Friday, January 29, 2010

Interview with Amber Leigh Williams

I’d like to welcome our guest today, Amber Leigh Williams.

It’s a pleasure having you come visit us at Much Cheaper Than Therapy, where chocolate is plentiful and advice is free. So grab some chocolate and a lounge chair. Your therapy session has begun.

Kicking off my boots, Kim! Thank you very much for letting me share with your readers today!

I understand you have a new release out called Bluest Heart. Can you tell us a little bit about your fabulous new book?

Bluest Heart is the second novella in my western romance trilogy. Blackest Heart, the first, placed 1st in the 2009 More Than Magic Contest. It is part of The Wild Rose Press’s Wayback, TX series:

The Wayback bachelor is a dying breed, but that doesn't stop Casey Ridge from wanting to settle down. For this cowboy anyone but Josie Brusky would be an easy wrangle. Unfortunately for him, the Blue Bug singer and owner of Josie's Treasures doesn't believe in commitment much less marriage.

Years ago, Josie lost her heart to Casey's charm and

dimpled smile. Since then she has done everything she knows to forget him. After all, she's known as the local harlot and the daughter of the town's biggest bigot. Casey could have any girl he wanted. Why would he saddle himself with her? In the wake of a shattering past, she refuses to give up her independence.

Casey digs down deep to win her over, but does he have what it takes to win Wayback's bluest heart?

Bluest Heart is a very interesting title. How did you arrive at that name?

My CP came up with Blackest Heart, playing on the surname of my silent cowboy hero, Judd Black. I wanted to continue the Heart theme, of course. I originally liked “Heart of Stone” but there was already a book by that name published by TWRP. I asked some writing friends to help me brainstorm and we came up with "A Heart So Blue."

My editor came back with Bluest Heart. Though “Heart of Stone” seemed appropriate for the heroine, Josie, I realized Bluest Heart suited her much more because under the hard walls she’s built around herself over her difficult lifetime there is a woman who needs to be cared for and loved. And no one believes that more than the hero, Casey. It sets up, too, the last book in the saga, tentatively titled Bet It On My Heart.

What made you decide to write in this genre?

The idea of doing a western romance came to me a couple of years ago. Before I started my day job, I used to read fashion magazines like Vogue and Instyle cover to cover. One month, one of my favorite actresses was featured in a ranch spread and the article was primarily about how she wanted to go back to her country roots. From there, Stella Ridge, the heroine of Blackest Heart, was born.

Are you a plotter or a pantser and how did it affect the writing of this book?

I’m a plotter, mostly, though I like to mix in the occasional pantsing technique to keep the writing fresh. Blackest Heart was experimental because I’d never written a western romance and I didn’t really read the genre. By the time Bluest Heart began, I’d already grasped the tone of contemporary western romance and started to hone my voice. That’s why I think Bluest Heart was the most enjoyable story to write to date.

Did you have to do a lot of research for the book? What are your favorite research books or sites?

There are several writers at TWRP who live in Texas and know all about ranching, cowboys, and rodeos (which is what Wayback is all about). I spent days picking their brains. One interesting thing I learned is that most ranchers these days won’t survive on the price of beef unless they have a large spread and cattle to fill it. 50,000 acres or more is ideal. If the ranchers don’t have that much land, they usually turn their homes into dude ranches. The Ridge family, which the trilogy focuses on, has 55,000 acres, one of the largest ranches in Wayback. Also before I began work on these books, I didn’t know anything about rodeos. The heroes of the trilogy compete in bull-riding, calf-roping, and bronc-busting. Josie does some barrel racing. The rodeo circuit is a whole other world, and I think the most interesting thing I learned while researching it is that the rodeo clowns are just as tough as the competitors.

Where did you get your idea for this particular book?

I’d already heard of TWRP’s new western series and how well it was doing. I liked the idea of the pre-determined settings and secondary characters. My CP went a long way to encouraging me and I wrote the first draft of Blackest Heart in a couple of weeks. She then convinced me to write at least one of Stella’s brothers’ stories, Casey. I not only completed that within a month, I also got a good head-start on the other brother, Keefe’s, story. The western genre was so much fun, it gave me complete literary abandon. I can’t wait to go back and do it again with another trilogy!

Which character did you like writing about the most, and why?

Josie was interesting, because at first glance she’s the typical “bad girl” and I’d never written anyone like her. I worried that the reader wouldn’t sympathize as much with her. But then I delved into her past and what had made her so tough. Quickly I came to the conclusion that she wasn’t the person everyone in Wayback believes she is, and Casey Ridge is the only one who sees that. The interesting thing about Casey’s pursuit of Josie is trying to convince her that she does deserve happiness. The result was, surprisingly, the same healing arc that radiates from Blackest Heart—learning to accept one’s past and moving on in a healthy way with someone who loves you for who you are.

Tell us about how you develop your characters. Do you create character sheets, do interviews, that sort of thing? How does your research affect your character development?

My research is mostly about setting and nitpicky details about occupations, etc. I like my characters to be completely organic. Although Stella’s character came to me from that magazine article, she became her own person as soon as I put her on the page. The most exciting thing, for me, about characterization is seeing the characters grow deeper than what I initially intended. Josie was probably the most surprising. Even after the manuscript was done and I turned it over to my CP and editor, I worried readers still wouldn’t think her heroine material. Their reaction was such a relief! There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing readers connect with characters like Josie.

Do you have any authors that inspired you?

My first romance novel was Nora Roberts. You never forget your first and to this day I’m still a major Nora fan. I also like her J.D. Robb titles. I’m a fan of J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series. Her writing process just fascinates me. I also like Larissa Ione’s Demonica books. She really knows how to dip into dark waters and still bring the romance to the forefront in a wonderful way. I never thought I’d try sci-fi, but recently I picked up Ann Aquirre’s Sirantha Jax books. I love them and can’t wait for more! Among other authors I can’t wait to read more of are Jessica Andersen, Kris Kennedy, and Diane Gaston. I highly recommend any of the Wayback books, particularly Rita Thedford’s Hot Night at the Blue Bug Saloon, Sylvie Kaye’s Wrong Side of Love, Lynda Coker’s Payback in Wayback, and Cindy Spencer Pape’s All the Way Back, all available in ebook and paperback anthologies.

What do you feel is the most effective promotion you have done for your book?

The Wayback series sells well, I think, because they are novellas and at least half the price of any paperback. They’re quick, very enjoyable, hot reads. I target mostly ebook readers virtually. When The Way Back Home anthology was published—featuring Blackest Heart and two other Wayback stories by other authors, I reached out more to those who buy paperbacks. I certainly can’t resist three sexy cowboys in one! That, I daresay, is better than chocolate!

What do we have to look forward to next?

The third book in the Ridge trilogy will be published this year. I can’t wait to round it out. There will definitely be a party in my corner of the web! And I’ll be signing copies of The Way Back Home among other titles at the Silken Sands Conference on the Beach in March, if anyone here is planning to attend!

Thanks, Amber!

To celebrate her book release, Amber is offering a free copy of the 2009 More Than Magic Contest’s 1st Place Novella, Blackest Heart, to one lucky commenter on today's blog. All entrants have to do is tell me what you look for in a cowboy hero. (please check the blog Monday night to see who won. Chances of winning determined by the number of entries.)

She will be around all day today. I'm sure some of you have questions or comments for her, so please ask away...

Amber Leigh Williams is a multi-published romance author, PRO Liaison and former Secretary of the Gulf Coast Chapter of Romance Writers of America, and monthly contributor to Romance Writers’ United’s “Write Right” newsletter. Her historical romance, Forever Amore, received top-rating as a “Best Book” at Long & Short Reviews. She lives on the Gulf Coast of Alabama with her husband and three labs. Visit her on the web at

Purchase Bluest Heart, Blackest Heart, or The Way Bach Home anthology at The Wild Rose Press today:!


Kim Watters said...

Good Morning Amber. Thanks for joining us today. Ah cowboys. Can't resist the lure. :) I live in a small town that hosts it's own rodeo every year. the kids and I love going, especially to see the clowns. Enjoy your day.

CrystalGB said...

Hi Amber. Your books sound good. In a cowboy, I look for a guy who has good manners, lives by a code of honor and it doesn't hurt if he looks good in chaps and boots.

Amber Leigh Williams said...

Kim - thank you for having me today! I really love this blog. I've gone to one rodeo and it was a fascniating experience!

Crystal - thank you for stopping by! That code of honor is really important to a cowboy's character. Recently author Eloisa James did a wonderful article on cowboy honor. Here's the link if you're interested:

Estella said...

Your book sounds great! Good manners, good looking in spurs, boots, and tight blue jeans.

Amber Leigh Williams said...

Thanks, Estella - the jeans are my favorite part :)


Julie said...

Thanks for the great interview! I always find it fascinating to hear about the research aspects of writing.

Mmm, cowboys♥. I love it when they're quiet and taciturn, but at the same time very clear on what their values are. And I love reading about their interactions with their horses, dogs, etc. :D

Amber Leigh Williams said...

Hi Julie - thank you for stopping by! So glad you enjoyed the interview. You named all my favorite aspects of the cowboy hero. You'd like Judd from BLACKEST HEART if you like 'em quiet, btw :)


Donna Marie Rogers said...

Great interview, Amber! I haven't read Blackest Heart yet (though I already have it on my Kindle), but I heard it was fantastic. I look forward to reading it as well as Bluest Heart. :-) You know how much I love my cowboys. ;-)

Autumn Jordon said...

Amber, It seems we both started our Wayback books with CP fingers on our backs. That is so cool. Love that you used a rodeo clown. Totally new twist.

Wishing you mega sales,

2009 Golden Heart Finalist

Amber Leigh Williams said...

Donna - thanks for stopping by, hon! And thanks for all the support! You're an awesome friend :)

AJ - the rodeo clown, Jake, is really a secondary character. He was the hero in Marguerite Arotin's Wayback title, Return of the Prodigal Daughter, which is featured with BLACKEST HEART in THE WAY BACK HOME anthology. He was such a lovable guy, I had to give him a few small parts in my trilogy.

Donna B said...

I love romances with cowboys even though I'm a native New Englander. I wanted to write a Wayback story but they closed the line before I could finish one. Your research sounds really neat. One of my concerns was being able to make it sound real since I've never known a cowboy.

Nice interview!

Amber Leigh Williams said...

Hi Donna B - I hate that the series has to come to an end, but the town of Wayback is getting a bit crowded, lol

I've never met a real cowboy either so I combined all my favorite elements of the cowboy hero, added a good dose of individualism and voila!


robynl said...

my cowboy hero has to be a protector, a man with a sense of humor, a guy who loves 'family' life and of course he should have many hats to wear. LOL.

Amber Leigh Williams said...

Congrats, ROBYNL - you are the winner of BLACKEST HEART! Please contact me at amber(at)amberleighwilliams(dot)com to claim your prize :)