Meet Debut Novelist Leigh Duncan

For many of us, April can bring to mind thoughts of showers and income taxes. For award-winning novelist Leigh Duncan, her thoughts this month have centered on her debut novel, which is currently gracing bookstore shelves. The Officer’s Girl, a Harlequin American contemporary romance, was officially released April 13. No spring showers or even those pesky IRS forms could dampen Leigh’s enthusiasm.

Married to the love of her life and mother of two wonderful young adults, Leigh worked as a secretary, a teacher, and a government contractor before leaving those jobs behind to pursue writing, her life-long passion. With the kids grown and on their own, it’s just Leigh and her dear hubby, fondly referred to as The DH, of more years than she cares to remember. The two of them battle heat, mosquitoes, and hurricanes in their Central Florida home.

Leigh and The DH enjoy fishing, although they differ on what makes a successful fishing expedition. She says, “I’m all about baiting a hook, throwing it in the water and ignoring it while I catch a few rays or read a good book. He’s an avid fly fisher, which, if you’ve ever fly fished before, you know involves constant motion and “work”. But at least he lets me bring my bait and hooks on board. I know many fly fishermen who wouldn’t.” When she isn’t busy working on her next book or checking the corners for dust bunnies, Leigh loves nothing better than to curl up in her favorite chair with a cup of hot coffee and a great book.

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

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•Leigh has played a special part in many writers’ lives, including mine, so I’m going to begin by asking her to tell us about the particular role she’s filled.

For the past 4 years, I’ve been the coordinator of the Launching A Star contest. With a lot of help from the STAR (SpacecoasT Authors of Romance) membership, we’ve grown the contest from 49 entries in 5 categories the year I inherited it, to 222 entries in 9 categories this year. Even more incredible, this year our panel of 18 editors and agents (1 each in each category) requested an unheard of 28 full manuscripts and 4 partials from among our finalists.

New to our contest this year was the Inspirational Category in which Keli took first place! And received a request for a full from both the editor and agent final round judges. Congratulations, Keli!

Next year, Launching A Star goes all-electronic with two new coordinators, Judy Keim and Linda Wright.

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I’m so grateful to you, Leigh, for the time and effort you put into your position as the STAR Coordinator. The contest you coordinated so well led to my offer of representation from top-notch agent Rachelle Gardner, one of my final round judges. She extended her offer on the eve of Christmas Eve, which was one of the most incredible Christmas presents I’ve ever received. But enough about me. On with your story . . .

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Leigh’s Journey Begins

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•Some writers are born with a pen in their hands. Others feel called to write later in life. Which are you?

I wrote my first “novel” in the second grade, so I guess you’d have to say I’ve always been a writer. And it’s what I’ve always wanted to do.

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•What steps did you take to prepare yourself for your eventual career as a published author?

I majored in Education at the University of Florida—Go Gators!—and took additional classes in Children’s Literature and Creative Writing at UCLA and American University. I’m a huge believer that there’s never an end to education and I frequently take on-line classes or workshops. In fact, this past January I repeated Deb Dixon’s GMC/Hero’s Journey.

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•For years, you worked at a number of jobs, as mentioned in your introduction. But it’s clear the dream of writing was never far from your mind, especially when I learned that you used to turn chore lists and notes to your kids into poetry before you left for work each morning. When were you finally able to follow your dream and begin writing with the goal of publication? And what did you begin writing? More poems? Articles? Or your first romance?

My kids were still in school with very active sports schedules, and I was working full time when I got serious about writing that first novel. The only time I had to myself was early, early in the morning, so I’d set the alarm for 5AM and write for an hour before everyone else rolled out of bed. I made it about halfway through that first manuscript before I realized I had a lot of learning to do before I could finish it. Fortunately, I met Leslie Kelly and Roxanne St. Claire soon after. They steered me into RWA and my local chapter, STAR, and through those associations I learned the craft of writing romance.

Romance has always been my heart, but I’ve explored a few other avenues on the way to landing my first contract with Harlequin. I wrote newsletters for my kids’ sports teams, and later, my son’s college. I wrote a fitness series for our local newspaper and articles on fly-fishing for sports magazines. But my first sales were romance-related, even if they were non-fiction.

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Leigh’s Milestones

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•Those articles you wrote met with success and led to your first sales. Please tell us how this came about and how you reacted to the news.

I have two essays in A Cup of Comfort for Weddings. Those two articles were my first sales, and I still feel all goose-bumpy whenever I think about opening the email from that editor.

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•From articles, you moved on to writing novel-length romances. In 2006, you began to final in contests, racking up an impressive number of placements over the next four years with four different manuscripts. Which of your wins meant the most to you, and why?

Nothing beats the thrill of finaling in your first contest, unless it’s the first time you actually win!

2006            4th place           Wisconsin Fab Five           Women’s Fiction        Growing Gardenias

2006            Final                 Colorado Gold                     General Fiction           Growing Gardenias

2006            2nd place          Hot Prospects                      Short Contemp.          The Officer’s Girl

2007            1st place            Golden Rose                         Short Contemp.          The Officer’s Girl

2007            3rd place           Beacon                                   Women’s Fiction        Growing Gardenias

2008            3rd place           Golden Opportunity           Mainstream                 Growing Gardenias

2009            3rd place           Linda Howard                      Inspirational                The Path

2009            1st place            TARA                                      Inspirational                The Path

2009            1st place            Fire & Ice                               Series Contemp           Catch of a Lifetime

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•Wow, that’s quite a list, Leigh. I’m impressed.

You’d been submitting for a number of years when you received The Call. When did it come, and how did you react? Tears? Cheers? Or stunned silence?

It can seem like forever between the day you slip your baby into an envelope and send it off to a publisher and the day you receive “the call.” And faith in a book can be very difficult to hold onto during that time. Although I believed The Officer’s Girl was a terrific story, after a year of revisions and no sale, I was starting to have doubts about ever selling it. In fact, I was so discouraged that I’d discussed it with my critique partners. They ordered me to query The Officer’s Girl as a Single Title to 5 different publishers before our next critique group meeting.

So, on that Friday morning, I was literally holding five spanking new query letters in stamped envelopes in my hand and was on my way out the door to the Post Office when the phone rang. And when I saw “Harlequin Enterprises” in the Caller ID screen, well, I just started bawling before I even said, “Hello.”

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•What was it like to see your book for the first time? To hold it in your hands, feel the smooth cover, and inhale that new book ink on paper scent we writers love?

Holding that book in your hands is a lot like holding a brand new baby. And just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to bring a book to print. So, I’d have to say that the predominant feeling when I first held The Officer’s Girl was one of gratitude and gratefulness…to all the many people in my “village” who helped make my dream come true.

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Leigh’s Perseverance

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•It took over two years from the time you submitted The Officer’s Girl until the day you received The Call. How did you handle that? Did you follow up with the editor, keep working on that story, or start something new?

Yes, all of that. I have the best editor at Harlequin. She’s always been so encouraging and informative. But, even as enthusiastic as she was about The Officer’s Girl, I knew there was no guarantee Harlequin would buy the book. So I worked on several manuscripts in the meantime. And one of those became my second sale to Harlequin American Romance, Catch of a Lifetime.

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Leigh’s Writing Process

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•In addition to The Officer’s Girl, you’ve also sold Catch of a Lifetime to Harlequin American. Since you’ve just finished writing this book, please tell us about the process you follow in taking your initial idea and turning it into a novel.

I’m a plotter, no question about it. If I had to sit down and write a book from beginning to end without knowing where I was headed, well, it wouldn’t be much of a book. My usual process is to start with some incident in my own life. The Officer’s Girl grew from my own experience when a hurricane forced us to evacuate the week after we moved to Central Florida. My DH is an avid fly fisherman, and his love for the sport kicked off Catch of a Lifetime.

I usually start with the characters, learn their strengths and weaknesses. Once I have that nailed down, I plot out their story, working from big ideas and conflicts down to specific scenes. Before I actually sit down to write, I’ve roughed out the GMC and POV for each scene.

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Leigh, the Promotion Pro

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•I understand you’ve had a very full promotional calendar to get the word out about your debut novel, The Officer’s Girl. What types of events and activities did you plan? How did they turn out? Based on your experience, what would you repeat with your next release and what would you do differently?

Because The Officer’s Girl is my first book and I didn’t know how much was too much, or how much was expected, I do have a very busy promotional calendar. I’m presenting a workshop to the Connecticut Fiction Fest, guesting on 9 blogs and have scheduled seven book signings.

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Leigh’s Debut Novel

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•Please tell us about The Officer’s Girl.

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More than the landscape changes when a hurricane practically blows Florida’s newest resident into the arms of the disillusioned cop standing on her front porch. The broad-shouldered Adonis cannot fathom why the sassy beauty didn’t flee Cocoa Beach when the evacuation order was posted, but she has her reasons. With a big promotion at stake, the approaching storm doesn’t figure into her plans any more than falling for the hunkiest cop in Florida. While the last thing he wants in his life is another self-centered woman, the keys to his emotional survival dangle from her perfectly sculpted nails.

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Leigh’s Journey Continues

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The Officer’s Girl is on bookshelves and in your readers’ hands. What are you working on now?

In November of 2009, I sold my second book to Harlequin American Romance. Unlike The Officer’s Girl, I sold this one on a synopsis and three chapters. And since I had, basically, 3 months to write the book (November, when my son got married, and December, with Christmas, do not count!) I’ve been working, working, working on Catch of a Lifetime ever since.

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Five People Who Have Greatly Influenced Leigh’s Writing

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~ My mom. Who always said I could do anything I put my mind to do. Thanks, Mom, and God bless. It’s been six years, but I still hear you.

~ Roxanne St. Claire. Though she and I started writing full-time around the same time, her meteoric rise in Romantic Suspense has been nothing short of inspirational. She has been and is a true friend and mentor.

~ Barbara Samuel. Without her friendship, advice, and the best darn lessons on voice I’ve ever taken, I’d never have been able to uncover, or trust, my own voice.

~ Sophia Nash and Kathryn Caskie. Who wondered why I was spending all my time on that angsty women’s fiction, when light-hearted romance was really in my heart. They were the first to hear the tiny kernel that grew into The Officer’s Girl and it was their encouragement that prodded me to write the book.

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Five Places Leigh Would Like to Visit

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Maybe I’m afraid that after all that expense and all that time and preparation, when I got there, everything would be the same as it was back home, but I have no real drive to travel outside the United States. I do, however, want to see more of this great country of ours. In particular, I’d like to visit:

~ Key West—Believe it or not, for a gal whose spent most of her life in Florida, I’ve never been to Key West, or any further south than Miami. I’d like to go to the Keys.

~ New Orleans—I’ve only been there once, as a kid, and I can still taste the beignets we bought at a little café on a corner. I’d love to go there again, listen to the music and experience the culture.

~ Flagstaff, AZ—When I was sixteen, mom, dad, my sister and I piled into our station wagon and pulled a pop-up camper from Florida to the Grand Canyon. After days of desert, desert, and more desert, we drove into this canyon outside of Flagstaff, and I was awed by the cool air, the huge pines, the rippling creeks. I’d like to go back there.

~ Northern California—I want to see those magnificent sequoias. Imagine.

~ Alaska—I read once about a train that travels through the backcountry of Alaska. The Hurricane, I think it was called. There aren’t any defined stops. The engineer drops off packages and picks up people along the way. I think that would be a fascinating trip.

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Leigh’s Question for You

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

My heart absolutely leapt for joy when I saw the cover of The Officer’s Girl. Isn’t it just the perfect cover for a Harlequin American Romance? What draws you to buy a book? The title? The back-of-the-book blurb? The author? Or, the cover?

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Leigh’s Drawing

Leigh has generously offered to give away an autographed copy of The Officer’s Girl.

To enter the drawing, just leave a comment for Leigh by midnight April 27 (Pacific time) and enter your email address when prompted during the comment process. (You don’t have to leave it in the body of your comment this way.)

On Wednesday, April 28, I will hold the drawing and include the winner’s name in a comment. I’ll post the winner’s name here as well and will contact her/him via email to get a mailing address. (I don’t share your information with anyone, other than sending your mailing address to my guest, and I don’t add your name to any mailing lists.)

Congratulations to Vanessa Barneveld, winner of The Officer’s Girl.

Note: Offer void where prohibited.
Odds of winning vary due to the number of entrants.

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Learn More About Leigh

Visit her website ~ www.leighduncan.com

Visit her personal blog ~ http://leighrduncan.blogspot.com

Friend Her on Facebook ~ Leigh Duncan

Follow her on Twitter ~ leighrduncan

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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 Debut Novelist Leigh Duncan

  1. Gabrielle says:

    Leigh, can’t wait until I’m holding your book in my hand, also! I know “nice” alone shouldn’t get you published but really, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer person–who also put in the hard work. Thank you again for all your support, and here’s wishing you many fantabulous sell-throughs!

  2. You have such a good memory, Leigh! I’m still writing YA. Am lucky enough to be a 2010 GH finalist along with Keli.

    Did your book cover reel me in? You bet it did! I have it on order now.

  3. Leigh Duncan says:

    Gabrielle! Welcome to another Launching A Star winner AND a Golden Heart finalist! Thanks for dropping by. Hope to see you in Nashville this summer!

  4. Leigh Duncan says:

    Vanessa,

    Oh, horray for your GH final, Vanessa! I’ll have so many friends to cheer for at Nashville this summer.

    And doubly glad that the cover of “The Officer’s Girl” reeled you in. Hopefully, my next book will too, especially since it’s alllll about a widowed fly fishing guide who wants to protect a stretch of pristine riverfront…and the handsome doctor who wants to build on it.

  5. Keli Gwyn says:

    Good morning! I’m on the West Coast, so those of you on the East who have been patiently waiting for the drawing are finally to be rewarded.

    I help the drawing, and the winner is Vanessa Barneveld. Congrats, Vanessa! Look for an email from me.

  6. Yay! Thanks very much, Keli and Leigh!

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