Seven Things We Want to Know:
What got you interested in writing?
Reading. If there was one rule in our house growing up, it was that my mother never said no to a book, plus I grew up within walking distance of an incredibly huge library and a used bookstore. I can’t remember a time I didn’t have a book in my hand. Before I could read, my mother would recite my favorite stories into a cassette recorder (yes, I’m that old), so I could play them anytime I wanted (this was way before audio books–she should have patented the idea). I was always making up stories and acting them out–the latest adventures of Wonder Woman or Star Trek. In the late 70’s and early 80’s, there wasn’t the YA market there is now, so I dived into Stephen King pretty early (Carrie at 8 makes for an interesting life path). I started reading romances early in high school about the time Nora Roberts started with Silhouette (now Harlequin) and from then on…I knew I wanted to do what she did. I’ve been doing so ever since (much to my education’s detriment).
What has been the most useful thing you’ve done to get to this point?
Joining Romance Writers of America and my local chapter, The Sacramento Valley Rose. I wouldn’t be here on this blog today without having done so. Writing is a very solitary existence and early on, you think you know everything you need to, until you realize you don’t (usually happens with that first rejection letter which, funny enough, came from Harlequin). There is something special about being in an organization that both educates and inspires you as a writer. The classes I’ve taken (I bow at the alter of Margie Lawson and Mary Buckham), the people I’ve met, the friends I’ve made have all made me better, both as a person and as an artist. Having the organization as a resource has been invaluable and I’m so grateful I found them. Well, my mother heard about them, actually, and encouraged me to join. Are you sensing a recurring theme here? Mom is always right.
What is the one thing you wish you’d learned sooner?
That the first draft is ALWAYS crap (can I say that?). It’s taken me years to realize the story won’t be perfect the first time I put the words on the page. It takes me at least 3 passes through to get things right and in most cases more. The important thing is to give yourself something to work on and you can’t do that if you don’t have a skeleton of the story. I can’t tell you how many times I couldn’t write because I was terrified it wasn’t going to be “right”. Now I know there is no “right”, there is only “write”. As I mentioned before, both Stephen King and Nora Roberts have had a profound affect on me and my writing and I keep two quotes above my writing desk. The first is a quote attributed to Nora. To paraphrase, “You can’t fix a blank page“. The other, from Mr. King: Writing = BUTT IN CHAIR. If I remember those two things every time I sit at my desk, it’s a good day.
Which book or blog or site or conference or contest would you recommend for new writers?
I’m not a big blogging fan (ironic, right?), mainly because they can be such a time suck. Also, there seems to be a lot of “if you aren’t doing this, you’re not doing it right” opinions out there, which just strikes me as negative. It can be very discouraging and cause creative stalls in my experience, so I look for informative ones, ones that will make me see things in a new way. I’m a big fan of contests that feature editors and agents whose attention you’re trying to get in front of, but I’ve always been selective. It costs money to enter, so I’ve actually entered very few. I’d be remiss if I didn’t say finaling in RWA’s Golden Heart in 2012 didn’t change my life. I signed with my first agent because of it, which led me to my second agent (Margaret Bail of INKLINGS, who is amazing). Being a GH finalist opened doors that were locked before (or at least blocked). It’s like a magic key.
As far as books? Oh, boy. How much space do you have? First off, Stephen King’s ON WRITING should be mandatory reading for anyone even considering writing. Cowden/LeFever’/Vider’s THE COMPLETE WRITER’S GUIDE TO HEROES & HEROINES: 16 Master Archetypes is the first book I pick up when I’m starting a new project, as is Sherrilyn Kenyon’s The Character Naming Sourcebook (I had to buy a second copy because I wore the first one out). I’ve recently discovered The Emotion Thesaurus and the sister books The Negative Trait Thesaurus and The Positive Trait Thesaurus. And Mary Buckham’s books ON SETTING has been eye opening. I’m not big on “how to” write books, mainly because I don’t think there’s any right way to write. If there was a magic formula, everyone would do it. Any book that teaches me how to improve my writing (as opposed to changing how I create) inevitibly finds its way to my bookshelf. As far as conferences, RWA National is a must. I’ve only missed two or three in the last 14 years…every year I get something different out of it–networking, education, new book ideas, new friends. It’s the perfect 3.5 days to get re-energized about the industry.
What drew you to Harlequin?
Stability and tradition. When I started writing (oh, about 25 years ago), Harlequin was it for me. I devoured so many Harlequin and Silhouette romances, it took me years to look up and realize there were other publishers out there. There’s a steadfastness with Harlequin that has been there for so long, it’s not going anywhere and that’s something to hold onto in an industry that is in serious flux these days. When I decided writing was what I wanted to do, Harlequin was the goal. It took me a while to get there, but it finally happened…all because of that first Silhouette romance I picked up all those years ago (PARTNERS, by Nora Roberts).
What did you do when you got the call?
Well, it wasn’t so much a call as an email. 🙂 Because I submitted my novella proposal with two other established Harlequin authors, my experience journey was a bit different (everything I do ends up being different, LOL). But that email was magic (it’s printed out and on my inspriation board over my writing laptop as proof that dreams come true). There was a pseudo-Snoopy dance involved, and jumping up and down and then I ran to tell my mom. Without her reminding me this was what I wanted–without her putting that first book in my hand–I wouldn’t be able to call myself a Harlequin author today.
What is the elevator pitch for the book (Novella)?
Christmas Town, Maine, schoolteacher Callie Banning always puts everyone else first but this holiday season, she’s determined to start saying “no” until single father Dean Galloway’s young daughter declares war on Christmas. Which means Callie can’t help but get involved…heart and soul.
When can we get it?
Current title and pub date: THE CHRISTMAS WISH by Anna J Stewart, included in the Harlequin Heartwarming Anthology CHRISTMAS, ACTUALLY (tentative title–not sure if it will be changed). December, 2014
Thank you, Anna, for your persistence! We’re delighted to finally welcome you to Harlequin. And there will be a new reason to do a “Snoopy” dance at the Harlequin party at RWA this year! Looking forward to seeing you with your new ribbons.
Check out our Writing Guidelines, follow us on Twitter as @HarlequinBooks or #HarlequinHeartwarming and start sending in your own stories!