there are certainly other journalists who have made the transition to writing fiction. I always wonder how much the skills developed as a journalist help (or perhaps even hinder) authors. Can you talk a little bit about how your background in journalism has impacted you as an author of fiction?
SUTTON: I absolutely believe the skills I developed as a journalist help me as a novelist. As a journalist, I thought about my job in two parts: asking questions (reporting) and answering questions (writing articles). I approach fiction writing similarly. When I write a chapter, I think about what questions my readers might have about my characters—what they want to know about them—and then I answer those questions with backstory, internal narrative, dialogue, and action.
As a journalist, I outline every article, whether it’s a simple 500-word news brief or a 5,000-word feature piece. For me, outlines prevent problems in the long run, providing a roadmap for me to follow and a path that leads my readers to their destination.
When I start a new book, I outline it from beginning to end and really flesh out each chapter. I already know how the story is going to end before I even open up a Word document to type the first word. On average, my outlines are about 100 pages.
And then there are the deadlines. As a journalist, you live and breathe deadlines. You don’t have the luxury of writer’s block or “not feeling it” that day. You have pages to fill, and if you don’t meet your deadline, those pages are blank, and a lot of people are very unhappy. And if you don’t meet your deadlines, you don’t have a job for long. So, I’m very comfortable with the deadlines in book publishing.
Beyond the deadlines, journalists must write to specific word counts. You have to maximize every word because there’s no room to waste. And you can’t sacrifice information just because you have limited space. Your writing must be concise and digestible. You have to make it easy for your reader.
I’ve been told that my books are “easy” – that it doesn’t take a lot of effort to imagine a setting or connect with the characters or immerse oneself in the scene. And that’s a huge compliment to a writer.
TETOR: Shifting gears, I want to say that I love the banner on your website. I love the ‘brand’ effect of your name on the denim background. I could absolutely see that name, with the fireworks, stitched into clothing, which I think is a very clever tie-in with the series. There’s such a huge emphasis on authors marketing themselves and their books, and it looks you’ve got a pretty good sense of how important even those little details are. Is marketing a component of being a writer that you’re enjoying or maybe not so much? What kind of balance have you found between that social media/internet presence/marketing aspect of the work and working on the next book?
SUTTON: Thank you! I’m so glad you love the banner and the look of the website. I’m lucky that the Riley O’Brien & Co. series lends itself to interesting imagery, specifically the denim background. To be frank, I’m still trying to figure out how to balance the writing part of being a romance author with the business part. Marketing isn’t something that’s completely foreign to me because I have a Master’s degree in integrated marketing communications. For a long time, I was convinced that I wasted a bunch of time and money getting that degree because I chose not to pursue a marketing-related career. But now I’m happy that I did because I’ve applied a lot of that knowledge to marketing myself and my books. I don’t claim to be a marketing guru, far from it, and there’s a lot of debate about how effective author websites actually are. Personally, I’m a reader who loves to visit author websites. As for social media, I enjoy interacting with readers via Facebook and Twitter. Unfortunately, I think most people are suffering from what I call social media fatigue. They’re bombarded by messages, and at some point, those messages become nothing but noise.
TETOR: Tell us what’s coming next! Have you got several Riley O’Brien & Co books planned already? When will the next book in the series be available?
SUTTON: Right now, there are three full-length Riley O’Brien & Co. novels. The second one, COMING APART AT THE SEAMS, is scheduled for publication on Dec. 1, 2015. The third in the series, HANGING BY A THREAD, will come out in spring 2016. I’ve also written two Riley O’Brien & Co. novellas, but I don’t have any specifics on when they’ll be published.
TETOR: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today!
SUTTON: Thank you for having me! I had a great time, and I hope I can visit again soon.