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Interview & Giveaway: RWA Rita Best First Book Finalists

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.”
“Readalike”:
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:
 
REVIEW & Giveaway:  Hope at Dawn by Stacy Henrie

REVIEW & Giveaway: Hope at Dawn by Stacy Henrie

Hope-at-Dawn

With her brothers away fighting the Great War overseas, Livy Campbell desperately wants to help her family. Her chance comes when she meets a handsome stranger who lands her a job as a teacher in a place far from her parents’ farm. But the war casts a long shadow over the German-American town that Livy now calls home-and the darkness will test everything she thought she knew about family and love . . .

More than anything, Friedrick Wagner wants to be part of his adopted country’s struggle for peace. But when the bitter animosity between Germans and Americans soon turns citizens against newcomers, friend against friend, he will do whatever it takes to protect Livy from the hysteria that grips their town. As tragedy-and dark secrets from the past-threaten their future, Friedrick and Livy have one chance to stand up for what’s right . . . and one chance to fight for their love.

Dear Ms. Henrie,

I’m always looking for unusual settings or plots and the description of this one promised both. Plus it utilizes an Americana backdrop that I haven’t seen used much in years.

Livy is a strong yet still uncertain heroine. She’s young – just turned twenty in the opening scene – and has only been away from her parent’s rural Iowa farm for one year of college before she was needed back after her two older brothers enlisted in the Army. Her beau came back from France wounded in body and soul and has now turned to drink. Livy, however, isn’t some martyr and when Robert doesn’t show for a local dance one evening, she takes up the offer to foxtrot with a handsome stranger then flirts a little. She also jumps at the chance of a teaching job Handsome Stranger tells her about.

It was wonderful to see how supportive Livy’s family is of her hopes and ambitions to strike out on her own, hold down a job and be productive. Livy’s a hard worker, patriotic and determined to do her best by her new pupils. What truly delights me about her is that she doesn’t happily skip down the road of martyrdom. When Robert goes over the line, she cuts bait and tells him so in no uncertain terms.

Friedrick is also patriotic though he’s had to already prove himself even before the local vigilante arrives one night demanding that the Wagners buy another war bond with what little ready cash they have left. Anti-German sentiments have swept through their small town and there is little more that American born Friedrick and the others can do to prove themselves loyal to their country. Friedrick is sick and tired of the comments and suspicion German American families are subjected to and himself in particular since he has a farm deferment from enlisting due to his father’s bad health.

When Livy and Friedrick meet again, their initial attraction yields to sparks of conflict that isn’t manufactured nor inflamed for the story. I could see the point of view of each of them. Livy has brothers in the line of fire in France and hasn’t been around any German Americans before this. She’s a little young and naïve but I thought that was to be expected given her background. But she is open to new experiences and willing to change her opinion based on what she sees and the people she meets. Friedrick jumps to a few conclusions about Livy before coming to the realization that she isn’t going to condemn him out of hand and is willing to accept his offer of a truce between them. I was glad to not see them holding grudges just for the sake of doing so.

I thought the story had good historical details in showing the life of rural Iowa farm towns and one room schools. It also taught me a great deal of history I didn’t know such as the banning of the use of all foreign languages in Iowa and how pervasive anti-German sentiments were. I was sorry to see the villains mainly portrayed as fairly stock characters who show up, threaten the good guys and then sink back into the wood work until needed again for more menace.

But what about the religious aspects? I can hear long time DA readers asking. Will I feel preached at or badgered about faith? Honestly, I don’t think so. I know I didn’t. Instead, faith is an integral part of Livy and Friedrick’s lives. Going to church is the accepted thing to do on Sunday and they turn to God in times of need and in thanks for prayers answered. I didn’t feel bashed over the head with religion but it is present throughout the story.

The main characters are well fleshed out and believable, the conflict is germane to the time and place and it’s nice to learn some new things along the way. If not for the by-the-rote villains, I think I would have enjoyed the story more but I’m still glad I read it. B

~Jayne

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