Friday, August 10, 2007

Delicious and Delightful ... Julie Cohen is our Featured Attraction

We're thrilled to have the super-talented Julie Cohen with us in the Bandit Lair today.

Romance changed Julie Cohen’s life. She grew up in Maine, came to England to study fairies, fell in love, and has stayed ever since.

An English teacher, she started writing romance at night between marking essays. Her fourth manuscript was a 2004 short contemporary Golden Heart finalist and was published in 2006 as FEATURED ATTRACTION by Harlequin Mills & Boon. Since then she has written six novels for Mills & Boon and two novels for Headline’s Little Black Dress romance imprint. She has just quit her teaching job and is currently working on her third Little Black Dress, THE HONEY TRAP.

She lives not far from London with her husband, a guitar tech for rock bands, and their baby son, who will probably have an English accent.

Welcome Julie. Since selling your first book, you've been prolific! Tell us about your current books.

MACALLISTER’S BABY (Harlequin Presents Special Releases, August 2007) was originally published in the UK and Australia as DELICIOUS. It’s the story of teacher Elisabeth Read, who is dedicated to her books, to her students, and to staying single...until celebrity chef Angus MacAllister comes to her school one day carrying a squawking chicken. Though she’s distrustful of his fame and his charm, the two of them have to work together to help two disadvantaged teenagers enter a cookery competition. Not so easy when the attraction between them is more tempting than chocolate.

It was originally published in the UK’s Modern Extra line, so it’s a bit different than your typical Presents--it’s very emotional and sexy like a Presents, with a cosmopolitan London setting, but it’s funny and a little offbeat, too.

[Anna - the chicken scene is one of the funniest things I've read!]

SPIRIT WILLING, FLESH WEAK, my September 2006 Little Black Dress release, is still on the shelves here, and available in the USA online through Amazon. The heroine, Rosie Fox, is a fake psychic, who mistakenly makes a true prediction about a tragic train crash. The resulting media frenzy brings with it Harry Blake, a reporter who’s known for debunking the supernatural. He seems intent on exposing her--in more ways than one.

[Anna - Get hold of this book - it is awesome! I read it in one sitting - I couldn't put it down!]

Many people may not have heard of Little Black Dress. Can you tell us a little about it?

Little Black Dress is a new romance line published by Headline Books here in England. The books are fun, sexy romantic reads, aimed at women aged 18-35, and marketed as an indulgent treat. They’re gorgeous little books, pretty and handbag-sized, and are more chick-lit or single-title in feel than category romance. LITTLE BLACK DRESS

How different do you find it working for two publishers?

The work itself isn’t that different--for example, both my editors are young, beautiful, intelligent blondes who listen to my stupid ideas for my next book, laugh charmingly and then say, “Now, seriously Julie...”

Honestly, the main difference is in the shelf life of the books. Category romances are on the shelves for one month only--but then you keep getting copies of your book translated into every foreign language in the world, which is nice. The Little Black Dresses are on the shelves for longer, which is also nice. Both editors work the same way with me: I give them a vague idea for a book, go away and write it, and then they read it and make me revise it, usually taking out all my cringeworthy jokes.

I love writing for both publishers. Category is so satisfying to write--it’s tightly structured, emotional, and it’s a wonderful challenge taking those old popular hooks and making them new. Little Black Dress is longer and I can really let my imagination run loose and develop character and plot.

How does what you write differ between the two?

Both of them are sexy, emotional romantic comedy, but people have told me they were surprised when they read SPIRIT WILLING after having read my category books, because it had a quite different feel.

Above all, category romance has to be focused on the romance. They’re tightly structured and all about the emotion. I was a lead author for the Modern Extra line, so I was lucky enough to get in at the beginning of something that had very few rules...but in the end there are certain rules for category romance, which the reader expects you to follow.

When I started writing for LBD I consciously chose to break some of those rules. My editor didn’t tell me to--I chose to, so I would know I was writing a different type of book. Writing in first person, for example. Writing about a heroine who’s a professional liar. Killing off a trainful of people in chapter two. Using flashbacks about the heroine’s childhood. Focusing more on the heroine’s development than the romantic story. Not having the hero and heroine meet until chapter five. Swearing.

It’s all stuff you could have in a category novel if you did it right--you can have just about anything in a category novel if you do it right--but it’s unlikely, and rightly so, because the category reader wants a fast-paced romantic story with a sympathetic heroine who doesn’t have a pottymouth, and not a lot of gratuitous death.

You were a GH finalist in 2004. How, if at all, did that help you make the final leap to publication?

It definitely helped me get agents’ attention, both in the UK and in the US. I don’t know if it made a big difference for my first sale, which happened a week before the 2004 RWA conference...the editor already had the requested, revised full when I found out I’d finalled, and I hope she decided to buy it on its own merits, not because of the contest. Maybe she read it more quickly, though. I never asked!

What was the key thing you learned which helped you make that final leap?

Emotion. I think in the manuscripts I wrote before I sold, I was a little scared to fully enter into the lives of my characters, to raise the stakes for everything they did, to really explore the emotion between them. It was when I started imagining myself in the feelings of my characters, and crafting events to heighten those feelings whenever possible, that I think I raised my game enough to get published.

You've now had a number of books published. How do you think your writing/books have changed?

I think I’ve relaxed into my voice more over the past few books (my eighth book in two years, ONE NIGHT STAND, is published in hardback in October 2007 with LBD). I’ve also started deepening my worlds a bit--exploring subplots and setting a little more, not being afraid to take a little time to let a theme or story unfurl. My structure is still tight, but it’s not quite so obsessively tight. I’d like to develop that roominess a whole lot more, though I don’t think I’ll be able to do a J.K. Rowling and make every book an inch or three thicker.

What has been your most fun moment as a published author?

There’s a big list of those, but I think the ultimate fun moment was going to my first Harlequin party a week after I sold my first book, with an invitation handed personally to me by editor Brenda Chin. Perfect happiness.

I also particularly enjoyed saying “cunnilingus” on BBC television when they filmed one of my workshops on writing sex scenes.

Another thing Julie is known for is her use of chocolate in her workshops! And I'm known for my love of Cadbury's Dairy Milk ... the real thing ... from England. And the Cadbury's Hero Assortment is heavenly! Although Aero Bubbles are a new favourite. (Mmmm)

So, Julie and I would like to know ... what is your favourite, to-die-for, chocolate treat?

And if chocolate can't tempt you - LOL - then Julie is giving away a copy of her US release Macallister's Baby!



Anna Sugden said...

Welcome Julie!

I meant to ask, how exactly do you use choclate in your workshops?

Anonymous said...

Hi Julie! thanks for being with us today. I loved the interview and the way you described writing category romance. I think some people look down on category because it's shorter and the rules are a bit tighter--but speaking as someone who just finished writing her first category, I can say it's also incredibly difficult to write! Nothing like cutting out a couple hundred pages to make you hone your conflicts and raise your stakes. :-)

My question is whether you're a plotter or pantser--do you analyze the structure of your novels before you write, make sure you've got the right pacing, rising and falling action, all that good stuff? Or do you just write and lovely things come out fully formed?

Leslie Dicken said...

WOW, your books look really interesting! I think I've got another author to add to my TBR pile! Congrats on all of your success! :-)

Christie Kelley said...

Hi Julie!!

It's been a long time. Loved the interview. Will any of the Little Black Dress books be available over here?

Janet Mullany said...

I'm so glad DELICIOUS is available in the US--it really is a wonderful book.
And how's the Fecklet?

Trish Milburn said...

Hey, Julie! Glad to have you hear today. Still, every time I see the picture of us after the 2004 GH/RITA ceremony, I think, "Wow, I wish I could wear a little red dress like that." :)

Congrats on all your success.

And my favorite chocolate treat -- a Chocolate Extreme Blizzard from Dairy Queen, followed closely by oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies right out of the oven. Oh, and those lovely chocolate oranges.

Keira Soleore said...

Julie and V.Anna, what a fun-fun interview.

Julie, you've made such a success of your career in such a short time. Eight books in two years?! WOW! Do you still teach and write, or is writing now your fulltime career?

Do you write a category and a Black Dress book at the same time, or one after the other?

I'd love to know if the Black Dress books will be available here in the U.S.

Nutella is incomparable in my opinion as far as chocolate goes. Smooth, creamy, neither too light, nor too dark, that heavenly hazlenut paste, goes on anything, and goes down smooth.

Julie Cohen said...

Hiya Banditas!

It's so great for you guys to have me here. I was psyched when Anna invited me, and it's nice to see so many friends here. Thank you! favourite chocolate is anything by Green & Black's Organic. I really missed it when I was in the States (for the past three weeks) and the first thing I did when I came back (okay, the second thing, after feeding my baby) was to buy a big bar of G&B milk chocolate with butterscotch, although their 70% dark chocolate is officially my favourite.

Julie Cohen said...

Anna, I use chocolate in my "How To Write A Sex Scene" workshops. I want to elicit some sensual writing, and I figure that most people will be a bit uncomfortable writing about actual sex in a large group. So I give everyone some chocolate and ask them to write about the sensual experience of eating it--also including the sensual experience of being in the room, and also their emotions about chocolate. It sort of highlights the fact that there's more to sensuality than just body parts.

It's usually very popular, though that could mostly be because of the chocolate.

Julie Cohen said...

Hi Kirsten!

I agree--category romance is VERY difficult to write well. Many people start writing this kind of book because they think it's going to be easy, formulaic, and short--the only bit about that that's accurate is the "short"!

I'm sort of half plotter and half pantser. I plan my characters quite thoroughly before I begin, getting to know them, and I usually know what's going to happen in the first quarter of the book (this is what I send my agent/editor). However I generally begin having NO CLUE what will happen after about chapter five or so. For example, right now I'm writing a ms which has a crazed killer stalker in it.

Do I know who s/he is? Nope--at this point it could be any one of three characters and I had to have my editor amend the back-cover copy because I don't have a clue myself. Do I know what s/he does and how the hero and heroine escape his/her murderous intentions? Not a clue. Hmm.

Then when I get to chapter five or so, I slow down and think a bit. This is usually the time in my book when I think it is utter CRAP and I might as well give up. My friends know this about me by now and they usually kick my ass. So I plot a little bit more, enough to get me through the middle.

I never know the end until I'm at least 3/4 of the way through writing the book. This probably drives my editors bonkers.

Usually I have to go back and edit to make sure the beginning works with the ending. But also, usually, I find that it does work surprisingly well, considering I was so clueless when writing it. The unconscious brain is a wonderful thing.

Julie Cohen said...

(Oh and congratulations Kirsten for finishing your first category novel! What a great feeling.)

Julie Cohen said...

Thank you Leslie! I like your cat. ;-)

Christie! Hey baby! LOVE the book cover, can't wait to read it since I've heard so much about your sexy sexy hero.

The LBD books are available on as imports, but mine at least haven't been sold to the US for rights (yet).

Julie Cohen said...

Hi Janet! I'm looking forward to reading THE RULES OF GENTILITY--looks like so much fun.

The Fecklet is growing like a weed. He's got four teeth and is babbling and crawling everywhere.

(The Fecklet is the nickname of my baby boy, 7 1/2 months old, for those who are wondering.)

Julie Cohen said...

Hi Trish!

You do know that my entire year 11 class looked me up on Google and found that photo of us, right?

I don't think I could wear that little red dress these days, post-baby. Sigh. Gotta do them sit-ups.

Do you know, I've never been to Dairy Queen? We didn't have one near me when I was growing up. What a deprived childhood, huh?

Caren Crane said...

Julie, thanks for visiting! Your books sound like exactly the sort of contemporaries I like to read. Must hie myself to Amazon!

As for chocolate, I am a dark chocolate lover from way back. I am terribly fond of different dark chocolates, but my consistent favorite is the Lindt 74% bar. The darker the better, IMO. I like the bitter edge!

Though when we were in Switzerland this June, the Shuh's Grand Cru Schoggi was fabulous! Can't get it here, though. *grumble, grumble*

I need to come to your chocolate workshop. Sounds delectable!

Julie Cohen said...

Hi Keira!

I recently resigned from my teaching job to be a full-time mother and writer, though for a few years I was writing three books a year and teaching full time. Now I want to take things a little more slowly...writing three books a year and having a baby! (Yeah, right.)

I have to write one book at a time because I can't enter into two imaginary worlds at once--though in practice I often end up working on two at once because you have revisions/proofs at the same time you've started the next book.

I've sort of alternated writing category/LBD books, depending on deadlines, but for the next year I'm going to focus on LBD books exclusively because I've got a 3-book contract with them to be fulfilled between now and November 08.

I love Nutella!!! And I can't eat it right now because I'm breastfeeding and avoiding nuts!! When I fully wean the Fecklet I'm going to have peanut butter cookies with Nutella spread on them. Mmmmmmmmmmm.

Anna Sugden said...

Mmmm ... Nutella *sigh* say no more.

I'm glad to hear that's how you write, Julie - makes me feel like I'm not doing it all wrong!

And the Fecklet is gorgeous!

Cassondra said...

Hi Julie!

Thanks for joining the Banditas and sharing your writing life with us!

You started writing category (I'm guessing) when the lines were a bit longer--at least some of them--and although there was shifting and moving in the Harlequin/M&B world, it's really escalated the past couple of years.

Have you found any trouble adapting to new ms lengths or requests and requirements from editors--has it felt like a moving target to you at all? Or have you been fairly settled in what you do for them all along?

I ask because of course, my dream was to write category first, but I've had trouble with writing that short. Then they shortened the books even more and there's no way. I SO admire writers like you who can pack great characterization and an emotional story into such a few words.

Cassondra said...

Oh, the chocolate question! Completely forgot about that.

My best chocolate experience ever was one truffle I bought from Harrods in London when I was there in grad school. OMG! I don't remember what it was, but I remember the experience and thinking "this truffle cost me $30 American and it's worth every penny!"

Here in the states I get the Lindt dark and extra dark (and sometimes even white) truffles for a real treat. MMMMMMmmmmmmmmmmmm. I just have to watch to be sure I get them at a store where they sell enough to keep them fresh. That and a couple trips a year to the Godiva store at the mall in Nashville.

anne said...

Hi Julie,
Your writing and your sense of humor is wonderful. I just love it. BTW I love Maine. One of the prettiest places to visit during the summer. Loved your interview.

ruth said...

Interesting interview which keeps me fascinated by your writing and your funny outlook. I love dark chocolate. Also Aero bars which are not available in the states.

Beth said...

Thanks for joining us, Julie! Both your category and LBD books sound wonderful! I'm looking forward to reading them *g*

As far as favorite chocolate treats go, I don't think I could pick just one -- although chocolate cake topped with chocolate buttercream icing would be near the top of the list ;-)

Great interview!

Julie Cohen said...

Hi Cassondra!

One thing I've learned about writing for the market--period--is that the requirements are ALWAYS changing. But you're right that Harlequin/Mills & Boon/Silhouette do seem to change editorial requirements pretty often.

I originally sold to Harlequin Temptation--right before the line folded. So my first book wasn't released by Temptation, but instead was a launch book for Mills & Boon Modern Extra, the international line that replaced it. There weren't many requirements for that line at that point--in fact mine was the only book they had to start out with, I think--but the editors put some together which luckily pretty much reflected what I was doing, and I met with the editors to talk the whole thing over before I wrote my second book for them.

Anyway, I've been lucky enough to have editors who have helped me to write the best book I can within the guidelines. Modern Extra have recently shifted focus somewhat (to more traditional hooks and more alpha heroes, I think) and have gone shorter, but as I'm focusing on my LBD contract at this point I haven't tried one of the newer kind. I know my editor would guide me though it.

I've had the opposite adjustment to make--my LBD editor helped me do some major revisions to make my next release, One Night Stand, LESS category-ish and longer. That was a great learning process.

And $30 for a truffle sounds like heaven...

Julie Cohen said...

Anna S, you are definitely not doing it all wrong.

Caren, I'm going to have to look for Grand Cru Schoggi. Mmmm. I love Swiss chocolate.

Thank you, Anne! I just got back from three weeks in Maine. It was gorgeous. I saw moose and a skunk. ;-)

Thank you, Ruth! I love dark chocolate best too though I have to say sometimes there's nothing like a good old bar of Hershey's with almonds. Sigh.

Beth, you make me want to bake!! Congrats on your Golden Heart! I hope you had some cake after that.

sharon said...

When I lived in Montreal many years ago we used to drive to Maine, and spend a week at the beach. What memories I have from those summers. I love fudge, especially vanilla/chocolate swirl.

Maureen said...

My favorite chocolate treat is Belgium chocolate.

Stacia said...

My favorite chocolate treat is plain dark chocolate hands down. Yum. Awesome interview with Julie!!!

ellie said...

Hi Julie,
Amazing interview. Love your books and anecdotes.
For chocolate I love Godiva Dark Chocolate.

Julie Cohen said...

The answers to this question are so totally making me hungry!!

Thank you Sharon, Maureen, Stacia, and Ellie!

Tawny said...

Hey Julie (waving wildly)

Welcome to the Bandits Lair *g* Love the interview and have a couple of your books on my shelf!

My fave chocolate is Sees, usually nuts and chews, although they do a chocolate covered divinity that rocks.

and now I want to come to your workshop just to be fed... when's the next one in the U.S.?

tetewa said...

Hey Julie glad to have you here today and enjoyed the interview today. You are a new author to me and reading about some of your releases makes me think my TBR pile is going to grow. Continued success.

Cherie J said...

Great interview! Thanks for being here Julie. I appreciated learning more about your work.

My favorite chocolate treat is a tie between my favorite candy bar, a snicker bar,and my favorite dessert, fudgy brownies. So yummy!

Helen said...

Great blog Julie I love hearing about authors and their books because I love to read.Favourite chocolate I live in Australia and I love cadburys dairy milk as well and of course tim tams who can go past them.
Have Fun

Sue A. said...

I've enjoyed the interview as well as the comments. I'm a fan of the Harlequin Presents line so I'll be on the lookout for your books.

I love chocolate in all forms. But two that come to mind are chocolate lava cakes and chocolate pecan pie. I love a dessert where the chocolate oozes out of it in liquid form. Decadent!

Beth said...

Thanks, Julie. And I'm giving myself the urge to bake -- although I'm sure if I just wait a few minutes, it'll pass *g* No cake after the GH win but I did have Chinese take-out ;-)

Glad you enjoyed the wildlife in Maine! I had a porcupine in the front yard a few days ago. I thought it was drunk by my husband assured me they walk funny because they're used to being in the trees. Who knew? :-)

Suzanne Welsh said...

Wow, Welcome to the Bandit Lair, Julie. A usual, I'm chiming in late to the talk this week, but I loved your interview.

My favorite chocolate treat? That's a toss-up between Godiva's chocolate covered caramels and Homemade devil's food cake with thick chocolate buttercream icing. Something about biting into a chocolate covered caramel and chewing the center, while the chocolate coats the tongue. Uhm...Oh yeah! As for the cake. I love it with a glass of cold milk. I'm thinking like Bill Cosby's kids. Chocolate cake for breakfast!

Anna Sugden said...

Thanks so much to Julie for visiting. We'll let you know who has won the copy of Macallister's Baby - so check back!

Julie Cohen said...

Yo Tawny! I love the cartoon of you--looks just like you! I think I should do a workshop next year at National, what do you think? (I think I'd be embarrassed with all the accomplished erotica/hot romance writers there, though.)

Thank you Tetewa!

Thanks Cherie...mmmm, Snickers bars. Again, forbidden to me right now and how I want one!!!

Hi Helen, I was lucky enough to try TimTams not long ago when an Australian friend visited. Yum.

I am dying to try a lava cake Sue A! And aren't Harlequin Presents great? I love, love, love their passion and drama.

Beth, I did not know that porcupines were naturally tree-drunk. Huh.

Thanks for the welcome, Suzanne, and I'm all for chocolate cake for breakfast. Yup. Breakfast of champions.

Julie Cohen said...

Anna and everyone--

Thank you for having me! I've had a great time. I've chosen a winner, too...

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Welcome Julie! So glad to have you with us, and congrats on the Fecklet. As the mother of 2 boys, I'll say brace yourself know for lots of trucks. Oh, have to agree w/ Sue a. on the chocolate pecan pie. Yummmm. I got some of the Green and Black's Organic chocolate in a gift basket I won in Dallas. OMG. Wonderful stuff. Virtually anything Godiva is good with me, but my new love in sweets are the orange KitKats our very own sharpshooter Kim Howe brought from Canada. Ahhhh. Those were GOOD. Sorry I missed the Tim Tams though. Grins.

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