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Meet Lisa Heartman of Espresso Yourself Publishing in Gilbert

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lisa Heartman.

So, before we jump into specific questions, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
When I started writing, I was focused on contemporary romance. It was my favorite to read so naturally I thought it would be the easiest to write. It took me two years to write my first contemporary romance. I was so proud of myself I decided to take it a step further and dip my toe into the unknown by letting others read it. I entered contests, submitted to agents and editors, and consulted with critique partners. It was my first real step as a writer. Unfortunately, it was an ugly step, met with rejection and contest judge comments that were sometimes less than kind.

I could have bottled up all of that negativity and stopped writing, but I didn’t. I’m a little stubborn that way. I read the rejection letters, critique reviews, and judge comments over and over ad nauseum. I gleaned any bit of knowledge out of them I could to determine my strengths and weaknesses as a writer. Armed with this information, I took almost a full year off from writing to attend classes, conferences, and practiced a lot of writing exercises to improve my weaknesses.

When I started on my second contemporary romance with my new-found knowledge, I knew this book would be different because I was different. Not even a month into writing it, a new character came to me that would not let me focus. Her thoughts, stories, opinions, and ideas were strong, and they kept coming back to me. It was a real distraction to my writing so I decided to get her out of my head and on to paper so I could get back to my real story.

Those random thoughts and character descriptions flowed out of me like none of my other writing. My notes went from bullet points to four chapters of a romantic suspense novel in less than two weeks. It was the strangest feeling of excitement and satisfaction. I had read romantic suspense novels and enjoyed them, but I knew nothing about the genre. So how could I be writing romantic suspense? I thought the writing was good, but what do I know? I thought the same about my first book too. On a whim, I sent the chapters to my critique partners to give me their thoughts and to my surprise, they loved it and told me this was the story I had to tell. That is how the Kate Howard Novels were born.

High Heels and Handguns is my debut novel and the first book in the Kate Howard series. The books follow Kate’s life as a personal protection agent, and the unique challenges and prejudices female bodyguards experience. Kate often does the wrong thing for the right reasons, balancing her own fears and doubts while protecting others. I feel like that is what makes Kate relatable for most readers. We might not be facing the same life or death situations that I put Kate in, but we all have those fears and doubts when facing an obstacle.

In this first novel, Kate is protecting her most influential client to date. After an explosive and deadly end to her client’s reelection fundraiser, which left his young son in critical condition, Kate must accept help from an unwanted source: the soldier she loved and left in Afghanistan, bloody, broken, and barely alive.

Special Forces Officer Paxton Banks, Kate’s former captain—now an FBI agent—is assigned to investigate the attempt on her client’s life. After ten years, old emotions and new threats whip Kate’s world into complicated chaos. But when other elected officials are threatened, Kate and Paxton must tamp down their fiery feelings and work together to catch a madman hell-bent on revenge.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Smooth, no. Interesting, yes. Writing is the hardest, most fun thing I’ve ever done. It’s a constant learning curve because you don’t know what you don’t know. On top of understanding the craft of fiction writing and the tropes of the romance genre, I’m often knee-deep in research for my books. I’ve done interviews with women in the Army, police officers, crime lab technicians, and FBI agents. Finding the right people to speak with you takes time away from the writing, but it helps to provide readers a more accurate story.

Sometimes what you want to happen in a story or with a character wouldn’t really happen in an actual investigation. That’s often a struggle for me. Yes, I write fiction. It’s all made up, and I’ve taken some liberties along the way, but I try to stay true to reality where I can. There is a delicate balance of entertainment and believability that readers expect in a romantic suspense. As the author, you need to identify that story promise and then walk a fine line between the two. If you betray a reader’s trust, you can lose those readers.

In addition to the writing itself, technology and the publishing industry is changing on a daily basis. The number of writing and formatting software available is staggering, and you practically need a Ph.D. in algorithms to be seen on social media and in ads. What Amazon and so many others booksellers have done to open up to indie-published authors has been amazing, but it has also made being a published author harder and harder to find your audience in the vast sea of content being uploaded daily. There are plenty of struggles, but one truth holds constant. Write your best book. I really believe if you are focused on your characters, and you are bringing your best book to the readers, you can overcome those struggles as they arise.

Please tell us about your writing.
I write romantic suspense novels. I can make characters be just about anything. I love heroes that aren’t perfect because there’s no such thing as perfect. We all come through this life dragging baggage which is shaped by our life experiences, and I think those imperfections are what make us unique. I apply those same concepts to the heroes in my books. What I am most proud of is my characters are beautifully-flawed. They don’t always do or say the right things, and those very human mistakes make you want to route for them because you want them to succeed. I hope that sets my writing apart from others.

There is a Joss Whedon quote that I love. “Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then, for the love of God, tell a joke.” I take this quote to heart, and I hope to be known for it in the romantic suspense genre. I write about some grim subjects, explosions and murder to name a few, so in order to lighten them up, my main character has a sassy, sarcastic side. She often says, does, or thinks things to lighten the mood of the story. That little bit of levity helps to soften the severity of the situation just enough so readers can catch their breath.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
I would have taken classes and gotten involved in writer’s groups sooner than I did. It took me two years of trying to write a book to realize I didn’t really know what I was doing. I’m grateful I wrote that first book, even though it may never see the light of day because I learned a lot about myself and my skillset from it. But if I had the chance to start over, I would get involved sooner with like-minded individuals to learn from and share experiences with. There are some amazing writing groups in the valley, online groups and mentorship programs, several of the libraries offer free writing courses, and I’m sure dozens of options on the social platforms. If you want to write, there are people out there willing to help you. You just need to get involved in the right group for you.

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Image Credit:
Julius Photography

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