Meet Debut Author Judi Fennell

Good things come in three for Judi Fennell. She finaled in three contests that garnered her a lot of attention and resulted in a three-book contract offer from Sourcebooks Casablanca.

Judi has been writing since she was a girl. She received her first writing award in a second grade Caldecott Medal contest. She penned her first romance in the ninth grade, which she still has. Readers’ Digest thrilled her with her very first publishing credit in April 1994. Ten years later, she joined Romance Writers of America® and began pursing publication as a novelist.

In September 2006, Judi’s manuscript, Beauty and The Best, was chosen by Dorchester Publishing and Romantic Times Book Review magazine as a finalist in their American Title III contest. In May 2007, the same book was chosen as a finalist in the Simon & Schuster/Gather.com First Chapters contest. In July 2008, her debut novel, In Over Her Head, made it to the top five in the First Chapters Romance contest.

Judi studied Spanish at Penn State, lived in Spain and traveled throughout that beautiful country. She now lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, kids and two cute cocker spaniels named Vixen and Raven. When she’s not writing, Judi likes to read, play Scrabble and have pool parties at the neighbors’.

Join me as we follow Judi’s writing journey from first story to first sale.
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Judi Fennell

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Judi Embarks on Her Journey

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•When your youngest child started school, you returned to your dream of being a romance writer. What was your first book? Did you send it out into the world, or does it reside in a dark corner never to see the light of day?

The first book I wrote for publication didn’t start out being written for publication. It’s called Through The Leaded Glass and is a time travel medieval mystery. I wrote it because it just popped into my head. Once I’d written it, my husband went online and found RWA and my local chapter. His thought was, if I’d spent the time writing it, I should try to get it published. It’s done well in the contest circuit, so hopefully there will be some interest in the story – if time travels ever come back.
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•How many stories have you written since then? Does one stand out as a favorite?

I wrote two others before selling, Cinda Bella and Beauty and The Best, and have several others in various stages of completion. I love all of my stories, and just like my kids, I can’t pick a favorite.
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•I like your tagline, “fairy tales with a twist.” What led you to write fantasies?

My childhood imaginary friend was Casper the Friendly Ghost so I guess you can say I’ve always loved fantasy stories. As I grew older, I read every Dr. Doolittle book, every Oz book, and whatever fairy tales I could get my hands on. And I utterly loved I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched, not to mention a whole host of Saturday morning shows (Shazam, Isis, Wonder Woman, H.R. Pufnstuf). I’ve never lost the fascination with otherworldly stories.
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Judi’s Process

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•You have a family, are president of your local RWA® chapter and are now a published author under deadline. How do you fit writing into your schedule? Do you hibernate in a home office, carve out alone time in a coffee house, or labor late into the night when everyone else is in bed?

I’m lucky that I don’t have a full time job other than writing, so once the kids are off to school I have the time. When it comes to deadline time, I do bury myself at my local coffee shop or favorite bookstore because there are a lot of distractions at home.
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•What inspires you? Something you’ve read? A character who grabs your attention and won’t stop chatting? A particular setting?

You know, it’s not just one thing. I can’t really say where or how the ideas arrive. Sometimes it’s the character, sometimes it’s a scene, sometimes an opening line. With In Over Her Head, it was the fact that I wanted to write a twist on The Little Mermaid because I’d written two other fairy tale twists (and had a third almost completed).
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•I love puns and other clever ways of playing with words and understand you do too. What are some fun uses of language that you’ve used in your books?

Oh, I had a blast tweaking our common phrases into “sea-speak.” Mers aren’t going to say “task at hand.” They’d say “task at fin.” A pelican wishing a Mer good luck is going to say, “May the forecast be with you.” Things like that. When Erica wakes up under the sea and she’s having a hard time believing what Reel is telling her, instead of telling her to “take a seat” he tells her to “rest on the bottom.” “Hit below the belt line” becomes “hit below the scale line,” and when Vincent the shark tells Reel that he’s got his pick of every fish in the sea, he actually means it literally.

One of the best parts of the First Chapters Romance contest (where I had to post my chapters online) was the puns readers came back with – “You hooked me!” “You reeled me in!” etc. I hadn’t anticipated that and just totally enjoyed the feedback. And the puns keep on coming!
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Mountaintop Experiences

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You’ve experienced a number of highs in your writing career, beginning with that win back in elementary school. Once you began seriously pursuing publication as a romance novelist, you finaled in one major contest after another. I’m impressed!
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•What was it like to be an American Title III finalist? What did the experience teach you?

American Title was crazy! We got the call that we were a finalist and immediately had to get to work preparing each month’s entry. I think we had a week. Once that was done, we (the contestants) hit the ground running. We called it Promo Bootcamp 101 – talk about jumping in with both feet! We had to think outside the box and come up with effective ways to get people to vote for us. What was fabulous about the whole experience was the marketing I then had in place for when I sold.
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•A year later, you scored another big final in Simon & Schuster/Gather.com First Chapters contest. Your entry was chosen out of 2,600 entries as one of the top 20–and the only romance. What was your reaction when you heard the news?

That day was surreal. Sur-real. 2600+ entries and Beauty and The Best was the only romance to make the Top 20. I knew if I made it, I’d have to defend both the work and my genre. And I did, and it started immediately after the Top 20 list was announced, so I didn’t get to enjoy the fact that I had a chance to win the contest (though I figured a romance wouldn’t win an all-genre-fiction contest, but still…).

But it was more exposure. More getting my name out. That “no publicity is bad publicity”? Yep. People knew who I was. Matter of fact, when Gather.com announced that they were having the First Chapters Romance contest, I hadn’t planned on entering, until over 100 people I didn’t know (other than having seen their names online) emailed me, asking me to enter. When you have that happening, you better enter! LOL. So I did.
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•You continued to meet with success. In 2008, you repeated as a finalist in the First Chapters contest, this time making it to the top five. This marked a turning point in your career and led to The Call. What happened and how did you respond?

I didn’t win the contest – I haven’t won any of the three online contests I finalled in which just goes to prove that winning isn’t everything. While I didn’t win, it did bring In Over Her Head to Sue Grimshaw’s (Romance Buyer for Borders Books) attention. (She was one of the final judges and got to read the book.) She gave me some advice on making it sell-able and talked it up to editors for me.

As for The Call – I revised the manuscript, and my agent sent it to my editor, Deb Werksman at Sourcebooks. I saw Deb at a luncheon and mentioned that the story was part of a series. When she heard that, she asked to see the partials for the other stories and I sent them off to her. Within a month we had an agreement.

As for what I did – I yelped. She sent me an email from the editorial meeting (she couldn’t, obviously, call me right then), so I yelped, cried, called a bunch of people then grabbed a book and plopped myself on the sofa to read. Seems kind of anti-climatic, right? I thought so, too, until I realized that it was appropro. I mean, I was about to become part of the world of published authors, so why not celebrate by “partaking” of that world.
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•Congrats on that contract for three books. How exciting. And now the first of the trilogy is on the shelves. What have been the highest highs? Seeing your cover for the first time? Holding your book in your hands? Reading the rave reviews?

Yes, yes, and yes. Honestly, every moment of this has been a blast! You visualize it for so long, then they send you your cover and, wow! There it is! Then you get a copy of your ARC and it’s a real book. And then you get your author copies of the final product and it’s just an indescribable moment. One of the best feelings in the world.
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In the Valley

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•Despite all the high points in your journey, a number of years and a lot of hard work went into making you an overnight success. Even someone with a track record like yours must have down times, days with things didn’t come together and bouts of doubts. How do you deal with the low spots? What’s your best advice for someone battling discouragement?

Dealing with the low spots – have a writer friend who gets it. Have several writer friends who get it. Talk to them. I belong to the PASIC chapter, which has the most generous authors! It’s nice to see that whatever doubts, downers, etc. I’ve got, I’m not the only one. I highly recommend having a writer support system, people who get it.
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Partners on Judi’s Journey

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•You have an incredible number of writer friends. When I did my research in order to write your questions, I typed “Judi Fennell” into my Google search bar and got over 13,000 hits. Something tells me you’re not the stereotypical introverted writer. Of all the amazing, talented authors and writers you know, which have touched your life in special ways?

Heh. No, I’m not a wallflower. The funny thing is, I’ve always known a lot of people, but when I met fellow AT3er Jenny Gardiner, I found someone who knows more people than me!

Who have touched me: Jill Barnett for writing my favorite book ever, Bewitching. Jude Devereaux for A Knight in Shining Armor (see a trend here?). My critique partner, Stephanie Julian, for giving me my first feedback. Tough love that was right on. And you know who else? Everyone who put pen to paper and wrote the stories that I’ve grown up reading.
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•Not only are you well connected, but you give a great deal back to the writing community. I met you through your famous Golden Heart®/RITA® announcement party this year when you posted the finalists in the contests as you learned about them. How did your announcement day galas come about? Do you plan to keep up the tradition now that you’re published?

I utterly LOVE doing the Golden Heart/RITA announcement parties! It came about as a fluke. In 2008, people were asking on the loops if anyone was fielding the names and no one was, so I figured, why not? I sent around an email at 7:30 that morning (it helped being on the chapter presidents’ loop) and threw together a quick blog post, and the next thing I knew, people started showing up. By the thousands. It was SO much fun! And since I’d entered the Golden Heart, it kept me so busy I didn’t have time to wonder if I was getting The Call. I didn’t, but I had such a good time, it didn’t matter. (Okay, it would have been better if I’d gotten The Call, but still, amazing time!)

This year, I didn’t have a pony in the race but I still wanted to have the party, so I did it again. RWA posted the names as all nominees in each category were notified but no one could comment on that list, so they popped over to mine. I had several agents tweeting about it, people emailing me left and right…

Oh, yeah, I’m doing it again next year. It was so much fun getting people’s “Me! I got nominated!” emails. So definitely look for another party on my blog in March 2010. And this time, I will have two ponies in the race and be just as anxious as everyone else.
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Judi’s Journey Continues

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•Sourcebooks Casablanca purchased your trilogy. The first of the three, In Over Her Head, is on the shelves. The second, Wild Blue Under, is due out in November, and the third, Catch of a Lifetime, has a February 2010 release date. What is the status of the second two titles? Have you completed them? Have you received your requests for edits?

Both books are in. I have copy edits for Catch of a Lifetime, and the final proof for Wild Blue Under will arrive when I get back from National.
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•What can your readers look forward to next? More books about hunky Mer men, or do you plan to put a new twist to a different fairy tale?

I’ve got a proposal in, but can’t speak to it until I hear. But as I said to my editor when we were last together, “it’s a big ocean out there.” And there are two siblings left in the Tritone family, but I also have dozens of other ideas, so we’ll see.
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Your First Book

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•Please tell us a little about your debut novel, In Over Her Head.

In Over Her HeadIt’s a story I would love to read, about a woman, Erica, who owns a marina but is terrified of the ocean – and what happens to her when she’s forced into the water at gunpoint, accidentally gets shot and ends up under the water, and saved from drowning by a Mer man named Reel. The Oceanic Council demands she and Reel recover the diamonds and they have to outsmart a sea monster to do so. Only the sea monster isn’t giving up so easily. Think The Little Mermaid, Splash with a dash of Indiana Jones thrown in. Danger, adventure and romance – all the elements I love in a story.
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•And would you give us a taste of what the next two books are about too?

Wild Blue UnderWild Blue Under is the story about Reel’s brother, Rod, who is the heir to the Mer throne, but he can’t claim that throne until he fulfills The Prophecy – he has to bring the lost Mer princess back to Atlantis. Problem is, Valerie lives in Kansas, doesn’t know she’s half-Mer and thinks she’s allergic to the ocean. Toss in dive-bombing albatrosses, seagulls with attitude and a pretender to the throne, and you’ll see it’s not your standard romance.

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Catch of a LifetimeCatch of a Lifetime continues the Tritones’ story, with sister Angel. Angel is a Mer princess determined to earn the position of Director of the Mer/Human Coalition, but Rod, her brother the High Councilman, won’t let her even apply for the job. So she sets out to prove herself worthy, only to have to out-swim a hammerhead bent on a Mer meal and ends up on a Human’s boat.

Logan Hardington has a surprise six-year-old son show up who wants a mermaid for his birthday. Right. Like mermaids are real. Besides, the last thing Logan needs after his flighty, irresponsible, obviously birth-control-challenged ex-girlfriend, is anything out of the ordinary. Having grown up in the circus and run away from it, all Logan wants is Normal. So when a naked woman shows up on his boat and his son demands she be his babysitter, Logan is determined that Normal is what his son’s life will be. Problem is, he can’t decide if Angel is just another fish in the sea or the Catch of a Lifetime.
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•And what’s this I hear about three romantic giveaways your readers can win?

I’ve partnered with the Atlantis Inn and Hibiscus House B&Bs to offer readers the chance to win one of three romantic beach getaways, two in Ocean City, NJ and one in West Palm Beach, FL. The first winner was drawn June 30, to celebrate the release of In Over Her Head, and her name is Kate Hackett of Belcamp, MD. The next drawing is November 30 to celebrate the release of Wild Blue Under, and the third is February 28, 2010 for Catch of a Lifetime. All information and rules are on my website, www.JudiFennell.com.
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Five Fun Facts About Judi

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~ I’ve twirled batons since third grade, and my junior year squad was the PA State Champs. I twirled sabres in indoor color guard at Penn State.

~ My favorite animal is the sea otter. One of my favorite books from my childhood is The True Story of Okee The Otter and I’ve always wanted to have one as a pet. Sadly, that’s not permissible, nor is it a good idea.

~ My family drove across the country in July, 1979 – starting the first day of gas rationing – and I will never forget that trip. What a wonderful experience – and surprisingly, my siblings and I didn’t fight at all.

~ I was a Little Sister at Sigma Chi fraternity at Penn State.

~ I love to sing but only have a range of about three notes. So I don’t sing. At least in public. Oh, wait. Yes, I do. When I was hypnotized at our Senior Dinner in high school, I sang the theme from Romeo and Juliet in front of the whole class. The interesting thing is, hypnotism apparently makes me sing an octave higher than I normally do and on key. So, no, I didn’t embarrass myself with a badly off-ley rendition, just the fact that I sang in front of everyone. LOL
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Judi’s Question for You

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•I’ve enjoyed having you as my guest, Judi. Thanks for your great answers to my questions. And now it’s your turn to ask a question of your visitors. What would you like to know?

Thanks so much for having me, Keli!

As to my question: the proverbial “they” say that there’s something of us in our stories. In In Over Her Head, Erica has my irrational fear of the ocean (I saw JAWS at an early age and it left a mark), so there’s definitely a part of me in that story. What part of you is in your story?
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Learn More About Judi

Visit her Web site: http://www.judifennell.com

Visit her blog: http://judifennell.wordpress.com

Friend her on Facebook: JudiFennell

Follow her on Twitter:  JudiFennell
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Leave a Comment for Three Chances to Win

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Judi’s Drawing

Judi generously offered to give away an adorable mermaid cell phone charm.

mermaid cell phone charm

I’ll choose a winner from all those who leave a comment for Judi on her post by midnight July 9th. I’ll contact the winner and relay her/his information to Judi, who will send the charm. I’ll publish the winner’s name here on July 10th.

Congratulations to Wanda, who won the adorable charm Judi gave away.

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My Regular Drawing
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My next drawing will take place July 10th. The winner will receive a $10 gift card for Jamba Juice.

To enter the drawing, just leave a comment on any blog post by July 10th and enter your email address when prompted. (I don’t share your information or add it to any mailing lists.) On July 11th, I’ll post the winner’s name in the Welcome post at the top of the blog.
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You could also win a First Sale Scrapbook!
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If you’d like to have a chance at winning a First Sale Scrapbook created by me, your blog hostess Keli Gwyn, leave a comment on any post between now and July 31st. Be 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 August 1st, I will choose one person who will have her/his choice of several 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 debut novel in your hands.

(No scrapbooking skills required. You just add your photos and journaling.)

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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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23 Responses to Meet Debut Author Judi Fennell

  1. Keli Gwyn says:

    Welcome, Judi. I’m delighted to have you as my guest and to learn more about you, your writing and your debut novel. The three stories in your series sound like such fun.

    Facets of my personality creep into each of my stories. I have one heroine who is organized and likes things in their place, which I do. The reality is that my office is filled with piles I need to attack. I’ll get to them in time, really I will, but writing is even more fun than organizing.

  2. Margay says:

    Hi, Judy! I think the thing – or things – about me that creeps into my writing is my fascination with the spiritual (I am currently writing about angels) and paranormal (and about shape shifters and psychics), and the fact that I have learned how to be a strong woman, handling all of life’s curve balls on my own. Therefore, I like to write about women who learn to do the same. And I have to admit that I’m kind of mean because I throw a lot of curve balls at them!
    Margay

  3. Margay says:

    Oh, and by the way, I was in one of those contests with Judy, so I know firsthand what a fabulous author she is!
    Margay

  4. Judi says:

    Thanks, Keli!

    And Margay, you’re just TOO sweet! 🙂

  5. Margay says:

    Hey, I only speak the truth. My maiden name – and the one under which I write – is Justice, so I kind of have to!
    Margay

  6. ~Sia McKye~ says:

    Liked the interview, Judi. I was also in one of those wonderful contests and new to everything online. But promotion and marketing is something I do and do well in the secular world, so I was amazed at how you handled all that. What seemed like tireless effort.

    I use some of my fears and more of my strengths with my MC. Definitely handling bad situations and coming out on top.

    I’m really looking forward to reading book two and three. Sigh, I just have to wait soooo long….

  7. Kat Sheridan says:

    I was lucky to have “met” Judi during the first First Chapters contest, and she has become a wonderful and generous mentor. I’m sure there’s some of myself in what I write, but I really most enjoyed writing my over-the-top villain in my gothic romance. It was fun to let the bad girl out to play! And since I was already fortunate enough to win a mermaid charm, please be sure to choose someone else for that. I can promise, it’s cute as all get out!

  8. It was wonderful getting to know more about you! As I’ve mentioned, our shared agent extraordinaire says fabulous things about you.

    I, too, was one of the GH’ers who first heard about you because of your fantastically popular blog of GH/Rita announcements. A very fun tradition, and very smart promo move!

    Thanks for the tip about improving my singing, btw. Now, to find a hypnotist… 🙂

    Looking forward to meeting you in person!

  9. Kathryn Esplin says:

    Hey Judi,

    I absolutely loved this interview of you. Even though I have known you through part of this process (the Gather parts), there were so many new and exciting things I did not know. Trip across the country, singing – you CAN sing much better than your subconscious is telling you – and learned so much more of your inner strength and confidence. Not to mention your awesome and incredible writing talent.

  10. Jill Lynn says:

    A ha! There is something I didn’t know about you, Judi. You were hypnotized 🙂

    It’s been a blast getting to know Judi, and watching her success (not to mention reading her WHOLE book instead of a few chapters) has been inspiring.

    Looking forward to reading the next two!

  11. Wanda says:

    Keli and Judi,

    Great interview, fun facts and I, too, am awaiting those next two books most anxiously! And sooo long. ;o)

    I brought a lovely aqua shawl from Kirks Folly, Mer motif, it’s quite the thing. That should keep you warm until your next interview.

    What creeps into my writing from me? I’ve had to survive lots of ‘ups and downs’ in my life and they have made me a strong woman so I tend to write strong women. My interest in the paranmormal of all kinds slips in there when I’m not looking, too.

    Still looking for a mermaid charm win. Toodles

  12. Congratulations, Judy! What an accomplishment!

  13. Sherrinda says:

    I love a modern twist on fairy tales! What a great concept for a series! Congrats on the debut!

  14. Judi Fennell says:

    Love to see my Gather/Wombat friends! Thanks for the Mer motif, Wanda – you’re right, it’ll keep me warm!

    Eileen and Sherrinda, it’s always nice to meet new folks, too. Glad you like the concept, Sherrinda. I have fun with it.

    Kristina – Jenn and I have a mutual admiration society going, I think. 🙂 See you at National?

  15. Susan Mason says:

    Judi,

    Your books sound terrific. Congratulations on your success!

    Keep spinning those magical stories! (I loved Bewitched, too. Always wanted to be able to twitch my nose and fix everything!)

    Cheers,
    Sue

  16. Judi Fennell says:

    Oh, Sue, I hear you! Wouldn’t that make life so much easier!!

  17. Judi – I hear you about the “Jenn mutual admiration society” thing! LOL. I don’t think there’s a time I haven’t gotten off the phone with her and said out loud (to no one), “Man, I love my agent.” She’s actually my third in three years, so I DEFINITELY appreciate how great she is.

    Yep, looking forward to seeing you in DC! Perhaps we can catch a drink? 🙂

  18. Anonymous says:

    Great interview, Judi and Keli! Congrats on the release of your book. It’s such a unique idea for a romance, and I think every girl dreams of being a mermaid. Or was that just me? (I think I had a crush on Aquaman.) 🙂

    –Anne

  19. Anne Barton says:

    whoops, that was me. 🙂 –Anne

  20. Judi, you are a fascinating woman!

  21. Judi Fennell says:

    Hi Anne and Erin!

    I did want to be a mermaid – in a swimming pool! Too many sharks in the ocean! And what about the Man From Atlantis television show starring Patrick Duffy. I definitely had a crush on him.

    Fascinating, Erin? Um.. okay. LOL! Thank you!

  22. Keli Gwyn says:

    Thanks to everyone who’s stopped by to say hi to Judi. Great to have you visit.

    I’ve held the drawing for the adorable mermaid cell phone charm Judi offered to give away to one of those who left her a comment.

    Congratulations go to Wanda, the winner, who’s cell phone will now have reel class and is sure to be the envy of those on land and in the sea. 🙂

  23. Judi Fennell says:

    Woo hoo! Congratulations, Wanda! And thanks everyone for stopping by!

Comments are closed.