We caught up with debut Mills & Boon Modern author Marcella Bell to chat about her brand new book, Stolen to Wear His Crown. Read on to find out about Marcella’s journey to becoming a published author!
Thank you so much! It goes without saying that it is a dream come true, but I have to repeat it anyway: it is a dream come true. To borrow from the legendary Ursula K. LeGuin, the best way I know to describe myself is to say that books are my matter. The opportunity to create them takes my breath away. Like many writers, I started young and was hooked fast. Also, like many writers, I never thought it would happen to me. Getting the call was like being asked to the dance by the person you’ve been pining for, like winning the race you’ve trained years for, like a standing ovation. It was like all of the unforgettable moments in life when even though you’ve poured your heart and hope and effort into it for a long time beforehand, everything clicks, the fates align, and it happens. It was magical.
And, in the interest of being completely honest and real, it was also nerve-wracking, and I was very, very worried I would say the wrong thing or be awkward to get off the phone. Before the big day, I thought the upcoming phone call was for the purpose of going over some final revision suggestions before my contest submission might be ready for more serious consideration (the prize for the contest was the opportunity to work with editors to develop a submission). Our communication had been electronic for the most part up until that point, though, so I had a sneaking suspicion something larger might need to be discussed. However, as I noted before, even after being selected through the contest, I didn’t think it would ever happen for me. So I thought there was a chance the call might be an effort to let me down gently (did I mention I was nine months pregnant at the time, with all of the associated heightened emotions? Or that it happened, very unglamorously on my end, while I was on the road in my car while my partner drove because of the time difference?).
Things obviously turned out better than I could have even hoped (and definitely better than I feared). Like all of the best experiences of life, getting the call was elating, stunning, and a little bit sweaty. It’s a memory I’ll cherish forever.
Could you tell us a bit about your journey to becoming a published author?
It sounds so egotistical, but my road to becoming a published author feels like my personal hero’s journey. Mainly because no matter how much I resisted it, writing refused to let go of me.
I knew I wanted to write early but had experienced poverty as a child. Terrified of a future as a starving artist, I attempted to channel my interest in more practical directions (I explored language, theater (more practical? HA!), and journalism) all the while nourishing and nurturing my love of writing and reading by practicing for myself, studying the greats, and taking classes wherever I could. At the end of my first year of university, I was ready to admit what I wanted, and I did. My confidence lasted all of six months before I was back to trying to shape my creative urge into a more down-to-earth direction. I worked as a grant writer and was inspired to study public administration. I met my partner during my studies, as well as poured myself into professional writing, especially what we refer to in the US as white papers–policy documents, reports, etc. All of the really delicious writing that fills the soul. I’m joking (although to be fair, it’s a lot more fun than it sounds).
My partner is the one who pushed me to feed my more creative aspirations. He wouldn’t let me settle when I was willing to (he’s a real-life romance hero). I started with NaNoWriMo, and from there, he and I moved to working on projects for young readers, but at that point, despite the fact that I’d come to accept that I wanted to write, I was still filled with resistance.
The last hurdle in my journey to being published was my resistance to writing romance. I’ve been an avid romance reader since my pre-teens but did not believe I could write something I was so close to, that I loved so much. The breakthrough came after my bookstore started a romance book club. Unbeknownst to me, and genuinely against the odds, I happen to live in the same small rural town that two veteran Mills & Boon authors live in–Caitlin Crews and Maisey Yates. After meeting the two of them (itself a story!), my bookstore invited them to lead a romance book club. After months of meeting and reading together, discussing romance in these amazing and in-depth conversations, and their encouragement and guidance, I was ready to try.
Like so many things that feel pre-ordained, I was hooked immediately. I wrote my first novel and immediately wanted to begin another project. My first novel was a cowboy story, so I was really interested in trying something completely different. I saw that there was a contest open for Mills & Boon Modern, and I jumped right on it. The settings and situations were completely different, but I enjoyed it just as much. That the massively incredible validation of getting the call came so quickly on the heels of confirming how much I adored writing romance was both the icing and the cherry on top.
What advice would you giving to aspiring romance writers?
Along my journey, I’ve been really fortunate to meet authors who were further along the road than I. In addition to Maisey and Caitlin, another one of those was a young adult author, Laini Taylor, and her advice was, I think, the most important: don’t give up. She’s not the first to say it, in fact, it seems to be one of the most common pieces of writing advice out there, but she made it personal for me.
Beyond that, I think reading and respecting the romance genre is critical to writing compelling stories. When you love and respect what you do, it shines through and resonates with readers. The craft can be worked on and improved, weak stories can be revised into strong ones, and you can study plot and structure, but, speaking first and foremost as a reader, voice is what makes a novel captivating, and voice, the mysterious thing people talk so much about, is your feeling and emotion coming through the pages.
That’s the more flowery advice. The nuts and bolts advice I have is what was given to me: take yourself in hand and write regularly, don’t be too precious with your own work, and remember that comparison is the thief of joy.
What was the inspiration behind your new book, Stolen to Wear His Crown?
Though Stolen to Wear His Crown takes place in a fictional Mediterranean country, my personal background and experience are a big part of the inspiration behind it. I am a multiracial woman of color, born and raised in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. Those facts have shaped me in a myriad and countless ways, one of which is that I have an insatiable appetite for Disney-esque princesses and make-over stories, while not having had many opportunities to see women whose experiences and appearances mirror mine take center stage. Stolen to Wear His Crown is absolutely inspired by my craving–the same craving as many Mills & Boon Modern readers, I think–to be swept off my feet and given an amazing make-over.
We love a royal romance! What drew to you writing about royal characters in particular?
Disney is to blame, hands down! I was wrecked for princesses and princes before I even had a chance. As someone from the U.S., there is something additionally captivating about royalty, I think, because, without real royals, the fantasy is that much more heightened.
Stolen to Wear His Crown is the first book in The Queen’s Guard duet. What ties the books in this duet together?
I still have to pinch myself when I think about it! As a lover of series romance, I am so excited to have the opportunity to create one. Stolen to Wear His Crown introduces readers to the newly crowned Queen Mina of Cyrano and introduces her to her newly appointed queen’s guard, whose friendship and support help her grow into her new role and relationship. The second book in the duet follows the captain of the guard in her own incredibly adventurous love story, so the books are connected in that way. Thematically they are tied together in exploring how, through love, we heal the wounds from our pasts in order to step into brighter, more passionate futures.
How would you describe your ideal romantic hero?
My ideal romantic hero isn’t always right but always acts from a place of trying to do the right thing. He’s not perfect, by any means, but when he makes a mistake, he owns up to it and makes amends–even if it takes him a while. I think love asks us to do the hard work of sorting out our baggage, so my ideal romantic hero is not only willing to do so but is often unflinching in it when the moment arrives. I have a strong, stubborn streak, so I like a romantic hero who isn’t afraid to push and be pushed back. I do like an alpha hero, which is not to say one that is posturing, aggressive, sexist, or misogynist, but one that is confident in themselves and trusts themselves to near exclusion.
What do you like to do in your spare time when you’re not writing?
I sent spare time a message, and it responded, “new phone, who dis?” I have a ten-month-old and a six-year-old, and three dogs, as well as support a bookstore and teach yoga, so there isn’t much free time in my life. When I can manage to scrape some together, though, I read and am learning to bead, and sometimes even watch shows!
What are you reading at the moment?
Right now, I am reading a historical romance called All Scott and Bothered by Kerrigan Byrne, which I love, in addition to A LOT of other stuff. My bookstore compatriot and dear friend and I are getting ready to kick-off a book-themed podcast in the new year. In preparation for that, I’m reading a number of titles, but the Kerrigan Byrne is what I’m most excited about currently. She’s an auto-buy for me!