Today we’re chatting with Frances Amati and learning how wolfhounds, holidays, and weird dreams work into a journey to publications.
Frances Amati writes fantasy/paranormal and contemporary romance. A member of the Orange County Chapter of Romance Writers of America, she has been a finalist twice in the prestigious Orange Rose Contest and three times in the California Dreaming Conference’s Hooker Contest. Her first short story, Heart Hound, was published in the OCC-RWA Anthology Romancing the Pages.
Her debut novel, The Christmas Present, the first installment in her contemporary Holiday Hearts Series released November 29th, 2019 and is available in Kindle or print-on-demand on Amazon. The first of her fantasy/paranormal series is slated for release in spring of 2020. You can find her at www.francesamati.com or on Facebook at @FCAmati.
A full time Senior Property Manager for a real estate services firm, this mother of three grown children and “Nonna” to five darling grandchildren, keeps her sanity with large doses of humor and frequent reality checks administered by her Irish Wolfhounds. Her close-knit family inspires not only many of her characters but is an integral part of the support system that keeps her afloat in windswept ocean of activity. An avid traveler with various hobbies, Frances currently resides in Huntington Beach, California with her seventeen-month-old Irish Wolfhounds puppies, Valhalla and Valkyrie, who remind her that love is what we make it.
Jann: Tell us about your journey to publication.
Frances: I wouldn’t be a published author without my son, Evan and my Irish Wolfhound, Handsome. But that’s not really the place to start. I’ve always been close to my kids—and humor is a huge part of that. Thus my “dream” life is a running joke in my family. The narrative is “Don’t tell us you had a weird dream. Just tell us you had a dream; we’ll know it’s weird.” Stories, whether in dreams or daydreams, have always been a part of me. So, when my son Evan was preparing to leave for university, he threw me a challenge. “I’ll go to college and while I’m gone this year, you should write a book.” More, I think, to keep me out of his hair than anything else.
Through Handsome, I had met Alexis Montgomery. We were becoming good friends and spending considerable time together as she mentored me in the ways of wolfhounds. Laughingly, I recounted Evan’s challenge and she latched on like a moral eel. I hadn’t known she was a writer. She invited me to a meeting of her writing “group.” To be honest, that first time I didn’t know what I was attending, or even what OCC or RWA were. That was 2010 and I never looked back.
When OCC put out the call for short stories to be published in a fund-raising anthology, Alexis and Janis Thereault, my other new writing pal, encouraged me to submit—so I did. Heart Hound was selected and published in Romancing the Pages. I was excited, but also at a loss. Growing up in a blue-collar home where creative arts were considered fanciful pastimes, I had to get past my own limiters. The success of being selected threw me because I felt untrained and unprepared. A situation utterly “at odds” with my natural tendencies to always be prepared. But Alexis and Janis encouraged me so I started writing. So much so, that I now have bits and pieces of so many different stories tucked into journals all over my house. But I needed to learn.
I was heavy on craft sessions at conferences and meetings—and I went to plenty of them. I took a writing class with Louella Nelson. There is just so much to learn and everyone is always pushing more at you. Honestly, it was almost so overwhelming I thought I’d never get anywhere. Plus, you’re in the ring with talented people who have degrees in fields designed for this pathway. But the OCC motto kept popping up—and I kept on going. Not to mention I think Alexis would have dragged me back in chains if I tried to walk away. But that is what good friends do for you.
The one thing I repeatedly took away from meetings and conferences was to have a stockpile of material to release systematically over time when you were getting started. By then, I felt that my path was going to be through self-publication. Thus, my stockpiling commenced, but it is slow going. My day job is time consuming, eating up anywhere from forty-five to sixty or more hours a week. That ties right in with my mortgage holder who, for some strange reason, really likes my house payment on time. And let’s not forget those Irish Wolfhounds—someone has to keep them in the royal pampered style to which they have become accustomed.
The Christmas Present (TCP) is the first installment in the Holiday Hearts Series and my very first self-publication (Thank you Amazon!). I have two books written in my fantasy series that are in the editing process now. I also have a series of children’s books called The Adventures of Handsome and Marlo in the works. They are about a wolfhound and his new friend, Marlo, a mouse. And yes, Handsome is very much based on my wolfhound of the same name. I’m looking for an illustrator for those as they are destined for picture books. I am excited to continue down the road in front of me. If there is one thing to take away from this interview, it is that dreams are never too old or too dead to be revived and lived.
Jann: Your debut contemporary romance novel released on November 29, 2019—The Christmas Present. How did that feel?
Frances: How did it feel? So often things in my life have ended up being anti-climactic. This was not one of those times—even though I feared it might be. It was amazing!
Throughout the process, but monumentally more as I neared the end, was the trepidation that the long haul of writing, editing, along with all the details and prep of publishing would overshadow the actual accomplishment. However, when I hit that “Publish” button on KDP my heart leapt into my throat. This was REAL and happening NOW. There I was, sitting at my dining room table, sending texts to my family, my critique partners and close friends; all the while I kept glancing at my laptop screen thinking “I did THAT.” Even now, when I look at the Amazon page or a print copy, I almost can’t believe it. But what has made this experience even more amazing is the support and feedback I have received. So many people have given me unsolicited and wonderful feedback. People I respect professionally and whose praise is all the more meaningful because it isn’t easily earned. It beats back that little demon of self-doubt who likes to beat me up.
Jann: Let’s talk about The Christmas Present, Book One in the Holiday Hearts Series. Who are these two amazing characters, nature photographer, Alexandria Marsh and playboy Declan Ruaidhri? How do they find their HEA?
Frances: Originally, this was supposed to be a novella for publication in a Holiday anthology with my critique partners, Alexis Montgomery and Janis Thereault. But somewhere along our planning curve all three stories diverged to different life paths. TCP was actually written four years ago. I pitched it to a few houses at different conferences, and it was requested several times. But it’s not a typical holiday story and honestly, I wasn’t thrilled about putting it with a house—it didn’t fit the “profile” and I wasn’t willing to make the significant changes to storyline. To me, no matter your beliefs, Christmas is about faith and the grace of forgiveness.
In The Christmas Present, Alexandria and Declan must renew their faith in themselves and allow the grace of forgiveness to free them from the past. To not live in the present can be a serious detriment to one’s happiness. The weight of past baggage can drown you in a sea of regret and worry. Alexandria carries a burden born from her strong protective tendencies, and to find the solution she must forgive her own choices, own them and have faith in herself and her family. Declan’s encumbrance is wounded pride and family duty. Each sees the other’s problems more clearly than their own. In seeking to assist one another, they find the blessings of solving their own internal issues. Finding love along the way never hurts.
Jann: How many books are you planning for this series and when do you plan for Book Two to be available?
Frances: While all the books will have characters in common, each novel stands alone and is based on a different holiday. Currently, I have four additional stories plotted out around Valentine’s Day, Easter, Independence Day and Thanksgiving. So, a total of five. Every story resonates with a different “theme” related to its holiday association. For example, Easter, to me, is a time of hope and re-birth—which is part of both the hero and heroine’s journey in this story. I anticipate that Book 2 will be released early in the summer of 2020.
Jann: You also have a fantasy/paranormal series to coming out this year. What can you share with us today about the series?
Frances: In my mind, this series is where creation and the big bang meet. I haven’t finalized the series name yet, nor the titles of the first two books, which are complete. Part of the backstory is that the original solar system of the universe is peopled by super beings. Since the beginning they have watched over developing worlds, protecting them from the dark forces of the cosmos. But the fight between good and evil, dark and light, has gone on since the creation of the universe. This fight has taken its toll on the protectors and twelve of the most powerful warriors in the universe have been entombed—alive but in a state of crystalline stasis. They can only be awoken by another of their kind. The hunt is on for the mysterious thirteenth—the lost offspring of one of the warriors—who may be hidden here on Earth. Or maybe it was on Andar, or that other planet? The search for the missing warrior takes a rogue crew of hunky aliens into the heart of danger, and the peril of losing their hearts.
Jann: For our lovers of animals, introduce us to your Irish Wolfhounds.
Frances: You may be sorry you asked me this one. LOL. My Irish Wolfhound story is magical in my eyes, and without this journey I would not be an author today. I have always loved to read. As a child it was an escape from the life I was born to. When I was eight or nine, I read a story with a girl who had a wolfhound. He was her best friend, her protector, and the one who loved her above all others. I told my mother I wanted one. Not being an animal person, she said no, not only to a wolfhound, but to any pets. Mind you, I actually had no idea what they looked like—there was no internet back then. I only knew they were huge and loved you to no end.
Time passed, I grew up, left home, married and had a family. Like so many childhood dreams thoughts of an Irish Wolfhound fell to the wayside. Years passed, my children were adults, I was divorced and living alone. My heart reminded me of my childhood dream—and now we have the internet. Photos of majestic hounds called to me like nothing ever had in my life. I found referrals from the National Club website and spoke to a woman who referred me to Alexis Montgomery, president of the Southern California Irish Wolfhound Club. Although not a breeder for profit, she knew many people in the wolfhound community and invited me over to meet her. In hindsight, I think it was more of an interview to see if I was worthy of consideration.
It was May of 2009 when Alexis met me at her front gate with her female, Wunjo and Wunjo’s two one-year old male puppies, Bear and Handsome. All three dogs welcomed me warmly. When Alexis invited me in to sit and talk Irish Wolfhounds, Wunjo and Bear wandered off around the yard. But Handsome followed me into the house. When I sat down on the loveseat he jumped up beside me and using his paw, pulled me up against his chest. For perspective, I am 5’9” and when I sat next to him, my head barely reached his neck. He was a big boy who bent and licked my face before laying his head on top of mine and cuddling me against his chest. I fell in love that very moment. But as he was Alexis’s dog, with a show career and breeding plans laid out in front of him, I knew I could only love him from afar.
Alexis was true to her word. Welcoming me into the IW community, she put me in touch with responsible breeders and I was on the waitlist. She invited me to the Irish Fair, fun matches and countless events and walks. Then one day when we were going to take Bear and Handsome for a walk on the beach, she dropped the bomb on me. “I know you want a puppy, but would you consider taking Handsome?” I don’t cry easily, but in that moment, I was overwhelmed with emotion and could barely speak, much less function.
I couldn’t believe my ears. But she laid it out clear enough. I still remember the hitch in her voice. “That damn dog is so in love with you, he isn’t happy unless he is with you.” His happiness was paramount to her. So finally, five months after our “meet-cute”, Handsome came home to be my forever heart hound. My heart was full. Or so I thought. That was October of 2009. Two years later, Phira, a female from Bear’s litter joined us and we were a pack of three.
I lost Handsome in April of 2015 and I still cry over him. Phira crossed over in February of 2018. I will mourn them always. But life moves on and in September 2018, one of Bear’s granddaughters, Jaegar gave birth. Having asked her to give me a boy, she naturally had all females: Valhalla and Valkyrie. I was only planning on one and Hala came home in December 2018, but Valkyrie joined our family in July of 2019. The sisters love each other and are boon companions. Being the same age and closely bonded they are a handful, but worth every moment.
Hala is a wheaten with black tips and Valkyrie is a gray brindle. But those aren’t the only differences. Hala is a goof—she makes funny faces and is an absolute gladiator at play. Affection and loyal, but very independent. She adores my six-year-old grand-daughter, Evelyn, and I have found them curled up together on the dog bed more times than I can count.
Valkyrie is an absolute cuddle-bug. She will curl up in your lap—she makes herself fit—for hours if you are willing. But make no mistake, this little girl can gladiate with the best of them. And willful…I think her picture is next to the word in the dictionary.
Right now, they are around 130 pounds at seventeen months of age. They still have some growing to do. But both are clever, strong and determined—like my heroines. They are a big part of my life, so naturally they will find their way into my written world.
Jann: What’s your favorite movie?
Frances: This one is easier than it used to be. I Am Dragon. It’s a Russian movie I found a year or two ago. I don’t normally care to have the television on while I am working, but for some reason I wanted something on in the background. I figured a movie in Russian would do the trick. I don’t remember what I had intended to do, but I never got to it. I was enthralled. The cinematography and music are so incredibly beautiful. And the story! The courage to love against all odds. Loving enough to sacrifice for the benefit of one you love. I bought it and have watched it probably fifty times. There is something about it that just grabs me in a most visceral way.
Jann: If a spaceship landed in your backyard and the aliens on board offered to take you for a ride, would you go? Why or why not?
Frances: Oh, yes. I have wanted to go into space as long as I could remember. To move through the cosmos, to see a nebular cloud, experience other worlds, a trip around the sun. It would be amazing. Well, at least as long as I wasn’t on the menu for dinner. Hopefully, when they show up I will either be between wolfhounds or able to take them with me. LOL
Jann: What’s the best writing advice you ever received? What’s the worst?
Frances: The best? Never quit. Simple. Easy. Straight forward. The worst? “The rule is….” Every great book I’ve ever read breaks one rule or another. Rules box you in, limit you. You have to produce a great product—that is the end game. But there has to be room for creativity and play. Once, while I was still a newbie at my day job, I asked a previous supervisor about a form to complete this mundane task. She responded that she didn’t particularly like to be in a box. I agreed—I don’t want to live in a box either. But I do believe we have to know where the box is and how it functions so we can effectively live outside it.
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