BookView Interview with Author Neely Powell

Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.

Recently, we talked to Neely Powell,the pseudonym for co-writers Leigh Neely and Jan Hamilton Powell (who wrote as Celeste Hamilton and 24 romance novels for Silhouette and Avon Books, which appeared on the B. Dalton, Waldenbooks Romance, and USA Today bestseller lists) about their writing and their urban fantasy, Awakening Magic, the first in The Witches of New Mourne series (read the review here).

Neely Powell is the pseudonym for co-writers Leigh Neely and Jan Hamilton Powell. The best friends met when both worked at a radio station in Chattanooga. They tried writing fiction together for several years, but life and other adventures got in the way. Their friendship endured as they focused on individual careers. Writing as Celeste Hamilton, Jan published 24 romance novels for Silhouette and Avon Books, which appeared on the B. Dalton, Waldenbooks Romance, and USA Today bestseller lists before she left fiction for a career in corporate communications. Leigh was a successful nonfiction writer and editor of newspapers and magazines, though she still wrote fiction. Around that time, Leigh started a novel about a shape-shifting attorney. Jan provided editorial support when Leigh suggested they write together again. The result was a sale of True Nature by Neely Powell along with The Connelly Witches miniseries from Harlequin E. Witch’s Awakening is part of the Urban Fantasy/Paranormal box set. Neely Powell writes about shifters, witches, werewolves, faeries and ghosts, mixing in shades of romance, mystery and thrillers—the kind of books they enjoy reading.

How often do you base characters on real people?

We create all our characters. For the Connelly Witches series, we enjoy creating supernatural beings who reside in the current human world. Their lives and abilities are still secret while they interact with humans, some who know they’re paranormal beings and many who do not know. We’ve never written using characters based on people we know. Our first book, which came out in 2013, featured a shape-shifting attorney and a dysfunctional psychic. When we decided to create our own series, we wanted a haven for supernatural characters. We researched history and gave our characters backstories based on facts but placed them in the fictional town of New Mourne in North Georgia. Not only was the research enjoyable, we had a good time creating our town and its people.

How often do you read? Who are your favorite authors? What books inspire you?

We are both avid readers. At any time, we’ll be reading books. Often, we’re reading the same book and have lively discussions about the story and characters once we’ve finished. We read all genres, including biography, mystery, romance, fantasy, science fiction and anything else we find entertaining. Our favorite authors include Nora Roberts, J.D. Robb, Patricia Briggs, Faith Hunter, John Sandford, Michael Connelly, and Lisa Gardner.

We both read books and have great collections of hard-backs, but these days, Jan mostly reads digital books and Leigh listens to audio books. We’re always reading and discussing what we’re reading. Basically, we have our own book club going all the time.

How do you begin a book?

This is our favorite part of the process. We love sitting down and beginning the plotting process. Since we’re working on the Connelly witches, we know who will be featured in the books until book number six. We write as a team and have found people don’t even know when the writer changes in a chapter. Leigh lives in Florida and Jan lives in Tennessee. However, this has never caused a problem in our writing process.

We work on the development of characters, the research for backstories and setting, and planning the book together. Once we’ve come up with enough material for the first three or four chapters, Leigh builds the framework of these chapters. Once she finishes, Jan takes over to add more depth and her side of character progress. When the first draft is done, we work on the second draft together during FaceTime calls.

Our books usually begin with action. We like to grab the reader’s attention immediately and get them involved in the story right away. We’ve found the books we enjoy the most are fast-paced and the story is always moving forward. That’s what we like to keep in mind as we’re plotting and writing.

How do you select the names of your characters?

Depending on the story, the selection of character names can be a process or it can be a time we just sit and talk. When we wrote True Nature, the hero was from a long line of shapeshifters. We wanted him to have a strong Scottish heritage. We did significant research into the meaning of names of the shifter, his father, and grandfather. It was a labor of love for Leigh since her son was living in Scotland at the time and she’d made three trips to the country to Gifnock, which is close to Glasgow and Edinburgh. With our latest book, we already had the name of the heroine because she appeared in the first three books. As far as the hero and the new characters, we just worked together on coming up with names during the planning process. We’re also finding names as characters are needed in the story. The process of naming the characters depends on the story and the motivation for the names.

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

We thoroughly enjoy the planning process and all that goes into it. Leigh loves plotting books. At one point she was known in our writer’s group as the plot queen. We also tend to plot books when we traveling out of town and find a new restaurant. We just love coming up with ideas.

Getting these ideas down in a manner that can be used as a guide to the book is another favorite of ours. We enjoy putting up obstacles to the goals the character has a keen desire to achieve. We also know no story is good for the reader unless there is conflict. One thing we learned long ago from one of our writer’s group friends was a college English professor was no person is ever fully good or fully bad. One of our favorite scenes to illustrate this comes from the movie Internal Affairs. Richard Gere is a real bad guy, but there’s a scene where he’s planning something truly evil while having a tea party with his little daughter. He obviously loves his daughter and enjoys being with her, but his mind is never far away from his ultimate goal.

Now we come to the difficult part of the process: the writing of the novel we’ve planned. We both have wrestled with this since we began writing together. Sometimes finding the time and the desire to write is difficult for both of us. We have now both retired, and we are making our writing the priority now. These plans include a regular daily schedule, goals, deadlines, and long-range objectives.

Does writing energize or exhaust you? 

It’s an up-and-down process, much like a competitive basketball game. We pass the story around a lot before it starts coming together. We may take a few shots that just don’t work out. That’s the draining part. Then we’ll go on a run with the story coming fast and furious. It’s an adrenalin rush. Sometimes you finish this really great scene and feel pumped up enough to clean the kitchen or at least load the dishwasher. The end of every successful scene, chapter or book is a big, energy-boosting win.

What was an early experience where you learned the power of language?

Jan’s Aunt Gladys was a nervous woman who flew from one task to the other like a bird. Her fast pace could leave you dizzy. Jan wrote a short essay comparing her to a hummingbird and earned an A+. The teacher’s note said she had a talent with words. Her dad was moved to laughter by the essay, reading it aloud to several family members. “I hope I wasn’t too cruel to Gladys, because that was when I learned that my words had the power to entertain.” 

How hard is it to establish and maintain a career in fiction writing?

There may be people who have never known a rejection or a career setback. We don’t know them. It’s a tough business to succeed in. Several moons ago, Jan started a career as a contemporary series romance novelist and had some success. Her stories were quiet tales about intense family and romantic relationships. The bestsellers of the day were about big, macho men with guns and lots of sexual heat. Jan said she just couldn’t write the stories that were selling. “My career took a nosedive, and I abandoned fiction for PR and corporate communications,” Jan says. “I returned to fiction with a partner, and we’re building a career and writing the books that we like to read. The secret is staying true to that voice inside of you and being patients. I wish I’d done that years ago”

What do you hope readers take away from this story?

With our Connelly Witches series, the heart of the story is the family coven and the generations of witches who have protected their community of supernaturals. The coven’s bonds are strong and sometimes painful, just like in real families. Even though our characters have magic at their fingertips, we think readers will identify with them as sisters, cousins, mothers and daughters. Their love and loyalty are genuine, and we’d like that to resonate with our readers long after the final chapter.


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