Sunday, September 3, 2023


I want to thank Willow Sanders for taking the time for this interview!


A marketer by day, and author by night, Willow Sanders is a best-selling author of sweet with heat Contemporary Romance and Romantic Suspense. She loves to write spunky, take no shit women, and understanding men with a strong side of sarcasm and an extra helping of BDE. 

When not writing you can find her torn between her loyalty to the Fighting Illini and her husband’s loyalty to Michigan State, bemoaning traffic, feeding her caffeine addiction, and trying to find the connection between her and the Gilmore Girls–because she is certain she is a long-lost family member.

When and how did you know you wanted to be a writer?

So my earliest memory of wanting to be a writer was in 3rd grade (Mr. Fisher’s class). We used to have “creative writing” days on Fridays where we would write stories and then Mr. Fisher would “bind” them in orange cardboard and we would design our “book covers” and then he would take them to the Library to display for the rest of the school. I would say without a doubt having the feeling of seeing something I wrote on a shelf that other people could see was just about the coolest thing I’d ever experienced.

Now, if you ask my mom–she’ll tell you that I wrote stories to my younger sister (I was 4) while she was in utero so that she wouldn’t get bored hanging out in there for 9 months (or 6 –however many months it was when I actually understood or was told my sister was in there, haha).

Did you have any influencing writers growing up?

Hmm, that’s a tough one. There are writers that I kind of associate with various goal posts in my life. I read a book, Mustard the Cat in 2nd grade that just absolutely gutted me and to this day I’m still traumatized just thinking about that book. (I’m pretty sure that was my first “chapter” book).

I remember reading all of the Judy Blume books, the Babysitters Club books, R.L Stine, Christopher Pike– my reading ran the gamut. I was bored one summer –I may have been in maybe sixth grade (way too young to be reading Danielle Steele) and picked up a tattered copy of Messages from Nam (I think at the library) and I cried for days after reading that book.

My mom eschewed television–we didn’t even have cable growing up–and she would “make” us read our entire required  and suggested reading lists. Like every book. Even when it said “pick one from column A and one from column B”  She would make sure we read all of columns A and B.

So she instilled in all of us a love of reading, which then translated to a major in English/Literature in college. For me I was an enthusiast of the British Romantics, naturally. Though–once again I’ll take you through my literary trauma: Tess of the D’Ubervilles.

I think that as you read, you’re influenced even if you don’t realize it.

Are any of your characters based on people in real life?

I think there are probably an amalgamation of a lot of people in a lot of my books. Though very specifically there are a few. 

In my very first published book Dirty Little Secret, I wrote it during NaNoWriMo back in like 2006 maybe. And at the time I was working for a real estate company and the owner of the company hated when people said “have a good day” and would get really annoyed if he heard any of his employees telling someone to have a good day. Because he believed that by saying “Have” we were telling them they had to have a good day, even if they didn’t want to. It was ridiculous. But so I wrote him into my story –which was about a radio station–and made him a washed up rock star who goes off on a tangent about being forced to have a good day. It’s just a single scene but he very specifically influenced that one.

Later on down the line I wrote another set of books based on a radio station (working in radio for so many years will have that effect on you, I guess, haha). And at the time I had a friend at the station that was in the middle of a divorce and had just started dating a much younger woman. My husband and I were in the midst of IVF treatments at that time I remember thinking how gloriously unfair it was that women had this like countdown clock that they fought against every single day and that men could essentially get a restart on their entire adulthood if they found someone young and fertile. So Bear & Marley in Screwg’d are very very loosely based on that coworker.

My friend Jasper, also from the same radio station, is Desi-Indian. He and I were having a discussion one day about men in romance books and he was like “Why is it that all the dudes in romance books are white. why aren’t there any indian guys in romance? We wrote the Kama Sutra–if anyone is going to know a thing or two about romance, it’s us.”  So I wrote a book with an Indian main character Whiskey Business and even threw in some Kama Sutra references for good measure.

Where do you draw your book inspirations from?

I honestly have no idea. They just come to me. Typically it’s a scene or a piece of dialogue or a singular character and it rolls out from there.

Do you have a basic outline when starting a new story or do you let the characters lead the way?

I am an unabashed pantser. I can’t plot. I’ve tried. The second I try to plan anything out the entire story collapses on me and I can’t write it anymore. So I have to sit down and see where the characters take me.

When you are picturing the characters in your book, do you have a cheater photo for inspiration?

No cheater photos here. They’re in my head. And usually my characters are more personality based than looks based. Though I realized that many of my female characters have some form of red hair. I blame twelve years of Catholic Schools growing up in a very Irish Catholic area and red head envy haha.

Many people read as a form of escape and relaxation. What is your favorite way to sit back and relax?

I’m also still an avid reader. Though most of my reading is at night right before bed. 

My husband and I also love to just hang out in our pool usually after dinner and an hour of Netflix, we go out and wind down for an hour or so in the pool. Living in eternal summer, we get a decent amount of months that we can use it.

Who are your favorite current authors to read?

In the romance genre: Amelia Wilde (I don’t understand why more people aren’t talking about her. She’s freaking amazing). Sara Cate. CD Reiss.-- I read a LOT of romance but it’s hard to make it onto my buy it as soon as the preorder goes up, list.

Non Romance: Sherman Alexie, Kristin Hannah, Jodi Picoult, Ken Follet, Dean Koontz.

There are probably a ton of others that once I turn this in I’ll be like OMG I forgot to add this one.

What are your favorite books by others?

The list is SO long though, haha.

We Were Liars - E. Lockhart (I fell in love with this book long before Booktok made it a thing… she has the most beautifully poetic writing style).

Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

Pillars of the Earth - Ken Follett

Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian - Sherman Alexie

I’m sure there are tons more that I’m overlooking.

Do the locations in the stories have any meaning to you?

Yes and no. Sometimes they do.. like in Missed Connections Phoebe, my female main character is traveling to an academic conference in England. And all her mishaps actually happened to me (minus the prince meeting me and falling in love with me).

lot of my stories are based in or tie back to Chicago which is my home town.

Date and Switch is a romance on a cruise ship because cruising might be my favorite way to spend a vacation.

Do you write in single or multiple POV?

I write dual POV these days. I started out writing in 3rd Person, but as the industry became more accepting of dual POV I moved into that as for me it’s a more comfortable writing style.

What do you find to be your best research tool?

The Googles

Do you write under a pen name? Also, do you write under more than one name?

Willow is a pen name. I grew up at the corner of Willow and Sanders, and thought now that would make a great name for a romance writer.

What genre do you write and why is this your preference?

I write contemporary romance mainly. I have one romantic suspense dualogy and two contemporary New Adult romances but most of what I write is Contemporary Romance.

Tell me something about yourself outside of writing. Jobs, accomplishments, family, quirky trait...what led to you being you?

I worked in radio for the bulk of my career, it’s given me lots of fodder and tons of really interesting character quirks and traits to meld into my stories.

I'm actually an INFP on the Meyer’s Briggs chart yet I work in marketing and by career have to force myself to be super outgoing. So those who I work with are shocked when I tell them I'm an INFP and I actually loathe being in front of people.

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?

Find your tribe hold them tight. Sometimes the writing world can be really shitty. You need people who you trust implictly and can be your sounding board, the net that gets cast out when you feel like you’re drowning, and the people who will hold you up when imposter syndrome strikes.

You’ll know when you find them. Don’t put your trust in other people too easily. Especially with your vulnerability because there are a lot of people out there who won’t like to see you shine and will want to dull that sparkle. Protect yourself while you find that tribe because what makes you, you is what will draw readers to you–and changing you because someone tried to dampen your sparkle will make the struggle more cumbersome.

How do you deal and process negative book reviews?

I don’t really read them anymore. Especially since the advent of BookTok, there are a lot of people who want to be jerks just to feel superior. Other than release week– I don’t pay attention to them.

Not everyone has the same tastes. Some people don’t like ice cream (which just blows my mind because I can’t live without ice cream)... so not everyone is going to like the same books and if they don’t like your books, there are plenty of other readers out that there can and will.

What is the most difficult part of your writing process?

These days, finding time to write. As the market has become SOOO oversaturated, staying current and feeding the machine has become exhausting. Rapid releasing is really the only way to keep a continual income stream going, even if its meager. 

So working a full time regular job plus taking care of normal things like family, boring chores like cleaning the house and grocery shopping, squeezing in time to write is like these tiny gasps of opportunity.

What do you need in your writer’s space to keep you focused?

Noise canceling headphones, and caffeine. I also need to have something playing that will force my focus–like alpha waves, or just ambient sound. I can’t write to songs with lyrics because I’ll start singing along.

What is your naughty indulgence as you are writing?

Chex Mix– just the regular kind. It’s really crunchy and also super salty. And something about the loudness of chewing it especially when wearing headphones helps drown out any other sound and allows my brain to work better haha.

If you could spend a day with another popular author, whom would you choose? And why?

Gosh that is such a hard question! I feel like I should out my tribe of romance friends because none of us get to spend enough time together but we see each other at signings and that is the best.

I think I’m going to go with Sherman Alexie, final answer or maybe N. Scott Momoday or Leslie Marmon Silko. Sherman Alexie especially seems like he would be such a fascinating person to get delayed in an airport with and like hang out at the bar for the four hours while the storm passes or the plane gets a new pilot and just talk. He has had such a fascinating life, and he has the most magical way with words and based solely on his Twitter account is so quippy and funny. He just genuinely seems like he would be amazing to hang out with.

Recently I was doing a history of Arizona for work and learned N. Scott Momaday and Leslie Marmon Silko both taught at the University of Arizona. Legitimately wish I would have known that earlier in my lifetime because what an amazing gift to every single burgeoning author who got to sit in a room with greatness and be mentored by them. I am so envious of anyone who got to take a class with them. I bet it was just amazing.

If I could travel back in time, I would love to hang out with all of the Bronte Sisters– or really hang out with the whole literary society that gathered in York during that time: Dickens, the Brontes, Bram Stoker, even Virgina Woolfe made her way up north.

What is your schedule like when you are writing? Do you have a favorite writing snack or drink?

I overcommitted during these post pandemic years and I feel like all I’ve been doing is writing! My husband and I are actually taking a vacation in a few weeks, our first since we moved out to Arizona seven years ago! And I am absolutely not bringing my laptop so I can actuall take a true vacation.

I'm a weeked warrior, typically when it comes to writing. Most of my writing is done on weekends until I’m like nearing the end and then I’ll write at night as well. 

Coffee, Chex Mix, and water typically. Sometimes (though I’m trying to be better) chocolate is also involved.

Do you listen to music when you write – what kind of music is your favorite?

My favorite music period is the Indigo Girls, hands down. But I can’t listen to them while I write otherwise I start singing along.

When I’m writing I listen to ambient noise, ASMR for focus or creativity, or opera.

Have pets ever gotten in the way of your writing?

Gotten in the way, no. I dedicated one of my books to my dog, Baxter. I was much younger and could stay up until 2, 3 in the morning writing back then and he would lay on my feet and keep them warm, and he died while I was in the middle of writing one of my books and I remember as I wrote how profoundly lonely my office was without his warm fur and steady breath.

Now a days I'm a zombie if I write past like 11:30… my editor can even pick out the passages when I've pushed it to late in the evening because I’ll start sleep writing and it makes no sense.

My office is rarely cold anymore (eternal summer), and my dogs are more apt to hang out in our front guest room and terrorize all the people who walk past with their loud, startling barks.

What is your kryptonite as a writer? What totally puts you off your game?

Drama. Criticism. 

While I was writing Rental Clause one of my co-workers went missing and we legitimately were concerned for their safety. I couldn’t write– I had zero feelings of holly jolly and ended up having to push back the book’s release because I just couldn’t write while we didn’t know where they were.

Have you ever killed off a character that your readers loved?

I have not yet ever had to kill off a character. I write safe romance (no cheating, guaranteed HEA (Or HFN). None of my books are epic stories that span across generations and volumes. 

I would like to write something epic at some point and kill off a character just to watch people on TikTok cry about it. But I just dont have that kind of attention span.

How do you celebrate after typing THE END?

One of my author friends and I were just discussing this. In this new normal post pandemic where we’ve settled into this rapid release life, I can’t remember the last time I celebrated a “the end.”

I saw once on Greer Rivers social media that her friends like bought her a cake and had champagne – I don’t think Ive ever had anything like that.

I really should do something, especially since I’ve typed it 32 times at this point!


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