The annual NJ Romance Writers “Put Your Heart in a Book” Conference will be here before we know it! Over the six weeks leading up to the conference, we’ll be spotlighting our Golden Leaf finalists.
To kick off this event, we have a special treat. This year, we have two Hall of Fame presentations that will be awarded during the Golden Leaf and Put Your Heart in a Book award ceremony on October 17, 2014. This achievement is awarded to an author who has won three times in the same category. Winning once is a challenge with so many talented authors. Winning three times is outstanding!
I had a chance to interview both recipients, and over the next week I’ll be posting their interviews along with excerpts from their award-winning books.
First up is Hall of Fame Romantic Suspense Recipient, Dee Davis.
Hi Dee. Congratulations on winning New Jersey Romance Writers’ Golden Leaf award three times in the Romantic Suspense category. It’s a wonderful testament to the success of your stories.
Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions.
All three Golden Leaf winning books (Dark Deceptions, Deadly Dance, and Double Danger) are from your A-Tac series. What was your favorite part of writing this series? Do you have a favorite book/hero?
There are a lot of wonderful things about writing a series. But this one in particular was fun because of all the action. I love writing action scenes, and the people in A-Tac seem to always be in some kind of trouble. I especially love the first chapter of Dark Deception when the team is trying to destroy a terrorist network’s communications system. It was fun to write, but it was also the first time I saw these characters bonding—and working as a unit. Then throughout the series it’s been fun to see their friendships grow, and their solidarity as they become more like a family.
I never really admit to having a favorite book or hero. It’s like choosing one child over the other. But that said, Harrison Blake in Deadly Dance is one of my all-time favorite characters. He first appeared in my Last Chance Series. And was actually supposed to get his own book then. But the third book clearly belonged to Nigel Ferris and so Harrison was on his own still. To date he’s received more fan mail than any of my other characters. And so when A-Tac needed a forensic computer analyst—it just seemed to perfect to be true. And then watching he and Hannah grow into their relationship set the stage for Deadly Dance.
Where did you get the storylines for the A-Tac series? What kind of research did you do?
The original idea stemmed from my brother-in-law who is a teacher and my husband who works for the United Nations. I always tease that he’s actually working for the CIA. Of course, he isn’t, but one night sitting beside my BFF Julie Kenner’s pool, I posed the idea of a group of college professors who secretly work for the CIA. And with a little help from Julie, and a Margarita, A-Tac was born.
I do a lot of research for my books. Primarily on plot points that need to have at least a small amount of credence. For example the type of gun used. Or the trajectory of a shot. How a bomb works, how it can be disabled. How particular characters might act, a terrorist, a serial killer, a computer geek etc.… Sometimes I use real life to inspire locations in a book. In Double Danger there is a hidden passageway in a building in Manhattan. I came across just such a passage, one that was meant for servants use, in an old building and from there worked it into the story. The dog run and bridge where Nash first sees Annie again, is an exaggerated version of the one where we took Max, my cardigan welsh corgi. I also spoke with a climbing expert for the scene in the same book where they scale the side of the cliff. For Deadly Dance, I invented catacombs for my fictional Sunderland College. Much like many tunnels beneath colleges in the northeast used to get to class when it’s snowing outside. And of course Sunderland itself was based on the small liberal arts college I attended, Hendrix College in Arkansas.
What’s the most challenging part about writing romantic suspense?
I think the trickiest bit is always balancing the suspense and romance. And making certain that the two stories are integral to each other.
What tips do you have for writing a successful series?
Keep a story bible. It’s really hard to remember by the eighth book, that Nash hates computers. Or that one of the characters only drinks scotch. Not to mention backgrounds, physical descriptions, locations of buildings and so forth. I forgot once that a character in another series had a moustache in book one. Never did explain why he lost it for a little while toward the end of book two.
I also think it’s really important that all of the characters interact and have relationships with each other. So that you care about the group within the series as a whole, and not just when someone is the hero or heroine of that particular story. Sometimes those relationships will be surprising and sometimes they’re orchestrated, but in the end they need to be a part of each other’s lives in such a way that we care about all of them.
I attended RWA Nationals this year and noticed a lot of workshops geared toward the romantic suspense genre. What do you think’s the most important areas to study to prepare writing romantic suspense? How do you make your situations and action scenes so realistic?
I think the key with romantic suspense is pacing. If your story doesn’t build and the proper pace, and hit those all important cliffhangers that keep the pages turning, it’s very difficult to have a powerful story. And with romantic suspense you’re always jugging both a romance story and a suspense story and they have to be interwoven so that the two push each other forward toward that ultimate black moment.
Realism comes from three things I think. Life experience. Which doesn’t have to directly relate, but does impact the story. For instance in Just Breathe the inciting incident is a woman falling off of a train onto a dead body. Did this happen to me? No. But I was terrified of falling off of train steps in Europe when we lived there. I had a six month old baby, and the fear was that klutzy me would fall with my most precious cargo when getting off the train. From that fear came the creation of Chloe and her tumble onto the dead body. The second thing is research. When you don’t know, then you have to hit the books to find out. This can be as simple as finding out what the trees and birds and so forth are in a particular area to lend realism to the scene. Or something as dramatic as learning the chemistry involved in the use of frog poison. And what conceivably could happen if it were aerosolized. And third, it’s all about the writing. You can make anything believable if you write it well enough. I believe in Middle Earth. Don’t you?
What’s your favorite/most productive time of the day to write? Do you need a certain type of atmosphere to write (noise, silence)?
My favorite and most productive time to write is very late at night. I have always functioned better when all the chatter of the day is quiet, and there’s nothing but me and the computer, and at the right moment in the story maybe an iTunes playlist.
How do you spend your time when you’re not writing?
I spend a lot of time on marketing and other business aspects of my career. And in addition to that I travel to readers conventions, writers conventions, and I often speak about writing for various groups. For several years I taught a class on writing the romance at NYU. When not doing writing things, I am a television addict (at the moment Orange is the New Black and Orphan Black), I love to garden (we just bought a house built in 1802 with the most AMAZING gardens), and I love hanging out with my husband and my new cardigan welsh corgi (Gus).
Here are some rapid-fire questions.
Where’s the most interesting place you’ve lived or visited? Vienna, Austria (lived), Ceský Krumlov in the Czech Republic (visited)
Print book or digital? Digital these days (Old eyes)
Book or author who inspired you to become a writer: Mary Stewart
Favorite color: Either blue or green depends on the day and my mood.
Dream date (place and person): My husband, candlelight dinner, our screened in porch
Favorite movie: There are a thousand. But The Guns of Navarone is a fav.
Favorite ice cream flavor: Vanilla (I know…)
Italian or Chinese food: Italian!
Favorite season: Fall.
Jamie Dornan or Colin O’Donoghue? Colin, Colin, Colin (although I had to look them both up…)