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 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.

SARA Café Welcomes Camille Di Maio!

dimaio pix2SC: Welcome, Camille! When did you join SARA and for what reason?
CDM: I attended a writer’s event in New York a few years ago, and have kept in touch with some dear friends that I made there. However, they all live out of state, and I wanted to find something local. I attended a SARA meeting last year and found everyone to be so welcoming, and the classes to be very instructive. So I stayed!
SC: And we’re so glad you did! What sub-genre of romance stories do you write?
CDM: I would call my novel historical fiction with a strong romantic element.
SC: What about the romance genre appeals to you?
CDM: I run a high-stress business, and reading romance is such a mental getaway. I love a sweet story with a happy ending.
SC: Do you consider yourself a romantic?
CDM: I am! I’ve been married for almost nineteen years, and knew within days of meeting my husband that he was the one. I am also on the board of a ministry that helps couples heading towards divorce- thousands have found their way back to joy in their marriage. So, I have to be a romantic to advocate for that!
SC: What are your ultimate goals as a writer?
CDM: Ah, there are so many goals. As an art, I would like to create something that moves people, something that makes them think about it long after they’ve read “The End”. I’m sure I also share the dream of every writer our there to be able to do this full-time at the beach!
SC: If you could have any actor/actress cast as the hero/heroine of your latest work, who would you choose and why?
CDM: I have thought long and hard about this. Immediately, I love Joanne Froggatt, who played Anna on Downton Abbey. She has the right look- beauty and sweetness, but with some fire and strength. And she’s British, so she wouldn’t have to nail down the accent! However, she might be a tad old for the role- my story starts with the heroine at age eighteen. Another choice would be Carey Mulligan, She brings such gravity to all of her roles- and my heroine goes through some tremendous trials in the story.
SC: What is the best book you’ve ever read about the craft of writing?
CDM: I have started a lot of books about the craft of writing, but I’ve never actually finished one. I do so much better in live classes. I have attended three classes that Donald Maas taught, and he is simply a master. In those moments, I believe that I’m capable of writing anything! Then, of course, I try on my own. It’s much easier in class.
SC: Do you have a writing routine? What does it involve?
CDM: I would like to have a writing routine, and my New Year’s resolution for 2016 was to write for two hours a day. That hasn’t happened yet. I homeschool my four children and run a business with my husband, so writing gets the dregs. I’ve been outlining my next book, though, so I’m just about to dive in, and I think I will spend quite a lot of time with it There is a lot of research that needs to be done.
SC: Do you have any writing superstitions?
CDM: I’m not a believer in superstitions, but I do pray before I write.
SC: What do you do when you’re not writing? Do you have any hidden talents?
CDM: Beneath what I think is a positive and encouraging personality, my killer instincts come out when I’m playing board games. I don’t show any mercy. I’m a great backgammon player. Also, I travel whenever I get a chance. I am always planning (or at least dreaming about) my next trip.
SC: What is your favorite part of the writing process?
CDM: I love those moments when inspiration is easy (though they are few and far between!) where you really fall in love with what you are writing. There is a particular scene in The Memory of Us between my heroine and her father- lots of secrets have been kept, and get revealed in a very heated accusatory exchange. My heart races every time I read that chapter. It was the most real to me.
SC: What would happen if you didn’t write?
CDM: If I didn’t do any of the things I do now- writing, real estate, etc., I would have liked to be a travel agent. I love, love, love planning trips, even when they aren’t my own- I even planned two overseas trips for two sets of friends this past year! The more components the better.
SC: How do you know when your research is done?
CDM: As I wrote this, the research served the story, not the other way around. So, my research was done when I had everything I needed to complete the story. If I were working in an opposite way- researching something in order to build a story, I’m afraid I’d never stop!
SC: Name one thing you absolutely can’t write about.
CDM: I could not write a sex scene. I’m a low-heat kind of girl. In movies and books, I actually find the suggestion of something to be sexier than the portrayal of it.
SC: Name one of the challenges you had writing or as an author and how you met that challenge.
CDM: My biggest challenge has been self-doubt. I wrote this novel without any real experience beyond a couple of conference classes. So, I wondered if it was really any good. I gave it to some friends to read, and sometimes they would come to me weeks after finishing it and tell me that certain scenes or characters were still on their minds. That was very affirming. Lately,with my ARCs going out, the publication date approaching, and reviews popping up, I am going through some real moments of anxiety. I realized a few days ago that my book baby is actually out there in a big, public way, and I feel so vulnerable. Three things really helped with that. First, I was talking to my husband, who reassured me that I was given the gift of writing for a reason, and I shouldn’t doubt that. Second, I spoke with a Facebook friend who recently hit the NY Times Best Seller list- she told me that the vast majority of reviews will be great, the middle ones make fair critiques, and she ignores the negative ones- they are not usually coming from objective people. (Or they’re trolls.) Finally, my cousin made an amazing movie called “Being Ginger”, about his experiences being bullied as a redhead. It met with a lot of international acclaim. But, even with that, he got his share of snarky remarks from people. He actually did a pretty funny comedy sketch on “Mean Tweets” and it made me realize that ALL artists will have they’re haters.
SC: Thank you so much, Camille!
Photo credit to Gina Di Maio.
Camille’s first book, The Memory of Us will be released this month. And her next book, Before the Rain Falls, comes out in May of 2017! Congratulations, Camille!
Story submitted by Mary Brand

Another SARA Sighting!

SARAs Willa Blair, Patricia Walters-Fisher, Laurie LeClair, Laurie Olerich, Roe Valentine and Teri Wilson signed their books today at the Barnes & Noble at the Shops at La Cantera here in San Antonio, TX.  We had a great turnout!  It was fun to see so many fans, friends and family supporting their favorite authors.  

What a great way to get an early start on Valentine’s Day!  


New Release: Layla Chase

Check out SARA Author Layla Chase’s newest release!

Rikka Brendan accepts a teaching position in small town Arroyo, Texas, hoping the new location will help her fight her attraction to men in uniforms. Her logic? She’ll get to know the guys as people and the fetish will lessen.

Enter newly installed Captain Conor Malloy to investigate three rescue calls in less than eight weeks. When the attraction flames from sparks to 3-alarm lust, does Conor have any hope of convincing Rikki they have more than a sexy combustion?  

Find Layla at