by Anna Campbell
It is with great pleasure that I welcome my wonderful critique partner Annie West back to the lair. She's here to give us an update on what's been happening over the last few months and also to talk about her two new Harlequin romances.
Annie, congratulations on all your success since we last hosted you in the lair. THE SHEIKH’S RANSOMED BRIDE has been nominated for a Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award, FOR THE SHEIKH’S PLEASURE has finaled in the National Readers’ Choice Awards and you’ve contributed to an anthology to celebrate Mills and Boon’s centenary. Can you give us an update on what else has happened in your world lately?
Gee, Anna, isn’t that enough? I lead such a quiet life and you’ve stolen my thunder here with all my big news. First let me say thanks for inviting me back to the lair. It’s a real pleasure to be here as I always enjoy the camaraderie. I’ve even (ahem) managed to snare the GR once for Down Under. As for news – the RT nomination and finaling in the NRCA have been fantastic. It’s great to see both my boys (my first 2 sheikhs) doing so well with readers. I’m more or less a U.S. contest virgin (I didn’t enter American contests before publication) so color me chuffed! Apart from that – work and lots of it. Things have been rather unsettled on the home front this year for a number of reasons so focusing on my writing has been a challenge. However, I’ve managed to get my third sheikh accepted (wild shrieks of joy over that one) and have just submitted another story to my editor. Now I’m looking forward to a writers’ workshop in Brisbane in May, and the RWAus conference in August, and wishing I was going to the San Francisco conference (where my critique partner has a double RITA nomination!).
Hmm, who could your critique partner be? Snork! Your latest U.S. release is the wonderful THE GREEK TYCOON’S UNEXPECTED WIFE. Can you tell us about this story?
This is a book that had me chortling with glee as I started writing. I put my hero in the worst possible circumstances then waited to see how he got out of them. Silly me – I forgot that I was the one who had to help him find his way! Stavros Denakis has everything: wealth, power, status, a gorgeous home, an even more gorgeous fiancée and he’s celebrating his engagement with a huge A-list party when he gets a surprise visitor – his wife. I loved Tessa, his wife. She was so stoic and strong in a quiet, dignified way that made me wish I could be just like her. It’s in North American bookstores from mid May under the label ‘Presents Extra’.
It must have been a great thrill to be asked to contribute to an anthology to mark Mills and Boon’s centenary (available here). Can you tell us about THE BILLIONAIRE’S BOUGHT MISTRESS, your story in the collection?
You’re absolutely right, Anna, this was an enormous thrill. I’ve been reading Mills and Boon/Harlequin books since my teens (only a few years ago, of course) so being asked to write for a centenary anthology was fantastic. The idea was to showcase three new authors so the edition is a whopper, with full length stories by Annie Burrows (Regency historical), Margaret McDonagh (medical) and me (Presents). Ms. Campbell can take some of the credit for this story as the initial idea emerged as we lolled in her sitting room discussing plots (yay, Anna!). The opening scene came to me in a burst of energy. I had a vivid picture in my mind of Antonia, huddled into a long coat as the alpine wind whips past her cheeks. She’s in a churchyard, burying her father, when a man with a face like a fallen angel appears and proceeds to turn her life upside down. It’s a very sexy story about a man who wants to buy a mistress to help his plans for revenge and a woman who gets caught up in his schemes. I loved the fact that though I put Antonia in a terrible situation, virtually powerless to begin with, she never caves in and always manages to assert herself. As for Rafe, he learns about true strength and the redemptive power of love. I had enormous fun watching him learn about himself as well as Antonia. It’s a high stakes drama with loads of passion – the sort of story I love to read.
In publishing, a week is a long time. Why do you think Mills and Boon (Harlequin in the U.S. and Canada) has had such great longevity with their love stories?
You mean apart from having terrific writers! (G) It has to be because they listen to their readers and change with them. Harlequin Mills and Boon is meticulous in tracking reader demographics, likes and dislikes, as well as sales. As a result, the stories sold now are very different to the ones sold 5, 10, 20, much less 30 years ago. They follow readers’ preferences. The company aims to give what readers want, delivering on the promise for satisfying romances intrinsic in each line.
A week or so ago, we had some wonderful advice from Jane Porter for people who are aiming to write Presents. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers targeting this particular line?
Ah, Anna, the big question. I read Jane’s advice and, as usual, found her words of wisdom spot on. The big thing I think (and this goes for any line) is that I’d only recommend trying to write for Presents if you LOVE those books. If you find yourself swept away with a smile on our face by larger than life heroes, deep emotion, sizzling passion and a touch (or more) of glamour then this could be the line for you.
As you know, originally I wasn’t aiming for Presents. It was the line I’d read consistently for years but I didn’t think I had what it took to write these books. I sent manuscripts elsewhere and got encouraging feedback but there was always a ‘but’ (funny about that). My voice didn’t quite fit. Finally, just before I gave up trying to get published, I decided I had nothing to lose by trying to write for the line I loved best. Sitting down to write the story that became A MISTRESS FOR THE TAKING was a whole new experience. I felt I’d come home and the writing flowed from some inner well I’d never tapped before. (Do you tap a well? You know what I mean.) It still required lots of hard work but I felt I was in my zone and that some part of me knew what it was doing with this story.
I know it’s been said so often we tend to discount the advice, but I firmly believe in writing what you love. Apart from that? I’ve seen manuscripts written to target Presents that have glamour, an alpha hero, a feisty heroine and a conflict, but they just don’t make the grade. The main reason is that the conflict isn’t necessarily about the characters, that it’s more a disagreement or a surface level misunderstanding that can easily be resolved. A great Presents story is driven by two strong people (by ‘strong’ I don’t mean loud or aggressive) who are driven by circumstance and their own characters into conflict with the other. Delving deep to discover what the characters feel most strongly about, and then using that to develop the story seems the best way to go.
Too often I’ve seen contest entries where the ‘conflict’ arises from a hero who instead of being an alpha hero is an ugly-tempered brute who does outrageous things without any provocation or reason. Or a heroine who turns her nose up petulantly at the perfectly understandable actions of a hero. All, I suspect because the conflict isn’t really deep and driven by honest emotions. I think this is about digging right down to let your characters drive the conflict. Sorry – am I on my soap box? I hasten to add I’ve read some wonderful contest entries too, where I’m ready to be swept away in a terrific story, but have to stop because I don’t have the whole manuscript.
What are you working on now?
I’m tinkering with ideas for my next book. I’m in the unusual position (for me) of trying to decide which of three options is the strongest to write now. The passionate Greek who gets up to all sorts of mischief on a private beach, the buttoned up Italian businessman who catches up with an old flame and gets more than he bargained for, or the Aussie tycoon who discovers the love of his life in the boardroom. Votes or suggestions willingly accepted!
What do you find inspiring?
Talking to other writers. Nothing beats the buzz from being with people who ‘get’ what you’re trying to do or understand (some of) the publishing world. Hot showers (a great way to work on plot problems – I’m sure it’s the hot water). Walking on a long deserted beach (there should be more of it).Visiting places I’ve never been before.
Annie, do you want to come up with some fantabulous question we can use to get the conversation going?
Argh! That’s typical of you, Anna. No pressure...no pressure...fantabulous? No, sorry, I can’t manage that, but I’d love to hear from people about the stories that really strike a chord with them. You know, the ones that you reach for as comfort reads, or grab off the bookstore shelves as soon as you read the blurb. I love marriage of convenience stories or situations where I just know hero and heroine are going to be stuck with each other despite their best intentions. Or witty comedy of manners like Georgette Heyer. Or high stakes drama and passion (can you see why Anna and I critique together)? And, are they the ones you love to write best or is there a difference between your fave read and your fave story to write?
Annie has very generously offered a signed copy of her newest U.S. release THE GREEK TYCOON'S UNEXPECTED WIFE to one lucky commenter today. Good luck, everyone!