Monday, November 19, 2012

Beer, Writing and Romance for Real Life: An interview with author Liz Crowe

Every so often we here at the Rockville 8 blog like to bring in a topic expert we think our readers might learn from and enjoy. Twiddling my thumbs, I wondered who the heck I know who’s an expert on anything interesting. Well, the Usual Suspects turned to me and said, “Duh, your brother. You know, the brewery owner?” Oh yeah. And he says, “Sure, love to. Only…wouldn’t my business partner, Liz Crowe, be a better fit? Seeing as she’s not only a beer expert but a multi-pubbed author as well?”

Oh yeah. Hell yeah!

Thankfully, Liz was game to answer my gazillion questions. Read on to gain a little insight into an author of erotic, emotionally complex, singularly modern stories and why fans read her not so much for the standard “HEA” but rather the “WHA” (“What Happens After?”).

Keely:   Welcome, Liz, thanks so much for being our topic expert this month! I’ll jump right in with a burning question: In fiction, each genre has a certain set of characteristics that consumers rely on. The same can be said for different kinds of beer. What kind of beer do you suggest romance readers drink as they hunker down with their favorite subgenres?

Liz:      I'm going to twist this around a little and give you a taste of how I relate beer to my writing process.  I am a hard and fast "hop head" thanks to my work as a brewery owner and marketing director so I reach for my own brewer's lovely, bitter, astringent India pale lager for my early creative process. Sometimes I will alternate with a malty amber lager. I find that having a bottle of craft beer next to the keyboard spurs my creativity in a very positive way. But once I reach the hard core editing process (the stage that many budding authors hit and give up at because honestly, if your editor is singing your praises during this stage--you need a new editor. Your editor is NOT there to be your cheerleader. He or she is there to make you better and the only way to make you better is to push you, challenge you and make you think hard about your characters' motivations, your word choices and your storytelling. It's a tough moment as a writer, but one that you truly owe it to yourself to experience). So at THAT moment, I'm reaching for the higher alcohol, darker brews.  

Then, when I hit the post line editing or galley stages, it's straight Kentucky bourbon all the way!

Keely:    I’m a dark beer drinker, the chewier the better. A good friend of mine loves only Belgian beer brands. And another is happy with plain old Miller Lite. What goes into different beers to give them such a variety of flavor? Do you find one style of beer is more popular at the Wolverine State Brewing Company Tap Room than others?    

Liz:      The color/taste profile of beer is originally set by the malt that you start with--and I will let you guys in on something: NO beer in its purely "natural state" is yellow.  According to the Germans who invented "lagers" which are the bulk of the "macrobrews" these days, beer is made up of 4 ingredients only: Water. Malt. Hops. Yeast. Anything outside of those 4 things are considered "adjuncts" or ingredients that are unnecessary for real beer.

However, as tastes evolved and more folks wanted a lighter taste to their daily brew, rice syrup was added to make the natural amber color of any typical beer yellow.  Now all sorts of crazy shit is added to make funky brews, but that's a story for another blog most likely.
A "stout" or "chewy" beer is a result of deep, dark, rich malts that go in as the original ingredient.  Then a bit of light hops are added and an ale yeast is used to create the flavors you refer to---the fruity, pruney esters that are the natural result of fermenting on an ale yeast.

Essentially however you use the four main ingredients of beer is how beer SHOULD be altered. What malt you start with, be it light, dark, chocolate, crystal or anything in between, plus the style and amount of hops you add next, then the type of yeast you call upon to ferment the wort is how beers are made different, fun, and interesting.

Keely:    How did you get into the beer business – and was it before or after you started writing? I know you are also a Real Estate agent. My dad always said, ask a busy person to get something done. Do you find juggling these three careers helps keep you focused on getting stuff done? Do you have a daily word count you try to make?

Liz:      HA! that sounds like something your dad would say, Keely.  Ok, so I have a degree in English and have worked my whole life in fund raising, public relations and marketing in various environments including newspapers (in the "olden days"), non-profit powerhouses like United Way and small businesses. Finally, I got my real estate license and kind of found my element -- where I could use my innate marketing chops to make money for myself.   Then, I found myself as a trailing ex-pat spouse for the next seven years. I had my 3rd child in Japan and from there we moved to Istanbul, Turkey then to London. When we returned to the states (and Ann Arbor, Michigan) I retrieved my license from escrow and jumped back in, having some killer years selling houses in a down market. Then, I met a guy named Trevor (Keely’s brother).  

He and his business partner had invented a lager beer they'd been selling around Ann Arbor but in the way of people who succeed, they felt that had something awesome and wanted to make it bigger. So they sought out a marketing professional. Urban legend is that I am the only one they talked to---I'm going with that. 

I knew very little about beer, much less craft beer and told him as much but they promised to teach me that part. So I chronicled my craft beer journey, from beer school sessions with our newly hired brewer to brewing days with said brewer all the way to the grand opening, in my blog: I have a huge reach with this blog and support it with a FaceBook and Twitter presence. I didn't spend any real cash that first year in advertising, just working online and out in the field, bringing beer to as many non profit events and other places where I could run my mouth about our lager revolution. 

The writing bit kind of paralleled this but only by accident. I latched on to some erotic writers to expand my usual mainstream reading and took a nascent idea about a couple of realtors and made all the rookie errors of head hopping and passive voice and submitted, collected rejections, found some critique readers I trusted, lost my nerve, got it back then teased out a side story from this realty series and subbed it as a short story. That got accepted first.  That series (Brewing Passion) has just been returned to me from the original publisher and I plan to rework it and release it the way it was meant to be in 2014.  I had a series accepted by Decadent Publishing (the Turkish Delights Series) and a stand-alone (Cheeky Blonde) which taught me a LOT about professional editing. Then I was approached by a start-up publisher who had read a ménage novel I had released (Vegas Miracle) and wanted to talk to me about my distinctive voice and style.  I pulled the Stewart Realty series out of mothballs and sent it to them. Since then I've been published by Ellora's Cave (Lust on Tap, a ménage story). And now, here we are.  

I have 2 full time jobs I love.  I fit it all in but do not adhere to word count targets.  I am about writing the story, not meeting the word count.  I am an avowed marathon writer--the story hits me, I head write a bit, then sit down and just open up the laptop and let it flow.  Essence of Time (the 4th Stewart Realty book and the one most fans claim as their favorite) is a little over 100,000 words. I wrote it in 3 months.  Escalation Clause (book 6) is nearly the same length and was written in 2 months.  

I don't claim that this is the correct way to do this--it's just my way.

Keely:    Liz, the tag line on your website ( says, “Romance for Real Life.” What do you mean by that? What sets the stories you write apart from more traditional romance and why do you think that taps such a rich vein with readers?  

Liz:      The Romance for Real Life tag line was actually coined by one my fans--she is/was a "hard core" romance reader, had never ventured much beyond the "canon" of accepted publishers and writers until recently thanks in no small part to the 50 Shades phenomenon.  One of the vows many of us published authors made (oh, ok, maybe it was just me but whatever) over this year of the "erotic romance revolution" was to learn--learn from what has been introduced to a new crowd of fresh readers.  One of the ways I learned was to read what I did not like, find what I truly did like and discover my spot within the spectrum of options. 

When I started my own writing journey about four years ago I promised myself I would write what I wanted to read. And what I wanted to read was more real than the majority of what I was finding the deeper I delved into the erotic romance genre.  Don't get me wrong. My favorite authors in this realm remain among what I maintain are the best at what they do: Lauren Dane, Shayla Black, Joey W. Hill---but not their paranormal stuff. I am neither entertained nor titillated by vampires, were-anythings, angels, demons, ghosts or zombies.  But that is just me, so please don't be offended by this--"subjective" is the Name of the Game here, as you well know if you have been reviewed.

So I took a fairly familiar set up: the super alpha male confronts his ultimate female--the one who will "tame" him or "make him whole" - choose your cliché - and put a twist on it.  I made both of them ... real...that is to say, challenging and difficult and even, by the time you hit the 3rd book of the (now) 6-book series flipping their roles somewhat. 

It was truly an experiment in "can I do it?" and, after my fair share of rejections from agents and publishers alike, it finally found a home.

But the interesting thing about my entire backlist is that you can apply the "real" moniker to pretty much every book or series I have written.  My readers use words like "frustrating," "aggravating," "made me want to hurl my kindle at the wall," but to a person, I always hear, "When can I get more?"

It's a combination of my voice, which is realistic and down to earth and the situations that make my characters react like real human beings--they make stupid mistakes, say idiotic things at the wrong moment, learn, fail, succeed and keep trying. And for the most part are NOT billionaires but people who own businesses and work hard--and play hard---every day.

Keely:    Your upcoming release, Paradise Hops, is set in a brewery. Give us a sense of how that book came together. The inspiration for the setting seems clear – the Tap Room. Did that come first, or did you have a character at loose ends who decided to go down to the pub for a drink but took a detour into your story instead?  

Liz:      Actually, the Tap Room was not the inspiration for this book.  My inspiration came from a story I read on or HuffPo or someplace about a woman who had been brutally attacked as a teenager and not expected to survive but who ended up running her family's restaurant business thanks to her father who forced her into a healing mindset by learning the business and taking over.  I just extrapolated that into the brewery business.

I don't typically take bar patrons and put them into a story. I do take elements of peoples' lives and try and mold them into an interesting narrative. And many of my characters are amalgams of people I know, including myself.

Here is a snippet from Paradise Hops – a conversation between Garrett, one of the men in Lori's life, and a small but very important character, Mrs. Anderson, a long-time employee of the brewery when he is frustrated by Lori’s apparent recalcitrance:

“What?” He winced at the sound of his harsh voice. 
“I will take those tickets, thanks, but in the meantime I need to tell you a little story.” 
“I don’t have time for—“ 
“You will for this one.” 
He turned and glared at her, but she sat and arranged herself for a long chat. 
“Lorelei Brockton was the biggest tomboy, the toughest teenager, the most amazing, smart, beautiful girl.” She stopped, as if to gather her thoughts. “Her mother died when she was twelve. Cancer took her in something like six months. It was awful. Her father was…is a tough man, and he took over her teen-aged years that way, on his own. They fought, good Lord did they fight. But he loved her and thought he was doing the right thing, making her defend herself about everything from her hair color which turned pink one year to her college classes.” 
Garrett shifted in his seat. He wasn’t sure he wanted to hear any more, but she went on. 
“She graduated from Michigan with honors, and an acceptance letter to medical school, but she balked. Something happened. Probably her dad pushed her hard one too many times. She turned it down, took a job selling prescription drugs and bought herself a little house. She did well, for about three years, and then she met that Thad.” 
Garrett’s hands clenched into fists under the desk. 
“After that terrible incident, she literally became a different person. She wouldn’t leave her dad’s house, stayed in her old room for months. Made her dad get rid of the piano she loved. We all tiptoed around here for almost a year. Mr. B would blow up at the slightest provocation, but we all let him do it. We understood.” She shook her head, and wiped her eyes. Garrett frowned but didn’t know what to say so he kept his mouth shut. 
“Finally, one day nearly a year and a half ago now, she appeared, a shrunken, scared version of herself. Her father declared her ‘well’ and ‘ready to work’ and that’s when the rotations began. She started in distribution, worked the warehouse for about nine months. Then went to the pub, doing everything from food prep, to bartending. I was so worried about her. She lost more weight, hardly talked to anyone. We all said we’d give anything to witness a good knock down drag out between her and her father, like the old days.” 
Garrett looked out the window, realizing where this was headed. He closed his eyes and fought the need to get up and pace. 
“Then, Mr. B. tells us he’s hired a manager. A general business manager. Someone who will take over most likely, and here you are.” Mrs. Anderson stared at him, making him squirm. “The old Lori is back, Garrett, and we have you to thank. But that means you have to understand her, stop trying to be so controlling because that Lori won’t be controlled. Thinking you can will only lead to your unhappiness.” 
She stood. “I’ve watched you and her. I see what’s happening, and I can’t think of a better thing than for you two to be together. You balance each other, but only if you are willing to let go a little. Otherwise, it will never work.” 
He frowned. “So, who’s giving her the little pep talk about how swell I am?” He couldn’t help himself. 
The woman smiled and patted his shoulder. “Oh, hon, Lori has twenty or so moms and big sisters, and even a few big brothers, in this building. I’m pretty sure somebody has, or is right now.” 
“I hate this.” 
“But you love her.” 
He nodded, not speaking. 
She smiled at him. “Well then, that’s really all you need. Trust me. That and patience. She’ll see the light.” 
She turned to go as her desk phone started ringing. Then threw out something that Garrett would remember for a long time. “You know, as much as I hate to admit it, it’s as if between you and that horrible man Eli, you brought our Lori back.” She smiled, but he felt his heart sink to his feet. 

Keely:    You are a wizard at PR. Have you learned anything promoting Wolverine Beer that you’ve applied to your writing career and/or vice versa? Do you have any tips for authors on effective self-promotion and how to get the most bang for your promotional buck? 

Liz:      I will tell you, the whole social networking thing is a mixed blessing. I have learned to use it, but it is not something you can just start and then stop and hope it works. It's a 2-way street, no matter what. You cannot simply open a Twitter account, mention how hard you are working at your revision and then go away and come back hoping there are 1000 more followers.  I have nearly 2500 followers, but use Twitter as a promo platform AND a place to find others interested in things that interest me.  I have conversations with people, and take the time to seek them out.

But, first things first, guys. Write the book, get it beta-read, critiqued and subbed. THEN mess around on social networks.  If I had been FaceBook- and Twitter-distracted in 2008, I would never in a million years have cranked out the equivalent of 200,000 words that eventually became the first 3 books of the Stewart Realty series.  *shiny* *sparkly* *internet*!  

Don't get me wrong---have a blog platform and use it to practice writing. The only way to practice writing…is to write. So you can blog, daily, if you want, but writing a FaceBook post or a Twitter update is not writing. It's promoting.  Understand the difference.  

I use FaceBook and Twitter for both the brewery and my reader audience but only because I know when to turn them off and focus on the engine---> getting the beer sold by getting in front of people, or, by writing the next book.

It is not easy. But if you want it bad enough, you will make it work.

Keely:    Last, you have several stand alone titles and two very successful book series published. After the release of Paradise Hops, what’s next for you?  

Liz:        My 2013 release schedule is pretty set and includes a late 2012 release called Honey Red (a brewery based story of "real" ménage--which by any true life standards is a challenge at best). Then I will release the next Stewart Realty series book Mutual Release, which will serve as a potential stand alone novel exploring a more hard-core BDSM lifestyle that serves as release for 2 wounded individuals from the first realty books, Evan Adams (who owns a brewery) and his wife, Julie. This releases on February 14th and we will host a Valentine's Day book signing event with books, beer and chocolate in conjunction with Nicola's books (the one remaining large indie book store in Ann Arbor, and a local chocolatier). The fall will bring the release of the Black Jack Gentlemen series, a soccer-based offshoot from the Stewart series that is hinted at in the 6th book (Escalation Clause). These three books are: Man On, Free Agent, and Penalty Kick.

Finally, I will wrap up the year with a novel I've already contracted about the dark side of the "BDSM lifestyle" that is so seemingly fascinating right now.  What happens when that "Dream Dom" is really just an abusing jerk? How do you rebuild your life and self esteem once it's been ripped apart by such a man? In His Shadow will be something completely different, more than a little controversial and hopefully very compelling.

I will end the year by releasing the final official Stewart Realty book, Good Faith, which will be a long novel about the lives of the children of the original set of characters.  It will include a very difficult psychological exploration of addiction.  

Keely:  Liz, this has been super! Your creativity and dedication are an inspiration to me. Thank you for taking the time to answer all my nosy questions!

Liz:      Thanks for this Keely! I welcome all questions and comments and hope you get a chance to read my books soon!

Find more Liz Crowe here:


  1. thanks for having me!! I'm going to award a free signed ebook from the Stewart Series or Paradise Hops to one commenter/questioner.

  2. Liz - so glad you could be with us this week - AND a book give away? Sniff, sniff, I smell something to be thankful for!!

  3. Writing and beer - what a great combo! I have a pile of revisions to get through and a beer just might make them easier, even if it is only 9:30 in the morning...

    Seriously, I have an important question to ask a beermaker - I was diagnosed with gluten intolerance five years ago. Is there such thing as a good gluten-free beer or should I just sip some red wine and enjoy fond memories of GOOD beers? (BTW, I'm a dark-ale-to-stout, the-more-bitter-the-better kid of girl..)

    Your stories sound GREAT - going to check them out

  4. Liz - Hi! I love your book trailers (I think I've featured two on my weekly USAToday column) and I was wondering how book trailers fit in with a promo platform and how important they are.

    Thanks, Robin Covington

  5. morning ladies. Yeah Keely I'm all about making YOUR thanksgiving better (check your email)

    Joy: there are such thing as gluten free beers. A few craft makers do them making them from things like sugar beets instead of malt. I have not met one that I found truly drinkable yet but I think it could be done. Just will take some time. I hope you enjoy my books.

    Robin: YES you have and thank you so much! You know, I have mixed feelings about trailers. I came into this publishing thing viewing them as pure author ego-stroking. And in a way, they are. However, as many of you know, any excuse you can find to promote your book in the teeming sea of books that exist is a Good Thing. The problem is many of them are....very bad. I would recommend that if you plan to use one, find a very good producer---which, believe it or not, could be as close as your nearest teenager with IMovie.

  6. Keely and Liz,
    What a great interview--so informative! I can't believe you even have time to write, Liz. And here I am complaining because I have to load the dishwasher twice a day. :-) Two jobs and a writing career...I don't know whether that inspires or depresses me.
    I loved your excerpt. I can't wait to read the whole book!

  7. Hi Kimberly,
    thanks, I think you will like Paradise Hops and if you have time commit to a series, the Stewart series is a lot of fun.

    As for being depressed v. inspired, I'd go with "head shaking at her obvious insanity." especially during weeks like this one!
    cheer and happy reading

  8. Thank you for the great excerpt.
    I loved learning more about brewing. its a field my husband and children are deeply interested in. As consumers not brewers.
    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

  9. you are very welcome. I hope you get a chance to read some of my books.

  10. Hi Keely! Hi Liz, nice to "meet" you. I reallly enjoyed your conversation ladies. I have consumed one beer in my lifetime, the bottle cap is in my desk drawer with the date written on the inside...Michelob Ultra, 2-13-2010. I might not be able to drink the stuff, but I sure would love to read about it ;) Happy Thanksgiving ladies and good luck, Liz, with your wonderful writing.

  11. Loved this interview! I checked out your "brew" site and the only regret is you don't ship to the west coast so I can try some :(
    Will head over to take a look at your books now! Happy Thanksgiving!

  12. Liz ~ Thanks for guest blogging for R8 this week. What a great range of expertise. I love it. You've blended all your strengths and experiences into such a great brand--marketing, beer brewing, and real estate all brought together in erotic romance novels. Wonderful. It all goes to show that experience is never wasted on a writer! Thanks for all the great knowledge you shared with us this week. We appreciate your time & hard work. ;0)

  13. Thanks guys! as for the Mich Ultra we'll let that slide Carelene if you are willing to read about it via my books! I hope you all get a chance to give them a try!
    Happy early Thanksgiving.

  14. Hi, Keely and Liz! What a fun and informative post! Liz, this is a great reminder that I need to read your work--I knew I recognized your name from the Happy Ever After blog! :-) Your books sound so inviting--the problem is knowing where to start. Sounds like the Stewart Series is a prime candidate. And I'm so impressed by all that you manage to do!

  15. hey Kathy thanks! Yes, but you could also try Paradise Hops, it's my most recent stand alone and received the JERR Gold Star award in November. But both Sweat Equity (book 2) and Essence of Time (book 4) in the Stewart series did too. My advice is to start with Floor Time but keep the first 3 on hand as they flow pretty quickly together and I'm told that you will not want to delay especially between books 2 and 3. I hope you enjoy them! Happy Thanskgiving!

  16. Hi Liz - Thank you so much for being a guest at our blog. I love that you've been able to blend so many diverse interests into a career. Good luck with your latest release.