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Welcome, today we are talking with Zara West! I would like to thank you for taking time out of your busy writing schedule to answer a few questions.

First, I think it’s important for readers to get a little insight on an author that they don’t necessarily get from your professional bio. You’d be surprised at what readers connect to, and sometimes the simplest ‘I can relate to that’ grabs their interest where nothing else will. Don’t answer anything you feel uncomfortable with.

Can you share a little something about Zara West that’s not mentioned in your bio on your website? 

Definitely. One thing that nobody knows about me is that I am a crossword puzzle maven. I do at least one crossword puzzle a day. I love when I can solve a crossword without asking for help or looking something up on the web, but I am not afraid to cheat a little. Often all it takes is getting one key word, and then the whole puzzle can be solved in minutes. I think doing crosswords and other word games is a great way to expand one’s vocabulary as a writer.

What are your pet peeves?

I have about a million, but I’ll settle for two. My first pet peeve is people assuming because I am short and sweet-looking that I couldn’t possible write hot sexy books. The second is that the world is designed for tall people, not people under five foot. It is very annoying to have to wait for a tall person to come by in order to get something off the top shelf in the supermarket or to have to shorten the hems and sleeves of petite clothing.

Who is your hero?

I have a million heroes too, but I have to say my favorite is my anthropologist husband who doesn’t mind that I am short (he’s six foot) and who has led me on a most adventurous life. He is my model for the heroes of my novels—tall and handsome, tough and protective, smart and kind, romantic and loving.  Extremely loving—he asked me to marry him on the first date!

Give us one thing on your bucket list.

Right now the most important thing on my bucket list is to finish Within the Skin, book three in my Skin Quartet series. I just sent book two Close to the Skin off to my editor.

What would readers find surprising about you?

This is a tough one because I believe a lot about an author is revealed in their writing. I think anyone reading my romantic suspense would be surprised to learn that I really do have a Brooklyn accent.

If you could go to heaven, who would you visit?

I think I would like to visit romance writer Jo Beverly who just passed away in May and tell her personally how much her work influenced my choice to become a romance writer.

Any bad habits?

Yep. I’m a chocoholic. I just can’t stay away from the stuff—especially bitter sweet kind.

What’s the funniest thing that ever happened to you?

I used to teach art to young children. One day I took off my full-length smock and a young boy said. “Oh, you wear clothes under there.” 

Now that our readers know a little bit more about Zara West, let’s get down to the business of your book, Beneath the Skin, which was released June 17th, and is the first book in a new series.  How long did it take you from beginning to end before your novel was completely finished, and how did you decide on the topic and title?

I wrote my rough draft for Beneath the Skin in one month. The idea of a disfigured artist falling in love with his model—a sort of beauty and the beast tale with the handsome man being the villain — was the inspiration for the story. Once I had the idea, the novel just poured out of me. Then it took me six months to edit it.

 I pitched the novel in person to Rhonda Penders, editor of Wild Rose Press in June of 2015 and the rest is history. The title came from a line at the end of the novel: “No. You are a man—a kind, caring man. My man.” Melissa inhaled and whispered against his lips. “Didn’t you say I have a gift for seeing what lies beneath the skin?”  

What inspired you to mix graffiti artists, tattoo artists and fine art, and where did you get the idea for the paintings, the hero Aristides Stavros, creates?

As a professional artist in a craft field—weaving, I have always been annoyed at the distinction made between the various art forms. All art is creative. What makes an image on a piece of canvas worth more than one on the side of a building or one tattooed on to someone’s skin? In Beneath the Skin, I introduce some of this dichotomy. In the next books in the series I dig deeper into each of the art forms. The heroine in Close to the Skin, second in the series, is a tattoo artist who aspires for the recognition and fame her brother has earned as a fine artist. She hopes to achieve this by designing the tattoos for a new TV series

Aristides’ artwork is inspired by the work of a very close friend of mine, Reiner Strub of Freiburg, Germany, who passed away last year. We met in Greece where Reiner had a summer art studio with a view of the sea. He painted the most magnificent landscapes of the rolling hills and inlets of the Argolidos coastline. But they were not just simple landscapes. If you looked carefully, the hills were actually reclining nudes.

What in your opinion makes good chemistry between your leading characters?

Both characters have trust issues which keep driving them apart, but in the end, Ari makes Melissa feel safe in a world that hasn’t been very kind to her, and she makes him feel like a man instead of a monster whose disfigured face makes most women cringe.

What was your hardest challenge writing this book?

Once I had my characters captured and tied up by the bad guys I needed to figure out how they could get free from the zip ties that bound them hand and foot. I did a great deal of research in the Internet, and even tried to chew through several size ties to see if it was possible. I settled for having another character cut them free.

Anything else you’d like your readers to know about Beneath the Skin that wasn’t asked?

Probably the most important thing I would like readers to know is that a percentage of each sale of Beneath the Skin will be donated to charities that work with abused women and in removing disfiguring tattoos. Here is a link to two of the charities I support.  

I see that you’ve just finished book #2 in the series, Close to the Skin. How many books do you plan for The Skin Quartet Series?

There will be four books in the series.
Book 1 Beneath the Skin
Book 2 Close to the Skin
Book 3 Within the Skin
Book 4 Under the Skin

Each book features a character introduced in Book 1 Beneath the Skin, but all will be readable as stand alones. 

Can you give us a sneak peek into Close to the Skin?

In Close to the Skin, Bella Bell, the tattoo artist who was “kidnapped” in Beneath the Skin is being wooed by the arrogant billionaire crime boss who had taken her captive and ruined her brother’s art career. Needless to say, Bella rejects his advances. But when Vernon is taken hostage by a brother set on taking over his criminal empire, Bella must decide to run for cover or risk her life to save him.

Any other works in progress?

I am now working on book 3 in the Skin Quartet series, Within the Skin, which is the story of El Toro, the street artist injured in Beneath the Skin, who is now a rising star in the art world. Concurrently, I am also writing a romantic suspense set in Nova Scotia, Canada titled In with the Tide. This story features a marine biologist who must come to the defense of the man she loves when he is accused of murdering the fisherman who was stalking her. I am currently in Canada carrying out research for this book.

Any advice for aspiring authors?

Every writer has his or her own approach to the writing process that works for them. I took many writing courses and tried out lots of different methods before finding the one that works best for me. Some people can sit down and just write out the whole novel by the “set of their pants.” Other people write detailed outlines. Some authors write a sentence and then go back and edit it. Other people write misspelled, ungrammatical first drafts and then do the edits. That’s the method I found works for me. If you are struggling, I suggest you take writing courses, read about writing and try out a variety of approaches until you find the one that clicks for you.  

Final words?

Thank you so much for this interview. It has been wonderful to be able to talk about my writing and my new release Beneath the Skin. I hope that readers will enjoy my unique characters, the deadly threats facing them, and the intensity of their love story.

 

 

 

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