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BOOKTHINK: Yes, and your youngest son wouldn't have had as many educational options! No interview would be complete without a discussion of your writing habits - what time day you write, how many hours, how long it takes to complete a book, whether or not you work from a plan, etc.

MACKENZIE: My writing habits are very much a work in progress. I try to start the day with exercise, either a walk in the park across the street from our house or a trip to the gym. If I have errands to run, I usually do them then, too. I check email - a huge time sink. If the morning is pretty much gone, I'll have an early lunch and then open up the laptop and get down to work. I'll wrestle with the wip (work in progress) for the rest of the day.

My first goal is to figure out who the characters are and what their story is. I usually have a secondary character or two in the current book who will become the main characters in a subsequent book. So part of planning a new story is going back to the older one and looking at it from the new hero or heroine's viewpoint. For example, the hero and heroine of my third book, The Naked Earl, were characters in both The Duke and The Marquis. I knew they would get together in The Earl, but when I sat down to write The Earl, I realized I didn't know why they hadn't gotten together before this. Answering that question revealed a lot about the hero I hadn't known before.

I'll make notations about characters on index cards and do a chart to figure out how old the continuing characters are in the current wip. I'll often write down, in stream of consciousness fashion, thoughts about the characters, how they interrelate, what their histories are, what some of the background to the story is, what might happen in the story. When I actually start to write, I have a vague idea of where I'm going, some idea of who the characters are, maybe a few scenes - and then I let the characters lead me.

My daily writing goal is 5 pages - some days I exceed that and some days I'm happy to get one page done. At the moment, I work on the loveseat in the living room where I can stare out the picture window - which I spend way too much time doing! I'm not certain how long it takes me to write a book. I'm contracted for one a year, and that's about as much as I can do at the moment. Now that the last kid has gone off to college, I'm hoping to become more efficient. It seems like I should be able to do two a year if I would only be more disciplined - and if the rest of my life would cooperate! I do try to get through the book to "the end" a month before it's due. Then I spend the last month revising and polishing so I have a project I'm pretty happy with by the time I send it to my editor.

BOOKTHINK: Would you share how you got your first book published?

MACKENZIE: The Naked Duke was published as a result of a contest - I never submitted it to publishers. I had stopped writing with a view to publication about 8 years earlier, so the manuscript was my first attempt at fiction in a long time.

After I finished one of The Duke's many drafts, a friend suggested I join Romance Writers of America (RWA). After some initial reluctance, I did so and stumbled upon an online group that was beating the bushes for manuscripts to enter in the Regency category of RWA's Golden Heart (GH) contest. If RWA didn't receive 25 entries, it would cancel that category, which had happened in past years. As I think I said earlier, there used to be shorter books that some people referred to as "traditionals" as opposed to Regency historicals. It gets a little complicated, but these "trad" lines were being dropped by NY publishers. The GH Regency category was for this kind of book, which fewer people were writing as the market was drying up.

I had saved our swim team and our Cub Scout Pack, so it was natural for me to respond to the plea to save the Regency category. I edited my manuscript down to the required length and sent it in. As luck would have it, it made the final round, which meant a group of editors got it to judge. One of the editors liked it, got my contact information from RWA, and called to offer me a two-book contract. She wanted the book as an historical, not a "trad," so I had to make it longer again.

BOOKTHINK: Wow. That's not the conventional road to publication, is it? I recall somebody saying once that a romance writer knows she's arrived when a publisher finally issues one of her books in hardback format. True?

MACKENZIE: Gee, I don't know. At this point, I'm not anxious to move to hardback. That format is so expensive. I think you really have to have a very dedicated readership to be successful. As a reader, I know I've waited until a favorite author's hardback went to mass market - or I've gotten it from the library. But yes, if you've got the reader base, it would be cool to go to hardback. I was thrilled when I recently got a copy of The Naked Marquis's Spanish translation. It's a beautiful book - paper, but larger than our trade paperback size, with end flaps and footnotes - and it sells for 14.95 euros! My editor tells me that the Spanish rights for The Duke and The Earl have sold - I'm hoping that means The Marquis sold well and I'll get equally beautiful editions for the other two books.

BOOKTHINK: Ok, final question: Who gets naked in your next book?

My next release is The Naked Gentleman, coming in May 2008. Mr. Parker-Roth, whom readers met in The Naked Earl, is the hero - the heroine is Meg Peterson, who first appeared in The Naked Marquis (she's that heroine's sister) and who meets Mr. Parker-Roth in the Earl.

BOOKTHINK: Best of luck with it, Sally, and thank you for an unusually enlightening interview. With my new knowledge, I'm sure I'll be able to sell romances with the best of them now!

How to Identify Kensington First Printings

Kensington Publishing Corp. (Zebra line) MacKenzie first printings are designated by the statement "First Printing: [month/year]" followed by a number line beginning with "1." Note that in some cases later printings may also display the "First Printing" statement, so don't rely on sellers' assertions of first edition status without confirming that the number line begins with a "1."

Brief Biography

Sally MacKenzie writes funny, hot Regency-set historicals for Kensington's Zebra line. Her debut, The Naked Duke (Feb. 2005), sold when the acquiring editor judged the manuscript in Romance Writers of America's 2004 Golden Heart contest, got her contact information from RWA, and called out of the blue with an offer for a two book contract. There are now three other Naked books in print or scheduled - The Naked Marquis (March 2006), The Naked Earl (April 2007), and The Naked Gentleman (May 2008) - and Sally is contracted for three more. The Naked Earl (of which Publishers Weekly said: "Providing plenty of heat and hilarity, MacKenzie has great fun shepherding this boisterous party toward its happy ending; readers will be glad they RSVPed.") hit the Borders/Waldenbooks and the USA Today bestseller lists.

A native Washingtonian (i.e., District of Columbia), law school dropout, former federal regulation writer (Anyone remember ketchup as a vegetable?), and recovering parent volunteer (though she is just starting a two-year stint as president of the local swim league), Sally lives with her husband in suburban Maryland. Two of her four sons have left the nest and the other two are now college students. She's currently hard at work on The Naked Baron.

To find out more about Sally and her books, visit her website.

To Buy Sally MacKenzie's Books


EDITOR'S NOTE: Sally MacKenzie is scheduled to attend the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association fall conference (October 14-15) in Baltimore, where she will be signing copies of The Earl and handing out associated trinkets ("I'm a Naked Reader!" pens and buttons). Don't look for her at the Kensington booth, though she'll probably stop by; instead she'll be at a romance booth some romance authors are putting together.

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