Imagine my excitement when I read He Kills Me, He Kills Me Not by Lena Diaz right after we cooked up the idea of Femme Stalking. Not only is this book fantastic romantic suspense, but also, Lena’s Nursery Rhyme series is published by Avon Impulse—a digital-first imprint that unpublished-me really has her eye on! Good news for our readers, too: Lena is offering a giveaway—a digital copy for Nook or Kindle of both He Kills Me, He Kills Me Not and Undercover Twin. Simply leave a comment, and you are entered!
Jenna Blue: Welcome, Lena, and thanks for visiting! Let’s cut straight to that fan girl thing. He Kills Me, He Kills Me Not, is followed by Simon Says Die, and Ashes, Ashes, They All Fall Dead, creating a series. The nursery rhyme angle coupled with serial killer villains is brilliantly high-concept, not to mention creepy! How did you come up with it? Did the unique angle help you sell the series?
Lena Diaz: Jenna, thanks so much for having me on today and for your kind words about He Kills Me, He Kills Me Not. Fingers crossed for your Avon Impulse dreams. It’s an awesome line and HarperCollins is fabulous to its authors. As for your question, I wish I could say I’d come up with this as a series concept from the beginning, but I didn’t. When I wrote the first book, I sold it as stand-alone and didn’t envision a series. Then reader mail and reviews clamored for Pierce and Madison’s story (minor characters from the first book), so I pitched a second book titled The Widow’s Husband. Avon liked the story, but not the title. So I came up with Simon Says Die to make it similar to the first title. They loved it! The light bulb went on while writing SSD. I realized I might have the makings of a series. So I created the Buchanan family, with lots of hot, alpha brothers who could potentially each have their own book someday. The creepy “Nursery Rhyme Series” was born. I stumbled and bumbled my way into this series and am so glad I did. I’m having the best time writing these books and am totally in love with the Buchanan men
JB: Often I feel romance heroines are too perfect, strong, and resilient, so I loved that Amanda Stockton, the heroine in He Kills Me, He Kills Me Not, is still really struggling a few years after surviving a traumatic abduction. She felt incredibly real to me. Did you receive any pushback from your editor or early readers on this?
LD: I’m so glad Amanda felt real to you. I really struggled trying to make her reactions believable, because I didn’t want her to be a wimp. But I also didn’t think it was realistic for a woman who had been through her harrowing experience to be kickass and unaffected like so many RS heroines are these days. My editor understood what I was trying to accomplish with Amanda and gave me wonderful advice on how to strengthen her arc, how to show her growth from victim to victor within the span of this book. I feel very happy with how she turned out. She’s one of my favorite characters so far.
JB: As a RS author myself, it’s always a challenge to make sure I get it right, whether “it” is police procedure or crime scene technique or perspective. Are you one of the lucky ones who has a family full of law enforcement types at your disposal? Or do you just log hours researching, and if so, how do you go about it?
LD: I applaud you for working hard to get the facts straight. I think that really strengthens a story, when specific police or CSI details are woven in. I confess that I do have a brother-in-law who is a police officer. I asked him a ridiculous amount of questions while writing my first book (which is why I thanked him in the acknowledgments.) But after that experience, I knew I needed to beef up my own knowledge to continue on in RS. I basically took a crash course in books, workshops, and the internet to increase my knowledge of police procedure. I joined a crime scene writer loop, which has been invaluable. And I’m taking advantage of tours whenever I can, such as the RWA KOD Chapter’s tour of the LAPD a few years ago. I have some excellent books that I rely on, like Police Procedure & Investigation by Lee Lofland. But I admit that Google is definitely my friend.
JB: How did you land with Avon Impulse? And how has the experience with a digital-first imprint been? (Yes, my ears are perking up here!)
LD: He Kills Me, He Kills Me Not was a Golden Heart finalist in 2010, and essentially landed me my agent. Because the romantic suspense market was so incredibly tight back then (and still is, but is getting better), my agent wasn’t sure she could sell me as a debut RS author in single-title. She encouraged me to cut HKMHKMN to category length and submit to Harlequin Intrigue. Honestly, I’d never considered writing category before but it sounded really appealing so I gave it a try. Since I wasn’t a big reader of category, I missed the mark a bit with my first attempt and was rejected, as I should have been. So my agent and I went back to shopping the single title version of the book. We had lots of interest, and lots of rejections (sigh). Then I saw a notice about a new eBook line, Avon Impulse, that would be opening up soon. I called my agent to ask her about Impulse and she laughed and told me she’d already been talking to one of their editors about me. It was fate! Just a few weeks later Impulse bought me. Honestly, I think it was more luck and good timing than anything else. Yes, I believe my manuscript was solid. But Avon was launching a new line and needed a variety of genres represented, and I just happened to be one of the first submitting an RS when they needed one. Wow—that was a long answer. Sorry. And I didn’t even address my experience working for a digital-first imprint. I’ll keep it short—it was awful in the beginning because of all the growing pains of being one of the first authors in a new line. But Avon moved mountains to hire the right people and gain the expertise to market digitally and they are now the BEST at this game, hands down. I LOVE writing for them. My books do really well, and have been sold in print to Germany, Norway, and Turkey. I highly recommend Avon Impulse!
JB: You also have a new release with Harlequin Intrigue, Undercover Twin, and appear to publish regularly with them. Busy lady! Because I always hope for some magic solution myself, I have to ask: how do you manage both commitments among, well, life!?
LD: People ask me this all the time and I wish I knew the answer! I am so incredibly blessed. Since my first contract in April of 2011 to now, I have contracted 16 books. When I look at that number, and I look at my writing schedule and deadlines, I get a little light-headed. It’s wonderful to be in this position, writing for two equally wonderful houses with so many opportunities. But it is EXTREMELY difficult to keep both houses happy and feeling like I’m giving them the attention they each deserve. I guess what helps me stay on top of it is sticking to a schedule more than anything else. Excel is my friend. I calculate how many words a day I have to write and have a pie chart that shows me my progress every day on whatever book I’m working on at the time. Because I have so many deadlines, so close together, I can’t afford to veer very far from my plans every day. Do I have a life other than writing? Honestly? Not too much. Not right now. I’m trying to build a career and am putting everything I have into it. Hopefully I can slow down a bit in a couple of years. Thankfully my children are grown and both in college or I couldn’t keep up with the schedule I have. And my husband is incredibly supportive and understanding. Every once in a while I schedule a night away in a hotel on the beach with my hubby just to shut out the world and have some “us” time. It’s only a day here and there, but it keeps both of us going while I’m working so hard to build a foundation for my writing career.
JB: Thank you, Lena, for so graciously agreeing to be my first Femme Stalk. Wishing you continued success—I, for one, will be avidly following along!
LD: Thanks so much for inviting me to be on your blog, Jenna. These were great questions! And good luck with your Avon Impulse dreams. I hope to welcome you to the HarperCollins family some day!
Find Lena Diaz online at: www.lenadiaz.com