Pink Fuzzies, help me welcome Debra Dixon, author, editor, and publisher. I’ve known this dynamic woman for more than fifteen years.

Deb,
What was your first published book and with whom?
I wrote for Dog World and a number of national magazines before selling my first novel. I sold to Bantam Loveswept, which made me an eight-year overnight success in the business!

My most recent work is a short-story in the Denise Little fantasy anthology WITCH HIGH. (DAW, 10/08 – imprint of Penguin)

On the day we meet my young water witch she’s just finding out she is officially the last of her class without a familiar. Worse, if your familiar hasn’t bonded with you by the time you’re seventeen, it’s not going to happen. In two weeks she’ll be turning seventeen.

And so her misery and the schemes to find a familiar begin. Little does she know she’s about to have a much bigger familiar problem that will make NOT having a familiar seem like a piece of cake. Toss in a mysterious young man from Ireland, the emotional scars she carries from her mother’s suicide when she was younger, a new stepmother, one of the darkest familiars of the craft, and you have "Coyote Run."

How many books did you write before selling one?
Probably 1 real book and several “starts” of books both in fantasy and romance. I entered the second book I finished in the Golden Heart and was trilled to be a finalist. I entered that book in the Maggies and didn’t even make the finals. Still, that’s the book that sold, which shows you that even books that don’t final can sell! It wasn’t until much later in my career that I realized the fantasy “rejects” I had received were more like serious requests to revise or “development” deals in which the editor says, “This isn’t right. Send me your next book very early in the process and let me look at a synopsis first.”

I was young and green, so I thought that meant, “Don’t quit your day job.”

What themes go through your books?

I’ve found that an author’s personal theme is unknown until he/she has written a number of books and can look “backward” to analyze them. I’ve found a number of my books deal in some way with the issues of owning who you are and reaching for a dream or life purpose. I’ve also done books with themes of isolation, family, you-name-it! I like a lot of “meat” to a character so it’s not uncommon for me to tackle a number of themes in one book.

Still, those who pick up the book WITCH HIGH and read my story “Coyote Run” will recognize a variation of theme! Now that’s not to say that there is any formula or that you’d actually see these as the same theme unless someone pointed out the commonality.

To work successfully with a core theme you have to explore all the different ways the theme can manifest.

How would you best describe your books
?
I tend to write darkly emotional characters. Even the lighter books of my career were marked by dark and painful emotions. The books have always been reviewed as “sensual” although I never intend to write sensual. It’s just part of my voice. As is humor. I find life inherently funny and I love fabulous dialogue

How did you write with kids and deadlines?

And a career. I was a business consultant for most of my career and I’m still only semi-retired, plus for the last nine years we’ve been building BelleBooks. (www.BelleBooks.com) And just recently we’ve added Bell Bridge Books (www.BellBridgeBooks.com)

The easy answer is “butt in chair.” It’s also the only way anyone writes. The trick is finding a routine that puts your butt in the chair everyday. You have to make some sacrifices when you want to write and have a family plus non-writing career. Television becomes a luxury. Crafts and hobbies have to go. Every writer will find a different mix of activities that will allow him/her sufficient time with butt in chair. The trick is simply recognizing you can’t do everything and you have to jettison some activities.

If you don’t want to write, you’ll never make the tough decisions to put your butt in the chair. The regularity of butt-in-chair is more important than the chunk of time you’re writing. If you write every single day for five minutes, I bet that pretty soon you’ll be writing every single day for ten minutes.

How many books have you published?

8 novels, 10 anthology contributions, 2 non-fiction books

What other jobs have you had?

I’ve been a business consultant for over 20 years with a specialty in operational management and software development.

What do you love most about writing and what do you not like?

I love having written. Being done. I think writing is one of the most difficult jobs in the world and I have immense respect for everyone who puts fingers to the keyboard and pen to paper. Brainstorming is fabulous. I never met a plan I didn’t like. And I think writing the big emotional scenes is satisfying in a way that is difficult to describe. (Yeah, I know, I’m a writer. Go figure.)

What are you writing now?

A new story for the next book in the Mossy Creek series. I’ve missed the deadline. Don’t tell them I’m here blogging.

What would you write if you could do write anything you wanted to write?
I’d write great honking epic fantasy in the vein of George R. R. Martin and Robert Jordan (who sadly died this past year). And I’d write Regency historicals—social romps, not suspense. I have an extensive (and by extensive I mean obscene) collection of both Regency and Medieval reference, resource, rare and out-of-print books. …Just in case. And I’m very excited by Young Adult fiction. We’re publishing some through www.BellBridgeBooks.com and it’s doing quite well for us. Two great books -- MOONSTONE by Marilee Brothers and BITE ME by Parker Blue.

Why do you write?
Because editors make me. And readers complain if they don’t get at least some small something occasionally.

How do you write?

Slowly. I’m a final draft writer. I have to be comfortable that I’m “getting it right” before I move forward. I’d rather write late at night when the house is quiet and no one is using a leaf blower or picking up trash in big noisy trucks.

Do you write what you know?

Never. I did a book with Christmas as the central setting and I researched Christmas. I never assume I have all the important perspectives and knowledge. Sometimes by simply opening yourself up to another’s perspective you will find the most amazing scene, detail, character or emotion heart for a book.

What’s next for you?
Lately it’s not so much what is “next” because so many things are constantly in motion with the new imprint Bell Bridge Books. “Next” is very fluid around here. So, next on my calendar is, hopefully, finishing the fabulous dark, urban fantasy on my desk and acquiring it. Which means I open the door to a whole slew of editorial responsibility until that book is safely published.

When and why did you change genres?

I’ve always loved fantasy and when an opportunity to do a short story came along, I was happy to dip my toe in that well. I found it interesting that a couple of the reviews mentioned my story could easily have been expanded to a YA novel.

When and why did you decide to venture into BelleBooks, then Bell Bridge Books?

BelleBooks (www.BelleBooks.com) began about 10 years ago in a hotel room during DragonCon, the largest sf/f con in the U.S. I made the comment that with the consolidation of the publishing industry and the rise of the internet as a source of buzz for products, “Now is probably the time to find a niche and open a publishing company. Not only could you control some of your own work, you could be poised to offer what readers can’t find as the market consolidates.”

The other authors in the room said, “How much do I write the check for?”

I tried to talk them out of it but they were adamant. So, we began our foray into publishing. We’ve learned a great deal. We’ve had an author on Oprah (Susan Nethero- BRA TALK) and published NY Times Bestselling sensation Sarah Addison Allen before she hit the Times list. We now have a wonderful collection of her short stories out in audio. http://bellebooks.com/books/InMyDreams.asp

We’ve had a book final in the RITA, sold subrights to book clubs, large print, mass market publishers, and foreign publishers. We’ve published Patti Henry Callahan first. We’ve just signed a deal with Kindle and with Audible, which is the largest site for the download of digital audio on the net. We’re still tiny but growing. www.BellBridgeBooks.com

We opened the new Bell Bridge imprint as a way to publish emerging authors and reach into new genres. The BelleBooks brand is a very wholesome, Southern traditional print publisher. At Bell Bridge we’re experimenting with new production models and new genres.


What do you do when you aren't doing publisher things?

I am an avid quilter. You can take a tour of my quilt studio here. http://bellebooks.com/Quiltingstudio.htm

The quilts on the Sweet Tea collections are not mine. Those are antique quilts. “My quilts have been consistent Best In Show winners,” Debra said modestly.


Are you still writing book length fiction?
Not currently. There isn’t a lot of room in my schedule! I do still have a couple of contracts with major NY publishers and one of these years I may dive back in. My non-fiction publisher has been after me to do another writing book. I am vaguely considering that. And, of course, I adore writers and stay connected to the craft because I’m out on the road giving workshops throughout the year.
http://debradixon.com/speaker.html


If you could open a submission and find your dream book, what would that book be about?
I would kill for a Southern Louise Rennison. Humor is soo difficult to do well and with such a unique voice. I’d kill for a big, honking epic fantasy. Again, those are terribly difficult to do well and with a unique voice. Plus the author needs mad plotting skills to carry an epic. Still…I’d love to see one.

Right now I want good solid dark fantasy with voice. VOICE. Unique voice is critical. Too much of what I read is competent but lacking true voice.

What makes you fall in love with a submission and want to see more?

Voice. Voice. Voice. A great concept or story will make me look, but if the voice isn’t there I just can’t force myself to wade through a competent book. We’re a small publisher. What we do has to stand out as we build our reputation in new genres. I do see some books that are good books but just miss the boat. I will tell you that if you do it well enough, you can do anything you want. I recently requested a book that was 1) excessively long, 2) wrong for us, and 3) the protagonist doesn’t survive the book. I looked at that book proposal 5 times and each time I couldn’t bring myself to decline. So, I finally asked for the full manuscript. Will we buy it? I don’t know. But voice, mastery, and concept together will make an editor break every rule they have.



Thank you Debra!

Ask questions.

36 comments

  1. magolla // December 9, 2008 at 8:04 AM  

    Hey, Deb, lovely to see you here! I'll be in touch with something for you soon!
    Wonderful interview, Mary!
    Margaret Golla

  2. Keri Ford // December 9, 2008 at 8:48 AM  

    OOHHHH! You have a bunch of rare regency research books??? I might have to raid your house when you're not looking!

    You ought to just dive in and give them a try, Deb. Regencies fascinated me for a long time. I finally got an idea that itched at me until I wrote it. Now I love writing in that genre.

  3. Beth Trissel // December 9, 2008 at 9:25 AM  

    Thanks so much for taking the time to be here and share your writing journey and your 'how to' on getting that story down. How do you write is a question I get from so many aspiring writers and the answer is so different for everyone, but as you pointed out, 'butt in chair.'

    You are an amazingly accomplished lady and an inspiration to us all.

  4. Arkansas Cyndi // December 9, 2008 at 10:18 AM  

    Hey Deb! Welcome to PFSW!
    First to Mary - great interview.

    Now to Deb - great interview! Seriously, lots of good info there. After our weekend in Tulsa (which I can't seem to stop talking about), I bought DOC HOLIDAY and BAD TO THE BONE. (Each one of them cost me $.01 plus shipping! HAHAHA) But I'm using Doc Holiday as a example of cont. romance. No murder. No alien. No demon or shapeshifter. Just romance. I'm missing that in my reading these days. (Tomorrow, I'm interviewing Robin Kaye who wrote Romeo, Romeo, a cont romance)

    I am working on a Cont Romance and seeing how difficult it is to keep the story strong as I don't a murder, or kidnapping, or some threat to help "carry" the story. Very interesting experience.

    Wanted to say one more time how very much I enjoyed the weekend retreat. While I'd read GMC and used it, now it permeates my planning or brainstorming with CP's. The BIG BLACK MOMENT talk on Sunday was wonderful. Would love to have more of that.

    Again, welcome to PFSW. Thanks for coming.

  5. Edie // December 9, 2008 at 11:11 AM  

    Hi Deb! We met at a workshop you gave in Milwaukee for WisRWA 6 or 7 years ago. Your workshop was a series of aha! moments for me. I always recommend your GMC book to new writers.

    I write women's fiction and paranormal romance. Do all the BelleBooks need to be set in the South?

  6. LaDonna // December 9, 2008 at 11:25 AM  

    Hey Deb, loved your interview! I want my name on a Belle Book one day! :)

    My question, do you prefer agented submissions?

  7. Terry Odell // December 9, 2008 at 11:45 AM  

    Hi, Deb -
    Your workshops for the Central Florida Romance Writers really helped focus my thinking (even if you did make me cry with Doc Holiday -- TWICE).

    I like what you said about finding themes after you've written a few books. I was thinking of that when I was struggling (still am) to find a title for my next book. Deep (and often not so deep) in all my books, my characters seem to be trying to run away from themselves, but they have to realize that when they run, they take themselves with them.

  8. Cyrano // December 9, 2008 at 11:57 AM  

    Hey Debra,
    I loved your interview answers. I especially loved the comment about getting your butt in the chair. When you said, writing everyday for five minutes could turn into ten, that really hit home for me. I plan on putting those wise words to the test.
    Thanks so much for taking time out of your day to chat.
    Tamara DeStefano

  9. Jianne Carlo // December 9, 2008 at 12:10 PM  

    Hi Deb,

    Lovely to have you here. I've read and enjoyed your books.

    It's great to hear a publisher say voice is more important than genre, ending, and word count. More and more, I find my writing is dictated by staying true to the characters.

    My first book was accepted by a publisher pending a required revision - to add another sex scene to the story. After much consideration,(it was my first acceptance), I declined because I knew, it didn't ring true for my heroine's personality.

    My question is this, if a similar situation happened at BelleBooks, would you hold it against the author for future manuscripts?

    One more question -- Do you view a second and third submission from the same author in the same light as the first one you rejected?

    Thanks for visiting,

    Jianne

  10. Debra Dixon // December 9, 2008 at 1:04 PM  

    Hey, Margaret! I’ll be here when you sort out what you’re going to send!

  11. Debra Dixon // December 9, 2008 at 1:05 PM  

    Keri-- Yep, I have a huge collection of those books. And I have a couple of plots to go with them. :) But there are so many opportunities in life that Regencies haven't gotten their fair shot a the top of my list!

  12. Donnell // December 9, 2008 at 1:07 PM  

    Hi, Mary and Debra, great interview. Butt in chair, voice, One we can control the other I'm not so sure. Do you think, Deb, that voice is something you either have or you don't? Do you think most authors hold back and are afraid of developing it. And one thought I wonder about, have you ever discovered a voice that needs to be tamped down because it's overkill, e.g. maybe the author is trying too hard? I'd be interested in your thoughts. Thank you! And thanks again, Mary! I'll see you soon after I get my BOOC :)

  13. Debra Dixon // December 9, 2008 at 1:13 PM  

    Beth-- Thanks for having me! I agree that "butt in chair" is about the easiest way to explain what successful writers do.

  14. Debra Dixon // December 9, 2008 at 1:17 PM  

    Hey, Cindy! See, I told you guys that Half.com was the way to go to get out of print books. They gig you on the shippig but if you're just looking for a "reading copy" Half.com is a great way to go.

    I had such fun with you guys in Tulsa. (Hey, Margaret!)

    RE: Contemporary romance
    I just did the Hero's Journey on Cutting Edge because we had members in my chapter screaming for romance in which no one is killed, kidnapped, or maimed during the book. And there were no subplots. So, I had them all watch Cutting Edge (1) and then we had a very long lunch discussion.

  15. Debra Dixon // December 9, 2008 at 1:19 PM  

    Hey, Edie-- I answered your comment in the extra pics entry that Mary put up. But I'll mention the answer here in case others are wondering.

    Nope. Fantasy, YA, YA fantasy and cozy mysteries submitted to us do not have to be set in the South.

  16. Debra Dixon // December 9, 2008 at 1:20 PM  

    LaDonna- We're an open query house at this point. Agented or unagented doesn't matter to us. We're just looking for fabulous books.

  17. Debra Dixon // December 9, 2008 at 1:25 PM  

    Terry! I'm sooo sorry I made you cry. And...yay! You know how much a writer loves to hear that her words evoke emotions in the reader. That's the ultimate compliment.

    I do think your themes sneak up on you when you aren't looking. There is a conscious lesson the character will learn but it isn't until you can look objectively at a number of your books that you can put your finger on the common thread you are exploring in different ways.

  18. Debra Dixon // December 9, 2008 at 1:26 PM  

    Tamara-- Yay, you! Yes, put that butt in the chair for 5 minutes and then get up and don't feel guilty. But do that EVERY single day.

  19. Debra Dixon // December 9, 2008 at 1:53 PM  

    Jianna- Interesting question about whether a publisher would consider an author's refusal to revise in evaluating future submissions from that author.

    If an author declined to revise a minor point, I wouldn't have an issue. But if an author declines to make the bulk of the revisions, then I don't have time to work with that author again. Reviewing a full manuscript, providing manuscript mark-up and revision notes takes a great deal of time.

    If an author refuses to make the revisions, then clearly our vision for "story" is different. Chances are, if our visions are that different on book one, we aren't going to be more insync on book 2.

    Also, I think faith in the editor's expertise is a key component. An editor with a track record should be able to articulate the need for the revision. There will always be some give-and-take, but ultimately the editor is concerned with publishing the best book possible and with meeting reader expectation.

    So, the editor does have to spend time on authors who will help the editor accomplish that goal.

  20. Debra Dixon // December 9, 2008 at 1:56 PM  

    Jianne-

    Let me just clarify, that I have no problem with an author articulating why he/she feels an revision request doesn't work for the book. I've had similiar conversations with my editors in NY. I won some of the discussions and I lost some of the discussions.

    When in doubt I considered the track record of the editor and the quality of the work produced from that editor and publishing house.

  21. Debra Dixon // December 9, 2008 at 2:07 PM  

    Donnell-- Ah, you ask the hard question when you ask if voice can be learned.

    I don't know that voice can be taught. There are no "rules" for creating voice, but writers must have a command of language and craft to have a hope at uncovering their voice. Writers have to get out of their own way. Often when learning to "write" we pay a great deal of attention to the mechanics. That monkeys with voice.

    Voice needs to be authentic. The writer has to be willing to leave everything on the page every time to achieve voice. I believe we all have a point of view and perspective on life. That POV/perspective is how we chose the stories we choose to tell.

    Wait...how did I get off on this tangent? Anyway, voice is a complex and wonderful thing which is enhanced by mastery of the craft.

    I personally have never met a voice I felt needed to be toned down. It's not the voice but the structure, scenes and characters chosen which need work. Usually.

    Of course the answer to everything in this business is..."It all depends."

  22. Nightingale // December 9, 2008 at 2:52 PM  

    Deb, thanks for visiting! Wow are you a busy lady. Enjoyed reading your interview. I wish my vampire novel was less of a romance and more vampire--it is dark though!

  23. Mary Marvella // December 9, 2008 at 2:57 PM  

    Deb, you are giving mini-workshops with your answers! I knew you'd be good.

  24. Mary Ricksen // December 9, 2008 at 4:19 PM  

    Great Interview! It's just amazing how each of us looks at writing. Thank you for taking the time to blog for us. Talent is an amazing quality! But persistence gets it done.

  25. Debra Dixon // December 9, 2008 at 5:07 PM  

    Nightingale-- We love a good dark fantasy romance, but right now our focus is on publishing books that work well in the general dark fantasy genre rather than in dark fantasy romance.

    We may broaden the imprint in the future, but we're being fairly disciplined now.

  26. Debra Dixon // December 9, 2008 at 5:08 PM  

    Mary-- Thanks! Anything for you, sweetie!

  27. Debra Dixon // December 9, 2008 at 5:11 PM  

    Mary R-- Writing is a very individual sport. LOL! We do all have different perspectives and I guess the trick is to find our own ways through the maze of getting a professional career on its feet or keeping a professional career on its feet.

  28. Jianne Carlo // December 9, 2008 at 8:01 PM  

    Deb,

    Thanks for the thoughtful answer. It wasn't a particular revision, but rather a request to jump from a sizzling heat level to an erotic one. And, I didn't feel comfortable making that leap.

    BTW, the same manuscript was accepted a couple of months later by three publishers without a single revision request. It debuts this Wednesday.

    I did end up writing a new submission for that first publisher, and it was published earlier this year. I had the impression they were an exception to the rule. Glad to hear that it's not true.

    I will do almost anything to make my books better, and I've never refused any suggestion, which could improve a book. I work with two editors currently and love the whole process. I learn so much and it's such an adrenalin rush.

    Again, thanks for visiting and sharing,

    Jianne Carlo
    www.jianecarlo.com

  29. Joanne // December 9, 2008 at 8:59 PM  

    Deb,
    We are thrilled you are able to visit the Pink Fuzzies. I have attended your workshops and learned so much! I'm learning more, yet again, just by reading your responses to the posts. Thanks for being here and sharing your expertise.
    Joanne

  30. Debra Dixon // December 9, 2008 at 9:38 PM  

    Jianna--

    A request to take a story from one heat level to the next is a much trickier proposition. In your case, I would have respected your decision not to go to the next level. However, in the future if you submitted something that did work for my heat level, I'd probably have looked. :)

    Congrats on your book!

  31. Debra Dixon // December 9, 2008 at 9:39 PM  

    Joanne-- Thanks! I've enjoyed my time in Fuzzy Slippers!

  32. Mona Risk // December 9, 2008 at 11:30 PM  

    I'm late posting. I just want to tell you I took your workshop twice and your book has been my bible for the last four years.

  33. Debra Dixon // December 9, 2008 at 11:35 PM  

    Mona-- Thank you! I love hearing that folks return to the GMC book again and again. It gives me the warm fuzzies, which is totally appropriate for this website!

  34. Scarlet Pumpernickel // December 10, 2008 at 12:50 AM  

    Deb,
    Thanks for visiting the Fuzzies! This is a great group and Mary has worked very hard to make it successful. So have all the other pink fuzzies on here! I love hanging out here with my friends even if I do use an alter-ego! Ask Mary, she will tell you why. Actually we know each other and have for oh, probably 20 years! Enjoyed the interview! Please come back and visit with us again. You advice, as always is right on.

    Scarlet

  35. Debra Dixon // December 10, 2008 at 1:07 PM  

    Scarlet-- Thank you and of course I'm now off to ask Mary who you are!!

    And yes, this is a great blog. I'm happy to have found it and I just directed my local chapter members to come check out Robin Kaye's interview today.

  36. Anonymous // February 19, 2010 at 1:15 PM  

    Does Bell pub. do historical fiction that set out side America