Hey guys! Please welcome debut author Debbie Burns to the site today! She wrote one of the most lovely, fantastic contemporary romances I’ve read in a long time, A New Leash On Love. I mean, come on, doesn’t this sound like the CUTEST THING EVER!

When Craig Williams draws the short straw and has to take his daughter’s adorable new puppy to a shelter after the holidays, it’s just another painful episode in the fall-out of a miserable divorce. He needs to pick up the pieces of his life, and, after a fiery confrontation with Megan Anderson, the young woman running the shelter, he wants to put the whole episode behind him. However, when he keeps finding new ways to reconnect with her, he realizes Megan’s compassionate and caring nature just might be the perfect salve for his broken heart.

The story was such a treat and the minute I finished it, I knew I HAD to interview Debbie and pick her brain! We talk writing process, writing perseverance, and pets! Some of my favorite topics. Without further ado!

 

1. Thanks so much for joining me today Debbie! Your book, A New Leash On Love, is absolute adorable! I picked it up on the title alone. I love a good title. 🙂 So let’s start from the very beginning. A New Leash On Love is your debut novel and you wrote a great post on your website about how your love of animals inspires you. Talk to me a bit more about the genesis of your book.

The idea for A New Leash on Love came to me while I was at a local shelter with my then four-year-old daughter looking at the dogs. Frequently for me, an entire story rapidly evolves out of a single idea. I remember being at the shelter and wondering how the staff could keep their cool at times, considering some of the animals’ stories. My heart always goes out to homeless animals, but I understand that the majority of them don’t wind up in shelters because of heartless acts of surrender. There are often extenuating and justifiable circumstances as to why shelter animals end up needing to be rehomed. I remember being in the shelter and having a flash thought of two people arguing over the surrender of a dog, and the idea quickly evolved into a story that I just had to write.

I’ve volunteered in shelters over the years and worked with non-profit animal conservation organizations, so the shelter part of the story developed easily. Getting the argument between hero and heroine right so that the reader wasn’t too tempted to take sides and root for one character but not the other was a much bigger challenge.

2. Very cool inspiration story. Love it! So, it’s always fascinating to read an author’s How I Got My Agent or How I Got My Book Deal posts and I really liked your post about it because it shows your struggle and with that, your perseverance. Can you talk a bit about that time, when you were querying and got an agent but then had to leave the agent. How did you stay focused and continue on to write what would become A New Leash On Love?

There’s a magnet on my fridge that reads “Leap and the net will appear.” I made it a point of repeating this to myself several times a day back then. Making the decision to leave my first agent was frightening. Very frightening. I’d worked a long time to be able to sign with her, and I tried not to think about all the scary “what ifs” in those weeks and months after going solo again. The book I’d originally signed with was a YA time travel/romance, and by the time it was out on sub, the only thing selling in the YA market was contemporary. When it came time to talk about what was next, my first agent and I had very different ideas, and after a lot of thought, I made the decision to search for another agent. Rather than writing something new (which I love to do), I made the decision to dramatically revamp an under-the-bed manuscript that I’d never fully been able to put to rest.

During those agentless months, I kept busy revising the story and using what I had learned after participating in workshops and conferences to make it stronger. When the manuscript felt ready and I was querying agents again, I focused on revising a different manuscript and stayed active in my local RWA chapter. The support from other writers was tremendously helpful. After just a few months of querying, I connected with my agent (Jess Watterson of Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency) and haven’t looked back. We share a love of dogs and romance, so we’re well matched. The manuscript I signed with was called Shelter back then, but it’s since been renamed A New Leash on Love, and is my first published book.

3. Awesome. I love hearing stories about perseverance and keeping at it. I’m so proud of you. 🙂 Okay, you mentioned some things in the same blog post that a writer should do to strengthen their craft: network, join a critique group etc. Is there anything else you feel would also be helpful?

When it comes to honing the craft of writing, I think it’s essential to take your time and allow both your story-telling skills and your story to develop. Know that not everyone will sell (or should self-publish) their first manuscript unless they’ve been open to lots of professional input throughout the writing process. While I wouldn’t advise it for everyone, for several years, I wrote with the door closed, wrote the stories I wanted to write, and tried several genres. When I finally got serious about publication (because let’s face it, you can only stack up so many manuscripts under your bed), I began attending writer conferences, workshops, and writers’ groups. I learned some things about getting manuscripts into publishable shape that I would not have learned on my own, no matter how many manuscripts I wrote. However, my years of writing with the door closed weren’t wasted years. I believe those years of experimental writing and forgotten manuscripts have helped make me a stronger, more prolific published writer now.

4. I agree. I don’t think any writing is ever wasted writing. It all helps teach you in the end. Alright, now let’s talk about the book itself. Publisher’s Weekly said “Burns’s auspicious debut contemporary is a warm cuddly tale full of dogs, cats, kids, and genuinely likable adults.” I couldn’t agree more! I loved the natural conflicts, the chemistry and the way you really incorporated the secondary characters and gave them weight. Everyone felt very real. It looks like you took a lot of those lessons learned you had mentioned in your blog post to heart. If you could pinpoint one thing in particular that really helped you create such a wonderful story, what do think that would be?

First, thank you for the kind words. I love hearing that readers have enjoyed the story and that they appreciate the “real” feel of the characters. When it comes to writing, I’m a total pantster, but I never start a manuscript until I’ve plotted out the story enough in my head that the characters feel real to me. When I do start, I do my best to paint a picture in words of the story that I see in my head. If I had to name one thing that I believe helps make a story strong, it’s intimate details. A lot of writers say this, and I do believe it’s a key to creating a strong story. Each scene, I attempt to give a few intimate details on various things, from the characters (human and animal) to the setting. I also try not to overdo details. A good rule of thumb for me is when I start to get bored describing something, I figure the reader will be bored reading it, and I’m not afraid to hit “backspace”.

5. It’s no surprise that your publisher requested more books from you! Sit, Stay, Love sounds just as awesome as A New Leash On Love. Tell us more about that story.

In Sit, Stay, Love, after a massive dog-fighting ring is exposed, lead adoption worker Kelsey Sutton takes on the care of a large number of these mistreated dogs at a secluded, historic mansion that’s in need of as much TLC as the dogs. To accomplish the difficult feat of rehabilitating these mistreated animals, she’s paired with pragmatic Kurt Crawford, ex-Military Working Dog Handler. Kurt gives the rehab his all. When he’s not focused on retraining the dogs, he’s reshaping the broken old house. Considering his eight years of military service in hostile territory, Kelsey suspects Kurt’s inability to relax is as much a defense mechanism as it is habit. Seeing his dedication and kindness, Kelsey’s deeply—but cautiously—drawn to him. Not only has it become obvious how tightly-wound he still is, she also suspects when the rehab’s over, he’ll move on, and she’s not the type to give her heart away easily, unless it’s to four-legged friends like the ones filling the unique old mansion.

After his experiences during his years of service, Kurt’s committed keeping to his heart locked away. However, after witnessing a touching expression of compassion by Kelsey, he’s stirred awake in a way he hasn’t been in years. Against his better judgment, he accepts the retraining work, and eventually finds that the dogs, the extraordinary old house, and the remarkable woman he’s working with might just be his biggest hope in regard to living his best life.

6. That sounds absolutely amazing!!! I can’t wait to read it! But my heart did clench when I read dog-fighting ring. Those must be one of the most despicable things on earth. But talking about something happier…how many books will be in the Rescue Me Series? Any plans for spin-offs?

Currently, there are six books planned for the Rescue Me series. From animals misplaced by natural events to city strays and therapy dogs, each book will portray different aspects of the animal shelter world. Of course, each one will have compelling love stories to match! The third book, My Forever Home, is due out January 2019, and I’ve just begun writing the fourth in the series. No plans for spin offs yet but stay tuned!

7. Congratulations! I can’t wait to DEVOUR them all! Let’s talk pets! It’s clear that you love animals, and you’ve rescued two dogs yourself, Nala and Hazel. (You also have a kitty; can’t forget about her!) How did you get into the rescue life? 

My first experience volunteering in an animal shelter was when I was thirteen years old. In college, I majored in biology and minored in conservation, and I’ve worked with conservation organizations dedicated to helping wild animals like birds of prey and wolves, so before writing A New Leash on Love, I was fairly well versed in the non-profit animal-rescue world. And while I’ve been an animal lover as long as I can remember, I grew up in a household with cats, but not dogs. My animal-loving daughter gets credit for our first rescue dog, Hazel, a now eight-year-old border collie/mix. Even though Hazel was a puppy when we got her, she had a rough start and needed lots of TLC. After learning her story and getting to know the small group of rescue workers instrumental in caring for her, I became a forever advocate for adoption. Our newest dog addition, Nala, is closing in on two years old this spring, though I suspect she’ll be a puppy at heart for several years to come. Nala was supposed to be our first attempt at dog fostering, but she quickly became our family’s foster fail as we realized we couldn’t possibly part with her, and our one-dog house became a two-dog one.

Our cat, Owen, is actually from my cousin’s farm, though I have had wonderful shelter cats over the years. Owen’s a Maine coon/tabby mix, and the most unusual and interesting cat I’ve ever had. He’s perfectly at home with our dogs (and even forces 60-pound Nala away from her dinner if I don’t scoop him out of the way fast enough). Owen is so charismatic and unique that he’s inspiration for Mr. Longtail, the Maine coon featured prominently in Sit, Stay, Love.

8. Aaaahhh!! Love it! Finally Debbie, the rescue life is definitely tough. It can be filled with heartbreak. Your own dog Hazel was found in a trash bag on the side of the road with eight other puppies! But of course, a rescue worker’s life is also filled with so much love and hope. What are some tips you can give to someone who’s new to rescuing animals?

This is a tough one. I’m a softie and animal abuse stories break my heart every time I hear them. Because my Rescue Me series is romance, I refrain from delving too deep into the sadder side of rescue, and instead try to focus on all the good shelters are doing. In real life, my advice to anyone new to rescuing would be to give yourself a pass. Do what you can and don’t berate yourself for not diving into things you can’t handle. From donations, supply drives, and dog walking, to helping with basic care, there are many ways to get involved with your local shelters. And every bit of extra help makes a difference.