Elizabeth Heiter was a finalist in the Romance Writers of America® 2008 Golden Heart® contest in the Novel with Strong Romantic Elements category. Although she makes her home in Beverly Hills, she’s no limelight-loving diva. Instead she’s one of the most generous writers I know. She and her co-coordinator of the The Golden Network’s Golden Pen contest have given countless hours to help contestants and judges alike.
Liz’s family knew early on she was going to be a storyteller. It may have been the three imaginary friends who had to be buckled into their seats next to her own car seat when she was a child—she named them Mayka, Polka and Streamier. Or the way she’d ask her mom to make up stories for her before bedtime—the stranger the better.
One of Liz’s first forays into creating her own stories happened after she watched Star Wars at the age of three. Every night after that, when her mom tucked her in, she breathed loudly through her teeth and told her mom to listen closely because Darth Vader was under the bed.
When Liz got a little older, she transitioned from making her mom look under the bed to making her friends guess “whodunit.” She wrote mysteries starring her friends and stopped near the end so they’d have a chance to guess who had committed the crime that week. No one was surprised when Liz decided to write funny mysteries with dangerous villains and outspoken heroines.
I met Liz through the 2008 GH loop and got to know her better while serving as a Golden Pen judge. I’m privileged to have my Pixie pal here today.
•Liz, since you don’t have a Web site yet, would you give us some general info to get started? When did you begin writing? How many manuscripts have you completed? When and where do you write? Is music a must to motivate your muse, or does silence unleash your creativity?
I don’t remember not writing—and for me, it’s always been novels. I’ve written one straight mystery, three psychological suspense stories, and my latest series—funny mysteries with strong romantic elements. Plus one young adult action-adventure manuscript with my writing partner. Many evenings, I can be found at Starbucks, furiously typing my latest manuscript. If I’m working at home, I usually need music (otherwise I get too distracted by my St. Bernard bringing me one toy after another, my parrot repeatedly asking “hello?” and my lovebirds chirping responses to the parrot).
•You attended your first RWA® Nationals in 2007 and got to sit in the reserved seating area with your critique partner who was a Golden Heart finalist. Did you dream then that the next year you’d be the finalist choosing her special guest? How did you react when you got your call from RWA in March telling you Evil Eye had finaled? Was your happy dance a dignified waltz or more of an Irish jig?
My first Nationals experience was overwhelming. I have a tendency to not want to miss a thing—so to say that I speed walked to everything so I wouldn’t miss a minute would be an understatement. I was so proud of my writing/critique partner, Robbie Terman, for finaling in the Golden Heart, but at the time I had no thought of entering the contest the next year, let alone finaling myself.
When I received the call telling me Evil Eye had finaled, I just kept saying, “Really? Wow!” I almost didn’t answer the call because I was working, but luckily, I work from home, so for the rest of the day, whenever I felt the need to do some giddy jumping up and down, no one knew. It’s a good thing, too, because dignified is not the first word that would come to mind about my happy dance.
•You said you wouldn’t have entered the GH if it hadn’t been for Robbie’s encouragement. How long have you been critiquing each other’s work? What’s the most helpful advice she gave you as you prepped your entry? And what did she say when she heard you were a finalist?
Robbie convinced me to enter the Golden Heart—she kept telling me that she couldn’t sit in the regular section at the awards ceremony after being in VIP so I had to enter. So, when I finaled, I called her up and said, “Guess where we’re sitting at the Golden Heart awards?” She’s been my writing partner since high school, which was when we wrote our first manuscript together, but we’ve been friends since the second grade.
Over the years, Robbie’s been getting me to add more and more romance to my manuscripts and I’ve been telling her all about my mystery research, hoping she’ll want to try some romantic suspense. Oddly, the information I gave her about serial killers just made her put a bar in front of her sliding glass door, not delve into mystery writing.
•You left for Nationals knowing an agent was reading your manuscript but plowed ahead with your scheduled pitch sessions. And then you returned home to a phone message that resulted in a post on the GH loop with the subject “My Mega, Rockin’ News.” This is a great story, so would you please share it with us—complete with all the emotion, sound affects and joy you experienced at the time, of course?
Before I left for Nationals, a member of my local RWA chapter recommended me to her agent, and I sent her Evil Eye. I’d made some revisions for her and talked with her on the phone. I knew I wanted to work with her, but since nothing’s for sure until the contract is signed, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to pitch.
On a stopover on my flight home, I had a message from Kevan Lyon of the Dijkstra Agency, asking me to call her. Since I had to be on the next leg of the flight in five minutes, I had to wait until the next day to return the call. On the voice mail I had from her, she’d mentioned that she and her colleague had a suggestion, so I thought she was going to ask me to do some more revisions. But when I called her back, she said she wanted to represent me! (Yes, there was more of that less-than-dignified jumping up and down when I hung up the phone. And I believe she got some squeaky “Really? Wow!”s from me too.)
•Evil Eye is a mystery with strong romantic elements. Your heroine, Cara Moretti, is a hot-tempered, savvy cop turned P.I. How did you prepare to write her story? Do you have a law enforcement background? Do you go on stakeouts with private investigators? Or do you just have sinister dreams that come to life on the page?
Before Evil Eye, I’d always written darker mysteries and thrillers with more serious protagonists. But Cara kept coming to me funny (and in first person, present tense, another departure for me). I prepared to write her story by doing everything differently than I’d ever done before. I skipped the outline, switched from my typical FBI protagonists to a sassy P.I. and started typing.
For previous manuscripts, I’d read a lot about crime scenes and law enforcement procedures, but part of the fun of writing a new book for me is starting some new research. I’d love to say I went on some stakeouts with P.I.s, but I’m afraid those were only in my head. I did take a course from a former P.I. and consulted a lot with a friend in law enforcement, though.
•I’ve never done this before, but since you don’t have excerpts on a Web site, with your permission I’m sharing the intro to Evil Eye below because I want your visitors to hear your amazing voice.
I don’t know when to keep my mouth shut.
When I hear the door to my office open just after five on Monday, all I can see as I type frantically on my computer are loafers topped by expensive cuffed linen pants. Since this is the sort of neighborhood where you usually see suits from the value bin, I immediately ask—with a little attitude—“Are you lost?”
I wish I’d looked up first, because the face attached to the designer clothes is one I’ve seen on more tabloid covers than I can count.
I’ve just been rude to a millionaire.
“You’re Cara Moretti, right?”
And apparently the millionaire isn’t lost. Of all the millionaires I could have been rude to, Kyler Van Ness—of the Van Nesses—is probably one of the worst I could have chosen.
It’s stunts like this that got me fired from my last job.
It’s easy to see how you snagged a top-notch agent with writing like that. When did you find your voice, and how did you know you’d gotten it right?
Thank you! Although there are places in each of my manuscripts where humorous lines snuck in, it was Evil Eye where I really let loose and wrote a story that let my voice shine through. I’ve always admired authors who could mix humor into a mystery and not diminish the tension in a scene, but I never thought that was something I could pull off.
When I had an idea for a P.I. whose search for a runaway bride would lead her to a ring of human traffickers who would target her to disappear next and it kept coming to me through the voice of a funny, irreverent heroine, Robbie convinced me I could do it. And I loved it! I do get some strange looks sitting at Starbucks, typing furiously and laughing at myself, but how much I enjoy it tells me this is the voice for me.
•The more writers I’ve gotten to know, the more impressed I am with what a generous group they are. So many give of themselves to others. You’re a prime example. You’re currently serving as a co-coordinator for the Golden Pen, The Golden Network’s highly regarded contest with GH finalists as preliminary judges. Having completed the preliminary stage of the contest, what advice would you give future entrants on how best to prepare an entry and what mistakes to avoid? Why would you suggest other writers consider coordinating or judging a contest?
The Golden Pen was a massive undertaking; Robbie and I foolishly thought that having co-coordinated our smaller local chapter’s contest would prepare us for this one. But with eight category coordinators to recruit, eight final round judges to solicit, and around 100 first round judges to work with, it’s been a challenge. For anyone thinking of coordinating or judging a contest, I’d tell them that good organization is crucial. And with a large contest like the Golden Pen, having a co-coordinator to share the work—and commiserate with when things aren’t going quite as planned—helps a lot.
But right now is what makes the whole thing worth it. The finalists’ entries are heading to the editors, and hopefully many of them will get requests. That’s my absolute favorite part! I’m—almost!—as excited as the entrant when one gets a request.
As for entrants, my suggestion would be to target contests by what you want to get out of them—feedback on your entry, a chance to get your manuscript in front of a particular editor—and then act on it. When you get your scores and feedback, revise and then submit. Contests are wonderful, but don’t get so sucked in by them that you never send your work out.
•You keep on giving. As members of the Greater Detroit RWA, you and Robbie are going to oversee the chapter’s Between the Sheets contest, with a submission deadline of Valentine’s Day 2009. What motivates you to take on such a labor-intensive role? What do you see as the greatest benefits? And, I gotta know how you juggle coordinating a contest, your writing and your personal life. Are you incredibly organized, or do you just give up sleep?
I love giving back to chapters that have benefited me. And, of course, money generated from these contests pays for programs for the chapters. Did I mention that I’m a sucker? When someone asks for my help, I hate to say no. As for juggling my writing, the contests and my personal life, it’s a challenge. Lately, I’ve replaced sleep with a precise combination of caffeine and chocolate. I also reward myself for finishing projects (usually with more chocolate).
•What do you do in your copious free time when you aren’t writing or coordinating a contest? Skydive, read police files for future story ideas or do something soothing like knitting? Or perhaps—since you live in Beverly Hills—you dabble at bit in theatre. Hey, I know it may not be Hollywood, but Beverly Hills, Michigan does boast a fine Performing Arts Center, right?
Ah, that copious free time! I do love to research for my next manuscript and read my own favorite authors. When my eyes aren’t glued to a book, I can often be found at the mall, searching for cashmere. The extent of my acting ability is reading my stories aloud dramatically and the closest I’ll ever come to skydiving is downhill skiing.
•And now a question just for fun. If you could tag along as a world class private investigator or detective—real or fictional—from any time period solved a case, who would you shadow and why?
I’m not sure “world-class” is quite right, or even “private investigator or detective” for that matter, but I think shadowing Nancy Drew and the Hardy boys would be great fun. I grew up reading those stories, and they sure did have a lot of fun solving cases. They traveled all over the place, solved more cases than most detectives (real or fictional) and never aged! Somehow, they managed to graduate from high school (I assume) even though they rarely seemed to attend, and they made time for a little bit of romance in between finding killers, smugglers and kidnappers. Sounds like a good time to me!
It’s been great having you as my guest, Liz. And now, in closing, is there a final comment you’d like to make or a question you’d like to ask?
I like to claim that having three imaginary friends as a child was simply a sign of my future as a storyteller. What can you point to as a child that hinted of your own path?
Leave a Comment for Liz
All those who leave a comment for Liz will be entered in not one, but two drawings.
The first drawing: Liz has generously donated a print copy of Robbie Terman’s debut novel, A Date for Love, a contemporary romance from The Wild Rose Press. Liz will pick the winner the evening of November 3 from all those who leave her a comment.
Congratulations to Sue Mason, winner of Liz’s drawing!
The second drawing: Since Liz loves to hang out at her favorite java dispensary, my prizes are two books showcasing those beverages many of us love: coffee and tea. I’ll hold the drawing for the first of these books the evening of November 3rd and the second the evening of November 4th. The first person whose name I draw will get her choice of the two titles, the second the remaining book.
Congratulations to Jaime Saal, winner of Keli’s first drawing, and to Kristen Korbet, winner of the second.
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