Independent author Zoe Lee has just released her latest book entitled “Ex-Daredevil”. It is the second of four planned books in the Local Beats series, now available on Amazon. Since her 2016 debut of “Pour Your Heart Out”, Zoe Lee has been one of the rising stars of independent authors on Amazon and Kindle for Contemporary Romance Novelists.
Recently, Zoe was able to take a little bit of time out of her busy schedule to sit down and discuss her work and how she got started writing, challenges independent authors face today and what she has planned for the future.
Digital Beat Magazine: Hi Zoe! Thanks for taking the time out of your schedule today and letting us have the opportunity to chat with you today!
Zoe Lee: Thanks for reaching out!
DBM: For those who aren’t familiar with you or your work yet, can you give us a little bit of background about yourself?
ZL: I’m a contemporary romance author, now writing LGBTQ+ romances. I’m originally from near Chicago and live in Colorado now with my husband and daughter, but sadly no pets! I’m a huge nerd when it comes to movies and TV, and usually I also love concerts and traveling.
DBM: When growing up, what did you enjoy reading and who were your favorite authors?
ZL: I was all about fiction even as a kid, but I loved stories where I also learned something along the way, whether that was the history of a certain time and place or how to survive an Arctic winter. As a kid, my favorites were Tamora Pierce and basically any collection of myths I could find, especially Greek and Celtic. After that, I was off and running, reading Colleen McCullough, Ursula Le Guin, and Amy Tan. A lot of books aimed at adults, I know.
DBM: Some people remember that “ah-hah!” moment when they said to themselves, “This is what I want to do…” Do you remember when that moment was for you, when you decided that you wanted to try your hand at writing?
ZL: I know I wrote before this, but the clearest moment was after I finished a YA (young adult) fantasy series with a female protagonist who defied stereotypes and didn’t just fall in love with a prince. I put on “Let It Be” and worked on a story in that world. This was way before the term fan fiction, but that’s what it was. From there, I never stopped, although I think that was the only thing I did using another author’s world or characters.
DBM: As an independent author, what challenges do you face for getting an audience interested in your books?
ZL: Well, I never tried my hand at traditional publishing, so I can’t make firsthand comparisons. But the first big indie romance boom was around 2012 and I published my first book in 2016. So it was still mostly uncharted territory; there weren’t long-established experts, and standards and approaches that had worked in traditional publishing didn’t fit, didn’t work, or didn’t apply. With everything online really, it’s also a challenge to stay connected, especially since I still have a day job (like plenty of other authors), and I have to keep up with new technology.
DBM: Being independent probably gives you more freedom for expression and free from a publisher pushing you for deadlines or re-writes. How do you set those deadlines and goals for yourself when writing and what is your writing schedule like?
ZL: I absolutely love the freedom to set my own schedule and work at my own pace. With my first four books, I didn’t set a schedule until I’d written the first draft, and then I’d work out how long I needed before the book could release. With this series, I planned a release schedule and then worked backward to set deadlines based on how long things typically take. But that’s partly because I had rough drafts for two of the four books before I started planning!
DBM: What has your experience been like as an independent author so far?
ZL: I don’t have very much chill, so it’s definitely been a lot of joy and a lot of worrying. I’ve loved connecting with authors I admire and bloggers and readers who adore romances of every flavor you could imagine. But I still can’t sleep well the whole week of a book release. What helps me is that, at this point in my life, I don’t want to be a full-time author. So that also gives me a lot of freedom to learn and move at my own pace, without feeling pressure to aim for that best-seller status, for example.
DBM: What do you find to be the most difficult part of writing for you?
ZL: Writing the blurb! But really, the hardest thing is when I have a plot outlined, but hit a point where something isn’t flowing right. Then I have to decide, should I write through it and see if it works itself out, or have I made a mistake and I should start from scratch?
DBM: Your books on Amazon have gotten fantastic reviews. What is your world building process like for mapping out a story from start to finish?
ZL: Thank you! For me, the key is thinking of the setting as a character, and I can think about how other characters will relate to it. Also I’ve made it easy on myself so far – my first books were in a fictional small town and this new series is set in Chicago, where I lived. But I definitely have to keep detailed notes (sometimes called a series bible) on characters’ names, looks, age, where they went to school, their mom’s maiden name, what neighborhood they live in, all that. I can’t even imagine how much more meticulous I’d need to be to write fantasy.
DBM: This series has been a change in the romance sub-genre from the first four books you released as an author. What was your inspiration to branch out to this current sub-genre when you started your new series, and did you find any difficulty in making the shift?
ZL: Right, I moved from male/female contemporary romances into LGBT romances with this series, and I do plan to stay here! I wasn’t very well established, so for me, making the shift in sub-genre wasn’t difficult, it just means I’m connecting to a mostly-new audience.
The first novel I ever finished was a gay romance, but I was nineteen – I don’t know what you were like at nineteen, but I didn’t know anything about how love works! When I started to think about my fourth book, “Hidden Tracks”, I made the lead male bisexual, and from there, it sparked inspiration to go back to that first story and write even more.
DBM: Since you write a lot of romance novels, how do you keep things fresh for both your readers and yourself?
ZL: I’m so very tempted to answer inappropriately. But my favorite thing about people is how many different things we love and hate and are indifferent towards, all of the different things we find fun and scary and sexy. There’s just infinite combinations, and I’m curious about so many of them.
DBM: Do you find any other genres outside of Romance intriguing that you would want to try your hand at in the future?
ZL: Yes, but also no – I don’t think I’ll ever leave romance, but there are other sub-genres. I have a sprawling fantasy that’s part political intrigue, part romance. Doesn’t everyone? But I haven’t figured out what it’s really about at its heart, so once that comes to me, I’ll see! And my husband thinks I should write fun, silly action-adventure romance, but I’m not sold yet.
DBM: Writing can be an absolute emotional and stressful rollercoaster with creating characters, story arc, writers block, deadlines…what advice can you offer to anyone who is aspiring to also be a writer?
ZL: My advice is to read a lot of books about all of the methods out there – not just books on the craft of writing, but memoirs of authors for example. You’ll see a method you like, then you try it. If some part of your process isn’t working, you’ll know it. Then you go back to those books, pick a method you don’t like the sound of, and try it. It’s like a combination lock to me.
DBM: And finally, as we are preparing to close out 2020, what can we expect from Zoe Lee in 2021 and beyond and do you anything you’d like to say to your fans?
ZL: I have a surprise planned for January, Local Books book three is planned for April and book four is planned for August. To my readers, thank you so much, I hope you enjoy Ex-Daredevil, and come find me on social media and say hi anytime!
DBM: Excellent! Can’t wait to see what’s to come in January and your next book in the series! Thanks for your time today Zoe, it’s truly appreciated.