Saturday, March 17, 2007

Reality Romance

Recently, I changed direction on a book I'm writing, thanks mainly to Jenny Crusie and a timely reminder about the conflict lock. If you're a writer, Jenny's and Bob Mayer's writing workshop is a must.

But what clinched it for me was the sense that although I had a marketable high concept for my book, in real life, the story wouldn't have happened. When I read historicals, I have no trouble suspending disbelief. I enjoy some 'Regency lite' novels as I would a fairy tale. Unless Regency characters speak like modern American teenagers (but that's another post) or the Battle of Waterloo takes place in 1810, I don't really mind that the author has bent the era to suit a rattling good story. But when I write, I need to feel that my story could have happened. And since the era itself is so fascinating, that leaves a lot of room to move.

What about you? How does historical inaccuracy affect your enjoyment of historicals? What are the unforgivable sins?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Be Still My Heart...

Not only is Jenny Crusie coming to our Romance Writers of Australia conference, but Anne Stuart is, too!

Happy dancing over here. This is going to be our best conference yet.

Pity about that Sunday afternoon workshop I have to do...

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Interview with KJ Howe, American Title III Finalist

Hi Kim, welcome! You’re down to the final round in American Title III with your novel ONE SHOT, TWO KILLS. Congratulations! Can you tell me how you came to the decision to enter the contest? It’s not for the faint-hearted!

My Toronto RWA chapter-mate and friend, Michele Ann Young, was in the top four of the American Title II contest with her historical NO REGRETS. Although the contest was like running a marathon backwards in a snowstorm with bare feet, she couldn’t say enough about the opportunity. When I received the e-mail from Liz French that I had been chosen as one of ten finalists, I could hardly believe it. From there, it has been a wild ride and now I feel incredibly lucky to be in the top two!

What’s the most positive experience you’ve had as a contestant? I noticed you’ve garnered praise even from Flavia, notoriously the hardest judge of the three.

Yes, Flavia has the most wonderfully scathing way of communicating. When she said that she could easily see my love scene in a romantic suspense novel sitting on the shelf at the local bookstore, my response was, “Smelling salts, please!”

Seriously, the most uplifting experience from the contest was that readers responded so positively to my non-traditional heroine and setting. I love sailing into uncharted territory and it’s nice to discover so many people share my wanderlust.

Besides ATIII, you’ve won quite a few awards. What do you think is the value of entering contests? What are the pitfalls?

Great question. Contests can definitely work to your advantage, but there are a few land mines that you have to watch for. My best advice is to enter contests with a strategy in mind. For example, as a new writer, you may want feedback on your story and craft skills. There are judges out there who take the time to line edit your prose and you can learn amazing technical tips by studying their suggested changes. Other judges have a knack for homing in on plot holes.

If you are further along in your career, you may enter a contest based on the editors/agents that will view your work. For example, as a direct result of winning the Bobbi Smith Creative Challenge I signed with my agent Evan Marshall. Good things can come from contests. However, with postage costs and entry fees, you may want to choose carefully.

There are also potential pitfalls in contests. Contest judges come in many shapes and sizes. Most are incredibly kind people who volunteer their time and talent to provide valuable feedback to aspiring writers. However, there are less civil-minded folks out there as well. If you’re a sensitive soul (aren’t all writers?), it can really hurt if a judge is less than complimentary. For example, ONE SHOT, TWO KILLS was a finalist in an annual event judged by booksellers. When I received my marks back (manuscripts were judged on a scale from 1-7) , I had all sixes and sevens, except for one judge who gave me a 1 in every category. When asked what she liked about the manuscript, she said “nothing.” Okay, that’s constructive. But there’s a happy ending to this story—ONE SHOT won that contest despite the judge’s negativity.

Now, on to the story itself. Please tell us a bit about your characters and how they meet.

Three years ago, Kenya Alexikova was on a routine mission in Sierra Leone for the U.S. Army. Kenya and her partner were on a mission to eliminate a faceless predator who was selling arms to North Korea and killing hundreds of innocents. When they arrived at the target’s location, Kenya stared into her sights...and froze. The faceless predator was Kenya’s sociopathic brother. Her failure to fire resulted in her partner’s death. Devastated by the situation, she refused to debrief, leaving the psychologist in charge of her case no choice but to medically discharge her.

Three years later, Kenya is running a dive charter in St. Lucia, trying to forget the painful memories of her past. CIA psychologist Jack Travis boards her boat, assigned to recruit her to recover a sunken Russian satellite. What Kenya doesn’t know is Jack was the attending psychologist at her debriefing, the man she refused to meet.

Did I mention who else was interested in recovering the satellite? That’s right. Kenya’s brother. He discovered who was responsible for the failed assassination and is bent on revenge.

Wow! Sounds like an action-packed thriller. The male psychologist/female operative is an intersting twist. I love a man with brains. What do you think makes your hero, Jack Travis, sexy?

His mind. His Southern accent. His abs.

He sounds like my kind of guy! Let's talk about the romance side of things. Why are your hero and heroine perfect for one another?

Jack is the one man who can help Kenya overcome her past mistakes, conquer her brother, and find redemption. Kenya can assist Jack with his own demons. When Jack lost his son in a dirt bike accident, his marriage fell apart. Since then, his life has been his work. Jack is surprised when he is more interested in healing Kenya’s wounds than exploiting them.

Why romantic suspense? It is a tough market for a new author to break into. What do you think it takes to sell a debut RS novel?

I don’t think I had a choice; dead bodies kept showing up in my novels. J Seriously, romantic suspense is my passion, has been since I read such masters as Lisa Gardner, Sandra Brown, Merline Lovelace, and Karen Robards. I love the thrill inherent in fast-paced romantic suspense novels and the requisite hot, steamy sex.

The romantic suspense market is chock full of talented writers, so it makes it very difficult for new writers to break in. I think you need to have a fresh voice or idea that makes you stand out. A large portion of romance suspense is based on the woman in jeopardy story. I decided to do a little twist on that. My sniper heroine is more than capable of handling herself in physical situations. Her jeopardy comes from her emotional vulnerability.

What do you think is the key to writing a good romantic suspense novel? How do you achieve a good balance between the romance and the suspense plot?

Merline Lovelace does a fabulous workshop on weaving romance with suspense. She shares the crucial fact that every scene must move the plot forward in one of these two areas, or—better yet—both.

Do you have any experience you draw upon to enrich your plots?

My dad is a very adventurous man. He finds scuba diving with sharks, doing aerobatics in small planes, rallying cars in Africa, and completing desert treks across Saudi Arabia a wonderful way to spend Sunday afternoon. We also had quite a few close calls during these outings. Growing up with him was like going to preparatory school for writing adventure and suspense novels.

What is your top writing tip? Your top tip for promoting yourself as a writer? Your top motivational tip?

Writing tip: Just when you think you can’t, go deeper into the emotions of your characters. Tapping into that well will help you connect on a primal level with your readers.

Promotional tip: Build a strong network of friends by taking the time to help out others. When you need advice or assistance, they will be there for you. Building good karma is always wise.

Motivational tip: This is a very personal choice and I think it is best to look inside yourself and accept what really motivates you. I’m happy to share mine and I hope that it’ll inspire you to find your mantra. I love it when someone says I can’t do something. I’ll bend over backwards, turn myself into a pretzel, and work myself into a frenzy proving them wrong.

What, besides the contract I know you’re going to get, do you hope to take away from the ATIII experience?

Ha! Thanks for the vote of confidence, but until Dorchester gives me something in writing, I’m not counting my chickens. The ATIII experience has really widened my contacts. I’ve met some very interesting people. I’ve also realized that being an author is not just about writing. To be successful in this business, you really need to communicate with people. I would recommend that writers take a media communications course. I think I’ll be signing up for one after the wonderful boot camp I had with American Title III.

Thanks for taking the time to interview me, Christine. I wish you every success with your September release, SCANDAL’S DAUGHTER!

Thanks, Kim, and best of luck to you, too!
If you want to find out more about Kim and her writing, please visit her website. To vote for Kim in American Title III, click here. Voting ends March 4, so hurry and get your vote in now!