Leigh Michaels

This month I would like to introduce Leigh Michaels. I’m sure that her readers are going to be thrilled to know she has a new book coming out. It is my pleasure to have Leigh spend a little time on Adventures in Writing. If you have not heard of this prolific author, now is the time to get acquainted.

Where are you from?

I’m an Iowan from birth – grew up in west central Iowa, went to Drake University in Des Moines, landed in Ottumwa, Iowa for my first real job while still in college, and am still there a long time later. J

How long have you been writing?

I’ve always been a writer! There’s poetry in my baby book which I composed but dictated to my big sister when I was somewhere around four years old. My first book was published in the US in 1984 – I wrote and burned six books before submitting a manuscript.

What do you write?

After more than 20 years of writing sweet traditional contemporary romances for Harlequin (Harlequin Romance and Harlequin Presents), I got a bad case of burnout. Instead of thinking “boy meets girl”, I started thinking fondly of “boy KILLS girl”… and I thought when I finally went back to writing that I might tackle mystery.

Instead, after a couple of years of not writing fiction, I found myself back in the romance field, but I changed everything that could possibly be changed – except the happy endings.

My new books are historical (set in Regency England), long, single title, and sensual! And each of the historicals is a triple story – three heroines and three heroes whose stories are interwoven.

Tell us a little about your publisher and agent.

My new books are coming out from Sourcebooks Casablanca – and I can’t say enough about the great enthusiasm and support from my editor and the sales and publicity people. My editor, Deb Werksman, instantly saw the fun of a triple story, and she’s really pushed these books.

My agent is Christine Witthohn of Book Cents Literary Agency. Christine and I were introduced by a mutual friend, and after she read my first historical and we talked about our vision for the book and for a new direction in my career, she offered to represent me and I happily agreed. Unlike many agents, Christine doesn’t just negotiate the contract (though she does a brilliant job of that); she stays involved in the process. Anytime there’s a question or concern, Christine is on top of it. I’ve had agents before, but never one who was so easy to reach and so involved in every bit of the author/publisher experience.

 How many books have you published so far?

80 sweet contemporary romance novels which were published by Harlequin Romance and Harlequin Presents, three historical romance novels coming out in 2011 from Sourcebooks Casablanca, and a slew of non-fiction books including On Writing Romance, which was published by Writers Digest Books. Many of my backlist titles, long out of print, are now available again as ebooks in Kindle and ePub formats.

Do you outline?

Not much to start with. When I begin writing a book I know who the characters are, what their initial external conflict is, and roughly what the happy ending will be. I usually know if someone has big secrets, and I almost always know what the black moment will be. Then as I write, I start a list of scenes for each set of characters – just a rough order of which events will happen. And before I’m done I always have a pile of scratch-paper notes with a line of dialogue or a reminder on each bit of paper (because those are easy to sort and rearrange).

I find that the neater and more organized I try to be, the more cliché the story turns out. If I just scratch things down, my characters are free to take unexpected turns which surprise me (and will, I hope, surprise the reader).

About how long does it take to finish a book?

My third historical – the latest book I finished – was fondly known as “The Book That Will Never End”, because it took me eight months to write. But I suppose that’s about right, because at 95,000 words, my historicals are almost twice as long as my previous books were. Plus dealing with three stories woven together is more complex than writing three separate, shorter books. (And I hadn’t outlined enough this time – if I’d known more about the characters, I’d have had a much easier time finishing this book!)

What is your writing day like?

I start the day by checking email and looking in on the classes I teach online at Gotham Writers Workshop (www.writingclasses.com). Then I open the current book and read what I wrote the day before, fixing minor problems and filling in where I left gaps. I spend 4 to 6 hours writing, and in the last few minutes of my writing day I try to move ahead to get a big chunk of what happens next down on paper in a very rough form. No attention to grammar or technical detail, no worrying about logic or phrasing. When I start writing again the next day, I polish up that section, and by then I’m back into the flow of the story.

I try never to finish the day at the end of a chapter or scene. Though it’s such a wonderful feeling to actually FINISH something, it makes starting up again the next day – facing a totally blank screen – very difficult.

Can you tell us how you found a publisher and/or agent?

I happened to contact Deb Werksman at Sourcebooks about my backlist titles, and as we were chatting she asked what I was writing. I said, “A Sexy Regency about a house where every resident falls in love” and she said, “Can I read it when you’re done?” So I sent it to her, and she loved it.

Do you have anything that just came out?

The Mistress’ House comes out in February 2011. It’s set at Number 5 Upper Seymour Street, London – isn’t that a lovely aristocratic-sounding address? Lord Hawthorne buys the house, intending to use it as a love nest because it’s conveniently around the corner from his mansion on Portman Square. Instead, he falls in love…

Readers who pre-order The Mistress’ House can also get a free e-book, For the Love of Tea… It’s a non-fiction book I’ve written which includes party plans, menus, and recipes for tea parties everything from a comfortable coze (as the Regency heroine would say) for two best friends, to an elegant reception for two hundred. (More info at http://www.leighmichaels.home.mchsi.com/free_ebook.htm )

What are you working on now?

At the moment, I’m taking a break after writing three big books in two years. But I’m thinking about historical number four – which is supposed to be another triple story set in the Regency era.

Do you have some words of wisdom for the rest of us?

I’ve taught writing for many years, in person, at seminars, and online, and I see lots of people with storytelling talent. But the ones who make it in this business also have a wagon load of persistence. They don’t limit themselves to one story or one kind of story; they keep writing and exploring. They never look back at a story without trying to improve it. And perhaps most importantly, they don’t wait for inspiration or reward – they find their inspiration by writing and their reward by finishing.

Thanks Leigh, I find the process of writing facinating and feel privileged to have had a peek at how you do it.

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