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RITA Best First Book 2012 Interviews: Paranormals

First Book Rita

Romance Writers of America honors authors through the RITAs, awarded each year in a number of categories, including Best First Book. Once again, I’m pleased to host those nominees here at Dear Author. Each of the three installments in this series will feature a different sub-genre. The books you’ll see today finaled in a second category as well, and though I’ve grouped them as paranormals, they all bring in elements from other genres. If you’d like to win a diverse bundle of books, read on and drop a comment—have you read any of these or found something that looks interesting?


First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones

FIRST GRAVE ON THE RIGHT, by Darynda Jones: As long as you’re escorting a murder victim to his final rest, why not seize the opportunity to help the police bring the killer to justice as well? This thriller-comedy-paranormal is also nominated in the Novel with Strong Romantic Elements category.

Opening lines: I’d been having the same dream for the past month—the one where a dark stranger materialized out of smoke and shadows to play doctor with me.

Charley’s six-word memoir: Likes dead people. Live people? Meh.

She is a… part-time private investigator, full-time grim reaper.

Readers will love the hero because… he’s dark, mysterious, and was forged in the fires of sin. Literally.

The first kiss happens… in my heroine’s dreams.

I vividly remember writing… the opening scene. I remember it so vividly and it was where everything came to me. I knew right then and there that I was going to have a paranormal character who helped the departed in one way or another, but she would have a very different view of the world. And she’d have ADD. ADD was a must.

An unexpected research detour: I became immersed in the history and mythology of varying cultural ideas about the grim reaper. A character who plays a role in death and escorting the departed to the other side exists in almost all cultures, and each one has its own set of mythological rules. It’s quite fascinating.

This book taught me… to let go and write as brazenly as I wanted to, no holds barred.

What readers seem to love about First Grave on the Right: This one stumps me as well. If I had to guess, I’d say readers are very drawn to my heroine, Charley Davidson. She is fun and cynical and yet has a huge heart. She wins readers over with how much she cares, deep down inside, for the departed people she is helping.


HOURGLASS, by Myra McEntire: Despite treatment in a mental hospital, Emerson still sees ghosts. One last-ditch effort to “cure” her before she starts her senior year pairs her with a therapist who not only believes her visions, but has some incredible things to tell her as well. Hourglass is also nominated in the Young Adult catgory.

Opening Lines:  My small Southern hometown is beautiful in the haunting way an aging debutante is beautiful. The bones are exquisite, but the skin could use a lift.

Emerson’s six-word memoir:  I came, I saw, I conquered. (Did you hear the Jay-Z in there? Listen again.)

She is... a runner. She’s also a ninja. No, really.

What readers will love about the hero:  He knows his girl can handle her own business. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to help her out, but he definitely doesn’t hold her back.

The first kiss happens… in the hero’s bedroom. ;)

I vividly remember writing… The scene when they’re on the patio and they almost kiss. I remember why, because in the first seventy-billion drafts, they did kiss. But anticipation, she is a boon and a blessing.

An unexpected research detour… The Novikov Principle.

Hourglass taught me… that stubborn isn’t a bad personality trait.

What readers seem to love about Hourglass: Hope is a big deal for me, and it’s a big deal for Emerson, too. I hope readers are drawn to that. That, and the kissing. I like the kissing.


WARPED by Maurissa Guibord: A single unraveling thread in an antique tapestry sends Tessa on a time-traveling quest to save what she loves in both the Past and the Present. Warped is also nominated in the Young Adult category.

Opening lines:  On a hillside stood three figures. Black cloaks billowed over them from head to toe, while hoods cast a pall of darkness over their faces.

Tessa’s six-word memoir: Tessa tangled with the threads of Fate.

She… goes to high school and in her spare time works in her father’s used bookstore.

What readers will love about the hero: Will de Chaucy’s discomfort as he tries to make his way in the modern world after being transported from sixteenth century England. He’s a bit stuck up when he first encounters Tessa but he’s also endearingly smart, strong and loyal. Easy on the eyes too!

The first kiss happens… in a grimy Portland alleyway after a near death escape. So much adrenaline could not be wasted…

I vividly remember writing… Ha-ha—the first kiss—because I had been waiting for those two to kiss for so long! And then I sent that chapter to my friend to read and she said: “Change whatever you want in the revisions- but don’t change this!”

An unexpected research detour:  I walked around the streets of Portland, Maine near the waterfront—and saw more feral cats than I could count. They live beneath the fishing warehouses. It was kind of creepy—all these wild cats, lying in the sun, winding in and out behind loose boards and watching you. It was like something from a Steven King novel.

This book taught me… So much! Mostly because it’s my first published novel. I think more than anything it taught me how to work with an editor in the revision process. Luckily I had a wonderful editor, Michelle Poploff and she was fantastic, very patient with all my newbie questions.

What readers seem to love about Warped:  Time travel seems to appeal to a lot of readers (me included) and I think it’s fun to see the clash between two strong characters who come from different times, different cultures.


Number of books I wrote before this one sold:

Darynda Jones: Three

Maurissa Guibord: Two—both of which I still love. Of course I’m not crazy about how I wrote them, the plotting and the over-description make me cringe—but the stories are good. I hope to find a way to make them work someday—even if it’s only in the form of short stories. There are characters in both of those books that I love and will not give up on!

Myra McEntire: One and many, many halts.

How I found my agent:

Darynda Jones: This manuscript finaled in the Golden Heart. That final garnered a lot of attention and I had a lot of interest even before I started querying. I knew I had to take advantage of the situation. It’s a rare opportunity to have agents seeking you out. I polished and did tons of research, then sent out about 20 queries. First Grave had eight offers of representation a week later from some of the literary world’s most amazing agents. I chose Alexandra Machinist from the Janklow & Nesbit Literary Agency and have never forgotten how blessed I am to have her.

Myra McEntire: Query!

Someone who helped me along the way:

Darynda Jones: My incredible critique partner, Tammy Baumann, has been one of my biggest cheerleaders. I cherish her so much. And she is a Golden Heart finalist this year. Go Tammy!!!

Maurissa Guibord: Janet Hutchings, who is the editor of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine bought my first adult mystery story and published it. That story actually got nominated for an Agatha Award (didn’t win) but when I met Janet in person she was so lovely and supportive of my writing. Her kindness gave me a tremendous boost of confidence.

Myra McEntire: CJ Redwine. She read Hourglass in draft form and told me that she thought her agent, Holly Root, would dig it. Luckily, she dug it.

One piece of wisdom I’ve gained:

Darynda Jones: Only one? I’ve learned so much. I think the hardest thing about being published is finding that balance between promotion and writing. The writing has to come first. I have a saying taped above my computer that says, “No field ever got plowed turning it over in your mind.”

Maurissa Guibord: I’ve learned not to compare myself to anyone else. Not in writing, possessions, success, looks, relationships, anything. Life goes more happily that way.

Myra McEntire: Be nice. You’re responsible for you, and treating people the way you’d like to be treated keeps you sane, even if others don’t do the same.

Acceptance speech—wing it, prepare it, or something in-between?

Darynda Jones: I’m horrid at winging it. I get tongue-tied as it is, so I will prepare it. I used to think it was silly to do so, but a very wise woman (Laura Hayden) told the Golden Heart finalists that year, “Don’t be dumb. Prepare a speech. You’ll never remember what you want to say.” LOL

Maurissa Guibord: It feels like tremendous chutzpah to prepare a speech because I think I’m more likely to be hit by a Good Humor truck than win a Rita.  But I’ve read advice by seasoned pros who say prepare something, only if to feel more relaxed during the ceremony and not make a fool of yourself if the impossible happens. So I will jot down something.

Myra McEntire: Can I express myself through lyrical dance? Will that work?

What’s coming up next?

Darynda Jones: I just turned in the fourth book in the Charley Davidson series, Fourth Grave Beneath My Feet, and I am currently doing rewrites on the second in a YA series I also have coming out from St. Martin’s Press. The first one, Death and the Girl Next Door, will be out in October a mere 4 weeks before Fourth Grave will his the shelves. It will be a busy month!

Maurissa Guibord: My next book, called Revel, will be out in February 2013. It’s also a young adult paranormal, about a girl who comes to a private island off the coast of Maine in search of her family. But when she arrives she discovers the island is ruled by demi-gods of the sea and their monstrous sea creature slaves.

Myra McEntire: Timepiece, from Kaleb’s point of view, is out this summer, and I’m drafting InfinityGlass, the follow up.

Oddest or most reliable writing ritual/habit:

Darynda Jones: Well, I am easily distracted, so I MUST block the internet. Not just turn off the Wi-Fi, but totally block it. So I check my email on my phone before I even get out of bed in the mornings and the minute I get on the computer, I use a program called Freedom that blocks access to the internet for the time you allot. It’s fantastic! I think I would still be on my second book without it. (Clearly, I have no impulse control.)

Maurissa Guibord: Is one that I wish I could break. I tend to write in bursts—lots of hours every day when I am caught up in a story—and then nothing for days or even weeks. I would love to develop the every day routine that some writers have. Still working on that.

Myra McEntire: Socks and hoodies are important. I also like to have a little pop culture in the background, maybe Vampire Diaries or the Harry Potter movies.

The worst part about writing a novel:

Darynda Jones: The first draft kills me. It is by far the hardest part. I love rewrites and revisions. I could do that all day, but that first draft is like pulling my hair out with my toes.

Maurissa Guibord: Having to finally finish revising it and let it go—no matter how imperfect you might think it still is.

Myra McEntire: The worst part about writing a novel: Doing it wrong.

The part I relish:

Darynda Jones: Rewrites, the part between the first draft and “official” revisions.

Maurissa Guibord: Brainstorming. I love brainstorming new ideas for twists or names, titles, anything like that. Especially with critique partners!

Myra McEntire: Finally getting it RIGHT.

How I fill my creative well:

Darynda Jones: I go to my “local” RWA chapter meetings almost every month, only they are four hours away from me, so it is a win-win situation. I daydream the entire way up and the entire way back. I plot and mix and hear voices in my head. And right in the middle of those either hours is a meeting with some of the most inspiring writers I’ve ever met, my LERA chapter mates. By the time I’m home, I am raring to hit the keyboard.

Maurissa Guibord: I love going to the movies. Something about being in that darkened theater and absorbing a story visually and immersively.  It just gets my mind going with new ideas, new stories. I find them very inspiring

Myra McEntire: Reading, listening to music, dancing, movies, tv shows. I love tv shows like Vampire Diaries because the story arcs are SO well thought out, and the twists are always surprising. I’m recently loving Supernatural as well, maybe because I’m a mom of two boys, or maybe because of Sam and Dean, or maybe because of all the Kansas usage. Carry on, my wayward son, and all that.

I’m a writer, but I’m also…

Darynda Jones: A wife, a mom, a grandmother, and a sign language interpreter. I love all my roles.

Maurissa Guibord: A mom to triplets.

Myra McEntire:  A ninja. (That’s a lie.)

Last class I took or skill I learned:

Darynda Jones: The last class I took was a graduate class in special education, and let me tell you, SPED teachers deserve medals.

Maurissa Guibord: This morning I learned how to solve a quadratic equation by factoring through an online tutorial. This was to help my 8th grader study for his math quiz. I’m really excited about it because math was never my forte. There is something transcendent about numbers, something that I’m a bit in awe of. I have an idea for a character who’s a math genius so I guess this might be heading into research territory…

Myra McEntire: I’m in the midst of learning how to use Pixelmator, which is kind of like Photoshop. It makes me angry. VERY, VERY ANGRY.

A book or author I recommend again and again:

Darynda Jones: JR Ward. LURVE!

Maurissa Guibord: Easy. As You Desire by Connie Brockway. For me it’s the perfect historical romance—two unforgettable main characters, Egyptian archeology, mystery and humorous banter.

Myra McEntire: One of the first things I ask a potential friend is if they read the Harry Potter series. I don’t get the people who haven’t. I think they need their own small island.

My favorite book at age ten:

Darynda Jones: Charlotte’s Web

Maurissa Guibord: I loved Half-Magic by Edward Eager. I remember walking home from the library, slowly, on a summer day while reading that book for the first time and feeling so perfectly happy.

Myra McEntire: Any Trixie Belden book. Every Trixie Belden book.

Thank you, authors! Readers, come back next week for Part 2 of this series. The RITA winners will be announced at RWA’s national conference on July 28.

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. Janet
    Jul 11, 2012 @ 11:14:36

    These books sound awesome. So glad for great fresh paranormal.

  2. Expy
    Jul 11, 2012 @ 12:09:56

    I read all but “Hourglass.” TBH, they were alright. I know I read some good Paranormals recently but I can’t think of any at the top of my head. @_@

  3. Lauren
    Jul 11, 2012 @ 12:14:47

    Haven’t read any of them yet, but I will be adding these to my TBR list.

  4. Liz
    Jul 11, 2012 @ 12:31:58

    They all sound interesting; will be adding to my TBR pile.

  5. Renda
    Jul 11, 2012 @ 18:02:13

    Love the Jones books so far. Listening to them as opposed to reading, but great stories+great narrator=win/win.

    I am very excited that Ms. Jones has a YA series coming out. I think my 13-y-o will love her voice.

  6. Alyson
    Jul 11, 2012 @ 21:58:58

    @Renda I am a huge fan of audiobooks, and you’re right, the right narrator makes all the difference. I’m always on the lookout for books I can listen to with my nephews and nieces–I wonder if Darynda’s YAs will have audiobooks.

  7. Kris Bock
    Jul 13, 2012 @ 18:54:24

    I recently read First Grave on the Right. I don’t normally read paranormal, but Darynda is local (New Mexico) author I met at an RWA meeting so I gave it a try. I loved it! Lots of action, wonderful humor, and a fantastic, fresh voice. I’m looking forward to the sequels.

  8. JenM
    Jul 18, 2012 @ 18:02:18

    I finally read First Grave On The Right last month. I wasn’t bowled over but I liked it enough to want to read more. Snarky narrators tend to get on my nerves, but with Charley, it’s not really snark, it’s her ADD talking. It just took me awhile to warm up to it.

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