Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Interview With Kaye Dacus - The Art of Romance

I'm thrilled to share with you an interview with Kaye Dacus, the author of both contemporary and historical novels. If you haven't met Kaye or had the privilege of reading her books, you have missed a treat. Her newest novel, The Art of Romance just released May 1, and as a special bonus, I am giving away a copy to a lucky commenter. In order to have a chance to win, you must answer her question at the end and leave your spam-free email address in the comment section.

Now, let's get a peak into Kaye and the inner workings of her writerly life.

Did you see yourself becoming a writer as a child? If not, what did you dream of being?
For many years, I was planning to follow in my uncle’s footsteps and become a racehorse breeder/trainer. Until I got to high school and realized how many science classes I’d have to take. After that, my Plan B was to major in secondary education/Social Studies to become a high school history teacher. But after a semester or two of majoring in Education, I realized I didn’t want to do that either. Then I discovered a Creative Writing Major. So I figured since I’d been (secretively) writing since around age twelve or thirteen, that’s what I’d major in—and I’d teach Creative Writing!

It wasn’t until I was thirty years old that I ever seriously considered pursuing publication and “becoming a writer.”

How long did you write before you sold your first book?
I’d been writing for almost twenty years—and even had a “manuscript” of over 200,000 words, though with no storyline and no ending in sight—before I attended my first writing conference in 2001 (Blue Ridge). Taking the advice from the Fiction 101 track I took there (to write from beginning to end and to finish the first draft before doing any revisions or making any changes), I completed my first full manuscript—one with an actual plot and an actual beginning and an actual ending—in the spring of 2002. Over the next year, I completed two more manuscripts, and in 2003, I started working on a story idea that would become Stand-In Groom. I wrote SIG between 2003 and 2006—completing the final revision of it for my thesis novel for my master’s degree in the spring of 2006. That year it also finaled in the ACFW Genesis contest (2nd place). I signed with my agent in January 2007 and signed the contract for Stand-In Groom in December 2007. (It came out in January 2009.)

How many manuscripts have you written and which is your favorite?
Not counting anything that isn’t completed (including the one that’s over 200k words), at this moment, I have completed eleven manuscripts (and am furiously working on the twelfth).

Asking an author which manuscript is her favorite is rather like asking a mother which child is her favorite! I have different feelings for each of my books, because I experienced something different with each one. What Matters Most is the first manuscript I finished. Stand-In Groom helped me fulfill two dreams: getting my master’s degree and getting published. The Ransome Trilogy books are a story of my heart that I wasn’t certain would ever be published. Love Remains allowed me to go back and resurrect characters from the manuscript I wrote before SIG and give them new life. The Art of Romance contains a couple that just won’t leave me alone.

How can I choose a favorite???

I’ve never heard you talk about an agent. Do you have one? If not, why? If so, how long did you write before you sought representation?
The inimitable Chip MacGregor is my agent, and I am so blessed that he decided to take a chance on signing me as an unpublished author right after starting MacGregor Literary. After Stand-In Groom finaled in the Genesis contest in 2006, I received requests to submit to him and another agent (“requests” as in, I told them I was a finalist and asked if I could send my stuff to them and they said yes). Four months later, Chip offered to represent me.

How long does it take you to write a book?
Depends on when my deadline is.

I would prefer to have at least six months to write a book—five months to do the actual writing and a month of intensive rewriting, revisions and editing.

For the last six books I’ve written, however, I’ve only had between two and four months to get them written, so it’s been a race against the calendar to get even a first draft turned in on time.

Who am I kidding? I’d prefer to have the three years that I had on Stand-In Groom and Ransome’s Honor, but then I’d only be putting out one book every eighteen months (those three years overlapped). And that’s no fun!

What do you like to do when you are not writing? Are you ever not writing?
With being under contract for three books in each of the last two years, there’s never a time when I’m not supposed to be writing. (You’re talking to the person who figured out how to write while driving so that I could redeem all that time I spent in the car traveling last year!)

Usually if I’m not writing, I’m (a) working on freelance editing projects; (b) filling out blog interview questionnaires or doing other marketing work; (c) writing my own blog posts; (d) catching up on TV series I missed over the years through Netflix Instant Watch or DVD; (e) watching movies; (f) on Facebook and/or Twitter; (g) teaching monthly workshops for Middle Tennessee Christian Writers; (h) online looking for more actors and actresses to add to my casting book; (i) downloading book samples to my Kindle which I might, eventually, get around to reading; (j) none of the above because I’m completely zoned out due to being overwhelmed by everything that I need to do.

Many of the people who follow our blog are aspiring writers themselves. Can you share your favorite writing tip with them?
The best writing tip I ever received (referred to above) was from Davis Bunn at the 2001 Blue Ridge conference: “Above all else, FINISH YOUR FIRST DRAFT!”

We learn more about writing by actually completing novels than we do by obsessively polishing and editing our first three chapters. So set the beginning aside and get that manuscript finished! And then finish another one. And another one. And another one.

If I hadn’t learned how to write a manuscript all the way through from beginning to end without getting caught up in that revision loop, I never would have been able to publish nine novels in less than three years.

Now that you are published, do you still experience rejections? If so, how are these rejections different or similar to the ones you received before becoming published?
I do still experience rejection—both in the form of having new book proposals rejected (I’m waiting to hear about two right now, one contemporary, one historical; I had a different historical proposal rejected last summer), as well as in the form of negative reviews of my books.

The rejection on the proposals are different now that I’m published—because my belief in myself as a writer isn’t shaken the way it would be if I were still unpublished and receiving rejections. I remember when we were trying to sell Stand-In Groom, every time Chip would e-mail me to let me know another house had rejected it, I felt horrible—because I felt like I was letting him down. After all, he’d taken a huge risk signing on as my agent when he’d just started a new agency and needed authors who were making sales. Now that feeling isn’t there, but it’s more of a scramble to make sure I have something else ready to go out if we get the word that a proposal is a no-go.

The negative reviews are a whole different level of rejection. It seems more personal—which, I guess it is. Rejections coming from publishing houses are different, because that’s a business decision. Rejections coming from readers is personal, because it’s their own personal, individual feelings about the book. And if they didn’t like it, that bothers me. After all, we all want to be liked. And we all want our “babies” to be liked. I don’t have children, but I would imagine it would be like someone walking up to a mom at Target, looking her child over thoroughly and then telling her that her child is not only ugly but poorly dressed and has crooked teeth and a lazy eye.

The Art of Romance released May 1. Tell us a little about the book.
 The Art of Romance came out of one of those fun “what if” sessions that I occasionally indulge in. I was crushing on Chef Sam Talbot, a contestant on the second season of the cooking competition show Top Chef. But I was already writing a book about a chef (Menu for Romance), so what if he had a different creative career—an artist! And what if he had a secret. . .that he put himself through art school by doing the clench-covers of steamy romance novels. And what if that wasn’t his biggest secret. . .what if he used himself as the model for the covers? Ooh—and what if the author of the books he did that for is now someone who isn’t proud of the fact that she used to write those kinds of books. But they meet and fall in love—keeping this mutual secret from each other.

And thus the story for The Art of Romance was born!

It was fun to dig into the psyche of an artist for Dylan Bradley’s character—especially since both of my grandfathers were hobbyists (one was an oil painter the other a sketch artist). And then having a heroine who’s a romance novelist. . .let’s just say a lot of me went into Caylor Evans’s character!

Here’s the official blurb:
Sassy Evans and Perty Bradley are determined to get their older grandchildren married off, but when twenty-eight-year-old Dylan comes home after being fired from his teaching position because of the betrayal of his ex-girlfriend, Perty knows her grandson has more important issues to deal with first.
                Sassy understands her friend’s reservations about timing, but she also sees so many ways in which Dylan would be the perfect match for her thirty-four-year-old granddaughter Caylor. With his record of acclaimed paintings and Caylor’s bestselling novels, they could complement each other’s talents and provide each other support and encouragement. And there’s no denying the spark of attraction between the English professor with the untamed red hair and the painter with the unusual tattoos.
                But neither grandmother realizes the secrets both Caylor and Dylan are keeping from each other. Will pain and embarrassment from the past keep Caylor and Dylan apart, or will they develop the courage to be truthful with each other and discover the true art of romance?

If you could only share one line from The Art of Romance, which one would you choose and why?

  Talk to his brothers about his emotions? He was an artist, not a girl. 

The Art of Romance turned out to be my longest published novel to date (yes, even longer than my historicals, at a whopping 110k words), and this was the first line that popped into my head—and the only one I can remember word-for-word, mostly because it made me laugh so hard that I even shared it on Facebook as soon as I wrote it. I guess it’s because I was afraid Dylan might come across as not masculine enough. But when this line popped up, I knew we were going to be okay.

Tell us what new projects you’re working on.
I’m currently writing the third and final book in The Matchmakers series, Turnabout’s Fair Play, which follows The Art of Romance and focuses on Caylor’s friend Flannery McNeill.

Jamie O’Connor knows his grandmother Maureen O’Connor has matchmaking on the mind when she starts inviting him to events where single women are present. Realizing she’s somewhat smitten with an older gentleman, Jamie decides to turn the tables on Maureen by agreeing to meet Kirby McNeill’s granddaughter at dinner—with both grandparents there. But will Jamie’s schemes go awry when he meets his match in Flannery McNeill? Flannery is thrilled that her widowed grandfather Kirby “Big Daddy” McNeill is now attending her church. So when he invites her to meet a grandson of a woman from his seniors group, she agrees to go along. Later, as Flannery conspires with Jamie to play matchmaker to Maureen and Kirby, she wonders how long she’ll be able to tolerate spending time with Jamie and his seemingly over-inflated ego. As the juniors scheme to bring their seniors together, mayhem and misconceptions ensue. Will these potential lovers walk away from what may be their last chance at true romance?

And then. . .as I said, I’ve got two proposals out, waiting to hear back on them. The historical is set in 1851 in England during the time of Prince Albert’s Great Exhibition (with two romance storylines in each of the three books). And, actually, Barbour is looking at two different contemporary proposals from me right now. One is a totally new idea set in a fictional small tourist town in the hills of Tennessee and the other one is a second Bonneterre/Guidry family series. So, until I know if any of those are sold, I’m actually going to get to take a break from writing after TFP is finished! (Meaning that I’ll get to spend time working up a bunch of new story ideas—including doing some brainstorming with writing buddy Liz Johnson on a WWII-era idea we’ve been bouncing around!) 

Now for a little fun…tell us 3 FUN facts about yourself that you don't think anyone knows. It doesn't have to be writing related, but a funny writing quirk would be FABULOUS!
People probably know these things about me, since I let everything hang out over on my blog, but here goes:
·         I’ve been to four Star Trek conventions and actually got to go back stage and meet Alexander Siddig (Dr. Bashir from Deep Space Nine) at the last one I attended in 1996.
·         I used to sing in a Southern Gospel quartet.
·         I’m obsessed with the actors Karl Urban and Oded Fehr and am convinced that I’m married to each one in separate alternate universes.

Do you have any challenging/silly/writing/or quirky questions to ask our readers?
In writing The Art of Romance, I learned that many famous actors started out as models and ended up on the front of romance novels—including Corbin Bernsen. If you could pick any actor in the world, living or dead, to be on the front cover of the book you’re currently writing, who would it be and why?

You can find Kaye Dacus here:
Don't forget to answer Kaye's question and leave your spam-free email for a chance to win a copy of The Art of Romance!


Kaye Dacus said...

Thanks for hosting me today, Sherrinda! I had so much fun with these questions. :-D

Patsy said...

For the cover of my book (if I were a writer) I'd pick Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind. I love that time era and the beautiful dresses they wore.

Would enjoy reading The Art of Romance. Sounds Great.


Pattie said...

I would totally choose Colin Firth, my cinematic crush forever. I'm sure you don't even need to ask why. ;)

Pegg Thomas said...

Bea Arthur would be a great person to play one of my leading ladies. She's snarky and bossy and funny - although she doesn't *try* to be funny - and I could see Bea Arthur doing that well.

twinwillowsfarm at gmail dot com

Melody said...

For the cover of my current book I would love to have Abigail Breslin as a blonde... she captures the innocent, imaginative personality of my main character quite well.


Sharon said...

If you could pick any actor in the world, living or dead, to be on the front cover of the book you’re currently writing, who would it be and why? infuse at live dot ca
i'd choose Jane Seymour! luv her 'look'and admire her as a person :) thanks, Kaye,for the interview insights & challenge ~

Sarah Forgrave said...

Wow, fun interview, ladies! And great advice from Kaye tucked in there, too. I find her story so inspiring and am BEYOND impressed with how quick she can crank out a book.

As for a cover actor, I found the PERFECT picture of the hero in my current wip. I don't know who he is...just some magazine model...but I was so excited that I immediately emailed the picture to my fellow Alley Cats. Oh, and he even had a white husky in the picture like my hero does! I love it when that happens. :)

Courtney said...

If I was a writer and had to pick an actress or actor for my cover I would pick Amanda Seyfried (she's from Letters to Juliet and Red Riding Hood movies)! I just think her eyes are stunning and she would look gorgeous in almost any setting! Sounds like a great book!!


Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

I'm on my lunch break and love reading your ideal person for a book cover! Such GOOD ones!

Kaye, I loved this interview. You have such interesting answers to my questions!

Now, for my medieval, I think Tom Welling would make a perfect hero. I found the perfect photo of a model for my heroine, but she didn't have the right color eyes. So guess who who photoshopped it and sent it to me with the right color eyes???? Yep! Kaye Dacus! Now I have the perfect heroine. :)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

What a great interview. Thanks, Sherrinda for hosting it, and Kaye for answering all those wonderful questions. I just have to say, I'm amazed Kaye can keep all these projects straight, she sounds so busy! The Art of Romance sounds wonderful, what a fun plot! I'm definitely going to have to add that to my wish list :)

Mary Ann said...

Great interview! I'm excited to read The Art of Romance!

If I were writing a book, I think I'd like Sandra Bullock for the cover. I think she's beautiful and she can adapt to many different roles. Sweet, funny, dramatic... just love her!

Thanks for the chance to win!
smdiloreto at yahoo dot com :)

Angie Dicken said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Angie Dicken said...

Great interview! I am always humbled the amount of hard work that goes into a writing career!

Ann Lee Miller said...

Ha ha, what a question! I'll stretch the parameters and pick Keith Urban. :)

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Oooo, Keith Urban is a good choice, Ann! Very nice, indeed.

Pepper said...

GREAT interview!
Thanks so much for visiting the Alley. Your story and perserverence (sp?) are inspiring. And I love the premise behind The Art of Romance. Gonna have to go find that one ;-)

Question - genre question.
I keep hearing about a 'brand'. Was contemp your first choice or was the first novel you completed a historical? Did the brand choose you or did you choose the brand? :-)

Kaye Dacus said...

Great question. An author's brand is tied in with, but different, from the genre in which she writes. I write contemporary and historical romance, but my brand is "Humor, Hope, and Happily Ever Afters," because that's what readers expect from all of my books, whether contemporary or historical.

As a teen, I tried my hand so many times at writing historical romance---but it was all just really bad emulation of the books I loved to read. I never read contemporary romance novels---but that 200,000 unending/no-storyline manuscript I wrote was contemporary, and it was where I truly started finding my voice, my style as a writer (even though I knew nothing about craft). And it also spawned dozens of story ideas---it was the genesis of Bonneterre, Louisiana. In fact, Bekka Blakeley, who shows up in A Case for Love as Alaine's coworker was the main female character of my first completed manuscript, What Matters Most.

Even though I tried my hand at historical ideas during the time I worked on that 200k tome, I discovered that I was still going back to imitating, I wasn't creating. So I stopped trying to write historicals and just enjoyed reading them for about ten or twelve years while I wrote contemporaries.

I'd finished four contemporary romance manuscripts (my first three never-to-be-published and then Stand-In Groom) before I tried historical again. It was really just a fluke that I actually started writing Ransome's Honor---I'd finished my first year of grad school and had finished "the first draft" of SIG, but the entire first half of it needed to be rewritten completely. But I needed ten pages of writing to submit for workshop critiques for school. I'd been toying with the general idea for RH (thinking that it would be one category-length book!!!) and so knocked out ten pages of a first chapter. I had fun writing it and received such great feedback on it. I needed stuff to submit to my school critique partners (we had to do a certain amount of critiquing each semester), so I decided since I was doing a massive overhaul of SIG with my mentor, I'd keep writing RH and submitting that to my critique partners. So when I say that the three years I worked on those two books overlapped, that's what I meant---I was in rewrites/revisions on SIG at the same time I was writing the first draft of RH, for about a year.

I wasn't sure the Ransome series would ever sell---when I started writing it, we were told that historicals were dead, dead, dead and no one was acquiring them---and Regencies were even deader than all other historicals. But I loved the story and was entertaining myself with it, so I kept writing it.

In that process---and since then, writing the books under contract---I actually enjoy the challenge of switching back and forth between the contemporary and historical settings.

I relate it to singing. I've been a singer all my life. I took professional voice lessons when I was in high school. I've sung everything from jazz to classical to almost operatic to southern gospel. Each is a very distinct style. But it's still my voice.

And it's my voice that's my brand, not what genre I write.

One more thought on this blog-post-length comment. At the 2008 ACFW conference, my agent, Chip MacGregor, said something very interesting in his session on branding, and that was that while you may come up with a tagline as an unpublished author all that really is is a sales handle. It's your readers, once you're published, who brand you. My brand, Humor, Hope, and Happily Ever Afters, came about after I was published and from careful reading of the reviews and reader feedback for my first couple of books. Before that, my tag (what I thought was my "brand") was "Inspirational Romance with a Sense of Humor."

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Sherrinda and Kaye, what a wonderful interview! I always love to hear author's stories and writing journeys. :) Kaye, The Art of Romance sounds like a great read!

In answer to your question, I think I would love to see Audrey Hepburn on the cover of my book. :) She had class, vivacity and a wonderful style. I think about her trying to put her shoe back on her foot in Roman Holiday, and I have to chuckle. My heroine is beautiful, quirky and wants to learn to dance. :)

Thanks for sharing a bit of yourself today, Kaye!


Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Wow, Kaye. Look at all the interesting stuff getting revealed. You touched on something that many of us are confused about--voice. Relating it to music and music styles is a perfect way to describe it, I think, and totally makes sense.

And Chip's thoughts on branding...I had never thought of it like that before. The Readers are the ones who do the branding. Interesting!

Jo said...

What a great interview. If I were a writer, I would pick Patrick Dempsey for the cover of the book as well as Sandra Bullock. Thanks for entering me in the giveaway.


Unknown said...

Great interview, I can't wait to read Art of Romance! Payday never seems to come fast enough ;) My choice of model is a toss up between Gerard Butler and Cary Grant. Butler brings that "bad boy" element, yet he seems to have strength of character and a sense of humor. Grant has the refinement and class, and can do a great deadpan look. And of course they are both fabulously good-looking! :)
Thanks for the chance to win!

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Patrick and Sandra are great choices, Jo.

And Renee, I love Gerard Butler. He's such a charming bad boy, isn't he?

karenk said...

a great question...i think i would choose reese witherspoon for the cover...she appears, to me, as 'the girl next door'

kmkuka at yahoo dot com

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Karen, Reece is such a girl next door kind of gal. So fresh!

Amanda Stephan said...

Excellent interview! Thank you for hosting Ms. Dacus - :)
For my current WIP, I would SO pick Karl Urban...mmm-hmm. Yup. Certainly would. :)
Thanks for the opportunity to win!

amanda38401 at gmail dot com