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:
My latest book in the Muses of Mayfair series, The Marquess Who Loved Me, just came out last week (yay!). You can see below for the cover and description, if you’re so inclined. I’ll also give an ebook copy (Kindle or Nook) to a random commenter today – good luck!
However, as excited as I am about my new release, my mind is already churning with ideas for the next book (The Earl Who Played With Fire). Because I’m still in early brainstorming mode, it feels like everything is possible. Even though I write Regencies, I’m considering having my main characters travel outside of England. Which leads to my question for all of you – how much do you think an author can get away with in terms of stretching readers’ expectations?
I know that the stock answer is that you can get away with anything as long as it’s well-written. But if it’s clear from the book description that the book doesn’t match your expectations of the genre, would you as a reader even pick it up long enough to determine whether the writing was good? Or would you move on to another book that meets your expectations?
I’ve heard that the commonly accepted industry wisdom is that historicals (and particularly Regency historicals) don’t sell if they’re set outside the UK. Obviously, our very own Ruby Sister Jeannie Lin is an exception to this rule, since her books are set in Tang Dynasty China. But what’s behind this belief?
And I suppose the real question is this – did previous non-UK historicals not sell *at all*? Or did they just not become massive bestsellers? And in that case, should an independent author take that risk and write for the smaller, unsatisfied niche of readers who want non-British historicals? Or are the publishers right in their assessment of the market?
I realize that this post is more of a survey than a statement of fact – but I’m curious to hear your thoughts. What makes you pick up a book – something unique or something comfortable? And what are your views on how setting plays into purchasing?
As mentioned above, a random commenter gets an ebook copy of my latest release – cover and description below!
A not-so-merry widow…
The widowed Marchioness of Folkestone is notorious for her parties, her art collection, and her utter disregard for the rules. But Ellie Claiborne knows her destruction is near. The new marquess is her first lover – the man whose sculpted body and sardonic grin haunt her every time she picks up her paintbrush. If he ever returns to claim his inheritance, her heart won’t survive seeing him again.
A man determined to destroy her…
Nicholas Claiborne hasn’t stepped foot in England since watching Ellie marry his cousin. He has no use for the gorgeous, heartless girl who betrayed him, or the title she abandoned him for. But when his business in India turns deadly, Nick must return to London to uncover a murderer – and take revenge on the woman he couldn’t force himself to forget.
A love they can’t escape…
Nick hates Ellie’s transformation from sweet debutante to jaded seductress. Ellie despises him for leaving her behind. Still, the sparks between them reignite the passion that should have been their destiny. As their demands of each other turn darker and a potential killer closes in, they must decide whether to guard the fragile remnants of their hearts — or find a way to fall in love all over again.
If you want to read it right now, you can find The Marquess Who Loved Me on Kindle or Nook (other formats coming soon!).
It is my great pleasure to introduce Alison Delaine, Golden Heart® finalist in Historical Romance for her novel NOTORIOUS.
Sometime this fall it will be 20 years since Alison brought home that first ream of typing paper and sat down to write a romance. It’s been a long journey—hills of commitment followed by valleys of inaction—but giving up has never been an option. Alison is a teacher-turned-attorney and a two-time Golden Heart finalist who knows a few things about perseverance and hanging on to the dream. You can find out more about Alison at www.AlisonDelaine.com.
As a writer, I think I’ve counted about a hundred ways I’ve given my power away over the years. (Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration. It’s really more like 95 ways.) When I say I’ve “given my power away,” I am using that phrase in its full, airy-fairy, therapist’s-couch meaning: placing responsibility for my feelings (or more accurately, my writing) on someone or something else.
Here’s a sampling of people to whom I have served my power on a silver platter:
The industry insider whose help I thought I could never make it without.
The freelance editor whose feedback I decided I needed to have before I could work on anything new—even though there were many weeks between each draft.
The agent who requested my material and whose response I awaited for months without working on my next project.
The editor whose comment about my pacing left me doubting my entire ability to craft a novel instead of educating myself about pacing.
The first agent I worked with, who I assumed would do everything for me so I took no steps of my own toward publication.
One common denominator marks all of these episodes: I stopped doing what I could do and instead put my hope in what someone else might be able to do for me. Ever been there? Published or unpublished, I’m betting most of us have. In fact, I bet you can think of someone right now who has your hopes pinned all over them. Is it an agent? An editor? Readers? Publicist?
Now, sometimes we do need other people. Books don’t publish themselves. (Disclaimer: This post is not about self-publishing.) Many publishing houses don’t accept unagented manuscripts. A busy author may not have time to keep up with promotions, correspondence, and social media. But if you catch yourself feeling helpless, as if everything is out of your control, ask yourself: “Am I giving my power away? To whom?”
It might not even be a person. A few non-human recipients of my power have included
The day job that left me resentful and angry because it took time away from my writing.
The beliefs that made me absolutely sure I could only write at certain times of day and under certain conditions.
The market, that summer at National when I was sure I could never get published if I didn’t write about shapeshifters.
If any of this sounds familiar, it’s time to take your power back. Here are three ways to do it:
1) Write. I’ve noticed a pattern: When I write, I feel powerful. When I write, I feel like I am moving forward. When I write, I feel like my destiny is in my hands. The act of writing improves your craft, gets the ideas flowing, and gives you some mud to fling against the wall. You have control over when, if, and how much you write. No agent, editor, or one-star critic on earth can stop you.
2) Ask the Tough Questions. Are there things you could be doing to be a better writer that you’re not doing? Yes, there are. What are they? Ask the hard questions: “If I’m totally honest, what part of my craft do I know I need to work on?” Work on that thing. “If I’m totally honest, what do I know this story needs but I haven’t wanted to tackle?” Tackle it and change the story. I’ve found that being honest with myself about areas for improvement and taking responsibility for becoming a better writer helps me feel like I’m back in the driver’s seat.
3) Take an Action—Any Action. As a writer, there is always something to do. Make a list of agents to query. Actually send the queries. Enter a contest. Study a book about craft. Put a new technique into practice. Jot down a new story idea. Set a goal for this week, this month, this year—or even just for today. Make a small change to your writing schedule. Try a new motivational technique and see if it works. Committing to an action and following through always gives me a sense of forward momentum—probably because when I take action, I am moving forward.
What about you? Have you ever given your power away as a writer, and if so, what steps made you feel back in control? Any big epiphanies?
Today we’re delighted to welcome the second in our series of guest bloggers from among the brilliant (though not yet nicknamed) 2012 Golden Heart finalists.
Tracy Brogan is a finalist in the Historical Romance category with HIGHLAND PROMISE, which has already gotten a big thumbs up from the Rubies….but I’ll let Tracy tell that story below.
You can learn more about Tracy at tracybrogan.com (including the glorious detail that she wrote her first love story at eleven, when her boyfriend dumped her for another girl who did know how to dribble a basketball. Haven’t we all been there? *sigh.*)
She’s also got some fabulous publication news to share, but I’ll let her tell about that, too!
I wanted to say that right up front, and now I’ll tell you why.
Last year I was an RWA® Golden Heart finalist in the Romantic Elements category with my contemporary novel TOTALLY DODY. It was a fabulous experience, and I will be forever grateful for the friends I’ve made and the opportunities which that nomination afforded me. At the time, I thought it was my launching pad. I was on my way! Or so I thought.
Then circumstances intervened and ‘real’ life interrupted my writing endeavors. Meanwhile, I tried and tried to dive into my next WIP, another contemporary. I knew the plot, I loved the characters, I had the time. But I could not get the story to gel the way it needed to. I was frustraaaaated. I wondered if the GH nomination was a mistake. Just some cosmic hiccup and secretly I did not have what it took to turn my lifelong passion of writing into a big-girl career.
I thought about quitting. Pretty much every day for months I thought about quitting. Or at least switching gears to some other story. My poor critique partners listened to me agonize over this for months. And bless them for never once saying, “Please stop whining and just write something. “ (At least not to my face.)
Then September rolled around and the Rubies posted a ‘BEST FIRST LINE” contest. They’d take 100 entries and chose their top ten favorites. Then those top ten finalists could submit their first 250 words and the Rubies would rank them. First place would win the entry fee to the Golden Heart contest.
Today I’m happy to be the hostess for Ruby sister Jennifer Bray-Weber’s new Romancing The Pirate novel, A Kiss In The Wind. For those of you who are fans already of her Blood And Treasure novel, you’ll be happy to know this is Blade’s novel. The difference this time is that instead of going the indie-route, A Kiss In the Wind is a Carina Press release! And is there a tale to tell about how that came about! Let’s get to it, shall we, me mateys!