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Interview: August 2014

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author M. Leighton has always had an overactive imagination, and she finds that writing fiction is the best outlet for her fantastical visions. She’s written over a dozen novels, and these days Michelle enjoys letting her mind wander to more romantic settings with sexy Southern guys, much like the one she married and the ones you'll find in her latest books. Here, Michelle talks to about THERE’S WILD, THEN THERE’S YOU, the third and final installment in her steamy The Wild Ones series. She opens up about all our favorite things…including bad boys, keeping secrets and knowing when to move on.

20SomethingReads: What led you to write edgy fiction with overt sexual themes?

M. Leighton: It’s funny because I don’t consider my books to have overt sexual themes. I think they’re love stories with some steamy scenes. I grew up reading historical romances packed full of bodice-ripping heroes and spitfire heroines, so I guess writing sexy love stories was a natural progression for me.

20SR: THERE'S WILD, THEN THERE'S YOU is the third book in this series. Did you always foresee a series for The Wild Ones when you were writing the first book?

ML: No, I didn’t. As a matter of fact, The Wild Ones was written as a stand-alone. It was after I started getting lots of emails about a story for Rusty and Jenna that I began thinking along the lines of a series.

20SR: You've written not only The Wild Ones series, but also the Bad Boys series. What did you learn from writing the first series that helped when you wrote the first book in The Wild Ones series?

ML: Actually, I wrote The Wild Ones before I wrote DOWN TO YOU, which is the first book in the Bad Boys series. It was written as a stand-alone as well. At the time of writing both of those books, I had only been an author for a little over a year, so I was simply writing what I was passionate about rather than thinking ahead. In retrospect, I wish I’d done things a tiny bit differently, like laying things out in terms of a series. I think it would’ve made it easier. But still, those two books changed my life. Even if I could go back, I doubt I’d change a thing. I’m living my dream. Every day, I’m in awe of how things worked out. So, so grateful, too! 

20SR: Given your experience with writing series books, how do you know when it's time to move on from a series?

ML: I bore very easily, so I don’t think I could ever be one of those authors who writes endless books about the same people or in the same series. I think nature took care of that for me.

20SR: What is it about these "good girl meets bad boy" stories that your readers are drawn to?

ML: I think the majority of women are drawn to the irredeemable, unfixable bad boy because we all want to be the ONE WOMAN who can redeem him, fix him, change him.  It’s a very heady, satisfying feeling to be such a powerful force in the life of such a powerful man. To be able to tame him, to be able to calm that storm…well, it’s a fascinating, addictive thing.

20SR: Which brings us to our all-time favorite question: Why do you think women are attracted to bad boys? What's their appeal?

ML: I equate it to wrapping your arms around a hurricane. It’s unpredictable and terrifying, yet thrilling and seductive. We risk the heartbreak we could find because we know that the reward could be so much greater. 

20SR: Along that same vein, many (if not all) of your stories clearly have an "opposites attract" theme. In THERE'S WILD, THEN THERE'S YOU, Violet is shy and Jet knows what he wants and goes for it. When you are writing, are you thinking about how to explore these themes?

ML: No, not up until recently. I’ve always written just by feeling. I’ve never plotted or planned or thought things out in advance. I’ve let the story and the characters unfold for me just as they do for the reader. I am, however, trying to add more forethought and planning to my method because I feel that every character can be further explored, further defined and the only way to do that is to spend as much time with them as possible. Writing, like any other field, is a learning experience. I can only imagine what I will have learned when I’ve been at this for five or 10 years.

20SR: Another theme throughout this series is secrets. How does keeping secrets and subsequently, revealing them, add to the "forbidden" love side of the story?

ML: I think the “smart person” in all of us would tell us to only become involved with those whom we can fully trust. Those who harbor secrets, who willingly keep things from us are wild cards. They might be trustworthy, but then again, they might not. We are left with uncertainty because we aren’t privy to what they’re hiding. However, as readers of a story, we have the benefit of knowing that a secret is being withheld because of the vantage point from which the tale is told; whereas in real life, we can only choose to either blindly trust or…not. I think it’s that feeling that we know the main characters are walking into trouble that gives us that feeling of indulging the forbidden. 

I hope that made sense!

20SR: THERE'S WILD, THEN THERE'S YOU is told from Violet's perspective and from Jet's perspective. What are the advantages and disadvantages of giving the reader both perspectives?

ML: I love seeing inside the mind of the male characters! The downside of that is that it’s more difficult to maintain mystery. I think the storyline often dictates whether to offer the male POV.

20SR: Violet and Jet meet at a SAA (Sex Addicts Anonymous) meeting --- a very unique scenario, to say the least. From your perspective, what about this spontaneous and unusual encounter makes it so compelling? Are initial introductions all about being in the right place at the right time?

ML: Considering the sexual state of both characters, I thought them meeting at an SAA meeting was quite paradoxical. I knew that it would lead the reader to form all sorts of conclusions, most of which I knew would be erroneous. I don’t believe there is any story that has never been told. I think it’s up to us as writers to tell those stories in a different way. In our way.

20SR: Readers love dreamcasting, especially romantic fiction. Who would you love to see play Violet and Jet? Laney and Jake in SOME LIKE IT WILD? And, of course, Cami and Trick in THE WILD ONES? 

ML: Some aren’t actors, but I like these people for my characters. They fit what’s in my head. Not perfectly, but they’ll do: Jared Leto as Jet; Sophia Bush as Violet; Bernardo Velasco as Jake; Kate Upton as Laney; Jensen Ackles as Trick; and Emma Stone as Cami.

20SR: What other authors do you enjoy reading? Which ones have had an influence on your work?

ML: Most recently, I’ve read Courtney Cole, Mia Sheridan, AL Jackson and Madeline Sheehan. They are all phenomenal authors! As for ones who have influenced my writing, I’d have to say Stephanie Meyer (of course) and Johanna Lindsey. TWILIGHT is what started me on the path of writing and I’ve been reading Johanna Lindsey since I was old enough to love romance. Many thanks to both of those amazing women!

20SR: What are you working on now and when can readers expect to see it? Will there be more in The Wild Ones series?

ML: The Wild Ones series is closed, but I’m currently working on a brand new series (that I’ve planned as a series --- LOL!) and I’m very excited about it! It will be published through Berkley next year. In the meantime, I’ll be publishing two independent projects later this year. One is the third book in the Pretty series, and the other is a stand-alone that my husband asked me to write. It’s going to be one seriously busy, yet amazing, summer!

Thank you so, so much for having me on today and for your support, as well as all the readers who see this and are willing to take a chance on a girl pursuing her dream. I’m forever grateful!