Each year, RWA recognizes excellence in romance writing through the RITAs, considered the top honor in the genre. Though awards are presented in a dozen categories, a writer has just one shot in her career to win the Best First Book award. This interview series focuses on the debut authors nominated in that category. Alyson H undertook to bring this idea to Dear Author and completed all the interviews. Alyson is a great interviewer and elicited some fun information. Alyson makes you, the reader, interested in the interviewee. It’s a great skill. Thanks Alyson and I hope the readers of Dear Author enjoy this six part series. We are on Author No. 3, Jennifer Morey.
The diversity of the settings in Jennifer Morey’s The Secret Soldier give you an idea of the novel’s sweep: war-ravaged Afghanistan, a Greek island that lives up to its romantic promises, and eventually, a small Colorado town invaded by the national media. All those cameras and reporters are looking for a hero–the mysterious rescuer of Sabine O’Clery, a contractor who was kidnapped in Afghanistan. Sabine knows that man is Cullen McQueen, and his name is just the first secret she has to keep. Jennifer is one of several double nominees among the debut authors, with The Secret Soldier also landing a place in the Suspense/Adventure category for contemporary series romance.
About The Secret Soldier-
A six-word memoir for your protagonist:
Headstrong heroine can’t hide her heart.
What were the original "triggers" or inspiration points for this story?
Back in 2005, the beheadings of contractors in Iraq was all over the news. It so upset me that I decided to write a happy ending to something similar. THE SECRET SOLDIER was born, where Cullen McQueen is the yummy ex-delta man who saves Sabine O’Clery from her captors in Afghanistan.
Your favorite line, moment, or scene in the book:
When Sabine discovers Cullen has arrived in her hometown to protect her despite the risk of exposing his identity. It’s a great turning point in the story and things really get fun after that.
Noah, Sabine’s father, is a great example of a character who has a definite function in the machinery of the plot, but who is also a fully realized person. Do you develop your secondary characters in the same way you do the main ones?
Yes. Actually, Noah and Sabine’s mother were developed extensively in the initial unpublished novel. This manuscript started out as a single title but when Harlequin asked me to shorten it to category length, I had to remove a lot of content related to secondary characters.
The Secret Soldier has this wonderful, happy-sigh-inducing, Hollywood movie ending. It’s very satisfying, and yet to think about the tragic events that made you start thinking about the story in the first place–well, it’s a pretty dramatic journey between two points.
Thank you! I love the ending, too. There was nothing happy about the news features covering contractor beheadings, and that’s why I wanted a happy ending for my story. I also wanted it to be entertaining and fun and directly related to the threat to Cullen’s identity. I wanted to turn what Cullen perceived as the worst thing that could possibly happen to him into something good–his epiphany as he faces that conflict. And let’s not forget the romance. What better way to end this story than with a cheery splash?
I sometimes “begin with the end in mind” but not always. I definitely aim to resolve all the threads, and if chapter one addresses the theme of the last chapter, I’ve begun with the end in mind. In The Secret Soldier, chapter one begins with a lot of suspense, so the first and last chapters are very different.
What’s the best or most unusual fan mail you received about The Secret Soldier?
Has to be my first Amazon review: "Look out Suzanne Brockmann."
What’s coming up next from you?
HEIRESS UNDER FIRE will be released September 2009, and KISS ME ON CHRISTMAS is a novella in a 3-in-one book that is due out November 2009. Book 3 in the ALL MCQUEEN’S MEN miniseries will likely be released late spring of 2010.
The Secret Soldier is your first published book, but was it really your first book?
It is my eighth. The first six were me learning how to write. The seventh is publishable if I do some revisions. I had ten written at the time I signed with Harlequin.
From the decision to write for publication to the "sold" call: How long?
Ten long, hard-working years.
How did you find your agent?
I compiled a list of nine New York agents and sent query letters. Maureen Walters from Curtis Brown asked for a four-week exclusivity, which I gave her, but after that I sent the rest of my queries. I received six requests for material and three offered me representation, one being Maureen.
Your biggest surprise, pleasant or otherwise, about being a published author:
That I’m a published author….
Your weirdest or most reliable writing ritual/habit:
Roll out of bed and go straight to my office in PJs and a hairclip.
Writing advice you’re glad you followed:
Never give up.
Three items within arm’s reach when you write:
Water, pen, and a notebook.
Biggest distraction and how you deal with it:
Boyfriends. I haven’t learned how to deal with them yet.
In one interview, you mentioned your twin sister, whose reading tastes, you said, run “more along the lines of that sad, deep stuff that often has the word ‘Pulitzer’ attached to it.” Does she make a good critique partner for you?
Laughing! My twin sister has never critiqued my work. I joke a lot about our differences, but really she is my biggest supporter. She loves to brag about me. And as far as critiquing, I sometimes run titles by her, or certain story ideas. But I never ask her to read, because from a business standpoint, it is better to have someone familiar with the genre than someone who is not.
As a RITA Nominee-
How did you celebrate the nomination?
I did nothing other than tell everyone I could think of and bask in the wonder. That was enough. A little over a week later, my brother did throw a barbeque and I celebrated with my family.
Wearing or carrying any lucky charms to the awards ceremony?
No, just my positive thoughts and energy. I might wear something that belonged to my mother.
The author who, despite your usual poise and eloquence, would reduce you a blathering fangirl if you found yourself sitting next to her/him at the ceremony:
First person you’ll hug/text/call if you win:
My boyfriend. My twin sister if he screws up before then (wink, wink).
A Little More Personal-
Your paying job(s) pre- and post-publication:
Associate Project Manager for the Space Segment of a satellite imagery and information company. I work with export licenses required by International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) and fill a technical administrative role for my brainy co-workers.
An author or book you recommend again and again:
Anything by Rachel Gibson or Susan Elizabeth Phillips.
A favorite guilty pleasure:
Spending money I don’t have.
Your own "best first":
The way I felt when a man hit on me for the first time in 20 years. It pushed me over the fence and compelled me to get a divorce. This sounds terrible, but it wasn’t. My divorce was friendly and necessary for my growth. It was the best thing I ever did for myself. And I have a sexy French guy to thank for helping me find the courage.
RITA winners will be announced at the RWA national conference in July. You can read some of Jennie’s short stories and see pictures of her with her twin at www.jennifermorey.com .