Thursday, July 1, 2010

Friday Friends with Kemberlee Shortland

First, Kemberlee, thanks for being with us on Friday Friends.

Thank you for inviting me.

Tell us a bit about A Piece of My Heart and how you came up with the idea.

A Piece of My Heart is my first novel and is published with Highland Press, This is a girl/boy next door story told Irish style. Mick and Kate had been childhood friends and were quickly growing into sweethearts. A bully at school came between them, and after graduation, Mick went away to Dublin for college, becoming a researcher and historian with the National Museum of Antiquities. Kate stayed in the west and attended college in Galway City, becoming a palliative care who looks after dying people. That there tells us she has a heart of gold. And Mick really does have a love of history, even as he denies his own family's history.

Kate left the work force to care for Mick's mother who was dying from cancer. Mick was just finishing his degree at university and struggled with getting home often and not missing coursework. After her death, Mick brought his father a Border Collie pup to keep him company, which he calls his Hairy Irish term for one with a LOT of hair. When the father falls ill, Kate steps in to care for him as well, and raises the puppy to work small jobs around the farm.

The story opens in the solicitors office where Mick discovers Kate has been called in for the will reading. Since their 'break up' ten years before, and even though she's been caring for his parents, they really haven't spent much time together. There's too much personal pain between them. Mick understood his father had paid Kate for her services over the years, so her being at the will reading was confusing...until the will is read. Mick never liked life on the farm but he must now find a way to keep it or it goes to Kate. Kate doesn't want it. It's Mick's heritage. So she agrees to help him find a way to keep the farm while allowing him to return to Dublin. Even through the pain of the last ten years, and the heartache over Mick and what they'd lost, she still cares very deeply for him.

Chapter one is uploaded to my website at

The story came about because of our rescued Border Collie, Daisie, who was found in similar circumstances as I wrote in the book. While I won't give away the subplot, I will say I'd hoped to write something no one else had. Readers have told me it was totally unexpected and they hadn't read a subplot like that before, so I guess I hit the mark there. Our Daisie will be eight this weekend, having been found as a newborn on 4 July. She's our Independence Baby! (our other rescued collie, Poppy, was born around Christmas Day. As newborns, she and her brother were put on someone's dumped...the morning after Christmas, so she's our Christmas Baby)

Is this part of a series? If so, tell us about them.

Yes, A Piece of My Heart is part of the Irish Pride Series. The other two books are Rhythm of My Heart and Shape of My Heart.

Rhythm of My heart is about Dublin based blues guitarist called Kieran Vaughan and an artist's rep from Eireann Records called Eilis Kennedy. Kieran found himself playing in a seedy bar in Dublin's north side after his business partner embezzled all of their money from their joint business, a pub called the Blues Tavern. Kieran has to pay off all the debt before he can think about his career. Then Eilis discovers him by chance and believes he'll be the Garth Brooks of the blues. Eilis was a singer, but after suffering so much heartache from agents who would only hear her demo tapes if she got on the 'casting couch' she became an agent herself. She now hears those artists who would otherwise be turned away as she had. When Kieran and Eilis meet, sparks fly. Kieran is willing to throw away a career of a lifetime to have Eilis, and Eilis is scared because she's now forced to face her greatest fears. In the background, Eilis's boss Fergus is not the playboy he thinks he is. He's one of the worst agents who uses the 'casting couch' to his advantage. He's fixated on Eilis because she's the only woman to tell him 'no.' When Fergus learns of Eilis's intentions of taking Kieran on as a client, and more importantly how she reacts around him, Fergus does everything he can to dissuade her.

Shape of My Heart is about Grainne Vaughan, Kieran's little sister, and Dublin City detective John 'JD' Desmond. Grainne is starting her life over, ie: she's trying to grow up. She's moved back to Dublin with the intention of going back to school. But her job isn't quite cutting it with the expense, so she moonlights secretly as an exotic dancer called Jett. The money comes in fast and bountiful, so it's just a matter of time before she's saved enough and can quit. JD takes a job working beside Grainne in the hopes of gaining information from her about the goings on at her dance job at The Club!. This exotic club is a front for drug kingpin Taylor Wade, aka The Hunter. Grainne thought her identity was a secret, but JD uses this to his advantage to get Grainne to spy for him...or he'll tell Kieran what she's doing! Neither intended to fall in love. When Wade discovers what the two are up to, Grainne and JD find themselves in protective custody until Wade can be apprehended. It's then we learn why Wade is called The Hunter.

There is also a short story sequel to A Piece of My Heart, which tells Kate's and Mick's story a year later. This story is called Constant Craving and should be available soon.

While A Piece of My Heart appears to be a single title, there are connections in all of the books linking the characters together.

How do you plot your novel?

Plots are like roadmaps. You have a starting point and a destination. It's how you travel between the points that makes up the story. A lot of authors complain of writer's block. To me, this is simply nothing more than traveling on the wrong road or on a dead end road. When I get stuck, I back up to the last junction and explore other scenarios before continuing. That new route can be a good choice and lead to thickening the plot, or I could find myself in reverse again and trying the next road. Eventually, when I come to my destination (the end of the story), my characters will have had all sorts of adventures.

What have you learned being published that you wish you knew before you were published?

I think I'm still learning! I learned a lot through the editing process, but really, the whole industry is a daily learning process.

I will give readers two pieces of advice though. The first is this: Get with a really good critique partner (CP) --one who will give you honest critiques of your work and is not afraid to be burtal, but in a productive way. You don't want a CP who says everything you write is brilliant. It's counterproductive and you know it. If everything you write is brilliant, then you'd be published many times over by now.

And you don't want a CP who slams you at every turn because she's probably so unhappy that slamming someone else makes her feel better about her own work.

Also, you don't want a CP who, when you send her your chapters, comes back with "everything's fine" when you've put a lot of time and effort into combing her chapters and making suggestions.

Critiquing is a two way street, both giving equal measure. If you're not happy with a partner, change. It's fine to work with a friend, but friends have too much at stake if the critique thing goes south. Find a neutral CP. Your sole purpose in the relationship is your stories and helping each other with unemotional recommendations. Sometimes friendships can blossom through these kinds of relationships, which is great, but you must keep neutrality in your critiques. I'm lucky that I've had a couple great CPs, both of whom are great friends and we can still comment on each others work, or at least work through plots and bounce ideas off without worrying those ideas will be stolen by the other. There's a lot of trust in CPing so find the right person for you.

The second piece of advice is this: Don't keep saying "I want to be a writer." You ARE a writer. What you want to be is a published writer, and to do that take the time to hone your craft, learn from people willing to teach, listen to advice, develop a thick skin, and write what you know. If you don't know it, learn it.

As a writer, I'm always interested in any tips for revisions. Do you have any?

Irish novelist Dermot Bolger once said, "Write with passion in your heart; edit with ice in your veins." No truer words have ever been spoken. Stories should be told with passion. They should be told from the soul. But by the time we write the last words on the page the story is so close to us that the thought of removing one little word is like a dagger in the heart. That's fine if we're just writing for ourselves. But to make it appealing to a mass market, we have to learn to edit with a different kind of passion, ie: with ice in the veins.

I know I've cut big scenes from my story. It gutted me to do so. Every word on the page was the story I wanted to tell. But, the story I wanted to _sell_ needed editing, so passages went, scenes were shifted, dialog made clearer, etc.

But edits aren't all about slashing scenes. Here's an example from A Piece of My Heart where sentence restructuring and clarification can turn an OK passage into one with more punch --

Original: He figured it was probably for the best that Liam had shown up when he had. In reality, while he was sure they both would have found pleasure, Kate wasn’t the kind of woman to have sex so casually. Had't she said as much before she slapped him? Subconsciously, he reached up and rubbed his cheek, which still smarted.

Published: It was probably for the best Liam had arrived when he had. In reality, while he hoped they both would have found pleasure, Kate wasn't the kind of woman to have casual sex. Hadn't she said as much before she stormed out of the house? And she hadn't denied being a virgin. Had they slept together, he didn't know if he could live with the responsibility of having taken that from her and then return to Dublin.

The published version packs a bigger wallop than had Kate actually slapped Mick, don't you think?

Thanks so much for being with us, Kemberlee. Please come back when your next book comes out.

I'd love to come back. Thanks for the invitation. And thanks for asking me to join you today. It's been a lot of fun!

Okay, Kemberlee with be here all day so ask questions, leave a comment, and she will answer them. Don't forget to visit Kemberlee's website for information on her up coming novels.


  1. When did you first know you wanted to become a writer? And who were your inspirations? Can a person get published without an agent these days?

  2. Hi Kemberlee, I was wondering if any of your characters are based on real people in your life?

  3. Great information, Kemberlee. Thank you for sharing it! I love your demonstration of the original and revised paragraph. You are absolutely right--the second version packs much more emotion.

  4. Wow, Daisie is 8 already? Hadn't realised that much time had flown by...

    "The published version packs a bigger wallop than had Kate actually slapped Mick, don't you think?"

    Maybe...but Mick deserved a good slap or two.

  5. Anonymous...

    I remember writing little stories as early as 8 or 9 years of age. My 5th grade teacher used to get annoyed because I'd turn in short stories rather than assignments! Short stories were funner than homework ;-)

    I'm not sure any one author inspired me to write, but I always admired books by Jude Deveraux, Julie Garwood, Judith McNaught and the little known Julia Grice. Also Dean Koontz. He got his start writing romance and still includes the occasional romantic element in some of his stories.

    And yes, you can get published without an agent. Most small press don't require agented submissions, and a few of the better traditional publishers of romance don't require agented submissions either, such as Dorchester, Kensington and Avon. Some publishers that don't take unagented submissions will sometimes accept them from previously published authors, so looking at small presses for publication is a good start.

    But don't discount small press. They're responsible for major changes in the industry. If you want to manage your own career afairs (submissions, royalties, contracts, etc) there's no reason to hire an agent. You can have any lawyer familiar with literary contracts look at contracts before you sign them. Many publishers and most small press accept email submissions these days so there's no postal charges involved. And publishers will send you your royalites direct. You just need to apply those assets to your year end accounting.

    I hope this helps. Thanks for your questions!

  6. Kathy,

    My characters tend to be based on imagination, though I often use photos for fleshing out character looks, and sometimes characters from programs. I'll like a particular characteristic of someone I see on tv, for example, and apply that attribute to a character. But no, my characters aren't based on any one person.

    However, the dog Molly is based on our dog Daisie, who was sort of an inspiration to write this story. I wrote a little blog about our dogs last year if you're interested in seeing her...

    Thanks for your question

  7. Thank you for your comment, Ana. If this interests you, you might want to bookmark the blog where I post articles about writing. I'll be writing one soon called Writing to Tell vs Writing to Sell...

  8. Yep, Denise, D-Dog will be 8 tomorrow, 4th of July. She's our Independence Baby. Time sure has flown quickly. The great thing about Border Collies is they're always so puppy-like, even as adults. The problem with Border Collies is they're always so puppy-like, even as adults! LOL At least she's potty trained and doesn't chew up things not belonging to her. ;-)

    And yes, Mick deserved a real slap, but we can't write those in romance. And what would be the point? The look Kate gave him spoke volumes of how much he'd hurt her and she didn't even have to touch him. I saved the physical smack for the bad guy. He deserved it a thousand times more than Mick.

  9. I love the anaolgy of the plot being like a roadmap. There's definitely a starting point and and ending point, but there are so many different ways to get there. I like that it's even okay to take a wrong turn every once in a while. Sometimes that makes for the best adventures!

    Thanks for visiting today.

  10. I love the flavor of Irish culture you convey in your works. That must be exciting to capture the newness of your life there from over the past decade+.


  11. Debra,

    I'll be posting an article on mapping plots soon. Bookmark . There's a schedule of articles posted 5 weeks in advance so you'll know when it's coming.

    Thanks for your comments. Really happy to be here!

  12. Thanks for your comment, Marsha. I really do hope the real Ireland comes over in my stories. There's a vast difference in what Hollywood portrays and what's real 'on the ground,' as they say. I just wish that wonderful Connemara accent could be heard spoken by my characters. Though, there's no getting around Gobnait's! ;-)

  13. I really liked how you added some Irish language into your story. Your writing is really vivid. I feel like I'm in Ireland with your characters. But adding some of the language really gave me a sense of the culture within the story.
    I saw on your website there are 2 more stories in the series. Are you using the language in those too?

  14. Scarlett. I'm glad you liked the language. Ireland isn't known for being a country with a native language, but there are initiatives to keep it alive. And there are a few 'gaeltachts' (Irish speaking regions) around the country where Irish is still the first language. Connemara, where most of A Piece of My Heart is set is one of them.

    The other two books aren't as 'country' as APOMH, but yes, there's a *cupla focal* (a few words) in those as well.

    Thanks for your comments.

  15. What a great interview, Kemberlee, I found it really interesting. And, as I am totally in love with Ireland (having been there about 3 times a year for the last 4 or 5 years), I know I would love your books. Galway, Connemara and Mayo are my favourite places.
    Your explanation of travelling on the wrong road or on a dead end is excellent - it describes exactly how I feel at times!

  16. I like the part about editing with "ice in your veins," another way of going as neutral as possible, really. Do you ever find that you say no to editing suggestions - graciously of course? I like the Irish part of your books which I think gives them a unique flavor. How does one locate small presses that will accept works without an agent?

  17. Anon (comment above) and I agree- it must be the hardest thing to cut away at your "baby" to edit it! Do you work with a specific editor person or many people when going to press? Can the editor force a change to the work?

  18. Paula, Have you ever heard the Saw Doctors sing? You'll love this one...
    The Saw Doctors are from Tuam, Co Galway and have been around for more than 20 years. They do a lot of songs about Ireland and places they love. This one above is called the Green and Red of Mayo, for the green and red patchwork on the hills. The heather turns red when it dies back and is a stark contrast against the green. Really lovely.

    In A Piece of My Heart, Mick listens to the Saw Doctors in his Dublin apartment. I included this specific reference because as much as Mick has protested about not liking the farm, he's actually very homesick for his native region.

    Also, the song he listens to is called Red Cortina. Lyrics within the song include 'Heart beat like an earthy tremor, First love stays with you forever'. Same scene in the book. He's just come back to Dublin from his father's funeral and will reading, and having kissed Kate for the first time in ten years. Suddenly, all the memories from ten years before flood through him. Here's the song...

    If you decide to get my book, please email me and let me know what you thought.

    Thanks for your comments.

  19. Anonymous, It depends on the genre in which you write, but most small press take unagented work. My publisher is Highland Press,, and they don't require an agent to work with. The handle most genre, but no erotica.

    There's also Cerridwen Press,, Samhain Publishing,, Whiskey Creek Press,, Wild Rose Press,, Total eBound,, and more.

    Each publisher has their own submission guidelines, which are outlined on their website. Unfortunately, there's not one standard format the fits every publisher.

    Regarding contracts, look at them carefully, and be sure to have a lawyer look at them. You don't want a contract that offers publication with a vague release date. You don't necessarily need a specific day, but a month and year is handy. Contracts are fully negotiable so don't be afraid to have your own requirements during negotiation. That's all part of the process. If they want your book and offer you a contract, they're willing to negotiate terms.

    Good luck, and thanks for your comments.

  20. Anonymous and Yvette,
    Yes it's hard to edit something out or change something on an editor's request. We're always told to write what we know, tell the story we want to tell. But there's a difference between story telling and story selling. If you want to sell what you write, there will be editing involved. The biggest problems for most writers is passive writing and over narration. Sometimes structure is out of line, too.

    Back in the old days, it used to be recommended to write the story, then set it aside for 6 months. Then go back and reread it and start editing. There will always be something you want to change or clarify. Unfortunately, we don't have the luxury of waiting 6 months these days. The competition is too hot. Once the first draft is done, we need to dive back in and start editing. If we have critique partners, we need to get the book to them, or any friends or family who will give an honest opinion and not the family obligated 'everything you write is great' response.

    Writing a whole novel is like having a child. You create it, nurse it, let it mature along the way, then send it out into the world. But editing is like taking that child to the dentist to correct teething problems, or to the doctor to reset a bone, or to the salon for a haircut. That child might be perfect in our own eyes as the parent, but if the child wants a job, he/she will need to look and behave a certain way. To sell a book, that means editing, and we can't be afraid to take editor's and critique partner's advice because it WILL make the story better.

    How many editors does one normally work with? Depends on the publisher. I worked with one the whole time, though she did refer to another editor and the publisher on issues we struggled with together. We discussed each issue I had problems with and hashed out the pros and cons of changing vs not changing. Ultimately, the author has the last say of which changes will be made to the story. But we have to remember that the reason they're the editor and publisher is because they've learned how to do it. Writers need to learn from that. We need to develop a thick skin and not take a suggested change as that the book is terrible. If it were, the publisher wouldn't have contracted it. The story is there. The telling of it just needs some professional tweaking. They're there to help us learn our craft and develop our voice.

    The thing I drew my line on was word usage. Some words and phrases I used were purely Irish, but it was suggested to change them so they were more understandable. I argued against them and won, as the book is set in Ireland with all Irish characters. Put in Americanisms and the story loses it's credibility. In the end, both the editor and I got our ways on certain things, but between us, we made a really good story a great story. At least I think so!

    Thanks for your comments, both of you.

  21. Thank you ladies at Heroines with Hearts for asking me to join your Friday Friends! I had a great time and enjoyed chatting with everyone. I hope you'll let me come back again!

  22. You're always welcome, Kemberlee.

    Thanks for being with us!