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Friday, August 31, 2007

Author Interview: Lori Foster

Author Interview:
Lori Foster

The Long and the Short of It is extremely excited to have one of our all-time favorite romance writers with us today! Give a warm welcome to Lori Foster. She is a Waldenbooks, USA Today, Publisher’s Weekly AND New York Times bestselling author with over 60 titles published through Berkley/Jove, Kensington, St. Martins, Harlequin and Silhouette. She has received the prestigious Romantic Times “Career Achievement Award” for Series Romantic Fantasy and for Contemporary Romance. Her books have received awards as Amazon’s top-selling romance title, Waldenbooks second “Bestselling Original Contemporary” romance, and the BGI group’s “Bestselling Original Contemporary” romance. And, if that’s not enough, she has branched out with a new urban fantasy series under the name L.L. Foster.

Even with her busy writing schedule, Lori finds time for her readers. She’s very active on the web, with a website which hosts her own busy message board, and a separate website for her L.L.Foster books. She also has two MySpace accounts—one for her mainstream romances and one for her urban fantasy series. And, on top of that, she takes part in a blog with several other best-selling authors and she visits the RT boards daily. She gets, on average, over 200 emails a day and even more when a book is initially released. She says that, at times, she goes nomail everywhere... “at the tail end of a book, when I need all my concentration to tie up loose ends. I also get a lot of snail mail around the release of a book, and I answer all my mail myself.”

As busy as she is, I wondered if she considered herself a multi-tasker. She responded, “Doesn’t every woman multi-task? I detest talking on the phone, but whenever I am on the phone, I’m cleaning, organizing, putting on make-up or fixing my hair. If I go downstairs for coffee, I bring laundry back up with me. When the dogs want a potty break, I also start the dishwasher, or unload it while waiting for them. My life is so busy that other than when I’m at the movies, or taking a family vacation, I don’t have much idle time.”

When she does have the time to get to the movies, it doesn’t take much to make her cry. Of course, she admits to also crying during commercials, books, and conversations. “I’m currently menopausal,” she said. “That’s my excuse and I’m sticking with it. Overall, I just feel so incredibly blessed in life that I sometimes have a hard time dealing with the fact that so many others suffer so much. It breaks my heart. I feel for others, even fictional characters. But, happy stuff makes me tear up too. I’m a sap!”

At the movies, she also indulges in Mountain Dew… no dark cola products for this lady. And, when she’s in a funk? “Then it’s Mountain Dew and Better Cheddars until I start feeling better. That’s sort of my version of going on a drunk, I think.”

Her main piece of advice for new writers is “Don’t ever compare. Every writer is unique, from how she constructs her stories, how or if she plots, where she likes to write, how often or how fast she writes. You have to find what works for YOU and forget what anyone else is doing.”

Her own habits, when writing, consist of listening to very loud, hard music and she likes to burn scented candles while she writes. You can listen to her playlist on her MySpace account to get an idea of the type of music she listens to. She also has a “bad habit of twisting my legs up in my chair and after a few hours of writing, I can barely walk. LOL.”

I asked Lori what she considered most important in good writing. “Characters. Always. If the characters are real people that readers can relate to, the rest is just the icing. Readers will overlook a faulty plot or uneven pacing if the characters come through for them. That said, I assume that most, if not all, writers are like me, and strive for the very best in all elements with every book.” Given her belief that the characters are the most important element, it should come as no surprise that, in her writing, the characters come before the plot. She told me she usually “sees” them in a scene of some sort and starts wondering why they are there. How did they get there? When did they get there? These questions come until she has a conflict and a resolution. “When I first start writing,” she said, “I know who the characters are, and where they’ll end up. How they get there is as much a journey for me as it is for the reader.”

Some writers do their best writing at night, others in the very early morning hours. Lori says she is “definitely a morning person. Before my husband recently retired, we were up at 4:30 am and went to bed by 9:30 pm. Now that he doesn’t have to get up for work, we sleep till 6:30 am or 7 am. And we’re still ready for bed early, often by 10 pm. I love the peace and quiet of the morning, watching the sun come up, opening all the curtains to let in the light of a new day. It’s rejuvenating.”

With all the writing she does, I was compelled to ask her about what she’s working on currently (because I wanted to get a heads up on what’s coming from this talented lady). “My current series,” she said, “is based on extreme fighters along the lines of the UFC and Pride. For the sake of fiction, I’m calling my fight organization the SBC. I’m enjoying this so much, I don’t see me veering off any too soon as far as romances are concerned. But understand, the books are about fighters, not fights. I’m fascinated with ultimate athletes, how they balance their careers with a love life.

“I’ll finish the current book—Hard to Handle, out February 2008—very soon, and then I’ll work on my second L.L. Foster book, which is more urban fantasy horror with a running romance throughout the series.”

Lori, thank you for spending time with us and we’re looking forward to seeing your new work.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Author Interview: Barbara Hannay

Author Interview:
Barbara Hannay

The Long and the Short of It recently had the pleasure of talking with Australian author, Barbara Hannay. Be sure to check out her website for some strikingly beautiful pictures of the lovely "Down Under" land she lives in. She says she splits her time between "an inner city apartment and a cabin in the Misty Mountains on the Atherton Tablelands." I've seen pictures of the Misty Mountains and would be hard pressed to ever leave them to come back to the real world. She tells me that she "loves life in the north where the dangers of cyclones, crocodiles and sea stingers are offset by a relaxed lifestyle, glorious winters, World Heritage rainforests and the Great Barrier Reef." And, it's easy to see why she does!

She is Australian born and bred, but she's been researching her heritage recently and has discovered her ancestors are English, Scottish, Irish, and German. Hmm... we may be related.

All of us are interested in knowing how our favorite authors got their start, so I asked Barbara what first got her interested in writing. "I honestly don’t know," she said. "It feels as if I’ve been making up stories and writing since I was very small. As a child I spent hours writing poetry, short stories, comics (complete with illustrations), magazine stories. I guess it’s the way I’m wired."

She had good advice for those of us who sometimes get writer's block and this is something I'm going to try the next time it happens to me. She said, "One of my best tips is to put on a CD of your favorite music (preferably music without words) and don’t allow yourself out of the chair until the CD stops. Most CDs last for at least an hour and usually, some time during that hour, the music will relax you and you’ll get an idea for a sentence, which will start to grow into a paragraph and before you know it, you’re unblocked."

Barbara is definitely a multi-tasker. In her office, along with the two walls covered in bookshelves and the floor-to-ceiling built-in wardrobe stuffed with books, she also has a printout from her latest manuscript on the floor beside her AND a collage for her latest book. She also has good luck charms, cards from friends, and notes to herself all over her desk. She says she's looking for a place to put her RITA, which she won this year for Best Traditional Romance.

I asked her what she considered the hardest part to writing a book. "There is never one thing that is the hardest part because each book is different and each story presents different problems," she said. She does admit, however, that she worries a lot about the ending. "Because everyone knows that a romance will end with 'I love you' and 'I love you too', there’s huge pressure to make that happen in a new and exciting way. It’s a big challenge, but one I always enjoy." She went on to say, "And then, of course, there’s the journey to that happy ending and the need to make the characters likeable and their conflict believable and the need for sensual tension and falling in love. None of it’s easy."

Her wish? "To write stories that make people laugh and cry and remember what’s good about being alive." Barbara, with the twenty-six (at last count) novels you have out with Harlequin Mills and Boon, I think you can say your wish has come true.

I, for one, am very grateful she decided to give up her career as a high school English teacher in 1999 and devote herself to writing romances. Thank you, not only for the interview, but for giving us such a wonderful gift in your writing.

Visit Barbara at her website.

Article: Using Commas Without Getting Hurt

Using Commas Without Getting Hurt
by Allie Boniface

Commas can be a writer’s worst enemy. You know you’re supposed to use them (but when? and where?), but just when you learn most of the rules, you discover exceptions.

Well, here’s a quick guide. Commas can be confusing, but if you print this out and refer to it when you’re in a jam, it should help in most cases.

1. Use commas to set off introductory phrases. Many times, the placement of this comma will occur where you would draw a natural breath if reading the sentence aloud.

As soon as Jenny woke up yesterday, she felt sick.

After the horse dragged Cowboy Bob five hundred feet, the animal finally stopped.

Note: Sometimes introductory phrases are short. In those cases, read the sentence aloud and see if a comma would clarify the sentence’s meaning.

Last night Jimmy snuck into my bedroom. (Comma would theoretically go after “night,” but is it needed? Probably not.)

2. Use commas to separate items in a series.

Madeline packed a change of clothes, a toothbrush, and enough money to get across the border.

Note: Placement of the comma before the final “and” has been debated. Some grammar guides will tell you it’s appropriate. Others will tell you it isn’t. My editor recently took out all commas before the “and” in sentences like this. I think it’s a personal prefrence that won’t make or break your manuscript either way.

3. Use commas to set off interrupting phrases. The test is to see whether the interrupting information is essential to understanding the sentence. Can you drop out the interrupting phrase and retain the sentence’s central idea? If yes, put a comma before and after the interrupting phrase. If no, then you cannot use commas.

Sarah, my best friend since first grade, turned out to be the biggest liar I ever met. (The fact that Sarah is the speaker’s best friend might be interesting, but dropping out the phrase between the commas does not change the fact that she turned out to be a liar.)

The girl who was my best friend since first grade turned out to be a liar. (Here, the phrase “who was my best friend since first grade” is essential to the sentence, because if we take it out, the sentence changes to “The girl turned out to be a liar.” Which girl?? Here, commas may not be used, because every word is essential to the sentence’s meaning).

4. Use commas before a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, for, nor, so, yet) when joining two complete thoughts in one sentence.

I wanted to visit Hawaii, yet I was afraid to fly. (The groups of words on both sides of the comma could also function as stand-alone sentences. Therefore, put a comma before the conjunction).

Now, be careful…

1. DO NOT use a comma before a coordinating conjunction if it does not separate two complete thoughts.

Dr. Johnson tightened his collar against the wind, and was convinced that the cold would kill him. (The second half of this sentence cannot stand by itself, so you cannot put a comma before “and.”)

2. DO NOT use a comma to separate a subject from its verb.

The baseball player, hit a home run in the bottom of the ninth. (Can’t do it! No reason for it! Don’t even try!!)

3. DO NOT use a comma by itself to join two complete thoughts in a sentence.

The path wound along the edge of the woods, no one dared travel it after dark.

(The groups of words before and after the comma could each stand alone and make sense. Therefore, you CANNOT join them with only a comma. Add a conjunction, change the comma to a semi-colon, or simply use a period to create two sentences.)

Note: If you are author Joyce Carol Oates, consider all of the above null and void, and use the comma with abandon. If you are not JCO, your agent/editor/publisher will be much happier if you submit a manuscript that adheres to the above guidelines.

Good luck!

Visit the author at her website or her blog.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Author Interview: Michele Dunaway

Author Interview:
Michele Dunaway

The Long and the Short of It is very excited to welcome Michele Dunaway to our pages. She is a very busy person and a prolific writer (two books she has under contract to Harlequin for publication in 2008 marks her twentieth contract with the popular publisher in eight years). Her latest book, Nine Month’s Notice, was the number one seller of all Harlequin American Romances published in the month of April and we are very pleased she took time out of her busy schedule to talk with us. I don’t know how she does it. In addition to her writing, she’s a nationally-recognized teacher who not only sponsors the yearbook, but also the school newspaper and a mom to two young girls and a houseful of cats. Six at last count, but as her kids keep bringing them home, that number is subject to change. Fortunately, she says, “Somehow they all get along.” However, she doesn’t think adding a dog to the mixture would be a very good idea. And, lucky for her, cats are her favorite animal, so it works out.

I asked her to describe her writing space (maybe there’s a secret there I can steal from her!). She said, “I actually have a room on the first floor of my house. According to the floor plan, it's technically a living room, but I use it for my office. I have plenty of space and a great view of the dining room (the only guaranteed-to-be-clean room in the house) and my front yard.”

She admits, however, that she doesn’t have a regular writing time. I asked her what she considered her most interesting writing “quirk” and she said, “That I write in spurts. I won't write for weeks, and then I'll write for hours each day. I work best under the intense pressure of a deadline.” And, she made me feel not so alone when I asked her what the most difficult part of writing was and she said, “The middle. I hate the middle. It's like exercise. Starting is easy. The last three minutes are easy. But the middle just blows.”

One way she accomplishes all she has to do is get up at 5:15 during the school year, even though by nature she’s a night person. She has traveled extensively and the places she visits often make their way into her stories. She’s been writing virtually all her life, she said, with going from wanting to be a teacher in the first grade to wanting to be a writer in the second grade to determining in the third grade that she would be both. And, she did.

We owe a debt of thanks to her favorite author, Sandra Marton, who first got her hooked into reading Harlequin Presents.

Visit Michele at her website.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Author Interview: Kara Lennox

Author Interview:
Kara Lennox

The Long and the Short of It is very excited to have Kara Lennox with us to help us celebrate our Grand Opening. Kara started writing when she was seven. She says, “I think I wrote maybe two pages with a pencil in a steno pad, but I do remember it was about a little girl living with her father in Rome. Her mother had died and she was lonely and didn't have any other children to play with.” Her first formal training came in the fourth grade with a creative writing class, and a teacher who encouraged her. That encouragement stuck with her to the extent that her first romance novel was dedicated to that teacher.

And, the writing class paid off. Kara is a best-selling novelist and her novels have finaled in several contests including the Rita, the Reader’s Choice award and the Holt Medallion. Romantic Times awarded her a Reviewers Choice Award.

Even though she has written 60 novels (with 55 published or soon-to-be) she still finds time to read. At midnight the night before the interview, she was up reading the latest Harry Potter book. I think a lot of us can identify with that! She also, of course, has read widely in the romance genre and many of the authors she has read have influenced her own writing. She told me, “Victoria Holt, Mary Stewart, and lots of other writers of gothic romance, romantic suspense--they all fueled my love for that genre, and my first attempts at writing were in the romantic suspense genre. But also some early authors of Harlequin American--Anne Stuart, Beverly Sommers and Modeen Moon come to mind--impressed me with their ability to stretch the boundaries of category romance.”

And, she has certainly stretched her own boundaries. The book she’s recently completed, Good Husband Material, is, in her own words, “a departure for me.” It’s a reunion book starring characters in their 40s. “The hero and heroine were married very young, and the heroine's infertility broke up the marriage. Now, at their twenty-five-year high school reunion, they have a one-night stand ... and the supposedly infertile heroine gets pregnant. It was loads of fun to write. It will be out in January 2008 from Harlequin American.”

With all the books she’s had out, I had to ask her about them. She told me that it’s virtually the same with every one she writes. She loves it when she starts… and she loves it when she finishes. However, “in the middle of every book I hate it and want to throw it out.” Of all the ones she’s had published her favorite is a dark romantic suspense about black-market adoptions. The title is Into Thin Air and it was published by Silhouette Intimate Moments in 1995 under her real name of Karen Leabo.

When she’s not writing, she enjoys bicycling, birdwatching, and enjoying giant pandas. She tells me that, next to her own kitty of course, the giant panda is her favorite animal. “I watch them on streaming video,” she told me. “One in San Diego just had a baby, and she is the most devoted mother I've ever seen.” Her least favorite may be ants, since she’s on a running battle with them. She thinks it would be great if scientists could invent “something that will keep ants out of my kitchen without poisoning everything within a three-mile radius.”

Make sure you pick up Kara’s newest book, One Stubborn Texan, due out in September from Harlequin American and check out her website for more pictures, a great contest and more information.

Thank you so much, Kara, for taking the time to talk with us.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Author Interview: Roz Denny Fox

Author Interview:
Roz Denny Fox

Welcome to The Long and the Short of It and our first author interview. We are thrilled to have Roz Denny Fox with us today.

Roz started writing while working as a secretary at an elementary school in Phoenix by freelancing a series of self-help articles and a short story. Her youngest daughter and friends, all voracious readers, were consuming Harlequin/Silhouette books like crazy and badgered Roz to write a romance. She moved to Seattle in 1986 and took a college creative writing class, meeting other writers who introduced her to Romance Writers of America. She attended her first national conference and came home to write the book that would be her first sale to Harlequin Romance in 1989 under the pseudonym Roz Denny.

She went on to write five more traditional romances. When I asked her when she first considered herself an author, she said, “I kept thinking it was a fluke that anyone bought my stories, so I probably had to see three or four on bookshelves before I really believed I could continue to pen stories readers wanted to buy."

Her editor moved to Superromance and invited Roz to submit a longer, more mainstream-style book. With this move, Roz added her real last name. Her thirtieth book in the Superromance line will be released December 2007. She is not content, though, with only writing for Superromance. She has also written for Harlequin American, Signature Selects, and has just written her first Harlequin Everlasting Love.
Since she’s written so many books, I asked her what advice she would give to a new writer just starting out. “My best advice to new writers is to first be a voracious reader of the type of book you think you might like to write. Then invest in joining a writers' group. Learn the craft and then embark on writing your first book.”

She didn’t always want to be a writer, though. She said, “I went through different phases depending on where I was in my life. I can remember wanting to be a cowgirl, an Olympic swimmer, a nurse, a reporter, and probably several other interesting careers. I blame it on being a Gemini. It's nice that by being a romance writer I can give interesting careers to my characters, and then in turn research what they'd have to do to be successful at their jobs.” One thing she’d like scientists to develop is a more indestructible car, so maybe one of her characters could work on that.

Talking about characters, I wanted to know which came first in her writing, the plot or the characters. She said the characters always come first… and that sometimes she has characters running around with no plot. In those cases she envies the writers who can start out with a great plot. But, in any case, she says, she finally realized that every writer does it their own way.

With that in mind, I asked her what she considered the most important elements of good writing. “Fashioning characters readers care about,” she said, “give them a believable plot, and be sure to tie up all loose ends.”

She does a lot of tying up the loose ends, she says, in “what I call the witching hours between midnight and three a.m.” because of being a lifelong insomniac. It works for her, because she has definitely been productive since she started writing professionally.

Be sure and visit Roz at her website. She has a pile of fun things to do there and she loves hearing from her readers. She says, “Hearing from readers who are in some way touched by my books is like ice cream on the side of chocolate cake.” Roz, after all, is first and foremost an avid reader herself.