What made you decide to join SARA?
In January 2016, I joined SARA on the strength of a recommendation from Laura Stephens. We had shared a small, unaffiliated critique group for a few months and based on her description of SARA and the strength of her writing and editing talent, it sounded like something I could benefit from.
My motivations for joining SARA were several. Elements of romance exist in most other forms of fiction, and I wanted to develop a better mastery of those elements. I needed (and still need) to develop both craft and discipline by surrounding myself with others who are on a similar journey. Most of all, this vibrant chapter seemed to have far more spirit and verve than any other writing group that I’ve visited or belonged to. Also, I certainly don’t mind being in the male minority.
What sub-genre of romance stories do you write?
My completed manuscripts (seeking representation) and current project are urban fantasy but not strictly romance (just romantic elements). However, the two subgenres that I have books planned in (synopses and first three chapters written each) are paranormal romance and romantic suspense. I’ve got to get off my excuses and complete both of those series starters before the RWA conference in July. Otherwise, I won’t have anything to pitch!
What about the romance genre appeals to you?
As an industry segment, romance calls to me for a variety of reasons. The obvious appeal of a loyal and voracious audience should draw any writer who has to publish to eat, which I do now. As of this past February, I took the leap of faith out of ye olde nine-to-five grind and became a full-time novelist. Despite needing to make a successful career of this, my original draw to romance was the challenge of romance as a genre.
Although romance is often unfairly maligned, I believe that it is at least doubly more difficult to write a great romance than it is to write a great fiction in any other genre. Not only do you have to write a great story, just like any other genre, you have to weave into it all of the equally important relationship growth (and tragedy) that are not treated with equal importance in genre fiction outside of romance.
Also, I suppose, I took a statement from another author as a personal challenge. She said that women would “never” pick up and read a romance with a male author’s name on the cover. I put “never” in quotes because there are always exceptions—I intend to be one of them.
Do you consider yourself a romantic?
Yes, I am an incurable romantic. My wife has teased me about being more weepy and emotional than she is at the movies. ’Tis true! I began writing poetry for her before we were married twenty-five years ago, and I still do today. Perhaps not as often as I should, but there are a few of my poems that are framed and hung with other artwork around our home.
What are your ultimate goals as a writer?
My ultimate goal as a writer is the same as my ultimate goal as a human being: to make the world a better place than I found it. My entire adult life, I’ve believed that I am always in the right place at the right time. Whether I like any given moment in time or not, I’m here to learn something or help somebody, or both. My humble prayer is that each thing that I write will inspire at least one person to be better. We are all works in progress, and our goal should be the improvement, not perfection.
What is the best book you’ve ever read about the craft of writing?
I have a propensity for buying “great books” about craft, and only flipping through them. Perhaps that’s part of my struggle.
One of the craft books that I did finish (and I’m reading it again right now for the second time) is Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. Despite being written by and for screenwriters, I think Save the Cat has a great deal to teach us as novelists. The plotting methodology he teaches is just enough for me (a recovering pantser) to find useful without being so detailed that I never get started on actually writing. Perhaps the biggest lesson for me was that I can’t stumble over writer’s block if I already know where the story is going.
A strong second is Rachel Aaron’s 2k to 10k, but probably only because it scratches my nerdy itch to have a spreadsheet for everything. Keeping track of each writing session and its level of productivity does help dial things up for me.
Do you have a writing routine? What does it involve?
My normal routine is wishing that I were writing while I’m doing anything else (laundry, dishes, exercising, whatever) and then sitting down to not write as much as I sit down to write. Mostly kidding. I bought a sit-stand desk so that I can switch positions more frequently. I have found that I do think differently standing and writing (well, typing actually).
One thing that I learned early on while trying to write every single day has nothing to do with writing every single day. It has to do with how my brain handles language. I found that I can’t listen to music with lyrics while I’m trying to write. Hence, I collect a wide variety of movie soundtracks and instrumental-only collections of music. It’s hard to find upbeat and thematic instrumental music that doesn’t put me to sleep with it’s classical lullabye, but I’ve found a few artists that make the kind of music I can write to without the language center of my brain tripping over the lyrics. Two that I listen to the most are Two Steps from Hell and Really Slow Motion.
Do you have any writing superstitions?
Not that I can think of. Except, maybe, a fear of rejection. But that’s based on my own actual experience, so I don’t think that counts as a superstition.
What do you do when you’re not writing? Do you have any hidden talents?
As a full-time househusband, when I am not writing, I am doing the laundry, cleaning the house, doing the dishes, etc., all the wrong way—according to my wife, who did all those things differently than I do them for the past eighteen years.
I do aspire to do book narration and voice acting in the coming years. My current excuse for not recording more (I’ve only recorded one audio book for a startup company that hasn’t launched yet) is the lack of a home studio that can block out all the ambient sound of the house. Until you try to make a professional recording, who knew the air conditioner, the ceiling fan, and the neighbors’ dogs were so noisy?
What is your favorite part of the writing process?
Being finished. Well, I can’t really say that from experience, so I’m hoping that will be the part I enjoy most. Currently, I am going through, line by line, all of the changes my developmental editor has proposed for my first completed manuscript. Hence, it isn’t finished yet.
My second favorite part, I think, is coming up with new ideas. It’s fun to imagine new stories. It’s fun to start a new novel. It’s fun to write the blurb and the logline and imagine the cover. It’s what comes next that I need to learn how to make my favorite part of the process… and I’m not quite there yet.
What would happen if you didn’t write?
If I didn’t write, I’d be sad. I would probably go back to my previous career in software development, but I wouldn’t be happy doing it. I would consider becoming an opiate addict. I think depression (in writers) is often caused by not writing.
How do you know when your research is done?
My natural, smart aleck response is to ask: What is this “research” whereof you speak? I write fiction! Why should I need research? But that’s just me being silly.
Because my current manuscript is contemporary and set in real world El Paso, I did research the public locations by visiting them in person. This caused me to rewrite a couple of scenes that could not have possibly happened the way I imagined them.
For me, an author has done enough research when I’ve been to that place or I’m familiar with that subject, and I feel like I’m there again when I read his or her work.
Name one thing you absolutely can’t write about.
I can’t think of anything I can’t write about. There are lots of things that I don’t want to write about—software reference manuals and scatological erotica come to mind, but only because they’re so similar to one another. I understand why some people think they “can’t” write about something, but I don’t believe it’s an actual inability, just a preference.
The reason I take that view is that my characters and muses have brought me things to write that I would never have sought out on my own, or even aspired to write in the first place. For example, I’ve never been a psychic Irish lesbian or a Catholic Latina housewife—but both are powerful heroines in my stories. I’ve even got a half dozen or more nonfiction book ideas on a “to write” list somewhere that I’ll get to one of these days.
Name one of the challenges you’ve had as an author and how you met that challenge.
My biggest challenge as an author is my writing excuses. I acknowledge this only because I believe that when writing the story of my life, I should never give someone else the pen. They’re my excuses and they’re my fault and they’re mine to fix.
The one that I allowed myself the most (until recently) was the old cliche, “I don’t have enough time to write!” I removed that excuse for myself by quitting my day job (with the devoted support of my lovely and gracious bride of many decades). I gave myself a year to prove that I can, well “walk the walk” doesn’t make sense for a novelist, so insert whatever the equivalent cliche is for a writer. Stephen King wrote in On Writing, “Writers write.” Period. The End. So that’s what I’m doing.
Ask me again next year whether I have all four of my 2017 books written!