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Talking Craft with Romance Novelist Anna del Mar

Anna del Mar writes hot, smart romances that soothe the soul, challenge the mind, and satisfy the heart. Her stories focus on strong heroines struggling to find their place in the world and the brave, sexy, kickass, military heroes who defy the limits of their broken bodies to protect the women they love. She is the author of The Asset (Carina Press), the first novel of her Wounded Warrior series and three other novels scheduled for release during 2016.

A Georgetown University graduate, Anna enjoys traveling, hiking, skiing, and the sea. Writing is her addiction, her drug of choice, and what she wants to do all the time. The extraordinary men and women she met during her years as a Navy wife inspire the fabulous heroes and heroines at the center of her stories. When she stays put—which doesn’t happen very often—she lives in Florida with her indulgent husband and two very opinionated cats.

Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, The Asset. To begin with, can you gives us a brief summary of what the story is about and what compelled you to write it?

A: Sure! The Asset is a contemporary romance about a woman, fleeing from her sinister past, who must defy her fears and risk her life to care for a wounded warrior, a SEAL, running away from his uncertain future. Together they learn that fear can give way to courage and love is a healing journey. The Asset is the first novel of my Wounded Warrior series, a collection of novels that feature strong, self-reliant heroines trying to find their place in the world and the brave, sexy military heroes who will lay down their lives to protect the women they love.

I was inspired to write both the novel and the series by the amazing people I met while my husband was in the Navy and we lived as part of the military community. I wish that everybody in the world got to meet these brave souls. More specifically, my heroes and heroines are inspired by the wounded warriors coming back from the wars abroad and the incredible resilience they show every day.

Q: What do you think makes a good romance? Could you narrow it down to the three most important elements? Is it even possible to narrow it down?

A: A romance is a novel that aims to discover the mysteries of the human heart, the forces that bring us together, the prejudices that pull us apart. I don’t know that you can ever narrow down the elements that define a good romance, but I think most romance writers would agree that strong, vivid, authentic and evolving characters make a difference, as does a well-constructed plot and a rich, interesting setting. The relationship is always at the center of the story and our ability to connect to those characters is key. But the ultimate measure of a good romance has always been and will continue to be the story’s ability to touch the reader’s heart.

Q: How did you go about plotting your story? Or did you discover it as you worked on the book?

A: I usually have a broad idea of what the plot will entail and how it will flow. I might even have a loose outline that I use as an overall guide to check my progress. But the best plot twists are those that surprise not only the reader, but the writer as well. I love it when that happens! So I’m always open to see where the story and the characters will lead me. I’m always thrilled to be surprised.

Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist and how you developed him or her. Did you do any character interviews or sketches prior to the actual writing?

A: Some of these characters have been living in my mind for quite some time. Take Lia, for example, The Asset’s heroine. She’s fleeing from a drug lord who has terrorized her existence. Her early life mirrors some of my experiences growing up in Latin America and the perils of a world riddled with conflict and violence.

Likewise, Ash, The Asset’s hero, is a Colorado native, born and bred. I’ve spend a lot of time in the Rocky Mountains and I think that my vision of that part of the country shapes Ash as a person and as a hero. I don’t usually do character interviews of sketches prior to writing, but sometimes I keep a list to clarify the traits that feel strong to my writer’s heart.

Q: In the same light, how did you create your antagonist or villain? What steps did you take to make him or her realistic?

A: As I mentioned above, I grew up in Latin America. The villain in this story is someone who by definition is familiar to the reader, someone who by virtue of his power and money is a ranking member of the global society, despite being ruthless, violent and cruel.

In The Asset, Ramon Ruiz Rojas—Red—is the ambitious, brutal head of the Rojas cartel, the most powerful drug lord in the States. I won’t give up any spoilers, but suffice it to say that he’s after Lia with a vengeance. After stalking her for years, he’s now on her heels and, this time around, he intends to snare her for good.

Q: How did you keep your narrative exciting throughout the novel? Could you offer some practical, specific tips?

A: Pace is very important to keep the story rolling, focusing on the key aspects of the mysteries at the heart of the novel. The flow of information is another vital element that helps keep up the suspense, when a character knows what and why. It’s also important to eliminate any aspects of the narrative that don’t contribute to advancing the story. If it’s not necessary, chop it off and move on to keep the narrative exciting.

Q: Setting is also quite important and in many cases it becomes like a character itself. What tools of the trade did you use in your writing to bring the setting to life?

A: I’m huge on experiential research and observation. As a writer, I like to put myself in situations that are similar to those that my characters are experiencing. Research goes a long way to add resources to the writer’s toolkit and helps build authentic stories with realistic details. But there’s nothing like being there to create rich settings.

Q: Did you know the theme(s) of your novel from the start or is this something you discovered after completing the first draft? Is this theme(s) recurrent in your other work?

A: I knew the theme and yes, the theme is recurrent in the Wounded Warrior Series. The series is not really about physical injuries. It’s about the wounds we all carry deep inside, the pain we all experience as human beings, the courage that it takes to face and overcome the challenges life throws at us. Above all, the series is about hope, love’s extraordinary healing power and the joy that comes from the journey.

Q: Where does craft end and art begin? Do you think editing can destroy the initial creative thrust of an author?

A: In my view, writing is an art, but technical proficiency helps the artist convey her gifts. Editing is an art too. Sure, an editor has to be technically proficient to do her job, but without a feel for the story, the editing process can become a misadventure. Romance requires an editor able to connect with the story at a gut level, who can feel through the narrative, understand the characters and evaluate their authenticity. Moreover, you want someone who brings practical applications to the editing process. If you’re writing romance and you’re interested in publishing your work, you need to have an editor who knows the genre, the romance community, and the romance publishing industry.

Q: What three things, in your opinion, make a successful novelist?

A: A passion for writing, a personal and professional commitment to storytelling, and perseverance to see the journey through.

Q: A famous writer once wrote that being an author is like having to do homework for the rest of your life. What do you think about that?

A: I guess it would depend if you like doing homework or not!  I wouldn’t want to devote my life to doing something I hate. On the contrary. Life is too short to for that. To me writing feels as if I’d won the lottery. I get to sit down every day of my life and write my stories? And I get paid for that? I’m the luckiest girl on earth.

Q: Are there any resources, books, workshops or sites about craft that you’ve found helpful during your writing career?

A: The best investment I’ve ever made in my career was working with my private editor. A good editor teaches, encourages and guides in addition to everything else. She or he provides personalized learning opportunities that save you time and effort as an author. A good editor can be the difference between publishing or not.

One other resource that I think it’s important, and it’s free for the most part. Your writer friends are a great source of support, knowledge, information and perspective. Find them and stick with them. You’ll be happy for the company along the way.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers about the craft of writing?

A: I’ve been saying this a lot lately: Writing is an act of love.

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