Tamara Lush writes — a lot. For her day job, she’s an award-winning correspondent with the Associated Press. At night, she works on her fiction, which includes eight erotic romance novels to date (“chick lit with sex,” as she describes it). Her latest, “Tell Me a Fantasy,” was released Jan. 17, while three days prior, she broke the news on the closing of the Ringling Bros. Circus.
The 46-year-old Florida resident is currently riding the rails as part of the 2017 Amtrak Residency Program, which grants selected writers (24 out of over 600 applicants) time to work on projects aboard the train. For Lush, that means another balancing act: during her two-week residency, she’s compiling mini-profiles of fellow riders in an AP series called “Tales From a Train,” while editing a draft of a new novel.
She calls in from a stopover in Denver to talk about her dual careers, the freedom of self-publishing and how writing fiction has made her a better reporter.
Tell me about your double life as a reporter and a romance novelist.
I’ve been a reporter for 25 years. I’ve always loved romance novels. I stopped reading a lot of fiction and read a lot of narrative nonfiction in journalism. Then once I got to the AP nine years ago, I started covering a lot of really awful things. I covered the Haiti earthquake, I’ve covered a lot of mass shootings. At some point it just snapped in me that I wanted to write something with a happy ending.
How do you have the energy to do both?
I was worried that I wouldn’t have the energy for it. But then this weird thing happened where writing fiction energized my journalism, in a way. It’s actually kept me from getting in a mid-career rut. Sometimes, I think, in journalism we can slip into this whole, “What are the facts? Let’s just churn out the facts.” Especially if you’re at a wire service. You have to do things pretty quickly.
Writing fiction has given me this chance to look at things differently. If I’m covering something in a courtroom, how would I describe this if I were writing a book? I try not to just rely on the tried-and-true of journalism speak. It’s helped me find my writing voice, too.
What advice would you give to reporters who also want to pursue creative writing?
I think that reporters are in this very unique position to be able to write creatively because they have the discipline. I don’t ever feel writer’s block because as a reporter you know you can’t afford that. You have to write something; your editor wants it. I just do it. I have a story in my mind and I’m pretty organized about it.
In Florida where I live, it’s not uncommon for a reporter to write genre fiction. Carl Hiaasen and Dave Barry are the biggest examples. Edna Buchanan was a Pulitzer Prize-winning crime writer before she became a novelist.
Any advice on the publishing side of things?
I am traditionally published with two books [“Hot Shade,” “Into the Heat”]. But my "Story” series, I self-published that. In the romance genre, self-publishing is very popular and lucrative. I think now is a great time to be a writer because there are a lot of options. There are a lot of editors who work on a freelance basis, there are a lot of copyeditors. It’s very easy to put out a good book on your own. I would say, don’t be afraid to write that book.
Why go the self-publishing route after traditionally publishing the first two?
As a reporter, you have your editors and you are told pretty much what to do. You have some leeway, but my time as a reporter is not my own. Self-publishing means I have total control over the project, everything from what the cover looks like to hiring an editor to pricing. I found that in self-publishing I really enjoyed that control.
Is promoting your work different when you self-publish? You have to do it yourself, or hire your own PR?
I do, but I have the luxury of time and money that maybe others don’t. Some people do it solely through word of mouth; some people do it through Facebook. Marketing is a big part of self publishing and traditionally publishing. It’s a big component of your time. Probably [the reason] why I don’t get more writing done is because I’m always marketing my books. I have a business now, and that business is my books. And that’s pretty exciting.