Award-winning Regency writer Louisa Cornell collects contest placements with remarkable consistency. Her most prestigious result to date is her final in the Romance Writers of America® 2008 Golden Heart®.
Louisa creates culinary works of art by day as a bakery manager and writes by night. Known as Doglady on loops and blogs, it comes as no surprise that she weaves tales of the British ton with her faithful canine companions Frodo, Adelaide, Sassafras and Boudreaux for company.
Long before Louisa began writing her Regencies, she toured Europe as an opera singer. She performed in Salzburg, Amsterdam, Bucharest and the Canterbury Cathedral overseas as well as the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. From ages nine through twelve, when the love of writing was taking hold of her, she lived in a cottage in the small English village of Kelsale in Suffolk. While living in Germany years later, home was a cute little cottage in an apple orchard.
I met Louisa though the 2008 Golden Heart Yahoo! group. We call ourselves the Pixie Chicks. I had the pleasure of dining with Louisa at the Pixie Chicks’ night out during RWA® Nationals. High atop Macy’s in the Cheesecake Factory, I laughed myself silly at some of Louisa’s stories. She’s a kick.
And now, let us venture into the enchanting and highly entertaining world of Louisa Cornell.
•I read, Louisa, that you’d wanted to writer since you were nine. When did you being writing with the goal of publication? What led you to embark on a journey known to be fraught with hills, valleys and arid stretches when perseverance and a distant dream are all that keep a writer going?
I was introduced to the novels of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer by two little old ladies in the little English village where I lived. I then proceeded to write the most dreadful western romance novel in the history of romance. My mother still has it and won’t let me destroy it. (Shudder.) I was nine years old.
This was also the age when they discovered I could sing. The novel was packed in a trunk, and I began my pursuit of a music career. I studied piano and music theory at the London College of Music.
Fast forward almost 40 years to a casual conversation with the local bookstore owner when I decided, on a lark, to enter the AvonFanLit Event in 2006. I was stunned to final twice in this six round competition and to have my version of Chapter Three – Tiger, tiger burning bright – published in the Avon novella that resulted from the event. I was hooked.
My first novel, Lost in Love, was the result of a writing exercise one of my critique partners suggested when I became hopelessly blocked on what I thought was going to be my first novel, Dreams of Angels. The exercise was to write a story that included the words – glittering, soldier, journal and cave in it. Three hundred and sixty three pages later, I was completely and utterly addicted to this masochistic endeavor we call writing. And Lost in Love was a finalist in the 2008 Golden Heart.
•When did you become interested in Regency romance? Before, during or after your time living in England? What made you choose to write in the sub-genre?
My time in England and the two sweet ladies who introduced me to Austen and Heyer are definitely big factors in my decision to write Regency romance. Another factor is that while I read every genre of romance there is, my favorite has been and probably always will be Regency. There is just something about this elegant and genteel time period that appeals to me. Perhaps it speaks to the musician in me as it is an almost lyrical, graceful period coming out of an era of near hedonism (Georgian) and standing on the cusp of what would become a far more cynical jaded period (Victorian).
•Your story set-ups have a great Wow Factor. A duke forced to marry a horse thief. A marriage proposal made and accepted after one waltz. Rumors of murder and madness at a remote mansion. As I said, Wow! How do you come up with your ideas? Once you have them, do you create exhaustive character profiles and complete a color-coded plot board, or does the mere thought of taking such steps send you running for the nearest case of chocolate?
It takes very little to send me running for the nearest case of chocolate, my friend! My ideas come from so many places and sometimes I have no idea where they come from at all.
I told you about the beginnings of Lost in Love. I wrote probably half a dozen chapters before I realized I needed some sort of organization to keep my facts straight. I do have a notebook set up for each book. In it, I keep all of the little notes that come to me out of the blue about the story. I have pictures of my vision of each character, and I make little notes about each character as they come to me. I also have family trees, notes about locations and anything else I might have to refer back to in writing. None of this is done ahead of time. All of it grows out of the story as I write it, and I make notes of it because my memory is NOT what it used to be!
As for Dreams of Angels, to be perfectly honest when Sebastian proposed to Theadora (Teddy) after just one waltz, I was as stunned as anyone, and I wrote it! And when she accepted I was equally surprised. Only other writers can understand when characters you create hijack the story and take you for the ride of your life.
The Raven’s Heart came to me as I was browsing photographs of Suffolk in search of a location for a scene in Lost in Love. I found an interesting photograph of the town of Dunwich, a village which has gradually fallen off into the sea over the last couple of hundred years. The spire of the church is still visible just offshore. The photograph showed a tree-lined drive shrouded in mist at twilight. Just beyond the mist was the cliff where the stately home had fallen into the sea years ago. I started to think about that home and what it might be like to ride up the drive and work in that house.
•You’ve garnered an impressive collection of chapter level contest wins. I searched Google to see how many you’ve received so far but lost count. What number are you up to? How long had you been writing before you received your first placement? What was your reaction to the news?
I wrote for a year before I started entering contests. My first final was in the Emerald City Opener, which completely stunned me. I just thought it would be nice to get some feedback and see if I had even a hope of making a go of this writing thing. I know the poor woman thought she was talking to an idiot when she called to tell me. I have to admit I checked the website several times just to make sure there was no mistake.
Lost in Love placed in seven contests (Won one / second in four / third in two) and was also a Golden Heart finalist.
The Raven’s Heart has placed in four contests (three wins / one second place) and is a finalist in the Linda Howard Award of Excellence this year.
•Wow! Thirteen finals in two years is amazing. Of all those, which stand out and why? What do you consider the major advantages of entering contests? What would you say are the drawbacks? How do you decide which contests to enter?
I still can’t quite get used to the idea that something I have written is finaling in these contests. It amazes me every time. Every one stands out in my mind as a real thrill. Of course, the Golden Heart is the one that takes my breath away every time I think about it. Especially when I see the amazing company I am in with all of the fabulously talented Pixie Chicks.
I have to admit that winning the Royal Ascot two years in a row completely blew me away. Especially as it is sponsored by the Beau Monde chapter and the judges are people that specialize in Regency romance. It is a very humbling experience to be honored in this way.
My final in the Linda Howard means a great deal, too, as it is sponsored by Southern Magic, my home chapter. The Daphne du Maurier was another win that I never expected, and it was fun to share the experience with fellow Avon FanLit alum, Amanda Collins.
The major advantages of entering contests are the chance to get your work off the slush pile and onto an editor and/or agent’s desk and the great feedback that you get. I think we spend so much time so close to our work that a fresh eye who really looks to catch the problems is a big help. I’ve gotten some truly helpful insight from contest judges whether I finaled or not.
The only drawbacks are if you take the criticism personally. Sometimes it is hard to remember that the judges are criticizing your work, not you personally. Years of vocal competitions have taught me that. The key is to take those things that are consistent from judge to judge, analyze them carefully and adapt them to your own voice. Chalk the rest up to experience and move on. Use what you can and file the rest away.
At first, I would enter the contests I could afford and counted on recommendations from those who had entered a certain contest before and had a good experience. These days I try to enter contests where the final judge is an editor or agent I would really love to have read my work.
•I’m sure no final or placement has meant as much to you as the Golden Heart you added to your collection last year. Where were you and what were you doing when you got the call from RWA®? How did you react to the news? Did you break into an aria that broke glass, or were you rendered speechless?
The truly funny thing is I thought the calls were supposed to go out the next day, which means I would have been at work. They actually went out on my day off. I was standing in my bedroom in my pajamas when I answered the phone. It was one of those, hearing underwater moments. I heard the words “RWA Board,” and my ears started roaring. I mean good grief, it was my first novel and I only entered because my CPs and I made a pact to do so together.
I tried to sit down, missed the bed and sat on the floor. I said “Could you repeat that please?” and then, to make myself sound even more idiotic, I asked “Are you sure?” Even better, I continued “But you weren’t supposed to call today.” I know the poor woman thought “I hope she is a better writer than conversationalist.”
For a minute, I just stood there, stunned. Then I went back to what I was doing – cleaning out the litter boxes. It wasn’t until I went outside to hose the boxes off that it hit me. “I’m a Golden Heart finalist!” I live on five acres in the middle of nowhere. I screamed at the top of my lungs and scared my neighbor’s cows, who came to the fence to see what all the fuss was about. Then I called my Mom. I called my CP, Erin, next. She was at the beauty shop and started yelling as soon as she answered the phone. It was an amazing day.
•Every writer draws upon her education and background as she crafts a story. You’ve had some incredible experiences. Not only were you an opera singer touring Europe, but you also worked as a teacher, veterinary technician and funeral home coordinator. What has traversing the peaks and valleys of life taught you? How do you use those lessons in your writing?
What life has taught me is that everyone you meet is always something more than you think, and sometimes something less. Most people go through life asleep, not really seeing all of the wonder and possibility life has to offer. Those who are awake are in a state of constant amazement.
In all of the wonder and glory of the world and all of the pain and suffering, love is the most powerful force ever created. It has the ability to make us who we were always meant to be. Love is not blind. It sees the beloved’s faults and foibles and loves anyway. Real love never takes advantage of that.
Every day is a gift and a lesson to be learned. You just have to be open to it. God never promised life would be free of troubles. He did promise to be there through all of those troubles and to see you through if you will let him. Sometimes he is that still small voice in your head. Sometimes he is a phone call from a friend. Sometimes he sends a person into your life to show you how much he loves you, and sometimes he speaks to you through the pages of a book – a book that tells a story of love won through adversity, a book that lets you know that happily ever after is possible and that love does indeed conquer all.
•Louisa, here’s a fun question for you. Since you’re a Regency writer, let’s suppose you could go back to that colorful period in Britain’s history and spend a week with anyone, real or fictional? Who would it be? And would you make the journey alone or choose a time-traveling companion?
I would love to spend a week with Jane Austen at a country house party. She and I and my CP, Erin, would sit on the sidelines and watch all of the intrigue and silliness and make notes on human nature. We might even dance at the balls and tease each other mercilessly. I think it would be amazing to spend time with the “mother” of the romance novel and to immerse myself in the time period as seen through her eyes.
It’s been great having you as my guest, Louisa. And now, in closing, is there a final comment you’d like to make or a question you’d like to ask?
In The Raven’s Heart, the hero’s brother-in-law asks him if he loved his late wife or merely his image of who she was. Here is the hero’s response.
“Isn’t it the same? Loving the image of someone, rather than what they have become, does not make that love less, nor does it dull the pain of losing it.”
Do you agree? Is it easier or harder to lose the love of who we thought a person was, or is it the same?
Learn more about Louisa
Visit her Web site
Leave a Comment for Your Chance to Win!
I’ll choose a winner from those who leave a comment for Louisa on 3/9 or 10 (and include an email address when prompted, which I don’t share), and will post the drawing winner’s name on 3/11.
Sarah Tormey won and got to choose one of these elegant pocket note pads from Punch Studio. Each matchbook-style pad with magnetic closure is 3 x 4 inches.
You could also win a First Sale Scrapbook!
If you’d like to have a chance at winning a First Sale Scrapbook created by your blog hostess, Keli Gwyn, leave a comment on any post between now and March 31. Make sure to include your name and email address when prompted if you want to be entered in the drawing. (Your information will not be shared.) Click red link above to see samples of covers and pages.
On April 1, Keli will choose one person who will have her choice of five covers on an 8×8 inch, twenty-page scrapbook in which s/he can document that long-awaited first sale. The pages will cover various milestones including The Call, signing the contract, receiving the first advance payment and holding your “firstborn” in your hands.
(No scrapbooking skills required. You just add your photos and journaling.)