Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Writers' Wednesday with Paula Roe

Our latest newbie is new Aussie Desire signee, and former Contest Diva, Paula Roe. Give her a big Pink Heart Society welcome!!!

About Paula

I’m British-born, Aussie bred, living west of Sydney, where it gets too hot in summer and never cold enough in winter. In my former, paid (non-writing) life, I was an assistant/secretary/PA, office manager, theme park hostess, software trainer and aerobics instructor. I've also done heaps of work with Romance Writers of Australia and am currently one of their contest judges and editor for Hearts Talk, their monthly mag.

Joining RWAustralia in 1994 was the best thing I ever did for my writing career, as was entering contests (86 to date... I am known in certain circles as The Contest Slut). It all paid off when I got The Email on my fourth full manuscript on 7th September 2006 1.19am...

The Road to Publication

Where can I possibly begin? I could go waaaaay back and mention the absolute adoration for my hard back collection of Enid Blyton books at age seven. My obsession with Elynne Mitchell's Silver Brumby series at age ten. Or discovering romance the explicit way at twelve with Johanna Lindsey's "Captive Bride". (I will forever love our librarian, Mrs Jackson, for either her blind ignorance or dogged devotion of the genre... whichever is applicable )

After buying up all Johanna Lindsey's back list (some would say obsessively so), I started on others who are now legends in the genre - Shirlee Busbee, Kathleen Woodiwiss, Judith McNaught, Jude Deveraux. My first love has always been a rollicking good historical romance! (which is why I am so looking forward to Anna Campbell's "Claiming the Courtesan" - it's written in the traditional style with an ultra-alpha male... whoooo hooo!)

Okay, fastforward quite a few years, during which time I'd gone through a few jobs but always tinkering with stories, trying to hone my craft. They say it takes an average of 10 years to get published, and I can fully attest to that! So when I joined RWAustralia in 1994 it was like throwing a liferaft to a floundering swimmer. I had two (appalling) novels behind me, had started on a third and began entering it in contests. And kept right on entering with anything I'd written, all the while writing, writing, meeting with fellow writers at conferences and workshops and always reading and reading some more. And then I discovered Silhouette Books... category novels I had previously frowned upon simply because they weren't historicals and they were short (ah, poor misguided me!)

My first rejection was in 1991 from Temptation. It was a one page tick-a-box, with all sorts of interesting things like "did the conflict seem real and not contrived?" and "were the love scenes believable?" (a no and a yes on those :)

I've had a rejections over the past 15 years I've been seriously pursuing writing, although not as many as you'd think. And after 15 years of what seemed like getting two steps forward (contest wins) and one step back (another rejection), I stuck with it because I started to believe in my writing. It's not arrogance or thinking you're up yourself (as we Aussies would say!) It's a deep, unwavering belief that you're writing something that will tap into reader's emotions, something that will sing to them. Because I still remember, as a 12 year old, finishing "Captive Bride" with a sigh and realizing: "I want readers to feel about my writing how I've just felt with that book."

The story that finally sold was my fourth complete and was originally titled "The Wife He Never Knew." It had a love/hate relationship with editors: in 2000 Mills & Boon Presents rejected the partial and in 2001 and 2002 Silhouette Desire rejected the full... twice. So after major rewrites, I pitched it to Kim Young of Presents at RWAustralia's Melbourne conference in 2005. While I waited for a response, I entered RWA´s Opening Chapter comp and won with it (how much do I LOVE RWA comps???!!!!) Final judge Mary-Theresa Hussey loved the "energy" of the story and told me to submit it to one of her editors at Desire, Demetria Lucas. At the time it was also a finalist in the Emerald and placed second in our QLS contest. I emailed Mary-Theresa Hussey to let her know one of her other edtiors - Patience Smith -was reading it as the Emerald final judge.

Then it placed first in the Dixie First Chapter... but I had no request for further work.

So three months later, after a productive day with my crit partner Deb (who told me to stop dithering and get my finger out), I emailed Demetria to enquire on my ms status. She replied on the 29th August, thanked me for being patient and said she'd sent it to her senior editor to get her thoughts. Demetria said: "FYI - I loved your book and passed it along with strong recommendations. I hope the Sr. Ed. likes it as much as I do." I was thrilled but cautious and settled in for another four week wait.

So on Thursday, 7th September, I woke with the conviction of getting my son off to kindy after he´d been home two days straight with a stomach bug. It's 7.30, we're trying to work out why there's no sound on the Dino Attack game at Lego.com and my emails came filtering in. The little ghostly boxes pop up... one, from ROMAUS, one from the Exec loop, one from my walking partner, one from Lucas, Demetria.... hang on! Did it say "great news!"???

Wrestling for control of the mouse, I opened Outlook and stared in disbelief at the email: "Great news!!!! Desire would like to make an offer on The Wife He Never Knew. Is there a number where I can reach you to chat?"

"They want to buy my book." No response from Cooper, who's glaring at the screen, demanding Dino Attack miraculously appear. "What?" says my mum distractedly, wandering past the office door. "They want to buy my book... THEY WANT TO BUY MY BOOK!!"" By now, Cooper's got the gist that something's up and looks at me cautiously as I dissolve into a fit of maniacal laughter. After I stop, I explain that mummy has sold her book to a company that will put a cover on it and sell it in book stores. Still not impressed, I add hopefully, "and I'll get money for it." To which he brightens and says, "Oh, can I have some, then?" Ah, the simplicity of youth. He only got excited when I promised to buy him a toy (he gets a toy, mummy gets a contract ). I got to keep my title and will know the release date after my revisions are accepted and man, it feels soooo good to finally say those three magical words, "editor", "revisions" and "contract"!

Even though it was written before Silhouette changed their Desire guidelines, ironically it has all the hooks the new guidelines are seeking - secret baby, amnesia, lovers reunited, evil stepmother . The story started out as a cathartic exercise but eventually I really wanted to tell the story because it had some very valid emotions in it: betrayal, redemption, growth and change. When I first started, I had no idea Ally, the heroine, would morph into such a strong character: I initially had her reactions as too weak and wishywashy which made the hero, Finn, come across too forceful. There was also a lot of things that Ally reacted to, instead of being proactive about. Also, there were initially three more characters in the book - Ally's best friend, her mother and her grandmother. Even though I loved writing them in, I eventually realised they took the focus away from the hero and heroine and made it seem as if the situation controlled them, not the other way around. So I cut those scenes, which tightened the writing and brought out more of Ally and Finn´s personalities and conflict.

And truly, if it weren't for both the Opening Chapter and Emerald contests, my book wouldn't have found a home with Desire (well, I hope it would have eventually, but certainly not as quickly! It was already a triple reject...).

Without the anonymous encouragement of contest judges, I wouldn't have kept on improving my writing. The good judges gave praise and critique where it was due, made me think about plot, characterisation and pace (which helped me tighten and revise) and the not-so-good judges provided me with a thick skin and an "I'll show you!" attitude .

My advice for writers seeking publication? Stick with it. Sometime in 2004 I seriously considered a compromise. I thought if I couldn't get in the door with Harlequin, then I would build my name (as so many authors do) by getting published with a small press. There I could gather a readership and then try the "big names" further down the track. Because although I've only had five rejections, I could feel that I just wasn't hitting the right note with Harlequin editors. When The Wife was rejected the second time in 2004 by Desire (the line I desperately wanted to write for) I didn't know what they wanted, especially when I'd put so much of my heart into it. But after some more revisions (tedious things but such a goldmine!) and my success in the Emerald, I got to eat my words!

The funny thing is, I've just read an article by Melissa James about committing emotional suicide and my Lord, that speaks to me on so many levels! If you aren't prepared to open up a vein and bleed all over your page (metaphorically speaking) then maybe it's time to rethink what you really want to write. It may be that you're not suited to where you're targeting, or even the genre as a whole. Take a good look at your contest crit sheets, your rejection letters, talk with your writing partner or crit group. And learn from them all. It may take longer than your five-year plan, heck, it may turn out you're sending your kids to high school by the time you make it. But I promise you, you'll be a much better writer by the end of it.

Paula's first book, Silhouette Desire THE FORGOTTEN MARRIAGE has an as yet unknown release date. She'll be letting us know the minute she does!!! And for more fun and games she has been contracted to write one of six books in a miniseries written by Australian and New Zealand authors. Go Paula!!!

Read more about Paula's writing at her website: www.paularoe.com

12 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Good luck with everything. We have/had similar reading tastes. I am an Enid Blyton fanatic. I remember all those delicious series: Famous Five and the boarding school.

    I'm a fellow Brit-born, I grew up in Guyana, now living in the U.S. So I understand about moving around. Heck, I can even empathize on the road to publication. LOL

    Add me to your mailing list, I can't wait to read your book.

    Michelle
    michellemonkou@comcast.net
    http//www.michellemonkou.com

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  3. I was reading along, enjoying your story: la lala la and then I saw the magic words: Mini-series!! My absolute favourite things together: Australian and NZ authors AND linked books!! I've died and gone to heaven!!! Your dedication has really paid off, and it looks like there might be more than a few toys going your son's way now!!!

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  4. Great to read the enthusiasm in Paula's success - she's such an inspiration and I can't wait to read her first novel! Hurry up Silhouette!

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  5. Paula, I always find your story so inspiring. Congratulations and kudos to you for sticking to your guns through all that and coming out smelling of roses on the other side. Note: I've met Paula, of course she smells of roses!

    I always knew we had similar reading tastes but I snickered at the hard cover Enid Blyton collection. I've still got all those books in boxes at my parents' house and threw a real tantrum when my mother threatened to throw them out because she wanted the space. Where are her priorities??!!

    Oh, and thank you for the plug. I feel quite bashful being mentioned in conjunction with all those legends!

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  6. Paula,

    Terrific to see you here! I'm so looking forward to reading your first book. Great to see another Down Under Author for Desire - there are a few of you now.

    I bet there are a lot of people relieved that you're off the unpubbed contest loops now! You'll just have to concentrate on whole books instead.

    I hope The Forgotten Marriage is the beginning of a stellar career.

    Annie

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  7. Hey, hey, Paula!

    Great post and wonderful story. You're an inspiration and one of my favourite people, and not only because you're one of the only people I know who is shorter than me:-))

    Can't wait to snaffle your book off those shelves! Go Paula!

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  8. Yay Paula!!! The contest queen graces our pages at last!!!

    So excited for you. And I promise there is plenty more fun ahead.

    Ally

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  9. Whooo Paula!

    You go get em girl! I simply can't wait to read your book and you've given me faith that one day even I may get THE CALL (or email or even courier pigeon will do) ;)

    With hugs and best wishes

    Debs xxx

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  10. Paula, loved your call story! You inspire us all to keep trying. Can't wait for your book.
    Congratulations!

    Carol

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  11. Paula!

    What a story! Thanks for sharing with us. I connected with your trying everything strategy and felt joy when you described getting that awesome email! Congrats! Looking forward to your book to hit the shelves. Thanks for the inspiration. Came on a day I needed it!

    Way to go!!!!

    Marian S

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  12. thanks for all the wonderful comments, people! It's still completely surreal to me - you don't know how many times I'll be doing something, then suddenly stop and think, "hey. I'm a published author." And then grin like an idiot... Mucho disturbing when you're in the shopping center surrounded by a bunch of strangers who think you're a weirdo :D

    Of course, I'm looking forward to charging into my KMart, Big W and Target and telling everyone loitering in the book section: "that's my book! That's me! Go, me!" LOL.

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