Monday, May 27, 2013

INTERVIEW WITH DENISE EAGAN, AWARD WINNING AUTHOR

Readers, please welcome a special friend, Denise Eagan. It seems to me as if Denise and I have been good friends for the many years we've been on a private e-loop. In fact, I’ve only met her in person once many years ago at an RWA National Conference. I love her sense of humor and her writing. Now, here’s our interview:

Caroline: Where did you grow up?

Denise: I grew up in Peabody, Massachusetts, which is a small town on the Northshore, bordering Salem. I was a very, very shy kid. My junior year in high school, however, I joined our school’s drama club, and the people in that pretty much dragged me out of my shell. I’d formed some pretty strong female friendships at that point. We lost track of each other after high school for awhile, but came back together at a reunion and have hung out every since then. I expect we’ll be friends for life.

Denise in a high school performance
Through Facebook most of the people in that drama club--Stage One--hooked up again, and recently we all got together for a reunion. I don’t know if it’s the fact that we were a group of creative people who don’t always seem to have a place in regular culture (never mind high school!) or if we just click, but being with all of them together felt as natural as if we’d just graduated. I think part of the comfort level is the same I find among writing friends--we’re just all a little bit nuts. The difference between my drama friends, though, and my writing friends is that the former are extroverts, and the latter are introverts. When I got to writing conferences, everybody comes home afterwards and nobody talks (through email or social media etc) much for several days. The drama club reunion? People were posting pictures before I even left the hotel! Took me days to recover--they were energized for days.

So yeah, I have those wonderful people to thank me for bringing me out of my shell. I’m still pretty shy—I’m just super good at faking it. All that acting experience, I guess!

Denise receiving Drama Club graduation
points that made her an official Thespian.

These days I live about an hour from where I grew up. I was an accountant for 5 years, then had a couple of sons and stayed home to raise them and write and make money that way. Hah! It took me 17 years to publish that first book. I console myself with the knowledge that at least I gave my sons a very strong example of perseverance. And a lot of historical background, because I was always dragging them off to history sights. Worst ever in their eyes? A farming museum in Iowa. It was one of my favorites!

Caroline: I was also very shy and took drama in my junior and senior years. And I’m still shy but can fake being outgoing. ☺Who are your favorite authors and favorite genres?

Denise: I grew up on Mary Stewart, Phyllis Whitney, Victoria Holt. I loved the combination of mystery and romance (and usually murder), and with the last, the history. Later, I glommed on to Rosemary Rogers and Kathleen Woodiwiss and Laurie McBain, the romance writers who, I believe, are responsible for throwing open the door to the bedroom in romance novels. I was about 15 at the time. You can imagine how happy I was to see that bedroom door open! I think these are the women who got me really interested in historical romance.  Not sure if it was just history or if it was that bedroom door. . .

Caroline: What’s your favorite way to relax and recharge?

Denise: Cooking. Cooking is my thing. It’s the only other creative thing I do. Give me a sewing machine and I’ll break it. A needle and I’ll stab myself and probably anyone else near me. Glue, clay, anything like that--I’ll drop, spill and then grind into the carpet. As for art--I can’t even draw a decent stick figure. But I love food, I LOVE eating and I love to experiment with it. To me cooking is edible chemistry. Happily, years ago my mother bought me an upright freezer for a housewarming present. It’s a saving grace because I can cook lots of stuff and freeze it. That way a batch of cookies can last for a few weeks. Soup for months. The only downside is the cleaning up. Man do I ever hate that! Of course cooking isn’t really relaxing per se, but if I get anxious or nervous, the first thing I do is head to the kitchen. It always calms me down.

Caroline: Do you have a favorite quote that sums up how you feel about life?

Denise: “Nothing is good nor bad, but thinking it makes it so.” Hamlet. I went through a Shakespeare phase fifteen or so years ago. I’ve always wanted to love Shakespeare, but it never really hit home until I found Kenneth Branagh’s film Much Ado About Nothing at the library one day. I love, love, love that movie. After that I went on to watch Henry V (which I mention in THE WILD HALF by the way--and Lilah actually names her horse Calais) and then Hamlet. When I heard that sentence in Hamlet, it sunk in like nothing else ever has: basically that nothing has any value without somebody (even an animal if it’s food) thinking of it’s worth. Gold is just a rock until somebody says it’s pretty and a very useful soft metal.

 It’s true about the circumstances of our lives too. For example, if I get a nasty review, it’s just words until I decide it’s bad. The good thing about understanding that is that you can change your view as in “Hey, look somebody read my book and it touched them enough to comment on it! Cool!” Yeah, I don’t really do that, not to that extent. Over the years, though, I’ve managed, to turn some things around, knowing that it’s really just how I think of things that gives them an emotional impact. I can, if I work at it, choose what that impact is going to be.

Caroline: You are a wise woman. How long have you been writing?

Denise: I started when I was 12 or so, I think. A friend of mine and I were raking leaves and started giggling and coming up with a strange story about a mysterious island and three guys, Tom, Dick and Harry, being stranded on it. I think we sat down and wrote a scene or something later. That was the first time I really could remember making up something just for fun. The next thing I remember is I had come up with a real story and borrowed my mother’s old royal typewriter and started typing.  I finished my first book when I was 14. It was really terrible.  What I remember most is that the heroine, Deidre, had Rainy Days and Mondays stuck in her mind. That book promptly went into the trash basket. I wrote another after that, a romantic suspense. I don’t know if I ever finished that. I think it was called TERROR BY NIGHT. The third was this book—THE WILD HALF—which was WESTWIND for a long, long time. Obviously it’s gone through tons of changes since then. Basically it grew up with me. I finished it a lot of times and went on to other books, but every time I learned something new, I went back and played with it. Finally, though, it was time to send it out into the world to find readers. It was really hard to let it go, let me tell you!
  
Caroline: Where do you prefer to write? Do you need quiet, music, solitude? PC or laptop?

Denise: I work on a laptop, which I move around. I’ll write in one place for several weeks or months, but then I get bored of that space, and I move somewhere else in the house for weeks or months. It drives my husband nuts, because when I move, I bring my research books with me. He calls it “migration”.  My current workplace is on the sofa in the living room, and he’s beginning to wonder if he’ll ever get his living room back. I have notes, books, pens and pads of paper everywhere!

As for sound--I go back and forth. Sometimes I like quiet. A lot of times, though, I’ll have a playlist going, on repeat, with songs that have, for me, an emotional connection to the story.  For example, for THE WILD HALF, I have Human by the Pretenders, and Linger by the Cranberries, both of which express the pain and fear that Lilah has about her relationship with Rick. On the other hand for Rick, I’ve got What’s Left of Me by Nick Lachey, because Rick feels broken by the death of his wife, and he thinks he’s got nothing left to give Lilah (in truth, he’s afraid of falling in love again).  I’ve heard the songs so much that I don’t hear the words when they’re playing, unless I have a certain scene where I’m having trouble with the emotion. Then I sit and listen and the music will center me again.

Caroline: I write in my office, which I call my pink cave. Love that place. Are you a plotter or a panzer?

Denise: If I were to lean one way or the other, I’d say pantser. I don’t write from the beginning to the end. I write the scenes that come to me first--they’re always the most interesting anyway. I usually have to have about 5 scenes figured out in my mind and a general idea of the plot and conflicts before I start, though, and those scenes are usually the turning points in the book. I write them first. Then others will come to me, generally related to those scenes, and I’ll write them next. Eventually they fit together enough that I put in some chapter breaks. Finally when I’m at about 50k of words, I start to fill in, often from beginning to end, the missing pieces.  So I do plot--I know something, just not everything. I like “discovering” as I go along. I usually know the end before I start writing, but I don’t always know the beginning!

Caroline: I think that’s called being a plotzer. Do you use real events or persons in your stories or as an inspiration for stories?

Denise: A lot of times when I’m researching, I’ll go off on tangents and find out cool and not-useful-for-the current-WIP information, and I’ll just store it away. If it’s interesting enough, and if I can find characters that I like enough who will fit in, I’ll start stories around it. It’s not a conscious thing, though.

Caroline: Oh, that sounds like me. I get carried away when researching. Do you set daily writing goals?

Denise: Sometimes. But I rarely follow through. My creative energy is erratic, coming in fits and starts. I’ve tried to smooth it out, and near deadlines I have to force myself to work, but I’ve yet to really get a handle on it. I keep trying, though!

Caroline: All we can do is our best, right? What do you hope your writing brings to readers?

Denise: Escape. A chance to escape from problems or boredom or irritation, and sink into fantasy for awhile to recharge their batteries. I try very hard to create a world for my readers to do that. I think delving into history is useful in that regard--it’s a quicker escape.

Caroline: What long-term plans do you have for your career?

Denise: I would like to get to a point where I write and e-pub a couple of books a year. That’s really my only long term plan. I would like to sell lots of books, of course, and create a huge fan base because I feel like writing is sharing romance and adventures with other people, and the more the merrier. But I don’t have a whole lot of control over that, so I’m trying to focus on what I can control. I can control how much I write, what I write, and the amount of exposure I get.

Caroline: Would you like to tell us what you’re working on now?

Denise: Sure. Coming in June--looking like at the end of the month right now--I have RUNNING WILD, which is sort of a sequel to THE WILD HALF and THE WILD ONE. In THE WILD HALF, we meet Nick McGraw, the owner of the ranch that Rick and Lilah work on in THE WILD ONE. In RUNNING WILD, 9 years later, we meet up with Nick again, and we meet Star Montgomery, who is a Boston aristocrat and a woman’s right’s activist. 

RUNNING WILD is their story. Here’s the blub:

Desperate to atone for her guilt over her best friend’s death, Boston aristocrat Star Montgomery has pledged her life to women’s rights, resolutely rejecting the institution of marriage. One cannot, after all, fight male supremacy when one is legally bound to obey one of them. And yet, with the hot Montgomery blood flowing through her veins, she’s determined to experience the sensual aspects of marriage. Six uncooperative fianc├ęs—and one creepy secret admirer later—she and her family journey to Colorado, where she meets handsome, rugged rancher Nick McGraw, the perfect man for the job.

Nick, though, refuses to be Star’s latest plaything. An honorable man does not ruin his friend’s daughter or sister, no matter how seductive she is; a respectable woman’s answer to sexual desire is marriage. Not that a Boston blue-blood would ever marry a crude, unsophisticated Colorado rancher. Still he can’t resist Montgomery's invitation to spend the summer with them posh Newport RI, where he finds himself falling in love with Star’s wild spirit--and tortured by desire. To keep his honor, he can’t stay. But he can’t leave, either, because Star’s secret admirer is no longer just writing creepy letters pleading with her to leave the women’s rights movement. He’s acting--stealthily, menacingingly and possibly murderously. . .

Caroline: Sounds intriguing. What advice would you give to unpublished authors?

Denise: Before you sit down and start writing, picture your perfect reader. Picture her (or him!) reading your story, loving your characters, gasping over all the exciting parts, sighing over the sweet parts--all of that. And then write for that person. Don’t write for agents or editors, for the market or contests or even for critical critique partners. Write for her, edit and revise for her--she’s the best guide to what you need to fix. If you do that, you’ll not only love writing, but you’ll write the best story possible. In this new world with an e-publishing option, you don’t have to write for an editor or agent. You don’t have to sell tons of books to make money. You can create your own little niche and make money that way--as long as you make your stories the best they can be!

Caroline: That is terrific advice! I love the idea of picturing a reader and writing for that person. Now, what’s a fun fact readers wouldn’t know about you?

Denise: Hmmm. . .I have an obsession with astrology. And tarot cards. And runes. And psychics if I could afford them. I’ve always been interested in astrology (I was shy and it made me feel like I could understand people better) in a general way. The luck factor in this business, though, makes a lot of us a little nutty. I started looking for ways to understand blind luck, and into the predictive end of astrology, and then tarot cards etc, is the way I went. In the long run, I don’t know if I believe in any of it. I sure wouldn’t stake my life on it. But there are days when it seems like everything is going wrong and I need some “specific” knowledge or hope for the future, so I fool around with that stuff and delude myself into believing it’s true.  It gets me through rough spots.

Caroline: I’m fascinated by psychics and astrology, too. I do believe in psychics, but not sure about the other. What’s something about you that would surprise or shock readers?

Denise: Hmmm, I sort of thought the new age stuff was surprising? No? I guess I’m neither shocking nor surprising. Really, there is not a shocking thing about me.

Caroline: As I understand it, your book is part of a series—is that correct?

Denise: I haven’t labeled it a series per se. Or a family saga per se. On the other hand, as I said, the characters in THE WILD HALF do enter into other books, like THE WILD ONE. I’m pretty attached to Rick and Lilah--and Jim and Melinda and Nick. And even the tertiary characters. I can’t let them go, so they become friends with my new characters, and we all get to sit around occasionally and laugh and joke and party. Honestly, I’ve know the characters in THE WILD HALF longer than I’ve known my husband. Am I going to give them up just because the book’s done? Never!

 As for how long this will go on. . .I don’t know. I thought I’d let them go (and try not to cry!) after I finish RUNNING WILD, but then I got an idea for two other stories and well, Rick is just perfect for one, and Nick has got to be in the other. I’ve even considered a re-incarnation contemporary story with them.  Nah, I won’t do it--but it does prove that giving up my “friends” is hard (I don’t do it with my real-life friends either, some of whom I’ve known for 40+ years).

Caroline: Can you give readers a blurb about THE WILD HALF?

Denise: Of course, here it is:
Lilah Martin is a hunted woman who has roamed the West for three years, staying one step ahead of men who are trying to kill her. Fear is her only friend; staying alive is her only goal. Then she lands a job at the Bar M, a prosperous and well-protected ranch in Colorado, where she finds friendship, sanctuary and a life that is almost normal. Or so it seems until she falls prey to the wildly seductive and dangerously inquisitive Rick Winchester.
A former outlaw, Rick has spent five years searching for distraction from guilt over his wife’s death. He finally finds it in the simmering sexual attraction between Lilah and him, and the dark intrigue surrounding her. But the more he delves into her secrets, the more of a mystery she becomes, until, frightened, she flees the Bar M. Determined not to lose this woman, Rick races after her, catapulting them into a clash of wills, which can only end in the discovery of a deadly secret locked away in Lilah’s mind. A secret that could make them both rich. Or get them both killed.




Caroline: Sounds like a great book. How about an excerpt from THE WILD HALF?

Denise: This comes after the second time Rick and Lilah have made love. They spent the night together, on the ranch, and she’s just woken up from a very, very bad nightmare. Rick still knows nothing about her, and he is becoming more and more frustrated that she won’t talk to him about her past. On the other hand, he’s still not certain he wants to get deeply involved with a woman who is obviously very, very troubled.

          Lilah awoke with a start, a cry still lodged in her throat. She shoved it down and scoured the glade for danger—for the men. A few feet away coals from a dying fired sizzled. Overhead the rising sun turned the arms of the pine trees from black to green. No tower of rock, but a hill. No horses, no men. It was just a dream.
          The man sleeping behind her was not.
          His bare skin warmed her back, and his breath on her neck stirred her hair. He’d draped one corded tanned arm over her chest, protectively. Not the man in her dream, but Rick Winchester, a powerfully built man with striking intelligence and a frightening, rough-edged arrogance. Frightening, yes, but he would never leave a girl alone in the wilderness. A girl would be safe with him.
          Physically, she thought as the shaking subsided. Her pride, though, was another matter. She recollected all too well the cruel cut of his words after the last time he’d seduced her. How much worse would the sting be after she’d slept with him? She wasn’t going to find out. Careful so as not to wake him, she sidled out from under his arm.
          It tightened. She stilled. He pulled her back. “In a hurry?” Rick murmured in her ear.
          Treacherous little shivers ran along her neck. “I didn’t know you were awake.”
          “I’m aware of that.” She felt him hardening against her hips. He made no move to act on it, however, or to lift his arm.
          “Aren’t you going to let me go?”
          “First,” he said after a short pause, “tell me about that dream.”
          She inhaled sharply. “What dream?”
          “The one that made you cry out.”
          Cry out. Oh Lord, had she said something? What? “It’s not important.”
          “Was it about the scars on your back?”
          “No.”
          Several seconds passed. “Then there’s something else you’re afraid of?”
          A whole host of things, none of which she wished to share with him. She narrowed her eyes, searching her brain for a way to derail his current train of thought.
          “What is it, Lilah?” The warmth was draining from his voice, the honeyed drawl lost as the dark, menacing side of him emerged. Lord, but she ought to never, ever have stayed the night with him.
She squared her shoulders. “It was nothing. I dreamed I was camping. Some strangers came along. They had guns and they threatened me.”
          “Threatened what?”
          “I was a woman alone. What do you think they threatened?”
          “Rape.” A picture of the men’s faces and of what might have been filled her vision, setting her to trembling. He pulled her closer. “Has that actually happened to you before? Was it more than a dream?”
          “Once,” she answered, toeing the line between honesty and deceit, but who could blame her, for wasn’t he toeing the line between protection and kidnapping?
          “And?”
          “I killed them.”
          He stiffened, his grip weakened, and she rolled away. She sat up, turning her hideous, scarred back to him—maybe it would revolt him and he’d leave her alone—and yanked her dress over her head. After shaking her hair free, she buttoned the bodice. He lay silent behind her, and she could feel him scrutinizing her, damn it.
          “What else happened?” he asked.
          “Rick. . .They threatened me. I shot them. They died.”
          “I don’t doubt that, but there’s more to that dream or you wouldn’t be scared.”
          Oh for the love of God, why wouldn’t he stop? He’d seduced her; she’d surrendered. Twice. Why start another Inquisition as well?
          Pivoting, she faced him, throwing an icy scowl his way as she braided her hair. “You’re not a woman. What would you know about that kind of fear?”
          “Lilah, darlin’, you not only carry a gun with you most of the time, but you’ve proven painfully adept at shooting one, even while suffering from a concussion. I don’t doubt you killed those hombres without a moment’s hesitation.”
          She lifted her chin. “Is there something wrong with that?”
          “No,” he said. “And I expect you were scared, but not nearly enough to be haunted by a dream. Especially one that makes you yell and shake.”
          “Well in the dream, I didn’t have a gun.” Not daring to meet his gaze, she sat down and pulled on her boots. When she finished, she mustered up enough courage to face him. He was sitting now, regarding her with understanding eyes that held no trace of condemnation. His brow was creased with concern, all of which made her tremble and caused a lump to rise in her throat.
          “What is it, Lilah? Tell me what’s driving you so hard. I may be able to help.”
He seemed to care, really care. And if he did. . . she took a shaky breath . . . she’d been alone for so long . . . but to tell him the truth, she must face it herself. . .
          An image of him leaning against the Golden Nugget’s doorframe, his belt slung gun-fighter low on his hips, jumped into her mind. Followed by the echo of his words from the last time he’d seduced her. It doesn’t matter. . . You better cut dirt before we have more to regret.
          His concern was a lie. He was a dangerous man who he didn’t give a damn about her. He only wanted to learn her secrets to use them against her. “It’s none of your business!”

Caroline: Where can readers find your books?

Denise: THE WILD HALF is at amazon, kindle and at Barnes and Noble



Caroline: How can readers learn more about you?

Denise: My website is http://www.Deniseeagan.com. I’ve got a link there to a blog I set up recently. I’ve got a few posts there, and I hope to do more. Just haven’t got the hang of it yet.

Oh, and I hang out on http://slipintosomethingvictorian.wordpress.com occasionally where I try to do posts on Victorian Slang. Haven’t been all that great in the last couple of years, but I hope to get back to it.

The Author

Award Winning Author, Denise Eagan

Denise was born too long ago to mention on the web.  The daughter of a sociologist and physicist, she grew up in the suburbs of Boston, which she decided at an early age was the most boring place on earth to live.  To combat that boredom—and avoid doing schoolwork—she read and read and read.  As a shy, awkward teenager, she focused her reading energies on romance novels because the heroes were a great deal less confusing than teenage boys.  Eventually she ran out of books by her favorite authors, though, and started writing to entertain herself. She’s been writing ever since.

Writing, however, is a difficult way to pay the bills, so Denise went to college and got a practical financial degree from Northeastern University.  For several years afterward she worked in accounting, but eventually gave it up to have children and to pursue a career in writing.  A few months before the birth of her second son, Denise sent out her first query letter, gleeful at finally starting her writing career.  And received her first rejection letter, which made her not quite so gleeful.  Nor did the many rejections that followed over a period of many years. During those long years she joined RWA, finaled in the Golden Heart, and learned interesting things, like romance novels shouldn’t be 205,000 words long.  Her critique group taught her even more interesting things, in much kinder and more amusing ways, and became very good friends in the process. .

Finally after being an American Title finalist in 2005, Denise got “the call” from Kensington Publishing in 2006.  The two books published by Kensington, Wicked Woman and The Wild One have finaled and won various writing awards, including being nominated by Romantic Time for Best First Historical.  The Wild Half is Denise’s first foray into e-publishing.

Denise is still shy and still lives in suburban Boston (but a different suburb!) with her husband, who is both cheerleader and “manager”.  The town is just boring enough for her to keep writing her Victorian romances, generally with a mystery/murder element because nothing says romance like a dead body.  

Thanks for stopping by!


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