Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Jennifer Echols Interviews Victoria Dahl

USA Today Bestselling Author Victoria Dahl writes both contemporary and historical romances. Her novels blend fast-paced plots with sizzling romance and laugh-out-loud humor to create some of the most memorable romances in recent years.

On November 5th, Victoria will be joining us in Birmingham Alabama for Southern Magic's annual Readers Luncheon.

 Recently, Southern Magic's own award-winning YA author and Dahl's long-time critique partner, Jennifer Echols, interviewed Victoria Dahl about her upcoming new releases and her excitement about her upcoming trip to Birmingham.

JE: Tell us about your four books coming out this year and the experience of writing them. Was that pretty easy? 

VD: Oh, boy, you sure are funny. Yes, writing four books was easy as pie! A pie made out of tears and broken souls.  But all you care about is the books, huh? All right.

My first new book this year is It’s Always Been You, the second book in the York Family historical series! It’s Aidan York’s story of lost love, and his stunning realization that, ten years later, he might have a second chance with the only woman he’s ever loved. It’s darker than most of my books. Maybe even more…mature. None of us are sure how that happened.

The other three books are the Donovan Brothers Brewery series!
 The first is Good Girls Don't, starring Tessa Donovan, the baby of the family. Detective Luke Asher isn’t about to get involved with an innocent girl with two protective older brothers. But Tessa isn’t as innocent as she seems, and she has some ideas about just what she’d like to do with a dark and dangerous police detective. She just needs to hide her personal life from her brothers, solve a burgeoning family crisis, and keep the brewery running while seducing a man who’s trying not to be seduced. No problem. Right?

Bad Boys Do is out in October, and this one’s about Jamie Donovan, the wild one of the family. But this bad boy has something to learn...and straight-laced Olivia Bishop is just the woman to teach him.

The last book is Real Men Will. Eric Donovan has always been upstanding, responsible and very well behaved...except for that one night with his fantasy woman. So what happens when a one-night fling can't be left behind? This story picks up where the “Just One Taste” novella left off in the Guy Next Door anthology.

JE: Out of all those books, do you have a favorite scene, and does it involve a mirror?

VD: The mirror scene, hm? Yes, in fact that just might be my favorite scene. It’s a love scene in the middle of BAD BOYS DO, and I believe I know what Jennifer is getting at here. I called her up one dark and stormy morning to complain that I was having a logistical problem with a sex scene I’d just started. I won’t go into graphic details here, but it went something like this. “I don’t know how to phrase this from her point of view, because she’s not facing him, so she can’t see what he’s doing, and I don’t want it to sound like he’s just BLANKING himself around her BLANK BLANK like some kind of BLANK.”

Jennifer: “Why don’t you just make it from his POV?”
Me: “No. That won’t work in this scene.”
Jennifer: “I don’t know, then. Maybe there’s a mirror.”
We both laugh. Then….*LAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!*
Me: “Did you just hear angels singing?”

So yes, Jennifer, the mirror scene was my favorite to write. And to read. Over and over.

JE: This is your first experience as a keynote speaker. You're not nervous, are you? Because you probably should be.

VD: I’m terrified. I have a horrible fear of public speaking, and if this weren’t for Southern Magic I wouldn’t have even considered it. I will be shaking in my heels. There may be a little bit of pee involved. But I will do it for Birmingham.

JE: What are you going to talk about during this fancy speech? Perhaps you will revisit a topic you enjoy discussing on your popular Twitter account @VictoriaDahl, such as sparkleballz or Beaver Cream?

VD: I think I might have to trot out something a little more unique. Anyone can get me to talk about sparkleballz. Anyone, anywhere. Beaver Cream? That’s been done to death. But for the luncheon, I think I’m actually going to talk about heroines. Specifically, trying to find contemporary heroines you love. According to the mail I get about the unsympathetic, selfish, frantically sexual heroines I tend to favor, some heroines are really hard to love. Or really easy. It all depends on who’s reading.

JE: Do you think Jennifer Echols is going to scrub her floors for you like you scrubbed your floors when she visited you? Because that probably ain't gonna happen.

VD: Sometimes when a girl loves another girl very, very much, she wants to express that love by inviting her friend to visit. And in preparation for this special first time, she will do all sorts of cleaning and meticulous grooming, because she wants to make a good first impression. So yes, I think you will scrub your floors. Or you will spray Windex on the obviously dirty spots and push paper towels around with your feet.

JE: You've never been to Alabama. What do you want to do while you're here? Hint: you are missing the Talladega 500 by two weeks. Sorry.

VD: It will be November, and probably snowing here, so I’d like to schedule one day for me to sit outside and murmur, “It’s really warm here,” for hours. Other than that, I need to see the naked butt of Vulcan. And…I heard there’s an abandoned steel mill that’s haunted! Is that true? I need to go there!

JE: What is the best thing that's happened to you as a writer, besides being asked to speak at this luncheon?

VD: Well, I met my best friend on an RWA loop. That’s been pretty awesome. Aside from that, I’d have to say winning the Golden Heart. I don’t think there will ever be anything like that moment, because it was the ultimate affirmation for an unpublished writer. I’d written five books. I’d never had an offer. But in that moment, I knew. I knew that this was going to happen. That I would be an author. And the fact that you were there, bawling your eyes out…that only made it better. Also, it was a strangely public moment for a writer. Everything else--getting the Call, seeing your book for the first time, hitting a bestseller list—those moments almost always happen in private. Heck, there’s usually not even another person in the house. Being surrounded by friends and peers and amazing writers made that Golden Heart moment very real.

JE: What are you writing now? Does the heroine present a keynote speech in beautiful downtown Birmingham, Alabama, and decide to stay?

VD: Well, I haven’t planned for that to happen, but you know how I like to fly by the seat of my pants! Right now I am just starting a new contemporary set in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. There’s no title yet and not much of a plot. But suffice it to say that the hero is steely-eyed and quiet and the heroine is quirky and can’t stop talking. She drives him crazy, of course. Until the day he realizes he can’t stand the quiet anymore when she’s not around. Awww!

Don't forget that you can buy your tickets to the 2011 Readers' Luncheon online at http://southernmagic.org. Tickets are only $25 until September 1st and there are discounts for groups of 4 or more!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Why Do Those Crash Test Dummies Keep Getting in the Car?

Why do you write? This question is posed to most writers (pre-published and published) at least once in their lives. There is a standard answer to this particular question. I think it is issued to each aspiring writer along with a thesaurus, a bottle of wine, an extra large economy sized box of chocolate, and a lifetime supply of crying towels.

The answer?

Because I HAVE to.

Sounds great, right? Angsty, dramatic, poetic. I mean, why else would anyone put themselves through the hours toiling away at a keyboard, the rejections and uncertainty? Why else would a person sit alone in a room for hours on end, hours they could spend with family, friends or the male members of the cast of True Blood? (Hey, I’m asking the questions here! I can dream about spending time with whomever I please!)

If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.


See! Even Byron agrees! Of course, if his life is an example of the sanity saving effects of writing to empty one’s mind, we are ALL in trouble. And destined to have an affair with a sibling. Maybe he just needed to write more, a lot more!

But, if there is only one answer to this question, what about those people who don’t write because they ‘HAVE’ to? I conducted a little poll of several groups of writers to whom I have access. Some of them gave the prescribed answer in one form or another, but some did not. And some of those who did not are published writers! SHOCKING!! TRAVESTY!! OFF WITH THEIR HEADS! How dare they?

I think, perhaps, there are as many reasons writers write as there are writers. I mean, I like to write, even when it is going badly. I LOVE to write when it is going well. But, if something happened and I didn’t write another word I don’t think I would end up shuffling down the street in my bathrobe mumbling to myself. (Actually, I intend to do just that the first week after I sell a book. And I may do it for a month if I ever sell enough books to quit my day job!)

I had a long and successful career as an opera singer. I spent years training for it. I worked my derriere off to achieve it. And I walked away for a variety of reasons without losing my mind. (I was already crazy, so I didn’t have much to lose.) I did it because I had a talent for it, I had the opportunity to train for it and I was lucky enough to be able to do it for a living. I hope to do the same with my writing and for those very same reasons.

Stephen King gave up writing after the horrible accident that almost killed him. The only reason he went back to it was because he was getting on his wife’s nerves (retired husbands tend to do that from what I understand!) and she insisted he get his butt back in the chair. But he would probably have done just fine whether he went back to writing or not. He certainly had nothing to prove.

So here is my question. Why do you write? And do you believe writers write for reasons personal to themselves or do their reasons have to be of the ‘I must write or I’ll die’ persuasion? Who decides if someone is a real writer? And how important is it that we respect each other’s reasons for getting back in that Mercedes time after time and running into those brick walls?

Saturday, August 27, 2011


Glances spark across a crowded gym.
Interests pique.
With subtle stealth, she discovers his name.
He maneuvers close enough to catch a whiff of your perfume.
An introduction is only de rigueur - their souls are already acquainted.
The first date follows.
That first kiss rocks their worlds.
Forever changed.

Today is my thirty-fourth wedding anniversary.
Celebrate romance with me!

Adventures with an International Flair: Jillian Chantal

Jillian Chantal is both a lawyer and a writer of romantic fiction (also, she's a super cool lady).   Most often she can be found either at her keyboard banging out words, working on a legal issue or just surfing the web and calling it research.  Her other guilty pleasure is her one-sided love affair with the actor Alan Rickman. She owns all his movies and would probably give away her cat for a chance to meet him (oh Snape, you handsome devil, you). 
Jillian is a member of the Gulf Coast RWA chapter. Her third novel, Redemption for the Devil, was released by Desert Breeze Publishing in July 2011. She graciously agreed to sit down and tell us a little about it.


In Redemption for the Devil, your heroine Mary Margaret Kincade undergoes a dramatic career change before being blind-sided by a man who is the opposite of everything she thought she needed/wanted.  Tell us about her journey.

Peg’s journey is two part, really. One is a physical journey that starts with her accepting the fact that her father is lost at sea and probably never coming home. She decides to make a new life for herself as she can’t bear staying in Cork where her odious cousin has taken over the family business as well as the home she’s always known. She musters her courage and sets off on a voyage first to England and then across the ocean. 

The second part of her journey is a journey of emotion/growth as a person. Peg always thought she’d live in her hometown of Cork, but when she leaves the safety of her known environment, she has to accept lots of new people with different beliefs into her life. She makes friends with a girl from Southampton who is a Protestant and a bit of a wild child. Peg finds that she can love her friend anyway despite her own strict Catholic upbringing and her belief that pre-marital sex is not acceptable. Peg eventually finds that she has grown and changed in her own beliefs as well as her ability to accept people who are not the same as her and don’t necessarily have the same moral code as she does.

Your hero, Liam Cormac, a member of the Irish Republican Army, is torn between duty and his heart.  How does he handle struggling with this conflict?

I don’t want to give away any plot points but suffice it to say he has a lot of angst. He’s been beating himself up for years over an incident that happened when he was a teen that hardened his heart. This story is about that frozen heart. Not only is Peg’s dad lost in the Arctic ocean, she meets a man who’s heart is as hard and cold as an iceberg. Her journey ties into both these men and what she has learned from one and will learn from the other.

Your story is set in the 1920s.  What were some of the fun things you gleaned from your research that you worked into Redemption for the Devil?

I really didn’t do new research for this story other than to check dates and historical detail on buildings. I love this era of history and have Irish/English ancestry so I’ve always been interested in the facts and fashions of the time period. The story was quite easy to write since I had all this info already in my head. Seances were all the rage in the late 1800s and early 1900s so I really wanted to work that in. 

One funny thing I did was write the story with Liam as the  bartender and Peg as the lounge singer. They crossed the ocean and I’m writing merrily along, sometimes even humming. Then, the big moment: I’ll never forget my thought (and I won’t type it verbatim as it was not a nice word) when I pulled the Mauretania into port in New York City. It was along the lines of, “Oh, pickle juice, the Volstead Act. Now what?”

The Volstead Act is Prohibition- the Eighteenth Amendment of the US Constitution. DUH. No liquor sales by law. What was I going to do with a bartender and lounge singer? My knowledge of the era surfaced from my little pea brain and thus, I was not going to be embarrassed and hauled off by the historical police. I was gonna solve this issue, by golly and I did. I decided to send Peg to a speakeasy! Chicago! Gangsters!

I wiped my brow in relief and kept on going with the story.

Describe your writing process.   

Usually the first thing I get is the hero’s name. Then the idea of the basic story comes. I make a sound track of songs that I think relate to where I think the story is going. I’m a complete pantser and have written many manuscripts with a one sentence premise. 

Once I have the soundtrack, I immerse myself in the songs. I play them in the car and at my desk. Then I start to write. I usually get five to six chapters in and then the ending comes to me and I’ll write the last two chapters. Then I go back and weave it together in the middle. 

What is the best writing advice you received?

Don’t try to use someone else’s process. I did try to change my process twice when friends told me how they write. I was stymied and all the joy was sucked out of the process for me. I told my friend, Cynthia Eden, about the new process making me freeze up and have no creativity and she looked at me and said, “then stop.”

I looked at her, light dawning and said, “I can do that?” LOL!

What is the worst writing advice you received?

That whole rule about not using adverbs and gerunds. Sometimes, they have to be used. People talk that way and you have to use them in dialogue and sometimes even in the narrative. (Gasp) They are parts of the English language for a reason.

What are you currently reading?

I’m a reviewer for the Season for Romance and I’m reading an ARC of A Vampire Christmas Carol; Ebenezer Scrooge, Vampire Slayer. It’s pretty good. The author has a good grasp of Dickens’ voice.

Are there any writing conferences in 2012 that you would recommend, and why?

The Silken Sands Conference sponsored by the Gulf Coast Chapter of RWA is my chapter’s conference and I somehow got roped into, oops, I mean nominated for, chairman. We have an exciting line up of editors and agents as well as some cool workshops. And besides, who doesn’t love the beach? It’s in Pensacola and is March 16-18, 2012. Registration is open now. http://www.gccrwa.com/silkensands/  Another reason to come is that the winners of your very own chapters’ contest will be announced at ours. FUN!

Thanks for having me Heather. It was fun even though you asked me some tough questions there at the beginning. I hope to see a bunch of you at the conference.

You can find Jillian at her website, Twitter, and Facebook. Be sure to register for the Silken Sands Conference so you can meet her in person!

Enjoy this trailer for Redemption for the Devil. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Golden Investment found in blogs and loops

Just about every day I check out what authors write in this blog and the loops. While reading a loop post three weeks ago I read about a new publishing house right here in Alabama. At the time I didn't know that I was investing my reading in gold. The publisher mentioned was Astraea Press. My curiosity was peaked and I googled them. Since I kept receiving rejections I felt I had nothing to lose, so after reading their submission page I took a chance and sent in my submission. That was on Aug. 8, 2011. When I checked my in box on Aug. 18th I nearly died of shock. Astraea Press accepted my submission and asked me to read and sign a publishing contract. After carefully reading the contract I saw nothing surprising and signed it and sent it back. I have to tell you now that I spent 30 years in the insurance business so I know how to read and interpret contracts. The next day, Fri. the 19th I recieved the publishing contract signed from their end along with an attractive welcome aboard letter. Everyone has a different story about getting the call. Mine was so fast it took me by total surprise. So what I'm saying here in this blog is. Read it and look for your golden opportunity.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Book Publicity: An Interview with Maryglenn McCombs


      Whether you are published or pre-published, book publicity is something you must be mindful of.  The amazing Maryglenn McCombs has graciously agreed  to share some of her knowledge on the subject.  Maryglenn has actively been working in the book publishing industry for nearly 20 years.  She has served as a guest lecturer for publishing workshops, conferences and events, including serving as a panelist for the Southern Festival of Books. She is a member of the Publishers Association of the South (PAS) and Publishers Marketing Association (PMA). 

.       What are the reasons an author should consider using a publicist?

I think there are two main reasons authors should consider hiring a publicist. First, it makes a huge difference to have someone who is familiar with the media, understands the timing of when (and when not) to pitch a book, how to pitch a book, knows what reviewers and journalists are looking for, and knows the ins and outs of how to get a book reviewed, covered, or featured. Second, I think it would be extremely hard to try to promote my own book—assuming I had a book to promote. I would definitely want to hire a go-between to do the promoting for me. That isn’t to say that there aren’t a multitude of great authors who also happen to be great self-promoters, but I would definitely want to have someone doing that work on my behalf as opposed to trying to do it myself. I have reviewer contacts who’ve told me they prefer working with publicists and while they love hearing from authors, don’t necessarily want to be pitched by the authors themselves. Sometimes that can get a little tricky, I’m told.

            With social media becoming more and more prevalent, how have you seen your job as a publicist change?

Social media has definitely had an impact on my job. Journalists—especially those who have a social media presence—seem to be more accessible (and it doesn’t hurt to be able to know what they’re thinking, blogging, tweeting, or Facebook-ing about). Social media, in some ways, has exponentially increased the value and scope of good reviews. I encourage all of my authors to share good reviews and coverage via social media. Having an outstanding quote or review to share with your social network can be a wonderful way to get people excited about your book—and build momentum.

3       Is there a timeline that an author should consider when it comes to publicity and/or contacting a publicist, and if so, what is it?

In a perfect world, all authors would contact me about 6 months in advance of publication. In the real world, I’m happy to have a little advance notice (at least a month) but do occasionally take on books that are already released. Having lots of lead time can help, but there are ways to promote books past their release dates. In fact, I tend to tell authors that it is really never too late to promote a book. I recommend starting early, though—or at least that authors start thinking about PR early.

4       You have a reputation for “thinking outside the book” when it comes to publicizing your clients and their books.  What are some of your favorite things you have done to promote a client/book?

Thanks for asking that question. I have some good stories but my favorite has to be one that happened last December.  I’ve worked with mystery writer Don Bruns for years—I think we’ve done 7 or 8 books together now. I begged him for years to include my Old English Sheepdog, Garcia, as a character in one of his books. (On a sad note, I should mention that we lost our Sweet Garcia in June after 11 wonderful and glorious years.)
I finally wore Don down and he made Garcia a character in Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, a mystery novel that came out last December.

I had heard through the grapevine that Rush Limbaugh was a proud Old English Sheepdog owner so I sent his dogs (Abby and Wellesley) a pitch letter from my dog, Garcia, telling them about the book and how great it would be if the dogs could convince their “dad” (Rush Limbaugh) to talk about the book –and Garcia, of course—on his show.

And he did!  So now I have the distinction of telling people that I was successful at getting my dog (and Don’s book) on the Rush Limbaugh Show. Don and I still get quite a chuckle over that story. Our phones rang off the hook for days…I had no idea just how many loyal Rush Limbaugh listeners there were!

5       In a challenging economy such as this one, each dollar counts.  For a pre-published author who has to decide between spending money on conferences, memberships in writing organizations, websites, etc., what advice do you have for the not-yet-published author in terms of where to direct their resources?

Conferences, conferences, conferences.  So valuable—and the networking opportunities alone far exceed the price of admission. I’m a big fan of genre-specific conferences and recommend them highly to both published authors and those looking to be published.

6       What book(s) are you  currently reading?

I am reading an incredible November mystery, Fever Dream by Dennis Palumbo (Poisoned Pen Press) which I’ll be representing. It is so good it is almost criminal that I get to call this “work." I am trying—trying—to convince myself to pick up The Art of Racing in the Rain but I’m not quite there—yet. In time!

Thank you so much, Heather; I appreciate the fun questions!

Maryglenn's website is http://maryglenn.com/index.html  If you have any questions for her, she will be checking in.  She is an amazing source of information, and a really cool lady.  I am so happy she agreed to let me interview her for our blog.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Confessions of a T-shirtaholic

In Philippa Gregory’s historical novel, The Other Boleyn Girl, the immature Mary Boleyn frequently pauses to inventory the goods she’s gained through her affair with the king. “I had a pair of matched diamonds for my ears, I had three new gowns, one of cloth of gold.”

By contrast, I have around four dozen T-shirts.

I’m not bragging. I don’t wear them to impress. I rarely wear them at all.

I hoard them.

It’s not about their utility, but about what they represent.

There's the South Carolina Book Festival, where I first encountered the Inkplots, a group of Columbia-based writers from whom I continue to learn. The Double Bridge Run from downtown Pensacola to Pensacola Beach, my longest road race ever. The Smart Matters Scholarship tennis tournament, a Junior League of Columbia school readiness program. Charleston Farmers Market, a Saturday morning event I reintroduced to the city when I worked there in Downtown Revitalization. Summer Slam, a Pensacola tennis tournament for anyone willing to play in the middle of July. Gulf Shores’ National Shrimp Festival and Pensacola’s Fiesta Forces, both of which offered me the opportunity to work in a beer booth for one free beer at the end of a two-hour shift. And more than one from various Habitat for Humanity homebuilding events.

Tucked in the bottom of the drawer, there’s one Greek-letter sorority jersey from high school, and one from college.

And there's an absent shirt. For twenty-five years, I treasured a plain white T-shirt with kelly-green-banded neck and sleeves. Emblazoned on the breast: a Maltese cross and Camp Winnataska. When my daughter got old enough to go to camp, I let my authentic retro T go with her.

One day, I might copy what a sorority sister’s mom did. She scissored out all the screen-printed art from her daughter’s collected T-shirts and made a quilt from them for her dorm room.

She understood that woven into all that cotton knit are stories of achievement, membership, experience, and lasting bonds.

But quilting is a time-consuming art that requires practice. So unless I quit writing to ply a needle, it’s more likely that I’ll stitch my memories together with words.

How about you? Are you photos-only type, or do you save other memorabilia?