SARA Cafe Welcomes Frances Kiani

How did you learn about SARA and what made you want to join?

I found SARA on meetup.com and attended my first meeting in January 2014. At the time, I wanted to join a writing group and SARA was a perfect fit.

What sub-genre(s) of romance stories do you write?

I write young adult.

What made you decide to write romance?

That’s a tough question. I didn’t set out writing romance. I wanted to write mysteries and true crime novels. But every single story I wrote turned into a romance.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given or read about writing?

Listen to critique but go with your gut. Know your characters. Believe in yourself. Don’t give up. Write every day. Read a lot (I’m always surprised when I meet aspiring authors who don’t read).

What is the best book you’ve ever read about the craft of writing?

I’ve read a lot of craft books but my favorite is On Writing by Stephen King. I’ve read it three times and every single time, I learn something new. It’s now my “go to” book when I get lost or discouraged.

Are you a pantser or are you an outliner? Why?

I started as a pantser which turned my first YA novel into a mess. Now I start with a few scenes and write. Most of the other scenes come to me as I write so technically, I’m still pantsing. And when I get stuck (because it does happen around the 30K mark), I take my scenes and plot them on a board. This way I can see what’s missing.

What is the hardest part of writing for you? Starting? Creating a scene? Dialog? Tension, etc?

Deleting scenes I love. It’s why I try not to pants as much as I used to. Because trying to keep scenes you love can mess with the flow of your story.

Is there a genre you wish you could write in, but never will? Which one?

Probably horror. I love horror books but I can’t imagine writing one.

What would happen if you didn’t write?

I can’t imagine not writing but if I couldn’t write, I’d definitely volunteer more. Maybe even go back to work for Corporate America either in disaster recovery or something IT related. I used to be a computer nerd where I’d wake up thinking about SQL statements and Visual Basic. I guess in many ways, I still am because I get excited about Amazon’s algorithms. I can’t wait to publish several books so I can analyze the data and write code to automate weekly reports.

What do you see as your writing goals 5 years from now?

Five years from now, I’d love to work with an illustrator in creating a manga series. I think it’d be cool to sell those books at anime conventions and see fans dressed in cosplay costumes. No matter where I am in my writing career, I know I’ll still be writing and having fun!

Any other tips or words you’d like to share about writing?

Write and read every day – no excuses. And remember to take care of yourself by getting out of the writing chair. Go for a walk, visit a state park, or take a yoga class.

SARA Cafe Welcomes Carol Kilgore

How did you learn about SARA and what made you want to join?

I knew there was an RWA chapter in San Antonio, and I joined a few months after we moved here several years ago. It’s a great chapter filled with fantastic writers.

What sub-genre(s) of romance stories do you write?

Romantic Suspense for the most part; however, to be honest, mostly my stories are mystery and/or suspense with romantic elements. My storylines are usually heavier on the mystery and suspense side but there’s always a love story to go along with it. My tag line is Crime Fiction with a Kiss. I recently completed a trilogy that also dips into the paranormal in a few different ways. Those books were really fun to write!

What made you decide to write romance?

The HEA and the strong connections between characters. The funny thing is that I didn’t intend to write romance. When I started writing fiction, I wrote mystery short stories. Very dark noir-ish stories. Novels were different. Not only could I not maintain that level and type of tension for the length of a novel, I didn’t want to be at that place in my head for months. Besides, I kept finding places that needed a little humor.

What do you think is the most misconceived idea readers have about romance writers?

Probably that we live the exciting lives we write about.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given or read about writing?

Along the way, a lot of quotes have provided inspiration I don’t remember who said it originally, but someone said something like don’t be a writer if you don’t have to be. Writing chose me, I think. I get really cranky and short-tempered if I don’t write for a while. Meaning a few days or so. Stories and characters have always been in my head. I thought they were a by-product of being a rabid reader, so I didn’t realize I was supposed to write them down for a while.

To be a writer you have to actually write. Talking, studying, and reading all play a part, but many of us learn the most by writing, critiquing, and making a lot of mistakes along the way. None of us ever knows all there is to know.

What writer(s) inspired you to try your hand at writing as well?

For me, it wasn’t just one or two but probably every author I’d ever read. Starting with Dr. Seuss. I started reading early and moved to reading adult books by my early teen years.

I write short chapters, and I’m sure the reason is directly related to James Patterson.

What is the best book you’ve ever read about the craft of writing?

On Writing by Stephen King.

Are you a pantser or are you an outliner? Why?

I’m a time-liner. I very loosely plot a story with only a vague idea of what will tie those points together. The loose plot then acts as the framework. I figure out the order of the high points. I usually know the ending first, then the beginning. Before I start writing, I know the beginning, important points in the middle, the ending. I also try to know the pinch points. I nearly always know the first, but often I don’t know the second until I’m there and have to figure it out.

The story develops organically once the characters get together. Sometimes they follow my plan as if they were reading a script and life is rainbows. Most of the time, they have their own way with my plans and surprise me at every turn. Even so, most books turn out pretty close to how I envisioned them going in.

What is the hardest part of writing for you? Starting? Creating a scene? Dialog? Tension, etc?

Two things are equally hard for me. The beginning. I probably rewrite this more than anything else. The second is getting deep enough into the heads of the viewpoint characters. Thankfully, my editor finds every place I failed to do this and makes sure I get it done.

What is the biggest surprise and/or frustration you’ve learned in the writing/publishing process?

How supportive most writers are to each other. It doesn’t matter where you are on your journey. This support is wonderful!

Is there a genre you wish you could write in, but never will? Which one?

I stick pretty much with a broad definition of romantic suspense. That’s where my interest lies. I love reading time travel, but I don’t think I’ll ever write that. If I could ever figure out a unique angle, though… maybe.

What would happen if you didn’t write?

I’d probably need to drink more wine.

We have all experienced rejection. Give me an example of how you have worked past it.

Someone told me early on that I’d get a lot of rejections and to find a way to deal with them. She suggested letting all that sorrow and agony roll on over me for five minutes. Then go for a walk or watch something that would make me laugh and then get back to work. I followed her advice and it’s served me well.

I’m generally a positive and optimistic person. Plus I’m persistent and stubborn. This advice has worked well for me even on the rejections that really stung.

What do you see as your writing goals 5 years from now?

Write better every day. Keep smiling. I’d love to be able to fully support myself from my writing, but all I have control over is the quality of the books I produce.

Any other tips or words you’d like to share about writing?

Write for yourself. Edit for your readers, so they can see what you see in your head.

SARA Welcomes Jolene Navarro

How did you learn about SARA and what made you want to join?

I joined in 2009 (or somewhere around that time). I decided to stop talking and dreaming about things I would do one day and do them now. I teach art and wanted to see what it took to finish and publish one of the stories that bounced around in my head. A search online led me to Romance Writers of America, and from there I found a chapter in San Antonio (SARA). The fun part is they were doing a workshop called “Build a Book” in my town of Boerne. The stars were aligned.

What sub-genre(s) of romance stories do you write?

I write inspirational contemporary and historical.

What made you decide to write romance?

There was no other choice for me. I was around 12 when I read my first one and have been hooked ever since (all horse book before then). It’s the stories my brain makes up. A good emotional read that takes you to the edge of a broken heart then pulls it all together at the end with a happy ever after. I have to have a happy ending. Sigh!

What do you think is the most misconceived idea readers have about romance writers?

That it’s easy. We just sit down and write, maybe toss a few bonbons in our mouth and get our toenails done (hehe).  Then the story just flows from our brain through our fingers to the keyboard, onto the shelves, and the books fly off.  Easy-smeasy.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given or read about writing?

To keep writing. To be prepared for rejection at all stages of the game and come ready to persevere. Persistence is the key to a real career. Never stop learning and growing and write. Write one story finish it and move on to the next. Know your hooks. (from Jodi Thomas & My Editor, Emily Rodmell)

What is the best book you’ve ever read about the craft of writing?

On Writing by Stephen King is a great read for overall knowledge. For my go-to over and over again while I’m writing is The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi. For really understanding the whole process of creating a complete well-written story is the seven-books-in-one (tons of information from premises to movie examples of turning points and elements) STEALING HOLLYWOOD: Story Structure Secrets for Writing Your BEST Book by Alexandra Sokoloff.

 Are you a “pantser” or are you an outliner?

I like to brainstorm ideas and characters, then I use a storyboard to create a general path for my characters’ development (How will they move from false identity to true essence). I will use the call to adventure/inciting incident, the mid-point game changer and the black moment to make sure I have enough story. Then I start writing and discover new details along the way. So happy you didn’t use the term plotter – as writers we all plot -–just in different ways.

What is the hardest part of writing for you? Starting? Creating a scene? Dialog? Tension, etc.?

The actual act of writing. I’m dysgraphic, so the output of language kills my creative brain. I work hard to get it right (clear communication is important) I envy writers that can correct as they go – but I would never be able to finish. It takes me about two months to write a story – over a month to edit, and I have to have at least two others read it before I turn it into my editor.

What is the biggest surprise and/or frustration you’ve learned in the writing/publishing process?

Because of the dysgraphia, I didn’t think I would ever be able to join the ranks of published authors. But there are ways to get things done if you want it bad enough. Also how hard it is to get your book seen. Publishing your book is only the beginning, it does not mean it is going to sell.

What would happen if you didn’t write?

I would have sticky notes and scraps of paper all over the place with story ideas. My brain would be in overdrive, sleep would be out of my reach. The story ideas would keep me awake at night and haunt me during the day if I tried to stop.

We have all experienced rejection. How have you learned to move past one of yours?

When I took my first finished book out and met with an agent – she liked it and sent it to an editor, and she liked it (with some revisions). So I thought this is easy – I know what I’m doing. She bought my second story. Feeling confident, I sent in my third book, she said no. Same thing happened again with my second historical. It was a sequel, and I thought it would be an easy sell. Not only did my editor say no, but she said not to send it back in any form. It is hard to put a story aside after you invested so much time and heart into it, but I brainstormed another story and started writing. I moved on. As you read this, I’m waiting to hear back from my editor about my last proposal. Hopefully, it’s not another rejection.

What do you see as your writing goals five years from now?

I want to diversify. Explore the indie market and other avenues outside of Love Inspired. I love writing for them, but in today’s market, I think you need different sources of publication.

Any other tips or words you’d like to share about writing?

Make sure you always enjoy the process, because the business of writing can be brutal. Creating worlds that others can see is pure magic. And remember the world needs more love!

SARA Cafe Welcomes David Reed

What made you decide to join SARA?

In January 2016, I joined SARA on the strength of a recommendation from Laura Stephens. We had shared a small, unaffiliated critique group for a few months and based on her description of SARA and the strength of her writing and editing talent, it sounded like something I could benefit from.

My motivations for joining SARA were several. Elements of romance exist in most other forms of fiction, and I wanted to develop a better mastery of those elements. I needed (and still need) to develop both craft and discipline by surrounding myself with others who are on a similar journey. Most of all, this vibrant chapter seemed to have far more spirit and verve than any other writing group that I’ve visited or belonged to. Also, I certainly don’t mind being in the male minority.

What sub-genre of romance stories do you write?

My completed manuscripts (seeking representation) and current project are urban fantasy but not strictly romance (just romantic elements). However, the two subgenres that I have books planned in (synopses and first three chapters written each) are paranormal romance and romantic suspense. I’ve got to get off my excuses and complete both of those series starters before the RWA conference in July. Otherwise, I won’t have anything to pitch!

What about the romance genre appeals to you?

As an industry segment, romance calls to me for a variety of reasons. The obvious appeal of a loyal and voracious audience should draw any writer who has to publish to eat, which I do now. As of this past February, I took the leap of faith out of ye olde nine-to-five grind and became a full-time novelist. Despite needing to make a successful career of this, my original draw to romance was the challenge of romance as a genre.

Although romance is often unfairly maligned, I believe that it is at least doubly more difficult to write a great romance than it is to write a great fiction in any other genre. Not only do you have to write a great story, just like any other genre, you have to weave into it all of the equally important relationship growth (and tragedy) that are not treated with equal importance in genre fiction outside of romance.

Also, I suppose, I took a statement from another author as a personal challenge. She said that women would “never” pick up and read a romance with a male author’s name on the cover. I put “never” in quotes because there are always exceptions—I intend to be one of them.

Do you consider yourself a romantic?

Yes, I am an incurable romantic. My wife has teased me about being more weepy and emotional than she is at the movies. ’Tis true! I began writing poetry for her before we were married twenty-five years ago, and I still do today. Perhaps not as often as I should, but there are a few of my poems that are framed and hung with other artwork around our home.

What are your ultimate goals as a writer?

My ultimate goal as a writer is the same as my ultimate goal as a human being: to make the world a better place than I found it. My entire adult life, I’ve believed that I am always in the right place at the right time. Whether I like any given moment in time or not, I’m here to learn something or help somebody, or both. My humble prayer is that each thing that I write will inspire at least one person to be better. We are all works in progress, and our goal should be the improvement, not perfection.

What is the best book you’ve ever read about the craft of writing?

I have a propensity for buying “great books” about craft, and only flipping through them. Perhaps that’s part of my struggle.

One of the craft books that I did finish (and I’m reading it again right now for the second time) is Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. Despite being written by and for screenwriters, I think Save the Cat has a great deal to teach us as novelists. The plotting methodology he teaches is just enough for me (a recovering pantser) to find useful without being so detailed that I never get started on actually writing. Perhaps the biggest lesson for me was that I can’t stumble over writer’s block if I already know where the story is going.

A strong second is Rachel Aaron’s 2k to 10k, but probably only because it scratches my nerdy itch to have a spreadsheet for everything. Keeping track of each writing session and its level of productivity does help dial things up for me.

Do you have a writing routine?  What does it involve?

My normal routine is wishing that I were writing while I’m doing anything else (laundry, dishes, exercising, whatever) and then sitting down to not write as much as I sit down to write. Mostly kidding. I bought a sit-stand desk so that I can switch positions more frequently. I have found that I do think differently standing and writing (well, typing actually).

One thing that I learned early on while trying to write every single day has nothing to do with writing every single day. It has to do with how my brain handles language. I found that I can’t listen to music with lyrics while I’m trying to write. Hence, I collect a wide variety of movie soundtracks and instrumental-only collections of music. It’s hard to find upbeat and thematic instrumental music that doesn’t put me to sleep with it’s classical lullabye, but I’ve found a few artists that make the kind of music I can write to without the language center of my brain tripping over the lyrics. Two that I listen to the most are Two Steps from Hell and Really Slow Motion.

Do you have any writing superstitions?

Not that I can think of. Except, maybe, a fear of rejection. But that’s based on my own actual experience, so I don’t think that counts as a superstition.

What do you do when you’re not writing? Do you have any hidden talents?

As a full-time househusband, when I am not writing, I am doing the laundry, cleaning the house, doing the dishes, etc., all the wrong way—according to my wife, who did all those things differently than I do them for the past eighteen years.

I do aspire to do book narration and voice acting in the coming years. My current excuse for not recording more (I’ve only recorded one audio book for a startup company that hasn’t launched yet) is the lack of a home studio that can block out all the ambient sound of the house. Until you try to make a professional recording, who knew the air conditioner, the ceiling fan, and the neighbors’ dogs were so noisy?

What is your favorite part of the writing process?

Being finished. Well, I can’t really say that from experience, so I’m hoping that will be the part I enjoy most. Currently, I am going through, line by line, all of the changes my developmental editor has proposed for my first completed manuscript. Hence, it isn’t finished yet.

My second favorite part, I think, is coming up with new ideas. It’s fun to imagine new stories. It’s fun to start a new novel. It’s fun to write the blurb and the logline and imagine the cover. It’s what comes next that I need to learn how to make my favorite part of the process… and I’m not quite there yet.

What would happen if you didn’t write?

If I didn’t write, I’d be sad. I would probably go back to my previous career in software development, but I wouldn’t be happy doing it. I would consider becoming an opiate addict. I think depression (in writers) is often caused by not writing.

How do you know when your research is done?

My natural, smart aleck response is to ask: What is this “research” whereof you speak? I write fiction! Why should I need research? But that’s just me being silly.

Because my current manuscript is contemporary and set in real world El Paso, I did research the public locations by visiting them in person. This caused me to rewrite a couple of scenes that could not have possibly happened the way I imagined them.

For me, an author has done enough research when I’ve been to that place or I’m familiar with that subject, and I feel like I’m there again when I read his or her work.

Name one thing you absolutely can’t write about.

I can’t think of anything I can’t write about. There are lots of things that I don’t want to write about—software reference manuals and scatological erotica come to mind, but only because they’re so similar to one another. I understand why some people think they “can’t” write about something, but I don’t believe it’s an actual inability, just a preference.

The reason I take that view is that my characters and muses have brought me things to write that I would never have sought out on my own, or even aspired to write in the first place. For example, I’ve never been a psychic Irish lesbian or a Catholic Latina housewife—but both are powerful heroines in my stories. I’ve even got a half dozen or more nonfiction book ideas on a “to write” list somewhere that I’ll get to one of these days.

Name one of the challenges you’ve had as an author and how you met that challenge.

My biggest challenge as an author is my writing excuses. I acknowledge this only because I believe that when writing the story of my life, I should never give someone else the pen. They’re my excuses and they’re my fault and they’re mine to fix.

The one that I allowed myself the most (until recently) was the old cliche, “I don’t have enough time to write!” I removed that excuse for myself by quitting my day job (with the devoted support of my lovely and gracious bride of many decades). I gave myself a year to prove that I can, well “walk the walk” doesn’t make sense for a novelist, so insert whatever the equivalent cliche is for a writer. Stephen King wrote in On Writing, “Writers write.” Period. The End. So that’s what I’m doing.

Ask me again next year whether I have all four of my 2017 books written!

SARA Cafe Welcomes Modrea Mitchell-Reichert

How did you learn about SARA and what made you want to join the group?

I was a member of Alamo Writers Unlimited and Sisters of Crime in Austin, trying to find my place within fiction. A member in one of those groups pointed me to SARA, so I went to some meetings at Grady’s BBQ on Nakoma and enjoyed them. Then my writing took me in a different direction until recently.

What sub-genre(s) of romance stories do you write?

Having always enjoyed mysteries I began by writing Romantic Suspense. Recently, elements of the paranormal and light science fiction are woven into my stories. I am not a science scholar, but I like stories set in an environment of “other worlds”. Historical romance has always been a favorite, but I have yet to write a story in that genre.

What made you decide to write romance?

I’ve always enjoyed reading about layered characters that grow emotionally and ultimately discover their ‘complimentary half’.

What do you think is the most misconceived idea readers have about romance writers?

That writing a romance is easy, formulaic, and anyone can do it because it’s fluff writing.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given or read about writing?

Keep your butt in the chair and write and believe in your voice.

What writer(s) inspired you to try your hand at writing as well?

That’s a tough question because the best writers make the writing feel seamless and smooth – like good movies. That said, by reading some of the following writers listed below and experiencing their crafting of the stories they gave me clear goals to aim at.  Writers who have me re-reading their stories to hear their voice and writing style are: Nora Roberts, Sue Grafton, Jayne Ann Krentz/ Amanda Quick, Mary Balogh, Linda Howard, Suzanne Brockmann, Sandra Brown, Maya Banks, Nalini Singh, Joanna Bourne, T.S. Joyce, Stephanie Laurens, Kristen Ashley, Suzanne Wright, Jacqueline Winspear, Anne Perry, Peter Tremayne, and Henrik Ibsen’s plays.

What is the best book you’ve ever read about the craft of writing?

On craft, I’d have to answer – The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B.White;  Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King; and Pocket Reference for Writers by Toby Fulwiler and Alan R. Hayakawa

Are you a pantser or are you an outliner? Why?

It feels like a combination.  I generally have a broad sense of the story I want to tell, rough it out, and then organically build the story. To me it’s rather like creating a painting – you lay down the composition in broad shapes for balance and placement – then use color, angles, and edges to create the finished image.

What is the hardest part of writing for you? Starting? Creating a scene? Etc?

Developing complex and multi-faceted characters that intrinsically drive the story.

What is the biggest surprise and/or frustration you’ve learned in the writing/publishing process?

It is harder to publish in fiction, than non-fiction.

Is there a genre you wish you could write in, but never will? 

Science fiction. But I’d need to go back to school to learn A LOT more science.

What would happen if you didn’t write?

I don’t even go there. Creating is a part of me I can’t shut down. However, I’d paint for a while and then come back to writing refreshed.

We have all experienced rejection. Give me an example of one you’ve had, and how you learned to write past it.

It’s a bad news-good news story. Early on, I wrote a short story of a young girl uncovering a body in a shed and ultimately discovering the murderer. I sent it out to magazines that were publishing short stories.  All the publications rejected it, but on the pre-printed rejection slip I got back from Redbook Magazine was a personal note to send another story. It’s one of my most treasured rejection notices.

What do you see as your writing goals 5 years from now?

To be published as a fiction writer. I’m a member of PRO so hopefully, I’m headed in the correct direction. Yet, at this point in my life writing the most engaging stories I can is my journey, not the destination of publishing

Any other tips or words you’d like to share about writing?

Everyone is at a different place in their personal journey and shouldn’t compare where they are to the other writers around them. The Muses and Fate can be bitches to us writers, but every so often, they join forces and the results are oh so sweetly rewarding.

Don’t give up, believe in your journey.