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Meet 2019 Golden Heart Finalist Sharon M. Peterson!!!

Today we’re welcoming Sharon M. Peterson, another of the fabulous Omegas, whose book THE LEARNING CURVE has been nominated for a 2019 Golden Heart in the Mainstream Fiction with Romantic Elements category.

Sharon M. Peterson grew up in Oregon, just a few minutes away from Multnomah Falls. (Google it and be awed.) As a child, she was a voracious reader, using books to escape her real life and discover new friends. Every Mother’s Day, she thanks her mother for letting her read when she should have been cleaning her room. As a result, she’s a terrible housekeeper but a pretty dang good writer. Now, Sharon lives Texas with her husband and four children, including two autistic sons. She complains loudly and often about the heat. For several years, she taught middle school English and has the personality to prove it. She has one cat, one dog, one tattoo, an iced tea addiction, and an intense fear of poodles (don’t ask).

When she’s not hiding from her kids in the closet or writing, she is on the leadership board of a local non-profit, Write/Create, where she helps mentor young writers and encourage creativity in her community. She is also a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA), the Romance Writers of America (RWA), the West Houston RWA chapter, and a founding member of the Every Damn Day Writers (an accountability and support group for women writers). When not writing, Sharon is active at her church, occasionally singing on the worship team and in the car where her car-dancing game is strong. At home, Sharon constantly, and bravely, answers the call of, “Look at me, Mommy,” feeds her starving children, and dreams of the day she might sleep eight straight hours in a row.

One of Sharon’s favorite quotes is from Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, “It was her habit to build up laughter out of inadequate materials.” She endeavors to tackle life that way and create characters who do the same. Sharon writes women’s fiction with heart and humor and always a bit of romance. She has completed one novel, is working on her second, and dreaming of many, many more. Her first novel was a finalist in the 2018 North Houston RWA Lone Star Writing Competition and a 2019 RWA Golden Heart finalist. Sharon is represented by Nalini Akolekar of Spencerhill Associates.

Here’s a blurb for THE LEARNING CURVE:

Twenty-seven-year-old Tess Monaghan is stuck. Living at home, working in the family business, and definitely not dating, she isn’t sure what she wants out of life. Then her best friend dies, leaving Tess to raise her children. She is completely unprepared to become an insta-mom to five-year-old Charley, who refuses to believe her parents are dead, and three-year-old Dustin, diagnosed with autism and living in a world of his own. Overwhelmed with the stress of her instant family, the overflowing laundry baskets, and the sleep deprivation, Tess finds comfort in “conversations” with her dead best friend.

Then there’s Joe St. Clair, who stares too much and says too little. While the kids love their Uncle JoJo, Tess has avoided him since a disastrous first date years ago. Still, he quietly insists on helping her at every turn and his special connection with Dustin is impossible to ignore. Tess has to admit it—she needs him. A lot. When the children’s grandfather threatens to take the kids away, Tess realizes this might not be the life she expected, but it’s one worth fighting for. With a bit of hope, humor, and an unexpected friendship that turns into something more, she may just be able to do it.

I’m already a little teary just reading that! I’m so glad Mainstream Fiction with Romantic Elements is back as a category! (And my heart squeezed a little at “stares too much and says too little”! Sigh.)

Folks, I’m eager to have a sit-down with Sharon and learn more about her life and her writing. To help Tess out a little, maybe we can grab seats in her living room while she’s not looking and fold some of those overflowing baskets of laundry for her… I’ll bring the iced tea!

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Welcome, Sharon! Congrats again on your Golden Heart final, and with finding such a great agent—all on your very first book!! This is your first completed Romance, but have you been writing a long time?

 I’ve always been a closet writer. I started but never finished a few novels over the years but I never told anyone, even my husband, about my desire to write—it seemed like such an impractical dream.

Life happened and somehow I had four children—the boys are 13, 11, and 9, and The Girl is 5 now. While I was pregnant with my third son, my first son was diagnosed with autism and by the time my third son was eighteen months, I knew he was also autistic. My life became one of ruthless practicality, insurance companies, and therapy appointments.

About five years ago, friends encouraged me to start a blog. One day, I screwed up the courage to do it and I began telling stories of my life. With each post I wrote, I fell more in love with the storytelling aspect. Through the two years I blogged consistently, a writing friend invited me to her writing group, but I never took her up on the offer. I wasn’t a serious writer, why waste everyone’s time?

Then my laptop died. Between four kids and medical bills, it wasn’t in the budget to get another, and I learned very quickly how much I’d come to rely on writing as a lifeline to my sanity and you know, free therapy. I missed it. A lot. 

One day, my friend Maria called and asked me to meet her. I had no idea that when I arrived, she’d have a new laptop for me. She and a group of local moms had pooled their money together to purchase it for me, to make sure I kept writing. I have no idea how to explain it except that moment changed things for me, it gave me courage to write. I attended my first writing group even though I had nothing to show them. But they encouraged me to start.  

So I did. In between homeschooling three kids, an idea began to form, one that I’d spent the last ten years training to write, about a woman who inherits two kids, one of whom is autistic. Then, on a laptop gifted to me by a bunch of moms, in my spare moments and the quiet of the late, late nights, fueled by caffeine, stubbornness, prayer, and a passion for writing I’d finally claimed, I started to write.

And this time I didn’t stop.

Oh, what an amazing story!! I’m passing the tissue box, since I’m sure I’m not the only one who needs to wipe away a few tears right now. The power of women supporting women!! It’s the best!! (Sob!!) How wonderful that they kept you writing, and that it got you to this amazing point in your career! And I love the heartfelt book you were able to write as a result. Are parts of Tess’s story based on elements of your own real life?

 Short answer: YES!

Long answer: One of the characters is Dustin. He’s three and autistic. Parts of him are certainly inspired by my two autistic sons as well as other children I know on the spectrum. There’s a saying, “You meet one person with autism, and you’ve met one person with autism.” Because autism is a spectrum, the symptoms, severity, and quirks of an autistic person vary widely. For instance, in my house alone, my oldest is 13, walks himself to and from school, is in many general education classes with support and will talk your ear off when he’s nervous. On the other hand, my 9-year-old is very limited verbal and needs constant supervision.

In LEARNING CURVE, Dustin takes on some characteristics of my sons—he’s very limited verbally, has echolalia (meaningless repetition of words spoken by another person…or heard on television or the radio or on YouTube), rarely sleeps, and has poor eye contact. He also carts a fidget toy, a tiny stuffed monkey, everywhere. That little monkey is based on one my oldest still carries with him in his pocket or backpack. It’s in pretty gnarly shape but he loves that thing.

Another of my characters, Steven, is not so much based on one real person, but a conglomeration of all the judgment we special needs parents get lobbed at us. Early in querying, a published author friend gave me feedback and one thing she said was to make him the worst, focus all the anger I’d ever felt toward anyone whose ignorance and thoughtlessness was aimed at our family. I have to say, it was very cathartic and it definitely made Steven a badder-bad guy.

A vengeance character!! Excellent therapy indeed. (And just BTW, I wanted share an article about how to understand the phrase “the spectrum” that I came across the other day—as a teacher at a school with many kids on the spectrum, I found it really clear and good to share. The more everybody understands, the more every kid can thrive!)

So you’ve had a powerful life as a writer already. What about your life as a reader? You attribute your writing skill to a rich reading habit as a child. And you were a middle school English teacher, too!! (God bless you!! I teach high school kids, who are easy by comparison.) What kinds of books do you most love to read?

I read a lot and I love talking about books. I’ve always loved love stories and distinctly remember reading my first “adult” romance when I was twelve—The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough. Way too young for scandalous secret love affairs with priest but that did not stop me.

For years, I was a romance junkie but nowadays, I try to read widely because I think being exposed to all kinds of writing helps me to be a better writer. My favorite genres are romance and women’s fiction, but I will read anything if the writing catches my attention (and bonus if there’s at least a hint of romance). I am a huge Kristan Higgins fan and also really enjoy Sophie Kinsella. I discovered Maggie Osborne (historical romance) years ago and fell in love with her quirky heroines and unusual storylines. If you haven’t read her book Silver Lining, stop what you’re doing and go read it now.

Some recent 5-star reads for me: The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld, My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan, Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan, The Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir, and Dear Dwayne, With Love by Eliza Gordon, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owns, (I could talk about books all day long so I’ll stop there before I bore you.)

My favorite movie of all-time is Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Sure, it’s mostly about kidnapping and Stockholm Syndrome but there’s singing and dancing and barn-building and very handsome brothers. In terms of television, I’m a bit behind schedule but I loved The Middle, Ugly Betty, and Little House on the Prairie. I tend to be a bit of a reality show junkie too, especially cooking shows like Top Chef.

That’s quite the list! (And you inspired me to go buy a copy of Silver Linings! On its way from Barnes and Noble as we speak!) What about more books from you? You’re working on your second novel—care to share what it’s about?

I am currently on the second draft of a still untitled WIP.

The blurb:

Perci Mayfield has never quite lived up to her mother’s expectations. In fact, she’s pretty sure she’s a Grade-A Failure. She works at a job she hates. The forty pounds she was supposed to lose last year are still right where she left them. Then five days before Christmas her boyfriend dumps her. On the radio.

Under the influence of jalapeño poppers and wine, Perci makes anti-New Year’s resolutions, things she can’t possibly fail at. I will NOT try to lose weight. I will NOT work harder at my job. I will NOT get a new hobby. I will NOT date. I will NOT be a better daughter and sister.

Those resolutions set Perci on a track she never expected. A new job she loves? A new un-handsome, and totally hot, neighbor? A better friendship with her sister? Yes, yes, and yes.

Perci has never been able to keep a New Year’s resolution but this year, failing might not be so bad.

Oh, that’s perfection!!! I would bring that puppy to the cash register in a heartbeat!! (Can you write faster? Pretty please??? Or…maybe make a resolution to NOT write faster, if that works better???)

It’s been a joy talking with you, Sharon! But I need to give our readers a chance to chime in. Do you have a question to get our conversation rolling today?

 What was the first romance novel you read?

 

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Connect with Sharon M. Peterson on social media:

Website: http://sharonmpeterson.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SharonMPetersonAuthor/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/stone4031

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/stone4031/

Meet 2019 Golden Heart Finalist Anna Collins!!

Today we’re welcoming another Omega, Anna Collins, whose book RESURRECTING ANNIE WOLFF is a finalist in the Mainstream with Central Romance category!

Anna grew up in a land far far away – Sweden to be exact – but moved to the US after meeting her American husband back in 2002. After two more international moves and several domestic ones, she now lives in the greater Seattle area with said husband, their 12-year-old son, and 10-year-old daughter. A puppy will be joining the brood later this year. A former high school teacher, Anna currently spends her time not really at all using her master’s degree in educational psychology, instead rearing children and indulging whatever creative fancies arise, be it writing, making music, painting and drawing, baking, sewing, or light carpentry. Why choose one?

Here’s a blurb for RESURRECTING ANNIE WOLFF (Trigger warning: depression/suicide)

Eight years ago, Annie Wolff abdicated motherhood to spare her children her maternal legacy of depression and suicide. But when their dad dies and Annie finds out relatives are looking to adopt the now teenage kids, she decides to come out of her self-imposed exile to make sure they are all right. The last thing she expects is to be pulled close enough for someone to do the same for her.

 Before long, she is sucked back not only into the lives of her unfamiliar family, but also that of Wic Dubray – the handsome but annoyingly honest former pot dealer who leases her a room. Amidst old memories, hostile family members, her own internal monster, and Wic, she must learn to believe she can shape her own destiny apart from the generations before her in order to win back her children, her life, and love.

Ooh!! This is why I’m so happy RWA brought back the Mainstream with a Central Romance category!! This sounds like such an interesting and rich and complicated story, even though the subject matter probably wouldn’t fit in any traditional Romance lines.

Congrats, Anna, on your final!!

Gather round, everybody. My backyard’s wonderfully sunny this morning, and my family just adopted our puppy a few weeks ago, so it’s a good place to be!! (Anna, I won’t say anything about the 1 a.m. whining-puppy trips outside or the struggle to teach her that the cats really DON’T enjoy puppy bounces or the mysterious disappearances of all our socks or the current condition of my carpets, sigh…just the wonderful bits!! Which are truly wonderful.)

So let’s settle back in some Adirondack chairs and take turns tossing a tennis ball to this sweet girl while I lob some questions Anna’s way.

 

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Welcome, Anna! Wonderful to have you with us! Can you tell us a little more about RESURRECTING ANNIE WOLFF and the process of writing it?

I should say right off the bat that my GH book is Women’s Fiction so I feel a teensy weensy bit out of place in the hallowed halls of romance. I suppose I tend to use romance as seasoning in my stories, rather than as the main course.

New at Harlequin: Two Single-Title Imprints and an Erotic Series

Harlequin is pregnant! 

The venerable bastion of second-chance Amish SEAL daddies and billionaire rodeo secret-baby doctors will give birth to two new single-title imprints in 2017 and a yet unnamed “explicit and graphic” romance series in early 2018.

Graydon House

Unconventional. Emotional. Multi-layered. Breathtaking. Edgy. Issue-driven.

A commercial women’s fiction imprint on par with HQN and MIRA, Graydon House is anchored by Dianne Moggy (VP Editorial) and Susan Swinwood (Executive Editor). This select hardcover and trade imprint will release its first title in September 2017 with How to Be Happy by Eva Woods, which was acquired in a six-figure deal and is reputed to be like if Me Before You had a baby with Beaches. Women’s fiction superstar Kristin Higgins will be releasing Now That You Mention It with Graydon House, so this is definitely the place for your highly emotional family and friendship sagas, but darker veins do run through Graydon House.

“We’re seeing a real shift towards bigger, more layered commercial fiction where the characters are dealing with a variety of relationships—with siblings, spouses, friends, lovers—and that’s where Graydon House’s focus will be,” said Swinwood in a press release. “The unconventional love story, modern relationship fiction, with topical issues for book club discussions, women coping with the ups and downs of life, careers, dating, marriage, divorce, even death.”

Among the releases on the docket for 2017 are an intriguing time-slip mystery by Nicola Cornick as well as Best Day Ever by Kaira Rouda, which sounds from its description to be riffing on the sinister marriage themes explored by Gillian Flynn’s blockbuster Gone Girl

Frankly, I’m still not clear on the distinctions between all of Harlequin’s single-title lines, but I know that Graydon House is the place to send your “big” women’s fiction…if you have representation. Like Harlequin’s other single-title imprints, Graydon House only accepts agented submissions.

Guest Author Kristina McMorris: Writing Dual Timelines

TPWK_CoverI realized from the beginning writing dual timelines was going to be a challenge; I’d never before attempted to interweave past and present storylines into a single novel. Yet due to the nature of what would ultimately become my latest release, The Pieces We Keep—in which a boy’s dreams are mysteriously linked to family secrets from WWIII decided it was definitely worth a try. Among my greatest concerns, however, was that one storyline would outshine the other.

When I myself have read novels with dual timelines, frequently I’ve had to fight the urge to skim the present-day chapters to return to the historical ones. Granted, in large part this is likely due to my personal passion for tales of the past. But I also find that high stakes involving life and death are naturally inherent in most historical settings—from revolutions and world wars to times of slavery and civil rights—and can therefore easily dominate when placed directly beside current-day conflicts of familial or romantic relationships.

To overcome this obstacle, I tried to imagine which scenarios would be as devastating to me, or my character, as the harrows of wartime. My answer, as a mother, came without pause: losing my child in a tragic death, or perhaps in a battle for custody. Obviously there are many other situations that can ratchet up tension and maintain a high level of suspense, no matter the era in which they’re set.

Another challenge I encountered came from my choice to alternate the two timelines with every chapter. I am personally a huge fan of short chapters, finding it nearly impossible as a reader to put down a book when the end of the chapter is “just a few pages away,” but I realized it would be important to find a way to prevent jarring the reader. Also, since links between the two storylines in The Pieces We Keep are fed out gradually, I wanted to suggest a connection early on, without (hopefully) giving too much away.

Pieces-boardcroppedTo address both issues, and in hopes of creating a feeling of fluidity, I opted to start every chapter with a sentence that in some way echoes the last sentence of the preceding chapter. For example, one chapter would end with: “He left no proof of existence—save for the missive in her hand.” While the next chapter would begin: “A half hour later Audra sat alone on a stranger’s couch, the slip of an address still in her grip.”

Finally, another goal of mine was to immediately ground the reader in whichever era they were reading, never wanting them to feel “lost.” Date and location stamps were an obvious choice, but with more than 70 chapters in my novel, I felt these would be cumbersome and redundant (and perhaps even make the book 50 pages longer, ha). Fortunately, my publisher allowed me to use two different fonts, one for each chapter/time period. As a result, this required me to merely state the dates and locations at the start of the first two chapters. I’ve also seen this done in other novels to great effect when clarifying changes in points-of-view.

Needless to say, the tactics I’ve mentioned might not work for every book featuring dual timelines, but perhaps they’ll at least serve as options to consider while you’re brainstorming ideas for your own interwoven story!

McMorris-headshot

Thank you, Kristina, for this intriguing glance at your process.

For those who want more information, Kristina will be stopping by periodically to answer your questions, and in true Ruby fashion, will be drawing the name of one lucky commenter (Shipping costs limit this to US residents only) who will receive a signed, trade-paperback copy of The Pieces We KeepOf course, you can find all of her books at various retail outlets including Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Kristina McMorris is a critically acclaimed author published by Kensington Books, Penguin, and HarperCollins UK. Her works of fiction have garnered more than twenty national literary awards and appeared on the New York Times and USA Today bestsellers lists. Inspired by true personal and historical accounts, her novels include Letters from Home, Bridge of Scarlet Leaves, and most recently The Pieces We Keep. Prior to her writing career, Kristina worked as a host of weekly TV shows since age nine, including an Emmy® Award-winning program, and has been named one of Portland’s “40 Under 40” by The Business Journal. She lives with her husband and two young sons in the Pacific Northwest, where she is working on her next novel. For more, visit www.KristinaMcMorris.com

 

 

 

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