Wahoo! It’s Writer Wednesday! That most marvelous day of the week in which a fellow author shares tiny teasers into her/his life, and the day on which your TBR pile grows even larger.
Today I bring you Rebecca Heflin, contemporary romance author. I met Rebecca via the fantastic, week-long Romance Writers Gone Wild party she organized on Facebook in May. She’s amazing, y’all – not to mention her books! (Plus, she liked the cookies I baked and sent to her, so clearly she has good taste.)
Settle in with your favorite drink (and maybe a cookie or two) and learn more about Rebecca and her latest work.
Name one interesting thing you learned in researching/writing your last book:
Among other things, I learned that there are special fonts to assist dyslexics with reading. The font makes certain letters more easily recognizable to individuals with the reading disability. The hero in my last book, Dreams of Her Own, is dyslexic, but runs his own business, and must use a computer on a regular basis.
Name two things people don’t know about you.
I used to be a ballet dancer
According to my DNA, this White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) author is in reality an Ashkenazi Jew.
What fellow romance author do you recommend reading, and why?
Brenda Novak. I’m reading her Whiskey Creek series. She hits you with the characters’ conflicts from the first page, and keeps tightening the screws. I’ve learned a lot about how to “make the reader worry.” She certainly does a great job of doing just that.
What’s your favorite romance novel of all time, and why?
That’s an easy one: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Even today, 203 years after it was first published, it still resonates with readers. It’s the perfect novel, with, to my mind, the perfect [sexy, brooding] hero, Fitzwilliam Darcy.
If the Guinness Book of World Records had a category for the world’s most boring life, Millie Stephens knows she would hold the record. After the plain, strait-laced personal assistant is saved by a total stranger from becoming New York City’s latest traffic fatality, she has a disheartening epiphany: her life’s highlight reel was nonexistent. Determined to step out of the shadows and take a walk on the wild side, she starts Millie-style—by making a list.
That total stranger, bad boy Ian Brand, could help Millie with one very important item on her list: sex. But Ian is more than the sum of his parts—and he’s got some really great parts. Beneath that sexy, tattooed exterior is a man with a painful past who’s desperate to both hide and overcome his disability in the pursuit of his dreams.
Will Millie and Ian look beneath the surface and see there’s more to each other than meets the eye?
Rebecca Heflin is an award-winning author who has dreamed of writing romantic fiction since she was fifteen and her older sister snuck a copy of Kathleen Woodiwiss’ Shanna to her and told her to read it. Rebecca writes women’s fiction and contemporary romance. When not passionately pursuing her dream, Rebecca is busy with her day-job as a practicing attorney.
Want to connect further with Rebecca? Find her here:
Holy cow, people – I have an editing deadline tomorrow, and have been so buried in my own words, I nearly forgot to put up Writer Wednesday! *collective gasp*
Luckily large amounts of chocolate knocked some sense (or at least some energy) back into me, just in time to bring you fellow Virginia Romance Writer, Ann Alexandra. I’m so delighted she’s here! Romance writers rock, people.
So settle in (with your own chocolate; I’m not sharing mine) to get better acquainted with Ann Alexandra, and hear about her book, Secret Lives, which won Second Place in the 2015 Book Buyers Best Award, and Fourth Place (“Outstanding Novel”) in the 2015 People’s Choice Award!
What inspires you to write?
I have loved reading all of my life. It lets you experience so many different aspects of life that you might not otherwise have the opportunity to experience. And it offers the opportunity of both escape and entertainment. Creating a new story, putting together all the disparate pieces and characters, and producing something that I hope will give the pleasure of reading to others, is so much fun!
Name one interesting thing you learned in researching/writing your last book:
What fascinates me is how the details of the story line develop through the actions of the different characters, as a result of their personalities–what drives them–and how they pursue their individual goals. I set the general storyline, and context/framework, of the novel at the beginning, but I let the specifics of the story evolve through what feels like the natural behavior of the different characters as they try to achieve their objectives. A key, for me, to the evolution of the romance is how each person ‘discovers’ the character/appeal of the other over time. I believe that an abiding love needs to be based on admiration and respect for the qualities of someone, not only on sexual tension.
What fellow romance author do you recommend reading and why?
I love the novels of Jayne Ann Krentz, who also writes historical romance under the name of Amanda Quick. Her leading women are strong, and creative, and fearless. And in the telling of her story, she captures a perfectly appealing evolution of the relationship between the hero and heroine. And her narrative style lets you get lost in the story.
What one piece of advice do you wish you’d had when first starting out?
Today, the primary responsibility for promotion lies with the author, especially if you are Indie publishing your novel, as I did. It would have been great to find guidance on which specific promotion outlets need submission/notification in ADVANCE of publication.
What’s your favorite romance novel of all time?
That’s easy! Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. Austen drew real, and powerful, characters across a broad range of personalities. In telling her story, she reveals how the motivations and foibles of individuals impact, intentionally or not, the lives of those around them. And it’s the story of an abiding love that survived the many jostling and disruptive effects of family and friends, and some of the shallow strictures of society. I never tire of re-reading it!
Ace negotiator Jillian Harper can’t understand why she’s been shipped off to Miami for a cultural convention, just as hemisphere-wide negotiations to fight drug trafficking reach a critical climax. The mystery deepens when her quaint taxi driver delivers her–not to the hotel where the convention will be held–but to the estate of prominent financier Blake Crawford. It takes all her diplomatic skills–and courage–to navigate the tumultuous events that follow when Blake introduces Jillian as his fiancée, announcing they will be married in ten days. Jillian, knowing she has never met Blake, soon learns that the “Secret Lives” of others, including Blake, will determine if she lives or dies–and to live, she must embrace a secret life of her own. As she navigates these uncharted waters, can Jillian survive an earth-shattering betrayal of trust–and the discovery of a deep, and powerful, love that may ask her to sacrifice her own life to protect the man she loves?
Born and raised in Boston, Ann Alexandra has been a long-time resident of Northern Virginia. She loves animals, in general, and dotes on her four cats. She loves music, and all related activities such as dancing and singing. Most importantly, she is passionate about reading. “Growing up, I made weekly visits to the city library. I believe I read, over the years, just about every mystery and romance–as well as many of the classics–on the shelves of what was a rather large public library!” she explained. “My mother introduced me to the joys of reading–she would tell me how, growing up during the height of the Depression, she could explore the world and embark on all kinds of adventures—just by opening a book!” Ms. Alexandra dedicated her first novel, Secret Lives, to her Mother, ‘In Loving Memory’, whom she describes as her “best friend” for all of her life.
Ann Alexandra received her Bachelor’s Degree, summa cum laude, inPolitical Science, and a Master’s Degree in International Relations. She worked in the Legislative side of government at both the state and federal levels, researching and writing analyses of laws and government programs. She is a member of RWA, VRW, VWC, The Writer’s Center, and Write by the Rails.
Annie is a zany force of fun, and I’ve truly enjoyed getting to know her via Facebook. I was flabbergasted but delighted when she expressed interest in reviewing A Man of Character, especially since she got it onto Chick Lit Plus – a big-time site!
Annie is so expressive in her love for books and authors, and she brings happy smiles wherever she goes. I’m thrilled to now count her as a friend as well as a reviewer – and wait until you read all the insights she gives!
Settle in, folks, because you don’t want to miss this. I hope you’ll leave Annie a comment below!
How long have you been writing book reviews?
I became a published book reviewer in March, 2007. But, I recently came upon my very first book review on record!!! It was published in my elementary school newspaper from when I was in 3rd Grade. LOL!!! Apparently, I was the “Book Reviewer” for the newspaper. I loved finding that! I always knew this was in my bones. This proved it!
I began blogging about two years ago, but am really honing in on it this year. I am still birthing the site. I am hoping to have it full of interviews with authors, other reviewers, guest bloggers, articles, and, of course, book reviews. I have the vision, just a lot of work to get it started. Still unsure of where this is going to go. Because working with Elle and Chick Lit Plus keeps me busy enough. AH!
Ann-Marie Nieves of Get Red PR knows that I love to review books for Elle Magazine, and she heard that Samantha, the owner of Chick Lit Plus, was looking for another reviewer for her site. Ann-Marie thought we may be a good match. So, I applied.
I was so nervous sending in samples of my reviews, especially when she asked for a review of a book I did not enjoy. That is a tough review to write.
I got the job!!!
Chick Lit Plus is a site I have always enjoyed getting lost in! It has a large market, and I was so excited to at least give it a shot! If you have not visited this site yet, you must!
I am so grateful that she let me have a chance and come on board. This is something I am very proud of!!!
On November 2nd, 2006, I read about a contest ELLE Magazine was having. The contest winners would become monthly book reviewers for the Magazine, known as the “Readers’ Prize Panel”. There would only be 15 participants. I had to enter this contest!
They asked for a list of your Top 5 favorite books, and for a written review of our top favorite.
I chose to write a review about Pride & Prejudice. Tough one, but … Jane Austen was not going to let me down.
Once it was sent, I checked my email like a crazy person until I received the Winner/Offer email on November 6th, 2006! I sent back my acceptance and willingness to read three books a month and send in my reviews.
About a month later, the books began to arrive. I was so excited opening my first delivery! It had actual manuscripts, held together with a rubber band. I thought I hit the BIG TIME! Hahaha.
What’s your favorite thing about being a book reviewer?
Short Answer: This is my passion, one that never wanes, so that is a gift itself!
Simple answer: “Just Fun! When you do what you love, it never feels like work!!” There is no greater joy than reviewing a book, and finding out that someone read the book because of my review. That is an awesome feeling!
Longer answer: Being my passion, there are so many favorite things about being a book reviewer. High on the list is that I get to interact with the authors and other readers. It is like living in this perfect world for me. I could get lost once I start chatting with authors or other readers. Being around books is very intoxicating for me. I am at home when surrounded by books. My husband has a Man Cave, I have a Library!!
Secondly, I love having access to all sorts of books, especially ones I may not have come across unless I was in this field. For example, I have learned that I really enjoy Non-Fiction…which I never really dabbled in, until 3 arrived one month for me to review for Elle. I have been hooked ever since! I was just introduced to a newer genre, called “New Adult”, and I am seriously in love! I reviewed Bounceby Noelle August, and I will have to read more of her books.
Wow, I have a Long PRO list, I love it! (You know I could keep going…right?)
What’s your least favorite thing?
Being a super slow reader!!! Obviously, not having the time to read all of the books I want to read would be a least favorite thing. Picking and choosing is very difficult. I will die with a To-Read List. Oh, and reviewing a book that I am not enjoying. Definitely, not fun.
I also need to take notes when reading a book. As a child, reading comprehension was a problem of mine…still is…But, I still love what I do. Most books I totally forget the endings…so, I get to enjoy it over and over again. I love that I did not let this problem interfere with my dream of writing book reviews. I feel it is my calling. Even though it does not come easy, I still cherish doing this.
How do you choose what to read? Do you request books you’re interested in, or do people send you review requests?
Well, ELLE sends me 3 books a month, no choice there. I am asked to do the book reviews by the author, publisher or PR Firms.
I request books on Netgalley. I sit down with Netgalley open once a week, and feel like I am shopping for books!
Being out in the community, I come across books I would love to read, so I reach out to the author directly.
[ML says: And I was one of the lucky ones! When Annie said she’d be interested in reviewing A Man of Character, I nearly fell out of my chair. It was the first time a reviewer ever approached me, instead of the other way around. I’ll never forget it!]
How many requests do you receive in an average month?
I would say at least a dozen requests pass by me each month.
There are certain authors and publicists that actually reach out to me. Twitter has opened my door to more authors that would ask me personally. I love that!
How many reviews do you do in an average month?
I would say I probably do about 12-15 reviews a month. Some months are busier than others, typically at the beginning of a season…but, I do try to do as many, many reviews as possible. This month, I have almost 20 to review. I cannot do that to myself again…hahaha. As stated earlier, I am a very slow reader, so this will be challenging.
This is a labor of love; you’ve told me you don’t get paid. Why do reviewers like you give so much to the author community without compensation? (Meaning, what forms of compensation, besides money, do you derive from these ventures?)
Yes, this is definitely a labor of love. I do get all of the books I read for free; so, I save a lot of money not buying books, and trips to the library are far less than they used to be. I cannot even remember the last time I borrowed a book from the library. Sometimes when I think about how much time goes in to a review, I am taken aback. Occasionally, I will finish a book and it will take me a few days to absorb the book, and finally write the review.
My compensation does not only come in the free book; I love when authors ask for name suggestions, let us vote on covers, etc., and really appreciate my time.
For example; I wrote a review for a Steena Holmes novel for Elle Magazine, and ever since then…she has had me review all of her books, she sends lovely gifts, cards, and does giveaways. She keeps us so busy with her work, that you cannot help but feel like what you do really does matter. She has an amazing assistant that throws online parties….I get to know other reviewers and authors during these events. It is just nice to feel part of the process. She supports other authors, by asking us to read and review other author’s books. She is an author that makes me feel special. I appreciate that.
Appreciation is always a great thing. It is how I know I am doing a good job!
BONUS!!! Getting others to READ!! I love to influence people to pick up a book.
What’s one thing you wish authors knew about book reviewing?
Authors need to remember that book reviewing is figuratively like a meal on a menu ~ Not everyone is going to like the same thing…So, don’t beat yourself up if you get negative reviews. Pay closer attention to the readers that happily devoured your book.
Always write what you want to write, and people will come!
As far as my particular book reviewing, I would like to add, that when I open a book, I like to believe I am going to love it…it is difficult to sway me the other way…Kind of like, “innocent until proven guilty” only, “fabulous book until you change my mind.”
What’s one thing you wish readers knew about book reviewing?
It is always good to follow a reviewer that you like. If you like them, then you know that their suggestions are pretty much in line with your choices of books to read.
We love having a following! I am still working on that. When you can’t get your best friend to follow you, you know it will be hard to get others.
I would like to add, that I take this “job” seriously.
Also, I wish I had more followers. It is very hard to get them. I ADORE my friends and family that follow me!! Yvonne is a close family friend, and she has been following me since my first review. I cannot thank her enough for giving my reviews such wonderful attention. I know each review will be read at least once…by Yvonne.
What’s your favorite type of book to read/review, and why?
I can go in all kinds of directions with books, as I don’t like to be boxed in to one particular genre. But, Woman’s Fiction/Historical Fiction has proven to be a true favorite of mine. I like reading a book that teaches me a little something, or delves in to female relationships. While I enjoy mysteries, and that was all I used to read, I have certainly grown as a reader.
I also LOVE reviewing memoirs. They always draw me in.
My favorite is to be with an author from their very first book…like Steena Holmes. I have been reading each of her books as they are released.
Is there any sort of story/book you’d love to see, but haven’t?
I love that more authors are going on tangents with their stories, to tell us more about particular characters from their full novels with the use of the novella!! Now, that was a wonderful invention!!
Do you also write? How has reviewing books impacted your writing (or, if you don’t write, how has it impacted how you read books)?
I do not have an imaginative or creative bone in my body when it comes to storytelling. However, I enjoy writing about my personal experiences…and, I love to write poetry. I have had some poetry published. I began that in elementary school, too…haha.
I took a Creative Writing class a few years ago, and really struggled. But, when I read the stories now, I find that I may have a teenie-tiny bit of talent.
Any advice/guidance to authors looking to get book reviewers interested in their books?
First, get your book on a Blog Tour!! Get all blogs reading it, and posting reviews EVERYWHERE possible.
Secondly, giving your reviewers your support and appreciation goes a very long way. Steena Holmes has a private Facebook Page/Group just for her Reviewers and it is a lot of fun to be there. She has really gained a lot of followers this way. I was there from the beginning, so I have seen this group grow. She has special events for us, for example, she held an “Ornament Exchanges” over the holidays last year. She does a lot of interactive stuff with us. I think something like that goes a long way when you want people to read your books and post reviews. Her assistant, Melissa is also a great joy! One of the hardest workers I know. All authors could use a Melissa!
I would also love to travel to various Book Expos, etc. I want this to be a huge part of my life. It already is…but, I am seeing BIGGER! I want to get out of the bubble I am in…expand my horizons.
Put me in a room full of books, authors, readers…I am in my Happy Place! Besides being home with my husband, dog and three cats.
Do you have any idea the impact you’ve had on authors?
Some authors are huge Cheerleaders! Those authors are my favorites…shhh! A little pat on the back goes a long way, when you choose to review a book of your own accord.
Not so sure of having an impact, exactly.
[ML: I assure you, you do! You have no idea how confidence-inspiring it was for you to not only request my book, but then rave about it! I appreciate all of your efforts on my behalf!]
Is there a favorite book or two you’d like to tell us about, that you feel we shouldn’t miss (you do NOT have to pick A Man of Character, I promise – I honestly want to know your favorite or two from the last few years).
You will wish you did not ask me this…hahaha.
Let’s be honest, I could not be a book reviewer without a ton of favorites…so, I will give you the highlights! I cannot honestly choose just two. This is one of my favorite subjects to discuss.
I hope you are sitting down. LOL!
Before listing my favorite books (those authors are obviously my favorites, as well), let me tell you some other authors I cherish, so you can check them out:
This was a lot of fun! I got to know myself a little bit better with each question. I appreciate you wanting to have me as a guest on your blog/site.
I hope I inspire someone to grab a book!
Wow. Thank you for joining us, Annie! I loved all of your answers, and you gave great insight into how authors can best relate to book reviewers. I wish you the best of luck as you build your reviewing career – with passion like yours, you’re obviously a star. And yes, I will get A Matter of Time to you as soon as I can!