Look who's dropped by at A Piece of My Mind!
Harlequin Romance author Donna Alward, one of my fellow writers from Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada.
That's Donna above during a trip to the Harlequin head office, with Birgit Davis-Todd, Senior Executive Editor shown at left and Donna Hayes, President and CEO on the right.
1 - Donna, you're a Harlequin Romance author with a dozen titles published by this signature house. What are some of the best things about being a Harlequin writer?
So many good things!
No commute, I can work in jammies or yoga pants, I get to make up stuff and get paid for it!
I also get the backing of a wonderful editorial team at the biggest publisher of romantic fiction in the world. As a working writer, one of the best things is Harlequin’s distribution network. After a book goes off the shelves, it often gets a second life making the foreign market rounds.
I visited head office in Toronto recently and I can also say it is great to write for a company with such cool people.
We all know it sucks to work with people you don’t like and I’m happy to be spared that ordeal. There’s a “team” aspect to it that is fab and I’ve made so many friendships with other HQ authors and members of the team in all sorts of jobs!
2 - But Harlequin isn't your only publishing house. What is it like to write for Mills and Boon?
Mills and Boon was bought by Harlequin many moons ago, but kept its name. I’m a Mills and Boon author because I’m edited out of their offices in London, but it’s really all under the Harlequin umbrella. My Harlequin Romances come out in the UK as Mills and Boon Cherish – same books, different packaging.
I love being edited out of London. The editors are top notch and so very friendly! They are accessible and really work with their authors to make sure each book lives up to its potential.
I’m also a bit of an anglophile, so I love chatting with my editor and hearing her accent, lol! Being a Mills and Boon author provided me the opportunity to go to London a few years ago – my first trip overseas. I had a brilliant time (as they’d say) taking the tube and doing lunch for the better part of a week. This is the tenth book I’m working on with my current editor (Sally Williamson) and I hope I don’t go anywhere soon.
3 - And you also have four titles with Samhain Publishing. Is there any change in your writing voice between houses, or do you find that it makes no difference?
I think I write with pretty much the same voice, and deliver the same type of story. There’s a slight difference in sensuality level – my Harlequin Romances keep the bedroom door closed and my Samhain books keep it open.
The main difference I find is in editorial style. I like that, actually. I think I learn things about my writing from both my editors that make my writing stronger across the board. I’m really fortunate to have great editors at both houses!
4 - You've had multiple releases almost every year since you've been published. How do you manage the multiple contract deadlines that come with that?
I’m not sure “manage” is the right term because sometimes I don’t feel I manage it very well!
I learned that whatever I think I can do I need to add four weeks. So if I think I need 12 weeks to write a book, I ask for 16. I might be done early, but if life gets in the way, if the book doesn’t go well, if I get massive revisions… those things can really snowball.
If I hand in a book on time and move right into the next, it’s great, but if heavy revisions come suddenly my 12 weeks is down to 8 or 9. THAT creates a problem. Add a month and save some stress. If I have “spare” time (haha!), there’s always admin, promo, working on something else, or…gasp…downtime.
5 - Which was your first writer's conference? How did it feel to be surrounded by other people following the same creative path as yourself?
My first writer’s conference was actually RWA Nationals in Washington DC in 2009. It was amazing!
I’m a bit introverted so at times I had to escape to maintain my sanity, but it was so inspiring and awesome.
I met a lot of people I had only known online for years.
I met industry professionals.
I met my agent!
But the most inspiring thing was listening to the keynote and special speakers, and going to the RITA ceremony and I’ll tell you why.
I was sitting in a room with hundreds of other writers – some unpublished, some the biggest names in the business. But we were all the same – and I was in awe. Hearing Janet Evanovich talk about being down and out before getting the call was something I will never forget. Sitting in those rooms you realize that anything really is possible. I can’t wait to hit New York for this year’s conference!
6 - Me, too, Donna - and it will be my first conference! So, what was the defining moment for you, when you realized you were a 'real' writer?
Oh gosh. I’m not sure there is one.
There are definitely milestones. Finishing my first book and making my first submission.
Getting the first rejection.
Selling my first book. I’m pretty sure I felt like a real writer then.
The firsts after that were icing on the cake – holding that first author copy, seeing books on the shelves, first reader mail. It never gets old. I still have to pinch myself.
7 - You write contemporary stories featuring corporate heroes, but you tend to write more stories featuring cowboys and ranchers. Can you tell us the appeal for you with those western characters and settings?
I fell into writing westerns, you know. My first Harlequin Romance was the first western I ever wrote and it did very well, so I was encouraged to write more.
I love me some tycoons and every day men, but I learned that you just can’t take the farm out of the girl. It’s a “write what you know” thing.
I love escaping with other types of stories and I’ve written a few, but when it comes right down to it, I like my guy in a pair of dusty jeans and a t-shirt.
I have a connection to the land and that translates into my ranchers and cowboys. Sometimes, like my characters, I like to get off the ranch, but I always go home again to wide open spaces.
8 - You write for a group blog called Petticoats and Pistols - how did you find one another?
I did a few guest blogs for them when I had new releases…I don’t remember when I first visited the blog, but I was looking at places to promo western romances and reach western readers. Last year they approached me to be a regular, and it’s a great group.
There’s a really wide variety of people on board from all areas of romance publishing – a lot of historical westerns and inspirational westerns too in addition to the contemporaries. Come on by and sit a spell.
9 - What attracted you to the Argentinian setting for Honeymoon With the Rancher?
My editor asked if I’d like to write a story for a series within the Romance line called Escape Around the World. I thought of several locations I could write about, but in the end I wanted to do something different while still giving my readers the sort of book they’d come to expect from me – especially since I’d talked to my editors and agent about branding and consistency.
Something twigged me on to Argentina and I did some online research and fell in love.
I watched a lot of videos and did a lot of reading. I realized it was perfect – I could deliver a western with a twist.
Something new and exotic, but with a lot of the elements that my readers have come to expect. In the end the Escape Around the World miniseries was discontinued, and the book is being released as a straight Harlequin Romance. I’m really glad now that I chose something a bit familiar as my “departure” from the ordinary. It fits in with my direction even without the branding.
10 - Ooo - can you tell us about your Argentinian rancher, Tomas Mendoza?
Tomas has a big old guilt complex. He was engaged once and his fiancée died and he blames himself.
He turned his back on a lot of things in his life and used his resources to help his fiancée’s parents convert their ranch (estancia) into a guest ranch. The idea of agri-tourism is interesting to me so I had a lot of fun with it.
He’s kind of a recluse there until Sophia arrives and really shakes things up. He has to face some things he’s been hiding from as he falls in love with her.
11 - And Sophia Hollingsworth?
Sophia does what I hope I’d do if I caught my dirty, low-life fiancée cheating. She calls off the wedding and goes on the honeymoon all by herself.
She puts on a brave front even though she’s a bit terrified. And she’s been told what to do all her life. Taking charge isn’t easy for her even though she’s determined to do it.
I loved watching her grow and face her own demons to find her HEA with Tomas!
12 - Did this couple give you any surprises as you 'introduced' them to each other in your first draft?
That was the sound of me falling off my chair.
To be honest, I have tried to block out the first draft of this book as a traumatic event. I got myself into SO MUCH TROUBLE.
The problem with doing a lot of research and being so enamoured of a particular aspect is the potential to overdo it, and I did. I sent the book to my editor, who was not happy with the result.
I ended up rewriting the entire thing from scratch, except for maybe 20 pages. The second version was MUCH better than the first, because I started focusing on the right things and went deeper with my characters.
When I wrote that draft, I did realize a crucial thing about my heroine that really opened up her whole backstory. Some books are like that. And hopefully not often. LOL!
13 - Donna, thanks for giving us this exclusive sneak peek at Honeymoon With the Rancher!
“Something smells delicious.”
He nearly dropped the bowls when she appeared in the doorway behind him.
Her hair was down but slightly tousled from sleep, the curls falling softly over one shoulder. Heavy-lidded eyes blinked at him and she was several inches shorter, thanks to the fact that she’d left her shoes in her room and appeared in bare feet. That was why he hadn’t heard her approach. His gaze stuck on ten perfectly painted coral toenails. She had extraordinarily pretty feet, and even without the shoes he could tell she had a great set of legs hiding beneath her straight skirt.
It was the princess, unwrapped, and he swallowed, realizing he found her very appealing indeed. At least physically.
That was the last thing he needed.
“Did you sleep well?” He turned away from her, putting the bowls on the table.
“Yes, thank you. I feel very refreshed.”
Her voice was soft and Tomas felt it sneak into him, down low.
“I didn’t mean to sleep so late,” she apologized, and he swallowed as the husky tone teased his ears. “Whatever you’ve cooked smells wonderful.”
“It’s nothing fancy.” He turned back to her and steeled his features. He would not be swayed by a pretty face and a soft voice. Damn Carlos and Maria. If they were here, they could handle Miss Princess and he would be in the barn where he liked it. “I do not usually do the cooking.”
“I’m not used to a man cooking for me at all, so that in itself is a treat.” She blessed him with a shy smile.
His pulse leapt and he scowled. His physical response to her was aggravating. “I expect you’re more accustomed to five-course meals and staff to wait upon you, right?”
A look of hurt flashed across her face and he felt guilty for being snide. He was just about to apologize when the look disappeared and she furrowed her brow. “What makes you say that?”
“Oh, querida.” The apology he’d toyed with died on his lips and he reached into a drawer for cutlery. “You practically scream high maintenance. It is clear you are used to the best. Which makes your presence here alone all the more intriguing.”
“High maintenance?” A pretty blush infused her cheeks. She really was good, he thought. An intriguing combination of innocent ingénue and diva. Maybe a few days mucking around a ranch would be good for her. It had certainly done wonders for him.
She stepped forward, the soft, injured look gone. “I see,” she said. “You think I’m some sort of pampered creature who lives to be waited upon.”
“Not even close.”
“Oh, come on.” He finished setting the table and turned to face her. “Designer clothes, perfect hair…is that even your natural colour? You expected to arrive at some retreat or spa, didn’t you? Not a working estancia. Admit it.”
Her cheeks blazed now, not with embarrassment but with temper. “Okay, fine. Yes, this is not what I expected. You are not what I expected.”
He smiled with satisfaction. “No, I am not. If you’re not up to it, say so now. I’ll arrange for you to return to Buenos Aires tomorrow.” There, he decided. He’d given her a perfectly legitimate out. The few hours it would take to drive her back to the city would be worth it to have the rest of the week free to work. Better yet, she’d be gone before Maria and Tomas got back. Maria would get ideas into her head. She’d been prodding lately about Tomas getting away more. That he needed to stop hiding. That he should find a nice girl.
Not that a woman like Sophia, on her solo honeymoon would qualify in Maria’s eyes, but it would be better all around if the potential was erased altogether. Tomas didn’t want a nice girl. He didn’t want to get away more. He wanted the life he’d chosen here on the pampas. Simple and uncomplicated. He’d chosen it to help him forget.
His insides twisted. Some days now he tried to remember. Forgetting seemed so very wrong. Disloyal.
“And you’d like that, wouldn’t you.”
Her saucy tone turned his head. “Perdón?”
“Are you trying to get rid of me, Mr. Mendoza? Get me out from under your feet? This wasn’t my mix up. You think by threatening me with some honest work I’ll run and hide away somewhere where staff will wait on me hand and foot?”
“Isn’t that what you want?”
She paused for a moment, then leveled him with a definitive glare. “No.”
“No?” He raised an eyebrow.
“No. I want to stay.”
“I checked the books and spoke to Maria, by the way.”
“And the refund isn’t notated in the regular spot and Maria doesn’t remember. She said she will straighten everything out when she comes back on Wednesday.”
“And then Wednesday you will see,” Sophia replied confidently.
“You realize what I’m saying, right? People who stay at the estancia participate in all kinds of activities. Working with the animals, in the barns. Even in the house. They become one of the family. With the hard work and the benefits too.”
“You don’t think I can do it?”
He looked at her, all hair-do and perfect makeup and pedicured feet. “No, I don’t.”
“Then perhaps we’re in for a week of surprises.” She flashed him a superior smile. “Maybe now you can surprise me with what’s cooking in that pot. I’m starving.”
- Donna Alward, 2011