A Conversation with Lisa Heidke

It occurred to me that I hardly need to introduce Lisa Heidke to followers of this blog, who I know are pretty passionate readers of contemporary women’s fiction. Lisa is the popular author of LUCY SPRINGER GETS EVEN, WHAT KATE DID NEXT, CLAUDIA’S BIG BREAK and STELLA MAKES GOOD – books she is proud to call ‘chick-lit’.

Lisa and I met online – not the way you’re thinking0_Heidke Lisa small (you can read more about such things below) – but in the way many authors meet each other these days, via our ‘social platforms’, that is, Facebook, Twitter and the like. But we did eventually get to meet in person, and bonded over everything we had in common – especially our love of women’s fiction, and our struggles writing it! I discovered Lisa is as funny as her books, and I’m thrilled to welcome her to my blog today, to discuss her long-awaited new novel, IT STARTED WITH A KISS.

So, it’s been a while between drinks, Lisa! I have seen your fans on social media hounding you for your next book, so I’ll ask for them, what took you so long?

Short answer? A couple of false starts …

The longer answer? I wrote a manuscript that I love about two sisters on the professional tennis circuit. It’s got travel, romance, suspense, and intense drama between the siblings as they navigate their professional and private lives in the public arena. Unfortunately, [my publisher] Allen & Unwin, didn’t think it was quite the right fit for them so I started writing IT STARTED WITH A KISS.

Coupled with my oldest son doing the HSC in 2013 and A&U pushing the publication date back, yes, you could say it’s been a long journey getting novel number five ‘out there’. But I am so pleased it is!

So you’re saying you haven’t exactly been sitting on your hands! 🙂 I think readers don’t always realise that the publishing process is often long and arduous, and completely out of the author’s control. Good for you for persevering and producing a whole brand new novel, which I enjoyed immensely! What was your inspiration, the spark that fired IT STARTED WITH A KISS?

I have friends whose marriages and long term relationships have fallen apart and suddenly they find themselves alone and lonely. How do they meet people? Quite a few sign on to dating sites – RSVP, e-harmony etc. And I thought this would be a fascinating premise for a novel. I interviewed friends and am enthralled by the concept – how internet dating works (and often doesn’t!), the successes and the horror stories. I also poked around a few dating websites … eye opening. It’s amazing how much personal information people will reveal to complete strangers, along with sharing photos taken back in the 90s, when they had a full head of hair and looked twenty-five. What happens if they make it as far as actually meeting up with their potential love interest?

I had a great time writing IT STARTED WITH A KISS, but I wouldn’t like to be Friday!

Why not? I’d certainly like to have her name – what a great name for a heroine!

Thanks, Di. I’m rather fond of Friday’s name too!

I don’t want to be Friday because she’s going through a tough time personally and professionally. Her career as a naturopath got sidelined to raise a family and then, when her husband leaves her, Friday flounders, not knowing what to do with herself. Her self-esteem is at an all time low and she makes things worse by having an ill-fated fling with a married man. I felt sorry for her as I wrote her character but still, I kept adding to the conflict and tension …

 The grist of any good story! We writers are so mean to our poor characters. And yes, thrusting Friday into the realm of internet dating was particularly cruel! So tell us about your research – what’s your opinion of internet dating now?

Inevitable. Is that the right word?

Because if you’ve just come out of a long-term relationship and all your friends are couples, how do you meet potential partners, especially if you’re a stay-at-home mum, working alone or employed in a small business? If you’re actively involved in the church, gym or some other activity, such as a cycling or movie club, you might meet someone … but what are your other options? (Other than badgering your friends about ANY single non-loser friends, brothers, and acquaintances they might have.)

Generally, older, single women aren’t going to go to bars or clubs by themselves; it’s far safer to flick through potential candidates on a computer in the privacy of your own home.

Does that sound depressing? I don’t mean it to be – and I certainly didn’t set out to write about internet dating, but the more I spoke to women the more I realised that this was the norm, especially for woman between the ages of 25 and 45, who were looking companionship – at the very least.

No, it doesn’t sound depressing, you sound like you’re a convert! You certainly cover the range of possibilities of internet dating – the good, the bad, and the ugly. But, without giving spoilers away, Friday’s biggest problems come from rather unexpected places. The twists and turns at the end of the book are surprising and even shocking at times, and really well-handled, Lisa. Congratulations! 

Thanks, Di. I had a lot of fun writing Friday’s story. I really hope she resonates with readers.

Just one final point – my internet dating days are over but I have quite a few friends who have found true love on these sites!

 Lucky them! Thanks so much for your time, Lisa, it was great chatting.

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If you want to find out more about Lisa and her books, you can go to her website or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

 

And if you want the chance to win a signed copy of IT STARTED WITH A KISS, just leave a comment below, and Lisa will choose one lucky reader at random.

 

 

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A Conversation with Rachael Johns

I am so excited, and I know many of you will be as well, that Rachael Johns is in da house! (as the young people say 🙂 ) I first ‘met’ Rachael on Twitter – she was so warm and friendly and generous online, that I felt like I knew her. So I was thrilled to learn that she was attending GenreCon last year, and we finally got to meet in person. I wasn’t disappointed, she was just as warm and friendly, and great fun at Karaoke … but that’s another story.

We have been trying to get together for a outback ghost finalConversation ever since but we’ve both had busy years. I was off travelling, while Rachael kept writing books, much to the delight of her many fans. So finally we started our conversation on the publication of the third book of her wildly popular Bunyip Bay series, OUTBACK GHOST. I’m fascinated – and not a little envious – of the series phenomenon. They are particularly popular in romance, readers seem to love them. I often have people asking for sequels to my books, but I just don’t know how I would go about it. So my first question to Rachael was …

Did you know from the beginning that there was 3 books’ worth of material in Bunyip Bay? 

Thanks re the series, Di, it was a lot of fun to write and I learnt a lot about my writing process throughout the journey. The reason I decided to write a series was as you mentioned because readers had contacted me on Facebook and email asked to know what happened to the characters in my first book. Many begged me to a write a story that followed on from JILTED but for me that story was finished – I’d put the hero and heroine Jilted-US-cover-final-647x1024through hell (ten years of it in their case) and given them their Happy Ever After, I didn’t want to throw anymore drama at them. And hey, a book without drama would be a pretty boring read. In addition to requests from readers, I read a bit of American romance and many of those authors write very successful series. I realised that readers enjoy going back to a town and familiar characters time and time again, so decided to try my hand at a series. I chose three books from the get-go (because it seemed like a good number) and had a loose idea about who the hero and heroines of each book would be, although this changed a bit as I progressed and got to know them. There is one plot line that travels through the three books but you do not need to read them all in order to understand the books. However, I didn’t really do half as much pre-planning as I should and I now know that if I write a series again, I’ll work out some of the specifics that will link the books BEFORE I start writing. Despite deciding there was going to be three books, I left a couple of characters unfinished so to speak. I introduced them but didn’t share their story with the reader. So now… I’m getting requests for MORE Bunyip Bay books (yay) and having these characters I’ve decided that I can and will go back and write at least one more book. And who knows… maybe in THAT book, I’ll introduce more characters for potential stories 🙂

Wow! So you could keep going on a neverending thread like that, I suppose! I totally agree with what you say about sequels, that’s what I tell my readers when they ask for more – don’t you think they’ve been through enough! But the way you’re doing it gives you the opportunity to draw on a huge ‘cast’ of characters, and give them each a fresh story. Now, I find it so difficult when people ask me what’s my favourite book, but I’m going to ask you anyway – do you have a favourite couple in the trilogy (or is it a quadrology now!)?

Ooh favourite couple. That is a tough question. Like choosing a favourite child, it really depends on the mood I’m in – lol! But if you’re going to make me pick, I’d have to say Adam and Stella from OUTBACK GHOST. Adam has been with me from the start of the series as he was a friend of the characters in the first book, so I’ve learnt a little bit more about him in each book and I was SO ready to give him his Happy Ever After. He’s had a horrible experience that shaped his past and who he is today so it took a really special woman (or rather women, if we include the heroine’s little girl) to help him heal. Stella is a young woman who has also had a hard life so far but she’s never let anything defeat here. I think they’re a match made in heaven and it was fun to go along for the ride as they fell in love.

Yes, it’s often the latest couple who are closest to your heart. And I’m sure your readers will agree about Adam and Stella! But then, they’re not quite your latest, are they? I really have lost count of how many books you have either written or are writing this past year – you’re prolific! I shouldn’t be highlighting this for my readers, who are always asking when my next book is coming, and I’m afraid a year apart is close for me. So how do you do it? Especially with three young boys under your feet?

Haha Dianne – I ask myself this Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 10.42.12 amquestion a lot, cos most of the time I barely feel like I’m keeping my head above water, never mind getting any words down but it’s amazing how those words really do add up. In theory I work school hours now and that’s when I do the majority of my writing. But school carnivals come up, kids get sick, other things make me lose days, so I also write most weekends for at least a couple of hours each day and I make lots of other sacrifices. Like ironing, and housework 😦 And I’m not much of a cook anymore, but hey my kids are so fussy, they don’t want to eat anyway. I don’t watch much TV either, although this is something I regret and want to change. I’m not a superwoman, I just set myself goals and I don’t always achieve them but I find if I aim for a certain amount of words per day, I’m more likely to get there than if I don’t!

Well, maybe you are a bit of a superwoman! I hope your readers appreciate the sacrifices you’re making – ironing and housework, however do you cope? 🙂 But clearly it’s working for you. I have just received your newsletter with the announcement of your latest novella, THE NEXT SEASON, which follows on from THE KISSING SEASON. What other goodies do you have in store for your readers?

1214 The Next SeasonThanks Dianne – those novellas were a lot of fun to write. I really enjoy writing a short story between the big books and THE NEXT SEASON is a first-lovers reunited story, which happens to be my favourite type of romance of all!! Following THE NEXT SEASON is THE ROAD TO HOPE, which is linked to my first rural romance JILTED and will release in March next year. This was a fun and challenging story because I took a character who wasn’t very nice in JILTED and made her the heroine in THE ROAD TO HOPE!! Can’t wait to share Lauren’s story with all my readers!

 

Thanks so much for the chat, Dianne! I can’t wait till the next time we can do it in person!!

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Look forward to that, Rachael!

Rachael has kindly offered to give away a signed copy of OUTBACK DREAMS, the first in the Bunyip Bay series. So if you haven’t caught up with them yet, here’s a great place to start. Just leave a comment below, and Rachael will choose a winner at random. But be quick! We want to wrap this up in the next week or so, so that your prize can make its way to you before Christmas!

A Conversation with Jenn McLeod

I first had contact with Jenn back in 2011 when she sent me a lovely email to tell me 54A1122-t-200x300how much she enjoyed my novel, Three’s a Crowd. She also revealed she was an aspiring author, and had recently landed herself an agent. Fast forward to February 2012, when Jenn announced the exciting news that she had signed up with publishers Simon & Schuster, and just over a year later her debut novel A House for all Seasons hit the shelves, to resounding critical and reader acclaim. It’s a lovely, heartwarming tale, just like its author, I suspect, because Jenn and I still haven’t met in person! So I was thrilled to have her as my inaugural ‘conversationee’.

Hi Jenn, thanks for joining in the conversation today. As I said above, I’m thrilled to have you, because I’ve been dying to pick your brain about something. I am totally intrigued by the way you describe your writing process: that you come up with your title first, then the blurb for the back cover, and these then form the template for your novel … As someone who has been known to still be searching around for a title in the editing phase, and who struggles to write blurbs, this is absolutely fascinating. Can you tell me more? How did the title ‘House for all Seasons’ come to you?

Well, Dianne, I have a long answer and a short answer. The long answer goes something like this …

“While delighting in the early morning sun in Spring of 2009, inspired by the sensational sensory surrounds in the little country corner I call home and the pure joy of living in a place that experiences such diverse seasons …” Yeah, yeah, yadda, yadda …

Ha! And the short answer?

Rural romance was a boom genre around 2009 and although I’d been flogging a couple of manuscripts – they were not rural stories and I am neither a farm girl, nor a romance writer – and a significant birthday loomed, I gave myself an ultimatum. If I wasn’t capable of writing a country story and getting ‘some’ attention by my 50th I clearly could NOT write and I should give up.

(Hmmm, I did say this was the short version, didn’t I?)

Anyway, I decided to ‘make’ myself a country girl and write myself a good ol’ country story. Enter NaNoWriMo 2009.

(For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, which takes place in November each year.)

Freshly inspired by two authors – Monica McInerney and yes, you, Dianne Blacklock! – I was determined to tackle a multiple POV (point of view) story about four women and written in fours parts: spring, summer, autumn and winter. (Let’s not take the easy path, Jenn!)

Could I go wrong with an unexpected inheritance theme?

No!HFAS_packshot_web-240x300

So, House for all Seasons, with its four main female characters – each one as different as the seasons – was born.

Before I jumped into Nano I had the title, the four characters, and I’d written their individual blurbs. Twelve months later, one day before my 50th birthday I submitted House and signed with an agent. And I’m delighted to say the same character blurb made it to the back cover of the printed novel.

Amazing! Have you kept the same process for your next novels?

Book two (out April 2014) started as a title and a tagline …

Simmering Season

This storm season, when a school reunion brings home more than memories, Calingarry Crossing’s local publican, Maggie Lindeman, discovers there’s no keeping a lid on some secrets.

Then there was an opening line that I’d been saving up for years, waiting for the right time. (And while there maybe not always be the perfect time, Dianne, it was definitely ‘the right time’ for me to use that line.) Wanna sneak peek? It’s going to be a bit controversial for anyone who, like you, Di, has read and fallen in love with the House for all Seasons characters, but it has to come out sooner or later, so here’s that opening line …

‘I always thought the next funeral I’d attend would be mine.’

(Yep, I’ve killed someone off. *gulp*)

I LOVE that opening line! It does exactly what an opening line should do, which is basically to make you want to keep reading. Well done you! Obviously your process is really working for you and the way you write stories. What’s next?

Thanks for asking, Di. Book 3 in my Season’s Collection is next, although my process did hit a snag! Even though I’ve been blessed with a lovely agent, and a publisher who is consultative and open to author input, I’m learning to adapt to change. You see, book 3 was 90,000 words completed when I revealed my title and blurb, etc, to my agent (whose opinion I value) only to hear she didn’t think the title (Season of Temperance) or the lead character’s name (Temperance) was right for the commercial fiction market. Yikes! Did I mention I was 90,000 words in and that my titles feature as a theme throughout my stories? Once I picked myself up and told myself change was possible, I found a new title and a character name that works even better. In fact, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it and cannot wait for book 3 to hit the Australia/NZ shelves in April 2015!

(Phew – I guess this blog post shows you how my books get so big!)

You’ve hit on a really important part of the process here, Jenn – editing! I actually love the editing phase … Well, perhaps it might be better to call it a love/hate relationship. It can be a bit daunting at first, but it always leads to a better book in the end. I have learned so much from the privilege of having an editor. If there was one piece of advice I’d give to aspiring writers, it’s not to be afraid of being edited! What would your advice be, Jenn?

Ditto on the editing, Di.

First I’d say, writing for publication is not the same as writing for pleasure. Being a published author turns a hobby on its head, frustrates the family, and tests your patience. My advice is threefold …

  1. It’s never too early to start thinking like a published author.
  2. Develop a head for business and learn to plan – sometimes the marketing, accounting and time management parts of this gig are more small business operator than writer.
  3. Give those closest to you the opportunity to share your journey. Don’t assume they already know. Don’t assume they don’t want to understand. With involvement comes support – and you will need that in bucket-loads.

That is such a great note to finish on, Jenn. So lovely chatting with you! 

House-for-all-Seasons-Jenn-J-McLeod-194x300Jenn was also kind enough to provide a SIGNED COPY of the new ‘Baby B’ format of A House for all Seasons! But the competition must close this Friday 13 December, so that we can get the prize out to you asap, hopefully in time for Christmas (if Australia Post obliges). So, sorry, but this is only open to Australia and NZ residents. All you have to do is say hi in the comment below, and Jenn will select a winner at random. Good luck!

The Secret Ingredient

Or a little shameless self-promotion.

I had written another post for today, but it felt wrong not to give this space over to the launch of my new novel, officially published today. The Secret Ingredient is my eighth book. Coincidentally, my mum had eight babies. I wonder if she ever felt it would be expecting too much of people to be excited for her by number eight? Even though I have no doubt she loved that baby – my little sister – as much as the rest of us, and felt just as proud and elated … if perhaps, a little more tired!

By novel no. 8, I don’t expect everyone to experience the same thrill they did when my first book, Call Waiting, was published. My family are very proud of me, but it’s what I do now. There’s not the same level of excitement when my advance copy comes. It’s like, ‘Oh, that’s great, Mum. Congrats … What did you say we were having for dinner?’

Same with friends. ‘You’ve got another book coming out? But aren’t you writing at the moment?’

‘Yes, I’m working on the next one.’

‘So what will this be, six … seven now?’

There is no way the heightened level of excitement that accompanied that first book – even the first two or three – could be sustained. It would be impossible, and exhausting. I couldn’t do it, so I can hardly expect everyone else to.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not proud, and happy, and that I feel a very real sense of achievement. With the publication of The Secret Ingredient, I have over a million words in print. That boggles my mind. But more than that, the characters are part of my psyche now, taking their place alongside the characters from all my previous books.

So here’s to them! I hope they’re all right out in the big wide world, without me overseeing everything they do. They’re on their own now. I’m on to number nine …

A little privileged whining …

Thanks for the overwhelming response to my last blog post on the chick-lit debate. Clearly many people felt very strongly about the topic. And I don’t know whether the moon was in the Seventh House, or Jupiter had in fact aligned with Mars, but there was some kind of synchronicity going on. At the risk of blogging a dead horse, I’m going to take this opportunity to point you in the direction of a couple of other recent links of interest.

Over at Tara Moss’s blog, after attending the recent SheKilda crime festival, she decried the gender bias still rampant in the literary world. I’m sure Tara couldn’t have imagined the response she was about to get, however, when Cameron Woodhead, reviewer for The Age newspaper, weighed in with some extraordinarily patronising comments. Primarily, that it all sounded like ‘privileged whining’ to him. (It’s well worth a read – great stoush in the comments.)

I was almost not going to write the previous post for fear of just such an accusation, and Lisa Heidke, herself a wonderful author of women’s fiction, commented on my blog that she didn’t want to whinge or seem ungrateful … Little wonder young women today are reluctant to identify as feminists, for fear of being accused of being whiny whenever they speak up for themselves.

Wendy Harmer is no shrinking violet, and she picked up the cause and reported Tara’s battle with the critic on her website The Hoopla, (where Wendy also linked back to my blog, thanks!).

I am heartened by all your comments, both here and on my Facebook page, that you would read the books no matter how they were labelled, and I appreciate that, I really do. But not everyone is as sure of themselves. There has been a very interesting development in the digital world, as reported in the Guardian on the weekend. Romance readers are the most enthusiastic migrators to ebooks, where sales are soaring. But the main reason for this is a little sad – no one can see the cover of an ebook, so romance readers feel they can read with impunity, away from judgemental gaze of literary snobs. That breaks my heart just a little.

When my kids were learning to read, their teachers always impressed upon the parents that they must be seen to be reading around their children – newspapers, magazines, recipe books, anything – and that it didn’t matter what kids were reading – similarly, special interest magazines, comics, whatever – as long as they were reading. So if Mum happens to be reading a book, written by a woman, which may or may not sport a girlie cover, is she to be ashamed of this, and hide it from her children?

When did everyone get so judgemental? Are we not supposed to enjoy reading? Good luck getting kids to read at all if that’s the message we’re sending them.

To quote Tara Moss in her follow-up blog (I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t leave this alone), ‘Women’s voices matter’. Our stories matter, our writing matters. What we have to say matters. We shouldn’t have to apologise for it.

The chick lit debate continues

Some of you may have seen this article in the Guardian over the weekend, asking the question if we should mourn the death of chick lit, a death which may, in the words of Mark Twain, be described as an exaggeration.

It all depends on what you mean by ‘chick lit’. Is it a catch-all label for all women’s fiction, or does it only refer to those with the hot pink covers sporting ‘stilettos and Martini glasses’, as mentioned in the article? But is there much more going on inside the covers, and the problem is merely the way women’s fiction is being packaged?

When my first book (above) was published, a male friend asked me what women’s fiction was, and was he allowed to read it? He also said he never would have picked up a book with a hot pink cover, but he was surprised he enjoyed it. Now I don’t mind that our books are marketed to women, women are the biggest buyers of books by far, but has this led to the assumption that all women’s fiction is the same, and worse, that it’s light fluff? There is a whole other discussion to be had – in a future post – about covers and marketing, but this is more about perception. Those of us who read women’s fiction know that it’s often about much bigger issues; that martini glass could be making light of alcoholism, and the shoes masking some painful body image issues.

So why the cutesy label? Because we do mention shoes? Martinis? Love? Or, gasp, is it because it’s written by women? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if men write about relationships or domestic issues, they’re considered insightful forays into the human condition. Perhaps they’re not always lauded, but they ain’t called chick lit either. I’ve heard many excellent female authors shrug and apologise for what they write. I’ve done it myself. ‘It’s just entertainment’. ‘I don’t mind it’s called chick lit’. We wouldn’t want to look like we’re taking ourselves seriously as writers, for goodness’ sakes.

That doesn’t mean you must write only about serious stuff to deserve to be taken seriously as a writer. Look at Nick Hornby and Nick Earls – both wonderful, funny writers whose books are very much about relationships. Their solid reputations are well-deserved. Just not so sure that female writers of the same ilk are given quite the same status.

What do you think? Am I worrying about nothing? Does it matter what it’s called? Do you love the girlie covers or shy away from them? And if there are any blokes out there – would you be caught dead reading one?

In sickness and in health

Well, any of you who follow me on Facebook or Twitter will know I’ve had the flu, because I have had a bit of a whinge about it. I made it through winter relatively unscathed, so it was probably bound to happen. There are many perks when you write for a living – you can slop around in trackies, work at whatever time of the day or night that suits you – but one of the downsides is that you don’t get sick leave, or anyone to take over for you when you are sick. The book doesn’t write itself in your absence. You don’t return to your desk to find that the next couple of chapters are there, waiting for you to look over.

However, this early in the piece, and this far away from the deadline, I didn’t feel too frantic. I was just sick enough not to care. You know the different levels of illness? At a milder level – say, head cold – it’s just irritating, but when it steps up to include aches and pains and fever flushes, you don’t give a toss any more about missing work or missing whole days, you just have to go and lie down. I had to beg off a couple of social engagements that I had been really looking forward to, but even the idea of them was too much to contemplate.

The only thing that did get me out of the house last week was my youngest son’s graduation from Year 12. Mothering is another occupation with no sick leave. But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world – it was momentous, the grand finale of 25 years of end-of-school ceremonies. However, feeling less than a hundred percent obviously stopped me from becoming quite as emotional as I thought I would, which was probably just as well for everyone around me. I’m not good at endings, they make me cry.

Coincidentally, I had the flu when this particular child weaned himself. They say babies sometimes do that when Mum is sick; it doesn’t taste right or something. Anyway, he had to be brought to me in my sick bed for his last feed of the night, and he had a little try, but then turned away, uninterested. He didn’t fuss or cry or fret, he just didn’t want it. I offered it the next morning, and through the day, and the evening, but he had no interest at all, he wasn’t at all bothered, and I was too sick to really persist. A few days later, when I was well again, I realised that my last baby had had his last feed ever, and I hadn’t been paying attention. And there was nothing I could do about it by then, which may have been just as well.

I read a beautiful quote on Twitter over the weekend from the singer, Kate Miller Heidke, “There was a day when your mum/dad put you down, and they never picked you up again. They didn’t realise it was the last time.”

Just as well we don’t realise it’s the last time, or how could we ever let them go?