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Golden Leaf Spotlight on Hall of Fame Inductee: Holly Jacobs

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Welcome back! Today, we’re taking a break from sharing Golden Leaf finalist snippets to recognize our 2016 Golden Leaf Hall of Fame Inductee, Holly Jacobs. This achievement is awarded to an author who has won three times in the same category! We have the privilege of recognizing Holly at this years’ “Put Your Heart in a Book” Conference on October 14, 2016. I had a chance to chat with Holly. Below, you can read about how she balances writing and her busy family plus learn some of her hobbies. You can also get a glimpse into each of her award-winning Golden Leaf books. Enjoy!

Hi Holly. Congratulations on winning New Jersey Romance Writers’ Golden Leaf award three times in the Short hollyjacobslrgobx-220Contemporary category. It’s a wonderful testament to the success of your stories!

Two of your Golden Leaf winning books are part of your Perry Square series (Be My Baby and Once Upon a King) and the third is part of your Words of the Heart series (Carry Her Heart). What’s your favorite part each series?

So many parts are favorites.  Hmmm. My Perry Square series had a secondary character who popped up in each book. Pearly Gates is a fan favorite—and I’ll confess, she was one of mine, too.  She was the wise-woman of the series. However, her wise words were frequently hidden in crazy, circular stories.  Most of the time, she’d start talking in a book and I wouldn’t have a clue where the story was going. I was as surprised as the readers were when she reached a point.

My favorite part of Carry Her Heart?  I started my career writing romantic comedy and sweet humorous stories.  In recent years I’ve branched out and written books that I call Romance+.  Women’s fiction and romance stories.  I tried to coin the term Womance, but it never took off. LOL  My Words of the Heart Series are those kind of books.  My favorite part of the series is, well, their heart.  Each one is the heroine’s journey…and part of her journey is a romance.  I loved Ned, the hero of Carry Her Heart. He made me cry at the end of Carry Her Heart.  And my September release, Hold Her Heart, opens in his point of view. I cry every single time I read it.  It’s absurd.  I wrote the book.  I know it has a HEA.  And still, I cry.  When I can get so wrapped up in a character…well, that’s my favorite part. 

What’s the most challenging part about writing contemporary? How do you keep your ideas fresh?

Coming up with ideas is never a problem.  They’re everywhere.  In the news.  In a song.  In a random thought.  My problem is finding the time to write them all. 

That being said, I have themes that I’m attracted to.  Family.  That’s a huge one for me.  Looking at how families come together and what makes them work.  To be honest, Be My Baby had a baby bring a couple together and make a family (BTW, my hero, Mac was really named Larry in the books…so a shout-out to my editor’s brother, Larry who loves Taco Bell as much as me and inspired Mac’s love of them). Once Upon a King had three friends who had become so much more than friends…they were family.  And Carry Her Heart’s heroine was a teen mother who gave her baby up for adoption then built a life around that child she no longer had. That child was part of a family she knew nothing about.

Yes, each of those books (and so many more of my books) look at family, but all are (hopefully) looking at it from a fresh perspective.  I think that as we grow in our writing and get older, we are constantly looking at the world around us from a new point-of-view and that influences our writing and keeps it fresh.

What is your writing process? Do you plot a series at a time? Do you plot a book at a time?

I was a seat-of-the-pantser when I first started writing.  But as I started having more sales and contracts, I learned to write a synopsis and plot a story out.  Although, I do write very loose synopsis.  I like to leave myself wiggle room for unexpected turns.  Like Pearly’s stories in the Perry Square series. 

And frankly, most of my series are unintentional.  I write a book.  I fall in love with the characters, their town and their friends…and I want to know more. So I write another book, and then another…  That’s how most of my series are born.  That’s why there are eight Perry Square books.  And it’s why there are four Words of the Heart books (one more coming next year)! 

What’s your favorite/most productive time of the day to write? Do you need a certain type of atmosphere to write (noise, silence)?

Mornings.  I got this interview a half hour ago and I’m sipping coffee and working on it at 6:49 am.  I was working before that.  I love mornings!  After the house is quiet, I take the dogs on a quick walk, then sit down in the silence and work.  I love mornings!

With four kids and very specific times you need to write, do you ever get writer’s block and if so, how to you work through the process?

My kids are older now, so that’s made writing so much easier. I call my years of writing at night after they went to bed my vampire years.  LOL  And as a early bird by nature, they were hard on me.  Now that they’re older, things are easier.  Although, I’ve discovered that older children still require a lot of time and attention.

As for writer’s block…no.  If I get stuck on a story, I always have something else to play with.  But frankly, I’m almost always on a deadline, so I don’t have time for writer’s block.  And maybe that’s a good thing.

You have a seriously impressive career with 12 series and 47 books. What tips do you have for building a successful writing career? 

Why thank you for the compliment! I guess my biggest tip is…write.  I write every day.  I have since I decided I wanted to be a writer. It’s become as much a part of my life as my family, or my dogs, or the fact I like mornings and coffee.  It’s as much a part of my life as breathing.  I write.  It sounds simple, but sometimes it’s a challenge.  Even when the world goes crazy around me, I write.  Frankly, during the hardest times in my life, my writing has been a lifeline.  It’s a constant in a sea of chaos.

How do you spend your time when you’re not writing?

Well, since you asked…
I split all the wood for our fireplace, I weave baskets, I garden, I cook (and lately I’ve been doing videos called Cooks and Books that talk about both…well, cooking and books!), I antique, I do renovations, I read, I listen to music (I’m a huge Broadway fan…and I have tickets for Hamilton next year!!!), I walk the dogs, but most of my non-writing time revolves around my family.  Here’s the thing, I’m so lucky to be married to my best friend, and together we’ve raised our kids to be our other best friends!  I know I sound like one of those moms, but seriously, my kids are amazing!!

What are you working on now?

I’m almost done with a new Romance+ story.  I’ll confess, it’s made me cry more than once, too.  But it’s also made me laugh.  And it’s made me look at my life and the people in it in a new way.  As a writer, that’s all I can ask of a book.  And hopefully, it’s what my readers enjoy!

Here are some rapid-fire questions.

Where’s the most interesting place you’ve lived or visited?  Erie, PA…I live here and set books here because it’s such a great city!

Print book or digital?  I read any book format…I also read cereal boxes. I’m an equal opportunity reader!

Book or author who inspired you to become a writer: I grew up in books and can’t remember a time I didn’t read…so many, many authors and books inspired me!

Favorite color:  Orange.

Dream date (place and person):  Joss Whedon. I’m such a fan of his shows and dialogue. I’d love to spend an evening discussing dialogue.  It’s one of my favorite parts of writing.

Favorite movie: Hm, I just mentioned Joss, so I guess I’ll go with Serenity.  LOL

Favorite ice cream flavor: My favorite flavor is ice cream…what? You mean, ice cream isn’t a flavor? LOL  I eat pretty much any flavor.  Unless they make a Brussels sprout one. (See the next answer.) One of the quotes in These Three Words was “There’s never a bad time for ice cream.” It’s been a theme of my life!

Favorite food:  That’s like asking what’s my favorite book…I like food.  Almost all food.  I don’t like Brussels sprouts.  I keep trying to like them.  I’ve had them prepared a bunch of ways.  I just can’t.  Sorry, Brussels sprouts!

Favorite season: Fall! I love to decorate for it.  I love cooking fall foods.  I love apples and grapes and…  I love fall.

Tea or coffee?  Both! I love coffee in the morning, but I switch to tea in the afternoons.  I know, I’m complex.

Boxers or briefs?  Have you seen ever seen boxer briefs?  I’ll go with that as an answer!

Channing Tatum or Chris Hemsworth? They both seem like very nice boys, but can I say Sam Elliott?? 

Check out Holly’s Golden Leaf Short Contemporary winning books.

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2005 Golden Leaf winner, Short Contemporary

      “…don’t go falling in love with me. Even if I were looking for a relationship—which I’m not—but if I were, it wouldn’t be with you. You’re the kind of woman that wants the whole ball of wax. That’s the last thing I want. And then there’s the simple fact that we’d kill each other. So, get the stars out of your eyes.  I’m not the man for you.”

     Mia tried—after all, men had such fragile egos—so she tried to hold back. Truly she did.  But she couldn’t help it. 

     A loud chuckle escaped, just a small bark of laughter. 

     The baby gave a visible jump in Mac’s arms, but then snuffled in closer to his chest and went back to sleep.

     Mia tried to stifle the laughter, but it built and the pressure was too great.  Chuckles burst out and escalated until she was laughing so hard that tears streamed from her eyes.


 

2006 Golden Leaf winner, Short Contemporary

2006 Golden Leaf winner, Short Contemporary

    Cara knew that sometimes something was just too strong not to be, no matter how long it took. 

     Call it magic.

     Call it fate.

     Call it destiny.

     Call it love.

     Her eyes met Michael’s and he mouthed the words, I love you.

      Cara knew just what she planned to call it…

 


2015 Golden Leaf winner, Short Contemporary

2015 Golden Leaf winner, Short Contemporary

“I can see you thinking,” Ned said. “You’re running through a bunch of scenarios. What if we dated and it didn’t work out? Could we still be friends? What if we dated and it did work out? What then? What if . . .”

“Yes,” I admitted. “I don’t want to lose you.”

“Here’s something else I know from our walks and talks, and from reading your books . . . running through multiple scenarios is a big part of your profession. But maybe just this once, you don’t. Maybe you simply try a date with me and see how it goes.”

“What if I lose you in the process?” I asked. That was my true fear. I’d come to count on Ned in a way I didn’t count on anyone else. Not even Coop.

He pulled me close. I thought he might kiss me, but he didn’t. He simply held me and said, “Of all the scenarios that you can imagine, take that one off the table. You’re my friend. My best friend, truth be told. I think there could be more between us, but I’m absolutely certain there can’t be less.”

 

You can catch up with Holly at the Put Your Heart in a Book Conference later this month, where she’s also a finalist in the Golden Leaf Contemporary Mid-Length category. Hope to see you there!

 

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In the Mind of Terri Brisbin – 2016 PYHIAB Conference

This week we’ll be getting to know our 2016 Luncheon Keynote Speaker, Terri Brisbin. 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, Hooks and How to Use Them.

For more information about the conference and to register, please go to www.njromancewriters.org.

Welcome, Terri!

I remember you telling us at a meeting that your series Novels of the Stone Circles was a particularly special project for you. Can you tell us why and about the creation of the series?

My Stone Circles series was something that the cosmos sent to me! For months and months, I found books and Facebook posts and messages that drove me to the story of descendants of ancient Celtic gods who had the powers to save humanity from a terrible evil – but who did not know about those powers or how to use them. Signs for locations of the stories and the major characters came at me from all directions, including a book that fell on my head from a shelf that I still don’t remember buying! So, I never planned this series, some force told me this story and I’m writing it!

I see you have an anthology coming out in late September, Once Upon a Haunted Castle, can you tell us a bit about the project and how it came about?

I had done a boxed set of previously published works with Eliza Knight a year or so ago and she invited me to take part in a Celtic ghost anthology of original novellas. They would all be set in or around haunted Scottish castles. It sounded very interesting and a bit of a challenge so I said yes! Of course, finding out who the other authors are (Kathyrn LeVeque, Madeline Martin and our own Ruth Casie) made it more appealing.

I’ve visited the Isle of Skye several times and loved both Dunvegan Castle AND Duntulm Castle ruins (which I used in one of my Brava stories) so I had my haunted locations. With the Scottish clans always fighting each other, it wasn’t hard to come up with a conflict….and then the characters began talking to me. . . . UPON A MISTY SKYE is the novella that resulted from all that.

Why did you decide to write historical romance?

I’m not so sure I DECIDED to write historical romance so much as it was pre-destined that I would. I’ve always been drawn to history and it never occurred to me to write a contemporary. Well, it did occur to me and so I wrote several time travel romances – a great combination of historical and contemporary stories. But, the historical parts were always more interesting and more compelling to me…

Do you read in the genre you write in or do you avoid it as you’re writing?

I pretty much read ONLY historical romances, and a few paranormal romances and rarely some contemporary romances of some writer friends.

How much time do you spend researching for each book? Now that you have so many novels to your credit, has the research gotten easier?

I love the research and I get lost in it with every book. I do the majority of it before writing the first book in a new time or place and then look for specifics when writing more in that series. But, it’s always expanding and that’s where new story ideas come from! To me, the research hasn’t gotten easier, as such, but I have a great collection of source materials so I have more at hand now than when I began.

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’m a pantser BUT I have to create a story synopsis for selling and marketing purposes. Each story is different—some begin with characters (new or from other stories), some come from my research and some come plot first. I have a couple of fabulous brainstorming friends who help me flesh out any ideas and wrangle them into some form of workable stories.

Do you have any interesting writing rituals or routines you have to follow to get into your work day?

I am a procrastinator and tend to write the biggest part of the book in the last weeks leading up to my deadline. Then, I write 12-15 hours a day until it’s done. I used to write almost exclusively later at night but lately, it’s been during the daytime, too.

Do you write multiple drafts or edit as you go, barely needing revisions when typing, The End?

Yes! LOL! I write it once, cleaning up what I’ve written each day before moving on to write more. Sometimes my editors ask for revisions which I then go back and incorporate as needed.

When you are writing, who is in control? You or your characters?

My characters are – and they rarely share their information with me! It takes until page 120 or so before I see the story so I write scenes blindly, not really knowing why they’re there.

What are you working on at this very moment?

I am working on the next “A Highland Feuding” story which is the transition story from the Mackintosh Clan to the Cameron Clan.  Then, the first story centered on the Camerons will be next.

What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned as an author?

There are truly too many lessons learned to pick a ‘most valuable,’ but I have realized that you never understand the impression you’ve made on people when it happens. So many times, readers and others in the writing community will tell me about remembering something I said or did when we met. And good or bad, they remember it and me. So, what goes around comes around would be one of those lessons.

Are you just traditionally published or are you a hybrid author?

I’m a hybrid author – traditionally published with Harlequin and other publishers and also self-publishing my backlist books and some original stories, too.

Do you have an eReader? If so, which one? Do you prefer eReaders or handheld books?

For a long time, my brain could not read well or fast on digital screens so I resisted. Now, I have a Kindle and I’m learning to like it.  But I still prefer print books….

What makes a man attractive to you?

I like a man who is kind and honest and considerate of others and who has a great ass and nice thighs….!

What are you reading now?

I’m reading Kerrigan Byrne – a new-to-me author – whose Victorian Rebels series is FABULOUS – her newest one is THE HIGHLANDER. I’m also reading Madeline Hunter’s current – THE WICKED DUKE. And I have several others at-the-ready (all historical romances and a couple of research books).

What is your favorite quote?

Beg forgiveness, don’t ask permission!

How long have you been writing?

I’ve written most of my life – from short stories and poetry in junior high and high school to  professional articles in my life as a dental hygienist. I began writing fiction in the mid-90s.

If you were a millionaire would you still write?

If I did not, then I would not be a writer… Yes, I would because the stories are always there. (So are the voices…)

Cat or dog person?

Neither – I do not have the pet gene.

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 and turquoise

Favorite number: 16

Favorite food: potato chips

Favorite hair color on a hero? black

Favorite eye color on a hero?  green

Favorite Actor: Kevin Spacey

Favorite Actress: Meryl Streep

Wine or liquor?  Liquor

Tea or coffee?  TEA!! FOREVER!!

Decaf or caffeinated?  Yes!

Boxers or briefs?  Boxers

Chocolate or vanilla? Chocolate

Channing Tatum or Chris Hemsworth?  Chris Hemsworth

Thank you, Terri! We’re excited to have you as our Luncheon Keynote speaker Saturday and look forward to your workshop, Hooks and How to Use Them.

Want to meet Terri or attend her workshop? Make sure you check out the information on our conference at http://www.njromancewriters.org. Registration ends October 4th!

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In the Mind of Kathleen Gilles Seidel – 2016 PYHIAB Conference

This week we’ll be getting to know our 2016 Pre-conference Speaker, Kathleen Gilles Seidel. 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, The Wit and Wisdom of Jennifer Jennifer Enderlin.

For more information about the conference and to register, please go to www.njromancewriters.org.

Welcome, Kathleen!

As a veteran romance author, we have some questions about your views on the craft and business of romance writing…

Your Hometown Memories series are four couples in four different hometowns, correct? What gave you the idea for creating a series of couples in different hometowns? What is the theme that binds the four books?

Let me be honest. The “Hometown Memories” concept was a marketing gimmick. The four books were all published as single-title releases. What unites them is simply that I wrote them, and I write about the things I care about. Like hometowns.

When I went to re-release the books digitally, the publisher wanted to market them as a series because series sell so well. I felt that that was a deliberate ploy designed to mislead the reader. I was not going to do that. I owe readers way too much to try to trick them. So uniting the four books with a common theme was a compromise between the publisher and me.

Do you read in the genre you write in or do you avoid it as you’re writing?

Avoid. 

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 always try starting on page 1, and that never works. Nonetheless I try it every time, and it fails every time. You would think that after all this time I would have learned, but apparently not. 

Do you have any interesting writing rituals or routines you have to follow to get into your work day?

Interesting rituals? No. They aren’t interesting. The earlier in the day I start the better. If I can get an hour or so in before 8 AM, the whole day goes better. I also move around my house a lot. I can avoid my study for weeks, writing on the porch, in the dining room, on a card table in the living room. I don’t know what that is all about.

Do you write multiple drafts or edit as you go, barely needing revisions when typing, The End?

My metaphor for my process is a jigsaw puzzle. I create 1500 pieces and then throw out 1000 to get a 500-piece puzzle. Sometimes I have to use my fist to force the last pieces into the remaining openings. 

When you are writing, who is in control? You or your characters?

Of course it is me. The experience of having characters take over is another way of describing the workings of your own imagination. 

What are you working on at this very moment?

At this very moment? Answering your blog questions.

What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned as an author?

Never burn your bridges. Never make enemies. Never ever. You never know what lies ahead. Back in a previous century I had to buy my way out of a contract at NAL because the editor and I were struggling. My agent said when we started the process, “We are going to do this like ladies.” And we did. I then sold the books to Pocket. Years and years later that former NAL editor had a senior position at Pocket, and she generously gave me my rights to those books back so that I could release them digitally. 

Are you just traditionally published or are you a hybrid author?

Traditional with some backlist titles released through an independent publisher.

What can you tell us about traditional publishing that maybe we don’t know?

It used to be much easier. So much easier. I sold my first book to Harlequin in six days counting mailing time. 

But you didn’t want to know that, did you?

Do you have an eReader? If so, which one? Do you prefer eReaders or handheld books?

Kindle app on my iPad. The light on the screen keeps me awake at night so I should switch to the Kindle itself, but I don’t. 

I don’t value the physical artifact of a book. I don’t care about the binding, a pristine jacket, or an author’s signature. I care about the words and what happens in my brain when I read them. That’s all. That’s everything.                             

What makes a man attractive to you?

Being able to fix stuff. My late husband had no handyman skills. 

What are you reading now?

Lincoln’s Generals’ Wives by Candice Shy Hooper for one of my book clubs. It is a very well done history, not girl-on-girl erotica. And shame on you for thinking that.

What is your favorite quote?

Dorothy Parker to her editor upon missing a deadline. “I am too fucking busy, and vice-versa.” 

And I like the “whither thou goest” passage from the Book of Ruth. My kids say that is a sign of extreme co-dependency. 

How long have you been writing?

My first book was published in 1983.

What’s your biggest dream?

To have written (please note the tense of that infinitive) books that people treasure as much as the Harry Potters. 

If you were a millionaire would you still write?

I am, and I do.

Cat or dog person?

Dog

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:  coral

Favorite number: seven

Favorite food: vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup

Favorite hair color on a hero? dark

Favorite eye color on a hero?  coppery

Favorite Actor:  Alan Rickman

Favorite Actress:  Rose Leslie (because I am currently bingeing on Game of Thrones)

Wine or liquor? wine

Tea or coffee?   coffee

Decaf or caffeinated?  caffeinated

Boxers or briefs?  briefs

Chocolate or vanilla?  vanilla

Channing Tatum or Chris Hemsworth?  Bruce Springsteen

Thank you, Kathleen! We look forward to your Pre-Conference Workshop – “The Goddess in Your Heroine”

Want to meet Kathleen or attend her workshop? Make sure you check out the information on our conference at http://www.njromancewriters.org. Registration ends October 4th!

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In the Mind of HelenKay Dimon – 2016 PYHIAB Conference

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.

Welcome, HelenKay!

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!

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In the Mind of Julia Quinn – 2015 PYHIAB Conference

Today, we’re taking a break from the Golden Leaf finalist excerpts to hear from Julia Quinn, who will be our special presentation speaker at the PYHIAB conference. We spent a little timing talking with Julia and look forward to a close-up chat with her next month.

Welcome, Julia!

How did you come up with the idea for “THE SECRETS OF SIR RICHARD KENWORTHY”?

It’s difficult to answer this without a big fat spoiler. Suffice it to say I wanted to explore what happens when good people make bad decisions (but for good reasons).

What was it about your book that made your editor want to buy it?

To be completely honest, it’s probably because it was the 24th novel in a row we’d worked on together.

How much research did you conduct for “ THE SECRETS OF SIR RICHARD KENWORTHY ” and what was the most interesting thing you did while conducting your research? 

I don’t generally need to do a whole lot of research before I start writing–a bit about the locale, usually. I’ve written enough novels set in early 19th century Britain that I know the social mores and customs. Most of my research comes up as I’m writing. For example, I had one book in which the hero made a joke about Little Bo Peep. Then it occurred to me–what is the earliest known reference for Little Bo Peep? Could I use it in a book set in 1825? (Turns out it was Shakespeare, so I was okay.) Another time I had the hero and heroine looking at a book about paintings. I’d written several pages before I realized I had no idea what might constitute an art book during regency times. Modern art books are full of high-res photographs; what sort of reproduction might my characters be able to see? Then, for some reason I cannot recall, it became incredibly important to me to know if the hero could ever have seen this painting in real life. So I had to research the provenance. Who owned this painting during the years that the hero was on the Continent? Was it on display somewhere?

I spent at least three hours looking for this information, and let me tell you, that was three hours I did not have so close to deadline. The truth is, neither of these details (the painting’s provenance; Little Bo Peep) were necessary to the overall plot of the book. I could have eliminated either of them and it would have held up just fine. But I like to think that these sorts of details, especially in aggregation, help to build a richer fictional world.

Why did you decide to write romantic mystery?

I don’t know that I’d call it a mystery, exactly, although it definitely has the biggest “big secret” I’ve ever written. I suppose I could have written it so that the reader knew what Richard was up to all along, but I liked the idea of keeping them in the dark and allowing them to fall in love with him along with Iris.

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’m a bit of both. I write a pretty detailed outline, but it’s very heavy on characterization. And while I generally follow most of the outline, I have been known to include the sentence: “Stuff happens.” (Which lends itself to a bit of pantsing.) I usually start and page 1 and move forward from there, but I do occasionally jump forward and write a scene out of order.

Do you write multiple drafts or barely need revisions when typing, The End?

I edit as I go along, constantly backtracking to look over what I wrote the previous couple of days. A few times during the process I’ll go back to the beginning and do a read-through/edit, in part because I need to remember everything I did up to that point. As a result, my first draft is my only draft, and when I’m done I’m done.

What books can we expect to see in the near future?

I’m working on a new series, which will be led off next spring with Because of Miss Bridgerton.

Do you have an ebook reader? If so, which one?

Lately I’ve been using Scribd on both my laptop and iPhone. It’s a great deal. Unlimited books for $8.99/month. They are in the process of reducing their inventory of romance novels, however, because romance readers turned out to be so prolific that they were losing money. But there are still more than enough books on the site to make my monthly fee worth it.

What makes a man attractive to you?

Intelligence and humor. Case in point: my celebrity crush is Jon Stewart.

What is the most interesting thing you’ve ever done?

I went on the game show The Weakest Link and won. ($79,000!)

How long have you been writing?

I sold my first book in 1994. I had been writing seriously for two years before that.

What comes first—characters or the plot?

Characters. 100%.

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: Blue

Favorite number: 13

Favorite Actor: Matt Damon

Favorite Actress: Meryl Streep

Wine or liquor? Cocktail

Tea or coffee? Coffee

Decaf or caffeinated? Caffeinated

Boxers or briefs? Boxer briefs!

Chocolate or vanilla? strawberry

Donald Duck or Goofy?  Neither

Frozen (the movie) or Tangled? Tangled

Channing Tatum or Johnny Depp? Depp

Want to meet Julia and many fabulous authors? Make sure you check out the information on our conference at http://www.njromancewriters.org. Registration ends October 4th!

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In the Mind of Beth Ciotta – 2015 PYHIAB Conference

This week we’ll be getting to know our 2015 luncheon speaker, NJ Romance Writer’s very own Beth Ciotta. If you attend our conference next month, you’ll also get a chance to attend her workshop, Shutting Out the News; Letting in the Muse.

For more information about the conference and to register, please go to www.njromancewriters.org.

Welcome, Beth!

How did you come up with the idea for “MARRY POPPINS”?

Spontaneous inspiration! I work part time at my local library and one day a patron approached the circulation desk with a copy of P.L. Travers’ Mary Poppins. Just handling that book makes me smile and for whatever reason, in that moment, I thought: Marry Poppins. A play on words that sparked an idea involving a nanny, a marriage of convenience, and a spoonful of magic. At the time I was neck-deep in writing two different series, so I filed the idea away with a bazillion others.

A year later, I was in the position to explore a new concept and Marry Poppins came to mind. My brain revved and soon after IMPOSSIBLE DREAM, a modern-day fairy tale series, was born. Marry Poppins ended up being the third tale. I launched the series last fall with Beauty & the Biker.

What was it about your book that made your editor want to buy it?

Because I decided to bring IMPOSSIBLE DREAM to life as an indie project, the only person I needed to enchant and excite was me (and readers!). That was a lovely feeling indeed. Since I already had a strong fan base with my small town contemporaries, I wanted to create something that would appeal to those readers while also indulging my love of magical happily-ever-afters. Readers have described these stories as “feel good” reads which makes this dreamer very happy.

Why did you decide to write romantic mystery?

Ah. This question refers to future projects! I have this problem. I’m a creative spaz. I can’t stick to one sub-genre and now I’m inspired to broaden my horizons even more. I have a partially written story that has made the rounds in NYC twice now. A lot of interest, but no takers for various reasons. It’s not a straight ahead romance. In fact it’s not a straight ahead anything. It’s a genre-bender—a romantic fantasy mystery—and for the life of me I cannot stick that story in a drawer. It’s been three years since I wrote the first draft of that proposal and I still get jazzed every time I think about it. That’s very telling to me and I’ve decided now is the perfect time for me to explore new worlds. I’m going Indie with this particular project. Meanwhile I have another romantic fantasy mystery with my agent and another proposal in the making. In a perfect world, one of these will sell to a traditional publisher and I’ll be a hybrid author in yet another genre. Bottom line, it’s about personal and creative growth.

What is your process for writing a book? For example, are you a plotter or a pantzer? 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’m a mixed breed. Part plotter/part pantzer. I always start with page one and I always write sequentially. I’ve tried skipping around. That doesn’t work for me. I’m also unable to put a question mark in place of something or to highlight things like DESCRIBE LATER and move on. I need to know the research and descriptive aspects now because everything I write leads me to the next sentence, the next scene. One bit of research could spark an epiphany. As for characters or plot… those two things generally come to me hand in hand.

Do you write multiple drafts or barely need revisions when typing, The End?

I write in layers. I can’t move forward until the scene or chapter I’m writing clicks. Once it clicks, I move on. The next day I go back and read what I wrote and, with a fresh eye, I polish or embellish and then move on to new material. I tend to go back and layer more and more in the first half of the book. The second half of the book tends to write itself.

When you are writing, who is in control? You or your characters?

The characters. I don’t care if I have a smoking ten-page synopsis that sings, while I’m writing the characters always take over and quite often steer the story in very different directions. I’ve had numerous “a-ha” moments as I’m typing. A plot twist or an epiphany via something the character did or said on the fly. For me, that is the ultimate rush.

What books can we expect to see in the near future?

Two more books in the IMPOSSIBLE DREAM series, a contemporary romance in Wanderlust (an anthology with Erin McCarthy, Kathy Love, and Elle J Rossi), and Loving a Legend, the final book in my historical western series, PEACEMAKERS: OLD WEST. After that I’ll shift to the romantic mysteries. That’s the plan anyway.

What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned as an author?

Perseverance

Do you have an ebook reader? If so, which one?

I own a Kindle Fire. I never thought I’d say this, but I am addicted to digital books.

What makes a man attractive to you?

A sense of humor and a big heart.

What are you reading now?

Dream More by Dolly Parton (motivational non-fiction) and Wicked Appetite by Janet Evanovich

What is your favorite quote?

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”—C.S. Lewis

 How long have you been writing?

I was a late starter. Twenty-two years.

What’s your biggest dream?

To write full time… while living in Canterbury, England or Salem, Massachusetts.

If you were a millionaire would you still write?

Absolutely.

Cat or dog person?

Both. Although if you follow me on Facebook you’ll see that I’m obsessed with my dogs.

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: Pink. Or purple. Except when it comes to clothes then black.

Favorite number: 18

Favorite Actor: Cary Grant

Favorite Actress: Sandra Bullock

Wine or liquor? Wine

Tea or coffee? COFFEE!!!

Decaf or caffeinated? Seriously?

Boxers or briefs? Neither. I wear… Oh! You mean on him. Briefs

Chocolate or vanilla? Chocolate

Donald Duck or Goofy? Goofy

Frozen (the movie) or Tangled? Tangled

Channing Tatum or Johnny Depp? Depp

 Want to meet Beth or attend her workshop? Make sure you check out the information on our conference at http://www.njromancewriters.org. Registration ends October 4th!

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