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.

SARA Cafe Welcomes M.R. Kelly

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

I found out about SARA through my membership with RWA

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

Paranormal; BBBW (big beautiful black women); sci-fi; romance

What made you decide to write romance?

I have always wondered how people met (their stories) and what made their love last throughout the turbulence of life. As I got older, I found that I had ideas in my mind of how and what I wanted for my own romance. I started putting these ideas down on paper and soon I was back to imagining how wonderful it would be to share these romances with others.

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

That we all are women of substantial size who do not have romance in their lives and sit around all day dreaming of meeting MisterRight.

What is the best advice you have been given or read about writing?

Write what you feel. Look at your characters as individuals who are based in reality and they will come alive in your imagination.

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

Laurann Dohner, C.L. Sholey, Kresley Cole, Stephanie Hudson, Mary Hughes, Christine Freehan, Sherilynn Kenyon, Michelle Pillow, and many others.

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

The Elements of Style by Strunk and White

Are you a pantser or are you an outliner?

I am a little of both. I think you have to do an initial outline to ensure you have all of the scenes that are relevant to the story. But, I found that sometimes the story goes counter to what you had written. It’s as if the characters speak to you.

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

The most difficult part is tension and continuation of the story. Since I am ADD, I am easily distracted and will begin a new story when I haven’t finished the one I am working on.

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

It is the amount of editing that goes into a book before it is published. I have a personal editor and I still get the manuscript returned for more revisions.

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

I love horror, but as soon as I begin writing I start having nightmares. I have tons of stories from my childhood that would curl hair, but I can’t seem to get past the block.

What would happen if you didn’t write?

I love reading and would continue to enjoy other authors. But inside of me, there would be an emptiness where all of my stories would go to die. I have found something I love and would find a way to write.

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

My hope was to write for Harlequin. I sent in my story that I had sweated over for a year and finally was brave enough to submit it. It was returned rejected. But the problem was not the rejection, it was that they rejected me on a story that was not mine.  They had never read the story. It was then I decided to write not expecting to get accepted and if I did it would be a bonus. Now I write for my fans and myself not for a publisher.

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

I want to see myself on a best sellers list. Not for the accolades, but to substantiate to myself that I AM that good.

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

Write like you live… with all of your heart. Know that words can change a life and someone out there may need your words to get through the day.

SARA Welcomes Emily W. Mims

Emily_W_Mims_2016How did you learn about SARA and what made you want to join?

I heard about SARA through RWA and the meetup groups.  I decided to join b/c of what I saw at RWA.  All my writer friends got such wonderful support from their local chapters and I realized I could have that, too!

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

My shorts are contemporary romance.  The longer books usually have an element of suspense.

What made you decide to write romance?

In 1982, I threw a romance novel across the floor and said I could do better.  My husband dared me to!

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

They expect us to all be young and beautiful like our heroines!

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

Nora Roberts said it best.  ‘Just sit down and write’ That’s paraphrased, her version was saltier.

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

None in particular. It was the bad one that inspired me and I don’t remember who wrote it.

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

A book?  None.  I learned the most from Lydia Paglio, a wonderful editor who trained me over the phone.

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

I am seriously anal-retentive plotter-that’s how I was trained and that’s my natural inclination with a science background

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

Sitting down with a Big Chief and nailing down the plot-that’s serious work.  After that it’s all downhill

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

Thirty years ago the publisher took care of the publicity and promotion.  Now I have to do that for myself.  It’s hard.

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

Paranormal!  I love them but they don’t love me.

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

I know the answer to that all too well.  I lost my contract with Dell in 1985 and didn’t sell another book for 28 years.  I would go on with things, but I would on some level always miss it.

It took me eighteen months to find an agent and it took her three years to place my first book.  Getting past it?  I started work on the second book.

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

More series.  I just finished a 9-book or story series -Texas Hill Country-and am writing a 6 book series-Smoky Blue set in Appalachia.  More of those set around the country.

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

Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t succeed!  If a Chemistry teacher from San Antonio can write and sell 28 books and counting, you can too!!

SARA Cafe Welcomes L.M. Nelson

l.m. NelsonHow did you learn about SARA and what made you want to join?

I learned about SARA from a fellow Texas Authors member, Marjorie Brody, who told me about SARA during a marketing event I attended in Austin back in May. She boasted about the workshops and how the meetings emphasized the craft of writing.  Being new to the publishing industry, I was looking for any opportunity to improve my craft and socialize/ network with fellow authors. So I decided to give it a shot. SARA not only focuses the craft of writing, romance in particular, but even from my first meeting I felt very welcomed into this community of writers.

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

Currently I write New Adult contemporary. Although a romantic relationship is prevalent to some degree in each book of my series, each also has its own subplot (medical school/residency for the first two, medicine/college sports for the third, and medical school/performing arts for the last). The series follows a set of characters, and each book builds off the previous one and tells a bit more of the story.

What made you decide to write romance?

I didn’t initially plan to write romance, it just kind of turned out that way. I’m the kind of writer who starts with a character and builds the story around them. As my Scrubs series progressed, the relationships between my characters grew and the story came together. It all led to a series of romance books.

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

Most people I know don’t read romance novels. Based on what these non-romance readers have told me, there are several reasons for this. First, romance novels are considered boring. There isn’t a plotline, no bang bang shoot ‘em up explosive action. Two, romance novels are comparable to mushy, sappy chick flicks, and not everyone is into those. The third misconception is that all romance novels are pages upon pages of nothing but sex, even though that isn’t necessarily the case. Lastly, several people have equated romance with “trashy novels”, giving the entire genre a bad reputation.

All of these can be potential deterrents for some readers. Even though the romance genre is versatile and growing strong, many do not consider romance novelist to be “real writers.” I’ve heard people go so far as to say, “Anyone can write a romance.” Oh yeah? Let me see you do it. Many in the industry don’t take us seriously as writers.

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

The best advice I’ve been given: write for myself. I read a quote once that said, “It’s better to write for yourself and have no audience than write for an audience and have no self.” I firmly believe this. Trends fade and audiences change. I will never please every reader out there, so I’m not going to waste my time trying. I write for myself, I write what interests me, whatever pops into my head. At some point, someone out there will make a personal connection with something I’ve written.

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

I honestly don’t have an answer for this. I don’t try to style myself after other writers. I write with my own style and my own voice. But if I had to choose, I’d pick books that inspired me rather than a specific writer. Several of Robert Frost’s poems, and a few books I’ve read over the years, have inspired creativity. I loved Dean Koontz’s, Fear Nothing and Seize the Night, mainly because I love the characters and the relationships they have with one another. The Outsiders by E.B. White and The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks are among my favorite books. They each told a story using unique writing style and character development. These books have stuck with me over the years.

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

Stephen King’s, On Writing is one of the best writing resource books I’ve ever read. He offers a plethora of information on the craft and gives encouraging words that keep me motivated. I refer back to it periodically. It’s a great book!

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

Never been an outliner. I prefer to fly by the seat of my pants. The reason for this? Everything changes. I have a general idea of where I’m going when I write, but my characters drive the story. They tell it, they act it out, they speak to one another. I simply hold the pen.

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

Writing tension is hard. I want to create enough conflict to motivate my characters, but not throw so much at them that it becomes unrealistic. After I write a scene with tension, I usually end up making a lot of revisions.

Also, descriptors sometimes frustrate me. How many different ways can you describe a kiss or a laugh or a smile? I don’t want to give the reader too much information, but they need enough details to paint the picture in their head. Finding just the right combination of words can be challenging sometimes. Does anyone else have this problem, or is it just me?

We all have problems finding the right combination of words. So you are not alone.What is the biggest surprise and/or frustration you’ve learned in the writing/publishing process?

Marketing is frustrating on many levels, not only because I’m an introvert and don’t like being the center of attention, but also because I know NOTHING about it. Making myself stand out in an ocean of billions of authors has been and will continue to be a learning experience. I’ve gained insights from several authors and have taken marketing classes to help with this, but unless you have a personal promoter who does this for you full time, it’s hard to stand out in the crowd. I have no desire to be the next J.K Rowling, and don’t want to be a household name, but I would like to sell a few books and gain some loyal readers.

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

I watch Sci-Fi movies, and my husband is an avid Sci-Fi reader. Although he challenged to me to take on this genre, I don’t think I could ever write a Sci-Fi book and do it justice. The world building and character creation would aggravate me because the image in my head would never come out on paper the way I envisioned it. Think I’ll stay away from that one.

What would happen if you didn’t write?

I’d go crazy if I didn’t write. Writing is my stress relief, it relaxes me and keeps me sane. After a long day at work, I look forward to coming home and escaping into my writing world for a while.

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

Rejection is part of being a writer. We all face rejection at some point. When we do, we take the criticism with a grain of salt, adjust accordingly, and move on. After several e-mails and much begging, I made the mistake of letting someone close to me read a draft of my writing. Mind you, she is not a romance reader and mocks the industry every chance she gets, but you would think she’d offer a little encouragement or at least have one positive thing to say. Nope. Nothing. She criticized every word and had absolutely nothing good to say. That hurt. At that point, I convinced myself I was a horrible writer and wasting my time even trying. I went months without writing a word, and I almost burned the book I was working on. It took encouragement from my husband and support from my friends and children to persuade me to stick with it. I’m glad I did.

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

Five years from now, my entire four book series will be out. Once that is done, I will finish the two WIPs I have. One is a YA fantasy, the other is an adult crime novel. I have an adventure story brewing in my head, and I recently developed an idea for a romantic crime novel. I plan to write in many genres, and I’d like to try my hand at writing children’s books. I want to work on developing my platform and networking with other writers and authors, not only from Texas, but from other areas of the country as well.

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

Stick with it.  Don’t get discouraged. And most importantly, write your own story. Don’t let anyone else hold the pen.

SARA Cafe Welcomes L. J. Schuessler

L. J. SchuesslerHow did you learn about SARA and what made you want to join?
I’ve been a member of RWA since 2012. Three years ago, I moved from Washington state where I was member of the Greater Seattle Area Romance Writers chapter to Rockport, Texas. I started looking for a local chapter and SARA is the closest chapter to Rockport. I haven’t made it to a live meeting yet but have made lots of connections with the group online.

What sub-genre(s) of romance stories do you write?
I write contemporary romance. My current series is set in Montana where I lived for 17 years. I also have ideas for future romances with magical elements.

What made you decide to write romance?
I love writing about relationships and, as Susan Elizabeth Phillips says, “Life is too short to read depressing books” so HEAs are a necessity.

What do you think is the most misconceived idea readers have about romance writers?
The misconception I’ve heard most often, usually from non-romance readers, is that writing romance is easy. After all, you just have to fill in the blanks of a template, right?

What’s the best advice you’ve been given or read about writing?
I think the best advice I’ve been given is get the first draft down as quickly as you can—and also, to write, write, write.

What writer(s) inspired you to try your hand at writing as well?
Anna Quinn, writer, writing teacher, bookstore owner, was the first writer who inspired me in a class to try writing fiction. And, Mary Buckham, another awesome writing craft teacher and novelist continues to encourage me.

What is the best book you’ve ever read about the craft of writing?
I’ve read so many craft books and most of them have given me great takeaways. One favorite is Wired for Story by Lisa Cron. Also love The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.

Are you a pantser or are you an outliner? Why?
I am somewhere in between a pantser and outliner. I do begin with character sketches and a basic outline but I’ve never been able to fit things into an iron clad structure. I find my characters doing unexpected things that must be allowed or, before I know it, I’ll have a rebellion on my hands.

What is the hardest part of writing for you? Starting? Creating a scene? Dialog? Tension, etc?
Hands down—creating enough tension throughout the book is the hardest for me.

What is the biggest surprise and/or frustration you’ve learned in the writing/publishing process?
I’m not sure if it’s the biggest surprise but certainly the best surprise is how amazingly supportive and helpful other writers are—no matter where they are in their career.

Is there a genre you wish you could write in, but never will? Which one?
Hmmm, never say never, but I doubt I’ll ever write historical romance.

What would happen if you didn’t write?
If I didn’t write, I’d have a lot more time on my hands. That could mean trouble!

We have all experienced rejection. Give me an example of one you’ve had, and how you learned to write past it.
I had a plan to write for Harlequin when I started writing. My first submission was rejected. It was one of those “good rejections” (I actually received feedback from an editor) but it sent me back to the drawing board and resulted ultimately in indie publishing my first book.

What do you see as your writing goals 5 years from now?
I’m currently working on completing my first trilogy and a novella. I have at least two other trilogies in mind. Over the next five years, I want to write the best books I can and connect with as many readers as possible.

Any other comments or tips on writing that you’d like to add?
Writing keeps me curious, keeps me learning. I enjoy the creative and the business side of writing—and writers are an awesome, interesting bunch.