The first book I ever wrote was a romance. I just didn’t know it yet. That book, Land of the Misty Gems, was a class project way back in the sixth grade. We wrote the text, illustrated them with colored pencils, even bound them with twine and pasted a fabric cover on our creations. I still have that book. It was the beginning of my writing career, even if until the early 1990s that writing consisted mainly of research papers and essay test questions and then newspaper articles.
Let’s back up a moment. I was born and grew up in Kentucky and began reading so long ago I don’t remember how it all started. I do remember loving a little book called The Runaway Pancake, then the regular treasures that would appear in our mailbox from the Weekly Reader Book Club, then books like the Little House on the Prairie series. The library was one of my favorite places. And even though being a bookworm didn’t do wonders for my social life when I was in my teens, I wouldn’t trade my love of books for the world.
That love of reading and writing has brought me joy and some of the most wonderful friends a girl could have, including the members of the Wet Noodle Posse, the Romance Bandits, Music City Romance Writers and Georgia Romance Writers.
Since I wasn’t a math genius and didn’t particularly have a passion for the frog dissection required in biology class, I gravitated naturally toward writing. So I began writing for the school paper in middle school and kept on writing for papers through the years immediately after I received my print journalism degree. Until I left to try my hand at writing at home full-time, I was a magazine editor/writer.
I was given my first romance to read during my teens by my friend Jennifer and her mom, Jeanie, and haven’t stopped reading them since. I began writing my first romance, a historical set along the Oregon Trail, while still in college. I got serious about writing and submitting for publication in 1996 when I was one of the charter members of our new local Romance Writers of America chapter, Music City Romance Writers. I’ve written contemporary romance, romantic suspense, women’s fiction, and young adult novels.
During my journey to publication, I finaled in RWA’s top award for unpublished manuscripts, the Golden Heart, eight times. I was fortunate enough to win the Golden Heart twice – in 2004 in Romantic Suspense and in 2007 for Young Adult. On July 24, 2007, I finally got “The Call” and sold my first two books, young adult titles, to Razorbill, a part of Penguin Young Readers Group. On Oct. 26, 2007, I was thrilled to sell two romances to Harlequin American Romance.
After almost 25 years in our home state of Kentucky and then 21 years in Nashville, Tennessee, my husband and I have moved near the beach in Florida where I hope to never see a snowflake or experience an ice storm ever again. I am a total National Park junkie (and collector of stamps in my National Parks Passport when I visit NPS units), amateur nature photographer and love to cosplay and attend fan conventions such as DragonCon in Atlanta. I have a fun collection of photos taken with celebrities, such as this one with cast members of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.
Where do you get your ideas?
Where do I not get them? A story idea can be sparked by something I read in the newspaper or in a magazine, by something I see on TV, a movie, even a bit of overheard conversation. It might be a tiny idea when it begins, but it often leads to something interesting. I have a fat file folder full of snippets of ideas – everything from potential book titles in need of a plot to go with them to more detailed synopses of stories.
How can I get published?
First, you need to know what type of book you’ve either written or want to write. Then you research the market for that type of book through resources such as Writer’s Digest or professional organizations such as Romance Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America or the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. It’s also important to make sure your story is the absolute best it can be before you submit it. Remember, in many cases, you only get one chance with that manuscript at a specific publisher. Don’t submit before it’s really ready. You’ll also need to figure out which publishers print your kind of novel. Once you’ve identified them, determine whether they take unagented submissions. If not, you may want to begin an agent search. It’s extremely important to really do your homework about agents. Always remember, NO agent is better than a BAD agent. Ask authors you admire and/or who write the same type of book you do who their agents are; ask in online communities for authors; and check out the listings of agents with the Association of Authors’ Representatives.
How long have you been writing?
The quick answer is as long as I can remember. But if you mean with the aim of publication, I began writing my first book while I was in college in the early 1990s. I started submitting in 1996. It took me 11 years to sell my first book.
How many books have you written?
I wrote 17 full manuscripts and partials for two more before selling. The 18th full, Heartbreak River, was my first sale. I’ve published more than 30 novels and novellas with Harlequin American Romance/Harlequin Western Romance, Harlequin Nocturne, Harlequin More Than Words, Razorbill/Penguin, Bell Bridge Books, and via self-publishing. I’ve also had three short stories based on The Vampire Diaries TV series published through Amazon’s Kindle Worlds program.
What kind of advice would you give to a new writer?
I’m the queen of preaching perseverance. You’re going to get rejections, likely lots of them, and they’re going to hurt. Give yourself 24 hours to grieve, rant, eats copious amounts of chocolate, and watch all your favorite DVDs (my personal favorites are all three Pirates of the Caribbean movies, the Underworld movies, Warm Bodies, the Spartacus TV series, Supernatural, Firefly/Serenity and my Buffy the Vampire Slayer collection), but then get back in the writing saddle. Also, don’t ever think you know it all. It’s a very good idea to continually learn about both the creative and business sides of writing. And the final thing is something your mama probably already told you years ago – be nice! While the publishing world might seem huge, it’s not. If you say something bad about an agent, editor, publishing house or fellow writer, there’s a high likelihood it’s going to come back to bite you. Bad karma and all that.
In recent years, the publishing industry has changed a lot. Viable self-publishing, also known as independent/indie publishing, has risen above what it used to be (vanity publishing, which preyed on authors desperate enough to see their books in print that they would pay a “publisher” to publish their books; these “publishers” weren’t really publishers, but rather just printers out to make a buck — or a lot of bucks). There is a lot to know if you go the indie route, so I suggest doing your research before deciding if this avenue is right for you. You’ll have a lot more freedom but also a lot more responsibility. You won’t just be a writer. You’ll be responsible for everything a publisher would normally do such as cover design, formatting, marketing, etc.
How long does it take you to write a book?
Fortunately, I’m a fast writer. Still, the answer to this question varies. It can take me three months or so to write one of my Harlequin novels. The fastest I’ve written a first draft of a book was 17 days. That was for Coven, the young adult manuscript that won the 2007 Golden Heart, and which eventually was expanded and became the first three books in the Coven trilogy for Bell Bridge Books. I felt like I was channeling that book.