Willow Scarlett writes from beautiful New Zealand, surrounded by water and trees and the occasional stingray. She writes queer romance with an emphasis on unique characters and a strong love story.
Willow doesn’t have pets or children, but she does have enough kooky friends to stock a sitcom. She also has a mysterious clicking sound in the wall which gets louder every night.
Willow is active in the local hardcore punk scene and the queer craft scene, which have less overlap than one might hope. When she’s not writing, working her day job or crafting she devotes most of her time to procrastinating blog updates.
Bukowski and Vonnegut are my storyteller heroes. Their writing flows nearly like conversational speech and it’s easy to imagine you’re sitting at a bar while those old boys tell you their stories. With Bukowski, you have to imagine he’s half-smiling as he talks like he’s constantly telling a joke, and with Vonnegut, you’re the one smiling.
Also, obviously, they’re geniuses and it’s inspiring to be around greatness.
What do you enjoy most about writing?
Getting to live my stories. I’m always thinking about my characters or plot while I’m at work so I’m never bored. It’s like I’ve stopped reading in the middle of a fun book and I’m looking forward to getting back to it, only the book is mine and I get to feel like that every day!
I love creating something that wasn’t there before. Obviously creating a finished book out of a raw idea is amazing, but even just watching ideas and characters evolving on a day-to-day basis is a humbling and motivating experience.
Does writing come easy to you? Do you experience writer’s block much, and when it does strike, how do you overcome it?
I enjoy writing and find it rewarding so that makes it easy, but not as easy as goofing off on the internet. I wake with an alarm at five or six every morning and remove myself from the internet to get some words in before work. I try to do the same after work and dinner. My aim is at least three hours of distraction-free writing time every day.
I never have a shortage of ideas but I often struggle to reach my wordcount goal for days or weeks at a time. I’m learning to not be harsh on myself when I have that kind of block. I take a step back and let myself absorb genius — a great movie or TV show or book — then go to bed really early. I wake up with my writing alarm and hope my brain’s been kick-started during the night.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions about your work, or about the romance genre?
Romance is the Nickleback of genres: It’s pop and cool to make fun of it. It feels like everyone you meet treats it as a joke but if you look at the sales even the most hardened cynic should respect that it’s doing something right.
Skipping over questions of quality (which could be thrown at any genre, let alone one as high-volume as romance), I think most people have a problem with predictability. You know the couple will get together at the end of the book, so why even bother reading it?
That’s actually the thing I love most about romance – it’s less of a misconception and more of an attitude adjustment. I love the purity of purpose, the complete honesty between reader and writer. Romance novels are about love. That’s what they promise, and that’s what they deliver. Any time you want to read about true love you can just pick up a romance novel and be satisfied.
What’s the best romance story or novel you’ve read (aside from your own)?
There’s a series called Superpowered Love by Katey Hawthorne which I read obsessively, they’re a guaranteed good time. They’re a series of stand-alone novels and novellas about cool guys who happen to have super powers. Different relationship dynamics and really strong characters with a conversational first-person narrative I love. Plus, sex with super powers is awesome.
How have you evolved creatively since you first started writing?
I’ve had a few short stories published as a science fiction writer and completed several NaNoWriMos but it was only in 2011 that I really made writing a part of daily life. I started out just wanting to write sexy stories, now I write romance and love it!
It’s always been important to me to write a healthy relationship, even when I was just writing erotic fiction – partly because that’s more satisfying and partly because I don’t want to contribute to an already rich culture of poorly represented relationships.
I mean ‘healthy’ in the sense of balanced and functional. The psychologist Robert Sternberg proposed that all interpersonal relationships could be broken down into three factors – intimacy, commitment and passion. So a close friendship has intimacy and commitment without passion, a ‘friends with benefits’ arrangement has intimacy and passion without commitment, etc. A romantic relationship has all three elements. It’s always been important to represent that in my writing: I try to build a strong core of friendship and communication and mutual respect, as well as the lust and commitment mainstays of the genre.
Since I first started writing I’ve gotten better and better at representing healthy relationships, and it’s also become more important to me. I love writing sex, but I love it most as an expression of a strong relationship.
You’re actually talking to me at a very exciting time because I’m in the final stages of two different stories which will be released in the next few months. I’ve been through a long period of focusing on developing my craft so it’s over a year since I last released a story. To a romance writer a year is eternity! I’ve written well over a million words of fiction since Knockout Andrew was released (I keep a spreadsheet), playing with character and narrative and considering what I want from my stories. I can see the improvement and I’m looking forward to others seeing it, too.
What distinguishes good erotic writing from bad or mediocre erotic writing?
I don’t believe there is an objective definition of good or bad in fiction, especially erotic fiction where personal sexual taste is such a significant factor. One person’s all-time hot favorite might be another person’s yawnfest and that doesn’t change the objective quality of the writing.
A strength of erotic writing is that it can convey internal emotion in a way that a visual medium couldn’t. So a mistake is to spend too much time describing how something looked rather than letting the reader fill in the visual details to suit their own tastes.
The same as with any narrative fiction, it’s important to have clear character motivation and a consistent tone. So with erotic writing, you need to know if you’re writing a tender love scene or lusty one-night-stand or so on. You need to know the mood your characters will be in and their motivation so their words and actions will make sense, and also so that mood will be conveyed to the readers.
In terms of personal taste, I like dirty talk and some humor between the characters. I like thinking of each sex scene as just one in a long string of experiences so I love seeing character or relationship development from one scene to the next.
What turns you on?
A body covered in ink and a face full of holes!
I love body mod. That’s actually why I started writing romance – I was fed up with story after story about perfect smooth skin and perfect teeth and perfect hair and perfect amazing bodies looking perfectly hot in the perfect pair of jeans. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to read or write stories about flawless people, but they shouldn’t be the only kind of stories available!
So I decided to write my own romance with the kind of people I wished I could read about, and that was Wrong Side of the Bridge. I put it online for free, thinking that if I wanted to read it then maybe I wasn’t the only one, and maybe I could make someone else feel like they weren’t alone in a sea of flawless bodies.
It started as erotica but I kept adding more and more explanation for the relationship until it turned into full-blown romance and then I realized that, despite my preconceptions, I actually liked romance! So I started writing romance instead of my old sci-fi, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made in terms of personal happiness and life satisfaction.
I love marks and I love the stories behind them. To me those sexy-as-hell imperfections are so much more interesting than the idea of flawless beauty.
When I was writing sci-fi I was constantly questioning whether my writing was contributing anything worthwhile. I had this rallying cry: Find what’s missing and put it there. I figured if I could just find the purpose of my writing then I’d be content.
In my teratophilia and the romance genre’s purity of intent I’ve found that purpose. I love marks, and I love writing about characters who have lives shaped by their marks. I love just writing and thinking about my stories, and as a bonus I get the satisfaction of knowing that out there is someone searching for more stories about the beauty of non-standard beauty and maybe I can give them that.
What’s the first moment you remember in your life?
A teacher getting increasingly frustrated that the class couldn’t say which emotion was conveyed by the phrase “she was beside herself.”
What are you working on next?
My next novella is called Coin Tricks. It’s about a security officer who catches a man shoplifting soap then finds himself befriending and ultimately falling in love with him. It’s told by Wire, the security officer, who is intimidatingly large but actually earnest and caring. The best moments of my life have been writing Wire – when I get absorbed in his character and write naturally in his voice the simple beauty of his worldview makes me long to be a better person.
I wrote a 4-sheet for a queer zine fest (zines are self-published booklets) and had to reduce the story down so much that I’m now exploring the central themes in a new novella. It’s a lesbian romance between a tattooist and a blogger. All of my characters have obsessions which inform their views of the world and this one believes your eyebrows show your personality, kind of like if phrenology was extended just to hair. The novella is, understandably, called Eyebrows.
The image at the top is the cover of Octopus Magic, a tentacle fantasy with ancestral and dream magic. I’m new to fantasy and that draft is a sprawling mess! I didn’t think I’d get as hooked on world-building as I did.
There’s a group on Goodreads called M/M Romance for readers and writers of the genre and they create an anthology every year. I have a (free) novel in it, a college werewolf story. It’s got tattoos and rock bands and werewolf fights in the snow all centered around a sugar-sweet romance. That will be released between June and August, you can follow the Goodreads group to read all the stories or watch my Twitter/Tumblr/blogs for when mine is released.