SARA Cafe Welcomes Frances Kiani

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

I found SARA on meetup.com and attended my first meeting in January 2014. At the time, I wanted to join a writing group and SARA was a perfect fit.

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

I write young adult.

What made you decide to write romance?

That’s a tough question. I didn’t set out writing romance. I wanted to write mysteries and true crime novels. But every single story I wrote turned into a romance.

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

Listen to critique but go with your gut. Know your characters. Believe in yourself. Don’t give up. Write every day. Read a lot (I’m always surprised when I meet aspiring authors who don’t read).

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

I’ve read a lot of craft books but my favorite is On Writing by Stephen King. I’ve read it three times and every single time, I learn something new. It’s now my “go to” book when I get lost or discouraged.

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

I started as a pantser which turned my first YA novel into a mess. Now I start with a few scenes and write. Most of the other scenes come to me as I write so technically, I’m still pantsing. And when I get stuck (because it does happen around the 30K mark), I take my scenes and plot them on a board. This way I can see what’s missing.

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

Deleting scenes I love. It’s why I try not to pants as much as I used to. Because trying to keep scenes you love can mess with the flow of your story.

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

Probably horror. I love horror books but I can’t imagine writing one.

What would happen if you didn’t write?

I can’t imagine not writing but if I couldn’t write, I’d definitely volunteer more. Maybe even go back to work for Corporate America either in disaster recovery or something IT related. I used to be a computer nerd where I’d wake up thinking about SQL statements and Visual Basic. I guess in many ways, I still am because I get excited about Amazon’s algorithms. I can’t wait to publish several books so I can analyze the data and write code to automate weekly reports.

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

Five years from now, I’d love to work with an illustrator in creating a manga series. I think it’d be cool to sell those books at anime conventions and see fans dressed in cosplay costumes. No matter where I am in my writing career, I know I’ll still be writing and having fun!

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

Write and read every day – no excuses. And remember to take care of yourself by getting out of the writing chair. Go for a walk, visit a state park, or take a yoga class.

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 Café Welcomes Curtis Copley!

CurtisCC: In August of 2012, I had a first draft of a story, but it wasn’t professional quality, and I figured the only way to learn how to raise it to that level was to hang out with professionals. The first SARA meeting I attended people had just gotten back from the RWA National Conference, and were talking about industry business. SARA was a much smaller group that day. There were only a dozen members present at that August 2012 meeting.  Patricia W. Fischer, Teri Wilson, Willa Blair, Sasha Summers, Tara West, and Jolene Navarro were all in various stages of getting a book published. Teri Wilson announced she had just gotten a three book deal. And Gina Maxwell’s Seducing Cinderella had just hit the New York Times bestseller list. It was terrifying for me, being both a complete rookie as a writer, and the only guy at the meeting, but the ladies welcomed me into the group.

SC: What sub-genre of romance stories do you write?

CC: I’m working on a Young Adult/Urban Fantasy story. While I enjoy Hunger Games, Pixar movies are much more my usual style.

SC: Do you consider yourself a romantic?

CC: I had to look the word up. Synonyms: dreamer, visionary. Check, check. Urban Dictionary says a hopeless romantic is “in love with love. They believe in fairy tales and love.” Antonyms: realist. What? Why is that an antonym? The dictionary must have been written by a cynic. A fairy tale ending is my mission statement for life. Yes, I’m a romantic.

SC: What are your ultimate goals as a writer?

CC: To finish the damn book. Beyond that, I can only hope that it would lead kids to work and make fairy tales come true.

SC: Great goals both. What is the best book you’ve ever read about the craft of writing?

CC: Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat. It’s a solid introduction. Lately I’ve been reading Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers.

SC: What would you consider some of the best advice you’ve heard about writing?

Best advice: Andrew Stanton said, “Make me care.” He went on to say, “When you’re telling a story, have you constructed anticipation? In the short term, have you made me want to know what will happen next? But more importantly, have you made me want to know how it will all conclude in the long-term?”

SC: Do you have a writing routine? What does it involve?

CC: My most productive writing times have been when I’m trying to make a deadline for either SARA’s online or in-person critique session (or in this case, preparing my SARA Café answers just before the deadline). If I get stuck on a scene, the best thing for it has been driving to or from Oklahoma City, giving me hours of time with no other distractions.

SC: Hmmm. Maybe I need to drive to Oklahoma! Do you have any writing superstitions?

CC: No superstitions, just the knowledge that if I ask myself, “Will my critique partners let me get away with writing the scene this way?” the answer is always, “No.”

SC: What is your favorite part of the writing process?

CC: When the story takes a turn that I never saw coming. As much as I’ve tried to plot things out in advance, once I sit down to write, everything that happens is seat-of-the-pants.

SC: I love moments like that, too! What would happen if you didn’t write?

CC: A day may come when the imaginations of writers fail, when we forsake our word processors and break bonds of fellowship with other authors. But it is not this day. An hour of editorial red ink and shredded pages when our aged laptop crashes down! But it is not this day! This day we write! (With apologies to J.R.R. Tolkien).

SC: No apologies needed here! I think he would be flattered. Name one of the challenges you had writing or as an author and how you met that challenge.

CC: A popular writer’s magazine says: “There are no rules.” That isn’t true, but neither could I find any stone tablets brought down by Moses giving a list of commandments for writers, let alone a Greatest Commandment. I felt lost without a Prime Directive to guide me. After a great deal of study that strayed into neuroscience, I came up with this definition for good writing: The reader cares so much about what’s going on that they need to see what’s on the next page of the book more than they need to sleep. That probably sounds obvious as stated, but it was significant to me. It means storytelling is not about relating events. It’s about raising questions that won’t be answered until the next page, or maybe the one after that, or…

SC: I love how you put it, Curtis. We should all have this definition hanging by our computers! Thank you so much for sharing and best of luck with your writing!

Article submitted by Mary Brand

SARA Café Welcomes Andrea Stehle, author of the Gods of Arcadia

A-stehleSC:  Hello, Andrea! When did you join SARA and for what reason?

AS:  I joined SARA three years ago. The guest author I met at the state Latin convention suggested the best way to improve my craft and get published was to find a local writers group.  SARA was the first one that came up on the internet. It turns out it is also one of the best in town. I don’t believe I would be where I am today without their help and support.

SC:  What sub-genre of romance stories do you write?

AS:  Technically, I write sci-fi mythology (fantasy) with LOTS of romantic story lines. My first book Daughter of Athena’s theme is love conquers all. I am currently working on the third book in the Gods of Arcadia series with a working title of Queen of the Amazons. Its theme is more like love destroys all, but romance is still a major part.

SC:   What are your ultimate goals as a writer?

AS:   My primary goal at the moment is to become a full-time author. Right now I teach by day and write by night and weekend. I would like to sell enough books to be able to quit my day job. Imagine how much more prolific I could be. Long term, I would like to create a series that takes on a life of its own – even without me around. The books are a part of me that I will leave behind someday. The teacher in me loves the idea my stories could be a lesson or someone’s book report.

SC:  If you could have any actor/actress cast as the hero/heroine of your latest work, who would you choose and why?

actorAS:  Actually I was sitting in my booth at the Victoria Comicon recently when Manu Bennett(See photo) walked up. He played Crixus in the HBO series Spartacus and is now Allannon in the MTV series Shannara Chronicles. He is very handsome, yet tough. He is now who I see in my head when I picture the Son of Ares. The Daughter of Athena is actually patterned on my daughter Amanda.  She is an aspiring actress who will hurt me if anyone but her ever plays the role in a movie.

SC:    Do you have a writing routine? What does it involve?

AS:   My writing routine involves taking my laptop with me wherever I go. I sit in the back of my daughter’s rehearsals and write. I sit in waiting rooms and write. Sometimes I strand myself at the library for hours so I can write. It is nice to take your world with you wherever you go, but it is interesting that the real atmosphere around me often creeps into my books.

SC:   Do you have any writing superstitions?

AS:  I have the first printed copy of each book I write (three so far) on display in my classroom and a poster of each book cover on the wall of my bedroom.

I also write a Latin phrase in every book I sign.   Ad Astra Per Aspera – to the stars through hard work.

SC:   What do you do when you’re not writing? Do you have any hidden talents?

AS:    I am a Latin teacher.  As a classicist I have always loved mythology and history. I guess my not so hidden talent is my love of singing.  It is not a coincidence that there is music is many of my books.  Someday I will have a book release party with singing.

SC:    What is your favorite part of the writing process?

AS:  I love that the characters do what you tell them, how you tell them to do it, and when you tell them to do it with no complaints.  (Ok, recently I had to cut a whole scene because the character would have come to life and kicked my butt for making him do something so wimpy, but most of the time I run the show!)

SC:  How do you know when your research is done?

AS:  I don’t research. I know more about classical mythology than most people on the planet. (Ok, I know that makes me a nerd.)

SC:    Not at all. You just know your subject. Could you name one thing you absolutely can’t write about?

AS:  The first time I answered this question I said I was not good at describing battles.  My daughter Amanda said that is why the Great Law of the Olympians forbids war on Arcadia.  At her prompting (book 2) Son of Ares was very different.

SC:   What’s one of the challenges you had writing or as an author and how did you meet that challenge?

AS:  Daughter of Athena was a first person biography. Son of Ares was third person split/perspective.  I still told half the story from Ardella’s POV, but I also told the story from Alexander’s POV.  To do this I had to try to think like a male and describe the battles and fights he got into. Even Ardella who lives a sheltered life in the Tower of Athena managed to get into a battle when a manticore attacked her flying car. I am starting to like the action scenes.   My mother was the first person to read Son of Ares. She said I did a better job getting into the head of Alexander than I had Ardella in the first book.(Thanks Mom – Alexander is made-up, Ardella is just an extension of me.)

SC:  I think, as writers, our characters are hidden facets of ourselves. Thanks so much, Andrea! And best of luck with the series!

Submitted by Mary Brand

SARA Café Welcomes Ani Stubbs (Writing as Ana Bordelon)

SC:  Why did you join SARA?

AB:  I attended my first SARA meeting just to see-and was so impressed by the talented writers and their willingness to help others. The seminars have been wonderful.

SC:  What sub-genre of romance stories do you write?

AB:  I am working on contemporaries, a fantasy (shape-shifter), and a historical.

SC:  What about the romance genre appeals to you?

AB:   I love HEA! The world is harsh at times, and a well written romance with characters you can enjoy and a happy ever after is a great escape for me. Since we know there will be a HEA at the end of the story, romances make the characters, the plot, and the dialogue move the story.

SC:  Do you consider yourself a romantic?

AB: At times, but not always.

SC: What are your ultimate goals as a writer?  The enemy if the good is the better.

SC:  If you could have any actor/actress cast as the hero/heroine of your latest work, who would you choose and why?

AB:  Gerald Butler so I could meet him.

SC:  Do you have a writing routine?  What does it involve?

AB:  I have started getting up early.  I hate it, but writing late at night produced more but I would up re-writing most of it.  I write less in the morning, but it is much better. I do better editing in the evening though.

SC: Do you have any writing superstitions?

AB:  Nope.

SC:  What do you do when you’re not writing?  Do you have any hidden talents?

AB:  I have grandkids and am a wonderful grandmother.  If I could be paid to read I would. I also play really bad piano and guitar.  Really bad.

SC:  What is your favorite part of the writing process?

AB:  Taking a small idea and making a story.  The book that is being edited (by my oldest the English teacher), stared when two young women from St Mary’s were discussing the importance of taking the right date to Baby Bake.

SC:  What would happen if you didn’t write?

AB:  Could not happen.

SC:  How do you know when your research is done?

AB:  Usually dork out and keep researching.  I love doing research, especially speaking with people.

SC:   Name one thing you absolutely can’t write about.

AB:  Children.

SC:  Name one of the challenges you had writing or as an author and how you met that challenge.

AB:  Focus and finishing.  I have about 30 stories that I have re-started and re-written because I lack focus.  SARA has made all the difference. Without SARA I don’t think I would have submitted a completed story to RWA for PRO status.

SC:  Having a great support system makes all the difference! Thanks so much for sharing with us. And good luck with your writing!

Article by Mary Brand