Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Fabulous Liz Crowe and Cheeky Blonde

So I have writer friends all over the world, and I LOVE that. But my writer friends close to home are few and far between. Liz Crowe and I live mere blocks from each other and have not ONE, but TWO sets of matching children (who attended the same middle school). Liz ALSO happens to be the rockin charm and much of the hard work behind Ann Arbor's hippest young brewery, Wolverine. (good friend to have, eh?)

In addition to being my neighbor, friend and brew-queen, though, she has also been putting out high-quality 'romance for real life' with her realistic adults and all their tensions and baggage, and some of the hottest sex out there. She's put out more books than I can count in the last couple of years, so with her release of her latest, Cheeky Blonde, I thought I'd ask her some questions...

Tart: You are one of the busiest people I know, yet you still manage to put out a LOT of writing? How do you do it? In binges? Stealing time regularly? Are your first drafts really clean? How do you manage to fit it in?

Liz: My first drafts are sh*t to steal a line from Papa Hemingway. But once I latch onto a concept, or am provoked to “make more” within a series like I am with the Stewart Realty series and I get on a roll, I “marathon” as my editor says. I can’t stop. And I do steal time, the odd hour here or there, but have been known to look up and go “Oh crap look it’s 5 a.m. and I have yoga at 6 and a full day of beer work after that.”

It’s hard to explain really, but when a set of characters are in my noggin and I’m in head writing mode I have been known to stop dead in the grocery store aisle, pump my fist like an idiot or scary sociopath based on the looks on the faces of those around me when I “get it” and will NOT stop until it’s out…on paper, or in my case, on the screen.

I’ve worked with many different editors at 4 different publishers including Ellora’s Cave and I will say the ones who allow me to bounce ideas and collaborate somewhat (Like at 3 a.m. when I text her and say “hey, what if he did this instead…?”) are the books that are selling the best so far.

I still have the odd twinge of “I need an agent to get the big contracts” or whatever but I have zero time to come up with a fresh new MS to submit to one. And while I think that might be in my future someday, I’d rather continue to meet the growing fan base clamor for “more Liz” myself, with the help of my existing publishers.

And as I like to do lately, I just ask Siri: Am I a successful writer? And she says, “Yes Liz. You are.” It’s a sickness but I love baiting her.

Tart: So how many books is it now? Can you give us an idea both of the total number, but also a feel for the various series you have going?

Liz: 14 published, everything from a 9k “cougar story 1 Night Stand” to a full on 100,000 word novel that is getting a LOT of great reviews and awards (see above=collaboration with a good editor). And 1 coming from Ellora’s Cave in August plus 3 more planned in the Stewart Realty series for 2012.

The Brewing Passion series from Breathless Press was my first published one. It has 3 short stories and a “choose your romance ending” novel.

The Turkish Delights series from Decadent Publishing is really one of my favorites. I pushed all my boundaries with this series, doing a cougar story, then my first “man love” novella, and then my first BDSM concept. Those 3 were so popular I wrote a prequel and then a final novel to bring it all full circle.

And the Stewart Realty series has taken on a life of its own THANKS to a very forward thinking and creative publisher and editor who asked me one question: what can we do to make Jack Gordon That Much More….so I did. And there you go.

Cheeky Blonde is a stand-alone that was a “close to my heart” project that got its fair share of rejections before finding a home with Decadent Publishing.

Tart: So as you get farther into this writing process, what do you feel is getting easier? Anything getting harder?

Liz: Nothing gets easier. Period. From the lightbulb moment of concept through the marathon when my kids are all “oh crap cereal for dinner…again” it’s both pleasure and pain. Then the editing process even with my collaborative publisher is hard. “Every “What do you MEAN this needs ‘more?’” moment is a pain in the ego but then, typically is spot on. My favorite Liz-ism with regard to the writing process is this: If your editor is telling you how awesome and talented you are, you need a new editor.

An of course the slog of self promotion in the current environment as you have noted recently is a total and utter pain in everyone’s ass. Even those of us being promoted to—because, hey! We read too! But I’ve been picked up by a lot of “50 Shades” readers with my Realty series, making a ton of “What to read after Grey” type lists. It was total coincidence that I released those 3 books with a Dom/sub element around the same time as that other much more successful one, but it’s one that more and more readers /reviewers are finding complex and compelling enough to pass on to their friends and so on so my publisher went to print on them. I’m just trying to balance In Your Face with Don’t Forget About Me given all the options when it comes to realistic, yet hot fiction.

I had my first writer’s convention this summer too, and I sort of dreaded it but it totally rocked. Nothing quite like sitting in a break out session given by another author and looking around to see at least 4 people reading your book instead of listening. AND releasing a book on a Thursday at the convention, selling out my print copies and then having a book club meeting about it on Sunday morning before we all leave because they could not put it down (Essence of Time).

Tart: I love your heroines—strong, driven, successful. But all of them, at least of the books I've read, seem to be really drawn to powerful men with a reputation for assholishness... can you explain this draw to me? Is it a need for fictional tension? Or are you really drawn to men like this? Is it the power rubbing off? The challenge of taming? The status?

Liz: Because my dear, we can’t all be married to Mr. Perfect? I mean, the lure of the “bad boy” is the real deal and many of us went that way, for good or ill. I just channel it I suppose, and try to show how hard it can be to balance your physical attraction for a VERY strong male personality with a need to have an equal relationship. A really great example is Cheeky Blonde, the book we are ostensibly chatting about here. Sean Garrison’s reputation precedes him as a cheating, selfish, ladies man. But once she really gets to know the guy, and gets past her preconceived notions about him Jen Baxter discovers a strong, natural match for her own fierce independence.

The whole “romance for real life” genre thing that I’ve been working hard to create is frustrating for many readers of traditional romance and I’ve been slammed by a few very traditional reviewers. But the glowing 5 star and “gold star” and “top picks” I’m getting at many (more) others say this: Liz Crowe does NOT write traditional romance, or traditional erotica or anything close to that. It’s real, and it’s hot and it’s sometimes frustrating. Like life. But you really do want to know what happens to the very compelling characters created.
Liz and Joe Short of Shorts Brewing, Michigan

I go there—the VERY hot moments you share with an amazing and bad-for-you strong male, then beyond, as in how in the hell do you make a life with a guy like that? And none of those heroines you mention fall easily. Every single one of my heroes with natural asshole-ish tendencies work hard to prove they deserve her respect, trust, and love. I’ve been criticized (to put it mildly) for the way some of my heroines treat those seemingly perfect dudes—resisting, holding them off, trying to exert some control over their own emotions—but at the end of the day, they do give in, and life goes on, and I show a fair bit of the bumps and bruises these strong personalities bestow on each other along the way.

Tart: So tell me about THIS book... Give us a blurb:

Violence, intrigue, and passion are brewing in the craft beer world. When bitter rivals Jennifer Baxter and Sean Garrison meet, the notorious and handsome owner of Garrison Brothers Brewing stays true to form, seducing his rival at a national brewer’s convention.
Sean arrived at the convention expecting to get down to business, including his stated goal of hiring Jen away from Brick Street Brewery. But the beautiful fellow craft beer expert provides more of a distraction than he expected.

When sabotage strikes their fellow breweries, they unite to solve the mysteries. But fate and rumors brew more than beer as love, lust, jealousy, and misunderstanding collide in a way neither could have expected or anticipated.

Can they overcome the malicious chatter long enough to explore the emotion bubbling beneath the surface? Or will lust fall flat and leave them nothing but memories of the moment that slipped away?

Liz and Garrett Oliver, owner/founder of Brooklyn Brewing
Tart: I LOVE including the brewing life. I know it isn't your first of these, but the brewing world is sexy and interesting. Are these books easier to write because their background is your life? How much autobiography do you let seep in? Do you have to be careful for balance for the non-beer readers? (is there such a thing as a non-beer reader—gads, that's a scary idea)

Liz: I use all aspects of my life as inspiration. As a brewery owner and marketing “wench” as I call myself, it behooves me to really get to know the industry on many levels. And the majority of those levels are occupied by the hairier sex. I love it. I adore sitting around in meetings full of dudes and pondering what exactly they are thinking about me, how I feel about them and working through our complexities and daily tasks with that very real dynamic fixed firmly in place.

I’d say Cheeky Blonde’s real moments as in “autobiographical” ones come best represented by the time spent at major beer fests in Denver. These are seriously hard work, but also hard partying venues for breweries and distributors. The “tap takeovers” and “debut parties” I talk about are for real and a big deal. That town is all about craft beer for a solid weekend during the Great American Beer Fest. I channeled it to create this entire book.

Tart: This one also had some serious external tension, too... some sabotage... the rumor mill... the ugly business 'play'... Did you have to do anything out of the ordinary on the plotting?

Liz: Yeah. I actually talked with several of my colleagues at a high level to discuss that “what if you were to sabotage a brewery…” concept. Many of them were very creative about it and I had some damn funny skype chats with guys whose names are on the labels of bottles you would know but I can’t reveal here about that whole “brett contamination” thing. And the rumor mill? Yeah. It’s there. Big time.

Tart: Are we going to see more of Jen and Sean (or Dylan, yum)?

Liz: At this point, quite frankly, I am letting readers guide my next steps with existing books. I thought the Cam/Liam story would be a fun one to tell potentially.

But right now, no, I have no plans for a follow up.

Tart: Are you noticing a trend for which guy I always pick? * shifty *

(you don't have to answer that)
Liz: Yes, I am. And I KNEW YOU WOULD LOVE DYLAN!! Ha. He’s hawt.

Tart: And what do you have on your plate right now? What will we SEE next and what are you WRITING now?

Liz: I am currently working on 2 books more or less simultaneously for the continuation of the Stewart Realty series (again based on sales, publisher encouragement and reader demand of me).
Conditional Offer will release late August and Escalation Clause in early November.

I will be contributing to a series with Ellora’s Cave later this year, with a hot young American brewer who ends up in Ireland, working for a seriously haunted hotel/castle but wanting to start his own brew pub—and the Domme who shows him the way. Oh yeah.

And Lust on Tap is in promotions phase—it’s a brewery based novella (ménage but that is really more a serious Cinderella style love story) that releases August 10.

Also, please allow me an advance plug for “Paradise Hops” which I just sold to Tri-Destiny (the Stewart Realty publisher) which is also a brewery based novel, releasing mid October. I think this will be very appealing.

Tart Note:  Separately, I asked Liz to assign beers to some of her heroes to give you a taste, ifyouknowwhatImean...


Sean Garrison (Cheeky Blonde): Russian Imperial Stout from Stone Brewing (‘nuff said)
Dylan LeDuc (Cheeky Blonde): Oro de Calabaza from Jolly Pumpkin, a spicy, peppery, Franco-Belgian golden ale fermented on a wild yeast.

Jack Gordon (Stewart Realty): Wolverine Brewing’s Gulo Gulo India Pale Lager
Craig Robinson (Stewart Realty): Wolverine Brewing’s Amber Lager
Rob Freitag (Stewart Realty): Wolverine Brewing’s Chrysalis American Wit Lager
Blake Thornton (Stewart Realty): Wolverine Brewing’s Dark Lager
(WHAT? They are in Ann Arbor after all)

Caleb Blessing (Turkish Delights series): Sam Adams Noble Pils

Dustin Prufrock (Lust on Tap): Bell’s Brewing Hell Hath No Fury Ale

Liz Bio:
Microbrewery owner, multi-published author, beer blogger and journalist, mom of three teenagers, and soccer fan, Liz lives in the great middle west, in a Major College Town. Years of experience in sales and fund raising, plus an eight-year stint as an ex-pat trailing spouse plus making her way in a world of men (i.e. the beer industry) has prepped her for life as erotic romance author. When she isn't sweating inventory and sales figures for the brewery, she can be found writing, editing or sweating promotional efforts for her latest publications.

Otherwise, look for her doing pounds of laundry for her athletic children, watching La Liga on the Fox Soccer Channel, or trying to figure out what to order in for dinner. Liz loves her Foo Fighters Pandora station, and watching reruns of Deadwood, when there isn't any decent sports on the telly (like during “golf season”). Her beer blog is nationally recognized for its insider yet outsider views on the craft beer industry. Her books are set in the not-so-common worlds of breweries, on the soccer pitch and in high powered real estate offices. Don’t ask her for anything “like” a Budweiser or risk painful injury.

Cheeky Blonde exclusive Excerpt:
When the elevator stopped on her floor, she trudged down the long hallway, finding her key and fumbling it into the slot. No magic green light appeared. She stared at the thing, her mind fuzzy, as if a closer examination would reveal its secrets, and suddenly sensed Sean standing behind her. She turned, determined not to let him into her room. That damn smile of his went straight to her gut.
“So, do you want the job, or what?” He raised a dark eyebrow.
“No. But thank you for the consideration.” She looked away. “And I swear you are a stalker, if I didn’t know you as a single-minded obsessive.” She closed her eyes briefly, realizing she could have been describing herself. “Anyway, I’m done for the night, so if you’ll excuse me,” she tossed over her shoulder.
“Wait,” he said, pulling her back. “Seriously, let’s talk. I promise not to….” Without warning, he pressed a kiss to her cheek, making her painfully aware of how damp she was from his earlier efforts.
She couldn’t help but smile at him. “You could charm the birdies right out of the trees, couldn’t you, Garrison?” She crossed her arms over her chest.
“Probably, if I wanted them out bad enough.” He held out an arm. “Buy you a nightcap?”
She rolled her eyes. “Jesus, man, it’s almost time for breakfast.” But she leaned back against her hotel room door, knowing full well she was about to invite him in.
“Well, lucky for you I brought a breakfast stout.” He presented her with the tall bottle. She sighed and handed him the key card. He slid it into the slot, never taking his gaze from hers.
Once the door was open, she ducked into the bathroom, leaving him to sort out his own seating arrangements. She splashed water on her face and stared at herself in the huge mirror. This had been the most amazing day, exactly as she imagined it would be, making Brick Street’s national debut as a legit craft brewery. And to cap it off, no less than Sean Garrison, the hated-feared-envied king of the mid-west craft-brewing universe sat out there, in her hotel room, expensive beer in hand. She put a clammy palm on her exposed upper breasts, taking deep breaths. Not only that, he had brought her to a raging orgasm practically under the feet of the entire bar and had then offered her a job.
“You pass out in there?”
She squared her shoulders and stepped back out into the room with every intention of booting him out before she did something foolish.
“This is delicious,” a deep, honey-smooth voice called from the other side of the nearly dark room. “Come and join me.”
Earlier resolve melted into a puddle of lust. What was it about this guy, anyway? She sat at the end of the bed, watching as he poured a small portion of the thick, dark brew. His fingers brushed hers when he handed her the glass, which zinged straight to the base of her spine. She sipped, relishing the bourbon-infused warmth as it slid down her throat.
“Yum,” she said, letting the brew soothe her rattled psyche. She decided not to mince words.
Straightforward always served her well. “So, why the hell are you following me? You’re working it pretty damn hard.” She held out the glass for a refill.
His devilish grin sent a thrill through her body so strong she had to grip the edge of the bed to stay seated.
“I mean, other than wanting to fuck me, of course.” She hid her trembling by taking another gulp. The realization that she’d gladly let him do that pissed her off so much she rose from her spot, clutching her glass, needing movement to combat her nerves. He put a hand on her knee. She glared at it, large and rough against her skin, as if he actually used it for more than money counting. When he tipped her chin up to face him, she found herself staring into eyes that seemed almost sad. She clenched her own shut as his lips brushed hers.
“I’ve been watching you,” he whispered in her ear. “I want you.” Her entire body broke out in chills. She opened her eyes, willing him to move away, and wanting him to kiss her more. “And I typically get what I want.” He settled back in the chair and picked up his glass.
“A control freak,” she said. “Big surprise.” She mirrored his movements, crossing her legs and taking a sip.
He smiled and her heart leapt. Damn the man. No wonder he was divorced. His sheer chemistry overwhelmed the room, and he knew it. He chuckled and leaned forward once more.
“I’m not such a bad guy, you know.” He sighed as if maintaining his innocence offered a hardship. “I think all you little brewery guys are great, and I wish you well. Just not as well as me.”
“Well, you’re gonna have to learn to share the market, pal.” She sipped the last bit of stout. “We are here to stay. And I might add, you have no shortage of enemies, which can’t be good. Buying tap handles with free beer and promising your distributors trips to the tropics for more placements and your obsession with cease-and-desist orders….”
“Babe, I’m merely doing my job, protecting my interests, and increasing Garrison’s bottom line.” Annoyance clouded his face. “Besides, you’d do the same damn thing if you had the money or the product to do it with.”
She stood, setting her glass down with a loud thunk. “Fuck you, Garrison. I will never do any of that shit.” He tilted his head and stared at her, which made her irritation worse. “I guess that takes my name off the job list. So you….” She put both hands on his shoulders and glared at him. “You can leave now. Interview over.”
With a speed she didn’t anticipate, he got to his feet, his body mere inches from hers yet again.

Cheeky Blonde buy links:
AllRomanceEbooks (where it is already a best seller and you can download all e-formats): 

For all info on this and my back list including the award winning Stewart Realty series (for which our beloved Hart was a VERY early reader) and updates on book signings and sightings:
For beer stuff:


Liz said...

thanks sister! always a pleasure to chat with you!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Fourteen books - wow! Hey, if what you are doing now is working, I wouldn't change a thing.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Like Alex wrote: if it is working for you, stick to it ... though I would like you to get more sleep. It will eventually catch up to you!

Liz said...

ha! I laugh at sleep....well, mostly.

Maurice Mitchell said...

Hart, another sweet interview. Liz Siri does everything better.

Liz said...

Yep, I love that she says "I still respect you Liz" when I ask her, like ten times a day. That Siri....such a supporter.
And HEY HART! I'm finishing up Craig's story for the next Stewart Realty release--you won't' want to miss it. He was a total wild child, and I let that show....

Jessica Subject said...

Look at you go. Congrats on all your success with your writing and your brewery! :)

Hart Johnson said...

Hey, thanks for stopping by, friends--she's rocking it, isn't she?