Meet Novelist Connie Gillam

Award-winning writer Connie Gilliam is a woman of many talents—and many Voices. She writes women’s fiction, romantic suspense, and young adult. One of her stories, To Dance With My Father, launched her into the limelight when she finaled in the Novel With Strong Romantic Elements category of the 2008 Golden Heart®.

Connie lives in a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia with her husband, who threatens to publish a tell-all about the author who can’t spell. They enjoy visits from their beautiful grandchildren, ages six, four, and three.

Some people collect teacups or spoons. Connie collects college degrees, having earned three: one in psychology, one in medical technology, and a master’s in public health. She has a fulltime job in the medical field, which, she says, “pays the bills until I hit Nora Robert’s status.”

Music has been a part of Connie’s life as much as breathing. She loves all kinds of it. Although she’s not a big country and western fan, she’s been known to hum along with a Garth Brooks or Lonestar song. Her favorite type of music, however, is R&B (rhythm and blues). During her teens, she considered being a professional singer. Despite having the voice, she lacked the courage to pursue that dream. These days she channels her creativity and talent into her stories.

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

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Connie’s Journey Begins

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•Did the romance genre capture you early in life, or did you discover it more recently?

I started writing in elementary school. I’d lose myself in a good book and it was a natural extension to want to write a story.

My best friend and I would make up stories on the way to school and finish them—trying to outdo each other—on the way home. Our stories would be about romances with the current movie stars. Of course at age ten or eleven, our idea of romance was holding a boy’s hand or sharing a kiss.

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•You got a taste of publication by writing articles. What were these about? Did seeing your name in print start you thinking about seeing it on a book cover?

I have a few published medical articles and to be honest, those did not fill me with the desire to write. Fiction has always held my interest.

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•You write in three categories: women’s fiction, romantic suspense, and YA. Which was the first one you explored, and what is the status of that story?

To Dance With My Father (women’s fiction or Novel with Strong Romantic Elements) was my first manuscript. I’ve rewritten that story so many times I could have written two additional books in the same space of time. I polished my writing skills on that manuscript. It still remains my favorite story, because it incorporates so much of me in it. It’s the story of a young woman who, all at the same time, inherits a nightclub and the father she never knew.

It hasn’t found a home yet, but I’m still hopeful.

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Connie’s Milestones

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•On an otherwise typical Tuesday in March 2008, on the 25th day of the month, the phone rang. Connie’s pulse quickened, and chills raced the length of her spine. Could this be the call she’d dreamed of ever since submitting her manuscript the previous November? She took a deep breath, lifted the receiver, and . . .

OK, Connie. I’ve set the scene. Please put us out of suspense and tell us the real story behind your Golden Heart phone call—the when, where, and how of that memorable moment forever forged in your memory.

I work the evening shift at a hospital in Atlanta (that shall remain nameless—I still need that job). I opened my email about 6pm after everyone from the day shift had left. A private email from someone I didn’t know was nestled among the ones from the many loops I belong to. The subject heading said “RWA GH contest”. My heart started to pound and my fingers trembled as I opened the body of the email. An aside here: the previous year my entry had been disqualified because I single spaced my synopsis. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t dare hope. The email message was from Julie Hurwitz Region 6 Director. It said simply: Call me.

I called her. She had to tell me twice that I had finaled. For some reason, the words weren’t penetrating the haze of disbelief. I didn’t win my category, but the whole experience has definitely been life alternating for me and my writing. And most importantly, I’ve met some wonderful and supportive women—the 2008 Pixies.

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•You went on to take the contest circuit by storm in 2009. I saw your name gracing many finalists’ lists and squealed each time. Which contests were they? What were some of the most helpful comments you received from your judges?

In 2009, I finaled in the Maggie, Molly, Marlene, Fab Five, Fire & Ice (double finalist), New Jersey’s Put Your Heart in a Book contests and just recently The Write Stuff.

My third manuscript, Lakota Dreaming, had a prologue that I felt was absolutely necessary. The comments I received back from judges and editor/agents said I needed to lose the prologue. My growth as an author has come through finding a way to filter the material from that prologue into the body of the manuscript.

To all the judges, editors and agents that I haven’t contacted, thank you for all your input.

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•You’ve achieved recent success with a story that took you in a new direction. Writing it forced you outside your comfort zone, an accomplishment that’s brought you satisfaction. What is it about the story that said, “Write me,” and what do you see as the primary reason it’s been such a hit with contest judges?

I wanted to try my hand at something new, something that would really stretch me as a writer. Because of books like the Twilight series and Harry Potter, YA is a hot market. So I decided, why not?

My inspiration for the character came from someone I met at work. I didn’t know the young woman, but as soon as I saw her, I knew she was from New Orleans. She had ‘the look’. And that was how Lisette Beaulieu was born. For me starting a book with the character was totally alien. Maybe that’s why the story has appealed to so many people. Once I knew what Lisette looked like and where she lived everything else fell into place.

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Connie’s Sources of Inspiration

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•Who or what serves to spur you on, lift you up, and keep you moving forward with determination in pursuit of your dream of publication?

I’m in my seventh year of writing without selling, so my source of inspiration is other writers who persevere and publish after ten, twelve years. (I’m hoping it won’t be that long.) I loved reading the first sale section in the RWR when it included details.

Notice: I’m putting it out into the universe: 2010 will be the year I get the call.

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•What inspires you when you’re writing? Music? Motivational sayings on your office walls? A hefty dose of caffeine?

I’ve tried using a soundtrack for each story I write, but I get so caught up in the memories the music evokes I become sidetracked. So, I don’t listen to music when I write.

If I’m lucky, I’ll see a great movie that wakes up my muse or stimulates my brain so I can work out of any problems I’m having with my current manuscript.

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Connie’s Writing Process

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•What is the most thrilling aspect of the writing process for you?

Some writers say editing is the best part of the writing process, but for me, it’s the thrill of creating a new scene. When the words flow out of my character’s mouths faster than I can type them, it’s a real high.

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•What’s the most challenging aspect?

Editing. I struggle with finding the right word to convey the sentiment I’m trying to evoke.

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•When you approach your writing, do you tend be OC or “Let’s see?” Are you all about schedules, charts, and character outlines, or do you plant yourself in front of the screen, hands poised over the keyboard, and let your fingers do the walking?

After four manuscripts, I’m still learning which process works best for me. I’m a very detailed oriented person. (My husband says ‘anal.’) With the first three manuscripts, I started with a plot. With the fourth (the YA), everything revolved around the character.

I love letting the story unfold without me knowing where it’s taking me. The downside of that process is, when I get struck, I have to go back to pen and paper to plot my way out of the block.

Gosh, writing this blog makes me remember why I love writing so much.

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Connie’s Characters

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•With degrees in psychology and two aspects of the medical field, coupled with your years working with people who are oftentimes dealing with major life changes, you have a wealth of information and experience upon which to draw. How do you use this to deepen your characters and intensify their emotional journeys?

Keli, you’re really making me think. 🙂

I’m not aware that I’m doing it, but obviously I am. I guess it must be so ingrained I’m not aware of it. When I wrote The Pact (the YA), it was the only time I’ve consciously drawn from my life experiences. Somehow the angst of those teenage years flooded back without a lot of digging.

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•What aspects of a character do you feel are the most important to have nailed before beginning a story?

With the first three manuscripts, I started with plot. I learned about my characters only after I’d written about them. This made for a lot of rewriting. Only with this fourth manuscript did I reverse the process. I knew nothing or almost nothing about the plot, but I knew who Lisette was and the isolation she felt in her new environment. I’m not sure what my next project will be, but I’ll start with a synopsis, which means I’ll at least know my characters internal and external motivations.

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•How often do your characters hijack their stories and take them places you never dreamed of going?

In Lakota Dreaming, mystical experiences kept happening to my characters. This wasn’t how I originally saw the story unfolding, but it seemed so logical, so right, I couldn’t take those elements out of the story. Also, a scene would build to a climax and wham! The end of that scene turned out to be something I wasn’t expecting. It was if the characters took over the writing.

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Connie’s Journey Continues

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•I understand you’re working on a project you’re quite excited about. Please tell us what that is and why it’s got your creative engines revving.

I’m reworking my third novel, which frankly I think is a great book, but when I started it three years ago, I didn’t have the writing skills to do it justice. (This is the manuscript I mentioned earlier with the prologue.) It’s the story of two women—one dead over 150 years and the other an investigative reporter. The reporter is a descendant of the other woman and it’s through the contemporary character’s dreams that the life and death of the other unfolds.

The two women’s life experiences are very similar even though they lived 150 years apart. For the romantics out there, they both fell in love with Lakota men. The story is both a mystery and a love story with mystical elements and takes place on a fictional Native American Reservation.

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Five Ways Connie Fuels Her Creativity

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~ Movies – I’m a visual person that’s why I like the movies. When I write, I see the story unfolding before me like I’m the camera. I see the character’s body language, their smiles and the light in their eyes. The scenery is all around me. It’s like a camera doing a 360 degree turn. I find that using scenery has become a big part of who I am as a writer. I use it to create a mood. It’s another character in my stories.

~ Great books – Working full time and writing the other hours, I need a book that captures my attention right away. My husband and I have this joke when talking about books. He read Jurassic Park first. He told me to read it but the story doesn’t really get going until page 120. We laugh about that now. I don’t have the time to wait until p.120. A book needs to grab me by the throat pretty quickly. The only exception I make is if I know the author and I love her or him, then I might give the story a little longer to unfold.

~ Music – I dream in music. I hum all day long. It’s my life. I don’t watch Out of Africa anymore because just the soundtrack makes me both exhilarated, sad, high and depressed all at the same time.

~ Exercising – I hate exercising, but I know it’s a must. I have a personal trainer and I think he stays up at night thinking of new ways to torture me.

~ Dreams – My unconscious brain works overtime in my dreams. I’ve gotten several story ideas from this realm. It’s also provided solutions for problems in whatever manuscript I’m working on.

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Three Places Connie Would Like to Visit

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~ Portugal – I’m a warm weather person. My idea of a great vacation is near water with lots of sunshine. Portugal, Spain and Argentina fulfilled all my requirements of a great place to vacation with old world charm thrown into the mix.

~ Japan – I’d like to visit the less populated prefectures. Tokyo is too much like New York.

~ Southern France – I went to Europe two years ago and passed by train through the South of France. I loved the houses built on the hillside that overlooked the Mediterranean Sea.  I promised myself I’d go back and spend some time there.

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A Challenge for Connie

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•You write in three categories. Using your style and Voice for each of them, I’d like you to create a blurb describing yourself in 1-3 sentences. Are you game? 🙂

Women Fiction Voice ~

She’s an ordinary woman with extraordinary dreams, trying to make it in the competitive world of publishing.

Romantic Suspense Voice ~

Midnight in Hotlanta, except it’s February and colder than a witch’s… A cold wind races around the concrete pillars in the sixth floor parking garage. My feet hurt after an eight hour shift and the distance to my car seems to have moved. The security lights around my car flicker and go out, pooling the area in darkness. Something moves on the other side of my car.

YA Voice ~

I’m not stressing, well not much, but I’m gonna make it. I just gotta believe. Listening to Drake on the Ipod.

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Connie’s Question for You

•I’ve enjoyed having you as my guest, Connie. You gave great answers to my questions. Now it’s time to see what your guests have to say, so go for it.

What dream have you nurtured but never fulfilled?

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Learn More About Connie

Visit her website ~ www.constancegillam.com

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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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31 Responses to Meet Novelist Connie Gillam

  1. Connie says:

    Donnell,

    Thank you for stopping by. It’s a pleasure working with you on the Daphne committee. You are a consumate professional.

    Thanks also for the kind words about my work. Where do I send the check?

  2. Anne Barton says:

    Hi Connie — what a great interview. I liked all the cute references to your husband, and I think it’s amazing that you write in three sub-genres. Can’t wait to read your books!

  3. Connie says:

    Hi Anne,

    My husband is my greatest supporter. When I call him from work, the first words out of his mouth are, “What do you want me to spell now?”

    It’s a great guy.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  4. Susan Mason says:

    Hey Connie,

    Great interview. Keep up the good work!

    Sue

  5. Connie says:

    Thanks for visiting, Sue. Happy writing.

  6. Connie says:

    Thanks to everyone that stopped by. It was a great experience and my first blog. As you could probably tell.

Comments are closed.