Friday, November 13, 2009

"These Are A Few Of My Favourite Things..."

My guest is Victorian Gothic author, Leanna Renee Hieber. I had the opportunity to meet the irrepressible Leanna at a RWA writers' conference in September.

Leanna is a sassy redhead and a lot of fun and she also knows the value of *presence* She did a fun and informative workshop on Direct Your Book--Using Theatrical Techniques. The gist of the workshop was to remember that while you're an author, you also are a Cinematographer, Director, Actor, and Marketing Director. Each plays a vital role in our writing. The workshop was great for visualizing your work and your characters.

Leanna has a unique way of looking at things in life and how they play into the writing process.

  • Leanna, tell us a little about you:

Hello friends! I'm an award winning author, actress, playwright and author of the Strangely Beautiful series of Gothic Victorian Fantasy novels, beginning with The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker.

  • I'm glad you were able to visit with us a bit today.
I'm so thrilled to be here Over Coffee with all of you!

  • Gothics used to be quite popular and then segued into mostly paranormals (with ghosts, other worldly creatures etc) and true atmospheric Gothics fell by the wayside. What drew you to Gothics and the Victorian period in particular?
I've just loved Ghost stories as long as I can remember, and the Gothic style just calls to me like a siren, it's just like a second skin. I think it's the drama of them (being an actress and playwright, it's fitting).

As for why the Victorian era, another childhood obsession that I can only chalk up to a past life.The conflict and the strained romance of the time just adds so much delicious tension!

  • You've given your Gothics a modern twist with fantasy/para, but would you still classify them with the old Gothics? How are they similar? Different?

Absolutely, I'd say I'm in the 'old school' Gothic style, but inspired healthily by Fantasy novels.

  • I know of several who love and write dark Gothics but aren't seeing a lot of results. Your books seem to fit a niche and I'm seeing a resurgence of interest in Dark Gothics again.

I do think there's great timing for [Gothic] series right now, however I couldn't have known that when I started the book nine years ago.

  • A case of writing what you love to read. I'm glad you persevered! It's a good book. What are some of your favorite things and do you use them in your writing?

I thought I'd make a list of all my favourite things because these are all things that have come up in interviews and when I look at this list, I realize it's a very important list to understanding me as a writer. I feel like singing a little Sound of Music here...

Except we don't have sound, Leanna, but I admit the song has been running through my head.

A (nearly comprehensive) list of Leanna's favourite things:

  • British Accents
  • British Actors-
  • Greek Mythology (and Mythologies in general)
  • Ghost Stories
  • Writing (since I could hold a pen and finish a sentence, it’s my favourite thing to do with my time)
  • Helpless romanticism
  • Brooding, brilliant, magical men who seemed wicked but weren’t (Just like Anne of Green Gables says, she wants someone who isn’t wicked but has the possibility of being wicked. I’m so Anne... )
  • Fantasy novels (Especially Harry Potter)
  • Gothic novels/literature
  • Jane Austen
  • Theatre (everything about it)
  • Gothic things (like architecture, music, clothes and all things under said title)
  • Dr. Who
  • Edgar Allan Poe
  • Alan Rickman (the best actor in the known world)
  • London- The Victorian Era and everything therein – (I have no idea why as a child I was flouncing around in doubled skirts and makeshift corsets, speaking in a British Accent in rural Ohio. I credit a past life because I don’t know how else to explain my long time love affair with the 19th century, or why London felt uncannily home when I went there.)
  • Birds
  • Pine forests (moonlit, please)
  • Red wine or a dirty martini
  • String music
  • cheese
  • Soulful singer/songwriters- Making things up that were utterly impossible and/or utterly non-traditional.
  • Ghostbusters
  • The Muppets (Particularly The Muppet Christmas Carol)
  • A Garden-style graveyard
  • Stained Glass (Particularly Louis Comfort Tiffany)
  • Central Park
  • Fine Art (particularly the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood)
  • The BBC (Yes. I am an anglophile)
  • My beloved pet rabbit rescued from a testing facility, named Persebunny
Save for the anachronistic things, many of this said list make their way into the Strangely Beautiful series in one way or another.

They say we are what we eat and I think we are also what we love. I'm so interested in the way that creativity meets our great loves in life, and to discuss that with writers and readers.

  • Writers: What are your favourite things and does your list make it into what you're writing?

  • Readers: Do you look for aspects of your list in what you read?

I hope you'll check out The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker. I've just announced the title and cover of the Strangely Beautiful sequel, The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker, which will release April 27th, 2010.

Come find me on Facebook:

Blessings to you!

Award-Winning author, actress and playwright Leanna Renee Hieber grew up in rural Ohio where her childhood memories are full of inventing elaborate ghost stories. Graduating with a BFA in Theatre from Miami University, a focus study in the Victorian Era and a scholarship to study in London helped set the course for her books. The dramatic, historic, spiritual and paranormal are the primary forces in her lyrical, eerie, atmospheric fiction.

While performing in the regional theatre circuit, her one-act plays such as Favorite Lady, were published, produced, won awards and continue to be produced in colleges and festivals around the country. She has adapted works of 19th Century literature for the professional stage.

She hit the fantasy fiction scene with her novella Dark Nest which won the 2009 Prism Award for excellence in Futuristic, Fantasy and Paranormal Romance. The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker is the first in her Strangely Beautiful series of ghostly, Gothic Victorian Fantasy novels published by Dorchester Publishing.

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

Monday, November 9, 2009

What I love About Coffee Get-Togethers

My guest Over Coffee is debut author, Marilyn Brant. Winner of the 2007 Golden Heart Award for Best Novel with Strong Romantic Elements.

  • Marilyn tags herself as an introvert, a Mom with an unhealthy attachment to Carbs, requires excellent cookies, likes dangerous things like chocolate martinis, neighborhood relationship intrigues and '80s Music. Best of all, she won my heart, when she told me she loves chatting over coffee with friends.
Thank you, Sia, for inviting me here! It’s a pleasure to be a guest on Over Coffee today. :-)

It’s particularly exciting to get to take part in a coffee-talk gathering online because, in real life, this is one of my very favorite things to do. I have a few friends I love to meet for coffee. Some I’m able to get together with frequently, others only once in a while, but in all cases I usually leave our morning coffee dates feeling buoyant and primed to tackle my infinite writing projects at home.

What makes it even more special is that I’m a true introvert. Unlike my VERY extraverted mother (!!), I’m not typically energized by social gatherings. (And, oh, I have stories I could tell about the endless stream of social events I was dragged to as a kid…wanna hear about wild double weddings, anyone?) Parties and conferences and things like that take a lot of concentration for me, largely because I can’t stop my writer self from collecting details and feeling a bit pummeled by observations. This was true before I ever actually became a novelist, by the way. Once I started writing, I was relieved to finally have a place to put all of those observations I’d been accumulating for years and tucking into my mental anthology of human behaviors--LOL!

So, what I love about the coffee get-togethers with my friends is that I actually feel like an extravert for those precious few hours. Because we know each other well, we dispense with small talk rather quickly. We’re then able to delve right into some very meaty conversations and get to the heart of a deep philosophical and/or emotional discussion after little more than half a cup of hazelnut mocha and a few bites of a chocolate-chip cookie. (We go to a shop with EXCELLENT cookies. I consider this a requirement.) And I’ve come to rely on these meetings as a helpful—perhaps even essential—part of my writing process.

  • Here’s why: I write women’s fiction. I’m passionately interested in women’s stories and our shared experiences. When my friends are telling me about their in-laws, their children, their wacky adult siblings…or they’re recollecting tales of old boyfriends or the qualities they love best in their husbands…I’m listening. I’m checking their stories with my own. Comparing them in the sense of discovering the emotions and reactions we have in common. They know this and, because they’re absolutely awesome, they enthusiastically help me make those connections.

Recently, one friend said, “So, okay, you’re a writer. Have you ever read any novels about a woman who’d lied to her entire family about having to go out of town at the end of November just so she wouldn’t have to suffer through another Thanksgiving dinner of being asked why she was still single?”

I said, “Got a call from your mother yesterday, huh?”

“Oh, my, God, yes!” she shot back. “I love her, but if she asks me about dating one more time—argh!!”

And so it begins, the fun and frequently funny back and forth banter between friends. The commiserations we share when we've had a crazy work week, an eye-rolling sibling moment or a feverish child. The innate understanding that each of us will pull together whatever knowledge, resources or background we can to help each other gain perspective on whatever might be perplexing one of us. It’s become such a powerful form of preventive medicine in my life that I look forward to it for my own mental health and, also, as a way to keep the pulse of my characters strong and true.

More than once, I’ve been the one to open our coffee conversation with something like:

  • “Okay, I’ve got this one character. She’s 43. Divorced. Ambivalent about relationships. But then she meets a younger guy and, strangely, they hit it off. What are her hopes? Her fears?”

And a friend will say, “She’ll worry about needing a boob job.”

“Or a tummy tuck,” another friend will chime in.

“But mostly she’ll be concerned about her teenage son and his reaction to the new relationship…”

And, with that, they’ll set me on the road to making sure I create a character who feels real to them. One who’s almost as multifaceted and three-dimensional as they are. I’m so grateful to them for that. Not only do their insights improve my writing, but they enrich my life and my understanding of the people in it. I’d give up my computer before I’d give up my coffee dates!

  • What about all of you? When you get together with your friends—over coffee, dinner, dessert or drinks—what do you tend to talk about? Work-related stuff? Kids and spouses? Sports, hobbies or pop culture?

  • Have these discussions ever made you think about your writing, job, or your family any differently? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts! :-)

Marilyn Brant has been a classroom teacher, a library staff member, a freelance writer and a national book reviewer. She lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and son, surrounded by towers of books that often threaten to topple over and crush her. A proud member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, Marilyn’s debut novel featuring "Jane" won the Romance Writers of America’s prestigious Golden Heart® Award. When not working on her next book, she enjoys traveling, listening to music and finding new desserts to taste test.
Readers can visit her website at

In Marilyn Brant’s smart, wildly inventive debut, one woman in search of herself receives advice from the ultimate expert in matters of the heart…

It begins one day in sophomore English class, just as Ellie Barnett’s teacher is assigning Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. From nowhere comes a quiet “tsk” of displeasure. The target: Sam Blaine, the cute bad boy who’s teasing Ellie mercilessly, just as he has since kindergarten. Entirely unbidden, as Jane might say, the author’s ghost has taken up residence in Ellie’s mind, and seems determined to stay there.

Jane’s wise and witty advice guides Ellie through the hell of adolescence and beyond, serving as the voice she trusts, usually far more than her own. Years and boyfriends come and go—sometimes a little too quickly, sometimes not nearly fast enough. But Jane’s counsel is constant, and on the subject of Sam, quite insistent. Stay away, Jane demands. He is your Mr. Wickham.
Still, everyone has something to learn about love—perhaps even Jane herself. And lately, the voice in Ellie’s head is being drowned out by another, urging her to look beyond everything she thought she knew and seek out her very own, very unexpected, happy ending...
"Marilyn Brant's debut novel is proof that Jane Austen never goes out of style. This is a warm, witty and charmingly original story of a modern woman coming of age and finding her own happy ending--with a little help from the ultimate authority--Jane Austen herself."~Susan Wiggs