Welcome to part two of Dear Author’s interview series with the debut authors who are up for Best First Book in the RITAs, the annual awards presented by the Romance Writers of America. Three historicals received nominations: Kaki Warner’s Western Pieces of Sky, Kieran Kramer’s Regency When Harry Met Molly, and Karen Witemeyer’s inspirational A Tailor-Made Bride. We’re giving these as a bundle to one reader today.
Another reader can win the action/suspense bundle: Wanna Get Lucky? by Deborah Coonts and Firestorm by Kelly Ann Riley.
Petticoats or police? State your preference in the comments…
DEBORAH COONTS, Wanna Get Lucky?: As her final act on this earth, Lyda Sue Stalnaker plummeted out of a Las Vegas helicopter and landed smack in the middle of the pirates’ lagoon in front of the Treasure Island Hotel, disrupting the 8:30 pirate show.
KELLY ANN RILEY, Firestorm: The shattering glass broke the stillness of the moonlit forest, startling birds into flight and scattering grazing deer in the meadow below.
KAKI WARNER, Pieces of Sky: I’m a dead man.
KIERAN KRAMER, When Harry Met Molly: Thirteen-year-old Lady Mary “Molly” Fairbanks, daughter of the widowed Earl of Sutton, seethed with emotion on a daily basis, whether she was cleaning her teeth, breaking the shell on her morning egg, or riding her favorite mare.
KAREN WITEMEYER, A Tailor-Made Bride: “Red? Have you no shame, Auntie Vic? You can’t be buried in a scarlet gown.”
Main Character’s Six-Word Memoir:
DEBORAH COONTS: Bordello born, Vegas raised, romantically challenged.
KELLY ANN RILEY: Tough firefighter finds love through adversity.
KAKI WARNER: (For Brady): Bound by duty, freed by love. (For Jessica): Ask me to stay. I will.
KAREN WITEMEYER: (Jericho Tucker) Stubborn-minded. Kindhearted. About to fall hard. (Hannah Richards) Sees beauty everywhere, even scarred hearts.
KIERAN KRAMER: Misunderstood, isolated second son gains community.
What my heroine does for a living:
DEBORAH COONTS: Vegas crisis management in a large Strip hotel/casino.
KELLY ANN RILEY: Kitty is a Los Angeles firefighter who would like to get into arson investigation.
KAKI WARNER: Jessica Thornton is a milliner and writes pamphlets on deportment.
KAREN WITEMEYER: Hannah is a seamstress who is on the verge of opening her first dress shop.
KIERAN KRAMER: Companion to her aunt, assistant to her father.
What makes my hero heroic:
DEBORAH COONTS: She rises above her background, solves everyone’s problems, and learns and grows along the way.
KELLY ANN RILEY: He changed his life to help his son and despite past hurt he opens his heart again to love Kitty.
KAKI WARNER: He keeps his word and is willing to make any sacrifice for those he loves…even give up his ranch.
KAREN WITEMEYER: Jericho is fiercely loyal, especially to his younger sister. He’s a bit crusty on the outside, and even though his head demands he keep the new seamstress at arm’s length, his tender heart compels him to watch over her and see to her needs.
KIERAN KRAMER: His sense of honor, which he reveals when he drops the façade of his rapscallion identity and embraces his true essence.
A favorite line/scene/moment from the story:
DEBORAH COONTS: “A naked man, duct tape around his member, a rope, a trapeze, how’d you get so lucky?”
KELLY ANN RILEY: Luke assumes Kitty is a burglar and tackles hers as she tries to run away. In the struggle he knocks off her hat and discovers she’s a woman. Thus, their adventure together begins.
KAKI WARNER: When Brady reveals to Jessica his part in his brother’s death. It ends with: “He looked down, saw the pale hands stroking his chest, and the strength left him. It was just a touch—but coming now—from this woman—it nearly broke him.”
KAREN WITEMEYER: I love letting my characters tease each other:
He prowled forward, jaw clenched so hard, his facial muscles ticked. “The name’s J.T.”
“No,” she said, tapping her chin as if pondering some great mystery. “Those are initials. Your name is Jericho.”
Wiggling his fingers to keep them from curling into fists, J.T. reminded himself that she was a woman. “Are you purposely trying to rile me?” His voice rumbled with menace, warning her against such a dangerous path.
An all-too-innocent smile stretched across her face. “Why, yes. Yes, I am. Is it working?”
KIERAN KRAMER: When Molly first gets to the house and worries about having to swim in the lake naked.
I wanted to tell this story because…
DEBORAH COONTS: Vegas is a wonderful city, full of magic and mischief. I wanted folks to see some of that..and I wanted to make them laugh, then maybe shed a tear or two.
KELLY ANN RILEY: I was a firefighter in a small mountain town for a while and wanted to set a book in a similar setting.
KAKI WARNER: I love the Old West. It took a unique kind of American hero to persevere during those lawless, wide open years just after the Civil War, and I wanted to show how one family met those challenges.
KAREN WITEMEYER: …writing from a Christian worldview, I wanted to show that living right is more important than being right. And that sometimes, loving one’s neighbor can spark a romance that can change two people’s lives forever.
KIERAN KRAMER: I wanted to tell the story of women bonding in the midst of a male-dominated environment and, of course, to show that some males–like Harry—are worth falling in love with, LOL!
An unexpected research detour I made while writing the book:
DEBORAH COONTS: Nothing in Vegas is “unexpected”–even a trip to the male strip club….
KELLY ANN RILEY: I originally wrote the book as a contemporary romance story and set the book down for several years before deciding to make it into an inspirational.
KAKI WARNER: When setting up the timeline for PIECES OF SKY, I came across a reference to “The Great Epizootic of 1872”—a horse flu epidemic that brought the entire country to a standstill for several weeks. It became a sub-plot in the third book of the trilogy, CHASING THE SUN.
KAREN WITEMEYER: Would a 19th century makeover be too improbable, I wondered. Nope. As it turns out, the mid 1800s was a great time for social reform, including an emphasis on fitness for women and children. I found books with wonderful diagrams of the equipment they used, including something called Indian clubs (think bowling pins), and I had a great time incorporating these elements into my story.
KIERAN KRAMER: Period- and theme- appropriate poems for my mistresses to recite.
I’ll never forget the reader/fan/reviewer who…
DEBORAH COONTS: … said my novel was too over-the-top to be real. Gosh, good thing I write FICTION:)
KELLY ANN RILEY: …is my husband uncle. A Vietnam vet who hunted my book down in the stores and then showed the book to his buddies, telling everyone his niece wrote this.
KAKI WARNER: …was the first reader to email me. It made my day, knowing a stranger spent money and time on my book, then took more time to tell me how much she enjoyed it. I doubt readers know how thrilled authors are to hear from fans—especially new authors like me.
KAREN WITEMEYER:…said that not only had my story been an entertaining read that she couldn’t put down, but it had encouraged her to return to her faith roots and begin to seek God anew. Reactions like that one are what make all the hard work worth it.
KIERAN KRAMER: …told me she laughed out loud when reading it,
even though she’d had a very bad day.
What’s great about my sub-genre:
DEBORAH COONTS: ): I’ve been told I write comedic thrillers, which is patently absurd–an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one. Which, come to think of it, is fairly appropriate. What is great about what I do is making folks laugh. I am the comic relief, part funnybone, part hambone and I love it.
KELLY ANN RILEY: That you can weave in elements of faith into stories of love and suspense.
KAKI WARNER: Western Historical Romance is so uniquely American. Readers can immediately identify with the country, the characters, the motivations, even the historical aspects of your plot. Because of that sense of connection, the setting almost becomes a character within the story.
KAREN WITEMEYER: I’ve been an avid reader of historical romance novels since my teenage years. I love the fairy-tale feel of traveling into the past. And as a woman of faith, writing for the inspirational market allows me to blend two of my lifelong passions into one creative outlet. For me, inspirational historical romance is the best of both worlds.
KIERAN KRAMER: Regencies rock because you can put lots of eccentric characters in them–and men in tight breeches.
When I got the call about the RITA nomination, I…
DEBORAH COONTS: …was in the shower in a cheap hotel in Texas–no, I will not tell you what I was doing there. But it couldn’t have been that interesting–I answered the call, didn’t I? Two hours later, when I received another phone call from RWA, I was driving. After explaining that, while I was still delighted, they had already called, the voice on the phone laughed, then said, “I don’t believe you understand…” She was right! TWO nominations! I almost made the truck in front of me a Texas-sized hood ornament.
KELLY ANN RILEY: I must’ve missed the call and had already assumed I hadn’t finaled when a friend emailed me a congratulations. My heart was pounding and my fingers were shaking as I pulled up the RWA web site and read my name. I screamed with joy and called my daughter to come to my office. I was so excited.
KAKI WARNER: …was in the shower (it was 6:30 here in the Pacific Northwest).
KAREN WITEMEYER:…grinned so big and for so long that I got a cramp in my cheek. Didn’t even know that was possible.
KIERAN KRAMER: …was shocked, and then almost had an apoplexy when I got a second call 45 minutes later.
If I win, I…
DEBORAH COONTS: …Will celebrate Vegas-style for sure! Something wildly inappropriate….with the Chippendales or something. Hmmm, I must think about this.
KELLY ANN RILEY: …will be honored and surprised. There are some great looking books in my category. Then I’m going to celebrate for at least a week.
KAKI WARNER: …will be stunned…and honored. There are some great writers in this group, and I’m thrilled to be in their company.
KAREN WITEMEYER:…will probably need some good old-fashioned, 19th century smelling salts to wake me from my shock-induced stupor. That or a fairy tale kiss from the handsome prince I married.
KIERAN KRAMER: …will be totally flabbergasted and thank all the people who’ve supported me and maybe even cry, although when I really feel like crying, sometimes I laugh. I have no idea why. It’s terrible.
Number of books I wrote before selling:
DEBORAH COONTS: WANNA GET LUCKY?, my first novel-length fiction sale, was my third full-length manuscript written.
KELLY ANN RILEY: 3 complete books and several partials
KAKI WARNER: Pieces of Sky was my first book.
KAREN WITEMEYER:I wrote two novels before selling, but only one of those was turned down for publication. The second book became my second release after my third book was contracted as my debut. How’s that for confusing?
KIERAN KRAMER: Four and a half.
How I found my agent:
DEBORAH COONTS: Over several glasses of cheap wine at the Southwest Writer’s Workshop in Albuquerque…14 years before I wrote a book good enough for her to sell.
KELLY ANN RILEY: Through a writing buddy who saw her (Kelly Mortimer) advertising for submissions. I took a chance and sent in a query.
KAKI WARNER: I sent out 35 query letters, and was starting on my next batch when Nancy Coffey called. That was a great day.
KAREN WITEMEYER: I found my agent (Rachelle Gardner, WordServe Literary) at the same writing conference where I met with the editors from Bethany House. Being able to say that I had a publisher interested in my books made for a great selling point during that 15 minute appointment slot. I signed with her a couple weeks later.
KIERAN KRAMER: I cold-queried her with an outrageous query letter that she talks about to this day as being the wrongest kind of query letter one could ever write.
My biggest surprise as a published author:
DEBORAH COONTS: Everything is the same, but different. Writing is an art from, but now it is a business. Now my picture is on a book jacket and not in the Post Office as my mother feared. People still treat me the same, BUT, people in New York now take my calls….okay, SOME people in NY, but it’s a start.
KELLY ANN RILEY: was how many people take the time to write to a new author to tell them what they loved about the book and tips on how to make stories better.
KAKI WARNER: is that I got published in the first place, and that
Berkley keeps asking for more books. There are many worthy writers out there waiting their chance. I got lucky.
KAREN WITEMEYER:…learning how many dozens of people have a hand in producing my book. It simply boggles the mind. I am so thankful to be working with such a talented team.
KIERAN KRAMER: …realizing how much I take to heart every bad review, how devastated I am personally…and then recognizing that beneath my sensitive, nice-girl exterior, there is a fighter who won’t ever, ever give up and will keep trying to write a better and better book, no matter what the review! :>)
My oddest or most reliable writing habit:
DEBORAH COONTS: I write in public places–Sambalatte, a great coffee shop in Vegas–when the writing is going great. Any casino bar with a good happy hour, when it isn’t going so well. Curiously, I seem to write better after a glass of Pinot Noir….
KELLY ANN RILEY: I tend to mull about the story and dither around (okay … some call it procrastination) until the urge (sometimes panic) sets in and I dive into the story and write and write and write until it’s all down.
KAKI WARNER: Reading every word aloud to check for redundancies, awkward transitions, over-written dialogue, pacing. It used to bother the dog, but now I think she’s getting into the stories. Bless her heart.
KAREN WITEMEYER:My oddest habit is my most reliable habit. I edit as I create. Most authors frown on this technique because it inhibits the natural, creative flow. But I’m too much of a perfectionist to let unpolished prose go unchecked. So I edit as I write. It makes the process much slower, but I essentially write only one draft.
KIERAN KRAMER: Eating sunflower seeds and staring at the wall to think.
A book or author I recommend again and again:
DEBORAH COONTS: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, not at all what I write, but brilliant and a great read.
KELLY ANN RILEY: As a Christian, I point to the Bible for the ultimate reading experience. For other books, I’ve found that recommending them can be tricky since it’s such a subjective business. Not that I’m biased or anything (grin) but for readers who love insprirational books with suspense, Harlequin’s Love Inspired Suspense line is great. For those loving cozy mysteries, small towns, and quilting, Guideposts Patchwork Mysteries are lots of fun. For writers looking for a great how-to book, right now I’m reading Donald Maass’ Breakout Novelist which is full of helpful advice.
KAKI WARNER: There are dozens from all different genres and they change every week. But I guess the western historical I’ve recommended most is LONESOME DOVE. As for western romance authors—Jodi Thomas.
KAREN WITEMEYER: Other books, movies, television, research, overheard conversations – there’s no telling what catalyst will start the creative juices stirring. I’m just thankful when something clicks.
KIERAN KRAMER: Jayne Ann Krentz.
A hobby/interest/passion of mine beyond the book world:
DEBORAH COONTS: Flying. Working out. But most of all, holding hands with the love of my life and spending time with family and friends.
KELLY ANN RILEY: My kids are my passion right now. I homeschooled both of them. One is in college now. I want to have lots of adventures with them before they go off into the world on their own.
KAKI WARNER: Traveling, gardening, music, and my grandkids.
KAREN WITEMEYER: Author – Deeanne Gist. She writes in the same sub-genre as I do, and her characters are always so full of life that I’m glad to point my fans in her direction. Book – Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. Truly a masterpiece.
KIERAN KRAMER: Teaching teenagers.
What I’m working on now:
DEBORAH COONTS: You mean besides shameless self-promotion? I forget….oh yeah, Book Four in the Lucky series. Book three, SO DAMN LUCKY, is turned in and will be out Feb 1, 2012.
KELLY ANN RILEY: I’m working on a book proposal for Love Inspired Suspense and a contracted book for Guideposts Books Patchwork Mystery series which will be out in 2012.
KAKI WARNER:My sixth book, Book 3 of the Runaway Brides Series, slated for release next summer. I’m also promoting the first book in the series, HEARTBREAK CREEK, which comes out this July 5th. I’ve had a lot of fun writing about these ladies. They’re a hoot.
KAREN WITEMEYER: I’m currently working on my fourth historical romance for Bethany House entitled Short-Straw Bride. Four brothers draw straws to see who will marry the heroine in this twist on a marriage of convenience story. All Travis Archer cares about is his brothers and his land, but when a good deed goes awry, he’s stuck with a bride who endangers both.
KIERAN KRAMER: A new Regency series that I’m super excited about, but I can’t tell you about it just yet!
Kieran, Karen, and Deborah’s books were all nominated in a second category as well. One of the sequels in Kaki’s series, Open Country also received a nomination. The RITA winners will be announced July 1st in New York City. Many thanks and good wishes to the authors.