Author Interviews

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Friday, 3 May 2013

Author interview no.665 with Nancy Herkness (revisited)

Back in March 2013, I interviewed author Nancy Herkness for my mixed WordPress blog. I hope you enjoy it...
Welcome to the six hundred and sixty-fifth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with romance author Nancy Herkness. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Nancy. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
author photo standing croppedNancy: I live in the suburbs of New Jersey now, but I was born and raised in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia.  I’m the mother of two college-aged children and the author of four published novels.  I grew up with my nose in a book—often one written by Georgette Heyer—and started writing poetry seriously in high school.  At Princeton University, I studied literature and creative writing.  Upon graduation, I had to make a living so I turned to more lucrative fields, such as retailing and data processing.
However, my desire to write a romance novel never left me.  When my youngest child went to school full-time, I sat down at my computer and wrote A Bridge to Love, which was published by Berkley Sensation in 2003.  I’ve been writing steadily ever since.
Morgen: I’ve described you as a ‘romance author’, clearly inspired by your reading, is that the genre you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Nancy: The majority of my books are contemporary romances, including my current release Take Me Home.  I’ve written one romantic suspense: Music of the Night, in which the discovery of Beethoven’s legendary Tenth Symphony leads to murder and mayhem.  It was a wonderful challenge to braid together both a romance and a mystery, and it helped strengthen my plotting capabilities.  In fact, all my romances have strong subplots (albeit not mysteries).  I’m still toying with the idea of venturing into the paranormal with a psychic romance, but haven’t quite gotten there yet.
Morgen: Romance is clearly a genre you love, and loves you (pardon the pun), and murder and mayhem sounds like fun. What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Nancy: I write under my maiden name because my married name is long and hard to pronounce. My books to-date are:
  • Take Me Home (published by Montlake Romance in 2012);
  • Music of the Night (originally published by Redburn Press in 2007);
  • Shower of Stars (originally published by Berkley Sensation in 2004);
  • A Bridge to Love (ditto in 2003).
Morgen: Are your books available as eBooks? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
TakeMeHome coverNancy: Take Me Home is available as an eBook, in print, and as an audio book (which thrills me!).  My other three books are both digital and print.  I am a hybrid reader, switching back and forth between print and Kindle quite regularly.  I find I read very, very fast on the Kindle, possibly because I can enlarge the print which keeps my eyes from tiring.  Sometimes I have to force myself to slow down and savor the words.
Morgen: I love audiobooks. They mean I can read while multitasking (usually walking my dog). I’m a terrible reader; I don’t read often enough but when I do I analyse it (and pick, usually!). Did you have any say in the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Shower of Stars coverNancy: For my first two books, A Bridge to Love and Shower of Stars, I had no input into the original cover designs at Berkley.  So when I got my rights back and re-published them myself, I found it great fun to work with a designer on new covers.  Music of the Night was published by a very small independent press, so I actually contributed two of my own photos to the first cover, something I was proud of.  However, when I re-published it, my cover designer insisted on changing the cover to match the new branding on my other two books, and she was absolutely right.
My current publisher Montlake Romance consulted with me extensively on the cover of Take Me Home, and listened carefully to what I had to say.  It’s a very collaborative relationship, and I am delighted to be involved with such important decisions.  I love the cover of Take Me Home!
Covers are extremely important in the marketing process. An eye-catching cover entices a prospective reader to find out more about the book.
Morgen: It sounds like you’ve had some great support over the years, which is really important. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Nancy: Always the next book.  Take Me Home is the first in a series set in Sanctuary, West Virginia, featuring “whisper horses”.  I have completed the second book, Country Roads, and am working on the third book which is tentatively titled The Place I Belong. (Is anyone humming the John Denver song yet?)
Morgen: Erm… ah yes, “take me home, country roads”? You said you’re always working on your next book – do you manage to write every day, or ever suffer from writer’s block?
Nancy: I try to write every day, but life—or a surprise delivery of copy edits with a short deadline—sometimes intrudes.  Also, I find thinking about the book is important too.  There are points in the development of each book when I have to step back and contemplate the story as a whole, often to strengthen conflicts or add plot twists or smooth out character arcs.
I rarely get blocked, and when I do, it generally has little or nothing to do with the writing, and everything to do with some outside issue.  When that happens, I force myself to sit down at the computer and just type something, anything, because that’s how writers solve their problems: by writing.
Morgen: I think most people reading this with sympathise with ‘life’. It’s deadlines that get me writing (NaNoWriMo is the best thing I know). Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Nancy: Unfortunately, I do not plot.  I start with two characters, a basic conflict, and an ending, and then I write toward that ending.  It’s an inefficient way to work, but it’s the only way I can enjoy it.  I tried plotting out an entire book once, and got bored halfway through writing it because I already knew everything that was going to happen.  It died.
Morgen: As long as you enjoy the method you use, and it works for you, then that’s the most important thing. Do you have to do much research?
Nancy: I love doing research, and do a fair amount.  I also call it procrastination.
Morgen: <laughs> Ah, but it’s still writing-related. You mentioned that you’ve written some poetry?
Nancy: I started off writing poetry in high school and then continued with it in my university’s creative writing program.  I think the discipline of poetry is terrific practice for writing tight, vivid prose.  The focus on word choice is intense, and you have to be very economical with image and detail in poetry. I highly recommend a creative course in poesy to all prose writers.  In fact, I give a workshop on that topic.
Morgen: I’ve had few poetry-related guest articles on my blog ( – maybe I could persuade you? :) Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Nancy: Of course! The first romance novel I ever wrote (which was titled Champagne and Strawberries) should never be read by another human being.  I spent four long paragraphs just describing the heroine’s apartment.  You’d think after writing poetry, I would know better.
Morgen: Oh dear. But now you know that because you’ve had more experience, so maybe you could see where it needs fixing. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Nancy: Rejection is a way of life for any writer who wishes to publish.  There are a limited number of slots for publication, and your work simply may not fit into one.  Often the decision is market-driven and has little or nothing to do with the quality of your work.  It’s certainly not meant to be personal.
Although I understand those concepts rationally, rejection still stings emotionally.  I allow myself a one-day pity party, then I figure out my next move and carry it out.  When I was agent-hunting, I always sent out another query the moment an agent turned down my submission.  That way I always had hope.  It’s a little tougher when you’re submitting to editors because there just aren’t as many to query.  Sometimes I would enter a contest; sometimes I would write a blog or add friends on Facebook.  The important thing was to keep moving forward.
Morgen: “one-day pity party” I love it. Do you enter competitions?
Nancy: When I was unpublished and had my first manuscript ready for submission, I entered many contests.  My goal was to get into the final round, so the judging editor or agent would read my brilliant prose and instantly want to buy it / represent it.  Needless to say, that didn’t happen very often.
However, the bonus surprise was that I found the first-round judges’ comments quite useful and revised my entry based on the ones I agreed with. One hears horror stories about cruel judges who tell entrants not to quit their day jobs, but I never encountered any myself.  Some of my judges made so few comments that I could learn nothing from their scoresheets, but most made an effort to be helpful and constructive.
btl_final_correctedIronically, two days after I sold my first book A Bridge to Love, I received a request for the full manuscript from an editor who was the final round judge in the last contest I entered.
Morgen: JK Rowling was told not to give up her day job and look where that got her. :) I think it makes us all the more determined. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Nancy: Yes, I have a terrific agent.  I have tried to sell without an agent, and while it is possible to do so, I don’t enjoy it.  My agent is a long-time industry professional, so I count on her for guidance in the current craziness of the publishing world.  She knows people and has contacts I don’t, especially in the foreign markets.  She is also willing to play buffer if there’s any issue with my publisher.
Morgen: It’s always handy having a buffer. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Nancy: My advice varies, depending on what stage the writer has reached in her / his progress.  However, most writers begin to ask me questions when they have arrived at the submission stage.  At that point, the suggestions I find myself making the most often are:
1. Finish the book.  Then polish it to diamond brilliance before you begin submitting it.
2. Proofread. Proofread. Proofread.  Editors/agents are looking for an easy reason to stop reading.  A sloppy manuscript gives them that excuse instantly.
3. Spend a lot of time writing a professional query letter.  This is your introduction, and it needs to be well-targeted and well-written.
4. Do not take rejection personally.  It isn’t.  Rejection is usually market-driven.
5. When you receive a rejection, send out another query the next day…or sooner!
Morgen: The writing is the easy bit, isn’t it? I’ve done NaNoWriMo five times (and am about to embark on a shorter Camp NaNoWriMo next month) but it's the editing that’s the donkey work. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Nancy: “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”  ― E.L. Doctorow
This is the way I always feel when I’m writing, so it’s comforting to know that a genius like Doctorow has the same uncertainty.
Morgen: :) I don’t usually plan much before I start writing so with every story there’s the uncertainty but I love the thrill of the story taking over. What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks? :)
Nancy: Not a single party trick up my sleeve, I’m afraid.  I have two mismatched dogs, a Golden Retriever and a Yorkie, so I walk them a lot, but even that relates to writing.  I think up the next scene in my work-in-progress as we stroll.
I volunteer as a literacy and ESL tutor, a job inspired by my love of reading.  I cannot imagine not being able to enjoy the written word, so I try to give others the same joy.
So you see, I’m all about books, no matter what else I try to do.
Morgen: I’m always doing something writing-related when walking my dog (a Jack Russell / Cairn cross) whether it’s editing (with a red pen, it feels more powerful!), writing or reading. A true writer never switches off. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Nancy: I think the future is very exciting for writers.  With the advent of digital and print-on-demand self-publishing, we have many more options, which is a powerful position to be in.  Small independent presses are springing up daily.  Writers band together to form publishing and marketing co-ops.  Well-known authors are choosing to leave traditional publishing houses to self-publish, or work on a mix of the two.
The writer is truly in the driver’s seat right now.  Many of my colleagues report noticeable positive changes in the attitude of traditional publishers toward their midlist authors.  Where once writers were treated like interchangeable commodities, now their contributions and opinions are being sought and valued.  Royalty statements are being clarified; sales figures are being posted on-line monthly, etc.
My current publisher Montlake Romance, a division of Amazon, even has an Author Relations team dedicated to making sure their authors are happy.  That tells you everything about the importance of writers today!
Morgen: I don’t think it’s ever been a better time to be an author, and it’s clear that you certainly love what you do. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Nancy: I have a website:  From there you can find all my social media locations which include two blogs: From the Garret and Sister Towns, as well as my Facebook pages.  In addition, you can sign up for my New Book Alerts and enter my contest.
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Nancy: I’d just like to thank you for having me on your blog and for asking such intriguing questions.  I enjoyed the interview very much.
Morgen: You’re so welcome. I’m delighted you enjoyed our chat. Thank you, Nancy, for joining me today.
I then invited Nancy to include a synopsis and this is from ‘Take Me Home’…
When Claire Parker left Sanctuary, West Virginia, she thought it was for good. But now she’s back, reeling from an ugly divorce. Readjusting to small-town life is harder than Claire expected, so she’s surprised, and grateful, to find companionship in Willow, an abused Thoroughbred mare. Willow is Claire’s “whisper horse,” and they share a special, rare bond. Except Willow isn’t the only one helping Claire heal; Willow’s ruggedly handsome veterinarian, Dr. Tim Arbuckle, is soothing…and secretive.
Devastated by his wife’s death, Tim thought he’d never find love again. The stoic, sexy doctor was sure he’d left his heart behind when he came to Sanctuary. But Claire stirs up emotions he thought he’d buried long ago. For the first time, the doctor can see past his grief…until Willow falls gravely ill. Tim and Claire must save Willow’s life and, surrounded by the expansive mountains of West Virginia, believe in a love so encompassing, so intimately intense, their lives will never be the same again.
Nancy Herkness’ first two contemporary romances, A Bridge to Love and Shower of Stars, were published by Berkley Sensation.  Music of the Night was her first romantic suspense novel.  Her small town romance Take Me Home was released by Montlake Romance in November 2012.
A member of Romance Writers of America, New Jersey Romance Writers and Novelists, Inc., Nancy has won numerous awards for her work, including the Golden Leaf, the Write Touch Readers’ Award and the Aspen Gold.  Nancy graduated from Princeton University with a degree in English literature and creative writing.
A native of West Virginia, she now lives in New Jersey with her husband and two mismatched dogs.
To read excerpts of all Nancy’s books, please go to her website
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on the mixed blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
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