Femme Stalking: Virginia Kantra

Femme Stalking {noun} The act of stalking favorite authors until they agree to stop by the blog and let us go all fan girl on them.

FemmeStalkingLOGO_Trim_FinalWhen we created the idea of Femme Stalking, I knew right away I wanted to take the opportunity to interview Virginia Kantra. I am beyond excited to have her as a guest on the Violet Femmes today. Getting to know Virginia a bit better has been a true fan girl dream come true. As a longtime fan of Virginia’s writing, I have stalked her at writing conferences, and via social media, so an official Femme Stalking now makes the experience complete. At the end of the interview, please enter the Rafflecopter for a chance to win a digital copy of one of Virginia’s Dare Island Novels of your choice and/or an audiobook from the same series.

RoseAnn DeFranco: Virginia, welcome and thank you for being here! I just finished reading Carolina Blues, your new release in the sexy, heartwarming Dare Island series. I have so many questions for you about the series, Dare Island itself, and your writing career, so let’s dive in!

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer, and when did you actually start writing? Can you share a little bit with us about your path to published? How long were you writing before your first sale?

Virginia Kantra: Thank you so much! (And I never thought of it as stalking…More like catching up.)

I’ve been writing all my life. I scribbled fairytales in middle school and actually started writing YA fantasy while I was an English major in college—long, involved epics I wrote in longhand and typed on a typewriter. But it wasn’t until the youngest of our three children started kindergarten that I began writing seriously for publication. At my husband’s urging, I joined Romance Writers of America in 1995 and went to my first conference.  Wow. That was eye-opening. It took me four years and five manuscripts before I finally sold. But four of those manuscripts were Golden Heart nominees and were eventually published.

RD: Wow. FOUR GH nods? We have our own GH winner here, Joanna Shupe. Many of our followers are young writers. What is the best piece of advice given to you early in your career and by whom?

VK: Like most of life, writing is all about showing up. I actually have a quote by Calvin Coolidge, of all people, posted by my computer: “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

RD: With a Romance Writers of America’s RITA Award, eight RITA nominations, and two National Readers’ Choice Awards, you are a well decorated writer who has transitioned from Romantic Suspense to Paranormal Romance to Contemporary Romance throughout your career. Since I have read nearly all your books, I can say your voice remains distinctive and authentically you regardless of genre. I am currently exploring a career in Contemporary Romance and Young Adult romance, so I’m interested to know, what do you think is the key to remaining true to your voice across genres?

VK: Aw, thank you! Two things comprise voice: what you have to say and how you’re going to say it. The most important part of defining and refining your voice is to identify that core message, that experience you can deliver, that you want to deliver, again and again.  And then you choose stories and characters that let you express your central truth in the details and images that capture your imagination.

What makes your personal landscape unique?

I’m into family dynamics, the ways we struggle for intimacy and control. But I came to reading through fairy tales.  The ordinary person, the shepherd’s son or the children on the train from London, who is forced by extraordinary circumstances to do extraordinary things. That worked for my paranormal series, the children of the sea, but it’s an equally important part of my contemporary romance where the hero or heroine’s life or sense of self is overturned by circumstances: a secret baby, the loss of a parent or a job, the return of an ex-lover.

RD: Now on to Dare Island! I am in love with your island. I have enjoyed extensive trips there right from the comfort of my own sofa. What was your inspiration for this fictitious island? And, yes, I know it’s fictitious because it can’t be found on Google maps. I checked. 

VK: Well, on my map, Dare Island is located where you would find real life Portsmouth Island, a (now abandoned) fishing and shipping village in North Carolina’s Outer Banks.  But you can find bits and pieces of it up and down the barrier islands.

RD: Many years ago you gave a workshop at a monthly NJRW meeting on Point of View (POV). It happened to be one of the first meetings I attended. In a way, you really motivated me to continue writing by imparting some wonderful advise and writing tools. In the workshop, you included a section on your guide to “Guy-Speak.” All your heroes are hot and REAL. I fell in love with Jack in Carolina Blues. Many romance writers are women and find writing from the Male POV difficult, yet your men are honest and grab-me-a-fan male. What is the single best piece of advice you can offer for creating an authentic Male POV?

VK: Ah, Jack…I’m not allowed to play favorites with my heroes, but I am married to my own real life Italian Guy, so Jack Rossi was wonderful to write.

The trick to writing male POV is the trick of any writing. Tell the truth. Ask yourself if any man you know would actually say whatever it is you have your hero thinking. My Guide to Guy-Speak is available on-line here if anyone wants to check it out.

http://virginiakantra.com/guyspeak.html

http://virginiakantra.com/guyspeak2.html

Carolina BluesRD: The first three Dare Island books focus on the Fletcher family offspring starting with Matt in Carolina Man. They are very family centric stories. I feared when you ran out of single Fletchers, the series could come to an end. The introduction of the delicious Jack Rossi, a former Philadelphia Police Officer, in Carolina Man left me with hope. In Carolina Blues, you focused on Jack and Lauren Patterson, a woman who famously became knows as Survivor Girl for having intervened during a bank robbery. Both have tortured pasts. I was transfixed watching them lower their walls and fall in love. Both are newcomers to the island. What inspired you to write this story?

VK: The appeal of writing a series is creating a place you want to return to again and again. I originally planned to conclude Dare Island after Taylor’s (Luke Fletcher’s daughter) storyline was resolved. But I simply wasn’t ready to leave this world behind.

Focusing on island newcomers gives me a chance to play in the same sandbox but allows new readers, who may just be discovering the series, a chance to get to know the island along with the characters.

Plus…Jack. He’s pretty much the reason I wrote this book.

RD: I discovered the same thing when I wrote my Brothers of Audubon Springs series. I didn’t want to leave the town. I’m so happy you decided to stay on Dare Island. I love your previous work, but there is something very special about this island.

The writing process varies writer to writer. Every time I think I’ve got my process nailed down, it changes. Could you share a bit about your process? How much has it changed over time? What type of prep work do you do before getting down to the business of writing? From there, do you consider yourself a plotter or pantser?

VK: You have to go with what works. And what works for you can definitely change from story to story or over time. I’m very organic. After I’ve got two characters in mind and a chapter or so written, I wander around the house for months mumbling and making notes. I do try to think up plot points that will force the characters to change and grow, events that will challenge them or their relationship.

Sooner or later—usually later—the story starts to snowball as the characters make choices that force the action in one direction. And then there’s this avalanche fueled by panic and caffeine at the end of every book. That makes me a pantser, right?

RD: Thank you! I am  forever going to carry the image of you on caffeine, careening to the end, when my own panic sets in on a book!

As someone who writes Contemporary Romance in addition to Young Adult romance, it has not escaped my notice that you have a teen love story evolving in the background of the first four Dare Island novels between Josh Fletcher and Thalia. Do you have plans to ever write their story, and if so, would you try your hand at a Young Adult Novel, or keep your readers waiting until they are well into their twenties and ready to settle down?

VK: I love Josh and Thalia, and I’ve really enjoyed their relationship as teens. But they’ll have to be all grown up before they can really be together and find their Happily Ever After.

RD: I’ll be looking for their book when they do! One more reader question. What is the story with Meg and Sam? I expected them to have married, or at least be in the throes of planning a wedding by now, but two books later following their story, Carolina Girl, and they are still engaged, and not much was mentioned regarding their future in Carolina Blues. Will Meg walk down the aisle soon?

VK: Oh, you noticed! I wondered if anyone had picked up on that. I can’t say much right now, but I’ve got some ideas for Carolina Dreaming. 🙂

RD: An online presence in this social media era is a must for authors. So many of us struggle with this, but you seem to handle the balance between professional and personal on Face Book with ease. Did this evolve naturally over time, and how do Italian Guy, Boy Wonder, and the others feel about being part of your presence?

VK: I asked Italian Guy this question, and he laughed and said he was resigned to my stealing all his best lines. Which is so not true. I always feel as if he gets the punch line in our little on-line dialogues. Because, you know, they’re taken from life.

I do think it’s important to be authentic in what you write, even Facebook posts. So I’m pretty honest. But of course you have to protect privacy as well. This was a bigger issue when our kids (Only Daughter, Grad School Guy, and Boy Wonder) were younger. Now that they’re adults, they do sometimes comment on or share my posts, which is lovely. But I think how much they share should be under their control.

RD: I loved the sneak peak of Carolina Dreaming at the end of Carolina Blues. How long do we have to wait to read the next Dare Island novel?

VK: That makes me happy. Thank you! I think this one has the potential to be really good. Carolina Dreaming is scheduled for early 2016. But next July, I do have a nice long Dare Island novella coming out in the Ask Me Why anthology from Berkley. It’s the story of waitress and single mom Cynthie Lodge and sexy scientist Max Lewis. (My first nerd hero! Hooray!)

RD: Oh! I can’t wait to read your nerd hero! This is something I’m exploring a bit in my new contemporary series. 

I had such a great time talking with Virginia this week. You can learn more about Virginia and her stories by going to http://www.virginiakantra.com

Writers…when you see Virginia’s name listed as a speaker at a conference, I highly recommend any of her workshops. Readers…you really don’t want to miss this Dare Island series! Take a moment to enter the RaffleCopter drawing below. Because I think everyone should read this series I’m giving away one digital copy of a Dare Island book of your choice. Virginia has graciously offered to sweeten the pot with an audiobook as well! Winners will be announced next week.

  a Rafflecopter giveaway

Have a great day!

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Our Newest Violet Femme: Tina Gabrielle

I’m so pleased to introduce our newest Femme, Tina Gabrielle, a historical romance author who has published with Kensington and is now contracted with Entangled. Tina, as one of my first NJRW friends, I wish you a warm welcome! Let’s help our readers get to know you.

Original Artwork A Perfect ScandalJenna Blue: When did you fall in love with romance? Did you always know you’d end up writing?

Tina Gabrielle: First I’d like to thank the Femmes for inviting me to join them. It is an honor, and I’m happy to have such good friends!

I’ve been an avid reader since I was a young teen, but I didn’t start out as a good reader. English was my second language, and I grew up in a very ethnic Armenian household. My mother spoke four languages, and I remember starting kindergarten speaking very little English. It was a challenge! All through grade school I struggled with reading and writing, and I vividly recall being pulled out for speech therapy. It wasn’t until I was a teenager and our family took a summer vacation in the Poconos that I discovered a love for books. I was the youngest of three sisters and my oldest sister had a summer romance with another vacationing teen and my middle sister had a fling with one of the waiters. My parents were out with friends, and I was left alone in the hotel room. I was bored and picked up my sister’s historical romance, a spicy western. I was hooked! Thereafter, I started reading every romance (and popular fiction novel) I could find in my local library. I was too young to be reading some of these romances by today’s standards. My family had no idea what I was reading, they were just glad I was reading.

Years later, I started writing my own stories. I wrote my first book when I was sixteen. I remember typing furiously on the family computer, only to get frustrated when I was interrupted by one of my sisters. I thought the book was the greatest ever written, a Jackie Collin’s spin off, and believed it was my ticket to instant fame. How little did I know!
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The Winner of Lena Diaz’s book giveaway is….

Thanks to all of you who stopped by to visit my first Femme Stalking guest: Lena Diaz. And an extra thank you to those who took the time to comment. The Violet Femmes love hearing from you.

The winner of He Kills Me, He Kills Me Not and Undercover Twin is….

bellwriter!

Congratulations, Donnell! You can expect an email from me shortly. Best,

Jenna Blue

Femme Stalking: Lena Diaz

Femme Stalking {noun} The act of stalking favorite authors until they agree to stop by the blog and let us go all fan girl on them.FemmeStalkingLOGO_Trim_Final

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 HeKillsMeHeKillsMeNot High Res Cover

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?
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Chat and Giveaway from RoseAnn DeFranco

This week, the Femmes are happy to celebrate the release of our very own RoseAnn DeFranco’s debut novel, RETURN TO AUDUBON SPRINGS. It’s a fun read that will have you laughing out loud. It’s available now as a Kindle exclusive from The Wild Rose Press. It will be available world-wide January 3, 2014.

ReturntoAudubonSprings_8071_750 VF: Congratulations, RoseAnn, on the release of your first novel, RETURN TO AUDUBON SPRINGS. I enjoyed the characters and their story. What are 3 of the most important qualities of Rafe and Emma?

RD: Thank you for interviewing me, Maria. It was fun answering your questions and sharing more about my book. Rafe and Emma are true soul mates, having forged a special friendship in childhood on the beach over summer vacations in his home town. That friendship bloomed into love in their teens which they kept on simmer for a long time. There is a class distinction, something Rafe feels more strongly than Emma. Her family is dripping in money and he comes from a solid working class family. They are stubborn and will never be happy until they learn to set aside pride.

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A Chat + Giveaway With Historical Author Diana Quincy

This week, the Femmes are happy to welcome debut Historical author Diana Quincy to the blog. Not only is she incredibly talented, Diana is smart, generous, and hilarious. Her first novel, SEDUCING CHARLOTTE, has just been released with Entangled Publishing.

VF: Give us three words that describe SEDUCING CHARLOTTE. Seducing-Charlotte-Cover-200x300

DQ: Sexy, smart and surprising. (At least I hope that’s what readers will think!)

VF: How did you get the idea for the story? 

DQ: I was doing research for another project when I stumbled onto information about the Luddite uprisings. For those readers who don’t know, the concept originated with a workers’ rebellion which began in Nottinghamshire, England, in 1811, when desperate, unemployed workers took to breaking into factories at night to wreck the machines which had stolen their livelihoods.I was fascinated to read that the machine breakers were led by the elusive Ned Ludd, a man who may or may not have been fictional. That sparked the idea of a story about machine breakers and placing my hero and heroine on opposite sides of the conflict. 
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Author Tina Gabrielle shares the romance novel that changed her life

The Femmes are pleased to welcome author Tina Gabrielle to our blog today. Tina is a member of Romance Writers of America, NJ Romance Writers, and Liberty State Fiction Writers. Today, she’ll share the author and book that influenced her early love of romance reading and writing.

Tina Gabrielle, an award-winning author, is an attorney and former mechanical engineer whose love of reading for pleasure helped her get through years of academia. After multi-publishing for a prestigious Law Journal, she fulfilled her dream of writing fiction. She is the author of In The Barrister’s Bed, In The Barrister’s Chambers, Lady Of Scandal, and A Perfect Scandal from Kensington Books. To enter her monthly contests for free giveaways visit her website at www.tinagabrielle.com

For a chance to win a signed copy of IN THE BARRISTER’S CHAMBERS and a NJ Romance Writer’s tote bag, leave a comment during this week. Good luck! Tina will be commenting on the blog through Tuesday and then is off to RWA Nationals in Anaheim. Don’t forget, anyone commenting the month of July will also be entered in The Femmes monthly contest.

And now…Welcome Tina!

First let me thank the Violet Femmes for inviting me to blog. It’s wonderful to be here!

I’m Tina Gabrielle, and I write rich Regency historical romances full of passion and emotion for Kensington Books. My current Regency Barrister series is about four sexy barristers and the women who wreak havoc in their chambers and steal their hearts.

I started reading romance at an early age—too early now that I’m a mother myself! I remember a fateful family vacation in the Poconos. Both of my older sisters found summer romances, one sister with another vacationing boy and the other sister with a waiter at the hotel. I was much younger, in an awkward phase of braces and a bad complexion, and left behind. So I picked up my oldest sister’s romance and read in secret.

Ah! I was hooked!

It was Julie Garwood’s The Bride. I dreamed about her Scottish hero Alec Kincaid for a year thereafter and fell in love with brawny Highlanders and historical romance novels. I recently repurchased the book, and it still enthralled me and kept me up reading all night.

How did it change my life? I read all types of fiction, but I write historical romance, and I credit Julie Garwood’s book for inspiring me. I’ve since attended engineering school and law school and my love of reading for pleasure helped me through years of academia. I often picked up a romance and let my fantasies of knights in shining armor and lords and ladies carry me away. So I owe part of my success—academic or as a romance author—to fiction and romance in particular.

My fourth historical romance, In the Barrister’s Bed, was released by Kensington Books in July 2012. It’s the second book in my award-winning Regency Barrister Series. Here’s a sneak peek at both Barrister Books:

IN THE BARRISTER’S BED (July 2012) 

A Hotly Contested Claim

A bastard by birth, James Devlin lives on his own terms—until a twist of fate reveals that he is the true Duke of Blackwood. Though the brooding bachelor swears to hold on to his freedom, he does intend to take back his childhood home. But once at Wyndmoor Manor, he discovers an arresting adversary in Bella Sinclair. Her hot-blooded claim to his home is amusing…and arousing. Which is why he isn’t leaving until he takes possession of everything—starting with the bewitching Bella…

A Sensual Surrender

Bella is furious when the Duke barges into her home, declaring it rightfully his! The willful widow is not about to give up her haven without a fight, no matter how determined the Duke is—or how sensual the battlefield. But once she’s sharing a house with the beguiling barrister, she is in danger of losing everything—one deep, slow kiss at a time…

IN THE BARRISTER’S CHAMBERS (September 2011) 

Courting Danger

Lady Evelyn Darlington’s first love was the law. But since a woman scholar meets nothing but ridicule from men, she has given up and chosen a future husband. Randolph seems adequate for the task: to provide intelligent conversation and not annoy her too much. Of course, before they can be engaged, she’ll have to do something about the murder charge hanging over his head. If only London’s top barrister wasn’t Jack Harding, object of all her unattainable girlhood fantasies…

And Seducing Scandal…

Jack Harding remembers Evelyn well—but the idea that the gorgeous woman standing before him is little Evie, the professor’s daughter, is incredible. He knows better than to enter a business relationship when he wants to pursue pleasure. Yet however desirable she is now, Evie is still Evie—stubborn, smart, and never willing to take no for an answer. Even though proving her fiancé’s innocence might just cost her her own…

So tell me: Who is your favorite type of historical hero? A kilted Highlander, a Regency rogue, or a cowboy? Comment for a chance to win!

If you want to keep in touch with Tina, you can find her at:

Tina Gabrielle – www.tinagabrielle.com

Twitter: http://twitter.com/tinagabrielle

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/TinaGabrielle

Thanks, Tina, for visiting and have a great time in Anaheim!

Special Event: Author Nancy Herkness visits with The Femmes!

Today, the Violet Femmes are thrilled to host romance author, Nancy Herkness, a truly inspiring, supportive and lovely woman who showers all of us with positive energy and miles of smiles. We asked her loads of questions about her experiences as a published romance author.

Nancy Herkness’ two contemporary romances, A Bridge to Love and Shower of Stars, were published by Berkley Sensation.  Music of the Night was her first romantic suspense novel.  Her upcoming release Take Me Home will be available in November 2012. 

She’s a member of Romance Writers of America, New Jersey Romance Writers and Novelists, Inc., and has won numerous awards for her work, including the Golden Leaf, the Write Touch Readers’ Award and the Aspen Gold. Nancy graduated from Princeton University with a degree in English literature and creative writing. 

A native of West Virginia, she now lives in New Jersey with her husband and two mismatched dogs.   

For more information about Nancy and her books, visit www.NancyHerkness.com.

In her usual generous style, Nancy has offered to send an autographed copy of any one of her backlist books to one commenter on this week’s blog. You will also be entered into our drawing for the month of April, where you just might win a $20 Barnes & Noble gift certificate. So be sure to leave a comment on the Violet Femmes board this week!

1.   You were such a great cheerleader during our February writing challenge. Are you part of a critique group? How many of you are in it? What is your process?

Thanks for the compliment about my cheerleading for Jersey Romance Writing Month, but all I did was channel all the positive energy flowing from all the participants, including you wonderful Violet Femmes!

Yes, I am now part of a fantastic critique group, although it took me years to decide to join one.   For a long time, I was reluctant to expose my fragile first draft to criticism.  Then my Evil Inner Editor got too powerful, and I needed a counterbalance, so I found the Sunday Night Ladies through New Jersey Romance Writers.

My critique group celebrating the release of PROPER CARE AND MAINTENANCE OF FRIENDSHIP by group member Lisa Verge Higgins wearing hats made to match the cover of the book.

There are four of us in the group, which seems to be just the right number.  That gives us a tie-breaking vote when people disagree about a critique point.  We meet in person as close to monthly as possible, sending up to 20 pages of our works-in-progress to each other a week before the meeting.  We print the chapters, critique them in writing, and then discuss them when we meet.

We find the face-to-face meeting helps clarify any confusion about comments, allows us to brainstorm solutions, and gives us the chance to exchange useful business information while we chat over dinner.

2.      Are there any places you’ve visited that have influenced your writing?

My books tend to be set in places I know really well, so the New York metro area (where I live now) and West Virginia (where I grew up) are my favorite settings.  My first book’s heroine was an engineer so I researched bridge building, focusing on the George Washington Bridge.  The climactic scene of A BRIDGE TO LOVE takes place on the bridge itself, so I spent a lot of time walking across it while snapping photographs, and having my husband drive me across it so I could take copious notes. 

SHOWER OF STARS featured meteorites (I’m fascinated by outer space) which gave me a great excuse to visit the meteorite exhibit at the Museum of Natural  History in New York City.  I ended up setting one very hot scene in the Museum.

 My upcoming release TAKE ME HOME (November 2012) goes back to my roots in a small town in the mountains of West Virginia.  I found it very powerful to return to my memories of my years there.

3.      What authors have inspired you?

Oh my goodness, so many it’s hard to name them all!  I credit Georgette Heyer with developing my addiction to romance novels.  She is a goddess of a writer; I reread her books regularly.  Mary Jo Putney’s books are also marvelous, and she is an incredibly nice human being.  Eloisa James is one of the most elegant writers and smartest businesswomen I know; talking with her is like taking a course in Publishing 101.  Ian McEwan crafts sentences that make me weep with joy and envy because I wish I could write like that.

Robyn Carr’s fantastic Virgin River series inspired my upcoming release TAKE ME HOME, which is the first book in a planned trilogy set in a fictional small town.  Robyn even shared her original proposal for the series with me.  How nice is that!  As you know, romance writers are the most generous of people, always willing to share their experience and expertise with their colleagues in the field.

4.      You’ve been writing for a number of years and have seen many changes in our industry. What do you think has changed in the way romances are viewed now as compared to when you started?

Honestly, I’m not sure the way romances are viewed has changed much at all.  I always joke that romance writers are the Rodney Dangerfields of the publishing world: we get no respect.  What many people don’t realize is that the sales of our popular novels support many more “literary” books which often aren’t profitable for publishers.  Since I read all sorts of books, I’m happy to contribute to their publication.

5.      How have you adapted in your career from the time your first book was published, until now? Did you do anything differently to re-invent yourself in phase two?

I think I have simply become more market-savvy.  I still write books I am passionate about, but I have learned how to present them to an agent/editor in a way that helps them understand how to position my work in the market.

Sometimes I deliberately add an element to the stories that I know will provide a “hook” for marketing.  That’s an easy thing to do without changing the central themes of my work, and it always enriches the book.  For instance, in TAKE ME HOME, I wanted to bring horses into the story since I was an avid horsewoman in my youth, and horses are popular in the romance world.  While I was playing with ideas, I was struck by the concept of the “whisper horse”, the special creature you can tell all your troubles to.  My editor loves that aspect of the book, both for artistic and marketing reasons.

6.      You recently signed a deal with Montlake Publishing. How important is an agent in negotiating an e-book deal?

My agent did an amazing job for me with Montlake.  In fact, I couldn’t have done it without her.  Although most of Montlake’s sales are digital right now, it also offers audio and print books, and handles foreign rights, so it’s a complex contract.  Montlake is a division of Amazon, a sophisticated and powerful corporate entity, so when dealing with them, it’s great to have another professional on your side.

7.      What was the attraction with Montlake? Why did you pursue e-publishing? Is pitching to an e-publisher different than traditional publishing? How does an agent help you negotiate that?

I didn’t actually pursue e-publishing per se.  My agent submitted to Montlake as well as traditional publishers, and as far as I know, the pitch was identical for all of them.  One unusual aspect of the pitch (for me) was that my agent did not pigeonhole my book as “contemporary romance”.  She presented the plot summary and let the publishers decide how they wanted to market it.  As a result, Montlake sees real crossover potential for TAKE ME HOME in the general women’s fiction market.

Montlake is attractive to me as an author for a variety of reasons.  First, they publish very fast.  TAKE ME HOME will be released November 6th, 2012.  That’s moving at light-speed for the publishing industry.  Second, they are author-friendly in many ways: cover consultation, monthly sales figures, quarterly royalty payments, etc.  Third, they have the entire marketing resources of Amazon at their disposal.  That’s HUGE.

The drawback is, of course, that Barnes and Noble and Books-A-Million will not stock any of the Amazon Publishing Group’s print books in their stores (although you can order them through those bookstores and their online entities) since they view that as contributing to their competition’s profits, a position which is understandable but which I hope they will reverse in the future.

8.      Another NJRW member, Kathleen Long, has had great success recently with self-publishing. Did you ever consider going that route?

Absolutely!  All three of my backlist books are now self-published because I made a point to get my rights back from the original publishers before digital books got hot.

It’s also a wonderful option to have for a book that might not fit into a publisher’s marketing plan, and I may yet self-publish books that have never been published before.  It does require some upfront investment though.  I had my backlist covers professionally designed, and if I were offering a never-before-published book, I would have a professional editor review it before I self-pubbed it.  I want my readers to be assured of a quality read.

9.      Have you set yourself any new goals?

After my amazing experience with Jersey Romance Writing Month, I have learned that I can set much higher productivity goals for myself.  Not 30,000 words in a month (as we did in February) because while that was exhilarating, it was also exhausting!  However, I think 20,000 is doable without burning out my Muse.  So one new goal is to write my books faster.  That makes romance readers happy because once they find an author they like, they gobble up her books.

Of course, my on-going goal is to write a better book every time.  Which is challenging but necessary to me as a writer.

10.  So much of marketing now falls in the author’s lap. Can you share some of your successes in self-marketing? Do you have a marketing plan?

Oh gosh, marketing!  The ever-present concern in every author’s mind.  I wish I could offer some brilliant insight into how best to reach our readers, but the truth is that no one really knows what creates the much-desired “buzz” about a book.

My own efforts are multi-pronged.  I have a website (with a monthly contest), a blog, two Facebook pages, a Twitter account, and an email list of readers.  I always carry bookmarks with me and hand them out to anyone who expresses even the smallest interest in my work.

 I’ve done book-signings in bookstores and libraries, made presentations to groups ranging from library science students to local book clubs, signed stock, done television, radio and print interviews, advertised in print publications, and attended conferences.  The truth is I enjoy meeting and talking to readers so this is all fun for me.

However, I think my publisher’s efforts have more effect on my sales.  The covers they design and the placement in bookstores they negotiate for my books probably have the most impact.  The simple fact is that they have vastly more resources at their disposal than I do.  As you can imagine, I am fascinated by what Montlake can do for my book because of their affiliation with Amazon’s immense array of customers.

I would just like to thank the Violet Femmes for inviting me to join such a dynamic, talented group of writers, even for just a week.  You guys rock!

Thank you, Nancy! It was, as always, a pleasure talking with you!

Guest Post – Jenna Blue

Fellow NJRW member Jenna Blue joins us for a guest post this week. Don’t forget to comment! One lucky commenter in the month of January will win a box of handmade salted caramels. Please help us welcome Jenna.

How Does Writing Ruin Good Sleep? Let Me Count the Ways…

Hi All, Jenna Blue here, guest blogger. If you’ve been following the Violet Femmes, you know they are a talented, driven, generous, and classy quartet of writers. I’m honored to have been asked to contribute to their site.

Today, I’m covering the many ways that writing negatively impacts your sleep. Plus, my hints to catch better Zzzz’s despite your creative tendencies. First however, I’ll share a short anecdote about a night in my own writer’s life that illustrates a number of these nasty sleep disturbances.

A couple of months ago, I woke from a particularly scary action dream. Think Suzanne Brockman’s Navy Seals with a twist: I was one of the bad guys. My fellow baddies and I had holed up in a dark, shabby house. Without warning, a Seal reached in through the wide-open windows and garroted my cohort. As soon as he vanished, I had a clear view of another, standing not fifteen feet away. He held my eyes. He didn’t look bad—he looked good. Sexy and experienced. Rough and rugged, in full camouflage with pockets bulging from ammo. So representative of an American soldier—one you could trust, one who had a family. And yet, I knew he was coming for me.

I scrambled backwards on all fours then ran to the kitchen. I skittered back and forth yanking open cupboard doors, looking for a heavy pan in the pitch black. Time was up. I could feel him getting close. I grabbed a knife, short-handled but solid, the kind I carve up fruit for my kids with every single day. It felt heavy and comfortable as I turned it in my grip, ready to use overhand. Hoisting myself onto the counter, I tucked myself into a corner by the door. I shook in my boots, but was ready to attack from above.

Not so, in real life. I woke abruptly, knowing that my dream mirrored reality. I had heard something in the house. No—two somethings.

As I lay anxiously sorting out dream from wake, my body remained tense and my mind careened from one possibility to the next. Our son’s captain’s bed has an awful, groaning creak. Sometimes, the shaving mirror in the shower crashes to the floor. No—these noises had come from downstairs. That left the possibility that my daughter was sleep walking, or intruders had entered my home. My husband snored beside me, loud, making it a struggle to listen to the quiet.

Adding to my anxiety, I’ve been taking a Weapons for Writers class online (I highly recommend it if you get the chance!). One of the first assignments was to go through all our personal spaces and figure out what could be used as a weapon. So I’m wondering if the extra blanket I needed at bedtime can be thrown over an assailant’s head. It would only slow him for a moment, probably, unless my husband, far stronger than I, wrapped him in a bear hug, pinning him blind in the material. I’ve got a pen, of course, a writer always does, especially bedside, which could do real damage if wielded overhand like the knife in my dream. If my husband managed to pass me the phone, I could slide under the bed—I refuse to consider that I might not fit. There, I’d be out of the arc of a baseball bat and two grappling men, could call 911 and even set the phone to speaker so that the dispatcher could replay the tape later, if we were done in. I’d find one of the supports that are always falling out. It’s heavy wood, and with luck a screw would still be sticking out of one end. Then, I’d slip out silently from the foot of the bed and attack!

I’ve heard nothing truly threatening in all the minutes I’ve laid here listening. Still, it’s clear by now that I won’t rest until I’ve separated myself from the rumble and roar only two feet from my numbed eardrums and checked on things.

The kids are safe and sleeping. I retuck. I have calmed, but am not convinced. I consider going downstairs to the computer—I’m excited to submit some work on my romantic suspense to a couple of agents I’ve just pitched to, but have loads of revisions to input. Yet I don’t want to be down there alone. Aren’t you always yelling at the heroine, “No, don’t go down there, you idiot! You’re asking for it!”? I am. Plus, I’m smarter than that.

So instead, in the hallway at the top of the stairs I sink none too gracefully into what my kids now call—wait for it, it’s so very PC—a criss-cross applesauce position. I try very, very hard to erect a mental block against all the creepy villains I’ve read over the years as they trot through my mind as if they are on parade. Soon enough, the cold is seeping up through my butt, and my hips hate this position. Surely, I finally decide, there is no one downstairs.

I climb back in bed, but before I can drift off, my husband wakes. I get up with him. I’ll never sleep. Not with Navy Seals visiting my dreams, a mental tallying of weapons in my bedroom, and all manner of scary scenarios playing out in my overactive imagination. Five a.m. and I happily head downstairs. I hate reading dream sequences, but this one’s mine, and I feel a powerful urge to get it on paper.

So, there you have it: in one night, you’ve got half my reasons for losing sleep:

  1. Dreams that play out every bit as suspenseful as novels or movies.
  2. Research begging to be done.
  3. An overactive imagination.
  4. Too many creepy villains and scary plots read to date.
  5. The urge to put thoughts on paper, no matter the hour.

Here’s the others, many of which plague me regularly:

  1. Staying up late to read. Hello, this one’s a given.
  2. Browsing online for new releases or a favorite author’s backlist.
  3. Characters—mine or other authors’—that carry on in my head even once I’ve closed the book.
  4. Critiquing my pals’ manuscripts. I get just as into it as my own stories. Like reading a book, the laptop stays open way past my bedtime.
  5. Actively writing. Not matter how exhausted I am, if I’m into a scene, I don’t notice the clock ticking away my Zzzz’s.

So, readers, who are the characters visiting your dreams at night? Which authors cost you serious Zzzzz’s? Please post. The Femmes and I would love to hear from you.

And, finally, what are your tips for better sleep? Personally, I can’t cure the writing bug, I relish the pull of a good book, and I would never want to silence a muse who visits in the night. I do, however, swear by the following:

  1. Stick to a bedtime routine. Wind down the same way every night, and turn the lights out at a designated hour.
  2. Don’t use the living room as a bedroom or the TV as a nightlight. Conversely, don’t pay bills or work in your bedroom.
  3. Honor your body clock. If you need eight hours sleep, start the routine early enough to get it.
  4. Exercise. At least sometimes.
  5. Eat a good dinner—but not too much, not too early, not too late, not too rich. Save the chocolate for the afternoon slump. It’s known to cause nightmares.
  6. Don’t read a good book. “Ack!!! What!?!” Seriously, if you are desperate for a good night’s sleep, don’t pick up the awesome book. Grab something boring—anything that doesn’t include loveable characters, hot kisses, sexy heroes, heart-tripping suspense, or fabulous chapter-ending hooks lurking inside to keep you awake.

And last but certainly not least:

  1. Do something every day towards your writing goals. (This might not be making a certain page count. Instead, you might do a little research, brainstorm with a writing friend, or read a chapter in a grammar book.) If you do, you’ll sleep peacefully, knowing that little by little, you are making your dreams come true.

Long ago in a suburb of Pittsburgh, Jenna Blue hid one of her mom’s novels, a Kathleen Woodiwiss, in her nightstand drawer to be savored after lights out. Certainly she was too young to be reading anything that enthralling, but the die was cast.

She declared creative writing as her major at Penn State with the goal of becoming a romance writer, however she wasn’t willing to become a starving artist right out of school. The next best thing (one level above starving): a career in publishing as a book designer in New York City.

After a few ill-timed starts and many years of membership in Romance Writers of America and New Jersey Romance Writers, Jenna is finally making the dream a priority. Somehow, someway, somewhere between the demands of a busy career and a thriving family, she’s writing romantic suspense and enjoying every minute.

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