SARA Cafe Welcomes Laurie LeClair

Laurie LeClair Photo by Jim LeClair
Laurie LeClair
Photo by Jim LeClair

How did you learn about SARA and what made you want to join?
I was looking for a local RWA chapter and found SARA online in April 2013. Imagine how thrilled I was when I discovered the April speaker was self-publishing expert, Liliana Hart! I’d been taking every informal UT class on self-publishing for years and couldn’t find the info I needed on the romance genre. Her program changed my writing career! I’ve been a devoted SARA member ever since!

What sub-genre(s) of romance stories do you write?
I write romantic comedies, contemporary romance, romantic suspense, contemporary western romance, and women’s fiction.

What made you decide to write romance?
Don’t laugh! When I was a young teen, my godmother read the confession magazines and would bring the ones she finished to my mom. Of course, I loved to read almost anything and soon added those to my reading list. As I got older, I found many of my favorite authors through Harlequin romances. Soon I searched the shelves for more romance writers and fell in love with the genre. It was inevitable that I write about love, laughter, and happily ever after.

What do you think is the most misconceived idea readers have about romance writers?
The biggest misconception most readers have is that writing a romance isn’t hard work. Some believe it’s too “formula” and anyone can do it. Romance writers are like any other writer who gives everything they have – blood, sweat, and tears – to bring to life unforgettable characters and touch readers’ hearts with their compelling stories.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given or read about writing?
Write the “crappy” first draft. Don’t edit. Just write until you’re done. Later, you can go back and edit. That was such a freeing concept!

What writer(s) inspired you to try your hand at writing as well?
There’s so many of the greats that it would take days to tell you. However, the most personal one is when I was a bookseller in Virginia. A just published local author (pushing a baby carriage) asked if we did author signings. I said yes immediately without getting the okay first. Thankfully, everyone agreed.

I not only got to help with this first signing, where I realized this “normal” wife and mother was living my dream (thus, sealing my future of pursuing writing), I had the great pleasure of having this lady as my writing mentor. The late Wendy Haley’s generosity gave many writers advice, opportunities, and her valuable time so we could live our dreams, too.

What is the best book you’ve ever read about the craft of writing?
By far, Debra Dixon’s Goal, Motivation, And Conflict. I refer to it with every book I write.

Are you a pantser or are you an outliner? Why?
Hands down, a pantser! I tried to force myself to outline a book and I was incredibly bored with the story. I never wrote it. Over the years, I’ve developed a happy medium and what works for me. I write down the GMC of the characters, their Prime Motiving Factor (PMF), and their Prime Motiving Incident (PMI). On a huge write on wipe off board in my office, I list the characters down one side. Across the top, I list the headings: who they are now, what they want, what they need, the lie they believe, and what they must learn. I fill in the spaces with a word or brief phrase for each character. This year, I’ve included filling out Michael Hauge’s Six Stage Story Structure and story template form and I figure out the characters’ archetypes. All of this helps me set the “foundation” of the characters and the scenes.

What is the hardest part of writing for you? Starting? Creating a scene? Dialog? Tension, Ending, etc?
The middle. I know where to start and where to end; however, the middle can be daunting at times. I’ve tweaked my writing process now so I don’t hit a wall when I stare down the middle.

What is the biggest surprise and/or frustration you’ve learned in the writing/publishing process?
Everything can change on a dime. Good agents can go bad. Editors are hired, fired, and leave at will. Publishers are bought up by bigger fish, lines close without notice, and writers are dropped with little to no explanation. With that being said, self-publishing has been a huge game-changer to the industry. Writers have more control and are now influencing the industry.

Is there a genre you wish you could write in, but never will? Which one?
That’s a difficult one. I’ve written what I’ve wanted to read and tell the stories of the characters who touch me the most. So, I’m not sure if there’s a genre I wish I could write in that I haven’t already.

What would happen if you didn’t write?
I’d have so much time on my hands! (Writing is a 24/7 career – always thinking, even if you’re not doing any writing.) If I didn’t write, I’d do something creative to fill that void, like painting, drawing, some type of music, crafts, etc.

We have all experienced rejection. Give me an example of one you’ve had, and how you learned to write past it.
I just felt that stab to my heart with a sharp pencil! (I’ve had many rejections over twenty-six years of writing.) The one that stings the most is when I was a conference coordinator for my RWA chapter in Virginia and connected with the editor who we had speak. She requested my ms and loved it. However, back in the day, it had to go through the long, slow process of readers, associates, other editors, etc. In the meantime, I got my second agent. Even that didn’t help speed things up.

I waited for fourteen agonizing months – with a few updates that everyone who read it liked it and it passed each stage to get to the next level – to find out the editor left Silhouette. The replacement editor swiftly and prompted cleared out the aged inventory – like two days clean sweep – telling me it wasn’t what they were looking for. I was crushed! Thankfully, I didn’t let it stop me from writing, only sending things to publishers. I wrote and wrote and wrote, accumulating lots of finished books. When the time was right and I had the info I needed, I began to self-publish. I can look back now and say all the rejections brought me to where I am today, so I wouldn’t change a thing. It worked out for the best for me.

What do you see as your writing goals 5 years from now?
Writing goals? I’m a pantser, remember? Seriously, my overall goal is to never stop learning about my craft or my industry. Also, to stay in tune with my readers’ wants and needs. That focus keeps me always striving to do my best. As a self-publishing author, I can adapt and adjust quickly to suit the ever-changing market.

Each year, I write out a business plan on what my priorities are for that year – the top three so they’re doable and not overwhelming, how many books I want to write, how many books I’m capable of writing, the books I want to add to my existing series, the markets I want to expand into, and how I aim to get there. I keep it fluid because everything changes, sometimes at the last minute. After this year (lots of personal losses), I’ve factored in downtime and recovery time if a crisis arises. The takeaway is, find a good balance for you and then go for it!

Any other tips or words you’d like to share about writing?
Let go of what isn’t working for you sooner rather than later. Sometimes we hold on to something that feels comfortable – like writing in the wrong sub-genre for us, a writing process that doesn’t serve us any longer, or someone else’s tried and true methods – but it isn’t working. Find what does work for you. Adapt. Change. Rinse. Repeat until you discover your sweet spot.

One last thing, do you realize the impact you and your writing have on others? It’s the greatest feeling to get a review or an email from a reader who tells you that your character(s) and their stories changed their lives. We have that amazing ability to touch readers’ hearts in the deepest ways. You matter. Your writing matters. Write and keep writing. It will change you. And your words may change someone’s life for the better. That’s the power of your words. That’s the power of you!

SARA Cafe Welcomes Martha Hix

2015-hixmartha-1For those of us who have only been members of SARA for a short time, you may not know how our chapter began. Today’s interview gives us that background. Could you tell me the details of how SARA began?

Emma Merritt was the lightning rod that fired the start of SARA…in my living room, believe it or not. Always influential in every group she was in, Emma had many opinions about national RWA and she wanted to run for national president. She felt the need for a local group at her side and her back. It was impossible to say no to Emma, and I for one didn’t want to. Okay, I was the one to whine and complain in our regular Friday night group. We’d been in other groups. The stepchildren of San Antonio Writers. An informal lunch group—my favorite. We’d organized Alamo Writers Unlimited, a group determined not to be affiliated with RWA.

Ultimately, I gave in to Emma. So there we were—yours truly, Evelyn Rogers, Pamela Litton, and Karla Hocker, signing our names. We became San Antonio Romance Authors, with Emma as President, yours truly as Vice President, Pam Litton as Secretary, and Evelyn Rogers as Treasurer. I think that was the line-up. Surely Karla had a post! We became a full-fledged chapter of RWA. By the next year, I was the second SARA President…and Emma was President of national RWA.

Time marched on.

In the year 2000, I dropped out of the writing business from burn-out and tremendous loss. There was a lot of upheaval in my personal life, and I’d lost three people who were central to my happiness. Two of them were Emma Merritt and Elda K Bradberry.

You cannot imagine how thrilled I was to attend the recent September meeting and see so many SARA members in such an active organization. Emma would be absolutely delighted!

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

I used to write for Silhouette. Wrote historicals for Kensington’s Zebra line in the ’80-‘90s. I’m back with Kensington now. I’ve just finished the Texan Brides series, three historical novellas for Lyrical Press. The first, His Make-Believe Bride, is released October 25. All are set in Lubbock in the early 1900s.

What made you decide to write romance?

It was purely kismet.

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

That we’re a bunch of numskulls.

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

If it were easy, everyone could do it. So keep at it.

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

Barbara Catlin, I guess. It all goes back to the kismet thing. She and I were partners at the onset, wrote our first book together. She’s still my muse and BFF.

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

N/A. San Antonio writers taught me to write.

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

Both. I like to know where I’m going, need to know how a story ends so that I’ll stay on track and don’t waste scenes. That doesn’t mean an end can’t change!

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

Description is tough for me. And creating interesting, compelling characters.

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

That it really never gets any easier.

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

Not really. I’d like to write medieval stories, but I’ve actually written one medieval long novella that was published in the late 1990s by Kensington. I’m actually as comfortable in that time period as I am in 19th and 20th century Texas. Well, I might be a bit rusty. As a genealogist, I have a fair understanding of ruling and noble families in Britain and Europe and I’m familiar with the territory. Oh, dear…don’t get me started!

What would happen if you didn’t write?

Been there, done that. I did some non-fiction writing—work-for-hire, including a history of the Pearl Brewery during its transformation. I unearthed the story of the three Emmas. (Yes, I really, truly did.) But I got up to Kerrville, and the projects ran out.

I ended up working in the newsroom at the newspaper (hard, hard work!), then at another part-time job, as a publicist. Very low pay. When I got a chance to run back to Kensington, I ran fast as I could into Steve Zacharius’s arms.

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

My rejections have been more on the order of awful reviews. I’m the queen of the awful reviews. How I survive? Well, I’m not the usual sweetness-and-light person. My thinking is off-center. It stands to reason my characters aren’t going to be the average nice characters. Not everyone likes me, so not everyone is going to like my books. I don’t know how I’ve managed to stay published past some of those eviscerations, but I have. Check with me next week, though!

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

I hope I’m not having to do housework.

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

Two things. One. Seek wise counsel. When I started out and to this day, I listen to writers, editors, publishers, publicists, etc., I admire and trust. I want to hear what they had to say about writing and the business of writing. Two. This is Emma Merritt’s advice. Attach your seat to the seat of your chair and stay there. In other words: Write, write, and keep writing. The only way to succeed is to produce a body of work. And I wish you great success with it.

Thank you for the history lesson and your insights on writing.

sIt was nice to think back on those bygone years, though sad to remember Emma. I loved her so very much, and remember those years of flying around—vanloads of writers going here and there with Emma, her husband Paul in the driver’s seat—going from one conference to another. She was always the star, wherever we went. She absolutely lit up every huge room. She wasn’t a big woman, but she seemed huge. When I looked in her coffin, it was the first time I ever saw that she was actually so very tiny. OMG. I’m crying all over again.

SARA Welcomes Emily W. Mims

Emily_W_Mims_2016How did you learn about SARA and what made you want to join?

I heard about SARA through RWA and the meetup groups.  I decided to join b/c of what I saw at RWA.  All my writer friends got such wonderful support from their local chapters and I realized I could have that, too!

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

My shorts are contemporary romance.  The longer books usually have an element of suspense.

What made you decide to write romance?

In 1982, I threw a romance novel across the floor and said I could do better.  My husband dared me to!

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

They expect us to all be young and beautiful like our heroines!

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

Nora Roberts said it best.  ‘Just sit down and write’ That’s paraphrased, her version was saltier.

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

None in particular. It was the bad one that inspired me and I don’t remember who wrote it.

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

A book?  None.  I learned the most from Lydia Paglio, a wonderful editor who trained me over the phone.

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

I am seriously anal-retentive plotter-that’s how I was trained and that’s my natural inclination with a science background

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

Sitting down with a Big Chief and nailing down the plot-that’s serious work.  After that it’s all downhill

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

Thirty years ago the publisher took care of the publicity and promotion.  Now I have to do that for myself.  It’s hard.

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

Paranormal!  I love them but they don’t love me.

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

I know the answer to that all too well.  I lost my contract with Dell in 1985 and didn’t sell another book for 28 years.  I would go on with things, but I would on some level always miss it.

It took me eighteen months to find an agent and it took her three years to place my first book.  Getting past it?  I started work on the second book.

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

More series.  I just finished a 9-book or story series -Texas Hill Country-and am writing a 6 book series-Smoky Blue set in Appalachia.  More of those set around the country.

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

Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t succeed!  If a Chemistry teacher from San Antonio can write and sell 28 books and counting, you can too!!

SARA Cafe Welcomes L.M. Nelson

l.m. NelsonHow did you learn about SARA and what made you want to join?

I learned about SARA from a fellow Texas Authors member, Marjorie Brody, who told me about SARA during a marketing event I attended in Austin back in May. She boasted about the workshops and how the meetings emphasized the craft of writing.  Being new to the publishing industry, I was looking for any opportunity to improve my craft and socialize/ network with fellow authors. So I decided to give it a shot. SARA not only focuses the craft of writing, romance in particular, but even from my first meeting I felt very welcomed into this community of writers.

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

Currently I write New Adult contemporary. Although a romantic relationship is prevalent to some degree in each book of my series, each also has its own subplot (medical school/residency for the first two, medicine/college sports for the third, and medical school/performing arts for the last). The series follows a set of characters, and each book builds off the previous one and tells a bit more of the story.

What made you decide to write romance?

I didn’t initially plan to write romance, it just kind of turned out that way. I’m the kind of writer who starts with a character and builds the story around them. As my Scrubs series progressed, the relationships between my characters grew and the story came together. It all led to a series of romance books.

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

Most people I know don’t read romance novels. Based on what these non-romance readers have told me, there are several reasons for this. First, romance novels are considered boring. There isn’t a plotline, no bang bang shoot ‘em up explosive action. Two, romance novels are comparable to mushy, sappy chick flicks, and not everyone is into those. The third misconception is that all romance novels are pages upon pages of nothing but sex, even though that isn’t necessarily the case. Lastly, several people have equated romance with “trashy novels”, giving the entire genre a bad reputation.

All of these can be potential deterrents for some readers. Even though the romance genre is versatile and growing strong, many do not consider romance novelist to be “real writers.” I’ve heard people go so far as to say, “Anyone can write a romance.” Oh yeah? Let me see you do it. Many in the industry don’t take us seriously as writers.

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

The best advice I’ve been given: write for myself. I read a quote once that said, “It’s better to write for yourself and have no audience than write for an audience and have no self.” I firmly believe this. Trends fade and audiences change. I will never please every reader out there, so I’m not going to waste my time trying. I write for myself, I write what interests me, whatever pops into my head. At some point, someone out there will make a personal connection with something I’ve written.

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

I honestly don’t have an answer for this. I don’t try to style myself after other writers. I write with my own style and my own voice. But if I had to choose, I’d pick books that inspired me rather than a specific writer. Several of Robert Frost’s poems, and a few books I’ve read over the years, have inspired creativity. I loved Dean Koontz’s, Fear Nothing and Seize the Night, mainly because I love the characters and the relationships they have with one another. The Outsiders by E.B. White and The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks are among my favorite books. They each told a story using unique writing style and character development. These books have stuck with me over the years.

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

Stephen King’s, On Writing is one of the best writing resource books I’ve ever read. He offers a plethora of information on the craft and gives encouraging words that keep me motivated. I refer back to it periodically. It’s a great book!

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

Never been an outliner. I prefer to fly by the seat of my pants. The reason for this? Everything changes. I have a general idea of where I’m going when I write, but my characters drive the story. They tell it, they act it out, they speak to one another. I simply hold the pen.

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

Writing tension is hard. I want to create enough conflict to motivate my characters, but not throw so much at them that it becomes unrealistic. After I write a scene with tension, I usually end up making a lot of revisions.

Also, descriptors sometimes frustrate me. How many different ways can you describe a kiss or a laugh or a smile? I don’t want to give the reader too much information, but they need enough details to paint the picture in their head. Finding just the right combination of words can be challenging sometimes. Does anyone else have this problem, or is it just me?

We all have problems finding the right combination of words. So you are not alone.What is the biggest surprise and/or frustration you’ve learned in the writing/publishing process?

Marketing is frustrating on many levels, not only because I’m an introvert and don’t like being the center of attention, but also because I know NOTHING about it. Making myself stand out in an ocean of billions of authors has been and will continue to be a learning experience. I’ve gained insights from several authors and have taken marketing classes to help with this, but unless you have a personal promoter who does this for you full time, it’s hard to stand out in the crowd. I have no desire to be the next J.K Rowling, and don’t want to be a household name, but I would like to sell a few books and gain some loyal readers.

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

I watch Sci-Fi movies, and my husband is an avid Sci-Fi reader. Although he challenged to me to take on this genre, I don’t think I could ever write a Sci-Fi book and do it justice. The world building and character creation would aggravate me because the image in my head would never come out on paper the way I envisioned it. Think I’ll stay away from that one.

What would happen if you didn’t write?

I’d go crazy if I didn’t write. Writing is my stress relief, it relaxes me and keeps me sane. After a long day at work, I look forward to coming home and escaping into my writing world for a while.

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

Rejection is part of being a writer. We all face rejection at some point. When we do, we take the criticism with a grain of salt, adjust accordingly, and move on. After several e-mails and much begging, I made the mistake of letting someone close to me read a draft of my writing. Mind you, she is not a romance reader and mocks the industry every chance she gets, but you would think she’d offer a little encouragement or at least have one positive thing to say. Nope. Nothing. She criticized every word and had absolutely nothing good to say. That hurt. At that point, I convinced myself I was a horrible writer and wasting my time even trying. I went months without writing a word, and I almost burned the book I was working on. It took encouragement from my husband and support from my friends and children to persuade me to stick with it. I’m glad I did.

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

Five years from now, my entire four book series will be out. Once that is done, I will finish the two WIPs I have. One is a YA fantasy, the other is an adult crime novel. I have an adventure story brewing in my head, and I recently developed an idea for a romantic crime novel. I plan to write in many genres, and I’d like to try my hand at writing children’s books. I want to work on developing my platform and networking with other writers and authors, not only from Texas, but from other areas of the country as well.

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

Stick with it.  Don’t get discouraged. And most importantly, write your own story. Don’t let anyone else hold the pen.

SARA Cafe Welcomes L. J. Schuessler

L. J. SchuesslerHow did you learn about SARA and what made you want to join?
I’ve been a member of RWA since 2012. Three years ago, I moved from Washington state where I was member of the Greater Seattle Area Romance Writers chapter to Rockport, Texas. I started looking for a local chapter and SARA is the closest chapter to Rockport. I haven’t made it to a live meeting yet but have made lots of connections with the group online.

What sub-genre(s) of romance stories do you write?
I write contemporary romance. My current series is set in Montana where I lived for 17 years. I also have ideas for future romances with magical elements.

What made you decide to write romance?
I love writing about relationships and, as Susan Elizabeth Phillips says, “Life is too short to read depressing books” so HEAs are a necessity.

What do you think is the most misconceived idea readers have about romance writers?
The misconception I’ve heard most often, usually from non-romance readers, is that writing romance is easy. After all, you just have to fill in the blanks of a template, right?

What’s the best advice you’ve been given or read about writing?
I think the best advice I’ve been given is get the first draft down as quickly as you can—and also, to write, write, write.

What writer(s) inspired you to try your hand at writing as well?
Anna Quinn, writer, writing teacher, bookstore owner, was the first writer who inspired me in a class to try writing fiction. And, Mary Buckham, another awesome writing craft teacher and novelist continues to encourage me.

What is the best book you’ve ever read about the craft of writing?
I’ve read so many craft books and most of them have given me great takeaways. One favorite is Wired for Story by Lisa Cron. Also love The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.

Are you a pantser or are you an outliner? Why?
I am somewhere in between a pantser and outliner. I do begin with character sketches and a basic outline but I’ve never been able to fit things into an iron clad structure. I find my characters doing unexpected things that must be allowed or, before I know it, I’ll have a rebellion on my hands.

What is the hardest part of writing for you? Starting? Creating a scene? Dialog? Tension, etc?
Hands down—creating enough tension throughout the book is the hardest for me.

What is the biggest surprise and/or frustration you’ve learned in the writing/publishing process?
I’m not sure if it’s the biggest surprise but certainly the best surprise is how amazingly supportive and helpful other writers are—no matter where they are in their career.

Is there a genre you wish you could write in, but never will? Which one?
Hmmm, never say never, but I doubt I’ll ever write historical romance.

What would happen if you didn’t write?
If I didn’t write, I’d have a lot more time on my hands. That could mean trouble!

We have all experienced rejection. Give me an example of one you’ve had, and how you learned to write past it.
I had a plan to write for Harlequin when I started writing. My first submission was rejected. It was one of those “good rejections” (I actually received feedback from an editor) but it sent me back to the drawing board and resulted ultimately in indie publishing my first book.

What do you see as your writing goals 5 years from now?
I’m currently working on completing my first trilogy and a novella. I have at least two other trilogies in mind. Over the next five years, I want to write the best books I can and connect with as many readers as possible.

Any other comments or tips on writing that you’d like to add?
Writing keeps me curious, keeps me learning. I enjoy the creative and the business side of writing—and writers are an awesome, interesting bunch.