Friday, December 8, 2017

Fiction Friday: Interview with Sarah Andre

Today's interviewee is romantic suspense author Sarah Andre. I first met Sarah over breakfast on the last morning of the 2014 RWA® National Conference in San Antonio. It proved to be a fortuitous meeting because Sarah was up for a Golden Heart® that night.

Since I'd only recently joined my local RWA® chapter, I had no idea what a Golden Heart® (or a Rita®, for that matter) even was. Sarah explained that the GH is RWA's® top award for unpublished fiction. I immediately began dreaming of someday being a finalist.

To see how that turned out, go here. So, thanks for that, Sarah!

Sarah's books, including her most recent, Capturing the Queen, are available on Amazon.

Question 1: Your books are very dark. What draws you to the darker side of human nature?

I'm fascinated you used the descriptor 'dark.' My earliest craft memories are sitting through a Donald Maass course at my Houston chapter meeting in 2006 and not knowing who he was or a lot of the craft lingo he was using, but knowing from the awed expressions on my chapter-mates' faces that he was "The Authority" on all things writing. So when he preached his trilogy of 'tension on every page' 'make things worse' and 'no backstory until way into your novel' I was profoundly shaped by that.

I'm also hyper aware that the modern-day attention span is critically short so I write with the drumming thought of: how can I get the reader to turn this page? What else should go wrong? And then I write it. 

If you read my books in order you'll see the first is mostly a plot-driven approach to what can go wrong for my characters. Part of my growth was realizing (through critiques, edits and me devouring my favorite author, Kristan Higgins' books) that I lacked the ability to pull my readers' emotional strings. Subsequently each novel is still a race to survive and time-driven suspense, but it's more of a character study of what is going on inside my characters' heads as they face each obstacle. I'm fascinated by all that we humans hide inside, the effort it takes to keep our masks in place to the outer world, the misconceptions we have over events and other people's behaviors that then motivates us to react and often make things worse. So, where you say dark, I think of as real.

I am confident I'm on the right path with this emotional exploration because every time I release another book the feedback is: this is your best one yet.

Question 2: On Amazon, your publishers are listed as Entangled (for Locked, Loaded and Lying) and Beach Reads. Please contrast your experiences with these two publishers.

I waited 9 years for a publishing contract—I am the poster child for patience and perseverance! It was important for me to have a publishing company 'legitimize' my writing by offering me a contract which is why I waited so long instead of taking the self publishing route. The best part of publishing with Entangled in 2015 was I finally met my goal and I also worked with the editor of my dreams, Anya Kagan of Touchstone Editing. I've been with her for all my books because she freelances.

The hardest part of being under contract though, was the lack of control over basically everything. The publishing date, the cover, the price, when it goes on sale and for how long, what marketing is or is not being done... someone was calling the shots on every detail of my career. 

Since I'd only signed a one-book contract, after LLL came out I figured I'd see what self-pub was all about. I took online classes, gathered resources and re-worked the 2014 Golden Heart® novel into Tall, Dark and Damaged. I'm thrilled to say it was a great experience all around, ending with me garnering the Rita® call this year!

One thing the online self-pub courses recommend is establishing your own 'company' name, maybe an LLC if it works for you. Ergo, I titled my self-pub endeavor Beach Reads—because that's what I consider my romantic suspense novels to be: the perfect poolside/beach read.

The difference between being under contract and self-pubbing is vast. I really love being the boss of everything. I also like getting paid more per book (wink!) Editing is still the same (Anya) and I hire 2 copy editors, a proofreader and several betas in my neurosis over not uploading the final novel with a careless plot, or grammar or spelling errors. It's a lot of upfront costs, but I doubt I'll be able to go the traditional route ever again. The freedom to call all the shots is everything to me.

Question 3: According to your website, you started your first book on a plane to Italy. Tell us about the trip--any praying or loving?

For my 40th BD my husband gave me a 'let's go anywhere-do anything' present. Faced with that it literally took me 2 years to decide, 'cuz you don't want to screw that up, LOL! Seriously, dear reader, where would you go on your trip-of-a-lifetime?!...Climb Kilimanjaro? Go on a spa retreat to Canyon Ranch? Binge-shop through Paris? 

Well, the idea that sparked something in my heart was attending a week-long cooking class at a small Tuscan vineyard. This was June, 2004. I'd never been to Italy, and cannot truthfully say it was a country I'd yearned to see before deciding on that trip. But something about the write-up sounded so relaxing, adventurous and romantic! Kind of hit all needs, you know?

I swear there is something in the air there that ignites creativity and passion. I was literally on the flight over when, without a conscious thought of doing so, I opened a notebook and began writing the first page of the first story after years and years of ignoring my calling. The words poured out day and night. I wrote 50 pages by the time those 2 weeks were through. Long hand, stream of conscious sentences, the content very obviously a pantser romance. (Much to my shock. I'd stopped reading romance as a teen at camp.)

During the Tuscan cooking class (comprised of 11 Americans- 5 couples and a single woman) I became fast friends with the single woman, Jeannie. She was hilarious, larger than life and embraced adventures. After the trip was over we called each other almost daily and our biggest bond was missing that villa and that lifestyle. Missing the free personalities we'd been over there—fearless, joyful, creative. She was in awe that I could write, I was in awe that she had fantastical plotting skills. During one phone call we both came up with the idea to take a leave of absence from our jobs, go back to that villa and write an entire novel. And a few weeks later we did. (God bless my husband, who didn't blink at an eye at my abrupt and very obvious midlife crisis!) 

Jeannie and I stayed in Tuscany for 6 weeks.  Oh, the hilarious escapades! She ended up having an affair with the hottie vineyard owner, I ended up writing the novel, which was dreadful craft, a training novel—there's no other way to describe it.

Each week a new set of Americans arrived to take the villa's cooking class and were told by the Italian staff that 2 American women were writing a novel about their adventures in Italy. (Each week our fame grew.) We would attend the villa's weekly cocktail reception as 'the famous authors.' We told everyone about our plot: a single woman with a broken heart coming to Italy and finding herself again through her Italian adventures with the men, the food, the countryside. The reaction was ecstatic interest from everyone who heard it.

No joke—Eat, Pray, Love came out the next year! I will always wonder if the author was one of those cooking class participants listening to us blather on about the plot. :) 

Long story short, we do not regret one second of those 6 weeks, but Jeannie ended up with a broken heart and I ended up missing my hubby and pups to distraction. I came home with a completed novel and a passion to write that I could no longer deny. I gave her that story as a keepsake of our time there and went back to the one I'd started on the plane ride earlier that summer. It's also a training novel—under my bed and will stay there—but it's still my husband's favorite, isn't that funny?

Sarah Andre is a 2017 RITA® finalist, which is Romance Writers of America highest award of distinction. She lives in serene Southwest FL with her husband and two naughty Pomeranians. When she’s not writing romantic suspense novels, Sarah is either reading novels, exercising to rude alternative rock music or coloring. Yes, you heard right. She’s all over those coloring books for adults. 

Friday, December 1, 2017

November Progress Report

To refresh everyone, my goal is to release three books next fall (September/October/ November) and  then a boxed set of all three in December.

To make that goal, I need to finish the second draft of the second book in the trilogy, The Demon's in the Details, by the end of the year. I know this because I've done a fair amount of project management over the years and Rule One of project management is: Meet your intermediate milestones.

You may recall that, citing the pressure of the holidays, I set only a single goal for November: revise 125 pages.

I didn't make that goal, but I'm happy to report that I did get through 102 pages. (Rule Two of project management: When you miss a milestone, put a positive spin on it.) 

I'm now at the beginning of Act 3 and the manuscript exceeds 50,000 words. The finished book should run between 80,000 and 90,000 words--approximately 300-350 pages.

So, not goal, but not too shabby.

What makes me even happier is that I've reached a point that I think of as "critical mass," in the book. This is the point at which the writing starts to flow and I stop feeling like I'm extruding concrete with every single word.

For the past week I've been typing so much that by the time Old Dog gets home from work, the first words I say to him are "Rub my shoulders." Which he does because, after 20 years of marriage, he's still wonderful.

This is when writing starts to be fun. I wish it came sooner than 50,000 words, but it rarely does. It seems to take me that long to know my characters, and my story, well enough to just write.

The other thing that happened this month is that I checked the newsletter signups from my website and I have nine subscribers! That may not sound like much, but considering that I don't actually have a newsletter yet (or any books published), I'm pretty tickled. I have a nice little core of friends who support me that much.With an actual newsletter and actual books, the sky is the limit! (See how useful Rule Two is?)

My plan for December is:

1) Finish the book. That's a stretch, given that I have 30,000 to 40,000 words to go, but if critical mass continues, it's possible. Also, necessary if I'm going to hit next fall's target dates.

2) Put together my first newsletter, that will come out in January.

If any of you already subscribe to author newsletters, what kinds of things do you like to see? And those of you who so graciously subscribed to mine, what are you hoping to see?

Friday, November 24, 2017

Fiction Friday: What's Your Story?

A couple of years ago, at a writing workshop, I fell into conversation with another writer.

"What's your story?" she asked me.

I started to explain that I wasn't really far enough along with the book I was working on to provide a synopsis, but she shook her head.

"Not your book. What's your story?"

She'd once heard Julia Quinn explain that every author has a core story they tell over and over with various plots and characters. Something inside them makes them revisit this theme over and over.

For Julia, it's the marriage of convenience. Most of her books are about strangers forced to make a go of a relationship not of their choosing.

Other authors love the Cinderella story. They'll tell the poor-downtrodden-girl-meets-handsome-wealthy guy story over and over. Still others are suckers for second-chance-at-love or enemies-to-lovers or fake engagements or jilted brides.

Kay Keppler, one of my friends from Eight Ladies Writing, mentioned the other day that the most common trope among among self-published authors, it's billionaires (which is the Cinderella story.) Among Harlequin romances, it's cowboys. I haven't read any Harlequin's in a long time (except for medical romances written by my chapter-mater, Robin Gianna), so I don't know what the core stories are there.

Jenny Crusie, my former teacher at McDaniel's romance writing program and all-time favorite romance author, writes about women who have spent their entire lives fixing things for other people and finally decides to fix her own life.

(Thanks to  Eight Ladies Writing contributor, Jilly Wood, for that analysis.)

My own core story emerged a few years ago after I wrote a post inviting readers to chime in on which book I should work on next.  When I posted the link on Facebook, one friend commented that all my books seemed to be about "asshole guys who have to learn their lesson."

His comment made me laugh, but after I thought about it, I realized he was right. Jilly suggested an alternative view might be "woman with impossibly high expectations of herself learns not to demand so much." And she's got a point. While the guys in my books generally learn unselfishness and responsibility, the women mostly learn to lighten up on themselves.

So, what's your core story?

Friday, November 17, 2017

Fiction Friday: The Thin Line Between Alpha Heroes and Sexual Predators

Recently, I went back and read a make-out scene I'd written a couple of years earlier, where the guy basically shoves my heroine up against a lamppost, sticks his tongue down her throat and presses his erection against her belly. At the time I wrote it, it seemed sexy. It was also well justified because the male character was possessed by a demon. (Although the demon's actually the good guy and the bad behavior is all on the part of his human host, but that's a whole, quirky story--The Demon's in the Details, coming in October, 2017).

When I reread the scene in light of Harvey Weinstein/Kevin Spacey/Roy Moore/Louis C.K./Matt Taibbi/Al Franken/ad infinitum/ad nasuem, it didn't work for me anymore. I didn't like the hero for what he did, I didn't like the heroine for not punching him in the face for doing it, and I didn't like myself for perpetuating the myth that men who ignore a woman's right to affirmative consent are sexy.

I went back and rewrote the scene. My hero still has to be a little off-the-chain because of the whole demon-possession thing, but he at least starts by asking to kiss her.

I've seen other writers on Facebook say they're having the same experience--when they review scenes with alpha heroes making alpha sexual approaches to their heroines, they realize they're no longer comfortable with what they've written.

Here's the problem: alpha heroes tend to go from their gut. They trust their instincts, so when their instincts say the woman is interested and willing, they believe it. They're not given to lsecond-guessing themselves, or long, chatty conversations. None of this is a great setup for politely requesting affirmative consent.

On the other hand, it is doable. After the rise of AIDS back in the eighties and nineties, romance authors began mentioning condoms in their love scenes. These days, I rarely read a detailed love scene that doesn't specifically call out the use of a condom.

I suspect that, because of the Weinstein, et. al. (and it's starting to look like I do mean all--two of my state representatives have resigned in the past couple of weeks over unspecified "inappropriate behavior"), we'll start to see more explicit mention of affirmative consent. 

I think we may also see a rise in the number of beta and gamma heroes. Beta heroes are gentler than alphas, more sensitive to the heroine's needs, less prone to jealousy and general bad behavior. Gamma heroes are a mix of alpha and beta--the strength and the "bad boy" traits, but not possessive and arrogant, as the alpha tends to be. These guys would have no problem asking for affirmative consent.

What do you see in the future for romance heroes?

Friday, November 10, 2017

Fiction Friday: Interview with Priscilla Oliveras

I'm experimenting with a new type of post--an interview with a fellow author. My plan is to ask, not just easy questions, but challenging questions specific to this particular author, either through their body of work, or through how they present themselves on social media.

For my first-ever interview, I asked Priscilla Oliveras, a fellow RWA® 2015 Golden Heart® finalist. I chose Priscilla because she's kind of a hero of mine, for reasons I hope will become apparent as you read the interview. Priscilla's first book, His Perfect Partner, was released in October 2017.

Question 1:     You were a Golden Heart® finalist four times. What made you keep entering when your first final didn’t result in publication? 

Hardheadedness? ;-)

Probably my love for the genre and my desire to share the stories and characters I kept imagining. This is a tough business. Rejection, unfortunately, is a large part of it. Being an active member of RWA has blessed me with a great network of fellow romance authors--friends and mentors--whose successes and misses both inspire and fuel me. My family is a great source of support, too. They've encouraged me through all the ups and down, never giving up on me. So there's no way I was giving up on myself, either. 

Whether is was fate or faith or whatever you wanna call it, each of my GH finals seemed to come at a time when I needed the boost. When the reminder that maybe I wasn't just knocking my head against the wall, and maybe my goal of publishing had potential, soothed my psyche. Each final was the shot in the arm I needed at that specific moment. And the instant GH family that forms when you final is an incredible gift. 

Did I wish I had published sooner and no longer been eligible to enter the GH? Sure. But I'll take the good that comes my way and focus on that to keep fueling my desire to do better.

Question 2: Although in recent years RWA has begun to focus on diverse voices, the industry in general hasn’t been hospitable. What are your thoughts/feelings on that?

Unfortunately, this isn't a new issue. I mean, authors like Beverly Jenkins, Brenda Jackson and others have been calling for diverse voices to be heard and diverse characters to be the heroines and heroes on the page and book covers for decades. Thankfully that list of authors championing diversity is growing as more of us speak out. As a member in good standing, I'm proud that RWA is part of that cry of inclusivity for all. As a Latina author who writes about Latinx characters and families, it's important to me that all facets of all cultures and identities be represented in the books that are published and that more doors are opened for diverse authors penning the stories they want to tell.

At the heart of it all, I'm a romance writer who loves writing stories about people romance readers can fall in love with and family situations readers can identify with on some level. The fact that my characters are shaped by their cultural heritage provides an added layer, a texture rich in tradition that, if I've done my job correctly, enhances the story world for my readers.

Question 3: I know, from your postings on social media, that you have a warm and loving relationship with your dad. (You've made me cry more than once.) The father in His Perfect Partner is very ill. How did it feel to create a character that must be, in many ways, similar to your dad, and then subject him to life-threatening health issues?

Oh gosh, I still get teary-eyed when I think or talk about Papi, the Fernández sisters' father. Reynaldo (Rey) was a joy to write. I actually wrote several scenes in his point of view, but they were cut during one of my revision rounds. Don't despair, I still have those scenes and am considering releasing them between books 2 and 3 (Her Perfect Affair and Their Perfect Melody), or at some point down the road as the Fernández family continues growing.

You're right in that I have a really close relationship with my dad, as well as with my mom. Really, with pretty much all my family members. It's why I'm drawn to writing family-themed stories. Because good or bad (let's be real here), my family has shaped me, and I've shaped them. I wouldn't be the person I am today without their love and support, and the occasional spat. The stereotypical close-knit Latino family wouldn't be stereotypical if there weren't facets of it that were true. 

With that in mind, how did it feel to subject the sisters and Papi to his life-threatening health issue? Extremely difficult. Hopefully, that's a good thing, and I did Papi and the girls justice by creating believability on the page for the reader. That's really the pressure I feel when I'm writing. I love my characters, so I strive to write their stories in a way that will make readers fall in love with them, too.

As for Papi, he will always hold a special place in my heart. Just like my Papi does in real life.

Photographer/ fotógrafo: Michael A. Eaddy

PRISCILLA OLIVERAS is a Kensington Publishing author & four-time Golden Heart® finalist who
writes contemporary romance with a Latino flavor. Proud of her Puerto Rican-Mexican heritage, she
strives to bring authenticity to her novels by sharing her Latino culture with readers. Since earning an
MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, she serves as adjunct English faculty at her local college and also teaches an on-line course titled “Romance Writing” for ed2go. Priscilla is a sports fan, a beach lover, a half-marathon runner and a consummate traveler who often practices the art of napping in her backyard hammock. To follow along on her fun-filled and hectic life, visit her on the web at, on Facebook at or on Twitter via @prisoliveras.

PRISCILLA OLIVERAS es una escritora de Kensington Publishing y cuatro veces finalista del premio Golden Heart® la cual escribe romance contemporaneo con sabor Latino. Muy orgullosa de su herencia Puertorriqueña-Mejicana, se esfureza para llevar autenticidad a sus novelas compartiendo su cultura Latino con sus lectores. Desde completer su MFA en Escribiendo Ficción Popular de la Universidad Seton Hill, ella sirve como profesora adjunta de la facultad de Inglés y también enseña un curso on-line titulado “Escribiendo Romance” através de ed2go. Priscilla es una fanática del deporte, amante de la playa, corredora de medio-maratones y una viajera consumada la cual a menudo practica el arte de tomar siestas en la hamaca en su patio. Para seguirla en su divertida y agitada vida, visítela en el web, en Facebook o en Twitter através de @prisoliveras.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Fiction Friday: Dialogue Lessons

In October, I took an online dialogue class with Linnea Sinclair. It was a great class and I learned a lot. If you get an opportunity to study with Linnea, I highly recommend her.

One of the lessons had to do with beats, those bits of action that are interspersed with dialogue to illuminate a character's emotions, motivations or intentions. As an exercise, Linnea provided us with the following dialogue:

“I can’t believe you went out and bought one,” Erica said.
“Don’t you dare tell Kermit,” Vanessa replied.
“You think he’ll be angry?” Erica asked.
“It’s my money. I saved up for this.”
“Remember, I’m just a phone call away if you need me.” 

The assignment was to add beats to the existing dialogue to create depth. A lot of the students added beats that showed how concerned both women were about Kermit's potential reaction. This is what I came up with:

“I can’t believe you went out and bought one.” Erica stared at the frog-leg cooker on the kitchen table in horror.

“Don’t you dare tell Kermit.” Vanessa removed the fry basket and hefted it, as though calculating how many little green limbs it would hold.

Erica licked her lips and edged toward the door. “You think he’ll be angry?” 

Vanessa crossed her arms. “It’s my money. I saved up for this.” 

Erica's head nodded up and down like a Miss Piggy bobble-head as she backed away. “Remember, I’m just a phone call away if you need me.” 

The doorknob poked her in the small of the back. She whipped through the door and slammed it behind her.

Try your hand. What would you do with this dialogue?

Friday, October 27, 2017

Fiction Friday: October Progress Report

My overarching goal is to release three books next fall (September/October/November, and  then a boxed set of the three in December), but there are numerous milestones along the way to let me know if I have a prayer of hitting that target.

I accomplished the following in October:

1) Spark Creative Partners completed my website.

Okay, so that sounds like I'm taking credit for their work, but I'm the one that kept testing the site and prodding them to fix/make changes until we got it the way I wanted it. I also chose the font and the starting point for most of the graphics.

I'll be releasing it into the wild on Tuesday, October 31. (If you look before that, you'll see the crappy one I did as a student project back in 2013.)

I really like what they came up with. I hope you do, too.

2) I booked my editor, Karen Dale Harris, for three more engagements:
  • To do a second pass edit on Book One, The Demon Always Wins, starting in January
  • To do a first pass edit on Book Two, The Demon's in the Details, in March
  • To do a first pass edit on Book Three, The Demon Wore Stilettos, in June
3) I completed the revisions to The Demon Always Wins.

4) I completed the first hundred pages of the second draft of The Demon's in the Details.

5) I nailed down the concept for the covers. (See above.) The books are about temptation and trial, and I think the apple and snake convey that perfectly.

6) I also managed to fit in an online Dialogue class offered by From the Heart Romance Writers, an online chapter I belong to, and taught by award-winning author Linnea Sinclair. Fun class, and I learned some new tricks.

So, yay me!

Next month will be more challenging. The next hundred pages of The Demon's in the Details are a lot messier than the first hundred were. Many of them do not yet exist, so I won't be just rearranging furniture. I'll be building it, which takes a lot longer.

Also, November lands us squarely in the holiday season, which means my time is going to be split between writing and buying gifts for my six kids and twelve grandkids.

Consequently, next month's goal is limited to one thing: complete another 125 pages in The Demon's in the Details.

Fingers crossed!


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