by Cassondra Murray
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It was just about this time of year, two years ago, when Dianna Love Snell emailed me to ask if I’d sent in my Golden Heart entry.
“Well,” I typed, “I entered last year and finished in the bottom quarter. I wasn’t going to enter again.” I hit send. It took about two seconds for this email to pop into my inbox.
“You never stop putting your pages in front of them. Never.”
I griped my way to FedEx and sent my entry. I finaled. And the world shifted a little. I’ve believed in my writing a LOT more since then, and it’s because one lady took the time to push me when I needed it. It’s my honor and great pleasure to welcome that lady to the Bandit lair for the first time. Dianna, thanks for joining us.
Thanks for asking me to blog on this great site! I’m really a newbie at blogging – this is my first guest appearance, so thank YOU. I hear about the Romance Bandits all over the place. Yes, as Cassondra said, I get pushy when it comes to seeing any of you miss a chance to get your pages in front of an editor. Everything you do is a step forward no matter how large or small, so you have to keep taking those steps.
Dianna, you didn’t come into the world with pen (or keyboard) in hand. It was a paintbrush wasn’t it? You’ve built a phenomenal career creating specialty art projects. Will you tell us about your journey to writing award-winning Romantic Suspense?
I often joke that I fell out of the womb an artist. I won an art competition in third grade. I’ve had a love affair with pen and paper my whole life. I enjoyed writing in school, but it wasn’t my goal as a teen. My passion – to sketch and paint photo-realistic portraits - led to the businesses I built starting at age seventeen when I was faced with living alone and supporting myself. Small signs were okay, but I gravitated to painting walls 100’ long and murals.
People in outdoor advertising needed someone who could paint lifelike faces 15’ tall on billboards, and would climb two-hundred feet in the air to do it. Over the years, I created several companies and sold all of them except the one I now have, where I create large marketing projects that are three dimensional or Electronic.
After years of hanging hundreds of feet in the air alone, I started to amuse myself by creating stories. I’d gotten to the point I could paint and do something else mentally at the same time. Once I shifted gears in business to producing
projects that required neon bending, sign fabricating, steel workers, electricians, engineers and cranes, I had huge chunks of time when I wasn’t physically doing the work myself.
It’s not possible for a Type-A to be dormant. My husband says I’m like a shark, always moving.
I’d built and installed three 25’ tall fiberglass Coca-Cola bottles for Fenway Park (Congrats to the Red Sox winning the World Series this year!) in the late 90s. In 2001, during flights back and forth from Atlanta to Boston for another Fenway Park project, I started writing down ideas I planned to give to a “real” writer.
I caught the bug and couldn’t stop – the result of that beginning was WORTH EVERY RISK (Silhouette 2005). It didn’t take long before I had every bit as much passion for writing as I’d always had for art and could not get enough when it came to learning the craft.
Of course, that publishing success didn’t happen overnight. Dianna writes kick-butt heroines, but for me, she is the model of the tough yet tender lady we’d all like to emulate. Note the gorgeous Harley in the photo below.
Side note—she and her hottie husband, Karl, do bike trips across the US for fun. On separate motorcycles, thank you very much. That bike is her baby and you better not mess with it...... .uh….. .ahem…oh yes, I did have a point….
Dianna, I’ve noticed something consistent about the way you do almost everything. You decide what you want, and then you go and get it no matter the odds. Your drive is almost a tactile thing, like a ramrod that, once you’ve headed in a given direction, seems to clear the way for you. Were you born with that inner drive?
I’d have to say I was born with a drive I can’t tamp down. I do believe you can increase your drive or decrease it – based on your positive or negative mindset, the people you allow (and I do mean allow) in your inner circle and the value you place on your time. I place far more value on time than I do on anything else in this world with the exception of my husband and family. I follow my passion.
That hasn’t always come easy has it? I’ve learned bits and pieces of your story over the years. Will you share some of your background here?
I started my first job in the ‘70s in a steno pool at a large corporation and knew I’d never be happy working at a desk. People thought I had lost my mind when I handed in my notice because that was an era when you stayed at a job, especially at a big company.
People I had covered work for, celebrated their weddings and child births, had gotten to be "friends" with turned their backs on me and would not speak. It was amazingly hostile. They said I'd never amount to anything because I was leaving a job after a year.
I worked two restaurant jobs (one at night during the week and one all weekend) because they fed me a meal, the money was good and I liked the work. Customers came in and offered me office work. When I said no, they'd say, "Don't you want a job with some prestige?" I told them I couldn’t eat or pay rent with prestige. The only place that would rent an apartment to a single woman (they thought you were a prostitute if you were living alone at my age) was over a bar. I had to nail the window shut at night because it opened to the walkway.
Looking back, I realize my "live on my terms" attitude threatened many of them who maybe wanted to leave, but were terrified of the possibility that they might never work for a company that big again, with all those benefits.
My mother died at 42, two weeks after I graduated from high school and on the first vacation we'd ever taken. The way I saw it, there were no guarantees about how long we get to do what we want here.
I focused on becoming the best in my field. I was the only female doing that work in the ‘80s, and eventually I was the lead contractor in some of largest outdoor companies in the country.
I will always go back to passion when searching for the drive to accomplish a task or reach a goal. Here’s the secret - “If you truly want to do something, you will find a way.” I have never known where life would lead me, but figured if I followed my passion I would at least be happy during the journey. It hasn’t always been an easy journey, but it has always been a satisfying one. I find it much easier to get up in the morning and face a long day working at something I love than something I tolerate.
You’ve hit upon one of the reasons I wanted you to be our guest. You once said to me, “Don’t play their games…you take what you can use and you walk away and let the rest slide off.” Whether that’s a judge’s irrational comments, an editor or agent’s rejection, the loss of a coveted contract, promotion, or anything else in life, can you tell us how you use that to keep your head and heart on your own true path?
I do believe we drive our lives either in a productive way, a destructive way, a boring way, a strong way...not just in a good or bad way.
I needed money to buy paper when I was in middle school because we had a large family and a notebook was for school work only. Things like a blank sheet of white paper were frivolous. I drew charcoal portraits for supply money to feed my art habit.
People stood over my shoulder when I drew, which will make or break you when it comes to putting your work out in the world for criticism. 99% of the walls and murals I painted were done in front of the client and the world. So by the time I started writing, I had been through much worse as a teen than being told someone didn’t like my character or there wasn’t enough conflict.
When I started my business in Tampa it was frowned upon for a female to work out in a “labor” type environment. Men did not want women in the sign business – it was the ‘70s after all. Once you’ve walked into twenty-five businesses a day for weeks on end to be told, “We don’t want a girl painting our sign,” you have to decide to fade away or buck up and prove them wrong. I decided that if I proved I could paint as good – or better – than their male painters, they could not afford to turn me away.
You think life got simpler then? Nope. Five different times other painters sabotaged my work so I’d have to repaint the art, and some stole my equipment.
Eventually, the small minded people always fall away because they focus on the wrong things.
So you see, my philosophy is still the same – follow my passion, work at my craft to be the best that I can, act professionally and be good to others. That’s why in writing I try to help anyone I can.
Creative endeavors are not just hard work, but to create is to make a withdrawal from your muse bank. It’s easy to overdraw and think you are going to be bankrupt once in a while. That’s when you may need a helping hand from a friend.
Your passion for writing is paying off. I was thrilled to be up front, in the audience as a GH finalist when, in 2006, you won a Rita for Best Long Contemporary for your first book, Worth Every Risk, a Silhouette Intimate Moments. Did that change you or your writing?
To win in my category – Long Contemporary - was really a shock.
I can not tell you how much the cheers that night meant to me. Even typing now it touches my heart to think about how many people wished me well.
I want that for every one of you.
As for what winning did for my writing - my agent started banking the award as soon as she got home—using it for leverage on submitted projects. We sold a novella not long after that. I don’t think an editor will buy a book because of an award, but I have had quite a few editors and agents come up to speak to me since winning, so the RITA – like the Golden Heart - definitely brings your name and face to the attention of the industry.
The first Worth Every Risk book out of my box of early copies and RITA, as Karl calls her, sit on our mantel and reminds me every day that anything is within my grasp if I’m willing to reach for it.
You have exciting things on the horizon—A novella, MIDNIGHT KISS GOODBYE, is scheduled for release in October 2008 as part of a St. Martin’s Press anthology DEAD AFTER DARK. This would suggest your writing has taken a paranormal turn, but you’ve included paranormal elements from early on, right?
I’m really flattered to be included in this anthology. Lead author is NYT best seller Sherrilyn Kenyon (who just hit #1 on the NYT list!) plus two more NYT best sellers – J. R. Ward and Susan Squires – then me.
I’ve had this strange paranormal series for a while, but didn’t let my agent take it out during the onslaught of Vampire and Werewolf submissions and releases because I don’t write those and no one wanted anything else. There are plenty of great authors already producing top Vamp and Were stories.
I’ve always had a keen interest in the paranormal, but the stories that came to me were a bit different. In fact, two editors have been interested in them, but when they pitched the stories at editorial meetings they were told marketing didn’t know how to market them. (Sidebar – Sherrilyn tells me she heard much the same thing about her now famous Dark-Hunter series, building an inch thick file of rejections on this series during the year before the first Dark-Hunter book sold.) The big thing about creating in a different subgenre is that I haven’t changed the core of my writing – I still write romantic suspense.
As authors, we will always be faced with morphing what we create to follow the change reflected in society and what readers want, but in my opinion this doesn’t mean to write whatever the latest hot streak is. I had one editor suggest if I changed my paranormal into a vampire story she’d take it. Hard offer to pass on, right? Not really. If it’s not what I write, then it will show in my story no matter how hard I try. Yes, I might get a “contract,” but if the story is not what I do best then will I build a reader base? Will I enjoy continuing the series?
A contract does not guarantee that you’ll continue with a house. Readers buying your book is the best guarantee. I’ve seen several new authors jump to change their stories to something they really don’t write only to have poor sell throughs, which ended in going out of contract. The next publishing house always wants to see your numbers. So there’s a lot more at stake than just getting a contract if you plan to build a career. Give serious thought to every opportunity.
I want readers to feel what I feel when I’m writing. If done appropriately and for the right reasons, passing on a project is not going to end your relationship with an editor. I’m still in dialogue with this editor on other things. The novella I sold is a taste of my paranormal series and I give kudos to Monique Patterson at St. Martin’s Press, for publishing something a bit strange.
Another release, waiting in the wings, is creating quite a buzz. You and Sherrilyn are co-writing the next B.A.D. Agency book for Pocket (June 2008). Will you tell us how you and Sherrilyn came to work together on this book?
Sherri asked me to tour with her the first time in 2006. I agreed because she had become a good friend who needed help so that she could give her best to her fans at each stop.
Touring 101 – with us
Sherri draws over 150 fans at signings and many will have been sitting there for hours waiting. Some will have driven 6 hours or flown in. They bring friends and family. Sherri talks and does a Q&A until they are ready to sign then she takes her time with each one, chatting as she signs their stacks of books.
What amazes me is that Sherri knows so many by their names. We’ve turned these signings into fan events and the time spent from entering until we collapse in the car is exhilarating. I’ve learned a great deal by touring with someone like Sherri. I’ve also become better known by booksellers and readers due to Sherri’s generous nature – she always takes the time to introduce me as an author. Along the way, we became better friends ( touring like this will make or break a friendship, and don’t even think about doing it with a spouse).
It was on this last trip that we started discussing her next book for the B.A.D. Agency series. When she told me the blurb for the story, I naturally started suggesting things that could happen, then the two of us were brainstorming like mad.
Sherri’s reaction was “wow, that is so cool, why don’t we write this together?” What was my answer? Well, let’s just say my momma drowned all her stupid kids.
On loan to the New Orleans police department, Terri Mitchell is working undercover for the Bureau of American Defense. The B.A.D. Agency suspects a drug kingpin of funding terrorism. When bizarre rumors begin to surface of a ghost interrogating members of that ring, she becomes suspicious. She doesn't believe in the paranormal, but an eerie encounter with someone in a dark house leaves her shaken. Could he be a phantom?
Most of all, the encounter leaves her beguiled and intrigued. She has to get to the bottom of an investigation that takes a deadly turn at every corner. Is this phantom really a spirit conjured up from the depth of the bayou, or a man set on a course of vengeance? The search for that answer puts her life in jeopardy when faced with exposing the worlds and plans of powerful people behind an unconscionable attack against innocent citizens.
To succeed, Terri will have to also reveal her phantom's secrets that will destroy him…and any future with a man who has captured her heart and soul with his dark passion.
The deadline looms for that June release, right along with holiday madness, and I know you’ve been holed up in the writing cave. I’m so pleased you were able to join us in spite of all that. Is there anything else you’d like to say to writers or readers about how you’ve tackled the ups and downs of the writing life so successfully?
Yes, speaking of deadlines…. All of you have a deadline of some sort right now. If it isn’t at home or in your day job, then it’s your own personal writing deadline.
Right now, many of you face finishing your Golden Heart submission in time to ship. I wish for all of you to have understanding and supportive families, but I bet there are some who catch grief while trying to finish their book so they can get into this prestigious contest. It’s hard to explain why you aren’t cooking a meal, visiting a friend, watching television with your significant other, making a ball game or why you are just plain grouchy from burnout when there isn’t a book deal on the line.
That’s why I am always confused by authors writing on contract who go on and on bemoaning a deadline.
Well, duh. Wasn’t that the point in going after a book contract? I’ve been around some very prolific authors who are on perpetual deadline and never utter a word about it. It’s their job, what they agreed to do.
Yes, I am in my writing cave this week typing furiously...and thrilled to have a deadline looming. Selling books and having a deadline is the good news that should be celebrated. It’s much more difficult for an unpublished author to forgo things they’d really like to do to finish a book and do revisions with no guarantee of a contract. I definitely know what that is like and empathize with those of you still waiting.
Get those manuscripts out there so that you can have a contract and deadline. When you do, remember to celebrate reaching your dream.
Everyone has a different journey on the way to reaching goals. Is there a time you’ve gone against the grain, stood up against the odds? Or would you LIKE to do that?
What home, family or writing deadline are you facing at the moment? And how do you handle the pressure when deadlines loom and stress levels mount?
And inquiring minds want to know….Is there chocolate involved?
All who comment will be entered to win one of the following three great giveaways:
1) An autographed copy of Worth Every Risk! (no longer available except through those in the know—ahem….that would be YOU, Bandita friends (grin) )
2) A five-page manuscript critique—in time for the Golden Heart if you’re entering!
3)A certificate for an autographed copy of Phantom In The Night—signed by Sherrilyn Kenyon and Dianna Love Snell, to be delivered as soon as the book is out!