Please welcome today, author Harper Bennett!
Harper Bennett has her own happily ever after going on in the wilds of Alaska with her husband and three darling minions (also known as “children”). Earning her MFA in creative writing in 2002 taught her nothing more than student loans were inherently evil and that her passion would never lie in the tomes of literary fiction. Her stories will always require a “happily ever after” with plenty of sweaty lust thrown in for good measure.
KD: Congratulations on the recent release of your book, The Centurion's Prize, available July 17, 2011 from Beachwalk Press. Tell us a little bit about The Centurion's Prize.
HB: Thank you so much for having me today, Kat! Here’s a blurb:
To save their way of life, enemies must become allies.
In the final days of the Roman Empire, the Celtic princess Nara, daughter of a tribal king, has discovered a secret that will shatter the lives of the people and tribes she holds most dear. Once a sworn enemy of the Centurion Corvinus Aelius Martialis, she must now look to him for help. The Roman’s very presence ignites a powerful and consuming passion within her, one that Nara knows is dangerous and could cost them both their lives…but is she strong enough to resist the Centurion’s all-consuming kiss?
Never one to trust a Celt, let alone a woman, Corvin is taken aback by the bold princess’s bargain. He knows her father is the puppeteer of a very dangerous game involving a rogue band of Rome’s sworn enemies, and he can’t be certain—did the apple fall far from the ambitious, traitorous tree? Or will he claim the fiery princess, body and soul, for his very own?
Set against ancient druidic forests amidst political intrigue and violent betrayal, The Centurion’s Prize is a tale of a love that could save two worlds—or destroy everything in its path.
KD: What did you enjoy most about writing Nara and Corvin's story?
HB: I think my favorite part about writing The Centurion’s Prize had to be Nara. To me, she was well-formed and complete in my mind long before anyone else in the story was. I often cringe when people claim the book wrote itself, but with Nara, she really drove the story for me.
The first draft was done within two or three weeks!
And while editing did take a while longer, this story proved to me that when you take the time to flesh out your characters/plot/details (whatever you need to have in place…I think it’s different for every writer) before you start the writing process, the experience is much less painful! (Spoken by someone who has countless works-in-progress that were dropped after the excitement wore off). So I think the moral of the story was to figure out what I needed to get that manuscript done…what did I need to be really excited about writing it? Well, for me, I needed a character like Nara!
KD: Are you working on any new stories at the moment?
HB: Yes! Tons! (That was sort of a joke, but not really…) But highest on my to-do list is finishing up the initial edits and creative loose ends on Book 2 in the Taming the Centurions series, “The Centurion’s Redemption”. New characters and a new premise, but we’re still going to have a hunky centurion named Soren and a beautiful “barbarian” named Genessa. In this next story, our hero has been put through the ringer before we even meet him and he’s given up on life. What better than a talented, strong woman to give him a reason to live (and love)? Hopefully “The Centurion’s Redemption” will be out later this year or early 2012.
KD: Your book's publisher is Beachwalk Press, which just opened its doors in July this year. What's was it like working with a brand new publisher?
HB: All I can say is “Wow!”
Pamela Tyner, founder of Beachwalk Press, has been an absolute dream to work with. She’s incredibly upbeat and positive and is working hard to create a sense of community among the staff and authors at Beachwalk. The core group of authors she selected to start with has also turned out to be the friendliest and most sharing group of gals I could ever hope to meet. Some of us are newbies in the marketing/promo arena and the authors who have been through this before are quick to offer advice and tips that have helped them.
This was my first experience publishing and I have to say, I couldn’t have asked for a better start. I’d heard horror stories about working with editors who want to change everything about your story and that was just not the case with my editor, Tir (Antonia Tiranth). I love her!
KD: You also give workshops for writers. Can you tell us about some of the things you teach in your workshops?
HB: In my particular graduate program, I had the opportunity to be a teaching assistant. In this college, that meant you taught undergraduate creative writing students and from some of these classes I ran, I began putting together online workshops for the various RWA chapters. To date, I’ve taught a characterization workshop using Jane Austen as a mentor and a course based on the “hero’s journey” monomyth that focused on fleshing out your heroine as a complete character. I’m putting together a proposal for a class that would teach the basics of engaging creative nonfiction and apply it to author blogs. I love blogging and am interested in seeing how we can apply the rules of narrative nonfiction that I learned in graduate school and while working as a reporter at two newspapers to create interesting posts and series.
This year was my first jump into these online workshops and it wasn’t exactly as easy as I thought. When you are teaching real, live, and in person, you can often use the body language of your students to gauge whether or not you are on the right track and have their attention. In the age of lurkers and online forums as a medium for your class, well, sometimes you hear crickets and are left wondering if your fly is down or if there is a boogie in your nose!
KD: In college you were in an MFA program, which most authors salivate over. What kinds of courses did you enjoy most? And would you recommend such a program to aspiring authors?
HB: When I was completing my MFA, I was in the poetry program. (Don’t laugh!) By the time I was graduating, I was serious about wanting to write what I read, which happened to be genre fiction (romance and mystery, mostly). Well, in my particular program, I was a bit of the odd girl out. My peers loved the stories I was bringing to workshops, but my professors would constantly lecture me about not producing work that was “literary” enough. Bah! I wasn’t interested in writing what they wanted, so my last semester of the program was interesting to say the least! I graduated and am proud of it, but who I was in that program is a far cry from the writer I am in 2011.
I think there are wonderful low-residency programs that will give authors the freedom to express themselves, but to be honest, the most beneficial part of an MFA program is not the teacher feedback, it’s the workshop experience. I honestly believe my local writers’ groups (RWA and more general location-based groups) that offer weekly critique groups offer more than a very expensive degree that will hang on your wall. Learning from others and being accountable to produce material for upcoming meetings made a huge difference in shaping what kind of writer I am and what kind of writer I’m aspiring to be.
I’ve been a part of online critique groups as well, and if you’re lucky enough to find folks who “get you” and who you understand, the help you can offer each other is pure gold. Not to disparage MFA programs, but if you’re actively pursuing genre fiction (especially romance), this genre is so full of generous, veteran writers and editors who want to offer a helping hand that you’ll probably gain more from them than from a $30k per year writing program.
Bottom line, if you have access to one and want the degree, go for it. You won’t regret it. But if you can’t, you have incredible resources within your reach for much less (and often free) that will give you more specific guidance on your goal of publication in the romance genre.
KD: Tell us a little about your early background. Where did you grow up? Did you come from a large family or a small one? Were you a good student in grammar school?
HB: Was I good grammar student? Well, I was a very smart kid and got good grades when I wanted to…which was until about 10th grade! After that, I was your typical teenage girl who wanted to hang out with her friends, go on dates, and obsess about mean ex-boyfriends. I’ve never been overly driven in the grades department, unfortunately! But I have been an athlete my whole life and always pretty fearless in trying new adventures, including a stint in professional boxing and MMA in my 20s, and a whole host of tattoos that I can hardly explain to my straight-laced husband nowadays. (*grin*) I’ve been a sorority sister, an overnight DJ, a newspaper reporter, a professional prize fighter, a mama, a wife, a teacher, an editor, a waitress, a food blogger, …all in under 33 years. I may not know a lot, but I know how to have fun and try new things. If the romance business doesn’t pan out, at least I can say I gave it a whirl, right?
KD: Tell us a little bit about your writing process. Do you write every day?
HB: I am productive in bursts. I’ll have months where I am so motivated to work on a project that I’ll haul my carcass out of bed each morning at 4 a.m. and write for two hours before work. Other times? I can go weeks without opening my laptop. Terrible, isn’t it? But it all goes back to making sure I have something I’m passionate about. Sometimes, with my three kids (two boys and a 5-week old baby girl), my attention is diverted. But it always returns to romance writing eventually.
KD: Where can readers purchase your book?
HB: Here are some links!
Beachwalk Press: http://beachwalkpress.com/shop/the-centurions-prize/
Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-centurion-x2019-s-prize-harper-bennett/1104320165
KD: Where can readers find you and your workshops on the web?
HB: I do my best to keep this page on my Web site updated with my whereabouts. It’s the best place to see what I’m up to!
You can find Harper at http://www.harperbennett.com/ and on Twitter (http://twitter.com/HarperWrites). She also checks her e-mail obsessively and would love to hear from you:
KD: Thanks, Harper! Now, readers, you are in for a treat. Here's an excerpt from The Centurion's Prize:
“You are not in danger as long as you are under my protection,” he said when they were clear of the gate. “Do not fear my soldiers.”
“I’ll keep that in mind the next time I am rendered unconscious,” she whispered.
Her hand was soft and warm in his. Try as he might to concentrate on the short journey to the magistrate’s home, Corvin’s thoughts centered on the skin-to-skin contact between them. Nara’s hand was not limp. It was not passive. Corvin could not help but notice she grasped his hand with a strong grip and held tight.
The walk was short—too short. Soon, the dark sky that melded with the darkness of the trees and the cover of branches gave way to paths lined with braziers leading Cadeyrn’s palace. In the distance, he could see the Celtic soldiers patrolling the front entrance.
“How did you manage to get past four guards?”
“There are nine, actually,” Nara corrected him. “Three additional circle the grounds and two more travel in the opposite direction that you did not notice.”
Corvin gave Nara an incredulous look.
Who was this girl?
She was no mere princess, that much was certain. A coddled, sheltered normal female would not have made it three paces out of her own bed chamber without being spooked back inside…and Nara managed to get herself all the way to the garrison’s gate before being detected.
The moon had moved in the sky, out from the barrier of the foliage canopy to shine on Nara’s face as she looked up at him from beneath her hood. She smiled.
“The guards are fools and think only of wine and women,” she said. “And the forest guides me.”
Corvin frowned, confused by the cryptic statement but let it pass, as his mind was also focused solely on women—one woman in particular. Slowly, he reached for her cheek, hoping Nara would not flinch at his touch. When she closed her eyes in response, he quickly moved forward and kissed her.
Foolish, yes, but when her mouth opened against his, his primal, male instincts took over and he swept his tongue past her teeth, exploring the sweet taste of her. Nara moaned softly.
His other hand grasped her waist, and he continued the gentle, probing kiss. He was in no hurry, and he did not want to frighten her. God above, but she tasted good, and as she pushed back into him, urging him on, it took every last ounce of discipline and willpower in his body to break the kiss.
“I will see you again soon, Celt,” he said with a half-smile.
“If you are lucky, Roman,” Nara said. She trotted off into the night and Corvin watched as she disappeared into the shadows. She moved toward the back of the structure until she was out of view.
Corvin stood motionless for a few moments, the taste of this enigmatic Celtic princess still on his tongue. His Celtic princess.
KD: Wow. I think Corvin's got a handful in Nara. I can just imagine the fantastic chemistry between them. Readers, hold onto your hats, Harper is offering the following prizes for comments:
- A copy of The Centurion's Prize
- Copy of “Gladiator” (the movie…I know they aren’t centurions…but it’s Rome! And I love Russell Crow!) or of the 2010 movie “The Centurion,” another great flick. Winner’s choice.
- A handmade bracelet and earrings set inspired by Nara’s run through the forest in chapter one.
Harper will choose a winner at random on August 12 from the comments here at Write About AND she's offering extra entries to anyone who friends her on FB or becomes a twitter follower and retweets the interview link. Fantastic! So, questions, comments for Harper?