Long and Short Reviews welcomes M.K. (Marty) Chester, whose latest book Surrender to the Roman has just been released by Carina Press.
She's written several books, and Surrender to the Roman is the third published. Of all her published books, All in Good Time is special to her because, in many ways, it mirrors how she met her husband and his son, even though she met them long after she'd written the story. She thinks, however, that this last one is the most well-written story she's produced, with solid characters and plotting, as well as a voice that helps draw the reader into the era.
"It’s not like anything else I’ve done," she told me.
Her current WIP is set in ancient Syria, under Roman rule, that tells the story of an attendant in the temple of Anath and a Roman centurion who make an unlikely pact to stop a rebellion—one in an attempt at freedom, the other for advancement—and end up falling in love.
"With two books set in ancient times," I said, "how do you do the research needed for your stories?."
"This may come as a shock, but I do very little research before I write. I need the basics in setting, and in the case of Surrender to the Roman, dates, locations, and personalities. I leave gaps in the text where I need to do some research, and I’ll go back and do that when the 'research bug' bites. I enjoy research—I majored in history—and would spend a huge chunk of time doing it to the detriment of the story. I have to rein myself in, and when considering the story itself, realize how much or little detail I need. I’m writing a romance novel, not a history textbook."
Her stories tend to have unusual settings—her earlier works are set in the early 1900s and she's currently entrenched in the ancient world.
"I didn’t consciously choose these settings, but found my voice for these eras came more naturally than for others, so I followed it, and will continue to follow it," she explained.
Marty told me she's been writing since before she had words—she used to take her brother's books and draw pictures in the front and back pages to tell a story, mostly involving Ronald McDonald, Grimace, and Hamburgler.
"But I guess it was about fourth grade that, when I’d finished reading a book, I first throught, 'I could do that.' And I started writing stories to entertain myself. I still write to entertain myself—and hope I entertain others as well."
The characters always come first for Marty—it might be in an unusual name, an article of clothing, a photograph, a song lyric—something will make her wonder about this particular person. Then she puts them in a time and place, followed closely by a situation.
Once she has these things, there are a couple of tried and true methods she uses to further develop the story.
"For characterization, I slip into first person and dive into a character’s head. I’ll write my character’s backstory in a narrative. They surprise me—I may think I know where they come from and how they got to the story, but be totally off base. Once I have the personalities nailed down, I like to use Deb Dixon’s GMC (Goal, Motivation and Conflict) to help me see the plot in more detail. I use the charts to show me not just the overriding concerns of each character, but to highlight the areas of conflict that build the plot. If I don’t have enough conflict, I’ll go back and tweak things so the tension builds, and the character and plot growth is believable."
"Do you consider yourself a plotter or pantser?" I asked.
"UGH! I am a total pantser. And I’m a character-driven pantser, which is worse! I had to learn through experience that I need to plot things out. I have plotted out an entire story, but then I didn’t write it because I felt like I already had. So, after writing myself into numerous corners, I now plot three chapters ahead. It gives me enough structure to move forward, but allows me to feel like I can still change things."
I asked Marty to tell us a little bit about her family.
"I have an unusual family—maybe a lot of people can say that these days, or maybe not. I am married, and my husband has a daughter and a son. His daughter is in college and lives in Orlando. His son lives with us, and has two half-brothers, so at any time we can have four 'kids' in the house. My husband is also the youngest of seven children, so they have (really) large family gatherings. My parents are now moving closer to us, and my brother just married last year, and lives in Washington state."
The hardest thing about writing for her is putting her butt in the chair.
"I’m not a procrastinator, but when you have a full time job and a family, priorities change," she told me. "I got married about four years ago, moved to a new state, started a new job, and became a single parent when my husband was deployed to Iraq. I finished Surrender to the Roman while he was gone, but finding a solid routine has been really difficult."
She loves spending time with the family, however. Her son is an excellent young basketball player, and she likes to shoot in the driveway with him, watch his games, or head out to her in-laws for a big meal with their "ginormous" family. She also enjoys loves their three dogs, Stewie and Angus (the Scottish Terrorists) and Girl (a Golden/Chow mix).
"What is one thing your readers might be surprised to learn about you?" I wondered.
"That I’m a total sports nut! I have been since I was a kid. I’ve played and coached college basketball, and spent most of March watching the NCAA basketball tournament. I take it as a good omen that my book released the same day as the NCAA men’s basketball championship game."
Finally, I asked, "What is your most embarrassing moment?"
"My most embarrassing moment came with my family…I was home on spring break from college, and I’d been working on a series of papers for my senior project about Hong Kong and China. This was the early 1990’s. So I typed this paper and was so pround of it. I printed out a copy and my dad asked to see it. I handed it to him and he just busted out laughing. I meant to title the paper 'Is Hong Kong Long Gone?' but it came out 'Is Hong Kong Long Dong?' Maybe I was always meant to write romance!"
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Driven to avenge her family, Ademeni plots to kill her captor and escape. Though not the cruel victor she expects, Marcus keeps her too close to make escape easy--so close that Ademeni is soon tormented by an unbidden, traitorous attraction. In a moment of weakness, a passionate kiss almost undoes them both.
But the handsome, widowed general has another surprise for Ademeni: a young daughter. Marcus dares ask Ademeni to help him bridge the gap between him and his little girl. And now, Ademeni is growing too fond of those she is supposed to despise. As Marcus prepares for the triumphal march and the opening of the gladiatorial games--where captives of her homeland will be sacrificed--Ademeni readies for her own battle between revenge and love.