Meet the Author: Juanita Kees

juanita-keesJUANITA’S TOP WRITING TIP: Write, write, write—every day. You can’t be a writer if you don’t write. Learn from your mistakes and be prepared for a tough journey. Writing is a highly competitive, emotional roller coaster and you have to learn to take the bad with the good—graciously.

Juanita Kees graduated from the Australian College QED, Bondi with a diploma in proofreading, editing and publishing, and achieved her dream of becoming a published author in 2012 with the release of her debut romantic suspense, Fly Away Peta. Under the Hood followed in 2013 as one of the first releases from Harlequin’s digital pioneer, Escape Publishing. Juanita works as a freelance editor assisting authors in polishing their work for submission. She escapes the real world to write stories starring spirited heroines who give the hero a run for his money before giving in.

When she’s not writing, editing or proofreading, Juanita is the cleaning fairy and mother to three boys (hubby included, his toys are just a little more expensive). Her not-so-miniature Dacshund, Sam is her critique partner and keeps her company while writing.

Juanita loves to hear from fans and would love for you to enjoy her writing journey with her at:

Author Site:  http://juanitakees.com/

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Juanita-Kees-Author-Page/119574648138202

Twitter:  @juanitakees

On the Web:

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? I write because I love to. On paper, I can escape the challenges of living in the real world and visit the places of my dreams. I have the power to create perfect worlds or not so perfect ones, depending on my inspiration. In those worlds I can call up a storm, conjure magic, bring people together, nurture happiness or raise hell. It’s fun!

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I’d still be searching for myself. Writing has brought a freedom I could never have achieved in the real world. It’s brought me out of my shell and made me a stronger person. I’ve made friends with other writers who can share and understand the dedication it takes to be a writer, and this in turn has helped me open my heart to non-writer friends too.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? I guess the challenge for me was learning to believe in myself, to pluck up the courage to put my work in front of an acquisitions editor and to grow that thick hide we need to accept multiple rejections or less-than-satisfied reviews. We need to take the good with the bad and learn from both.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? I get to hang out with hunky heroes and feisty heroines in worlds of my own making. I can be as creative as my muse wants me to be and have the power to right the wrongs, make peace not war, and bring people together to live happily ever after.

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world will live as one.” ― John Lennon

—the worst? Having to drag myself away from my computer and back into the real world, where that power is limited. J

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I don’t think I’d do anything differently. Writing is a learning journey, and by mingling with other writers, going to conferences and workshops, joining writers’ groups and forums, I’ve learnt so much from both the experienced and less-experienced writers. Creating life-long friendships, acquaintances and connections in the writing world is definitely the way to go.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? That’s a tough one. I don’t think anything could have deterred me from striving to become an author. It’s in your blood, an addiction whatever form it takes, whether it’s in fiction, non-fiction, poetry or any other outlet you choose. But, if I had to choose one thing, it would be that I’d do more writing development workshops before submitting my first manuscript.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Write, write, write—every day. You can’t be a writer if you don’t write. There’s no point in saying, “I’m going to write a book one day”, you simply need to do it. The more you write, the more you learn, the more you learn, the better you get at it.

BOOK BYTE

Under the Hood by Juanita Kees

Under_the_HoodWhen Scott Devin buys a struggling car dealership in a semi-rural area in Western Australia, the last person he expects to see in charge is a stilletto-wearing, mini-skirted foreperson. Exactly the distraction a struggling, male-dominated workshop doesn’t need! But there’s more to TJ Stevens than meets the eye. TJ Stevens has two major goals in life: to preserve her grandfather’s heritage and protect the teens in her rehabilitation program – and she’ll go to any lengths to do it. Scott Devin’s presence is a threat to everything she’s worked hard to achieve, so keeping him at arms’ length shouldn’t be a problem…or will it?

Available from http://www.escapepublishing.com.au/product/9780857990297

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Meet the Author: Amanda Curtin

AMANDA’S TOP WRITING TIP: Be a reader as well as a writer, and read widely. Much of what we know about storytelling—structure, pace, characterisation—and about the way words are used and sentences are put together is absorbed almost unconsciously through reading. I think that’s why often when I used to read books about writing, books that break down and analyse the elements of prose, I would have aha! moments, where I’d realise that someone had just articulated something I instinctively knew. Reading also keeps you learning as a writer, keeps you humble, keeps you striving.

ElAmanda Curtin is the author of two novels, Elemental (2013) and The Sinkings (2008), and a short story collection, Inherited (2011), all published by UWA Publishing. She has also worked as a freelance book editor for most of her adult life, and occasionally lectures and presents master classes and workshops for writers. She has a PhD in Writing, is an Accredited Editor (AE) with the Institute of Professional Editors, and is an Adjunct Lecturer at Edith Cowan University.

She has been awarded writing residencies at OMI International Arts Center’s Ledig House in New York State; the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, Ireland; Hawthornden International Retreat for Writers at Lasswade, Scotland; and the Tasmanian Writers Centre, Hobart. She has won the University of Canberra National Short Story Award, the Patricia Hackett Prize for best contribution to Westerly, the Katharine Susannah Prichard Short Fiction Award, and the Golden Key Honour Society Award for Excellence in Fiction (Asia-Pacific).

Amanda lives in an old house in an old suburb of Perth, Western Australia, and is currently working on a novella project. Visit her website at http://www.amandacurtin.com

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? It’s a great question, an intriguing one for any writer to ask themselves. I feel it’s what I’m meant to be doing, who I am at this point in my life. I don’t write because there are things I want to say but because there are things I want to explore, try to understand. It’s the grey areas I am interested in. That’s the short version! I wrote a longish post on this last year: http://amandacurtin.com/2013/09/25/writers-ask-writers-why-i-write/

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I’ve been a freelance book editor for close to 30 years, and still work as an editor, though far less frequently. But if writing (and editing, and occasional teaching) didn’t occupy most of my time, I think I would study photography.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Lack of confidence. Three things helped me there. First, the encouragement of writers in my writing groups (initially, Annabel Smith, Donna Mazza, Danielle Wood, Carmel Macdonald Grahame; later, Robyn Mundy and Annabel Smith) and my academic supervisor, Richard Rossiter. Second, being fortunate enough to win a couple of awards. Third, being accepted into a PhD writing program.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? I feel privileged, and lucky, to be able to do what I’m doing generally. And even more so when my work takes me to other worlds—either literally, through travel, or virtually, through desktop research. Beyond that, it’s immensely rewarding when readers go out of their way to make contact to tell me what they loved and why, or that they were immersed in the world I created, or that it connected with something in their own lives.

—the worst? Self-doubt is always the dark to the light, and I suspect it’s the same in any area of the arts.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I don’t have an agent. Having now observed what a good agent can do—working with a publisher, helping with marketing and promotion, etc.—I might have persisted in searching for one willing to take me on. However, it has to be acknowledged that it can be as hard, if not harder, to find an agent than it is to find a publisher. And I’ve also observed that there seems little benefit in having an agent who is not wholly enthusiastic and active on your behalf.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I didn’t realise how necessary, and how time-consuming, the marketing side would be. I’m not complaining, just acknowledging that I wasn’t prepared for it!

What’s the best advice you were ever given? A wonderful piece of advice that I try to put into practice is this: leave something unfinished at the end of a writing day, so that when you return to it you’re plunged immediately into the writing itself, rather than the thinking process that precedes it.

BOOK BYTE

Elemental by Amanda Curtin

elemental_COVER v low resIt has taken a lifetime for me to see that the more afraid people are of the darkness, the further into it they will flee.

Nearing the end of her life, Meggie Tulloch takes up her pen to write a story for her granddaughter. It begins in the first years of the twentieth century, in a place where howling winds spin salt and sleet sucked up from icefloes. A place where lives are ruled by men, and men by the witchy sea. A place where the only thing lower than a girl in the order of things is a clever girl with accursed red hair. A place schooled in keeping secrets.

Moving from the north-east of Scotland to the Shetland Isles to Fremantle, Australia, Elemental is a novel about the life you make from the life you are given.

Available from: http://uwap.uwa.edu.au/books-and-authors/book/elemental/

Meet the Author: Vanessa Garden

VANESSA’S TOP WRITING TIP: Read as many books as you can get your hands on. Read in the genre you wish to write but also experiment with new genres so as to expose your writer’s brain to as many voices as possible. Also, write a little each day. Even half an hour a day can produce a book in one year.

Vanessa Garden

Vanessa Garden lives on the coast of Western Australia with her husband, their three chatty children, and three calming goldfish. When she is not writing, Vanessa can be found at the local bookstore where she works part-time. Being a bookseller as well as an author, Vanessa loves nothing more than immersing herself in the exciting world of books. When she is not gushing about her favourite reads to customers, or dreaming up her next novel, she enjoys spending time with the people she loves most.

http://vanessagarden.blogspot.com.au/

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? I write because I genuinely enjoy creating stories and spending time with my characters, and also because I simply cannot stop. There have been times, more so before I became a published author, where I have said, ‘oh well, time to throw in the towel and focus on real life’, only to find that a day passes, or perhaps only an hour, before a new idea takes hold and basically doesn’t allow me to give up on writing.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I’d most likely get back into baking and cooking. Before I took writing seriously I was always in the kitchen creating elaborate meals, but now I’m spending less and less time there due to my writing schedule and I do miss it. I’m sure my children and husband are getting sick of my ‘anything goes’ nights of eggs on toast, baked beans and two-minute noodles!

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Sticking with it and trying to keep the self-belief alive even after 200 odd rejections! As soon as somebody said yes, my confidence shot up. It is amazing what we can do when somebody believes in us and, more importantly, when we believe in ourselves.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Sharing stories with fellow readers, meeting other writers, and the euphoric buzz that comes with a new idea! There is nothing more exciting than waking up in the middle of the night to jot down ‘the next big thing’ (which will most likely seem ridiculous in the morning, lol).

—the worst? Trying to balance writing with family time and work. I’m very conscious of writing only when my children are at school or in bed, which can be difficult with working hours at my day job eating up a lot of the school time, so often I’m sleep deprived from writing late at night. Sometimes I just feel so exhausted. I wish there was an eight-day week!

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I learned as I went (making a lot of mistakes along the way) but it was all necessary to get where I am today. So probably not a thing!

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? That sometimes you wait forever to hear back on a manuscript, so instead of waiting anxiously, write something new in the meantime.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? To write the story you want to read.

BOOK BYTE

Captivate by Vanessa Garden

backdrop captivateFor the past 12 months since her parents’ death, 17-year-old Miranda Sun has harboured a dark secret — a secret that has strained the close relationship she once shared with her older sister, Lauren. In an effort to repair this broken bond, Miranda’s grandparents whisk the siblings away on a secluded beach holiday. Except before Miranda gets a chance to confess her life-changing secret, she’s dragged underwater by a mysterious stranger while taking a midnight swim.

Awakening days later, Miranda discovers that she’s being held captive in a glittering underwater city by an arrogant young man named Marko…the King of this underwater civilisation. Nineteen-year-old Marko intends to marry Miranda in order to keep his crown from falling into the sinister clutches of his half-brother, Damir. There’s only one problem. Miranda is desperate to return home to right things with her sister and she wants nothing to do with Marko. Trying to secure her freedom, Miranda quickly forms an alliance with Robbie — Marko’s personal guard. However, she soon discovers that even underwater, people are hiding dangerous secrets…

Links: http://www.harlequinbooks.com.au/product/9781488711282

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18683518-captivate

http://www.amazon.com/Captivate-Vanessa-Garden-ebook/dp/B00GX0PR40/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1388201052&sr=1-2&keywords=captivate

https://itunes.apple.com/au/book/captivate/id766191327?mt=11

Meet the Author: Pauline Montagna

PAULA’S TOP WRITING TIP: Don’t write novels. The novel is a dying art form and the market is flooded. Look to the future. Write for the next generation in the formats they’ll be, in the jargon of the day, ‘accessing’ and ‘consuming’. My money would be on computer games.

Pauline Montagna was born into an Italian family in Melbourne, Australia. After completing a Bachelor of Arts at La Trobe University, Pauline joined the Department of Social Security where it was decided that someone with a major in French would be perfect for the Finance section. Fortunately for them, as the daughter of shopkeepers, Pauline had a good head for figures.

While indulging her artistic interests by becoming involved in Melbourne’s burgeoning amateur theatre scene, Pauline pursued her developing accounting skills through a wide variety of workplaces culminating in the Australian film industry which eventually took her to Perth. There she decided to return to university and qualify as a teacher, graduating from Edith Cowan and Murdoch universities with Graduate Diplomas in Language Studies and Education.

After returning to Melbourne, Pauline continued teaching English as a Second Language while she completed a Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing.

Pauline has now retired from teaching to concentrate on The Stuff of Dreams, a four volume fictional account of the life of William Shakespeare and the experiences and relationships that made him the writer he became. The first volume, Not Wisely but Too Well, traces his early life until 1593. She has previously published two other books, The Slave, an historical romance set in fourteenth century Italy, and Suburban Terrors a short story collection.

Information about her books and where to buy them can be found at her website http://paulinemontagna.net.

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? I think I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I guess I would say it’s what I do, what I am. If I had my way I would write all day and read all night. As a child I was always telling myself stories and writing them down is just an adult version of that. I remember my first effort was a four-page play when I was eight years old. It was about a princess in a tower waiting to be rescued by a prince. How original!

More recently, though, my writing has been inspired by a need to know more. I have always loved history. I love reading about history. I love doing the research, and I love writing about it. As I dig deeper into my subject, I discover stories which I just have to tell or bust. I can’t be sure where this love comes from, but it may be because I was born in Australia, a country with very little history, while my roots are in Italy, a country with perhaps too much history.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I don’t really know. There are times when I wonder how much longer I can do this, on both the psychological level and the financial. I’m doing some teaching at the moment to keep body and soul together. If needs be I could also get work as a bookkeeper. But I don’t know what would become of me if I ever gave up on being a writer.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Strictly speaking, as a self-publisher, I haven’t been ‘published” as the mainstream would define it. Now I probably never will be. As far as the publishing industry is concerned, self-published books are by definition books that aren’t good enough to find a publisher and so they will not look at them. I daresay this prejudice will extend to the author. We self-publishers dream about being discovered by the mainstream, but there’s lots of competition out there, and unless you’re a breakout like Fifty Shades of Grey, the mainstream will never find you.

The irony is that while agents tell you that your book couldn’t find a publisher because it wasn’t good enough, in the same breath they will tell you they are having a great deal of trouble placing their clients’ books as the industry is in such dire straits. They are discovering what we self-publishers have known all along. The mainstream industry doesn’t have the capacity to publish all the publishable books out there. The rest of us have to either live a life of frustration as we try desperately to be accepted by the mainstream, or go it alone and live with knowing we’ve locked ourselves out.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? And the worst? I do love the research. My best summer ever was the one I spent in the State Library of Victoria doing the preliminary research for my Shakespeare series. You can almost hear the neurons firing as you go from one book to the other, making leaps here and connections there. There’s nothing better.

But recently I’ve discovered how much I love actually writing, though I made this discovery because I’ve done so little of it recently. Most of my time, energy and headspace has been taken up by marketing. For a self-published writer, marketing is difficult, much more difficult than writing. It’s where the drudgery and uncertainty comes in and can become all-consuming. Unfortunately it’s vital, unless you want to write in a vacuum.

I’m basically a shy person so I dread the very thought of going out there to sell myself. Instead I’ve turned to the internet. There’s lots of advice about online marketing out there, but in reality, no one knows what will and won’t work for your book. You have to try it all and hope that something pushes the right buttons. Over the last few months I’ve been trying to implement a detailed online marketing plan I developed while I was overseas earlier this year. It takes a great deal of time out of my day, and saps the writing energy out of me. I’m working towards finding some kind of balance.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? What’s the best advice you were ever given? As I mentioned earlier, there’s lots of advice out there. Most of it is about believing in your dreams and never giving up. Such advice assumes that your dream will come true as long as you work hard enough and that if your dream doesn’t come true it’s because you’ve given up. But sometimes there’s a brick wall out there and the only time banging your head against a brick wall feels good is when you stop. There’s only so much rejection a soul can take.

The only advice I wish I had been given is probably the only advice I wouldn’t have listened to. Quality has little to do with success. Marketing is everything. Don’t go out into a brutal and crowded marketplace unless you’re a salesperson first and a writer second. If you aren’t then don’t bother trying to become a published author. Be content as a closet writer, writing for your own pleasure alone. If you’re lucky you may find your niche, but don’t count on it.

{For a snapshot of Not Wisely, But Too Well go to Author Bookshelf.}

Meet the Author: Nora James

NORA’S TOP WRITING TIP: Be in it for the long run. Yes, occasionally someone writes a book, sends it off to a publisher who accepts it straight away and it turns into a bestseller pretty much overnight. It is possible. So is winning Lotto. Generally though it takes years (sometimes decades) to get there, so find a way to sustain your passion for as long as it takes, and don’t give up your day job unless you have a kind spouse who can support you, you’ve saved a lot of pennies for a rainy day, won the lottery, inherited a tidy sum from your great-uncle John, or all of the above. More than anything, enjoy the daily work – being a writer is hard but it’s a privilege.

Nora James

Nora James started her working life at age 14 in a bakery in Paris. She held a number of other jobs before studying law at the University of Western Australia and becoming an international resources lawyer and translator. She has travelled extensively, both as a child and adult, for family reasons, work and pleasure. She now writes novels and screenplays from her home in coastal Western Australia where she lives with her husband and daughter and a menagerie of furry friends. Visit Nora’s website at http://www.norajames.com.au/

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? I write because I seem to have a million stories in my head, and characters dancing around my mind, too. I feel I’m meant to bring those stories and characters to life and share them with other people. I find writing gives another dimension to my existence and allows me to live more than one life. It’s a little bit like reincarnation or time travel but all you need to do it is a pen (or computer) and paper.

I was drawn to writing from a very young age, too. In fact, as far back as I can remember, I wrote stories. Granted they were a little simpler when I was six, but I already loved how it made me feel. I get an incredible sense of achievement and purpose from it. And also, although I’m working, the focus and concentration of it seems to bring me balance and peace by blocking out the day-to-day issues I might face as a mother and a wife. In brief, it can be quite therapeutic at times!

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? If I hadn’t become a writer I’d be working as a lawyer or translator, which is what I was doing immediately before I started writing with a view to being published. I was lucky enough to be involved in some high profile cases, and to work for a few large companies on international matters. It was very interesting work – although I did my fair share of mind-numbingly boring stuff – and I travelled a lot. But at the end of the day I felt I was put on Earth to do something more creative and so I wrote whenever I could, on the train, plane, during lunch breaks. Eventually I threw in the towel and jumped into the world of writing in the hope that I’d become published and one day make a living out of it.

If I had to stop writing now, first of all I’d cry for days on end and then I’d probably start a small business. Something to do with animals, perhaps – I love animals – or maybe something to do with food, like having my own little French café. I spent many years in France and am married to a Frenchman and together we’d make the business quite authentic, I think.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Dark Oil was a little different, not your usual romance. It didn’t quite fit into any boxes and as a result was a bit more of a risk for a publisher, I suppose. I sent it out to a few publishers and got knocked back, as you do, sometimes with a lovely email telling me it was an interesting and thoughtful project that they’d enjoyed, but it was still a “no, thanks”.

I decided to put it aside and didn’t send it out again for a number of years. Then I heard about Escape Publishing through Juanita Kees, a very talented author who’d just joined the critique group I’m in, and it sounded like Escape was open to projects that were unique in some way. I tried it with them and was absolutely thrilled when it was accepted. I can’t begin to tell you what a wonderful feeling it is!

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing. Feeling that way about your work is extremely rewarding. A close second is that I’m completely in control of my days. I don’t have anyone breathing down my neck. I don’t even have to get dressed if I don’t feel like it: I can just write in my pyjamas, which I have been known to do on a cold morning.

I don’t have to sit at my desk, either. I quite often sit on the couch or retreat to my favourite armchair with my laptop on my knee and type away for an hour or two before returning to the desk. Varying my position allows me to not feel stiff and sore.

—the worst? I’m torn between loneliness and uncertainty. Loneliness because even if you are like me and enjoy working on your own most of the time there are moments when it would be nice to wander down to the coffee machine or the photocopier and have a chat with someone, the way people do in companies.

And uncertainty because you never know if you are going to get published, and if so when. And once you are published, you don’t know if your next book will be accepted. And once it is you wonder if it will sell well or not. Uncertainty about the future seems to come with the territory. You have to be able to live with that.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I’d find out about markets. It can be very disheartening to write something beautiful and meaningful only for it to remain on your desk gathering dust because no one is publishing that type of manuscript. The best way to find out about what’s being sold and therefore improve your chances of publication is to join writing organisations such as the Romance Writers of Australia and go to their conferences.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I wish someone had told me that it is extremely difficult to get started in certain genres. You’re better off writing in a more popular genre to break in, and perhaps later on trying your hand at other things. Also, that it usually takes a very long time to make a decent living out of writing and many writers never will.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Join a critique group. It makes such a difference not only to the quality of your work as you learn from others but also to morale. Writing is a solitary pursuit that can’t be likened to many other professions: I can’t think of another job where you have no regular income, perhaps no income at all for years, your work is constantly rejected, you don’t see another living soul all day, you depend on no one but yourself for creativity, motivation and reward. At the same time, it’s a job that gives you an incredible amount of freedom, as well as the opportunity to express yourself, lead a meaningful life and leave behind in your art the essence of who you are and how you see the world.

So in summary join a critique group to find people who not only will help you develop your craft but also truly understand the trials, tribulations and exquisite joy of being a writer.

{For a snapshot of Dark Oil and a link to where to buy it, visit the Author Bookshelf page.}