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a:Author Up Close: Deb Lacativa—Magic, Mayhem, and Benromach Single Malt


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The artist’s tools: From Deb Lacativa’s studio, where all the magic happens.

My first Author Up Close post for 2021 features someone many of you might already be familiar with. Deb Lacativa is not only an active member of the Writer Unboxed community, she was also the 2016 WU Conference Scholarship recipient and returned to deliver the 2018 keynote speech. Deb also reminded me that she was, in her own words, “the first sacrificial lamb to the ‘All the Kings Slaughter … I mean, All the Kings Editors’ feature on Writer Unboxed.” The story Deb submitted for that series is now complete and will be published in a few weeks.

I not only wanted to interview Deb because she’s a gifted storyteller and creator (and friend), but because from the start, Deb defined success on her own terms. When she realized her genre-bending, 800-page debut novel would likely never get buy-in from a traditional publisher, she decided to take a different route to publication. In this Q&A we learn more about the novel and the choices that led Deb on that journey. Of course, if you know Deb at all, you know her answers are filled with the same mix of magic and mayhem her stories are. And, as an added bonus, at the end of this post, there’s a special treat.

GW: Tell us a little about how your writing journey started and when you went from dreaming about becoming an author to taking actionable steps to becoming one?

DL: I’ve been writing since I figured out that crayons didn’t taste good and had a better purpose. I was surrounded by adults who frequently had their noses buried in newspapers. The headlines seemed designed for a toddler to puzzle out, so I pestered for answers because I wanted in on this grownup magic.  “MOBSTER SLAIN” above a lurid black-and-white photo on the front page of the NY POST was the first sentence I ever copied. But, beyond bs-ing all my teachers with style over substance at every opportunity, it wasn’t until 2005 that I started writing for an audience on my blog: The misadventures of a textile artist. I used it to be engaging. Sometimes, downright hilarious.

Then, over the course of sixteen months starting in the summer of 2012, both my parents and my husband, Jim, passed away. By January 2014, I needed to get out of the house and be with people who did not know me. It could have been throwing pots or axes, it didn’t matter just as long as there were no condolences. Meetup offered a writer’s group not far away. “Bring a sample of your writing.” I took my turn and was immediately hooked on getting feedback, good or bad. I’d found my heart and purpose for writing. I never dreamed of becoming a published author. It became an objective. Like learning to read and write, it was a skill set that I wanted to learn.

Romance seemed to be the most popular genre, and my Yankee frugality said that’s where I should put my energy: writing that creates an immediate place for readers to connect emotionally, right through the heart. Then our fearless leader gave us an assignment for Valentine’s Day. Write a romantic scene. I was so in. The scene I came up with was the first-meet setup between the main characters of my book.

GW: Which brings us to Prophets Tango the title of your soon-to-be-released debut. What is it and why was this a story you had to tell?

DL: Prophets Tango is a genre-bending romantic saga with a deep twist of paranormal, a hearty dash of thriller, and the heat index on “incinerate.” A serial in 109 episodes divided into three seasons.

Why? In a word: characters. You have to make them live before throwing them into the fray. My protagonists, Jack and Anna, are damaged goods. These unlikely and inappropriate characters become attracted, in part, due to the influence of an adversarial pair of Spirits assigned to facilitate their red-hot hookup. When I started writing Prophets Tango I only knew one rule about the Romance genre: there had to be a Happily Ever After. Building a bridge between the opening scene and that genre-mandated HEA was my mission. Once you have a few really interesting, complex characters who have unusual objectives, set them at odds and watch the sparks fly. I also wanted danger, intrigue, and excitement along the way. Not just what would happen, but why, and how it mattered to the big picture. That HEA was a big spoiler, but I wanted to make the trip exciting, and it quickly got out of hand. Grace, you were the one who pointed out that I’d written a superhero origin story. Sure. Why not?

GW: You’d absolutely written a story about reluctant superheroes, and I remember thinking that it was just so Deb to have done such a great job writing one without even realizing what she’d done.  So, why choose self-publishing over the traditional path?

From the beginning, everyone told me that no publisher would touch an 800-page, genre-bending debut novel. Was there any way I could pare it down? No. I already had. There are another five hundred pages of “extra material” parked in files here and there, all written over the course of five years. The best I could do was shape it as a serial, divided into three seasons, to be read in order.

From what I’ve read and heard about the querying and/or acquiring an agent process of traditional publishing, the common factor was “Hurry up and wait.” Six months or more from the time you submit a query until you even get a response? At my age, I just don’t have that kind of time. Yes, I liked Ike. A bottle of Benromach Single Malt Scotch bottled in the year of my birth will set you back $23,000. My clock is ticking. Loud. The choice for me was easy. If I self-published I would have control of the book and reap the most financial reward if I could market as well as I write. Another mission underway.

GW: What are some of the lessons you’ve learned along the way to publication? 

DL: Not nearly enough. I don’t know about everyone else, but survival, physically and emotionally, has taken up a lot of energy in the past year. I should have been educating myself in the intricacies and algorithms of the dreaded Amazon. Instead, I was embroidering wild fancies on vintage tea towels, eating takeout, and rewatching Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and The Killing. I’m tickled that I just figured out how to get the sign-up widget from Mailer Lite embedded and working properly on three different web pages!

Ask for help. There are stupid questions. The ones you were too proud to ask. One thing I can’t stress enough. Find your people. Read for each other. Share honest, useful criticism. Give more than you get. I have a squad of sharp-eyed beta readers that have been worth their weight in gold. Even better if you can find readers who are not writers. If they side gig as copywriters or proofreaders, aren’t you a lucky buck! Spend money where it matters. Professional editing to whatever level you can afford. And go into hock for a great cover designer. I took months to find and engage Bookfly, and I’m thrilled with the results.

GW: What advice would you give writers like yourself who wonder if it’s “too late” for them?

DL: Again, find your people. You are not alone. Writer Unboxed is such a great place to start. Give and get encouragement. So what if you’re masked and six feet apart or via Zoom with no pants?

That stuff you heard about writing what you know? Nonsense. Try taking on something new or you’ll get bored. I have to admit here that the only romance novel I ever read before writing Prophets Tango was a few chapters from Outlander, which also had a fat dose of paranormal. I got roped into reading it aloud to a group of ladies at the nursing home where my mother lived. Talk about an appreciative audience! I’ve since learned that Outlander was Diana Gabaldon’s practice novel. Imagine that.

It’s not too late until they throw dirt on your box, your ashes in the ocean, or set your Viking ship on fire. If you have a story idea that keeps you awake at night, get up and start taking notes. It might just keep your readers up too, but you won’t know unless you try.

GW: I’ve read Prophets Tango, and I can attest to the fact that it will definitely keep readers up.
I’m also delighted you were able to get permission from your designer to give us a sneak peek at the beautiful Prophets Tango cover prior to its official release date. The cover does a wonderful job of showing so much of what this story is about: tension, fantasy, sex, and something magical. So here, without further ado, the Prophets Tango cover.

prophets tango book cover

 

Deb Lacativa studied commercial art in NYC until she realized that talent without passion wasn’t enough. She left school and worked in domestic engineering for the rich and famous, a little retail, some publishing, and telecommunications. It was her job with AT&T that brought the family from New York to Georgia in 1993. After seventeen years, AT&T kicked her loose and she resumed a career in visual art, but all the while she was reading, writing, and reading about writing—banking stories for someday. Someday is here. Her debut novel, Prophets Tango, will be available this Spring. You can learn more about Deb by visiting her website ProphetsTango.com.

Over to you: Publishing can sometimes feel like a young person’s game. I’ve seen thirtysomethings on Twitter admitting that even they feel “over the hill.” If you’ve ever had similar thoughts, what are you doing to define writing and publishing success on your own terms?

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About Grace Wynter

Grace Wynter (she/her) is a writer, freelance editor, and a huge fan of shenanigans. Her blogs (and a few of her shenanigans) have been featured on CNN.com and the Huffington Post. She is a freelance editor for the Atlanta Writers Club’s biannual conference and has edited for FIYAH and Macmillan/Tor. Her debut novel, Free Falling, was a Georgia Romance Writers’ Maggie Award finalist. When she’s not alternating between the Marvel and DC universes, Grace resides in Atlanta, Georgia. You can connect with her at The Writer’s Station The Writer’s Station, and on her author website, GGWynter ggwynter.com.

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