I had a chat with Vanessa Lillie, of Washington Romance Writers, about this year’s RITA Awards. Thanks Vanessa! gossip girls 1: conversation, female, friends, friendship, girl, girls, gossip, gossiping, outdoors, park.sit, sitting, talk, talking, teenager, Teenagers, tell, telling, young, youthsource: http://www.rgbstock.com/image/mhGt9WQ

· You have multiple RITA nominations and have won three times, and this year, are nominated in two categories – what has being nominated this year been like for you, especially compared to previous years?

SW: Every year, it’s a total surprise. I read like a maniac, and there are so many good books, I know the competition is fierce. I always judge a round (or two, if needed) so I know the time commitment from the judges can be significant, so I feel grateful as well. Compared to previous years, this year was crazy because I was out of town on the day the finalists were announced. As usual, I was lazy about checking my home phone messages, so I completely missed both calls. This is the first year I found out I was a finalist via Facebook. (Note: Board members call the finalists and leave a message. If the call is not returned, the list goes “live” at 2pm. I think that’s how it works. Anyway, it was fun and different.) · Your two books nominated are both a part of The Lakeshore Chronicles. You just released your eighth book in that series, so how did this inspirational place and cast of characters begin and have there been surprises of where they’ve taken you?

SW: I planned out the first two books of the Lakeshore Chronicles, thinking I would see how they were received and go from there. Happily for me, readers loved them and wanted more, and I was happy to oblige. My goal in creating the series was to imagine a place filled with the warmth of nostalgia, yet grounded in the real world, where modern women deal with the issues, joys, sorrows and triumphs we all do. They just get to do it in a prettier place. The biggest surprise for me was how passionate readers are about Daisy Bellamy’s storyline. She was introduced in Book 1 (SUMMER AT WILLOW LAKE) and has made a cameo in all the subsequent ones. She’s in a delicious dilemma, having to choose between two perfect guys. We should all have such problems. · You are nominated in two categories and also write historical romance – do you have a publishing strategy for when / genre and how is it balancing those worlds?

SW: I plan as I go, which is actually not planning. For me, the key has been to stay flexible, creatively. I’m able to fall in love with any book I happen to be writing, whether it’s contemporary or historical. I always live deeply in my stories, and the shift from past to present doesn’t seem to bother me. I research both types of books as thoroughly as I can. · Your heroine in “Fireside” is a PR professional, can you talk a little about your experiences with author “platform” and what you like and find challenging about the publicity part of being an author.

SW: It’s been my privilege to work with a variety of PR professionals in publishing. Some are in-house (work for the publisher) and others are freelance. I’ve learned so much from these folks–what works, what’s a waste of time, how very much it pays to be persistent, professional and good-humored. I’m not sure I know what the author “platform” is. I’ve heard it in relation to nonfiction–a way to connect with those who are interested in your topic. Does that sound right? My “platform” consists of my web site and blog, and these days, I suppose the social networking sites. I generally like doing publicity. The only down side is that it eats into writing time, so you have to find the balance. · Also in Fireside, you address the controversial issue of immigration – did you know this was a topic that you wanted to address? What advice do you have for writers who want to weave a political or social issue into their stories?

SW: I’m glad you asked! Honestly, I had NO idea the issue was such an incredibly hot button–until I was deluged by reader mail, pro and con. (The “cons” were louder…and ruder.) I never go looking for an issue to illuminate in my novels. I figure if I need to send a message, I’ll use Western Union–or its modern equivalent. I look for elements that will serve my story. In Fireside, I needed a compelling reason for Bo to take charge of his 12-year-old son, but I didn’t want to kill off the mother. She just needed to go away for a while. The immigration storyline was a great solution, plot-wise. Other writers might feel differently. If they’re passionate about something and want to weave it into their novel, it’s up to them to do it so skillfully that the reader doesn’t feel the book is a vehicle for their message. (The Grapes of Wrath and To Kill a Mockingbird are great examples of this.) Too often, the writer’s agenda is transparent and it doesn’t work. · Your agent, Meg Ruley, is certainly a great friend to WRW. Do you have advice for finding the right agent and what makes it a successful relationship?

SW: There’s so much information you can gather about agents these days, I imagine the thing to do would be to research agents on the Web, talk to clients and then have plenty of conversations with potential agents. You’re hiring a paid professional so it behooves you to do your homework and ask all the questions. What makes a relationship successful is when it’s productive for both agent and client, you work well together and the author feels her needs are met. The #1 complaint writers have about agents is a lack of responsiveness. This is definitely not the case with Meg, as your chapter knows! She has a gift for being “present” whenever you need her. She’s like a female James Bond–you know there are other clients, but when you’re with her, you feel like the only one. · It’s 1987, your first book is about to be published, what advice would Susan Wiggs 2010 give Susan Wiggs 1987?

SW: Listen to your editor, get a strong agent in your corner and tell your family you mean business! And you’ll sleep when you’re dead, so quit worrying about that. · Any advice you’d like to share for writers aspiring for their own RITA nomination and win someday?

SW: Don’t focus on the RITA. Focus on telling the story in your heart. Get that emotion on the page and the judges will take note!