Nurse by day, author by night. Marina Black is busy and multi-talented. Having started her published works with fanfiction for the TV show, The 100, she has now begun publishing original works of her own, starting with Dealing with the Devil.
Recently, Marina took time out to talk with us about her book, her future as a writer, and what we can expect from her next.
What made you decide to try your hand at writing?
“Well, I’ve always been writing. I was writing actually before I was a nurse even. Um, I’ve been writing, I think since middle school. I’ve just always had a flair for the dramatic, if you will. And, yeah, I think I’ve always been able to express myself in writing in a way that I haven’t been able to as a person. So that’s kind of how I got my start.”
When you were writing in middle school, did you keep it to yourself or did you allow other people to read it?
“Oh, well, that’s an interesting story, because I was writing for just myself but sharing it with others and middle school’s not a good time to share your writing with others. So I was ridiculed a lot for writing what I was writing. I threw away a lot of that work that I wrote in middle school, actually, because of hecklers (chuckles). Looking back, I mean, it’s just, it was a good stepping stone for where I am today and it made me a stronger person, so I would say it’s kind of a 50/50 on that one.”
Do you wish you had kept your writing from that time?
“Oh yeah. That’s one of my major regrets in life, that I destroyed all of that work that I had written back then. It wasn’t good, I’m sure. I mean, I was in middle school. But, you know, it’s sad that I did that.”
See, I used to write back then, too, but I’d keep my stuff to myself except every summer when they had a young authors contest at the library. I’d submit to that. That way the kids at school had no idea what I was doing (laughs).
“(chuckles) Sneaky, I like it.”
I found some of it when I was packing up to move not too long ago and some of it wasn’t too bad.
“Yeah…I mean, I would love the opportunity, if I could go back in time, that’s what I would do, not destroy that because, you know, it’s my history.”
Do you have a particular genre that you tend to lean towards with your writing?
“Um, I would say that romance is my genre, but it borders on dark. Not necessarily supernatural. You know, some people equate dark with supernatural, but more dark romances and the bad boys and the bad girls. That’s really my hot ticket there.”
Who’s your target audience, then?
“I’d say that I think everyone could find something they’d enjoy in my writing. I don’t think I necessarily have a target audience, but if I had to guess who IS my audience, I would say probably women between the ages of 17 and 70.”
That’s a very broad range. That’s a good range to have.
“Yeah, I mean, I know older people who read my work and I have, you know, women my age – in their 20’s and 30’s – and there are some younger ones that sneak in and I’m saying, ‘Ok…be careful, little one.’ “
What are you doing to promote your work at this point?
“Well, I have a face page for my writing. And I have my twitter (@MarinaBlack99). That’s basically my means of marketing. Um, word of mouth of really great, too. You know, people read it and then they tell others about it. I’m not running any real big marketing campaigns. I’m just not good at marketing, I suppose. I’m not really sure how to go about that. If you have any tricks, I’m willing to hear about it (laughs).”
Word of mouth…interviews…
“Yeah, see, there you go. I’m doing interviews.”
What was your inspiration for writing Dealing with the Devil?
“You know, that is such an interesting question, ’cause I don’t really know anything about motorcycle clubs or anything like that. That’s really something that is really foreign to me. I live in Connecticut, which is soooo far away from Nevada which is where the book takes place. I’ve never even been to Nevada. You know, they say that writers write best about what they know. I have no idea. People seem to like it, though. I would say that the character if Lucy, the protagonist in Dealing with the Devil, she came into the forefront of my mind before the story sort of came together. I’m a very character-based writer. I prefer the character to the sort of extraneous detail of where does it take place. Lucy has a very strong voice. She’s a very strong character. She’s sort of going through this journey of finding herself. She’s, you know, like a young woman in her early twenties, she’s kind of deciding what she wants to do with her life and where she wants to go and how she wants to sort of put herself out there in the world. That was the story I wanted to tell. Everything else sort of came in after that. I’m not sure if that answers your question or not.”
So if you figured out the story you wanted to write from figuring out the character you wanted to work with, where did the biker part come in?
“That is also a – I mean, I watched Sons of Anarchy. I never finished the series, but that show is very dark and sexy and violent and I thought it was really interesting. I wouldn’t say it has anything to do with that show or any of the characters or anything like that. And then it’s funny because I have a couple of friends whose parents are in motorcycle clubs. These are not young people. They’re like 70-year-olds who get together and wear leather jackets and hang out at a bar. And, I don’t know, it all sort of meshed together. So that’s kind of just a little background there.”
When I was looking through the info on your book, I saw that it said it’s the first in the Badass Biker Series.
“Yes, it is. I didn’t really know that this was going to turn into more than one. It was actually after I’d shared Dealing with the Devil with my sort of test audience, my group of writing girls, and my friends. They said, ‘Well, we’re really interested in these other characters.’ A lot of people were interested in Danny, Lucy’s brother, and Cecilia. Cecilia is a firecracker. She’s even more badass than Lucy is. She’s very tough. She’s an electrical engineer. She’s smart. She knows what it’s like to grow up with her brothers and all of her cousins. She’s kind of like the only woman in her family and she’s always had to be at the top of her game. She’s gonna be a fun project and I’m going to do that for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this year.”
What’s that one gonna be called?
“I haven’t figured out a title yet. I actually usually have to get through at least around five or six chapters before I can even start to name it, because I’m not a plotter. When you talk to writers, you either have pantsers or plotters. I’m a pantser. I write by the seat of my pants. There is no model. There is no outline. There is no bullet point. There is just, you are writing and this is what’s happening and I go from there. I don’t do titles first. I usually do titles in the middle.”
What made you decide to start working on two other novels before getting back to the series you’re working with?
“I got the idea for Unintentionally Yours when I was on vacation. I was at the beach and I just sort of fell in love with this character, Mona. She’s very interesting. And I said, ‘Ok…I could start the second book in my series, but…’ I had written Dealing with the Devil during NaNoWriMo in…was it 2014? Yes. 2014. I can do math! So I kinda wanted to keep it consistent, where I’m writing the novels for my Badass Biker series during the National Novel Writing Month in November. I think it’s a nice parallel. It’ll keep them sort of even for when they get published. But then, Unintentionally Yours, the idea just came to me. I wrote that entire novel, and it’s pretty long, it’s 21 chapters and an epilogue. And that I wrote in a month. It just kinda poured out of me. I’m in the editing phase now. And then Battle Scars…I’m not sure if this is something I’m gonna publish or not. It’s really sort of a little bit darker than the other two. We’re talking about darker subject matter. It deals with veterans and alcohol and PTSD and things like that. You know, sometimes you start writing something and you think, ‘People might like this or maybe I should keep this to myself.’ I haven’t hit the determining point in that yet.”
What do you think might be that determining point?
“When I get to the end, I have to take a step back and I usually leave the work for a couple of days and then I go back and read it through. Then I have to make the decision whether or not I feel that people will like it, but also if they’ll be comfortable with it. I didn’t really have to do that too much with Dealing with the Devil. Or even Unintentionally Yours because the subject matter isn’t dark and dense like that. But that one I’m gonna have to take a step back.”
What do you typically do to get yourself into writing mode? Do you need silence, background sounds, do you have a specific place that you write, does it vary?
“Well, because I have a full-time job, I do have a writing spot that I like. I’ll sit right in my living room and I face the fire-place and I look at my books and I look at my mantle. I always have a candle burning. I love candles. Because, candles are awesome. But my writing playlist on Spotify is the number one thing that I need in order to write. I must have my music on. I usually do a specific playlist for each novel or each work that I’m writing on.”
What kinds of things go on a playlist for you?
“Ohhh. Pretty much anything written before 1994. I’m an 80’s girl. I have a lot of 80’s on here. Recently, I have been really into Elton John. I have a lot of Elton John. My writing list…let me see, I’m gonna pull up how many songs this is…yeah, there’s like 434 songs on here. A lot of Madonna, Duran Duran. My favorite band is REM. There’s a LOT. I would say the entire REM anthology is on here. That makes up at least 400 of those songs (laughs). No, just kidding. But there are a lot of them on here. I do dabble in songs that were written after 1994, but usually it’s popular music from like 5 years ago that I’m finally like, ‘Oh hey, that’s a nice song. I’m gonna at it to my playlist.’ I’m really not current. Don’t ask me, like, what a hip-hop song is on the radio. I don’t know.”
Can you talk to me about your journey to becoming a self-published author?
“I could talk about it. I’m not sure anyone wants to hear about it. But, I have been writing, like I said, I started writing fanfiction. Fanfiction is my gateway drug. Like it’s a gateway drug for a lot of writers. I have a lot of fanfiction. And what’s nice about that is a lot of times you get your reviews right away and I was like, ‘I really like this,’ and you gain a little more confidence and write a little more. Then I found out about Kindle Worlds, which is an Amazon partner. They allow you to write in other people’s universes and publish. So I took some of the works that I did for The 100 and The Vampire Diaries and I put them on there and people liked them. And, you know, you make a little bit of money, which is really nice. And you get your work out there. You get your name out there. And I said, ‘Ok, people are enjoying these. I can write fanfiction. Not a total failure at that. Maybe I could do my own work again.’ So I…the hard part for me is not the writing. The hard part is editing. You would not know that I’m a native English speaker by reading my writing before my beta gets her hands on it. (Chuckles) So there’s that process. And then what I do is, I follow a bunch of different blogs about publishing and I sort of delved into it. I bought my ISBNs. I went on CreateSpace and I ordered proofs of my novels. It took a couple tries to understand what the different sizes were. Spatially, I’m just…I’m not good at spatial stuff. And then I published it, and it went right on Amazon, right to the Kindle version. That was it.”
Kindle Worlds, I know, gives up you updates, how many units you’ve sold and all that. Does it do the same thing for the self-publishing aspect?
“Um, it does, except it’s a little different. It’s like an Excel spreadsheet. ‘Cause my book is really popular in Australia. It’s sold twice as many copies in Australia than it has in the United States and Canada combined. Which is so weird because I don’t even know anyone in Australia. But those Aussies just love my stuff! So, I’m good with that.”
What made you decide to make your second story a baby/pregnancy story?
“I think that’s my wheelhouse, to be honest with you. I mean, if you’ve read my other works (laughs), that’s pretty much my favorite plot device. And adding in strippers and cross-country travel and, I mean, yeah, I can do it.”
What makes Unintentionally Yours different from other baby/pregnancy works?
“I think it’s really different because I let the characters shine through. Mona is really funny. She’s really tough and she doesn’t take any crap from anyone. And the main male character, Reno, he is sort of – we all have one of these men in our lives who are just really nice guys who never grew up. I like to call them ‘frat boys’. They were in fraternities in college and they still think their jokes are funny. The dynamic with them is really interesting with their fighting but also how they deal with each other as adults. And then we see them with Reno’s family, this big Catholic family he came from, and kind of think how people go their separate ways in life. I think it’s really different from any baby or pregnancy story that I’ve ever read, but you’ll have to see. It comes out on Black Friday.”
What can you tell me about Battle Scars?
“What I can tell you about Battle Scars, ok. I haven’t talked to – almost nobody knows about this story because I haven’t really even sent it out to people. The main character is a woman named Rachel and she is the daughter of an Israeli diplomat. She comes from sort of a very upstanding family, a very affluent family who have these ideas of how her life is supposed to go. And she decides she’s not gonna do that. She joins the army right out of high school. And she meets her unit and her CO is a man named Michael Conway. He’s very closed off. He has a really nice family. His father was an alcoholic. His dad always accepted him. His father, a few years ago we find out, fell down the stairs. He’s been very sick, living in a nursing home and that really weighs on Michael. And one of the ways he tries to cope with this is by drinking, which is not an appropriate coping mechanism. It’s the same thing his father did. So again this is where Rachel comes in. So Rachel like really sort of…they slowly get to know each other, she starts to break down his walls, and then she finds out she’s pregnant. And Michael has been very vocal in the past about how he doesn’t really care for his nephews, he doesn’t really care for kids in general, and she just says, ‘I’m not gonna deal with this,’ and leaves and doesn’t tell him that she’s pregnant. So she makes her own life. Michael’s drinking himself into oblivion. And we start the story with him getting sober. Sort of the mechanism, the way that happens is what happens for many alcoholics, is that a family member intervenes after many, repeated hospitalizations. So, like I said, it’s still a work in progress. I’ve got eight chapters so far. What’s really cool about this particular work is that we go back and forth between the past and the present. We go to Iraq, to Baghdad. And then we come back and it takes place in Fort Bragg. Then there are parts that happen in the New York area near the Canadian border. So it’s kind of going back and forth between past and present, sort of putting all the pieces of the puzzle together.”
“Yeah. It’s interesting to write. I have a family connection to alcoholism. I know how that goes. How people sort of fall into that pattern. And also from my job. How people fall into that pattern and how they get themselves in trouble. Very familiar with the detox process.”
How much research do you end up doing before, during, after you start writing?
“I’m very big into research. I don’t want to be the person who gets something incorrect or, you know, makes a big mistake. For Dealing with the Devil, I didn’t want to look at glamourized motorcycle clubs just like they do in the movies, like they do in Hollywood, you know? Unintentionally Yours, I think I kept it pretty level. I didn’t have to do a lot of research for that. For Battle Scars, definitely. I have been on the blogs and I have been reading, you know, war stories. Plus I can pull from my own personal experience, which is invaluable when you’re writing.”
Do you have any plans to try to make this a full-time thing or is it going to stay sort of a hobby/second career? Where are you wanting to take it?
“I do not plan on quitting my day job. I love being a nurse. And my career is my career. I don’t want to be a full-time author. I feel like that’s a great life for some people, but for me writing is more of a stress reliever and it allows me to get my creativity out. I think if I made it a career, it would become too business-like for me and I feel like it would stifle my creativity. So, you know, becoming a New York Times best-selling author, I just don’t…would I like it? I think I might, but I still wouldn’t quit my nursing. That’s just who I am.”
You can find Marina’s works on Amazon in their Kindle store.