SARA Cafe Welcomes Modrea Mitchell-Reichert

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

I was a member of Alamo Writers Unlimited and Sisters of Crime in Austin, trying to find my place within fiction. A member in one of those groups pointed me to SARA, so I went to some meetings at Grady’s BBQ on Nakoma and enjoyed them. Then my writing took me in a different direction until recently.

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

Having always enjoyed mysteries I began by writing Romantic Suspense. Recently, elements of the paranormal and light science fiction are woven into my stories. I am not a science scholar, but I like stories set in an environment of “other worlds”. Historical romance has always been a favorite, but I have yet to write a story in that genre.

What made you decide to write romance?

I’ve always enjoyed reading about layered characters that grow emotionally and ultimately discover their ‘complimentary half’.

What do you think is the most misconceived idea readers have about romance writers?

That writing a romance is easy, formulaic, and anyone can do it because it’s fluff writing.

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

Keep your butt in the chair and write and believe in your voice.

What writer(s) inspired you to try your hand at writing as well?

That’s a tough question because the best writers make the writing feel seamless and smooth – like good movies. That said, by reading some of the following writers listed below and experiencing their crafting of the stories they gave me clear goals to aim at.  Writers who have me re-reading their stories to hear their voice and writing style are: Nora Roberts, Sue Grafton, Jayne Ann Krentz/ Amanda Quick, Mary Balogh, Linda Howard, Suzanne Brockmann, Sandra Brown, Maya Banks, Nalini Singh, Joanna Bourne, T.S. Joyce, Stephanie Laurens, Kristen Ashley, Suzanne Wright, Jacqueline Winspear, Anne Perry, Peter Tremayne, and Henrik Ibsen’s plays.

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

On craft, I’d have to answer – The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B.White;  Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King; and Pocket Reference for Writers by Toby Fulwiler and Alan R. Hayakawa

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

It feels like a combination.  I generally have a broad sense of the story I want to tell, rough it out, and then organically build the story. To me it’s rather like creating a painting – you lay down the composition in broad shapes for balance and placement – then use color, angles, and edges to create the finished image.

What is the hardest part of writing for you? Starting? Creating a scene? Etc?

Developing complex and multi-faceted characters that intrinsically drive the story.

What is the biggest surprise and/or frustration you’ve learned in the writing/publishing process?

It is harder to publish in fiction, than non-fiction.

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

Science fiction. But I’d need to go back to school to learn A LOT more science.

What would happen if you didn’t write?

I don’t even go there. Creating is a part of me I can’t shut down. However, I’d paint for a while and then come back to writing refreshed.

We have all experienced rejection. Give me an example of one you’ve had, and how you learned to write past it.

It’s a bad news-good news story. Early on, I wrote a short story of a young girl uncovering a body in a shed and ultimately discovering the murderer. I sent it out to magazines that were publishing short stories.  All the publications rejected it, but on the pre-printed rejection slip I got back from Redbook Magazine was a personal note to send another story. It’s one of my most treasured rejection notices.

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

To be published as a fiction writer. I’m a member of PRO so hopefully, I’m headed in the correct direction. Yet, at this point in my life writing the most engaging stories I can is my journey, not the destination of publishing

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

Everyone is at a different place in their personal journey and shouldn’t compare where they are to the other writers around them. The Muses and Fate can be bitches to us writers, but every so often, they join forces and the results are oh so sweetly rewarding.

Don’t give up, believe in your journey.

SARA Cafe Welcomes Holly Castillo

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

A little over a year ago I went to my first Writer’s Conference in Austin. There were two speakers on the subject of Romance: Teri Wilson and Patricia Walters-Fischer. They were so much fun and really passionate (no pun intended) about the world of Romance. After the workshop, I went up to them and asked where they were from, and they replied “SARA.” Then they offered to help me out at the RWA Conference (another first for me last year) and I knew I had found my new family. I joined SARA just weeks after returning from the RWA Conference.

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

Historical and Young Adult

What made you decide to write romance?

I started reading Romance when I was about ten years old, and I loved the tension of whether the two lovebirds would ever get together (even though I knew they would). I’ve always been writing books. At that time, I was writing children’s books for my little brother, but I wanted to write my own romance. I wrote the first one when I was about thirteen, and it was over 400 pages long, single-spaced, 12-point font. I learned how to narrow it down a bit from there and have just loved (pun intended) writing the joy of a good romance story ever since.

What do you think is the most misconceived idea readers have about romance writers?

That anyone can do it. Writing Romance is hard work. You have to keep the pace going through action, suspense, mystery, and have the reader desperate to know what the character(s) emotional baggage is and how it will all be resolved in the end. Authors of Romance novels spend an exceptional amount of time on research of the time-period, the setting, the technology, anything that will be a part of the book. We have to become subject matter experts in a lot of different fields. It takes time, patience, dedication, and knowledge to be able to write a Romance. Not everyone can do that.

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

Write for fun. Don’t write to please others. Don’t write to get a big paycheck. Don’t write to become famous. Write because it is what you want to do—because it is what you have been called to do.

What writer(s) inspired you to try your hand at writing as well?

Lucy Maud Montgomery. She wrote “Anne of Green Gables,” a series of novels that I read when I was about nine or ten. I LOVE those stories and I knew I wanted to be able to weave together words the way she could, and make the scenes just jump off the page and surround me.

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

“The Emotional Craft of Writing,” by Donald Maass

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

Outliner. I’m OCD, and can easily fall down a rabbit hole if I don’t know where I’m supposed to be heading. I not only create an outline, but I write out each scene as it should appear in the book, and then get to enjoy scratching it out once the scene has been written. Gotta love those lists!

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

The hardest part of writing for me is finishing the book. I’ve fallen in love with my characters by the time I’m coming down the home stretch, and I find myself procrastinating and dreading the final few scenes. I hate to say goodbye to the new friends I’ve made and have spent intimate time with for hours on end.

What is the biggest surprise and/or frustration you’ve learned in the writing/publishing process?

The biggest surprise has been how fast things can happen. Once my contract was signed, I only had a few months to get the second of four books to my Publisher. It was a surprise, but a happy one, because it keeps me focused on my writing and driving the series forward.

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

Sci-fi. I love how exciting those books are, and how you can create entire new worlds. But my creativity hits a major roadblock when it comes to this subject matter!

What would happen if you didn’t write?

I’d probably be clinically insane because of all the voices in my head.

We have all experienced rejection. Give me an example of one you’ve had, and how you learned to write past it.

I sent in my query letter and synopsis to an agent for a Fantasy manuscript, and in less than two minutes he sent me a rejection letter. My query letter would have taken two minutes to read!! So I knew right then that he hadn’t even bothered to look at my query or synopsis.

Fortunately, though, I’m extremely stubborn. So I went back to writing my Texas stories that I love so much (still keeping the Fantasy story as a possibility one day) and made it through several more pitches before landing with a terrific publishing company.

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

I’d like to have my full Texas Legacy series published (16+ books), and mentoring others coming up in the publishing world. I’d also like to win an award or two. Or 10 or more…

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

A story is a journey. For us as well as the reader. When we sit down and start creating a love story, we never know what might suddenly pop up that fits perfectly with the environment we are trying to create. Enjoy the journey, every high, every low, every bump, and every glass of wine in between.

Photo by Duane Humeyestewa

 

SARA Cafe Welcomes Jewel Hart

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

I’ve always wanted to write but lacked the confidence. After my mom passed three years ago, I needed something to take my mind off missing her and with the encouragement of my husband, decided to give writing a try. When I found SARA on Meetup, I’d already written two 90,000-word manuscripts but I knew they were amateur attempts. As luck would have it, the next SARA meeting was Jolene Navarro’s presentation on plotting. I was so impressed, I went home and joined RWA and SARA that same weekend.

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

I write contemporary romance with elements of suspense.

What made you decide to write romance?

I had plenty of inspiration from my real-life hero, my husband and, honestly, I thought writing romance would be easier than other genres. Boy, was I wrong. I think the misconception started when I read some poorly edited indie romance novels that I liked despite the distractions. I figured, if I’m enjoying these rough novels, somebody might want to read one of mine.

What do you think is the most misconceived idea readers have about romance writers?

Based on reactions when I reveal that I write romance, readers seem to assume we aren’t good writers. Ironically, writing to evoke the range of emotions in the average romance novel is extremely challenging.

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

The best advice I’ve been given is to keep writing. It seems so simple but writing is one of those things that really does improve with practice.

What writer(s) inspired you to try your hand at writing as well?

I’d like to say something really classy like Jane Eyre or Edgar Allen Poe, but, if they were my true inspirations, I’d be frozen at the gate. It would be too daunting. Instead, my inspirations are Stephen King, Dean Koontz, David Baldacci, Kristen Ashley, and Jay Crownover. They write about their hometowns in a way that sparked something in me. Someday, I hope people will see my Texas the way we see King’s Maine, or Ashley’s Colorado.

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

I don’t read many craft books cover to cover, however, I did enjoy Stephen King’s On Writing.

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

I’m a pantser because my thoughts aren’t very organized. They’re more like a kaleidoscope and I have to keep turning the story until the pieces start to fall into place.

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

The hardest part of writing is keeping all of the details straight. I’m afraid I’ll leave out something important.

What is the biggest surprise and/or frustration you’ve learned in the writing/publishing process?

The biggest surprise is how supportive other writers have been. In other competitive markets, those who have succeeded are reluctant to share the secrets of their success because they don’t want to get knocked down the ladder. The other writers I’ve met seem excited to pull everyone along with them.

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

It’s not really a genre, but I always dreamed of writing lyrics for songs. I never will because I have no rhythm and because I can’t get past nursery rhyme patterns. Imagine a whole bunch of rock and country songs that are in the meter for Mary, Mary, Little Lamb.

What would happen if you didn’t write?

Writing quells a nervous energy I didn’t recognize before I started. I don’t know what would happen if I stopped because I don’t think I can. Even when I’m not pounding on the keyboard, I’m thinking about my characters and how to ruin/rescue them. It’s not something that can be turned off.

We have all experienced rejection. Give me an example of one you’ve had, and how you learned to write past it.

Most of the rejections I’ve experienced have been incredibly kind and/or helpful. When I receive a rejection that is less kind, I focus on the positives. I’m not one to stay in a funk over a few naysayers. All I can do is keep working to improve.

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

I’d like to see my first romance series published and I’d like to branch out into other genres as well. I’d love to write a thriller and my husband has suggested we collaborate on a book of relationship advice for our friends.

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

I saw a meme once that said, “There is no wrong or right, just write.”  If I didn’t believe that, I’d never have started writing in the first place.

Photo by Nancie J Photography.

 

 

 

SARA CAFE Welcomes J.D. Faver

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

I’ve been a member of RWA since 1996. When I lived in Houston, I was a member of all three chapters. NW (the original chapter of RWA and home of the Lone Star contest and conference) West (a large chapter and home of the Emily contest) and Bay Area (a smaller but awesome chapter).

When I moved to Canyon Lake I checked out the nearest chapters and decided SARA was the one for me. The first meeting I attended was great. The program was excellent and the members were very welcoming. Great group.

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

Mostly I like to kill people…I mean characters. So, Romantic Suspense is my main genre, but I also write contemporary romance. My other genre is YA Fantasy under my alter-ego name: Calista Anastasia.

What made you decide to write romance?

I don’t think I ever decided. It just happened. When I went to my first RWA meeting and stood up to introduce myself, I said, “I really don’t write romance,” and everyone laughed. Of course, there’s a romance. There has to be romance.

What do you think is the most misconceived idea readers have about romance writers?

<Rolling my eyes> According to non-writers, romance is all about damsels in distress and dashing heroes who rescue them. I write kick-butt heroines who rescue themselves. Strong women deserve strong men, so no wimps allowed in my novels.

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

Best things I’ve learned about writing came from Laurie Saunders and Margie Lawson, two of the most amazing teachers in our business. Laurie helped me to write all the elements needed to create a satisfying story. Margie helped me to analyze and revise with competence. Both have given me tools to make a story happen.

What writer(s) inspired you to try your hand at writing as well?

There are so many authors I enjoy, but the one who gave me lots of ‘aha’ moments was Susan Elizabeth Phillips. I had just gone to a Margie Lawson workshop sponsored by WHRWA, and when I read AIN’T SHE SWEET, by SEP, I kept stopping to note all the places she had done exactly what Margie was teaching. I almost couldn’t read the book because it was such a jewel of a story with all the elements I had learned right on the page. I finally just put aside all the incredulity and loved the book. Then I immediately went right back through it with a yellow highlighter and noted just how she made it all work so naturally. Awesome writer.

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

I learned a lot about structure from THE HERO’S JOURNEY. It is so very easy to follow and make sure your project has the story arc and plot twists needed to move the story forward and avoid the sagging middle. Another book that I have given to a lot of people is  THE FIRST FIVE PAGES, by Noah Lukeman. If you don’t grab the reader right up front, they will put the book down. Often, when judging contest entries, I will make a note of where the story begins and advise the entrant to get rid of all the blah-blah-blah they lay down. And I learned about character development from Deb Dixon’s GOAL, MOTIVATION & CONFLICT. I think these three books can take you to where you want to be as a writer of any fiction genre.

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

I’m both. I start out with an idea and just run with it. Then after about 50 pages, I put the brakes on and wrestle the story into a 3-act play format. I make sure to have the character motivation and goals are spelled out and lots of conflict and plot twists before they get to the dark moment and resolution.

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

I think every writer starts out with their own special gifts. For me writing action and dialogue has always come easy. Everything else, I have had to learn. Setting, emotion, structure, etc. I have written talking head scenes where you don’t know if the characters are in an elevator or on the beach. Seriously. When I go through the first pass revision I make sure I’ve nailed the POV immediately in each scene and also let the reader in on the setting I’m seeing in my head.

And this is my greatest struggle as a writer: My brain is crammed with so many ideas I can’t possibly crank them all out. So I have a folder of WIPs screaming for a HEA. I’m always making notes of possible future stories and throwing them into this file. There are about half a dozen stories with 20-30k words that I just can’t seem to get finished.

What is the biggest surprise and/or frustration you’ve learned in the writing/publishing process?

I’ve learned that other writers will try to change your voice, your characters, and your genre to theirs. When I wrote ON ICE, I was very fortunate that the first 30 pages won contests. But when I finished it and took it to critique group, I was told it was too long, there were too many characters, too many POVs, and too many stories woven together. I tried to follow the ‘big girls’ but finally, in frustration, just published it. I was to the point that I didn’t care if anyone ever bought it. It’s long, so I priced it at $5.99. To my surprise, it has sold more than any other project. So, I learned to listen to advice, but ultimately, go with your gut.

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

Historical is beyond me. I don’t read it and can’t write it. Fantasy, on the other hand, is very attractive to me. I dabbled in this category with my YA Fantasy series, but I think that a full on fantasy author has to live in another world and I have a very tenuous grasp on this one we live in.

What would happen if you didn’t write?

I can’t imagine. I have written since I was in the 2nd grade. My teacher, Sister Anastasia gave me a box of colored chalk and allowed me to stay in at recess to draw my scenery on the three chalkboards. Then she let me put on my 3-act plays. It was reader’s theater so I had to hand print a script for each of my characters. I was writer, director, scene artist, and actress. A very creative education.

We have all experienced rejection. Give me an example of how you learned to write past it.

As an indie, I made the decision to follow my friend and mentor, Anne Marie Novark as we ‘went rogue’. One of the most important things I have learned is that you can’t please everyone. Not everyone will appreciate your work. Each reader has their own preferences and this is great. Not everyone will read your genre, so just get over it. Write for your target audience and aim to please them as well as yourself.

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

I hope they will be the same as today — to write daily and maintain relationships with my wonderful fellow writers. I call this mingling with my species.

I will pass along the words my mentor shared with me: Just write

SARA Welcomes Mercia Greer

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

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.