SARA Cafe Welcomes David Reed

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!

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