Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Author Spotlight - Donna Alward

Today we welcome Donna Alward to chat with us - an author I know all Minxes have followed through Harlequin sub care, her website and Twitter. We are absolutely thrilled for Donna that How a Cowboy Stole Her Heart is a RITA nominated book. We wish you the very best of luck at the RWA awards, Donna!

As a Rita nominated author can you tell us if there was anything extra special you felt when writing the book or has your editor/a reader told you what they thought was outstanding about this book in particular?

That’s kind of a hard question to answer, because I think there’s probably more than one single thing that worked with that story for it to make it to the finalist stage. I will say, though, that there was a special feeling to this book. I think I went through a stage of writing growth in the months previous to writing it, complete with growing pains. Then there was the fact that Clay Gregory had been waiting in the wings for his story to be told for quite some time, and I was really ready to write it. Add in some sensitive subject matter and truthfully it was a bit of a risk that I figured would either pay off or fall flat. The heroine is a breast cancer survivor. She had to deal with a lot – body image, because she’d had a mastectomy, public perception, and a very real fear of reoccurrence. In every book I write there is one scene that just GETS me. In this book it is Meg showing Clay her scars for the first time. I’m not sure if readers felt the same way, but that scene was, I felt, my biggest risk in the book. It was also the point where I realized I really, really loved Clay. You can imagine, then, how thrilling it was to get the call from the RWA board letting me know it had made the cut. 

What is your writing process?

I sit my butt in the chair, start at chapter one, and just go. I’m a linear writer so I write scenes in sequence. I’m a pantser so I do some character discovery before I start and a lot of thinking and usually have a few scenes in my head, but I don’t sit down and plot it out. Each day when I sit down to start, I go over the last 5-10 pages or so to get back into the story and usually end up filling a few things out a bit before moving on. When I get to the end of the first draft, I usually know a lot more than I did when I started and there are usually threads to weave through a little more during the next pass.

Everyone who writes knows it's not easy - what methods do you use to keep at it on days when it would be so much easier to go shoe shopping?

Confession time: I hate shopping. Distraction and excuses for me come in the form of research, admin, and generally being online as well as kid stuff. The kid stuff isn’t going anywhere; they are growing up way too fast, they need me and I want to enjoy all I can with them. The single most effective thing I’ve done to keep my productivity at peak performance is start using #1k1hr on twitter. I’ve nearly doubled my output just from that focus. I love being part of a group and I love knowing that I get to take a quick break before going at it again. And sometimes I take a day off. It helps refill my well.

Keeping fit: Do you have an exercise regime to counterbalance all those hours sitting at a computer?

I do. I lost over 35 lbs last year and have maintained since last July. Sadly that’s not as good as it sounds as I really wanted to lose another 20. LOL. But I do exercise regularly. I’ve done a fair bit of P90X which is my favourite workout EVER. Lately I’ve found I haven’t been as good keeping up with it because each workout is at least an hour long. With work, kid stuff after school, etc., I was ending up working out after 8:30 at night. So I’ve switched it up lately and gone back to the P90X predecessor, Power 90 (same company, still led by Tony Horton). It’s only 30-45 min and my husband does it with me, right after he gets home from work. Maybe it’s not as intense but I’m not missing workouts, either, which is important. I also walk the dog twice a day. I’m still in the “lose 20 and find a dress for the RITAS” mode, lol!

Do you believe in writer's block?

I kind of don’t. I think if you get to a point where you’re blocked, you’ve made a wrong turn and you need to go back and fix. I think a lot of people use it as an excuse to avoid writing because for some reason it’s difficult – probably because they’ve taken a wrong turn… you see where I’m going with this? You sit your butt in the chair and write, even if it’s crap. You totally can give yourself permission to write crap. What I do believe in is burn out. Sometimes the best thing to do for your creativity is take a SHORT break, refill the well, and get back at it again. I’ve written a HUGE amount in the last 9 months. I’m really, really ready to take a break after this book, and I’m planning on enjoying some fab family time over the summer. Everyone is off and hopefully the weather will be good for unplugging and going camping or just hanging out in the pool with a pina colada.

Have you ever used an incident from real life in a book? If so, did it get you into trouble?

Of course I have. Art imitates life…or is it the other way around? Anyway, in THE RANCHER’S RUNAWAY PRINCESS (which is, incidentally, reprinted as a bonus book in my May Harlequin Romance), there’s a scene where Lucy and Brody dance under the stars. The genesis of that scene was straight from a camping trip we made and my husband and I danced under the stars while the kids slept in the camper beside us. And I think there is a scene in my current book that is going to be straight from a recent wardrobe malfunction of yours truly… In ONE DANCE WITH THE COWBOY, there’s also an accident where several horses are injured – while en route to the slaughterhouse. That scene was inspired by a news story I read the summer I was writing it. But I don’t write scenes that are literally based on actual events. It’s usually just a “loosely inspired” thing.

In what way is being a published writer different to how you thought it would be?

It’s a lot more work. It feels less, and yet more, glamorous. Less during the day to day writing and work – I’m just another working mum. More glam during things like conferences where you realize exactly where you are and who you are with. And when you sit back and realize what you actually get to do for a living. I won’t lie – it’s fabulous.

Promotion is no longer a dirty word. In what ways do you strive to reach more readers?

For me it’s about being accessible. I want readers to be able to find me easily. And I want to be able to engage my readers – so for me it’s not so much about shouting “buy my book” but chatting. I also try really hard to just be positive – in my promotion, and in life in general. Everyone has bad days and gets discouraged, but on the whole I like to look at things as blessings and opportunities.

What is your top promo tip for other authors?

Have a clean website and keep it up to date.

What did you learn while writing this book?

Oh my. I learned that cautious, reserved, wounded heroines still need to be likeable and proactive. Angela has her own history of abuse so it would be natural for her to really keep her feelings locked down, but the reader needs to see vulnerabilities to make her sympathetic, and they also need to see her take charge and move forward even when she’s afraid to. Sometimes that means having her hold back in one part of her life but making things happen in another. No matter what, your characters have to make things happen rather than have things happen TO them. If that makes sense.

What was the most fun part of writing this book?

Morris, aka Chippie. I loved that cat. He’s based on Jayne Hoogenberk’s cat – Jayne’s the community manager at Harlequin. I met Chippie a year or so ago and fell in love. He is a real character – and quite handsome.

What have the changes to the current Harlequin lines and branding meant to you? Have they affected your writing process?

They haven’t affected my process at all. The Romance line is still the Romance line, and I knew I was going to be under the CHERISH umbrella in the UK. I still write the same stories at the same length. I’ve been super blessed to get some great branding on my North American covers, but it hasn’t changed how I write the books. I look to deliver the same consistent emotional reads I always have – hopefully better. At the end of the day I control the writing. I can’t control anything else. Doesn’t mean I don’t pay attention to what’s going on in the industry and adjust accordingly – there is a certain business strategy involved. But my primary focus is on story.

What do you think makes a Cherish book Cherish?

Cherish is a down-home, warm, cosy story - which isn’t the same as old-fashioned! There are some lighter voices and some weepies within the line. You’ll find westerns here, small towns (though small towns aren’t limited to Cherish), soldiers come home, royalty stories… It’s really about tone and voice rather than content. RIVA is a little more hip and flirty, with a touch more sass. It’s got a slightly more urban feel to it, perhaps a touch of glamour, and a quirkiness that’s fun. But don’t let the fun fool you. There’s tons of emotion here too. I love writing for Cherish. It’s the world I know. It’s a world of strong men, strong women, kitchens that smell like baking bread, family… For me it’s what’s real, but with the knowledge that in the end everything works out just the way it’s supposed to.

And just for fun: what would your hero’s honeymoon destination of choice be?

Sam? He’s not really a city guy, but I’d like to think he’d enjoy getting off the ranch once in a while. I can see Sam doing something like an Alaskan cruise with Angela. Or maybe taking her somewhere tropical where they could spend their nights listening to the ocean (among other things) and have adventures during the day. He’s an outdoor guy for sure. His cousin, Ty (In THE REBEL RANCHER coming out in a few days!) is more of a risk taker. He’d want to do something like zip lining and hang gliding and probably scare the pants off Clara.

My current book is THE LAST REAL COWBOY, the first book in my Cadence Creek Cowboys duet.

From the moment he turned up late to her charity's meeting, placating everyone with a tip of his Stetson and a lazy smile, Angela Beck knew that Sam Diamond was going to be Trouble with a capital T. Angela is the prickliest woman Sam's ever met—let alone had to work with! He'd love to still her sharp tongue with a kiss, but first he has to get close enough to awaken the complex woman beneath the deliberately cool exterior. And that's something only a real cowboy can do.…

THE REBEL RANCHER, book 2, comes out June 1:

With his break-your-heart smile, Ty Diamond is trouble that Clara Ferguson shouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole. The black sheep of the Diamond family, rodeo star and rebel, he's got a reputation that should have Clara running scared - not straight into his arms!

Ty knows he needs to take it easy with Clara - her past has left her with a bruised heart and determined never to rely on a man again. But Ty isn't all he seems - and his gentle side shakes Clara's resolute independence to breaking point...


Catherine Coles said...

Oh, Donna, I hear you on the shopping! I detest shopping. Thank you so much for being with us today :-)

Julie B. said...

Lovely interview! I adore Donna's book and her latest looks fantastic - and it's going straight onlto my auto-buy list!

Donna Alward said...

Thanks Catherine! You know, I do like shopping SOMETIMES - but I have to be in the mood for it. One of my fave shopping times has to be when I plan a girly day for my daughters and me. We have a great time and I treat them to lunch. And when I Christmas shop I'm likely to go by myself on a Tuesday morning when the crowds aren't so busy. LOL.

Donna Alward said...

Hi Julie! Oooh, thanks for the compliment on the books and I hope you like the latest ones! :-)

Sally Clements said...

Congratulations on the Rita news, Donna-well deserved! Love the sound of your new books!

Donna Alward said...

Thank you Sally!