Sunday, May 27, 2007

Going For GOLD...Again!

posted by Aunty Cindy (with special thanx for the image to two time GH Winner, Laurie Kellog who is also a 2007 GH finalist!)

In case you are new to this blog (Hurray! Welcome! Come back often and bring friends!) and didn't know, the Romance Bandits came into being because of a contest. We were all finalists in the 2006 Romance Writers of America Golden Heart contest. Yes, because of this prestigious and wonderful contest, we all met, bonded and this fabulous blog was born!

Notice I said 2006 GH contest, because the contest is held every year. This year when the finalists were announced, the Banditas were excited and proud that FOUR of us were finalists for 2007!

WAY TO GO KJ, Trish, Beth and Anna S. (aka--VA)! The rest of us will be cheering you on and hoping you win in your various categories (though this will be a bit tricky for Trish, who is competing against... herself!) Anyway, to celebrate their fantastic accomlishments, your old Aunty had a cyber-get together with her four Bandita "nieces" and grilled... er, um, ASKED them a few questions about their Golden Heart entries and such. Read on for their very interesting answers!

Please tell us about your current GH finalist story (or stories). And what inspired you to write it/them?

KJ Howe: I was fortunate to final in the Romantic Suspense Category with ONE SHOT, TWO KILLS (the runner up in the American Title III Contest) and in the Novel with Strong Romantic Elements Category with NAIROBI NIGHTS. I’d love to share book blurbs about the novels and what inspired me to write them.


Book blurb: One shot, one kill is the sniper motto. But when the time came to execute her orders, U.S. Army sniper Kenya Alexikova failed to fire. At first, the mission seemed routine—stalk and terminate a faceless predator, code-named Afanasi, a man who thrived in Russia’s underworld. When she stared through the scope, Kenya reeled from shock. The face in her crosshairs was her estranged brother’s and the hesitation cost her partner’s life. Discharged from the Army and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, Kenya plunged into a self-imposed exile. Three years later, the past comes calling in the form of sexy CIA recruiter Jack Travis with a mission she can’t refuse.

Background on the book: I was inspired to write OSTK after reading a fascinating book about Stalingrad and the 2,000 women snipers who played a major role in the battle. Only 500 of these women survived. Impressed by their bravery, I decided to write the story of one of the women’s granddaughters. Alas, U.S. Army sniper Kenya Alexikova was born. I also wanted to explore a contemptuous sibling rivalry a la Cain and Abel with a twist. So, I pitted the heroine against her sociopathic brother. The hero, Jack Travis, is thrown in the middle of brother and sister, and the CIA agent has his own secrets he’s hiding from Kenya. The story is set on the island of St. Lucia and the research trip was a whole lot of fun!


Book blurb: When introverted Nairobi Kain crosses paths with French Foreign Legionnaire Stille Rutger, sparks of attraction ignite. There’s just one glitch. Stille has a wound a mile deep and a score to settle with Nairobi’s father. Yet, he’s the only one who can help her save her kidnapped father and brother. Can Nairobi rise to the challenge and tame this South African rebel?

Background on the book: The French Foreign Legion has always fascinated me. A diverse group of men from all over the world come together to create the elite military force; and they often fight the battles no one else wants to fight. The hero, Stille Rutger—originally from South Africa—meets his match in Nairobi Kain, a nanotechnology expert and biathlete who’s desperate to save her father and little brother from Middle Eastern terrorists. The story is set in Switzerland and Saudi Arabia—I had the pleasure of living in both countries and they both work as wonderful backdrops for intrigue.

Trish Milburn: Both of my finaling manuscripts are in Young Adult. The first, The Wishing Tree, was also a finalist last year. It's the story of a teenage girl who runs away from home after she's attacked outside her family's home, which her parents have turned into a meth lab. She hops a train hobo style and ends up in the mountains of North Carolina, where for some time she lives in a cave, scavenging for food where she can, trying to stay hidden until she reaches her eighteenth birthday and thus won't have to worry about being put into the foster care system. This is one of those stories that came out of just a simple image I'd carried around with me for some time -- of a girl running away from home by hopping a train to get away from something.

The second manuscript, Coven, is paranormal. The heroine is a witch, and the hero is a supernatural hunter. This book was born after a few months of watching, nearly nonstop, all seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, all five seasons of Angel, the first season of Supernatural, and reading a lot of paranormal novels. I was going through a writing funk, totally uninspired and depressed that I wasn't able to sell, but after watching and reading all these stories, I came away energized to write my own paranormal YA. The thing nearly wrote itself, the first draft in 15 days. I've had some editor interest,
so fingers crossed!

Beth Burgoon: All Or Nothing is about reformed troublemaker Kelsey Reagan who is on a mission to reconcile with her estranged brother. She tracks him to a small town in the Adirondack Mountains, but her hopes for a happy family reunion are cut short when her brother becomes the prime suspect in a local murder investigation. Determined to help prove her brother’s innocence, she doesn’t count on falling for Jack Martin, the town’s sexy, by-the-book chief of police.

Jack, a widower and single father, doesn’t have time to get involved with a woman. He has a young daughter to raise, a town to protect and now a murder to solve. A former detective with the NYPD, he returned to his hometown of Harmony, New York after a mistake on the job nearly cost him his career and his reputation. The last thing he needs is to get tangled up with a suspect’s sister.

I started AON several years ago and it's gone through numerous revisions, but though the original plot has shifted somewhat, the characters and their overall growth have remained the same. I guess I'm inspired by my characters. I always come up with my hero and heroine first and then figure out their story -- the story that will help challenge them the most while helping them grow, change, and overcome (or at least face *g*) their greatest fears.

Anna Sugden: Mortgaged Hearts is a contemporary battle of the classes story, set in a small, conservative Yorkshire village. It opens with the heroine, Abby, and hero, Ryan, waking up in bed together after a drunken night of passion . Although their cloudy memories suggest they got on extremely well, it can't possibly be so. Middle class Abby has sworn off upper class men after her cheating ex. And upper class Ryan won't consider a woman who isn't from the same class after a disastrous marriage to a money-grabbing social-climber.

Unfortunately, it appears the whole village knows what they've been up to and is not happy about it!

This is the last thing either of them need. Abby is in the middle of a nasty custody battle with her ex, who is trying to prove she's an unfit mother. While Ryan, as the new, single head of the primary school which is being threatened with closure, desperately needs the support of the villagers who would have preferred a family man. Looks like matters are going to force them into an engagement of convenience.

What inspired me to write it? It is actually the sequel to my 2006 GH finalist Love by Bequest (about a Texas cowboy who inherits an English sheep farm). Abby and her son Barney popped into that first story and then demanded their own! As someone who's experienced the battle of the classes and Yorkshire villages first hand, it was a fun story to write.

There are excerpts on my website

What have you learned that made this GH final entry different?

KJ Howe: Conflict, Emotion, and Pacing. If you nail these three aspects of writing, readers will often overlook other issues.

1. Create such overpowering internal and external conflict between your characters that readers can’t figure out how your lovebirds will ever end up together.
2. Dig deep into your characters’ psyches so readers feel their emotions like they were their own. When your heroine is scared, readers should be terrified, when your heroine is sad, readers should cry along with her.
3. Keep the story moving at a breakneck pace, so that readers can’t put the book down. Avoid long sections of narrative, end every scene with a hook, and tighten your prose.

I’m still trying to conquer these issues, but identifying them is half the battle!

Trish Milburn: I've learned over the past couple of years how much I love YA and paranormal, and how I love mixing the two as I did in Coven. I also like writing some YA with darker stories, as in The Wishing Tree.

Beth Burgoon: I think I learned how to be true to my own voice. Once my voice 'clicked' in (which, for me, wasn't until I'd been writing for two years) I noticed a huge difference in the quality of my work.

Anna Sugden: Ummm ... tough question ... four things - make each scene work on a number of different levels, maintain a snappy pace by making my characters' dialogue work harder, start with a bang and set up the hero and heroine's GMC in Chapter 1.

What advice would you give to others seeking to final in the GH?

KJ Howe: Polish the first 55 pages of your manuscript, then go back and polish some more. Hook the reader in the first paragraph—one of the ways to do this is to ask yourself if the story starts at the right place. Embrace criticism from respected sources; it’s tough to see the mistakes in your own manuscript. Have fun when you write, it will show! Good luck!

Trish Milburn: Give yourself plenty of time in the months prior to the GH to mold your manuscript into GH caliber work. Don't wait until the last minute and work yourself into a near coma trying to finish it in time and then worrying that the pages beyond the first 55 are crapola. I also think it's very important that you do your absolute best work in every aspect -- characterization, plotting, wordsmithing, grammar and punctuation. You want to really impress the judges, not give them any reason to deduct points. A fraction of a point here and a fraction of a point there add up to not finaling.

Beth Burgoon: I'd say to be true to your voice (see above *g*), keep learning by taking workshops and reading articles on craft in your local chapter's newsletter and the RWR, and most importantly, don't give up :-)

Anna Sugden: Use other contests before you enter the GH, especially those which give good, constructive feedback (check out the score-sheets and ask around for those with a good reputation) to make your GH entry the best it can be. This is important because it's an expensive contest, with no feedback and you need extremely high scores from all the judges to even have a hope of finalling in the GH. I had one entry that had great scores and must have missed being a finalist by fractions of a point!

Confession time! Do you have a secret ritual or special spell that you do to help your entries final?

KJ Howe: I give my manuscripts a big smooch before I send them off. I hope whoever reads them feels the love! 

Trish Milburn: I really don't. I just try to do my best work then send them off and get to work on something new so that I don't drive myself batty wondering if they'll final.

Beth Burgoon: I wish I had a secret ritual - LOL! The only thing I do is make sure the paper separating the entries from the synopses are all the same color *g*

Anna Sugden: I always sign my entry forms with the special Mont Blanc fountain pen that my husband gave me as an anniversary present. And I have to have the staff in my local Cresskill Post Office give it an extra good luck wish to send it on its way.


Anna Campbell said...

Fantastic interviews, Aunty Cindy. And GH girls, you're fantastic! To final two years in a row, and KJ, to final twice this year, is such a credit to you. I'm looking forward to cheering you all on in Dallas. Whoo-hoo! Congratulations on finaling, girls!

Kirsten said...

I hope you all win! The books sound fantastic. Congratulations and hoping this is the year you stop being eligible for the GH! ;-)

Tawny said...

Can't wait to scream and whoop and hollar for you all in Dallas!!! Go, GH'ers!!!

Suzanne Welsh said...

Ladies, we're all so proud and happy for you! We'll be making lots of noise for you on awards night!! And hopefully lots of book contracts will come out of this for you.

Joan said...

I echo Tawny in wishing ya'll great success.

I can get the LRW contingent to whoop for you as they about deafened the row of editors who sat in front of them last year when my name was announced. LOL

Beth said...

It was so great reading about my fellow Bandita's GH finaling books! They all sound awesome :-)

Trish, KJ and Anna, I can't wait to cheer you all on in Dallas!!

Christine Wells said...

Congratulations for finaling once (or twice!) more in the Golden Heart. I wish I could be there to cheer for each of you *when* you win but I'll have to send you good vibes from Downunder. Thank you all for a great interview.

Alyssa Day said...

Congratulations and good luck to you all!!