This week we’ll be getting to know our 2016 Featured Keynote Speaker, HelenKay Dimon. If you attend the Put Your Heart in a Book Conference next month (October 14-15), you’ll also get a chance to attend her workshop, Writing with Action In Romantic Suspense and Every Other Genre.
For more information about the conference and to register, please go to www.njromancewriters.org.
You have so many awesome sounding books coming out this fall…I’m intrigued by the Games People Play series. Can you tell us how you came up with the premise for The Fixer and maybe a sneak peek of what we can expect in the series?
Thank you! I am so excited for this series. It grew out of my lifelong interest in true crime stories and my love of reading and writing romantic suspense. For years, I’ve written the undercover agent type. Then one day a very different idea popped into my head, one that combined my interests… and the Games People Play series was born.
Each book in the series has a cold case angle. The books are about people on the run, hiding in shadows. The heroes share a connection. Each was taken by a benefactor who helped focus his anger in productive ways. The men were in their early twenties back then and are now grown and experts in their respective fields, but their bond survives. But they aren’t a team in the traditional sense. There aren’t any explosions in these books. Most of the heroes and heroines aren’t weapons-trained. The series is much more character-driven and has been a joy to write. I hope readers love the books, too.
I see that you also write M/M romance…have you always had a desire to write M/M or did it evolve over time?
I’ve enjoyed reading male/male and LGBT romance for a long time. A few years ago I was offered a two book contract to write erotic romance for Berkley Heat. I knew what the first book would look like, but not the second. While writing the first – Mercy – I kept trying to think about the hero’s best friend as a potential hero for the second book, but my mind rebelled. I quickly realized he was gay and instead of being the next hero, he needed to be the star of a secondary romance in both books. In reality, the series turned into three single titles and a novella and Eli and Wade are in all of them.
A year later, I began writing a romantic suspense (undercover team) series for Avon, Bad Boys Undercover. A member of the undercover team is gay. A close family member who read the series asked if I’d ever consider writing that type of romantic suspense where a gay character wasn’t stuck as a secondary character. I loved the idea, so when Shauna Summers from Loveswept came looking for high-adrenaline romantic suspense with gay heroes, I jumped on it and started writing the Tough Love series. The first book in that series is Mr. and Mr. Smith.
How do you manage to juggle multiple publishers and the demands of each? Can you tell us about some of the challenges that your readers and other writers may not realize that you face?
Before becoming a romance writer, I was a trial lawyer. I juggled deadlines and different projects. That part of the law proved to be great practice for a writing career and learning about focus. Now, I treat writing as a full-time job and divide my days into actual writing time versus time for promo and other writing-related things I need to do. As for the books, I write one at a time. I concentrate on the one right in front of me and don’t let my mind wander to the deadlines stretching out after that one.
The one thing I wasn’t really aware of before I started writing several books a year was the stress that comes with writing one book on deadline while copyediting another and doing a final edit review on a third. That juggling is tough. Ten years in, I still have to take a deep breath and ruthlessly plan out a schedule to get all of those deadlines done when they land in the same week…and they always land in the same week.
Do you read in the genre you write in or do you avoid it as you’re writing?
I tend not to read in the genre I’m writing at that moment. When I write romantic suspense or contemporary romance, I often read nonfiction (these tend to be surviving-tragedies books, like Himalayan climbing books or lost-at-sea stories, etc.) and true crime, sometimes mysteries. I like to keep my characters as the only characters in my head as I write.
How long does it take you to write a book, first draft, that is?
It feels like forever but the truth is once the book is in my head I’m (usually) a fairly fast writer. Before that, I spend a lot of time thinking about the book and running through plot scenarios and the characters’ backgrounds, so it can feel all-encompassing. For those who like numbers, it takes me about two months to write a single title (approximately 85,000 words). The last two weeks of that I sleep very little and write non-stop. I wouldn’t recommend anyone try this.
What is your process for writing a book? For example, are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you start at page 1 and write your book sequentially or do you skip around? Do you start with your characters or the plot?
I start each book knowing the first scene. Many times that’s all I know. I let myself write, and as I do the story comes together. That’s when the dialogue starts running through my head and I can “see” the book. I’ll often sketch out the book at that point. By that I mean I set out a short list of what needs to happen when. But when it comes to the actual writing I’m very linear. I don’t jump around. The one exception is that sometimes I will write the very last chapter even though I’m not there in writing the book yet. I think it’s my way of feeding the hope that I might actually be done writing one day, because there are times when I wonder.
Do you have any interesting writing rituals or routines you have to follow to get into your work day?
The hardest part for me each day is sitting my butt in that chair and starting. One thing that helps me is never starting with a blank page. To make that happen, at the end of each writing day I write a scene ahead, using dialogue only – no thoughts, no feelings, no directions, no tags. Just dialogue – conversation in quotes. That way when I sit down each morning and revise what I’ve already written, I can immediately start writing forward after the revisions phase by reviewing that dialogue I wrote the night before.
In terms of process, I actually start every chapter this way. I let the dialogue flow then edit it (and edit and edit). Then comes the layering. It makes writing the chapter and fleshing it all out take a long time, but this seems to be the process I’ve developed over time.
Do you write multiple drafts or edit as you go, barely needing revisions when typing, The End?
People talk about first drafts and I get stumped. I write and revise as I go. It’s the way I get the book in my head. I go over and re-read and the characters and plot become clearer and I can smooth out the continuity. By the time I finish a book I’ve read it about a billion times but it’s clean and ready to send.
That’s part of the reason I can’t work with a critique partner. The book isn’t really done for me until it’s done, and I don’t want anyone seeing it until it’s full and right. Sometimes I have Jill Shalvis read a few chapters. That’s usually when I send the chapters to her in a “I’m worried this sucks!” panic. She reads and calms me down. Friends are great for that sort of thing.
When you are writing, who is in control? You or your characters?
I like to think I’m in control. I’m God in my writing universe and I get to decide what happens. But, admittedly, sometimes those characters do seem to take off on tangents I never expected.
What are you working on at this very moment?
I just finished the second book in the Games People Play series called The Enforcer. It has a brooding hero, a heroine with a secret that keeps her in hiding, colliding histories and backstories, a bit of suspense and a rich character-driven romance. The hero’s name is Matthias, which I misspelled throughout the entire book.
Having finished that, I’m switching to my Tough Love series, this is the gay romantic suspense series. The next book I’m writing in that is called Guarding Mr. Fine. Mr. Fine is a Consul General in Germany. The other hero is his bodyguard. I think of it as sex, lies and espionage. Writing it is so much fun.
What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned as an author?
The best advice I ever heard was from my first editor, Kate Duffy. She said, “this career is a marathon, not a sprint.” It’s the most important lesson in publishing and it’s easy to forget as the publishing world spins out of control, but I try to repeat it in my head when the days get extra hard.
Are you just traditionally published or are you a hybrid author?
I’m a hybrid author but the overwhelming majority of my books have been traditionally published so far. My self-publishing has been limited, but I love writing super sexy shorts. I have a self-published series of those called Sleeping With The Boss. Workplace romance is one of my favorite tropes. I just turn off the lawyer side of my brain and enjoy.
What can you tell us about traditional publishing that maybe we don’t know?
It doesn’t get easier. I know that sounds simple (and a bit dire), but I was one of those naïve folks who assumed you got published and you kept writing and the anxiety and feelings of not being good enough or fast enough and worries about the genre and sales, would decrease. They don’t. I’ve written more than forty books and I still spend at least some portion of every book wondering how I ever wrote a book before. I also worry about readers not liking my books, interest and contracts disappearing and my genre dying. I’m thinking if you go into this career knowing that those doubts and fears never fade and you just have to buckle in and keep pushing, you’ll be fine. So, learn from my mistakes.
Do you have an eReader? If so, which one? Do you prefer eReaders or handheld books?
I love all formats. I have a Kindle and also read on my iPad. There are so many authors and books I still buy in print, but I buy books off friends’ recommendations and Twitter recommendations all the time and those tend to be digital.
What makes a man attractive to you?
A good sense of humor and a great smile. There are a whole lot of physical things, like broad shoulders and a strong hands…and some others…but the ability to make a woman laugh and melt her with that smile lasts forever.
What are you reading now?
I just finished Playing Dead: A Journey Through The World Of Death Fraud by Elizabeth Greenwood, both for fun and as possible research for a book I may write in the future. For total enjoyment I read a great new romance, Love On My Mind by Tracey Livesay, which I totally enjoyed.
What is your favorite quote?
“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.” – James Baldwin
How long have you been writing, I know you switched from law, but when did you really start writing, even if it was only a hobby?
I started writing as a hobby about a year after an attorney in my office handed me three romances – The Bride by Julie Garwood, Perfect Partners by Jayne Ann Krentz and Daniel’s Bride by Linda Lael Miller. I read them, fell in love with the romance genre and started writing as a hobby. That was in 2001 or 2002 (I think). A year or two after that I became more serious and eventually sold my first novella in May, 2005.
Reading romance literally changed my life. I can’t say that often enough or loud enough. Even though I was an avid reader, I hadn’t thought about writing until I started reading romance, and I am forever grateful.
What’s your biggest dream?
To be honest, I’m living a dream. I am humbled by how lucky I’ve been. My husband is extremely supportive, which makes life easier. I’m in charge of my career, I do something I love and I never have to wear pantyhose again. That last part is pretty spectacular.
If you were a millionaire would you still write?
Definitely. Book ideas and bits of dialogue constantly run through my head (unless that sounds weird, then forget I said it). Now that I write I can’t imagine not writing. I’d probably be doing it from an office with a wall of windows overlooking the ocean and experiencing much less stress about career longevity, but I’d be writing.
Cat or dog person?
Both, actually. I was raised with dogs but when our last one suffered from separation anxiety, we got a cat to keep her company. We’ve since lost the dog (which still makes me weepy three years later) and have two cats. They basically run the house and let us live with them and pay the mortgage for them.
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: Purple
Favorite number: 5 (I have no idea why)
Favorite food: French fries
Favorite hair color on a hero? Black
Favorite eye color on a hero? Green
Favorite Actor: Good question….probably Ben Whishaw because I’ve been watching a lot of British television and movies lately, and he’s all over both
Favorite Actress: A tie between Viola Davis and Emily Blunt – I love strong women
Wine or liquor? I’m not really a drinker
Tea or coffee? Tea
Decaf or caffeinated? Always caffeinated
Boxers or briefs? Boxerbriefs
Chocolate or vanilla? Mango…but after that vanilla
Channing Tatum or Chris Hemsworth? I know you meant to say Chris Pratt
Thank you, HelenKay! We’re excited to have you as our Featured Keynote speaker Saturday morning and look forward to your workshop, Writing with Action In Romantic Suspense and Every Other Genre.
Want to meet HelenKay or attend her workshop? Make sure you check out the information on our conference at http://www.njromancewriters.org. Registration ends October 4th!