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
May, TASTE OF DANGER
June, HEAT 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.