I’m very happy to introduce author and acquiring YA editor, Denise Meinstad!
Where did you grow up? I grew up in Minneapolis, mostly in SE and NE neighborhoods. My husband, Steve, and I were born in the same year, three days apart, and we were both overdue. And we’re both lefties. Instead of having a joint birthday party every year, we take a birthday vacation. (He’s a travel agent.)
Love that idea! What are some memories you have of that area? My favorite school years were at Marcy-Holmes elementary (the old one with the creaky wood floors and the small theater). My teacher was Eleanor Trinka who I had for 2nd and 3rd grade. In those days everything was free–tap and ballet classes, a public swimming pool and a skating rink. I still have pictures of me in the dance recital costumes that my Grandma Esther made.
Those old schools were amazing, weren’t they? What did you want to be when you grew up? An author. Always. I started writing books at 13 and still have the first one I wrote on a school notebook titled, “Mystery in the Granary.” It’s buried away in my hope chest under baby clothes.
What do you love about living in Minnesota? I love spring, summer and fall, the lakes, my flower gardens and the tiny cabin I inherited from my dad that I use as a writing retreat, though so far I’ve spent more time renovating it than writing in it.
What are you not particularly fond of living here? I hate winter. It’s great until Christmas, but on December 26th I start thinking about spring.
That’s exactly how I feel about it! Tell us about your writing journey. I’ve been an avid reader since first grade. Yep, really got into those Dick and Jane books! One of the first books I checked out of the school library was Little House in the Big Woods. I remember staring out the dining room window one cold, wintery night crying over that book because I wanted that little girl to be real so we could be friends. Imagine my surprise a couple years later when I found the rest of the set. I devoured every book many times over.
What or who influenced your writing? I didn’t know it then, but Laura Ingalls Wilder was the author who fueled my passion for writing. The second author was Victoria Holt. Window on the Square was the first book I read of hers and instantly fell in love with the hero, Brandon. In seventh grade I stumbled upon Gone with the Wind and fell head over heels in love with Rhett Butler. So, there you go. My fate as a romance writer was set in stone.
When did you start writing your own stories? I really wanted to write a book of my own, but somehow I had gotten the impression you had to be rich and connected to important people to be a published author. That summer my family took the train to Oregon to visit relatives and there I learned that my cousin, Roberta, and her best friend were collaborating on a mystery. When they showed me the manuscript–boy, the wheels in my head started turning so fast they almost came off. It was just a fun hobby to them, but to me it was the proof that I could do this! I had a plot drawn before I got back home, and in a couple of weeks wrote my first book. Of course, I never showed it to anyone.
When did you start writing seriously? I wrote as a hobby for years until I found out about Romance Writers of America and started hanging out with other people like me. Now I can’t imagine doing anything else.
I also belong to American Christian Fiction Writers and the local chapter, Minnesota NICE. I write sweet romance and inspirational romance. One of these days I’m going to try writing a young adult book as well. It’s on my bucket list!
My pen name is Denise Annette Devine, which is my maiden name. I thought it would be unique, but there are at least six other women named Denise Devine on Google and one of them is an author of children’s books. Go figure! My author page on Facebook is www.facebook.com/deniseannettedevine. Please come visit my page and feel free to ‘like’ it as I’m trying to build a list of friends.
What is a lesson you’ve learned along your writing journey? That if I go about my quiet way and keep at it, I can do whatever I put my mind to. I’ve also learned to value the friendships of other writers that I’ve acquired along the way and the authors I work with at Fire & Ice. My critique partners, Lori Ness, LuAnn Nies and Robin Nelson are awesome women and I value not only their friendship, but their honest advice as well.
What was something that has surprised you? I’m surprised at how much I have learned in all the years I’ve been writing. Now that I’m an editor, all of my training is getting a workout, but I’m still growing because I still faithfully study my craft. I love working with other writers.
What are you currently working on? Well, I came up with the idea of writing a Christmas anthology with two of my critique partners. Lu Ann finished hers in time and published it. Lori still has a ways to go on hers and I have about six scenes left on mine. I also have a full-length inspirational romance that needs polishing. That book was a finalist in RWA’s Golden Heart contest. I love that story because it is so emotional and I have two sequels planned for that series.
What are your future plans and goals around writing? All I ever wanted to be when I grew up was a published author. I’m retiring from my full time job with the Department of Homeland Security next fall and I plan to read, write, study and travel.
Sounds fabulous! Tell us how you became an editor. I started out line editing for Melange Books, LLC. One of my first manuscripts was the launch title for their new Fire & Ice YA (young adult) line, which has its own website. Within a couple months I moved up to acquiring editor and now YA is all I do.
What do you do as an editor for Fire & Ice? I love working with YA writers and tend to do all of my own first reading, contracts and revisions. I don’t acquire anything unless I absolutely love it and that is why I mostly handle everything (except the cover) from the first read to sending the final version of the manuscript to the formatter. As you can tell, I work closely with my authors and I love every minute of it.
Do you set goals as an editor? My goals are to acquire at least two books a month and build a great list of authors that draw a wide readership. Until now, the only thing holding me back has been access to affordable health insurance. In a couple months I will be eligible to retire with benefits, so I’m going to just do it.
As an editor, what surprises you about submissions you’ve reviewed? Hah! Do you have all day? Seriously, it’s amazing how many people don’t even bother to read the guidelines. Fire & Ice YA guidelines specifically state “no profanity, no sex and no typos (run it through spell check before you send it to me).” What do I get? All of the above.
I’m always looking for that special story that captures my heart. It’s exciting to open a file and start reading something that’s so wonderful I can’t stop. I’ve come across a few of those lately and they are what make my job so rewarding. I know within the first couple pages if I’m going to love a book. Sometimes I can’t wait to finish it so I can send the author a contract.
One thing that surprises me about submissions, though, is how dark and depressing so many of them are. The characters are aimless people who never have a nice day and don’t seem to have a clue that they’re miserable.
What is the most difficult aspect of your job? Keeping up. I love what I’m doing, but I never have a minute to spare. I always say, if you’re going to give up your free time to work a second job, you’d better absolutely love it. I do! However, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel now and by next fall I will have full control over my time. No more commuting. Hallelujah!
What three pieces of advice do you give writers about submitting their work? Write the best book you can and the story that you love, not what everyone else is writing. As an editor, I’m not looking for perfect writers or trendy stories. I’m looking for writers who can: 1) tell a passionate story, 2) with compelling characters, and 3) who know how to use spell check <VBG>. Read the guidelines.
What is something you’d like to experience in Minnesota that you haven’t yet? When I was a kid, my family used to go camping on the weekends and I saw some of Minnesota’s state parks. Minnesota has a lot of natural resources and I want to see more of them.
Also, I’d like to spend a night in my cabin (if I ever get it to the point where you can stay in it—trust me, my dad loved it but it was very rough.) I’ve got the prettiest looking outhouse you’ve ever seen, though. That was priority #1.
What’s something most people don’t know about you? I have a set of twin sisters who died at birth. Charlotte and Nancy were born about 12-15 months before me. At the time, my mother was so poor she couldn’t afford a headstone and through the years the urgency must have faded because they still don’t have one.
That’s very sad. My sister, Lisa, and I found their grave a few years ago on Memorial Day in a tiny cemetery called St. Anthony on Central Avenue NE in a section designated for infant graves. Sadly, most of them didn’t have headstones. (Wow—there’s an idea for a plot.) Someday I’m going to put a headstone on their grave as a gift to them and to my mother who has passed away herself.
Thanks for sharing such a touching part of your life. And thanks for being here, Denise. I loved getting the “inside scoop” on what life is like for an editor. If someone would like to submit something to you, how would they do that?
Please do send me something! My email is firstname.lastname@example.org Put “Requested Submission” in the subject line and I’ll know you read this blog. I will give your submission immediate attention. I promise.
If you’d like to know more about submitting to Melange, or submissions in general, please leave a comment for Denise here. She’s actively looking for YA writers, so this is a fabulous opportunity to get your work before an acquiring editor.