Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Writers' Wednesday Welcomes Ashlyn Macnamara

Welcome to Writers’ Wednesday where we meet authors who are published or are on the journey to publication. In addition to sharing their stories, they offer writing tips they have found invaluable.

This week, I’m happy to welcome Ashlyn Macnamara, a Romance Writers of America (RWA) 2011 Golden Heart® finalist. Her Regency will be published in early 2013 by Ballantine-Bantam-Dell.

Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to talk with us Ashlyn. What an exciting year for you, finaling in the prestigious Golden Heart® contest--then selling right around the time of RWA Nationals.

It's been a wild few months for me. In two and a half months, I went from unagented, to acquiring representation, to selling my book. I'm still waiting for it to sink in.

Was this your first time to enter the GH?

Yes, it was.

In a sense, I'm still in shock that I even finaled. I entered my manuscript A TALE OF TWO SISTERS in several chapter contests, and only finaled in three of those. They say it's a sign of a strong voice when you get widely varying scores. I guess I have a strong voice, because boy, do my scores vary. Judges either love me or hate me, and I almost always get that one judge. Sometimes more than one.

To final in the GH, you have to get five judges to agree you've got a strong entry and hand you, at the lowest, mid-to-high 8s—or have one hold-out who scores you so low, you qualify for the standard deviation rule. But even then, the other four have to agree and give you high marks. Considering my track record with contest judges, I am extremely fortunate to have finaled

That's so encouraging for writers who are entering contests--or even those who are reluctant to do so. The GH notifications came on March 25. When did you learn the book had sold?

Oddly enough, the first time was before I even had an agent. I was in the process of nailing down representation, because I sent out queries to my entire A-list on the evening of March 25. I had more than one offer, and I was still waiting on responses from a few more agents who were still reading. In the middle of that, I received an email from an editor that basically amounted to a revisions letter. I'd submitted to a new line this past winter on a whim, and the guidelines on their website said that they'd contact me only if interested. So I submitted, and figured I woudn't hear back. Once again, I was shocked to receive this email, but I replied to the editor, told her I was in the process of acquiring an agent, and could my agent get back to her?

Of course she said yes. A couple of days later, I made my decision and signed with Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary, and she sent me her own revisions letter. And some of her suggestions were basically the opposite of what the interested editor wanted me to do. So I revised to Sara's suggestions, and we went on submission.

That first editor was still interested and made us an offer. When I talked to her on the phone, I asked her specifically about revisions, because in the back of my mind, I figured I'd have to undo everything I did for Sara and then some. Nope, the editor said. Sara's ideas were spot on.

And then I had another offer, because we submitted to nine lines, and this offer was even better, because it was a two-book deal with an advance, and for an actual book, not just digital with the possibility of print-on-demand. So we went with that one, about a week and a half after the first editor showed an interest.

Of course, I have no clue what my revisions are going to be like. I'll be working with the same editor as Sherry Thomas, who, when I met her at Nationals, informed me with a great deal of glee that her first revisions letter was 16 pages, single spaced.

That's a fantastic story, Ashlyn. What a whirlwind. You must have had a difficult time sleeping for a few nights. But the result was worth it. A TALE OF TWO SISTERS is, as mentioned, a Regency, one of the most popular genres today. What draws you to this era?

I love historical romance, period. I read in all eras, and I love medievals, Regency, Victorians, Georgian, Viking, pirate, historical westerns, you name it. In fact, I love it even more when a story is set somewhere off the beaten path, both era-wise and place-wise. I started reading romance back in the 1980s before authors became stuck with a specific brand, when you had authors like Johanna Lindsey and Heather Graham who wrote everything from Vikings to (in Lindsey's case) futuristic.

All this to say, I never considered myself a Regency author. In fact, SISTERS is the first Regency I ever wrote. My very first manuscript—the one that lives under the bed and plays with the dust bunnies—was a medieval. My other stories are all set in North America around the time of the Revolutionary War or shortly thereafter.

In fact, when I first got the idea for SISTERS I tried to figure out a way to set it in colonial Williamsburg. It just didn't want to go there. My characters and my story dictated themselves to me as Regency, and I've long since learned I can't fight my characters or they take their toys and go home. So I wrote a Regency in spite of myself.

All that said, I do love me some Jane Austen. I love her humor and sarcasm and social commentary.

Please tell us a little about the work.

A TALE OF TWO SISTERS, well, the title is pretty much self-explanatory. I've been telling people it's a little like Sense and Sensibility only with more love scenes. It's not a true retelling of the Jane Austen classic, though. It does feature two sisters: Julia who is ruled by her head and Sophia who is ruled by her heart, but that's where the similarities end. It's also very much a double romance. One of the sisters takes a slightly more prominent role, but each one has her own hero, and the story line alternates between the two.

What binds the two romances together? The villain, of course.

See, Sophia has had an unrequited crush on the villain for years, but he's never noticed her. When he finally deigns to, he offers for Julia instead.

It sounds great. If only we didn't have to wait more than a year to read it. What’s your next project?

Since I landed a two-book deal, I'm working on the next story in the series. It features the best friend of one of the heroes of SISTERS. I kind of developed a crush on him when I was writing the first story, so getting to write even more about him is a bonus. He's a little snarky, a little dissipated, but underneath that, he hides the soul of a long-suffering artist.

Mr. Upperton is also the reason my release date is so far off. My publisher wants to release the two relatively close together.

Very well. I suppose we can wait a few months for the first book, as long as we're promised a quick follow-up.

What one tip would you offer writers?

Never give up. Never surrender. And never stop believing.

About this time last year, I was ready to give up. I'd received a detailed rejection on one of my Revolutionary War stories from an e-press. I know those are supposed to be good signs, but after all the heart and soul I'd put into that book, not to mention researching it on site, the pass was a blow. At the same time, I'd received a detailed critique on my first three chapters of SISTERS from a published author. The issues pointed out in both cases were similar, and I told myself it was a wake-up call. I just wasn't ready for prime time. I still needed to work on craft issues, so what point was there in entering the GH, when I wouldn't even get any feedback in return for my $50? I'd basically be throwing that money, along with the postage, paper and ink out the window, because my writing didn't have what it took to final.

Now, I'm a member of a group of writers who formed the previous year with the intention of entering and finaling in the GH. When I told them I was bowing out, but I was happy to cheer everyone else on, they gave me a collective kick in the seat of my pants, told me to suck it up and get to work. And I am so thankful they did.

Absolutely. Nothing can surpass helpful, supportive friends. I'm sure they're all thrilled and hope to travel the rest of the road to publication with you. Good luck.

Thanks, again, for joining us today. I hope you’ll be back in 2013 when A TALE OF TWO SISTERS is released.

Thank you for having me. I'd love to come back when I can share something more concrete, like cover art or excerpts.

Find Ashlyn online: Website: http://ashlynmacnamara.net/ (blog is located on my website)
Facebook page (feel free to like me): http://www.facebook.com/%23!/pages/Ashlyn-Macnamara/178818875498486
Twitter: http://twitter.com/%23!/ashlyn_mac


  1. So glad you are here today, Ashlynn. I think the story of your journey and sale is so exciting. And I think it will encourage many writers to keep at it. As you say in your tip: "Never give up. Never surrender. And never stop believing." Much continued luck to you.

  2. What a great inspiration for those of us still waiting. You must be on cloud nine, Ashlynn. Remind us again at the time your book comes out. Can't wait to read it.
    Diana Locke

  3. I hadn't heard the whole call story and I love it. I agree with Barb - you showed everyone that perseverance pays off. I'm so happy for you.


  4. Thanks, Barbara, for having me today.

    I ought to respond to that lack of sleep comment. I didn't sleep properly for a full three days after I got the GH call, and then again when I had the agent offers, and once AGAIN when we were on submission.

    Diana, I'm not sure the news has fully sunk in yet, even now. Maybe when I get my revisions letter.

    Lynn, that week and a half or so was just nuts, and THEN I couldn't talk about it right away. That's the worst of the system. You have this great news and you can't share it. You can only leave cryptic hints on your Facebook page.

  5. I have a very good friend who once told me she was thinking of skipping the GH last year. I think I told her I'd kick her butt from east coast to west and back if she didn't enter. She done good. :-) I'm SO excited for you and can't wait to wave your book in front of everyone I know, saying, "THIS is what happens when you DON'T GIVE UP!"

  6. Great Interview!!! Never give up, never surrender!! Great motto for writers to live by! Congrats again, Ashlynn!!

  7. Congrats on the final and of course your sale!!! That's a great story:)
    Wishing you many, many sales.

  8. Ashlyn: What a great story. It's good to have friends that push us and drag us by the hair to the finish line when we feel all is lost. I'm so glad you didn't give up. Hard work and ability are paying off. Good for you.

  9. I'm so happy for you, Ashlyn! I love hearing the success stories. I'm looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of A Tale of Two Sisters. :)

  10. Interesting about the judging scores. I've always
    Wondered how different judges can have
    Such different score variations. Now I know
    It's a good thing.

  11. Yes, Carla, you may have said something along those lines. So glad I'm scared of you. :P

    *waves to Tess* She's actually read the whole thing, draft form.

    Jennifer, thanks for the congratulations, and thanks for stopping by!

    Kaye, thank you for your encouraging words. I'd be nowhere without my cybersisters.

    Hi Maura! Next year should be your turn.

    Shirley, I once had a judge rewrite my entire entry for me. She didn't change anything substantive, she just rewrote it in her own voice. If you don't agree with a judge's comments, feel free to ignore. I'd only worried if you get several comments in the same vein. THEN you might have a problem.

  12. Hi Everyone, Thanks for stopping by.

    Hey Diana--Yes, Ashlyn is certainly an inspiration to those of us still trying.

    Lynn--I love call stories, too. Ashlyn's was exciting. Speaking of calls, Kaye's was a great one, too.

    Carla--Friends like you are very special! Ashlyn's lucky you 'threatened' her into her win.:)

    Tessa--Isn't that tip great? One to plaster all over the bulletin boards--mine at least. How lucky are you to have read it all already!

    Hi Jennifer--And speak of encouraging, confident writers, your success is still 'in the making'--and going strong. Continued good luck with "Rafe."

    Hi Kaye--I agree. Writers need those special people to encourage, critique, laugh, cry, and threaten :) I know Di and I loved sharing your "call" experience. Can't wait for your book, too.

    Maura--Yes. Mark your calendar for next year this time. Your turn is coming.

    Hi Shirley--Judges scores have always mystified me, too. I like what Ashlyn said about their either liking her voice--or not. Good to know an author with a strong voice still is in demand.

  13. What a great call story, Ashlyn! I'm so glad you didn't give up because I can't wait to read your books. :)

  14. I adore this story and love your spirit and willingness to keep learning and even write in a different period. But I do hope you keep writing Regencies because they are my favorite! Cannot wait for this book to come out so I can gobble it up!

  15. I am so looking forward to reading the story!

    How will the editing process work with the second book? Will you send a fairly rough first or second draft to your agent, and wait for her suggestions? Or will you do a lot of polishing on your own before she or the publisher sees it? How does this work for a second book?

  16. Thanks, Anne, and back at ya on the book!

    Valerie, you know if it wasn't for you and the rest of the Lalalas, I wouldn't be here. Thank you for everything. You realize how long my acknowledgement page is going to be?

    AmyBeth, I have no idea how book two is going to work out. Part of me wants to show Sara the pile of cr-- I mean, rough draft I have now. And then my sane side takes over and says, "Nooooooo, you can't let her see this. She'll drop you." So, yeah, I might wait until she gets insistent.

  17. What a great adventure you're having, Ashlyn! So glad you listened to your friends and sent in your manuscript. We can only fail if we never try (or something like that). I'm excited for you and will be eager to read your stories. I love Regencies!

  18. Thank you, Tessa! Glad you stopped by.

  19. Nice to meet you! Congratulations and I wish you continued success :)