Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Writers Wednesday - Michelle Willingham

This week The Pink Heart Society brings you one of the very latest authors for the Historicals Line. Please give a warm PHS welcome to Michelle Willingham!

About Michelle:
Michelle currently lives in Yorktown, Virginia, with her NASA engineer husband and two toddlers.
When she's not running after her children, begging them not to cut off all their hair or color on the walls with permanent marker, she teaches sixth grade American History. She enjoys baking, singing, playing the piano, reading historical and paranormal romances, and watching movies like "Braveheart," "Last of the Mohicans," and "Gladiator."

Journey to The Call:

In September of 2004, I mailed a requested full manuscript to the New York Harlequin office, intending my Irish medieval for the Harlequin Historicals line. As luck would have it, Harlequin was in the midst of reorganizing editors and lines, and the editor who asked for my book was switched to a different line. Three weeks later, my manuscript was returned with a form rejection. I was heartsick, but determined not to give up.

I chose to send the book to Harlequin Mills & Boon Historicals next, hoping for another chance. When I learned that the Harlequin Historicals acquisitions line was moved overseas to the Mills & Boon London office, I wanted to knock my head against the wall. Harlequin Historicals had already rejected my book. Surely the editors in London would think I was crazy and would also turn it down. Instead, they requested the full manuscript.

I was a bit superstitious but dutifully sent it off. Then, four months later, I found out that the requesting editor had left the London office. Orphaned for the second time, I was afraid to wonder what would happen. I received a thin envelope in May. When I opened a two-page revision letter, I screamed in my kitchen and started jumping up and down. My husband thought I'd lost my mind. But it wasn’t a rejection, for the first time in my life.

I vowed that I would not lose this opportunity. All my life I dreamed of becoming published, and here I had a new editor who thought I had potential. After I mailed the revisions, I decided to start preparing myself for publication. I built a web site, started a blog, and set goals for the next year. Each day I wrote affirmations and poured everything I had into writing more books. Three months later, I received an e-mail from the editor. This time, they wanted more changes. The changes weren't minor, like the first round. I began to realize that Round 1 was simply a test to see if I would do the revisions. Round 2 was the actual boxing match.

It was like a blindfold had been removed. I was making mistakes I didn't know I was making. I was letting my hero and heroine have their happily ever after on page 274 instead of page 360. Once I saw where I had dropped the tension, I saw how much the pacing improved. The characters were starting to come to life. When I read back the manuscript, I forgot I had written it and simply enjoyed reading. There was magic there.

I mailed the book back. Each time the phone rang, I jumped. Each time I checked my e-mail, my heart would race. Nothing happened for six more months. Then I learned that my editor liked my changes and had forwarded my book onto the senior editor. While I still clung fast to hope, I mentally prepared myself in case the senior editor didn't like it.

Five months after Round 2, almost two years from the time I first submitted the proposal, I received Round 3 of revisions. These came from the editorial director and the senior editor. There were twenty-three changes they wanted, ranging from minor to overhauling the entire first three chapters. I hit a state of panic, but reminded myself that they had invested a lot of time in me. I would do the changes, one at a time.

I signed with an agent that same month. Two weeks after I mailed the last round of revisions, on September 15, 2006, at 10:03 in the morning, I was in the middle of passing out quizzes, when the caller ID on my classroom phone registered an unusual phone number. When I heard the British accent of my editor, I almost dropped the phone. My students were staring at me, wondering why their teacher was mouthing the words, "Oh my God, oh my God, oh my GOD!" while calmly talking on the phone. My editor confessed that she'd tried to reach my agent but couldn't get in touch, and she just couldn't wait any longer. I think I sobbed something to the effect of, "I'm so glad because I couldn't wait any longer either!" I don't remember what else she said except that I was shaking when I hung up the phone. My students eyed me as though I were about to self-combust and I bawled out, "I just sold my first book. I'm going to be a published author." They cheered, and I made them take their geography quiz anyway. Thank goodness, because I was in no shape to teach a class!

Michelle's first book, Her Irish Warrior, a medieval romance set in Ireland, will be released by Harlequin Historicals in May 2007. You can enjoy an excerpt on her website, and she is currently awaiting a decision on her next Irish medieval, Her Irish Lover.

Thanks Michelle!!!


  1. Hi Michelle!
    I love reading your call story! Wishing you many more sales...

  2. Great story! One of true hope and perseverance. An inspiration to all wannabees...!

  3. What a fabulous, fabulous call story Michelle, and I'm so glad your editor called you. It wouldn't have been half as much fun for you or your class if it had come via your agent.

    Well done you for hanging in there during those long rounds of revision. Have your nails grown back yet? LOL

  4. Thanks Carol, Nicolette, and Trish!

    Yes, my nails have grown back, but only a little!

    I'm very excited and can't wait to see my first cover. :)

  5. I love call stories. This was a great one. Hope to share my own one day.

  6. Oh, do I know the feeling! I also had a manuscript skittering around from one Harlequin office to another for two years. I didn't have an editor quit in the middle though, so I think your tale is more hair-raising. I always say that mine taught me patience. I hope that's true.

    Congratulations, Michelle. I look forward to reading your book and wish you many many more sales.

  7. Hooray Michelle! I always read your blog but I'd never heard your call story before. Can't wait to read the book now!

  8. Wow Michelle, that is one rollercoaster ride!! I can't wait to read your first book - I'm sure it'll be the first of many!
    Sue :-)

  9. I LOVE your call story, Michelle!
    Thanks for sharing.

  10. Great call story Michelle! Inspriring for all of us! You made us feel as if we were in that classroom with you! Woohoo!

    Many congrats!

    All best,
    Marian S

  11. Thank you Marian, Mary Beth, India, Sue, Anne, and Patricia W.! :) I really appreciate the good wishes.

  12. Wow! That was a roller coaster of a call story. Trembling at the thought of going through it myself one day. Good luck in the future, you'll do brilliantly I'm sure.


  13. Call stories always make me cry. Fabulous story, Michelle. :)