Meet Debut Novelist Cecilia Grant

Cecilia Grant always knew she’d do something with that English degree. After waiting tables, composing software Help files, and answering the carpool-lane-violators hotline, she’s delighted to be writing stories.

Cecilia’s Regency-set historical, A Lady Awakened, sold to Bantam in a two-book deal and is due for release in 2011.

Seattle, Washington is home, where Cecilia lives with her fellow-writer husband, two bookish children, and intermittently amicable cat and dog. By day, she works part time in a low-level information technology position and says, “I am about as unskilled as an IT professional can be and still be an IT professional.”

When she’s not immersed in the world of Regency England, Cecilia enjoys listening to baseball on the radio and playing in her family’s annual fantasy-baseball league, where she usually finishes dead last. She gardens, grudgingly, because she hates the work but loves homegrown vegetables. And she collects coins, any coins older than she is, and says, “You don’t want to be in line behind me at the Starbucks, waiting while I squint at the date on each nickel before handing it over.”

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I asked Cecilia what virtual delight she’d like to serve her visitors, and here’s what she’s offering. Although I never developed a taste for coffee, I think she and OC-me would get along just fine. See for yourselves . . . :-)

We’ll have my favorite writing-fuel drink: tall nonfat mocha from Starbucks. Very important: the drinking hole on the cup-lid must align with the exact middle of the mermaid logo on the cup, which in turn must be covered by the mermaid logo on the cardboard sleeve, if you’re using a cardboard sleeve. I can’t enjoy a Starbucks drink unless everything’s lined up.

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Cecilia’s Journey Begins

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•Many writers’ earliest efforts date back to childhood. Is that true for you?

Not quite!  I came to writing pretty late, and by a roundabout path.

About fifteen years ago a friend was starting a writing group and asked me to join. I had no idea what I might write — though I had an English degree and was an avid lifelong reader, my output had been confined to school assignments, letters to friends, and a few overwrought teenage diaries — but I liked the idea of seeing this friend more often, so I said yes.

She, it developed, was writing something called Regency romance. I’d never heard of Regency romance, but I decided I’d write it too. I mean, I’d studied Austen, Thackeray, Dickens, Eliot, and all three Brontë sisters, so I was thoroughly equipped to write a love story set in 19th-century England, right?

Right. I borrowed a bunch of her books, studied the conventions, thought up a story, knocked out a few chapters, and — deep breath as I admit this — entered it in the RWA Beau Monde’s Royal Ascot contest. To this day I cringe when I imagine those poor judges confronted with my dialogue tags, my glaring ignorance of history, and my shambles of a synopsis. Their critiques were polite but frank. I shoved the few chapters in the back of a cupboard and looked for other hobbies.

Fast-forward a few years to where I reconnected with another old friend and told her about my misadventures in romance-writing. She demanded to see what I’d written and then pestered me to finish, just because she wanted to know what happened next. And is there anything more intoxicating to a writer than a reader who wants to know what happens next? Suddenly my story had a raison d’être, and suddenly I had a reason to make it as good as I could:  to make the plot stronger, to get the historical details right, to figure out what I was supposed to use instead of dialogue tags.

It took a long time. That book I’d started back in 1995 wasn’t finished until 2006. But somewhere along the way I fell for my characters, fell for the genre, and realized that this was something I’d do even without a reader to pester me for more. When my book was done I entered it in another contest, and finaled. And I was hooked for keeps.

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Cecilia’s Milestones

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•You’re awaiting the thrill of seeing your book on the shelves. I’m sure it would be fun to see it in Oprah’s hand while you sit on her couch and discuss it, but you’ve already had the joy of seeing your work before the public. Please tell us about your first published piece, one that was seen all around town.

That would be my bus poem :-). The transit agency in the city where I live occasionally fulfills their public-art obligation by running poetry contests and displaying the winning poems on placards inside the bus, up where the ads usually go. (Sherman Alexie was among the bus poets, way back when.) I hadn’t written poetry since college but I love contests, so a few years back I sent in a poem and they picked it. I have the placard on my wall now, next to the desk where I write.

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•Your stories got you attention—and a first place—in some contests. What role did these successes play in getting you to where you are today? And, I gotta know. Did you laugh, cry, or sigh when you received the good news from the contest coordinators? Or are you more the happy dancing, shriek your lungs out type?

I owe much to the Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association literary contest. That’s where I finaled in 2007 with my first finished book. Later I entered an early version of A Lady Awakened and didn’t final, but I got some tremendously useful feedback on what wasn’t working. I re-wrote, re-entered, and won the Romance category, which meant I got to go to a reception with all the editors and agents at the conference, and pitch with a First Place ribbon hanging from my nametag – the only way to pitch, if you ask me!

As to celebration, I’m not so much the happy-dance type as the beam-hard-enough-to-power-a-city-block type. I do remember though that when they announced me as the winner, I threw my hands up to chin level and gasped out loud like someone in a cartoon.

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•Even bigger news came your way this past winter when you received an offer of representation. What was your reaction to The Agent Call, and how did it come about? Did she take one look at your work and send it out, or did you have to tweak it a bit?

Among the agents I pitched to at PNWA was the wonderful Emmanuelle Alspaugh. She was specifically looking for a Regency at that time, and I just got a good vibe from her, so I sent her my MS, fingers crossed, before sending to anyone else.

On November 9 there was an email from her in my in-box, and my heart sank at the sight.  I figured good news came by phone, and bad news by email. But I opened it, and it was asking if there was a time that day that would be convenient for a phone call. And you know when you push a beachball way underwater and then let go? That was my heart, un-sinking. We arranged the call. The news was good. She loved my book, and was sure she could sell it.

And oh, yes, there were tweaks. (Mark of a stellar agent: the ability to say “Your book is splendid; your book is awesome; now please change these two or three fundamental things about it” while sounding completely sincere and enthusiastic.) I made the changes she asked for, and right around Thanksgiving she started sending it out.

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•It’s easy to see why you call Emmanuelle wonderful. She works wonders! She’d been your agent less than a month when she had some very good news for you. I understand you weren’t home when The Call came. Waiting to talk to her must have been excruciating in the extreme. I wanna hear the whole story with all the emotion, so spill it, please.

December 4 I was having an epic lousy day at work. I’d been given a project way beyond the scope of my skills, and I felt so generally overwhelmed and incapable that I had to get away from my desk and take a walk. When I came back there was an email from my husband; the subject line was “Offer.” I clicked on the email before making the connection – it was so soon – and it said my agent had called to say I was going to be getting an offer from Bantam.

And suddenly who cared if I felt overmatched at my job? I’d sold a book! To a major New York house! That was so much cooler!

You’d think the wait would be excruciating, but it wasn’t at all. I just floated through the rest of that day in a happy haze, floated home, floated through a call with Emmanuelle, only sketchily absorbing details. Bantam. Two-book deal. Money, though by the next morning I was half-convinced I’d imagined that part. (I actually had to email her and say, “Um, did you say xx dollars total, or xx dollars for each book?”)

People always ask if I did anything special to celebrate. Yes and no.  I’d originally planned to spend that evening watching a DVD about blackjack card-counting teams, as research for my next book. And suddenly that sounded not just sensible, but special and celebratory as could be. So that’s what I did.

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•When you envision your book, what do you want to see on the front—after your name, of course?

It’s funny; as a reader I’ve never been a fan of the clinch covers, but now that I’m going to have my own book out, I want the clinchiest clinch cover they can devise, with all the standard features. Guy in an unbuttoned-but-tucked-in shirt. Lady with one hairless leg hoisted into some awkward position. Cut-off faces. The whole nine yards.

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•I know your book isn’t due out until next year, but have you received any cover quotes you’re at liberty to share?

Yes! My first cover quote comes from Mary Balogh, who says:  “A marvelous gem… I loved it!”

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Cecilia Changes Directions

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•Since you started your first story a number of years ago and set it aside, what did you discover when you finished it and turned your thoughts to publication?

When I started writing in the mid-90s, I was aiming for a Signet-style traditional Regency and trying hard to sound like Georgette Heyer. And in the ten years it took me to finish, the Regency Romance ground shifted under me. Longer books; tight-3rd-person POV; sentence fragments; detailed love scenes. I saw pretty quickly that my first book – contest final or no – would never sell, and that if I was serious about selling, I’d have to re-learn a few things.

I started a new story, with a premise that would require me to write love scenes. I put those old purple Signets back on the shelf and read as much recent historical romance as I could. Most important, I gave up trying to mimic Heyer, and figured out what voice was my own. And the result – doesn’t it always work this way? – was the book that eventually sold.

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Cecilia’s Writing Process

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•How do you go about developing your characters? What comes first: appearance, personality, quirks?

My characters often start out as reactions to something I’ve read. For instance there was a period where I happened to read a whole string of romances featuring heroines who were downright Lady Chatterley-esque in their enraptured wonder at the male anatomy. It made me want to write the opposite:  a heroine who’d look at an unclothed man and think, “Is this some kind of joke?” Then it followed that her hero needed to be someone whose whole self-concept was rooted in his appeal to women, because those two could give each other maximum grief.

Once I have a general concept for the characters, I find my way into them through dialogue. I write reams of dialogue that never makes it into the book, just to learn their rhythms, start getting glimpses into their backstory, etc. I fear this will sound pretentious, but given time the characters tell me who they are.

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•I understand dialogue is your favorite thing to write. Why is that? What would you say makes yours sparkle?

I don’t know whether my dialogue sparkles, but I find spoken communication endlessly fascinating. What people choose to tell; what they keep back. The way one character might use language strictly as a tool to convey information while another gets pleasure out of puns, turns of phrase, or the sound of his own voice. I studied theatre as well as English in college, which meant reading lots of plays, which meant seeing just how much a writer can accomplish with dialogue alone. Of the components of novel prose – dialogue, action, description, introspection, authorial commentary – I think it’s the farthest toward the “show” end of the show vs. tell spectrum, and that just appeals to me.

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•Regency readers know their stuff and demand great descriptions and historical accuracy. How do you ensure that your stories deliver?

Thank goodness for the internet.  Thank goodness for the quixotic passion of people who maintain obscure blogs devoted to things like the history of rural Sussex churches, with photos.  It turns out a foundation of Jane Austen does not prepare you for this aspect of Regency authorship (Austen spends very little time even describing what things look like) and so, honestly, I do a lot of fact-checking and a lot of biting my nails over whether I’ve recognized all the facts that need checking.

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•And now for the question I’ve been eager to ask. How do two writers occupy one house when they aren’t co-authors? What do you do when both your and your hubby are under deadline and dinner has to be fixed? Or when the words are flowing—for one of you, but not the other?

I always wonder how households work where only one person is a writer! We have a lot of differences in our philosophies and goals – he writes mainstream/literary; I write genre with a capital G; he does his drafts with a particular pen in a big unlined composition book; I write on a laptop and track my word-count progress in a spreadsheet – but if I gripe about having to throw out three days’ work because I’ve realized it’s just not right, well, he knows exactly what that feels like.

That said, the dinner thing can be a challenge. My husband is a gifted and conscientious cook (he’s one of those people who views it as an expression of creativity and nurturing, whereas I’m one of those people who views it as Sisyphean drudgery). Mostly that’s great, but it does mean I can’t very well get away with playing the deadline card when it’s my turn to make dinner. Not when he’s got deadlines of his own but still manages to make, like, pizza with homemade crust.

(I know, cry me a river. It’s really good pizza, too.)

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Cecilia’s Debut Novel

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•Please tell us about A Lady Awakened.

When a pretty young widow enlists his help in conceiving a fraudulent heir, Christopher Mirkwood knows exactly what to expect: pleasure and more pleasure, and the chance to bestow the sensual awakening of which any such widow must necessarily stand in need. What better diversion from the tedium of a parentally mandated rural exile?

Awakening. Really. Martha Russell is wide awake, thank you, and has more important matters on her mind. Armed with principle, fortitude, and a bone-deep certainty of her own righteousness on all occasions, she’ll do whatever she must to keep her estate, and housemaids, out of her brother-in-law’s hands — even if she must do it with a wastrel who can’t get it through his pleasure-addled head that their arrangement is strictly business.

They need a month of illicit encounters. They’ll be lucky if they make it through a week. But if they can keep from throttling each other, they might find that even the most unromantic of bargains can turn into more than either one bargained for.

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Cecilia’s Journey Continues

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•Your first book is in your publisher’s hands. What are you working on now?

Martha’s brother’s story:  Sworn to provide for a fallen comrade’s widow and child, Waterloo veteran Will Blackshear ventures into the gaming clubs of London in pursuit of quick cash – only to run afoul of a stone-cold cardsharp who’s staked out the territory as her own.

Lydia Slaughter is everything Will doesn’t need:  ruthless, untrustworthy, and another man’s mistress. When she proposes a truce, and a tactical alliance, the resulting partnership could make his fortune… or ignite a passion that will leave them both in ruins.

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Bonus Random Trivia:

Five Emotional Sucker-Punches that Get Cecilia Every Time

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Cecilia says:  One of the things I love about the romance genre is its shameless appeal to the heartstrings. If a book can put a prickling at the back of my eyes, that makes it a guaranteed re-read for me. But then I love poignancy in all its forms:  high culture and low, subtle and so-overtly-manipulative-I-can’t-believe-I’m-falling-for-it. To illustrate, five random things that have been known to choke me up:

~ The moment at the climax of a sports movie when the disapproving/estranged relative shows up at the finish line. Chariots of Fire has it. Cool Runnings has it. Ice Princess has it. (Yes, I’ve seen Ice Princess. I swear it was the only thing on tv once.) Reconciliation + athletic achievement just gets me.

~ The Kelly Clarkson song “Breakaway.” I have teenage daughters, and for me this song is such a pure, perfect expression of teen-girl longing. It comes on with appalling frequency in public places, like the supermarket, and I always have to pull over by the frosted flakes until I quit blinking and can steer my cart normally again.

~Those ASPCA commercials with Sarah McLachlan singing while we look at pictures of abused and abandoned pets. I always tell myself to just change the channel, and I never can.

~ McLachlan makes the list twice: that song she sings in Toy Story 2 while the cowgirl doll remembers her life with the little girl who outgrew her. If they bring McLachlan back for Toy Story 3, I think I will have to boycott it.

~ Captain Wentworth’s letter to Anne in Persuasion. For as many times as I’ve read that book, “I am half agony, half hope” gets me in the angsty solar plexus every single time.

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Cecilia’s Question for You

What are the emotionally manipulative things that Get You Every Time? Hallmark Hall of Fame Presentations? Bambi’s mom? Makeover Week on The Biggest Loser? And does anyone else think a restraining order against Sarah McLachlan might be a good idea?

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Cecilia’s Drawing

Cecilia has generously offered two books as drawing prizes. She’s giving away autographed copies of Amanda Forester‘s The Highlander’s Sword and Rose Lerner‘s In for a Penny to one visitor.

To enter the drawing, just leave a comment for Cecilia by midnight May 19 (Pacific time) and enter your email address when prompted during the comment process. (You don’t have to leave it in the body of your comment this way.)

On May 20, I will hold the drawing and post the winner’s name here as well and will contact her/him via email to get a mailing address. And Cecilia is willing to mail the books to any country, so don’t let a non-U.S. address stop you. (I don’t share your information with anyone, other than sending your mailing address to my guest, and I don’t add your name to any mailing lists.)

Congratulations to Laura, winner of the drawing!

Note: Offer void where prohibited.
Odds of winning vary due to the number of entrants.

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Learn More About Cecilia

Visit her website ~ ceciliagrant.com

Visit her personal blog ~ ceciliagrant.wordpress.com

Friend her on Facebook ~ Cecilia Grant

Follow her on Twitter ~ cecikgrant

About Keli Gwyn

I'm an award-winning author of inspirational historical romance smitten with the Victorian Era. I'm currently writing for Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line of wholesome, faith-filled romances. My debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, was released July 1, 2012. I'm represented by Rachelle Gardner of Book & Such Literary. I live in a Gold Rush-era town at the foot of the majestic Sierras. My favorite places to visit are my fictional worlds, other Gold Country towns and historical museums. When I'm not writing I enjoy taking walks, working out at Curves™ and reading.
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34 Responses to Meet Debut Novelist Cecilia Grant

  1. Anne Barton says:

    Wonderful interview, Keli! Cecilia, I enjoyed learning more about your journey and your stories. And WOW on the cover quote from Mary Balough–congrats!!

    I’ve got to agree with Susan on The Blind Side. I cried several times during the movie–the happy, “that-is-just-so-perfect” sort of tears. I wasn’t expecting that from a “football” movie.

    A Lady Awakened sounds great, and I’m looking forward to reading it!

  2. Hi Celia! Great interview – I loved reading about how you got started writing and getting The Call. I’m sooo excited about your two-book deal! Your first book sounds fabulous – definitely looking forward to it!

    As for an emotional punch I’m pretty vulnerable to tears at any random moment. Sappy commercials, silly kids books, and even commonplace activities like dropping my kids off at school can make me misty. Sad humane society commercials can about do me in… or cause me to adopt yet another “society” pet.

  3. Cecilia says:

    Laura: Oh my God, Carl and Ellie in “Up”! How did I leave that off my list? Darn those Pixar people, anyway.

    Anne: Two votes now for The Blind Side. I think I may have to see it this weekend :)

    Amanda: Yay, thanks for stopping by! (Everybody: Amanda’s is the other book I’m giving away; it’s also excellent and full of estranged people working out their differences; disillusioned people tentatively recovering their faith, etc.) Good for you for actually being moved to action by the sad-animal commercials, rather than just sitting there and stewing in your angst, like I do :)

  4. Rose,
    I loved your explanation of being willing to cry at cheap emotional moments but movies needing to earn my “sad” votes. I think it’s because there’s enough real sadness in life (watch the news lately?)that fictional sadness better be worth it.

    And I have to give another vote to Carl and Ellie. Oh, man, I agree with you Cecilia–how did I forget that? Now there were wonderful, EARNED tears.

  5. Elisa Beatty says:

    Great interview, Cecilia!

    If you like the athletics / reconciliation combo, check out Whip It, which is Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, of all things (it’s way better than you’d expect). It’s about Roller Derby, but has a smart, lovely, complex romance and some great (but not sappy) parents-coming-to-terms-with-their-daughter moments and also awesome grrrl bonding. Awesome soundtrack as well, if a combination of the Ramones and Dolly Parton is an idea that makes you smile.

  6. Cecilia says:

    Elisa: So nice to see you here! I’m a huge fan of your postings over on the Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood blog.

    My daughter saw Whip It and she did NOT alert me to the Parental Reconciliation angle! And Ramones + Dolly Parton sounds right up my alley. Thanks for another addition to the To Be Viewed list!

    Lizbeth, I’m thinking Carl and Ellie might trump any other weepfest I can come up with, because like you say it was honestly earned, and also so universal. And then it set us up for Grieving Person Dragged Back Into Life, which is just one of my favorite storylines ever.

  7. Walt M says:

    It’s odd the things that bring me to tears.
    - When my team wins a huge game and I’m emotinally spent.
    - When certain characters die on “24.”
    - And, for some reason, Scrooged, as well as the Scrooge versions that include Alistair Sim and Patrick Stewart.

  8. Cecilia says:

    Walt: I can’t remember the last time one of my teams won a huge game. (sigh.) I loved that Patrick Stewart Christmas Carol, though. I particularly remember when young Scrooge was breaking up with his girlfriend and time-traveling Scrooge was pleading with him not to do it! That got me even more than the “Please, Spirit, tell me there’s still time to change the future” part in this version.

  9. Keli Gwyn says:

    Thanks to everyone who stopped by to learn more about Cecilia and her journey to publication.

    I’ve held the drawing for the two books Cecilia generously offered as a prize, and the winner is Laura.

    Congratulations, Laura! I’ll be in touch.

Comments are closed.