Today, Patricia McLinn talks with Barbara McMahon, author of 87 romance novels and counting. Patricia and Barbara discuss sources of inspiration for writers, the dedication and consistency required to write so prolifically, and the “scathingly brilliant” ideas that sometimes change the course of a book.
You can find Barbara on
* her website,
* and Twitter.
Thanks to DialogMusik for the instrumentals that accompany this podcast.
Transcript: Authors Love Readers with Barbara McMahon
Patricia McLinn [00:00] Hi, welcome to this week’s Authors Love Readers podcast, where we delve into the stories behind the stories. We’re asking authors questions. Some of them fun, some of them serious, and from their answers, you’re going to learn things you never knew about the people who write the stories you love. My name is Patricia McLinn. I’m your host and designated question asker.
Barbara McMahon [00:24] Hi, I’m Barbara McMann. I’m an author who loves readers.
Patricia McLinn [00:28] Now let’s start the show. Welcome to another edition of Authors Love Readers. And this time I am delighted to have Barbara McMahon here. Barbara McMahon is one of my great writing buddies. We met, you know I don’t know what year it was, but it was, uh, the Romance Writers of America national conference in Hawaii.
The last time they have had the conference in Hawaii, I don’t think they ever will again, cause it was a fairly small group, which I thought was wonderful. And Barbara and I sat next to each other, McLinn and McMahon, at the literacy signing that they always have. And it’s usually at the beginning of the conference and Barbara thought I was funny. So, forevermore we have been friends.
Barbara McMahon [01:19] And I still think you’re funny.
Patricia McLinn [01:21] Yay. Yay. And Barbara has written how many, how many romances?
Barbara McMahon [01:29] Eighty-seven.
Patricia McLinn [01:31] Oh, my gosh. Oh my gosh. She started as she wrote for Harlequin and Silhouette. Writing for a Harlequin romance, right?
Barbara McMahon [01:41] Correct.
Patricia McLinn [01:43] And who else? Tell us all the ones you wrote for.
Barbara McMahon [01:45] Okay. So I also wrote for Silhouette Desire for Silhouette Special Editions and for Harlequin Superromance.
Patricia McLinn [01:52] Yes, all sorts of books. And now she is an independent author. She has the rights back to, um, some of those past books, and she is also writing new romances.
Barbara McMahon [02:05] That’s right.
Patricia McLinn [02:06] We’re going to start with some quick questions here just to let people get started to know you.
Barbara McMahon [02:10] Okay.
Patricia McLinn [02:11] I’m going to say, what is your favorite taste? And I do mean food, although it’d be interesting. She asked me do I mean food or do I mean clothing? So now I want to know both.
Barbara McMahon [02:21] Oh, okay. So I guess my favorite is pizza followed by dark chocolate. I, and I don’t have a, you know, I don’t have an ethnic one, like Italian or, or Tex-Mex or something like that. But my favorite food is pizza and I love dark chocolate. And then in clothes, I go through really casual Western attire.
Patricia McLinn [02:40] Do you have cowboy boots?
Barbara McMahon [02:42] Absolutely.
Patricia McLinn [02:43] Absolutely. Okay. What is your favorite color?
Barbara McMahon [02:46] Blue. Dark blue. I have nine dark blue T-shirts. I can go weeks without ever wearing another color.
Patricia McLinn [02:55] Well, how did that start?
Barbara McMahon [02:57] I have no idea. I have always liked blue, and I like all the shades, but I really like navy. And so, you know, anytime I go somewhere, and there are navy blue T-shirts on sale, I buy them. And then I realized the other day, cause I do laundry once a week, that, oh my gosh, how long could I go with nine shirts and never wear another color? Probably infinitely.
Pre-author jobs: guide for blind skiers, flight attendant, VP of software firm
Patricia McLinn [03:19] My next question is, what surprising jobs you’ve held.
Barbara McMahon [03:23] One you may not know about is I was a guide for blind skiers.
Patricia McLinn [03:28] I didn’t know that.
Barbara McMahon [03:30] Yep. I had to go through training.
Patricia McLinn [03:31] When did you do that?
Barbara McMahon [03:32] It was several years ago, actually, shortly after I had done several, I fell and injured my knee, and I haven’t been able to go skiing again, but I did it for one season, and it was a lot of fun. And, um, mostly I had kids, teenagers that were blind and special programs would bring them up to the snow, and then our group would guide them.
Patricia McLinn [03:52] So you should tell people where you live in general.
Barbara McMahon [03:55] Oh, I live in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, not too far from Lake Tahoe.
Patricia McLinn [04:00] So she has lots of, lots of opportunities to, to have the snow to ski.
Barbara McMahon [04:04] Absolutely.
Patricia McLinn [04:06] That’s cool.
Barbara McMahon [04:07] I have snow at home too.
Patricia McLinn [04:08] So I have to ask you if, then I have to ask you a related question to get the answer I want.
Barbara McMahon [04:13] Okay.
Patricia McLinn [04:14] Uh, what other day jobs have you held?
Barbara McMahon [04:16] I was a flight attendant during the Vietnam War, and then I ended up being a vice-president of a software development firm before I quit to write full-time.
Patricia McLinn [04:25] And did you want to do those jobs? I mean, did you always want to be a writer and you were doing those other jobs to support yourself, or were those the jobs you had hoped to have and then you went naahh.
Barbara McMahon [04:37] No, I actually have been writing since I was a teenager, and we had a “quote,” a literary magazine at my high school, and I used to write for that. And then a friend of mine and I would spend our summers writing these mysteries and things like that, but I didn’t think of being a professional writer. What I really wanted to do was work in the Foreign Service. Then I, I did a stint as a flight attendant and got to fly all around the world, which I loved, and that was my goal.
Then I ended up getting married, and my then-husband did not want to be a person attached to a foreign person, you know, in a foreign embassy or something like that. His job was in the Bay area, so we stayed here, and I gave up that dream. And then I just worked and worked and, but wrote on the side. And then after I had published several books, I thought, well, I’m just going to quit this other job and write full-time.
Patricia McLinn [05:28] Good for you.
Barbara McMahon [05:29] It’s been fun.
Patricia McLinn [05:30] Good for you. So when was your first book? When was your first?
Barbara McMahon [05:33] Um, 1982.
Patricia McLinn [05:35] And when did you go full-time?
Barbara McMahon [05:36] It must’ve been 1992. So for ten years, I wrote on weekends and sometimes in the evening.
Patricia McLinn [05:44] Do you have a strong fear? And if so, do you use it in your books?
Barbara McMahon [05:48] No. I mean, I don’t like spiders, but I don’t use them in my books. I guess I could, but it’s like, don’t tell people that, I mean, I’m kidding.
Patricia McLinn [05:58] Barbara is very sane. No, no fears, no phobias. I was sorta hoping there’d be a closet one that, that I’d hear about.
Barbara McMahon [06:08] Yes, exactly.
Patricia McLinn [06:09] That I could use against you.
Barbara McMahon [06:10] But, no. Sorry. Sorry to disappoint.
Patricia McLinn [06:12] Okay. Do you have a saying that your mother or father used that you hear yourself saying now?
Barbara McMahon [06:18] Because I said, so that’s why.
Patricia McLinn [06:21] And does it work any better than it worked on you?
Barbara McMahon [06:25] No, not really. And mostly, I can only say to my grandkids, and they are intimidated just a wee bit, but now my, my daughters, they just laugh when I say it.
Patricia McLinn [06:33] Okay. Most writers, now Barbara may be the exception here, have a bad habit word, you know, a word that crops up and, you know, hopefully we know about it and we go back in and check for it, but it, it’s showing up when it should not. I, I have said this over and over. Some of mine, uh, include just and really. Very will show up too. What do you, what’s your bad habit?
Barbara McMahon [07:00] Two. I would say one is just, like you were saying. And at the end of the book, I go back and search on just and eliminate them or change the word sometimes to merely, but mostly eliminate it, because it’s like, Oh my gosh, I said it again. And the other bad habit I have, and it’s not really a word, it’s starting without a subject. You know, just jumping in with the, the phrase that includes the verb and going forward. And then when you read back, it’s like, well, that’s very abrupt. So then I’ll add an I or a he or she or something like that.
Patricia McLinn [07:32] Oh, that’s interesting. I have a tendency to use the phrase, um, it was not dadadada, it was… Which actually is harder to search for because it has the variable in the middle of it.
Barbara McMahon [07:47] Uh, yeah.
Patricia McLinn [07:48] So I, I get a lot of, it was nots that I wanted, but they can’t find this other phrase without going through the, it was nots. So, I have multiple bad habits. I have bad habit phrases.
Barbara McMahon [08:02] Oh, I do too. One is the dark of midnight. And I had a, I had a reader who got a whole bunch of my books at one time. And then she wrote me and she said, I really enjoyed them, but do you know, on every book you say, In the dark of midnight? And it was like, Oh no, do I? So I haven’t said, I don’t think I’ve used it once since that reader brought it to my attention, but apparently in six books, I said it.
Patricia McLinn [08:24] That’s terrible though, that now you’re so conscious of it. So there’s probably a spot where it’d be exactly perfect to use it, and you can’t use it.
Barbara McMahon [08:31] I would not let myself use it.
Patricia McLinn [08:34] You told us that the phrase that your, that your folks used and that you now use, how about, do you have a motivational or upbeat quote that you like?
Barbara McMahon [08:42] The one I like best is, I can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me. It’s from Philippians. And it is one that I have used for many, many years. It gets me through everything.
Patricia McLinn [08:53] That’s, that’s a real foundation—
Barbara McMahon [08:55] Yup.
Movies for a deserted island: Where Eagles Dare, Kelly’s Heroes, and The Sound of Music
Patricia McLinn [08:56] —for you. Okay. What three movies would you take to, with you to this strange desert Island that allows you to play movies?
Barbara McMahon [09:03] Okay. Let me see. You’ll probably laugh at these. One I would take would be, um, Where Eagles Dare, which was a Richard Burton/Clint Eastwood action flick. And another one—
Patricia McLinn [09:15] Ohhh, a World War II—
Barbara McMahon [09:16] —I would— Yes, World War II. And the other one would be Kelly’s Heroes, which was Clint Eastwood, also in World War II. And then the other one I think I would take would be The Sound of Music.
Patricia McLinn [09:26] Well, those are interesting. I was thinking the first two, there’s sort of a theme there of overcoming adversity, certainly, you know, all war—
Barbara McMahon [09:36] Yeah, big odds to overcome.
Patricia McLinn [09:39] Interesting. And then why The Sound of Music?
Barbara McMahon [09:40] I don’t know. It’s so upbeat and cheery. And of course, once you hear those songs, they resonate through your head for days afterwards. That would keep me company on the desert Island.
Patricia McLinn [09:49] So you be off singing the songs.
Barbara McMahon [09:52] That’s right. And dancing around like Julie Andrews did on the hillside. I know you can picture me doing that even in jeans.
Patricia McLinn [09:57] I can, I can, I can very much picture that. Okay. I’m going to ask another kind of strange little question. If your writing were a color, what would it be?
Barbara McMahon [10:10] Well, of course, it would be blue.
Patricia McLinn [10:12] Oh, okay.
Barbara McMahon [10:13] Blue is my happy color and I’m happy when I’m writing, so it would be blue. But it would probably be a light smoky kind of blue, not navy.
Patricia McLinn [10:20] Not navy. Yeah. I can see that. Okay. So where did your story, your love of story come from?
Barbara McMahon [10:28] I can’t remember.
Patricia McLinn [10:29] Do you know?
Barbara McMahon [10:30] I, I, my mom had told me, I started reading when I was about four and I can’t remember ever not reading. And I can remember as a kid, I had a bedtime, I’m not sure kids do these days, but I did. And so I would dutifully go to bed with a flashlight and a book. And as soon as they said goodnight and closed the door, I was under my covers reading.
Patricia McLinn [10:50] Oh, yep.
Barbara McMahon [10:52] So classic for that generation. Don’t you think?
Patricia McLinn [10:55] I did that too.
Barbara McMahon [10:57] Did you?
Patricia McLinn [10:58] Under the covers with a flashlight.
Barbara McMahon [10:58] Yeah.
Patricia McLinn [10:59] No, like no adult could see through that.
Barbara McMahon [11:03] Well, I actually—
Patricia McLinn [11:04] Through the sheet.
Barbara McMahon [11:06] I shared a room with my sister and I was afraid the light would wake her up. So that’s why I would go underneath, and you know, and I’m sure you did it too. I’d be up so late, I’d be so tired the next day, but I couldn’t tell anybody why.
Patricia McLinn [11:18] I don’t think they expected anything of me except for being tired the next day, because I’ve long been a night owl.
Barbara McMahon [11:24] Oh.
Patricia McLinn [11:25] So I didn’t have to explain, but the other thing I used to do, I’m the youngest by a bunch. So my older siblings and my parents would be downstairs and I swear all the fun started when I got sent to bed, I’d be sent to bed and all of a sudden, there’s all this laughter downstairs. So I would sneak down. The first half of the stairway—
Barbara McMahon [11:44] Yeah.
Patricia McLinn [11:45] —to where, where it opened up into the, into the downstairs room.
Barbara McMahon [11:50] Yeah.
Patricia McLinn [11:51] And I’d be there listening. And my mother would say, Are you in bed? And I would pound up the stairs and jump from the landing to the middle of the bed and then say, yesss, like she had no clue what I was doing. So, yeah, I, I don’t think I was cut out to be a spy.
Barbara McMahon [12:17] No, probably not.
Patricia McLinn [12:19] Question from a reader.
Barbara McMahon [12:22] Okay.
What sparked the idea for One Stubborn Cowboy
Patricia McLinn [12:23] She says, Where do your stories come from? I know one author who dreams her stories. Another has a character suddenly taking up residence in her head. So how are your beautiful stories born? I love that. She says the stories are beautiful.
Barbara McMahon [12:38] I will see something and it will spark my imagination. I came out of the grocery store one night, um, and in the handicap parking place was a pickup truck with this really cute cowboy sitting inside behind the wheel. And as I walked by, I saw a wheelchair in the back of the truck. And so right away, I thought that’s gotta be his because whoever else was in the truck is no longer in the truck.
So then I started thinking of an injured cowboy. How would that happen? While he was rodeo cowboy, he got, um, injured being bucked off the bull or something like that. And then it just developed into a whole story, which was One Stubborn Cowboy, one of my first Desires. Another time—
Patricia McLinn [13:20] That’s great.
Barbara McMahon [13:21] Another time I was at the Amador County fair. I live in Amador County, and it’s a rural county. It’s, it’s big on cows and cowboys and things like that. And I was sitting down resting and eating an ice cream cone, because we’d just been walking all over the fairgrounds and this cowboy, of course, with two little girls, I mean, maybe nine months each, one in each arm. They were big enough to sit up by themselves and look around and all, but they looked like they probably weren’t walking much.
And I thought, well, that’s a great idea. What if there’s a single dad with twins. So that was another book, Daddy and Daughters. Another one I got was from a Lacy J Dalton song, which is country music. And, um, I put it back from that. So I get ideas from everywhere and then they just sparked something in my mind.
Patricia McLinn [14:18] Okay. So when you start, you have that idea, then how do you actually start the book? How do you start writing? Do you do work with that idea? Do you outline, do you take notes or do you just start writing and do you start writing at the beginning? Um, or—
Barbara McMahon [14:32] The first couple of books—
Patricia McLinn [14:34] —somewhere that’s not the beginning.
Barbara McMahon [14:35] Unlike you, my dear. Um, some books, I wrote two or three books, um, back in the day, when you had to write a whole book before they would buy it, at least Mills and Boon wouldn’t buy it without the whole book. Then when I started going to contract with just proposals, they insisted on an outline. So then I’d outlined the book and then my editor would say, You never follow this outline, but it’s okay, cause your books turn out okay. But they would insist on the outline every time. So in a way, I have a very vague outline on what’s going to happen, but a lot of it just as I’m typing, it was like, I have this scathingly brilliant idea, and then I add that to it. So, and then I have to go back and lead up to it. So I, I consider myself an outliner that’s a panster.
Patricia McLinn [15:20] So you have to track back—
Barbara McMahon [15:22] Yes.
Patricia McLinn [15:23] —in the, so you’re writing a sequentially, but then you have this scathingly brilliant idea and you have to go back and, and drop in hints and stuff to make it work from the beginning.
Barbara McMahon [15:33] Exactly.
Patricia McLinn [15:34] So you’re sort of, you’re sort of sequential, but you do jump.
Barbara McMahon [15:38] Yeah. So does that make me a hybrid?
Patricia McLinn [15:41] Yes.
Barbara McMahon [15:42] I think so too.
Patricia McLinn [15:43] And now that you are, you are a totally independent author, as am I, has that changed the way you write at all?
Barbara McMahon [15:48] No, because the habit’s in place after eighty-seven books, it’s, it’s hard to change what’s ingrained.
Patricia McLinn [15:54] What’s been the easiest book you’ve written. Can you think of one off the top of your head, out of the eighty-seven, it was just a joy to write?
Barbara McMahon [16:00] It was the One Stubborn Cowboy, and I had a week’s vacation and it was during the time my kids were in school. I wrote solid for one week and got the first draft done. I’ve never before, nor since done that, but that story just flowed like crazy.
Patricia McLinn [16:18] Oh, that’s wonderful.
Barbara McMahon [16:20] But I wish I could do it again.
Patricia McLinn [16:22] I was just thinking that I would love to recapture it. When, then this is a question from a reader. When you finished a book, do you miss the characters? Do you think about them afterwards? And, and if you do, has that ever led to, uh, an additional book about characters?
Barbara McMahon [16:41] It has. Yes. Yes. I miss the characters because I’ve been living with them for months and, you know, I write for a period of time in the morning and then the rest of the day, I’m thinking of what I’m going to write next or doing some research or something like that, about the book.
And, and so I’ve really lived with these people for months, and it’s like a friend that visited and now has gone, and you miss them. And I’ve never done a sequel because of it, but I have then gone back and added epilogues. Just like, Oh, well, let’s just think down the road a bit. And how did these people fair? And so that’s sort of fun—
Patricia McLinn [17:17] Interesting.
Barbara McMahon [17:18] —to go back and see, um, Oh, here we are nine months later and they’re still very happy.
Patricia McLinn [17:24] That’s cool that you add the epilogues. That’s a good idea too.
Barbara McMahon [17:29] Well, it’s, it’s nice because then your book doesn’t necessarily end with, with happy ever after and you wonder, is that true? And then it’s fun to see them later in the, they really, the love has even blossomed more, and they’re just really happy, and that makes me happy too.
Patricia McLinn [17:44] Yeah. Living the life that, that the book’s set up for them. I know you’ve heard me say this before. I often think of my books as not having happily ever afters at the end, they have happy beginnings. Cause what the characters have gone through and learned in the course of the book has taken them from two people who couldn’t have a real committed relationship at the beginning to two people who could have—
Barbara McMahon [18:09] Right.
Patricia McLinn [18:11] —a committed relationship at the end. And so the epilogue then gives you a, a glimpse into that beginning of, of their new life.
Barbara McMahon [18:20] Yeah.
Patricia McLinn [18:21] I liked that. I may steal that.
Barbara McMahon [18:23] I’m happy to share.
Patricia McLinn [18:26] Well, thank you. Um, do you have books that are unpublished or half-finished that it just never quite jelled and, but you’ve held onto them?
Barbara McMahon [18:37] I have three historical ones that I wrote back when Rosemary Rogers and Kathleen Woodiwiss were so popular. And I actually sent one of those off. And, um, the, I don’t even remember what house it was in, this was down before, this was like in the 1970s. And it came back with this three-page critique, and I didn’t know anything then.
And I said, Sadly, they don’t like my book. Had I known then that an editor doesn’t spend three pages of critiques, if they’re not interested in the book, my whole life could be different now. But I put it away, I put all three away and, um, no, I never did anything with them. And I don’t know. I mean, I still have them, but they’re typed. That was before computers.
Patricia McLinn [19:26] You could get those scanned in.
Barbara McMahon [19:28] Yeah, I could.
Patricia McLinn [19:29] What, what era were they? What historical era?
Barbara McMahon [19:32] Revolutionary War.
Patricia McLinn [19:35] Oh, interesting. My favorite. I really liked that period.
Barbara McMahon [19:40] I do too.
Patricia McLinn [19:41] Which of course is the reason I wrote my historical and 1880s Wyoming. Just spending all my life studying colonial and revolutionary—
Barbara McMahon [19:51] Right.
Patricia McLinn [19:52] —in the US, where I knew the research. No, no, I went to do the harder stuff. But, see, I think there’s a future there for you, Barbara, if this contemporary gig gives out—
Barbara McMahon [20:05] You have a backup.
Patricia McLinn [20:07] —no problem.
Barbara McMahon [20:08] I was a history major in college. And so I thought, well, I’d write about this because, you know, I get to do all this research and all, and after, and I only tried with the one book I had in the meantime had written the others, waiting for the response and, um, and I thought, you know, this takes forever to research and if they’re not, and to buy it, I’m wasting my time. And that’s how I went contemporary. Cause I thought, I know this timeframe. I don’t have to look up, you know, how they dressed or what kind of conveyances they rode in or stuff like that. So yeah, if this ever goes up, I might go back to it. Unlikely.
Researching tools: cattle ranches, fire station, Google Maps and Google Earth
Patricia McLinn [20:39] Let’s talk, let’s talk a little more about research because some people think, well, there’s no research in contemporary cause you’re living the time, but I find there always is every book there’s research. Um, do you like research? Do you do it all before? Do you have, do you have a routine that you follow with the research search?
Barbara McMahon [20:58] I do research. And one reason I like to write cowboy books, and like I said, I live in a rural county, I have a friend who actually owns a cattle ranch, and anytime I have questions, I ask her things. Um, I did a book once for, about a wildfire, which are prevalent in California as you well know. Um—
Patricia McLinn [21:16] Yes.
Barbara McMahon [21:17] —and so I called one of the local fire people, and he spent a long time telling me about the nature of fire and what to expect in the terrain I was picking up and things like that. And my biggest, biggest win has been Google Maps and Google Earth. Because it used to be if I was writing for another location, I would go and get all the travel books I could get from AAA or from the library and read up on everything I could about the topography and the architecture and customs of that area and stuff like that. And now you can go online and actually walk the street practically that your heroine’s going to walk or ride the range.
Barbara McMahon [21:56] I did a, uh, long jump, which is what’s called, um, hot air balloons that go long distances. They’re like contests, you know. And so it was set in Spain. And so I took off in Barcelona and in Google Earth, you can go, you can say how up, about how high above the earth you go. So I went as high as hot air balloons go, and then just went in the direction the balloon would go. And I was able to describe all of what they would have seen.
Patricia McLinn [22:27] Isn’t that amazing.
Barbara McMahon [22:28] I love Google Earth. So yeah, I guess I do research on almost every book, at least some facet of it. And it’s easier when doing the Western ones because I’ve got, um, friends that are in the cattle industry, but you know, I like to do other things too, and there’ll be readers who aren’t enamored with cowboys, and so I try to do rich guys and sexy guys and business tycoons and things like that, too.
Patricia McLinn [22:55] So, do you have a favorite type of character to write about?
Barbara McMahon [22:58] Yeah, I like cowboys.
Patricia McLinn [23:00] There is something about them. When you’re working on a book, do you have a certain routine that you follow?
Barbara McMahon [23:07] Yes, I get up every morning and have breakfast. And then I, some people don’t eat breakfast, so, and then I sit down—
Patricia McLinn [23:15] That’s true.
Barbara McMahon [23:16] —and I work probably from maybe eight or eight-thirty in the morning until about twelve-thirty, and then I go have lunch. And then in the afternoon I do, you know, any research I need to, or other things I, you know, I’m involved, there’s things, I’m a volunteer for different organizations. So I’ll, I’ll do stuff like that. And then the next morning I’ll get up and the same thing.
And I listened to the same classical music I have for twenty-some years, because it’s like when I have on those headphones and that William Tell Overture starts, I go into this zone and the time just flies by.
Patricia McLinn [23:49] That’s such a great piece of music too. I mean, I think we take it for granted because it’s used for commercials—
Barbara McMahon [23:55] Yeah. Yeah.
Patricia McLinn [23:56] —and things like that. I love the pace of it, and I, I listened to a variety of music, but one of the pieces I listened to our, um, theme songs from Errol Flynn movies. And I find the faster the music goes, the faster I type.
Barbara McMahon [24:06] Me too.
Patricia McLinn [24:07] So, when it’s going **Hums a tune** I get a lot of words in. We’re good, we’re going to have to put together a collection of fast-paced, classical music for writers to be productive.
Barbara McMahon [24:21] Oh, that would work. That would be really good.
Patricia McLinn [24:23] So what’s your favorite part of the process, and what do you, what’s the most difficult for you too?
Barbara McMahon [24:29] My favorite part is starting. It’s so hopeful and, and it’s building a picture of the character that I hope the reader sees is as what I see, you know. I have a picture in my mind and I try to describe them, not just physically, but personality-wise as well, so that others will see what I’m envisioning in my head.
And then the middles are hard sometime. I know where I want to go, but it’s like, how do I get there logically, you know, I don’t want, I don’t want something to feel contrived or, or too coincidental or something like that. So, so that part’s probably the hardest for me. And then I sort of slow down at the end because I’m getting ready to say goodbye, and maybe I’m not ready to say goodbye to them yet. And I do slow down a little at the end.
Patricia McLinn [25:15] So is it is the end, your least fav— No you said the middle is kind of your favorite.
Barbara McMahon [25:19] The middle, yeah, that’s my least favorite.
Patricia McLinn [25:21] Do you have tricks to get past that?
Barbara McMahon [25:24] Yeah, sometimes I start mid-book and try to, um, brainstorm other ways to make it fresh and a bit different and unexpected. Sometimes I like to say, can I just make this unexpected, and then go a different way. And so, sometimes I do that, and then if I get the scathingly brilliant idea, then I can include that here. And then I have to go back of course, and lead up to it.
Patricia McLinn [25:44] What, now you’ve written so many books, and you started eighties when, again, as I was, you started when you were a toddler, I’m sure.
Barbara McMahon [25:54] Of course.
Patricia McLinn [25:55] Um, having been a toddler flight attendant, previously.
Barbara McMahon [26:00] Yeah, I was probably—
Patricia McLinn [26:02] Those little three-year-olds walking down the aisle of the plane, telling you to put your seatbelt on.
Barbara McMahon [26:08] That’s right. Oh, you’ve captured the scene perfectly.
Patricia McLinn [26:14] So, but you’ve written these books and, and you’ve had, um, a very career, a very successful career. How do you think you’ve changed as a writer over the years? And have, have you had just one change or has, have you, can you see sort of the ages of Barbara McMahon as an author?
Barbara McMahon [26:36] Well, I started out writing for Harlequin in their London office and they’re a bit more formal in their speech and sentence, um, set up than Americans are. And so I do notice that if I go back and look at earlier books, they seem more, almost literary rather than fast-paced and keep moving so you see what’s happening to the characters. And my more recent books in the last fifteen years or so maybe, um, I think are, are more suited to our lifestyle now, you know, you, you’ve got some fast-paced things going on and then you take a break and that would be probably where someone to put the book down and go cook dinner or something and then come back and pick it up again.
Barbara McMahon [27:17] So, yeah, I definitely see a change, to a degree, not hopefully not too much, but to a degree in that. And since I’ve gone independent, one of the things that Harlequin harps on, bus or sweetheart, is making it very generic because it’s going to be sold to, you know, a gazillion foreign countries and in foreign languages and things like that, so it needs to be very generic, and I feel I can really write more to the American market now that I’m, um, an independently published author, so that it’s a lot more like the lifestyle I lead.
Patricia McLinn [27:51] And more specific, yeah.
Barbara McMahon [27:53] More specific to the United States.
Patricia McLinn [27:56] Yeah, and more specific to the character, I think, often because the character is in the United States, but, um, I used to have those, ahem, discussions with some of my thirty-two editors that I had for my—
Barbara McMahon [28:11] Oh my gosh! Thirty-two? Oh my God.
Patricia McLinn [28:14] Yeah. Oh yeah. Yeah. And you know, they, they would want things that could apply to anybody. And my point was, but this character isn’t anybody, it’s this specific person.
Barbara McMahon [28:27] Yeah.
Patricia McLinn [28:28] So yeah, we were never a great, I was never a great fit there. Um, so that the publisher and I were never a great fit, but those days are past, now we’re Indies.
Barbara McMahon [28:38] And I love the freedom now. I mean, I feel like I can, can write as fast as I want, or as slow as I want. Um, I can write what I want and not write to the market, so to speak, just write what makes me happy and hope it makes people who read it happy.
Patricia McLinn [28:54] That’s interesting. Cause you have even been published, always in romance?
Barbara McMahon [28:58] Yes, always in romance.
Patricia McLinn [29:00] What things do you believe that people think about the romance, um, genre and are sure they know that just isn’t so. In other words, what misconceptions do people have about it?
Barbara McMahon [29:17] I think if people are not already reading romances, they think they’re fluff. And I have a, I was on a nonprofit committee with another woman, and it came up what I did, as a romance author. Uh, I never read those, I read histories. And I’m thinking, they’re genre fiction too. So, so I think the perception is they’re not as in-depth reading, and yet they, more than anything, have universal appeal because you’re going for the assumption, I mean, what’s better than falling in love?
But, but then also you can connect into sadness sometimes or anger or envy. I mean, you can go through all the emotions that everybody feels, and that’s why some people do so well in other countries because it doesn’t matter too much about the situation, they’re touching into those universal feelings that, that we all have. And I think it’s enriching to find out how some people deal with those, even if it is fiction.
Patricia McLinn [30:17] How do you feel when you’re writing about characters who are sad? Do you find that that affects you?
Barbara McMahon [30:23] Oh yeah, I’ll be sad. And I still have some books that if I go back and reread them, I start crying and I wrote the stupid things. So it’s like what in the world, but, but hopefully, the sadness of that situation comes across. And I’m not sure that every book’s an emotional roller coaster, but I think if you have different emotions surface, it makes it a more enriching read rather than just straight through. So I been trying to get just a little bit of difference out of that underlying emotion pain, being falling in love.
Patricia McLinn [30:58] You mentioned emotional roller coaster and my mind immediately went to, um, every book is an emotional roller coaster. For me as I’m writing it. But ups and downs, a lot, a lot of scary turns. So, when you’re writing, um, I know you’re, you’re a little more even keel, but, um, do you celebrate different, do celebrate beginning a book or ending a book or having it be published?
Barbara McMahon [31:28] Sad to say I no longer do, but in the early days, every time I’d get a new contract, my husband would take me out to dinner and we’d celebrate. And then, then when I finished a book, we’d go out to dinner and celebrate and, and then after awhile it became like, Okay, they bought another book, but I’m busy, I can’t go out to dinner. And then we just, after a while it’s like, okay, well this is your life. This is not an extraordinary thing anymore. It’s, I mean, I’m blessed to be able to write this long, but in my own lifestyle now it’s not an extraordinary thing. So no, we don’t celebrate as much as we used to.
Authors are people too
Patricia McLinn [32:04] Well, that’s a, that’s an interesting point though, about the, this is your life. And I think, um, sometimes people meeting writers, uh, think we have these very different lives from, from other people. And I will often post on Facebook or Twitter about, you know, taking leaves out of the gutter. Oh yes, the glamorous author life, you know. But do you think that writers view the world differently from other people or approach things different? Are we, are we that, are we different? I guess.
Barbara McMahon [32:45] I think we’re different. When I have spoken to groups, they always ask, where do you get your ideas? Always. I have yet to meet another writer who asks me that. And I think the difference is, we have more ideas in our head then we will ever live long enough to write. And people who are not writers don’t. And so, yeah, I think that makes us different. It was a gift that we were given than other people were given other gifts to, you know, to do in their lives. And that was a gift given to us.
And, you know, I love to, like, if we go to Disneyland, I’ll sit out with the grandkids so I can watch people walk by. I like that kind of stuff. If I’m riding on the train, I eavesdrop on the people talking just to hear, you know what they’re talking about, how they’re saying things, trying to guess what might come next. That kind of analytical kind of stuff maybe, and my friends don’t do that, my non-writing friends don’t do that. So yeah, I do believe we see the world differently.
Patricia McLinn [33:41] Yeah. Barb, I’ve said this in some other, um, talks that I’m an eavesdropper. Uh, and when I go like to a restaurant with other authors, sometimes there’s this sort of scrambled to get in the best spot to either eavesdrop or watch the whole room or the, or the super-duper, the, the double, daily double is to have a place where you can do both. And Barbara is one of the authors that I wrestle with who’s going to sit in the best spot. Try to get to the good chair first.
And you can tell there’ll be a group of authors at a meal. And, and we tend, because we spend a lot of time alone, um, when we do get together, there’s a lot of talking and then all of a sudden there’ll be this lull, and you know, there’s a good conversation going on at a nearby table and everybody’s mentally taking notes.
Patricia McLinn [34:41] So, okay. Here’s a question from a reader. You actually answered kind of one reader’s question about where your stories come from. So we’ve covered that, but what is your favorite place to write? Does it have an inspirational view, and why is that your favorite spot to write in?
Barbara McMahon [34:58] My computer is set up by a window. I live in the Sierra Nevada mountains, so when I look out, all I see is trees. And to me, that is peaceful and serene and tranquil, and I really like it. Sometimes in the fall, the, um, some of the needles, not all of them, but some of them fall, especially from the fir trees and they’re gold, they turn gold. And so if they’re falling in the sunshine it’s just like golden snow almost falling down. Of course you only have to blow the driveway cause they make a terrible mess. But, yes—
Patricia McLinn [35:29] The glamorous life of a writer, right?
Barbara McMahon [35:32] Exactly. But while they’re falling, they’re gorgeous. And you know, I got my desk by the window and I’m just there every day. And again, you slip in front of the computer, you put on the earphones with the same old music I’ve been listening to for decades, and you just zone out and write. And I have tried taking my laptop out on my deck. I’d have even a wider view, but, but no, it doesn’t work.
Patricia McLinn [35:56] Oh, really? You, you can’t work out on the, on the deck?
Barbara McMahon [36:00] And I’m sure some of it, and maybe it would work, because now I’m thinking about it, I have, when we’ve had a power outage or something up here for a long duration, I have gone to the library and been able to work there, but I also think I miss my music and listen to it while I’m working.
Patricia McLinn [36:18] Yeah, I do think that. Maybe authors in particular are, um, trainable, like Pavlov’s dogs, you know, that we, we get certain cues and when, if we’re smart, we create those cues so that we can get back into the writing mode.
Barbara McMahon [36:33] I absolutely agree. I mean, I just consider that my training over, you know, I’ve been doing this for thirty-some years and that’s what works and, and I do often say I’m like Pavlov’s dog. You know, I put the earphones, I can’t hear the phone. Don’t answer the phone. Um, my husband knows not to come up and talk to me when I’ve got earphones on. And, um, and then between writing books, I do editing of course, before I’m ready to release it and I don’t listen to the music then. Um, and so it’s a different mindset in a different way of working. And then when I’m ready to start creating again, I go back into the same mode.
Patricia McLinn [37:11] Yeah. I find when I’m editing, even if. I, I, I’m listening to the words, at least in my head from, you know, from when they’re on the page, when I’m writing, I’m listening to the voices in my head.
Barbara McMahon [37:23] Yeah.
Patricia McLinn [37:24] If that—
Barbara McMahon [37:25] Yeah, it does.
The freedom of self-publishing and Play-Doh covers
Patricia McLinn [37:26] —makes sense. Yeah. So you do your books tend to, once you, you start, you have the idea. Well, you’ve said you’ll have scathingly bright, brilliant ideas during, so do they tend to, to change a lot from the start, from your conception to what they end up as?
Barbara McMahon [37:42] They don’t change a lot, but often the ending will be different. And, um, and it’s like, you know, this is what I envision right now today. And as I get into the stories and, and, you know, develop the characters and, and come up with these other things to make them distinctive, and it says, Oh, well, he really wouldn’t do that kind of thing. And so then I’ll slightly change it, which then ripples through and goes all the way to the end. So the basic concept is there from start to finish, but yeah, I will often have the different ending than originally anticipated. I say it used to drive my editor nuts, but, but she knew, I mean, she never asked me to go back and change it like I had it on the outline, and now I don’t have to answer to anybody but me, and so I can make the change whenever I want.
Patricia McLinn [38:29] I don’t know if the listeners, um, can get the visual of when you’re saying you don’t have to answer to anybody but you, and probably on both ends of this call, there are authors going taladadada dancing around the room. Don’t have to answer anybody else. Uh, following up on the stories whether they changed from conception to publication, have you had any that really surprised you?
Barbara McMahon [38:56] No. I don’t think so. I don’t know what you mean by really surprised me.
Patricia McLinn [39:01] So you have, it sounds like you have a pretty good grasp on what the story is at the beginning. Some of us don’t.
Barbara McMahon [39:09] Oh, no. Yes. I’ve heard about writers like that. I can’t fathom—
Patricia McLinn [39:16] And you love us.
Barbara McMahon [39:17] I do. I do, but I can’t fathom how that works. I’m very linear. I start at the beginning and go to the end. The, the road there might veer slightly and have a different ending, but it’s still pretty beginning to end.
Patricia McLinn [39:31] Okay. I love you despite that so, we’ll forgive you. Here’s a question from a reader that will, I think, take you back to your traditionally published days. When the cover image doesn’t match the character description, a pet peeve of mine says this reader, how does it feel?
Barbara McMahon [39:53] Oh my gosh, I hated it. We have, as, when I worked for another publisher, all of those that I worked for, we had these elaborate fill out the cover detail sheets. I mean, there were pages long, and they asked, what color are their eyes? Who cares, you can’t see the eyes anyway, and they’d ask you the hair color and like, what do they look like? And what are they wearing? And where’s this—
Patricia McLinn [40:15] What jewelry they wore.
Barbara McMahon [40:16] —then it’d be something totally different. And you think, what in the world is that? And it wouldn’t match anything. And it’s like, I spent hours doing this form that you had, that was several pages long. And it’s like, Well, put that one aside and let’s go with this one. And, yeah, it used to drive me too. Pet peeve, hmm, yeah, I think so. Did I, was I, too strong? I used to drive me nuts!
Patricia McLinn [40:41] It does. It is a crazy method.
Barbara McMahon [40:43] I have to tell you this one. I did this one story and, um, I had the guy be blond, and the hair came back on the cover, looking like Play-Doh like yellow Play-Doh, and I never have had a blond hero ever since I said, if this is what they do with the blond, they’re dark from now on.
Patricia McLinn [41:03] Oh, but now see, I get to challenge you to have a blond hero, now that you’re an independent, and see what you come up with, I bet you come up with something that is not Play-Doh. For readers who are, who might be new to you, where, what are a couple books that you would say would be a good place to start reading you?
Barbara McMahon [41:25] I don’t know. I have eighty-seven favorites, so narrowing down all these children to one or two is really hard, but maybe one that I was really fond of was The Rancher’s Bride. And it was a modern-day marriage of convenience story for older people. He already had a grown son and I have like two stories going in it. His, the, the heroes love affair, and then his son’s love affair. I liked that one a lot.
Patricia McLinn [41:53] Oh, nice.
Barbara McMahon [41:54] And then another one that I liked a lot was Angel of Smoky Hollow, and it was, uh, a burnt out violinist from New York Philharmonic, goes down to Kentucky of all places and learns to play bluegrass. And there’s more to the story than that—
Patricia McLinn [42:12] Cool.
Barbara McMahon [42:13] —but I thought that was a nice story.
Patricia McLinn [42:15] Well, and those, those are good stories for new readers to be introduced to, to your works. That’s great. Uh, how about, um, even with your most loyal readers, and I know you have a lot of really loyal readers, there must be a book or two that maybe you think has been overlooked a little bit, that isn’t as well known by your, by your loyal readership as others. Do you have those hidden gems?
Barbara McMahon [42:44] Actually, none come to mind. Pretty much, pretty much, they all seem to sell, you know, within a range of each other. I haven’t had any that, that nobody’s ever read or never has gone anywhere.
Patricia McLinn [42:58] Okay. Well, we’ll leave, maybe we’ll leave that question open. If any of your readers have books they want to nominate and say are one of Barbara’s hidden gems—
Barbara McMahon [43:07] I’d love that.
Patricia McLinn [43:08] —they don’t think has gotten as much attention as, as the stories deserve.
Barbara McMahon [43:13] That would be really interesting to see. I like that idea.
Patricia McLinn [43:17] What’s coming up. What’s well, what’s your most, really most recent release. Let’s start with that.
Barbara McMahon [43:22] I had a novella out in December called The Cowboy’s Special Christmas. And a year ago I did A Soldier’s Christmas, and I’m trying to start a new deal of every year having a novella out at Christmas and, um, so I’ve got two down and hopefully quite a few more to go. And then, um—
Rocky Point series and Christmas novellas and more cowboys
Patricia McLinn [43:43] And will you do it like a different occupation each year?
Barbara McMahon [43:45] Yes. I’ve already thought of the one for 2018. He’s going to be a doctor from Doctors Without Borders. So, it’ll be the Doctor’s Christmas or the Doctor’s Hometown Christmas, but you know, something they’ll have Christmas and doctor in it for the title. I don’t have the title yet, but, um, yeah, I’ve already got the idea for the hero for that one. And then, um, I have, I did a series of Christian inspirational books called Rocky Point, Maine, and I have the latest, one of that one that’s due out in the spring called Rocky Point Inn. It’s about an innkeeper and the, she’s, she’s watching, her best friend died and she’s watching her daughter until the best friend’s estranged brother shows up to claim the daughter. And you can imagine if the sister and brother were estranged, how close that family wasn’t.
Patricia McLinn [44:32] Yeah. And when will that be early out?
Barbara McMahon [44:35] Probably April, but maybe as late as May.
Patricia McLinn [44:38] And are you working on something else for, for past that? Do you have something else in mind?
Barbara McMahon [44:43] Yes, I have, um, uh, cowboy series. Cowboys again. Um, one is The Reluctant Cowboy. One is The Cynical Cowboy, things like that. It’s an eight-book series of brothers and cousins that, um, live on or around this ranch in Wyoming. I’m going to Wyoming too. I love Wyoming. I love your book set in Wyoming.
Patricia McLinn [45:02] When are you going to Wyoming?
Barbara McMahon [45:04] Oh gosh, I haven’t been there in years. I need to go again.
Patricia McLinn [45:08] Oh, okay. Yes. Oh, you meant you were going to Wyoming in your books?
Barbara McMahon [45:11] In my book? No.
Patricia McLinn [45:13] Yeah, it’s great.
Barbara McMahon [45:15] One of my favorite states.
Patricia McLinn [45:18] And where is your ranch set? Where in Wyoming is it?
Barbara McMahon [45:22] Near South Pass.
Patricia McLinn [45:24] Okay. That’s an area I have not been in very much, actually, haven’t been in at all. I’ve been, so I still have much more of the state to explore. Road trip.
Barbara McMahon [45:34] I know, I know. Isn’t that fun. And I haven’t been there in a while. We should go back. I should talk my husband into going back.
Patricia McLinn [45:39] It would be a lot of fun.
Barbara McMahon [45:41] It would be.
Patricia McLinn [45:42] Okay. And so tell readers where they can find out more about you and about your books.
Barbara McMahon [45:47] Okay. I do have a website, barbaramcmahon.com. And, um, I have books on all platforms from Amazon to Google, to Kobo, Apple, Nook, all of those. And, um, I have a readers list. If they want to sign up, they can go to my website, and there’s a signup place there. And I’ll send you information when new books are coming out.
Patricia McLinn [46:08] That’s great. Is there anything, this is my, my favorite journalism question, is there anything I haven’t asked you that I should have?
Barbara McMahon [46:16] Oh my gosh, I don’t think so.
Patricia McLinn [46:18] Okay. Then we’re going to go to the rapid-fire epilogue questions. You have to say, you have to pick one or the other.
Barbara McMahon [46:25] Okay.
Patricia McLinn [46:26] And we’ll start with appetizer or dessert?
Barbara McMahon [46:29] Dessert.
Patricia McLinn [46:30] Binge watch or make the watching last as long as possible?
Barbara McMahon [46:34] Make the watching lasts as long as possible.
Patricia McLinn [46:37] Oh, you drag it out. Do you? Okay. Cake or ice cream?
Barbara McMahon [46:41] Chocolate cake.
Patricia McLinn [46:43] Day or night?
Barbara McMahon [46:45] Day.
Patricia McLinn [46:47] Toenail polish or bare toenails?
Barbara McMahon [46:50] Bare toenails.
Patricia McLinn [46:51] Dog or cat?
Barbara McMahon [46:52] Dog.
Patricia McLinn [46:53] Tea or coffee?
Barbara McMahon [46:54] Tea.
Patricia McLinn [46:58] Now that was a tough one for you.
Barbara McMahon [47:00] Well, I like lattes, but they’re mostly milk.
Patricia McLinn [47:03] Cruise or backpacking?
Barbara McMahon [47:07] Backpacking.
Patricia McLinn [47:09] Sailboat or motorboat?
Barbara McMahon [47:11] Motorboat.
Patricia McLinn [47:12] Which is eerier to you, an owl hooting or coyotes howling?
Barbara McMahon [47:17] Hmm. I guess the owl.
Patricia McLinn [47:19] Mustard or ketchup?
Barbara McMahon [47:21] Mustard.
Patricia McLinn [47:22] Best China or paper plates?
Barbara McMahon [47:24] Paper plates.
Patricia McLinn [47:26] Save the best for last or grab the best first?
Barbara McMahon [47:30] Save the best for last, especially if it’s dessert.
Patricia McLinn [47:35] On that note, we’ll wrap up. I will say, thank you so much to Barbara for, for joining us this week. Hope you all have a great week of reading and we’ll come back to Authors Love Readers next week. Bye.
Barbara McMahon [47:53] Bye. Thank you.
Patricia McLinn [48:01] That’s the show for this week. Hope you enjoyed it. And thank you for joining Authors Love Readers podcast. Remember, you can always find out more about our guest authors in the show notes, and you can find out more about me, at www.patriciamclinn.com. You can also send in questions to be asked of future authors at firstname.lastname@example.org
Until next week. Wishing you lots of happy reading. Bye.