Amelia Autin is a voracious reader who can't bear to put a good book down...or part with it. Her bookshelves are crammed with books her husband periodically threatens to donate to a good cause, but he always relents...eventually.
Amelia currently resides with her Ph.D. engineer husband in quiet Vail, Arizona, where they can see the stars at night and have a "million dollar view" of the Rincon Mountain from their back yard.
Literary Juice: According to your website, you have been writing since you were a little girl. When did you discover your love for writing romance? What was it that nourished this passion?
Amelia Autin: Writing romance was a natural extension of reading romance. I started reading romance in my teens—Georgette Heyer was my introduction (terrific author!), and I was hooked from that point on. Then later I picked up my first Silhouette Intimate Moments in a drug store when the cover caught my eye (Naomi Horton’s In Safekeeping, a keeper-shelf book I highly recommend), and I was blown away. Romance and suspense? Writing from the male point of view? Strong, independent women as heroines? I read everything I could get my hands on by Naomi Horton, both her Silhouette Intimate Moments and Silhouette Desire books. That led to reading other authors in those lines, and…well…you know how it goes. Linda Howard, Jennifer Greene, Nora Roberts, Elizabeth Lowell—the list is endless.
I can’t honestly say when the idea first occurred to me I could write romances myself. I had made up stories all my life, but could I write something someone else would want to read? I had read hundreds (if not thousands) of romances by this time, but I really didn’t know anything about crafting a salable story. I wrote a couple of manuscripts that will never see the light of day before I learned about Romance Writers of America (RWA). I dedicated my first book, Gideon’s Bride, in part to my RWA “sisters,” who generously shared their skills with me and taught me the craft of writing fiction.
LJ: In your Harlequin blog, Sold! So YouThink You Can Write, you talked about the overwhelming joy you felt when you sold your first manuscript, Gideon’s Bride, to Silhouette Books; however, upon publishing your second book, rather than feeling that same joy, you only felt relief that you weren’t a failure. Due to this fear of failure, you refrained from writing romance for the next sixteen years. But in February 2013, you sat down and reclaimed romance writing once more. Can you recall that day in February when you sat down at your computer and started, in a sense, where you last left off? What was it that helped you eliminate your fear once and for all?
AA: My nephew, John (also my godson, and very dear to my heart), had given me a journal for Christmas a few weeks earlier. But it wasn’t just any journal. It was a journal handmade from volume two in a sixteen-book compilation series from my childhood, entitled The Children’s Hour. (My sisters and brothers and I always called them “the red books” when we were growing up, because the covers are red.) Volume two in The Children’s Hour is Favorite Fairy Tales. A note accompanied the journal, and the combination of the gift and the note reminded me I still had stories to tell…and I needed to tell them. (I dedicated King’s Ransom to John as a way of thanking him for the reminder.)
I had spent years writing technical documents and how-to guides in my job, so it wasn’t as if I’d stopped writing completely. And in one way fiction and non-fiction are the same—both tell a story. But writing fiction is also very different in that it’s extremely personal—for me, at least. And when I started writing fiction again it was just for me. I didn’t research the market, didn’t have a target I was aiming for. I just remembered my editor from years ago, Mary-Theresa Hussey, telling me that Cody Walker (from Reilly’s Return) was such a strong secondary character he deserved his own book. And she was right. When I sat down and started writing Cody’s story it was as if I’d never stopped.
I won’t say everything was easy after that—it wasn’t. Sometimes writing is a struggle. Sometimes I trash whole chapters because they just don’t work after all. But when you get to the end, when you’ve created something you’re proud of, there’s a sense of accomplishment that’s worth the struggle. And when you see your book in print—when you see it on the bookshelves or listed on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books A Million, eBooks, etc.—there’s nothing like it in the whole world…except maybe holding your baby in your arms for the first time. Jill Shalvis, a New York Times bestselling author and one of my favorite writers, still gets a kick out of seeing her books on the shelf at Wal-Mart…or anywhere. It never gets old.
This brings me to something I have to get off my chest—negative reviews hurt. Badly. I don’t think readers understand just how personal a book is for an author. A harshly critical review is like telling a mother her baby is ugly—you just don’t do that. I like to follow Thumper’s advice from the Disney movie, Bambi. “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.” I’m not asking readers to be dishonest and say they liked something they didn’t. I know what I write won’t appeal to everyone. So if you rate my book one star (or less), okay, I can accept that. I don’t like it, but I can accept it. But please, just say it wasn’t your cup of tea, give it your honest rating, and move on.
LJ: When you began writing romance again after sixteen years, did you find that the market evolved since publishing your first two books? For instance, how have the readers’ taste in romance changed? Are there different personality traits in the hero/heroine that readers prefer today compared to traits sixteen years ago?
AA: Yes, yes, and yes!
The market had evolved, and the line I’d first written for (Silhouette Intimate Moments) no longer existed. Silhouette was already owned by Harlequin when my first book was published by them in 1995, but now the Silhouette imprint had disappeared completely, replaced by the Harlequin name (Harlequin Desire, Harlequin Special Edition, etc.) Not to mention the advent of indie publishing. Back in the day, indie publishing was considered “vanity press,” but that’s no longer the case.
As for readers’ tastes in romance, they’ve changed, but not as much as you might think. One hero, one heroine, for instance—that’s still the same. And the HEA—the Happily Ever After ending—that hasn’t changed, either. True, not every romance ends in marriage these days as they used to, but the commitment is there between the hero and the heroine. And readers love to see heroes and heroines from previous books make guest appearances in follow-on books, proving the HEA for them is real. That was true twenty years ago, and it’s still true.
The biggest change I’ve seen is the personality traits in the hero and heroine. Alpha males were popular way back when, and they still are…to a certain extent. But a lot of the heroes from years ago could never get away with the stuff they did back then—women today just won’t stand for it. And those passive heroines? Uh-uh. As authors we have to recognize we’re not just writing for our generation—we have to appeal to a wider audience. And that means thinking the way they think. Putting ourselves in those younger (or older) shoes.
LJ: What is your writing process like? Do you work with outlines, or do you simply begin writing at once, allowing the story take control? Also, you mentioned on your website that you can finish a 60k-word manuscript in a month, and a 75k-word manuscript in six weeks. What strategies do you employ that help you write at a swift pace, yet still allow you to tell a compelling story?
AA: I write by the seat of my pants. I have a kernel of an idea, but that’s all I start with. I know where I want to end up (and I don’t just mean the HEA), but I don’t plot things out chapter by chapter. I let my characters take the wheel, and as the story develops and my characters reveal themselves to me bit by bit, the story can change from what I originally envisioned because my characters have to remain true to themselves. I might have thought something would work out a certain way, but when I get to that point in the story I realize the character(s) just wouldn’t do that, so I have to modify.
This approach works wonderfully well if you write the entire story before you try to sell it to your publisher, but not so well if you want to sell on proposal. I just finished a three-book contract for Harlequin Romantic Suspense where the first book was finished (King’s Ransom) but the second and third books were just outlines and the first three chapters. As I told my editor, I could do it this way if they didn’t hold me too tightly to the story as originally outlined…and I was right. Books two and three (Alec’s Royal Assignment and Liam’s Witness Protection) bear a general resemblance to the original outline, but that’s all. Harlequin has been remarkably understanding so far (and I’m keeping my fingers crossed).
Speaking of which, I hate writing outlines/synopses. I even have trouble writing them after the book is written!
LJ: Today writers are faced with many distractions, such as social media, texting and other interferences. What advice can you give writers that will help them focus more on their creative powers rather than the major distractions that impede their work?
AA: I’m the poster child for allowing myself to be distracted, so any advice I gave would be along the lines of “Do as I say, not as I do.” Seriously, though, deadlines are wonderful. External deadlines tied to money are pretty powerful (i.e., contract deadlines), but internal deadlines can work, too. Set a goal of so many words per day, or so many pages per day, and don’t let yourself get up from the keyboard until you meet that goal. Even if it’s only one page, in a year you’ll have written a 365 page manuscript. (No one will publish it, but you get my point.)
I stayed up until 4:00 a.m. one Sunday night into Monday morning to finish revisions and get the revised manuscript emailed to my editor before she got into her
office at 9:00 a.m. Then I slept for an hour, got up and got dressed, and went
to work. My husband said I was crazy. Could I have let it slip a day? Would my
editor have understood? Yes, but…I had made a commitment, and I was going to
meet that commitment come hell or high water. That’s what I mean when I say
even internal deadlines can be helpful if you stick with them.
I’m extremely fortunate that even though I have a full-time job I still have plenty of time to write. My husband is very understanding and encouraging, and there are no little ones underfoot. That’s a huge benefit. But the bottom line is writers write. That’s what we do. If you don’t feel driven to write, if you don’t feel there are stories bubbling inside you trying to get out, then maybe writing isn’t for you.
But if you do feel driven to write, then don’t let anyone talk you out of it. And don’t let fear of rejection, or fear of failure, or fear of any kind stop you. If you have stories to tell, tell them. Follow your dreams wherever they may lead you.
Harlequin Romantic Suspense by AMELIA AUTIN
Paperback: 288pp, $5.50; Kindle: $3.49
About this Book: The secret princess's bodyguard…
As head of a visiting royal's protection detail, Trace McKinnon's focus should be strictly on the external threats against a woman's life. But what happens when he finds Dr. Mara Marianescu—a princess incognito as a college professor—much more intriguing?
Harlequin Romantic Suspense by AMELIA AUTIN
Paperback: 281pp, $5.50; Kindle: $3.49
About this Book: Working undercover with the last man she should trust…
Rescuing a "civilian" blew his latest undercover op—but when Special Agent Cody Walker next met the damsel in distress, he was astonished to discover she was a fellow agent! Now they are assigned to the same task force to track down a terrorist cell that has a personal connection to Cody's past….