Monday, May 2, 2011

Interview with Harlequin Superromance Author Debra Salonen

I'm so happy to have award winning author Debra Salonen here today. Debra published her first book with Harlequin in 2000 and has since welcomed loyal fans into her fictional, South Dakota community of Sentinel Pass. Sadly, the series is coming to a close, but life in Sentinel Pass will go on. It's never too late to visit her wonderful characters there :). Debra is undoubtedly conjuring up more amazing stories for her readers...speaking of which, she just self-published a short story called A Hundred Years or More. It's truly a must-read, heart tugging story about a wise and loving parrot, and the life of a girl through his eyes (see link below).

Debra is giving away one book from her 'Spotlight on Sentinel Pass' backlist to each of two lucky winners! Leave a comment or question and you'll be entered in the drawing. Details below.

On to the interview!

1. First of all, congratulations on winning the Romantic Times Reviewer's Choice Award for Best Superromance of 2010! Until He Met Rachel is one of my favorite books from your Sentinel Pass series, and it definitely deserved the win. Tomorrow is the official release day for A Father's Quest, the final book in your SP series. The end of a series is always sad (even torturous) for readers...especially self-proclaimed series addicts. Who decides when a series should come to a close? Is it the author, editor, publisher or their marketing staff? Does the author have a say in it?

Thank you for mentioning my RT award. It came as such a surprise because the circumstances surrounding the writing of that book were so extreme (losing my sister to cancer). This honor celebrates the power of romance books to help readers ESCAPE. Because that’s exactly what I did while I was writing it.

As to the length of a series, I can only speak for myself. I started the “Spotlight on Sentinel Pass” series with a 5-book contract. As I neared the end of those books, I realized I still had some characters that needed/deserved a second look. Rufus, for one. (Although I have to admit, he started out as a pretty vague and slightly off-putting character--a hairy hermit. ;-0) But his mystery is what drew me to him. I loved discovering the layers beneath his hirsute exterior. Anyway, I could identify a couple of heroes--Rufus and Cade--that I wanted to write about, and I really loved William, the agent, from my earlier books and was captivated by his British accent. Cade’s heroine, Jessie, happened to be a twin so, of course, I had to write Remy’s story, too. But Remy and Jessie took us back to their roots and that’s where I decided to leave the series.

I hope those die-hard connected book readers will enjoy the final “round-up” of the main characters in Remy’s book. It was bittersweet for me to write.

2. Last month's release, Return To Black Hills, addresses the difficult choices women make between career and family. Obviously, there are many, individual reasons why certain choices are made. As a writer, do you take extra care (or research) in making sure both sides of any issue are addressed, so that all readers can relate? As you are writing, are you conscious of how your stories (conflicts, resolutions, and all) will empower readers in their personal lives?

That’s a really good question, Rula. And, after giving it some serious thought, I think the answer to both questions is “No. Not really.”

I do research, yes, but mostly to make sure I don’t write something that could never, would never, happen in real life. To understand Jessie’s job, I watched tons of videos, read a bunch of blogs and websites and first-person memoirs. But, mostly, I was concerned about why she chose this job and why it was so important to her. Readers will either get it or not, based on their own experiences.

First and foremost, I’m telling the story of my characters’ lives. Issues come up as I learn more about them. Jessie’s career was the most important thing in her life for a reason. I hope my readers found it believable--even if they would hopefully never have to experience that sort of childhood trauma (a fire that she blamed herself for). Any resolution has to address the underlying reason for a character’s motivation and that can be tricky, but the main thing I try to keep in mind is that any “fix” has to come from within, not from without. The hero might be the person who opens the heroine’s eyes to her own self-worth, but she has to “get it” on her own. And who can’t relate to that, right? Don’t we all have friends who are wonderful but only see their faults, not their gifts?

3. You have a degree in geography and history. Did you ever consider writing historicals? If you were to write in a genre other than contemporary romance, what would it be?

My very first attempt to write a novel was a historical. I was working with a writing instructor and a critique group at the time and I vividly remember reading my opening three pages--which, horror-of-blushing-horror--involved a very vivid love scene. I’d like to find that book--probably stored for posterity on those big floppy disks--and see if it’s as bad as I remember.

I love history. I love the old west. If I were to write outside my genre, I’d go there, first. But one of my favorite subjects to read is time travel, so I might find a way to work that in.

4. Flashback time! Everyone wants to know how your first 'Call' went down, especially now that you're a successful, award winning author. Please share!

You’d like this better if you could hear me. Why? Because the editor who called me is South African, and she spoke with the most beautiful, shades of British accent. So, use your imagination, okay?

Phone rings. I am sitting on the floor in our guest bedroom to take advantage of the lovely, warm sunshine. I had pad and pen in hand--yes, I still worked with paper at that time. I was working on my second book because I’d pretty much given up on ever hearing back from Harlequin. (Mine was one of those submissions that got lost in the slush heap, only to be found, read, and have revisions requested after some 14 months into the process.) I had the answering machine set up because I was screening calls--my big concession to my creative process. No more answering the phone in the hope that it was an editor--only to have my hope squashed by a telemarketer.

I cock my head to listen to the voice two rooms away.

“Hello, this is Zilla Soriano with Harlequin Books in Toronto. I’m trying to reach Debra Sa...” Here’s the kicker. She actually pronounced my name right. OMG! I loved her on the spot.

I jumped to my feet. Ran the distance on legs made of rubber bands. Grabbed the phone off the hook, nearly pulling it from the wall plug. And shouted -- I’m sure of it--"Hello? Yes? I’m here."

My voice was thready and pitchy and probably squeaked.

She very calmly replied, “Hello. I’m so glad you’re there. I’m calling because we’d very much like to publish your lovely book.”

I still tear up when I repeat this, but my accent is very good because I’ve repeated it so often over the years. ;-)

5. You practice yoga regularly. From a philosophical/mind-body perspective, how has it impacted your writing life? From a physical perspective, is there one, simple stretch that you feel all writers reading this would benefit from? Maybe for our hands/arms...or BICHOK butts?

What’s the O.K. part of that mean? (Sorry. Took me years to figure out ROFLMAO.)

Yoga is without a doubt the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. Sitting for long periods of time without movement is hard on the body. Yoga keeps me limber and I do think it contributes to an overall fluidity of thought, as well. When you are doing yoga, it’s important to push away outside thought. Not easy for a writer on deadline, but over the years I’ve gotten better. That break is like opening a door in your mind and letting a fresh breeze blow through. I highly recommend it.

One pose that does not take any effort or training is called: legs up the wall. Seriously. I use it after a long day in the chair when I need to restore a small bit of energy and let go of all my unresolved dilemmas in my story.

Step one: choose a wall free of pictures or posters or anything framed that might crash down on you. Take off your shoes.

Step two: sit on the floor with one hip touching the wall and your legs stretched flat to the side.

Step three: pivot to your back, drawing your legs up the wall. Scoot your butt closer until it’s touching the wall and your heels are overhead, pressed firmly against the wall.

Step four: close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Slow, deep and steady, exhaling completely.

That’s it. It’s deceptively powerful. Blood returns to the brain. Your lungs work to move the blood to your feet. Relief, release, relaxation rushes over you. (Too much alliteration?)

Consider this my gift to you. ;-)

6. Your son is a yoga guru. Do you think people consider you to be a relationship guru because you're a romance writer? Do folks come to you now more than ever for love advice? (I'm not published, and it's already happening. Just saying...)

Oh, man, you had to ask this one, didn’t you? Can I post a photo here? It says it all. Let’s try. It’s a family shot from a couple of years ago.

See the shadow figure? The ghostly presence? The body so far out of the picture it’s almost like he doesn’t exist? That’s because my beautiful, talented, amazing daughter (standing beside the shadow figure who shall remain nameless) has a mother who writes romance novels and in every single book the HEA is guaranteed and that’s exactly how it’s supposed to work in real life, right? In 300 pages or less.

Poor baby. Her hero search goes on.

7. Okay. Embarrassing moments. We can all relate to them, so I think it's genius when a writer gets cruel and makes their hero or heroine suffer an embarrassing moment. You have the moment of all moments, involving a box of sex toys, in Until He Met Rachel. Hilarious! And I love how you incorporate humor in a book that deals with a serious issue. What's the most embarrassing moment you've experienced? If you'd rather, you can pick you favorite from a book.

I had sooo much fun writing that scene. The dogs were key. I’m so glad you liked it. The best part of that scene for me was the heroine’s reaction to it. I think it said a lot about her as a person. I’m proud of that scene.

Now, as for personal embarrassing know, I don’t get out much. Nothing pops to mind. That’s sort of embarrassing in and of itself. I’ll give it more thought and get back to you. Sigh. Boring life...mutter, mutter...

8. I know it's kind of like searching for a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, but over the years, have you discovered any helpful secrets to synopsis writing?

No magic words or special key. I will share what Harlequin asks for on its Art Sheets. This helped me simplify my much too long synopsis into a shorter, more succinct document. Whether or not it’s right...well, who really knows?

1) What is this book about (beyond plot description)? How would you describe it to your friends? What is the takeaway?

2) For the key relationship in this book, what is the turning point or climax? Please describe.

3) What are the overriding themes that run throughout – the bigger message?

4) What is the significance/inspiration for your title? Is it metaphorical or literal?

5) What interesting visual elements (either object or place) have great significance in this book?

9. I was reading through your list of very interesting careers and stopped dead at flaxseed counter. (Those of you who haven't seen a flaxseed...they're very tiny and a bit slippery.) I couldn't help but wonder if you ever 'manually' counted the word count in one of your manuscripts, just for old times sake LOL. Seriously though, talk about a lesson in patience. If there's one lesson, or piece of advice, you could give aspiring authors (other than not quitting), what would it be?

Love what you’re doing. If you don’t love it, your reader won’t either.

I did not love flaxseed counting. Believe it or not, though, I can look back at that summer with a great deal of fondness because I was working side-by-side with my sister, who is now deceased. We laughed a lot and complained a lot, but we still did the work and did it well and got paid.

Maybe my lesson that summer was to be present, fulfill my contracted obligations and try to have as much as possible at the same time.

10. Let's wrap it up with a bit of fun. What's your quirkiest writing habit and favorite deadline crunch-time snack?

It’s not quirky, but it really is good for the brain: almonds and dates and/or raisins. Chocolate fits in nicely, as well, but I don’t always have that around. (Back to the butt in chair thing...expanding to meet the size of said chair.)

LOL, Deb. I think that's something we can all relate to. Thanks so much for being here!

Blurb for A Father's Quest:

Jonas Galloway wouldn't show up on Remy Bouchard's doorstep without an excellent reason. Not after a secret destroyed what was so good between them. In this case, though, locating his daughter trumps unfinished business. He hopes he can persuade Remy to see it the same way.

Working with his high school sweetheart makes Jonas want to pick up where they left off. Especially because Remy is more tempting than ever. But he is a father and his little girl has to be his priority. Then an exposed lie hands him and Remy a possible future. And he can't leave Louisiana without finding out if second chances are all they're cracked up to be….

Find Debra here:

Buy A Father's Quest here: (Releases tomorrow, May 3rd)
Barnes and Noble

Buy Debra's short story A Hundred Years Or More here:

Captured in the wild, caged and sold to an unsuspecting family, a young parrot adjusts to his new world, his new life, with the help of a young girl. Delia names her companion in the sick room: Captain Jack. She spins him stories of great adventures on the high seas. She gives him the gift of language.

Theirs is a love story, not a romance. A unique perspective on life--and an extraordinary friendship--as observed through the keen eye of a narrator, who has heard it said time and time again, "Parrots live a hundred years or more."

GIVEAWAY: Debra is giving away one book from her 'Spotlight on Sentinel Pass' backlist to each of two lucky winners! Leave a comment or question and you'll be entered in the drawing.Winners will be announced here this Thursday, May 5th. Winners residing outside the U.S. will receive their chosen Sentinel Pass book in ebook format, while U.S. residents may choose between ebook and paperback. NOTE: You don't need to own an ebook reader! I don't (yet), but I've downloaded Amazon's free app which allows me to read Kindle books on my laptop. I also downloaded (for free) Adobe's Digital Reader, which brings ebooks to my computer. You're only a click and a win away from enjoying one of Debra's books :).


  1. Oh wow, what a fantastic interview. I really enoyed reading about Debra's journey but was saddened to hear about her sister.

  2. Congrats on your release, Debra. Those questions for the synopsis do help break things down to the meat of the matter.

    Thanks, Rula! Good interview.

  3. Jennifer, Thanks so much. I miss her every day, but I'm glad we had a chance to be so close over the past few years. There's a 15-year gap in our ages, so I barely knew her growing up. But when she retired and moved close to help care for our mom, we really bonded. Hug your loved ones close. :-)


  4. J.L., I found those questions very helpful. It surprised me that I wasn't given those when I published my first book and was asked to do the Art Facts (which is used for marketing purposes). Every author should be able to tell someone how to market their book--that's why you're writing it, right? To get it in the hands of readers.

    Thanks for dropping by.

    And thanks, again, to Rula for inviting me and for putting together such intuitive and interesting questions. Well done!


  5. Hi Jennifer and J.L.! Thanks for stopping in :)
    Deb gives an awesome interview, doesn't she? I loved the sneak peek at the art fact sheet questions.

    Hey Deb! Thanks, and it's wonderful to have you here :)

  6. Thanks, Rula.

    I've been out and about, leaving bread crumbs to your blog.

    Yep, those guidelines are insider information. You heard it here, first. LOL.


  7. Escape ... that's why I love to read. I'm pretty sure that's not the reason I write, but it's definitely why I love to read.

  8. LOL, Carol. I understand completely. And I'd agree with you completely if not for that first tingle of new story possibilities that can often pull me out of my real world into a new one without a glance back. That's addictive. But once it becomes work...then, not so much. ;-)


  9. What an amazing interview. I really enoyed reading about Debra's journey.

    Congratulations on the new release, Debra!

  10. Thanks, Nas. After your most excellent interview last month, I was pretty sure I had nothing left to tell, but Rula pulled it out of me.

    And thanks for the congrats on the new book. Time to get busy on my next.


  11. Hi Debra and Rula ~ Lovely interview. I enjoyed all the diverse topics. I love the call story.
    I have all your Sentinel Pass books Debra ~ well the last two are in an order coming from Harelquin. I promise I'm going to sit down and read them one day soon. I have read the first two and they were excellent stories.

  12. Thank you so much, Kaelee. You're very kind. I'm thrilled that you will have the complete series soon. If your name comes up in the drawing, I'm sure we can find some other title you haven't read. :-)


  13. Great interview. Loved the part about the call. I tried Yoga for a while, but my mind kept drifting to my WIP. So now I run, instead, so that it's not a big deal . . . and it's perfect for brainstorming.

  14. Hi, Stina, lovely to meet you.

    I walk every day, too. You're right, this is a great way to brainstorm. I'm far too big a wuss to run. All I'd be able to think of is how out of breath I am. but walking works for me.

    Thanks for posting.


  15. Very enjoyable interview, Deb and Rula! Deb, thank you so much for the "legs up the wall" pose! I can't wait to try it. I've done *very* basic yoga off and on over the years and I really should be more regular with it, since I've had back issues in the past. I also am very sorry about the death of your sister. My sister and I are close and I just can't imagine. I'm an almond fan, too! Especially if they happen to be chocolate-covered. :-) You're such a versatile writer, Deb. Keep the surprises coming! :-)

  16. You're welcome, Kathy. It's amazing how much that pose helps my equanimity. It's like a "Time Out" for a child. Hey, maybe I should tell my daughter, who operates a day care, to try that with her kids when they get out of control. LOL.

    I discovered dark-chocolate covered almonds from Buchanan Hollow Nut Company. OMG! Divine.

    Thanks for your good wishes. Check out my blog today to see my next surprise. A second short story with a rockin' cover from my friend Kim Van Meter.


  17. It's so great to see all of you here! Thanks for coming by and helping me make Deb feel at home :).

    Definitely check out her latest short story cover (and the story too ;)). Be prepared to fan yourself! Mama mia!

    Deb - I love the idea of doing some yoga for kids at day care. It's a healthy habit to form, and it'd be a great way to wind them down for a nap.

    Dark chocolate covered almonds. My favorite. After going gluten and dairy free, I started ordering bulk, organic raw almonds from a farm in California, roasted them myself, coated them with melted, dairy free chocolate chips (by Enjoy Life), and cooled them off on wax (baking) paper. So yummy that my kids ate most of them.

  18. Thank you, Rula, for inviting me and for giving me great questions to work with. It was a fun day. And appreciate the chance to connect with your faithful readers. :-)

    BTW, that nut company I mentioned is my sister-in-law's. My brother grows pistachios and almonds. I'm very impressed with your gluten-free nuts. I'm going to mention that to my sister-in-law. I bet a lot of people would be interested.


  19. Hey Deb,

    This was a great interview! Thanks for sharing all of the fun facts. Good luck with your latest releases! ;-)


    Micole Black

  20. Hello Deb & Rula,

    Great interview ladies.

    Deb, you certainly have a way with words. Congratulations on your RT award. Love the family picture and your explanation for the ghostly figure. Hope your daughter eventually finds her HEA.

    Thanks so much for the synopsis advice. I've copied them and will save them for future reference.

    I'm curious as to why you self-published. I'm going to Amazon to check it out. Sounds very interesting.

    I'll definitely be buying your second short story. That cover is sizzling HOT!

    Ok, I just have to ask since I have no idea what (BICHOK) stands for. I had to ask my 12-yr-old daughter about the rolling on the floor one, but am hesitant to ask her this one for fear she probably knows it as well and I would look really stupid!


  21. Thank you, Ginny. I'm so glad to know I'm not the only one who had to ask. the answer I've been told is: butt in chair hands on keyboard. LOL.

    I chose to self-pub with Amazon because you have the freedom to publish whatever you want--no gatekeeper. I happened to have a couple of short stories that I always liked, but what do you do with short stories? There's really not a market in the publishing arena--no more Saturday Evening Post.

    Now, I don't expect to sell a lot but I do think people who like my writing will be interested to see a very different side of me. ;-)

    Thanks for coming by.

  22. And, thanks, too, Micole. So nice of you to drop by.

    And, Ginny, my daughter laughed when she saw the part about her love life. She's used to me. LOL.


  23. Hi Micole and Ginny! Thanks for stopping by. I'll be checking out your blogs soon!

  24. Great interview Deb and Rula :) I have to go find your short stories on Amazon Deb. Right now I'm drowing in work and don't have much time to read :(. I'm going to have to try out that yoga pose, I could use some energy. Haven't taken my vitamins in the last few days and i can now feel it!

  25. Thanks for coming over to say hi, Snookie. I hope Legs Up The Wall helps. I know it works for me.

    the great thing about e-books is they won't disappear off the shelves. So, no sweat. Take care of your health. :-)


  26. Hey Snookie! So good to see you over here :). I hope your energy climbs. I know what you mean about vitamins. They really make a difference for me too.