Thursday, July 23, 2015 | By: The Write Way Cafe

An Interview with Luanna Stewart

The Write Way Café welcomes Luanna Stewart, who shares her path from rough draft with hairless, naked characters to full blown story with unforgettable characters.

When did you first have the thought you'd like to write a book? Was that first thought related to writing romance?
     I’ve always enjoyed writing in journals and diaries but it wasn’t until about ten years ago that I thought I’d try my hand at a novel. I’ve read voraciously for as long as I can remember, with romance fiction being my favourite genre. I had an idea for a story bopping around in my head, so one day, while the kids were at school, I opened a notebook and started writing. That story will never see the light of day – boy, is it bad. I broke just about every “rule” there is for romance fiction. But by the end of the story, over 400 pages, a year, and a few online classes later, it’s not half bad. It would require too much work to fix though, so it remains in the deep dark recesses of my hard drive.

What was your path to getting this book written and published? What type of research did you do?
     Portrait of a Girl started as an idea several years ago. I brainstormed the plot and characters with my critique partners, got to the mid-point, then got sidetracked by a new and shiny idea. When I returned to the story, I’d changed my mind about the heroine’s past, so I had to rewrite a good bit of the beginning. But from there it was easy sailing. My first draft is the bare bones of the story with very little description of anything. Quite often my characters walk around naked, with no hair and colourless eyes. It’s only after I’ve gotten to know them, usually by the mid-point of the story, that I can fill in the details that bring them to life. I spent many hours looking online for a special piece of artwork that my villain desperately wants. And I lost myself in the French countryside via Google Earth searching for the exact kind of location for one of the scenes to play out the way I needed.
       Once the book was finished, I shared it with my critique partners, chapter by chapter, took their feedback and made the book better. I submitted the manuscript to Entangled Publishing and signed the contract a few months later. And then the real work began! I thought my critique partners were picky, but they have nothing on my editor, for which I’m extremely thankful. She helped me apply the final polish.

Where did the idea for your story come from?
     I’ve always been intrigued by family secrets. When I was a young girl, my dad was considering changing jobs, but for one reason or another, we were told not to talk about it with our friends – it was a family secret. I thought it was cool to have a secret like that, it sounded so important. For this story I needed a secret that was bigger and badder, and would have far reaching consequences. Learning that one’s father had been an art thief fit the bill.

Why did you pick the setting you did?
     Portrait of a Girl starts in Portland, Maine, but it’s my version of the city. I don’t name streets, and the few businesses I mention are fictional. The large park by the harbour where my heroine runs into the hero is actually based on Point Pleasant Park in my hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia. A portion of the story also takes place in France. It’s been many years since I visited that country, so I relied on Google Earth for familiarizing myself with the landscape. My high school level French was fine-tuned for the book by a friend who lives in Quebec.

Are your main characters completely imaginary or do they have some basis in real people? Do they reflect aspects of yourself?
     I’d like to say my main characters are completely imaginary, but I doubt any writers out there would believe me. There are bits and pieces of me in the heroine – I love cats, and I love to bake. My hero is a photographer – my husband is an avid amateur photographer. My villain will do anything for his young son – I’m a parent who will do anything for my children. Well, except for the illegal stuff. There is also that big, bad family secret that may or may not be drawn from real life.

What have been surprises you've encountered while writing the book and after?
     The only thing that surprised me in the story was how much I cared about the villain. But that all changed after he did that really bad thing that he did, and then I wanted him punished.

Tell us about your writing space and how or why it works for you.
     My writing space changes with the seasons. Right now I like to spend as much time out of doors as I can, so I set up a little folding table on the back deck, under the shade of the pergola, and use my laptop out there. I can keep an eye on the two cats and make sure they stay in our yard. And I can rescue any chipmunks who were too slow to escape the jaws of death. In the winter I’m in my office, sitting at my Grammy O’s desk, with a knitted shawl over my shoulders. The most important feature of my office is the door that can be closed. I need quiet in order to write.

What are you working on now?
     I’m working on another romantic suspense novel set in the world of international art thievery. This time my heroine runs a catering company. I can’t keep away from cooking and baking!

Would you like to try your hand at writing a different genre?  Which one and why?
     If I were to write something completely out of the romance world, it would be a cozy mystery. I love Agatha Christie and have read and re-read all her novels. But in order to do so, I’d have to do a certain amount of advance plotting and planning, and I tend to write by the seat of my pants.
     Within the romance world, I’ve published two contemporary romance novellas under the pen name Grace Hood, but have found I prefer to write the longer, full-length novel, because more stuff can happen. I’ve written a paranormal romance with Wiccan elements, I wrote a retelling of The Princess and the Pea fairytale, and I’m working on my third historical romance set in the Victorian era.

If you were not a writer, what would your dream job be?
     Oh, I bet you can guess I’d own a bakery. I started baking at my mum’s knee and haven’t stopped. I bake all our bread, cookies, cakes, pies, etc. We have dessert after every supper, and if the boys are home from college, it usually contains chocolate in some form.

Portrait of a Girl 
Shortly after Tony moves into the big house, Heather needs an excuse to visit– to be neighbourly, NOT for another chance to get up close and personal – so she bakes a batch of Whoopie Pies and delivers them while he’s in his bedroom.

Wicked Good Whoopie Pies
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup cocoa powder, sifted
1 ½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup butter, room temperature
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 425F. Line 2 large cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In bowl of mixer, combine butter, oil and sugar. Mix until well blended. Add egg and vanilla extract and beat well. Add half of flour mixture, followed by milk and remaining flour mixture, stirring after each addition until well blended.

Drop by tablespoon  onto prepared cookie sheets and bake for approximately 9 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. They are done when toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes then transfer to rack and cool completely. Place frosting between two cookies and sandwich together.

5 cups confectioner’s sugar
¼ cup butter, room temperature
6 tablespoons milk or cream, or as needed to make a soft icing
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

Blend confectioner’s sugar and butter at low speed of mixer. Add milk and vanilla extract, blend at low speed until fully incorporated, then increase speed to high and beat until smooth, adding more milk by the teaspoon if needed.

About Luanna: 
     Luanna Stewart has been creating adventures for her imaginary friends since childhood. As soon as she discovered, and devoured, her grandmother's stash of medical romance novels, all plots had to lead to a happily-ever-after.
     Luanna writes full time, concentrating on sexy romantic suspense, steamy paranormal romance, and spicy historical romance.
     Born and raised in Nova Scotia, Luanna now lives in Maine with her dear husband, two college boys, two cats, and one surviving gold fish. When she's not torturing her heroes and heroines, she can be found in her kitchen whipping up something chocolate.
     Writing under the pen name Grace Hood, she has two novellas published with The Wild Rose Press. Now she is super excited to have a book published under her own name with Entangled Publishing.


Luanna Stewart said...

Hello there! Thank you so much for having me visit today. I'm at the Romance Writers of America (RWA) conference in New York City, hobnobbing with lots of fabulous writers, and maybe learning a thing or two. I'll pop in after my next workshop for a chat!

HiDee said...

Great interview. The Whoopie Pies sound delicious! Thanks for being with us today!

Deb Noone said...

Lu - love the book. I devoured it in about a day and a half - and this after reading it all in "naked, hairless character" form as her critique partner. Yup, I was still on the edge of my chair, turning pages as fast as I could. Yummy alpha hero, self-deprecating, but heroic heroine with a sense of humor, and a dastardly villain. AND ... Lu is the best baker - pumpkin cookies with cream cheese frosting (not chocolate, but just as yummy as her hero). Congrats on your book release. Can't wait for the next one on art theft.

Angela Adams said...

Thanks for the pie recipe, Luanna, and enjoy the conference!

Marianne Rice said...

I love naked characters. Hair isn't necessary either ;-)
Congrats on the new release. I can't wait to read it.

Luanna Stewart said...

Thank you so much, Deb! I'm thrilled that you were on the edge of your seat, even though you'd read a rough (very rough) draft. I'm working madly on the next book in the series.

Luanna Stewart said...

I hope you enjoy baking the Whoopie Pies, Angela. And I'm having a blast at the conference.

Luanna Stewart said...

LOL Marianne, sometimes the characters need to be naked, but perhaps not whilst hiking in the middle of winter.