Anna del Mar writes hot, smart romances that soothe the soul, challenge the mind, and satisfy the heart. Her stories focus on strong heroines struggling to find their place in the world and the brave, sexy, kickass, military heroes who defy their limits to protect the women they love. She’s the author of The Asset, At the Brink and her newest romantic suspense, The Stranger. Anna enjoys traveling, hiking, skiing, and the sea. Writing is her addiction, her drug of choice, and what she wants to do all the time. The extraordinary men and women she met during her years as a Navy wife inspire the fabulous heroes and heroines at the center of her stories. When she stays put—which doesn’t happen very often—she lives in Florida with her indulgent husband and two very opinionated cats.
Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, The Stranger. To begin with, can you gives us a brief summary of what the story is about and what compelled you to write it?
A: The Stranger is my third novel, my newest romantic suspense and the second book of my Wounded Warrior Series, following on the heels of the Amazon bestseller, The Asset. Just in case you’re wondering, you don’t have to read the novels of the series in order, because each book is a standalone journey.
In The Stranger, Alaskan tycoon and ex-military pilot Seth Erickson is fighting his own demons, but when he finds Summer Silva, a beautiful, warmth-loving, Miami woman stranded in the frozen wilderness, he’ll do everything in his power to keep her safe from murder, treason, and the ruthless Alaskan winter.
I wrote The Stranger after my kids dragged me out of the comfort of my writing studio. I’m not exactly the outdoor type, you know, but Alaska was totally stunning and irresistible to my writer’s mind. Hiking the backcountry, riding in tiny airplanes, floating in aluminum boats over icy lakes, it was all knew to me. I knew I wanted to drop a couple of feisty characters haunted by their demons in the middle of all that spectacular, ruthless beauty and watch them deal with the challenges as their lust turned into forever love.
Q: What do you think makes a good romantic suspense? Could you narrow it down to the three most important elements? Is it even possible to narrow it down?
A: I think we talked about this the last time you and I sat down to chat, when The Asset was released. My views haven’t changed. I don’t know that we can define the elements of a good romantic suspense per se, but I think strong, vivid, authentic and evolving characters make a difference, as does a well-constructed plot that challenges and defies the characters and a rich, interesting setting. In that sense, Alaska was the dream setting for a romantic suspense. In the end, the relationship is always at the center of the story and our ability to connect to those characters is key. When I write, I always want to reach out and touch the reader’s heart.
Q: How did you go about plotting your story? Or did you discover it as you worked on the book?
A: I had a general idea of how the story was going to go when I started to write, but in The Stranger, the characters really drove the plot and created their own challenges and fireworks. In that sense, Summer and Seth’s journey was very much their own. These were two very opinionated, capable people who valued self-reliance and had no clue how much they needed each other. No bossy author was going to tell them otherwise. They had to figure it out themselves.
Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist and how you developed him or her. Did you do any character interviews or sketches prior to the actual writing?
A: I had a pretty good idea of who Summer and Seth were when I started writing. I didn’t do any character interviews, but I jolted down the basics. Summer is a warmth-loving Miami architect who went to Alaska only because her reckless younger sister ran away with a guy she met on the internet. Alaska has never been on her list of places she wanted to visit. Summer is on the fiery side, but she’s also dutiful and hardworking. As an architect, she designs plans, buildings, lives. Being out of control challenges her in every way. But Summer also has a secret, one that makes her distrustful and vulnerable in a way she hates, the secret that leads her to Seth’s bed. That secret is at the core of who she is and who she will become as she falls in love with Seth.
As to Seth, he was also very defined from the start. He’s a powerful Alaskan tycoon dealing with a quarreling family and a hostile takeover attempt. He’s also a helicopter pilot, a wounded warrior struggling to recover from injuries he sustained while serving in Afghanistan, a man haunted by his past and fighting his own demons. Seth is your classic alpha, blunt, systematic and precise, always cool and in command, a man who despises emotion and sticks to his icy logic… until he meets Summer Silva.
Q: In the same light, how did you create your antagonist or villain? What steps did you take to make him or her realistic?
A: Summer and Seth’s foes were people who were very close to them. In that sense, I used the values that made them two really outstanding people—like the loyalty they each have for their respective families—to play up the conflict with villains that are also traitors. At the end of the day, our greatest strengths are also our greatest weaknesses.
Q: How did you keep your narrative exciting throughout the novel? Could you offer some practical, specific tips?
A: I think pace and timing are important for the suspense part of the genre. I think relationship progression does the same for the romantic angle. And then there are the disruptions. Those always up the ante.
Q: Setting is also quite important and in many cases it becomes like a character itself. What tools of the trade did you use in your writing to bring the setting to life?
A: Alaska is for sure the third protagonist of this story and I didn’t hold back. The landscape, the wildlife, the daring, it all made it into the story. I played up the contrasts, showed Seth as the master of his environment and dropped tropical Summer into one bad situation after another. She came across icy desolate roads, Bering Sea superstorms, bears, the wilderness and even a plane crash in the Alaskan Range. The tools of the trade were piled all over my desk.
Q: Did you know the theme(s) of your novel from the start or is this something you discovered after completing the first draft? Is this theme(s) recurrent in your other work?
A: The themes were familiar to me, because my Wounded Warrior series is all about lust and love’s extraordinary healing powers. At the end of day is not about the wounds at all. It’s about the joy of redemption and the power that we all have to reclaim our lives and love with all we’ve got. At the same time, I don’t want to tell the same story twice. The Stranger is a very different novel from The Asset. And it should be.
Q: Where does craft end and art begin? Do you think editing can destroy the initial creative thrust of an author?
A: The craft part is in the basic techniques, grammar, punctuation, formatting, mechanics. The art part is in how it all comes together into a readable symphony. There are editors out there who can tear apart a manuscript and kill an author’s spirit. But there are also many amazingly talented editors who can help an author to claim her voice and amplify her creative thrust. I know because I work with a couple of them.
Q: What three things, in your opinion, make a successful novelist?
A: Patience, grit and perseverance. Oh, and you have to have a story to tell. You can’t just spin words around an inert vortex.
Q: A famous writer once wrote that being an author is like having to do homework for the rest of your life. What do you think about that?
A: I hated homework when I was in school. I did it, but I didn’t like it. Writing is totally different for me. I love writing.
Q: Are there any resources, books, workshops or sites about craft that you’ve found helpful during your writing career?
A: If you are a romance writer, the Romance Writers of America is a must. I love their magazine and they have extensive resources available to help develop writers at all levels. I also like that they have lots of chapters in lots of places. If you have a need to hang out with other writers, check out your local chapter. There’s tons of helpful sites, books and workshops out there. Take a look, read the reviews, see which ones offer you the best fit. Finally, if at all possible, find yourself a good editor. He or she can offer personalized assistance and can make a huge difference in your rate of progress.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers about the craft of writing?
A: Writing is a vocation, an act of love. Everything else is just hype.