Interview with Kay Thomas

Jen: This weekend we welcome Harlequin debut author Kay Thomas. Kay, will you please share a short bio with us?
Kay: Having grown up in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, I consider myself a “recovering” Southern belle. I attended Vanderbilt and graduated from Mississippi State University, with a degree in Educational Psychology and an emphasis in English.

Along the way to publication, I taught high school, worked in advertising specialties, and had a very brief stint in a lingerie store. I met my husband when we sat next to each other in a Dallas restaurant. Seven weeks later we were engaged. Twenty years later I’d say the moral of that story is: “When in Texas look the guy over before you sit next to him, because you may be eating dinner with him the rest of your life!” Today I still live in Dallas with my Texan, our two children and a shockingly spoiled Boston Terrier named Jack.

Jen: Tell us about Better Than Bulletproof and where it’s available.

Kay: Better Than Bulletproof is about a Marine and a perpetual “screw up,” who join forces to rescue an autistic boy from a web of murder and government conspiracy.

Gina Rodgers, a struggling advertising artist, has just landed the account of a lifetime when her sister mysteriously disappears and leaves behind a five-year-old autistic son. Even though she has no idea how to deal with her nephew’s overwhelming needs, Gina drops everything in her Dallas job and travels to Mississippi to care for Adam and look for her sister. There she discovers an unexpected ally in the child’s play therapist, Harlan Jeffries, an ex-military sniper seeking redemption through working with special needs children.

As they search for her sister, Gina and Harlan are caught up in a conspiracy involving murder, betrayal and a pharmaceutical company cover-up that reaches to the highest levels of government. Everything they believe about themselves and the people they love will be challenged as Gina and Harlan are forced to race across the country to find and protect her missing sister’s explosive research study that proves the vaccine-autism connection.

Better Than Bulletproof is being released by Harlequin Intrigue on January 13 and will be available wherever books are sold—including Barnes and Noble, Borders, Target, Walmart, your favorite grocery store, Amazon (US and the International sites), and Indiebound.

Jen: At what age did you discover writing and when were you first published? Tell us your call story.

Kay: I didn’t always know I wanted to write. The first week of “Freshman Comp” my professor read something I’d written out loud to the entire class as an example of something “well done.” I still remember how that made me feel.

Unfortunately, that feeling didn’t last…I was a one hit wonder in composition and was thrilled with the C that I barely squeezed out of there with. I had another English professor tell me that I couldn’t write at all. But my fourth year, I met the teacher who would become my writing mentor and I started to “get it”.

He said, “Write on one side of the page only. You can write all over the page if you must, but one side only for your papers.”

You really have to understand Conrad’s Heart of Darkness to do that. You can’t B.S. your way to a conclusion in a one-pager unless you have the concept down and can write tight. I fell in love with that kind of writing and I still keep in touch with that prof. He edited my first two books. He’s in his eighties now. A wonderful man.

A few years later, I took a couple of creative writing courses at a community college and started a manuscript. Got a hundred pages into it, got stuck, and life just got in the way for a while. Finally in 2004 I joined RWA and things started to really gel for me.

Better Than Bulletproof is my debut novel, but my third full manuscript.

The Call — Last year in mid-January, I was packing my family to get ready for a trip to visit my Dad for his 81st birthday. The phone rang and it was my wonderful agent Helen Breitwieser. She usually emails so I knew this was momentous news. She said Harlequin Intrigue really liked my story but it was too long for their line and would I be willing to cut my single title story to a category length.

(This meant cutting about 80 pages of the manuscript.)

Was I willing to do that?

“Of course I can.”

“Okay, let me call them back. I’ll email you, it will probably be tomorrow before we hear anything.”

Well, after that awesome call I had to get in the car and drive eight hours to my parents’ house. And let me tell you, it was a good thing we were almost packed because I don’t think I could have remembered to pack underwear or shoes or anything, I was so excited.

We didn’t really have a deal yet. Just a “Gee, we’re interested.” And I didn’t know if they’d want me to do all that cutting first and see it before they made the offer or after. And I had a long drive to think about that, too. A very long drive.

When we got to my parent’s house it was 2 am, and everyone was wiped out from the drive, so I didn’t want to get into the news just yet. But my Dad has always been such a cheerleader for my writing. Growing up he always told me I could do whatever I set my mind to. When I went to tell my parents good night after the kids were finally in bed, I just had to tell my folks that I thought I “might” be about to sell my book. The looks on their faces were priceless.

I couldn’t sleep after all that and I had to go online to see if there was any news. I really wasn’t expecting any until much later that day. It was now about 3:30 in the morning and everyone was fast asleep but yes, there was the email from Helen! Harlequin had made an offer. I was shouting on the inside but I couldn’t go wake anyone up to say it was finally real.

They’d all just gotten to sleep. But oh, that evening we got to celebrate my Dad’s birthday with the rest of my extended family and my book sale. I don’t think I could have given my Dad a greater birthday gift than telling him about my dream come true in person.

Jen: How does your family feel about your writing?

Kay: They are incredibly supportive and my biggest cheering section. I wouldn’t be able to do this without them. Over the years they’ve eaten boatloads of frozen pizzas and Stouffers dinners when I’ve been lost at the computer and carried away in my character’s lives. One of the most amazing things about having sold is that my children have gotten to see me pursue a dream and watch it come true, even with the setbacks and rejections. That’s been a life lesson I couldn’t have taught them by myself.

Jen: Do you have a writing routine?

Kay: Sort of, but I would use the term “routine” very loosely! : )

During the summer and on holidays I write early in the morning while everyone is asleep. During the school year, I write after my kids get off to school. I’m more productive on story in the mornings. I use the afternoons for email, publicity, etc. Or that’s my goal. I read a great book this year called “Never Answer Email in the Morning” in an attempt to manage my time better. I got some great tips, but I’m still learning.

Jen: How do you shut out disruptions?

Kay: When I’m working at home, I shut the door to my office and I sometimes turn on the A/C fan as a white noise. It’s interesting though. I can write at Starbucks and not be bothered at all by the noise around me. I think it’s the familiar that distracts me. If I overhear my family talking in the next room and start wondering what they’re doing, I’ll want to be hanging out with them instead of in my office working.

I think it depends on what I’m working on. If I’m caught up in the story I’m writing, the smoke alarm can go off and I won’t hear it. If I’m stuck, I’m much more easily distracted.

Jen: How do you pick the character’s names?

Kay: It varies but for my main characters, usually those names are just “there.” Sometimes names are the first thing I “get” on a story after the main plot idea. For Better Than Bulletproof, Harlan was always Harlan. I couldn’t seem to call him anything else. And Gina was too. Secondary characters I tend to “waffle over” more. Usually they’re not nearly as clear for me and I tend to change those around.

Jen: What is it about the romance genre that appeals to you?

Kay: Happily ever after endings. I love that no matter how dark and dire the circumstances, you know everything is going to end up okay. Today, with so much uncertainty in our world, I believe it’s a huge comfort to readers to escape into a romance and KNOW it’s going to end well.

Jen: What did you do to celebrate the sale of your first book?

Kay: Well, it was my Dad’s 81st birthday! I don’t get to see my extended family real often. And they’ve been so supportive of this dream for so long. It made the celebration especially sweet.

Jen: Is there a genre that you’d like to write?

Kay: I do enjoy stretching myself when I write. Since finishing my upcoming April release, I’ve been working on some dark comedic suspense. I enjoy trying to see if I can do things I’ve never done before.

Jen: What four authors or people, from the past or present, have been important to you as an author? What question or comment have you always wanted to say to them?

Kay: Michael Crichton has always been at the top of my “fantasy dinner party list.” The literary world lost a huge talent when he passed away last year. When I think of the people I would love to sit around a table with and just listen to talking about their day to day lives, I think of him. I would love to have known how his “writing process” worked from start to finish. I read an article once that said he wrote the bare bones for a story generally in four weeks then would go back and layer in.

It amazes me how he could take scientific facts and then just tweak them the tiniest bit so you didn’t know where the reality stopped and the fiction began. His stories always seemed so plausible. He explained quantum physics in such a way that I believed it was possible to go back in time to Medieval Europe like he did in Timeline…same with the whole genetics and amber idea in Jurassic Park. To me, that was his gift. But I couldn’t begin to dissect how he did it.

Everything was possible when I was reading his stories. That was his magic.

Others I would love to have at that “fantasy dinner party” would include:

William Shakespeare- Sort of obvious I know, but can you imagine what it must have been like just sitting around with him – shooting the breeze or having a beer? All those plotlines and archetypes we use that originated in his stories. Amazing. I’d like to just listen to him talk for an evening.

Susan Elizabeth Phillips- I love her characters. They’re funny and yet the depth that’s always there comes from such unexpected places. I’d like to know how her process works, too. Is she a “layerer” or do those characters come “full blown?”

Robert Ludlum- The first thriller writer I ever read. The Matarese Circle completely hooked me. I was amazed at how he wove all his plot lines and threads together to make them work out in the end. I fell in love with that kind of story-telling and level of intensity. I’d want to ask: Did he have everything figured out before he started or did he just sit down and write?

Jen: If you could travel back in time for one year, what time and place would you choose? And if you could only take 3 things with you, what would they be?

Kay: I’d go to Queen Elizabeth’s court and take Penicillin or some kind of wide spectrum antibiotic (There were such nasty diseases back then, I’d want to make sure I survived the year!) Hand sanitizer. (Yes, there’s a theme here!) And a camcorder with lots of film and multiple batteries. I’d want to record as much of this awesome experience as possible.

Jen: What do you do in your free time?

Kay: Free time?? Hmm… I’m not sure I’m familiar with this concept?

Joking aside. My ideal “snow day” would include making pancakes. Well okay, eating the ones my husband and daughter make. I don’t cook much. And sitting around with my family to have breakfast together, watching an old movie or renting a new one, playing a game of dominoes (we have ongoing tournaments at our house), and of course, reading a good book in front of the fire.

Jen: What’s next for you?

Kay: I have an April Intrigue titled Bulletproof Texas. The release date is April 14, 2009. And I had a blast writing it. Bulletproof Texas pulls in some of the characters from Better Than Bulletproof.

It’s a romantic suspense thriller about a sexy research scientist and a brooding caving guide who are forced to work together extracting a cancer-eating bacteria from a flooding Texas Hill Country cave. As the sparks fly and the sexual tension increases, so do the dangers when a competitor decides this potential cure shouldn’t see the light of day–and is willing to kill anyone who gets in the way.

Jen: Where can you be found on the web?

Kay: My website — http://www.kaythomas.net
Facebook — http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1216532843&ref=profile
My Facebook group — Bulletproof Thrills – Romantic Suspense from Kay Thomas
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=38244900799
Myspace — http://www.myspace.com/kaythomas_ (yes, that’s an underscore after Thomas_)
the eHarlequin community — http://community.eharlequin.com/users/kay-thomas
The Intrigue Authors Blog- Breathtaking Romantic Suspense —
http://www.intrigue-authors.blogspot.com/

Jen: Is there anything you’d like to ask our readers?

Kay: I enjoy reading to find a combination of connection to the characters and their growth through the story while I escape into the fictional world that’s been created for me by the author. Have you ever read a novel that spoke to something occurring in your life as you were reading it?

Jen: Thank you Kay. I love your call story and wish everyone’s could be as special. Readers, Kay will be stopping by the blog this weekend to answer your questions. So ask away. And while you’re at it, consider answering her question. Kay is giving away a signed copy of Better Than Bulletproof to a random commenter. I’ll pick the winner on Sunday evening (January 11).