DONNA ALWARD On Writing Romance

Posted: February 10, 2012

When we declared February LOVE month here on Sea and be Scene – there was one amazing Atlantic Canadian that came to mind immediately.  That’s because she writes about LOVE for a living.

With over books twenty books to her credit, Donna Alward is a premiere romance novelist, having won the Colorado Award for Excellence and twice won the Bookseller’s Best Award for her great love stories.

From rebel ranchers to Mediterranean men to stalwart soldiers – the Keswick Ridge, New Brunswick native brings romantic leads to life in terrific page turning, heart-string pulling style.

I wanted to learn a little bit more about this amazing lady with the passion for writing romance and gain some insight into what makes a great love story so very lovely.  What follows is our Q&A (as they say) with Donna Alward.

SABS: I’ve met a lot of songwriters in my time who could write the most incredible love song, but who were just about as far from romantic as you could get, so it begs the question do you need to be romantic to write a book about romance?

Donna Alward photo by Anita MaeDonna Alward: It all depends on your definition of romance, doesn’t it? For me, it’s not flowers and jewelry and romantic getaways, although those things are very nice and I probably wouldn’t say no! But romance is more than that. It’s bringing someone a cup of tea when they’ve had a long day. It’s sticking a note in their lunch bag before they go to work. Romance is really about being thoughtful rather than grand gestures. I don’t think you have to be romantic to write a romance, but if you’re going to put yourself if the shoes of your characters, it probably would be a good idea!

SABS:  Every novelist has a different process – how do you approach the blank page/screen…is it with a character first or a title or is it always changing for you?

Donna Alward: Definitely character. I hate coming up with titles! I usually start with the main characters and probably a hook of some sort, a launching pad for the story, an initial problem. I’ll spend a little time getting to know them and what makes them tick. But I’m not a plotter, so I don’t go too in depth into what is going to happen and when. I have a few key scenes in my head and a general idea of character arc, and I let them lead me through it.

SABS: So often when I read a book – I’m imagining the actors that would play the characters in the ‘movie version’… do you ever do that when you’re writing it?

"Leading Men"...Donna Alward: Movies are a bit different from what I normally write, because I don’t have a lot of external plot driving the story. One book I could see working that way is Falling For Mr. Dark & Dangerous, but definitely with another title! By the way, I don’t get to pick my titles with Harlequin – I always have a working title and I’ve kept only one title in over fifteen books. Not a great track record! Anyway, that book has a US Marshal who comes to Canada and works with local authorities to track down a fugitive – and falls in love with a B&B owner.  I could see that on screen and I’ve had other people tell me that too. But I do always “cast” my characters, particularly heroes. For Marriage at Circle M it was Max Martini from The Unit. I could hear his voice every time I wrote dialogue. For How a Cowboy Stole Her Heart, there was a particular picture of Christian Bale that just worked. And for the duet I have coming up, which features two cousins, I had Tim Olyphant for the first and Josh Duhamel for the second. But really, once I get going, they take on a life of their own, which I think is how it should be anyway!

SABS: After so many successful novels – so many love stories…is there one hero that has stayed with you? One perfect character you would fall in love with.

Her Lone Cowboy - Donna AlwardDonna Alward: Every hero has a little something, and they should if I’m going to do them justice. But there are definitely favourites. My amputee hero, Noah, from Her Lone Cowboy will always be very special. And my June 2012 book, The Rebel Rancher, has a hero that I adored and my editor still raves about him. Ty was supposed to be a bad boy, but he kept showing this sweet, gentle side that always took me by surprise.

SABS: Your own books aside – what’s your favourite love story ever told – could be a book or a movie – your call?

Donna Alward: Movie-wise, I love LOVE ACTUALLY. I like that there are all these different story-lines and they all converge at one point or another and each deals with different sorts of love – unrequited, parent/child, new love, married love…  The scene where Emma Thompson's character puts on Joni Mitchell and then falls apart breaks my heart every time.

I could never pick just one book. I’m not sure I could even pick ten.

Every single book of LaVyrle Spencer’s is on my shelf though, and falling apart from being read so often.  I miss her books!

SABS: What advice would you give someone who loves writing and aspires to become a novelist someday?

Donna Alward: Write.  Keep writing, and make sure you submit it! The more you write the better you’ll become. Read books on writing, take some courses if you like. Check out local writing groups. I belong to the Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada group – the local chapter for Romance Writers of America. The internet is great for researching resources in whatever genre you’re writing. I joined the community at when I first realized that I was writing romance. The other writers and authors there were really helpful and supportive, but the reality is all the courses in the world won’t get you published if you’re not writing and submitting. Rejections will happen but that’s really all part of the journey. Write, submit, repeat. It took me 5 years and 10 manuscripts to get my first offer. In the five years since, I’ve written and sold 20 books.

SABS: Before I let you go – any details you can share about your next novel?

Donna Alward: Absolutely! I’m really excited because I have 2 linked stories coming out back to back in May and June.

The first is The Last Real Cowboy. Here’s the blurb from the back:

The Last Real Cowboy - Donna Alward"A diamond like no other…

From the moment he turned up late to her charity’s meeting, placating everyone with a tip of his Stetson and a lazy smile, Angela Beck knew that Sam Diamond was going to be trouble with a capital T.

Angela is the prickliest woman Sam Diamond’s ever met—let alone had to work with! He’d love to still her sharp tongue with a kiss, but first he has to get close enough to awaken the complex woman beneath the deliberately cool exterior. And that’s something only a real cowboy can do…"

Angela’s a social worker setting up a step-up shelter for women who have been abused and are trying to get back on their feet, and Sam’s family is a major contributor to the project. I had great fun writing it and the next book, The Rebel Rancher, which is out in June, is the story of Sam’s cousin Ty and Clara Ferguson, Butterfly House’s first client.

It’s been a blast - thanks for having me for a visit on SABS!


Donna Alward - Cool People ProfileWhile you’re here be sure to check out Donna Alward’s Cool People Profile

For everything else visit

Our great thanks to Marti Corn Photography for sharing the lovely feature picture of Donna Alward with us!.


  1. Great advice Donna and love, love all your heros.
    Keep up the fab writing,


    Comment by Georgiana Harding — February 10, 2012 @ 10:04 am

  2. So glad to see you profiling Donna. She's an amazing writer. Once you start reading one of her books you can't put them down.

    Comment by Renee Field — February 10, 2012 @ 10:13 am

  3. Lovely article. Always enjoy reading about our local celebrities and have enjoyed many of Donna Alward's books. Thanks!

    Comment by Bev Pettersen — February 10, 2012 @ 10:45 am

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