This week we’re jumping over the hump with our featured workshop presenter, best-selling author, and multi-talented, Donna MacMeans!
Donna will be giving a workshop at our conference in October. Grab Your Reader On Page 1 is just one of many fabulous workshops we have scheduled.
For more information on our conference, on when registration opens, and other popular questions, please visit our website at http://www.njromancewriters.org.
Please welcome Donna!
I know that it’s somewhat disconcerting to discover a CPA who is also a romance writer. The progression was a bit of a shock to me as well. I’ve always been a prolific reader but not necessarily romance. After all, I was a business executive. One can’t very well take a romance novel into work and expect to be taken seriously. At least not one with a half-naked woman on the cover. So it’s a particular surprise to me that I write romance, especially the ones most frequently referred to as bodice rippers.
You see, one day I happened to read OUTLANDER by Diana Galbadon. I’d picked it up by accident at the local bookstore. I thought it was a different novel, but as it was on the manager’s recommendation shelf, I figured it would be good. It was more than good, it was wonderful. After reading this phenomenal book, I noticed that the first several pages were filled with accolades from romance reviewers. I figured if this was a romance, I was a fool for avoiding it for so long. But I still wasn’t brave enough to be seen in the romance section. I found that if I stood in the cooking section, I could jump out and grab a book off the end cap of the romance section. Thus I bought a book by a NYT bestselling author that had a Scottish laird as the hero and an Englishwoman as the heroine, just like OUTLANDER. I knew the answer to the story question in the first chapter, but didn’t believe it would take a whole book to find the answer. I was wrong. I believed I could do better …and so I tried.
I’m not sure I ever wrote a “better” book, but “trying” launched me on this fabulous journey of writing. I love writing. I love romance. If I were to win the lottery tomorrow, I’ll continue to write. I’d just do it in a better environment (grin). I shall always be grateful to that NYT author for tossing me that particular challenge. She changed my life. Truly, she did.
While I particularly enjoyed reading historicals, the research involved terrified me. So I began my writing journey with romantic suspense. About the time I began my third manuscript, I learned that Lori Foster was holding a contest on her website. Submit three pages that showed sensual tension. A winner would be chosen for contemporaries and historicals every week and sent on to her editor, Kate Duffy. Kate had a reputation for purchasing some of the winners and publishing their stories as novellas through Kensington. I had an idea for a striptease but that kind of story didn’t really fit a contemporary setting. For one thing, we don’t wear enough clothes! A striptease with today’s wardrobe would be more like flash fiction. (grin). But I loved my concept!
I decided to place the story during the Victorian period because I loved the clothes and the corsets. As I thought about the situation that would lead to my striptease, my story grew and grew. I missed entering that contest, but my first historical, THE EDUCATION OF MRS. BRIMLEY, became a full novel. Once it was finished, I submitted it everywhere, and consequently was rejected everywhere. By the summer of 2006, I was fairly depressed. Though Mrs. Brimley was a Golden Heart Finalist, so was my very first book. I didn’t think Mrs. Brimley had a chance to win so I didn’t do a lot of preparations. I decided for my next book, I’d return to my paranormal roots and so began a story about an invisible heroine. She turns invisible in moonlight – can’t help it. Because I’d done so much research about the Victorian era, I set the story during that time frame. I made her a bit of a thief who would venture out in London,naked, during the full moon. That’s the book I figured would win the Golden Heart. I had every intention of entering it for the 2007 contest.
I went to Nationals in 2006 mainly for the perks of being a finalist. Much to my surprise, THE EDUCATION OF MRS. BRIMLEY actually won the Golden Heart for long historical romance that year. An agent started calling me and two weeks from the date of the ceremony, Dorchester made an offer. I called the agent who said she could do better. She sent the manuscript to St. Martin’s who also made an offer. I explained that as Cindy Hwang at Berkley already had the full (I’d pitched it to her a month earlier), my agent would need to contact her to let her know that an offer had been extended. I didn’t think Berkley was interested in the book – I was wrong. I ended up in an auction between St. Martin’s and Berkley. Berkley won.
Since that experience, I’ve had several exciting moments. I joined the blog group THE ROMANCE BANDITS. My invisible heroine book, THE TROUBLE WITH MOONLIGHT, won the critic’s choice award for Historical Love and Laughter in 2008 at the Romantic Times convention. Mrs. Brimley sold all over the world and was made into a manga edition (!!!) I’ve met fabulous writers and had one really cool fan experience. My husband had set up an August vacation in Los Cabos, Mexico. He got a good deal – who wouldn’t going closer to the equator in August (grin). While sitting in the Asian restaurant, I noticed a woman reading a kindle. I asked her what she was reading.
“Just a romance,” she said.
“How about that – I’m just a romance writer,” I replied.
She wasn’t impressed. But when she asked my name, she discovered she had all four of my novels – every one including the release that had come out two weeks before. I was so stunned, I forgot to ask her name or get her email. So if she’s reading this, be sure to come up and tell me during the conference. I owe you a hug.
Of course, that was two books ago. My seventh book, THE WHISKY LAIRD’S BED. came out this past July. It’s the second book in The Rake Patrol series. The series originated because a friend had sent me an op-ed piece in the NYTimes about Victorian personal ads. The Victorians used the personal ads in a manner similar to today’s Craig’s List. Men would place advertisements for women, and women would place advertisements for men. I took the piece to my plot group and said “I think I can do something with this.” We talked it over and came up with a series of story ideas that all revolved around personal ads. The first book was called THE CASANOVA CODE and dealt with a code-breaker heroine (the ads were sometimes written in code), a reformed rake, and Japanese erotica. It’s a fun book.
THE WHISKY LAIRD’S BED is set in Scotland. A personal ad lures my heroine’s best friend to Scotland and my heroine rushes to save her from what she imagines is white slavery. She’s wrong, of course, but she’s a firebrand who believes her way tends to be the right way. Unfortunately, her way involves Temperance (no-alcohol), and her friend is staying at the home of a Scotch distiller. It’s a sort of Guys n’ Dolls without the music and with a cool Scottish setting. While I was working on the book, I suddenly realized that my landscape descriptions all sounded like Ohio. I told my husband I had to go to Scotland. He said Scotland wasn’t on his bucket list.
“That’s okay,” I said. “I’ll go alone. I make friends easily. I’ll take a tour so I won’t have to drive.”
I was busy planning my trip when he relented (darn!) and said he wanted to go. So we went. I was sitting on the tour bus as the guide drove through a forest and thought how the landscape resembled that of Virginia and West Virginia. It made sense that so many Scottish families settled there. “You know,” the tour guide announced. “We had a geologist on the tour recently who gathered some of the rocks at one of the waterfalls. He said that the limestone proved that Scotland was once connected to the Appalachian mountains.” I thought – great! I could have spent the week exploring Virginia for a much cheaper cost than the trip to Scotland! (But it wouldn’t have been half as much fun…) I tend to write a sexy but fun book. My title originally was The Whisky Laird, but I didn’t think that conveyed the sexy angle so I added “bed.” It works I think.
It takes me a long time to write a book – I think because I write historicals. Everything has to be researched. The fastest I’ve ever written a book is in one year and that was my invisible heroine book. They all have their challenges, but the more I write – the more I become a stronger writer. I tend to write the first draft and then do one massive revision. I write on my back porch. It’s screened in so no bugs. There’s something about being surrounded by nature that helps me get in the zone. I write organically. I know where my story needs to go and have an idea about the characters. I mentioned my plot group before. It’s a small group of three other writers, all members of the Romance Bandits. We were all finalists in the 2006 Golden Heart competition. We flesh out ideas for books and the characters. Sometimes we start with an idea. Sometimes we start with a character. Whichever way we start, we end up in the same place. I’m the only historical writer in the group but that doesn’t really matter. A good book, a well-crafted book, has the same basic components regardless of genre. But thanks to their creative minds, I have a whole drawer full of books to write.
Lovely story, Donna, and thank you for sharing! Okay, get ready, we have our rapid response portion. Don’t think about your answers, just say the first thing that comes to mind. Ready?
Favorite color: Peacock blue
Favorite number: 6
Favorite Actor: That’s a tough one. I like Ed Norton and Michael Ruffalo and the guy that plays Ichabod Crane on tv, Tom Mison.
Favorite Actress: How about Maggie Smith – the dowager countess on Downton Abbey LOL.
Wine or liquor: I prefer liquor. A cool margarita, or Jack Daniel’s in diet coke, or a good Scotch. I’m flexible (grin).
Tea or coffee: Iced tea with lemon. I’m trying to drink more warm tea – but it requires a degree of preparation. I’m not into preparation.
Decaf or caffeinated: Definitely caffeinated
Boxers or briefs: Boxers.
Chocolate or vanilla: Chocolate. No contest.
Donald Duck or Goofy: Give me the duck!
Frozen or Tangled: Loved Frozen. Let it go, let it go…
Channing Tatum or Johnny Depp: Now this is really difficult. Channing Tatum has the body but Johnny Depp has the most expressive eyes. I’ll take them both, please.
(Laughing) I hear you! Thank you!
Want to meet or attend Donna’s workshop? Make sure you check out the information on our conference at http://www.njromancewriters.org and register come June 1st!