Today’s interview is with Sheila Athens, author of Climb to Freedom, which is a finalist in the Contemporary Single Title category of Romance Writers of America’s® 2013 Golden Heart® contest for unpublished manuscripts. This is the premier contest (worldwide) for writers of the romance genre. Welcome, Sheila!
Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in the Ozarks of Missouri and got my undergrad degree from Missouri State University. Because we do crazy things when we are in our twenties, I moved (sight unseen) to the deep coastal south with a man I’d fallen in love with. Like any good romance novel, it has an HEA: We celebrated our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary earlier this year. We have two sons, currently known in my tweets as College Boy and Surly Teen.
Now tell us about your manuscript, Climb to Freedom, that just finaled in RWA’s Golden Heart contest!
The heroine is a law school student who is spending the summer doing an internship for an organization that helps wrongly convicted people get out of prison. She falls for the hero, a former football star who now works for the state senator who is toughest on crime. They agree to overlook this difference . . . until they find out that one of the men she’s working to get out of prison is the man convicted of killing the hero’s mother.
How you feel about the Golden Heart experience?
I was so thrilled to be a finalist. My two critique partners, Lena Diaz and Valerie Bowman, had each finaled in recent years and are both now published (Lena with Avon and Harlequin; Valerie with St. Martin’s Press). I felt like I needed to final to make it a complete validation of the success of our little group. It is such an honor and a privilege to be a finalist.
Where do you get the ideas for your stories? And/or for this story, in particular?
Ha! This question makes me laugh because there is an ongoing fake battle with one of my critique partners about why I need to stop getting my ideas for romance novels from National Public Radio. I love NPR because they delve below the headlines to focus on the people behind the stories. Yes, much of the news is too grim to ever turn into a romance novel, but my brain automatically thinks, “Wow, how would someone feel if they were in that scenario?” The idea for Climb to Freedom came when I heard a story about the Innocence Project, which gets wrongly convicted people out of prison using DNA evidence.
What has your writing journey been like?
I know now that I was always meant to be a writer—I just wish I’d realized that years ago. When I was eight or nine, I wrote scripts for plays and recruited neighborhood kids for the cast. In high school, I loved book reports and research papers. For years as a teen and an adult, I had recurring dreams of standing before audiences as if I had something important to tell the world. Then finally, when I was well into adulthood, I heard (on NPR, of course!) about a weekend writer’s conference near my home. I went to it and felt immediately like I had “come home.” A special shout-out to NYT bestseller and international thriller writer Steve Berry, whose presentation there gave me the road map for starting my writing journey.
What’s your ideal writing environment?
We just built a small log cabin on a mountaintop in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is our get-away now and will eventually become our retirement home. It has beautiful views, a Geek Desk that raises and lowers for standing or sitting, and an interior stained glass that looks down over the living room below. The initials of our two sons are hidden in the stained glass, which I designed. That room is my ideal writing environment because it represents everything that is important to me—the beauty of nature, solitude, family, reading, and writing.
How can fans (and agents and editors!) reach you?
Luckily, the GH final helped me get an offer of representation from Jill Marsal of the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. I am so stoked to have such a great agent and agency representing my work.
Others may reach me via my webpage: http://www.sheilaathens.com/
Or via Twitter (where I have been doing my #GratitudeForTheDay tweets ever since I joined): @SheilaAthens
Is there anything you’d like to add?
I get my energy from solitude and quiet introspection—the signs of an introvert—but I will never underestimate the importance of the writing community. There are so many writers to thank for helping me on this journey, including killer romantic suspense author Lena Diaz, Regency romp author Valerie Bowman, NYT Bestselling author and recent RT Paranormal-of-the-Year winner Alyssa Day, inspy author Renee Ryan, romantic suspense author Ava Milone, Regency author Madeline Martin, Regency and Contemporary author Vanessa Kelly, the ladies of the First Coast Romance Writers and the Lucky 13s (this year’s GH finalists). I mentioned Steve Berry earlier. Steve led me to Frank Green, a local writing coach who for years (maybe decades?) has hosted writers of all genres in his living room every Wednesday night. His writing workshop is where I learned so much of my craft. The support of the writing community has been one of the best, most unexpected gifts of this journey. Thank you all.