Interview: Diana Rowland

NRR: Can you share with us how you got started into writing?

I'm pretty sure I've been writing stories and scenes as long as I've been reading. I started (and didn't finish) at least a dozen novels during high school and college, but it wasn't until I was in my late 20s that I finally buckled down and wrote an entire novel--a big fat fantasy that clocked in at just under 175,000 words. And, let me tell you, it contained every possible trope and stereotype (not intentionally!) Of course I thought it was a work of unparalleled genius and was convinced that it would be only a matter of weeks before  publisher snapped it up and made me the next Robert Jordan. Needless to say, that failed to happen!  Fortunately for me, that was right about the time when the internet was becoming mainstream and I happened to stumble upon a writers' chat online. There I met other aspiring writers as well as a number of seasoned pros, and I learned about things like submission protocols, critique groups, and writing workshops. The workshops I heard the most about were Clarion and Clarion West--six week workshops held in (at the time) Michigan and Seattle respectively, that focused on science fiction and fantasy short fiction. I happened to be in a phase of my life where I could take six weeks off and so I sent my application in to Clarion West--including, as directed, two of my best short stories (which, again, I thought were works of unparalleled genius!) A few months later I got the word that I'd been accepted. At that time I knew that I was on the fast lane to success!

Needless to say, I received my first reality check during the first critique session. :-) Luckily it wasn't all tears and heartbreak, and I learned a great deal during those weeks about craft, tension, professionalism, and the business in general. I came home from the workshop inspired and pumped and immediately settled down to do some serious short story writing. But two years later I'd sold ONE story to a small anthology and was completely burned out and disillusioned. I'd also gone through a divorce, the death of my father and a complete change of career, and so I made the decision to put off writing for a few months while I concentrated on making it through the police academy and my field training as a street cop.

A few months turned into almost five years. But the siren call of fiction kept coming through and I slowly began pecking out little stories and snippets again. Then I took a look back at some of the stories I'd written after returning from Clarion West and realized that, while some of them had promise, none of them were as good as they could or should be--or as good as I'd thought they were. However, one of the stories held more promise than the others, and so I dusted that one off, rewrote it, and started sending it out. I received a number of rejections on it, but this time the rejections were more personal and encouraging. On a whim I submitted the story to the Writers of the Future contest (my first time ever entering it) and, to my utter shock, won first place for that quarter.

That first bit of tangible success opened the floodgates for me. One of the perks of winning the Writers of the Future contest is that the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winners for each quarter are invited to a week-long workshop with some of the biggest and brightest names in science fiction and fantasy. During that week I had that chance to rub elbows with and learn from writers such as Tim Powers, Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, David Brin, Anne McCaffrey, K.D. Wentworth, and scads of other top professionals. I came home from the workshop inspired and pumped (yes, you've heard this already!) but this time I was older, a little bit wiser, and had a lot more life experience and perspective. I sat down and wrote Mark of the Demon. Took me about three months to write the first draft, at which time I set it aside and worked on other, smaller projects. A couple of months later I picked Mark of the Demon back up, rewrote, revised, sent it to some trusted critique partners, took their suggestions to heart, rewrote and revised again, and then began my search for an agent.

One thing I'd learned in my years of ups and downs in trying to break in to the industry was that fortune tends to favor the professional. I don't meant "professional" as in someone who's already making money off their books, but "professional" as in someone who takes every aspect of the business seriously. Therefore, I treated my search for an agent like any other aspect of my job. I researched agents, compiled a list with my dream agents at the top, put in hours of work on my query letter, and when I finally began sending out queries, I made sure to send exactly what each agent wanted as far as sample pages or chapters. I sent queries out in batches of 5 or 6, sending out new batches every week or as rejections came in. And I kept track of everything on an insanely detailed spreadsheet.

Six weeks later I'd sent out 33 queries, received 17 flat-out rejections, 14 requests for partials, 9 rejections from those partial requests, and 2 requests for the full manuscript. Seven weeks later I got an email from Matt Bialer, telling me he'd loved the book and wanted to represent it. I quickly sent out a flurry of emails to people I knew who were also represented by him, asking for the straight scoop on how he was as an agent, and received nothing but high praise back. I signed with him less than a week later!

But, all was not instant sunshine and roses. While Matt had huge faith in my book, six months later it had racked up an impressive number of rejections from most of the major publishers. I was starting to lose faith, but Matt kept telling me to not give up hope. Finally, eight months after it went out on submission, Anne Groell at Bantam (Random House) made an offer for Mark of the Demon and a sequel. :-D

NRR: How were you inspired to write the Kara Gillian- Demon Summoner series?

I had my first inspiration when I was working in the morgue at the Coroner's Office. A body came in with some strange injuries, and the nerdy part of me started to wonder how a pathologist would react to injuries that had been caused by some sort of supernatural creature. From there I developed the concept of a cop who had resources beyond this world, and the rest of the story fell into place with surprising ease!

NRR: You have worked as a bartender, a blackjack dealer, a pit boss, a street cop, a detective, a computer forensics specialist, a crime scene investigator, and a morgue assistant. Which job did you enjoy the most?

Street cop, hands down. There's an incredible feeling of belonging and brotherhood/sisterhood among cops--especially the ones on the front lines--that I've never found anywhere else. And the job itself is different, interesting and rewarding on a constant basis. There are times when I miss it tremendously but, at the same time, I could never give up what I'm doing now!

NRR: Kara is a personable character that readers enjoy. What is one word you would use to describe her character?

Only one word? Yikes!  Hmmm.... resilient. I think that's the one that suits her best.

NRR: How much does your law enforcement knowledge go into your writing?

LOTS!  Darn near every scene in Mark of the Demon had elements that were drawn from my own experiences, even if it was simply a description of a character. But everything about the procedures and the interactions was taken from everything I'd learned and experienced. Moreover, my time in law enforcement gave me scads of contacts who are generally more than willing to answer questions for me. In Secrets of the Demon I needed a fair amount of information on white collar crime, and I ended up making a number of phone calls to some of the detectives with whom I used to work. Also, there's a certain pathologist who, amazingly, has not grown tired of my constant text messages asking for information on interesting ways to die. 

NRR: If you could summon a demon (which we know is highly unlikely but I had to ask) would you?

Well, MY demons aren't from hell and aren't inherently evil, so I think it's quite likely that (with the proper training and precautions) I'd totally go for it!

NRR: If you could collaberate with any author, who would it be and why?

That's a tough one! I'd love to work on something with my critique partner, Nicole Peeler, since she has a terrific knack for pulling emotion out of a scene and has a wicked-cool imagination, but I think that both our schedules are too crazy for that to ever happen. However, I am currently working on a Somewhat Secret Project with someone who's rather well-known in non-writing circles, but I can't spill the beans on that one just yet. Sorry!

NRR: Can you share with us a little about Secrets Of The Demon (of course no spoilers)?

Detective Kara Gillian is tasked with protecting a rising rock star from supernatural attack, but one by one others associated with the band are being murdered, raising more and more questions as to *why* this singer and those close to her are being targeted. Meanwhile Kara is discovering more about her task force partners, Ryan Kristoff and Zack Garner, but the more she learns, the more the mysteries deepens. What is Ryan hiding? And why? It doesn't help that the hot and sexy demonic lord Rhyzkahl clearly has plans for her--not that he's ready to share them with her just yet. Everyone has their secrets, and finding the answers may be more than Kara can handle.

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