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.


  1. Hi, Alison/Jennifer. Great interview! And congratulations on winning the Nora Robert’s Lifetime Achievement Award!!!! Your intro at Nationals was great.

    I love your definition of voice. That's it exactly. It's simply you, who you are and what made you you. I've seen lots of people define it before, but yours is the best. I might have reference it in the future :)

  2. 75 books! I marvel. Thanks, Alison/Jennifer, for posting and congratulations on your award. (Thanks, also, to Autumn for hosting.) My question is this: How do you get from rough draft to finished product without committing hari-kari? I've learned to speed through drafts, but the editing of them is so plodding, I become discouraged. Janice

  3. Wonderful post Autumn! And, Jennifer, thanks for taking time to give us a great interview. Congratulations on an outstanding award! Nice to see rewards come to someone like you

  4. Hi Kim, I'll be glad to talk about 'voice' whenever you want. It's a favorite subject for me. :)
    And thanks for the congrats. I'm still riding on air about that award. :)

  5. Hi Janice...on the hari kari issue :)...My hari kari thing is facing the blank page, getting the first draft down. My first drafts are *always* awful. It's the rewriting where I can relax and enjoy writing. You feel the rewriting is 'plodding'? I know others share this problem...but that's when I feel I can play with the words, style 'up' the characters, smooth out the rough spots from the first draft.
    Mostly, though, I suspect we all go through some 'hari kari' part of writing in every story. It has to be worth it for you, or the bad stretches would just be painful....good luck!

  6. Thanks, Judy! Are you a writer or a reader?

  7. I loved your explanation of "voice". Everything a writer has comes out in his/her voice. I've always been a proponent of "write what you know" but never thought of it as voice!
    Is there any one thing you can credit for starting you off as a writer in the first place? Meeting another writer? Being bored?
    That story you just had to tell somehow? Writing since you were a child or lots of visits to the library?

  8. Thanks for the great interview, Alison/Jennifer! My question to you is, after a slew of success, how do you keep your writing fresh?

    Thanks again for answering questions today!

    Tess Quinn

  9. LOl. I'm late for my own party. Actually, I was in the cyber kitchen whipping up something for later.

    Thanks, Kim for kicking the blog off.

    Janice, Thnaks for stopping by. ((HUGS)))I'm with Alison. Getting the first draft done is like pulling teeth or keeping characters from going in their own direction. Editing is like putting everything into focus. Atleast for me.

    Hey, Judy. I'm glad you came. Alison/Jennifer is so nice.

    Irene, lady. (((HUGS))) Irene will always come with questions. ;>)

  10. Re: 'write what you know.' I've had that, too...but I think it's always possible (and fun) to research something...so I've become more of a fan of 'write what you love'...
    I was writing stories since I was a little girl, but my mom wasn't about to raise a daughter who couldn't earn a living. So she pushed the education thing...I always wrote stories, just never thought about writing 'seriously for a living.
    As crazy as it sounds, what changed my mind was a tornado. One minute my husband I were solvent. Fifteen minutes later, we had two babies in diapers and were $l00K in debt and had the roof ripped off from over our heads. I know, I know. It sounds like I should have been more practical then, instead of less?
    But coming that close to disaster made me relook at what really mattered to us all. And it sure wasn't money...

  11. Congratulations for the Nora Roberts' Achievement Award, Jennifer, and congratulations for finaling in the Golden Heart, Autumn.

    Wonderful interview. Thank you both.

    Diana Duval

  12. re: how do you keep your writing fresh?
    Sometimes I feel more stale than old lettuce :(
    No one's ALWAYS on top of their writing game? It's never always uphill.
    Still. I think there are dozens of things we can do to 'refill the well.' Taste new things, experience new things, read outside your regular loves, experience something outside your comfort zone...I'll bet you all have great ideas about this too.

  13. Thank you Jennifer and a big congrats on the award. Your explanation of voice is the best I've ever had.

  14. So Autumn...what were you whipping up in the kitchen? :) :)

  15. It might be one of the recipes my friends posted last week, under what do you bring to the table. If anyone has others, please share under that post.

    Seriously, I'm pulling together another give away for tonight. My Irsih Setter will be picking the names around 8:30 pm.

  16. Alison/Jennifer, wonderful post. Like others have said, I love your explanation of voice. Some of my first manuscripts were pretty awful, and the thought of going back and rewriting those things makes me cringe--don't think that will ever happen. But, I do think my "voice" was still present in that early work...I just needed to learn the craft (I still have a TON to learn).
    Thanks again for being here!

  17. One of my First Coast chaptermates pointed me to this blog, and I'm glad I had a chance to read this post. I'm in awe of your wonderful career to date, Alison/Jennifer. As someone who's been writing seriously for a dozen or so years and just starting to have publication success, I understand your insights about voice, story, and craft development. Best wishes for your upcoming releases!

  18. Hi Jennifer. I was lucky enough to hear you speak after you received your award in DC - Congratulations!

    I agree with you on craft books and your comment "Writers learn by writing. By making mistakes..." That's so true.

    Thanks for sharing a little bit about yourself. Great interview, ladies.

  19. Just for the record--I had 6 books in the closet before I sold. And when I DID sell, it was at the hey day of the new American market, when the books had huge print runs and were making tons. Which is to say: I lucked out. Not with needing 6 books to create a publishing one. (!) But the timing for sales was all in the authors' favor.
    It's harder for new writers today, imo. But you have some advantages--there are lots of subgenres, not such limitations on the nature of stories. And you've got the experienced writers (like me) who've fought for a lot of the contract improvements you see today.
    What's tougher for new authors, imo, is money--it's a much harder struggle to make a living at this now. And craft. We all learn craft by doing...but still think the educational system isn't giving us any prep for writing or communicating via writing...the way it used to.

  20. Congratulations on the award!

    Some days I find I'm getting so caught up in the technical parts of craft that I can't relax and just let the words come. I end up spending more time fighting to pull the words out of me than I do typing them out. Do you have any suggestions on how to shut up the inner critic long enough for that inner voice to really make itself known?

  21. It was thrilling to see you receive your lifetime achievement award. Mega Congrats!

    Great interview. I have been writing since Mrs. B gave me a fat, blue pencil, lined paper, and scratched three letter words onto a chalk board. I have been doing it in one form or another since.

    Fiction writing took several detours around life and family because, being unpublished, writing wasn't my priority. A tragedy changed that, forcing me to admit today may be all there is.

    I'm certain you cursed your tornado (I would have---in four languages), but it turned out to be the catalyst for your amazing career. Some blessings are just harder to see (and understand) than others.

    Congrats again on an amazing career.

  22. Re: Inner Critics and Doubters Street Residents (et al)
    I have a trick. It's pretty goofy, but I'm confessing it anyway. :) I'm a worrier and a constant self critic, so just like some of you have expressed, found it too easy to get bound up, where I was constantly fixing instead of moving ahead.
    So..1 trick I found was...I give myself permission to whine/worry/self-beat-up...but on a timetable. Like 4 - 6 on a Tuesday night. After that, I get to sit at the keyboard without that monster doubt on my shoulder. It gets its turn. But then I get mine.
    And a 2nd trick. Never leave the keyboard at the end of a scene or chapter. I know. That's the natural temptation. But it leaves you nothing to start with--run with--the next day. So even ifyou're done with a scene, and tired, just splash out some words, ideas, scraps of dialog, whatever works for you, so you're free to charge into the writing the next day...not just stuck editing the previous day's work. Hope this helps...

  23. Hi, Tess. Great question! I don't see you ever running out of ideas. LOL. Thanks for coming to the party. Tell your friends. We're here until 8 pm est. AJ

  24. Thanks, Diana. I'm glad you stopped by and I hope you'll pop in again.

  25. Hmmm. Jennifer. We have some Golden Heart Finalists posting here. Kim, Rita, Tina, Gwen and they're acting shy. LOL. Hi ladies. Thank you for your support.

    Some of them will be my guests in the next few weeks discussing their experiences entering the Golden Heart and their genre. So I hope others will stop back and ask them questions.

  26. Gwyn, so you understand...sometimes bad news or bad things really can be lifealtering in a good way. Or at least they just make you look at what you're doing and choosing....

  27. Maggie. hey fellow Rose. How are you? Give that first coast friend a hug for me. Okay.

  28. J Hahl, from Liberty, right? Thanks for the compliament. I'm glad your found it interesting. I hope to see you again. AJ

  29. Ember, Great question. Recently a friend gave me the idea to name my demon. She said open a book to no particular page and look at the word that pops at you. I did it. And my inner demon's name is Mular. Everytime Mular misbehaves, I ducktape his mouth and sit him in the corner. It worked for me. ;>)

  30. Congratulations on the award! Amazing!
    I think you are leaving a legacy for all of us. Someday someone will pick up on of your books. Maybe many years from now. And they will know you have a wonderful muse and were a talented writer. And that is a fantastic thing to leave the world.

  31. Congratulations, Jennifer!!! I loved the intro they put together for you. Very cute!

    I love that you said the hard part is the first draft. It's that way for me as well. The first draft is like torture. I LOVE REVISING!!! I feel like I can relax and let everything just flow.

    I haven't found many people like us, so it's refreshing to hear! I was worried. Thought maybe I was crazy or something. :)

    Thank you so much for being here!

  32. I didn't know there were so many Golden Heart-ers...but sounds as if there are a lot of writers here.
    When I first started, I had such a plus--not the tornado. :( :( But I first sold when an editor had TIME for the writer. Now, sheesh, you'd better have the manuscript ready to print, no time for revisions (because they cost the publishers, not just time but $)...and yet the new round of editors are green themselves.
    I'm not a major fan of age. :) Think young thinking and new voices are critical to great books. So not saying that I believe experience is everything; only sending out a heap of empathy for what you newer writers are going through. It's definitely not fair. :(
    But...if you keep reading what you love, keep writing what you love, feel good at how you're going and growing...that's the payback that matters? Money's great. I love money. I'm hugely greedy. But that wouldn't justify all the hours we spend at the keyboard...it has to be about the characters, the stories, the joy of weaving the words, youknow?
    Isn't it wonderful to find others like us?

  33. I love the idea of naming your demon. :) :)

    And anything else we can do to get power/control over the sucker. :)

  34. Hi Alison/Jennifer (waving to Autumn)

    What a great, encouraging interview. Congratulations on the award, what a thrill that must be. Did you ever imagine when you first started that your writing career would take you where you are today? What were some things you did to stay encouraged when the road seemed so long and rocky?


  35. Absolutely never dreamed when I first started writing--and selling--that I'd still be doing this after all these years.
    That's one of the interesting things about writing, though? You can start it at any age. Drop it if you need to. Pick it up again. Still do it as long as you can click the keys. Every day you bring something different to the page? What you wrote when you were 8 or l8 or 28 or 48 or 68 would always be different, but not necessarily 'better' or 'worse'...just colored by who you were at the time...
    I've been discouraged lots of time, Sonya. Frankly less by problems with publishing than by my own goals...like a book that I couldn't make 'right' on my own terms, no matter how hard I tried. And some writing stretches 'fought me' no matter how much I might have loved the project at the time.
    I wish I had a good answer for you, re: how to stay encouraged. Sometimes I think the bad times are an answer in themselves. They're a kind of crossroads? Either you still love writing enough to work through the rough periods...or maybe the muse is trying to tell you to move on, try something else. It's okay either way? But...I don't know any long term writer's who had only an uphill path...seems to be the same for all of us that way.

  36. I have to be gone for a couple hours here--an ill friend. But I'll be back to answer any further posts, promise. !

  37. Hope your friend feels better soon. We'll chat until you're back.

  38. Jennifer, Darynda (waving to her) is also a Golden Heart. In fact, she will be my guest next week. We're going to be discussing her experience winning of the Golden Heart for Paranormal Romance and amoung other writing related topics.

  39. Hi, Sonya. (Waving madly) I'm glad you made it. Jennifer gave you a great answer. You know I've been discouraged more than once and you cyber-kicked me. When it comes right down to it, I'd have to stop breathing to stop writing. A writer, that is who I am. That is who you are. (((HUGS)))

  40. Mary, How are you? Thank you for sharing that wonderful thought.

    I going to ask everyone to think about your favorite author and what awesome experiences she or he has given you. Now think how you'd feel if those memories were taken from you. Do you feel somewhat hollow, like you've been cheated?

    Each time we put pen to paper we are creating experiences for others. Who they are we don't know. It could be only our children who find our words after we're gone. But think of the joy and pride they'd feel knowing who were.

    Something to think about.

  41. Jennifer, I agree with the affirmation role that Craft books play. What a good reason to keep one handy when the going gets tough.
    Appreciate that Autumn mentioned the idea of Naming those Mind Demons aka sabotaging thoughts. Mine is known as Braxton. It feels great to talk tough and kick him to the curb when he starts talking smack in my ear.
    Jennifer, thanks for sharing and Autumn for hosting.

  42. Lisa is my friend who helps me and others fight off those demons. As you can tell she is great at kicking demon butt. LOL. Thanks for dropping in lady.

  43. What a great group y'all are. !
    Re: 'whenever we put pen to paper, we are creating experiences for others.'
    I so agree with that. I don't think the author can ever know what the readers is going to take-away...sometimes, often, I think readers find things in stories that the author never intended. But that's part of the thing about 'voice'? When you share stuff from inside, even if you're just talking about the weather or the color of the sky...you're offering the reader something different to take back to her own experiences.
    I think romances--in all our incantations--really do reach out, author to reader, on things of the heart. Things we care about, worry about, things we believe in. That we help each other by sharing those things...
    It's about ten to 8 est...I'll stop by once more, but if there are no more posts...just want to say, thanks for having me, Autumn, and really enjoyed all of your questions and comments through the day.

  44. Hi, there,
    Great interview. Thanks for the encouragement about sticking to the craft and writing and not worrying about jumping through the marketing hoops as yet.
    Quick question before you go. What is your take on novels written in a setting other than the United States for US readers? I ask because most feel it is a lost cause. Hard for those of us who live and write on foreign soil. I would appreciate your comments.
    Again, great interview. Awesome blog, Autumn.
    Colleen Shine Phillips

  45. Hi, Colleen. Happy to see you here. And what a great question. Jennifer will stop back. She knows I'll be announcing names for prizes at 8:30. So hang in there. ;>)

  46. Before I announce the winners of prizes, I wanted to thank Jennifer/Alison for taking the time and blogging with us today. And thank you all for stopping in, asking great questions and complimenting me on the site. I hope stop back every Wednesday and, well, chat.

    Remember next week, I'm hosting Darynda Jones. A really sweet lady. She let me touch her Golden Heart necklace.

    So lets get to it.

    The first prize: A Starbucks or Dunkin Dounut coupon and a official Autumn Jordon 2010 pocket calendar, where you can keep track of all your deadlines and booksigning appointments goes to (drumroll)


    Diana Duval

    The second prize: Again One of my handy pocket calendars and very nice pen to write those deadlines down goes to....

    Drumroll again...


    Mary Ricksen

    Yeah Diana and Mary!

    Please email me at autumnjordon@yahoo.com so that I can get your snail mail addies.

    Again, Thank you all. It was an awesome day.

  47. Jennifer/Alison:
    Sorry for the late post. But thanks for the information. I'm presently writing "what I don't know" - setting is Rome - just because I want to learn more about it and want to stretch my writing muscles to see if I can bring to life a place I really don't know.
    I was at National and congratulations - well-deserved.

  48. Hey, Mitzi. I'm so glad you stopped by. Rome. Oh, I would love to go there. Is it in your plans? Jennifer will stop back, so hang on.

  49. Yes, stopping back one last time! On non-American settings...I assume you're asking about contemporary books. (Historicals love certain non-American settings.)
    I had a recent book, called BLAME IT ON PARIS--that did very well. But half the book was in Paris--half in the U.S.
    I think foreign settings were more acceptable before 9/11...before readers started believing that other countries weren't safe/Americans weren't loved there the way we once believed. So 'the fantasy' doesn't work as well for readers in other countries. This kind of thing, tho, comes and goes--just like there are other taboos, like that urban settings are less saleable than small towns, or that heroes can't be in sports or music.
    You can always break the rules. It's about understanding what the resistance is--for the reader--and then working with that, both in the book, and in your presentation/synopsis to the editor. Don't be afraid of an elephant in the living room. Just don't try to pretend it isn't there.
    If you want a Roman setting, you could use it in part of the story--or have two Americans meet there--or stranded there--or an American going there to meet another generation of family...those are examples of ways you wouldn't 'worry' the reader or editor with the setting itself?
    Also, using any setting that's a vacation arouses a fret in a lot of readers--they don't believe 'love will last' when the characters return home--so that isn't about a problem with a foreign setting, so much as 'doing more' with the story than the 'chance encounter'.
    Hope this helps? If anyone still has questions, you're welcome to shoot me an e-mail...or Autumn can tell me to come back for a chat. :)
    Have a great evening, everyone. Jennifer G

  50. One more...on the Rome question, or writing a setting you don't know. Try movies? Rent a bunch with the setting you want to experience. Those using the real setting can give you ideas and flavors...
    Another (goofier) thing I like to do when I'm using any ethnic material is get a cookbook. :) Make some recipes from that background or culture. I know that sounds silly? But how you feel after a meal, the tastes, the textures...I think it's partof what you can add to make a different setting real? Another thought anyway...
    Good night! I swear I mean it this time! xo Jennifer

  51. Dropping by tardily, Autumn - great interview!!!

  52. Sharon, It's never too late. I'm always watching. Thank you so much for stopping by. I'm glad you like the interview. Jennifer gave great advice. :>)