Visit from Debra Holland

Please welcome my guest author for today, Debra Holland. I kept crossing paths with Debra last summer out in the blogosphere. Since this was around the time I was thinking of inviting guests to my blog, it seemed natural to ask her to visit. We decided to swap blog posts today – here’s the permalink to my post on her blog.

And now, here she is!

Thanks, Deb, for having me here. 🙂 Deb invited me to blog about my books, so I thought I’d write about the tales behind my tales.

From the time I was a teenager, I wanted to write my grandmother’s stories. However, I spent years in graduate school (masters and Ph.D) and that grueling process burned up all my creative writing energy. After I finished, it took a few years before I was ready to write for fun. By that time my grandmother had forgotten some of the details I needed to write a book, so I settled on a series of short stories about her childhood adventures.

Then I started dating a sexy, young cowboy, and the two of us had nothing in common. But I had the thought that if we’d live 100 years ago in the West, this relationship just might work. So that’s how the idea came about for my first book, Wild Montana Sky. Along the way, the characters morphed so they became themselves, not us, except my hero still looked like my cowboy.

In 2001, Wild Montana Sky won the Romance Writers of America Golden Heart award. In the ten years since then, I’ve had two agents try to sell the book, but they didn’t succeed because the story was “sweet,” not sexy, and historical Western–two strikes against it. In April, I self-published Wild Montana Sky (.99), as well as the next book in the series, Starry Montana Sky (2.99). In four and a half months, I’ve sold over 20,000 copies. So I guess there is a market for sweet and historical Western after all. 🙂

My fantasy romance trilogy actually started out as a short story that came to me while I was flying to Hawaii. I’d recently read Andre Norton’s Witch World Anthologies, which had short stories set in Witch World, but written by other authors. Andre Norton was the grand dame of science fiction and fantasy, and I’d fallen in love with the fantasy genre when I first read one of her books when I was 13. (No Harry Potter in those days.)

While in Hawaii, I scribbled the story on some paper (sitting on the balcony overlooking the ocean, definitely a tough way to write!) Then I polished it when I returned home.

Eventually I queried Andre about submitting to the anthology, and she wrote me back a very nice letter, saying she no longer did the anthologies. But instead of a short rejection, she wrote an actual letter, telling me some details of her life. I wrote back, telling her about me and my writing, and she replied. Thus began a correspondence that lasted until she died.

I took the short story, changed it to my own world, then expanded it to a novella, titled Withea’s Way.  I submitted it to a contest and won. Then I expanded it more to a 42,000 book and entered the Golden Heart contest. Withea’s Way finaled in 2003.

I knew (as an unpublished author) I couldn’t do much with such a short book, so I figured out how to make it into 100,000 words, and changed the title to Sower of Dreams. I also realized there was more to the story, and plotted out a trilogy.

At that point, I sent Sower to Andre for her feedback. She wrote back with a few suggestions, like to change the name of the city, which I’d called Seaview. She thought that sounded too much like a modern condo complex. She approved of the change to Seagem. Andre also gave me an endorsement. Sower was probably one of the last books she endorsed before she died. “Desert and sea both provide vivid backgrounds for action and real emotion in Sower of Dreams–outstanding and well-presented fantasy, which will keep the book in one’s hands, eyes on the page–a GOOD READ.”

Agent number two loved Sower of Dreams and worked hard to sell it. But again we were stymied by the book not being sexual. I wrote the next book in the trilogy, Reaper of Dreams. When Sower didn’t sell, I set aside fiction to write nonfiction, and had more success in that arena. The Essential Guide to Grief and Grieving, from Alpha Books, a subsidiary of Penguin, will be out November 1.

Six weeks ago, I self-published Sower, then several weeks later, Reaper. In that time, I’ve sold over 200 books. (It’s common for self-published books to start slow and build up sales.) I wish I could show Andre the beautiful covers (designed by Lex Valentine) because I’m sure she would have loved them.

I owe Andre Norton a great debt. I’ll always feel grateful to her.

Wild Montana Sky:

Sower of Dreams:

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