I have a bachelor’s degree in Zoology and a master’s degree in Environmental Education. I worked for many years as a field biologist. Though I’ve always had an interest in writing, I had no formal training unless you count my high school English classes (which actually were pretty good). So how the heck did I end up writing romance?
In the midst of all the academia, I was a secret romance reader. It had to be secret, of course, since everyone knows romances are trash, right?
After many years I actually tried writing one, and I quickly realized that there is no finer method of teaching oneself the craft of fiction than to write a romance. You learn all about points of view and tension and backstory dumps and dialogue and conflict and story arc and happy endings.
It took me seventeen years – seventeen long years – to get my first book published because…well, I’m a slow learner. Too much academia stuffed into my head, I guess.
Now that you have those 17 years of experience under your belt, what advice would you give to new writers just starting out?
Write, of course. You should write and write and write, every day if possible. Like any craft, you’ll need practice. Do you think concert pianists just – play? No. They practice endless hours before they get up on stage.
But almost as important, submit what you write. Send it out. Learn to write queries and synopses. Don’t worry about getting rejections – listen, after seventeen freaking years I have every possible rejection under the sun. So what? What’s a rejection? A piece of paper. File yours away with pride because it means you’ve just accomplished something.
Then learn from your rejections. If an editor says that the external conflict is not strong enough to sustain the story through the entire book (as one of my last rejects said), then pay attention. Learn what it would take to increase the external conflict in either that book or a future book.
Then write some more.
What do you find most difficult about writing? What do you find most exciting or rewarding?
The most difficult thing about writing is actually writing, of course. That goes without saying. Trust me, having written is a lot more fun than actually writing.
Surprisingly, at least for me, I’ve never been discouraged by rejections. It’s just part of the game, so I can’t really say that’s the most difficult thing about writing. The most exciting or rewarding thing about writing is to take a flash of an idea and outline it so that you can see the shape of a book emerging. Recently, for example, a random line on a radio show caught my ear, something about Pygmalion. I thought, “What kind of story can I make from re-creating the Pygmalion concept?” My husband and I hashed out a rough plot, and I’ve filed it away for a future book. What fun!
How do you balance writing with the rest of your life?
That’s funny – balance – ha ha!
Seriously, as with so many other writers, it’s a juggling act. My husband and I have a home business. While this might sound cozy, the trouble with a home business is that it’s at home – you’re never off work. We work long hours in our business – I think our record during one busy season was 110 hours in one week. Fortunately it’s not usually that bad.
In addition, we homeschool our two daughters, who are nine and eleven years old.
In addition again, we have a small farm (we call it a homestead), which means I milk two cows every morning as well as care for the livestock, garden, and orchard. I like to joke that we’re doing the three H’s: homesteading, homeschooling, and home business-ing.
Since I’m so busy, I get up at ungodly hours to write, often 3:30 a.m. It’s my only quiet time, the only time I don’t have kids asking for clarity on a quote from Thomas Paine or to explain osmosis or help divide decimals, the only time I’m not likely to hear the cry “The cows are out!” (although sometimes I hear the clack-clack-clack of hooves in the driveway during the wee hours), the only time I don’t feel guilty for not sanding or bandsawing or gluing or other woodworking duties.
The early mornings are mine. I guard them jealously. I start by stoking the fire in the woodstove if it’s winter, making my first cup of tea, and then reading the news on the internet while I wake up (we don’t have television reception in our area so we get no TV news). I answer my emails, and then I get to work writing.
Now evenings are a different matter. It’s almost impossible for me to stay up past ten o’clock. Usually I go to bed right after the kids do. My husband is a night owl, so late evenings are his quiet time.
Since we live and work together 24/7, my husband and I learned that we need our private decompression time to stay sane. With me being an early bird and him being a night owl, it works beautifully.
It sounds as though you have found a way to carve out time to write despite your very busy days. Do you ever suffer from writer's block? If so, what do you do about it?
Almost every time a manuscript isn’t flowing – if I’m blocked and can’t seem to progress – it’s because something is wrong with my story arc. Perhaps my external conflict isn’t strong enough. Or the internal conflict is weak. Or the goal of either the hero or heroine is wrong. Or their motivation is lacking. But somewhere in the outline, something is missing.
So I fuss and fume and stall and stare at my computer screen and pick at my fingernails and look for something to vacuum or dust or…or…or anything but write, because something isn’t working.
As an example, I had nearly finished writing a book (my first to be published, a contemporary suspense called Saving Grace, but got stuck because the ending wasn’t working. After building up all the drama throughout the story, the ending was…well, flat. Boring. Anticlimactic.
I figured out it was because I was trying not to write the show-down. I’d never written anything like that before, and frankly I wanted to avoid the bloodshed. I realized I had to write the fear and terror my heroine would experience while facing her murderous stalking ex-husband…and so I gritted my teeth and wrote it.
And Oh. My. God. It was powerful. I’d never written anything like that, and the aftermath scene, with the heroine in the hospital recovering, still brings me to tears (and I wrote it!).
So face what’s wrong with your manuscript – get another opinion if need be – and fix it. Then your writer’s block will end.
This kind of writer’s block is different than your standard procrastination and miscellaneous avoidance tactics to get out of writing…like dusting the ice cube trays or alphabetizing your spice rack. You’re on your own there. Gotta plant the butt in the chair.
Describe your writing space for us (or include a picture!)
My office. My office! How I love my office.
For years my husband and I shared the same desk crammed in a corner, and we shared the same computer as well. But eventually I got the laptop I’d always wanted. And then my wonderful fabulous husband remodeled a portion of the house and literally carved a slope-roofed nook half-way up a flight of stairs….just for me. That’s how much he loves me.
And it’s mine, all mine. It’s tiny, only six by eight feet, with room for a writing surface, a couple of small bookshelves, and two small file cabinets. But it’s mine! (Or did I mention that already?)
Now I don’t have to pack away any research books or tidy my desk if I don’t feel like it. I don’t have to worry about things getting misplaced or lost. I have my reference books, I have my favorite romances, I have my office supplies, my manuscripts, my rejection letters, my contracts…it’s all in my office. And it’s mine!
Okay, I’ll stop hyperventilating. (See photo. Of the office, not me hyperventilating.)
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
Read, of course. Reading is a passion in our house, and we own somewhere around three thousand books. I do a lot of stuff in the kitchen – making cheese and yogurt from our surplus milk, baking, cooking, washing dishes, canning, that kind of thing. The kitchen table is where I fold laundry and supervise the kids’ schoolwork, frequently at the same time.
Outdoors, depending on the time of year, you might find me watering the berry patch or garden, splitting wood (usually with a wood-splitter), feeding the livestock, walking to the mailboxes (three miles round trip), walking to our pond, chasing the cows out of the chicken coop, hanging laundry out to dry, watering the horses, mowing the lawn.
In the shop you might find me at the sander or the bandsaw or the tablesaw.
Come visit our homestead under the “My Life” section on my website...
Patrice, thank you for a truly wonderful interview today - happy writing to you! readers, want to leave a comment? Remember every time you do, you're entered into my drawing for Jenna Kernan's novel Outlaw Bride...giveaway happening in less than 2 weeks!