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.