Lauren Connolly | Interview
From Cathead Biscuits To Magical Felines
Joining me today for a chat is award-winning author, Lauren Connolly, who writes both paranormal and contemporary romance. Her newest release, Shelter for a Shifter, is book four in the Folk Haven series, paranormal romances that give off a spicy, magical realism vibe.
Welcome Lauren! And congratulations on your new release! Tell me a little bit about where you came up with the idea for Shelter for a Shifter.
Thank you for having me! I love getting a chance to talk about Ame and Jack’s origin story. Shelter for a Shifter is book four in my Folk Haven series, and the idea for the series came from living near a lake in Georgia. I was walking my dog down a back road by the water that had this secluded, magical air, and I started thinking about the few houses on the cul-de-sac. What if some mythical creatures lived in them, hiding away from the human world? That was the start of Folk Haven. Ame’s story came because I knew I wanted a magical library on the lake, so why not have some new witches move to town to start it? And if you’ve ever watched Sabrina the Teenage Witch, or Hocus Pocus, I think you can figure out how I thought up the idea of a hot guy trapped in the body of a black cat!
Love it! Can you tell me more about how the Folk Haven books connect?
I really like the idea of readers being able to start reading at any point in the series, which is why each book is a standalone romance. This way I can have new couples and mythical creatures in every book and explore how their unique relationship would develop in the small magical town. But what I love even more is a broad, overarching conflict that spans multiple books, and you get little hints in every story. So, if you read Folk Haven from the beginning, you’ll find that while each book has an HEA, there’s this looming darkness that lingers over the town. A threat that keeps showing little pieces of itself, but the characters and readers won’t discover the truth until later in the series. There may come a point where it’s hard to call later books standalones, but I haven’t reached it yet!
Very intriguing! What inspired you to become a writer?
The stories I read when I was growing up inspired me. Authors like Tamora Pierce, Sharon Shinn, Juliet Marillier, Patricia Briggs, and Kristen Callihan. They made amazing worlds full of magic and love and badass women. I wanted to do what they did. Create something that someone loved as much as I loved their books.
I studied professional writing in college, but I got the loud and clear message that literary fiction was the way to go and writing creatively could only be a side gig. Sadly, that message stifled my creativity for a few years, and it wasn’t until doing NaNoWriMo in 2016, where I wrote an urban fantasy romance (which I will never show anyone) that I found my love for writing again. I realized I needed to embrace the romance genre, which I loved to read, and the words flowed much easier onto the page.
I have a couple of those trunked NaNoWriMo projects too LOL.
Congratulations on your recent RONE Award win! That’s so fantastic! Can you tell me more about the book that won, and what that experience was like overall?
Thank you! I am so proud of the book Read Me, that won. To this date, it’s the book of mine I enjoy going back to read the most. It’s basically about an upbeat, kind librarian that is determined to find a good guy to date, but there’s this brooding, tattooed hottie that has a crush on her and wants her to give him a chance. But he’s normally terrible at getting people to like him because he doesn’t like people. This book is a big stick of sunshine/grump butter that I melted all over the pages. I couldn’t get enough of them. Also, writing that book was surprisingly easy. Summer and Cole were very clear characters in my mind, and I just kept coming up with adorable, funny, sexy situations for them to be in, wrote those scenes, then knitted everything together into a story that apparently worked well enough to win an award. Woot woot! When I saw my name as the winner I was home alone so I did a weird jumping happy dance and told all the dogs I live with that I’m an award-winning author. They were not impressed.
LOL. I bet they were celebrating inside. What’s your favorite thing about writing contemporary and paranormal romance?
My favorite thing about writing contemporary romance is pretending like I actually have the skill to navigate the world I live in with perfect comedic timing. I set up realistic situations for my characters, throw in some hijinks, and go to town on the banter. In reality, I often get nervous around strangers and completely lose the ability to say anything other than the most basic of small talk. It’s cathartic to be able to edit dialogue and make it seem as though I’d know the perfect funny thing to say in an awkward moment.
With paranormal romance, I love the chance to break all the rules and make my own. And I DO make rules for my magic. It’s so boring when magic can fix every problem. I love making magic systems and creatures that do well in some situations, but only cause a mess in others. So, in Shelter for a Shifter, Ame can influence other’s desires, which sounds super cool, right? The problem is, she can also hear their desires ALL the time. Can’t shut it off. So, she tends to avoid people. Magic sometimes causes more problems than it fixes and that makes for great story material.
Absolutely. Which of your characters do you love to hate? Tell us about them.
There’s this one recurring character named Sev who is sometimes helpful, but more often a self-centered, pompous a**hole. I love setting him up, making him more and more morally gray as we see him in each new book. He’s going to have his own romance down the line and watching his heart get crushed a few times is going to be so delicious. I can’t wait to write it!
You had me at “morally gray.” Why did you choose Folk Haven for these books?
I mentioned before that living near a lake inspired the town of Folk Haven and Lake Galen. I think lakes are so mysterious and beautiful and creepy. The fact that they can get so quiet and most you can’t see past a certain depth. What’s down there? Will someone grab you and drag you under? What if that grabbing hand belongs to a sexy mythical creature?
Lake Galen is a place I made up with characteristics from different lakes I’ve visited like Lake Hartwell, Lake Jocassee (probably the most beautiful lake I’ve ever been to), Smith Mountain Lake, Lake Burton, and a few others.
That makes me want to do some traveling! What are your favorite tropes and themes to play with in your work?
I adore a grumpy/sunshine romance, and find I’m often making my female main character the grump and the male main character the sunshine. Readers say I do a good cinnamon roll hero and that the Folk Haven series is full of beta males, in a good way. Shelter for a Shifter probably has the most alpha of males, but he’s still a push over when it comes to the witch he loves.
I think I’m just big into the opposites attract situation, and it definitely makes writing easier when the characters have such distinctly different voices. And I guess the beta male thing comes from the fact that I want my heroes to hear the word ‘No,’ and understand that it means ‘No’ and not ‘Push me until I say yes.’ I want to show you can have fated mates AND consent.
Definitely! I have a special place in my heart for Alpha-mallows. Any amusing author-related stories you want to share?
I think it’s funny how excited my Dad is about my romance novels. He sent me a picture of him putting one of my books in a Little Free Library in Intercourse, PA. Another time he told a coworker what I do and the guy asked to buy three of my novels as stocking stuffers for his wife and daughters. I hope every romance writer has someone like my dad in their life!
That sounds like one adorable dad! Here’s a fun question: if your latest release was a food truck, what would it be called and what kind of food would it serve?
Bee’s Biscuits (I love alliteration) – they would sell Cathead Biscuits!!! Jack would grumble the whole time he’s making the dough and growl at anyone who doesn’t immediately compliment Ame’s potion preserves.
I had to look up Cathead Biscuits! Being from Canada, I’ve never heard of them LOL. Sounds delicious. What are the top three items on your bucket list?
1. Return to Ireland and explore the whole country.
2. Live in Alaska for an entire calendar year (at least, maybe I’ll want to stay!)
3. Fall in love (Weird right? A romance author who’s never been in love. Maybe that’s why I find books about it so fascinating!)
Well, that just gives me all the feels! Are there any words of wisdom you want to share with new writers?
The thing that kept me from writing for the longest time was the idea that I needed to write something ‘good.’ People told me good meant literary fiction. People told me good meant pretty prose. People told me good meant understanding where commas go on the first try.
When I realized good doesn’t matter when I’m writing a first draft, and that good doesn’t mean telling a story some lit magazine editor would approve of, I was finally able to put words on the page.
This doesn’t mean I don’t still strive to be good. But I’ve re-defined what the word means to me.
Good means writing a story I’m passionate about in a genre I love.
Good means I wrote a messy draft and then I dug into it over and over until I made it into something beautiful.
Good means I did my best, I worked with people I trust, and I created a book I’m proud of.
Don’t let other people tell you what good is. Figure that out for yourself.
Perfect advice. And I can relate! What are you working on right now? Does it connect to Shelter for a Shifter?
Yes! I’m doing NaNoWriMo and decided that Folk Haven book five would be the perfect project. It probably won’t come out until summer of next year, but I like to get started early.
Excellent. Can’t wait to dive into these books! Thank you for chatting with me today. Let’s leave some links here so readers can find you on the web, and buy your latest release.
Shelter for a Shifter is available now! Get it here!
“You’re eager to get back to that library of yours.” Hamish smiles down at me.
Thinking of all the texts that still need reviewing and sorting and translating, I wrinkle my nose, as if preparing for the future sneezing that comes with the work I do. No matter how many times I run a microfiber cloth over the lot, the dust returns. Dust loves old books.
I—please never tell my sister this or else she might perish on the spot—do not.
Leather spines, cracked with age. Yellowed pages with preservation spells wearing off. Plus, witches have terrible handwriting, making their scrawled spells uneven and almost illegible on the parchment.
Give me an eBook any day.
“In a way,” I say. The way that going there gets me away from minds that can’t help broadcasting into mine.
He laughs, as if I said something witty. “You know, I’ve only ever seen the lower level. I’d enjoy a look around. Maybe you could show me what you all are hiding upstairs in that old house.”
I frown and wonder if the wetness on my palm is condensation from Morgana’s drink or sweat.
“There’re just bedrooms upstairs.”
Hamish grins. “Even better.” He steps close, bringing the scent of seaweed with him.
The smell has my stomach churning.
“What do you say, Amethyst? Want to give me a private tour?” Hamish leans toward me, his eyes a deep ocean blue as they try to snag mine. Tie her up—
A growl rips into the space between the selkie and me, followed closely by a small black body. Bee leaps onto my shoulder, rudely hooking his claws into my T-shirt to hold his perch. Somehow, the feline-man manages not to pierce my skin.
“Gods,” Hamish barks, stumbling back a step as his searching gaze connects with Bee’s dark, menacing glare.
The cat continues to emit a noise he shouldn’t be able to make.
I don’t know that I’ve ever heard this growl before. Or if I have, not enough times to assign a specific meaning to it.
Normally, I try to correct Bee when he’s overly aggressive. I assume being a man, stuck in the body of a cat, has him in a perpetual stage of confusion that makes it hard to distinguish friend or foe, so he makes it easy on himself by assuming everyone is foe.
This time though, I’m silently grateful for his intervention. The salty scent lingers in the back of my nose, coaxing a queasiness in my stomach.
“You are free to visit the downstairs part of the library. Because it is public,” I tell the selkie as I step around him without letting his eyes snag on mine again. “Bye.”
If Hamish has anything else to say to me, he chooses not to.
Bee’s unbroken growling would have made the words hard to hear anyway.