Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Interview with Jamie Beck, Author of Before I Knew + Giveaway (US only)

I'd like to welcome Jamie Beck to the blog today to celebrate the exciting release of Before I Knew, the first of her exciting new Cabot series, from Montlake Romance (Amazon Publishing)!

Welcome to Books à la Mode, Jamie! Let's get this interview started.

Will you please share a brief introduction with us?

My childhood writing dreams featured a Hollywood career in the television or film industries. I'd finish watching a dramatic family saga or love story and think, "I want to write something like this!" But a creative writing career seemed like a pipedream, so I went to Tulane University assuming I'd figure out what to do with the rest of my life by graduation day. I fell in love with psychology coursework, but psychiatrists go to medical school, and subjects such as biology and chemistry weren't my forte. Alas, another career eliminated.

Ultimately, I earned a joint law/M.B.A. degree and practiced commercial real estate and lending law for a decade in my hometown of Pittsburgh (Go Steelers!). I learned so much during that decade, but was never passionate about the work. When my husband's career took us to Connecticut, I opted to stay at home to raise our two young children. That decision presented a second chance to revisit the idea of writing.

These days I dream up stories about love, family, self-discovery, and redemption. Sometimes they're spicy (my Sterling Canyon books), and sometimes more poignant (the St. James and Cabot novels), but I strive to make each of them realistic and heartwarming. Recently, I earned a spot on the Romance Writers of America's Honor Roll, and I'm so grateful to each and every reader who has given wings to this new chapter in my life.

When I'm not writing, you can find me dancing around my kitchen while cooking, and hitting the slopes in Vermont and Utah.

It's amazing to get to feature you today! Readers, here's a bit about the book, which hits shelves today:

Author Jamie Beck returns with an engrossing series about family, friendship, and starting over. In this first Cabot novel, a legacy of secrets tests old friends seeking a second chance at life and love.

On the second anniversary of her husband's suicide, Colby Cabot-Baxter is ready to let go of her grief and the mistakes made during her turbulent marriage. Her fresh start comes in the form of A CertainTea, the restaurant she's set to open along Lake Sandy, Oregon, with help from her family. But when her executive chef quits just weeks before the grand opening, Colby is pressured to hire old family friend Alec Morgan. His award-winning reputation could generate buzz, but their friendship has withered since her husband's reckless dare cost Alec's brother his life.

Distracted by guilty secrets concerning the tragedy that changed his and Colby's lives, Alec self-destructed and lost his famed restaurant. With his career in tatters, he's determined to use this opportunity to redeem his reputation and to help the woman he's loved from afar find happiness again.

But secrets have a way of coming out. When Alec's do, they might destroy the new life he and Colby have rebuilt together.

Describe Before I Knew in six words.

Second chances at life and love.

How did you arrive at writing romance?

When I was young, I loved TV and movies, particularly love stories. I’ve always been drawn to the sort of “yearning” that runs through most romantic stories, and so when I decided to try my hand at writing, there was no question about what type of story I would write. However, I am not a huge fan of trope-driven romances, preferring something more realistic, which is why the majority of my books also contain some realistic and heavy real-life struggles.

I do have some women’s fiction ideas rolling around in my head. Perhaps one day I’ll have the time to try to write those. I would never, ever try to write suspense. I don’t like being anxious, and I don’t think I have the kind of skill set needed to plot one well.

What was your inspiration for the book?

There has been a lot of talk in recent years about mental illness and stigma, and how that stigma prevents people from receiving proper treatment and support. Because I have some personal experience with this topic, it is very relevant to me. I’ve seen that struggle, and how it affects others who are close to the afflicted. That gave me the seed of an idea, but I did not want to write a story featuring someone with the illness. I worried that I couldn’t do that justice, so I focused on the one left behind, and how the mistakes they made together (largely because of the fear of stigma) lingered long after he was gone.

As a huge fan of first lines, I'd love to hear the first line of Before I Knew. Can you give us a brief commentary on it?
Of all the dilemmas Colby Cabot-Baxter had faced in her twenty-nine years, none had tortured her like this one.
Before I Knew begins with a five-page prologue that sets up the complicated history between the hero and heroine. It is two years prior to the opening of the book. Colby and her then-husband, Mark (who suffers from Bipolar Disorder) are in the car outside the church of her lifelong friend, Joe’s, funeral. Joe died because he took Mark up on a dare. Joe’s older brother, Alec, is the ultimate hero in this story. Colby is torn about attending the funeral because Joe’s family blames her husband (and to some extent, her) for Joe’s death.

Tell us about your road to publication.

My road was a bit circuitous. I wrote my first manuscript in about nine months, only to send it out into the world and then discover how much I had to learn! I joined Romance Writers of America (and my local chapter), began taking workshops and such, and wrote a second manuscript. That got a little more interest from agents, but ultimately no one agreed to represent me. My third manuscript (Worth the Wait) got me my agent, but at the time, no publisher wanted it (romance editors thought it too much women’s fiction, and women’s fiction editors thought it too much romance). Then that second manuscript that no agent wanted got plucked out of the slush pile at Montlake (I’d forgotten I’d submitted it, back when Montlake still took unsolicited submissions). Montlake bought that book, and then, we convinced them to give Worth the Wait a chance, too.

For those looking for querying advice, I think a few things helped me get my wonderful agent (Jill Marsal) that third time around. First, I’d done the work to write a pretty good story (workshops, critique partners, contest feedback). Second, that book did final in a contest, which gave me something to put in the query that signaled a certain level of quality. Third, I queried smarter. I did my homework on the agents, their client list, and so on. I read interviews they’d given to Writer’s Digest and so on. Armed with this information, I specifically mentioned something about why I thought they might like my book and be a good fit for what I wanted in an agent. The personalized touch helped!

Are the characters from your book based off anyone you know in real life? How much else of your actual life gets written into your fiction?

No single character is ever based entirely on anyone I know, but bits and pieces of the people in my life do make their way into most characters. I think it’d be almost impossible for that not to happen. We (our thoughts and ideas) are shaped, in part, by the people in our lives, and those values and perceptions come through in our writing voice and imaginations. People who know me very well usually spot a few “observations” that they recognize as being something I might do or say. On the flip side, in real life, I love a good debate and very often take a view that opposes my own, just because I find it fascinating to look at things from multiple perspectives. Therefore, you will tend to see that in my books as well (characters coming at something from totally different yet valid positions).

Which character from Before I Knew was most difficult to write?

Colby. She is grieving the loss of so much (her friend, then her husband, her confidence, her innocence). She is smart and introverted, which is also hard to write because those types can come across as colder and less sympathetic. I hope I did her justice. She has a good heart and desire to heal and be a stronger, more compassionate person.

What do you consider your biggest strengths and weaknesses as an author?

I think my strengths are that I write pretty good prose and can evoke reader emotion. My weakness? Dialogue is hard for me. It takes a lot of rewriting to get it to sound natural and to have the characters’ speech sound distinct.

Name the top five novels that have made the biggest impact on your life or on your writing.

On my life (or, books I devoured and remembered long after reading): Native Son, Atlas Shrugged, The Color Purple, The Nightingale, and All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.

On my writing: For craft, The First Five Pages, Writing 21st Century Fiction. For goals to reach for? Authors Jojo Moyes, Susan Wiggs, Robyn Carr, and Kristin Hannah.

What’s the greatest thing you ever learned?

Oh, that’s hard. I’ve learned a lot of good things in my 50 years. I think one of the most important is that integrity matters. Doing the right thing, even when it’s hard and hurts—and even when no one will give you credit—is important. It allows you to always look in the mirror and like what you see.

How do you react to a negative or harsh review to your books?

It’s never easy. Of course we want readers to love our characters and story. We want them to “get” what we were trying to say. When they don’t, the rejection stings. That said, Before I Knew is my eighth book. At this point, I have learned to keep a better perspective. I do not love every book that some of my favorite authors write, and it is unreasonable to expect every reader (even one’s own fans) to love every single book we create. So, now I don’t actually read every review. Occasionally I’ll peek at the overall “grade” it might have on Amazon or Goodreads, but I don’t dig for the pain of a bad review!

Blog babes, click "Read more" to find out Jamie's random favorites, her best personal and professional advice, and what makes Before I Knew stand out as a book from all the rest. We're also hosting a giveaway for a finished copy of Before I Knew, so you don't want to miss that either!

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Some randomness...

Favorite kind of chocolate? Dark, milk, white, coffee-flavored, the kind with nuts or berries inside?? Milk chocolate with almonds or caramel.

What kind of kid were you in high school? “Typical”... meaning I had friends and crushes and took school reasonably seriously. I enjoyed high school very much, although if I could go back, I’d work a little harder and be a little more confident.

Favorite passage from a book? “There are things that I canna tell you, at least not yet. And I'll ask nothing of ye that ye canna give me. But what I would ask of ye—when you do tell me something, let it be the truth. And I'll promise ye the same. We have nothing now between us, save—respect, perhaps. And I think that respect has maybe room for secrets, but not for lies. Do ye agree?” Jamie Fraser, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. This concept has stuck with me from the moment I read it. I think it’s quite beautiful, simple, and accepting, which is what love should be, right?

All-time favorite quote? I don’t know if this is a popular one, but my mom always said it, and I agree: It’s not what you say, but how you say it, that matters. I think a lot of conflict and hurt feelings could be avoided if people communicated their disagreement with more tact and care.

Most romantic thing a guy has ever said or done to you? You know, I find romance in the oddest places. For me it isn’t the flowers (although I love those) or the compliments. It’s things like the patience my husband has for my mother because he knows how important she is to me. Words and grand gestures are easy, but the day to day actions that prove that you and your feelings matter—that’s where real romance lives.

How do you get over heartbreak? Not very well! Fortunately, I’ve been with my husband for 21 years, so those days are far behind me. My worst involved a law school boyfriend whom I loved with my whole being. He loved me... but ultimately only as a friend (which we remain today). When he left me, I couldn’t eat and dropped to 113 pounds (I’m 5’7”). I listened to sad songs and cried and cried. Oh, I was a mess. It took someone new to come along and remind me that there was actually more than one person I could love.

Currently reading?  I just finished Julia Quinn’s new release, The Girl with the Make-Believe Husband.

Currently wearing?  I’m on my way to catch a flight, so I’m in white jeans and a gunmetal gray summer sweater, with funky earrings.

Most visited website?  Facebook!

Favorite vegetable? (yes, you have to pick one). Corn on the cob with lots of butter and salt, or fresh raw spinach.

Biggest celebrity crush? For a long time is was Justin Timberlake (funny, talented, and he can dance!). Right now, I have a little thing for Charlie Hunnam.

Guiltiest pleasure? I still DVR The Young and the Restless! It’s like a book that never ends. I’ve been watching since the 80s.

What did you want to grow up to be when you were little? A television writer, then a psychiatrist.

Go-to comfort food? Pasta!

Charity or cause of choice? I donate to many, but generally prefer those that help children. With each new release, I set aside money from the proceeds to a charity I ask my readers to help me choose (usually that relate to the story). With this release, I’m thinking of dedicating those proceeds to Bring Change to Mind.

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Out of all the fantastic books out there, what makes Before I Knew stand out from the rest?

I hope the themes of the book, the quality of the writing, and that “unrequited first love” trope combine to make for a memorable and worthy read.

Give aspiring writers a piece of advice you wish you had known before getting published.

Never compare yourself with other authors. We are all unique, with our own voices, stories, and visions. No one’s journey will be like another, and no one else’s success can diminish your own or your value. Pay it forward!

Now give us your best personal advice—something you wish you had known when you were younger and would offer to your own kids.

My poor kids are sick of my advice, I assure you! The biggest thing this second career has taught me is that you should work hard to find and follow your passion as early as possible, because when you love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work.

What are you involved in when you aren’t writing?

I’ve got two teenagers, so I’m mostly involved in keeping them happy, healthy, and safe! But I love to read, hike, ski, cook, travel, and watch movies in my free time.

What would you say are the most important attributes to remaining sane as a writer?

Get involved in writing chapters. This is a lonely business. You need friends and support from people who understand the ups and downs of this industry, and of writing in general.

Are there any occupational hazards to being a writer?

Insecurity. Too much sitting! And no set “path” to success.

What's the most interesting comment you've received about your writing?

I get readers who write to me and tell me what they want me to do with secondary characters. But my favorite was from a reader who, like the hero in In the Cards, had been abandoned by a parent when she was five. She said to me that there was a certain passage (something Levi says) that, after all these years, clarified for her something she’d felt but could never articulate, and it freed her. That made me very proud... to know that I was able to do that for someone.

What is the message in Before I Knew that you want readers to grasp?

Two messages, I suppose. One is that, no matter how dark things appear, life will get better if you don’t give up. Believe in yourself and the future, and things can turn around. The second is that, if you are struggling with a mental illness, there is no shame. Reach out, get help, and be proud of who you are. We all have troubles—let’s help each other carry the load.

What are your goals as a writer?

I always try to write a better story. I want to entertain, but I also like to provoke (discussion, perspective, etc.)

What dreams have been realized as a result of your writing?

I got published! I honestly didn’t know if that would happen. I also love hearing from readers. That’s the very best part.

What’s next for you?

I’ve got to finish the Cabot novels, and then plan a new series (details not yet finalized).

I can't wait to hear about the next series! Where can you be found on the web?

Before we conclude this interview, is there anything you'd like to ask our readers?

What is your favorite love story of all time?

It was a pleasure to be able to get to know you better today, Jamie! Thank you again for dropping by, and best of luck with future endeavors!


Books à la Mode is giving away one print ARC of Before I Knew—woohoo! To enter, all you have to do is answer Jamie's question in the comments below:
What is your favorite love story of all time?
Please make your comment MEANINGFUL. Comments solely consisting of stock responses or irrelevant fluff like "Thanks for the giveaway!" will not be considered for entry. Jamie and I really want to hear your thoughts! :)

Don't forget the entry eligibility terms and conditions!
Sponsored wholly by the publicist—a huge thank you to the lovely folks over at PR by the Book!
Giveaway ends September 5th at 11.59 PM (your time).
Open to US residents only. Sorry, everyone else! Please check my sidebar on the right for a list of currently running giveaways that are open worldwide—there are plenty to choose from!
Void where prohibited.
Winners have 48 hours to claim their prize once they are chosen, or else their winnings will be forfeited.
Although I do randomly select winners, I am in no way responsible for prizes, nor for shipping and handling.
As a reminder, you do not have to follow my blog to enter, though it is always very much appreciated ❤
Good luck!