Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Willa Blair: Highland Healer

Celtic romance author Willa Blair visits The Plain today, part of the blog hop celebrating the release of her Scottish paranormal, Highland Healer.

Welcome, Willa. Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from?
I’m a recent transplant from the mid-Atlantic to the Texas Hill

Country northwest of San Antonio, but I was born in North Carolina and grew up in Florida.
A nice southern gal. What components, in your opinion, make a great story?
Great writing is first and foremost required for me to think a story is great. I can tolerate some holes in the plot if the writing is really good. But I also have to care about the main characters, otherwise, no amount of excellent story elements will keep me turning pages.
How would you generally categorize the books/stories you write?
I grew up reading science fiction and fantasy and enjoyed stories with psi talents (telepathy, teleportation, etc.), so I like to explore them in my writing. That usually puts me in the paranormal category.

Highland Healer is a Scottish historical with a paranormal twist. It won the Washington Romance Writer’s Marlene award in the paranormal category in 2011 (as Warrior). It’s the first of my Highland Talents series. Each book in that series will explore a different psi talent. The second book’s heroine is a seer, the third’s is a soothsayer.

My contemporary romance (still under construction) won the 2012 San Antonio Romance Authors Merritt contest’s paranormal category. I’m also plotting out a science fiction romance series where psi talents will play a role, and I’ve started what I think will become a romantic suspense novel, so I’m going to try to do that one without psi talents.
Sounds like you’ll be busy for a while. How much of your writing is based on people or events familiar to you?
My villains are based on a couple of former bosses. Other than that, not a lot. My imagination usually gets free rein. Of course, my subconscious could be combining elements of people I know into the characters I come up with.
I like your idea for villains. What inspired you to write Highland Healer?
I wanted to do a book that was part real, part fantasy. Scottish historical romances come in a wide variety of types. Some stick fairly closely to the historical record, while some delve deeply into Celtic myth and legend with little or no regard to actual history. I liked the flexibility the genre offered and once I finally found a time period that suited my purposes, I got to work.
How did you come up with the title?
I worked with my editor. My working title was Warrior, but it didn’t suit the finished book. We wanted something short that would be visible in a thumbnail picture on a website, but that also conveyed the essence of the book. As much as I love Toran (and what a great cover!), it really is Aileana’s story.
What was the hardest part of the story to write?
Every writer struggles with the middle of the book. You usually know where you’re starting and where you want to end up. But building the conflict along with the romance while you’re getting to know your characters is a challenge. What disasters can you throw at them that fit the time, the place, the mood of the book? Who are these people and how can you show the parts of their personality, history, and actions that make them unique? And how will each individual deal with the challenges you make them face?
What was the easiest part of the story to write?
For me, it’s often the beginning. I see a ‘still’ picture and start to describe what I see, then stop and think about who the people are and what’s going on. From there, I build the plot as I build an outline. Highland Healer started out with the opening scene pictured in my mind, but I was still a pantzer, so it took a long time to write. I finished the second book much more quickly after I learned the value of plotting - doing an outline, even a synopsis - before getting too far into the book.
Was there much research involved?
Tons! The hardest part was deciding on when in Scotland’s history to set the story, then to find out more about life in that time. Both a blessing and a curse, not much highland history has survived. So I had a lot of freedom to write the story the way I wanted to.
Is there a message in your story you want readers to grasp?
The message of this book is trust - in each other, of course, but also in yourself and in your abilities. It’s a lesson both Toran and Aileana have to learn.
When you first started writing, did anything about the writing process surprise you?
How important revisions are. Most of my first draft is very rough and focuses on the action that moves the plot forward. It only forms the scaffolding for the elements that give a story life and depth - sensory details (hearing, scents, tastes, touch, and sight), more sexual tension, more relationship building, etc. Some writers go way over their word count and have to trim, trim, trim. But my first draft tends to be spare, and I go back several times to layer in all of that. In addition, despite having outlined the book, as I go along I often think of scenes the story needs and add those, too.
Do you celebrate when you finish a story, and if so, how?
Oh yes. I like any excuse for a celebration. Finishing a book is a really good one. It usually involves dinner out, or dinner in - and champagne.
A little champagne never hurts. What do you like least about writing?
Sitting, sitting, sitting. I need to make more of an effort to get up and move.
Before you do, give us a mini-tour of your writing space.
My desk is in my library where I keep all of the science fiction and fantasy books I’ve collected practically since I could read. And of course, there are shelves and more shelves of romance in all sorts of genres. I have a filing cabinet and a comfy reading chair across from the desk. The walls are covered by brass rubbings I did in England (one is of Robert the Bruce), a poster I got at the Bodleian Library in Oxford of a JRR Tolkien drawing of Bilbo Baggins and the Raft Elves, my contest win certificates, my book cover, and most important, a framed triple counted-cross stitch of the state flowers of FL, TX and MD, a gift made by a long-time friend of mine.
Which authors do you feel have influenced your writing most?
I get my sense of atmosphere and mood from Arthur C. Clarke. Some of the attitude that comes across in my contemporary writing is very Robert Heinlein. Those were early influences that have stuck with me. Lately, my MD critique group gets the credit for teaching me to be a plotter more than a pantzer, so I can actually accomplish my writing goals.
Name a few titles I’d find if I browsed through your personal home library.
Anything and everything by Clarke, Heinlein, Asimov, Bradley, McCaffrey, and just about any other scifi author you could name. Then add Catherine Asaro and Linnea Sinclair to bridge the gap between scifi and romance. And of course, romance authors such as Rebecca York, Nora Roberts, Roxanne St.Claire, Cherry Adair, to name but a few, plus several authors who write Scottish historicals, including Donna Grant, Monica McCarty, Karen Marie Moning, and of course, Diana Gabaldon.
Have any new authors caught your interest?
Sharon Lynn Fisher’s Ghost Planet really grabbed me - it’s an unusual story and she carries it off beautifully.
Who supports your writing activities most?
Besides my MD critique group, my husband does. He’s always telling someone about my writing, and he’s a very social person, so the word is getting around in places I’d never expect.
I suspect he’s quite proud of you, Willa. And now, let’s take a peek at Highland Healer.

He needs her for his clan. He wants her for himself. Can he have both?

Toran Lathan never expected to become Laird, and never expected to meet a woman like Aileana Shaw. Her healing ability is just what his people need, but Toran cannot resist her beauty. Yet will loving him destroy her ability to heal?

Aileana Shaw has a healing touch – and a special talent she must keep secret. Stolen from her home by a marauding army, she’s kidnapped again by the Highland Laird she heals. Is she a prize of war, or the prize of his heart?

While Toran battles the invading lowland army, he also battles his desire for Aileana. And Aileana must decide if she can trust her secrets to this fierce warrior who needs her talent, but wants her love.

Despite his threats a few moments before, she had sensed no real animosity in him. She’d been treated well since arriving at the Aerie. Her dream of a home, with people who cared about her, perhaps a family of her own, rose unbidden to her mind, and with it came a familiar lump in her throat. She was tired, she thought, to let that longing overwhelm her now. She folded her arms under her breasts and kept her eyes on the flames. She heard Toran move from the door to stand behind her. She tensed as his hands came to rest on her shoulders. He turned her gently, but irresistibly, to face him.

"What should I do with so beautiful, so valuable, a prize?" he murmured, almost to himself.

His deep blue gaze ensnared Aileana as completely as his hands. She knew she should be outraged at being called a prize. He’d done it before, on the way here. Did he truly see her that way? She refused to be chattel any longer, she told herself, and would not allow him to treat her so. But she found she could not summon her ire. One of his hands left her shoulder and he lightly touched her cheek, then slowly slid his fingers down her throat to her collarbone. There, he hesitated, and Aileana held her breath until he moved the hand back to her shoulder.

His simple touch sent shivers dancing and nearly undid her.

* * * * *
About Willa Blair:

Willa Blair is the award-winning author of Highland Healer, her debut novel, the first in a series set in the 16th century Highlands, when the old ways, and old talents, still shaped events. She always wished she had several psi talents, such as reading her husband's mind, cleaning house by simply thinking about it, and flying. But alas, no. So she endows her characters with special talents and lives vicariously through them. She loves reading and writing romance novels set in the past, present and future.

* * * * *
Highland Healer / Available from


  1. Thanks for inviting me, Pat. It's great to be here!

    1. My pleasure, Willa. It's great to have you!

  2. Oh, wow. This sounds like a great read. Love the Scots. Yep, going on my TBB list. Thanks for sharing. Loved the excerpt.

  3. Thanks, Lorrie! I hope you enjoy it.