Courtney Milan finaled in the Golden Heart® with one of her historicals. She headed to the Romance Writers of America® national conference with her top-notch agent already hard at work on her behalf. After the heady experience of being introduced to more publishing professionals than anyone could be expected to remember, Courtney returned home where, just two weeks after RWA® Nationals, she received a two-book contract offer from Harlequin.
In her copious spare time, Courtney writes historical romance set in early Victorian England. In her non-spare time (those would be the other twenty-three hours of the day), she tries not to take herself too seriously. You might imagine this would pose a problem, since she is a lawyer, and people expect a certain amount of sobriety from lawyers. But if you did, that would indicate you didn’t know Courtney very well.
I first met Courtney through the Yahoo! group she set up for those of us who finaled in the 2008 GH contest. Since I was a technophobe at the time, she had to search high and low to find me since I had virtually no Web presence. She caught my one and only guest interview, which was at The Seekers, where those lovely ladies invited the other inspirational finalists and me to blog about receiving our GH calls. Courtney walked me through the steps necessary to join the loop. I’ve enjoyed getting to know her and many others as a result and will be forever grateful to her for rescuing me from obscurity.
Prepared to be entertained as you read Courtney’s answers to the questions with which I bombarded her. Since she’s an attorney, I even threw in my best attempt at a law question. Just wait until you see her answer. Made me roar. As you read, there will be aaah moments, ah ha moments, yeehaw! moments and ha ha ha moments. Courtney is a great writer with a ready wit, and I guarantee you’ll enjoy her interview.
Enough preamble. Here’s Courtney . . .
•Not only did you final in the Golden Heart this year, but you’ve had some amazing contest wins. Breath of Honor took first in the prestigious Golden Pen. But before all this there was the Avon fan–lit contest. Would you start by telling us how that contest brought you back to writing after many years away and what the experience was like?
Gosh. The Avon FanLit contest—that brings back old memories. As I recall, the prompt for the first writing exercise was something like, “The Countess enters the ballroom, and the Earl of Coulter knows that she is a fraud. He demands a dance.” I entered a really boring piece. Within three seconds, I got my first comment: “Doesn’t hold my interest.” Ouch! And shortly thereafter, another: “Sounds like everything else.” Double ouch! Indignant, I started reading other entries. And you know what? My story did sound like everyone else’s.
After that, I realized that the only way I could write something different, given the specific prompt, was to set up the story so that it was impossible. What did the hero and heroine have to do in the first chapter? Dance. So what did I do? I made the hero a war veteran—with an amputated leg.
That story didn’t win the round, but I kept entering, and I kept finaling. I got to know a lot of great people, like my two amazing critique partners. And I finally won Round 5. It was kind of neat to win, because my 1,500 words got published in an e-book called These Wicked Games–along with fellow Pixie Pamela Bolton-Holifield and several others!
•So, you’ve been published? I hadn’t realized you had this e-book release—and with our 2008 GH Pixie pal Pamela Bolton-Holifield no less. Cool! But that was only the beginning. Your right brain had been reactivated, and there was no stopping you. You wrote two award-winning stories in less than two years while juggling a demanding career as an attorney. How do you find time to write? And how do you make the shift from left- to right-brain thinking so often?
I find time by not sleeping. I suspect that J.K. Rowling invented a Time-Turner for Hermione out of sheer wish-fulfilling exhaustion. If I wrote paranormals, all my characters would have a superpower that gives them forty hours in their days.
As for shifting from one brain to another—I don’t know, after doing a bit of heavily analytical thinking, I am just dying to shift brains. I get really tired (and bored) doing the same thing over and over. I don’t see how other people can only do one!
•I enjoyed reading your blog post “How Not to Sell a Book.” It’s pretty amazing how responding to a request for query letters to critique on another author’s blog led to you landing a top-notch agent. This is such a cool story, so would you please share a condensed version here?
Super-condensed version: Sherry Thomas is a goddess.
Slightly longer version: I won a query critique from Sherry. I can’t write queries for the life of me, so Sherry eventually gave up on trying to get me to write the query for myself and made me send her the pages and a synopsis, and then was nice enough to tell Kristin Nelson, agent superstar, that she should read my book.
And I got lucky. Kristin did read my book, and she liked it.
•Some writers labor for years before they land that long-awaited first contract, but you received your first offer just one year after completing your first manuscript. Actually, I need to make a correction. You didn’t get an offer. Kristin received multiple offers and had publishing houses vying against one another at AUCTION. What was that like? And what did you learn from the experience?
I learned you should have really awesome critique partners.
One of my critique partners, Tessa Dare, also sold her first trilogy at auction, and her books, starting with Goddess of the Hunt, will be out in July, August, and September of 2009. My other CP, Amy Baldwin, is writing an incredibly awesome spine-tingling thriller that I am willing to bet will go to auction, too, when she finishes it.
As I mentioned earlier, Tessa, Amy and I met through FanLit. The three of us were all at the same place, but we all made different breakthroughs and shared them with each other. I think we were able to teach each other how to write compelling books, and so a process that might have taken many, many years got shortened substantially.
•At long last you received The Call. What was your initial reaction? Laughter? Tears? Stunned silence? Who did you tell first, and how did you celebrate?
I had not one call, but many. There was a call from my agent where I found out someone wanted to buy my book—we had two offers within a week, and they both came in on the same day—the Monday before RWA Nationals. My agent called me and told me. I said, “Huh,” and I hung up. And then I turned to my fiancé and said, “Gee, I think that was Kristin and she said she had offers on my book, but it just can’t be.” And then I contacted my critique partners and said, “This might have been a dream, but I think I have offers on my book.”
Only then did I realize that I had to send my agent an apologetic e-mail because I was in such disbelief I forgot to thank her for all her hard work when we talked!
The second call was after the auction had started, and it was when Kristin told me what Harlequin had offered. I was completely stunned. And after I hung up, I started to cry.
•Proof by Seduction is set in the early Victorian era in England. Why did you choose this time period in which to set your stories? How much time do you spend doing research before beginning to write? Or do you perform much of your research on an as-needed basis?
Uh. The assumption in these questions makes me hang my head in shame. The truth is not one of the listed options. I usually make stuff up, write about it, and then beat my head against a wall when I finally bother to do the research and discover I am extremely wrong. Very embarrassing.
Also, don’t tell anyone, but I despise researching clothing and furniture. I barely understand modern fashion, and all my furniture is either from garage sales or IKEA. So, that stuff from two hundred years ago is basically incomprehensible. I pay lip service to it, but ultimately I know most people care about getting this right in a way that I do not. I cheated and made the decision to hire a professional researcher. The lovely and brilliant Franzeca Drouin is now helping me.
•I understand one of your strengths is your knowledge of British law of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Was this study part of your course work, or did you conduct your research with your writing in mind? How can a writer with a specific question about a legal matter pertaining to the period get it answered?
Er…. As to the first question, neither. I am just a dork, and I read a slew of cases from the Court of Chancery in the nineteenth century for fun.
As to how to answer a specific question, this is stuff that’s relatively hard to research. You can try and look it up in Blackstone, who wrote a mongo-huge legal treatise, but you’d have to know what to look for. If you want to know whether your heroine has recourse if the villain takes something from her, you’d have to know to look for a writ of replevin. That sort of thing. I’ve occasionally written articles that are up on my website addressing a few minor points.
The easiest way to get questions answered is to join the Beau Monde chapter of RWA and post the questions to the loop. As a general rule, you’ll get the right answer—although not necessarily from the first person who replies. <g> I answer questions on the Beau Monde from time to time. I try to be right. I’m not always.
•Many of the writers and authors I’ve interviewed were already married when they began to seriously pursue publication. You were single, although we know now there’s a dreamy fiancé in the picture. Does he realize that by marrying an author he may get late dinners or take-out because you’re in the midst of writing a great scene, may have to do his own laundry at times because you’re on deadline, and may see some of his character traits show up in your fictional heroes? Have you two figured out how you’ll juggle two demanding day jobs, your writing career and a brand new marriage?
HA HA HA HA HA HA. Okay, here’s a little secret. At the point when I started writing, I was working a job that had me in the office 100 hours a week. Somehow, I also wrote about 150,000 words in eight months. How, I cannot presently recall—it’s all a murky haze of sleeplessness. So, it’s not the “author” part that is going to lead to late dinners, take-out, and his doing the laundry (heck, he always does the laundry). It’s the fact that I am a nutcase.
As for the juggling, my only advice is that if you are like me, it’s best to marry someone who doesn’t get ruffled when you mess up and all your balls hit him in the head. Double points if he sees you’re about to drop everything and calls ahead for pizza.
•And since we’re all into romance, would you be willing to share a bit about your upcoming wedding? Have you set a date, picked out your dress, chosen a honeymoon location?
We’ve set a date, and it is (be still my panicking heart) two months away. I don’t have a dress. I don’t even have invitations. And we don’t have time for a honeymoon, either.
•Another fellow stole your heart recently, one of the furry variety. Would you tell us about the lovable little pup and how he’s doing these days? And what’s this I see on your MySpace page about training a cat? Surely you jest.
Pele is my four-month-old puppy. He’s an extremely intelligent dog—too smart for his own good. Or at least for mine. We are trying to train him to obey our commands even when there are no treats in sight. So, I have put tiny little containers throughout the house with dog cookies in them. You’d think that goodies on top of bookshelves and mantels would be outside the reach of a puppy that is twelve inches at the withers.
Not so. Puppy has discovered that if he chases the cat on top of the furniture and then barks at her, she will wiggle, hiss and knock the treat container on the floor. He can then chew open the plastic and get at all the treats—destroying both his training and my container in one fell swoop.
Since the kitty is now doing the dog’s bidding, no doubt you see the necessity for training the cat. The cat must be my minion, not the dog’s. Hold fast against the canine, oh furry, clawed friend! Hold fast.
•And now a question just for fun. If you could go back in time, stand up in court to attempt to put to rights a case you think went wrong or defend an accused person you believe got a raw deal, what case or person would that be and why?
Never ask a lawyer a question like this. You know we get paid to talk, right? Initially, I wrote this really long piece of text. It started with Cherokee Indians and Andrew Jackson and crossed over into a discussion of the importance of the Rule of Law and Eisenhower and Nixon. Then I went back and read the part of the question where it says “just for fun.”
Right-o. Trail of Tears, not so fun. Nixon, even less. Least fun of all, two page lawyerly dissertation about the Rule of Law.
Thankfully, there is such a thing as a delete key. Instead, I’ll have you know that Nix v. Hedden was just wrong. The tomato is a fruit, not a vegetable.
It’s been great having you as my guest, Courtney. And now, in closing, is there a final comment you’d like to make or a question you’d like to ask?
The fruit versus vegetable question is actually very important to me. If you read one of the early scenes of my book (link), you’ll see that my heroine enjoys a special relationship with citrus. In particular, my heroine is a vegan soothsayer. Too chicken to use poultry entrails to tell the future, she dismembers an orange.
So, if you would like me to tell your future, you should do the following.
1. Ask me a question in the comments.
2. Choose your vegetable! Or your fruit! I can’t possibly see the future unless you let me know what to disembowel—potatoes, celery, rutabagas…. In this blog post, we kill plants. None shall be spared!
Leave a Comment for Courtney
If you don’t see a comment form below, please use the link by the post title.
All those who leave a comment for Courtney between now and October 31 will be entered in a drawing for one of three cool Pixie totes featuring Tink, the most famous Pixie of all Pixie’s.
Here’s how the drawing works. Between now and the end of October, I’ll be featuring interviews with six of my fellow Golden Heart finalists. After flinging truckloads of cyber Pixie dust for one another’s sales, submissions, revisions and the like, we dubbed ourselves the Pixie Chicks.
In honor of the fact that it’s Pixie Central here at Romance Writers on the Journey the rest of the month, I found Pixie prizes. These are the best prizes I’ve ever featured on the blog, imho. They are sturdy canvas bags about sixteen inches square, exclusive of the handles.