Hearts Through History Romance Writers

Member Spotlight on Cynthia Owens!

Welcome to another edition of HTH Member Spotlight! Today I’m featuring Cynthia Owens.


Minerva Spencer: Before we start talking about your writing, tell us a little about yourself and what you write.

Cynthia Owens: I believe I was destined to be interested in history. One of my distant ancestors, Thomas Aubert, reportedly sailed up the St. Lawrence River to discover Canada some 26 years before Jacques Cartier’s 1534 voyage. Another relative was a 17thCentury “King’s Girl,” one of a group of young unmarried girls sent to New France (now the province ofb  Quebec) as brides for the habitants (settlers) there.

My passion for reading made me long to write books like the ones I enjoyed, and I tried penning sequels to my favorite Nancy Drew mysteries. Later, fancying myself a female version of Andrew Lloyd Weber, I drafted a musical set in Paris during WWII.

A former journalist and lifelong Celtophile, I enjoyed a previous career as a reporter/editor for a small chain of community newspapers before returning to my first love, romantic fiction. My stories usually include an Irish setting, hero or heroine, and sometimes all three.

I’m the author of The Claddagh Series, historical romances set in Ireland and beyond, and The Wild Geese Series, in which five Irish heroes return from the American Civil War to find love and adventure.

I’m a member of the Romance Writers of America and Hearts Through History Romance Writers. A lifelong resident of Montreal, Canada, I still live there with my own Celtic hero. I have two adult children.

MS: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

CO: I don’t know if I ever actually realized it. It was just something I did, something I was. I’ve been writing since I was seven years old. I wrote plays for holidays, and sequels to my favorite Nancy Drew mysteries. When I turned seven, I got a record album (yes, I’m dating myself here!) called Peter Pan in Story and Song. After I’d memorized it (I played it a lot!), I wrote out the entire thing, word for word, even the punctuation. I did it because I had to. My family was quite impressed.

But I didn’t always receive that kind of encouragement. In first grade, our teacher told us to write a sentence about Dick, Jane, and their dog, Spot.

I wrote a paragraph.

The teacher went from desk to desk, reading what the other kids had written, offering praise or criticism. I was incredibly proud of that paragraph, and I waited eagerly to see her reaction.

She scolded me.

She said she’d asked us to write a sentence, not a paragraph.

I was devastated. Talk about stifling a child’s creativity!

Now I realize I hadn’t exactly followed the rules. I’d written much more than she’d asked. But didn’t that deserve at least a word of praise?

I often wonder how much of my ambition to be a published author stems from that one childhood incident. Probably some, because years later, when I ran into that same teacher (now retired) she congratulated me on my books!

MS: What drew you to write in the historical romance genre?

CO: I love historical romance. It can sweep you away into another time and another place.

It’s rather ironic, because when I was in high school, I absolutely hated history! I live in Canada, and Canadian history is a graduation requirement. But it was taught in such a dull way! We spent about three-quarters of the year talking about the fur trade—an important event, to be sure, but certainly not the only thing that happened in Canada! Memorizing names and dates just didn’t appeal to me.

But as a teenager, I enjoyed the old family drama show, The Waltons. I enjoyed the history the program showed in such an entertaining way. I call it social history. Not names of prime ministers or presidents, or the dates of battles, but how they affected the people who lived in those times. I wanted to know more about those long-ago times, and more, I wanted to write about them. And thus began my career in historical romance.

MS: If could meet anyone in history, who would it be?

CO: Micheál Collins, the Irish revolutionary, who was assassinated in 1922 when he was only 31 years old. fought the British to a stalemate, negotiated the first Treaty of Independence for Ireland, and oversaw the country’s transition to democracy. It’s said he died in an attempt to remove the gun from Irish politics.

MS: Are there specific books or authors who have influenced you as a writer?

CO: Carolyn Keene, author of the Nancy Drew books, had the greatest influence on me. I loved those books because they always kept me turning pages to find out what came next. Years later, I think when I was in high school, I read an interview with her in which she gave the greatest advice ever: Always leave a scene, or a chapter, on a cliff-hanger. Keep ‘em guessing!

It makes perfect sense, too. What better way to keep a reader reading?

The late Clare Lorrimer, a British author, also influenced me. I started reader her “sweeping historical romances” when I was 19, and I’ve read everything she ever wrote. I never failed to get lost in her storyworld, whether it was the French Revolution, Victorian England, or 18th Century Brighton. When I first started writing romance, I tried to write just like her. Of course, I couldn’t, our voices are completely different, but those exercises helped greatly in finding my own voice. And I knew I would never be satisfied until I was sure I could sweep my readers into a story the way she did.

MS: Give us a brief rundown of your process. Are you a plotter, a pantser, or somewhere in the middle?

CO: I’m not sure you could call what I do a “process.” I’m definitely not a plotter…unless I need to be, and then I only plot a chapter or two in advance. I’m more of a pantser in that I let my characters tell me their story.

I usually start a story with a character—hero, heroine, and sometimes just a random secondary character—and a vague idea of the plot. Then I write down everything I know or can come up with about him or her. I follow that with short scenes of their past. For instance, when I was writing Deceptive Hearts (Wild Geese Book I), I wrote two pivotal scenes in the hero’s past, one on a coffin ship bound for America from famished Ireland, and a second when his mentor is killed. They really helped me get to know Shane, and from that, I worked up the plot.

Right now, I’m working on a character who was held prisoner for several years. I’m writing his entire time in captivity, from the time he was taken to the day he escaped. And in that way, I’m coming to an intimate knowledge of him.

These scenes may or may not appear in the story, but they’re invaluable to me in working up a plot.

MS: Tell us a little bit about your latest release.

CO: My latest release is A Claddagh Christmas (October 2018). It’s my first single-author anthology, a “duet” of two Irish Christmas stories. One of the stories, The Christmas Shop, is a stand-alone story, while the other, The Old Claddagh Ring, features lovable rogue Joe Donavan, who appears in My Dark Rose and Kathleen’s Mirror, two of my Wild Geese books.

Here’s the blurb:

Christmas. A time of joy and celebration, when dreams come true, and angels walk the earth.

A Claddagh Christmas ~ Two stories of Christmas, Irish-style!

The Christmas Shop ~ Maeve Brennan has lost everything she holds dear: her husband, her three children, and finally her home.

Micheál Lynch has one dream: bringing Christmas back to his three young children. He’ll do anything to achieve that dream, even if it means risking his own life.

Can some tiny Christmas angels unite these two lonely souls and bring them a real Christmas…and love?

The Old Claddagh Ring ~ Anna Clare Wycliffe has spent seventeen years longing for the twin sister torn from her arms when they were little more than babies. A surprise letter from California spurs a secret plan to visit her sister…but with no money of her own, and about to make her entrance into New York society, how can she carry it out?

Joe Donavan grew up on the mean streets of New York. He owes everything to the brother-in-law who gave him a job and a chance to become a man. He’s determined not to let him down. But what happens when a golden-haired, violet-eyed girl steals his heart and asks his help in fleeing her unhappy home? Will Joe sacrifice his most prized possession to give Anna Clare her heart’s desire?

MS: What’s the hardest part of writing?

CO: Two things: time and confidence. Time can get away so easily, with jobs and family and chores. And research, especially on the Internet. You start researching one small detail, and get distracted with a hundred other details, and before you know it, your writing/research time has been eaten up.

Confidence is a big one for me. Even though A Claddagh Christmas is my 13th book, I was still really nervous about how my editor would like it. I’ve been plagued with the “I’m not good enough” gene as long as I can remember, and unless I’m very strict with myself, it creeps into my writing. It’s tough to beat, but oftentimes, I’ll look at the shelf that holds my books, and then I go on and jump into my next story.

MS: Thanks for joining us today, Cynthia! If you’d like to find out more about Cynthia you can find her at the links listed below:




Member Spotlight on HTH Member DONNA PORTER!

Greetings HTH Members! Today I’m shining the spotlight on

Donna Porter!

Minerva Spencer: Before we start talking about your writing, tell us a little about yourself and what you write.

Donna Porter: I live northeast of Houston, Texas, with my husband, two boys, and way too many animals. I always wanted to be a writer, but of course, also being overly logical, I majored in education and graduated from Texas A & M University. I taught school for a number of years and now run a part-time tutoring business in which I teach a little bit of everything to just about any age. I write historical fiction loosely based on the lives of my ancestors. There are so many interesting ones! Right now, I seem focused on the French and Indian War era, but I have plans for historicals in the Revolutionary period and the Civil War period as well.

MS: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

DP: Fifth grade. My first book, as a matter of fact, was created on notebook paper stapled together. It was a spoof of the “The Borrowers” that I titled “The Tweedles.” I would not be surprised if my mother still has it somewhere in the myriad number of boxes she has kept over the years!

MS: What drew you to write in the historical romance genre?

DP: I just love, love, love history. Growing up I primarily read historical fiction and I cut my teeth on John Wayne westerns, Daniel Boone, Little House on the Prairie and The Waltons. I have always felt as if I had one foot in this world and another in the past. I was also the nerdy student in school that loved doing research papers, and when electives had to be chosen, I chose history classes. Around the age of nineteen I got deep into my genealogy, and as I learned more about my ancestors, I knew their lives would make great stories. So, my deep desire to be an author mushroomed with my love of the past and here I am today! I find writing historicals is especially gratifying when a reader tells me they learned something they did not know. I feel as if I have not only entertained them but allowed them a glimpse into the past as well.

MS: Are there specific books or authors who have influenced you as a writer?

DP: As a teen I devoured books by Catherine Cookson, Phyllis Whitney, and Victoria Holt. Yes, those names probably date me! I was particularly drawn to Cookson’s characters, their deep traumas, and their courage in overcoming those to get to their happily-ever-afters. Whitney is just a master at mysteries, and Holt does Gothic romance like no one else. And yes, from the feedback I get from readers, I can see all three of those ladies’ influence on my own writing. In fact, one reviewer complained because my characters went through too much trauma, and another reader recently told me it wouldn’t be a Donna Porter book without a mystery or a secret.

Kristen Heitzmann and Catherine Palmer have heavily influenced how I approach romance in my stories. I learned how to write clean but steamy by reading and picking apart their books. As for my determination to publish as an Indie – that came from reading Suzan Tisdale’s books. Her journey from an ordinary reader to New York Times Bestselling Author is nothing short of inspirational.

MS: Give us a brief rundown of your process. Are you a plotter, a pantser, or somewhere in the middle?

DP: I fall somewhere in the middle. I spend some time getting to know my characters. The plotter part of me then plots according to the hero’s journey (thanks to Robin Matheson and a class I took from her several years ago.) Once I am satisfied with my outline, the pantser part of me takes over as I start writing the first rough draft scene to scene from start to finish. I make certain the viewpoint character has a goal, that said goal is thwarted, and that an adjustment is made that moves the story forward to where I want it to go according to my outline. The rough draft is definitely the longest step, but if I take it slow with the rough draft, I usually only need one more deep revision and then three to four quick ones before getting myself to a final draft I am happy with. My characters definitely surprise me during the rough draft stage of my manuscript, and I sometimes do feel as if I am flying by the seat of my pants!

MS: Can you tell us a bit about your journey to publication? 

DP: I had always wanted to go with a traditional publisher. Who doesn’t? But after entering my first novel, Keeping Secrets, in several contests through RWA, I was being consistently told that even though it was good it did not fit into a clear “niche” and there was not likely a market for it. It was taking place in a time period (1759-1763) that was not a popular time period for publishers and few people knew about The Society of Friends (Quakers). My hero and heroine were in their early 40s, also not a particularly popular age for publishers, and there was an additional understory of two teens aged 13 and 14. Of course, those young people take over in book 2 and 3 of the trilogy, but because of their presence in book one, I was told it would not be well received by a publisher. All kinds of wild suggestions were given to me – make them Amish instead of Quakers, turn it into a Regency, put it in the Civil War time period. None of that would have worked.

The plot of book one and two not only turns on the Society of Friends “Discipline, a book of rules that regulates their lives including marriages, but is specific to that time period when so many Friends were leaving that faith in the pre-Revolutionary war period. So, I decided to publish it on my own. After all, selling a few copies was better than having it sit on my desk and sell nothing. I went on to publish the full trilogy on my own and am very happy that I did. Self-publishing isn’t for everyone, but for me, right now, it’s a good fit.

MS: Tell us about your latest release and what’s coming next for you.

DP: My latest release is The Rood, the first book in a two book set titled The Marylanders. I might eventually add a first book which would restructure the order of the books into a trilogy, but I am a long way from that at this point. By the way, the word rood is an Old English word for cross or crucifix. The book opens in the spring of 1756 during the French and Indian War. The previous fall of 1755 the British, in what came to be known as Le Grande Derangement, forced nearly 12,000 Acadians from their homeland in Nova Scotia in one of the first acts of ethnic cleansing.

Frontiersman Thomas McQueen, himself the son of a Jacobite exile, has spent the past two years exacting revenge on the Natives and French who killed his wife and child. Now, in the wake of his ruthless brutality, the price on his head has been extended to his mother and his siblings. Ill and worn out from war, he returns home to see to their safety. Fearnought Farms, however, is deserted except for a dead body and Acadian exile Elizabeth Marie Johns. Alone, homesick, and desperate to get to her father more than 300 miles away at Fort Oswego, she has secrets of her own. And, of course, neither of them can run from their pasts forever.

As for current projects, I have two going at once. I am deep into the first rough draft of The Brooch, the companion book to The Rood. The Brooch continues Elizabeth’s story, but there are a few surprises for readers of the first book, so I will say no more! If all goes well, I am looking at a February 2019 release date. I am also putting the first genealogy book I ever wrote on the McQueens (first published in 1992) into a second edition. When Metes & Bounds I: Dugal McQueen and Some Descendants is finished, the full three book edition of my Metes & Bounds Series on the McQueen and Crews families will be completed and updated. It is a massive set of books encompassing over 1,000 pages (8 ½ x 11) and over 500 resources. I am, I guess you can tell, quite proud of it!

MS: What’s the hardest part of writing?

DP: Definitely finding the time. I wish so much to write full-time, but that just is not possible at the moment. I thought when my boys graduated, I would have all this extra time since home schooling was off my plate. That has so not happened! This summer has been a good example. My eighty year old father had hip surgery in May, then a triple bypass in July. I made more than one trip in August to the emergency room with one of my sons for what has now been diagnosed as partial-complex seizures. We are still knee deep in various tests of sorts. I have my tutoring business and all those things in life that are necessary – cooking, grocery shopping, housework, etc. I also suffer from hypothyroidism and sleep is super important for me, so I cannot just stay up late night after night and burn the midnight oil to get things done.

The offshoot is that I am constantly looking for ways to create more time at home to write. When an uninterrupted day does present itself, you will find me at the computer behind a closed door typing away!

MS: Thanks so much for taking the time to share both your story and your process with us!



Member Spotlight on Bliss Bennet!

Today I’m introducing you to Hearts Through History author Bliss Bennet, whose latest book came out yesterday!

Minerva Spencer:  Before we start talking about your writing, tell us a little about yourself and what you write.


Bliss Bennet: Despite being born and bred in New England, I’ve long been fascinated by the history of that country across the pond, particularly the politically-volatile period known as the English Regency. I worked as a children’s book editor, book reviewer, and a college professor before turning my hand to penning fiction. I’ve published several academic books about the history of children’s literature, as well as four historical romances set in England during the 1820s. Though I’ve visited Britain several times, I continue to live in New England, along with my spouse, my daughter, and two monstrously fluffy black cats.

As for my fiction, I write smart, edgy novels for readers who, like me, love history as much as they love romance. My Regency-set historical romance series, The Penningtons, has been praised by the Historical Novel Society’s Indie Reviews as “well worth following”; my books have been described by USA Today as “savvy, sensual, and engrossing,” by Heroes and Heartbreakers as “captivating,” and by The Reading Wench as having “everything you want in a great historical romance.”

MS: Do you write full-time or part-time?

BB: I write full-time, but only half of my time is spent on fiction writing. For the past five years, I’ve served as chair of the Publications Advisory Board for the Children’s Literature Association, which oversees the book publishing program for the largest academic organization devoted to the study of children’s literature. Advising other academics on their book projects helps me put my own writing into perspective.

I also review romance books of all types, as well as write think pieces about the intersection of gender and genre, at the Romance Novels for Feminists blog (under my legal name, Jackie Horne).

MM: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

BB: When I was a teenager, I longed to write a Newbery Award-winning young adult novel. Then, when I began working in children’s book publishing, I dreamed of editing a Newbery Award-winning novel. Then, when I became an academic, I actually wrote analytical pieces about young adult literature. It took me a really long time to realize that when it came to fiction, what would really get me to put fingers to keyboard was writing about adults, not about kids or teenagers! Although my daughter is still holding out hope that I’ll write a young adult fantasy novel someday…

MM: What drew you to write in the historical romance genre?

Perhaps because I was born in New England and came of age during America’s bicentennial, I’ve always been fascinated by history. Yes, I’ll admit it—my favorite exhibit at Disney World when I visited as a child was the Hall of Presidents. And the most memorable book from my childhood was My Brother Sam is Dead, about the less heroic side of the American Revolution. Yep, history geek to the max!

But after spending five years researching and writing a dissertation about 18th and 19th century British children’s literature, my historical interests shifted from America to England. And after studying so much about the period, it only seemed natural to choose historical romance when the idea of writing a novel started to bubble around the edges of my mind.

MS: If could meet anyone in history, who would it be?

BB: Jane Austen. She was both so smart and so snarky—I think she’d be an amazing person to be friends with. Unless, of course, she chose to skewer me on the edge of her razor-sharp wit…

Are there specific books or authors who have influenced you as a writer?

I’m not sure I’d say “influenced,” but there are definitely writers I wish I could write as well as: Courtney Milan; Cecilia Grant; Meredith Duran; Loretta Chase; Rose Lerner; Elizabeth Kingston; Liz Carlyle; Mary Jo Putney; Laura Kinsale. Writers who care about history, and who also care about crafting three-dimensional characters who are influenced by the beliefs and issues of the times in which they live.

MS: Give us a brief rundown of your process. Are you a plotter, a pantser, or somewhere in the middle?

BB: I’m definitely a plotter. I like to go into each new book knowing exactly who my two protagonists are, what they desperately want, and what is keeping them from achieving their goals. And especially how they each are going to impact the other, hinder and help the other to grow emotionally. I also like to know what the major turning points are for each story before I begin. I sketch in an outline in Scrivener before I put down any words. I’ve worked with writer/teacher Laura Baker, taking her Discovering Story Magic class online once a year, and each time I come out with the bones of a new novel.

I like to write from start to finish, editing as I go. And I often get distracted by researching—which makes for a slow writing process, compared with other romance writers I know. I find nonfiction writing much easier than fiction writing, perhaps because I’ve been doing it for so much longer, but I wouldn’t give up either. Both provide their own satisfying rewards.

MS: Can you tell us a bit about your journey to publication?

My books tend to feature more history than the typical Regency romance currently being published by the New York houses. But they feature more romance (and more sex) than most literary historical fiction. My books are for readers like me, who love history as much as they love romanceand I didn’t want to compromise that, just to get published. So after being told several times “love your writing, can’t see a place for it on our list,” I decided to turn to self-publishing. I like having control over the process, especially the cover designs. Fun fact: I sew the costumes for all the models on the covers of my books.

The first novel I published, A Rebel without a Rogue (2015), was actually the second book I wrote. I’ve since published three other stories about the Pennington siblings: A Man without a Mistress (2015), A Lady without a Lord (2017), and A Sinner without a Saint (2018).

MS: Tell us about your latest release and what’s coming next for you.

BB: My latest release is A Sinner without a Saint, which was published this September. It’s the fourth and final book in my Penningtons series. It’s my first male/male romance, so I had to do a lot of research about attitudes towards homosexuality during the Regency (Louis Crompton’s Byron and Greek Love was a great source!) SwoaS is also set against the background of the founding of England’s National Gallery, and I researched art collecting, art exhibitions, and Regency-era attitudes towards different genres and styles of painting. It’s hard to imagine a time before museums, when most of the world’s most revered paintings were owned by the rich, and only the privileged few were able to view them. But I won’t be taking my local art museums for granted any time soon

My next series, which is tentatively titled Unexpected Inheritances, tells the stories of five girl cousins and the wishes they all make as children, which all come true when they reach adulthood—but not quite in the ways they expected. I’ve just started working on the first book this week!

The blurb:

An honorable artist

Benedict Pennington’s greatest ambition is not to paint a masterpiece, but to make the world’s greatest art accessible to all by establishing England’s first national art museum. Success in persuading a reluctant philanthropist to donate his collection of Old Master paintings brings his dream tantalizingly close to reality. Until Viscount Dulcie, the object of Benedict’s illicit adolescent desire, begins to court the donor’s granddaughter, set on winning the paintings for himself . . .

A hedonistic viscount

Sinclair Milne, Lord Dulcie, far prefers collecting innovative art and dallying with handsome men than burdening himself with a wife. But when rivals imply Dulcie’s refusal to pursue wealthy Miss Adler and her paintings is due to lingering tender feelings for Benedict Pennington, Dulcie vows to prove them wrong. Not only will he woo her away from the holier-than-thou painter, he’ll also placate his matchmaking father in the process.

Sinner and saint—can both win at love?

But when Benedict is dragooned into painting his portrait, Dulcie finds himself once again drawn to the intense artist. Can the sinful viscount entice the wary painter into a casual liaison, one that will put neither their reputations, nor their feelings, at risk? Or will the not-so-saintly artist demand something far more vulnerable—his heart?

MS: Thanks for joining us today Bliss and the best of luck to you with your book!

You can find Bliss at the following places:




Spotlight on HTH Member Michelle Jean Marie!

Minerva Spencer: Welcome to the HTH Member Spotlight, Michelle!

Michelle has a book coming out September 12, 2018 and here a shot of the lovely cover:

MS: Before we start talking about your writing, tell us a little about yourself and what you write.

Michelle Jean Marie: I’m a Midwest girl at heart, born and raised in Illinois and I’ve lived here all my life. My husband and I live in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, but eventually want to retire somewhere warmer. All of our children have moved out and are on their own.

I run my own business as a professional organizer and virtual assistant. Coming from a family of six kids, I learned early on the necessity of being organized. If I needed a sweater or notebook, I knew just where to find it, and always put it away in the same place when I was done. It came as a shock to me that not everyone lived this way! Now I help others see the benefits of an organized life.

One thing I never had growing up was a dog. I didn’t own one until I met my husband. He bought me a 3-month old Akita to act as a guard dog for me and my daughter. That little ball of fluff was hardly a menace, but she captured my heart. I now volunteer for the Midwest Akita Rescue Society to give these dogs a chance and keep them out of puppy mills. My first Akita is long gone, but we adopted a foster two years ago to join our two other dogs. She taught me what it is to have fun again.

In my spare time, I love to read, walk, write and travel. Did someone say London? Needless to say, it’s the setting for all my historical romances. I write in the Victorian era, which is so broad and fascinating, I don’t think I will ever run out of material or ideas.

MS: Do you write full-time or part-time?

MJM: When I first started writing, I had the luxury of being a stay-at-home mom. And while that is a full-time job, I did find the time to write, especially after they started school. That’s when I completed most of my manuscripts. Now, over 20 years later, my writing is done around my client work. I’m trying to find a good balance of work/family/writing. Of those, the only one I’m willing to give up is work. Unfortunately, the bank account disagrees with me!

MS: What drew you to write in the historical romance genre?

MJM: I’ve always had a love for happy endings. I started reading romances in high school – secretly of course, since I went to a Catholic school with nuns. That’s when I picked up a copy of The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss. I used to hide it behind a text book in the school library so none of the teachers would know what I was reading. Barbara Cartland’s books were more readily available and ‘proper’ at the time. And much quicker reads. I enjoyed learning about history as much as following the romance. It was an escape – from those five siblings I mentioned earlier! So when I started to write, it was a natural for me.

MS: What’s your favorite historical movie?

MJM: That’s an easy one! The original Pride & Prejudice with Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson. To me, that movie so exemplified the book. I’ve probably watched it over 100 times! That’s one of the few VHS tapes I still own, even though I don’t even have a VHS player any more.

MS: If you could meet anyone in history, who would it be?

MJM: Another easy one. Queen Victoria. Although Regencies, Medievals, Scottish Highlands, and American Westerns were popular settings when I started reading, and still are, I’ve always been drawn to the early-mid Victorian era. Perhaps that’s why my manuscripts were a harder sell back then. Now with the BBC miniseries being so popular, the Victorian era is also coming to light. Queen Victoria has always fascinated me as a monarch. Although she was royalty, she had a human side that warmed her to the public. She was always seeking advice and learning – often from her own mistakes. I can identify with that, even though I’m not ruling a kingdom.

MS: Give us a brief rundown of your process. Are you a plotter, a pantser, or somewhere in the middle?

MJM: You’ve probably guessed the answer to this, knowing I’m a professional organizer. I’m definitely a plotter. In my early days of writing when computers were just coming into homes, and libraries were for research, I spent many a day copying page after page of resources, and hand-writing notes. I always start with a tidbit of an idea, flesh it out into a synopsis, then break it down into chapters. I have a worksheet for every chapter that tracks the day, time, setting, characters, theme, hook, etc. I write in a linear pattern. I never jump ahead to a scene without writing the scenes that come before them. Although if something pops into my head, I will make a note of it on my outline.

MS: Can you tell us a bit about your journey to publication? How much time do we have?

MJM: I started writing in high school, using popular television shows for settings and characters. I guess you could say I was writing fan fiction before the term even existed. I stopped writing while in college and my early years of marriage. But I never stopped reading. Then one day I attended a writing workshop at a local library. The speaker was from the local RWA® chapter. I quickly joined, and not-so-quickly started learning the craft. It took years to finish the first manuscript. That book, TEMPTING FATE, was a finalist in the 1997 Golden Heart Contest. And while it opened a few doors, it never got me a publishing contract.

Fast forward one marriage, two children and one divorce later, the writing went to the wayside. When I re-married and started my own business, my spare time dwindled. I stepped away from writing for a number of years, but never lost touch with the industry.

Eighteen years after writing my first manuscript, I submitted it for the umpteenth time on a whim. Well, that whim paid off. TEMPTING FATE was published by Soul Mate Publishing in May 2017, twenty years after the Golden Heart Contest.

MS: Wow! That’s one heck of a journey! Tell us about your latest release and what’s coming next for you. I

MJM: ’m excited to share that TEMPTING PASSION, the sequel to TEMPTING FATE, will be available on September 12, 2018. It tells the story of Marcus Clayton, Earl of Norbourne. A tragedy strikes him years after TEMPTING FATE, and he renounces all passion. That is, until the heroine walks in! It was fun to write, especially since one of the secondary characters is a Springer Spaniel. And I’m currently working on the last of the trilogy, TEMPTING HONOR. I’m bringing back two characters from the original book in a new generation. So stay tuned!

Thanks for joining us today and sharing your story with our members! We’ll keep a look out for TEMPTING PASSION this September 12, 2018! All the best to you!

If you’d like to know more about Michelle you can find her at the social media addresses below:


Facebook: www.facebook.com/MichJeanMarie/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MichJeanMarie

Damon Suede Presentation at AGM in Denver

HTH member Barbara Bettis was kind enough to prepare this summary of Damon Suede’s AGM speech. You can also access a full transcript of Damon’s presentation by clicking here.

If you’ve never heard Damon Suede speak, you’ve missed an inspiring, insightful, and thoroughly delightful experience. And dynamic. And entertaining. He shares incisive advice on what makes characters live, spring off the page, confront each other in their voids, and elicit emotion from readers. Eliciting emotion in readers is of major importance.

Suede discussed “Power Couples: Making Lovers” when he spoke at HHRW’s AGM meeting Wednesday morning, July 18, kicking off the RWA Conference for most members. His engaging presentation made two hours seem like ten minutes—and definitely left the audience frantically adding notes for their WIPs . Which makes him happy, he said. “I love it when people come away with something to use right away.”

While Suede touched on a variety of way to create memorable characters and stories, he focused on ways to power up a romantic pairing.

The first and last meetings of couples are important, especially to readers. Readers are pattern-finders. Certain kinds of patterns are present in certain kinds of storylines, and readers are sensitive to identifying them. People are ‘hardwired to recognize patterns, he said.

“Audiences crave patterns with meaning, resonance, and resolution,” he said. The first meeting of the couple sets the tone for the relationship and provides signals for what readers are to expect. The last helps readers find closure. And closure, Suede said, “is where we create story.” It’s what keeps readers on the page and helps them “fill in the gaps.”

Writers can energize a couple’s relationship by creating symbiosis, ensuring the elements of the characters align, and allowing them interaction within the other’s Void.

He defines Void as a “problematic emptiness,” something from a character’s past—a need, lack, injury, absence. The Void is persistent, but in the end, it is eased or lessened. A couple will “impact/affect” each other to help “fill/heal/solve each other’s Void.” But that healing will not be without conflict. The more action, the more conflict, the more energy. Put the characters in a position where it is impossible for them to be together (perhaps what motivates their separate Voids is diametrically opposed), yet other factors make it impossible for them to be apart. Contrast creates energy, which needs release.

These processes help generate emotions in the readers. People read for emotion—to be moved, to be surprised, he said. And it’s what people (characters) do that moves others.

In addition, he emphasized the importance of Verbalizing, or creating characters using verbs rather than adjectives or adverbs. Strong verbs carry action. Adjectives and adverbs don’t create a story; action and conflict carried through verbs do. Modifiers tell, while verbs show. And action is the root of the story. Conflict creates action (and action, conflict) and that creates energy. However, writers can’t show energy; we can show the effects of energy.

Relationships are illustrated by the effect characters have on each other. A spirited push-pull in their symbiotic connection creates action, tension, energy. (Remember the pushmi-pullyu from Dr. Doolittle?) If there is no effect, there is no relationship. So creating a power couple involves showing the ways they affect each other.

Often those ways involve elements of their respective Voids—the (usually negative) elements from their pasts that drive them individually—and keep them apart as a couple. The relationship between the two becomes smoother as the problems become resolved and the two become aligned with each other.

While the power couple was the focus of Suede’s presentation, he included many more points to help enliven and enrich writing. Those points can be found on the five-page handout, which he generously agreed could be posted. It can be found here: https://www.rwa.org/p/do/sd/sid=21932



Member Spotlight on Debby Lee!

Welcome to the Hearts Through History Author Spotlight, Debby! Why don’t you start us off by telling our readers a little about yourself and what you write.

Debby: Thanks to HTH for having me here today! My name is Debby Lee. I’m happily married and have five children. We’re all from southwest Washington, state. I love nature, history, reading, and the Seattle Seahawks. I write mostly Inspirational Historical Romance, but I’ve also independently published a little Inspirational Contemporary Romantic Suspense.

HTH: Do you write full-time or part-time?

DL: I have a part time job, but I still carve out a good 30 hours a week for writing. That includes plotting, writing proposals, and marketing. If only there were more hours in the day.

HTH: What drew you to write in the historical romance genre?

DL: I love history, all different time periods, and historical romance is my favorite genre to read. So it made sense to write what I love.

HTH: What’s your favorite historical movie?

DL: Gracious, it’s impossible to pick just one. How about a few of my favorites? I love the North and South trilogy by John Jakes, the mini-series from the 1980’s with Patrick Swayze and James Reed. I also like Roots, Gone with the Wind, Pearl Harbor, and Last of the Mohicans. My favorite westerns are Young Guns I and II, and Dances with Wolves. Wait you did say pick just one, right? ☺

HTH: Who’s your favorite historical figure?

DL: In fiction I’d have to say Scarlett O’Hara, Jo March, and Jessilyn Lassiter from Jennifer Erin Valent’s Fireflies in December series. My favorite fictional heroes include Atticus Finch, and Jake Brigance from John Grisham’s A Time to Kill. Real life historical figures I admire are Martin Luther King, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Corrie ten Boom, who worked the Dutch Underground during WWII and helped smuggle about 800 Jews to safety.  

HTH: If could meet anyone in history, who would it be?

DL: Maya Angelou and Harriet Tubman for their inner strength, and Janis Joplin, because she not only wore her weirdness with pride, but she made it work for her.

HTH: If you could time travel, what era would you visit?

DL: Call me crazy, but I think The Great Depression and the WWII eras, because I believe great strength can come from enduring and overcoming hardships.

HTH: Are there specific books or authors who have influenced you as a writer?

DL: Jerry Jenkins and John Grisham and DiAnn Mills

HTH: Tell us about your latest release and what’s coming next for you. 

DL: The Underground Railroad Brides released with Barbour Publishing on June 1. It’s a collection of nine novellas set in different locations during the time of the Underground Railroad. My story takes place in Indiana and focuses on the Martin family (a fictional family) who build a home with a space to hide the freedom seekers. The hero is a carpenter who helps build the house, and falls in love with the Martin’s young daughter. They face a lot of danger and make many sacrifices to fight for what they believe in.

I’ve included a link to the Levi Coffin House. Reading about this historic home helped me gain insight on how the family in my book would have built their home.

HTH: That sounds like a fascinating subject, Debby! Thanks so much for joining us today. You can find out more about Debby and what she writes at the links listed below.



DEBBY LEE was raised in the cozy town of Toledo, Washington. She’s been writing since she was a small child, but never forgets home.

The Northwest Christian Writers and Romance Writers of America are two organizations Debby enjoys being a part of. Her fifth novella collection with Barbour Publishing releases in December 2018. The Courageous Brides and Mountain Christmas Brides both made the ECPA Bestsellers list. She is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steven Laube Literary Agency.

A self-professed nature lover, Debby feels like a hippie child who wasn’t born soon enough to attend Woodstock. She wishes she could run barefoot all year long, but often does when weather permits. During football season Debby cheers on the Seattle Seahawks with other devoted fans. She’s also filled with wanderlust and dreams of traveling the world someday.