Why do you write?
Because I’m a born storyteller. I grew up in the South, and all Southerners love to hear stories and to tell them. When I meet new people, even if I’m just in a line at the grocery store or post office, I get them to tell me a story. I think listening to stories is as important as telling them. People love to have an audience even here in California where the natives tend to be rather reserved, unlike Southerners who will tell you their life story in a heart beat.
Do you plan to publish more books?
Absolutely, yes, yes, yes. I have finished a second novel that needs editorial work. The working title is Ride Your Heart ‘Til It Breaks. I am currently putting chapters of my third novel Dark Moon up on my blog, http://dhawkins.net. I am thrilled to get new followers every week. I’ve always been uncomfortable with being a lawyer. It’s not the real me. I like to laugh and play too much to fit the legal stereotype. I’d rather crack jokes in court than argue the law. (Although I stick to the script and do my job, of course.) I’m really a writer and an artist and a free spirit. Now that my children are grown up, I have promised myself to devote the rest of my life to writing and publishing. (And becoming a better musician.)
What is hardest, getting published, writing or marketing?
I think marketing is challenging. There is no one formula that works, and I realize I am often stabbing in the dark, trying to figure it out. But I promised myself at the beginning to forgive my marketing mistakes because I’m just learning. I was disappointed initially when people reacted to Dance for A Dead Princess as an exploitation of Princess Diana. It isn’t. I respect Diana too much to do that.
The book is actually the story of the fictional Carey family and how it manages to survive because Taylor Collins shows up and figures out Nicholas Carey. They are people who’ve had horrendous pasts, and together they heal each other. Diana is a background figure who helps to develop the character of Nicholas, my modern duke and captain of industry. I loved Diana so much when she was around in the 1980's. I took my first bar exam on the day of her wedding, and I got up in the wee hours of the morning to watch her get married before heading off to a full day of writing the exam. And then her children were just barely older than mine, and I loved her because she loved being a mother the way I did. And I also was inspired by the way she brought compassion to a job that can be stuffy and remote. I put a lot of my feelings for Diana into my hero, Nicholas. I can just imagine the two of them together, talking and comforting each other.
How often do you write? And when do you write?
For my “day job” of writing appellate briefs, I write every day. Usually six hours spaced between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. In between I have to run errands and look after my Golden Retrievers.
But the real fun begins at night. After I spend an hour practicing clarinet, I pull out the laptop and start on my fiction writing. I don’t use the laptop for anything else. The “day job” gets done on the PC, so having different equipment helps me mark the transition from lawyer to writer/creative/artist. I aim for writing fiction every day, but sometimes the well is dry and I have to wait for it to fill up. When that happens, I read what I’ve written, go over my outlines, and wait for the moment when I know what happens next. And that moment always comes. I also think a lot about plot and pacing the story. I want to keep the reader involved and guessing. My favorite novels are the ones you can’t put down, and I aim to write those.
How did you come up with the title?
Many years ago, I heard pianist Lorin Hollander play Ravel’s Pavane Pourune Infante Defunte. Later I heard the orchestral version and thought the French horn solo was enough to break any heart. It is one of the most ravishing melodies on earth. When Diana died, I wondered why no one thought to play the Pavane for her. It seems so perfect. My hero Nicholas, the duke who wanted to be a concert pianist, sits up nights playing the Pavane for “all the lost princesses in his life.” So it was the absolutely perfect title for the book. I did “market research” at a party one evening and discovered Americans don’t know enough French or classical music to recognize Ravel or the piece’s title in French. So I went with the English translation.
Do you have any advice for writers?
I’d say the same thing musicians say: practice, practice, practice. That means write, write, write. And edit. I have been surprised to learn that the self-publishing community, of which I am a proud member, does not generally recognize the value of professional editing. I was lucky I could do my own, but if I hadn’t had that skill, I’d definitely have paid for it. You must absolutely put your best foot forward and that means professional editing. A beautiful story deserves a beautiful presentation. Go the extra mile for your readers. They are definitely worth your best!
What inspired you to write your first book?
I really identified with Princess Diana because we had children about the same age and loved motherhood. I am an attorney and I do criminal appeals in my “day” job, so I read about murder constantly. (I know how that sounds.) Because I was interested in Diana, I read about the tragedy in the Place d’Alama tunnel quite a bit. I felt something wasn’t quite right with the accident stories, although I have never been a “conspiracy” sort of person. One day I read that she received a threatening phone call in January 1997 foretelling her assassination. She made a video tape naming the killer and gave it to someone in America for safekeeping. It has never been found. The fiction writer in me took over from there, and I created Nicholas Carey, Eighteenth Duke of Burnham, and Diana’s close friend who has dedicated himself to finding that tape.
What books have influenced your life the most?
I couldn’t really name all of them. There are too many. As a writer, I have always wanted to emulate Mary Stewart. I grew up reading her romantic suspense novels set in exotic places, and I loved the stories and her beautiful writing style. I liked her Merlin books, but I missed the original romantic suspense novels when she turned exclusively to the Arthurian legend.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
No. I discovered writing two stories together was quite difficult, but I’m really happy with the way the modern romance and the Tudor romance work together. The details of each had to parallel the other to keep the book from being disjointed. The stories have important parallels. Thomas Carey, who became the first duke near the end of his life, was the son of a well-to-do and ambitious sheep farmer from the village of Burnham in Kent. He sent his son Thomas to Henry VIII’s court to train as a knight. Eventually Thomas and Henry would fall in love with heiress Elizabeth Howell; and Henry would circulate rumors Thomas murdered his wife to be free to seek Elizabeth’s hand. Similarly, Deborah Downing’s death under mysterious circumstances at the Abbey in 1994 and the coroner’s inquest led to gossip Nicholas was responsible for killing his wife. That gossip reaches new heights when his ward Lucy is found dead on a night when Nicholas has no alibi and when Taylor, who by now has fallen in love with Nicholas, has just discovered he cannot sell Burnham Abbey to her client as long as Lucy is alive. Both Thomas and Nicholas are accused of murdering those who stand in the way of what they want.
Tell us about your new book? What is it about?
Dance For A Dead Princess is a saga about the Careys, a family founded in Tudor-era England, the result of a great and passionate love affair between Thomas Carey, the First Duke of Burnham and Elizabeth Howell, a beautiful heiress. The book opens in the present where, Nicholas, the Eighteenth Duke, has vowed to end the Carey line as revenge on his father, whom he hated, and to discover the killer of his close friend, Princess Diana, his late wife’s best friend from school. Nicholas has been devastated by the deaths of Diana and his wife. Bitter and cynical, he intends never to marry again and never to father a Carey heir.
Nicholas discovers that Diana was warned of her impending death in January 1997 and made a video tape, naming her killer. He lures Taylor Collins, a beautiful and driven Wall Street attorney to England, because she unknowingly has the tape. Diana had given it to Taylor’s close friend for safekeeping in America. Now Taylor’s friend is dead under mysterious circumstances, and Taylor is the attorney handling her estate. Nicholas promises to sell the Carey’s ancestral home, Burnham Abbey, to Taylor’s client, an American school for girls, but Taylor must come to the Abbey herself to oversee the sale.
Nicholas is immediately attracted to Taylor, but she is nursing a broken heart because her fiancé called off their wedding the night before it was to take place. She doesn’t like Nicholas at first. But her attitude changes as she gets to know the man behind the title, the man who so deeply loved his late wife, and who is struggling to get his ward, Lucy, off drugs and back into school. Then she makes a starling discovery in the Abbey’s library. She finds the diary of Thomas, the first duke, who explains how he fought with Henry VIII for the hand of Elizabeth Howell, the great love of his life. Thomas writes about founding the Carey family based upon their great love and hearbreak. Taylor begins to believe Nicholas is wrong to end destroy his five-hundred-year-old name. But her newly emerging feelings for him are threatened when she learns his desire for revenge on his father may have led him to murder Lucy, the legitimate Carey heir. When Nicholas is arrested for murder, only Taylor can save him. But the forces that killed Diana are threatening her, too, because she has found Diana’s tape naming her assassin.
As Taylor struggles to save Nicholas and the Carey family, she finds that the answers she is seeking in the present are revealed in Thomas’s secrets from the past. Either the dukes of Burnham are men of great passion, capable of the deepest love imaginable, or they are cold-hearted murders. The secret of Diana’s death holds the answer.
Can you tell us about your main character?
Nicholas, the hero, is a very complex man. He was pulled away from his life in America with his concert pianist mother at age fourteen, and forced to give up his own musical aspirations when his older half-brother died. Nicholas was not happy about being brought to England as the new heir to his father, the Seventeenth Duke. His only consolation was his marriage to Deborah Downing, the most beautiful woman in England, until he is left bitter and cynical by her death and later, by Diana’s death. But Nicholas also has a charming human side. He recognizes his faults and his failings and wants to do better. He feels guilty about the way he has neglected his ward Lucy. And he acknowledges that he creates only superficial relationships with women until he meets Taylor.
Taylor, the heroine, is so full of pain over the loss of her engagement that she has no time or interest in Nicholas Carey. She has her own money and her own life as a successful attorney, and she is one of the few women Nicholas has met who have no interest in being the Duchess of Burnham. Taylor sees Nicholas as spoiled and conceited until she learns the darker story of how hurt he was to lose his mother at fourteen and to lose his young wife just as she was about to have their first child. She begins to see that the man with everything is actually the man with very little. She begins to be drawn to Nicholas’ very human side until Lucy is found dead, and there is evidence that Nicholas may have been involved. But Taylor has survived a difficult childhood and succeeded in a demanding career by using her determination and intelligence. She is not going to leave England until she learns the truth about Nicolas and the Careys and the death of Princess Diana.
In January 1997, Princess Diana received a phone call telling her she would be assassinated. She recorded the information on a secret video tape, naming her killer and gave it to a trusted friend in America for safekeeping. It has never been found.
Diana's close friend, Nicholas Carey, the 18th Duke of Burnham and second richest man in England, has vowed to find the tape and expose her killer. After years of searching, he discovers Diana gave the tape to British socialite Mari Cuniff, who died in New York under mysterious circumstances. He believes Wall Street attorney Taylor Collins, the executor of Mari's estate, has possession of it. He lures Taylor to England by promising to sell his ancestral home in Kent, Burnham Abbey, to one of her clients, a boarding school for American girls. Nicholas has dated actresses and models since the death of his wife, ten years earlier, and has no interest in falling in love again. But he is immediately and unexpectedly overwhelmed with feelings for Taylor at their first meeting.
Taylor, unaware that Diana's tape is in her long-time friend and client's estate and nursing her hurt over her broken engagement to a fellow attorney in her firm, brands Nicholas supremely spoiled and selfish. She is in a hurry to finish the sale of the Abbey and return to New York. But while working in the Abbey's library, Taylor uncovers the diary of Thomas Carey, a knight at the court of Henry VIII and the first Duke of Burnham.
As she reads Thomas' agonizing struggle to save the love of his life and the mother of his child from being forced to become Henry's mistress, she begins to see Nicholas in a new light as he battles to save his sixteen-year-old ward Lucy, who is desperately unhappy and addicted to cocaine. But just as Taylor's feelings for Nicholas become clear and at the moment she realizes she is in possession of Diana's voice from the grave, she learns that Nicholas may be Lucy's father and responsible for his wife's death at the Abbey at the time of Lucy's birth. When Nicholas is arrested for Lucy's murder and taken to Wandsworth Prison, Taylor sets out to learn the truth about Nicholas, his late wife, and the death of the Princess of Wales.
Dance for A Dead Princess is a the story of two great loves that created and preserved a family that has lasted for five hundred years.
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Genre – Contemporary Romance, Mystery
Rating – G
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