***I want to start off by thanking you, Ana, for inviting me to the Heroines with Hearts blog. This is an honor, and a lot of fun!
1. Tami, you just learned you are a finalist in the 2010 Touch of Magic contest. Congratulations! Tell us about your urban paranormal “Bewitching the Beast.” Did you enter it in that contest for a reason?
***Yay! Thank you! Yes, I was thrilled to receive the news. Bewitching The Beast was a fun novel to write. I had just finished writing my historical, and while I love historicals, they have so many details to research. Writing an urban fantasy was so cool. Very freeing. No need to research if I could use a coat hanger or what kind of doorknob would have been on the door. I've been reading paranormals for years, and just love them. When an idea for a dark, menacing urban fantasy came to me from listening to music, I got pretty psyched. The music of Evanescence became my muse, and a story started to form in my head. But when I began writing, my heroine's voice took over. Her sense of humor is goofy and wry. She looks at life in a unique, quirky way. It totally took me by surprise, but I loved it. So my dark, brooding story turned into something with a lot of humor. The story is about Tess and Ethan. Tess is mourning the death of her fiance when she meets Ethan, a man possessed by The Beast, a dragon spirit who survives from absorbing human luck energy. The Beast forces Ethan to take Tess's energy, but for a split second, she blocks the spirits control over him. Without her energy to protect her, she's vulnerable to accidents and diseases most people can fight off. Ethan follows her, determined to protect her and find out how she affects The Beast. Ethan tries to explain the situation, but Tess thinks he's nuts. She doesn't believe in beasts and magic, not until she discovers her grandmother's Book of Shadows. She's descended from witches, and they warn her of her fate. The Beast isn't the only one of his kind. There's another, and he wants Tess dead. I entered the Touch of Magic contest because of the final judge. In this economy, I'm finding it harder and harder to get my work in front of industry professionals. Contests give me a chance to get those people to read my pages.
2. You have finaled in contests before. “Once Upon A Masquerade,” your historical, finaled three times in 2008 and almost won the 2009 Romantic Times American Title V contest. That must have been so affirming. Give us, please, your take on contests. Do you do anything special with your entry? How do you select a contest to enter? What it was like to be a finalist in such a big contest?
***Just being a finalist in the American Title contest was incredible. We had to send 50 pages to Dorchester, who asked for the full manuscript. They ultimately chose the eight finalists who competed. We sent requested samples of our work to the Romantic Times magazine, who on a monthly basis would publish an excerpt in their issue. From there the public could vote for their favorites, and each month one or two finalists would be dropped. The person who received the most votes at the end, had their book published by Dorchester. Amazing. I must say I learned a lot about promotion. I had to figure out how to get votes. Not so easy. I came in second place, which amounted to six months of marketing myself and my book. It was crazy and stressful, but well worth the experience. I made media contacts I never would have connected with if I hadn't pushed myself so hard. Overall, I use contests in two ways. When I finish a book, I like to get a general feel of how readers will respond to it. So those first couple of contests are meant to get a reaction I can use to tweak things. Beyond that, I consider who the final judges are. As I mentioned before, I primarily enter contests to get pages in front of industry professionals. I do tailor my entry to the contest. If I'm only allowed 20 pages, I make sure I use as many pages as I can while still ending on a strong hook. That may mean I cut back here and there to make it fit. You want to capture and hold the judge's attention, giving it your best shot. In fact, I've found that when I do need to cut words and sentences to make my entry fit into the page limit, sometimes if I permanently cut those things, the story is better. It's a great exercise.
3. Your website looks nice. I especially liked your “Tips for Writers” page. And I was wowed by all the airtime you’ve gotten in the Twin Cities press. Romance writers don’t often get recognized by TV stations and major metropolitan newspapers. How did those interviews come about?
***Thank you! My website is a template from wordpress.com. I looked at what other authors had done, and then put my own take on it. I like a very clean look. As for the airtime, yes, it got pretty crazy for a while there. When I was in the American Title competition, I wrote press releases to the local papers and my parent's hometown papers (anyone who would listen and maybe care). I didn't get a lot of response initially (except for the papers in Wisconsin where I grew up, bless their hearts). As the number of finalists dwindled, and my skill at writing press releases grew, I got a nibble. The newspaper where I now live picked up my story. From there, another voting round came and went. With only four finalists left, I got a call from our local TV station wanting to interview me. They'd seen the newspaper article. They came to my house and did a really nice story. Not long later, a producer from Twin Cities Live contacted me, asking to interview me on air. Talk about insane! During the final round of the contest, when there were only two of us left, I decided what the heck, and emailed some radio stations to see if they'd interview me. Two took me up on the offer, so I ended up on the radio too. And the funny thing was how calm I felt during the interviews. I learned a bit about myself, and my confidence as a writer grew.
4. You write that it took you a long time to discover you wanted to write. I think successive careers impart a) fodder for plots and characters, and b) the ability to become wise without becoming old. Do you feel some pressure in your writing career? What are your goals?
***The only pressure I feel in my writing career, I place on myself. I'm someone who drives myself to achieve (which sometimes drives me crazy too). As a working mom, I strove to be successful in my career as well as at home. Once we realized we could live off my husband's income, I quit my job to spend more time with the kids, and to write when they're in school. And for a while, I lost myself. With a paying job, you have a solid identity. Without it, I struggled with the idea of how people perceived me - a stay at home mom who writes, but isn't published, and makes no money at it. It really helped me to join a writing group, and a critique group. I need to hang around like-minded people going through the same thing I am. I'm really grateful for my RWA chapter (the Midwest Fiction Writers) and my critique group for their unfaltering support. My goals are simple. I strive to write as much as I'm able, given school breaks, sick kids, and life. More importantly I want to enjoy writing. I'm also working toward publication, but publication can't be my goal. Because it's out of my control. I can write the stories I love, query, and enter contests, but I can't control whether I'll final in a contest or catch the eye of an agent or editor. And I think I'm coming to terms with that now.
5. Are you a plotter or a pantser or a both-er?
***I do a bit of both, but probably lean a little more heavily toward pantser. Which is odd because I always thought I was an organized person. Creatively, I guess I'm not. I start out a story with an overall idea - maybe a beginning, a discovery at the end of Act Two, and a possible ending. I then do "character sketches," which are a series of questions I answer about each character just to get to know them. I organize the story threads as far as what the main plot line is, and what the romance issues are. Then I write. Periodically, I'll stop and assess how I'm doing on the story threads and think about if I'm dropping enough hints and details. For each chapter as I get to it, I'll also start out with a list of things the chapter should touch on, then usually write some dialogue before fleshing things out. My critique partners see each chapter as I churned it out to help me stay on track, but I do big time editing once the first draft is done.
6. I know you have a great critique partner. (maybe more than one). What is your process of critiquing each others WIP’s?
***Currently, I have three fabulous critique partners. I don't know what I'd do without them. Barb, Wynde, and Darcy - you rock!Usually we review each chapter in our first drafts as we write them. We look at everything from plot holes and motivation issues to grammar and spelling. Then it depends on the person. Two of my partners like to go back and fix anything mentioned in the critique and bring it back to the table for review. I like to wait on changes and do a bigger edit after the first draft is finished. My stories typically have complex plots, so I know I'll need to go back to fix things and add foreshadowing when I'm done anyway, because as a pantser I don't know the full story until it's written. So, I'd rather just make a bigger set of revisions than do changes now and go back again as the story requires it later. After my revisions, my critique partners read the whole thing and tell me what they think.
7. What are you working on now?
***I had begun the second book in the series planned for Bewitching The Beast. But then I read on an agent's blog that it would be better to wait until that first book is sold because a second book in a series may be a harder sell if the first is passed over. So, I've gone back to writing another historical. This one is a pirate story. Argh, me mateys! I love it. The hero is a total Casanova. I've never written a character like him before. He's a lot of fun. I'm also trying to write this one totally in the heroine's POV. We'll see how well it works. I usually like to know what the hero is thinking, but this hero is so vocal with what he's thinking (if you know what I mean), it doesn't seem to be a problem. That and I like that he's more of a mystery to the reader. Is he just a sexy pirate? Or is there more to the man than what meets the eye?
Visit Tami's website at tamarahughes.com.
Thanks for being here today, Tami!