Writing genre fiction can sometimes be described as trying to write books that are the same, but different. The books need to be “same” enough for us to establish a brand as an author, same enough for readers to know what they will be getting when they pick up a Vivi Andrews (or Amanda Brice or Laurie Kellogg or Darynda Jones) book, but simultaneously different enough that they don’t feel repetitive or stagnant – even if we are telling the oldest story in the world over and over again. It’s quite a delicate dance.
Your books need to be similar enough to what’s already out there that readers (and agents and editors and marketing departments) can easily visualize what they are going to get (oh, this is a sexy shifter story! hey look, a small town contemporary!) but different enough that there is a hook, a twist, that little something extra to set your stories apart make readers click on the “Buy It Now!” button.
Maybe it takes the art out of writing to think about it this way, but I’m in this for both the love of it AND to make a career, so looking at what sells and why and how we engage readers of genre fiction is a necessary part of the business.
A few years ago, back when I was shiny and new and just starting out as a published author, I wrote a series of fun, sexy shape-shifter novellas. They surprised me with their popularity and readers wanted more, but after four of the novellas (set in a small pride where there were only so many single available characters to believably hook up with one another) I began to worry that they were too much of the same and not enough different. After completing the story arc of the Minor family, I decided to take a hiatus from the series. Readers asked me when I would be writing more and I had to tell them I had no immediate plans to continue the series (though I never say never!) – I just couldn’t find that twist, that hook, that something different to lure me back into the world – and if I couldn’t find that access point, how would readers?
I took some time to chase down other stories – completing my para-rom-com psychics series and writing a cluster of superhero romance novellas. And then a funny thing happened – one day the inspiration to write more shifters hit me upside the head. I didn’t want them to be exactly like the first series, but I wanted to play in the same world – so a new pride was born. I’d been heading in a “battle against the evil scientists” direction at the end of the first series and so it was very natural to steal from another paranormal idea I’d been playing with and insert that element into this new series arc.
But what really caught me and made me want to write this new series was the idea that I could take some of my favorite classic romance tropes (the oldies but goodies) and slide them into this paranormal world. Arranged marriage! Cinderella stories! Revenge romance! All those tropes that first hooked me back in the day when I first started reading Johanna Lindsey and Amanda Quick – those tropes gave me my access point to this new pride. They gave me back my enthusiasm for a series that had begun to feel too much the same.
Hopefully it is still somewhat the same, but with that special edge of different. You know the old saying “Something old (my shifters!), something new (shiny new pride!), something borrowed (classic tropes!) and something blue (sex-ay blue cover!).” Hopefully it’ll result in a happy marriage between readers and my new series, launching today with the novella Jaguar’s Kiss and continuing in September with a full length novel, Taming the Lion.
What are your favorite classic tropes to read or write about? How are your books the same but different? Or how do you bring new life to an ongoing series so it remains fresh?
And here’s a peek at my shiny new release! (Huzzah!)
To get what he wants, he’ll have to rattle her cage…
Lila Fallon, the Lone Pine Pride Alpha’s only daughter, has been betrothed since childhood to marry her father’s chosen successor. The match is designed to maintain peace by shoring up any cracks in pride solidarity.
She’s always known she would do her duty—she just never expected to meet a man who would tempt her to throw it all away.
As a black panther, Santiago Flores couldn’t be a less suitable mate for the Alpha’s purebred lioness daughter. But that doesn’t change the fact that for every one of the five years he’s been with the Lone Pine Pride, he’s been head-over-heels in love with her. And when the Alpha announces that Lila’s indefinite engagement is about to end in a very definite marriage, Santiago is through holding his peace.
From their very first kiss, Santiago rattles Lila’s neatly ordered world. But can a lioness who’s always lived to please everyone else risk everything to please herself?
Warning: This book contains tempting lone-wolf jaguars, lionesses who long for fairy tale endings, arranged marriages, tangled emotions and a pride full of trouble.
Vivi Andrews is an award-winning paranormal romance novelist with a travel addiction. Born and raised in Alaska, she currently lives in Manhattan when she isn’t bouncing around the globe. Whether at home or on the road, she’s always at work on her next happily-ever-after. For more about her books or the exploits of a nomadic author, please visit her website at www.ViviAndrews.com, or find her on Facebook and Twitter.
One of the things I like most about reading and writing fiction is the opportunity to explore the world vicariously. However, for my latest book, Acceptable Risk, I took my characters home to Texas. And by home, I mean the Lone Star state is both their home and mine.
My family moved to San Antonio when I was eight. I loved growing up in Texas. I even met my husband there, “kicker dancing” at a combination honky tonk and bull-riding arena called the Bluebonnet Palace. (No, he isn’t a cowboy, but he IS my hero. And yes, there were real bulls.) The history, sights, sounds and tastes of the region give the city a flavor like no other. You can sample this flavor all year round, but Fiesta (in mid-April), and Cinco de Mayo (May 5th), offer a particularly vibrant experience.
Mariachi band. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, credit to Steve.
St. Mary’s University, where I attended undergraduate school, hosts Oyster Bake every April, just one of the many activities during Fiesta. The Cinco de Mayo events in downtown San Antonio draw tens of thousands of visitors each year. The events also host mariachis, Tejano and Conjunto music groups, Folklorico dancers, arts & crafts, and concerts. And then there’s the food, beer and margaritas.
The Alamo. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons, credit to BigRoger27509
San Antonio’s history is rich. It is the home of the Alamo, which is downtown, and Mission Trail, which is an eight-mile hiking/biking path along which adventurers can see four historic missions. Because my father loved the arts, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend many musicals and symphonies at The Majestic theater, which is the most beautiful theater in the country (that I’ve seen, anyway). The ceiling is painted like stars. And, for those looking for some thrills, don’t forget Sea World & Fiesta Texas.
I’m so excited that RWA’s national conference will be in San Antonio this July 23-26. And on the Riverwalk, no less! Talk about the flavor of the town. Paseo del Rio holds a special place in my heart. The barge rides are fun, and if you’re looking for flavor, restaurants are abundant. I plan to seek out a slice of world-famous cheesecake at Kangaroo Court, midori margaritas at Rio Rio Cantina, and barbecue at The County Line.
The San Antonio Riverwalk. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons, credit to Magicknight94.
It just so happens that today is Cinco de Mayo. It’s also a book birthday for me. And a particularly important book birthday, since it’s my first experience as an Indie author. Acceptable Risk is the latest installment (Book 5) in my Mindhunters series, and it takes place in San Antonio. To celebrate, I’m buying y’all a round of cyber margaritas and passing platters of nachos, quesadillas, fajitas, and BBQ ribs. Enjoy!
What flavorful city have you enjoyed—either with personal experience or in a book? What city would you like to read more about? One lucky commenter will receive a digital copy of ACCEPTABLE RISK.
Book five of The Mindhunters
To repay a debt, resourceful receptionist Catherine Montague has been living a lie, and her secret betrayal eats at her conscience. She knows what she has to do to reclaim her life, but revealing the truth could mean losing everything, including the agent she’s fallen in love with.
For sexy ex-SEAL Max Sawyer, hunting killers gives him a sense of fulfillment he never would have found if he’d followed the path that was his birthright. However, when his latest mission goes horribly wrong, releasing a hardened criminal in Max’s hometown of San Antonio, Texas, it’ll take all of his charm to convince the beautiful and resilient Catherine to serve as a buffer between him and the painful ties from his past.
Amid a manhunt, the re-emergence of a serial killer, and the activity of an organized crime ring known as the Circle, Max and Catherine may be the only ones who can set things right again. That is, if Max can forgive Catherine for her deception before a killer claims her. But is mercy a risk he’s willing to take?
Anne Marie has always been fascinated by people—inside and out—which led to degrees in Biology, Chemistry, Psychology, and Counseling. Her passion for understanding the human race is now satisfied by her roles as mother, wife, daughter, sister, and award-winning author of romantic suspense.
I have three brothers. They taught me much as I grew up. How to kick a soccer ball. How to climb a tree. How to bait a hook. How to score a baseball game.
They also handed down their books to me. Books like: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein, and I, Robot by Isaac Asimov. I never read a Nancy Drew story in my life but I did jump feet first into all twenty-three volumes of the Tarzan series by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
When I was eleven or twelve I would take one or two of these hand-me-down books on summer vacations to South Carolina. Until the year my Aunt Annie put her foot down. I believe the book in question was A princess of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Annie had no idea what was between the covers of this book, she simply objected to its cover.
Not to mention the fact that I was reading all these hand-me-downs from the boys and I was missing out on the good stuff. Or so she claimed. I personally thought four armed green guys with tusks were pretty cool. Annie didn’t agree.
So that summer she took away my Edgar Rice Burroughs and handed me Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I reluctantly cracked the book, sure that it would be filled with icky, sissy, not very interesting stuff.
And then I met Mr. Rochester and . . . *sigh* . . . I’ve never been quite the same since.
I think I’ve re-read Jane Eyre at least twenty or thirty times and I never get tired of it. It was the gateway drug for many other reading addictions including my love of Jane Austen.
Anyway, I knew when I started writing about the Last Chance, South Carolina book club that they would eventually get around to reading Jane Eyre. And that’s precisely what they do in my newest release Inn at Last Chance, which went on sale this week.
This book is an homage to Jane Eyre. My heroine, Jenny Carpenter, is a modern take on Jane. She’s a former school teacher who dresses like a little mouse and who has decided to embrace her spinsterhood. Her plain outsides mask a deeply emotional and passionate woman. My hero, Gabe Raintree, is Mr. Rochester in spades. He’s moody, dark, tortured, not entirely honest, and keeps lots and lots of secrets which make for fun plot surprises. He even has a mastiff just like Rochester, only the dog in the story is named Bear and not Pilot.
There’s a creepy house. And a ghost. And lots of gothic goings on. Of course I’ve blended all of this with the usual matchmaking church ladies who are determined to match Jenny up with the new Preacher in town, Tim Lake, who bears a resemblance to St. John Rivers.
I had a blast writing this book. And I know I shouldn’t have favorites, but it is probably my favorite of all the Last Chance books I’ve written so far. That’s how much I love the hero of this book . . . and Jane Eyre.
So here’s my question for all of the readers (and authors) who are dropping by today: What was the book that turned you on to romance, and why?
One lucky commenter will win an autographed copy of Inn at Last Chance.
* * * *
Back Cover Blurb
Jenny Carpenter is the unrivaled pie-baking champion of Last Chance, South Carolina’s annual Watermelon Festival and the town’s unofficial spinster. With her dream of marriage and children on hold, she focuses on another dream, turning the local haunted house into a charming bed-and-breakfast. But her plans go off course when the home’s former owner shows up on her doorstep on a dark and stormy night . . .
Mega-bestselling horror writer Gabriel Raintree is as mysterious and tortured as his heroes. His family’s long-deserted mansion is just the inspiration he needs to finish his latest twisted tale, or so he thinks until he learns it’s been sold. The new innkeeper proves to be as determined as she is kind, and soon Gabriel finds himself a paying guest in his own home. As Jenny and Gabe bring new passion to the old house, can she convince him to leave the ghosts of his past behind-and make Last Chance their first choice for a future together?
* * * *
The coals in Mr. Raintree’s fireplace must have been hot because the wood he stacked on the andirons caught fire right away. He looked down and poked the log a few times. The fire’s glow lit up his stony features, softening them in a way that made the breath catch in Jenny’s throat.
Just then, he looked up at her across the bare, almost sterile room. “You’re staring at me. What is it? Are you checking me out? Please don’t tell me that you think I’m handsome.”
“No,” she said without thought.
He chuckled. And the sound seemed to warm the room by degrees. “You’re a piece of work, Jenny Carpenter. You look exactly like the kind of conventional woman who hands out platitudes. And yet every time I speak with you, you surprise me. Don’t you know that southern women never speak their minds directly?”
The room suddenly felt tropical. Her mother had scolded her dozens of times for speaking her mind. She needed to watch it, now that she was an innkeeper. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I was too blunt. I should have said something about how what’s on the outside doesn’t matter much.”
He snorted a laugh. “I’m glad you didn’t. I like honesty. The truth is I’m not even remotely handsome. I never have been. Unlike…” His voice faded away, and he turned to look at an empty corner of the room.
He shrugged. “No one.” He turned back to the fire, and the muscle along his jaw flexed. “I need to get back to work.”
(*Warning: Author has the tendency to seek patterns in life and wax philosophical about them.*)
What is an important part of a satisfying romance? Pacing.
What is a key ingredient in making a story suspenseful and thrilling? Pacing.
What can make or break an author? Pacing. And knowing one’s limits.
Years ago, one of the most valuable lessons I learned as a newbie romantic suspense writer was how to use pacing as an effective tool. I had to kill my darlings—to delete paragraphs, sometimes even pages, of backstory and description that bogged down the story. It wasn’t easy to cut these hard-won sentences. I liked them. I’d nurtured them. But I had to admit, leaving them in the dust increased the power of the story.
Sometimes we have to let go of things that seem important in order to be stronger.
But pacing is also a factor in an author’s career. The pressure to increase the quantity of books can be enormous. But it’s the quality of books that builds readership. How does one pace oneself to achieve maximum potential and still stay sane? That’s been a very real question for me this past year.
On the writers’ loops, blogs and conferences, there appears to be a constant hum of, “You must have a backlist and produce several books a year to keep your readership happy or your career will wither away.” Logically, I know not everyone is producing more than a book a year, or even one book a year. Likely, there are only a few writers who can keep that pace and still keep their lives together and their readers happy with good quality. Today, I’m releasing my fourth book in just under three years, and I still don’t feel like I’m doing enough. (And some days I don’t feel quite sane.) But I’m doing all I can. And I need to stop and recognize that before the joy is gone, or before I burn out.
So I’m killing my darlings and saving myself. What darlings? Those beliefs I harbor that could end up breaking me. It may be time for a new belief system—one that’s framed in a positive way.
I can write a book (or less) a year and still be a successful author. The important thing is that I’m living life, and writing when I can.
I am on my own path. That author, over there, is on her own path, and those journeys can look different.
I give myself permission to simply write new words or edit old ones today, without spending an hour keeping up my social media sites.
I can take tonight off to enjoy my family, rather than work.
I can be a productive person without being Superwoman.
If it comes down to saving myself (and my health) versus producing more books, I choose myself. I’d rather kill my darling misconceptions than lose myself in the process. Sometimes we have to let go of things that seem important in order to be stronger.
What beliefs (or darlings) do you need to kill off to pace yourself better and stay healthy and sane? Extra points for re-phrasing that belief in a positive way.
And…to celebrate my release day, I’ll be giving away a digital copy of DARK DEEDS to one non-Ruby commenter, so please share your advice and/or experience below.
Dark Deeds (Mindhunters, Bk 4)
Dark Deeds Blurb:
Walking away from sexy Detective Diego Sandoval was one of the toughest things security specialist Becca Haney ever had to do. But her past is a direct threat to his future, to the career he’s working so hard to rebuild. Now, with a witness from a horrific case implicating Diego, Becca must decide whether to listen to her head or her heart.
Diego is a big-city lawman used to cracking the hardest cases, but he’ll never understand why Becca ended their passionate affair. When he’s assigned to help keep her safe from a human trafficking ring, he’s determined to stay by her side and learn about the woman behind the passion—scars and all.
But Becca has another admirer. Known only as “the Fan,” he believes he’s the perfect partner for her—and he’ll kill to prove it. When the stakes are raised in the killer’s deadly game, Diego will be called upon to save lives—including Becca’s.
Anne Marie has always been fascinated by people—inside and out—which led to degrees in Biology, Chemistry, Psychology, and Counseling. Her passion for understanding the human race is now satisfied by her roles as mother, wife, daughter, sister, and award-winning author of romantic suspense.
So…um today my new book, Getting Lucky, was supposed to be released, BUT life got in the way. For the last two weeks, my husband has been in and out of the hospital. Not to get too personal here, but it was very serious.
How do you write romantic comedy when your husband is in ICU? You don’t.
A long time ago, my friend and kick-butt writer Jane Myers Perrine told me that it was okay to give myself permission to take a vacation from writing. I didn’t truly understand the need for this until two weeks ago. As a writer the need to create pretty much controls us, but when life gets in the way, it’s great to have an out clause.
What’s your out clause? What do you do when life gets in the way?
Ah…2014. Welcome! It’s a lovely year already, isn’t it? And I don’t say that simply because both Liz and I had a book come out yesterday. Though we did. And we both did little happy release day jigs. I suspect mine was more entertaining, though, because I did mine in my pajamas Because yeah, that’s the way I roll on New Year’s Day. Or maybe that only happened because I was doing revisions all day. Way to start the year off right, huh? (Insert sarcastic eye roll here.)
So anywho…since I was neck deep in a pile of mess I’m not sure I can write myself out of, I asked Liz to start us off for our release day celebration. We’re going to play a game. But first, Liz will talk just a bit about voice (because that feeds into the game). And then we’ll give examples from our latest books and you all will play “Guess the Author.” And of course we’ll finish up with blurbs and pretty new covers. Because we do have pretty new covers. The kind that make people do little release day jigs.
LOCATION: CIA Interrogation Facility, Washington, D.C.
RILEY: Given these anomalies in your travel documents and your, ah, colorful history, you’ll understand why we need to ask a few questions, Mr. Markov. Mind if I call you Nikolai?
MARKOV (lighting a Gauloise cigarette): I’d prefer it if you didn’t, Dr. Riley. As I’ve explained repeatedly to your CIA underlings, my name is Nikolai Kirov, and I’m an independent security consultant. A simple case of mistaken identity, no doubt, that you seem to have confused me with this ex-KGB hit man I take it you’re looking for.
When Kate was looking for a hostess I greedily jumped at the chance. Kate isn’t just my Ruby Sister, but we were Golden Heart finalists together for the first time in 2008, the Pixie Chicks. And she was also a member of my local chapter back then, Washington Romance Writers. In fact, it was at the WRW retreat in 2012 that she met her agent!
WRW has this fantastic game called American Author, where brave authors submit their opening pages, which are read out loud to a panel of agents and editors for their uncensored feedback. It’s brutal. It’s honest. And it’s been known to reduce some writers to tears.
But not Kate. Her opening page absolutely dazzled them all, and she left with multiple requests for the full! A short time later she announced that she’d signed with the talented Jill Marsal of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency as a direct result of the American Author game, and a few short months later she announced her first sale! And the book was the exact same story that won us all over during the game.
So yeah, I’ve been waiting anxiously for this book for over a year and a half now, and was so excited to get to read an early copy. And oh yes, it was worth the wait! Deanna Raybourn better watch out! (And believe me…I love Deanna Raybourn!)
Georgia Fenchurch appears to be an unassuming antiquarian bookseller in Victorian London, but the life she leads is as exciting as any adventure novel. For Georgia is a member of the Archivist Society, a secret association of private investigators led by the mysterious Sir Broderick.
When a frantic woman comes to Georgia claiming that her neighbor, Nicholas Drake, has been abducted by the notorious Duke of Blackford, Georgia and the Archivist Society agree to take the case. But Drake is no innocent—he is a thief who has been blackmailing many of the leading members of London society. To find Drake and discover who is behind his abduction, Georgia and her beautiful assistant, Emma, will have to leave the cozy confines of their bookshop and infiltrate the inner circles of the upper crust—with the help of the dashing but dubious Duke of Blackford himself.
But the missing thief and his abductor are not the only ones to elude Georgia Fenchurch. When she spies the man who killed her parents years ago, she vows to bring him to justice once and for all…at any cost.
Amanda: Tell us a little bit about how you got the inspiration for The Vanishing Thief.
Kate: My hubbie ragging on me for finalling and winning contests but getting nowhere with agents and editors. I was getting really good rejections (an oxymoron if ever there was one) and they all seemed to point to my stories as being the problem. So I ignored my problem area, which is sex scenes, and built on my strengths, which are ensembles and dead bodies. You can never have enough dead bodies to suit my hubbie. It had to be set in the 1890s, where I’ve been doing research for ten years, in London, my favorite city in the world, with a love story and a mystery.
Amanda: How many manuscripts did you finish before you sold?
Kate: I’d finished 17 manuscripts before I sold. Contemporary romantic suspense and historical romance. The Vanishing Thief was the first manuscript I wrote that was a historical romantic suspense or romantic mystery.
Amanda: You’ve mentioned that you no longer consider yourself a romance writer since this series is mystery. But I definitely felt some strong chemistry between your spunky heroine Georgia and the absolutely delicious Duke of Blackford. Will there be a romance arc through the series?
Kate: I’m no longer writing romance by the narrow definition RWA employs. I think I’m still writing romance, and I think readers will think I’m writing mystery/romance, which is probably the best definition. There is very definitely a romance arc throughout the series. In fact, there are two! I have to give Emma a romance, as well as Georgia. I don’t believe a romance should necessarily be completed within one book, not if you have something else going on in your characters’ lives, and frankly, most people have more going on in their lives than falling in love. In my case, my characters have to deal with murder and blackmail. And since it’s the 1890s, there are societal rules that slow the pace of a love story. I hope readers love Georgia and the duke enough to follow them beyond The Vanishing Thief to find out what happens next.
Amanda: Georgia is such a rich, well-rounded character. How did you develop your heroine? What about the brooding duke?
Kate: I’m a pantster. I don’t use photos or make up charts or ask questions of my characters. As I write, I get to know them. I try to keep their thoughts and actions true to who they’ve turned out to be. On the second or third or fourth draft, if I realize a character is acting, well, out of character, that’s when I realize I have to fix their actions. The exception to this rule is the duke, who will have a life changing experience later in the series, and this will change his actions.
Amanda: How many books have you planned so far? How do you go about plotting a long-ranging series?
Kate: I have the first six books plotted out, and the first three written. The second, The Counterfeit Lady, comes out in August 2014. The mysteries serve the romance in that whatever they have to do for that investigation puts the characters where they need to be to carry on the romance. The romance serves the mystery in that their “high regard” for another investigator propels them forward to help with their investigation of the mystery. And there is a nugget of history at the base of every one of my plots.
Amnda: I like that — a nugget of history. Do you mean that the books are inspired by actual events?
Kate: Not actual events, but actual trends. In later stories, I use a naval arms race in the 1890s, and the Russian, English, and German aristocratic and royal families intermarrying. Bismarck set up the German spy apparatus to learn other countries’ secrets, and although Bismarck himself had been removed from office, his spy apparatus was stronger than ever. This provoked a desire among the other European powers to spy on their rivals.
In The Vanishing Thief, I use the development of the London Underground and large farms in the area where Heathrow is today to bring fresh groceries into the inner city of London. Oscar Wilde was a contemporary of my characters and I borrow from his story.
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!
Today, I’m interviewing author Katie Graykowski about her new book Perfect Summer. Because I am Katie Graykowski and I’m also interviewing Katie Graykowski you can imagine this was a very difficult interview. We delve deeply into the psyche and some might call psychosis that is a writer. With my finely honed interviewing skills (in 5th grade I was on the editorial team for the Hudson Pep School newspaper), you will learn exactly what makes Katie tick.
To clarify, I will be interviewing as Me and she will answer as Myself and her alter ego will answer as I.
Me: Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
Myself: Yes and no. I’ve always loved to write and tell stories, but the idea that I could make a career out of it never occurred to me until I joined the Romance Writers of America.
I: When I grow up, I want to be a ninja.
Me: Perhaps you could find a way to marry the two and be a romance writing ninja.
Me: Perfect Summer is the story of high school teacher, Summer Ames, and NFL football player, Clint Grayson. How did you come up with the idea for the story?
Myself: Summer has been with me a long time. The idea started forming shortly after I moved to Austin (almost 20 years ago) when I met a teacher who’d won a date with an NFL player. She wasn’t a football fan and kept calling him by the wrong name. She thought it was hilarious and he was not amused.
I: I like sparkly things. She picks up the chunk of amethyst on the corner of my desk and tosses it up in the air, catches it, and tosses it up in the air again.
Me: That is very interesting, so you’ve been working on this story for almost twenty years?
Myself: Not exactly. I started writing about 7 or 8 years ago. Summer was my first book. Back then it was titled Summer in Austin. It was a rambling 500 page (single space) epic novel with 100 chapters spanning a 10-year time period. Think cheesy 80’s miniseries meets cheesier Mexican soap opera. There were no less than 3 secret babies, 1 faked pregnancy, and 4 sets of twins. I was encouraged by my fellow writers to shorten it a bit.
I: I wanted to name it Summer Vacation but no one listens to me. You have a stapler. Cool. Can I staple something?
Me: I’ve read and throughly enjoyed Perfect Summer. Why did you choose to go with a fictional football team?
Myself: I should hope you’ve read it since you wrote it. I chose to create a football team so I could have one located in Austin. In the original version, Clint was a Dallas Cowboy and drove back and forth to Dallas which makes it hard to be the school mentor. Also, sex is important in a romance novel and it’s much easier to achieve if the people involved reside in the same town. I know sexting and Skype are an option, but it’s really boring to describe a character finger typing–plus with autocorrect God only knows what the character would end up saying.
I: She is too busy stapling post-it notes to other post-it notes to answer anymore questions.
Me: Well, I think that’s enough questions for today. I’m tired and seriously considering stapling something to I’s forehead.
Here’s the first chapter of Perfect Summer. Enjoy!
It was seven forty-two, and Summer Ames was late. With a can of Diet Coke in each hand, she jumped into the cab of her grandfather’s 1959 Chevy Apache pickup and stowed the drinks in the two plastic cup holders she’d super-glued to the dashboard. Through the windshield, cheery morning sunshine glared disapprovingly down at her.
Teachers were supposed to be in their classrooms a minimum of thirty minutes before morning classes started at eight o’clock. On a good day, she made it in ten minutes before the bell, but today wasn’t a good day. Not only had her alarm clock failed to ring in the morning, but she was meeting Vice Principal Evans in her room before school. They needed to, in his words, “have a little chat.” No doubt this was about her outburst at yesterday’s staff meeting. She had no idea her view that school funding should actually be used on education instead of football would be so wildly unpopular. Perhaps the fact she’d been standing amongst the coaching staff had put her at a disadvantage.
Summer shoved the key into the ignition and hoped for the best. The pickup, aka Beulah the Bitch, only worked when the temperature was below seventy or a Republican was in the White House. Luckily for Summer, it was March in Austin, and the temperature was in the sixties. With a hiss and a cough, Beulah turned over. Summer took a millisecond to sigh in relief and then rammed the gearshift into reverse and backed out of the driveway. Two wheels stayed on the pavement while the other two edged over the side, cutting a deep groove into her lawn.
Since her ex-fiancé was tootling around in the Audi TT she was paying for, Beulah was the only transportation Summer could afford. Her ex, Jack—all-around asshole and driver of her new car—had once said her internal clock needed a new battery. Too bad it had taken her a year to figure out his moral compass needed a new needle.
She popped open a Diet Coke and slammed half. Sipping was for people who had the luxury of time, while caffeine loading was for those who’d experienced alarm clock failure. She shifted into third, changed lanes, cutting off a UPS truck in the process. She shot the driver an apologetic grin and wave before flooring it. The school was a mere five minutes away.
Chopin’s Funeral March droned on her iPhone. Her mother’s ringtone. Summer didn’t reach for the phone. Her latest strategy in mother-daughter relations was to avoid Lillian Summerville Ames like she avoided self-mutilation, handling uranium, and reality TV. It was all about choices. And she was choosing to be an orphan.
Her heart mule-kicked in her chest as she nearly overshot the entrance to the teacher’s parking lot but turned at the last minute, jumping the curb and swerving into the lot.
Summer screeched into the nearest parking space, rammed her truck in neutral, stomped on the parking brake, and opened the door. Her Birkenstocks hit the asphalt, and she took off in a full-on sprint across the parking lot. Birks weren’t her first choice for running; then again, for her, running was right up there with body piercing—it was fine for other people but why go asking for pain.
Lungs burning and sweat gathering under her arms, Summer threw open the door to the annex and sprinted the last five feet to her classroom. Her hand closed on the doorknob, and she shoved the door open with enough force that it banged off the wall and smacked her in the chest. “Ouch.”
She stepped into the room.
Photoflashes exploded in her face, burning neon squiggles onto her retinas. Blind and still breathing heavily, she leaned on the door for support. On the other side of the psychedelic fireworks, smiling faces stood in front of TV cameras and shoved microphones at her. She glanced at the number on the door—yep, one twenty-seven—this was her classroom.
She shaded her eyes from the bright lights of the cameras.
Wait a minute. Those people looked like reporters. What the heck was going on? The Teacher of the Year winner was supposed to be announced next week—yes, she was in the running, but the big day was not until Monday.
This was a bad dream. Mental eye roll. Of course, she was still in her bed, sleeping away. That was the only explanation. With her right hand, she slapped herself on the cheek. Pain heated her skin. The room went absolutely still.
“Ms. Ames, are you well?” It was Vice Principal Evans.
Summer sucked in a breath through her nose. “Yes, just making sure this isn’t a dream.”
Laughter filled the room—people laughing at her, not with her. Story of her life. She took a step back.
Backlit by the glow of TV cameras, VP Evans’s form cast a hulking shadow. He headed toward her. “Everyone, this is Summer Ames.”
More cameras flashed, and the reporters pressed closer.
Summer smoothed down the wrinkles of her black Come to the Dark Side…We Have Cookies tee shirt and tucked a stray lock of curly, blonde hair behind her ear. She wasn’t anywhere close to photo-worthy. Her hair might have been styled by an F5 tornado, and she was pretty sure the gamey scent wafting through the air was coming from her. If only she could rewind the morning, take a shower, and tame her hair, but life didn’t come with a DVR.
“Just go with it.” Vice Principal Evans’s eyes sent a message that said, smile or else.
“What?” Summer pushed her glasses up to the bridge of her nose. Because her alarm hadn’t gone off, she’d had to choose between teeth brushing and contact lens. At the time, good oral hygiene and minty-fresh breath had seemed like a priority—she touched a lens of her thick, serviceable, black plastic frames, which were the only ones she hadn’t managed to break. Next time, she’d opt for a breath mint and contacts.
Don Chapman, news anchor for KAUS, Austin’s Only Trusted News Station, stepped in front of her and thrust a microphone in her face. “How does it feel to be Austin ISD’s Teacher of the Year?”
“Teacher of the year?” Summer choked on the spit in her mouth. So much for Monday. Couldn’t someone have mentioned this yesterday?
“How about that prize? Can you believe it?” Don smiled directly into the camera with the big, red light.
“Prize?” If she’d received this honor from anyone else, she’d be jumping up and down, but she was pro-student, and Evans was pro-making-himself-look-good, so there had to be a catch. Principal Ellen Traverse, Summer’s champion and good friend, was out on maternity leave, leaving VP Evans in charge. Since he wanted Ellen’s job and Summer was her friend, Summer was enemy numero uno.
“Please excuse Ms. Ames. I wanted to surprise her.” Evans eyed her fresh-from-the-floor tee shirt. “That wasn’t a good idea.”
Summer plastered a big, fake smile on her lips and waited for a pithy comment to burst forth from her lips. She smiled some more and…nothing. Two hours from now, she’d be plagued with the perfect comeback. In her life, pithy ran later than she did.
She took a deep breath and lied.
“I love surprises.” Doing her best to ignore Evans, she focused on the positive.
Teacher of the Year. This was her fifth year to be nominated, and finally, all the hard work she poured into her job had been noticed. Last year’s winner had gotten a brand-new Prius donated by a car dealership. The year before that, a travel agency had kicked in an all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii. Excitement and the Diet Cokes she’d guzzled buzzed through her system. “What did I win? A car? Money? New classroom supplies? A two-week vacation to Tahiti?”
“Ms. Ames, I’d like you to meet your new class mentor.” He gestured toward a tall, blond man who looked slightly familiar. “Clint Grayson.”
Was he going to hand her the keys to her new car? Adios, Beulah, your days are numbered.
“Nice to meet you.” Summer nodded as she looked around for one of those huge cardboard checks commonly used for prize money.
Clint Whoever stuck out his hand, and Summer shook it, expecting to see his other hand slip inside the left breast pocket of his navy pinstriped suit and pull out a golden envelope containing an all-expenses-paid vacation to Tahiti. She glanced down at the pocket, back up to his face, back down to his pocket, and finally landed on his face. “You look familiar.”
“I’m the quarterback for the Austin Lone Stars.” His Sprite-bottle green eyes narrowed a fraction as they roamed down her body inspecting her appearance. She knew that look. Her mother always combined it with the you-have-such-a pretty-face-why-don’t-you-lose-thirty-pounds lecture.
Summer swallowed her craving for chocolate chip cookies, her childhood comfort food of choice, and focused on the positive. “Where’s my prize?”
“I am the prize. I’ll be mentoring your class for the rest of the school year.” His mouth tightened into a smile showing lots of pearly white teeth.
Now she recognized him. Clint Grayson. He was the shy yet playful Mr. September from her next-door neighbors’ NFL Hunks of the Gridiron calendar. If memory served, Mr. September loved long walks on the beach, helping starving children in Darfur, and wanted to find Ms. Right through meaningful conversation. All of which—the picture implied—he did while naked and holding a football in a very strategic place.
A reporter shoved a microphone an inch from Summer’s mouth.
“I don’t understand.” Summer stared at the quarterback while her mind did its best to process the situation. So, Mr. September wanted to play teacher…this was her reward for years of hard work? What about a new laptop or a SMART Board like the coaching staff used? “Is it too late to trade you in for two weeks in Tahiti?”
Buy it now on Kindle.
Me, myself, and I have swag to give away. Contact us through our website katiegraykowski.com if you’d like: