Please help me welcome Annika Hansen to Author Interview Friday. It is a pleasure to have you with us today. Before you became a novelist, what other work have you done, and how has it impacted your writing career?
I’ve been a proofreader for much of my adult life, beginning at the University of Chicago Press right after college. Later, when I was working toward an MA in Drama, I proofread for American Bar Association publications, and as a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto I was a nightshift proofreader for Harlequin Enterprises—yes, THE Harlequin, romance super-publisher. We toiled in a high-rise office building with a big pink neon heart on the side. The offices were decorated with original cover art. It was by far the most entertaining job I’ve ever had! All of us nightshifters were convinced that we could write a book as good as most of the stuff we were reading . . . and many of us were inspired to try.
Interesting. That must have given you very good insight into what the “Big Five” wanted, or didn’t want. How long did it take you to publish your first manuscript?
About a year after completion, my book was accepted by North Star Press, an indie publisher specializing in works set in or relevant to Minnesota.
What was the hardest part for you in the writing process; the outline, synopsis, query or building the story itself?
Building the story. I’m not a systematic writer; I don’t do outlines and I don’t necessarily know how the story will end. I begin with a set of loosely-defined (age, gender, appearance) characters and a series of situations. As the characters grow, develop their own personalities and begin to speak in their own voices, the situations also get fleshed out. It’s a bit like being a stage director, giving the actors basic information about the characters they’re playing and watching them define their roles. (Not for nothing was I a drama major!)
What advice would you give to new writers just getting started with their first manuscript?
Just do it—tell your story. Don’t wait for the magic bullet—one more class or one more bit of research that will make the whole thing fall into place. It really helps to do your first draft in longhand, on legal pads or in a notebook. When you’re composing at the keyboard, it’s virtually impossible to restrain from editing as you go along. Let me restate that, it IS impossible not to tweak and tinker, when it’s so easy to do so. Write in longhand. Let it flow, and get the story out. Make marginal notes about things you might like to expand or change, but KEEP WRITING.
What is the premise of Blueberry Falls in Love?
St. Paul attorney Jessica Skoglund’s world came crashing down when she failed to protect her client from a murderous ex-boyfriend. When Jess learns that her late aunt has left her a derelict farm outside her hometown, Blueberry Falls, MN, she decides to leave the urban fast track for the slow lane of rural life, setting up a solo practice on the little town’s Main Street. She inevitably encounters her high school sweetheart, Cody Ouellette, now the county sheriff, who is grieving the loss of his fiancee in Iraq. The old spark between the two is rekindled, and their growing attachment is followed avidly by the townsfolk. When Jess’ client and friend, Lutheran pastor Mavis Tostensen, draws her into a dangerous situation involving the battered wife of Cody’s deputy, Cody must prove his courage and love for Jess while staying inside the bounds of the law he has sworn to uphold.
Can you share a few paragraphs from your book to whet our appetite?
They turned down the road to the farmstead. Jess had left a single lamp on in the parlor, which glowed dimly and invitingly as they approached the house. Cody got out of the car and walked around to her side to open the door. She climbed out without protest, placing a hand on his arm to steady herself as she jumped down. When they stood in front of her door, she extended her hand shyly and formally.
“Cody, it’s been a lovely evening—”
“Ah, crap, Jess!” Cody pulled her to him and kissed her fiercely.
They were both out of breath when he finally released her. He still held her by the shoulders. Her hands were on his chest.
She laughed nervously. “Is this the part in the film where we tear off each other’s clothes and have wild, passionate sex?”
She dialed 911 with trembling fingers and forced herself to speak calmly. “This is Jess Skoglund out on Niedermeyer Road. I’m reporting a break-in in progress—”
“Bitch!” roared Randy, increasing his blows until he almost split the wood.
“I know, hon,” Marlys responded. “Cody’s on his way. Hang in there.”
Suddenly the hammering stopped. Goosebumps prickled Jess’s arms. “I’ll try.” She heard glass shattering in the kitchen. “Tell them to hurry!” With a wordless snarl, Randy crashed into the room, grabbing Jess’s shoulders and shaking her violently. The phone flew out of her hand. Randy’s face was purple, the veins popping in his neck. He slapped Jess hard across the face.
Do you have another manuscript in progress? If so, can you tell us a little about it?
I’m currently at work on a sequel to Blueberry Falls in Love. The emphasis is on suspense, not romance. I’m introducing several new characters, although the central characters from the first book have a role to play in this book as well. A secret from long ago resurfaces to haunt the present, and creates a moral dilemma for both old and new characters. There are also several contemporary issues I’m hoping to work into the plot.
Where can readers buy your book?
Can you share a little from the book?
Beth had known Josh since the first year of college. He was from Hutchinson, the town they later called home. She grew up in the cities, and wanted to get out of the busy, urbanized area. Beth had always felt trapped by the tall buildings and fast paced way of life. Both had attended many of the same general education classes, and the friendship grew into love. He proposed the week after graduation, and they got married the following April. Even at 23, she knew with him was where she was meant to be.
One thing that drew Beth to Josh was his willingness to help. It was no surprise to her that he desired to follow his dad’s footsteps and become a member of the Hutchinson Volunteer Fire Department. He joined the spring before school was out, and commuted from Hutch to school every day. He didn’t want to miss any called and let his numbers slip. The fire department was a second family to him. His best friend Petey, the brother he never had Josh always said, was the best man at their wedding. It was a great source of friendship for both Josh and Beth.
They had been married 3 years when they started talking about having a baby. They were lying in bed tossing around ideas of what to name the future little one when Josh’s pager went off. He kissed her good-bye, and told Beth he loved her before grabbing his socks and getting his jeans on as he ran out the door. Beth caught part of the end of the page, hearing it was a car wreck on the main highway. Please keep the guys safe and get the people the help they need, she said in a quick little prayer. It became habit when she knew he was on a call.
A few minutes later, Beth heard the sirens. Their house was less than a mile from the fire hall, which usually resulted in Josh getting on the first rig to leave. About ten minutes later, there were more sirens. Car accidents meant at least one fire truck, the rescue rig, and an ambulance. She waited to hear the third set of sirens, and then got out of bed to get some things done. Josh wouldn’t be back for a while, longer if it was a really bad accident.
Beth worked on getting laundry done, cleaning the living room, and headed to their office in the half story of the house. The office was on the main level, and their room and a third room that was mainly used for storage in the top level. Beth went upstairs and stood at the doorway of the storage room, trying to picture what it would look like with a crib. They were ready to be parents. Josh would be a great father.
As the afternoon went on, Beth found herself cleaning the spare room. There were a lot of things kept in the room that could be moved to the basement already. She took a trip down memory lane as she flipped through photo albums of their wedding and honeymoon. Beth found a box in the garage and labeled it “Photos” before adding the albums and other pictures to it. She brought the box to the basement, along with a few other boxes.
As she came up the steps the last time, she took a look at the clock and decided to start making supper. Beth was filling a pot of water when she looked out the kitchen window and froze. The Hutchinson Fire Department car had just rolled up to the curb in front of their house. Petey got out, wearing a tired look. This couldn’t be good, Beth thought. He rubbed his face for a second, and then crossed the street and walked up to the door. The first knock on the door jarred Beth back to the present, and she turned off the water. Walking to the door, she knew Petey wouldn’t have shown up unless something had happened to Josh. She opened the door, and saw it was grim by the look in Petey’s eyes.
“Can I come in?” he asked her, leaning on the doorway.
They walked into the living room, and Petey sat on the couch. Beth stood with her arms crossed.
“I think you should sit down, Beth.”
Beth let out the breath she hadn’t realized she was holding, and sat on the couch with Petey.
“What happened?” she asked, fearing the reason he was there.
“Do you know what the call was for?” Beth nodded yes, and Petey continued. “ We were out on 7 for a roll-over. The car was smashed so bad, but being the first crew on the scene, we were doing as much as we could to assess the victims’ conditions. Josh was on the driver’s side when a truck came barreling through our scene. The driver didn’t see Josh.” He put his head down in his hands. “He hit Josh.”
Beth didn’t notice the tears falling until they started hitting her arm. “Where’s Josh? I need to go see him.”
Petey looked up, his eyes also wet.