Get Pumped for Nationals, Part 4: RITA and GH Awards

rwa_graphicWeek four of Get Pumped for Nationals! focuses on the most glamorous night in the world of romance: the RITA and Golden Heart Awards ceremony. These distinctive honors are bestowed upon members of RWA for excellence in romantic fiction. The RITA recognizes published novels, while the Golden Heart is awarded for unpublished manuscripts, and several are given away each year for outstanding efforts in various categories.

This year, one of RWASD’s very own members was honored with a prestigious RITA nomination: FACING FIRE, by HelenKay Dimon, has finaled in the Romantic Suspense category. HelenKay has graciously agreed to stop by the blog today, and answer some questions about her experience with the RITA, as well as her general writing practice.

1. Congrats on being a RITA finalist! Walk us through your experience with “the call.” Where were you when you found out about your nomination?

Thank you! I was actually parking my car and about to have lunch with fellow RWASD member and super agent, Laura Bradford, when the call came. Since I’m on the national RWA Board, I know that Board members who final get called early, the day before the finalists are announced. That happens because Board members are the ones who call the finalists with the good news in the morning, so we get a list by the night before so we can be ready. But when the call came it was noon and I didn’t think it was about the RITAs. I was worried something was wrong and there was some kind of emergency motion or something. Yes, I am a positive thinker. When RWA President, Diane Kelley, gave me the good news I screamed, likely said something profane that I’ll make G-rated here, like “get out!” and then rushed into the restaurant to tell Laura, who also happens to be my agent.

2. What (or who!) was your inspiration for your Bad Boys Undercover series, and in particular, FACING FIRE?

Inspiration comes from odd places. I loved this Cinemax show called Strike Back. It was about an undercover team, trying to stop international incidents. Every time I watched it I thought, this needs a real romance and bigger characterization and it would be perfect. So, I came up with Bad Boys Undercover about an undercover team called The Alliance, which is made up mostly of former MI6 and CIA officers. The team was founded by, and is run by, a woman. The settings are mostly international. The team is neither MI6 nor CIA, so I don’t have to abide by the real-life restraints on either. I think my agent pitched it like this: hot alpha guys who keep us safe and the woman who don’t take their crap. It must have worked because the first book sold in a five-way auction.

For FACING FIRE, I was intrigued by the idea of a hero, Josiah, who had lost so many people he cared about in terrible ways and the idea of him having this guilt from being one step too late. The book starts with a bang – literally. There’s an explosion and Josiah’s uncle is killed, and the wild ride starts. The heroine’s story merges with Josiah’s revenge because she is hunting the man who killed her mother years ago. Little do Sutton and Josiah know that their seemingly unrelated quests are linked. And then there’s the problem where Josiah isn’t sure which side Sutton is on…

3. Some of your stories take place in far-flung destinations that few of us will ever have the chance to visit, like the mountains of Pakistan or a resort in Fiji. How do you go about conducting your research for these remote settings?

I’ve actually been to Fiji! My husband and I honeymooned there. But, yes, I’ve never been to some of the places like Skardu, Pakistan or Ronda, Spain, or the Ural Mountains of Russia, where my newest release in this series, UNDER THE WIRE, is set. Sometimes the searches are easy. I can look up places. Find photos, read books and review first-hand accounts. Others, like Skardu, Pakistan and the information I needed about this specialized unit of the Pakistani Army that performs helicopter rescues on K2, the second highest mountain in the world, were harder. For the Pakistan information, I depended on the online journals and footage from Himalayan climbers. That was a huge help. For UNDER THE WIRE, I spent a lot of time researching the Ural Mountains, the geology of the region, the old labor camps there and talking to a geologist and a hiker with knowledge of the area. When people tell you contemporary romance is easier to write because you don’t need to research…yeah, give them my email.

4. You’re a prolific writer, with stories running the gamut from romantic suspense to steamy contemporary. Do you have one genre you prefer to write over all others? Any genre(s) you’re itching to try but just haven’t gotten around to yet?

A lot of my books have a bit of a suspense feel to them, even if they’re not traditionally what we think of as romantic suspense. I clearly have a love of thrillers and try to work that tone into a lot of the books I write, whether there are explosions or not. But despite the genre, I do think my books share the same basic principles: families are about more than blood, people can overcome their difficult pasts or at least learn how to survive them, trust is essential, and romance is about hope. As for what I’d like to write, I am dying to do a futuristic with thriller aspects, sexy times and a marriage of convenience trope (my favorite, but it’s hard to pull off in contemporary).

5. What’s your advice for romance writers who aspire to their own RITA nominations? (Hey, an author can dream!)

We need to dream. Man, do not stop. But I do have to admit that I’ve never written a book hoping or thinking it would be a RITA finalist. The RITA finalist part is just a huge, unexpected extra for which I am incredibly grateful. I think the key to surviving and thriving in this genre, and really, that should probably be the real goal, is to be willing to adapt, to keep writing in a way that feels authentic to you (i.e., don’t chase trends) and to aim for each book to be better than the one before it. It took me 30+ books to get the RITA finalist nod, so do not give up hope. Ever.

Thanks again for stopping by, HelenKay! We can’t wait to cheer you on during the awards ceremony. And for those of you won’t be able to make the ceremony in person, you can catch a live webcast at rwa.org! The ceremony will take place on Saturday, July 16th at 8:00PM PST.

That’s about it for Get Pumped for Nationals! We’ll see you all in San Diego, two weeks from today!

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