Colleen had eighteen romance books out before she switched to writing romantic suspense. Her first romantic suspense, WITHOUT A TRACE, was a 2004 RITA finalist. The Aloha Reef series with WestBow debuted in May 2005. Her most recent release, Alaska Twilight, is her first Women of Faith novel.
She has graciously accepted my request for an interview and I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I did. Please leave me a comment if you'd like to be entered into the drawing for a copy of Alaska Twilight. If you don't win and you purchase a copy of the book by clicking the link below I'll enter you in a second drawing for something from my own library of books! It's a win-win situation!
Colleen, I've read Alaska Twilight, what a beautiful story. Can you tell us where the idea for the setting and the characters came from?
Oh good question! I had an idea for a suspense set in Alaska YEARS ago with a photographer as the protagonist. My agent hated it, and I couldn’t figure out why because the opening bear scene scared me to death. When Ami asked for something for Women of Faith, I thought of that story and went back and looked it over. Oh yeah, THEN I could see why my agent hated it. It was LOUSY. But the idea was still good, so I brainstormed it with my girls and came up with a much stronger story. I’ve always been fascinated with bears and with Alaska. I just couldn’t let go of that story until I wrote it.
I know it's important to you to be as accurate and true to setting as possible, was it a challenge to capture the ruggedness and beauty of Alaska?
It was because Alaska is so diverse. There are so many different types of land and climate there. I thought long and hard before I decided just where to set it. And two ACFW friends who grew up in Alaska, Kristen Blincoe and Amy Bang, read it for me to make sure I had it right.
Writing a Women of Faith book is an honor. Are you given guidelines for what the book should be about or what should be included in the book, and how excited were you to be asked to do the book?
I was THRILLED to be asked to do a Women of Faith book. It’s a huge honor. Ami just told me that most of their books are about overcoming something. Haley has a lot to overcome.
Something that I continually see in your books are real characters with real flaws. Whether it be emotional or even physical disabilities. No cookie cutter characters here... was that something you consciously set out to do, or do these characters just evolve as you write?
I’m sure not perfect so it’s impossible for me to write perfect characters. I do consciously try to figure out the flaws. Sometimes that’s hard because we want people to like the characters and don’t like to reveal their faults. Just like we hate to reveal our own. LOL
You're very prolific, which as a fan I love, can you tell us how long a book generally takes you? From concept to final draft. How much do you write daily and do you write a certain amount of days?
I write eight hours a day. I’m obsessed about writing. LOL I can bang out a rough draft in about 4-6 weeks when I know exactly where I’m going with a story. If I’m stymied a bit, it may take a little longer. And I have a busy publicity schedule which sometimes interferes.
Do you have a goal of how many books you'd like to write each year and do you schedule breaks?
My last few years have been busy. I’ve had at least three books a year and it’s been hard with the way I’ve been doing so much publicity. So we’re cutting back to two a year. I know, you hate to hear that, but I don’t want to get burned out. I love writing and I want to keep it that way.
How thrilling is it--even now, to see that book in your hands?
I always cry. The cover for Alaska Twilight was so beautiful though that I called it a “three hanky” book. LOL
Share one of your biggest, most exciting moments in your writing career?
The day I heard WestBow was picking me up. I adored Ami McConnell from the first minute I met her. Working with her is a dream come true. When my agent called, I was at work. I said, “Oh my goodness,” in a hushed voice. I was too overcome to even scream. LOL
How did you celebrate that first book sale?
Going out to dinner of course. LOL The day the call came in I ran around the house screaming. The cat hid under the bed and wouldn’t come out for hours.
How does your real life reflect in your writing? Do you ever use real life events and adapt them for your stories?
I think every writer uses elements of their own life in their books. Not necessarily the actual events but the way they make us FEEL. It’s that opening a vein thing. LOL
At the 2005 ACFW Conference I leaned over and asked you, “Can you remember how exciting this is for a newbie like myself?” You assured me that you could. What has it been like for you to not only be able to realize your dream of being a great writer, but form friendships with some of today’s best writers?
I wake up every morning and thank God that he’s allowed me this life. I love every part of the writing life—from the rough draft, the editing and the publicity. I learn so much from my fellow writers, and the excitement has never dimmed. It’s still as fresh as that first year.
How has your great relationship with those at WestBow helped your writing career?
I can’t even begin to describe how important they have been. Ami McConnell has an amazing wisdom, a laser like quality that hones in on the important elements of a story. I learn something from her with every story. The freelance editor they hired for my books, Erin Healy, is amazing too. She teaches me something new with very book. Publisher Allen Arnold is a powerhouse that changed the direction for WestBow. He’s so committed to fiction and to building his authors. I just signed on for another six books after the Fire Jumper series, something that’s rather rare for them, but they love me as much as I love them. My marketing and publicity friends at Thomas Nelson are super as well and are always thinking of new ways to get the word out about my books. All the staff there from Lisa Young, Allen’s assistant, to the other editor Amanda Bostic to the assistant who took her place, Natalie Hanemann, are such supporters. And they have the best cover designers in the industry. Mark Ross is head of that department, and his team comes up with fabulous ideas—as you can see with the cover for Alaska Twilight! I’m very blessed.
I've heard you say that those first few years were like wandering alone in the desert. Is that why you've made such an effort mentoring new writers? And is that why your friendships with your crit partners, Kristin Billerbeck, Diann Hunt, and Denise Hunter are so important to you?
Oh yes! Kristin and I learned to write together. We came together first. Then I met Denise and she and I began to exchange chapters. Diann was the last to join us. I met her at a writing class she was taking of Dr. Hensley's at Taylor University in Fort Wayne, and we just clicked. We all started out at Heartsong. Emails and calls from them brighten every day. I never feel alone now.
Can you ever see yourself writing Non Fiction? Maybe a book on the writing craft? I'd buy it. =)
That would be the only thing I might write non fiction.
What do you think is the biggest misconception for new writers? And the hardest obstacle?
The biggest misconception is that life changes after you’re published. LOL I still clean toilets, do dishes and cook (ick). I think the biggest obstacle is believing you ever arrive. I’m still learning with every book. The day you quit trying to improve your craft is the day your readers start to go elsewhere.
Is there anything you know now that you wish you had known back in the beginning of your career? Any profound advice for unpublished writers. No pressure. LOL.
That I wasn’t Austen. LOL I thought the first time someone read my work they would rave about it. Um no.
Can you tell us anything about your future projects? Or even something that you'd love to work on. Once you move to Arizona is it likely to see a series set there?
There’s a new series coming out in October that’s set in Arizona. The first book is done. It’s called Fire Dancer and I’ve really enjoyed working on it. I’m developing my villains MUCH more in the new series and my editors say it’s a quantum leap forward for me.
Thank you so much for being here with us, Colleen. I truly appreciate you taking time to do this interview. Now get back to work, lady! =) Check out Colleen's blog with fellow authors Kristin Billerbeck, Denise Hunter, and Diann Hunt. www.girlswriteout.blogspot.com.
Don't forget to leave me a comment for the drawing for Alaska Twilight! Feel free to mention your favorite character from any of Colleen's books.