What can you tell us about your new book With This Collar?
Several years ago, one of my friends had a whirlwind relationship. Before I’d even had a chance to meet her new boyfriend, she told me they were planning to get married. Along with the rest of our small group of friends, I was surprised. Still, we attended in support of her. They were both avid skiers and outdoor enthusiasts, and so it was natural for them to have a small ceremony at a breathtakingly lovely home in Winter Park, Colorado. Since they’d each been married before, they asked that we not buy gifts. Instead, they asked for white candles. Before the ceremony, the minister (the groom’s mother!) and the bride’s family lit all the candles. They were married at dusk, in front of a gas-burning fireplace. The candles and fire provided the only light. As they exchanged vows, small snowflakes drifted past the plate glass windows.
The event always stuck with me, and I thought it would be a fabulous scene in a book. But in typical writer fashion, I wanted to embellish the event. €œFish out of water€ stories can be so fun to write. I love taking characters and putting them in unfamiliar situations to see how they’ll respond. The idea of adding a collaring ceremony to the wedding scene intrigued me. And I wondered how a strong, independent woman would react to watching this unfold. And then, I figured she’d need an equally strong man to guide her introduction into the new world.
The book is set in a secluded mountainous area, so why did you choose this as a place to have The Den?
When I’m at my home near Denver, I live in a fairly urban area. I can walk to a quaint historic district with shops and restaurants and nightlife. And there’s a bus stop right outside my window. And the local police station isn’t far away. It’s a vibrant area, and there’s always something happening. As a result many of my books have fairly urban settings.
But as the idea for With This Collar evolved, so did the idea for the Den. The house itself where I attended my friend’s wedding became the inspiration. The place was enormous, and the setting was private and intimate. A previous boss has a house on a few mountainous acres, and over the years I’ve spent some time up there, once on a writing retreat and at his annual cabin parties. Outdoor activities such as horseshoes and campfires added to the fun. And I thought it might be a kick to have the opportunity to write outdoor scenes. You definitely can’t do something like that in a downtown Denver setting. (In Over The Line, book three of the Mastered series, the hero takes advantage of a fence the first time he plays with our heroine.)
The character is very resistant of domineering men at the start, so what made you want Julia to be a strong character, unlike that of Anastasia in FSOG for instance?
In Fifty Shades of Grey, Ana comes off as strong in the beginning€”a young woman in college with direction and goals in her life. A huge difference between Julia and Anastasia are their ages. It’s possible E.L. James intentionally crafted Ana’s character to reflect where she would have been emotionally and developmentally. I pictured Julia being older and therefore more mature, especially emotionally. That said I’ve always had a love for strong female characters. For example, I was watching the movie The Avengers but it didn’t hold my interest until I saw Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow€”and I almost walked away until she, tied up (!!) kicked off her heels, busted a chair and beat the “bad guys.” From there, I was hooked. She was a female character I could get into and even admire. In the most dire of circumstances she held her own and kicked butt. I want to bring that type of empowerment to my readers through my characters.
Spoiler alerts: Fifty Shades of Grey ends with Anastasia crying into her pillow because she ended her relationship with Christian Grey. Julia broke it off with Marcus, and she kept on going with her life. She held her head high and continued living her life on her terms even though ultimately she realized that she wanted Marcus in her life, she never wavered. You’ll likely never see a female character in my books crying over spilled milk. (A harsh spanking, maybe…)
Julia is attracted to a man that embodies all the things she hates; arrogance, dominance and a huge ego, so why do you think that women are attracted to men that are bad for them?
I saw a meme recently that said something along the lines of Strong Women Intimidate Weak Men. My female protagonists are all capable women who can take care of themselves. I think it takes an equally strong man to keep up with a woman like that. Relationship dynamics are complex. For me, personally, it’s taken a lot of years to find a man who is comfortable with me, who encourages me, who pushes me, who challenges me intellectually. He’s enormously successful in life, and rising to that level takes a fair amount of confidence. I think a lot of this is about all of us wanting to be around people who are at least a bit like us.
But I also say that just because a man is a bit overbearing, has a big ego, and is dominant doesn’t necessarily mean he’s bad for me. Now, if he’s rude, wants to subjugate me, doesn’t solicit my opinion, treats me as less than an equal, then those things are detrimental.
Okay, and according to my friends, the real answer to that question is they have big dicks. But I didn’t say that.
You wrote your first book at age nine, can you tell us more about this? How you started writing the book?
I honestly don’t remember a time I didn’t write. My elementary school librarian was a tremendous woman. She €œpublished€ my books (well before schools were doing that kind of thing). She would get construction paper (pink for my first €œbook€) fold it over, and staple the pages inside. She added a little pocket and checkout card and gave me a spot on a shelf. I remember the thrill of seeing the bookend move back as she published more of my books. I am quite certain no one ever checked them out, but her support meant the world.
My mother always provided plenty of paper and pencils. You know how certain memories from childhood stick? With that book, I remember my mother pointing out I had misspelled €œheaven€ as €œhaven.€ Everyone’s a critic.
What is the appeal of erotic romance fiction for you as a writer?
Before my divorce, I wrote for Harlequin’s Desire line. (It was Silhouette at the time.) The books had red covers which signified their spiciness. So, really, I’ve always written books that included sex, even hot sex. I believe sex is an important part of any relationship dynamic. Our feelings, thoughts, and beliefs about sex and what it means (and even how often we want it!) can complicate a relationship. To me, it adds depth and flavor to a story to write about sex.
Immediately after my divorce, I had little urge to write€”well, except for murder mysteries. The two thrillers I wrote at that time never found a home.
When I started dating again, I had experiences I’d never dreamed possible. Yes, I did meet a Dom (and no, we’re not still involved). And a whole new world opened to me. My love of writing returned, and I was fortunate that the e-book and erotic romance industries were starting to blossom.
I took some time away from my day job to start writing again, but this time, not just a romance, but one with BDSM scenes. I found writing the story to be liberating. I was able to address grittier issues, force my characters to face things about their own natures that they might never have looked at. BDSM added an element of edginess and trust that intrigued me as a writer.
You were raised in the Wild West, so how has this translated into your writing?
I love to travel, and it’s interesting to me how different certain places can be. Some areas seem more conservative, others more liberal. With some mountain peaks that are over 14,000 feet tall, Colorado will never be tamed and that can lead to adventure, from skiing, to white-water river rafting, zip lines, touring gold mines, hiking, mountain biking. And, at least where I grew up, there is a laid back €œlive and let live€ attitude that has made expressing myself much easier than it might have otherwise been.
What is your opinion of the other erotic romance fiction that is in abundance at the moment?
I’m glad that erotic romance is out of the closet, and I’m particularly gratified that BDSM is being talked about openly. I used to struggle when I talked about what I write, particularly with strangers. I always love the question, Have I read anything you’ve written. Ah. Probably not.
Recently I saw a new doctor. She asked what I did for a living. When I told her I was a writer, she looked up from her computer. When I said it was a bit like Fifty Shades of Grey, her eyes lit up. FSOG has given me a way to talk about what I write in a way that people instantly understand, even if they’ve never read the books.
And there is a lot of really good erotic romance available for reading, and, uhm, inspiration.
How supportive are your family and friends about your book given the taboo subject matter?
My Mom and my sister are fabulously supportive. When my first erotic romance was released, my sister bought a copy. I told her not to let Mom read it. She promised she would keep it hidden when Mom visited. But one day she couldn’t find the book. My mom had picked it up and taken it with her. (There’s nothing like the appeal of the forbidden, is there?) When I learned Mom had nicked the book, I begged her not to read it, telling her it wasn’t like the books I used to write for Harlequin/Silhouette. Mom read it. I nervously waited for her reaction. My jaw fell open when she said, €œOh, there was nothing in there that I haven’t heard about.€ I think she was joking. I mean, I hope she was. Right? Mom? Mom?
My Dad develops a hearing problem whenever I mention my books. €œSierra Who?€ he asks.
My daughter reads my work and is actively involved in helping with the Tumblr page dedicated to the Den. And my son asked for a copy of one of my paperbacks to give a girl he was dating. I didn’t ask for further details on that. I think I’m acting like my Dad!
The vast majority of my friends have been extraordinarily supportive. Some have not, but I respect their opinions and no longer talk to them about my writing.
What is next for you?
I’m spending a lot of time with the characters at the Den. It will ultimately be a six book series. And then Total-E-Bound Publishing and I are discussing my next concept, six books that are considerably longer, more complex, and with the same protagonists in all of them. I have a lot of love and respect for this genre, and I believe there’s lots of opportunity to craft stories that explore even more of the psychological and physical aspects of adding a BDSM dynamic to a relationship. Please, Sir, can I have another?