Award Winning Author Winnie Griggs





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Deborah Hale




WG:      Welcome and thanks for stepping into my spotlight this month. To start off, please tell us about yourself.

DH:      I'm from the part of eastern Canada called the Maritimes. I lived the first half of my life in the province of New Brunswick then came to neighboring Nova Scotia. I trained as a special education teacher and taught for a few years before my children were born. When my two youngest boys were diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder, my years of training and experience really paid off. We have a bichon frisee named Button who is getting on in years but still acts and looks like a puppy. Besides writing and mothering, I sing with a Celtic choir and practice tai-chi.

WG:      Let's talk about your own personal road to publication:
Is there some individual, group or event that you can point to as the catalyst/impetus that set you on the road to becoming a writer? Explain.

DH:      Two individuals in particular. One was a friend who had always said I should write a book. When I started my first novel, I sent her chapters of it and she would write me back with questions and comments. Her feedback motivated me to finish the book. Later, I met K. Sue Morgan through the Golden Heart. She was a wonderful mentor and introduced me to the NOLA RWA chapter when I didn't have a local chapter.

WG:      Tell us about your journey.

DH:      I wrote my first novel when my eldest two children were babies. I sent it to a publisher who rejected it so I put it away and had my twins. When I emerged from the exhaustion of their first year I discovered RWA, joined and started rewriting my book. I did the contest circuit with some really good results and some very bad ones. I entered the Golden Heart three times climbing from bottom 50% to the finals (which just goes to show you can fix anything!) All that time I was submitting my MS to agents and publishers and racking up rejection letters. After I won the Golden Heart, I signed with an agent and began getting rejected by a better class of publisher. =D

WG:      How many books did you complete before you sold your first? Have all/any of them sold since?

DH:      I had completed two. My original first book, which I rewrote from scratch 6 or 7 times, and a historical mystery that will probably never see publication for good reason. I did have three other manuscripts in various stages of completion when I sold and I went on to finish and sell all of them.

WG:      Can you tell us something about your experience in getting 'the call'?

DH:      After the elation of winning the Golden Heart, I got several more rejections and was beginning to doubt my book would ever sell when my agent called to tell me Margaret Marbury at Harlequin Historical had recommended it to senior editor Tracy Farrell. I was on pins and needles for two weeks until my agent called on Valentine's Day to tell me Harlequin had made an offer. I'd promised my children that if I sold the book we would use part of my advance for a family vacation. When I hung up the phone and told them Mommy had sold her book, my kitchen exploded with cheering kids!

WG:      How has being a published author impacted your life?

DH:      Foremost, it allowed me to contribute to the family income while still being a full-time mom, which was especially important for my twins. It is a blessing I cherish. Although I sold my first book almost fourteen years ago, it still seems a bit surreal to see my name on a cover or to tell someone I'm a writer.

WG:      What aspect of life as a 'published author' surprised you the most - either in a good or bad way?

DH:      The biggest and best surprise was to discover that my publisher was eager to have me write more books for them. Selling the first one was so hard, I thought I would have to jump through all those same hoops again to sell every subsequent one. Then just about the time I got used to that idea and figured I had "made it" and would sell everything else I wrote, I had two proposals rejected. Since then I've had more rejections as a published author than I did before I got published.

WG:      What about your writing process:
Do you maintain a set schedule? Is there such a thing as a typical day for you?

DH:      I wish there was because I thrive on routine. =D That is getting more elusive as my children grow older and have less structured schedules than they did in public school. When I'm on a deadline I usually get up at 6:00, exercise, walk the dog, have breakfast and do email if I have time. I drive some subset of kids to the bus then I go to my local supermarket, which has an upper level cafe area. I turn on my MP3 player with classical music and write longhand, trying for 1000-1200 words. Once that's done, I grab a few groceries, head home for lunch and to do admin/promotion. Later I do some housework, pick up the kids and run errands. After supper when I'm not out to choir or tai-chi, I watch Jeopardy or play a board game with the family. I may do a bit more writing before bed then I read until I can't keep my eyes open.

WG:      Do you set writing goals for yourself?

DH:      I couldn't make deadlines otherwise. I'm not a good spurt writer but I am consistent. I try to write at least 1000 words a day/5-7000 a week.

WG:      Do you have a 'mood setter', something (music, ritual, environment, etc) you use to get you going when you sit down to write?

DH:      The classical music on my MP3 player helps. Once I start writing I don't even notice it. I can't listen to anything with words - that distracts me. I have a couple of CDs of Regency dance music I listen to if I'm writing a party/assembly scene.

WG:      Do you do a lot of up front plotting before you start or do you just dive in?

DH:      I plot. If I don't know where I'm going, I just write in circles. But once I have the security of that structure, I often deviate from it.

WG:      Do you normally start with storyline or with character or with some combination of the two?

DH:      For me it's usually a situation. I love playing with high concepts. When I'm trying to come up with a new story, I have a bunch of cards with titles of well-known books, films, fairytales, etc. and I draw them in pairs and try to brainstorm a story. My book The Wedding Wager came from "My Fair Lady meets Sharpe's Rifles" and Beauty and the Baron is "Beauty and the Beast/Phantom of the Opera meets Cyrano de Bergerac." Once I have my situation, I come up with characters who will be most tested by it.

WG:      Do you find certain themes or character archetypes making recurring appearances in your stories?

DH:      Definitely! A hero and heroine who are opposites in some way finding common ground and learning to compromise is a recurring theme. Grace and forgiveness are also at the heart of many of my stories. My favorite hero archetypes are the loner and the wounded warrior.

WG:      What do you see as your own personal strengths as a writer?

DH:      That's so hard for me to judge. I hope it's being able to bring emotional truth to my characters so that readers can understand why they do the things they do. I think I push the boundaries of category romance enough to give readers something a bit different while still respecting their expectations.

WG:      Are there any obstacles/conflicts, specific to your particular lifestyle, that get in the way of your writing? If so, how do you try and overcome them?

DH:      Having four children, two with special needs, and a husband with a very demanding job in cancer care has had its challenges. I try to do my best for both my family and my professional commitments and try not to feel guilty about occasionally short-changing one for the other. In recent years, a consistent exercise program has helped me manage stress and be more productive.

WG:      Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about your process?

DH:      Just that around chapter 4-5 I always think I won't have "enough story" to make my word count, so I often introduce a subplot or overwrite the next few chapters. Then as I get closer to the end, I find I have more story than I have room for and end up having to make cuts. Every book, I tell myself I won't get sucked into that, but I always do.

WG:      Do you have a favorite sub-genre as a writer? as a reader?

DH:      As a writer, historical all the way! I admire authors like you who can write both historical and contemporary, but I can't. As a reader, historicals are also my first choice, though I do like some fantasy (I LOVED the Harry Potter books) and certain mysteries. I also enjoy historical non-fiction and biography.

WG:      Is there a genre you haven't been published in yet that you'd like to try your hand at someday?

DH:      Possibly young adult. I got a lot of positive feedback from YA readers for my two fantasy novels, though I didn't write them with younger readers in mind.

WG:      Do you have any advice to offer writers still striving toward publication?

DH:      Don't be afraid of making mistakes - that's often the best way to learn. And be aware that there is no one "right" way create a novel, so concentrate on finding the way that works best for you.

WG:      Is there a specific 'ah-ha' moment you've had as a writer that you would like to share with us?

DH:      One big one came when I finally understood that I shouldn't start my story too soon - readers didn't need chapters of set-up to get into the story. Susan Wiggs and K.Sue Morgan finally helped me get that, bless them!

WG:      Rejections, notes from unhappy readers and less than stellar reviews are all part of this business. What is your own method for dealing with these and moving on?

DH:      I try to avoid reading reviews, but if I do read a bad one I'll sometimes go look up negatives reviews on a book I love and admire. It helps me remember how subjective reading tastes are and that you can't please everybody. I've also had enough seemingly "bad" events turn out to be blessings in disguise that I don't stress as much over setbacks.

WG:      Is there some piece of advice you received or bit of 'conventional wisdom' that you wish you had ignored?

DH:      When I wrote my first book, I was ignorant of conventional wisdom that a romance novel should be written in the third person with both hero and heroine's PoV. Later I fixed it, but writing in the first person present (what was I thinking?) helped me avoid head-hopping. =D

WG:      What do you find to be the most rewarding thing about being a writer? What aspect do you struggle with the most?

DH:      The most rewarding thing is just finishing each story. Other aspects of my career are beyond my control, but that is something I have accomplished and nobody can take the satisfaction away from me. My biggest struggle is with the stress of deadlines.

WG:      When you're not writing, what do you do for fun or what is your favorite self-indulgence?

DH:      I enjoy singing and playing board games with my family. My favorite indulgence is reading and collecting royalty magazines.

WG:      When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

DH:      I always loved telling and writing stories, but I never really thought it was something I could do for a living until I joined RWA.

WG:      What would your readers be most surprised to learn about you?

DH:      Maybe that while I love to write about the past, I would NOT want to have lived back then. I like modern medicine, labor-saving devices and in-door plumbing!

WG:      What are your favorite movies and/or TV shows? Why?

DH:      My favorite movies are Groundhog Day, While Your Were Sleeping and Love, Actually. All stories of love and happy endings. My favorite TV show is The Big Bang Theory because my husband is a physicist. Not surprisingly, I also love Downton Abbey and can't wait for Season 2 to air.

WG:      I love to collect quotes, all kinds of quotesinspirational, quirky, motivational, profound, etc. Do you have a personal favorite you'd like to share.

DH:      One of my favorites is the line near the end of the first Harry Potter book. "It takes a great deal of courage to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends."

WG:      Please tell us about your current project.

DH:      The Captain's Christmas Family is out in December from Love Inspired Historical. It is the first full-length novel in my Glass Slipper Brides series. It features a loner hero who finds himself temporarily responsible for the young daughters of his late cousin. Gradually he finds himself beginning to love them�and their Scottish governess.

WG:      What inspired you to write this particular story?

DH:      Reading about the lives of the Bronte sisters and how their experiences at school were very much like those of Charlotte's heroine Jane Eyre. It gave me the idea for a series about a group of governesses who became friends as girls at a charity school. I didn't want my heroes to always be the widowed father, so I brainstormed ways a gentleman might come in contact with a governess.

WG:      What sort of research, if any, did you have to do? Did you stumble across any unexpected interesting/fun tidbits along the way?

DH:      I read more about charity schools and the lives and working conditions of governess. I researched the Royal Navy and Christmas traditions of the Regency, particularly pantomimes. I discovered that the hero of the traditional pantomime, Harlequin, and he would often sneak up on villainous characters and give them a loud smack on the bottom with a stick. That's where we get the term "slapstick comedy"!

WG:      Tell us about your upcoming plans.

DH:      My next Glass Slipper Brides book, The Baron's Governess Bride will be coming out from Love Inspired Historical in June 2012. It is very much a Cinderella story. I also have a book from Harlequin Historical, His Compromised Countess, coming out in March, though it will only be available through Harlequin's website and in e-book format, not out in retail. Right now I'm working on proposals for more Glass Slipper Brides stories.

WG:      And before we close, tell us how your readers can get in touch with you.

DH:      They can visit my website, send me an email at or join my Facebook page I love how many avenues there are for readers and writers to interact these days!

WG:      Thanks so much for spending time with me and my readers this month. It was fun 'chatting' with you, as always!

DH:      Thank you, Winnie! I enjoy being able to keep up with each other on Facebook and I'm so glad we had a chance to say Hi in person at RWA this summer. I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas!