Interview with Award Winning Author Desiree Holt

Interview by Susan Brooks originally published April 17, 2015 at Susan's blog.

Desiree Holt is a force of nature. She has written over 170 traditionally published novels since 2006, she is a tireless supporter of other writers, and is insatiably charming. I am privileged to have had opportunity to work with her on past projects, and delighted to have this opportunity to interview her today. She will be our Sunday keynote speaker at the 2015 Colorado Gold Conference.

Hi Desiree!

Thanks so much for hosting me on your blog today. I am really looking forward to Colorado GoldDesireeHolt200x263 and meeting every one attending. And honored to be a presenter.

You have done just about every job imaginable. Tell me about your decision to become a writer.

Writing was always my passion, I think because I have always been a reader and wanted to create my own stories. My friends have always told me I have an overactive imagination. (Grin!). I scribbled in notebooks for years before computers were born, but I wasn’t able to devote the time to it until I retired. Then it was kind of like my brain exploded!

You started writing in 2006. Since then you’ve traditionally published over 170 novels. That is something like seventeen novels a year. HOW DO YOU DO THAT?

I am blessed with the quirky ability to write fast. A story takes shape in my brain (which, by the way, NEVER sleeps), and I can’t seem to get the words down fast enough. I never lack for ideas. Also, I write about eight hours a day.

Tell me about your writing process. Are you a plotter or a panster?

I used to be just a pantser because my stories are character-driven. I create the characters first from ideas that have sparked in my brain. Then I play the What If game. What If my heroine did such and such and my hero popped into the picture? What if my hero did such and such and stumbled over the heroine. That kind of thing. But as my writing has progressed two things have made me alter that. First of all, I often have more than one project going at a time. Secondly, I do a lot of series and the only way I can keep things straight is to have at least a bare outline of a plot to follow. Of course, as I get into the story my characters talk to me and we often take major detours.

So you always come up with the characters first?

Characters first. People fascinate me and I always try to imagine stories for them. And as I progress through the story, they talk to me, often taking me on journeys I never expected.

How did you go about learning the craft when you first started writing?

I had no idea how little I actually knew until I joined a writers group and ultimately a critique group. At least half of them were published authors and I am ever grateful for their guidance and input. I also entered a lot of writing contests through RWA and soaked up all the feedback.

What do you feel is the most important craft element for aspiring writers to master?

Discipline and determination. If you really want to be a writer you cannot let disappointment discourage you. The second is to learn the basics of a story: goal/motivation/conflict. Stick to it until you can make it work.

How many manuscripts had you completed before you sold your first book?

I had five full length manuscripts completed before I made my first sale after 137 rejections. See what I mean about not getting discouraged?

What is the best advice you can give someone wanting to publish?

Write and keep writing, and do everything you can to learn about what makes a saleable manuscript. The market is so different today than it was when I started and with the explosion of self-pubbing there are so many choices for readers. Join writers groups. Talk to people. Learn what makes the industry tick today.

What is the easiest thing and the most difficult thing for you when it comes to writing?

The easiest is creating my characters. The hardest is writing that first chapter. It sets the tone for the story and grabs the reader so I work hard to get it just right.

What is the most surprising thing you learned about the publishing industry over the years?

Wow. Hard to say.

How much marketing do you do for your books? What kind of marketing has given you the best results?

I do a fair amount of marketing along with what my publishers do. I am very big on social media, which has produced great results for me. But of course like anything else you have to have a plan. I am lucky that I have a personal assistant who does a lot of it for me. I do some advertising, along with what my publishers do. And I take full advantage of a very enthusiastic street team.

Which book that you have written is your favorite?

Hmmm. Actually, I have three favorites that I can’t seem to choose between. All completely different. First is a novella, Once Upon a Wedding that has a great twist to it. Second is a novella called Hard Lovin’, based on a 16th century Scottish air and brought forward into modern day Texas. It is being re-released at the end of May with new material and a hot new cover. My Naked Cowboys series because it’s set in a town like the one where I live. And finally my rock star series, because it takes me back to the years I spent in the music business. But I think my new favorite will be my football series, Game On, because I am the world’s most obsessed football fan.

What do you read? Any favorite authors?

I mostly read romance, romantic suspense and thrillers. I have so many favorite authors it’s hard to choose who to name but for romance Marie Force, Carly Phillips, Robyn Carr. For romantic suspense/suspense probably Tess Gerritsen, J. D. Robb (Nora Roberts), Debra Webb. Beyond that John Lescroart, Brad Thor, John Sandford, Jeffrey Deaver, Lisa Jackson.

Desiree, thanks for your time! I know you are a busy lady!

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Referred to by USA Today as the Nora Roberts of erotic romance, Desiree Holt is the world’s oldest living published erotic romance author with over 170 published works. A graduate of the University of Michigan with double majors in English and History, her earlier careers include agent and manager in the music industry, public television, associate vice president of university advancement, public relations, and economic development.

She is three times a finalist for an EPIC E-Book Award (and a winner in 2014), a nominee for a Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award, winner of the first 5 Heart Sweetheart of the Year Award at The Romance Studio as well as twice a CAPA Award winner for best BDSM book of the year, and winner of the Holt Medallion for Excellence in Romance Literature.

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Susan BrooksSusan Brooks has been reading voraciously since she was a toddler and got her hands on a copy of Go, Dog! Go! Soon after, she won a copy of A Wrinkle in Time through her public library’s summer reading program for reading more books in one summer than all the other students combined. She was six. She decided right then that when she grew up she wanted to read books for a living. She currently is the conference chair for Colorado Gold. She holds a masters degree in publishing from George Washington University and is also a publisher of well-written fiction at Literary Wanderlust, a new print and digital traditional press located in Denver, Colorado.

Besides being ADD, Susan is a freelance editor, and edits for several small publishing houses.

She tweets once in a while and you can follow her as @oosuzieq on Twitter.

RMFW Spotlight on Susan Brooks, Colorado Gold Conference Chair

Susan BrooksSusan Brooks has been conference chair since 2011.  She is Editor-in-Chief of YA and Children's Divisions of a traditional publisher and has an MA in Publishing from George Washington University.

Registration for the Colorado Gold Conference opened on May 1st. The conference is scheduled for September 5-7 at the Westin in Westminster, Colorado.

1. Susan, tell us what you do for RMFW and why you are involved.

I am the current conference chair, which means that I organize Colorado Gold. RMFW is such a wonderful organization and I love the mission of helping people learn. My biggest goal as conference chair is that each conference is better than the last one.

I initially got involved with RMFW in 2008. I had taken a long break from writing and after some life changes I wanted to write again. I knew I needed a critique group because I hadn’t written in such a long time. I searched online and found RMFW. I learned about the free monthly programs and I went to a few those. I met wonderful people at each event. One of them asked if I wanted to volunteer and do hospitality for the monthly workshops. I agreed, and once I started doing hospitality, it was a slippery slope. Pamela Nowak reeled me in to replace her as conference chair in 2011.

2. What is your current WIP or most recent publication, and where can we buy a book, if available?

My current WIP is a paranormal romance and I am working on my second draft. I have been published for other writings, but no novels as of yet. I blog at http://susanbrooks.wordpress.com/ and I occasionally tweet as @oosuzieq.

3. We've all heard of bucket lists -- you know, those life-wish lists of experiences, dreams or goals we want to accomplish-- what's one of yours?

I really love helping other people solve problems, especially with stories. I think it is hard for us as writers to see our own plot or character problems. We all need another set of eyes to see what we are blind to. That is why I like editing so much. I really want everyone to be successful and am sometimes surprised by really good stories that get rejected. So one of the bucket list projects is to start a traditional publishing company. I want to publish stories that I really like!

4. Most writers have an Achilles heel with their writing. Confess, what's yours?

My Achilles heel is that I am a pantser by nature. I love the creative process of just sitting down to write something and exploring my characters, and finding out what happens with them on the page. It suits my recursive brain to write this way. When one of my characters says something I didn’t anticipate for example, I love being surprised by that. But, the problem with being a pantser, and an ADD pantser whose brain naturally runs in tangents, is that I have spent a great amount of time writing pages of my particular story that do not actually have anything to do with my intended plot. These tangents are fun, but they don’t get me to the end. And when you have ADD it is most important to be focused.

Over the years I have learned that I must create an outline so that I can get to the end. I don’t outline every detail and I am still happily surprised by some things that happen on the page, but I know what has to happen in the chapter I am working on so that I can get to the next chapter, and get to the end. This means I have become a plotter by necessity. I absolutely must have the structure. It’s funny because I have set up a rather intensive structure in other areas of my life, such as project management tasks for the conference. It just took me a while to figure out that I needed structure for my writing too.

5. What do you love most about the writing life?

I love the element of discovery. I love when I am writing, based upon my outlines now, and something happens on the page that I did not intend. It’s magical and surprising and it excites me and sometimes frustrates me because I have to revise my outline to make it work. Sometimes I can’t make it work and I have to edit it out. But, discovering that creative spark is my favorite thing. The rest of the process is not my favorite. It is work and I have to settle down and focus in order to do it.

6. Now that you have a little writing experience, what advice would you go back and give yourself as a beginning writer?

I would definitely talk myself into outlining from the start. The thing about the outline is that you can change it if something magical happens on the page which you didn’t intend. Just tweak the outline so that everything gets resolved. With an outline you still know what you need to write in the next chapter which is imperative to move forward as a writer. Outline, little Suzie! Outline.

7. What does your desk look like? What item must be on your desk? Do you have any personal, fun items you keep on it?

Well, I have two desks actually. And I write at both of them. I also write at the kitchen table, and at the coffee table in the living room. I write with a lap desk on the chaise lounge with the cat, and occasionally in a coffee shop or a bar. I don’t have one particular place, which is probably an ADD thing. I aspire to have a regular place, and a regular writing time, and a regular routine, but I don’t. Over the years I have just come to accept this about myself.

The most important thing is not the location, but my ability to focus. I actually found an audio recording that induces brain wave patterns for focus and that has been the most helpful. The recording is saved on my laptop so I just plug in the headphones and go to work in whatever places seems best at the time. The recording is that item that I must have. Otherwise, every little thing distracts me, from shiny objects to birds flying by. I also use the audio recording when editing, or working on conference tasks or doing other things that require more than 20 seconds in a row.

8. What book are you currently reading (or what was the last one you read)?

This is a funny question for me to answer. As I mentioned earlier, I am a tiny bit ADD. And part of my reading process is that I read multiple books at a time. It tends to take me awhile to get through them all, but I always remember where I left off and I don’t get the storylines confused. I don’t know how that works, but it is how I read. I am reading several books to learn new things, like Google Analytics, but I won’t list those here because they are boring and not at all fun.

At this moment, I am re-reading Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon. She is one of my favorite authors and has a new book coming out in this summer. I wanted to re-read the series from the beginning because it has been so long since I read them. I am also reading Hotel Transylvania by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. This is a series that I haven’t read since…I can’t remember when, She does some interesting things with character development. The main character is Saint Germain, a heroic vampire.

I am also reading The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazney. Zelazny is wonderfully creative with plot, and again, this is something I read long ago and wanted to read again. I am reading Bruce Lipton’s Biology of Belief. Lipton is a rogue cellular biologist. Science interests me, though it definitely is not my forte. I am also reading a few different books on mythology, which are perpetually in the book stack just because I love the topic. None of these books mentioned were in my “angst pile” which is that stack of books that I want to read but haven’t yet. Reading all the books in the angst pile might need to be listed above as a bucket list item!