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Interview & Giveaway: RWA Rita Best First Book Finalists

Welcome to this year’s interview with the finalists in the Best First Book category of the RWA Rita Awards. Changes in the contest scoring this year mean that (among other things) all five novels are double finalists: Elizabeth Byler Younts’ Promise to Return and Carla Laureano’s Five Days in Skye in the Inspirational category; Laura Drake’s The Sweet Spot and Beck Anderson’s Fix You in Contemporary; and Samantha Beck’s Private Practice in Erotic (a new category this year). Winners will be announced at the RWA awards ceremony at the annual conference in San Antonio on Saturday night.  We’ll have winners here at Dear Author, too, so let me know in the comments which novel you’d like.
Rita 2014
First sentence:
Elizabeth Byler Younts:  The scent of cherry pie and warm taffy tickled Miriam Coblentz’s nose.
Carla Laureano: “At least they couldn’t fire her.”
Samanthe Beck:  “To be honest, I’m glad Roger and I called off our engagement.”
Laura Drake:  The grief counselor told the group to be grateful for what they had left. After lots of considering, Charla Rae decided she was grateful for the bull semen.
Beck Anderson:  “It’s a bluebird day.”
Elizabeth Byler Younts:  Books by Beverly Lewis, Cindy Woodsmall, Beth Wiseman, and Kelly Long.
Carla Laureano:  Becky Wade or Nora Roberts (Wow, that sounds like a lofty comparison! I promise, I’ve had readers tell me that unprompted.)
Samanthe Beck:  My attempt to play Amazon algorithm: If you like visiting Lucky Harbor, but you wish it was Southerner, and smuttier, you may enjoy Private Practice!
Laura Drake:  That’s tough. My stories are a romance, but can cover heavy subjects on the way to an HEA. I think my style is a bit like Barbara Samuel O’Neal, only with a western flavor.
Beck Anderson:  Kristan Higgins.
How the hero/heroine meet:
Elizabeth Byler Younts:  Henry and Miriam meet in their Amish community in Sunrise, DE.
Carla Laureano: They meet in the London gastropub that my celeb chef hero, James, owns. Andrea has no idea that the man chatting her up at the bar is the client she’s supposed to meet in Scotland the following day, and her mouth gets her in a bit of trouble. Fortunately, he’s terribly amused by her, and the fact she’s utterly unimpressed by his celebrity status just makes him want to win her over all the more.
Samanthe Beck:  He shows up on her doorstep at two in the morning with a jealous drunk’s bullet in his butt.
Laura Drake:   Childhood sweethearts, they married at nineteen. The Sweet Spot is a reunion story.
Beck Anderson:    Kelly, the heroine, is out on a run when she breaks down crying.  She’s losing it when a person taps her on the shoulder to see if she’s okay. This person turns out to be the hero, Andrew.  Who also turns out to be a famous actor!
They argue about:
Elizabeth Byler Younts: The war. Henry has been drafted and while he planned to serve out his draft in the Civilian Public Service camp, after a year he chooses to enlist instead. This heart-wrenching decision pulls the two apart, not to mention rocks their pacifist Amish community.
Carla Laureano: Just about everything, it seems. He’s determined to make her slow down and smell the roses (Highland heather?) and she’s equally determined to get her job done and go home. She just underestimates how persuasive he can be.
Samanthe Beck:  Whether she will tell the cops about him showing up on her doorstep at two in the morning with a jealous drunk’s bullet in his butt.
Laura Drake:  Almost everything, in the beginning! In the first scene, my heroine throws her ex off the family ranch.
Beck Anderson:  Kelly maintains that she’s too awkward and normal for Andrew’s Hollywood world.  He argues that she’s exactly the kind of person he wants: someone real.
They make up:
Carla Laureano: … in the last place either of them would choose to spend a spring holiday. And it happens to be in front of a church, which is somewhat inconvenient when it comes to PDAs.
Samanthe Beck:  …in the kitchen, hallway…front porch…
Laura Drake:  …in the kitchen.
Beck Anderson:  … in a swanky hotel room in Hollywood.
If the book were a movie, what song would be playing under the final credits?
Elizabeth Byler Younts:  The classic song “Sentimental Journey.” I can just hear the lyrics… “I never knew my heart could be so yearny, Why did I decide to roam, Gotta take a sentimental journey, sentimenal journey home.”
Carla Laureano: I’m very inspired by music, so I have playlists for each book I write. The song that best fits this story is probably Daughtry’s “Start of Something Good.”
Samanthe Beck:  “I’m Not Ready to Make Nice” by the Dixie Chicks.
Laura Drake:  “Forever and Ever, Amen,” by Randy Travis.
Beck Anderson:  Coldplay’s “Fix You,” of course!
This was your first  published novel. Was it the first book you wrote?
Elizabeth Byler Younts:  No, I also have a nonfiction book called SEASONS: A Real Story of an Amish Girl. This is the story of my Amish grandmother’s life of poverty through the Great Depression.
Carla Laureano:  This was actually the fourth book I wrote, and my fourth book to be contracted. The process with David C. Cook just moved faster than with my other publisher, so it ended up being the first one released.
Samanthe Beck:  Hell no.
Laura Drake:  This was my first book published. The first book I wrote, my ‘biker-chick’ book, Her Road Home, was published later that same year.
Beck Anderson: The first book I wrote is titled The Jeweler and is actually coming out soon — I’m working on it with my editor as we speak.
Tell us something about the day you got the Rita news:
Elizabeth Byler Younts: I was in the parking lot ready to go with my daughters to a homeschool field trip with hundreds of other families when I got the call. I almost dropped my phone! And then to hear that I double finaled—talk about the shock of a lifetime! It was so unexpected. I had time to call my husband and my mom and then during a quick break during the field trip I called my agent. A beautiful day and memory…I won’t soon forget—or ever.
Carla Laureano:  I actually forgot it was announcement day! I had a tight deadline, and my brain was completely in storyland. When the phone rang next to me, it almost gave me a heart attack. I think I said something really intelligent like, “Oh wow, cool, thanks” when she gave me the news. I was too stunned to come up with anything more eloquent.
Samanthe Beck:  Picked up the phone, and a nice woman named Nichole said, “Hi, I’m from RWA—” and I said, “Don’t even.” And she said, “I have to. It’s my job.”
Laura Drake:  I had just moved to Texas. I was out by myself, buying furniture. By the third furniture store, the disappointment set in. I wasn’t getting ‘the call’. I had just settled in the car to drive home when my phone rang.  I sat in that parking lot for two hours, calling everyone I knew! By the time I pulled out of the lot, I’d lost my voice from all the yelling.
Beck Anderson:  The phone rang while I was in the shower, and I thought it might be my cousin from Tennessee, so I called back without checking my messages.  It wasn’t my cousin, it was a RWA board member, Diane Kelly.  She gave me the good news, and I proceeded to jump gleefully around my bathroom in a towel.
 Something you’ve learned during this first year of being published:
Elizabeth Byler Younts:  It’s hard work. It’s really hard work. I’m a young mom and I homeschool…balancing work, family, and play is definitely not something to take lightly.
Carla Laureano: It’s easy to get caught up in the blessings and challenges that come along with being a published author, but when it comes down to it, my focus always has to remain on writing the best book I can. Now that I have fans (!!!) I feel a responsibility to put out work that I know they are going to enjoy. Without the readers, we writers wouldn’t have a job!
Samanthe Beck:  I write slowly, and despite all the time it takes, it’s not gold.
Laura Drake:   A zillion things! Probably the one that surprised me the most though, is that the waiting that I so chafed against when I was trying to sell is never over.
Beck Anderson:  Keep moving forward and keep writing.  And gold Sharpie pens dry out really quickly.
Another book in the Rita finals that you’re rooting for:
Elizabeth Byler Younts:  Five Days in Skye by Carla Laureano. Carla is a fantastic woman and writer. I will cheer the loudest for her.
Carla Laureano: This one is hard! It’s been such a crazy year, I actually haven’t read many of the finalist books. I’m always a fan of Lizbeth Selvig, Nora Roberts, and Jill Shalvis. I’m also thrilled to be nominated in two categories alongside my friend Elizabeth Byler Younts. It’s hard to feel too competitive when I respect and admire her so much.
Samanthe Beck:  “Robin Bielman’s Her Accidental Boyfriend in the Short Contemporary category.
Laura Drake:  I know quite a few of the authors, and I’m rooting for everyone. But mostly, Tessa Dare’s Any Duchess Will Do. She’s a wonderful person, and a dear friend of mine.
Beck Anderson:  Bella Andre’s The Way You Look Tonight — she followed me on Twitter, and I felt like a celebrity!
Upcoming/latest release:
Elizabeth Byler Younts:  The second in The Promise of Sunrise series comes out in October of this year. It’s called Promise to Cherish and it will take the reader deep into a mental hospital where a unit of conscientious objectors served in during WW2 and from there the setting moves to the lush green fields of Amish country in Delaware.
Carla Laureano: The first book in my young adult fantasy series—Oath of the Brotherhood—just released, with the other two volumes coming out in 2015. My second contemporary romance, which continues the MacDonald family stories with James’s older brother Ian, will be out next summer. 2015 is going to be a busy year!
Samanthe Beck:  Best Man with Benefits, from Entangled’s Brazen imprint, part of the Wedding Dare continuity.
Laura Drake:   I have two books out in August. Sweet on You, the last in the Sweet on a Cowboy series, and The Reasons to Stay, the next in my small town, Widow’s Grove series
Beck Anderson:   The Jeweler, out this fall.  Trouble Me, the sequel to Fix You, shouldn’t be too far behind!
Many thanks to the authors for taking time out for my questions. If you’ve read any of the finalist novels or want to comment on the interview, we’d love to hear your thoughts. Want to win one of the five books? Be sure to let me know which one!
 More about the authors:

Alison Atlee (also known as "Alyson" here at Dear Author) is fascinated by creative people and how they work, which is why she enjoys contributing author interviews to Dear Author. She likes her romance novels light on the internal monologues, twisty with the conventions, and brimming with voice. Her favorite book at age ten? "An Old-Fashioned Girl" by Louisa May Alcott.


  1. christine cushing
    Jul 24, 2014 @ 16:13:59

    I want to read all of them so any of them would be fine! <3

  2. SonomaLass
    Jul 24, 2014 @ 16:23:41

    These all sound intriguing. Congrats and good luck to all the authors. One question I always have about RITA first book nominees, are any of you former Golden Heart winners?

    I can see myself reading any/all of these, but reunion stories are my sweet spot, and I can’t resist that first line about bull semen, so I’d pick The Sweet Spot.

  3. Kaja
    Jul 24, 2014 @ 16:28:23

    Hi, thanks for hosting the giveaway!
    I’d love to read either Five Days in Skye or Private Practice.
    (I hope the giveaway’s international – if not, I’ll still be adding these to my TBR!)

  4. msilk
    Jul 24, 2014 @ 16:30:06

    I would be happy with any, but the one that I would want to read first is The Sweet Spot

  5. christine cushing
    Jul 24, 2014 @ 16:33:13

    Sweet Spot

  6. Timitra
    Jul 24, 2014 @ 16:38:25

    I’ve read and loved Samanthe Beck’s Private Practice! I’d love to try Laura Drake’s The Sweet Spot, that first line has me intrigued ;)

  7. Kate Sherwood
    Jul 24, 2014 @ 17:15:56

    The Laura Drake one sounds like fun! The power of a good first line…

  8. Lindsay
    Jul 24, 2014 @ 17:25:13

    I would love to read Private Practice, it sounds like a riot and the exact kind of meet-cute I adore.

  9. CelineB
    Jul 24, 2014 @ 17:44:31

    Fix You and The Sweet Spot sound interesting.

  10. Tina
    Jul 24, 2014 @ 18:04:45

    I honestly had no plans to enter, but then I read Samantha Beck’s answers to the questions and she sounds hysterical. I would love Private Practice.

  11. Rebecca
    Jul 24, 2014 @ 18:06:11

    Since I have to choose only one (which is tough) I pick “Fix You,” by Beck Anderson. I already own “Five Days in Skye” and I absolutely loved reading it!

  12. Marcy Shuler
    Jul 24, 2014 @ 18:23:36

    I’ve read PRIVATE PRACTICE by Samanthe Beck and really enjoyed it!

    I’d love to win either: THE SWEET SPOT by Laura Drake or FIX YOU by Beck Anderson.

  13. Justine
    Jul 24, 2014 @ 20:08:07

    Congrats to the finalists! I’d be happy to win any of these books. I do have slight preferences based on available formats, though. If the giveaway is for an ebook, I’d pick Promise to Return. If the giveaway is for paperbacks, I’d pick Five Days in Skye or Fix You.

  14. Julie
    Jul 24, 2014 @ 20:38:54

    Samathe Beck’s “Private Practice,” please. Thanks for the chance to win!

  15. Sarah
    Jul 24, 2014 @ 20:58:40

    I read “Fix You” and I REALLY liked it. I usually read paranormal books but this was a lovely break! Hope she writes more!

  16. bn100
    Jul 24, 2014 @ 21:32:45

    Please enter me for any of them; they sound interesting
    The Sweet Spot, Promise to Return, Private Practice, Fix You, Five Days in Skye

  17. Erica H
    Jul 24, 2014 @ 21:41:50

    Private practice or fix you. They all sound quite good though.

  18. erinf1
    Jul 24, 2014 @ 21:48:01

    what a fantastic list and congrats to all of the ladies on the nominations!!! I think they all sounds fabulous but I’m very intrigued by Five Days in Skye by Carla Laureano :) Thanks for the fun post and giveaway!!!

  19. JK42
    Jul 25, 2014 @ 01:33:51

    Although the writing was fine, I caution anybody who has medical knowledge to read the free excerpt of Private Practice before you buy it – your kindle/nook/ebook reader will thank you. (The heroine is suppose to be a physician, but there are so many medical inaccuracies in the first chapter, I could not finish the book. This is a pet peeve of mine ( I’m a trauma surgeon) so others may not notice/care as much.)

    Thanks for the highlight of these books – the contemporaries are intriguing and I’ve downloaded those samples.

  20. Mo
    Jul 25, 2014 @ 06:53:09

    These all sound great. The one that interest me the most is Beck Anderson’s Fix You.

  21. Suz_Glo
    Jul 25, 2014 @ 08:20:53

    Congratulation to all these authors! I’m most interested in reading “Fix You” & “Private Practice”.
    Thank you —

  22. Camilla
    Jul 25, 2014 @ 09:01:01

    I haven’t read any…would love to win “Fix You”

  23. MaryK
    Jul 25, 2014 @ 12:32:54

    @JK42: I wondered about that. I don’t have medical knowledge, but I’m pretty sure reporting gunshot wounds is a requirement for doctors. Apart from that, the book sounds good. I just don’t know if I can get past a potential ethical violation. It depends on how it’s handled I guess.

    I think I’ll risk it and put my name in for Private Practice or Fix You.

  24. HL
    Jul 25, 2014 @ 15:15:08

    Sweet Spot, that opening line about bull semen is a hoot! I also read Private Practice and enjoyed it.

  25. Nancy
    Jul 25, 2014 @ 18:16:28

    They all seem interesting. Private Practice sounds like it would be fun!

  26. Liz S
    Jul 25, 2014 @ 18:19:26

    Private Practice sounds great. Thanks for the giveaway!

  27. kp
    Jul 25, 2014 @ 18:22:49

    Private Practice or Fix You!

  28. Sandypo
    Jul 25, 2014 @ 20:31:48

    Five Days in Skye or Promise to Return.

  29. Kareni
    Jul 26, 2014 @ 20:41:21

    Thanks for the author interviews. All of the books sound wonderful, and I’d be happy to win any one of them. Fix You sounds particularly intriguing!

  30. ML
    Jul 27, 2014 @ 17:02:49

    Love the structure of this, but a brief intro to the plots first would have made the rest of the items, particularly the opening sentences, fit better into a context. I would be happy to receive any of these, and congrats to all the authors!

  31. Jenna O
    Jul 28, 2014 @ 04:46:46

    I´d love to read the promise to return!

  32. Alison Atlee
    Jul 28, 2014 @ 13:15:05

    @SonomaLass: Ah, good question! I will make a note to include it next time.

  33. Alison Atlee
    Jul 28, 2014 @ 13:20:00

    @ML: Yep, you’re right. Was putting this together in some crazy conditions and I just forgot. Sorry!

  34. Alison Atlee
    Jul 28, 2014 @ 13:45:27

    Time for winners! (And I’ll let you know about another Rita giveaway…)

    Congratulations to Laura Drake, who won Best First Book with THE SWEET SPOT, and Carla Laureano, whose FIVE DAYS IN SKYE won the Inspirational category.

    Congratulations to our DA winners: Kareni, Julie, and Erinfl! Check your inbox for further instructions.

    Thanks, everyone, for stopping by. I always appreciate it! I know there are lots of Susanna Kearsley and Molly O’Keefe fans here at DA, so I want to let you know I’m giving away their Rita-winning books (and the prequels) on my personal blog this week. Come by if you’re interested:

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