Interview with Erin Knightley, Author of More Than A Stranger

Erin Knightley is the author of More Than a Stranger.  She stopped by the virtual offices to introduce herself and to chat about her new book.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about More Than a Stranger?

[Erin Knightley] This story has a nod toward the original social networking—of the paper and quill variety! What started off as a childish rebuke from 11-year-old Evie to her brother’s new friend, blossoms into a years-long correspondence that leads to first love . . . and heartbreak. Years later, when her brother shows up with a handsome stranger in tow, Evie doesn’t want the man interfering with her plans. Unfortunately, there is no denying the attraction between them, and she just can’t seem to stay away. When Benedict needed a place to lay low after a betrayal shakes him to his core, he had no idea his former correspondent would be in residence. Though he knows he should avoid her, he can’t help but be curious about the woman he’s never seen, but who knows him best of anyone in the world . . . even if she doesn’t realize it.

More Than a Stranger was actually my very first novel. That being said, I did rewrite it about seven times, lol! But no matter how often people told me the first book will end up under the bed, I just couldn’t give up on Evie and Benedict and their story. I’m so glad I didn’t! Not only did it catch the eye of my dream agent, Deidre Knight, but it also was a Golden Heart® finalist and ultimately sold at auction. To say this last year has been a dream come true would be an understatement!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the book?

[Erin Knightley] Believe it or not, the ideas generally evolved organically as I wrote. When I decided I wanted to write a novel, I literally just sat down and started typing—no game plan, no plot charts, no character arcs—just me and my fingers tapping away on the keyboard. There were times when I was writing, and I couldn’t believe that words that were coming out of Evie’s mouth, or things Benedict did. Every now and then I’d be working on a part of a book, and be struck with inspiration about a completely different scene. I’d drop everything and try the new twist, and if it worked, well, let’s just say that there was LOTS of editing in this book. Changing a scene is like pulling a thread in a knitted sweater. Everything is connected and the earlier in the book the change was made, the more revisions I had to do.

Since writing this first book, I have learned a lot about the beauty of plotting and development before sitting down at the computer. And as for coming up with concepts, it usually starts with a question: “What would happen if…” There are endless possibilities for love stories on earth—just look at all the billions of people who have found love since the beginning of time!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What was the most challenging aspect of writing the story?

[Erin Knightley] By far the hardest thing for me is putting my characters through the wringer. I like them—I don’t want to torture them! Of course, it must be done, but for me it usually takes a few drafts before they are truly tested. After all, why do I love romance? Because I love love! I love happiness, and it is darn hard to give your characters the smackdown when all you want is to see them ride off into the sunset together.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are three things Evie would never have in her boudoir?

[Erin Knightley] Well goodness, let me think! Evie’s pretty unconventional in life—she rather follows her own drum. She would never have separate beds—nor would she have any man but Benedict! But most importantly, she would never again have any secrets there – not after the mess secrets caused when Benedict first showed up on her doorstep.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What do you enjoy most about romance?   What prompted you to try writing your own?

[Erin Knightley] I am a true romantic J There is nothing I love more than a sigh-worthy happily ever after, or experiencing the rush of first love all over again. I can remember in middle school we were required to read The Outsiders, which of course is an outstanding book, but one that I balked at being forced to read. Even at that young age, I argued with my friends, saying that there is enough bad stuff in the world as it is. When I sit down to read, I want to walk away feeling better, not worse.

I have always loved writing – in fact, you are looking at the school-wide Young Authors winner for Centerfield Elementary, 1989, my friend! I’m a storyteller at heart, and putting together the two things that I love—romance and writing—led me to a rather obvious conclusion: I wanted to be a romance writer!

PS-Did I mention that I work a day or two a week at a jewelry store, matching up soon to be engaged couples with their perfect ring? I adore it– after all, love is always in the air there!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are your greatest creative influences?

[Erin Knightley] Authors like Sabrina Jeffries, Julia Quinn, Lisa Kleypas, and Suzanne Enoch, to name a few. Movies like Love Actually (I may have watched this one once or twice…or thirty times), Romancing the Stone, Pride and Prejudice (did I mention I’ve been hugged by Colin Firth? Now that’s inspiration!), and Little Women. And, of course, we cannot forget my newest obsession: Downton Abbey! As my friend Catherine Gayle says, it’s our Edwardian crack.

Also, my brother, Andy McLeroy, is a composer in his spare time. His music is moving and moody, and is great to get me in the mood to write. Actually, he composed a piece that is based on a scene in More Than a Stranger, which is available as a free download on my website. It is one of the most beautiful pieces I have ever heard, and I often play it before sitting down to write.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three things do you need in order to write?

[Erin Knightley] Absolute, total, pin-drop silence.

An endless supply of gum.

Post-it notes. Lots and lots of post it notes.

(If I could say four things, I’d say my co-workers: Sadie (bird-dog mutt), Maggie (black lab mutt), and Darcy (border collie mutt). My three ladies (and, you know- Twitter) help keep the work from getting too lonely.)

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?

[Erin Knightley] The Root Cellar, by Janet Lunn. I was in either fourth or fifth grade, and it truly opened up a whole new world to me. The magic was intoxicating, and I wanted more!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

[Erin Knightley] I’m blessed to live lakefront, so anything that involves the lake is good for me! I love wakesurfing, swimming, boating, lounging on the dock – anything that gets me near the water. The best of all worlds is when my husband and I take a cruise on the pontoon with the dogs, and I have a great book in hand. Heaven!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Thank you!

You can learn more about Erin by visiting her website or by following her on Twitter and Facebook.

You can pre-order More Than a Stranger from your favorite bookseller or by clicking the widget below.


Interview with Jeannie Lin, Author of My Fair Concubine

Jeannie Lin is the author of My Fair Concubine, a Harlequin Historical with a oh so pretty cover.  This is her third book set in during the Tang Dynasty.  I get exhausted by the number of Regency romances released every month, so it’s exciting to see a historical romance that tackles a different time period, as well as a setting other than Europe or the American West.  I was delighted when Jeannie took the time to drop by the virtual offices to chat about her book – check out what she has to say!  

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.

[Jeannie Lin] Twin mommy and ex-high school science/technology teacher turned romance author. I’m a bit of a geek and a sentimental fool.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about  My Fair Concubine?

[Jeannie Lin] My Fair Concubine is a Tang Dynasty twist on the classic "My Fair Lady." In the 9th century, the Chinese imperial court would send "princesses" off to foreign kingdoms in a practice called heqin, which means peace marriage. What the barbarians didn’t know was that these princesses were often concubines or daughters of noble families rather than true royalty. In My Fair Concubine, Fei Long is a nobleman who’s been put into a difficult position and has to train a tea house girl to become such an alliance bride. During the process, the two of them start falling in love, of course.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?

[Jeannie Lin] The My Fair Lady concept is a classic one for romance. It has wonderful elements of class conflict and commentary. For me, the idea actually revolved around first my research into the practice of heqin. Also, I knew that in Chinese opera, men traditionally played the female roles. I started forming this idea of a nobleman and his friends trying to train a commoner and a scene of a male actor trying to teach a young woman how to act, ironically, like a woman stuck with me.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What was the most challenging aspect of writing the story?

[Jeannie Lin] This book was a little bit of a departure from my previous two novels. It was lighter in tone with some comic elements. I wanted to balance humor with deep emotion and historical detail. The sexual tension in the story was also understated and I wanted the right touch of romance. So the big challenge for me was how to execute this balancing act in a way that still yielded an emotionally satisfying and interesting story.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three words best describe Yan Ling?

[Jeannie Lin] Hard-working, eager, lively

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are three things Fei Long would never eat with his tea?

[Jeannie Lin] Hee hee…
Crab Rangoon, General Tso’s Chicken, Crumpets (because none of these are Chinese)

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are your greatest creative influences?

[Jeannie Lin] I’m hugely influenced by the wuxia genre, specifically the movie adaptations of the books of Jin Yong. I also read Chinese poetry translated in English to get a feel for how the language is translated. Very often, I’ll get inspiration from the poetry, either from the tone, the imagery, or the subject matter. Historical research gives me many ideas, of course. And then the historical romance genre to top it all off. I love the sweeping historical romances that are full of adventure and angst.  

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three things do you need in order to write?

[Jeannie Lin] My laptop. Coffee.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is the last book that you read that knocked your socks off?

[Jeannie Lin] Broken by Megan Hart. I’m on a contemporary kick right now and Broken is exactly the sort of emotionally complex and psychologically deep erotica I love. It’s the second book of hers I’ve read and I love how Broken pushes the boundaries and poses difficult questions about love, loyalty and desire. It made me want to go and seek out everything she’s ever written. 

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?

[Jeannie Lin] The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. It may be the book I’ve re-read most often. I read through all the S.E. Hinton books in middle school, but I loved her first book the most. I felt like all the others were fragments of that first one. I thought about this book. Kept it on my bed and read it whenever I had insomnia…which was often. I used to cry every time I read it.

I chose this book because the characters in it talked about Gone with the Wind and how the Southern gentlemen kept on riding off to die. I read Gone with the Wind because of it and GWTW is also one of my all time faves.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

[Jeannie Lin] I’m a big foodie. I like to watch the Food Network, cook, look for new restaurants and bakeries to try, and of course eat!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?

[Jeannie Lin] I’m off and on Twitter all day since my day job has me online all the time. I also have a contact form on my website and actually have most of my correspondence with readers after I send out my monthly newsletter. That’s when readers tends to e-mail with little notes and comments or questions and it’s become  nice time to catch up with the long time subscribers.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Thank you!

You can order My Fair Concubine from your favorite bookseller, or by clicking the widget below.  It is also available from


Interview with Anne Lyle, Author of The Alchemist of Souls


Anne Lyle is the author of The Alchemist of Souls, a historical fantasy that releases March 27th.  Once I was the awesome cover, I knew I had to read the book!  I asked Anne to drop in the virtual offices so I could ask her a few questions about her new book, and she graciously took time out of her busy schedule to chat.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.

[Anne Lyle] I’m a zoology graduate & Mac geek with a passion for history & languages. I’ve never been a "girly" girl – I prefer swords to handbags 🙂

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about The Alchemist of Souls?

[Anne Lyle] It’s an alternate history fantasy, set in Elizabethan London. Explorers have discovered a race of mysterious creatures called skraylings living alongside the natives of the New World – creatures with apparently magical powers. Now the skraylings have sent an ambassador to England, but their purpose remains unclear.

The hero of the story, Mal Catlyn, has been plucked almost literally from the gutter to be the ambassador’s bodyguard, but finds himself a pawn in a dangerous game that could lose him his life – and his soul.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?

[Anne Lyle] I wanted to write something a bit different from the usual medieval fantasy, and I’d always loved Shakespeare, so I decided on an Elizabethan setting and started doing some research. My main inspiration came after reading an account of the murder of playwright Christopher Marlowe and the likely involvement in those events of Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham. I loved the idea of writing a cloak’n’dagger fantasy full of spies and actors!

The skraylings came out of my interest in pre-Columbian America and a desire to see history turned on its head, with the Europeans being on the receiving end of visitors they don’t really understand.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What was the most challenging aspect of writing the story?

[Anne Lyle] For me, it was marshalling all my ideas for the way the story might go – I spent a lot of the four years’ writing time messing about with the plot rather than polishing the actual prose. Once I finally had the story pinned down, getting it into shape for submitting to publishers was relatively easy.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three words best describe Mal?

[Anne Lyle] Honourable, stubborn, protective.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are three things Mal would never have in his pocket?

[Anne Lyle] His pockets are all-too-frequently empty. Is this a trick question?

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are your greatest creative influences?

[Anne Lyle] Ursula Le Guin, both for her fantasy and SF and for her critical essays; Terry Pratchett, whose fictional city of Ankh-Morpork (itself inspired by historical London), probably influenced my choice of London as the setting for my own book; and Ellen Kushner and Lynn Flewelling, for the revelation that great fantasy heroes don’t have to be heterosexual.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three things do you need in order to write?

[Anne Lyle] Not absolutely necessary, but an enormous help: silence, my MacBook and a cup of tea.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?

[Anne Lyle] The first book I really remember reading is Alice in Wonderland – I was probably very young, as I found it hard going even though I was a precocious reader.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

[Anne Lyle] Writing takes up a lot of my spare time, since I also have a day-job. I read, of course, but in the evenings I mostly just chill out with a DVD, my cats and maybe a glass of wine.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?

[Anne Lyle] I’m on Twitter nearly every day (@AnneLyle), I’m on Goodreads, and I blog regularly on my website, I also have a Facebook page, though I don’t visit it as often as I should.

Readers in the UK can also find me at various SFF conventions, where I do readings and/or participate in panels, and I’m hoping to go to WorldCon in Chicago this year. Check out the calendar on my website!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Thanks!

You can pre-order The Alchemist of Souls from your favorite bookseller, or by clicking the widget below.