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 Café welcomes Tricia James!

The SARA Café is an occasional feature that puts the spotlight on a SARA author. This month, it’s Tricia James’s turn to answer a few questions.

by Mary Brand

12-typerednails-website-1SC: When did you join SARA and for what reason?
TJ: I originally joined SARA back in the late 1990s…so long ago that, frankly, the exact year is obscured by the fog of time. Suffice it to say, a long time ago.
Long story short, we had been living in the Near East and Europe for over ten years, finally moved back to Georgia, followed closely by a move to San Antonio. Over those years, I had gotten pretty serious about writing so the move back to the States seemed like a good time to get serious about doing something about it. Hence, RWA and SARA. I quit the first time because I started getting promoted in my corporate job. I liked what I did and I liked the money they paid me to do it.
Now I’m retired from all that and it’s time to get back to writing so I rejoined in July 2013.

SC: What sub-genre of romance stories do you write?
TJ: My original love is historical romance…well-researched period pieces. I tend to like them like I like my Mexican food…spiced up and hot. Historical was always a good fit for me because I’m basically a history nut and I love the research. Unfortunately, I can’t always predict where I’ll end up. Couple of months ago I was doing research on some specific events of the English social Season circa 1811 and ended up immersed in an article about the world’s oldest crown. I know, right? Time suck.
I also write contemporary romantic suspense which is great because there’s this whole range of interesting ways to say things (some not so reverent) and I get to kill people. Someone almost always dies. I’m currently working on a series set in New Orleans and Louisiana. My current hero hates humidity almost as much as I do so it’s a good setting for him.

SC: Do you consider yourself a romantic?
TJ: No, not really. Okay, honesty. Not at all. If I have to have a label, best to call me a realist, maybe even one that’s a little bent. I won’t read about helpless women or men who are bullies unless he’s a villain. My heroes are bad boys that are good men. My heroines are strong women who may not know what they want, but they certainly know what they don’t want and they don’t settle.

SC: What are your ultimate goals as a writer?
TJ: I’ll be pursuing the Indie route. I like the control and the independence and I’ve decided (after a lot of reading and study) that I can handle the marketing aspects. Although, the whole concept scared the crap out of me when I first began considering. I asked everybody (literally) everything (literally) that I could think of. I’m sure I annoyed more than one person.
However, I won’t publish until the contemporary series is mostly complete…end of this year or beginning of next. Hopefully, sooner. Unfortunately, I’ve had a series of life events that have interfered over the past six months so I’m really looking forward to a dull, uneventful remainder of 2014.

SC: What is the best book you’ve ever read about the craft of writing?
TJ: Hands down, it’s Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat. Put the whole structure-thing into instant perspective. I’ve read a lot of the screenwriting books and got something from all of them but Save the Cat made everything click into place in an informal, common-sense, non-intellectual way. Might not be for everyone but a great fit for my style of learning and writing.

SC: Do you have a writing routine? What does it involve?
TJ: Simple. Each day…every day…write something. Only requirement is that it must be doable and must move the plot forward in some significant way. And research doesn’t count. I love research but research won’t get a book published.

SC: Do you have any writing superstitions?
TJ: None other than I have to be organized and have to be able to see my stuff—lots of bookshelves, dry erase boards, bulletin boards. Although I have a U-shaped writing area and I’m pretty religious about keeping automation stuff on one side (computers, iPad, phone, printers) and non-automated on the other side (my Fiction Bible, binders, sticky notes, pen/paper for brainstorming.)

SC: What would happen if you didn’t write?
TJ: I’d spend that time with my cameras–crazy about digital photography. Although I’d still probably play with characters and scenes in my head.

SC: Name one thing you absolutely can’t write about.
TJ: Can’t do torture of children or animals. I’m pretty naïve so I’m at a loss with the whole BDSM-thing but I guess I could write it if I wanted or needed to…just don’t want or need to.

SC: Name one of the challenges you had writing or as an author and how you met that challenge.
TJ: Procrastination is my biggest nemesis. I fight it every day. Also, doesn’t help that I can pretty much rationalize my way into accepting any excuse I’ve concocted. And I can get pretty creative about the excuses. It’s a struggle.

SC: Something many of us can relate to. Thanks so much, Tricia. It was a pleasure interviewing you. And best of luck with your writing!


Article by Mary Brand

SARA Café Welcomes Laura B. Hansen!

The SARA Café is an occasional feature that puts the spotlight on a SARA author. This month, Laura B. Hansen joins us.

by Mary Brand

Laura B HansenSC: When did you join SARA and for what reason?
LBH: I joined SARA in December 2013 so that I could be surrounded by like-minded people who could inspire me to finally pursue my dream of becoming a romance author. I found out about the group from my childhood friend, Jolene Navarro, who showed me that following the dream can lead to becoming published.

SC: What sub-genre of romance stories do you write?
LBH: Nailing down one sub-genre is tough and my ADHD just won’t allow me to do so. So I’m currently working on an inspirational book, a historical book, and a contemporary book.

SC: What about the romance genre appeals to you?
LBH: I’m all about the happy ending, with true love winning out over all else. But I also love how characters grow as they discover the impact love can have on their lives and how the plot twists add to the feeling of love triumphing over anything that stands in its way.

SC: Do you consider yourself a romantic?
More times than I can count I’ve been accused of being a hopeless romantic. And I’ve proven it in real life by marrying my third husband after the first two didn’t prove to be faithful. Talk about perseverance. My husband is proof that the third time’s the charm. My parents and most of my aunts and uncles have been married for over 50 years, and my dream was always to find that kind of magical love that stands the test of time.

SC: If you could have any actor/actress cast as the hero/heroine of your latest work, who would you choose and why?
LBH: For the inspirational romance I’m currently working on, I’d choose Chris Evans for purely selfish reasons: He’s smokin’ hot and that’s the only way I’d ever meet him! Plus, my 16-year-old son idolizes him, so I’d allow him a few minutes to chat.

SC: What do you do when you’re not writing? Do you have any hidden talents?
LBH: Nerd alert: I’m an avid reader, both of classics and romances. I’ve been known to stay up all night and take the next day off work if I get really into a book. During work-free daylight hours, gardening takes up a ridiculous amount of my time. And my KitchenAid mixer is my best friend. Additionally, I love to go fishing, even if my husband still has to take the fish off my hook because it grosses me out.

SC: What is your favorite part of the writing process?
LBH: I really enjoy the editing and revision aspects of the process: going back in to hone the craft really fascinates me. About the time I think something is done, I give it one more read and discover a new, more interesting or entertaining way of saying it. It’s like a puzzle that one never really completes.

SC: Name one of the challenges you had writing or as an author and how you met that challenge.
LBH: There’s a tie for first place in the area of challenges as an author: Lack of discipline and lack of confidence: It’s difficult to write romance on my time off since I write K-12 assessments all day, but romance writing is so fun! I’m still working on how to meet this challenge, but one strategy has been to set aside time each weekend to write in large blocks of time. Sometimes, though, I’m just out of words or can’t shift gears.
And I have a really hard time sharing my work, which I realize I need to get over since my ultimate goal is to be published. I submitted to a writing contest a few months ago to try to get over this fear, and read aloud one of my responses to a SARA activity at our last meeting, so I guess my strategy is to take baby steps to expose my sensitive underbelly.

SC: Thanks so much for the interview, Laura! It’s great getting to know more about you!


Article by Mary Brand   Photo credit to Sharon Saldana-Molina

New Release: The Healer’s Gift by Willa Blair

The latest in Willa Blair’s popular Highland Talents series just released!  The Healer’s Gift is a novella that takes place just after the first book in the series, Highland Healer.

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Coira MacDugall paid with her life for her attack on the Highland Healer. But her victim did more than heal Coira’s fatal wound that awful night.  Now drowning in the unwelcome emotions of others, Coira wonders if her new empathic ability was meant as a gift or a curse.

Logen MacDugall must discover who killed three previous lairds if he hopes to survive for long in the position. He believes Coira’s new sense can help him root out the conspirators, but after her disastrous time in the Highlands, the last thing she wants is to get involved with another laird. Logen must help Coira gain control of her talent in time to save him and their clan from those intent on destroying MacDugall.

Can Coira believe this laird truly loves her? Or will her memories lead her to madness again?