A Book Birthday for Debut Author Clarissa Harwood’s Historical Fiction Novel, Impossible Saints!

Today’s interview is with author Clarissa Harwood, whose book, Impossible Saints, debuts TODAY, January 2, 2018!! 

Impossible Saints is historical fiction and published by Pegasus Books and you can grab a copy NOW from the following book vendors:

Amazon

Barns & Noble

Chapters Indigo

The book is set in 1907 England. Lilia Brooke, an agnostic militant suffragette, believes marriage to a clergyman is a fate worse than death. Paul Harris, a quiet, intellectual Anglican priest, is well aware that falling in love with Lilia is incompatible with his ambition to become the next cathedral dean. Lilia and Paul must decide which compromises they’re willing to make and whether their love is worth fighting for.

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A teaser from Impossible Saints:

“How well do you know Whitechapel?” she asked.

He hesitated.

“Have you ever been there?”

“No,” he admitted, “but I don’t need to go to Hell to know I don’t want to spend time there.”

She laughed. “That’s a terrible analogy.”

“Don’t you think you could better achieve your ends by adding a little prudence to your fearlessness?”

“You sound like my mother.” She tapped her foot impatiently. “Why is it that men’s courage is called bravery but women’s courage is called recklessness—or, even worse, foolishness? If I were a man, would you urge me to be prudent?”

“I certainly would,” he said firmly. “Not everything is a question of sex.”

“That’s where you’re wrong. Everything is a question of sex, but because you’re a man, you don’t see it.”

*************

Minerva Spencer: How long did you take to write this book? 

Clarissa Harwood: The novel took about twenty years from conception to publication. The first draft took me a little over a year, but I’ve written so many drafts since then that I’ve lost count. I gave up on it several times and wrote other books, but I kept coming back to it. You can read more about the timeline, including signing with my agent and getting the book deal in this blog post.

 

MS:  What kind of research did you do for this book?

CH:  As a doctoral student and later an English professor, I specialized in nineteenth-century British literature, so the poetry and fiction of that era always sparks my research and leads me to primary sources. An early influence on Paul’s development as an Anglican priest was Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Towers, with its delightful melodrama surrounding the lives and loves of cathedral clergy. Poets associated with Anglo-Catholicism inspired Paul’s story too, such as Gerard Manley Hopkins and Christina Rossetti. First-person accounts of the suffragettes’ destruction of property, hunger strikes in prison, and the brutal force-feeding they endured, especially Emmeline Pankhurst’s My Own Story and Constance Lytton’s Prison and Prisoners, were especially influential in shaping Lilia’s experiences.

MS:  What did you remove from this book during the editing process?

CH:  Deciding what to include and what to exclude is always difficult, but I’m fortunate to have people with great editorial eyes looking at my work—critique partners, beta readers, my agent, and my editor at Pegasus.  I’ll admit I was dismayed when Laura, my agent, first suggested killing off a fairly major character in Impossible Saints, but Laura has an uncanny ability to detect which elements of a story should be left in and which should be left out, so I knew I could trust her judgment. I was also disappointed when I realized on my own that I had to kill off my only Canadian character and put a New Zealander in his place! It’s obvious to me now that both “murders” improved the novel.

MS: Are you a plotter or a pantser?

CH:  My natural tendency is to be a plotter, but I’m trying to let my inner pantser come out more often! I never plot a novel in great detail, though. Before I start writing a novel, I usually write a brief synopsis. Writing a synopsis for a finished novel is painful, but writing one early in the process is a helpful exercise to work out what the important turning points and key scenes will be. Of course, the synopsis I write at the beginning bears little relation to the one I write at the end, but that’s as it should be!


MS:  What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why?

CH:  I love revisions, whether I’m doing them on my own after having written several drafts, or whether I’m doing them based on my agent’s or editor’s feedback. There is no “terror of the blank page,” so I don’t experience writer’s block when I’m doing revisions. I already know the story and the characters, so I don’t have to create anything from scratch. Instead, I’m adding layers and depth, polishing something that is already a solid story.

 

MS:  What is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?

CH:  The first draft! How I hate the first draft! I hate not knowing my characters. They aren’t my friends yet, and I miss my old friends from the previous novel. The characters in a first draft are people who’ve dropped out of the sky and are ordering me to tell a story I don’t know.


MS:  Can you share your writing routine? 

CH:  I’m very fortunate to have flexible hours in my day job (I teach online courses at my local university), so I can work at home most days and organize my time the way I want to. Mornings are my sacred writing time: I try to write for at least an hour or two every morning. But my writing routine is quite different depending on whether I’m writing an early draft or a later one. I give myself a minimum time period when I’m working on a first draft (only ten minutes if I’m really struggling). When I’m working on a later draft or revisions, I give myself a maximum time period: otherwise I miss appointments, meals, and sleep because all I want to do is write!


MS:  Have you ever gotten writer’s block? If yes, how do you overcome it?

CH:  Yes, usually when I’m working on a first draft or if I’ve been away from the manuscript too long. I’m a recovering perfectionist, so my first step is usually just reminding myself that it’s ok to “write crap.” In fact, this is how I wrote my entire dissertation! When my writer’s block is really severe, I use the ten-minute minimum time period I mentioned before and let myself make point-form notes if I can’t form complete sentences. Another trick I use for severe writer’s block is stolen from the movie The King’s Speech: to work on the king’s stutter, his speech therapist had him shout out swear words to loosen him up. I do this with writing if I’m really stuck: I just write long lists of swear words!

 

MS:  How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

CH:  I wrote two novels as a teenager that were awful. I rewrote one of them in my twenties, but it was still pretty awful. I’ll call those my three practice novels. Then I signed with my agent based on a finished novel that didn’t sell, and I recently finished a sort of sequel to Impossible Saints. That’s two finished unpublished novels. I also have two unfinished first drafts of new novels.

Thanks so much for sharing your process with my readers and good luck with your publishing journey!

*********

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If you’d like to contact Clarissa or have questions for her you can find her at one of the following places:

Website: www.clarissaharwood.com
Facebook: @ClarissaHarwoodAuthor

Twitter: @clarissaharwood

Goodreads: Clarissa Harwood

The Query Letter that Snagged Me a 3-Book Contract

I get asked one question a lot: how did I break into traditional publishing. Okey-dokey, here is my (fairly abbreviated) answer.

On March 8, 2017 I received a three-book offer from Kensington Press for my Regency Era romance trilogy, The Outcasts.

Here is a bit of background on my query letter. I started writing in 2013 and finished my first novel that December. And then I started another and another and another. Over the next three years I sent out a total of three query letters. All three letters received a polite “no thank you.”

Needless to say, I did not spend much time querying. It was not until I had entered a dozen contests, and either won or was a finalist in several of them, that my husband and beta readers pressured me to begin querying in earnest. In the Fall of 2016 I promised I would begin querying in the new year.

Hello 2017.

Not until late February did I get my act together and begin the agonizing process of writing a query, a horrific ordeal I had endured again and again over the prior 3.5 years. Each time I began a letter I’d end up overwhelmed and, ultimately, put the letter aside. I’d tried writing queries for at least five of the books I’d written, thinking it might be easier with a different book. Nope.

And I wasn’t attempting these letters without doing my research, either. I read and re-read every damned entry on The Query Shark. While I didn’t submit a letter to The Shark I DID learn a lot from reading her comments. I highly recommend going to her website and doing what she tells you to do.

But the person who really gave me the kick in the pants I needed was Sherry Thomas. Ms. Thomas posted two real-live query letters back in 2006–two successful query letters. Unfortunately they are no longer on her website to view.

Her letters were punchy and gripping. I don’t know if it helped me because I had read both books in her queries (I suspect it might have), but reading those letters was a serious light bulb moment.

Anyhow, it took me a good two weeks of writing and re-writing and critiques from three people I trust (huge thanks to Brantly, George, & Marla, my patient critique/beta readers) before I produced something I liked.

Here is my letter with comments following:


Dear Ms. Editor:

I was thrilled to see Kensington and Lyrical are both looking for historical romances with unique settings and unusual characters.

Dangerous is part of my Regency Era series, The Outcasts, which features non-traditional protagonists. I believe Dangerous would appeal to readers who enjoy the uncommon heroes/heroines of Sherry Thomas, Lisa Kleypas, and Elizabeth Hoyt.

Lady Euphemia Marlington hasn’t made her own decisions since she was captured by Corsairs and sold into a harem. Now the sultan is dead and every decision Mia makes leads to another, and another—until she ends up back in London facing her first Season at the age of thirty-two.

Dangerous opens with Mia’s father, the Duke of Carlisle, forcing her to make yet another decision: marry a man of his choosing or spend the rest of her life on a secluded rural estate.

After Adam de Courtney’s first two wives die under mysterious circumstances there isn’t a peer in England willing to let his daughter marry a man the ton calls The Murderous Marquess.

Nobody except the desperate Duke of Carlisle.

The two outcasts strike a deal neither intends to honor: Mia will get a marriage free of traditional restraints and Adam will get an heir. But deceit takes a back seat to desire and the scheming lovers learn that what they bargained for wasn’t what they wanted at all. They’re on the brink of leaving past disappointments behind them and embracing a future together when Mia’s biggest secret surfaces and threatens to tear them apart.

Now they must make the most dangerous decision of all: When to trust their own hearts.

In 2016 Dangerous and The Outcasts books won or placed in the following:

RWA 2016 Hearts Through History Contest:
1st Dangerous
2nd Scandalous
3rd Barbarous

RWA 2016 Beau Monde
2nd Dangerous

RWA 2016 Hot Prospect Contest
2nd Dangerous

RWA 2016 Windy City Contest
1st Dangerous Moonlight
3rd Dangerous

RWA 2016 Beacon
1st Dangerous Moonlight
3rd Dangerous

RWA 2016 Joyce Henderson Contest
1st Scandalous
3rd Dangerous Moonlight

RWA 2016 Fool for Love
1st Scandalous

RWA 2016 Houston, The Emily Contest
3rd Dangerous Moonlight

Thank you for taking the time to read about my book and please let me know if I can provide any other information.


First off, (and I know you’ve read this before ) do your research before querying. I had been researching for at least a year and Kensington Press was my top pick (yes, “go big or go home” is my motto).

I decided I would send off query letters in five-letter batches. In my first batch I sent one to an editor and four to agents. I am disorganized in many ways, so I made a calendar so I wouldn’t end up embarrassing myself a year down the line by re-querying the same person twice.

The part of Ms. Thomas’s letter I liked the most was the structure. It seemed a lot more useful to impart a bit of background and then tell where the book actually began.

I didn’t include my word count because I was using an online submitting program that already gathered that kind of information. Because I feel brevity is the key to getting a foot in the door, I felt I could create a little more white space by leaving it out.

I dithered and dithered about listing my contests. I finally decided to list all my historical romance placements, but leave out my spec fiction. The list looks a bit unwieldy, but my contests were the only writing-related credits I had.

So, there you have it. I hope this helps somebody out there as much as Ms. Thomas’s query letter helped me.

Here’s the book the query letter is based on. Isn’t Adam a hottie??

If you want to grab a copy, you can get one HERE.

What sort of lady doesn’t make her debut until the age of thirty-two? A timeless beauty with a mysterious past—and a future she intends to take into her own hands . . .

Lady Euphemia Marlington hasn’t been free in seventeen years—since she was captured by Corsairs and sold into a harem. Now the sultan is dead and Mia is back in London facing relentless newspapermen, an insatiably curious public, and her first Season. Worst of all is her ashamed father’s ultimatum: marry a man of his choosing or live out her life in seclusion. No doubt her potential groom is a demented octogenarian. Fortunately, Mia is no longer a girl, but a clever woman with a secret—and a plan of her own . . .

Adam de Courtney’s first two wives died under mysterious circumstances. Now there isn’t a peer in England willing to let his daughter marry the dangerously handsome man the ton calls The Murderous Marquess. Nobody except Mia’s father, the desperate Duke of Carlisle. Clearly Mia must resemble an aging matron, or worse. However, in need of an heir, Adam will use the arrangement to his advantage . . .

But when the two outcasts finally meet, assumptions will be replaced by surprises, deceit by desire—and a meeting of minds between two schemers may lead to a meeting of hearts—if the secrets of their pasts don’t tear them apart . . .


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LERA, dirty/spicy prizes, and new friends!

This past weekend I attended my first meeting of the Land of Enchantment Romance Authors (LERA) meeting. . . and it was fantastic.

New Mexico might be a tiny state, but we are big on talent. LERA is the only chapter of the The Romance Writers of America (RWA), in New Mexico. I have postponed joining the organization because it is a six hour round-trip to go to Albuquerque. But now that I’ve gone once, I’m hooked. This will be a drive I will gladly make again and again.

The current president of the club, Jeffe Kennedy, could not have been more welcoming and generous with her time and information. Ms. Kennedy is not only a well-known fantasy and contemporary romance author, but she is a 2017 RITA nominee in the Paranormal Romance category with her book The Pages of the Mind.

FYI, the RITA is to romance novels (the BIGGEST fiction genre, earning over $1.2 billion annually) what the Oscar is to film. So, this is a big, fat hairy deal. Hugantic. Colossal. Yeah, and she belongs to MY RWA chapter!

The group has a broad base of writers–from new aspirants to those who have made it to the top of their craft. In addition to Ms. Kennedy, other noteworthy authors include Regency and Georgian Era romance author, Louise Bergin and contemporary romance author Robin Perini, among others. Check out the above link to LERA to read more about our impressive authors.

The meeting was packed with helpful info, from editing tips to self-pubbing to presentations on craft and style.

There was also a raffle and I WON! I WON! I WON! Wait, wasn’t that Sally Fields’ acceptance speech. . . (dating myself badly).

Anyhow, I won a dirty girl gift bag created by Jeffe Kennedy. In addition to a nifty tote there were BOOKS! Also some gardening supplies and stuff to go out and get dirty. Here is a picture…

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I have already dug in (get it?) to The Mark of the Tala and it has cut down on my productivity big time. I highly recommend it to lovers of fantasy. Great world building and characters you can cheer for, as well as lots of high politics and intrigue. Oh, and smokin’ romance, too…. Also tucked in the bag is The Edge of the Blade, which I am not allowed to open until I finish my monthly word quota.