Loree and her husband split their time between a little house in the Baltimore suburbs and a really little cabin in the Allegheny Mountains, where they cater to a formerly-abused Pointer whose numerous vet visits inspired the nickname ‘Cash’.
What made you start writing?
I started writing ‘for real’, when our family was transferred to Richmond, VA, and I needed something to bring in a little money and occupy my brain, so I accepted a job as a neighborhood correspondent for our local paper. Until then, I’d only had one article published, and my dream of being a novelist was still mostly in my head.
When the family was transferred back to Baltimore 18 months later (gotta love those corporate decision-makers
I noticed a trend: Editors often ‘tweaked’ my stories to appease advertisers. So I figured since I was writing fiction anyway, why not see about turning that novel-writing dream into reality! I wrote and sold Pocketful of Promises for Barbour’s “Heartsong Presents” line, and it won the Readers’ Choice Best Contemporary in 1994!
The rest, as they say, is history!
What's the most difficult part of writing for you (or was when you first started on your novel journey)?
The toughest part about the job is staying on task. Working at home is almost synonymous with the words ‘interruption’ and ‘distraction’. I still haven’t quite mastered the phrase “My work is just as important as yours!” when people want me to do favors because “You’re home all day, so can you…?”
Do you put yourself into your books/characters?
I suppose in some ways, I’m a part of every character I create. The good ones, of course! I don’t like weepy, whiny, clingy people, and so I put ‘tough guy’ traits into every main character. Hard working, nose to the grindstone, do the right thing and don’t complain about it personalities are admirable in real people, so why not in fictional people, too! I think that’s the main reason so many people have written to tell me they identified closely with the characters in my books.
At what point did you stop juggling suggestions and critiques and trust yourself (as a writer)?
I always listen to constructive criticism and well-intended feedback. Always. But I mull the advice over for a day or two before taking any of it to heart… and applying it to my novels. As writers, we have to learn to balance what works with what doesn’t. We have to know why a suggestion is good or bad… and apply the advice accordingly.
Tell us a little about your latest release:
Tales of the Heart features three historical romances: Bridget’s Bargain, Kate
Prevailing Love contains three contemporary romances: Sealed with a Kiss, The Wedding Wish, and Montana Sky. In these stories, readers will get to visit Baltimore, Washington, DC, and Montana as the feisty heroines struggle to overcome traumatic pasts and find lasting, fulfilling love.
How did you come up with these stories? Was there a specific 'what if' moment?
You may recognize all six of these titles, and there’s a good reason for that! These are former Heartsong Presents titles, rewritten and fine-tuned for these Whitaker releases. So even if you’ve read them before, you’ll find each is fresh and new!
The ideas for all of my stories usually begin with a very detailed dream. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Lord puts these into my head as I sleep… along with the theme to each story. Readers often write to tell me how ‘this’ situation or ‘that’ incident reminded them of something in their own lives, and they are always uplifted to see God’s will in the way characters resolve problems, for it gives them hope that in their own lives, He can work the same loving miracles.
Tell us a little about your main characters and how you developed them:
Each main character in these stories is strong, willful, independent to a fault… and harbors a bit of an attitude that’s the result of something from the past. They’re struggling with the feelings that come from broken hearts to traitorous family members to hatred and bitterness toward oppressive land barons. As each story progresses, characters must learn to accept, forgive, grow spiritually and as individuals in order to overcome these obstacles, because unless they succeed at leaving the past behind, true love will remain out of reach.
What did you enjoy most about writing these books? Least?
The hardest part of any book is the research. I strongly believe that readers deserve accuracy in all things, from what a setting looks like to historical facts to what the characters do for a living. It’s a time-consuming process that involves lots of reading and studying and interviewing experts. Without all that, though, the stories wouldn’t ring with realism. And that’s important, because few things annoy me more when I’m reading a novel than to come across some tidbit that makes me say “Hey. That isn’t true!”
What message do you hope readers gain from your novels?
In every novel I write, my main goal is to provide readers with an entertaining story. To some degree, books are an avenue of escape from reality, and in these hard times, who doesn’t need that! But I also aim to deliver God’s word in a non-preachy, non-judgmental way so that every reader hears His word throughout the stories. In some, forgiveness is the central theme. In others, acceptance. A few stories remind readers it’s never too late to return to His fold, while others invite them to accept Him for the very first time. In every case, the peace and love, and the merciful power that is His and His alone is evident in subtle, quiet ways through dialog, characters’ thoughts and actions, and the changes that take place inside each individual who acts out the stories!
What does your writing space look like?
Trust me… you don’t want a picture of my office! LOL Seriously, it’s a very nice room situated in the back left corner of my house. Can’t hear the phone or doorbell from down here, which is a good and bad thing, if y’know what I mean. I have two L-shaped desk units that, together, form a big wide U. In the corner of the left-hand unit, the computer I use for email, Facebook, blogging, etc. In the corner of the other one, my laptop, on which I write the books.
Each unit has upper shelves with small cabinets on each side where I keep my bibles, concordance, dictionary, thesaurus, baby name book, and other reference materials. In the lower half of each unit, two file drawers and a cubby where I store maps, research and interview notes, and non-fiction books that help me better understand the setting, the characters’ jobs, and the like.
On the walls are photos of my family, my dog, my cat (she died 6 years ago, but I had her for 19 years and still miss her!), and a few plants. There’s a window near the laptop, but I keep the blinds closed most of the time to avoid distractions. (The day I saw a coyote prowling in the back yard was the day I decided I didn’t need to know what was going on outside my window! LOL)
My daughters chipped in to buy me the fantastic area rug that warms the cold tile floor. It looks like old-fashioned typewriter characters… black lower case letters and numbers on a cream background. Perfect for a writer, wouldn’t you say!
My least favorite aspect to the office is that it’s L-shaped… and the small part of the L houses my laundry room. No door to separate me from the washing machine and dryer, or the hum of the old fridge. I like to say this arrangement helps remind me what’s truly important in life: Cleanliness is next to Godliness! LOL
What kind of activities to you like to do that help you relax and step away from your deadlines for a bit?
Spending time with my hubby, daughters, and grandkids is at the top of the list. But I love painting and sketching, gardening, baking and cooking, and reading. Movies are fun, too (though I tend to enjoy them a little less than I did before I became a writer, because I ‘get’ the plotlines and tend to solve mysteries way too early).
Briefly take us through your process of writing a novel—from conception to revision.
1. Character sketches/backgrounds
2. Complete ‘Timeline’
What is the first book you remember reading and what made it special?
I think the first book that’s truly memorable was Black Beauty. I love animals and, being a girl, identified with the main character.
What are a few of your favorite books (not written by you) and why are they favorites?
My all-time favorite classic is White Fang. Everything about it resonates with me (and it might be one of the main reasons I’m such a wolf fanatic now!). I also loved East of Eden. I’ve read it a dozen times—maybe more!—and get something new and different from it each time. I also loved Dean Koontz’s very scary horror novel Watchers because it grabbed me at word one and didn’t turn me loose until I got to the very last page. In all of these books, characterization is the key ingredient. I fell in love with the people in each story, identified with some aspects of their personalities, cried and laughed and trembled with fear, and remembered the titles, authors, and characters.
How do you think reading the work of others helps you as a writer?
Seeing how other authors weave the threads of a story gives me a lot of “Ah-ha!” and “I haven’t been doing that, but I’m gonna!” moments.
What do you wish you’d known early in your career that might have saved you some time and/or frustration in writing? In publishing?
First, everything takes a painfully long time to happen! Second, publishers no longer market and promote the way they used to; authors need to set aside plenty of time for PR. Finally, if you aren’t a pro (stick to your word count, give editors the stories they want, turn them in on time, don’t be a prima donna, etc.), 100%, 100% of the time, some other hard-working writer will step into your place in the long, long line of competitors.
How much marketing do you do? What have you found that particularly works well for you?
I spend about an hour every weekday on marketing: Interviews (radio, TV, print), book signings, Facebook, Shoutlife, MySpace, Twitter, my blog (The Lough Down), my web site… this and more are requirements if I hope to try and keep pace with authors who can afford to hire pros to do the arduous job of promoting my books.
Tell us what we have to look forward to in the future. What new projects are you working on?
Next up from Whitaker, Beautiful Bandit, the first in my Lone Star Legends series. Set in Eagle Pass, Texas in 1888, the series features handsome cowboy cousins who live on the expansive Rockin’ N Ranch. In the series opener, the heroine is wrongly accused of murder and bank robbery and hides out at the hero’s ranch. Lots of adventure and excitement before she clears her name, believe me!
The next story I’m working on is for Abingdon Press. The first in my First Responders series is titled One Forsaken Man. It’s the story of a cop whose emotional, physical, and spiritual scars, inflicted on 9/11, still haunt him when the ten year anniversary of the tragedy rolls around. He’s about as far from New York as he can get… working as a forestry service ranger in North Pole, Alaska, where he meets the psychiatrist who deemed him unfit for duty and ended his police career. Taking over her uncle’s store seems the perfect way—and place—to escape to the wilds of Alaska to forget her own painful past. Can these two, who have dozens of reasons to resent one another, learn to put bitterness and regret behind them?
Do you have any parting words of advice?
If you hope to write a book, don’t fall for that old advice “Write what you know” or “Write the book of your heart”. Instead, combine those elements and you’ll have a lot better chance at selling in this overly competitive marketplace!
Last, but certainly not least, I’d like to thank you for giving me this opportunity to meet your readers! I hope to get to know all of you a whole lot better, and invite you to stay in touch via email, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Shoutlife, etc. You can also stay in touch through my web site or my blog, The Lough Down .