Today we’re welcoming my very most FAVORITE Mermaid (*spoiler alert*: she just happens to be my CP, my brilliant editor, and my LITTLE SISTER in real life!!!), Eileen Emerson, 2016 Golden Heart Finalist in Historical Romance with AN UNBRIDLED GENTLEMAN.
Eileen spent years getting a Master’s degree in costume design for the theatre, and then chucked it all to make her way in the world of Corporate America. She eventually turned her creative focus to writing, and began submitting her work to the contest circuit, with excellent results—in addition to collecting notable wins from “Emily” and “Maggie” and “Sheila,” she got a Golden Heart nod in 2012, and is now a two-time Golden Heart Finalist. She lives in Pennsylvania with either two or four enormous dogs (the number depends on whether the neighbors’ dogs have barged in through the screen door), her guitar-playing son, and her professor husband, who manages to be both deeply romantic and really, really good with computer stuff, making him the ideal mate for a romance writer.
Here’s a blurb for AN UNBRIDLED GENTLEMAN:
On the run from an assassin for the past dozen years, Anne Barrett wonders if she can finally stop pretending to be a horse trainer’s niece and try to reconnect with whatever is left of her aristocratic family. But to earn funds for her search, she must first rehabilitate a horse for Lord Norland—a man forced by circumstance to accept his grandmother’s offer of wealth in exchange for rebuilding her once-famous stud farm in Yorkshire.
Thrown together with Lord Norland more often than Anne’s equilibrium might like, she discovers that to heal the poor beast, she’ll also have to help the troubled lord face the childhood trauma that has left him with a deep fear of horses. When attraction sparks between them, Anne and Norland both have more to fear—courting a commoner could ruin Norland, while revealing her true identity could alert her parents’ killer that Anne is still alive.
What she doesn’t realize is that the assassin has already tracked her down . . . .
It’s such a fabulous story, everybody!!!! As Eileen’s CP, I’ve seen it grow and ripen from first concept to the mature version, and I LOVE LOVE LOVE Anne and Norland (and Anne’s dog Tip, and Uncle Ned, and Norland’s hilariously crotchety grandmother, and THE HORSE!!) It’s a smart, sweet, sexy, satisfying, beautifully-written, character-driven story that NEEDS TO BE OUT IN THE WORLD. SOON!!!!
(*Elisa catches breath*) . . .
So, anyhow, Eileen’s here today to share some wise words of inspiration from a surprising relative!! (And, no, it’s not me.)
Take it away, Eileen!!
One of the best things about being married to my husband (besides our terrific son and a bevy of fur-kids), is that our merged ancestry means I can claim Ralph Waldo Emerson as kin.
And Ralph – I can call him “Ralph” now that we’re cousins-many-times-removed – is the king of great quotes.
See that? It’s great! And so helpful for someone like me who is often riddled with self-doubt, especially when it comes to my manuscripts. Unlike my sister Elisa, I don’t have degrees in writing from prestigious universities. I have nothing but a teetering stack of writing craft books by experts like Debra Dixon, Chris Vogler, and Michael Hauge. Even that folder of contest certificates does little to bolster my self-confidence.
But Ralph? He comes up with gems like this that soothe my quivering soul:
Isn’t that lovely? Don’t you feel better about yourself? And, do you know what? I think it’s true. After this latest round of edits, I had a real sense that all these gems of knowledge I’ve been accumulating were falling into place, as if the tumblers in a lock were aligning each time I sat down to fiddle with a scene or beef up the dialogue.
Aye, there’s the rub.
As my critique partners have repeatedly told me, it’s far past time that I toss my babies out into the world of queries and submissions. Which has me quaking in my boots. I’m a terrible sissy sometimes, regardless of the fact that I’m fearless about so many other things in my life. Need to know how to bake gluten-free? No problem—just find some recipes that work, and go from there. Need to plant up a garden? Pfffft, grab a shovel and get cracking. What’s the worst that can happen?
But… send my writing to an agent or editor? I’m rendered motionless with terror.
Well, in comes Cousin Ralph to egg me on, to tell me that I have to face my fears and conquer them (or never get anywhere in the publishing world.) What good is my endless tinkering and fussing if no one ever gets to see these stories?
Oh, all right, Ralphie-boy. I’ll do it. I won’t waste my life in doubts and fears, and I’ll trust in my knowledge and skill, and fling my manuscripts into fray.
Just after I read through them o-o-o-o-o-n-e more time.
Tell me, readers, what are your writing fears? And how do you plan to face them and do Ralph Waldo Emerson proud?
Oh, and just in case you don’t already think RWE is a stinkin’ genius, I leave you with this:
Leave a comment below to get a chance to win a PRINT copy of your choice of the books Eileen has edited for Elisa (in her Lara Archer persona). You can check them out on Amazon here.
Today we’re welcoming another Mermaid, Karen Miller, who writes as Karen Marcam, 2016 Golden Heart Finalist in Historical Romance with her book SAVING COLUMBINE RANCH.
Karen lives in southern Wisconsin, where she can be found watching way too much HGTV when she isn’t reading or working on a story. She is married with one son who is married himself now. Her empty nest will get a little fuller in the future when he and his wife come for visits, because they are expecting her first grandchild in September.
Karen is a business analyst for her day job, which means she spends a lot of time asking lots of questions and helping people solve problems in their organizations. Being so analytical can be helpful when she is plotting a story, but can be a royal pain when it makes her want to identify every background detail – down to the wallpaper on the walls – in a scene before she writes it.
Karen’s previous role was as a trainer who spent weeks at a time traveling around the country. This is when she finally obeyed the voice in her head urging her to write. That first story she worked on in hotel rooms at night is now her GH finalist. So she is very glad she listened to the voice.
Here’s a blurb for Saving Columbine Ranch:
Widowed mother of four Susan Connolly never imagined she would be raising her family alone on the ranch she and her husband established shortly before he died. If enduring alone after his death is the steep price she must pay to keep her home, then she’ll make sure it’s worth the cost. Cade Anderson has kept to himself all the years since his pregnant wife died and won’t admit why he feels the urge to help Susan now. He calls it saving her from her own foolishness. She calls it one more debt she owes.
But she’s not done paying. When the story starts, a powerful neighbor’s disturbing comments reveal an escalating desire to take her and her land by any means. Even that is a drop in her bucket of troubles when she learns a mountain-sized loan her husband took out could cost her the ranch. With so much at stake, she can’t afford the temptation Cade proposes. His hovering protection would smother her spark of independence like a wet quilt thrown over glowing embers. Besides, it’s a sure bet their smoldering attraction will not survive once he learns how she plans to save Columbine Ranch.
I love her independence, and the quiet protectiveness you’re suggesting in him!! I so miss a good heartland American historical romance (for a couple years now, I’ve heard Westerns are returning!), and I see this Golden Heart nomination as a terrific sign!!
C’mon, everybody—join Karen and I in the local saloon (don’t worry—I’ve sent ranch-hands out to take care of all your chores), and we’ll set a spell and learn more about Karen and her writing journey.
One lucky commenter today will win this sweet READ keyring!!
So, tell us a little about your Golden Heart finaling book and the process of writing it.
It was a long process. This was the first story I ever wrote, so you can imagine how many revisions it went through. I got the idea for this story many years ago, and let it rattle around in my head for a few years before I started writing it down. My idea for the story started with a mental picture of the first time the hero came to the heroine’s cabin, and continued from there, with additional scenes added over time. By the time I started putting it all down on paper, much of the story already existed in my head. But then I had a LOT to learn about how to get it from my head into words that other people wanted to read. For example, the first version had some serious POV issues. And I had to learn that even if I could clearly “see” a scene in my mind, no one else would unless I clearly described it with my words. Each time I went to a workshop or conference and learned a bit more about writing, I applied the lessons I learned to this story. Since it is my first, and I have spent so much time with it, I am very glad to have finaled in the Golden Heart with this particular story.
What was it like when you got the phone call telling you you were a finalist? And what have you liked best so far about being a Golden Heart nominee?
Oh my word, my “getting the call” story is so embarrassing, I almost don’t want to tell it! On THAT Friday, my husband and I were driving from Wisconsin to Ohio to spend Easter with our son and his wife. Well, my husband was driving and I was reading one of the Courtney Milan books I loaded on my Kindle before we left. It never crossed my mind the GH finalists were being announced that day.
We had a wonderful time with our son and daughter-in-law and after we returned I sat down to read the emails I didn’t check all weekend. One of the first emails I saw was one Courtney Milan sent me on Friday, asking for a way to contact me.
Today we’re welcoming another Mermaid, Tracey Amey, a finalist in the Historical Romance category with MY LORD MERCENARY.
Tracey comes by her knowledge of Regency life honestly. Growing up, she spent many sunny afternoons in her Nan’s front parlor in the Regency town of Cheltenham, England. With her summer visits often came trips to the cities of Bath and London, and hence began her love affair with the elegance of the architecture, the spa rooms, and the fashions of the Regency period.
Now she lives in Pennsylvania where she works as the director of a college library. When she’s not writing, she and her husband are hammering, sawing or soldering her old house back into livable shape. Her daughter and a variety of household pets watch with amusement.
Here’s the blurb for MY LORD MERCENARY:
Heiress Lady Skye is determined to marry someone who loves her, not her money. Lord Lyall, social outcast and unrepentant mercenary, is just her man—he only needs a little convincing.
When an extraordinary sword comes into Skye’s possession, she is certain the weapon is a sign of life from her long-missing brother. After she’s attacked in an attempt to steal the sword, the second thing she’s certain about is that someone doesn’t want her to have it. The only person she trusts to help her discover what the weapon truly means is her brother’s old friend-turned-professional soldier, Lyall.
What Skye doesn’t know is that Lyall has been hired to find the very sword she’s asking him to protect. He wants out of the mercenary life, and the lucrative contract to find the sword will provide him just that. If Lyall’s clever enough, he can convince Skye to give him the sword for her own protection and collect his payment with Skye none the wiser.
There’s one problem with Lyall’s plan—he’s fallen in love with the woman he plans to deceive.
When Lyall’s employer goes after the sword himself, Lyall must decide if he is truly a mercenary or if the heart of the hero he once was still beats beneath his hardened exterior. Even if he saves Skye, he doesn’t dare hope that a woman who risks all for those she cares about would love a man whose past is rife with disloyalty.
Oh, delicious!! I love a good intrigue-y Regency!! I’m getting very eager to see these Mermaid books up for sale!
Tracey’s here today to share a very moving story about heartbreak and second (and third) chances, and finding your true self.
Leave a comment below to be entered into a random drawing for Tracey’s prize today: a box of assorted British chocolates, biscuits and teas (Cadbury, McVities, Twinings, etc.).
Take it away, Tracey!
Even the short version of my life as a writer is a story full of confessions, second chances, and reincarnations. I want to share some of these with you.
Let’s start with my first confession. Twenty years ago, in 1996, I made the Golden Heart finals with my paranormal tale of sinful angels and delightful devils. I had a different name then, a different husband and lived in a different place, a lovely home by the seashore.
In the beginning, my first adult life was magical. I was in love with my husband and my writing. How easy to write about love when I was living a fairytale. That first book didn’t sell, but I kept writing, won a Maggie for my third book and got so close to a contract with Dorchester (anyone remember them?). An agent wanted to represent me. I was on track to be published!
Then, like Bluebeard’s bride, I opened a locked door in my marriage, and the secrets and lies came tumbling out. My world crumbled around me. Once I saw the truth of who my husband was and who I was becoming, I had to leave almost everything I loved to save myself. I took only my dog and a basket of laundry and I ran.
Let me tell you–I’ve waited a long time for this!! I started this book all the way back in 2009, shortly after my first Golden Heart nomination made me one of the Rubies. At the time, I was sure I was looking for a traditional publishing deal, but as I kept working on the book, the terrain of the publishing world started tremoring under our feet (something we were discussing in Vivi’s blog post yesterday).
So I finished the book, then watched and waited. A couple times I thought I’d made the decision to try the traditional publishing route with this one…but something held me back from actually sending it out. Even after it finaled in the Golden Heart (and won!) a couple years later, I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do.
Eventually, I decided to do a self-pub test run with a brand-new pseudonym, and Lara Archer was born. There she is, over on the right. Trust me, it’s a way better disguise than Clark Kent with his journalist glasses. Even family members don’t realize that’s me (the sunglasses and the overexposure help a lot).
I didn’t want to take a risk with my Golden Heart winning books until I knew if I liked self-pubbing, so I locked those away in my private vault and wrote two brand new books for Lara, and learned the ropes with those.
Both those books are erotic romances. One’s historical, BARED TO THE VISCOUNT, and one’s contemporary, WILD AT HEART. Check ’em out. They’re very hot and lots of fun. I’m hard at work on the sequels to both, and should have them out sometime this summer.
And it turns out I really, really like self-publishing. (Also, I have the world’s most amazing critique partner who’s also a editor with surgical-strike powers. There’s no way I could manage any of this without her.)
Sometime in January it hit me: I wanted to self-pub THE DEVIL MAY CARE, too. And I wanted to up the heat level a bit (something the story was screaming for, anyway) so it would be a perfect fit for Ms. Lara.
That’s part of the beauty of self-publishing, that I could make a decision like that and have the book out in readers’ hands before the end of March.
And here it is!!!
Now for a blurb:
When Rachel Covington’s twin sister Sarah is murdered, revenge requires making the killers believe Sarah’s still alive, so the sheltered governess must take on her twin’s double role as London’s most notorious courtesan and undercover English spy.
Sarah’s former espionage partner, Sebastian Talbot, is assigned to train and protect Rachel, but he seems more interested in vexing her in every possible way. For Sebastian, the mission is a nightmare, a replay of his failure to save Sarah, but with a woman whose unfamiliar innocence threatens to slip past all the barriers of his cynical soul.
Together, they must lure Sarah’s murderers into the open, distinguish loyal agents from traitors, and struggle to trust one another. The slightest misstep may mean Rachel’s death, so Sebastian must help her play her courtesan role convincingly, and that means awakening her long-buried sensuality—a process which threatens both their professional detachment and their surprisingly vulnerable hearts.
And I’ll throw in a little excerpt, too, from the scene in which Sebastian (the “gargoyle”) taunts the sheltered governess about stepping into her twin sister’s scandalous persona:
“For you to succeed in this mission, Miss Covington, a courtesan is what the world must understand you to be. So tell me: can you play the role? Convincingly? Can you, my quiet, gray, drab little nun, transform yourself into a Salomé?”
Her head swam. Courtesan.
It was too much to take in at once. That Sarah had become such a thing. That she herself was being asked to convince the world she’d done the same.
But the gargoyle’s eyes were glaring into hers, and there was something ugly in them, something that infuriated her. It was not just the implied insult, the one he’d already thrown at her in Helm’s office, that she lacked feminine wiles. No, this was something else, this was . . . satisfaction. A cruel satisfaction. Lord Gargoyle didn’t think she could do it. Worse, he didn’t want her to do it. Hewantedher to fail.
Damn him. Her sister had died. Her sister had been murdered.
She had every right to be part of this.
She’d seen that look of his before, on the faces of the few men who’d ever stooped to play her in a game of chess. Most took her on only to shame her, to defeat her, to demonstrate her proper place. Whenever she’d encountered that look, she’d always—however carefully and quietly she’d had to do it, and however mild she’d had to keep her expression afterward—handed shameful defeat to them instead.
Now, she didn’t stop to think.
In one movement, she shifted forward boldly and slipped one palm around the back of the gargoyle’s neck. She’d never touched a man in such a way before, and panic threatened to overwhelm her. She fought it down.
“Amabo, mei delicii,” she murmured against his ear. The words of an ancient love poem: I shall make love to you, my delight.
His neck jerked against her hand, but he seemed too surprised to do more. His eyes widened; his breath puffed against her cheek.
Forcing herself to gaze into his eyes, she brushed her fingers up towards his nape, weaving them into the thickness of his hair, while she murmured, “Domi maneas paresque nobis novem continuas fututiones.” Stay at home and prepare for our nine continuous . . . Her cheeks flamed as she thought on the translation of the crude final word.
Then she shocked herself as well: she pressed her lips against his, drawing him closer with the hand tangled in his hair.
His lips were soft, and warm, not the cold marble she’d imagined he was made of. They parted slightly, and his breath pushed into hers, and then it was more than touch, it was taste and smell—the tang of the liquor he’d drunk, and something else rich and dark and hot and undeniably him. An intoxicating combination that drew the whole focus of her body to the joining of their mouths, then somehow rippled out again, sending unexpected waves of sensation through the peaks of her breasts, through her belly, through her limbs.
The gargoyle made a low sound in his throat. A sound that didn’t seem quite like a protest. That didn’t seem to be under his control at all.
At that, she pulled back, breaking the kiss and dropping her hand from his neck as her heart galloped wildly in her chest. But she’d clearly achieved the effect she desired. Helm and Mawbry grinned broadly. The gargoyle stared at her, rather stunned, his eyes having quite lost their coolness. Heat rose in a wave from his body.
Then anger snapped back across his features. “Point taken, Miss Covington,” he snarled. He sat back, and cocked a very aristocratic eyebrow. “Though I think few courtesans can quote Catullus in the original.”
“This one can,” she said, smiling. Ridiculous triumph swelled in her chest.
For once, Lord Gargoyle seemed to be at a loss for anything to say.
Check out THE DEVIL MAY CARE. It’s available at Amazon right now!!!
Today we have a special Show and Tell feature from Marnee Blake, a 2015 Golden Heart historical romance finalist.
Now, if finaling wasn’t commendable enough, you should know that this blog was made in the midst of a power outage. Neither snow nor rain nor big bad storms shall keep this Firefly down. 🙂
So without further delay, welcome Marnee! Take it away.
My manuscript, A DANGEROUS CHEMISTRY, is a 2015 Golden Heart Finalist in the Historical Romance category. It’s a Victorian-set historical with a bit of a campy, action movie vibe. My debut, ALTERED (coming in Dec from Entangled Embrace), has a similar action-y feel. But, an action-y NA scifi thriller is one thing. The same for a Victorian romance?
Well, it’s a little bit like Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr.
That movie was a bit gritty and edgy, but still very Victorian.
And it’s got a little bit of Kingsmen: The Secret Service going on, too.
I don’t know how many of you have seen this movie, but hubs and I loved it. And Colin Firth. See the movie for Colin Firth. Granted, Colin’s not in my book. But, my book has lots of the same sort of fast-paced fight scenes. More kissing, though, and way less gore.
The setting is unlike most Victorians, too. It’s more this…
Old door of a poor house, Sperlinga – Sicily
And less this….
Great Hall Ballroom in Rundale Palace, Latvia
The story follows a scientist who is working to purify water with chloride and the illegitimate daughter of a St. Giles crime lord. They band together to rescue a kidnapped girl and end up untangling an international intrigue. Oh, and falling in love.
So, tell me: what unusual settings do you want to see in historical romances? Or, what historical settings are your favorites?
Thanks, Jeannie, for having me! It’s an honor to hang out with the Rubies!!
Jeannie again: And thank you, Marnee, for the great teaser. Chemistry? Action/Adventure? Historical Romance? I’m thoroughly hooked! Congratulations once again!
Marnee Blake is a 2014 & 2015 Golden Heart® Finalist. She used to teach high school students but these days she only has to wrangle her own children. Originally from a small town in Western Pennsylvania, she now battles traffic in southern New Jersey where she lives with her hero husband and their happily-ever-after: two very energetic boys. When she isn’t writing, she can be found refereeing disputes between her children, cooking up something sweet, or hiding from encroaching dust bunnies with a book. Marnee’s debut, ALTERED, an NA scifi thriller, will be released by Entangled Embrace in December 2015. Her writing is represented by Helen Breitwieser at Cornerstone Literary Agency.
Today we’re delighted to welcome Charis Calhoon, 2014 Golden Heart Finalist in Historical Romance.
Charis was lucky enough to work as an intern at the national office of RWA as a college senior. After graduating with a degree in Journalism, she was hired full time at RWA, and eventually became the association’s Communications Manager, editing the RWR and handling public relations at the RWA Conference and for RITA finalists. After eight years, she left RWA with a new baby and a new dream: to write a romance novel herself.
Since that time, she’s worked to balance writing with stay-at-home motherhood. She’s written three complete manuscripts—two Regency historicals and one romantic suspense—and her current work in progress is a romantic suspense. She finaled in RWA’s Golden Heart contest with her first suspense in 2011, and now the historical this year. She says, “Romance fiction is very central to me. I’m not sure I could live without the pro-woman, pro-family (all kinds of families) undertones and hopeful, love-trumps-all theme of romance—as a writer and a reader.”
Here’s a blurb for THE EARL NEXT DOOR:
Rich American heiress Piety Grey has fled to England to escape her hateful mother and the oily suitors she forces upon her. All of them, Mom included, are after Piety’s money, but she protects the inheritance by sinking it into a ramshackle townhome mansion in the heart of Mayfair, which she plans to restore. The new home progresses beautifully until renovations (and Piety herself) spill over onto the property next door—home to the private, prickly, lonely Trevor Rheese, Earl Falcondale. They clash, the kiss, they halt construction by fighting (and kissing), even while the opportunistic Americans arrive in town and aggressively pursue Piety. Now the only thing to protect Piety from an abusive future is…the earl next door. But can he pretend to be her fiance if he failed so miserably to be her neighbor?
Oh, yay!! What a great storyline! I love everything about it—and that you keep balancing your Romantic Suspense writing with Historical, because I want to read more!
Readers, grab some tea and scones (or for you Romantic Suspense folks, some straight black coffee) and settle in with us, while we learn a little more about what goes on behind the scenes with Charis!
Let’s start with my fave question: what was it like when you got the phone call telling you you were a finalist?
When the call came in, I was receiving rental furniture to our temporary apartment, and I celebrated with the delivery men. A tree fell on our house in March, and we’ve had to move into temporary housing (with temporary furniture) until our roof is restored.
It was late in the day, because RWA had to figure out my cell phone number (the tree took out our landline). I didn’t recognize the number and almost didn’t answer it….But then I did, and the Board member (whose name I, unfortunately, lost in the excitement) identified herself, and I remember thinking, “Did I forget to vote on something?” I had no idea it was finalist day, and I couldn’t imagine why RWA was calling me. When she told me I was a finalist, I stopped breathing, then I started hyperventilating, then I started screaming.
Off all the books I’ve written, THE EARL NEXT DOOR is my favorite. I’ve entered it for several years, revising it each time in hopes of…something. I had all but given up hope, so the joy of actually making the finals with it is overwhelming. After I assured the delivery men and my kids that the call was good news and not tragic news, I danced around the empty apartment and repeated some dazed version of, “I can’t believe it!” again and again. Delivery men Moses and Horatio were very happy for me and assure me that they will read my book as soon as it comes out. (You and me both, guys!)
OMG! A tree fell on your house—that’s gotta be the best excuse for not being able to take the RWA phone call I’ve ever heard! (And, um, sorry it happened to you!) And I love that you don’t remember the name of the Board member who called—that seems to be a verrrry common form of amnesia—but you do remember the names of the delivery guys. Maybe you should send them flowers if you win…. So, this isn’t your first time at the Big Dance. Having been there twice, what would you say is the best thing about being a GH finalist?
This is my second time to final, and without a doubt, the best thing is the bolstering gush of VALIDATION you receive in the otherwise futile vacuum of, “Why Am I Still Trying?”
The validation is definitely powerful! So, are you going to Nationals again this year? It must be a pretty different experience from being on the other side of the RWA desk—especially being a Finalist!
When I worked for RWA, I attended eight RWA Conferences…arriving before the Board meeting at the beginning and staying for days after to clean up at the end. It was the culmination of our year, our biggest push/effort, and I loved it. Fast forward ten years of stay-at-home motherhood with writing on the side. When I returned to the Conference in 2012, I was an RWA member and Golden-Heart finalist; and it was STRANGE to be on the other side, almost…”imposter-esque.” It made me nervous and jumpy, and I ended up touring the host city of New York with my date (my mother) for much of the week.
I knew a lot of people in RWA, but they were all NYT-best-selling authors that I used to accompany to interviews or established authors who I had hired to write for the RWR. They were former Board members. Beyond saying hello, my “place” was no longer with them. Even though the RWA Executive Director is a dear friend, I couldn’t hang out with her or the other staff—that would be weird and counter-productive. Yet, I hadn’t joined my local chapter, and I didn’t really know anyone at my same place in the writing journey. I was…unprepared to navigate the social/networking aspects of RWA, because I didn’t really know where I fit in.
Nora Roberts used to say (and I’m sure she still does) that your closest writing friends are the women in your own “class”—so, the people “you come up with.” Even though she is arguably the best-selling romance author in the world, her closest writing friend is a much lesser-known category author who published about the same time as she did, back in the late ’70s, early ’80s.
This year, I have vowed to approach the whole thing differently. I have still not joined my local RWA chapter (won’t go into excuses here!) but I do have a critique partner, and she is coming to the RWA Conference. We correspond every day and trade pages, but I have never met her in person. I am so looking forward to giving her a hug in San Antonio. And I want to make new friends and contacts. I can be reserved and tentative about this in a new setting…and it’s even weirder in a new/old setting…but I’m determined.
Most writers I know are introverts, and need a little coaxing to navigate the Nationals social whirl. Guaranteed: you’re never the most nervous person in the room. And hopefully you’ll meet some new friends today—our Finalist guests often tell me people at conference recognize them from their guest blog, and come to say hello. (Quick, everybody: take another look at Charis’s picture and be sure to at least give her a wave when you see her!)
Okay, next question: you’ve been immersed in the romance writing world for awhile now, from different angles. What are some of the most important things you’ve learned so far about the publishing industry and what writers need to do to get a foot in the door, and/or thrive?
Some of the best advice I have heard (or experienced) is, don’t submit until your work is ready.
I wasted a lot of contacts and industry-insider “short-cuts” from my years at RWA by submitting manuscripts that were still in the “learning” phases. I thought I was ready…but I was not. Some people may disagree…say, “Be aggressive early!” or, “Put yourself out there!” But I wish I had held off, worked with a critique partner, had more readers, evolved my voice and my pacing before I started to pitch work that was really a beginner effort.
Of course, this can also back-fire. Now that I may (possibly) be ready, I hold back on submitting because…what if I’m STILL not ready? How can you ever really be sure you’ve reached your so-called A-Game? It’s a fine line, but simple rules and guidelines can help. Is the book an appropriate length (I have beginner efforts that are nearly 600 pages long!)? Are your goals, motivation, and conflict intact? Have you created heros and heroines that fit the archetype for romance? (This is not always essential, but it can’t hurt in the beginning. Prostitute heroines can be a hard sell. So are heros who are something like…florists.) Mostly, are you getting multiple positive comments from HONEST readers?
An straight-shooting critique partner is essential, I’d say. I can’t believe I toiled for so many years without one.
Hallelujah for straight-shooting critique partners!! And I hear you 100% on the thinking-you’re-ready-before-you’re-ready / then-second-guessing-yourself-forever conundrum. Sigh. But I sense you’re ACTUALLY ready now. With two GH nominations in two different categories, and several manuscripts under your belt, you’re somebody to reckon with.
Speaking of being a multi-genre writer—and in such very different genres!—what are your creative inspirations? Books? TV shows? Movies? Pop culture stuff? Do you have a favorite author…or several?
Oh, my goodness, I love pop culture….You may be sorry you asked.
Where movies are concerned, I like anything hopeful. Anything from indie films like, “In A World” or “Safely Not Guaranteed;” to sentimental, it-all-works-out-in-the-end movies like “Million-Dollar Arm;” to movies designed for 14-year-old boys, such as “Transformers” or “Battleship.” And my husband and I also love a good “dance-off” movie…where one “crew” of teens dance-battles another…generally so that an outsider to the dance world may prove to his/her parents that dancing is a legitimate pursuit. Love it. These movies almost always come out in the Sahara-movie-month of February, and we always see them opening weekend with the handful of other dance-off enthusiasts in the world.
What I will not watch is/are tragic movies, films that feature drug use, hazing, or beloved pets that die. I hate unhappy people floundering in their own futile unhappiness; movies without a single female character; and movies where no character is redeemable or “good.” Except for the original “Star Wars,” I’m not big on Outer Space. My favorite movie of all time is probably….”Speed.” ….Or “Sense and Sensibility.” Exactly what I write. Go figure.
I read romantic suspense that is heavy on the ‘adventure/thriller’ side of suspense (not the mystery side) and Regency historicals. My favorite authors are Suzanne Brockmann, Pamela Clare, Loretta Chase, and Julie Ann Long.
Outside of romance, I’ll read general fiction if it is HOPEFUL. Maria Semple (“Where’d You Go, Bernadette?”) or Maggie Shipstead (“Astonish Me”) or Jennifer Weiner (“Then Came You”) are some recent books I devoured.
My favorite television show of all time is Veronica Mars.
LOL…”Speed,” “Sense and Sensibility”…what’s the diff, right? At least you’ll never get bored! (And you’re probably the 85th person to tell me of the wonderfulness of Veronica Mars, which I’ve never seen. Must get on that.) Anyhow, you’re clearly a complex and multi-layered person. What aspects of your personality would you say are most valuable to you as a writer? What aspects (if any) make the writing life more difficult?
My minor in college was Theatre, and I find writing dialogue to be a lot like improvisational acting. You are basically typing out a “scene,” as it comes to you, fast and furious, in your head. I love dialogue, and my books have a lot of “talking.”
I am also a controlling person (ask my poor husband), and that “control” carries through to my writing in a frustrating way. My critique partner says I will write: “She picked up the spoon, she raised it to her lips, she placed it in her mouth and relished the steaming soup to rolling down her throat, burning a path to her stomach….” When I could (should!) simply write, “She ate.” I am trying to reign in my need to micromanage my characters and the way readers meet them.
Ooh, ooh! Me too on the former actor / dialogue connection! Which is so great for historicals especially (hint, hint. Okay, also good for Romantic Suspense tough guy sass, but still. I want more historicals!!). And the micromanaging character behavior—sigh, I do that, too. I’m always trying to learn to cut it down to ONE actually interesting detail that synchs with the character’s emotional state. Like maybe if she’s having an angry conversation with the hero while eating that soup, stick with “Her soup burned a path to her stomach.”
One last thing: What question would you like to ask our readers to get the conversation going today?
I’d simply love to know what everyone is reading….What new or lesser-known author has blown you away recently? I don’t have much time to read, but it’s one of my favorite things to do. I’m always looking for the author or series that I haven’t yet met.
Today we’re welcoming a DOUBLE Golden Heart Finalist, Laura Trentham, who has two books in the Historical Romance category: WICKED THINGS and A WILD AND WICKED WIND.
And if that’s not impressive enough, she’s completed two more Regency manuscripts, a contemporary novel, plus two historical novellas.
She may also be the only Regency author out there who was once a hard-hat and steel-toed-boot-wearing Chemical Engineer. She even ran (and I quote) “a testing rig for processing pump-grade gasoline into hydrogen for fuel cell powered cars.” Now, though, she writes full time—at least when her two kids are in school.
Her fabulous news? BOTH her Golden Heart manuscripts have sold to Samhain publishing. WICKED THINGS, renamed AN INDECENT INVITATION, will debut in May 2015, and A WILD AND WICKED WIND, renamed A BRAZEN BARGAIN, will be out in November 2015.
Here are quick blurbs:
WICKED THINGS (renamed AN INDECENT INVITATION)
With spywork in her blood, Lady Lily Drummond, armed with some rather unusual skills for a debutante, joins Crown spy Gray Masterson in the hunt for her missing father, not realizing the danger will ignite a love neither can deny even as a web of madness closes around them.
A WILD AND WICKED WIND (aka A BRAZEN BARGAIN)
In order to keep control of her dowry and maintain the freedom not to marry, Lady Minerva Bellingham agrees to settle her brother’s gaming debts by working as a servant at Lord Rafe Drummond’s country estate for three months. Rafe can’t believe the beautiful, cold paragon of the ton didn’t put a bullet in his heart when he proposed the outrageous terms of repayment. Forced together, an unexpected passion turns their hatred into love, but neither can outrun their demons.
While we wait to get our hands on those, let’s settle in with a nice cup of tea and chat with Laura about her writing life. (Be sure to leave a comment of your own—Laura’s got some really nice prizes, which you’ll hear about below!)
Two books sold, three more novels ready to go, two novellas—you’ve been prolific! What are you working on now?
I just finished polishing a contemporary set in a football-obsessed small Alabama town. I love college football and have familial ties to Alabama, so unlike my historicals, the research has been minimal. I’m also halfway through the first book in a new Regency series about a lady astronomer and the mercenary hired to kill her.
Wow! Seriously prolific. And versatile! How long have you been writing to get output like that?
I’ve been writing almost 2.5 years. I had an epiphany after reading my horoscope (which I’m too practical to even believe in J). 2012 was predicted to be Aries’ year to finish a book. In January, 2012, I dropped the kids at school and started with a blank page and an idea. At first, I didn’t tell anyone, because I wasn’t sure I could even do it. After a couple of weeks, the words were still flowing, and I confessed. (Plus, my husband was starting to question the lack of clean underwear.) Once I knew I could finish, I planned a three book Regency series and decided to self-publish them simultaneously. I finished the first and second manuscripts in about six months, certain I had bestsellers on my hands. Ha-ha-ha-ha—*thump*. Sorry, that was my head hitting the desk from lack of oxygen. The bliss of newbie ignorance. I wrote them in a total vacuum. I knew no other writers, had no CPs or beta readers. The nearest RWA chapter is 2+ hours in any direction.
I finally joined national RWA and entered my first contest. My feedback was depressing but very constructive. (By the way, it was The Golden Pen, and I fully expected to final!). Deep POV? What? Head hopping? Huh? Info dump? You mean, I shouldn’t have written two pages detailing my hero’s tragic childhood? I moped for an hour, pounded some coffee, then put my butt in the chair and rewrote and revised that first manuscript until it hardly resembled the original. Maybe I should have shoved it under the virtual bed and moved on, but what I learned in the process of fixing it made everything worth it. I entered more contests and started to final. A full request from agent Kevan Lyon was followed by a very nice rejection. I stared at that rejection for two minutes, decided I had nothing to lose, emailed her back and said, “But, wait…I have another!” She signed me based on my second manuscript.
I took classes, read craft books, hooked up with other authors, rewrote that first MS yet again. Whew. I’m still trudging up a steep learning curve and have miles of improvement to make.
Great story! Persistence is the key! And if you won over Kevan Lyon, you clearly learned what you needed to learn! So, tell us, what’s your biggest source of inspiration? Where do your story ideas come from? And do you have a tag-line for your work overall?
Music. I create a playlist for each book, and while I’m driving to and from soccer practice or on school runs, I can listen to the music that inspired whatever I’m writing/revising and brainstorm. I heard Jesse’s Girl by Rick Springfield last summer (my 3rd grade anthem!) and sketched out a book I have yet to write.
I don’t have a tag line and will give out virtual high-fives if anyone wants to suggest one!
Challenge accepted! Readers, can you come up with a tagline that pulls together all the diverse pieces of Laura’s romance writing? While you work on that, I’ve got another question for Laura: What’s one crazy fact about you that no one would guess?
I truly believe all of life’s events can be referenced back to a Seinfeld episode. In fact, I worked a very subtle Seinfeld reference into WICKED THINGS. No one has caught it yet, but it makes me giggle every time I read over it. (And, no it’s not Kramer’s flatulent horse, Rusty, although that would be hilarious….hmmmm.)
AWESOME!!! I’m going to find it, I promise!!!! Well, you’ve certainly made great progress with your writing dreams–and a big year coming up with TWO books coming out. What’s your dream for where you’ll be in five years?
Multi-published and making enough money to hire someone to clean my house!
Amen to that!!! Honestly, I want someone to clean my house more than I want a new car or a vacation to Italy. I’m betting you’ll reach that goal, and in a lot less than five years. One last question for you: What’s the best tip for other writers?
Don’t give up! Rejections/bad reviews/poor contest results are going to happen. Mope with coffee/chocolate/wine, in any combination, and move on. If it’s contest results, look at the comments objectively. I’ve learned a ton from the judges that spent their time on my entry. And, I might go even farther and tell you dust off an old project. Judge it like you would a contest entry. Recognize what you need to improve upon. Maybe it’s a matter of changing the setting or time period of your book. Maybe it’s a matter of tweaking your character motivations. Maybe you’ve improved your writing techniques since you shoved it under the bed.
And now, dear readers, Laura has a question for you. Chime in with an answer, and you’ll be entered into a random drawing for two great prizes (which will go to two different winners): a $10 Amazon gift card AND acritique of the opening 25 pages of a manuscript you’ve discarded or given up on.
Here’s Laura’s question:
How many projects have you abandoned? Are any of them worth revisiting?
10/31/13 Update: Thanks to everyone for stopping by! Our randomly selected winners are: Autumn and Amanda! I’ll be in touch, ladies! 🙂
True story: Last summer at the RWA conference, just as I was about to leave the hotel room for my first ever Literacy Signing, my lovely and talented cousin, Cara Connelly, proudly took a photo of me and sent it to family back home. Our dear aunt—who’s my biggest supporter and unfailingly honest—immediately texted Cara back.
Something along the lines of: “Tell Annie she needs to amp it up a little if she wants to make it as a romance writer. Good grief, she looks like a schoolteacher. She’s got to WORK IT.”
Cara jumped to my defense—sort of: “LOL, I know. But I think she might be showing a *little* cleavage. Will try to get her to put on some red lipstick at least.”
Me (grabbing Cara’s phone): “Will everybody please stop hating on my classic cardigan and sensible heels?!”
Geez, you’d think I was dressed like a nun or something. Wait, never mind.
I guess the point is, I seem to be missing the risqué romance writer gene. I don’t like drawing attention to myself or taking risks. My life, in general, is distinctly un-scandalous—and I like it that way.
But when I’m writing (or reading), it’s a completely different story. In books, the more scandal, the better—and my second book, ONCE SHE WAS TEMPTED, has plenty!
Everyone thinks Miss Daphne Honeycote is the sweet, innocent younger sister, but it turns out that she’s been hiding a shameful secret. Two, actually. Because she once posed for a pair of risqué portraits, and if they fall into the wrong hands it will mean ruin for her and, worse, for her beloved family. (You see, kids, this kind of risky behavior can get you in trouble!)
Anyway, I thought it would be fun if there was a way for risk-averse people like me to experience the thrill of posing for a scandalous portrait without actually, you know, getting naked. So, I created Daphne’s Scandalous Portrait Generator. Just answer the five completely innocuous questions below to find out what your portrait would look like. I dare you to give it a try!
Also, since my book releases today, I’m going to give away two copies of ONCE SHE WAS TEMPTED to random commenters (U.S. only, please). Now, go get your portrait!
We’re thrilled today to welcome another of the Lucky 13s: DOUBLE 2013 Golden Heart Finalist Jacqui Nelson, who made the list in two very different categories: Historical and Romantic Suspense. Jacqui’s Romantic Suspense manuscript, THE SHADOW HOUR, is currently also a Daphne finalist.
None of that’s a surprise: her books have been finalists (and winners!) in many prestigious contests, including the Golden Pen, Gateway to the Best, Great Expectations, TARA, Gotcha!, Fab Five, Winter Rose, Orange Rose, Romance Through the Ages, Fool for Love, Heart of the Rockies, and the Catherine, and she WON the Golden Heart Historical category in 2010, with another historical, BETWEEN HEAVEN AND HELL.
Here are blurbs for her two 2013 Golden Heart finalists:
Between Love and Lies (Historical finalist): After his herd destroys a homestead on the trail to Dodge City, a Texas rancher blames himself for not preventing the down-on-her-luck farmer from becoming a saloon girl. Surviving each day via a web of deadly lies, she’s determined to never put her fate in anyone’s hands again—not even the honorable Texan who’s now willing to become Dodge’s Deputy Marshall to assist her. What would happen if he discovers being a soiled dove is only the first of her lies?
The Shadow Hour (Romantic Suspense finalist): When her father dies under questionable circumstances, a Victorian physicist and society misfit turns amateur sleuth in order to clear his name and regain her inheritance. But enemies abound not only in London’s scientific institutions and impoverished slums but in the most powerful echelons of Parliament. Can an unlikely partnership with an ex-Scotland Yard detective—who’s only willing to share his first name—help or lead to her death as well?
Today, I’ll be interviewing Jacqui (yay!), so buckle up and think of some questions of your own to toss in for her to answer in the comments throughout the day!
And I’m delighted that I get to be interviewed here on the Rubies with you of all people, Elisa! It feels like we’ve been contest circuit buddies for a long time. Whenever I see your name in a list of finalists, I give a cheer. Then, if I’m nominated in the same category, I give a little groan before reminding myself it’s not a true contest unless you’re up against the best.
LOL! I’ll just think of us like Lady Gaga and Madonna up against each other at the Grammy’s (though let’s skip the traffic-cone bras and the meat dress). Okay, I’m going to start with my single favorite question for Golden Heart and Rita finalists: What was it like when you got the call saying you were a finalist?
I was sleeping when Gerri Russell called at 5:30 am. I started to wake up when she said, “You’re a—” but then my brain short-circuited when she continued with, “—double finalist” because that’s just too amazing a sentence to even dream. I didn’t tell anyone until I saw my name listed on the RWA and the Ruby’s websites later that morning. I kept asking, “What if I did dream this?” But the call was real. It was the best wakeup call I’ve ever received. Thank you, Gerri!
Oh, baby! A month from today, we’ll know the winners of the 2013 RITAs and Golden Hearts! (I can’t even make it to Atlanta this year, and that thought’s got me tingling with excitement.)
Among the red-hot contestants: the lovely Joanna Shupe, whose manuscript DRAWN TO THE EARL is nominated for a Golden Heart in the Historical category. Here’s a blurb:
What’s the Earl of Winchester, a reformed libertine, to do when a clever cartoonist reminds Londoners about his notorious past, threatening his political aspirations? The earl vows to stop him… only to discover it’s a her. Even worse, the two share a past he can’t remember—and one she can’t forget.
Joanna grew up in the Midwest, where her love of history began with Schoolhouse Rock. When her mother wasn’t looking, Joanna began reading every romance novel she could get her hands on. The countless novels that followed led to a journalism degree and a passion for creative writing. It was a few years later, when pregnant with her second daughter, that she began drafting her own stories.
Joanna now lives with her family in New Jersey and can still recite all the words to the Preamble.
It’s been almost three months since I received the call telling me that I was a 2013 Golden Heart® finalist… and I’m still waiting for the follow-up call telling me there’s been a mistake.
Am I a glass half-full kind of gal, or what?
One thing I’ve heard again and again in the short time since I began pursuing writing is that it’s not enough to have talent. It’s not enough to be funny, a good storyteller or a grammar maven (though all of that must help, right?).
I don’t know if I’m any of those things but, above all, I try to be resilient. Anyone who aspires to write seriously knows the business isn’t all jellybeans and balloons. On the climb toward literary success, things occasionally happen to knock you down. So I always remember (no matter how trite it may sound) not to get too discouraged. Shake it off and keep charging toward the top.
Case in point, I was very excited to hear last week that one of the final round judges had requested a full of my Golden Heart entry. Yay! On the very same day, however, I received an email from my agent telling me that a publisher had passed on another manuscript. Boo. Last year was full of examples like this, and I found it really hard to stay focused and positive.
It’s easy to understand why a lot of writers give up or take a hiatus now and then. What we write is so personal—it’s a little piece of ourselves out there in the world for all to see—and when our writing doesn’t resonate with others (be they agents, editors, or the almighty audience) it can definitely erode your confidence.
Here are a few ways I try to regain my writing mojo when doom and gloom starts to set in: