Interview with Anna DeStefano



Hi Anna. Welcome to A Romance Review. I am so glad you found time in your busy schedule to set down and chat with me a little.

Thanks, I'm really excited to be here!

Let's get started. First off why don't you tell our readers a little about yourself?

Hmmm... Insight into my personality... I'm a southern girl born and bred, who married her hero, a third-generation Italian from New York City. So basically, I love tradition and my proud heritage. But the first chance I got, I dove into the big, bad world and developed a taste for new experiences.

How long have you been interested in writing and what caused you to decide you wanted to try and get your work published and into the hands of readers?

So many people ask this question, and best I can tell, I've been a writer my entire life. There wasn't a time in my memory that I wasn't in love with stories, and books, and the idea of one day writing something someone else would pick up, read and enjoy. In elementary and high school, it was my poetry that received the most interest, so the stories took a back seat for a while. Then I fell in love with, of all things, math, and off I went to Georgia Tech, and then began a career in computers.

It wasn't until I'd specialized as a technical writer (funny how that happened), that I ran into someone who's become one of closest friends, fellow Superromance author Anna Adams. She was trying to publish with Harlequin and asked if I'd ever considered writing fiction. And man, did my childhood dream come back with gusto! Five years of trying to figure out how to do it later, and I'd sold my first book to Superromance.

I noticed your work won several awards before your first book was published. In 2001 you won the TRW Golden Opportunity Contest, the Golden Rose Award and the Molly Award. In 2002 you won the unpublished Maggie Award Of Excellence and in 2003 you were a Golden Heart winner. Can you tell us a bit about these awards and if the work that won the awards was or will be published?

I sold the third manuscript I completed, and all of my books won unpublished awards. It's interesting to note that the more I learned about what I wanted to write, the less often I finaled in contests--along the way, I realized how mainstream the stories I wanted to tell were. Boy doesn't always meet girl in my first chapters. There are lots of sub plots and secondary points of view. And while this approach has made me successful at Super, it breaks many of the rules contest judges are required to follow on score sheets.

So by the time Forever Ago came to be (retitled The Unknown Daughter when it was published), it didn't final much, but when it did it usually took the prize. The two unpublished awards I'm most proud of are the Maggie Award of Excellence and the Golden Heart--the top unpublished awards in romance--and The Unknown Daughter won both. Harlequin asked for revisions just before the Golden Heart win, and I sold the following January. I HIGHLY recommend contests as a way for aspiring authors to get fresh feedback on their work and hopefully to get their manuscripts on a final round editor's desk.

October 2004 saw your first published work for Harlequin Superromance, titled The Unknown Daughter on the shelves. Can you tell us why you targeted the Superromance line for your work and how long it took from when you sold the book until it was released?

Those of you who've read my work already know this, but my stories can get a bit edgy, that makes it perfect for the emotional projects Super buys. When you buy a Super, you're guaranteed an interesting, complex read, and that sounded right up my alley.

I pitched my books to Super from the start, and after going through a couple of rounds of the request-revise-reject tango with them, I received a detailed revision letter on the third, with a request to resubmit. I received "the call" in January of 2004, and I was thrilled to learn that it would be released later that same year, in October. It was a wild, amazing year!

Can you share with us the story behind "the call" telling you of your first sale? Who was the first person you shared the news with and did you to anything special to celebrate?

The "call" is as amazing as they say. And from what I hear from everyone else as well, it always catches you when you're doing the least "authorly" thing you do in your real-world life. I was catching up on housework in the kitchen. Sigh, the soap-opera-esque reality of a writer's world. I actually asked my editor to hang on for a minute, so I could sit beside my french doors and take in the moment. I wanted to remember it always. Corny, but I'm glad I took the time.

Of course I called my husband first--the man's been through the publishing ringer right along with me. The next call was long distance, to a Superromance author buddy in another state who'd helped me every step of the way--awesome author and fellow southerner, Anna Adams. It's amazing, to hear your buddies (and in some cases their families) hoot and holler and cry on the other end of the line, because of something wonderful they've been hoping would happen for you. What a humbling and inspiring experience.

Speaking of that first book The Unknown Daughter, would you tell our readers a little about the book?

The Unknown Daughter has a little bit of everything--a secret baby (although daughter's eighteen, and so not so much a baby), a reunion of past lovers, a suspense subplot you're dying to figure out, and lots of yummy twists and turns. As all my books are right now, it's set in a small southern town, much like the one I grew up in, so the scenery and settings give you a lovely feel for the South. And I'm told the emotional depth I achieved for the characters, even eighteen-year-old Maggie (who we get to revisit in my Feb. 2006 The Runaway Daughter), is the best part of the journey.

Here's the official blurb:

Carrinne Wilmington turned her back on her past and her first love when she was only seventeen. Now, for the sake of her sixteen-year-old daughter, she's returning to her South Georgia home to search for the key to their future. When someone tries to stop her from finding the truth, will Eric Rivers, the rebel-turned-sheriff from her past, help her protect the daughter he's never known?

To top things off The Unknown Daughter won the Romantic Times Award for best Superromance of 2004. Can you share with us your feelings upon learning this news?

It's been an amazing year watching my debut Super do so well. I was shocked when I learned that The Unknown Daughter was receiving a Gold Medal Top Pick review from RT BookClub (formally Romantic Times). And it just got more surreal from there--the reviewers choice nomination for Best Superromance of 2004 made me so proud. I was chosen with some of my favorite authors, including Brenda Novak. When it won, I was in total disbelief. I think I said something four-letterish--my husband, who happened to be walking by my office as I read the email, rushed in thinking something terrible had happened. Accepting the award at the Romantic Times conference in St. Louis was one of those experiences I'll treasure always.

Your second release, A Family for Daniel, was released in June 2005. It is a wonderful heartwarming story. Would you tell our readers a little about this book?

I chose to do something a little different with A Family for Daniel. Like my first book, there are several cool subplots going on to keep you hooked into the story. But the special thing my editors let me do with my second book was explore the story through the eyes two ten-year-old characters. In addition to my hero and heroine, you get to share these amazing kids' experiences.

As for the story itself:

Amy Loar is a single working mother struggling to give her daughter the secure life she deserves. Joshua White is raising his baby sister's son, only Daniel doesn't want anything to do with the small-town life Joshua loves. The last thing these childhood friends have energy for is the distraction of a relationship, until working together becomes the only way they can protect the kids they love.

You write such heartwarming family oriented stories that tug at the heartstrings and cause the reader to shed a tear or two. When I think of your work I know I will get an emotional story that will evoke many feelings as I become engrossed in the story. Can you explain why you have directed your work in this direction?

Wow, thanks so much for saying such wonderful things about my work. It means so much.

Okay, direction for my work. As a child, I fell in love with stories that transported me to different worlds, where I could share the lives of characters that were experiencing incredible things. I could feel for them--fell WITH them--from the safety and comfort of my own room (or bed, since I secretly read under the covers many nights). If a book didn't make me feel something, I rarely made it past the first few chapters. To this day, I have certain stories and authors on my keeper shelf that I return to time and again, when I'm in just the right mood for their amazing storytelling.

When it became clear I had a shot at publishing books of my own, I looked around at what I was reading, and discovered my favorite stories are still those about real people living extraordinary journeys that transport me safely into adventures that mirror some small part of my own world. Basically, I'm still the same emotional junky I was as a kid. Add love of emotional journeys to the fact that I've had a good bit of training and experience in crisis care, and that makes for an author with some volatile issues to explore!

My work as a Stephen Minister and Rainbows facilitator is all about sharing hope. Since they say to write what you know, my artistic goal is to find ways to mirror the struggles (and emotions) being lived around us--while at the same leaving the reader with the uplifting promise that there is victory to by won in any challenge. If my work gives readers hope that they can conquer difficulty and move on to the amazing future awaiting them, that's the kind of success I'll cherish always.

You have also written an on line read for Harlequin called The Sheriff's Wife. Can you tell us how this project came about and a little about it? Did this type of writing pose any different problems compared to writing a Superromance and if so what?

My editor, Johanna Raisanen, is an amazing advocate. She recommended me to the editorial staff at eHarlequin.com, who contacted my agent, Michelle Grajkowski of 3 Seas Literary Agency, about running a daily-read short-story the month my first Supperromance was released.

Of course, I jumped at the chance, and I took the opportunity to write a story that tied into The Unknown Daughter. I've had a wonderful response to it, with new fans still finding it almost a year after its debut. The Sheriff's Wife is still available on eHarlequin.com, in its entirety, and you'll find a link to it on my Bookshelf page at www.annawrites.com.

What is a typical day like for you when you are working on a book? Give us a mini view of your workday if you will?

The best thing I can say about my writing workday is that there's nothing typical about it. That's one of the best parts about writing for a living. I have the flexibility of doing what I need to do for my work, while at the same time focusing on my son, my husband, and our families when they need me. It's not easy juggling my increasing deadlines, and everyone's schedules, bit it's an amazing experience I'm getting better at all the time.

Basically, I work on something dealing with my writing every day (new pages for a work-in-progress, revisions my editor would like back pronto, promotional opportunities, developing and giving workshops (one of my favorite things, because I get to meet readers and other writers), website development (another favorite thing, so come out to mine and tell me what you think), and of course working up new ideas to sell to Harlequin.

One day, I might have only an hour to devote to my work (this is happening less and less often, the busier I get). Another, I could be on deadline and work around the clock--an eighteen-hour day isn't unusual the last few days before a manuscript is due.

What does your family think about having a writer in the family? Do they read your books?

My family's been out-of-their minds supportive. My husband and son think this publishing thing is totally cool, and my mom's been one of my biggest fans from the start. She and my husband read many of my early, unpublished drafts, and my husband is still my first read on everything. He has a great eye for realistic plot development!

I know you are pretty active in RWA. You even write articles on a regular basis for your local chapter's newsletter. How important do you think organizations like RWA are in an author's career? What would you say are the benefits from belonging to such an organization?

I wouldn't be published now if it weren't for the amazing knowledge and support I've received from so many RWA members. My guess is that being an RWA member cuts the average aspiring author's wait-time to being published in half. Our business is complicated, highly competitive and ever-changing. I feel truly blessed that from the moment I discovered my local RWA chapter, I've never been in this journey alone.

And now, one of my favorite things is to help up-and-coming writers who are where I've been, and to give back a little of what's been gifted to me.

Anna I know you like to connect with your readers. You always have a really cool contest going on your web site and more often than not your prize involves some kind of bag/purse? Is this something you collect yourself?

I'm a pretty committed athlete. Have been most of my life. This means my feet, though they love pretty shoes, crave comfortable ones more. I do what I can, but my nod to my shoe fetish is limited. So what's a girl who loves fashion to do? I collect funky purses, instead. I love them, and I especially love finding cool, trendy bags at amazing sale prices. Marshals and TJ Max are my best sources. And my husband's company has passes to the apparel mart--great wholesale prices there.

So, when I started thinking about a unique contest for my website, what better way to go than giving away the cool bags people kept stopping me at conferences to ask about? My husband is very grateful that we now have a tax write-off for my shopping habit.

What is the best way for your readers to stay in touch with you?

I update my website often, and everyone who signs my guestbook receives my monthly eNewsletter. I travel as much as I can, to give workshops at local RWA chapters and conferences. It's a great chance to catch up with everyone. And my website daily journal has turned out to be a great success. Visitors can leave a comment about any entry, and Thursdays are Question and Answer days where we all chime in.

My first journal Launch Party was a hit--a week of great chats, giveaways and getting to know everyone better! Look for another one when The Runaway Daughter launches in February.

What is the best piece of advice you could give to the aspiring writer out there?

Believe in your ability to achieve your dreams--any dream. And be patiently persistent. If I've learned nothing else, it's the importance of the attitude we apply while we're waiting for our happily-eve- afters. Waiting can be excruciating, but it's also where we learn how to trust in our abilities. To really believe we can get there--wherever there turns out to be. Wanna take a guess at the names of the angels that sit on either side of my keyboard? Patience and serenity. I need all the help I can get from both!

I have found romance writers to be a close-knit group so to speak. Do you have a mentor in your writing career? Is there someone who has taken you under his or her wing and showed you the ropes so to speak? If so who and in what ways have they helped you?

I have so many people to thank; the list would blow away your word limit. Three people that are tops on the list are: Anna Adams, Superromance Author, best friend, and a bit of a kindred spirit, who was there from the very beginning; Tanya Michaels, critique partner, two-time RITA nominee, and quite possibly the funniest person I've ever met; and Holly Jacobs, whom I'm sure you've heard of, and whom I've been lucky to get to know well over the last year--talk about a heart and soul full of gold!

What is your favorite thing about writing for a living and of course your least favorite thing?

Most favorite--it's going to sound hokey, but the privilege of touching people's lives, maybe even making them better, through the power of words is unforgettable. I've received letters from so many readers telling me what my stories and characters mean to them. That's the sort of affirmation you can live off of forever.

Least favorite--staring down a new story, inevitably about half-way to the finish line, and realizing that I'll never make the magic happen again. Of course, this is one of the many, many times that I'm wrong. The pity party always passes, and the serenity thankfully returns.

Can you share with us any upcoming projects you have in the works? Do you see single titles in your future perhaps?

In a way, I feel like I'm writing single title projects already. Superromances are still category, but there are so few limitations on what we can do, the sky's the limit. I'm learning so much and growing with each project, I'm thrilled by the idea of what will come next!

My next release (Feb. '06) is a sequel to my award-winning debut. The Runaway Daughter is fast-moving and full of edge-of-your seat moments, but at its heart it's the kind of family and relationship drama I deliver with each of my stories. I hope you read it and find something real to take back to your own life. Something special just for you.

Later next year, A Little Piece of Now (working title) is due out. Small southern town. Alpha male, bad-boy hero. Heart of gold, turned-her-life-around heroine. Add in a past neither of them can outrun, and a pregnant teenager who needs a champion, and I think this one will be my best, most mainstream story yet! At least it's looking that way (can't wait to get back to it, once I'm done with this interview.

Anna thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me. I wish you much continued success as your career progresses.



Interviewed by Barbara




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