Jamie Michele is a winner of the sought-after Golden Heart®. Her entry, Romance or Retribution, took the top honor in the Contemporary Series Romance: Suspense/Adventure category in 2009, causing her Maryland Romance Writer pals to go wild in the back of the ballroom during the Awards Ceremony held at RWA® Nationals in Washington D.C.
Jamie lives in Maryland with her tall, handsome and unbelievably supportive husband, three cats and varying numbers and species of foster animals. Her interest in animals came about when she earned her degree in biology and led to ten years spent working and volunteering at animal shelters, veterinary clinics, biomedical research facilities and zoos. She continues to volunteer at a zoo and serves as a foster care provider for the SPCA.
When Jamie isn’t busy catering to the needs of her furry friends or putting her characters in peril, she likes to play volleyball, though in 2008 she ripped a ring of cartilage out of her right shoulder, detaching her bicep in the process. The repair surgery appears to have fixed the problem, but it was followed by a year of slow, painful recovery that kept her away from many of her hobbies.
Her favorite destination for a weekend getaway is to Seattle. If a generous benefactor granted her an all expenses paid trip anywhere in the world, she’d head to Japan, because she thinks she’d love the landscape, people and food, and since it’s super expensive, she’d need that benefactor! And where does she ask her hubby to take her when he suggests dinner out? Lemongrass, the only spot for decent Thai food in Annapolis.
Join me as we learn about more about Jamie and her writing journey.
Jamie’s Journey Begins
When did you begin writing, and what led you to embark on the sometimes long and character-building journey to publication?
My self-identification as a writer began with a letter. It was the beginning of my sophomore year at Scripps College, and I received a letter informing me that an anonymous professor had nominated me for consideration as a writing tutor. The positions were few, coveted, and largely occupied by the stars of the English and Humanities department. I was a biology major and enjoyed my courses, but hadn’t particularly distinguished myself at the school. The recommendation stunned me, but I jumped at the chance to make something of myself.
I interviewed and got the job. Under the strict tutelage of writing center director Susan Bohrer, I learned how to edit non-fiction essays. I felt that I’d finally uncovered that one thing I was really good at, but when graduation loomed, I was torn between pursuing a profession and chasing a boy. I should have gone to New York, but my boyfriend was heading to grad school in Seattle. I loved him more than I loved myself, so I did what all silly, romantic girls do: I followed my heart—and the boy, who I’d later marry—to the Pacific Northwest.
I fell in love with the region and eventually found a job with a small multi-media company. I did a little of everything, but enjoyed writing most of all. Slowly, I began to wonder how much of a writer I really was. Could I write a novel? I didn’t know, but I tried, got a chapter in, and became frustrated with the surprising difficulty of it. I put it off until my husband and I moved to Annapolis, where I found myself financially stable, sporadically employed, and rather bored. In late 2006, I took a fiction writing course through my local community college. I gained the courage to try again, and in summer of 2007, while working part-time as a zoo educator, I began what would be Romance or Retribution.
I didn’t know if I could finish, but I did. Writing the last word of my first draft felt more like a victory than did winning the Golden Heart.
What was your first story, and where did your get the idea? Did you visit police stations, go on ride alongs, or pour over criminal records looking for inspiration, or does your mind veer into dangerous territory on its own?
I’d been slobbering over the television show Alias, and wanted to immerse myself in a never-ending world of espionage. I read up on the CIA and began to imagine the sort of lonely, isolated lives these field officers might actually lead. As much as I loved spy fantasies, I decided to write a more realistic, grittier story. When I began, all I had was the idea for a single scene—a jaded woman in a dirty bar, reluctantly seducing the bad boy in the corner.
I later learned that you don’t start a series romance with the heroine successfully seducing the villain, but hey, I was new!
The Golden Heart was the second contest you entered. And you won! That is so cool. What was it like to hear Stella Cameron announce your name? What thoughts ran through your mind as you made your way to the stage?
First, the otherwise very elegant Ms. Cameron had trouble with the title of my book (I believe she said, “Romance or Retri—oh, this is lovely [heavy sarcasm]. Romance or Retribution…), so during the announcement of the nominees, I was mostly thinking that I needed to change that stupid title. I’d never hated it more than I did at that moment.
Then she called my name as the winner, and here’s what I thought:
“I won. How nice! Put shawl on chair. Make eye contact with husband. Breathe. Smile, but don’t smirk. Look happy, not smug. Walk elegantly, but don’t dawdle. What’s that? A cameraman hiding in front of me? Pause, but don’t pose. Stairs! You’ve practiced this. Go slowly. Don’t trip! OMG! It’s Stella Cameron! Shake her hand. Thank her. Don’t kiss her. Take the box she offers. Turn. Smile. Breathe. Don’t think about the two thousand or so people in the room. Explain to the world why you couldn’t have done it without your husband. Finish. Smile again. Get the heck off the stage.”
I can imagine it took a while for reality to settle in and that you must have looked at your new bit of bling several times a day for weeks to assure yourself it was real. I’ve heard the winners of those golden necklaces garner attention, which happened in your case. Please tell us what came about following your win.
Every finalist I talked to agreed that agents were much more likely to request a full after the GHs were announced than they had been before. We can query any editor, even if we’re un-agented, and can expect our queries to be read with some alacrity. At least one editor I know of openly invited all finalists to send her queries, and some of us had the odd experience of being cold-contacted by an editor.
We writers are used to things being the other way around, but everything gets turned on its head when you’re a Golden Heart finalist! Winning doesn’t even matter that much, though after I won, I did receive a few emails of congratulations from agents I’d already queried (and been turned down by). Though I have no proof of this, I think that being able to say I won a Golden Heart will get my manuscripts taken more seriously and read more quickly for years to come. It’s an honor that no one can ever take away.
A Golden Heart win is the crowing jewel in an unpublished romance writer’s tiara? It’s not, however, as many can attest, a guarantee of a contract. You’ve continued to write and have reaped other gems to add to your collection. How did it feel to take first place in the Reveal Your Inner Vixen contest with another manuscript?
Loving Abandon is my second manuscript. I’d thought it was a more accomplished, cohesive effort than my first, but boy, it just bombed in every contest I entered it into! I shouldn’t say “bombed,” but it was merely average until I entered it into the Vixen.
The Vixen is a great contest because it doesn’t force you to enter the beginning of your manuscript. You can enter any chunk of it, so long as it showcases sensual tension. I entered a middle section of Loving Abandon and it did very well (for once!). Now, based on available data, I figure the beginning probably needs to be rewritten, but maybe the rest of the book isn’t half bad. Final judge Gail Chasan’s comments were very encouraging.
Embarking on a major revision can be daunting for some, and yet you took on that task following your win. Some may wonder why a writer would change a Golden Heart winning manuscript. What would you tell them?
After I won, I was happy, of course, but otherwise quite prepared to retire the winning manuscript. I knew it was a bit of a mess, and I felt that it was more productive to move on to a new project.
Then I received a four-page revision letter from an editor who had read both the early version of Romance or Retribution and the slightly better Golden Heart version. She seemed to suggest that if I made her changes, I’d have a decent shot at getting her to buy it.
Well, what’s a girl to do? Knuckle down and get to work. I know that this is my last chance with this manuscript at this particular line, and I have to make it count. I have to do my best, no matter how hard that may be. Otherwise, this is just a hobby, and I may as well get a real job (as my mother keeps telling me…).
In an interview on Word Wranglers you said you didn’t have a plan when you wrote Romance or Retribution but have gone back and added one. What have you learned from this experience? Are you more prone to approach your writing as a plotter than a pantser now?
Yes, I am much more of a plotter now. I have a half-finished book that has been completely plotted, and I can’t wait to write it out. But my first—and second—books were written on the fly. I literally started with a picture, a scene, and wrote word-by-word whatever came to me. I’d finish a scene and have no idea what came next, so I’d take a drive, or a walk, and wonder, what is the heroine going to do now? What would she do in this situation, with these options open to her? I’d always come up with an answer, and it made for a very organic, character-driven plot, but it was hard to write the ending, and I too often felt like I was going about it inefficiently. I despise inefficiency. Moreover, since I hadn’t planned anything, there was no natural resolution of internal and external conflicts. There was no sense of rightness in the ending. It didn’t satisfy me, so surely the reader wouldn’t feel satisfied by it, either.
It’s been very hard to fix these problems, and I just want to go back and kick myself for being so lazy. It’s a waste of time, frankly, and my time is too easily wasted as it is. I suppose I never thought I’d even be able to finish the book, though, so maybe I should be a little nicer to myself. I really didn’t have a clue!
In the same interview, you said at times you wonder why anyone would want to read anything you wrote. Those aspiring to a GH win may find it hard to believe that a writer with the golden necklace could doubt herself, but it happens. How do you deal with that pesky voice whispering discouraging and even disparaging words in your ear?
I have a few methods for dealing with self-deprecation:
- Turn up my music until I can’t hear anything but my book. I know not all writers can listen to music while they write, let alone Foreigner at full-blast, but that’s what works for me. I feel like my brain sharpens to a pinpoint when I do this.
- Tell my husband and/or beta reader that I think I’m the worst writer in the world.
- Look at a particularly encouraging rejection letter, focusing only on the nice bits.
- Re-read my career goals, which are posted above my computer.
- Put on my Golden Heart necklace.
In your GH acceptance speech, you thanked your writing partner. What makes your relationship work so well? What are some of the ways in which she’s stretched you as a writer?
Margaret is a remarkable woman. She’s a published poet with an English degree, but, incongruously, works as a zookeeper. While she reads a ton of romantic fiction, she’s not a novel-length fiction writer. She doesn’t read craft books, and has never once used the terms “GMC” or “dark moment” with me, though I’m sure she knows what those things are, in general. She approaches my manuscripts as a reader, and there’s something altogether refreshing about her comments. She’s tough, too. She’s very good at noticing unclear or inconsistent character motivations.
My husband reads my work, too, more often than anyone else, even though romance is not his favored genre. He’s tirelessly supportive, but like Margie, doesn’t let me get away with shoddy work. I’m sometimes surprised at how nit-picky the man can be, but he knows I need him to tell me what I’m doing wrong. He can’t just be my cheerleader. He has to be my coach, too.
Judging by the wonderful things you had to say about your husband in your speech, he’s your number one fan. Having a husband like him, I can relate. However, it takes a plenty of people to uphold a writer. Who are some of the quiet individuals behind the scenes who’ve been there for you, and what are some of the ways they’ve shown their support?
For better or for worse, my husband is the whole base of my support network. He’s my muse, my confidant, my champion, and my best friend. I have a loving, friendly relationship with my parents and my brother, but my husband is everything to me. When I start worrying that I’m wasting my most productive years pursuing a career that will come to no fruition, my husband always gets me back on track.
He never pushes me, though. It’s not like I’m doing this for him. I know it sounds too good to be true, but he tells me he wants me to do whatever will make me happy, as long as it doesn’t take me too far away from him for too long, because that would make him unhappy. He’s an honest guy, and I take him at his word. I’m luckier than I ever imagined a woman could be. I’ve been with him for ten years, and I love him more every day.
Jamie’s Journey Continues
You’ve been hard at work on revisions of Romance or Retribution. Are they complete? If so, what’s next? Another romantic suspense, or will you try your hand at something new?
I’m nearly done with ROR! I’ve finished the most painful changes, and I’m now in my (hopefully) final editorial pass. The day I mail this sucker off will be one of the happiest days of my life! (Can you tell I haven’t enjoyed this restructuring process?)
I’m tired of editing, so next up on my agenda is finishing the book I’d started earlier this year. Tentative title is The Haunted Heroine’s Paranormal P.I. I know it’s silly, but it just makes me smile to say it. It’s a comedic romantic suspense, though not a paranormal, despite the title. Silhouette Romantic Suspense often publishes lighter romantic suspense, so I hope that this new project will be up their alley.
Five Fun Facts About Jamie The Writer
~ I wrote my first book while listening almost exclusively to Maroon 5’s album Songs About Jane.
~ I’d love to write Regencies, but don’t have the slightest idea of where to begin. Oddly, espionage comes more naturally to me.
~ I’m the Hospitality Director of the Maryland Romance Writers.
~ I sometimes write with a cat in my lap.
~ Though I’m naturally right-handed, I wrote the first several thousand words of my third novel with my left hand.
Five Fun Facts About Jamie the Person
~ Artist Dale Chihuly gave me knives for a wedding present. Good, sharp ones.
~ I’ve had a lot of crazy jobs, including a summer I packed pears six days a week ($0.51 a box if you packed them neatly, 75-150 pears per box).
~ Heather Graham’s husband thinks I’d be a great caterer.
~ I usually say I’m from Seattle, but that’s not entirely true. I’d never seen the place until I moved there after college.
~ My joints are hyperflexible, which means I can’t stretch in public (like at the gym) without some weirdo staring at me, or worse, wandering over and starting an awkward conversation.
Jamie’s Question for You
I’ve enjoyed having you as my guest, Jamie. Thanks for your great answers to my questions. Now it’s time to turn the tables and see what your guests have to say. What would you like to know?
What’s your favorite love song?
Learn More About Jamie
Visit her website ~ www.jamiemichelebooks.com
Visit her group blog ~ www.rubyslipperedsisterhood.com
Friend her on Facebook ~ Jamie Michele
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.
My Regular Drawings
My current drawing will take place December 10th. I’m giving away an etched steel magnet with the word “Dream” scroll cut from the oval disc.
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.
The drawing after this will take place December 20th. I’m giving away a metal bookmark from Hallmark.
Entry guidelines are the same as above. I’ll post the winner’s name on December 21st .
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.)
Note: Offers void where prohibited.
Odds of winning vary due to the number of entrants.