Friday, December 14, 2007

Michele Dunaway on When a Story Clicks

Michele Dunaway
The Christmas Date (Harlequin American Romance) and Hart’s Victory (Harlequin NASCAR)
Publisher: Harlequin Enterprises
Pub Date: December 2007
Agent: Jessica Faust

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Web site:

One photojournalist, one girl next door, plus one hot and sexy race car driver, and one single mom who wants nothing to do with him, all add up to one crazy month of December with my two releases, The Christmas Date from Harlequin American and Hart’s Victory from Harlequin NASCAR.

I’m Michele Dunaway, and I’m one of Jessica’s authors, having been her client since February 2006. While I sold 14 novels on my own to Harlequin, Jessica has since sold six more for me (bringing my total to 20 in 8 years). I’m also a full-time high school journalism teacher who sponsors the yearbook and the newspaper. The yearbook was named All American, which means it’s pretty darn good. My writing process is sporadic and I do a lot of it in big, huge spurts. I simply can’t focus with fewer than 45 minutes to write.

Hart’s Victory is one of those dream books for me and I’ve dedicated it, in part, to Jessica, for helping make this work a reality. The book is also dedicated to one of my former students and my daughter because this book has had this weird karma to it since inception. I first thought of the idea after my daughter got to ask Dale Earnhardt Jr. a question during a Q&A session. She stumped him, and on the way home from Nashville, the entire book formed in my head. I wrote the first eighty pages and a synopsis within a week and sent them to Jessica, who sent them to my current editor.

The book sat and I moved on to writing something else, keeping my fingers crossed for the last 2007 NASCAR slot. During this time, one of my current students died of leukemia. I was at his visitation, and as I passed under the portico of the funeral home, there sat this red, late-nineties Corvette. I'd had the hero in my book give the son in the story a Corvette (I’m a Chevy girl) but didn’t even realize the coincidence until my students told me the next day that was Charlie’s car—that his parents gave him his dream car since his driving time would be so limited.

I freaked out. It was one of those magical, surreal moments that I knew, long before Jessica fielded the call the next week offering me a contract, the power of this story. Everything I needed clicked—the teacher in the classroom next to mine mentioned my story to a student, who told her mom, who happens to work for one of the racing websites and has all sorts of contacts. I suddenly had access to all sorts of things, and Harlequin came through with the rest. I got to go behind the scenes at Roush-Fenway racing. I got to attend a media event and meet Matt Kenseth, Kenny Schrader, Brendan Gaughn, Rusty Wallace, Martin Truex Jr., and others. I got to be in the garage and pits before a race—one that Carl Edwards won (he signed my daughter’s hat).

Because of Hart’s Victory, Harlequin also asked me to do two books for the 2008 NASCAR series. I remember sitting in my car and then suddenly realizing—twenty. In September 1999, the thrill had been selling the first one. Twenty felt equally as good. Hart’s Victory is number fifteen. It has received rave reviews, including from my daughter, who agrees with Harriet Klausner that you’ll need Kleenex tissue while reading. It’s one of those books that you’ll love even if you’re not a NASCAR fan. Now if you want some heat and light romantic comedy, try my other December release, The Christmas Date. For an emotional ride of a lifetime, follow Hart Hampton as he gets the biggest victory of all, true love, in Hart’s Victory.


Christie Craig said...

First, congratulations on number 20. What an accomplishment! Especially, considering you also hold down a full time job. You have my respect.

My daughter is a teacher so my heart clutched at parts of your blog. Also, I loved hearing about how Karma worked its way into your book. I'm a big Karma believer myself. Thanks for the great post.


Michele Dunaway said...

Thanks Christie! One thing these two books really taught me were the power of timing. The Christmas Date was something I'd originally tried to sell over six years ago, but I put it on a shelf. Later, I could see the flaws in it, so I took it out, dusted it off and changed it around, and lo and behold, Harlequin loved it.

Anonymous said...

Can I first say congratulations and then ask how in the heck you manage to write (and sell) 20 books in 8 years?

There may be no answer to this, but as a YA writer I struggle (greatly) to come up with one good plot/character/situation a year, I can't imagine having written even 10 books, much less 20.

Does your brain ever turn off? Are you Wonderwoman in disguise?

But more importantly, I'm interested in the process... Do you find you have to cut out character traits or plot points because you've already used them in previous novels? Do you discuss in detail what you are going to be writing with your agent beforehand or just spring it on her? Do you outline or write by the seat of your pants?

Maria Zannini said...

What a wonderful success story, Michele.

Many congratulations and well deserved.


Jolie Mathis said...

Congratulations on 20 Michele! What an accomplishment!

Kate Douglas said...

Ya know what I love about your post, Michele? Your love of what you are doing and what you write shines through in every word. I think that's what makes good books even better--when the author truly loves what they're writing, that joy comes through for the readers, too. Congratulations on twenty books! What a terrific milestone!!!

Angie Fox said...

Michele, I was going to email you privately, but what the heck. Might as well tell you here - The Christmas Date is simply wonderful. I snatched it up after hearing about it during the "Christmas books" discussion. I'm about 3/4 of the way into it and am drooling all over Tyler. He's such a wonderful hero. I love how Kate pushes his buttons. You have a real winner here.

And congrats on reaching 20 books! That's an incredible milestone.

Teri Thackston said...

20 books while working fulltime...I am in awe, Michele. Congratulations.

Faye Hughes said...

Congrats, Michele, on 20 books in eight years! What an awesome accomplishment!


Michele Dunaway said...

{Do you find you have to cut out character traits or plot points because you've already used them in previous novels? Do you discuss in detail what you are going to be writing with your agent beforehand or just spring it on her? Do you outline or write by the seat of your pants?}

People who know me call me Superwoman. The truth is, I haven't had much of a life this year. I teach, go home, and write. I hang out with my kids. My poor significant other wonders where I am. He works nights and I work days, so we only have Saturday in common together anyway. So we might only see each other twice a month.

As for books, I actually see the characters first. They are people talking in my head. It's like watching a movie and I'm directing. I have to sell on synopsis, so I do have an outline. But the characters often do things that they aren't supposed to, like kiss earlier or something.

That's a key thing. The plots are really all the same. Girl meets boy, they fall in love, they have issues, they break up, they discover they can't live without each other, they get together and live happily ever after. That's a romance in a nutshell. It's the characters who keep things fresh. The more real I can make them, the better.

Little things trigger each character. I have a student who is now a pilot. The moment I made my boring stuffy lawyer also a pilot of single engine planes, the sky literally opened up and added a fresh angle onto the whole boy next door story. That will be the April, The Marriage Recipe.

Thanks Angie! I love feedback! This is one I'd been dying to see publish!

Liz said...

Congrats on 20!!!

I love how your students inspire you, just as I'm sure you inspire them.

Kimberly Killion said...

You are amazing! I'm not sure I will ever write 20 books, but you are proof that it can be done and an inspiration to us all.

We at MORWA are fortunate to have you as a member to learn from.


Michele Dunaway said...

My students always inspire me. People in general do as well. Tyler Nichols is actually inspired by Nick Kenig, a real life photo journalist who is now in grad school in NYC. I met him once in Atlanta (the first location of the Christmas Date) and listened to all his future plans. A mutual friend has kept me abreast of what Nick's been doing, but it was his hopes for the future that led me to create Tyler. When Tyler came about, Nick ceased to exist and Tyler became his own entity, if that makes sense. Nick came from Austin, not Orlando. And they don't look similiar either.


Jennifer Shirk said...

I just bought the Christmas Date and I can't wait to read it!

Michele Dunaway said...

I hope you like it!

BTW, I am featured over at The Motivated discussing my creative space.

Here's the addy: