Thursday, March 12, 2009

Interview with Michele Dunaway

In celebration of her 20th book, Harlequin American's Twins for the Teacher, enjoy 20 questions with Michele Dunaway

1) How did you make your first sale and how long have you been published? In 1999, I attended the RWA conference at the end of July in Chicago and had an editor appointment with the new American line editor, Melissa Jeglinski, who said “send it.” She bought Temporarily Yours four weeks later. She told me she hadn’t bought a new author in several years, and she brought three new authors into the Harlequin family as a result of RWA. Retitled A Little Office Romance, my first book came out in Oct. 2000. So yes, I’m one of those lucky ones you hear about who sold on the first try. This month’s Twins for the Teacher is my 20th book. I am working on revisions for #22.

2) What advice would you give a new writer just starting out? Follow your own voice. It’s seen me through a great many things.

3) You can erase any horrible experience from your past. What will it be? I have one that immediately comes to mind, but it’s hard to explain. In a nutshell, my senior year of college I lost a guy whom I thought was my ideal because of a bunch of flukes and twists of fate—such as dating his best friend—who’d I met in another city two hours away while on vacation at the lake. I had no idea these two knew each other. Eke. It was a mess. But my friend Karen told me a few years ago that had I been "together forever" with either of them, I’d never be a writer or published. And she’s right. I’d be a soccer mom, probably not even teaching. I did base one of my characters on Rick , so he’s a ghost now as, once I write my characters, they disappear from inside my head. It’s like I have to give those voices life…and then they leave. I can’t even remember which book certain characters are in, and often can’t even remember the characters’ names once the book is out on the shelves. As for writing, I dread the day the voices in my head stop talking.

4) Describe your writing space. I built the house where I live in 2003, and when I went searching for floor plans, I wanted a first floor office. I’m in what the builders call a living room. It’s open to the foyer and dining room and has a great view of outside. I’m on five acres.

5) Are you a cat or dog person? Cats all the way. I have five strictly indoor, one indoor/outdoor, and one feral outdoor who adopted us. I had a dream the other day that I found and rescued a bunch of stray kittens, but luckily it was only a dream. I’m a sucker for kittens.

6) What comes first: the plot or the characters? The characters. As I said, I suddenly hear them and see them in my head, and their story comes next. And they never do what I want them to. I thought it was just me, until some NYT best selling writers admitted talking to their characters and even interviewing them. Then I felt much more normal.

7) What is your work schedule like when you are writing? I write in big spurts. I will go days and weeks without writing anything new. Then when I sit down to write a book, I’ll work 12-14 hours straight and write every day. Even if I can only do six hours when I get home from work, I’ll write.

8) Do you re-read your books once they're in print? I did for the first four books but really don’t anymore. I did reread Hart’s Victory because it’s my all time favorite—I wrote it for my daughter. I admit to getting a rush reading line edits, when I go “Wow, this is good. Who wrote this?” and realize it’s me.

9) What books or authors have most influenced your own writing? Harlequin Presents. I’ve been reading those since high school and always wanted to write one. My all time favorite remains Sandra Marton’s The Sexiest Man Alive. I laughed straight through it. I also loved Nora Roberts’ McGregor Brides and Grooms, which inspired my Grandpa Joe character. As for Presents, an author friend sent me a Harlequin newsletter from Australia and there I was with greats like Penny Jordan. When my Harlequin Americans are out in Australia and New Zealand, I’m out as a Mills & Boon Sexy author. So in a way I made it.

10) What did you do career-wise before becoming an author? I’m still doing the day job. I teach high school English and journalism and love it. Advising the newspaper and yearbook keeps me on top of the pulse of kids today, which keeps me young. I think. I'll be a featured speaker at the Journalism Education Association/National Scholastic Press Association in Phoenix this April.

11) How has the American Romance line changed since you first began writing for it? My first book A Little Office Romance was crazy and funny and different. The heroine was between jobs, so she’s “hired” by her best friend Chelsea to break up her brother Alex and his girlfriend. Julia’s playing Alex’s temporary secretary—and she’s in a disguise until he jumps into the pool on a business trip to save her (she fell in) and comes up only with her wig. That type of plot is too far fetched now. Also, I did a princess continuity for my third book. Ditto to that.

12) If you were stranded on a deserted Island what kind of hero would you want with you--A Cowboy, a Viking Warrior, a CEO, a Forensics investigator, a Chef or an Accountant…and why? This is a trick question. Is the island fully stocked and equipped with a year worth of provisions and comfort? Because I write the CEO books for Harlequin American (Bachelor CEO—the July Men Made in America coming in just a few months) so I’d want the CEO since those are my favorite types of heroes. However, if this was an episode of Survivor, he probably wouldn’t last a day, unlike a few of the other guys up there. Unless the CEO was Chase…who is my hero in Bachelor CEO. He competes in triathalons and loves camping. He might stand a chance.

13) What did you want to be when you grew up? Exactly what I am right now. Seriously. I am truly blessed.

14) What was the hardest part of writing your book? The middle. It’s like going up hill. I hate middles. I’m so happy when I’m on the downward slope.

15) Describe your ideal dream date: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Too bad he doesn't know I'm his dream date.

16) What helps inspire you when you write? Do you have any ‘rituals’ (like music, candles, a favorite scent) that helps you find your writing zone? No. I’m rather boring. I often don’t even play music. When I do the same CD plays on repeat for hours. I hardly hear it.

17) Have you ever made a crank phone call? Once in high school I called a guy (he was a senior and I was a junior) and pretended I’d met him at the party that weekend (which I wasn’t at). We talked for 15 minutes before I hung up. It’s amazing how you can convince guys of anything. My friends were impressed—they thought the phone call would be like 30 seconds. He even wanted to see me again.

18) What is your dream car? Porsche 928S In high school I used to have cars hanging in my locker instead of magazine pics of guys. Let me tell you how many random guys came up to my locker to admire the sports cars. I wasn’t a dummy. Who wants to look at their competition? So girls—get the Jonas brothers out of your locker! Same with Edward!

19) If you were locked in a closet for one hour who would you want in there with you? Can I mention Dale Jr. again? I’m so glad NASCAR’s back. Whoo Hoo. Go #88 and #99.

20) Wow. Is this question 20? Yes! Thanks for reading this! Be sure to drop by on March 19. Susan Vaughn interviewed me, and I shared my first sale story there.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Creative Soup

It's one of the most common question posed to writers: "Where do you get your ideas?"

Most of us have standard, sound bite answers to this question. Mine goes something like this: "I get them from everywhere--TV, movies, other books, overheard snippets of conversation, dreams, newspapers and magazines, an image on a billboard, a song. Anything can generate an idea."

But if an idea for a book could really come from anywhere, wouldn't more people be writing books? (Yeah, I know, these days you can't stretch your arms out wide without hitting a writer. We're everywhere.)

Really. Where do ideas come from? My best non-writer friend might overhear the same argument at a restaurant that I do, but two seconds later she's forgotten it. Me, I'm mulling it over, wondering what came before and after. I'm trying to guess who the conversationalists were, beneath what they show the world. I'm building whole lives for them, giving them houses to live in, histories, families, hopes and fears. I do all of this automatically. It occurs in background mode, so to speak, as I'm living my life. As I drive home from the restaurant, I might see a car accident, or pass an interesting house, or remember that I have a dentist appointment tomorrow. All of this gets added into the creative soup. Eventually it might add up to an idea for a story.

Then there are those other ideas ... the ones that come out of nowhere. Suddenly, it's just there--full-blown characters, scenes playing themselves out inside my head, dialogue jumping into my thoughts. The possibilities jump into my head so fast I can't write fast enough to keep up with them.

The process is so mysterious, to me at least, it defies a real explanation. Are books floating around in the ether, waiting for someone's imagination to grab onto them? Are the characters real people in some parallel universe that we writers have somehow caught a glimpse of? J.R.R. Tolkien maintained that Middle Earth, with all of its hobbits and dragons, is a real place, and that he was simply recording what happened there. Sometimes I wonder.

Maybe we all have access to the creative soup. My soup is your soup is Nora Roberts's soup (except she's a better cook!). Maybe that argument in the restaurant becomes part of the soup, and it will pop into the head of some writer who wasn't there--some writer who will wonder, where did that come from? How else can you explain the uncanny way books and movies with identical plots are released simultaneously?

I've gone pretty far afield here, so perhaps I'd better rein myself in. None of this philosophical navel gazing is helping me come up with the next scene in my current book!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Simple Pleasures

I spotted these pink tulips in the grocery store the other day and almost walked right by them. They were gorgeous, but I've been trying to watch our budget and $10 for flowers seemed like a big splurge.

But they were so beautiful and on impulse, I bought them. I brought them home and put them in a vase, then remembered this pink ribbon I'd saved from a candy box and tied that around the vase.

I think they're beautiful and I can't tell you how much pleasure they've given me. Every time I pass through the living room and see these tulips, I smile. I count it $10 well spent.

I'm not always good about indulging myself with little pleasures, but I'm getting better. For instance, last time my favorite dark chocolate bars were on sale, I bought a bunch and stashed them in my closet. They are my own secret pleasure -- a little bit of luscious chocolate all for me.

And books -- who could forget books? A paperback book is one of the best cheap pleasures around, even in these expensive times.

What secret pleasures do you indulge in?

Sunday, March 08, 2009


I have a new book out this month (Yay!), The Sheriff of Horseshoe, Texas. The cover is to your left and right. The art department and Kathleen did a great job with the cover. I love it! It’s part of The Men Made in America Series

Yesterday, I had a book signing and thank God nothing really weird happened. I didn’t sign anybody’s name wrong or call a person by the wrong name. Or the absolute worse—can’t remember someone’s name when they come to every book signing. Geez, that's embarrassing. I got everyone’s name correct so I feel like I had a good day. Hate those signings when I want to crawl under the table.

At every signing someone always asks, “What’s the book about?” Well, this book is a fun book. Think Paris Hilton meets a young Clint Eastwood. The idea for this story came out of the blue. My husband and I were returning home one evening and a highway patrolman had a red sports convertible pulled over. A blonde was driving. Her Hollywood sunglasses were perched on the top of her head. She was smiling. The patrolman’s arm rested on the top of the windshield as he leaned in slightly with a this-is-my-lucky day grin. I told my husband the blonde would not be getting a ticket.

That little scene stayed with me for a while, and I started the “what if” theory. What if the officer wasn’t so easy? What if the blonde had done something really wrong? On and on I kept asking the questions. Soon I had answers and a story. So if you want to find out what happens when Paris Hilton meets Clint Eastwood, pick up a copy of The Sheriff of Horseshoe, Texas. It’s a blast.

Have you ever seen something that triggers a story? It happens to me all the time. The other day I was waiting for my cousin in the car while she went into the post office. A young couple came out, all lovey-dovey. It was an “ah” moment—young love. His arm was around her waist as they walked to their car. She was talking on her cell. All of a sudden she pushed away from him, slammed shut her cell, and I could tell by the hand gestures and the loud voices that they were arguing. People walking by turned and stared. She then threw the phone at him and ran to her car. He threw up his hands and watched as she sped out of the parking lot. Picking up the phone, he went back inside. I didn’t expect that much action at the post office.

I haven’t come up with anything for that scene, but I’m still thinking about it. Authors are naturally curious or in my case maybe just nosy. I wondered who she was talking to on the phone. What did they say to her? What do you think? Want to play what if?

Mar ’09 – The Sheriff of Horseshoe, Texas
July ’09 – Caitlyn’s Prize