I’ve been a member of RWA since 1996. When I lived in Houston, I was a member of all three chapters. NW (the original chapter of RWA and home of the Lone Star contest and conference) West (a large chapter and home of the Emily contest) and Bay Area (a smaller but awesome chapter).
When I moved to Canyon Lake I checked out the nearest chapters and decided SARA was the one for me. The first meeting I attended was great. The program was excellent and the members were very welcoming. Great group.
What sub-genre(s) of romance stories do you write?
Mostly I like to kill people…I mean characters. So, Romantic Suspense is my main genre, but I also write contemporary romance. My other genre is YA Fantasy under my alter-ego name: Calista Anastasia.
What made you decide to write romance?
I don’t think I ever decided. It just happened. When I went to my first RWA meeting and stood up to introduce myself, I said, “I really don’t write romance,” and everyone laughed. Of course, there’s a romance. There has to be romance.
What do you think is the most misconceived idea readers have about romance writers?
<Rolling my eyes> According to non-writers, romance is all about damsels in distress and dashing heroes who rescue them. I write kick-butt heroines who rescue themselves. Strong women deserve strong men, so no wimps allowed in my novels.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given or read about writing?
Best things I’ve learned about writing came from Laurie Saunders and Margie Lawson, two of the most amazing teachers in our business. Laurie helped me to write all the elements needed to create a satisfying story. Margie helped me to analyze and revise with competence. Both have given me tools to make a story happen.
What writer(s) inspired you to try your hand at writing as well?
There are so many authors I enjoy, but the one who gave me lots of ‘aha’ moments was Susan Elizabeth Phillips. I had just gone to a Margie Lawson workshop sponsored by WHRWA, and when I read AIN’T SHE SWEET, by SEP, I kept stopping to note all the places she had done exactly what Margie was teaching. I almost couldn’t read the book because it was such a jewel of a story with all the elements I had learned right on the page. I finally just put aside all the incredulity and loved the book. Then I immediately went right back through it with a yellow highlighter and noted just how she made it all work so naturally. Awesome writer.
What is the best book you’ve ever read about the craft of writing?
I learned a lot about structure from THE HERO’S JOURNEY. It is so very easy to follow and make sure your project has the story arc and plot twists needed to move the story forward and avoid the sagging middle. Another book that I have given to a lot of people is THE FIRST FIVE PAGES, by Noah Lukeman. If you don’t grab the reader right up front, they will put the book down. Often, when judging contest entries, I will make a note of where the story begins and advise the entrant to get rid of all the blah-blah-blah they lay down. And I learned about character development from Deb Dixon’s GOAL, MOTIVATION & CONFLICT. I think these three books can take you to where you want to be as a writer of any fiction genre.
Are you a pantser or are you an outliner? Why?
I’m both. I start out with an idea and just run with it. Then after about 50 pages, I put the brakes on and wrestle the story into a 3-act play format. I make sure to have the character motivation and goals are spelled out and lots of conflict and plot twists before they get to the dark moment and resolution.
What is the hardest part of writing for you? Starting? Creating a scene? Dialog? Tension, etc?
I think every writer starts out with their own special gifts. For me writing action and dialogue has always come easy. Everything else, I have had to learn. Setting, emotion, structure, etc. I have written talking head scenes where you don’t know if the characters are in an elevator or on the beach. Seriously. When I go through the first pass revision I make sure I’ve nailed the POV immediately in each scene and also let the reader in on the setting I’m seeing in my head.
And this is my greatest struggle as a writer: My brain is crammed with so many ideas I can’t possibly crank them all out. So I have a folder of WIPs screaming for a HEA. I’m always making notes of possible future stories and throwing them into this file. There are about half a dozen stories with 20-30k words that I just can’t seem to get finished.
What is the biggest surprise and/or frustration you’ve learned in the writing/publishing process?
I’ve learned that other writers will try to change your voice, your characters, and your genre to theirs. When I wrote ON ICE, I was very fortunate that the first 30 pages won contests. But when I finished it and took it to critique group, I was told it was too long, there were too many characters, too many POVs, and too many stories woven together. I tried to follow the ‘big girls’ but finally, in frustration, just published it. I was to the point that I didn’t care if anyone ever bought it. It’s long, so I priced it at $5.99. To my surprise, it has sold more than any other project. So, I learned to listen to advice, but ultimately, go with your gut.
Is there a genre you wish you could write in, but never will? Which one?
Historical is beyond me. I don’t read it and can’t write it. Fantasy, on the other hand, is very attractive to me. I dabbled in this category with my YA Fantasy series, but I think that a full on fantasy author has to live in another world and I have a very tenuous grasp on this one we live in.
What would happen if you didn’t write?
I can’t imagine. I have written since I was in the 2nd grade. My teacher, Sister Anastasia gave me a box of colored chalk and allowed me to stay in at recess to draw my scenery on the three chalkboards. Then she let me put on my 3-act plays. It was reader’s theater so I had to hand print a script for each of my characters. I was writer, director, scene artist, and actress. A very creative education.
We have all experienced rejection. Give me an example of how you learned to write past it.
As an indie, I made the decision to follow my friend and mentor, Anne Marie Novark as we ‘went rogue’. One of the most important things I have learned is that you can’t please everyone. Not everyone will appreciate your work. Each reader has their own preferences and this is great. Not everyone will read your genre, so just get over it. Write for your target audience and aim to please them as well as yourself.
What do you see as your writing goals 5 years from now?
I hope they will be the same as today — to write daily and maintain relationships with my wonderful fellow writers. I call this mingling with my species.
I will pass along the words my mentor shared with me: Just write