SARA Cafe Welcomes Jewel Hart

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

I’ve always wanted to write but lacked the confidence. After my mom passed three years ago, I needed something to take my mind off missing her and with the encouragement of my husband, decided to give writing a try. When I found SARA on Meetup, I’d already written two 90,000-word manuscripts but I knew they were amateur attempts. As luck would have it, the next SARA meeting was Jolene Navarro’s presentation on plotting. I was so impressed, I went home and joined RWA and SARA that same weekend.

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

I write contemporary romance with elements of suspense.

What made you decide to write romance?

I had plenty of inspiration from my real-life hero, my husband and, honestly, I thought writing romance would be easier than other genres. Boy, was I wrong. I think the misconception started when I read some poorly edited indie romance novels that I liked despite the distractions. I figured, if I’m enjoying these rough novels, somebody might want to read one of mine.

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

Based on reactions when I reveal that I write romance, readers seem to assume we aren’t good writers. Ironically, writing to evoke the range of emotions in the average romance novel is extremely challenging.

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

The best advice I’ve been given is to keep writing. It seems so simple but writing is one of those things that really does improve with practice.

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

I’d like to say something really classy like Jane Eyre or Edgar Allen Poe, but, if they were my true inspirations, I’d be frozen at the gate. It would be too daunting. Instead, my inspirations are Stephen King, Dean Koontz, David Baldacci, Kristen Ashley, and Jay Crownover. They write about their hometowns in a way that sparked something in me. Someday, I hope people will see my Texas the way we see King’s Maine, or Ashley’s Colorado.

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

I don’t read many craft books cover to cover, however, I did enjoy Stephen King’s On Writing.

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

I’m a pantser because my thoughts aren’t very organized. They’re more like a kaleidoscope and I have to keep turning the story until the pieces start to fall into place.

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

The hardest part of writing is keeping all of the details straight. I’m afraid I’ll leave out something important.

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

The biggest surprise is how supportive other writers have been. In other competitive markets, those who have succeeded are reluctant to share the secrets of their success because they don’t want to get knocked down the ladder. The other writers I’ve met seem excited to pull everyone along with them.

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

It’s not really a genre, but I always dreamed of writing lyrics for songs. I never will because I have no rhythm and because I can’t get past nursery rhyme patterns. Imagine a whole bunch of rock and country songs that are in the meter for Mary, Mary, Little Lamb.

What would happen if you didn’t write?

Writing quells a nervous energy I didn’t recognize before I started. I don’t know what would happen if I stopped because I don’t think I can. Even when I’m not pounding on the keyboard, I’m thinking about my characters and how to ruin/rescue them. It’s not something that can be turned off.

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

Most of the rejections I’ve experienced have been incredibly kind and/or helpful. When I receive a rejection that is less kind, I focus on the positives. I’m not one to stay in a funk over a few naysayers. All I can do is keep working to improve.

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

I’d like to see my first romance series published and I’d like to branch out into other genres as well. I’d love to write a thriller and my husband has suggested we collaborate on a book of relationship advice for our friends.

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

I saw a meme once that said, “There is no wrong or right, just write.”  If I didn’t believe that, I’d never have started writing in the first place.

Photo by Nancie J Photography.

 

 

 

SARA CAFE Welcomes J.D. Faver

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

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

SARA Welcomes Mercia Greer

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

About eight years ago, our family moved from North Texas to my husband’s family’s ancestral farm. I loved our rural home but missed my old critique group. I knew about RWA but put off joining for a long time because there wasn’t a branch near me. Eventually, I decided the time I’d have to spend on the road would be worth the reward. I’m about equidistant from Austin and San Antonio, but I prefer the culture of San Antonio, and I liked the vibe from SARA’s website, so the choice was easy.

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

Historical. My current series is set in the Carolinas during the Revolutionary era.

What made you decide to write romance?

Initially, I wrote fantasy. I labored for years over a fantasy series whose origins were roughly based on retellings of fairy tales. I still believe in those books, but I wasn’t getting anywhere with publication. A friend in my North Texas writers’ group started publishing romantic short stories with the Trues. I read one and thought, “I can do this.” I was right. Plotting romance stories came naturally to me (and there were strong romantic elements in my fantasy stories).

At first, I thought of the short romances as little more than a way to make money, but I still endeavored to do good work. I enjoyed the challenge of working within a set of genre expectations, while producing a story that satisfied me artistically. I also published some novella-length works on Smashwords and one on Kindle. From there it was an easy move to romance novels.

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

That they are carelessly written and of poor quality. This misconception is common among people who don’t actually read romance. The truth, of course, is that there is a wide variation in quality among romance writers, just as in any other genre.

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

As exhilarating as it is to write “in flow” from a place of pure inspiration, you are still the same writer even when the work feels mundane. Sometimes we just have to put the words on the page in an unspectacular, workmanlike manner. As dry as the resulting work feels to us at the moment, in the long run after all the revision is done, there will probably be little difference between passages whose early form felt inspired and those that felt like work.

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

My decision to write came when I was about nine years old and learned that writing was a legitimate occupation. I was too young then to be inspired by any particular author’s work, but a couple of years later I started Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles, which got me interested in fantasy. Later, I was greatly inspired by the work of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis–not only their fiction, but their literary criticism and personal letters, as well as Mr. Lewis’s theology books and essays on a variety of topics. Lewis and Tolkien were both such giants of scholarship, with great minds and great hearts and an enormous capacity for friendship and imaginative thought.

Mere Christianity is wonderfully lucid. Each sentence is so simple and easily grasped in itself, like a couple of LEGO bricks fastened together, and Lewis keeps crafting sentence after sentence and interlocking each new thought with the previous ones, and by the end you are beholding this incredible structure, logical and beautiful.

But the author who has probably had the most direct influence on my own work is Ellis Peters. Her Cadfael books are pure pleasure to read. History and romance and mystery and herbal lore and whatnot are skillfully blended and build up to resolutions that are truly breathtaking. One of her books, An Excellent Mystery, has a conclusion so beautiful that I can’t think of it without tearing up.

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

Probably Scene and Sequel. That really got me thinking about cause and effect units and how to use them to craft a balanced, satisfying narrative.

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

I don’t outline, but I spend a lot of time doing what might be called pre-writing. For my historical books, this stage overlaps with research (well, everything overlaps with research). This earliest draft is written in all caps, which is my signal to myself that it’s not to be taken too seriously. I’m just trying out ideas, seeing what might work and what ought to be rejected, and roughing in potential scenes. The whole thing is like a humongous journal entry in which I talk to myself about the story.

Eventually, I have enough material to start arranging it in a format that will work for the genre. Once I have a rough chapter-by-chapter plan, I’m ready to turn off the Caps Lock key and start writing scenes for real. The plan is fluid enough to allow for some surprises, but organized enough to prevent me from laboring over painstakingly crafted scenes that end up not serving the plot and ultimately have to be cut.

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

The part right after the Caps Lock is the hardest for me. The words count more at that point, but I know as I’m writing them that they’re not as polished as they should be. It’s a necessary stage, but uncomfortable.

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

My biggest frustration with my work is that there are more books that I would like to read, and write, than I can reasonably expect to finish in my lifetime. I read a lot, and I’m not afraid of big projects, but man is mortal and I only have so much time.

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

Action-adventure type stuff with global conflicts and lots of fight scenes would be a challenge to me. I like action-adventure movies, but I have to watch them several times before I really understand what’s happening.

What would happen if you didn’t write?

I would probably spend a lot more time on sewing, drawing, painting, calligraphy, and woodworking. I have to be making things. Also, without stories of my own crafting to occupy my mind, I would worry a lot more.

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

My fantasy novel got rejected a lot, but I kept working at it. At one point, a pretty polished version of it was rejected by a literary agent I respect. He sent a thoughtful letter, which I appreciated. Years later, I heard him speak at a conference and learned that the letter he’d written me was what he called a “holy grail” rejection letter–a letter that’s almost an acceptance. He’d sent a similar letter to an author who’d gone on the enjoy great commercial success. I still have the letter.

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

I’m in the second book of a projected six-book series set during and shortly after the American Revolutionary War, so I hope to be wrapping that up. I thought the research would be a lot quicker with this volume since much of my earlier research would still apply, but there was still a lot more to learn. While studying the siege of Charleston for the second book, I came across a surprising tidbit of information that gave me an idea for an entirely different, but marginally related, story. I’d like to get to that at some point.

I wrote a draft a few years ago for the first of what could be several interrelated superhero stories. Plus there’s still the fantasy novel that I haven’t given up on.

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

Writing every day is great for some folks, but for others, especially those with health problems, it can be so difficult to achieve that it becomes a negative thing with a lot of guilt attached to it. I gave up on it a long time ago and I’m glad I did. Still, consistency (whatever that means in your own particular circumstances) is vital, and a big part of success is showing up.

SARA Cafe Welcomes M.R. Kelly

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

I found out about SARA through my membership with RWA

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

Paranormal; BBBW (big beautiful black women); sci-fi; romance

What made you decide to write romance?

I have always wondered how people met (their stories) and what made their love last throughout the turbulence of life. As I got older, I found that I had ideas in my mind of how and what I wanted for my own romance. I started putting these ideas down on paper and soon I was back to imagining how wonderful it would be to share these romances with others.

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

That we all are women of substantial size who do not have romance in their lives and sit around all day dreaming of meeting MisterRight.

What is the best advice you have been given or read about writing?

Write what you feel. Look at your characters as individuals who are based in reality and they will come alive in your imagination.

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

Laurann Dohner, C.L. Sholey, Kresley Cole, Stephanie Hudson, Mary Hughes, Christine Freehan, Sherilynn Kenyon, Michelle Pillow, and many others.

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

The Elements of Style by Strunk and White

Are you a pantser or are you an outliner?

I am a little of both. I think you have to do an initial outline to ensure you have all of the scenes that are relevant to the story. But, I found that sometimes the story goes counter to what you had written. It’s as if the characters speak to you.

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

The most difficult part is tension and continuation of the story. Since I am ADD, I am easily distracted and will begin a new story when I haven’t finished the one I am working on.

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

It is the amount of editing that goes into a book before it is published. I have a personal editor and I still get the manuscript returned for more revisions.

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

I love horror, but as soon as I begin writing I start having nightmares. I have tons of stories from my childhood that would curl hair, but I can’t seem to get past the block.

What would happen if you didn’t write?

I love reading and would continue to enjoy other authors. But inside of me, there would be an emptiness where all of my stories would go to die. I have found something I love and would find a way to write.

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

My hope was to write for Harlequin. I sent in my story that I had sweated over for a year and finally was brave enough to submit it. It was returned rejected. But the problem was not the rejection, it was that they rejected me on a story that was not mine.  They had never read the story. It was then I decided to write not expecting to get accepted and if I did it would be a bonus. Now I write for my fans and myself not for a publisher.

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

I want to see myself on a best sellers list. Not for the accolades, but to substantiate to myself that I AM that good.

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

Write like you live… with all of your heart. Know that words can change a life and someone out there may need your words to get through the day.

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!