WG: Welcome and thanks for stepping into my spotlight this month. To start off, please tell us about yourself.
KR: I'm thrilled to be in the spotlight, Winnie! Thanks for having me : I'm a former ELA teacher who loved teaching books, but never thought I could write one until my sister-in-law, now writing partner, and fellow Harlequin author, Joanne Rock convinced me to give it a try. I've been married to the love of my life, Greg, for twenty years (WOW) and we have a beautiful seventeen-year-old daughter named Danielle. Our extended pet family (whom I love dearly!) includes a Burmese cat named Angel who didn't get the memo on his name, Lizzie, my diabetic Cavalier King Charles cocker spaniel whose big personality (and big ears) makes up for her little size, and another Cav. King we rescued, Little Bit, who is sweet as could be despite being deaf and having a serious heart condition. It might not surprise you to know that I have a passion for rescuing animals and I have saved everything and anything that has needed my help from the scared spider cowering in my daughter's bathroom to plucking a squawking blue jay out of a tom cat's mouth (not Angel- he's naughty but not bad) As for other hobbies, I love cooking my Italian Nona's family recipes, reading every chance I get, watching way too much reality TV for my own good (Project Runway and Dancing with the Stars are my favorites) and gardening (flowers over vegetables).
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.
KR: My sister-in-law Joanne and I married brothers that are separated by a little over a year in age. Our kids have grown up together and we've enjoyed chatting about writing and Joanne's amazing career at family get-togethers and shopping getaways to Burlington, Vermont. I was always so honored when Joanne asked for my opinion about ideas and even more floored when she suggested I pen a book myself.
WG: Tell us about your journey.
KR: As I'd read so many Young Adult novels, I felt most comfortable trying my hand at writing one. With Joanne's support, help and encouragement, I finished it during the school year. While that book was never sold, Joanne surprised me again by asking if I'd like to co-author a YA series with her. We worked on the first book in the series, CAMP BOYFRIEND (out July 2013) and sold it within a few months. Around the time of the sale, my new agent sent out a letter asking if anyone would be interested in a wholesome, tender, deeply passionate new line for Harlequin called Heartwarming and I was immediately drawn to its possibilities… so much so that I submitted a proposal and sold my first Adult romance, to my amazement, in the same year. I'm still pinching myself over that!
WG: How many books did you complete before you sold your first? Have all/any of them sold since?
KR: I've only completed one book before selling my first novel. I'm hard at work on other contracts right now, but I hope to one day revisit it with more experienced eyes and revise it. I love the characters too much not to give them a bit more TLC.
WG: Can you tell us something about your experience in getting 'the call'?
KR: Even though I'm a late bloomer in becoming a published author, I think I've heard 'the call' for most of my life. I was just too scared to answer it. My first experience with writing happened when, one Christmas, I opened what I thought would be a book I'd requested and was, instead a journal. It was pretty with a black velvet cover with a prancing silver unicorn in the center. And I LOVED unicorns then! But the empty pages couldn't compensate for my disappointment. Rather than make my mother feel bad, I vented my feelings on the pages of that journal and didn't realize, until it was time to eat, that I'd written for two hours. It was an incredible epiphany. I realized that no matter how my day went, I would always find an escape by writing about it. That feeling has never left me and now, when writing books, I always feel that childhood wonder and magic of the infinite possibilities of a blank page.
WG: How has being a published author impacted your life?
KR: It's had an incredible impact! I feel humbled and honored that my Harlequin editors, Victoria Curran and Laura Barth, offered me a four book contract after I'd turned in Wish Me Tomorrow. Between that and my contracted YA novels, I've been able to leave my day job and devote my life to writing. I feel truly blessed by this opportunity.
WG: What aspect of life as a published author surprised you the most - either in a good or bad way?
KR: I think the business side of writing surprised me most. I thought once a book was written- POOF- off it went into the public's hands. Hah! There are so many people that have an equally important role in ensuring a book successfully journeys from page to store. I'm in awe of the talented editors who've helped me become a better writer and have inspired me to continue to improve, the Art Department who give such thought into creating beautiful and compelling cover designs, the Marketing Department that has analyzed the market enough to know how the back cover blurb should read to appeal to the appropriate audience and how best to target them and the Public Relations Department who work tirelessly to make Harlequin a romance reader's top destination.
WG: What about your writing process. Do you maintain a set schedule? Is there such a thing as a typical day for you?
KR: Because of my duo writing career, I've learned the value of setting a schedule and doing my utmost to stick to it. I enjoy writing about five thousand words a day and then revising them the next. It's a pattern that helps me move forward in a book because I only allow myself the one day for either task which has kept me from getting stuck.
WG: Do you set writing goals for yourself?
KR: If you could see my calendar! I write down what I need to get done in one color ink (pink) and then write what I actually accomplished in another color (purple)- that's not strange is it? Lol. But it does help me to get a realistic picture of what I'm actually accomplishing towards my goal of writing and revising approximately 10 to 15 thousand words 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?
KR: Right now that 'mood setter' seems to be stress- haha- but that might also be because the deadline for my next Heartwarming, His Hometown Girl, is looming on Oct. 2nd! I do love something warm to drink in the morning, like tea, and my fuzzy blanket across my lap. As for environment, I need to write in the living room so that I can let Lizzie, my diabetic dog, outside when she needs to go out. Her kidneys aren't that strong. But there are large windows there and a pretty bird feeder I can watch when I need to look at anything but black and white for a little while.
WG: Do you do a lot of up front plotting before you start or do you just dive in?
KR: Joanne and I plot our YA series by chapter so that we can easily trade off and know where the story is headed. Before then, however, I was not that organized. The experience shifted the way I approached planning a book, and has helped me in my solo Adult Romance career as well.
WG: Do you normally start with storyline or with character or with some combination of the two?
KR: I usually start with a question or concept that turns into a storyline. I'll ask myself something like: would you love someone if forever wasn't guaranteed? From there I imagine a story where this question would be examined and then think hard about the kinds of characters that might have the most to gain and learn from this experience.
WG: Do you find certain themes or character archetypes making recurring appearances in your stories?
KR: I like to push myself and try different concepts, messages and character types as much as possible. However, despite my efforts, I've found that a recurring theme has developed which is that you don't have to be perfect; you just need to be perfect for each other. There is something about flaws that I find beautiful. Maybe it's the honesty and vulnerability that appeals to me most. I suppose that's why I love writing contemporary fiction. It gives me the chance to delve into those places we'd rather keep hidden, bring them out into the light and show the character, and the reader, that they're not alone.
WG: What do you see as your own personal strengths as a writer?
KR: I strive to create authentic characters and situations in my stories. I don't shy away from realistic, emotional experiences with grit and edge. My editor wrote me during the revision stage of Wish Me Tomorrow that I owed her a box of tissues. That made me feel so proud because if I can touch a genuine emotion in the reader, then I know I've told an honest story.
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?
KR: I'm blessed to have an incredibly supportive husband who not only cooks, but cleans, shops and does our yard work as well. He made it possible for me to teach and write last year and now it's my chance to give back to him by doing these chores (well- he won't actually let me on his John Deere). It would have been hard to get started as a writer without him there to take care of obstacles.
WG: Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about your process?
KR: Food is a must! If I have a diet soda and a bowl of M & Ms, I'm good to go.
WG: Do you have a favorite sub-genre as a writer? as a reader?
KR: I love Historical novels. I fell in love with them after reading my sister-in-law, Joanne Rock's Historical novels. They're amazing. Now I read a Historical at least once a month and I'm currently reading Phillapa Gregory's The White Princess. If I miss my deadline, it is her fault!
WG: Is there a genre you haven't been published in yet that you'd like to try your hand at someday?
KR: I would love to write a Historical as well. However much I'm drawn to reading medieval, renaissance and Victorian novels, I would like to write books set during periods of war such as WWI and WWII.
WG: Do you have any advice to offer writers still striving toward publication?
KR: This advice may not work for everyone, but it helped me. I would turn off the inner critic and become a storyteller first and foremost. There will be plenty of time to nitpick over word choice, sentence fluency, voice, grammar and whatnot later. The most important thing to finishing a novel is writing it in the first place .
WG: Is there a specific 'ah-ha' moment you've had as a writer that you would like to share with us?
KR: I would say that moment came to me when I realized that what I like to read and what I like to write may be two different things. For example, I enjoyed supernatural romances when it was the craze. However, when I tried my hand at one- flop! Now I understand that those two things do not have to coincide and that everyone has their own unique strengths to bring to each genre.
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?
KR: Honestly- I call Joanne. And if she isn't home, I drive to Stewarts, buy a pint of Stargazer ice cream and watch anything with Sandra Bullock, Meg Ryan or Reese Witherspoon in it until I feel better. If all else fails, I just watch Sleepless in Seattle then The Notebook then repeat...
WG: Is there some piece of advice you received or bit of 'conventional wisdom' that you wish you had ignored?
KR: I've been so fortunate to be surrounded by talented, generous and intelligent writers. I haven't been given any advice I regret following. I will say, however, that a general piece of advice, "write what you know", is something that I think is often taken out of context. Whether your book takes place on a pirate's ship, a Viking's castle or in outer space, we all understand the human condition. If we tap into universal experiences, we are always writing what we know.
WG: What do you find to be the most rewarding thing about being a writer? What aspect do you struggle with the most?
KR: The most rewarding part of writing is when I hear from a reviewer or fan. It alleviates the struggle of writing: isolation. A tweet, post, email or review makes me feel connected. It lets me know that my stories have made a difference and have impacted and touched people. Writing isn't about fame or money to me. It's about giving others a story that entertains them, moves them, and makes them think.
WG: When you're not writing, what do you do for fun or what is your favorite self-indulgence?
KR: I love to bake. Cookies specifically. I don't know what it is about making the little treats, but at Christmas, I go overboard. I'll make a minimum of five different cookies and about five dozen of each kind for giveaways. I start after Thanksgiving, making batches each week and freezing the ones I know freeze well until the week before Christmas when I get out the cookie tins I bought at the Christmas Tree Store and fill them up. It's such a treat!
WG: When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
KR: I actually always wanted to write, though I delayed that dream. I believe my senior yearbook says my plans were to attend college then move to New York City to write for General Hospital. Luke and Laura… sigh*
WG: What would your readers be most surprised to learn about you?
KR: They'd be amazed to see how much I can eat in a short amount of time! My daughter was a colicky baby so my meals had to be short and sweet if I got them at all back then. Now, I still haven't kicked the habit of trying to polish off a meal before I hear a baby cry.
WG: What are your favorite movies and/or TV shows? Why?
KR: My favorite movies are Pride and Prejudice (the BBC version with Colin Firth), The Notebook, Sleepless in Seattle, The Princess Bride and the list could go on and on… I adore Downton Abby and Boardwalk Empire as incredible television series and, since both are set in the past, during one of my favorite time periods, I'm thinking I should start writing that Historical I've been thinking about .
WG: I love to collect quotes, all kinds of quotes - inspirational, quirky, motivational, profound, etc. Do you have a personal favorite you'd like to share.
KR: I love quotes too! One that I found that inspired me as I wrote Wish Me Tomorrow was by Willa Cather. She said, "Where there is great love, there are always wishes." It summed up the message of the book for me.
KR: My current release is Wish Me Tomorrow, a Harlequin Heartwarming novel about Christie, an optimistic, upbeat nurse and grief counselor who steps over pavement cracks, always carries a rabbit's foot for luck and has her own painful past that she keeps buried. When she meets Eli, a realist who is in remission for cancer and coping with bringing up his two children on his own, she's drawn to him, despite the risk he poses to her patch-worked heart. Though she'd like to stay away, a sentiment Eli echoes as he won't risk his children growing attached to another woman after their mother walked out, they are forced together when the troubled children need her help. Yet the more time they spend together, the more they come to realize that they need each other too. Ultimately it's a story about learning to forgive past mistakes and have faith in a future that isn't guaranteed.
WG: Please tell us about your current project.
WG: What inspired you to write this particular story?
KR: Wish Me Tomorrow was inspired by my dear friends and neighbors Michael and Katie (names changed ) Michael and Katie met while attending college for nursing degrees. Shortly after Michael and Katie began dating, Michael found out he had leukemia. He thought Katie wouldn't want to date a man with a serious illness. She was young like him, had so much going for her. Why risk her heart with a guy whose future was uncertain? To his surprise, she not only stayed with him, she helped him through his chemotherapy, kept him caught up with school work and they graduated on time, together, with RN degrees. Eighteen years later, they are happily married with three beautiful children. Even better, Michael is cancer free. Michael told me that Katie is the strongest woman he knows and I agree. Although, when I've spoken with Katie, she's said that she'd never felt so scared in her life. Her willingness to battle her fears to stay with the person she loved touched me deeply. The idea of two people willing to risk their hearts, despite an uncertain future, took hold. To me, this is the definition of true love. Such a selfless, brave act made me want to find just the right characters that deserved this love too.
WG: What sort of research, if any, did you have to do? Did you stumble across any unexpected interesting/fun tidbits along the way?
KR: I actually worked on an emergency response Code 99 team, so I am very familiar with how a hospital and its staff work in a crisis as well as during downtimes. I've seen enough patients regain their lives and health to know the power of faith and to believe in miracles. Additionally, I've had family members battle cancer and drew on that experience, as well as receiving help from my sister, Cathy, who is a counselor.
WG: Tell us about your upcoming plans.
KR: I'm thrilled to share that I'm contracted for four more Harlequin Heartwarming novels and am finishing up my three-book, co-authored YA romance series with Joanne. We just finished revising Camp Payback which comes out in April, 2014 and drafting Camp Forget-Me-Not which comes out in August, 2014. I'm currently on deadline for my next Heartwarming, His Hometown Girl which will also be coming out in April, 2014.
WG: And before we close, tell us how your readers can get in touch with you.
KR: I love hearing from readers! The best way to connect with me is through social media sites such as http://www.facebook.com/karenrockwrites or http://www.twitter.com/karenrock5. My website has lots of information, such as my current blog tour stops and prize information at http://www.karenrock.com
WG: Thanks so much for spending time with me and my readers this month. It was fun 'chatting' with you, as always!
KR: Thank you, Winnie! It is such a pleasure to speak with you and your wonderful fans today :)