The story behind the story. What was the inspiration for STOLEN OBSESSION?
After I completed a work of non-fiction for family and friends in 2009 and enjoyed the experience, I challenged myself to write a romance novel. It seemed like an exhilarating idea and I thought it would be easy. How tough was telling a story?
Looking back, eight years later, the inspiration for writing fiction was my burning desire to delve into another creative outlet I hadn’t tried. I expected writing would come as naturally as painting and photography had for me, but I was wrong. Of all the projects I’ve ever undertaken, writing has been the most time-consuming and difficult. It took me two years to write a first draft—the only work of fiction I’d ever written. Editing it to perfection seems comical today when so much was wrong with the original manuscript. It’s true that first drafts are supposed to stink like mine had. I didn’t know what genre fiction was, let alone what genre I had written. Time spent honing my craft made STOLEN OBSESSION a project I’m proud of.
Having said that, my personal experience with the sheep industry helped me to create a believable protagonist with the goal of a rural lifestyle, yet write her as the stronger, more outgoing person I wish I had been in my late twenties. It’s given me a “do-over.”
What was the most challenging aspect of writing STOLEN OBSESSION?
The toughest part of writing this novel was learning the craft. Most frustrating was reading best-selling authors who don’t follow the same writing rules as new authors. My reading choices were books from well-known authors. Trying to emulate them in my work was a huge mistake. Agent critiques through online sources continually dinged me for my creative hyperbole and leading the reader with telling the story versus showing character interaction. It was hard to know which author to read because of the bad habits I had picked up in my writing. Until I understood that debut authors “should” follow certain rules, but not necessarily, and edits and critiques were all subjective, I struggled. So much depends on author voice and how compelling the story is written with the reader in mind.
Being afraid to read other authors’ works for fear of plagiarizing was another huge stumbling block I had to overcome. A writer can’t write without reading. Only reading creates an atmosphere for a writer’s words to flow onto the paper. In my case, being a stickler for details and perfection prolonged the release of my first book in the Annalisse Series. I’m one of those constant manuscript editors that critique groups and writing mentors warn debut authors about. I doubt I’ll ever break the habit, but it gives me something else to work on for the remainder of the series.
What is the message you want readers to take away from your book?
Simply, that we take so much for granted when things go well. Excellent health and happy circumstances need a reality check once in a while. Be thankful every day for those around you—family, friends, and colleagues. In STOLEN OBSESSION, Annalisse experiences a great deal of personal loss. She transforms herself into a more thoughtful person by the end of the novel.
Describe your background.
I grew up in an era where a college education wasn’t the be-all-to-end-all. My family couldn’t afford a college degree for my sister and I, and attending a junior college had no appeal for me. I wanted to become a professional artist and felt that a college degree wouldn’t help me achieve my goals. It may have, but I had tired of schooling.
I went to work out of high school as a receptionist, which forced a very shy girl to interact with the general public. I was afraid to try anything new, including driving. I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was twenty years old! At the time, I lived with my grandmother. (She’d had a tough time adjusting after my grandfather passed away.) She’d drive me back and forth to work. Shyness was the hardest bridge to cross until I’d worked for several years and gradually built my confidence.
In 1978, I met my future husband on a blind date, set up by my boss’s son. I worked at the Modesto airport for a fixed base operator, and Gregg Bell was in pilot training at our satellite office in Tracy, CA. I was the city girl who loved animals and Gregg had sheep. He lived on acreage and exposed me to the calming rural atmosphere I knew suited me and my art.
Constantly drawing and painting his sheep in the quiet of his little ranchette, put the desire to break away from just any job—to working as a full-time artist on the front burner. I had a business opportunity in the early 1980’s after marrying Gregg, when he suggested I create sheep related stationery and sell it in a catalog. While working full time in Pleasanton, CA, I put drawings onto paper in the office breakroom during lunch. The business even allowed me to ship my products via UPS from their establishment. I studied how to start a sideline mail-order business while I worked.
My husband was climbing the management ladder at the state’s major utility and finally landed a good position in the San Joaquin Valley. A place where I could work for myself full-time. My catalog venture, Ewephoric, became a reality in 1985.
We’ve raised several different breeds of sheep along the way and were heavily involved in helping families and 4Her’s learn how to raise sheep. We grew our flock numbers to 120 head when we made our move to East Texas in 2012. We now raise purebred Horned Dorset sheep exclusively where I use my photography and nature artwork as models on over 200 products. Occasionally, I write articles for animal husbandry magazines regarding sheep health. In many circles, I’m know as, “The Sheep Lady.” Although, my husband still calls me, “The Mail Order Queen.” I love mail order! Both buying and selling.
Describe your writing schedule. Do you outline? Any habits?
I try to write something every day. Whether it’s in a current work in progress or notes in a word document for future installments in the Annalisse Series. First thing in the morning, I open a book and read. Even if it’s only for a half-hour, I read. Reading keeps my mind untied and unleashes more cohesiveness to my writing.
My first manuscript drafts were done without an outline. This created too many plot lines and plot holes. By the 5th draft of STOLEN OBESSION, my editor recommended an outline before I wrote the next draft. She asked to approve it before the draft. I’m task regimented anyway, and using the outline method made better sense for a writer like myself. The second installment in the Annalisse Series, SPENT IDENTITY, was outlined before work began.
If I have days where the words won’t spill onto the manuscript, I put writing aside and pick up a book. Once I’ve read a few chapters, I can get back to my own work in progress.
What books are on your nightstand? What are you currently reading?
The complete Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon is strewn across the table of my reading room just off the bedroom. I’m a voracious reader of Karen Rose romantic suspense and those who write in a similar third-person like myself. Before I started the fiction-writing journey, I used to read Nora Roberts romance and a few others like James Patterson, but find it harder to read them these days. I don’t want to pick up the earlier bad habits in my writing, and it still infuriates me how often they write outside the lines for the rest of us!
I’m currently about to dive into, NO EXIT, by Taylor Adams and, THE GOOD DAUGHTER, BY Karin Slaughter.
Which authors inspire you?
I’m amazed by Diana Gabaldon’s power to write compelling characters and bring a reader into their minds. I purchase every Karen Rose book as it comes out because she has the uncanny ability to write a wide variety of characters without making them sound the same. Her dialog is excellent and villains admirable.
What have you learned from the experience?
I’ve found its okay to write sloppy sentences, move on, and go back to fix them later. Boggy manuscript drafts and editor criticism are part of the process for a good novel. Challenging yourself to work on something completely out of the box is invigorating to the soul!
What is your advice for aspiring writers?
Just because the process is hard, don’t give up. I’ve found anything that comes easily won’t be worth a damn in the end. It’s the hard stuff, doing the hard things, that makes the journey worthwhile.
Think about something else other than writing when you’re blocked—take a break. Don’t force it when words don’t come. Go outside. Take a walk in nature. Marvel at what’s around you. Take a journal with you and watch people interact with each other. Record their mannerisms and quirks. Use this in your writing and you’ll see an immediate improvement.
What are you working on now?
The second book in the Annalisse Series is currently out of outline form and underway. SPENT IDENTITY finds Annalisse in the middle of saving the family farm when a stranger is found dead in one of their barns. Then Annalisse’s aunt, the only living relative with the farm, disappears.
About the Book
Title: Stolen Obsession
Author: Marlene M. Bell
Genre: Romantic Suspense
PEOPLE DIE, BUT LEGENDS LIVE ON.
Manhattan antiquities appraiser Annalisse Drury dreams of a quiet life on the family farm among the sheep she loves, when her best friend is murdered. The police assume robbery is the motive because her friend’s expensive bracelet is missing. But the 500-year-old artifact is rumored to carry an ancient curse, one that unleashes evil upon any who dare wear the jewelry created for the Persian royal family—and Annalisse believes her friend is the latest victim.
Weeks later, Annalisse sees a necklace matching the stolen bracelet at a gallery opening. Convinced the necklace is part of the deadly collection, Annalisse begs the gallery’s owner to destroy the piece, but her pleas are ignored— despite the unnatural death that occurs during the opening. With two victims linked to the jewelry, Annalisse is certain she must act.
Desperate to keep the gallery owner safe, Annalisse reluctantly enlists the owner’s son to help—even though she’s afraid he’ll break her heart. Wealthy and devastatingly handsome, with a string of bereft women in his wake, Greek playboy Alec Zavos dismisses Annalisse’s concerns—until his parents are ripped from the Zavos family yacht during their ocean voyage near Crete.
Annalisse and Alec race across two oceans to save his mother, feared dead or kidnapped. As time lapses, the killer switches mode and closes in on the man who’s meant for Annalisse with the lifestyle she wants most.
But when it’s her turn as the hunted, will she choose to save Alec and his mother, or sacrifice everything to save herself?
Marlene M Bell is an acclaimed artist and photographer as well as a writer. Her sheep landscapes grace the covers of publications such as, Sheep!, The Shepherd, Ranch & Rural Living and Sheep Industry News. Ewephoric, her mail order venture, began in 1985 out of a desire for realistic sheep stationery. A color catalog of non-fiction books and sheep-related gifts may be requested at www.marlenembell.com or www.texassheep.com.
Marlene and her husband, Gregg reside on a wooded ranch in East Texas with their 50 head of Horned Dorset sheep, a lovable Maremma guard dog named, Tia, and 3 spoiled cats who rule the household.
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