Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Writing What You Want To Read

I want to welcome Blaze author, Karen Foley, to Over Coffee. Karen is a deeprooted New Englander, who has written the third of the mini-series Dressed to Thrill.

Her topic is timely, since we've heard ad-nauseum, "Write what you know." Karen's philosophy is, "write what you want to read." She is also an advocate of being willing to step out of your comfort zone, as a writer, and try something new.

Growing up, my English teachers would always say, “Write what you know,” which nearly became a major impediment to my writing career. After all, what did I really know? I’d spent most of my teenage years devouring historical romances and knew that when I finally grew up, that’s what I wanted to write. So instead of writing what I knew, I decided to write what I wanted to read.

I joined the Romance Writers of America and over the next several years, I wrote five historical romances. I’m a big fan of RWA-sponsored contests, and between 2003 and 2006, I think I entered more than sixty contests. It was late in 2005, when I noticed a trend developing; whenever I entered a contest where Brenda Chin, senior editor for Harlequin Blaze, was the final judge, my entry finaled or won. At one point, she even included a personal note with my score sheet, saying she loved my voice and my characters. Unfortunately, she wasn’t acquiring historical romances.

While I’m not an advocate of chasing market trends, I do believe that occasionally stepping out of your comfort zone can help you grow as a writer. I’d never written a sensual contemporary romance before, and had never read a Harlequin Blaze novel. But the fact that Brenda Chin apparently liked my writing style was incentive enough for me to give it a try.

I devoured Blaze novels at the rate of 3-4 books per week. I even developed a spreadsheet to analyze the different aspects of these books, like what constituted the sexy premise, how explicit was the language, and how many sex scenes were included in each novel? What I found really surprised me. There was no “formula” to writing a Blaze novel. There were no prerequisite number of love scenes, and each story was as unique as the author who penned it. They ran the gamut from light and funny, to dark and edgy, with everything in between. They included paranormals and time travel romances, bad-boy alpha heroes and boy-next-door beta heroes.

I already had the outline of a story taking shape in my head, and when I felt I had a good handle on what constituted a Blaze novel, I scribbled down a one-page synopsis and handed it to Brenda during one of her workshops at the 2006 RWA conference (this was a solicited request for ideas; I promise I did not waylay her in the ladies room!). Three days after the conference, I had a call from Harlequin, requesting the full manuscript. I wrote that first book in a fast and furious ten weeks, and received my first book contract three months later.

It’s been exactly three years since I first submitted that manuscript to Brenda, and it’s hard to believe that my fourth Blaze book is out on bookstore shelves right now. Hold on to the Nights is book #3 in the Dressed to Thrill continuity series. (A continuity is where several authors work together on separate books linked by a common premise, and sometimes by common characters, and the books come out together, one after the other, since they are linked.)

Samantha Hunter invited me to participate in this series, along with Tawny Weber and Lisa Renee Jones. We came up with the premise of an online costume shop that ships out the wrong costumes to heroines, and how these costume mix-ups change the heroines’ lives and enable them to be more than they thought they could be. It was such a fun series to write, and I really loved getting to know the other authors.

  • I had a chance to ask Karen a few questions:

    Tawny's heroine was a bit of a sexy footloose geek and Sam's was is an overly responsible big sister who lived in the shadow of her younger, sexier sister. What's the deal with your heroine?

My heroine, Lara Whitfield, is a huge fan of actor Graeme Hamilton, and writes erotic fan fiction based on the television character he portrays. But only she knows that her stories are based on personal experience; she was once married to the Hollywood hunk, before he became a celebrity. The marriage was annulled just days later…or so she thought. When her lawyers tell her that the marriage was never legally dissolved, she decides to attend a celebrity fan festival for Graeme…dressed in a Princess Leia slave girl costume! She thinks she’s incognito, but Graeme instantly recognizes her.

  • Which scene in your novel did you love writing and why?

There’s a love scene that takes place at a little inn in Scotland, where they spent their wedding night five years earlier. Being at the inn resurrects all kinds of memories for both of them and makes them realize that they’re still completely in love with each other. The sex is amazing, but the new emotional intensity brings it to a whole new level. Then there’s the scene in the bathtub…

  • Hmmm, Scotland, amazing sex, a bathtub scene...Okay, I'm hooked already. So what’s next from you?
My next Blaze release is in July 2010, as part of a 3-story anthology with Rhonda Nelson and Jill Shalvis, called Born on the Fourth of July. Each story will feature a military hero. My story, Packing Heat, is about a Marine sniper who just wants to come home from Iraq and be a regular guy, especially if means spending time with the sexy schoolteacher who has been sending him care packages for the past six months.

After that, I have two more Blaze books coming out in 2011, each featuring a military hero. The first one involves a bad-ass special ops soldier who has a thing about women in combat; he doesn’t like it. But when a female civilian ends up assigned to the remote outpost where he is stationed, he finds he can’t concentrate on anything but her. The second book involves a female soldier who rescues the man she loves during an ambush and is hailed as a hero, and how this impacts their relationship. Both books are still in progress, and no titles have been selected. While both books definitely have a serious side, there is also a lot of sexy fun in both of these stories, and I think readers will really enjoy these heroes!

Karen, I know you're in the middle of some edits and such for Harlequin, so I really appreciate you taking time to not only be here, Over Coffee, but answer some questions.

  • Writers: How do you feel about stepping out of your comfort zone, as a writer, and trying something new?

  • Readers: Do you like it when authors try something new?

Growing up, she could always be found curled up with a book. When she wasn't reading, she was writing, trying to capture on paper the endless stories that filled her imagination. Nothing gives her more pleasure than creating a story with memorable characters, a seemingly insurmountable conflict and of course, a happy ending.

After graduating from the University of New Hampshire, Karen married her high school sweetheart and moved to Europe, where she worked for the U.S. Department of Defense. During those five wonderful years, she and her husband skied the Swiss and Italian Alps, hiked through the Scottish Highlands, explored Etruscan ruins, searched for Celtic ring forts, and traipsed through every 13th and 14th century castle she could find. Although living overseas was a wonderful experience, she was eager to get back to the States and start a family.

Karen continues to work for the Department of Defense and says that supporting America's men and women in uniform provides her with lots of inspiration for her military-themed romances.

Karen lives in Massachusetts with her husband, two daughters, a big, black dog and a Maine Coon cat. She loves her small town, but if the opportunity to travel presents itself, she's never one to turn it down! She enjoys hearing from her readers, so feel free to drop her a line at