by Suzanne Welsh
Today is champagne day in the Lair. Why? Because I get to welcome one of my closest and sweetest friends, Kay Thomas, to the Lair. I'm also celebrating with Kay and all of you the release of Kay's very first book, BETTER THAN BULLETPROOF!
Suz: Welcome to the Bandit Lair, Kay. Here's your champagne and please have a seat. First, the Bandits love call stories. Care to share yours with us?
Kay: Last year in mid-January, I was packing my family to get ready for a trip to visit my Dad for his 81st birthday. The phone rang and it was my wonderful agent Helen Breitwieser. She usually emails so I knew this was momentous news. She said Harlequin Intrigue really liked my story but it was too long for their line and would I be willing to cut my single title story to a category length. (This meant cutting about 80 pages of the manuscript.)
Was I willing to do that?
"Of course I can."
"Okay, let me call them back. I'll email you, it will probably be tomorrow before we hear anything."
Well, after that awesome call I had to get in the car and drive 8 hours to my parents' house. And let me tell you, it was a good thing we were almost packed because I don't think I could have remembered to pack underwear or shoes or anything, I was so excited.
We didn't really have a deal yet. Just a "Gee, we're interested." And I didn't know if they'd want me to do all that cutting first and see it before they made the offer or after. And I had a long drive to think about that, too. A very long drive.
When we got to my parent's house it was 2 am, and everyone was wiped out from the drive, so I didn't want to get into the news just yet. But my Dad has always been such a cheerleader for my writing. Growing up he always told me I could do whatever I set my mind to. When I went to tell my parents good night after the kids were finally in bed, I just had to tell my folks that I thought I "might" be about to sell my book. The looks on their faces were priceless.
I couldn't sleep after all that and I had to go online to see if there was any news. I really wasn't expecting any until much later that day. It was now about 3:30 in the morning and everyone was fast asleep but yes, there was the email from Helen! Harlequin had made an offer. I was shouting on the inside but I couldn't go wake anyone up to say it was finally real.
They'd all just gotten to sleep. But oh, that evening we got to celebrate my Dad's birthday with the rest of my extended family and my book sale. I don't think I could have given my Dad a greater birthday gift than telling him about my dream come true in person.
Suz: BETTER THAN BULLETPROOF is your debut novel being released later this month. Could you tell us the premise behind the story?
Kay: Sure, BETTER THAN BULLETPROOF is about a woman who gets caught up in the vaccine autism controversy when her sister disappears and leaves behind her autistic son. Gina Rodgers is an ad executive with no idea how to care for her nephew Adam and his overwhelming needs. She finds an unlikely ally in Adam's play therapist, Harlan Jeffries. He's a former Marine sniper looking for redemption in working with special needs children.
Suz: Your hero in BETTER THAN BULLETPROOF is Harlan Jeffries. He's my favorite kind of hero-big, strong, buff, with both a tender heart and a secret. Can you tell us more about what makes him tick?
Kay: Harlan is yummy, isn’t he? I had great time creating him. He is a Marine home on medical leave after being injured in Iraq. Haunted by all he’s seen and done there, he’s also trying to figure out what he’s going to do with his life now. While he’s working through all this, he’s working with Adam doing floortime. A type of play therapy for autistic kids that lay people can do. (Not a lot of special training required. You just have to like to play!) Yes, he does have a secret, but I hate to give that away here today.
Suz: What did you like best about Harlan? What drove you crazy about him?
Kay: Oooh, there were lots of things I like about him. He isn't perfect and even though he's very alpha, he doesn't necessarily have a big ego. In fact he's struggling with figuring out if he makes a difference anymore. He's sustained a terrible back injury and doesn't feel like a hero at all. He loves kids and he's very driven to help people. And of course, Gina doesn't want to be helped or saved in any way.
I really enjoyed showing him how much of a difference he could make in Gina's and Adam's lives just by being present, not necessarily by doing the physical things that he would normally consider heroic. Gina and Adam are the perfect people to show Harlan that he doesn't have to do anything special to make himself a hero. That whole idea of being loved for who you are, not for what you can do for someone.
Suz: Gina Rodgers, the heroine in BETTER THAN BULLETPROOF sees herself as a "screwup". How do you see her?
Kay: I see Gina as a woman who has struggled in the past to become independent from her family. She's now a competent and successful businesswoman, but thrown into the difficult situation of caring for an autistic five-year-old. While dealing with the emotional ramifications of that and looking for her missing sister, Gina feels all her old insecurities rising again. She has no idea how to care for her nephew. She needs help and she hates that she has to rely on Harlan for it.
She's also falling hard for Harlan whom she's not entirely sure she can trust. But she has to trust him because he's the only one who can help her when bullets start flying and it's obvious someone is after her and Adam. The situation pushes all her 'competency buttons' simultaneously so that she feels like she's losing control on every level.
Suz: Gina's nephew in BETTER THAN BULLTETPROOF has autism. It's a condition you are intimately associated with. Would you care to fill our readers in on that?
Kay: Yes, as you can probably tell from my answers above I'm rather passionate about this. Eight years ago my son was diagnosed with autism and we immediately dove into an intensive array of biomedical and traditional therapies for him. He worked hard and responded amazingly well. I will be forever grateful to a multitude of people that I can never repay for giving me back my son. People who worked with him, played with him, prayed for him and for my family. Incredibly generous parents I've met through autism groups online but never met in person who shared their hard won knowledge and advice when we got stuck in various stages of treatment. Doctors, teachers, therapists, and friends who gave so much over the years. It's a very long list.
Even with exceptional treatment, you don't always get the kind of results we did. It's been an extraordinarily humbling and overwhelming experience. Today I look at my son when he's yakking away (a miracle in itself), and I think about where we were 9 years ago. I'm completely awed.
Suz: If someone wanted to learn more about autism or become involved in helping where would recommend they start?
Kay: I'm so glad you asked. There are many great autism resources on the Internet now.
My favorite is www.nationalautismassociation.org
Their motto is "Think Autism. Think Cure."
They have fabulous resources for treatment options, conferences, and the latest news in the autism world. Practically every reputable autism site on the web is listed at NAA--Autism Research Institute, Talk About Curing Autism, Generation Rescue, Autism One. Please check them out.
And if you lose the address or can't remember it when you're chatting with someone, I have a list of autism resources on my website under links. NAA is at the top of the list.
Here's an article for more information:
Suz: Was there any special reason you wanted to write BETTER THAN BULLETPROOF?
Kay: BETTER THAN BULLETPROOF is very much the “book of my heart” because the subject matter is so steeped in autism and treatment. I struggled not to “tell too much” as I wrote and to stay focused on the characters—not getting too carried away on a topic which is so close to home. It’s my greatest hope that readers can enjoy Harlan and Gina’s story and be entertained by it as well as learn a bit about autism—an epidemic that is sweeping the country and stealing away some of the brightest children of a generation.
Suz: This is your first book for Harlequin INTRIGUE. Do you have any other up and coming books with them?
Kay: Yes! I have an April Intrigue titled BULLETPROOF TEXAS. The release date is April 14, 2009 and I had a blast writing it. BULLETPROOF TEXAS pulls in some of the characters from BETTER THAN BULLETPROOF.
Suz: Oooo, I love series books where secondary characters get to pop again! Can you give us a hint about it? When will it be released?
Kay: It's a romantic suspense thriller about a pharmaceutical research scientist and a brooding caving guide who are forced to work together extracting a cancer-eating bacteria from a flooding Texas Hill Country cave. As the sparks fly and the sexual tension increases, so do the dangers when a competitor decides this potential cure shouldn't see the light of day--and is willing to kill anyone who gets in the way.
Kay:Suz, thanks so much for having me here in the lair today. 2008 was a remarkable and exciting year for me. I can hardly wait to see what happens in 2009. I was wondering what you and your readers are most looking forward to in the New Year? What is it about January and new beginnings that you most enjoy?
Kay is giving away an autographed copy of BETTER THAN BULLETPROOF to one commentor today.
(By the way, Kay loves boston terriors, so this one came to drink champagne with us today! Isn't he cute?)