Award Winning Author Winnie Griggs

 

 

 

 

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Donna Alward

FEBRUARY 2011


WG:      Welcome and thanks for stepping into my spotlight this month. To start off, please tell us about yourself.

DA:      I'm a farm girl from rural New Brunswick, Canada, and my siblings are all a lot older than me so I spent a lot of time by myself with my nose in a book. I guess it makes sense now that I ended up writing and writing a lot of western/small town settings, right? I did my degree in English Lit, but then did some computer training and ended up working for the provincial government for a few years. I left when my husband and I moved to Calgary, and I worked for a civil engineering firm until I had our first child - and then I stayed home until my youngest hit kindergarten. That year I actually worked at their school. It was a home away from home and I loved it. I worked the lunch program and also some time in the classroom which I loved. I was also writing at the time, and turned down a school contract after I sold and starting writing full time.


Now we live outside Halifax, Nova Scotia, and I love it here. No more city for me! I love looking out my office window and seeing grass and trees. J The girls are growing up fast and we have two pets that have very distinct personalities - our crazy cat Boo and our somewhat neurotic dog Dreamer. She's a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever and I think she's beautiful. When I'm not writing I'm being wife and mom, or as my dad used to say, Chief, Cook and Bottle Washer. And when I'm not doing that I'm reading or knitting or having a glass of wine while watching something on Netflix.



WG:      Let's talk about your own personal road to publication:
Is there some individual, group or event that you can point to as the catalyst/impetus that set you on the road to becoming a writer? Explain.

DA:      In school I was always writing. I loved words. I did a lot of creative writing in University too, and won the Creative Writing Prize for English in my grad year. One of my profs also got me a scholarship to a Writer's Workshop that summer. So in a way, I was primed. But then life - marriage, work, etc. intervened, until....

After my second daughter was born, I ended up with a nasty bout of Post Partum Depression. I learned a lot about myself in the year following her birth, but when 9/11 happened I felt a lot of the anxiety coming back. My sister said I should write a book - something just for me, an outlet of sorts because I'd always said I wanted to. I went back to Calgary, opened up a computer file, and wrote one. It was horrible, I sent it off to Mills and Boon and got my first rejection.


WG:      Tell us about your journey.

DA:      I'd enjoyed writing that first book so much that I knew this was what I wanted to do and I wrote another, and another. I hooked up with my critique partner, Michelle Styles, through eharlequin's website, and we still critique for each other! FINALLY, after 4 and a half years and 10 manuscripts in the slush pile, I hit pay dirt. I sold 2 books to Samhain Publishing in March and April of 2006 and then sold Hired By The Cowboy to Harlequin Romance followed by Marriage at Circle M in July and November of that year. It was a big year.


WG:      How many books did you complete before you sold your first? Have all/any of them sold since?

DA:      10, and I don't think I've sold any of them since! They just weren't ready.


WG:      Can you tell us something about your experience in getting 'the call'?

DA:      You know, you dream about The Call for a long time, but I never expected it to come when it did. I sort of had two calls. There was an evening when I was bawling all over my husband's shirt wondering if I would ever sell a book and the next morning I had a contract offer in my inbox from Samhain. That was really sweet. J Then I had my Harlequin Call. At the end of June I received an e-mail from M&B with revisions, and I made sure I did them fairly quickly. A number of e-mails followed - was I working on anything else? The revisions worked well - it's been passed up. But I knew how long things could take, so I let my editor know I was going on holidays and would be back July 30. I happened to check my e-mail while at my inlaws, and there was a note from her saying she had good news. I nearly lost it and then tried to figure out how to make my first overseas call - ever! She called me back and I think I was fairly calm during the conversation and jotted down things so I didn't forget. But when I got off the phone there was a lot of jumping around and we made a trip out to pick up champagne. We celebrated by having a few drinkies and playing canasta that night!

In a cool sort of boomerang thing, that first book, HIRED BY THE COWBOY, is available as a free download this year through www.tryharlequin.com.


WG:      How has being a published author impacted your life?

DA:      Oh my. It's impacted every aspect of my life. I'm now a working mum, and have to manage my time as best I can because I didn't want to give up doing all the stay at home mom things I loved. That's still a work in progress and will end when both my chicks have left the nest, I expect. And I can't forget husband time. Actually, now that the kids are getting a little older, we're finding a bit more couple time which is really nice.

For the first time in several years, I'm contributing to the family finances. That's really a great feeling.

I've met so many wonderful people in this industry - from editors and agents to promotional people to other authors and especially readers! I have connected with people from all over the globe which sometimes blows me away. In just my "inner circle" I have a critique partner in Northern England, an editor in London, another editor in Israel and my agent in New York. It's wild. Thank goodness for the Internet!



WG:      What aspect of life as a published author surprised you the most - either in a good or bad way?

DA:      The difficulty with time management. There's promotion and writing and laundry and meals and downtime and trying to do it all on some sort of schedule can be really maddening. You just never know when something is going to hit. For instance just yesterday I was writing madly to make a deadline that is coming up and copy edits hit my inbox. You have to learn to roll with it. Except I'm not that good with rolling! LOL

In a good way? I have to say not many surprises. It's just as lovely as I dreamed it would be. And having a book accepted, or seeing it on the shelves never gets old. This is a tough business and every success is a bit of a thrill.


WG:      What about your writing process:
Do you maintain a set schedule? Is there such a thing as a typical day for you?

DA:      There is a typical day but it seems to require all the planets be in alignment! Today is one. I get up, get husband and kids off to work/school, walk the dog, and come home to settle in. I work through until 2:30 when my youngest gets home, and then I still try to work a little but we're usually getting caught up on our day, etc. Then the eldest gets home an hour later and there's so much chatter, concentrating is impossible. So I start dinner and maybe some laundry or whatever is going on and then the husband gets home...you get the idea. The added bonuses are school activities, so sometimes the afternoon involves a trip to the school to pick up kids from sports or band, that sort of thing. The trouble comes in when that 9 - 2:30 span gets broken up. That's my real work time.


WG:      Do you set writing goals for yourself?

DA:      Meeting deadlines is the main one. Every now and again I'll work on a separate project and I'll have a set time because there is usually a new deadline waiting in the wings. I do break it up too - I chunk write a lot. 750 words, take a break. 2-3 chunks a day is normal, but right now I'm a bit behind so I'm writing more like 3-4 chunks - between 2500 and 3000 words a day.


WG:      Do you have a 'mood setter', something (music, ritual, environment, etc) you use to get you going when you sit down to write?

DA:      I used to, but now I like silence. Sometimes I take a break though and put on some music to shake things out a bit and switch gears in my head. I think I used to use music to drown out background noise, but where we live now the only background noise is the birds and I can handle that!


WG:      Do you do a lot of up front plotting before you start or do you just dive in?

DA:      I always have an idea, and I do some character work before I start. I am a pantser though, so I figure out who my characters are, figure out an opening scene and go. I have a loose plot in my head, but honestly, any time I try to pre-plot and put it to paper, it never works. The plot sounds great and then I go to write it and it flops. I'm better off with organic magic!


WG:      Do you normally start with storyline or with character or with some combination of the two?

DA:      Usually the storyline evolves from the characters. So for instance, I have wanted to write Clay Gregory's story for some time (he was a minor character in my Larch Valley duet). I tried a couple of proposals and they didn't fly. Then I figured out the perfect heroine for him and voila! The heroine was the key. She's a cancer survivor which causes all sorts of problems for both of them. Once I figured out what Meg's main goal was, things clicked. Fingers crossed my editor loves it...


WG:      Do you find certain themes or character archetypes making recurring appearances in your stories?

DA:      Absolutely. I think a main theme you'll find in just about all my books is finding where you belong. Sometimes it's a place, most of the time it's with each other, right? It's about finding a home for your heart.


WG:      What do you see as your own personal strengths as a writer?

DA:      Emotion, and I do get a lot of comments that my characters seem real.


WG:      Are there any obstacles/conflicts, specific to your particular lifestyle, that get in the way of your writing? If so, how do you try and overcome them?

DA:      I have a hard time saying no. Sometimes I let the phone ring (unless it's the husband or the school!). Then I go to one of two extremes - I either let it go and relax about it, (and somehow everything still manages to get done!) or I get super organized.


WG:      Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about your process?

DA:      I write a discovery draft - meaning I don't edit a whole lot as I go. Because I'm a pantser, I don't know everything up front, so a lot of lightbulbs go off as I'm writing. That's okay. I can't tell you how many times that's happened and I realize I've actually foreshadowed it all along. Then when I get to the end I go back to the beginning and adjust and layer etc depending on what gems I've uncovered as I wrote. In this next draft a lot of the recurring symbols are brought out, and I can add to the subtext etc. to really give it some depth. It's not for everyone, but after nearly 20 books I think I've figured it out - until it changes again. LOL


WG:      Do you have a favorite sub-genre as a writer? as a reader?

DA:      As a writer I'm contemporary all the way. As a reader, though, I love a good old ripping historical. And I like a fair bit of romantic suspense, too. But give me a rake and a debutante and a scandal and I'm seriously in reader heaven!


WG:      Is there a genre you haven't been published in yet that you'd like to try your hand at someday?

DA:      I think I'll always be a contemporary girl, but I'd love to write longer, meatier books where I can explore a heroine more deeply - her relationships with friends, sisters, mothers, and of course, romance. Women's fiction, I guess, but I don't think I'll ever leave out a romantic element - I love it too much. =)


WG:      Do you have any advice to offer writers still striving toward publication?

DA:      Just keep writing and submitting. Learn from each manuscript. Every published writer out there had the odds against them and if it can happen to me why not you? SOMEONE has to get The Call. The only sure way to fail is to quit. Keep writing and keep wanting it. Put in the hard work.



WG:      Is there a specific 'ah-ha' moment you've had as a writer that you would like to share with us?

DA:      When I was writing in the beginning, I didn't know what line I should be targeting. Then I realized it was Harlequin Romance. I read a book by Jessica Hart and I just KNEW (even though our styles are very different). Once I figured that out, things started opening up. I got full manuscript requests and feedback. Learning where your voice belongs is HUGE.


WG:      Rejections, notes from unhappy readers and less than stellar reviews are all part of this business. What is your own method for dealing with these and moving on?

DA:      I find I have to allow myself SOME time for being mad or frustrated or disappointed. And then - you just have to move on. There's usually a positive somewhere to counteract the negative.

Rejections as a published writer are HARD. For me they are harder than when I was unpublished, to be honest. Last year I had five rejections in a very short amount of time, and it does bring out the doubt demons. The only thing that helped was putting my shoulder to the wheel and writing another book, which my editor loved. It helped me regain some confidence and it also taught me that rejection is not the end, I don't suck all the time and I can get through it and sell another book.


WG:      Is there some piece of advice you received or bit of 'conventional wisdom' that you wish you had ignored?

DA:      I ignore so much advice it's ridiculous. I think sometimes you can have too many voices in your head about what you should be doing. Most of the advice I ignore though relates to process. There are certain things that I hear so many people say I should be doing that I know would be disastrous for my writing. You really do have to find what works and embrace it. It doesn't mean there aren't new ways, but if by doing what you "should" you find your writing falling apart, that's a pretty good indication that method is not for you.


WG:      What do you find to be the most rewarding thing about being a writer? What aspect do you struggle with the most?

DA:      The most rewarding thing is the friendships I've made. This is a wonderful business with wonderful people.

One of the things I really struggle with is being "public". I'm an introvert so I find having to be Donna The Author in public really daunting. I'm usually fine once I'm there and in the moment, but I do have trouble making the shift from Private Donna to Public Donna. Funny thing is for the most part they are the same person. I think fellow introverts understand...


WG:      When you're not writing, what do you do for fun or what is your favorite self-indulgence?

DA:      Movies, tv series, books, and knitting. One of my favourite things is Sunday afternoons with my girls, especially in winter. We curl up with cocoa and fleece blankets and have a movie afternoon. Chick flicks and English Adaptations a la Masterpiece Theatre are usually the order of the day!

In the summer it's floating in the pool. It's just bliss.

WG:      When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

DA:      Alternately a teacher and a writer. I decided against the first and came to the other late, but oh well!


WG:      What would your readers be most surprised to learn about you?

DA:      That I'm introverted, because I'm not shy. I'm a chatterbox. However you can tell when I'm nervous because I just Will. Not. Shut. Up.


WG:      What are your favorite movies and/or TV shows? Why?

DA:      I love Masterpiece Classic and so do my girls. I was a ginormous fan of Battlestar Galactica and mourned its ending. I love NCIS and Castle and Justified and True Blood - honestly there are a lot of things I love to watch. Right now my husband and I are watching The Tudors. I think I only convinced him because we watched Pillars of the Earth and he really liked it... I like movies, but I tend to really gravitate towards miniseries. As I write this, the girls and I are looking forward to Downton Abbey starting on PBS this weekend!


WG:      I love to collect quotes, all kinds of quotes - inspirational, quirky, motivational, profound, etc. Do you have a personal favorite you'd like to share.

DA:      "You have to be in it to win it". I have no idea who originally said it, but a fave actor of mine also mentioned it years ago and it kept me going when I was unpublished. You can't win if you don't play. You can't expect success if you don't put in the work. Another fave of mine is by David Foster - The road to success is straight. It's so easy to get detoured from the goal, but really, you keep your eye on the prize and everything you do should be with the intent of advancing you towards that goal. It helps me clarify a lot.


WG:      Please tell us about your current project.

DA:      I mentioned my WIP earlier, so how about something about my current release? PROUD RANCHER, PRECIOUS BUNDLE is out right now. It's a baby-on-the-doorstep story. When I thought of writing it, I knew I wanted the reason for the baby to be plausible and not a typical surprise/secret baby kind of thing. Turns out the baby is Wyatt's niece. He's really out of his element and turns to a neighbour for help. But being with a newborn is particularly hard for Elli, who is struggling to recover from losing her job, her marriage, and her baby. There's a lot of healing that has to happen in this story!


WG:      What inspired you to write this particular story?

DA:      To be honest, I was looking at having to write a western and needed to do something I hadn't done before and baby-on-the-doorstep fit the bill. The niece thing fit because I had something to say about Post Partum Depression, having gone through it. You have to use a light hand with that sort of thing, but I think it worked.


WG:      What sort of research, if any, did you have to do? Did you stumble across any unexpected interesting/fun tidbits along the way?

DA:      I called my sister in law, who's a pediatrician, about hospital procedure, and I had a friend in Alberta who was familiar with the foster care process. She sent me all sorts of information. For the Post Partum bits - well, I drew on my own experience as well as for the new baby care bits. Though admittedly - it's been a while since I've had a newborn in the house!


WG:      Tell us about your upcoming plans.

DA:      After this book, I'm contracted for two more that are supposed to be a duet and I'm percolating an idea for them. And after that I'm working with 2 other authors/friends on a holiday trilogy that I think is going to be SO much fun! I've got 2 more releases already scheduled for this year, in May and July.


WG:      And before we close, tell us how your readers can get in touch with you.

DA:      Isn't social media great?

Website: www.donnaalward.com

Blog: www.donnaalward.blogspot.com

E-mail: donnaalward@hotmail.com

Twitter: @DonnaAlward

Facebook: Donna Alward, Romance Author


WG:      Thanks so much for spending time with me and my readers this month. It was fun 'chatting' with you, as always!

DA:      Thanks Winnie - it was a blast! :D

 

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