Jen: This week we’re happy to have Donna Alward with us at Book Talk with J & J. Welcome Donna! Please share a short bio with us.
Donna: A busy wife and mother of three (2 daughters and the family dog), Donna Alward believes hers is the best job in the world: a combination of stay-at-home mom and romance novelist.
An avid reader since childhood, Donna always made up her own stories. She completed her Arts Degree in English Literature in 1994, but it wasn’t until 2001 that she penned her first full-length novel, and found herself hooked on writing romance. In 2006 she sold her first manuscript, and now writes warm, emotional stories for Harlequin’s Romance line.
From her new home office in Nova Scotia, Donna loves being back on the East Coast of Canada after nearly 12 years in Alberta where her Harlequin career began, writing about cowboys and the west. Donna’s debut Romance, Hired By The Cowboy, was awarded the Booksellers Best Award in 2008 for Best Traditional Romance.
With the Atlantic Ocean only minutes from her doorstep, Donna has found a fresh take on life and promises even more great romances in the near future!
Donna: Falling For Mr. Dark and Dangerous is a prime example of secondary characters asking for their own story. Actually Maggie didn’t even appear physically in Marriage At Circle M OR Hired By The Cowboy, but her name was there as Mike’s cousin-turned-foster parent. She’s widowed and runs a Bed and Breakfast. A US Marshal comes to stay when he’s on a supposed leave of absence. Except, as the reader finds out pretty quickly, he’s not really there on leave, and when things start developing between the two of them it really gets tangled up.
Jen: At what age did you discover writing and when were you first published? Will you share your call story with us?
Donna: I was always a keen writer, but in 2001 I finally sat down to write my first novel. It was pure rubbish. I worked really hard for nearly 5 years, and learned a lot, and in March and April of 2006 I sold 2 books to Samhain Publishing. Then that July I got the call from Harlequin Romance. I was on vacation at the time, at my husband’s parent’s place. I’d been asked for revisions and sent them, but checking e-mail was sporadic. I went on their computer to do our banking, and saw two rather excited e-mails from my first Harlequin editor, asking me to call. I did, she called me back and gave me the news and we celebrated with champagne that night! I went from nothing to selling four books that year. To be honest it still feels a little surreal.
Donna: You know, I used to plot more. I think it might have been a security thing…not knowing where I was going was scary so I was more comfortable working out a plot summary, whatever. But the more I go along the more I realize I’m really a pantser. What I need to know is the characters. So I will spend a significant amount of time getting to know them first. I’ll have a basic idea of the arcs that are going to happen, and probably a few key scenes in my head. But then I just jump in and let them lead me. If I know my characters really well, I can trust them to lead me through the story. When I plot less, sometimes that’s when real magic happens. They will say something I didn’t expect, or do something I hadn’t initially planned and it’s much better than what I had in mind. I’ve learned to trust that, I think.
Donna: Peace and quiet. I have a real hard time writing when it’s chaotic. A cup of coffee is nice. I manage when kids are on school breaks, etc. but I really don’t need anything more than my PC and relative quiet around me.
Donna: Most of the time, yes! I’m such a creature of habit. This works especially well when school is in. I get up and help get the husband off to work, then check e-mail, then get the kids off to school, then come back and work until they are done. We recently moved and the school schedule is a little different but I think it will work even better for me. They go in earlier (meaning I get an earlier start) and get out earlier which means I’ll quit earlier too, but I might actually keep caught up on more of the house that way.
Jen: What is it about the romance genre that appeals to you?
Donna: Oh, what a soapbox question! Hands down, it’s the hope, that warm feel-good feeling at the end and seeing characters overcome all sorts of obstacles to be together. Life can be daunting and depressing. Some call romance escapist literature and I suppose in some way that is true. But it’s also about giving people hope. My characters aren’t two perfect people coming together for a happily ever after. They are deeply flawed with problems to overcome. Love is a real healing power.
I’ve had mail from readers saying that my book helped them get through a difficult time. That the world was giving them a raw deal in some way and to be honest who wants to read something heavy or depressing or what many would call “important” literature at those times? Your mind and heart is already dealing with so much. There’s nothing wrong with escaping for a little while – real life will intrude soon enough. Romance has an important place and I think a lot more people would benefit from reading it.
Donna: I do three things. When I get an advance, the family goes out to dinner. I buy myself something small that is just for me, or something I’ve wanted for a long time. And I put a chunk of it into retirement savings.
Donna: I’d love to get into more mainstream/single title Romance eventually. I love historicals so who knows? But to be honest I am in awe of historical writers. They work SO hard.
Jen: Where do you draw your inspiration?
Donna: From life. From movies, my husband, my kids. Ideas are everywhere. When I hear stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things, I’m in writer heaven.
Jen: Do you have a favorite character or one that you identify most with?
Donna: Hmmm, interesting question! There are parts of me in all my heroines, I think. And I think it’s the part of me that’s afraid, or insecure, or wounded that comes out in their conflicts. So each of them have a little something I can relate to. Even though their situations are not mine, there is something there.
Heroes are a different story. I have a real soft spot for Mike from Marriage At Circle M. He was so sexy to me, and infuriating. And I loved Jonas from The Soldier’s Homecoming too…but I think he had something important to say and I was the vehicle. I fall a bit in love with all my heroes, including with Nate from my current release. I have an Italian hero coming up that to me is just delicious.
Donna: My fave author of all time is LaVyrle Spencer. I wish she hadn’t retired. Her books are evocative, with wonderfully drawn characters. She digs really deep…I bawled in the university cafeteria reading November of the Heart and her final book, Then Came Heaven is perfection. I used a box of Kleenex in the first third. For historicals, I grew up reading Judith McNaught’s regencies and I adore them.
Right now I’m reading Wild Lady by Liz Fielding, and An Impulsive Debutante by my critique partner, Michelle Styles. I have some interesting selections coming up in my TBR…including several books on WWII and The Birth House: A Novel by Ami McKay.
Jen: What’s next for you?
Donna: Release-wise, my next book is due out in January and is called The Rancher’s Runaway Princess. This book had fairy dust all over it for me. If I were to pick favourites, this would be one. The last third of the book was magical to write and I love it.
Writing-wise, I’m working on a Christmas novella that is supposed to be released towards the end of 09, and then on to 2 linked westerns that are going to be scads of fun.
Jen: Where can you be found on the web?
Donna: My website is http://www.donnaalward.com/, my blog is http://www.donnaalward.blogspot.com/, and my myspace is www.myspace.com/dalward. I’m also in eharlequin’s community all the time, and I’m a regular at some blogs around town as well as an editor at The Pink Heart Society.
Donna: How about what are your favourite things in a book? What do you like in a heroine, a hero, a plot? What makes a book memorable for you?