This interview first appeared on Julie Forester’s blog.
AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT WITH: RENEE DAHLIA
Renee has chosen to answer the following questions:
1. Pen name vs no pen name? What was your rationale?
I use a pen name for the simple reason that my real surname is difficult for people to spell. I picked Dahlia because she was a fantastic racehorse and because a flower sounds quite ‘romance writer’.
2. What kind of jobs have you had in the ‘real’ world?
My first job was a paper route – that ages me! I rode my bike as a teenager and delivered actual newspapers to people’s houses! While at uni, I worked in racing stables, looking after horses, who live a five-star existence while some mug (me) would get up at 4.30am to clean out their stable, saddle them for the track rider, clean them after they’d exercised, feed them, etc. When I graduated with a science degree in Physics and Maths, I ended up doing data analysis in a range of industries; road maintenance, natural gas, electricity, and horse racing, eventually ending up as a data-based non-fiction writer.
3. Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Ironically, I chose to study science so that I didn’t have to write, and I fell into writing by accident. When my kids were little, I started writing for a horse racing magazine, taking statistics and making it into a story that non-mathematical people could understand. I’d always been a big reader, so in 2016 when several factors prevented me from getting a ‘proper’ job, I decided to challenge myself and write a book. I loved it, and when Harper Collins Australia published it, I tried to make being a romance writer into a career. I still write part time, and I’m now in a position where I can get a ‘proper’ job (yah for independent income), so I’m juggling that with writing for the time being.
4. Are you the ‘odd’ one out in your family?
Yes and no. My family was the odd one out in the small town in New Zealand where I grew up. My mother’s family had lived in the town for generations, while my father was born in Amsterdam, which was a weird blend of belonging and not belonging. My parents are both very academic. My mother has degrees in biology and piano playing, while my father did his masters thesis on the Taupo volcanic eruption and is a self-proclaimed airplane historian. My father taught chemistry at the small high school. Our school was so small that he taught me for three years, because there were no other options. Being academic in a small town already made us different, and while I didn’t realise it back then, being bisexual certainly also made me different to almost everyone else in town.
“You say the weirdest things,” said a classmate one day. I have no memory of what I said to inspire this comment. It just stuck with me because it was probably something that wouldn’t have raised comment at home.
5. What was the first book you ever published?
To Charm a Bluestocking. It’s a Victorian era romance with a bisexual hero and straight heroine, who was inspired by my great-grandmother. My great-grandmother was one of the first women to graduate medical school in Europe. I can’t say for certain how many were before her, but perhaps thirty?
6. What do you think makes good writing?
Writing needs to be engaging. I’m more of a storyteller than I am a descriptive writer, and I tend towards reading books that draw me in with a good story. Make me care for your characters and I’m all there.
7. How do you choose the names for your characters?
This is the worst task in the world (yes, I realise I’m being dramatic!). Usually I whinge to a friend of mine who is great at naming characters, and she helps me. For a couple of books, I’ve used naming characters as a prize for charity auctions. It has the double bonus of helping raise funds for a cause I care about, and having someone else name characters for me!
8. What is the easiest/ hardest part of writing a book?
The easiest part is the first 70%. The hardest part is from 70-80%. I always think, “I’m the worst writer in the world. I’ve wasted all my time. I hate this book.” I use stubbornness to get me through that bit, and it certainly helps that I’ve written enough books to know that I can get through it, and then the final 20% is a joy again. For my last few books, I’ve noticed that if I don’t write the last 10% until after I’ve rested the book for a month, then the last 10% is much better. I used to plug on through and write it, and then re-write it a month later, but it seems to work as well now if I just leave notes for future me. Giving the book a rest before I write the ending helps me pull together all the elements threaded through the book into a satisfying ending, because I re-read it as a whole project at that stage.
9. Do you think a book can have too much detail it? Do you think it can detract from the story?
Everything needs to help the story otherwise it’s boring. So, yes, absolutely too much (unnecessary) detail can make a book drag, and I usually stop reading if I’m bored.
10. Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured?
I try to get 500 words done immediately after breakfast while I’m having coffee. Then I go to my day job. Some days, I have time to get another hour or two after lunch, depending on day job stuff, and then I do the kids after school routine, before writing again once the kids go to bed (although now they are teens, they tend to stay up as late as me, so I write while they are awake). Sometimes they read over my shoulder, or have opinions on things, which can get pretty “interesting”. Teenagers are so incredible; their brains are so flexible and they see the world through fresh eyes.
11. Where do your ideas come from?
Life. People. Conversations. Snippets of overheard dialogue. I once wrote a novella based on a Reddit post (Her Pregnant Rival). I ask a lot of what if questions and I have a long list of ideas on file; more than I’ll probably ever have time to write in this lifetime.
12. Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?
Somewhere in the middle. I need to know the beginning and a few plot points along the way, as well as the bare bones of the two main character’s respective emotional journeys. If I put in too much detail, I get bored because I already know the story, but I do need to have some basics to help me keep from veering off somewhere unhelpful to the core story.
13. What are your ambitions for your writing career?
I’d love to make enough money from writing that I can stop having a day job. I love the flexibility of writing, the creativity of the process, and the combination of running an author business as a different set of skills to the creation of new books. My readership is slowly growing and I can see that this is a goal that I will achieve one day.
14. Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?
Helen Vernet – the UK’s first licenced woman bookmaker. She was a vibrant personality who survived in a cut-throat world of mathematics and horse racing, prior to the use of film footage to see if a horse’s run had been honest or had been set up to beat the bookmakers out of their cash. I love learning about people existed between the lines of the history books; the ones who weren’t written about (because they weren’t white straight men). Often history contains a one liner referring to someone and it can take some deep digging to find something truly amazing.
15. Tell us about your new release: Strum Me Hard
A cute story about this book is that Nancy Bozeman is named after a romance reader who mentioned in a facebook group that she’d always wanted to have her name in a book. http://www.reneedahlia.com/2022/07/27/strum-me-hard-whats-in-a-name/
Read about ‘Strum Me Hard’ HERE
…and there’s more…
INTERESTED TO READ ONE OF RENEE’S BOOKS? SHE SUGGESTS: Show Up
RENEE RECOMMENDS THE BOOK: Femme Like Her by Fiona Zedde
Find out more about Renee Dahlia HERE:http://www.reneedahlia.com/