1. Is Gaelen Foley your real name? How do you pronounce that?
Yes, it is my real name. It’s Irish, like the Gaelic language, and it’s pronounced GAY-len. For people who find that hard to pronounce, I also answer to Gael. :)
2. How did you get started writing?
I was only in high school when I made up my mind to pursue my dream career as a novelist. I saw the adults in my life pretty unhappy in their jobs, and this made me determined to do what I love and have a happy life--and I knew I couldn't be happy if I wasn't writing.
Getting started so young was a real help because I was able to be very methodical about it and right from the start, orient my college education around my long term goal of becoming a writer. As an English major, I wasn't getting much out of the creative writing track, so I switched to the literature track (also with a lot of history, fine arts, and philosophy) so I could focus on studying the great masterpieces of our language before starting my own horrific newbie attempts.
In hindsight (for you college kids who want to write) I wish I had also taken a few business and marketing classes, because an author is a small business owner, and these days you need to be able to handle both sides of the art-commerce equation or you risk getting taken advantage of. Fwiw, I also found Logic and a few Psychology classes helpful.
After college, Eric and I moved to Atlanta, Georgia. I did a secretarial stint in a chiropractic office (oh, the joy of fighting with insurance companies), worked in a library and a bookstore, and then for several years, worked nights as a waitress to pay the bills so I could keep my days free for writing and honing my craft. I fully admit I was a bad waitress, constantly forgetting people's orders, with my head all full of stories. So I was pretty broke! But I was happy, reading, reading, reading, and busily writing away.
Thankfully, in Atlanta, I found RWA (Romance Writers of America) and met my first real live published authors and made some dear writing friends. The famously awesome chapter of RWA based in Atlanta gave me some much-needed guidance and practical, how-to advice.
It took five and a half years to sell my first book, which was actually my fifth completed manuscript. This became The Pirate Prince, which won the Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Award for Best First Historical Romance in 1998. That book is still in print, on something like it’s fourteenth printing, and has been translated into many languages, the rest is history.
3. Why do you write romance?
Because I believe in the power of Love to heal and transform people’s lives. Plain and simple. My work celebrates the possibility of triumphing over the darkness of this world through the power of love.
4. Where do you get your ideas? Do you ever use personal experiences in your books?
Well, I can’t say I have ever been wooed by a duke or carried off by a gorgeous pirate (yet! Here's hoping, ha ha.) So, no, it’s not really based on my personal experiences, but certainly, the emotions of my characters come from me. Little seeds of ideas can blow in from anywhere—a dream; a what-if; random facts I stumble across in history books; some particular aspect of a movie premise that gets my brain churning; inspiration from a classic work of prose or poetry, and of course, from fairytales, just to name a few. It’s all what you do with the idea once it arrives that makes it exciting, how you combine it with other ideas to come up with something fun and original. I'm not sure there are any totally "new" ideas; it's how you express it--your voice and personal viewpoint--that makes it your own.
5. Do you outline your novels before you begin writing or make it up as you go along?
I do outline my stories before writing, with the understanding that it's ok if it changes as I go along. You have to be fairly flexible to allow for new ideas that pop up along the way. Another step I take to prepare before I actually start writing is to sketch out fairly detailed character profiles for my heroes and heroines, and (less so) my villains and secondary characters. It saves time by cutting down on the amount of revisions needed later. Since my stories are usually connected in series, it helps me to know in advance where I'm going with each installment of a given series or trilogy.
6. How long does it take you to write a novel? Do you work on several books at the same time?
I've gotten much more efficient and confident in my writing and this has made it go much faster for me. I now take four months to write a book. It used to be eight or nine! I'm always experimenting with new ways to work in my quest for never-ending improvement. I love learning about writing and trying new approaches. I never assume I have it all figured out! Lately I have tried working on a couple of different projects at a time, and so far, I am loving doing that. It's very refreshing for my brain!
7. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
The thing about writing is that it's all a head game, and it seems like a lot of writers get too intense about it, not in a positive way. The biggest challenge we all face is how to keep on motivating ourselves over the marathon of getting the novel done, and the next one, and the next one, and the next one... The answer to that, in my opinion, is to focus on the pleasure of the creative process. It shouldn't be something you have to grit your teeth and "get through." It's much easier to get it done if you are enjoying it, but we often kill the joy for ourselves by being too serious and too perfectionistic. It actually produces better writing to approach it in a fun, playful, excited way, not a stressed out, this-must-be-the-best-book-ever-written-or-my-life-is-worthless kind of mentality. Hey, we've all been there, I felt that way too as a new writer out to prove myself. But what I've learned over the years is that when you chill out a little and keep it fun, better results come out. It's a win-win.