Today we welcome another of our contenders for the Joan Hessayon award.
Welcome to the RNA blog, Jen, and many congratulations on being one of the contenders for this year’s award.
How long have you been writing - Is this your first published piece?
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write, but although I had a childhood dream of being a
The Cottage at Firefly Lake is my first published piece, but it’s not my first book. Several previous efforts will forever remain under the bed—and rightly so as they were part of my ‘learning to write a novel’ apprenticeship. It also took me time to find my genre and then my writing voice. I dabbled in multiple genres before realising I needed to write what I most enjoyed reading—contemporary romance and romantic women’s fiction.
How many years were you a member of the NWS and did you submit a manuscript each year?
I joined the NWS in January 2010 after taking a writing workshop at my local library with the always-inspiring Julie Cohen. I remained a member of the NWS for six years (until I sold in 2015) and submitted manuscripts for critique each year. I don’t think I’d be a published author without the NWS as those annual reviews helped me hone my writing voice, learn how to write from my heart and identify areas of craft I needed to work on. They also gave me much-needed encouragement. With each review, my writing improved and I began to see myself as a ‘real writer.’ Those reviews also helped me keep the faith through the ups and downs along the road to publication.
What came first, agent or publisher?
Agent. Although I lived in England for many years and consider it my second home, I grew up in Canada and have a distinctly North American writing voice. Since one of my goals was to publish in North America, I wanted the support of an agent who could help me navigate that market. I also wanted an agent to help me develop as a writer and be a partner in my writing career.
If you do have an agent who is it that represents you?
My agent is Dawn Dowdle of Blue Ridge Literary Agency. Dawn is based in the US, and I queried her at the suggestion of RNA friend Rachel Brimble. Rachel (who writes for Harlequin, Kensington and The Wild Rose Press), was already represented by Dawn and thought she might be a good fit for me too.
Rachel agreed I could mention her name when querying Dawn and was a great help in answering my questions about writing for the US market and the agent search more generally. Rachel’s kind and generous support illustrates one of the things I value most about the RNA—the collegiality and commitment to ‘paying it forward’ amongst writers at all stages of their careers.
How did you find your publisher?
When I signed with my agent, Dawn Dowdle, we identified a list of publishers to query. At that time, Dawn also asked me to write a series proposal as that was what the editors she intended to query were interested in. After numerous rejections, I got ‘the call’ that an editor from Hachette Book Group, Grand Central, Forever, wanted to buy my book in August 2015.
It was one of the happiest days of my life but, as so often happens, the actual moment was somewhat anti-climactic. I’d just moved to Canada from England and didn’t yet have a mobile. When Dawn was trying to reach me with the good news, I was on a protracted landline call to resolve an incorrect billing from the gas company!
Do you have a contract for one book or more?
My contract is for a three-book series, all set in the same fictional small town of Firefly Lake, Vermont. The second book in the series, Summer on Firefly Lake will be published in July 2017. It is followed by Back Home at Firefly Lake in December 2017. In addition to the setting, characters also recur between the three books. However, each book also stands alone and can be read independently.
When was your book published?
January 31, 2017. As one of my favourite fictional heroines, Anne of Green Gables would say, publication day was ‘an epoch in my life.’
Tell us something about your book.
The Cottage at Firefly Lake is an emotional second-chance love story about redemption and finding your way home. Charlotte Gibbs wants to put the past behind her, but now she’s back at Firefly Lake the overwhelming flood of memories reminds her of what she’s been missing. She got her dream job traveling the world. But at what cost? Sean Carmichael doesn’t know why Charlotte disappeared that summer, but after eighteen years, a divorce, and a much-loved teenage son, he’s still not over her. She walked away once when he needed her most. How can he convince her to stay now?
What are you currently working on?
In addition to preparing for my upcoming releases—Summer on Firefly Lake in July and Back Home at Firefly Lake in December, I’m also working on another series for my agent to query later this year.
What piece of advice would you give current members of the NWS?
What another RNA member told me when I was in the querying trenches and up to my ears in rejections: ‘The only difference between a published author and an unpublished one is that the published one didn’t give up.’ Whenever I doubted myself (and I did so often), I reminded myself of those words.
Also, you’re rarely ever too busy to write. Books grow one word at a time and sacrificing watching television or letting go of certain domestic standards is a small price to pay for making your writing dream a reality.
Thank you, Jen. Congratulations again on graduating the New Writers’ Scheme and being one of our 2017 contenders.