Most are familiar with Romance Writers of America and the fact that it supports the interests of more than 10,000 published and aspiring authors. What some may not know is that specialty chapters exist within RWA. These special-interest chapters are designed to connect writers with others who have the same goals and needs. In 2009, the Five Scribes will bring readers interviews relating to these diverse groups. Please welcome Interview No. 1, Dianne Despain writing as Dianne Drake, multi-published Harlequin author and president of Heartbeat.
D.B. Dianne, congratulations on your success with Harlequin and thanks for agreeing to talk to us about Heartbeat. I understand that Heartbeat, compared to many, is a relatively new chapter. Can you tell us about this organization and why members felt there was a need for it?
D.D. Thanks for including me. And thanks for your kind words about my relationship with Harlequin. It's been a good ride, and 23 books later, I'm still loving it! About Heartbeat, the chapter was started by Theresa Gaus, an incredible fan of medical romance. She's a grade school teacher in Texas, and it was her vision to start a chapter for people who wanted to write medical romance, or include medical elements in their stories because that's what she loved to read and write. Personally, I think Theresa had a great idea because medicine pops into so many stories. Sometimes in a big way, sometimes in the small details.
Even before I started writing medical romance, my reading preferences involved medical -- either medical romantic suspense as in Tess Gerritsen, or medical suspense from authors like Robin Cook or Michael Palmer. Of course, you expect these authors to get the details right -- they're doctors. They should. But so many times when I read a book with medical elements from an author without a medical background, I find something wrong. The errors distract me, sometimes so badly I don't finish the book. In research, the details have to be correct. Readers are too sophisticated to let the writers get away with anything less. So that's where a chapter like Heartbeat comes in. We have medical resources. Many of our members are medical professionals. We think alike, that accuracy in the medical detail is important. The Heartbeat Chapter came about because there was a need.
D.B. Count me as one of the millions who love medical details in novels. I see that Heartbeat has a number of Harlequin authors. Did the Harlequin editors encourage the creation of this chapter?
D.D. They didn't encourage the creation, but they've certainly supported the chapter in amazing ways over the years. In fact, I dare say that few, if any, chapters get the kind of support we do from the Mills & Boon office in the UK. The editors are particularly responsive to our members, know many of them by name, have established professional relationships with a number of our unpubbed members. They're very encouraging to our unpublished members and very accessible. Of course, I have a particular affinity for the editors in this office because I write for Mills & Boon. But if I were an outsider looking in, I'd be amazed at how nice the editors have been to this chapter year after year.
D.B. Tell us about the membership. How many members did you start with, and how many do you have as of January 2009?
D.D. Heartbeat started with five or six members and grew to about 15 pretty quickly. Then it stayed at nearly 20 for a couple of years, but right now we've grown to around 40 (with room for more!). I've always said that it's one of RWA's best kept secrets. Even though we've been around a few years now, people are still surprised that we exist. But we're out there (hint, hint) and looking for new members.
D.B. Hint taken, Dianne. I understand why medical professionals are interested in the group. But why would a non-medical professional join? Further, do you feel only someone with a medical background should write about medicine, e.g. a medical romance?
D.D. Would a non-medical professional benefit from joining us? Yes, I believe so. We have members now who aren't medical professionals, but who write medical elements into their stories. We also have several members who aspire to write category romance and have joined because as a small chapter we have a large number published in category. Our authors are willing and eager to help where they can. A number of our members have been/still are medical professionals, which is what earned us the nickname, "the nurse chapter." But like I said, we're not all medical and we certainly welcome anybody who would like to join us. I think for those who don't have a medical background, the advantage in joining Heartbeat is that if medicine finds its way into your stories, the chapter has amazing medical resources. Chances are, someone in the chapter will know the answer. If not, we have access to outside medical resources. In addition, we have a regular medical consultant:
Howard R. Bromley, MD, MBA
Associate Professor of Anesthesiology,
Critical Care and Pain Management
Anesthesiology Residence Program Director
University of TN Health Science Center
University of TN Medical Group
Dr. Bromley is a real sweetie when it comes to answering questions. He's been available every time we've asked. As for writing medical romance, if you don't have a medical background, we're writers. We can write anything we want. If we limited ourselves to writing that in which we're experienced, we'd have a very short, narrow career.
For instance, I read serial killer books. I love the deep drama. But do I think that every author I read is somehow personally experienced in serial killing? Absolutely not. As writers, we have to be good researchers in order to make our stories believable.
I recently wrote a story set in 1901, but since I wasn't around in 1901, I had to rely on my research to get the facts right. It's the same with someone who wants to write medical romance. The key is research. Sure, it would be easier if I'd been alive in 1901 -- although I wouldn't be here today answering these questions. It's career-limiting for a writer to think he/she can't expand into unknown areas. Doing something different might be a challenge, but a good challenge is what keeps our writing muscle working.
D.B. We've established Heartbeat is a fantastic networking opportunity. As a multi-published author what do you get out of the chapter, Dianne?
D.D. Heartbeat gives me all the chapter experience I want or need. I'm not a big joiner. I've never joined my local chapter and probably never will because it would take up a chunk of time I don't have. But Heartbeat gives me as much or as little activity as I want on any given day. I like the people and it's nice to be in company of like-minded thinkers. It's a good chapter. As far as networking opportunities, as I said we're closely connected to the Mills & Boon office. Besides that, our members are spread out all over the world or involved in different chapters. That's a pretty good networking opportunity too.
D.B. I attended a Heartbeat luncheon at National and truly appreciated the cozy setting. I also liked the fact that the editors were present. Do you organize this luncheon every year?
D.D. We do have the luncheon every year and the editors are in attendance as well as agents. What's really neat about this small gathering is that the people who go to the RWA agent/editor pitches have such a small amount of time to sum up their work. I'm not criticizing RWA; these sessions give aspiring authors awesome opportunities. But at Heartbeat, you can sit next to an editor for two hours and chat at your leisure. We haven't had a luncheon yet that several members haven't left with requests. Plus, there's the added benefit of having the editors tell us specifically what they're looking for, talk about changes in editorial direction and more. All in all, for many who attend, our little Heartbeat luncheon becomes the highlight of the conference.
D.B. Dianne, I appreciate your insights. Before you leave us, what are you working on, and given that you've taken on the chapter presidency, I'm curious how you budget your time?
D.D. Currently, I'm involved in what I'm calling my White Elk series, the first of which is due out in Spring 2010. It's a series set in the same town with connected characters from Harlequin Mills & Boon Medicals, of course. As for budgeting my time, I'm a fanatic for a schedule. Gotta have it or I'm lost. But more than that I really pay attention to body rhythms. I can't "create" in the early morning, but I can sure tend to chapter business. My creative juices flow around ten a.m., and that's when I start writing. By three I hit a wall and that's when I spend the time editing, writing a synopsis or plotting the next book. Years of experience have taught me to go with the flow.
It's been a pleasure, Donnell. If anyone has questions about Heartbeat, they can go to www.heartbeatrwa.com and take a look at the website. We have some "by request" workshops coming up this year and everyone is invited to participate. Also, feel free to e-mail me at Diannedespain@earthlink.net.
Dianne Despain w/a Dianne Drake
The Wife He's been Watiing For - HMB Medicals - hardback 11/08, paperback 1/09
Dr. Velascos' Unexpected Baby -HMB Medicals -hardback 4/09, paperback 6/09
Found: A Mother for his Son - HMB Medicals -hardback7/09, paperback 9/09
Coming in Spring of 2010 - The White Elk Series