It is such an honor to be chatting today with my oldest and closest friend, Natalie Charles, on the release of her debut Harlequin Romantic Suspense, THE SEVEN-DAY TARGET. Natalie and I have shared many firsts in our long friendship -- first loves, first heartaches, first children, and of course, first chapters! I can still remember reading the first draft of the original first chapter of THE SEVEN-DAY TARGET, and I am just so thrilled and honored to be sharing in the experience of the book's final release.
Love never dies, but can it kill?
He never meant to speak to her again. Back in Arbor Falls for a funeral, Special Agent Nick Foster has moved on. He has no plans to stay in his tiny hometown--or to reunite with the beautiful Libby Andrews. His onetime fiancée broke his heart, and what's past should stay buried.
Libby doesn't want his help. Her childhood sweetheart can never know the real reason she ended their engagement three years before. But when a serial killer targets her, she must team up with the rugged agent for her own safety. Something in her past has put her in danger, and the passion they've reignited puts their future in deadly jeopardy.
Natalie will be giving away a signed copy of this book, so be sure to comment below for your chance to win!
Congratulations on the release of your debut Harlequin Romantic Suspense, Natalie! Can you tell us about THE SEVEN-DAY TARGET?
Thank you! THE SEVEN-DAY TARGET begins when FBI Special Agent Nick Foster comes back home to Arbor Falls, New York and learns that his ex-fiancee, prosecutor Libby Andrews, appears to be the target of a serial killer who leaves six signs over six days before killing on the seventh. She cruelly broke off their engagement, but now he has no choice but to protect her, even if it means putting his heart at risk.
Can you tell us a little about your journey toward publication?
I've been writing for as long as I can remember, but mostly I focused on short, literary fiction. I decided to write romance about two years ago (actually, you inspired me, Olivia!) and my first attempt was horrible and promptly rejected by Harlequin Intrigue. I revised the manuscript and submitted to Harlequin Romantic Suspense, and in the meantime I began developing THE SEVEN-DAY TARGET for Mills & Boon's 2011 New Voices Competition. I won that competition and received the Call. It seems like it happened quickly, but really, I've been writing forever. It wasn't overnight by any means.
This book was the winner of Mills & Boon's 2011 New Voices Competition. How did that experience shape your writing?
Just entering the competition was a great experience. I learned a ton by reading the comments that other writers left on my first chapter during the competition, and some of those comments ultimately helped me to shape certain elements of the plot. Overall, I learned what readers respond to and what they dislike, and I try to keep that in mind when writing today. It's funny because you can read a hundred different "how to" manuals, but nothing quite compares to individualized feedback from beta readers about your writing.
I have had the honor of reading both versions of THE SEVEN-DAY TARGET and they differ in more ways than just word count. In lengthening the story to fit the new Romantic Suspense guidelines, can you tell us how this version stands apart from the New Voices Anthology edition?
When I won New Voices, I was required to write a book that complied with Harlequin Romantic Suspense's word limit at the time, which was 55-60k. When the manuscript was complete and I received an offer from HRS to publish with the line, I had to increase the word count to 70-75k. Rather than adding a couple of chapters or a subplot, I chose to almost completely rewrite and re-imagine the book. The underlying story is the same, with a serial killer who leaves six signs over six days before killing on the seventh, but the plot is restructured. For example, Nick was asked by Libby's father to protect her in the anthology version -- a fact that carries a lot of significance -- but in the Harlequin Romantic Suspense version, Nick learns about the threat on Libby's life through an old colleague at the Arbor Falls Police Department. This version also introduces some secondary characters, including Libby's sister, Cassie. It's difficult to compare the two, really. They're very different.
What inspired you to write this book?
I don't want to give anything away, but I wanted to write a story, first and foremost, about a couple that was facing a particular challenge. As it evolved, the book became more about perfectionist Libby coming to terms with what she views as her imperfections. In my mind, she is the person who grows the most over the course of the book, as Nick helps her to slowly tear down the wall she's built between them. Romances are often about the heroine helping the hero to become a better man, but I wanted to make this about the heroine's journey, as well. Every woman deserves a man who helps her to become her best self.
If you had to choose, which would be your favorite scene or moment in THE SEVEN-DAY TARGET?
It's definitely the happily ever after. I love these characters, and their journey is so emotional that I wanted to give them the happiest ending I could imagine. I cried when I wrote it, and sometimes I still tear up. Yes, I write about serial killers and I cry at happy endings.
You have a full-time job, a toddler, a dog, a husband, and a baby on the way. Though I know you so well, it still amazes me that you find the time to write. Tell us, what is your writing process?
I wish I could pretend I had a real process! It often feels more like flailing around in the dark until I hit something that feels like a story. I begin every book with a lot of brainstorming. Like, lots. I rewrite the first chapter over and over and over, and when I am satisfied, I move on to the second chapter. It feels obsessive at times. I find that once I get a solid three chapters down, I know where I'm going. Saggy middles haven't been my problem so far -- for me, the challenge is in crafting the right opening. After that, I write to get it all down and revise only when I feel like I've gone astray.
As you note, I have a full schedule. My only time to write is at night. Expecting a child has slowed down my writing dramatically, but on the nights I can keep my eyes open, I love that time when I can escape into a different world for a couple of hours.
What is your position on balancing social media/promotion with writing and all of life's other responsibilities?
I tried to keep up with social media for a while, I swear. The trouble is I work full time, so I don't have the time to be active on Twitter and Facebook during daylight hours, and tweeting at night cuts into my precious writing time. My goal now is to maintain a modest internet presence, but to devote the bulk of my free time to writing. I think that writers need to do what works for them, and for some, being active on social media is part of the job. However, as a reader, my only concern is that my favorite authors continue to produce great books, so that's where my priorities lie.
Can you tell us a little about what you are working on now?
I'm waiting to hear back from my editor on my second book and plotting my third. Notwithstanding what I just said about social media, I promise to provide updates as I get them! :-)
Thank you so much for sharing, Natalie! For your chance to win a signed copy of THE SEVEN-DAY TARGET, be sure to join the discussion and leave a comment below. For more about Natalie Charles, please visit her website at www.nataliecharlesromance.com