Not only did ARWA’s own Julie Kenner get win a 2014 RITA®, she made history as the first writer to win in the Erotic Romance category! Here’s what the divine Miss J. had to say before the ceremony.
Traci Andrighetti: It’s so exciting that Claim Me, the second novel in your Stark Trilogy series, was nominated for a 2014 RITA! How did you receive the news?
Julie Kenner: I’m on the RWA Board this year, which meant that I had the honor of making calls to other Rita and Golden Heart finalists. But that also meant that I couldn’t see the list of finalists until after I’d been notified. So I was lucky in that I got The Call the night before official calls were made, from Terry McLaughlin, the current RWA President! But then I had to sit on the news! But that was okay because I got to savorJ
TA: You’ve already had tremendous success as a writer—you’re a New York Times, USA Today, and international bestselling author, and you’ve won lots of awards. How does your RITA nomination compare?
JK: It’s fabulous! It’s exciting to be a finalist in the first year of a category (erotic romance), but most of all it’s wonderful because it’s a peer award, and I have such admiration and respect for the members of RWA, and am honored to be a finalist.
TA: Besides erotic romance, you’ve written so many different genres— romance, young adult, urban fantasy, paranormal mommy lit, paranormal romantic suspense. Do you have a favorite genre, or one that is easiest for you to write?
JK: I really don’t, although I have to say that I am absolutely loving the erotic romances that are the primary focus of my career at the moment. There is so much depth of character to explore in these books. But I also love the lighter stories, the action-based adventures, sliding into fantasy and paranormal, putting myself in the shoes of teens, and more. Honestly, I just love telling stories, and I feel incredibly fortunate that I’ve been able to do that for the last 14 years!
TA: Before you became a writer, you worked as an attorney in Austin and Los Angeles. How has your knowledge of the law enhanced your writing career?
JK: Good question. Certainly I think it helps from a business standpoint, not only in reviewing contracts but also in simply being an advocate (though I have always thought that it was easier to advocate for a client than for myself). More than that, though, my studies and career in the law gave me the confidence to speak in front of people. I’m naturally introverted, but as a litigator—presenting to partners, judges, clients—I had to get over that. And that ability to speak publically (and off-the-cuff) has helped on the business/workshop side of my writing career.
I think it has even helped on the writing side, though to be completely accurate, I think the fact that I’m a storyteller at heart helped on the legal side. When you are writing a brief for a judge, you’re trying to tell them the story of what happened, and persuade the judge that your interpretation of the facts and the law is the proper one. That’s story telling at its heart. Not fiction (or so you hope!) but still the weaving of a tale. And so the two careers aren’t as unrelated as you might think.
TA: For authors who aspire to a career like yours, what’s the most important thing they can do to pave the road to their own success?
JK: Write! Far too many people want to be an author but they massage the same first chapter over and over again. Move on. Start new stories. Explore your own voice and figure out who you are as a writer. And then don’t give up.
TA: In any career, success brings a new set of problems. How are the challenges you face now different from those you dealt with early in your career?
JK: There are more distractions. A lot of that has to do with the fact that social media was still in the baby stages when I started. Now, despite the fact that I am writing full time and no longer homeschool my kids, I still seem to have less time to actually sit at the computer and just write. So I have to spend more time being self-disciplined!
TA: How would you sum up your journey from your first published novel, Nobody Does It Better, to the present?
JK: I’ve always wanted to be a novelist; it’s the first dream I remember having. So how does one sum up living a dream other than to say I feel incredibly blessed?
TA: Finally, is there anything special that you’ll bring with you to the RITA ceremony (besides a fabulous dress, that is)?
JK: No talisman, if that’s what you mean; I’m not really a talisman/charm kinda gal. But I am excited that one of my best friends is coming — Kathleen O’Reilly who was one of my very first critique partners and is currently doing the computer coding thing instead of the romance writing thing (to my chagrin, because she’s a brilliant writer). I’m thrilled that she’s coming to San Antonio to see me and some other friends … and that she’s going to be at the ceremony!
Julie Kenner (aka J. Kenner) is the New York Times, USA Today, International, Publishers Weekly, and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of over sixty novels, novellas and short stories in a variety of genres.
Praised by Publishers Weekly as an author with a “flair for dialogue and eccentric characterizations,” JK writes a range of stories including super sexy romances, paranormal romance, chick lit suspense and paranormal mommy lit. Her foray into the latter, Carpe Demon: Adventures of a Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom by Julie Kenner, is in development as a feature film with 1492 Pictures.
Her erotic romances (as J. Kenner) have reached as high as #2 on the New York Times list and are published in over twenty countries.
JK lives in Central Texas, with her husband, two daughters, and several cats.
In 2014, ARWA’s Sherry Thomas took readers, contests, and the New York Times Book Review by storm. I had the pleasure of interviewing Sherry about being nominated for a RITA® yet again—and for two books this time!
Traci Andrighetti: You’re already a two-time RITA winner, and now you’re a nominee for two more books, The Burning Sky and The Luckiest Lady in London. How does it feel to be nominated yet again?
Sherry Thomas: It felt fantastic, seriously the best thing ever!
This was still in my long, long pre-smartphone era. As usual, my phone was lost somewhere in the house. And as usual, I woke up only thinking of the immediate things that had to be done, i.e., how to hustle the children out of the house and onto their buses on time.
By midmorning I went online and realized from tweets and ARWA emails that finalists had already been contacted left and right. I checked my landline for messages and there was none. I went online to RWA.org to see which finalists had been posted, and there were a ton each in the historical and the paranormal categories. So I said to myself, oh, well.
But then I dug up my cellphone and it had a message. And that message was from Claudia Dain, calling for the RITA, asking me to call her back. I was happy, but I figured it was probably The Luckiest Lady, since I’d never had more than one book nominated at a time. So when she told me I was a double nominee, I screamed. Best. Thing. Ever.
TA: The Luckiest Lady in London has enjoyed particular success. First it was reviewed in The New York Times, and then All About Romance readers voted it “Best Romance of 2013.” What is it about this book that’s attracting so much attention?
ST: It’s funny. My agent asked me the same question.
Here’s the story behind the story. I’d written the book near the very beginning of the century. It never sold, but I’d always loved it. So when my romance editor offered a new contract, I said that given the time constraint on my YA contract, there was no way I had the time to write a new historical romance from scratch—most of my first drafts have to be discarded in their entirety. But I might take the contract if they would buy this book from under my bed more or less as is.
Both my editor and my agent read the 2001 version and they both enjoyed it. We talked about what minor fixes it needed and I blocked out a month for revisions in February of 2013.
Then I actually reread the manuscript myself sometime over the winter and went, blurrgh. The manuscript was the same but I’d changed and the characters now read all wrong: He was too wimpy and she way too smug. And the thing was, it was very much a character-based romance. So if I changed the characters, the entire plot would also have to change.
I looked at my calendar, looked at the amount of work that remained to be done, and immediately asked for an extension.
In the new version the hero and the heroine both become infinitely more devious and play this—to me— deliciously sexy game of one-upmanship. I enjoyed myself enormously, something I don’t always do while writing, and used to cackle with glee at their various antics.
And then I sent it off and both my editor and my agent hated it. I was stunned. Usually when that happens, I scrap the draft and restart. Fortunately, just before I met with my agent and my editor, Tiffany Yates Martin, my freelance editor, emailed to say she loved it.
So that puts it at two to one, hate vs love. I sent it out to my critique partner and to Shellee Roberts and Courtney Murati, asking for their honest and visceral feedback. They all loved it. Which means my agent and my editor were now outvoted four to two.
I decided to stick with the new version and only revised to make it more what it already was, a rake-and- virgin story with a twist, in that the virgin plays the game as well as the rake does, but in a way that does not diminish his appeal, because he adores her cleverness and all her flaws.
And that might be what readers enjoy about it.
TA: You write historical romance and young adult fantasy. Are you planning to take on any other genres?
ST: Yes, absolutely. I have a contemporary romance that is 2/3 done and MY BEAUTIFUL ENEMY, my August historical romance release, has a full-length companion volume called THE HIDDEN BLADE, a prequel that is best characterized as a middle-grade/young adult historical action/adventure.
TA: What inspired you to become a writer?
ST: A terrible romance—and the supreme arrogance of youth—which together made me go up to my husband and say, “If that book can be a NYT bestseller, I can make money writing romances too.”
Eight years and a ten-thousand hour apprenticeship later, it happened. But I still think it only averages out to $3 an hour, if I added all my hours together!
TA: Your books have been translated into thirteen languages, and a Slovakian translation is on the way. Is there any one language you’re particularly proud to see your work in?
ST: Chinese, absolutely, since it is my mother tongue. But so far my books have only been translated into complex Chinese—the older version of the script used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, etc. I am from Mainland China, so I still hope to sell simplified Chinese rights someday.
TA: English is your second language. In what ways has this helped your writing career?
ST: I haven’t the slightest idea. Maybe during RITA judging, if all the nominees are equally good, they say, hey, this woman is actually writing in her second language, let’s hand it to her instead!
TA: What are some of the other secrets of your success?
ST: I don’t think there are secrets to success. There is definitely random elements of luck: I used to read Miss Snark and she recommended Kristin Nelson, long before Kristin became a power agent. So Kristin was the one I decided on early on that I wanted to represent me and it has worked out wonderfully ever since.
There is also timing: When Kristin took Private Arrangements, my first book, out on submission, we happened upon a moment just after a downturn in historicals. All the New York houses had reduced their historical output and they had suddenly realized that they didn’t have enough historicals in the pipelines. Time to acquire!
Other than that, I think the best thing really is to concentrate on the next book. I don’t say this out of any particular sagacity, but because I can’t stand the sensation of dismay and despair that the ups and downs in publishing sometimes give me, so I do my best to not think about it at all.
And that has worked out pretty well. I had some anxious moments when sales of my books, instead of rising or even holding steady, halved with each new release. I changed houses, plowed on, kept putting out books, and at the moment am pretty happy with my career.
I think this advice holds especially true for newer writers, who only have maybe one or two titles available and they pull their hair out over how to market and promote those titles. Very few books meet the zeitgeist at the exact right moment and instantly find a wide audience. Most of the rest need the support of a body of work and a readership built up over time.
In today’s new digital environment, when books don’t ever go out of print, but can always be found by readers, there is no need to worry if your first couple of books don’t catch on fire. Write the next one and make it sublime.
TA: If you could give one piece of advice to first-time RITA nominees attending the awards ceremony, what would it be?
ST: LOL, have fantastic RWA roommates who are mavens with hair and makeup, as I do?
The period between RITA nomination announcements and the ceremony is actually the most fun: months of enjoying being a potential winner. The night of the awards ceremony is a bloodbath where everyone have a 90 percent chance of going from a potential winner to an absolute non-winner. So I basically view it as just an opportunity to put on a really fancy dress and binge on mini-desserts.
Sherry Thomas is one of the most acclaimed romance authors working today—one of the first to be reviewed by the New York Times Book Review. Her books regularly receive starred reviews from trade publications and are frequently found on best-of-the-year lists. She is also a two-time winner of Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA® Award.
English is Sherry’s second language—she has come a long way from the days when she made her laborious way through Rosemary Roger’s Sweet Savage Love with an English-Chinese dictionary. She enjoys digging down to the emotional core of stories. And when she is not writing, she thinks about the zen and zaniness of her profession, plays computer games with her sons, and reads as many fabulous books as she can find.
Sherry also writes young adult fantasy, The Perilous Sea, volume two of the Elemental Trilogy, will be available fall 2014.
No doubt about it, Mari Mancusi is one of ARWA’s most imaginative and colorful members (both in terms of her personality and her hair). And she’s our only Emmy winner. Don’t miss what Mari had to say about writing YA fantasy and working with celebrities!
Traci Andrighetti: You write primarily Young Adult fantasy involving everything from vampires and dragons to gamers and Prince Arthur. How do you come up with these wild stories?
Mari Mancusi: Actually I think that’s the number one question people ask me when it comes to my writing and I never have a good answer! I just write the kinds of stories that I would want to read—and, for me, the more fantastical the better. I also love “fish out of water” stories—dropping an everyday girl into a crazy world of vampires, dragons, medieval fantasy, whatever and seeing how she uses her 21st century wits to make it out alive.
TA: Every genre presents its own unique challenges for the writer. What, in your opinion, are the particular challenges that YA authors face?
MM: Distribution. Unlike with adult novels, where e-books are taking off, opening up opportunities for self-publishing and digital deals, kids are more likely to still walk into a bookstore and purchase a physical copy or get one from their local library. Even if they do end up with an e-version it’s usually because they’ve seen the print version somewhere—in a store, at the library, with a friend—and then asked their parents if they can download it. Very rarely do you have kids browsing Amazon, looking for undiscovered indie treasures like you do with adult books. Therefore if you do want to publish YA (especially younger YA) you need to have a publisher and you need to depend on that publisher’s team to get the distribution you need to get your book noticed. So that can be limiting. Hopefully with more and more kids getting tablets, this will eventually change.
TA: In addition to your YA novels, you’ve written a contemporary romance entitled Love at 11? What inspired this genre shift?
MM: I actually started out writing adult romances before I tried my hand at YA and have published six adult romances and two adult novellas over the years. Love at 11 was a reprint of a book I did for Dorchester, originally titled News Blues. I love writing adult contemporary romance and may be doing more front list titles in the future.
TA: Besides being an author, you’re also a two-time Emmy-winning television producer. How has your work in TV affected your writing, or vice versa?
MM: TV writing is all dialogue so it’s helped me keep my book writing conversational. I always read my manuscripts out loud over and over again, until they sound right in my ears.
TA: Inquiring minds want to know: Who is your favorite celebrity that you have worked with, and why?
MM: David Duchovny from the X-Files. Swoon! That man is even MORE personable in real life. I could barely form sentences while interviewing him. Also, he told me that if he had his choice he’d be doing X-Files movies until he was 80 years old and in a wheelchair if they let him. I always love when actors are as enthusiastic about the characters they play as the fans are.
TA: You have an impressive backlist. Do you have any advice for other writers about productivity?
MM: Write everyday. You’d be surprised at how it adds up. Figure out what time a day you are at “your best” (for me this is sadly six am) and set aside that time to write. Let everyone in your household know this is your writing time and that they need to respect that. Respect it yourself as well and don’t get distracted by fake busy work like Facebook posting, etc. If you need to, put a sticker board next to your computer and give yourself a star every time you meet your daily word count. When you’ve finished your board you can buy yourself something special.
TA: Since you’re a fan of time travel stories, if you could go back in time and tell your pre-author self one thing about the writing business, what would it be?
MM: It’s going to be a rollercoaster. There will be highs and there will be lows but in the end the only thing you can do is hang on tight and enjoy the ride.
Mari Mancusi always wanted a dragon as a pet. Unfortunately the fire insurance premiums proved a bit too large and her house a bit too small–so she chose to write about them instead. Today she works as an award-winning young adult author and freelance television producer, for which she has won two Emmys.
When not writing about fanciful creatures of myth and legend, Mari enjoys goth clubbing, cosplay, snowboarding, watching cheesy (and scary) horror movies, and her favorite guilty pleasure—playing videogames. A graduate of Boston University, she lives in Austin, Texas with her husband Jacob, daughter Avalon, and their dog Mesquite.
Mari Mancusi always wanted a dragon as a pet. Unfortunately the fire insurance premiums proved a bit too large and her house a bit too small–so she chose to write about them instead. Today she works as an award-winning young adult author and freelance television producer, for which she has won two Emmys.
When not writing about fanciful creatures of myth and legend, Mari enjoys goth clubbing, cosplay, snowboarding, watching cheesy (and scary) horror movies, and her favorite guilty pleasure—playing videogames. A graduate of Boston University, she lives in Austin, Texas with her husband Jacob, daughter Avalon, and their dog Mesquite.
ARWA’s one and only 2014 Golden Heart® finalist, Jillian Lark is poised to rock the world of historical fiction. And we can’t WAIT to see her do it!
Traci Andrighetti: Let’s start with the big news: Your historical romance Much Ado About Scandal is a finalist for the 2014 Golden Heart® Award. How did you find out?
Jillian Lark: I couldn’t remember which phone number I put on my entry form. After running an errand, I checked my home phone. No messages. By then the same 6 names remained in the Historical Romance category. I got ready to leave, but the phone rang. THE Jodi Thomas told me I was a finalist. I was too shaky and shocked to scream. I’m not sure what I said. Jodi repeated that I really did final. I told her I was glad she wasn’t a telemarketer. At least I made her laugh. I called chapter mate Chris Campillo about the final. She screamed and the rest of the GH breakfast group at the restaurant screamed. When I arrived, they applauded. Lots of congratulations and hugs ensued. What a supportive group! Thanks for the special memories, ladies!
TA: This manuscript has also placed second in three previous contests. What did you do to prepare it for the Golden Heart?
JL: After the dismal 2013 GH scores for Much Ado About Scandal (MAAS), I worked on other manuscripts. Before I submitted MAAS inthe Maggie and Rebecca contests, I rewrote a chapter and revised the synopsis focusing on the romantic conflict. The contest word counts were shorter than GH, so I didn’t submit the revised chapter. During the summer I received wide-ranging feedback on MAAS. I used the ones that felt right and fit my vision. After MAAS placed second in the Maggie and Rebecca contests, I completed a few quick fixes based on the judges’ comments and returned to the second book in the series.
I decided not to enter the 2014 GH and planned a 7 part blog series on the contest. I signed up to judge the Historical Romance category and hoped the blog research and contest entries would help me figure out what I had done wrong in 2013. However, chapter mate Ana Farrish and my California CP Lia Riley urged me to enter. REPEATEDLY. IN STEREO. (Thanks, ladies!) A few days before the deadline, I reviewed MAAS and added the revised chapter I hadn’t used in previous contests. I didn’t expect to final. I just wanted to see if my scores and hearing would improve.
TA: What does being a Golden Heart finalist mean to you?
JL: It’s been less than a week since the announcement, and life has been a thousand shades of crazy. I’m still shocked, thrilled, and overwhelmed. The GH nomination is an honor from my peers and validates my writing, but I’m also humbled by how incredibly fortunate I am. Maybe repeating “Golden Heart” over 100 times in the blog series was my lucky charm this time. I don’t know everything being a GH finalist will bring, but I embrace the opportunities and my fellow nominees. Congrats to ARWA’s 2014 RITA finalist, Julie Kenner, and double finalists, Sherry Thomas and Julia London!
TA: You have said that you write humorous historical romance with a modern twist. What does this mean?
JL: My stories have a light tone and witty, flawed characters who circumvent the laws and rules of Society by thinking outside the box. My writing isn’t heavy on description or angst, which might appeal to some readers with more modern sensibilities. I want to provide entertaining stories that make today’s busy readers swoon, laugh, and forget their troubles. That’s what I love to read and write but not the only kind or genre I like to read.
TA: What is it about historical romance that appeals to you?
JL: I live in the present every day, so I want to escape to a different century where no one cares if my to-do list is finished. My love for historical settings began when I was a child living in a Victorian house near London. I explored the local mansion so often visitors thought I was the curator’s daughter. I read every historical novel I could find and wrote plays and stories in which my friends and I had heroes, servants, balls, gowns, and all the other trappings of historical romances.
TA: Much Ado About Scandal is the first book in your Mischief in Mayfair series. What can you tell us about it and the forthcoming books?
JL: In MAAS the estranged hero and heroine decide to end their marriage the only honorable way allowed by Victorian law. One of them has to die––a faux death. To avoid suspicion, they must convince Society they’re in love. That is, if they can agree who should be the “victim” and protect their hearts from a painful past and unexpected desire. The second book in the series is Inventing Lord Remington. To save her late father’s company, the heroine creates an imaginary husband. When a con artist assumes her fake husband’s identity, she must risk her reputation and her heart. The third and fourth books have place holder titles. Stealing Beauty is about a spy who loves a suspected enemy agent, the proprietress of an exclusive beauty treatment salon in Mayfair. In Catch Her if You Can, a British Treasury agent pursues an artist and her father, a notorious counterfeiter.
TA: What advice would you give to an author planning to enter the Golden Heart?
JL: Test your entry with different writing instructors, readers, and contest judges. Use only the advice, which feels right. Improve your craft and entry. Read books and excerpts published by the most recent GH/RITA finalists/winners in your category. Keep writing! Don’t wait until the last minute to enter like I did and remember which phone number you put on the form.
TA: Here’s what readers really want to know: What are you planning to wear to the ceremony?
JL: I wish I knew. I promise I’m not waiting until the last minute. Late May/early June isn’t the last minute is it? So far my only plan is to have a wonderful wardrobe mistress, Ana Farrish.
Jillian Lark has lived in England, Germany, and eleven U.S. states. When not writing historical romance and spending time with her family, she’s a fervent Anglophile, occasional traveler, and reluctant wrangler of dust bunnies.
ARWAers were thrilled when Sloane Calder recently landed an impressive agent. Now we’re waiting to see this one-time corporate queen wheel and deal her way to the top of the bestseller charts.
Traci Andrighetti: You left a corporate career as a brand manager to become a romance writer. What prompted this change?
Sloane Calder: I actually left my corporate career when I had my first child, but I had ventured back into finance (my first career) once I began staying home with the kids. Part-time brand management work was impossible to find in Austin, so I spent seven years at home doing finance work on the side. I’m a closet nerd and came home from Comic Con in the summer of 2011 and decided to write the book that wanted out of my head. I had no idea what the heck I was doing, and thankfully, a friend directed me to RWA.
TA: On your blog, you discuss the frustrations of being a writer. What do you find to be the most difficult aspect of the writing process?
SC: The most difficult aspect of the writing process for me was finding my process. When I was in the corporate world, I’d worked long enough that I knew how to put together a brand plan or a budget, whatever the job required. I’m an organized person and writing made me feel very disorganized because I had no way to frame up my ideas. I went to Kresley Cole’s signing for Lothaire, and she mentioned how she used Microsoft Excel for her character charts and plotting. Combining that tip with April Kihlstrom’s Book in a Week class, and eureka—my process for organizing was born! It would be nice to be a little less process-driven, but I’ve given up fighting my DNA.
TA: You have a CPA and an MBA in International Marketing. How have these degrees helped your writing career?
SC: Because I’m early in my career, I’m not sure how much my background has helped me, but it’s definitely affected my writing process.
My marketing career was in consumer-packaged goods, so I did a lot of packaging work and advertising along with product development—in essence, the entire process of getting a product on the shelf. Books are products too. I look at writing a bit differently than some in that I see it as a business, and I write from both a creative and a business perspective. Ultimately, I write what I love, but I also think about the marketability of what I’m writing.
TA: At a recent ARWA meeting, you made the exciting announcement that you had signed with Stephany Evans at FinePrint Literary for Bound by Fire. Can you tell us about your agent search process?
SC: Getting an agent on the PNR/UF took me completely by surprise. I had stopped querying Bound by Fire because the PNR/UF market for debuts had tanked. I’d had previous agent interest, but having heard “I love this but can’t sell it” twice, I decided to shelve it and try again when the market turned. Meanwhile, the manuscript won the 2013 Marlene contest in the PNR category and I received the request for the full from the editor judge, but I’d starting writing a contemporary. It was difficult to jump back and forth between the two genres mentally, and small town contemporary was selling. To make a long story short, I suspended querying BBF to finish the contemporary.
I frittered away six months doing nothing with Bound by Fire and basically had a “what the hell” moment over the Christmas holidays. I started querying BBF again, sent out a query on January 17th, and had “the call” six days later. I don’t really remember much of the last half of January, but I do know the kids were fed and went to school.
TA: Apparently, Stephany informed you that you write urban fantasy romance rather than paranormal. Did this come as a surprise to you?
SC: Initially, I laughed. What’s not to like? Urban fantasy romance sounds cool. However, I also think it’s a rebranding of paranormal romance, just like chick lit is now being called “humorous women’s fiction”.
TA: Will knowing that you write urban fantasy change your approach to your craft in any way?
SC: The only change I’ve made is that my agent suggested I adopt a new pen name for my urban fantasy books. I had no problem with the change, as I have mixed emotions about my real first name anyway. My new pseudonym, Sloane Calder, makes me sound much more hip than I really am, but I’ll take all the help I can get in the ‘cool’ department.
TA: What advice would you give to other writers who have been searching unsuccessfully for an agent?
SC: Keep trying. And if you’re not successful with one book, then write another one. Every new book is a “do over” with any agent who said no the first time. Whatever publishing avenue you choose, keep writing, keep learning, and keep querying/ pitching/submitting your work. I honestly believe you’ll eventually get what you want in life if you don’t give up.
TA: On your website, you state that you have “a husband straight out of a romance novel.” Care to share any details? Romance readers want to know.
SC: What I appreciate more than anything is how supportive my husband has been with my writing. He was skeptical at first, as we both have business backgrounds, but he’s also more of a risk taker than I am. I think he appreciated my doing something new, and when I finally got the courage to let him read my very first “first chapter”, he said, “This is better than I thought it would be.” A few days later, he sent me an e-mail that read ‘no matter what, finish that book’. Since then, he’s done whatever’s necessary to make sure our kids are taken care of when I need to write—which is pretty damn romantic in my book.
Sloane Calder grew up in Georgia, spending many of her early adult years seeking adventure in corporate America.
She’s been a beancounter for transformers (not the cool kind) and ovens that bake paint on automobiles before a last stint accounting for lingerie (dreadful, except for the clothing discount). Switching gears, she moved into brand management, marketing desserts, soft drinks and lawn care products.
Thankfully, her stockpile of suppressed creativity finally won out and she released the story that wanted out of her head. Though her first loves are the cute little redheads she’s raising alongside her supportive, non-fiction reading husband, she writes full-time in Austin, TX.
An avid reader all her life even though her mother used to tell her to stop reading and go watch television, she still thinks there’s no better escape than a good book, especially if hot heroes and superpowers are involved.
It’s no surprise that ARWA’s Alexa Bourne writes romantic suspense, because she’s a real woman of intrigue and mystery. Alexa almost caused an international incident on a trip to Turkey, and she somehow manages to juggle four different series at one time. How does she do it?
Traci Andrighetti: You were born in Rhode Island, but you have a decidedly Scottish theme to your website. What is your connection to Scotland?
Alexa Bourne: I first fell in love with the scenery when I watched the movie Highlander. Then I started reading Scottish historical romance novels, which only made me love the country more. My mother grew up a few hours from the Scottish border so I’ve had several opportunities to visit Scotland when I’ve visited the relatives in England. I love so much about Scotland- friendly people, rich history, beautiful scenery, and who doesn’t love the sexy accents?
TA: The A-Team is your all-time favorite TV series, and you’ve said that it prompted you to write your first one hundred–paged story. What was it about the show that inspired you so?
AB: I was definitely drawn to the good guys winning and the villains getting caught. I also loved the way the members of the team each had their own strengths and they complemented each other. Also, they didn’t always get along, but when it came to the success of their missions and to protecting each other, they pushed their differences aside to get the job done. In the end, justice prevailed. All of these aspects of the show were strong messages to my middle school mind when I was trying to understand the world around me and find out who I was.
TA: When you were in college studying English Literature, you got a coveted internship with the New England Patriots. How did that play into your writing career?
AB: The single most important part of my time with the Patriots was finding my best friend, Nancy. I started the internship working in another department, but each day we’d talk and soon after we started hanging out outside of Foxboro Stadium (now called Gillette Stadium). As for that time in my life playing into my writing career, Nancy has always been my biggest cheerleader. She’s pushed me toward publishing, she reads all my work (even the crappy stuff), she sends me packages with writer goodies and Scottish-themed gifts, and since I got published she’s been making most of my promotional material.
TA: You write four different series: the IPN, Glenhalish, Hanover Haven, and Cooper Brothers series. How would you describe your writing overall?
AB: I would say I’m definitely more comfortable writing suspense. That’s pretty obvious with five out of my eight books being romantic suspense books. I tend to write characters that I’d like to be friends with, and I love trying to paint pictures of the settings. I’ve been told more than once that these aspects of my writing are my strengths.
TA: What is your favorite book you’ve written, and why?
AB: Oh, that’s like trying to pick a favorite child! Each of the books is special for different reasons, but if I HAVE to choose, I’d have to pick two. Carry Me Home, a Scottish contemporary novella, and Dance Away, Danger, a full-length romantic suspense. Carry Me Home was a rush job. I wrote it, revised it and submitted it within 3 weeks. It turned out to be the most emotional book I’ve ever written. The topic, a married couple who have suffered a loss but eventually find each other again, could easily be too much for a romance, but I think I handled it well and the reviews also tell me that. Dance Away, Danger was the first of my manuscripts that I truly thought was good enough to get published. When I finally got to hold that book in my hands, I had reached a goal I’d had for over ten years.
TA: You have a Master of Education, and you teach several courses for writers, one of which is called “Candid Confessions of a Newbie Author.” Can you tell us one of your candid confessions?
AB: I never, ever, EVER realized how much time, energy and concentration promotion would take. I knew I’d have to promote my books, but the time it takes is…overwhelming and never-ending.
TA: What is the single most important thing a newbie author should know?
AB: Ask questions. Even if you think it’s a stupid, newbie question, ask it anyway. You can save yourself so much grief.
TA: You recently returned from a trip to Turkey. Can your readers expect to see a Turkish-themed romantic suspense novel in the future?
AB: Oh yes! I took notes about the country and the culture. Plus, during our travels to various parts of Turkey, I even started plotting the book!
Alexa Bourne is a teacher by day and a romance writer by nights, weekends, and all school holidays. She also teaches online classes for writers throughout the year. She writes romantic suspense and contemporary romance and is thrilled to have the chance to share her stories with readers everywhere.
When she’s not concocting sinister plots and steamy love scenes or traveling and exploring new cultures, Alexa spends her time reading, watching brainless TV, and thinking about exercising. Okay, she also spends way too much time interacting with readers and writers on social media sites. But don’t tell her editors! Find out more about her and her books on her website, www.alexabourne.com.
KATHY CLARK and BOB WERNLY (a.k.a. BOB KAT)
The dynamic duo of ARWA, Kathy Clark and Bob Wernly are the resident experts on cowriting and self-publishing. I recently had the pleasure of talking to them about republishing Kathy’s extensive backlist and their team approach to writing.
Traci Andrighetti: The two of you write as a team known as “Bob Kat.” Has that always been the case?
Kathy Clark: I wrote my twenty-three romance novels alone and couldn’t imagine writing with a partner. But then I started writing screenplays and discovered that I enjoyed working with one or more partners. It makes a very solitary work environment into a constant brainstorming session. Writing with a partner creates a lot of energy…luckily, with Bob, it’s all positive.
Bob Wernly: Kathy still writes her romantic suspense novels alone, but we co-write the young adult series CUL8R and the new adult series Scandals together.
TA: What is your writing process?
KC: Bob and I have several plotting sessions and make lots of notes about specific plot points and characters. Then he researches any actual historical events and writes a rough draft. He usually gives me about 75 to 100 pages to which I add characterization, romance and color until we reach about 200 pages (single-spaced, 70,000 – 85,000 words).
BW: My value-add is to lay the groundwork, sort of like setting stepping stones in the path. She can wander off the path and explore, fill in the details and add the emotion and subplots, but she always has the path to lead her forward to a satisfactory conclusion.
TA: You write contemporary romance, romantic suspense, young adult and new adult. Which is your favorite, and why?
KC: Each series is very different, and I enjoy them for different reasons. The Denver After Dark romantic suspense series has the deepest, darkest stories that are some of the best work I’ve ever done. And yet I’m also very proud of our CUL8R young adult series because I love the concept of time travel and all of the stories have a very subtle message that will hopefully empower the readers. The new adult series is a lot of fun to write because it is first person, and I can burrow deep inside each character (in his or her book) and experience their feelings up close and personal.
BW: The new adult series is definitely my favorite because they are grown-up stories with lots of action and interesting characters. Writing in first person makes the characters more real and multi-dimensional.
TA: After gaining the rights to your backlist from your traditional publisher, you republished twenty-one of your novels. What has that done for your writing career?
KC: The disadvantage to writing romance novels is that they are on the shelf for only 30 days. It takes as much creativity, time and energy to write them as a book that has long-term shelf life, so it’s tragic that my earlier books were there so briefly, then gone forever. It felt good to give them a second chance at life. I’ve gotten feedback from my old fans who are delighted to be able to revisit the old titles and discover the new ones.
BW: Because it’s more difficult to get discovered in e-book-land, having a larger presence multiplies your chances of getting readership. We believe that once a reader picks up one of Kathy’s books, even the older ones, that they will be impressed with her complicated plots, interesting characters and great writing and want to read her other books. So, it’s a good thing to have as many titles out there as possible to create a loyal fan base.
TA: You also teach classes on indie publishing. What prompted to you to want to teach about your self-publishing experience?
KC: I’m creative. I honestly don’t want to spend my time marketing or figuring out how to get noticed on Amazon or where most people list their books or how to pick key words. It’s all very intimidating, and if I didn’t have Bob to wade through the minutia, I would go crazy. By sharing our discoveries, we help other writers reach their goals. There’s always room for more great books.
BW: Kathy has always loved teaching writing classes. She has done workshops all over the U.S. and even was an adjunct professor of an upper level Media Writing course. I came from the business world and enjoy giving presentations. It seemed a natural progression for us to combine forces to create detailed courses on all elements of writing and publishing. And since the emphasis right now is on indie publishing, we have been focusing on that.
TA: A recent study found that eighty percent of self-published authors earn less than one thousand dollars per year. What is your reaction to this finding?
KC: The e-pub phenomenon is a good news/bad news scenario. It’s good because it offers a terrific showcase for books that might otherwise not make it on the shelves because of the very difficult obstacle course of traditional publishing. Plus, it extends a book’s lifetime without killing trees or bumping someone else off the shelf. However, the bad news is that there are some really awful books being put out that could damage the reputation of self-publishing as a whole. Sometimes I feel like we are the Rodney Dangerfields of publishing…we get no respect. Mystery Writers of America won’t even acknowledge a self-published book, no matter how great it is. We, as authors, have a responsibility to make our work as polished and perfect as possible before we put it out there. If we don’t, then we’re going to lose our market and everyone’s dollars will drop.
BW: It’s difficult to entice a reader to choose your book out of the 2.5 million choices they have on Amazon alone. We all need to work together to build the brand by increasing the quality and finding a new way to draw attention to our books. The whole review/rating system is a joke as it stands right now. And even though the e-publishing sites proclaim their allegiance to indie writers, they give traditional publishing houses priority treatment, special placement, extra categories and free reviews. We need to have a level playing field so great books won’t be overpowered by big-name authors who have big-buck budgets, but don’t necessarily have higher quality projects.
TA: What, in your opinion, is the most important marketing step an author can take?
KC: Put more books on your shelf. You need to keep writing. Fans have short memories, so they need to have several great experiences with your work so they will remember you and make it a point to buy your next book.
BW: Pay attention to your numbers and be creative. Run specials. Bundle books. Experiment with your pricing and your key words and your e-pub sites. Different things work for different types of books, so you have to keep moving until you find your place in the market.
TA: What’s next for Bob Kat?
KC: I’m almost finished with book #4 in the CUL8R young adult time travel series. It’s called RIP (Rest in Peace) and it’s a ghost story set at the infamous Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. I’m having lots of fun with it, and I challenge anyone to guess the ending! It should be available by the middle of February, 2014.
BW: I’m almost finished with the first draft of the second book in the new adult Scandals series. Tramp Stamp is Reno’s story and is about rescuing a damsel in distress while falling in love with her sister. Kathy should be taking over as soon as she finishes RIP, and Tramp Stamp should be available for sale in March or April, 2014.
Kathy’s and Bob’s BIOGRAPHIES
Kathy Clark’s 23 women’s fiction (romance) novels have sold over 3 million copies in more than 10 languages and have been on the New York Times’ bestsellers’ list and won her numerous awards.
In September 2012 she launched a new suspense series, Denver After Dark centered on three brothers, one a cop, one a firefighter and one a paramedic. The first book, After Midnight has been named as the Best Indie Suspense of 2013 and won a prestigious 2013 Readers’ Favorite Suspense Award. Cries in the Night is Book #2 in the Series and Graveyard Shift, Book #3 will be released in Fall, 2014.
Also in 2012 Kathy teamed up with her husband Bob Wernly to write a Young Adult Time Travel Mystery/Romance series called CUL8R (See You Later) under the pen name of Bob Kat. Book #1 OMG (Oh My God), when they go back to 1966 to save a girl’s life, was released in October, 2012 and was named as the Best Indie Young Adult Suspense of 2013 and was a Beverly Hills Book Awards finalist. Book #2 BRB (Be Right Back), when they travel back to 1980, recently won First Place in the Readers’ Favorite Young Adult Awards 2013. Book #3 BION (Believe It Or Not), when they go back to 1927 and join a circus to save a boy, was just released in July, 2013. All three books in this series have received rave reviews and 4 and 5 star ratings. Book #4 RIP (Rest in Peace), a ghost story set at the famous Stanley Hotel in 1911 will be released in January, 2014. Also, under the Bob Kat pen name, Kathy and Bob wrote a fictionalized version of his fraternity days at Kent State University in 1970 that mixes the drama of senior year with the first military draft lottery, the Vietnam war and the Kent State shootings. This novel was named as a finalist in the Best Indie Mainstream Book of 2013 Awards.
Kathy and Bob also write a New Adult series called Scandals with the first book Baby Daddy released in November, 2013 and the second book Tramp Stamp scheduled for Spring, 2014.
Kathy is currently a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Romance Writers of America and was on the board of directors of national RWA and Colorado Romance Writers for several years. Her books and screenplays have won numerous awards, including top honors from Romantic Times, Colorado Romance Writer of the Year, two RITAs and several film festival screenwriting competitions. When not writing, she and Bob love to travel, hang out on beaches, spend time with their five sons, go to movies or just play with their dogs and their turtles.
She loves to hear from her fans. Her website is www.NightWriter93.com.
All of us at ARWA know and love our website wizard, Cheryl Rae. As it turns out, she’s a published poet and a mosaic master, too. Here’s what she had to say about her many creative talents and her favorite reads.
Traci Andrighetti: As a published poet, what prompted you to try your hand at fiction?
Cheryl Rae: I have actually published quite a few articles on bird husbandry too. I love reading, and I really just wanted to write a book that I might enjoy reading.
TA: When you write, what’s your genre of choice?
CR: I write Science Fiction because I have these odd stories bumping around in my head, and they’re always too fantastic to be called reality. I have one manuscript that is Sci-Fi with romantic elements. But I’ve also written full manuscripts in both historical and women’s fiction.
TA: How do you come up with these “odd” ideas for your books?
CR: Most of my really good ideas come from dreams. Sometimes I’ll wake up and think, “Wow! That was epic!” I mean, I’ll dream the color of someone’s shoestrings, how many windows are in their house, what they had for dinner, and the waitress’ name who served it. Soooooo detailed. I should write my dreams down because they fade pretty quickly. Some don’t, though, and they have become my stories.
TA: Are you a pantser or a plotter?
CR: A plotter, although maybe I need to switch. Research hangs me up. I do love research, and I loved writing my thesis for my masters. But I can get so involved in finding out things that my stories just stop.
TA: Do you write full-time? Or do you have a day job?
CR: I’m a web designer, graphic artist, purveyor of swag, and fine artist in mosaics. I work for myself. My company is called Creative Images, and I do a lot of design for standing banners and T-shirts for Austin runs and marathons to pay the bills. I do the web design and the mosaics because I love art.
TA: Art is obviously important to you. How would you describe your artwork?
CR: Art for me is about color, line and fun. Much of the work I do is whimsical. I love toys, cartoons and science fiction. They’re my artistic inspiration. I started showing in galleries with my goddess series. First I created the goddesses of earth, wind, water and fire then began the important series of the goddesses of chocolate, technology and “just add rum.” I feel the making and appreciation of art is about letting the mind go and being pleased about where it ends up. Right now I have over thirty-five pieces in art galleries and shows in Austin and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
TA: Just out of curiosity, what’s your favorite guilty pleasure read?
CR: It’s gotta be those dang new books about sexy dragons and their people (ahem, Tracy and Mari).
Cheryl Rae grew up with horses and competed in cross-country jumping and dressage. Over time she became a beer and coffee snob with a fondness for the color purple. Her first love is making fine art and her medium is mosaics. Cheryl is also a writer, but she doesn’t write only fiction. She has written three complete screenplays for television and is an accomplished poet. In her spare time she watches the SyFy channel, plays with her parrots and travels to St. Thomas three to four times per year to attend meetings with her web client, the Center for Green Technology at the University of the Virgin Islands.
When I interviewed Lily Everett, I discovered that this Virginia native is as easy-breezy as the windswept beaches she loves to write about. But that’s not all. I also learned that she wrote an earlier series about sexy chefs and even sexier sex and has a secret past as an editor in New York.
Traci Andrighetti: How did you come up with the idea for your Sanctuary Island series?
Lily Everett: Sanctuary Island grew out of my desire to explore the family relationships, emotional storylines, and heartwarming romance of the small-town contemporary romance genre, mixed with my memories of growing up in horse-crazy Virginia. Put it all together, and a tiny island community off the coast of Virginia that doubles as a wild horse preserve was born!
TA: You have also written the Recipe for Love series under the pen name Louisa Edwards. Why did you choose to write this particular series under a different name?
LE: My publisher and I worked hard to brand the Recipe for Love series as foodie romance, full of hot chefs and hot sex. We wanted to avoid disappointing readers who had come to expect that from a Louisa Edwards book, so to give the Sanctuary Island series a fresh start, we went with a new name and a whole new cover look. The side benefit was that it felt like a fresh start for me, too! I let myself write the new series however felt right to me in the moment, and I was so happy with the way it turned out.
TA: Speaking of cooking, you share the recipes of your characters in your books and on your website. How do you think these recipes enhance your stories?
LE: Basically, I love food and I love cooking! Sharing recipes is a way to share that with readers, and expand the world of the books at the same time.
TA: You describe your writing as “deeply emotional” contemporary romance. Can you expand on that?
LE: My goal with every book is to bring tears to the reader’s eye. That’s based on what I love as a reader—if I don’t choke up at least once, it’s never going to be a favorite! I love angst, pining, yearning…and of course, the flip side: forgiveness, healing, and acceptance. I find that “happily ever after” means more if my characters have to earn it.
TA: Your novels are full of wild horses and windswept beaches. What do these things symbolize for you?
LE: Writing those scenes really brings me home. I grew up not far from Chincoteague Island, the real life wild horse preserve that Sanctuary is based on. I’ve seen those wild horses galloping across the sand, and that sense of freedom and infinite possibilities is what I’m writing toward for all my characters.
TA: Besides being an author, you worked as an editor in New York. How did that experience inform your writing?
LE: Like a lot of writers, I have a hyperactive internal editor. My editorial experience definitely amped it up, especially on the first few books! Since then, I’ve worked hard to lock her down while I write the first draft. These days, I only let her out when it’s time to revise!
TA: Last September you taught a class aimed at honing critiquing and revising skills for RWA called “The Feedback Loop.” What one piece of advice would you give to authors who want to improve their critiquing skills?
LE: The biggest thing I learned through teaching the class is that a lot of people feel insecure or anxious about giving feedback. I heard a lot of people saying some variation of, “Who am I to tell someone else how to change their book?” So my advice is to remember that no matter what your experience level is as a writer, you are a reader. You are perfectly qualified to give your honest reader reaction to someone else’s book. Trust your instincts!
TA: And their revising skills?
LE: When it comes to taking a critique and incorporating it into your work, there’s a tricky line to walk between staying true to your own voice and vision…and being open to the possibility that your work may not be perfect as is. My advice? Take every piece of feedback seriously, but don’t force yourself to follow it if it doesn’t work for you.
TA: Last but not least, what’s the most important thing an author can do to catch an editor’s eye?
LE: Oof! Tough one, because it varies from project to project and definitely from editor to editor. But I think the biggest constant is to make sure you have a crackerjack Chapter One. Hook them from the start, don’t assume they’ll keep reading until your awesome hook at the end of Chapter Three. Editors and agents read countless manuscripts every week and many of them admit that if they aren’t sucked into the story by page ten, they stop reading. So don’t wait! Frontload the good stuff and intrigue that editor.
Lily Everett grew up in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains reading Misty of Chincoteague and Black Beauty, taking riding lessons, and longing for a horse of her own. Sadly, her parents gave her a college education instead—but she never forgot what the world looked like from the back of a horse. An avid romance reader since the age of eleven, Lily launched the Sanctuary Island series to explore themes of love, family, forgiveness, healing, and joy. She is also the other of the Recipe for Love series under the name Louisa Edwards. She currently resides in Austin, Texas, with her husband and two of the naughtiest terriers in existence.
As all of us in ARWA surely know by now, our very own Jane Myers Perrine was deservedly nominated for a 2012 RITA in the Strong Romantic Elements category for The Welcome Committee of Butternut Creek. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Jane about her nomination and her plans for a new series.
Traci Andrighetti: How thrilling it must have felt to be nominated for a 2012 RITA for The Welcome Committee of Butternut Creek! How did you find out about your nomination?
Jane Myers Perrine: I don’t think there can be anything more exciting for a writer of women’s fiction to be nominated for a RITA. I never thought I would be—then the call came. However, I was busy doing finances and had forgotten what day the calls would go out, so I didn’t answer the phone the first time. When the same number came up again, I was going to ask this person to please not bother me again. Fortunately, I was polite, then overwhelmed when I finally realized what was happening.
TA: Why do you think The Welcome Committee was nominated?
JMP: I have no idea. I guess this book hit a chord in people. It’s about an inexperienced minister called to a small town church because the church can’t afford anyone better. Readers tell me they know the character, they’ve seen them in their churches. Readers can relate to the books because of the familiarity and warmth of the story—it seems like someplace they’d like to live. They also like the humor.
TA: For those of us who don’t know, what was the inspiration for the Butternut Creek series?
JMP: My husband was a minister for fifty years, serving churches in several small towns. Because I’m also a minister and served churches as well, we shared a lot of stories. The inspiration was a what-if. What-if I’d been called to serve a church in a small town? What would that have been like?
TA: You recently wrote a terrific article for writers entitled “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far.” What has the RITA nomination experience taught you?
JMP: Thank you! I could say, “Work hard and your dreams come true,” but I won’t because there are a lot of really good books that weren’t nominated. Perhaps it’s that we have to take joy when we find it and celebrate whenever possible.
TA: Do you think the RITA nomination will change the way you approach your writing career?
JMP: I’ll have more confidence in my writing and choices. The nomination is a signal to others that, hey, she can write. It also is a challenge to see if I can write on that level again.
TA: What advice do you have for writers who dream of getting the call that they’ve been nominated for a RITA?
JMP: I got my first rejection letter in 1981—yes, that’s 32 years ago. I was a GH finalist in 1999 and sold my first book a year later. In my twelve year career, only ten of my books have been published, not a hugely prolific career. If I had quit writing in 1998, I wouldn’t have sold, I wouldn’t have a three-book series with Hachette, and I wouldn’t have been nominated for a RITA. No one can be promised a RITA nomination just because they keep writing. But stop writing and there’s no chance at all.
TA: At the last ARWA meeting, you said that you weren’t sure what to do with the Butternut Creek series now that you’ve married off your main character. Have you come up with any ideas?
JMP: I’m still pondering. I’d thought of another small-town Texas story but feel I’ve used up all the odd Texas characters I know. I’m thinking of a setting in Kentucky along the Ohio River, intermeshed individual love stories. Should I add magic? A zombie? Probably not. It will be a sweet story because I feel that’s where my voice is.
Award-winning and RITA-nominated writer Jane Myers Perrine graduated from Kansas State University and has earned master’s degrees from The University of Louisville and Lexington Theological Seminary. She’s worked as a Spanish teacher, minister, cook, rifle instructor, program director in a state hospital, and has been an active volunteer but she always wanted to write. Finally, she found time and has published books with Avalon Books, Steeple Hill Love Inspired, and FaithWords, a division of Hachette Book Group. Her short pieces have appeared in the Houston Chronicle and Woman’s World magazine.
Jane’s Butternut Creek series is about a young minister serving in the beautiful Hill Country of Texas and is filled with affection, humor and characters readers will recognize. The books are The Welcome Committee of Butternut Creek, published in April, 2012; The Matchmakers of Butternut Creek, November, 2012; and The Wedding Planners of Butternut Creek, available November of 2013.
Jane lives north of Austin where her life is controlled by two incredibly spoiled tuxedo cats. When not writing or watching college football and basketball, she spends her time swimming or walking extremely short distances.
Those of us who were at Suzye’s party on the night of the 2013 RITA Awards ceremony will never forget the moment when we received the text that Emily McKay had won for The Farm (probably because we’re all still suffering a touch of hearing loss from our own screams of excitement). I recently interviewed Emily about her RITA win and her plans for the future.
Traci Andrighetti: Many congratulations are in order for your 2013 RITA win for The Farm! Now that you’ve had some time to reflect on the award, how does it feel to have a RITA?
Emily McKay: Thank you!
It feels really good to have won the RITA!
The recognition of my peers has always been really important to me, so I’ve wanted this for a really long time.
So, here’s something interesting about me: even though I’ve been published for ten years now, I still kind of feel like it’s a mistake. Like I’m a fraud. (I’ve talked to other authors, and this feeling is not as uncommon as you’d think. We writers are a pathetic group.) So basically, all my career, I’ve been waiting for my publishers or fans to realize that I’m not a good enough writer to be published.
I think, in that back of my mind, that I thought if I won a RITA, then I’d stop feeling like a fraud, because that would be proof that I was good enough.
Turns out, it’s not. I still feel like a fraud! But, over the past month, what I have been thinking about is that maybe it’s okay to feel like a fraud. Maybe it’s okay to always be asking yourself, “Is this good enough? Have I worked hard enough? Have I told the story well enough?” Maybe feeling like a fraud is part of being a writer for a reason. Not because we’re all crazy, but because it makes us work hard and guarantee we do the story justice.
TA: Can you tell those of us who dream of one day being in your shoes exactly what it felt like when your name was announced as the winner of the Young Adult category?
EM: I’m not gonna lie. It felt amazing.
When she first said my name, I was totally shocked. Tracy Wolfe was beside me, screaming. And I jumped up and Tracy hugged me and that’s when I thought, “Oh, god. What if I’m hallucinating and Ally Carter didn’t just say my name?” So I made her promise that I’d really won before I walked up to the stage.
TA: Is The Farm your favorite book you’ve written?
EM: Well, now it is!
No, it’s not my favorite. It’s the most difficult book I’ve ever written. I worked the hardest on it. And it’s a story that absolutely would not let go of me.
But it’s not my favorite. My favorite is probably The International Kissing Club because it was so much fun to write and because writing it with Tracy and Shellee gave me such good friends.
TA: At the August ARWA meeting, you said that winning a RITA was a goal you had set for yourself when you first started writing. What types of things did you do to achieve this goal?
EM: When I said it had been a long-term goal, I misspoke. Goals are supposed to be specific, measurable and attainable. That is, they’re supposed to clearly defined and something you have control over. Winning a RITA is something you have absolutely no control over at all. So in that regard, it was a dream of mine, not really a goal at all. Just something I really, really, really wanted.
Having said that, your real question is, did I do anything specific with this book to make it a RITA winner? The answer to that is, no. When I was working on it, it was all about just telling the story in the best way I knew how. It was a really difficult book for me to write and I worked really hard on it, because the story demanded it, not because I thought it was going to win me a RITA. In fact, I almost didn’t enter the RITAs this year. I thought The Farm didn’t have enough romance in it, so I was convinced it had no chance of winning. Needless to say, I’m thrilled the judges felt differently.
TA: How will winning a RITA affect the way you move forward in your writing career?
EM: Boy, I wish I could say that now that my publisher immediately called to offer me a ten-book contract and a gazzilion dollars, but that’s not really how it works. I mean, they’re very supportive and happy, but it’s still a business for them. They still care about the sales numbers first and foremost. Hopefully, the RITA win will bring me more readers, but there’s no guarantee of that. In the end, it’s still about writing the next book and making that next book fantastic enough that it’s worthy of my reader’s time.
TA: What advice can you give to writers who aspire to win a RITA?
EM: Going back to that goal vs. dream thing, it’s fine to really, really, really want to win a RITA, but you can’t make that a goal. There are so many great books that don’t win RITAs. There are great authors that never even final in the RITAs. So much of it is luck. So much is completely beyond your control. All you can really do is write good books.
TA: What’s next for you now that you have accomplished the RITA dream?
EM: I’m just going to keep writing books. I’m going to embrace feeling like a fraud because it’ll help me write better books. And I’m going to keep asking myself: is this good enough yet?
Emily McKay lives and writes in the Texas hill country. She has two kids, two dogs, two cats, and 9 chickens. She loves movies, food, yoga and books. And eggs. Her 2012 release, The Farm, won the RITA for the Young Adult romance.
After two RITA wins, those of us in ARWA (and elsewhere, no doubt) consider our own Laura Griffin to be the undisputed queen of Romantic Suspense. I was thrilled to be able to interview Laura following her exciting win.
Traci Andrighetti: You’re a two-time RITA winner in the Romantic Suspense category for Whisper of Warning (2010) and Scorched (2012), and you were also nominated in 2012 for Twisted! Was the RITA win every bit as exciting the second time around?
Laura Griffin: It was so much fun! Both my editor and agent were there, along with some of my writer buddies, so we had a wonderful time celebrating.
TA: If you had to pick the best book you’ve ever written, would you choose Whisper of Warning or Scorched? Or would you pick another book?
LG: That is a tough question… I always really like the book I just finished, maybe because it is so fresh in my mind and I’ve been living closely with the characters. The book that has my focus right now is FAR GONE, which comes out in April.
TA: Who would you say has most influenced your writing, and how?
LG: Two of my favorite writers are Joan Didion (I discovered her in college) and Stephen King. Very different, I know. I read King’s fiction growing up and was impacted by his book ON WRITING. Every aspiring writer should read it, I think. He talks a lot about the work that goes into it and how you can’t make excuses.
TA: A lot of authors have a business plan, others simply set goals. Besides your obvious talent as a writer, what would you say has been the key to your success?
LG: I started out as a newspaper reporter, and that’s where I learned the importance of deadlines. There is no forgiveness in the newsroom. If your story is late, it doesn’t make the paper. Now that I’m writing fiction, I set mini-deadlines for myself to keep on track. Writing a book is a long process, and time can get away from you if you let it.
TA: Do you have any advice for new writers who are unsure about whether contests will advance their careers?
LG: For me, I think contests were beneficial. Writing is solitary, but it’s good to get outside feedback on your work. If one person has a criticism I don’t agree with, I might let it go. But if multiple people are saying the same thing about character, plot, etc… then they are probably right and something needs to be looked at again. Contests feedback can be helpful, but it is always subjective.
TA: If you were writing a how-to book for winning a RITA, what would you include?
LG: Oh, I have no idea! I was shocked to be nominated at all. I don’t think about contests when I’m writing. I’m wrapped up in the characters and plot issues that need to be hammered out.
TA: Now that you’ve won the highest honor in the business twice, not to mention the 2010 Daphne du Maurier Award for Untraceable, what do you want to accomplish next?
LG: I want to pour my heart into the next book. I love writing. I love getting to know new characters and having conversations with them in my head. My goal is to continue doing what I love and hope it resonates with readers.
New York Times bestselling author Laura Griffin started her career in journalism before venturing into the world of romantic suspense. The author of twelve novels, she has won numerous awards, including a 2012 RITA Award for Scorched and a 2010 RITA Award for Whisper of Warning. Laura lives in Austin, Texas.
When Jeanell Bolton announced at a recent ARWA meeting that she had just signed a contract to publish her forthcoming novel, Kinkaid House, I thought that the room was going to explode from our collective joy. And I can assure you that the stirring speech she gave about her trials and tribulations as a writer will live on in my mind for years to come. I was honored to be the first to interview Jeanell about her long-awaited and much-deserved debut.
Traci Andrighetti: Congratulations on the sale of your first novel, Kinkaid House! How long did it take to write this novel?
Jeanell Bolton: Six weeks, initially. Six months more fleshing out the story from 55.000 to 90,000 words. Six months more of deepening the story under the guidance of my agent, Liza Dawson.
TA: Speaking of your agent, she describes Kinkaid House as “dark romance.” How do you define this subgenre?
JB: As a romance in which the lovers are challenged by deep, dark secrets. In Kinkaid House, Laurel doesn’t want Jase, the bad boy who made good, to know that she, who used to be Bosque Bend’s favorite daughter, is now the town pariah—and why.
TA: What can you tell us about your process for finding an agent?
JB: When I hoped I had enough contest wins under my belt for credibility, I started querying, mostly blind. It took me a while to compose a really good query letter, but then I started getting requests for partials and fulls. The trick is to keep on querying and not be shy about submitting again, with a different manuscript, of course, to people who have turned you down.
TA: You jokingly refer to yourself as the “Queen of the Contests.” What do you mean by this?
JB: Actually, I think it’s the RWA chapter that’s called me that because they got sick and tired of me standing up at every meeting and announcing yet another final or win. Officially, though, I’m a Contest Diva. In just two years, I placed in 33 contests, winning nine of them. In fact, I often double-finaled, and I won a couple of contests, like New Jersey’s PYHIAB, two years in a row.
TA: Did your success in these contests play a direct role in landing your agent or your publisher, Grand Central?
JB: I think so. Robyn Carr, one of Liza Dawson’s clients, gave me perfect scores in a contest so I quoted her kind words in my query. Perhaps Liza was already predisposed toward my voice–she had requested the full on another manuscript six months earlier–but Kinkaid House itself was what sealed it for her and for Grand Central (which had looked at another one of my manuscripts for six months before passing on it).
TA: What have all these contests taught you about writing romance?
JB: A good story is a good story, whether it’s light or dark, cowboy or returning soldier, paranormal or erotica, historical or sci-fi, or whatever else comes down the pike.
TA: Do you have any advice or tips for romance writers who have been struggling for a number of years to get their work published?
JB: First, volunteer to judge contests, because it helps you evaluate your own writing more objectively.
Second, persevere, because a lot depends upon the market, the phases of the moon, and whether or not the agent/editor has had her morning coffee.
Third, write true to yourself.
Fourth, try the traditional publishing route first. But if that doesn’t work for you, then self-publish. There’s no reason that manuscript has to be stowed away in a closet.
Jeanell Bolton volunteered to be simultaneously an elephant, a high-stepping horse, and a triangle player in her kindergarten end-of-term parade, and she hasn’t slowed down since. Her sense of drama was further enhanced by three years of Baylor Children’s Theater and performances in various school and civic theater productions, some of which she wrote. An award-winning English teacher, she holds a Ph.D. in linguistics, which means not only is she language-mad, but intensely analytical.
Bolton is active in the Austin RWA chapter and the San Gabriel Writer’s League and has been published in poetry, short story, and journalism. Grand Central will publish her dark romance, Kinkaid House, in July 2014.