Good morning, everyone! I'm really excited to have debut author Kathy Altman here today because, after getting to know each other online, we finally had the chance to meet face-to-face and hang out at the Nationals meeting in Anaheim last month. Kathy is not only a truly lovely person, she's also both talented and active in the romance community. As a book reviewer, Kathy is a regular contributor to USAToday's Happy Ever After blog...and her reviews are excellent! She has also won or placed in numerous awards including, but not limited to, The Marlene, The Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence, and The Maggie Award of Excellence for unpublished writers. Her writing definitely sticks to the heart, as you'll find out when you read her debut Superromance The Other soldier. Leave a comment and you'll be entered in a chance to win a copy of Kathy's book!
1. Kathy, I have to say you're one fearless romance writer! In The Other Soldier, you took on impossible conflict...friendly fire tragedy vs happily ever after...while keeping it all real. Not only did you write a beautiful and believable story, you wrote one that is both heart twisting and hilarious at the same time. We'll talk about that funny bone of yours in a sec, but first I'd love to know what kind of research went in to understanding the psychology behind what soldiers and their families go through.
Oh, my gosh, Rula, thank you so much for your kind praise! No wonder I enjoy hanging out here. :-) Truthfully I’ve never thought of myself or my writing as fearless. As a matter of fact, once I discovered that the Superromance editors wanted to see the rest of my story—you know, the one with the impossible conflict?—pure panic set in. I honestly didn’t know how I’d coax my hero and heroine into falling in love. I read a number of articles about military life and friendly fire incidents, and about loss and forgiveness, and decided to simply trust that, as I was writing, what I’d gleaned from all that reading would automatically kick in and help me help my characters overcome the armored tank-sized conflict between them. I have to say that many of the articles I read were as inspiring as they were heartbreaking—our military and their families have my utmost admiration and respect.
2. Absolutely...and speaking of heartbreak, it's a known fact that, by inducing changes in our body chemistry,laughter helps us deal with stress. We should all laugh more! Right? There's nothing funny about suffering and loss, but I think life has a way of tossing down 'stepping stones' of humor to see us through. In The Other Soldier, you use comic relief masterfully throughout. In fact, you bring it in so naturally that it makes the story even more true to life. I won't give anything away, but as an example, in the epilogue just four words took me from heartfelt tears to bursting into laughter. I know you have a great sense of humor :). Did the use of comic relief come naturally to you? Is there a craft source you recommend on comic relief or the use of humor in books?
You are so right—we don’t laugh often enough! And I’m tickled that you found the right bits of the book humorous. For me it’s quite a challenge to walk that line between funny and obnoxious, and the very last thing I wanted to do with this subject matter was come across as disrespectful. But with grief and regret playing such a big part in the story, I knew I needed to sprinkle in some “downtime” to give the reader a break from all the angst. To my surprise and delight the humor came naturally. I believe it’s thanks to the secondary characters, since a grumpy old man and an outspoken nine year-old provide plenty of fodder for fun dialogue. Unfortunately, humor isn’t always instinctive for me. In fact, I’d intended the book I’m currently writing (a follow-on to The Other Soldier) to lean more to the comic side, but my critique partner was less than impressed. Epic fail. So I’m sticking with the angst. Angst I can write. Outright humor, not so much. That I’ll leave to experts like Ellen Hartman and Holly Jacobs. :-)
3. I'm a fellow lover of word games. We should start a group called Scrabble Sisters or Bananagram Babes, LOL! However, you'd beat me hands down at any challenge involving military speak. You had one hilarious scene in the book that I personally refer to as the Navy vs Army lingo scene. It's an excellent example of how word choice can really bring out a character. I'd say my favorite expression used was 'Embrace the suck.' Writing is tough and getting published is even tougher. What were some key moments on your road to publication where you had to embrace the suck?
LOL, I love that expression, too! And boy, did I learn a lot of Army/Navy speak that I’d love to share, except it would bring my mother running with a six-pack of soap. When I was just starting out submitting queries I felt brutalized by each and every rejection. I think that was the biggest suck I had to embrace—getting past the desperation to quit when I felt I had no business believing I could write. Luckily the more I wrote the more I realized I had a lot to learn, and of course the more I learned the better I wrote, so that kept me going.
But my most notable “suck point” also turned out to be a pivotal point in the growth of my writing. I had drafted a scene in which my heroine wanders into a garden at night, sits on a bench and contemplates life, love and the pursuit of an especially elusive hero. One of my critique partners gently but firmly pointed out that having a character sitting and thinking did not make for an active or even particularly interesting scene. But...but...I’d spent so much time on those pages! Of course it didn’t take me long to realize she was right. But I didn’t like that she was right, because it meant scrapping words. And I am not fond of scrapping words. Luckily I’ve never made that mistake again. Instead I make awesome new ones.
4. See, you made me smile! Well, we all know that perseverance pays off...and deserves a treat! Tell us about your Halloween treat that topped even the best chocolate. A call in the bag!
LOL, Halloween is a great day to get great news, isn’t it?! This book came about as a result of Harlequin’s online Memorial Day Challenge, in which entrants were asked to submit the first 1000 words of a military-themed story. I almost didn’t enter—not only was I already working on a submission for Superromance, but I’d never even considered writing a military character and really didn’t know where to start. But then I realized not entering would be a colossal mistake—why wouldn’t I take advantage of the chance to win a pair of critiques from the very editors I was targeting?! Amazingly enough I did win those critiques, from editors Victoria Curran and Megan Long. Talk about a Halloween treat! Of course, that meant I actually had to write the story...enter the trick. But thanks to a steady diet of chocolate-covered almonds and Army Wives, I did manage to finish the book. Two months after I submitted it, on Halloween, I received a voicemail from Megan, telling me they’d like to go to contract. I was ecstatic! I was also driving, not to mention crying. I had to turn into the nearest parking lot and hang out until I could see well enough to get back on the road. When I got home I promptly celebrated by hitting the chocolate. :-) Good thing we only had three trick-or-treaters that evening, because after I finished whooping it up there wasn’t a heck of a lot of candy left.
5. I'm so glad that The Other Soldier got published because it's a story that gives hope to a lot of people suffering from tragedy. It also tackles the subject of financial self-sufficiency from both a generational perspective and that of the different sexes. I believe romance novels are empowering to readers in so many ways. Given our financial times, what's the one message from this secondary story line that you hope readers will take home?
Rula, you used two of my favorite words to describe what romance novels offer—hope and empower[ment]! I doubt there are many people who haven’t recently been touched by financial hardship in some way, so it seemed timely, as well as appropriate to the story, to include money as a conflict. Pride, shame, desperation—it all comes into play when someone is facing hard times. Throw in a potential lover who needs impressing—one who has far more money than you’ll ever dream of having—and watch the mix-ups mount! It’s one of my favorite character realizations-that love trumps lucre(I guess because that’s not always true in real life). What I hope the reader will take away from the secondary storyline? Open communication is key. Establishing financial expectations and boundaries up front can save a lot of heartache! Of course, it also makes for a less angst-y read. ;-)
6. I'm sure you'll never forget the thrill of getting your first book into stores, but the details will never be as fresh as they are now. Thinking back on everything that has happened since your Call, how would you complete the following two phrases: I wish I'd known... and Next time I'll definitely...
I wish I’d known to lay in a bigger supply of celebratory chocolate! Seriously, though, this is a great question, and I have a somewhat embarrassing answer. I wish I’d remembered (because I know this full well) that it’s all about the writing. You don’t write, you can’t sell. After I got the call I let myself get caught up in all I needed to do to finalize The Other Soldier, and in writing reviews for USA Today’s Happy Ever After blog. Revisions and a Dear Reader letter needed to be done, of course, and the HEA blog is a fun form of promotion, but I neglected the next book—which is why it isn’t coming out until July of 2013. I promise I’m working on that time management issue. Plus, I’m adding our bread machine and an empty box of All Bran to my list of places to stash candy.
Next time (which starts now!) I’ll definitely be more schedule savvy, and at the same time try not to beat myself up over a lost writing session or two. If I get to three? I’ll force myself to boycott Castle. No Nathan Fillion guarantees I won’t remain off schedule for long!
7. Maybe you could name one of your future heroes Nathan ;) Your current hero, Corporal Reid Macfarland, is a lucky guy because your heroine, Parker Dean, is quite the baker. In fact, readers can get her recipes for Pumpkin Coconut Muffins and Castle Creek Carrot Cake on your website. Yum! Which of her desserts is your top pick? Would you have it with coffee or tea? Snuggled on a sofa with a remote, sitting on a beach chair with your toes in the surf or by a campfire near a cabin in the woods?
I found that recipe for pumpkin muffins years ago and instantly adored it. When I added chocolate chips it tipped the scale from good to great. (It also tipped the bathroom scale, but we won’t talk about that). As much as I enjoy carrot cake—minus the raisins—I have to say the muffins will always be my first choice. As far as what I’d drink with them, I’m one of those people who loves the smell of coffee but can’t stand the taste. For me it’s tea all the way—preferably Constant Comment. And whoa, you are such a tease! By a beach or a campfire? I would love either of those choices! But most often you’ll find me on the sofa, snuggled under an afghan crocheted for me by my sister. Every now and then I switch it out with the one crocheted for me by my brother! Yeah, I completely lost out on that creative-with-yarn gene.
8. Do you have any quirky writing habits/rituals or snacks?
LOL, I’m afraid my writing sessions are boringly normal. I’m just like everyone else who pays tribute to the writing gods—at 10 minutes past the hour I stop writing, stand up and circle my chair while tapping my fist to my forehead; I always spit out the first mouthful of whatever drink I’ve poured (careful, of course, to aim away from the keyboard); and whenever I finish a chapter I light a mutton-scented candle and recite a poem dedicated to Colin Firth.
Umm...everyone else does do those things, right? No? Oh. Well. You know I made it all up, right? Every last bit of it. Not true. Any of it. Seriously.
I think I need a peanut M&M.
9. LOL! And you say you're not funny? Oy! Okay, back on track here. In The Other Soldier, you brought your readers to Castle Creek, a memorable town with rich characters. Will we be revisiting Castle Creek in the future? Any hints at who we'll find?
I’m so glad you enjoyed your visit to Castle Creek! :-) As a matter of fact, I will be coaxing you back in that direction. My next book features the owner of Castle Creek’s lone motel. Joe Gallahan is renovating the rundown building at the same time he’s trying to get rid of his ex-girlfriend, Allison Kincaid. Allison’s a city girl through and through, but she braves the small town to convince Joe that he needs to win her back the promotion he cost her. (It’s that money thing again—poor Allison is in dire straits.) Joe wants to correct the mistake he never knew he made, and the sooner the better so Allison can get back to her life in the city. Yet seeing his former lover tempts Joe to renew the offer he once made—though he doubts he can survive another rejection.
Along with Joe you’ll recognize a few other faces. And since it’ll be a year before we get to see Joe’s story, I’m planning to write a novella for release in December or January—just so readers don’t forget how to get back to Castle Creek. ;-) The heroine of that story will be Ivy Millbrook, who owns a dairy farm—the poor woman has already met her match but she doesn’t know it.
10. I love reading (and posting) lists of famous writer quotes. It's tough to narrow down a favorite, but if you had to pick one that really hit home for you, which would it be?
My absolute favorite, most beloved quote is this one by James Thurber: “Don’t get it right, just get it written.” This hits home for me because I write with an ever-present internal editor—which makes writing that first draft so very painful. I am a slooooow writer because I have a hard time moving on from that sentence or paragraph or page that doesn’t read quite right. And it’s a first draft, of course it doesn’t read quite right! :-/ Plus there’s that whole I-live-in-fear-of-having-to-scrap-words thing I have going on. Currently I’m struggling to improve my speed factor, and glancing at this quote every now and then really helps!
Rula, thank you so much for inviting me to guest blog on A Writer’s Rush! I’ve read and admired so many of the clever and informative interviews you’ve posted over the months...years, actually...and I’m honored beyond description to join the authors you’ve featured. I appreciate you!
Many thanks also to everyone who stopped in to say hello! I’m so grateful for your support, and I’d love to share a copy of The Other Soldier. Please leave a comment for the chance to win one!
Gosh, Kathy! Thank you so much for being here. It has been an honor.
GIVEAWAY: You heard Kathy, everyone! Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of The Other Soldier. The winner will be posted here this Thursday, August 9th.
Corporal Reid Macfarland has one mission: to make amends for the mistake he lives with every day. That friendly-fire incident in Afghanistan that killed a fellow soldier haunts him. Maybe if he can help the widow, he'll find some peace.
But amends are easier said than done. Just one meeting with the independent and engaging Parker Dean makes it clear that forgiveness is a little more complicated than offering money or an apology. If he really wants to help, Reid has to stick around for a while. The more their daily lives intertwine, the more he realizes her forgiveness isn't the only thing he needs—he needs her.
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