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


~Sia McKye~ said...

Welcome to Over Coffee, Karen. I've been looking forward to, not only having you as a guest, but reading your part of the Mini-series. I should be receiving your book anyday now.

That bathtub scene sounds...intriguing.

Judi Fennell said...

I LOVE how you ended up with Brenda. It is so great when an editor gets your voice. I was that way with mine - I had no idea if my screwy humor would translate with anyone in the industry. Two trilogies later, I guess it does. :)

~Sia McKye~ said...

Sia, I don't know how much time you spend tracking down these interviews, but what a pleasure it is to have them delivered to my screen! I've really enjoyed hearing what your interviewees have to say about their books and about writing, and I've been introduced to so many new people.

Ann Marie Gamble

~Sia McKye~ said...

I read RT reviews, Publisher Weekly, keep an eye on Facebook, and friend's referrals.

I'm glad you enjoy the blog, Ann. I try to keep it interesting as possible. I've had some great guests. :-)

~Sia McKye~ said...

Judi, humor is always fun to read. And yours are fun reads!

~Sia McKye~ said...


Karen works, but will be checking in as she can. You'll see her more this afternoon. She's interested in what you think,so do leave a comment.

Kat Sheridan said...

Karen, how nice to meet you, and what a wonderful story about taking a chance and going in a new direction that led to publication! Congrats, and best wishes for continued success!

I found your question, "Do you like it when authors try something new?" interesting. In the short form, the answer is 'no'. However, if she uses a different name for different subgenres, then of course, yes. For instance, if I picked up an Amanda Quick, and discovered a futuristic paranormal, I would be disappointed, just as I would be if I picked up a Jayne Castle and found a contemporary or historical.

I wrote my first MS, a dark gothic, simply because I was having trouble finding them on bookshelves, and I adore them, so yes, I firmly believe in writing what you want to read!

Karen Foley said...

Sia, a huge thank you for inviting me to spend the day with you! I love your site...maybe someday I'll have the courage to start something like this. I think it's great!

Karen Foley said...

Hi Kat! I agree with you that it can be confusing when an author branches out to a new subgenre without using a new name. I always thought that if I ever decided to pursue publishing my historicals, I would use the name Elizabeth two middle names. And I think it has an historical sort of ring to it. Thank you for stopping by!

Karen Foley said...

Judi, congratulations on your two trilogies!! Yes, it's amazing when you find an editor who "gets" you. I feel very, very fortunate to be working with Brenda Chin; she's an amazing editor and I've learned so much under her tutelage.

aries18 said...

Sia, I've really learned a lot and met some wonderful authors here on your blog. Now you've done it again. Brought us a truly inspiring author. Thank you!

Karen, It's so nice to meet you and learn of your books and your own story. I'm so glad to hear more authors chosing to write what they want to read! It's what I always wanted to do but like you, I heard 'Write what you know'. I've added your latest to my TBR shelf. It sounds exciting.

Thanks gals, have a great day.

Anna Campbell said...

Hi Karen! Hi Sia! What a great interview. Loved your piece on NOT writing what you know, Karen. I was in exactly the same situation. I mean, what I knew was a very pleasant but fairly humdrum existence in nice Australia. I wanted to write about larger than life characters wearing boots (the men) and pelisses (the gals). I wanted guns and horses and elopements and balls at Almack's and... Yeah, you get the picture. Glad I ignored all that writing advice ;-) Congratulations on the new Blaze. I must say the fact that there isn't a formula is one of the things I love about that line! Glad you found your home!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Anna, darlin', god knows you have larger than life and as far from humdrum in your books as possible.

I'm eagerly awaiting my blaze shipment. Sheesh. I have Karen's and Lisa's on the way. I really WANT to see what happens to the shop girl, Josie, who sends these other characters in books 1-3 into romance with her costume mix ups.

Sheila Deeth said...

Loved reading about your books and your journey. Thanks. And now it's time for coffee.

Karen Foley said...

Anna, I'm having a fan-girl moment here...I love your books! Thank you for the kind words, and for stopping by!!

Karen Foley said...

Aries18, thank you so much!! You've all made me feel so welcome!

Karen Foley said...

Did I mention that I have complete set of the Dressed to Thrill books, signed by the authors, that I'd love to give away tonight?? I'll have my daughter select a random winner from everyone who stopped by, and post the name here right after I go and scarf down some dinner. Good luck!!

Conda V. Douglas said...

Sia and Anna, as a reader, I love it when writers step out of their comfort zone and try something new, same for me as a writer.

Interesting interview!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Well, hell, Karen, you didn't tell me about that, lol! I can't compete tho, but I have two of the others signed. But for sure, I'll let you know when I read your book.

I love the Blaze authors. I love the variety of premises, some of them make me laugh, some make appreciate their understanding of human conflicts and how some with darker souls, figuring they don't deserve happiness, still get it. That's a good thing.

Wanda, thanks for stopping by hon! I'll be collecting your books in the future, I just know it!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Karen, did you have to make dinner after a long day at the office? Or is your daughter one that loves to surprise you with meals cooked up?

I do appreciate you stopping by earlier. It's always harder for authors that work all day, to do promotion, yet you manage to still get it accomplished and so well.

I have a lot of respect for authors juggling life and love of writing with being spouse, parent,wage earner, housekeeper, cook, and taxi drivers.

Karen Foley said...

KAT daughter picked you as the winner of the Dressed to Thrill mini-series! Please send your snail mail info to me at, and I'll send these books to you. Congratulations, and a huge thank you to Sia for inviting me, and to all the wonderful visitors who made this so much fun! Have a great night!

Helen Ginger said...

I like the way she analyzed the books she was reading, then went after what she wanted - and it certainly worked!

Straight From Hel

Kat Sheridan said...

OMG, I could NOT be more thrilled! THANK YOU and thank you to your daughter! WOW!! Snail mail address is on the way, and thank you, thank you!!!