Monday, March 18, 2013

Sandy Success Stories-Kaki Warner!

Welcome to my new blog series highlighting the success of The Sandy Finalists. I developed The Sandy writing contest seven years ago for the Crested Butte Writers and have been delighted to see many of our finalists go onto publication.  I thought it'd be fun to follow up with them and see where they are now in their careers. 

Kaki Warner is The Sandy’s first big success story, I think. After finaling in The Sandy, Kaki went on to get a three-book contract from Berkley Publishing, followed by her Runaway Bride series and a third trilogy, The Heroes of Heartbreak Creek, which begins in August with Behind his Blue Eyes. And in between all that, she gave us a sweet Christmas Novella.

What year did you final in The Sandy, with which book, and what place did you end up with?
PIECES OF SKY placed second in the romance category in 2007. After carefully going over the valuable feedback I received from the Sandy Contest judges, I made needed changes, and in late 2008, sold the manuscript to Penguin/Berkley as part of a three-book deal. The next year, 2010, PIECES OF SKY won a RITA for Best First Book. I believe the Sandy and several other writing contests I entered were instrumental in helping me achieve that goal.

In six years, you’ve written nine long books (each one around 115,000 words, right?) and one novella? Not that I’m complaining—‘cause I’m a huge fan of yours, but . . . are you trying to make the rest of us look like slackers or just plain crazy? How come?
You’re as good at math as I am, Theresa, LOL. Actually, I’ve been writing forever, but have only been under contract for a little over four years. In that time, I’ve released six books and one novella, a seventh book is on its way to production for an August release, and a short story for an anthology is slated for release in early 2014. I’m under contract for two more books, then I’ll probably vacuum. Releasing two books a year is pretty standard in this business, although I whined about being a bit overwhelmed, so in my last contract I finagled eight months per book, rather than six. That’s why it helps if you have a backlog to work from when you finally take the plunge—either into traditional publishing or self-publishing. Alas, when I sold, even though I said PIECES OF SKY  was book one of a trilogy, I had only that one complete manuscript, about fifty pages on a second, and a vague idea about a third. I lied. Big deal. It’s what I do for a living.

Publishing is changing almost daily, it seems. In this day and age when self-publishing is becoming a commonplace occurrence, do you think writing contests will be a thing of the past? Do you think finaling or winning a contest still has value?
I will ALWAYS think writing contests are a necessary step in the journey from writer to author. It’s a huge help to get feedback from experienced writers and judges. Contests also toughen us up for the hard rejections ahead. If you don’t have a decent critique group, feedback from a contest is a must. I don’t know of any writer who has made it without one or the other.

You recently released your first novella, what was it like writing such a short story? Do you think there’ll be more novellas in your future? Speaking for myself, I’m not really a fan of novellas in general, because I hate for a good story to end, but I can appreciate its function of tiding your fans over or whetting their appetite for the next release. I wonder how your other fans felt?
The novella was harder than I thought it would be. It still has all the elements of a longer novel in terms of conflict, setting, character growth…and it still has the same requirements (strong opening, good balance of narration, introspection, dialogue, action, and a satisfying ending). It’s just condensed—less backstory, less introspection, less everything. Every word counts—there can be no fluff. I did it as an exercise toward trimming and tightening my longer novels. I usually take a long time developing the characters and the romantic relationship. But I didn’t have the usual 110,000+ words to work with, so I had to get to the point sooner. I like the story and I like the characters, but I suspect five years from now, I could write it better. But then, that’s probably true of all my stuff. It was also a way to get an offering out there at a lower price, hoping to attract a wider readership. I have no idea how it did yet (it came out in December, and sales figures only come out every six months). 

Not under a bed, but . . .
I also recently had to write a short story for an anthology (with Jodi Thomas, Jo Goodman, and Alison Kent). This one was even more restrictive in word count—20,000 words (the novella came in at 37,000 words). I made it as hard on myself as possible by trying to incorporate the growing romantic relationship with a mystery. I haven’t gotten any feedback from my editor yet, so I’m not sure if I pulled it off. It’s a little more open-ended than the novella or my other books, so it might serve as an intro into another series with the same characters. They were really fun to write. Who knows? That anthology, BOOTS UNDER HER BED, will be out early next year.

What are you most proud of in your writing journey?
I’m pretty ding-dang proud of just getting published. Then getting a RITA, of course. But I guess what I’m happiest about is that I did it my way, and wrote the story I wanted to write. It went from my editor straight to copyediting without any revisions, which was a huge relief. I was sure they would ask me to smut it up since they were marketing it to the romance genre. But they didn’t. Not that I have anything against a little smut, but this wasn’t the book for it. And it’s not my style.

Can you give us a sneak peak at the next book in the series?
BEHIND HIS BLUE EYES is the first Heroes of Heartbreak Creek novel, and will feature a new hero and heroine, plus all the old characters from the Brides Novels. Here’s the back cover copy:
Hoping to escape his past, Ethan Hardesty became an advance man for the railroad. Only two things impede his desire to transform Heartbreak Creek into a thriving town once again—a vandal bent on stopping the railroad, and the beautiful but hardheaded woman who won’t sign over the final right-of-way through the canyon.
Audra Pearsall has good reason for not allowing a train to pass within yards of her home, no matter how persuasive the handsome Mr. Hardesty can be. But when vandalism escalates to murder and fear stalks the canyon, Audra doesn’t know who to turn to—until the man she thought was her friend proves to be an enemy, and the man she wouldn’t allow herself to trust becomes her reluctant hero…

The second book takes place in Scotland where Ash and Maddie and their wrangler have gone to buy Thoroughbred breeding stock for Ash’s growing horse herd.
And the third book will be Thomas and Pru’s story. Finally.

Thanks much for Kaki sharing her writing journey and best wishes for continued success!


Donnell Ann Bell said...

I think Kaki Warner is perhaps the biggest success story of the Sandy, the funniest, and just plain nice. She not only works hard, she has the talent and drive that made her succeed. We should all take lessons.

Thanks T for this fantastic interview.

Kaki said...

Donnell, thanks for the kind words. Your new car is on the way. Hope your cold finally moves on, and your foot feels better. You've had a rough time of it lately, haven't you?

Theresa said...

Hi Donnell,
I must concur--though we've a few others on their way, like you! I've met some of the nicest and most talented people through my work with The Sandy!

Donnell Ann Bell said...

I get a new car!!! Cool ;)

Kaki, thanks for commiserating with me. The good thing about this awful cold, is I've completely forgot about my foot. As a matter of fact I say... what foot -- my physical therapist is mad at me. But the other alternative is to hack and cough all over her.

You rock!!!

Lisa Potocar said...

I have to agree with Donnell about Kaki. There isn't a nicer, more-hardworking person who deserves such great success!

I'm thrilled, Kaki, that you will be continuing on with Thomas and Pru's story and that you are writing more about Maddie and Ash! I can't wait to get my hands on these stories.

I have to agree with your point about contests: They are a wonderful way to get some great feedback from the best for nominal fees. And if we writers are smart, we'll never allow that opportunity to go extinct.

As usual, Theresa, you host an entertaining interview.

Kaki said...

Thanks, T., and Lisa. I'm going to miss y'all this year...but in-coming Princes (or would it be out-coming Princes?) always take priority, even over writing. I didn't know you were a Sandy alum, too, Donnell. Aren't you too, Lisa? We're so cool.

Theresa said...

Thanks for stoping by Kaki!

Sandra Kerns said...

Wow, as usual a day late and a dollar short. Then again with inflation it's probably $2 short :)

The interview was great. I enjoyed getting more insight into you my friend. I've enjoyed your stories and look forward to the new releases. I don't know about the other novella you wrote, but the Christmas one was amazing. I truly LOVED both the heroine and hero.

Kaki said...

Thanks, Sandra. I liked them, too. And thanks for coming by. I know how busy you are with your own stuff. Keep writing!

Leslie Ann aka LA said...

It's been fun watching your career rise, shine and become stellar!

The Sandy is a great contest and I've been proud to be a judge since the beginning. I agree, whether going for trad or self pubbed, contests are great feedback if the contest is a good one. And as I said The Sandy is right up there with the best.

Someday we'll all meet up at CB and celebrate together.

Oh, and Kaki, you exhaust me...blows my mind how much you've accomplished.


Cat said...

Kaki, I love your comment: "Smut it up!" That is so Kaki! Good for you doing it your way. And thank you, Theresa for bringing us this great interview.


Martha Catt