Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Welcome 2009 Golden Heart Finalist Rita Henuber

Hi, everyone. Today, Wednesday, my guest is 2009 Golden Heart Romantic Suspense Finalist, Rita Henuber. She's a great lady and has lots to share. So ask lots of questions. Please welcome her.

AJ: What did you do or think when the RWA office called you?

RH: I thought, I did it. I really did it! I sat there and grinned for a very long time. This was the first time I'd entered and it was my first romance manuscript.

AJ: How was your Golden Heart experience?

RH: I'd say it's like having a first class ticket on the space shuttle. One heck of a ride! Overwhelming, exciting, fun, an experience of a lifetime. Most of all I have the privilege of being in the company of a group of ladies who challenge and inspire me every day: the other finalists, my Golden Heart sisters. Thank you all, ladies.

AJ: Do you have any advice for someone thinking of entering the Golden Heart?

RH: Do it! Absolutely. Have a rockin' first line. Write a good story. Show the reader on the first page why your book is different. Write a good story. End the first page on a hook. Oh! Did I say write a good story? Make that story unique and compelling. Go for it and keep going like the Energizer Bunny. Never give up.

Here's where I get to tell my little story. In November and December last year I didn't write a thing. I almost gave up. I had promised myself I would enter the Golden Heart no matter what and reluctantly did. A group of writer friends encouraged me to get started again and to them I am forever thankful. Since the beginning of the year I queried forty-three agents. I received a bunch of rejections and was offered representation by four brilliant agents. Perseverance is everything. Do not give up. Never stop learning your craft.

AJ: How long have you been writing?

RH: Writing as in for publication? Almost three years. In a way, I've always been writing. As a child I told stories and put on plays for my extended family. My cousins never let me forget how they were forced to participate. I wrote stories for myself. I shared them with a friend's mother who seemed to love them. I just remembered that. Gosh, I would love to have those now. In high school I wrote a play for the history class to produce. I quit putting words on paper for a very long time. Told stories to my children. And of course there were/are the stories rumbling in my head waiting their turn to escape and be immortalized on paper.

AJ: Do you write every day?

RH: Almost. When I'm not writing, I think about it. I make notes, do research. There are scraps of paper all over the house. With my current story, I started with a synopsis, back cover blurb and a log line. It has really helped my writing process. I don't really consider it writing unless I'm working on a manuscript.

AJ: Why write Romantic Suspense? What do you love about the genre?

RH: Suspense and thrillers are what I like to read. Writing them is natural.

What's not to love? I like the action. I like a story you have to stop reading to catch your breath; A story you don't want to read alone, late at night. I like a story with hero's that are bigger than life and heroines we all want to be.

AJ: How do you research for a suspense novel, before you start the book or while writing the first draft?

With my current story I wrote a synopsis/plot first. For anything that will require details, I researched before starting the actual draft. I'm not in to giving a lot of details. The goal is to layer in just enough to make a scene believable, to put the reader comfortably in that scene. For my first story I have pages and pages of research on the helicopter she flies. I can quote you manufacture, height, weight, number of engines, propulsion type, sit speed. Yawn. Would the reader care? Nope, but it helps me understand my scenes. And should the occasion arise, I can slip in a line or two of that info.

Writing contemporary suspense and thriller I'm always on the lookout for some snippet I can add to a story to amp it up. I get the Washington Post and LA Times online and cruise the headlines for interesting tidbits. Sometimes I check with the BBC and the London Times online. They have a different perspective on world events then we do here. Makes you think. I also check out the US government and military web pages.

In Guardian Angel I needed a cover story for the heroine. Couldn't come up with one. A headline in the LA Times gave it to me. In my WIP the hero needed a job that was out of the ordinary, the Washington Post story came to the rescue.

AJ: What makes your book different than other romantic suspense novels?

RH: My heroines can more than take care of themselves. They don't need to be rescued by the hero. They have unique jobs. The heroine in my first book is a Coast Guard helicopter pilot. She rescues the hero. (By the way the hero does save her once.)

In my current manuscript the heroine, a Marine Corps Intelligence Officer, is a hostage negotiator and interrogator. She's smart, wealthy, beautiful and loves her job. And don't worry, she does have a lot of inner conflict.

AJ: Do you have any advice you’d like to share with other writers? Ie: World building, characters.

RH: Write what you love. Be true to yourself. Write characters readers want to be. I do not think writing to a trend is a good thing.

If you are writing about the FBI and CIA get it right, call and ask if you have a question. If you write about a person knitting learn how to knit. Read everything you can in the genre you write. Emulate what's good. Use the bad as a shining example of what not to do. It's difficult to read a book any more without taking notes. Even movies teach the craft.

AJ:Is there a craft book that resonated with you and you’d suggest to others?

RH: Heavy sigh. There are so many good books. I suggest you talk to someone who writes your genre and has a style you like. Ask them what they would suggest. We all learn in a different ways. What resonated with me, you may hate. I also suggest if you are having a problem in a particular area (say opening hooks or creating character conflict) ask other writers what they recommend and why. I learn more by example, so I gravitate to classes with a lot of teacher feedback. There is no one way to learn this. The important thing is to challenge yourself to move forward constantly Make an effort to learn more about your craft. There are always improvements to be made. In writing no one is at the top of their game because the bar is always being raised.

Okay I have to say these are excellent. The Art of Dramatic Writing Lajos Egri. The Fire In Fiction Donald Maass and Stephen King's On Writing

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

AJ: Did you want to tell us a little about your book?

RH: GUARDIAN ANGEL follows my heroine and hero from a torrid one night stand to a fierce gun battle at sea.

Olivia has a brilliant career in the Coast Guard flying helicopters searching for terrorists and drug smugglers along the coast of Florida. She’s confident, in control and at the top of her game in a man’s world. Her twin brother, a Miami undercover detective, is executed by the drug cartel he was investigating. Justice moves too slow for Olivia and she seeks her own revenge. With the help of a hot DEA agent she penetrates the drug underworld.

AJ: Is there a next book planned?

RH: As I said, I'm currently working on one and have another plotted. I also have the first draft of a Women's Fiction that follows the same theme of extraordinary women.

AJ: What is your website url, so others can check on news from you?

This I am working on.

I am pleased to tell you the 2009 Golden Heart finalists blog will go live September 21st. During the first week, the ladies will offer their thoughts on how to final in the Golden Heart. Check back for the blog address.

Autumn, as soon as I know my website url, I'll let you know so you can pass it along to your readeers.

Thank you, Rita

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Summer Haiku Fair

Cursor… Cursor…

Did I ever tell you about my first publishing credit? It was for U.S.A. Today. My payment was a baseball cap which I wear proudly by the pool and on the golf course. I contributed to their on-line haiku poem. I love writing haiku poems. Creating one gets my creativity flowing.
For those of you who don’t know what a haiku is here is the definition from Wikipedia.

Haiku (俳句 haikai verse?) listen (help•info), plural haiku, is a form of Japanese poetry, consisting of 17 moras (or on), in three metrical phrases of 5, 7, and 5 moras respectively.[1] Haiku typically contain a kigo, or seasonal reference, and a kireji or verbal caesura. In Japanese, haiku are traditionally printed in a single vertical line, while haiku in English usually appear in three lines, to parallel the three metrical phrases of Japanese haiku.[2] Previously called hokku, haiku was given its current name by the Japanese writer Masaoka Shiki at the end of the 19th century.

Okay, so I thought why not this week invite my friends and new guests to tease their muse and submit a haiku poem about summer. So come on while you're having your morning coffee or riding into work, or later at lunch or even after dinner relaxing pick something you love about the season, write the poem and post it here for all of us to enjoy. Show the area of your world. (Please note all works posted here belong to the author. ) I’ll start off with two of my poems.

Pinkish skin gives way
Nectar sweet drips from my lips
Heavenly firm peach

Cool aqua water
Long seven days and six nights
Refreshing the soul.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Welcome 2009 Golden Heart Winner Darynda Jones

Hi everyone. I’m so excited to welcome Darynda Jones.

Darynda, congratulations on winning the 2009 Golden Heart for the best Paranormal Romance. You must be so excited.

I love the title of your book, ‘First Grave On The Right’. Where did you come up with that name? How important do you think titles are and why?

(DJ) I think titles are terribly important. They should reflect the ambience of the manuscript/book. If your manuscript is a romantic comedy, you probably shouldn’t call it ‘The Killer Within’. Though ‘Killer Heels and a Double Latte’ might work. While most people are thinking, well, duh, I have seen some pretty bad titles. Boring titles are almost as bad. The title is the first thing a potential buyer sees. (Until you make it BIG. Then they see your name first.) I remember how bad I wanted to read the short story ‘In the Gloaming’ based on the title alone. It fascinated me.

It took me a while to come up with First Grave on the Right. My working title was Dead People. LOL. Because I really wanted First Grave to be the first in a series, I wracked my brain to come up with a way to let people know, “Hey, this is the first one in this series, and this is the second.” I’m one of those readers who simply must start at the beginning. I hate jumping into the middle, although any book within a series should be able to stand alone. So I figured I would help people out and put First in the title. My working title for the second in the series Second Grave on the Left. :)

How long have you been writing?

(DJ) I can honestly say I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing. I’ve been writing since before I could write. When I was five, I would pick up a pen and paper, scribble a story onto the page and ask my mom to read it. Thankfully, she would play along. Later, I would write plays for the neighborhood kids to act out. My plays were startling similar to Cinderella, so I’m just grateful Disney didn’t catch wind of my productions. For the most part, nobody caught wind of them. We rarely had an audience.

I wrote my first manuscript in high school, though I never quite finished it. Then, like so many others, I lost the dream for a few years. It still burned inside me, but life just got in the way and I decided I had to give it up and get on with my life. But as we all know, quitting something so visceral simply isn’t that easy. I started writing seriously again about seven years ago and have three completed manuscripts, each in different genres. Sigh...

Do you write every day?

(DJ) Oh, I’m horrible. I would say I write about four days a week, though that is changing. I think we writers need to get into the ‘habit’ of writing on a daily basis. So that is one of my long-term goals. Even if it is for only fifteen minutes a day, I think it’s important. JR Ward writes seven days a week, never takes a day off and never takes a vacation. That is my goal, minus the never-taking-a-vacation part.

Why write Paranormal? What do you love about the genre?

(DJ) Paranormal has absolutely no boundaries. There are very few rules and you can custom build your world. The only limits in paranormal are those the writer creates. I just think it’s a fun genre and I wanted to write about something you don’t see everyday. Something so unique, so different, people stand up and say, “Hey, that sounds pretty cool.” When I came up with a female protagonist who was born a grim reaper and falls in love with the son of Satan, I just knew I had a classic love story in the making. Move over Margaret Mitchell. LOL. (That was a joke. Margaret rocks!)

How do you research for a paranormal romance?

(DJ) You read what everyone else is doing, throw it all out the window, then sit down and pull your hair out until you come up with something unique. Then you make up the rules as you go. Of course, if you are doing something like a vampire or a werewolf, there are rules you can break and rules you can’t. In those cases, I would go back to the beginning. Study the origins of the myths, add a twist here, a turn there, a dash of this and that.... Whatever you write, make it yours and yours alone.

Do you have any advice you’d like to share with other writers? Ie: World building, characters.

(DJ) Study the masters. Read. Then read some more. Some people are just naturals at world building. One of my new favorites who I highly recommend is Nalini Singh. Her worlds and her characters are simply amazing. They have a depth that pulls you in and doesn’t let go. Also, it doesn’t hurt to study shows like Buffy and Firefly, and it’s a great excuse to watch TV. I am a huge Joss Whedon fan and would bear his children if asked. Because he has the skill to literally force the viewer to laugh and cry at the same time, I really did study his stuff. I mean, I watched it over and over and took notes. I studied how he made us fall in love with Spike even though Spike was an awful, evil vampire. How he made us cheer for Angel and Buffy even when Angel lost his soul and went around killing all of Buffy’s friends. Joss Whedon is a master at pulling those heartstrings.

Is there a craft book that resonated with you and you’d suggest to others?

(DJ) The very first craft book I read was Noah Lukeman’s The First Five Pages. It blew me away. I thought, “Now hold on there, mister. You’re saying I shouldn’t use adverbs repeatedly???” (I was new.) Next was the absolute must, Stephen King’s On Writing. I loved it so much. His writing style resonates throughout the book and flows with effortless ease. It’s humorous and poignant. If only I could write like him.... The truth is, I love craft books. That’s when you know you’re hopeless. When you love books on writing as much as fiction.

How was your Golden Heart experience?

(DJ) In a word, surreal. In more than a word, one of the greatest experiences of my life. I have a slew of new sisters that I have grown to love, an irrevocable validation of my writing, and a fantastic agent, Alexandra Machinist of The Linda Chester Literary Agency. The whole thing has just been such an amazing journey. I highly recommend finaling in the Golden Heart!
On this note, I must say that the final alone was such a shock to me, I could hardly believe it. I had entered the GH before and each time I figured I had a chance. This time I didn’t. I was so mad at myself for entering when there was simply no way I would final with this manuscript. So much so, that I almost didn’t send in my entry. Seriously, I decided not to—I didn’t have time—then I found out I had another day and, with great reluctance, I sent it in anyway. Then I was mad at myself for wasting all that money on postage. But when I won...wow, talk about shell shock. I sat there staring wide-eyed at my best friend so long that she had to hit me to get me to the stage. Then I forgot my shoes, but that’s another story.

Now, for those of you having a hard time, I have a little anecdote. I have entered this same manuscript in six contests. Six. And guess how many times it has finaled. Once. It finaled one time and in that contest it won first. In all the other contests, this same manuscript, the one that WON a Golden Heart, came in almost dead last. And the contest it won in? They dropped the lowest score. The contest coordinator sent a grid of all the scores in the category, and had they not dropped the lowest score, my entry would have come in second to last. So trust me when I say I was more than a little floored when I won the GH. I really and truly did not expect it. But I am more grateful and more honored than anyone can imagine.

Do you have any advice for someone thinking of entering the Golden Heart?

(DJ) Again, make it unique and make it shine. There are other books about grim reapers, but most of them are dark. I wanted mine to be light and fun with a sassy protagonist who is somewhat of a danger magnet. So the idea wasn’t as unique as was the twist I placed on it. Remember, there are no new stories, just new ways of telling them. And polish that baby. Study the rules of grammar until you can quote them in your sleep. Then break them, naturally.

Since you won the Golden Heart, I’m sure we’ll see you book on the shelves soon.
Did you want to tell us a little about your book?

(DJ) Well, I pretty much gave this one away already. Here is the blurb from my query letter:
Private investigator Harley Davidson was born with three things: a smoking hot ass; a healthy respect for the male anatomy; and the rather odd job title of grim reaper. Since the age of five, she has been helping the departed solve the mysteries of their deaths so they can cross. Thus, when three lawyers from the same law firm are murdered, they come to her to find their killer. In the meantime, she’s dealing with a being more powerful, and definitely sexier, than any specter she’s ever come across. With the help of a pain-in-the-ass skip tracer, a dead pubescent gangbanger named Angel, and a lifetime supply of sarcasm, Harley sets out to solve the highest profile case of the year and discovers that dodging bullets isn’t nearly as dangerous as falling in love.

Is there a next book planned?

(DJ) Yes. And a third and a fourth...I’m dreaming big. :)

What is your website url, so others can check on news from you?

(DJ) My website, when I get it up, will be www.daryndajones.com. I do have a blog though, www.darynda.wordpress.com. Now I just have to write something in it. And naturally I’m on facebook and twitter and myspace.

I just wanted to thank you, Autumn, for this opportunity. I love your blog and I loved getting to meet and hang out with you at conference! Here’s to the Ruby Slippered Sisters!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Welcome Alison Hart/Jennifer Greene

Alison, First congratulations on being honored by the Romance Writers Of America with the Nora Robert’s Lifetime Achievement Award. That is quite an accomplishment and deserved. I was so thrilled after the ceremony when you let me touch the award. I can only imagine your feelings. I have a few questions for you.

1) You’ve published over 75 books since 1980. What is your secret to be so prolific?

Mostly insanity.  I can’t let a book go once I get started.

2) During that time, have you written to follow a trend or do you follow your heart? And why?

Years ago I was given some great advice by another author—a Harlequin author by the name of Charlotte Lamb. She told me that every author who lasts needs to find a work formula that works for her…we write for the reader, always. But if we write three books for the readers, they just might tolerate a fourth book that’s a little more off the beaten path.
So—I’ve never written ‘to a trend’. But I’ve tried to find topics and characters relevant to readers…with an occasional slip up,
When I had to try an idea just for the creative need of it.

3) You’ve written for several publishers and different lines, both category and single title? Do you have a favorite?

I started at Berkley (l5 books), did one for Dell, aimed for Harlequin and Silhouette, did a couple for Avon, and had a literary essay published somewhere in there. Through the years, I’ve found terrific editors, dedicated publishers, and fascinating & enthusiastic readers everywhere.
For me, this isn’t about a specific publisher or line…it’s about writing books for women, to women, about issues and values of interest to us.

4) How would you describe VOICE? And can you give any advice in developing a voice?

An author works with style, depending on the period and time of book she’s writing. That’s her job. Voice is what she brings to the page, no matter what kind of book, what kind of subject matter. It’s what makes her writing different than anyone else’s, even if two authors are tackling an identical theme.
Voice is everything an author brings to the table—her childhood, where she grew up, what she believes in, who hurt her, who loved her—the whole kit and caboodle that define how she sees the world, different than anyone else. This is what an author offers the reader…and the ‘takeaway’ the reader always gets from a good book.
It’s nothing an author has to ‘study’ or develop. It’s what she brings up at the moment of time when she’s writing any specific story.

5) Are you a plotter or a pantster? Can you tell us a little about your writing process?

I used to believe that each writer had a process. To a point, I still do believe that. But the longer I write, the longer I discover that no one method, or one rule, or one method of writing, always works. The key to survival in writing is flexibility. There’s nothing rigid about the creative muse.

6) Do you feel it’s important for authors to study craft books, and if so, do you have particular ones you would recommend?

I love craft books, have at least a full library shelf of them. Included in my favorites are Stephen King’s ON WRITING, and all those by Donald Maas. I have to say, though, that writing books seem to work like an ‘affirmation’ rather than like a true teaching tool for most of us. Writers learn by writing. By making mistakes, and exercising that ‘delete’ button over and over, by being miserable when the words won’t come. (!)
I believe writers today especially need to learn craft—because we’re just not taught to write in school. But our best teaching tools are probably the books we loved to read the most—rereading those, analyzing why and how and when an author did certain things.

7) I saw on your web-site that you have 4 books coming out in 2010 and that you’re changing genres. Can you tell us why you’re changing from contemporaries to romantic suspense and a little about the stories?

I do have 4 books coming out in 2010. The “Danger Series” are a Romantic Suspense trilogy. They’re about three sisters who lost their parents in a fire when they were children…that loss of family affected how each of them view love and permanence once they’re grown. None of them felt *safe* from the time they were children---for good reason, as each stories reveal. And each hero, of course, makes them feel the opposite of safe! But the relationship forces them to confront their worst fears, and to find the strength within themselves to go after what they want.
I LOVED writing these stories. Still finishing up the third one. They come out in a sequence—April, WHISPER OF DANGER
Actually this isn’t a new genre (or subgenre) for me—I did four Intimate Moments in the past, three of which were romantic suspense. (And two were Rita finalists at the time.) I just hadn’t had a chance to get back to this in a long time.
These are difficult publishing times….but, of course, we’ve been through difficult publishing times in the past. My theory on that is to use a rough time as an opportunity. Try something you love writing or reading, experiment, enjoy playing with different story types and ideas. So doing these Rom Suspense books was just a for me.
The fourth book coming out in 2010 is “BLAME IT ON THE BLIZZARD”—one of the stories in Harlequin’s BABY, IT’S COLD OUTSIDE anthology. This was a natural.  I had three HQN’s over the last couple years—BLAME IT ON CHOCOLATE, BLAME IT ON CUPID, and BLAME IT ON PARIS. So for readers who loved those, the title and nature of story was a terrific chance to play with that same nature of theme.

8) In the first contest I ever entered, you were one of my contest judges. You actually signed the score sheet. I didn’t final, but you gave me constructive feedback and encouragement. Thank you. Do you have any advice for authors who judge contests.

I’m glad I could help!
And no, I don’t have advice for other authors on judging. But I’ll share my feeling about judging….I always sign a score sheet. I believe that the writer should be able to know who the judge is, because if she does or doesn’t care for the judge’s writing, she’ll know whether the feedback is valuable to her.
Second, I’ve found terrifically successful writers through contest entrees that DIDN’T make finals. The thing with contests is that the judging criteria is limited. Many, many writers submit work that could be terrific, but just won’t ‘shine’ via that criteria. Writers need to understand that a score in a contest doesn’t necessarily mean anything positive or negative about their writing. Placing in contests is a super way to get your work in front of an editor…but it’s NOT a measure of whether you can make it or not.
I ‘found’ two authors in contests that are both regularly on the NY Times List…yet they didn’t do well in contests. Still, contests are also a way for an experienced author to help a new one.

9) Finally, what advice can you offer to the unpublished authors among us? And for the published authors, is there any advice for career planning?

For the unpublished—never stop learning your craft. Concentrate on your book, on your writing….and less on business, promotion, all the distractions out there.

For the published—don’t panic in the tough times. All authors have them. Publishing is never static, never always an uphill road. When the times are rough, remember to concentrate on your writing—and less on all the distractions out there.

Alison will be checking in throughout the day until 8pm EST and answering questions. After which, my Irish Setter will be picking one name from those who left a comment using a very unique method. The winner will recieve a gift certificate to Starbucks or Dunkin Dounuts and one of my 2010 pocket calendars.