The Going to the Chapel Contest is off to a great start! During our weekend break, A Slice of Orange is bringing you an interview with Charlene Sands. Charlene will be giving an online class on the Top Ten Writing Mistakes beginning June 12th and running through July 9th. You can find out more about the class here.
Charlene Sands remembers how difficult it is to sell that first book. The truth is itâ€™s difficult to sell every book. But itâ€™s easier when you know what not to do. And after 17 novels, she knows what not to do. In her class Top Ten Writing Mistakes, Charlene will discuss mistakes that bog manuscripts down, classic taboos to avoid and common mistakes even experienced writers make. Here she talks about why she never gave up, what she loves about writing romance, and (of course) mistakes!
Q – To what do you attribute your success?
A â€“ My fatherâ€™s never-say-die attitude and OCC/RWA. The first is self-explanatory and as for OCC/RWA, Iâ€™ll always give our chapter credit for being the best, most generous, most informative, friendly place for a serious writer.
Q â€“ When you were just starting out, how did you keep those rejections from getting you down?
A â€“ I love this question. The truth is I did let it get me down â€“ for a day or two â€“ then Iâ€™d get good and mad. Determination spurred my creativity. Iâ€™d say, okay, they want a story with more emotion â€“ Iâ€™ll give them more emotion. Or, okay, they need a stronger conflict then Iâ€™ll give them a stronger conflict. There. Take that.
Q â€“ Youâ€™re giving an online class on the Top Ten Writing mistakes authors make. Which of those mistakes did you make when you first started out?
A â€“ Iâ€™m an expert at making mistakes. Iâ€™ve made all of them! Thatâ€™s why I felt the need to do this class. Newer writers can benefit from learning what bogs a manuscript down, what editors are looking for, what compels a story and how to keep all your ducks in a row. There are lots of hurdles in the way and you have to have your manuscript in top form to reach the finish line.
But to answer your question, the worst mistakes I made had to do with conflict and characterization. Editors want to see a multi-dimensional character, one with strengths, weaknesses and a compelling history. Newer writers often donâ€™t â€œgetâ€ that entirely. None of us have only one goal, one outstanding trait, weâ€™re multi-dimensional people.
Q â€“ In your class you also plan to talk about classic taboos to avoid, yet many authors have successfully broken taboos. What do you think the trick is in successfully writing a taboo in your manuscript?
A – I can only speak of category romance right now, since Iâ€™m most experienced in that â€“ but my advice to new writers is DONâ€™T DO IT. Maybe one person in thousands gets that break with a remarkable story, but most writers canâ€™t pull it off. I once tried to have my western heroine be a victim of rape (without even putting in a real-time scene, just as back story) and my editor wouldnâ€™t allow it. They are very attuned to reader expectation and author reputation. Meaning, if I had maybe 50 books under my belt, my readers might have given me license to do it, but my editors didnâ€™t want to take a chance on alienating my newer readership. I wasnâ€™t happy, but I understood. After all, my aim as an author is to build my readership and gain their trust â€“ and you know, the story worked just as well, was just as emotional and was extremely well reviewed without it. I say â€“ a true writer can write a great story without breaking any rules. Why give the editors a reason to reject you?
I do feel differently for single titles. Maybe thereâ€™s more room for breaking a rule, like when Susan Elizabeth Phillips wrote about football stars. I happen to love heroes in sports and think itâ€™s very sexy, but remember â€“ that was SEP breaking rules. Not an average, first time out, writer. Save that for later, when you have some clout and editorial backing behind you.
Q – In researching your class, you polled editors. Which mistake did they find the most and/or most frustrating?
A â€“ Youâ€™ll have to take the class!
Q â€“ Whatâ€™s the best advice you ever received?
A – When I spoke of my chances of ever getting published, my dear wise friend Geraldine Sparks told me, â€œDonâ€™t believe in the odds. Believe in yourself.â€ That advice stuck like glue.
Q â€“ You write both historical and contemporary. Which is your favorite time period to write? Why?
A â€“ I donâ€™t have a favorite. I like doing them both equally. To date, Iâ€™ve done seven of each for Harlequin. With my westerns (the only ones I write are Americana) I have a lot of freedom with the heroine. She can be pure and innocent, or feisty and spirited or both. My heroes are always rugged self-made men and the conflicts are sometimes easier to write. But, contemporaries require less research and take less time and I really do have a good grip on the Desires. I feel I was made to write them.
Q – Youâ€™re known for your Western historicals and contemporaries. What is it that so draws you to write about the American west?
A â€“ I have always loved history. My father was an avid historical reader, reading four thick non-fiction historical books a week and then making them come to life with his storytelling abilities. I cherished those times with him. His stories and depictions stayed with me. Ever since, Iâ€™ve been very passionate about our country and the great men and women who had a hand in forming our government and our society. Of course, Iâ€™m especially of fond of those sexy cowboys, sheriffs and ranchers. Then as a teen I found, Little Joe on Bonanza, Clint Walker on Cheyenne, Ty Hardin on Bronco … you get my meaning. (Big grin here)
Q – Your next book Heiress Beware comes out next month. What did you love about writing it?
A â€“ Heiress Beware is my first continuity. I was invited to do it by Melissa Jeglinski, senior editor at Desire. She writes an amazing bible of plots, conflicts and characters and then twelve authors, one per month, get to make the stories real and the characters come to life. I really loved writing this, because my hero is a small town sheriff who finds a woman suffering amnesia from a blow to her head. The continuities lend to an authorâ€™s strengths and mine, I hope, is writing about a sheriff. I contacted a sheriff in Colorado and she, along with my mother-in-law, a one time Texas county deputy sheriff, helped with my research. That part was a lot of fun. I also loved working with the other authors on the project, making sure our characters are true in each book they appear in.
Q – Which is your favorite of your books? Why?
A â€“ I love my upcoming August Desire, Bunking Down with the Boss. It is packed with emotion. I think will stand out as my all-time favorite contemporary. Sam Beaumont is a man drifting, running away from his past, who refuses to forgive himself for the death of his little daughter. Hiding his identity as a high-powered CEO, he comes to work for a lovely widow, whose own child is temporarily living with her grandparents while she gets her livelihood back on track. Both characters are injured emotionally and yet they have a striking physical attraction to each other. The man who wants no family ever again â€“ falls for a single mother with a child the same age as his deceased daughter. Needless to say, the conflict is strong, the emotions are deep and the love that can never be, is almost that.
Q – What do you love about writing romance?
A â€“ The journey that leads us to the happy ending.
Dana Diamond is the OCC/RWA Secretary, a columnist for OCC’s award winning Orange Blossom Newsletter, a contributor to The Writer’s Vibe and hard at work on her next book. For more on Dana and her interview with Charlene Sands, be sure to visit Danaâ€™s blog at: http://thewritersvibe.typepad.com/the_writers_vibe/