Meet Debut Author Clare Willis

Clare spent much of her childhood in Berkeley, California but she lived in Italy and England (her father is British, and she holds dual citizenship). As an adult, she lived in Los Angeles and Massachusetts but always came home to the San Francisco Bay Area, where she lives now with her husband and two sons. While her family is at school and work, Clare writes with her two dogs at her feet: a cockapoo named Mocha and a terrier mix shelter puppy called Riley.

Like many writers, Clare penned her first stories as a child. During college, she took creative writing classes but succumbed to the convincing argument that she needed a real job to fall back on and added an elementary education minor. She taught for several years, earned two masters degrees in education, and worked in educational research and curriculum development.

But the lure of writing never went away. After she married and had her first child, Clare became a stay-at-home mom and found story ideas coming to her during the quiet hours when the baby was asleep. She wrote four books and numerous short stories. Several of her short stories were published, but it took ten years and many rejections before Kensington Press offered her a two-book contract. Her debut novel, Once Bitten, hit the shelves December 1st.

Join me as we learn about more about Clare and her journey to publication.

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Clare’s Journey Commences

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•You write paranormal romance. When did the sub-genre attract your attention? Had you long been a fan of such stories, or was the success of Harry Potter and other such works a factor in your decision to write paranormals?

I devoured all of Anne Rice’s vampire and witch books when I was a teenager and young adult, and I’m sure that’s why a vampire popped up when I began writing my first book. I’ve never tried to follow the trends: that doesn’t work for me. You have to write what you love. But it’s no coincidence that Once Bitten is being published now, even though I wrote it several years ago. The appetite for vampires right now is insatiable. The lesson, I think, is to keep revising and submitting your books, because if they’re not trendy now, they might be next year!

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•Ten years ago, you began your first novel-length story, which ended up being your first to sell. Where did the idea for Once Bitten come from?

I read an article in a San Francisco newspaper about “real vampires:” people who meet in clubs and drink each other’s blood. I thought how interesting it would be if there was a real vampire hiding out among these wannabe vampires. And that’s exactly what happens in Once Bitten.

Many writers have their first books stashed away in a closet or hidden in deep in their computer’s memories and won’t let a soul see them. You, however, sold your first story. Did the words flow from your fingertips with brilliance the rest of us only dream of, or did a great deal of work go into getting Once Bitten into a publishable format?

Why, the brilliance part, of course! Just kidding. I revised the book more times than I can count.

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Keeping the Dream Alive

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•You wrote four novel-length stories in ten years before you made your first sale. How did you maintain your momentum during that time?

Oh, I didn’t. I must have quit a dozen times during those years. But then ideas would start to nibble at me and before I knew it I was at it again. I found it was helpful to think of my work as a hobby, like knitting or quilting, which I did for my own enjoyment, and to have a creative outlet, rather than worry about when I’d get published. Every book was different: one is young adult, another is a literary historical novel, a third is a contemporary romance. I used the freedom of not being published to try on all sorts of literary hats.

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•As you worked on your stories, what did you find were the most helpful methods for honing your craft? Instructional books? Contest feedback? Critique partner comments? Workshops?

I think it’s really important to make yourself part of the writing community. I belong to a writing group that’s been together for nine years, and we’ve really kept each other going. Writing conferences are very useful, if you can afford them, as are community college classes. You can only do so much by yourself, at some point you have to get your work in front of other readers and listen to their feedback. I wasn’t a member of Romance Writers of America® before I sold, but I joined last year and I’ve found my local chapter tremendously helpful and supportive.

I love books on writing; I have shelves of them. They’re both inspirational and instructive. I love the ones by Stephen King and Elizabeth George, but the best and most helpful I’ve found are two books by James N. Frey (not the one who falsified his memoir) called How to Write a Damn Good Novel and The Key: How to Write Damn Good Fiction using the Power of Myth. If you don’t have these already run to your bookstore and get them. You can thank me later.

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Who or what served as motivation to keep writing during that decade you waited for The Call?

I love writing. I would have kept going even if I was never published, I’m convinced of that. I focused on becoming a better writer, which in the end is the only part of the process that you have control over.

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Clare’s Process

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•Paranormal writers have to walk a fine line between creating another world and working within the framework of generally accepted and long-held concepts regarding fictional creatures known to many, such as vampires in your case. How do you strike that balance?

I’ve found that if you make your world convincing and internally consistent, and lay out the rules very clearly at the outset (can your vampires stand sunlight, for example) then readers will accept it if you veer from their traditional concepts of what that creature can do.

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•You produced four books and numerous short stories during your first decade as a writer. Did you focus on one story at a time, or do you juggle multiple projects?

I always worked on one book at a time, but I’d take breaks to work on short fiction, which I found much easier to write, since I usually had the entire story in my head when I started, which was not the case with my novels.

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Clare’s Dream Comes True

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•You had some short stories published prior to selling your debut novel. What was it like to see your first piece in print?

It was pretty darned cool, but I’d have to say the best part was getting a phone call from the editor of the literary magazine telling me that he loved my story. I write because I want to communicate with other human beings, not because I want to see my name carved on a piece of dead tree. When this stranger told me that my story touched him so much he wanted to share it with all his readers it really touched my heart. That story is on my website, by the way.

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•After a decade of dreaming, the long-awaited day arrived. You received The Call. I understand the experience was exciting—and a bit unsettling. Please share with us that memorable moment and how technology ramped up the tension.

It’s hard to believe now, because I’ve had my iPhone for two years and it’s become like an extra appendage to my body, but when I received my first phone call from my agent I had just gotten my iPhone and I didn’t know how to answer it. I knew it was her because I’d gotten an email earlier, but I couldn’t answer the darn thing! I was running around the hotel room where we were staying, screaming while it rang, pushing everything that could be pushed. I lost that phone call, but when I called her back, remarkably she still wanted to talk to me. I guess there are second chances in life, lol.

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Once Bitten officially hit the shelves December 1st. Even before that, you received your author copies. What was it like to hold the book in your hands for the first time, inhale that just-printed scent and see your words on the page?

It’s surreal. I think of the author of Once Bitten as someone else, even though she has my name, and the picture on the back page does somewhat resemble me (on a good-hair day). I don’t know how many books it will take for me to believe that it actually is me. (It’s still a good feeling, though.)

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Clare’s Debut Novel

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•Please tell us about Once Bitten.

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Angie McCaffrey has endured her share of liquid lunches and boardroom schmoozefests to win new advertising clients. But her latest account—a cosmetics line for wannabe vampires—involves some unusual customer research at San Francisco’s hippest private nightclub. The “undead” patrons are about as genuine as Macabre Factor’s press-on fangs, but one thing is very real—the skin-tingling connection Angie feels with her clients’ mysterious friend, Eric Taylor.

Still, there are a few problems with this hot new romance. 1) Eric is rumored to have dated Angie’s scheming boss, Lucy. 2) Lucy, missing for days, just turned up dead and bloodless. And, oh yeah, 3) Angie has suddenly developed a teeny aversion to sunlight. Is Eric a real vampire, a killer, or both? Angie’s got a lot riding on the answer—her life, her heart, and maybe even her soul…

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Clare’s Journey Continues

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•As a debut author who’s just gone through the steps between first sale and release, how has your life changed? What advice would you offer to writers eager to land their first contracts about how to prepare for the days following The Call?

A lot of the marketing of books these days happens on the Web. I’d suggest getting a website set up, having a nice studio photograph taken, and arranging your blogs and Tweets and Facebooks and MySpaces and what have you, before you get the Call. In the romance genre the chances are you’ll get a two or more book contract and you’ll be busy trying to get your next project finished, so the more familiar you are with the online world the less time it will take you to get up to speed. But don’t do this at the expense of making your writing the best it can be! It doesn’t matter how great your website is or how cute your Tweets are if your book isn’t sellable.

I had no online presence before I sold, and I still don’t have much, because I’m busy trying to meet my deadlines for my next books. So thanks, Keli, for helping me get my name out there!

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Once Bitten is on the shelves, and Kensington has contracted a second vampire novel and a ghost story novella. Are they in the hands of your publisher? If so, what are you working on now?

I’m working on those two things and they’re due really soon! Writing on a deadline is crazy for someone like me who’s used to having, um, forever, to get a project done.

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Five Ways Clare Fuels Her Creativity

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~ Change your setting. Write in a different place, or use a different medium.

~ Change the point of view. Rewrite a scene from the other character’s POV.

~ Go somewhere. Visit historic sites in your community and learn about who lived there. Then write about them.

~ Interview your character.

~ Take a book you love and outline it. Take it apart so you can see how it was made. See if you can identify what made you love it so.

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Five Things That Make Clare a Unique Character

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~ I traveled around the world before I turned two.

~ I work in a historic Victorian house museum.

~ I love San Francisco history and read everything I can get my hands on.

~ I love vintage clothing but don’t own any (most of my characters do, though!)

~ I love southern Gothic writers, like Donna Tartt and Tim Gatreaux. I wish I could write about the South, but I have to settle for San Francisco gothic!

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Clare’s Question for You

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•I’ve enjoyed having you as my guest, Clare. Thanks for your great answers to my questions. Now it’s your turn to ask a question of your visitors, so have at it.

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Are you attracted to vampires who don’t bite (like Edward Cullen) and don’t kill (like Bill Compton from True Blood)? What’s going on with this trend for “de-fanged” vamps?

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Learn More About Clare

Visit her Web site ~ www.clarewillis.com

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Leave a Comment for Two Chances to Win

To leave a comment, click on “Comments” below the date in the title at the top of the post.

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My Regular Drawing

My next drawing will take place December 10th. I’m giving away an etched steel magnet with the word “Dream” scroll cut from the oval disc.

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To enter the drawing, just leave a comment on any blog post by December 10th and enter your email address when prompted. (I don’t share your information or add it to any mailing lists.) On December 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

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 December 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 December 1st, I will choose one person who will receive an 8×8 inch, twenty-page scrapbook in which s/he can document that long-awaited first sale. The pages 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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Note: Offers void where prohibited.

Prizes will be mailed to US addresses only.

Odds of winning vary due to the number of entrants.

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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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7 Responses to Meet Debut Author Clare Willis

  1. Keli Gwyn says:

    Welcome, Clare! It’s great to have you as my guest.

    I can’t weigh in on the vampire question because I’m one of the rare individuals who hasn’t read or seen any of the Twilight stories. In fact, the only vampire show I’ve ever seen is an episode of Sherlock Holmes. My daughter is a huge fantasy fan, but I’ve yet to be captivated. I have read all the Harry Potter books and seen all the movies put out so far though. 🙂

  2. Quilt Lady says:

    I loved Edward from Twilight, the series was very different then most vampires stories but I really enjoyed it. I guess I am attracted to vamps that don’t bite.

  3. Alison says:

    I loved your story about The Call, and not being able to answer the phone! I’ve done that when someone passed me a phone and asked me to take the call – ‘What do I do? What do I press? Aaaah, it’s stopped ringing!’

  4. Clare Willis says:

    My iPhone, my iPhone. Technology is great and horrible at the same time. I just read that Cormac McCarthy, one of my favorite writers, is auctioning off the typewriter on which he’s written everything since 1963!

    Using a typewriter would eliminate so many distractions, but it would kill an awful lot of trees. All those drafts!

  5. JurassicMark says:

    Hi. Just wanted to say that Bill Compton actually does kill. In the first season he killed as many people as the serial killer. Can’t compare that to Twilight as I have not read/watched it.

    cheers!

  6. Jessica says:

    Clare, I love your premise! It sounds great. And the iPhone thingy, LOL, I would’ve been screaming too.

    Maybe the defanged thing has to do with those books being written for YA? That’s why I thought they were like that.

  7. Clare Willis says:

    Thanks everyone for the thought provoking comments and kind words about my work. I hope to see you all out there in cyberspace.

    Cheers, Clare

Comments are closed.