Help me welcome today’s posters – Leah Ashton, winner of the MB New Voices contest and Heidi Hormel, Top Four Winner!
Carrie Spencer – First of all Leah, congrats on your win! You must be on cloud nine!
Leah Ashton – Thank you! Winning the competition was an incredible experience, and I certainly spent a few days not quite believing it.
It seems surreal that out of so many entries – and some of them were incredible! – the judges and voting public chose mine as the best new voice. Crazy!
Carrie – Tell us what has happened to you and your story since you were announced.
Leah – After the competition ended I received a phone call from my editor mentor, Meg Lewis. We discussed my story, and also the Mills & Boon line she felt the book was best suited for (how exciting!). She talked to me about the strengths and weaknesses of my entry, and we set a deadline for the finished manuscript.
The thing was, when I entered New Voices all I had was an opening chapter. That was it – no plot, no internal conflict for my hero – nothing! Over the course of New Voices I worked with my mentors to come up with a plot and conflict, and that worked brilliantly for the competition. I carried on with this plot for the first few weeks, sending through chunks of my manuscript to Meg for review. That’s when I got my next phone call from Meg – the story that worked great for New Voices was just not working as a full manuscript. I completely agreed – it was a struggle to write and just didn’t feel “right”.
So I started revising, and I am really excited about the story now! Eagle eyed readers of my New Voices entry may have noticed that my hero, Dan, goes from a bit of a player in Chapter One to a family-focused man in the later chapters. Well, he’s back to my original player, which I love! The most important thing for me is that the story I really wanted to tell – which explores infertility and what makes a happy ever after – is still the core of my book.
Carrie – Tell us about your mentor.
Leah – As mentioned above, I’m still working with Meg. She has been amazing – her feedback and encouragement has made the book infinitely stronger. She is also just a lovely person, and very tolerant of all the mistakes I feel like I’m making She’s been with me every step of the way, both via email and through phone calls.
During the competition I also had Jessica Hart helping me, and she was wonderful – and a remarkable brainstormer!
The finished entries for Chapter Two and my Pivotal Moment were both significantly different to the original versions I subbed to Jessica and Meg. My mentors really made me question why my characters were behaving in a certain way, and challenged me to strengthen each scene. For example, in the Pivotal Moment originally my heroine was forced to reveal her infertility, but Meg said it would be stronger if she chose to do so. Of course, that meant I had to dig deep – because why would she do that? A total rewrite of the second half of the scene resulted, but it was certainly worth it!
Carrie – Thanks so much for posting with us today, Leah. We’re looking forward to seeing your book on the shelf!
Leah – Thanks Carrie! I don’t think it will feel truly real until my final revised manuscript is accepted, but assuming it is (crossing my fingers and toes!) my book will be out late this year.
I’ll also be in New York in June for the RWA National Conference, I’m hoping I might meet some of the other New Voices entrants while I’m there!
Carrie Spencer – Heidi, tell us what’s been happening with you and your book since the competition?
Heidi Hormel – I have continued to work on the story of Jessie and Payson with the help and encouragement of my Mills & Boon mentors. I handed in additional material at the beginning of December — working away while I vacationed in sunny Florida for the Thanksgiving holiday — oh, the life of a writer! I received helpful feedback from Megan at M&B, and she said that she would look at the story again as I had more. I figured I’d write another four chapters, a doable task, except I broke my arm in a car accident (thank goodness that mine was the worst injury — other than the poor SUV). I have been working one-handed, which has really slowed down the process. Oh, and I celebrated Christmas and New Year, too.
Carrie – Tell us what you’ve learned from the competition and the mentoring process.
Heidi – I was reminded to stay true to my voice as a writer. My mentors, even as they gave me suggestions on reworking the story, told me that I had to maintain my voice. The challenge was taking the comments on character and plot and figuring out how to make it happen while writing my own story in my own voice. What I learned is that delete button is a writer’s friend, really.
Carrie – What’s next for Heidi Hormel?
Heidi - Next, for me? Getting off my cast and getting my typing back to normal! Then on to Web domination by getting a blog/Web site up and running. On the writing front, I hope to be working further with Mills & Boon on The Surgeon and the Cowgirl. I am also starting a new story in February. There won’t be horses, but there will be roller skates, body checks, and tattoos.
RU Readers, do you have any questions for Leah and Heidi about their mentoring experience with the New Voices contest?
Join us on Wednesday when we talk with Laurie Schnebly Campbell about that all important Character Motivation!
Bio: Leah Ashton is an IT Project Manager living in Perth, Western Australia with her fiancé, two dogs and a very clever Devon Rex cat. She has a life long love of romance novels that a few years ago morphed into a love of romance writing. She is a member of Romance Writers of Australia and Romance Writers of New Zealand and can be visited at her blog: http://leahashton.blogspot.com
Bio: In addition to being a 2010 Final Four in Mills & Boon’s New Voices contest, Heidi Hormel has had a short romance published in Woman’s World magazine and was a finalist in the 2009 Suzannah Contest. She is a full-time writer and has monthly reviews in Romantic Times Book Reviews. You can find her on Twitter as @SpamPrincess
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