Sunday, January 18, 2015

Author interview: Zoe M. McCarthy

Who thought true love was worth taking a  "calculated risk"?

The main characters in Zoe M. McCarthy's book Calculated Risk, sure do! :) But the journey of how they realize it's worth a shot is not completed in one day or in this case, one chapter of this Christian fiction book. The journey to finding true love takes time and there are twists and turns in the process, all of which Zoe writes wonderfully well.

I invited Zoe to talk about her book here on my blog today. Enjoy her author interview! :)

*Questions by Alexis in bold, answers from Zoe not in bold...

Alexis: Your leading lady in your book Calculated Risk is named Cisney. What a unique name! Why did you choose that name? Does it hold special meaning? Please explain.

Zoe: I chose the name Cisney because it was my maternal grandmother’s middle name. I’ve always liked the name and wanted to honor my grandmother.

Cisney is an independent career woman who in the first few pages, is still trying to get over the man her father wanted her to marry. Why did that man dump Cisney? Will she find true love? Or will she never take that “calculated risk”?

I’ve met people who are competent and independent in one setting, such as the workplace, but play a more submissive role in their home life. I’m reminded of the boss, Miranda Priestly, in the movie, The Devil Wears Prada.

Cisney wants to please her father. Jason, the dumper, is much like her overbearing father. She tries to be the kind of woman Jason wants, but it’s just not who she is. Later in the story, Cisney asks Jason the question you posed, Alexis, and she wishes she’d left his reasons to her imagination.

As to, will she find true love? Guaranteed. The genre is contemporary romance, after all.

Your leading man is Nick. What role does he play in Cisney’s life?

In the beginning, he’s the actuary who evaluates Cisney’s marketing ideas to make sure they aren’t financially risky for their insurance company. So, she has to sell her ideas to him and hope he blesses them. In a compassionate moment after he’s present during Jason’s dump-Cisney phone call, he invites her to spend the Thanksgiving weekend with his family. The fun begins and her role starts to change when these two extreme opposite colleagues have to get along during a five-hour drive and a few days together.

Cisney experiences many “mini” crises in this story but perhaps the most serious one was her dad’s heart attack. Explain why you included that in your story. What role does that detail play in the purposes of your storytelling?

You hit the crux of the major subplot with these two questions, Alexis. The bigger than life man who always gets his way is suddenly helpless. This is hard for Cisney to witness. But it allows her to see that her father is just a man and that mere humans, even those with good intentions, cannot play the roles of God’s co-leaders in others’ lives. After seeing that a godly man like Nick is who she’s waited for all her life, she’s finally able to respectfully tell her father that she’ll handle her love life in the future. I used Colossians 2:8 as my scripture for Calculated Risk. “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.” (NIV)

I love the romantic ending to your story! Tell my readers about your plotting process. Did this story end the way you originally planned? Or did you characters sort of “surprise” you as you wrote the story?

I’m glad you enjoyed the ending, Alexis. I plot the major events, the disasters and the black moment in my stories. But after developing a good sense of my characters, I allow them to get to those moments and handle them their way. So yes, they often surprise me. What their personalities come up with is so much better than what I might drop into their lives.

Do you have a special place where you go to write your stories? If so, please describe what it looks like and what it means to you.

We built a house on a hill in Southwestern Virginia during the writing of Calculated Risk. Because I planned, and do, treat writing as a nine-to-six job, I knew I’d be spending a lot of time in my office. So as we designed the house, I put much thought into my office. It’s long with wall-to-wall windows that look out on to the mountains and down on Christmas tree fields and farms. I have a gas fireplace at one end to keep me toasty. Two walls are lined with floor to almost ceiling bookcases packed with biographies and novels of all genres, Bibles and Christian studies, and books on the craft of writing. I have a wonderful cherry desk with a big desktop Mac, but I prefer to write on my MacBook Air in my recliner. I always enjoy climbing the stairs to my room to spend time with God and write.

Are you traditionally published or did you go indie? Do you have an agent? Please share the story of your publishing journey.

I’m traditionally published with White Rose an imprint of Pelican Book Group.

When I was eight, I wrote a one-paragraph cowboy story. I’ve been gifted in story ideas and the desire to write them, but I had to learn the craft of writing. Over the years, I stuffed many uncompleted manuscripts under my bed. When my boys were small, I escaped to writing and submitted a completed manuscript to a publisher. Although it was rejected, the time I spent on editing grammar gave me a good base in that area. As a new Christian, to explain difficult Bible passages and teachings to myself, I wrote short stories. I learned to write concisely. I self-published two books of these contemporary short stories. In performing every publishing task myself, I learned much about publishing.

At a writers’ conference, I signed with literary agent Joyce Hart of Hartline Literary Agency. I joined American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), which lead to critique groups, writer email loops and conferences. Christian Fiction Online Magazine published two short stories, one from my self-published books and one later after I found my writer’s voice. I completed four manuscripts. Each rejection was better than the prior one, giving me more helpful feedback and invitations to submit other projects. In a workshop, agent Chip MacGregor said it takes four completed manuscripts to learn to write and usually the fifth gets published. When I heard that, I was working on my fifth book, Calculated Risk!

Is Calculated Risk your first book? If yes, share the story of why you wrote it. 

Calculated Risk is my debut novel.

My husband and I are retired actuaries. We evaluated insurance companies’ financial risks. I wanted to introduce a numbers man from this little known profession as the hero. And the heroine had to be his extreme opposite. Having worked with social, expressive marketing reps, I knew Cisney would be such a woman. A romance between Cisney and Nick was highly improbable. At least at first, because I always hammer this truth: opposites distract before they attract!

What was the most challenging part of writing Calculated Risk?

What was most difficult was letting my writer’s voice come through and allow the characters to be themselves. During the writing of Calculated Risk, I wrote a short story romance, “The Hitchhiker,” which my publisher will release free in an upcoming month. Because I wasn’t writing the story to publish, I had fun expressing the way I wanted to say things. I got inside those characters and let them run. I realized I’d just found my writers voice. Writing Calculated Risk turned into a fun romp.

What is the most rewarding feature of being a published author? 

For me, it’s seeing how God orchestrated every task and learning experience in its proper time to eventually bear fruit in a published piece, whether it is for a few or many readers.

Who is your favorite author and which one of their books do you love the most?

Among my favorites, is Jenny B. Jones. It’s a toss up, but I laughed through Just Between You and Me. I aspire to Jenny’s writing. I enjoyed fifteen minutes with her in a mentor appointment at an ACFW conference.

How does your faith in God play into your writing? Or does it?

Before I became a Christian, I worked on a steamy romance. After I became a Christian, I rewrote the story into an inspirational romance. It was the first of my four rejected books. I saw that God had given me the passion to write, and I committed to write the stories he lays on my heart. He used each of those rejected novels to grow my writing.

Are you working on your next book? If yes, please give my readers a glimpse into the story.

My agent is shopping another contemporary romance with extreme opposite golf caddies. A tall young male caddy standing on a golf course green next to a tiny female caddy inspired this story. She had a long blond ponytail extending from the hole in her pink golf cap. I’m writing another story between extreme opposites. The heroine is a reserved accountant whose husband has recently died, and the hero is her laid-back golf pro brother-in-law.

What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Treat rejections and critique-partner and contest-judge feedback as the best teachers to grow their writing. And to keep writing and submitting completed manuscripts until that “fifth” one earns a contract.

Complete this sentence: At the end of the day, I am_________________ because ___________________________.

At the end of the day, I am ready to spend time with my husband because I’m attracted to my opposite and he’s taken over the laundry, grocery shopping, and vacuuming so I can write full-time.

Thanks for the interview, Zoe!

Author bio: 

Zoe M. McCarthy believes the little known fact that opposites distract. Thus, she spins Christian contemporary romances entangling extreme opposites. Her tagline is: Distraction to Attraction, Magnetic Romances Between Opposites. Calculated Risk is Zoe’s debut novel. Christian Fiction Online Magazine published two of her short stories. Zoe enjoys leading workshops on the craft of writing, speaking about her faith, planning fun events for her 5 grandchildren, and exploring the Blue Ridge Mountains, where she lives with her husband, John.

Connect with Zoe:

Purchase Zoe's book, Calculated Risk -


  1. What do you and Cisney have in common besides being expressive?

  2. Zoe, i especially like your answer to the last question.


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