Tomorrow begins another fun writing contest here on the blog. I’ve rounded up great prizes which include books, a gift package especially designed for writers, and best of all, TWO critiques!
Today’s guest host (and the judge of my next contest which starts tomorrow) is Moriah Densley.
Moriah Densley sees nothing odd at all about keeping both a violin case and a range bag stuffed with pistols in the back seat of her car. They hold up the stack of books in the middle, of course. She enjoys writing about Victorians, assassins, and geeks. Her muses are summoned by the smell of chocolate, usually at odd hours of the night. By day her alter ego is your friendly neighborhood music teacher. Moriah lives in Las Vegas with her husband and four children.
And now, without further ado, here’s Moriah…
Tell us about your path to publication. What led you to pursue writing as a career?
For my day job I’m a musician. I never thought I’d want to be a commercial fiction author until last year. The last writing project I’d done was a research paper on violin pedagogy, so the first time I sat down to write a scene for what I didn’t realize was a historical romance, it felt really weird – almost guilty. Like a Weight Watchers reject hiding in the closet with a bag of Cheetos.
Once I started, I couldn’t stop. In a few weeks, I had a first draft finished, a 140K-word behemoth. It was terrible. Then I got to work. As I fed my reading addiction, I also learned craft, got an agent, and joined RWA and critique groups . . . all while producing manuscripts like the zombie apocalypse was coming tomorrow. I think I wrote five full-length books that year.
The “big six” just weren’t buying from debut authors, especially historical romance. The rejections piled in, and the “digital revolution” had everyone freaking out. (Are we still freaking out? I don’t know.) I’d exhausted every option available and hadn’t made a sale. I had three choices: quit, switch genres, or try the e-book market. After amicably parting ways with my agent, I queried e-book publishers big and small. What a contrast! Digital publishers work fast, and they’re more flexible in what they’ll accept. The artistic freedom and fast pacing appealed to me. In March 2012 I signed a historical and paranormal with Crimson Romance and also got news that my historical was a finalist in the RWA Golden Heart contest.
It seems a lot of romance writers are starting with a small publisher, a digital publisher, or even self-publishing to break in. You have to build your backlist anyway, right? It’s being said the backlist is the new query letter for the bigger publishers, meaning they want authors who have proven they know the process and are committed to their writing careers. The publishing industry changes before the ink dries on the latest manual, but that’s what I’m hearing lately.
What was the inspiration behind your book, Song for Sophia?
Oh, it’s so clichéd, I’m embarrassed to tell. I saw the library scene between Wilhelm and Sophia in a dream so vivid I felt like a voyeur. A sardonic lord taunted his so-called housemaid with the subliminal message that he knows she’s hiding her true identity. The chemistry between the two characters stayed with me, tempting me with the allure of making my own story. I couldn’t resist.
The loads of research were this geek’s dream come true. They say you should “write what you know,” so I made the hero and heroine musicians. Almost right away I knew Wilhelm was damaged – a washed-up war hero − but it took a while for me to realize he had all the symptoms of an autistic savant. His character evolved more than any other, and the finished Wilhelm Montegue was a beautiful disaster. Think Rain Man in Jude Law’s body with “X-Men” Wolverine’s attitude. An unconventional hero to say the least.
What about The Valkyrie’s Guardian?
I love superheroes! Brooding, complex creatures with a big secret. Even better than the infallible Superman types are the screw-ups and wannabes. The Valkyrie’s Guardian features a berserker who has devoted his life to what he believes is a lost cause, and the heroine thinks she’s a dud among the annoying sparkly heroes she lives with. I love that what-the-hell reckless attitude from characters who think they have nothing to lose.
I got hooked on Navy SEAL memoirs. Those elite soldiers are real life superheroes, and I knew they would get along great with my misfit paranormal characters. The SEAL Team joins forces with the berserkers, and they all take it in stride. It’s one big party for them.
The mythological roots of berserker warriors also needed a place in the story, and from that came Kinmylies, a crumbling Scottish castle housing a family of berserkers. Everyone is in everyone else’s business – a traditional close-knit family, yet Jack is not welcome . . .
Superheroes, Navy SEALs, and Highlander warriors: the trifecta! Writing Valkyrie’s Guardian was sheer enjoyment. Bliss.
What advice do you have for other authors wanting to write in different genres?
Do your thing. Do what you love. If you want it badly enough, you’ll find the time to put in the necessary work to make it shine. So many authors published in multiple genres are wildly successful; Nora Roberts, Karen Marie Moning, and Linda Howard to name only a few. Who says you can’t do it? It’s already been done!
Can you tell us, does it get easier now that you’re a published author, or do you still have the same anxieties that you had before you were published?
Honestly, I’m a mess. Those who say not to worry about rejections, don’t obsess about climbing, don’t be jealous of more successful authors . . . I’m convinced they’re all either overdosed on Prozac or lying. If you care − if you’re aware, involved, invested − then you can’t help it. That’s our industry; take it or leave it. We’re all so eager to appear magnanimous, not many will admit that’s the way it is. I’ll come out and say it!
I still don’t feel like I’ve arrived. It’s often daunting to worry about how competitive our field is and what it takes to break out. Fundamentally, I love everything about writing, and that’s what keeps me plugging away. I don’t know if I’ll ever sigh and think, “Yay! I made it.” My idea of success evolves, so it feels elusive. The carrot-on-a-stick thing. Forgive me for quoting “It’s the journey that matters.”
Are you a Plotter or Pantser?
Total pantser here. I admire those smug, serene plotters and their shiny well-crafted plots. I seem to think that if I begin a story with plotting, the magic will disappear and I won’t be able to write a word. I begin a new story because the characters talking in my head want out. I just start taking dictation, and the story takes care of itself. Not to mention the massive amount of editing that follows, which I love. So I’m a true-blue pantser who has OCD about revisions. Weird, I know.
What was your VERY first thought upon hearing you were selected as a Golden Heart 2012 finalist in 2012? (No cheating, your ABSOLUTE FIRST thought)
I thought it was a mistake. Even after I got “the call,” I watched the results post on the RWA website, still waiting for someone to say it was an error. My historical romance is unconventional and a bit controversial, so I had no expectations with the contest.
What an honor to be a finalist! I learned a lot from the other authors, who are very friendly and helpful. I thoroughly adore Elisa Beatty, the winner in my category. I can honestly say I am happy for her, and only a little jealous.
How do you do your research?
The internet is a great place to start, then I rely on good old-fashioned libraries when I’m ready to dive in. Documentaries and memoirs are my favorite for finding details which will make the story lifelike, and I interview experts whenever I can. Recently I’ve researched quantum physics, brewing poison for assassination, Pre-Raphaelite art, post WWI economy in Austria, and Harley Davidson motorcycles vs. Ducati. I’m in nerd heaven!
What advice do you have for writers trying to break into the business?
Don’t let the thrill and pride of creating seduce you into thinking your first draft is rose-scented 24k gold. Yes, bringing your world and characters to life is a high, but it’s one step in a long process. Authors build success with patience and hard work.
Read everything you can get your hands on by authors who are doing what you want to do. Learn craft, find skilled critique partners and honest beta readers, and glean the truth from their criticism. Join online forums such as absolutewrite.com, follow agent and editor blogs, and become involved in local or online writer groups to understand the industry.
Be prepared for the vulnerability of baring your soul (or presenting your manuscript − same thing). Expect to wait on pins and needles for weeks only to get a rejection. Keep writing, keep improving, waiting for the one time you’ll get a YES. This line of work is not for the faint of heart! Why do we do it? Because we love writing, and we love books.
Twitter, Facebook, Blogging—valuable networking tools or an unbelievable time suck?
Both. Authors are expected to interact with readers and the writing community, yet must produce new material and meet deadlines. I’m still trying to figure out the right balance. It seems the writers who stay sane follow a schedule, allotting time for social media, blogging, research, revisions, and writing. Pantser me, I’m resistant to that kind of structure, but I’m starting to admit it’s necessary.
Tell us about the “Mean Mom” moniker you’ve given yourself.
I didn’t invent the title, it was bestowed. And I proudly own it. Apparently the threat of calling me is enough to keep my kids in line at school. That’s not to say they always behave. “What were you thinking, climbing the flag pole / streaking in the lunch room / surfing on the bus seats?” I might be strict, but in my defense, they’re certifiably crazy.
To get the time to put together these questions, I allowed one of my twins to roller skate through the house and the other one to ride a scooter. As a fellow mom of young twins, how do you eke out time to write?
Who else is a night owl? I do my best thinking at odd hours of the night, probably because I don’t have kids tugging on my sleeve calling “Mom! Mom? Hey Mom…” When I write during the day, I resign myself to interruptions. With four kids and a part time job, someone always needs something. I’ve learned how to write for 15 minutes, put out a fire, then pick up where I left off. Ideal? No. Good for balancing my chi? Definitely not. I totally understand your indoor roller rink, Christi. If I’m desperate I’ll resort to outright bribery. “Give me one hour to work, then I’ll let you microwave a bar of soap / fingerpaint the bathtub / make a stop-motion playdough video.” Sometimes I just let them play videogames and eat cold cereal while I feel guilty, typing away. Oh well.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
Hard to choose between mind reading, flying, and invisibility.
If you were to perform in the circus, what would you do?
Ha. Probably take tickets and envy the acrobats. I’m terminally clumsy. In a fantasy world, I’d be a sexy firedancer.
If you could have one current writer write your biography, who would you pick?
Either Laura Kinsale or Linda Howard, and I’d ask her to embellish. A lot.
Thanks to Moriah for such a great interview! Here’s more information about her books (I met Moriah when I won Song of Sophia in a contest and can assure you it’s a wonderful read!)
“If she truly knows her business, a woman has the mind of a diplomat, a general, and Cleopatra, all in one.” Anne-Sophia Duncombe is ruined, a victim of her father’s high-stakes gambling. Stolen moments at the piano are her boon. Wilhelm Montegue is a washed up war hero, rumored insane. His “condition”–modern diagnosis: savant autism–is the source of his gift for composing music. Anne-Sophia and Wilhelm thought they had missed their chance for love, but anything can happen in the music room.
Song for Sophia is available now wherever e-books are sold. Click HERE for the Amazon link.
Visit moriahdensley.com for teasers and sample chapters, and humorous blog articles on life as a writer. See reader reviews on Goodreads.com. Connect on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. I love hearing from readers!
Now that you’ve met the judge for tomorrow’s contest, get ready!
This contest will consist of entrants submitting their witty, fun, true-to-life caption to a picture/video (yeah, haven’t decided yet). The winner and first runner-up receive (among other great prizes) critiques from Moriah Densley herself, so make sure your captions are hiliarious!
The contest opens for entries Wednesday, August 15th at 1:00 am PDT. Deadline for entries will be 11:59 pm PDT on August 24th.
Check back tomorrow for more details.