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Rita Clay Estrada – On Writing

October 8, 2006 by in category Archives tagged as ,

Author RITA CLAY ESTRADA is RWA’s first president and the co-founder of OCC whose contributions to the romance genre led the national organization to name its highest honor – the RITA Award – in her honor.

Join us at our 25th Anniversary Party on Oct. 14 for a chance to thank this romance legend.

For the complete interview with Rita, look no further than the October issue of Orange Blossom.

Today on A Slice of Orange, Rita talks about her writing.

Q – A lot has been said about your book, THE IVORY KEY.

According to Debbie Macomber’s and Paula Eykelhof’s article, Romancing The Store, “The first paranormal romance read by many contemporary readers was Rita Clay Estrada’s The Ivory Key, a Harlequin Temptation published in the early 1980s. The hero was a time-traveling ghost. Any other publisher would have laughed at the concept. But no one’s laughing anymore. Stories about vampires, ghosts, werewolves—they’re all selling.”

And a reader review states, “This book has intrigued me since I first read it over 10 years ago. She writes with such reality it made the book so believable. I wore out the copy of this book many years ago but continue to read it again and again. It is worth the search to find a copy. I am trying to find out if she wrote a sequel.”

Will there be a sequel to The Ivory Key?

A – No. I thought of it at one time, but it would never be as powerful as the first, so why bother? I don’t want to compete with myself, I want to do something new and different and make it the best I can.

Q – What inspired it?

A – Originally, the Ghost and Mrs. Muir.

When I first decided to write out of the closet, I went to work in a B. Dalton Bookstore. I was manager and worked with two awesome women: Nicole Ball and Anita Solomon. Both are still in the business and Nicole is now in corporate Headquarters. Late at night I would start talking, attempting to work out that plot. Anita would throw in a thought and it spurred me on. However, it was the first story I thought of before I sold my first book. It didn’t come out until much later in my career – nobody wanted to touch it.

Q – What is it that you love about this story?

A – The endless possibility of those parallel worlds Einstein believed existed.

Q – What else can you tell us about it or the writing of it?

A – By the time I started writing it for real, I was in the middle of ending a 29 year marriage and it was not a pleasant time. I think I buried myself in the writing.

Q – What are you working on now? Can you tell us about your next project?

A – I just finished a story that has rattled around in my brain for a while until I finally put it on paper. The working title is Sweet Charity, the story of a spoiled woman who lost her way into womanhood and has to get back on path again.

Q – Which of your heroes is your favorite? Why?

A – Armand in Ivory Key was so wonderfully chauvinistic. Ben in Too Wicked to Love was so badly damaged by his parents. Both were redeemable by the love of a good woman. What more could they want?

Q – Which of your heroines is your favorite? Why

A – Dianne in Wise Folly or Catherine in A Woman’s Choice. Both had hang-ups and had to change or dry up.

Both did.

Women rule…

Dana Diamond is the OCC/RWA Secretary, a columnist for OCC’s award-winning newsletter Orange Blossom, a contributor to A Slice of Orange, and hard at work on her next book.

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Rita Clay Estrada – On RWA

October 7, 2006 by in category Archives tagged as ,

You think the publishing industry is hard now?

Try 26 years ago. There was no easy way to find reliable information about the craft or editors and agents. Or to find other writers to share your joy, support and knowledge.

It took one hell of a strong lady to change all that. Her name is Rita Clay Estrada. For the complete interview with Rita, look no further than the October issue of Orange Blossom.

But because she had so many fascinating and insightful things to say that we didn’t have room for, every weekend in October we will have interview extras. Today Rita talks about RWA.

Q – What is your favorite part of attending the RWA National conference? Why?

A – The people. The classes. The free-flow of information all around you. The late night chats in hotel rooms and bars. The celebration of our career-life choices. My head spins all the way home – but I also have had my creative cup filled again.

Q – What do you attribute RWA’s success and longevity in the industry to?

A – RWA began as a dream and sharing experience for the benefit of all and not just one group or another. In the beginning it was tough to keep it that way, but our stubbornness willed out.

I honestly believe that the act of sharing with our fellow writers is the one force that gives us staying power AND strength. Strong women are the most awesome creatures on the face of the earth. We celebrate that fact all the time, not only in our writings but in our actions. RWA allows us all to shine and share. Goodness. We’re also our own best audience!

Lastly: we metamorph into anything the publishing world wants or thinks it wants. And if they haven’t thought of it, we’ll supply them with it anyway.

Author RITA CLAY ESTRADA is RWA’s first president and the co-founder of OCC whose contributions to the romance genre led the national organization to name its highest honor – the RITA Award – in her honor. Join us at our 25th Anniversary Party on Oct. 14 for a chance to meet this romance legend.

Dana Diamond is the OCC/RWA Secretary, a columnist for OCC’s award-winning newsletter Orange Blossom, a contributor to A Slice of Orange, and hard at work on her next book.

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Barbara McCauley – Candid Talk With A Rita Winner

September 2, 2006 by in category Archives tagged as

To win a RITA, you have to have it all…timing, talent, tenacity…and a heart-wrenchingly good book no reader can resist.

Barbara McCauley has all that and the statuette to prove it. Her MISS PRUITT’S PRIVATE LIFE won her the RITA for Best Short Contemporary in 2005.

In September’s Orange Blossom she candidly talks about what it was like to pass the torch, the reality of the after glow and how her friends are the best part of writing.

Here in our extended interview on A Slice Of Orange she bravely talks about fear and how she gets past it.

Q – After over 30 books, do you ever learn something new about writing or yourself as a writer?

A – I’m always learning something new, about my writing and myself. My last book I let fear paralyze me and it was truly painful. I’m determined not to let that happen again.

Q – What paralyzed you? What were you afraid of?

A – Listening to the negativity, especially surrounding the “new guidelines” for the line I write for. There was a lot of “buzz” regarding the changes taking place and I began to question whether I was able to “fit” into the new parameters.

Once I let that fear in the door, it simply took over and consumed me. Doesn’t matter I’ve been doing this 15 years and I’ve published over 30 books, my confidence took a nosedive. For a writer and the creative process, this is a dangerous road.

Q – You said you are determined not to let that happen again. What are you doing to not let that happen again?

A – I do a lot of things to hold fear at bay. Just a few are: reminding myself to be my own best friend, picking up an older book and re-reading a passage or scene I enjoyed writing, taking a hard look at the book I’m writing and holding onto the initial spark that made me want to write that story, taking care of myself physically and emotionally (this would be a long list itself) re-reading “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway” by Susan Jeffers.

Most important–it’s cliche, but true, BELIEVE IN YOURSELF.

Q – How is it working?

A – Depends on which hour you ask me. (Smiling)

If you need a suspenseful beach read for this last gasp of summer, be sure to pick up Barbara’s latest, NIGHTFIRE. And for another surefire good read, her next in the SECRETS! series, BLACKHAWK’S BETRAYAL, comes out in October.

Dana Diamond is the OCC/RWA Secretary, a columnist for OCC’s award-winning newsletter Orange Blossom, a contributor to A Slice of Orange, and hard at work on her next book.

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Chris Vogler – Legendary Writing Coach

August 2, 2006 by in category Archives tagged as

“You’ve got to pick up Chris Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey!” That’s what I tell any newbie who asks me for writing advice.

So when I found out I could see him at OCC’s Autumn Affaire, I was beyond thrilled. But excited as I was, I wondered what more could I possibly learn that I didn’t already learn in his book? His answers will surprise and fascinate you. You’ve got to go to Autumn Affaire!

Q – A long-time fan of The Writer’s Journey, I’m thrilled to have the chance to attend your workshop. What kind of information will we see in your workshop that we won’t find in your book?

A – These days I am interested in polarities, the way people tend to become polarized in relationships and stories tend to be split between poles of good and evil, young and old, idealistic and cynical, depressed and hopeful, etc. I’ve been working out for myself a theory of how story-telling evolved and what purpose it serves. Since the book was written I’ve continued to develop my thinking about how the story actually impacts the organs of the body, and I’ll be talking about how we can use that knowledge to tell better stories.

Q – That reminds me of something I saw on your website. You say that when you evaluate a story, your criterion is that they have to affect you “in at least two organs of the body.” What two organs? Can you explain?

A – He’s got a brilliant answer to this one, but you’ll have to see it in Orange Blossom. You can receive it by e-mail. Sign up for Orange Blossom today!

Q – When evaluating projects, you seem to rely more heavily on gut reactions than story paradigms and trends you’ve studied. Is that true? Why?

A – Actually, I use it all. An axiom of mine is “Nothing is wasted.” Every single script or project is different, requiring different language and tools. I’m working for Paramount now and I’m using everything I ever learned. One day I’m quoting Robert McKee or Michael Hauge to make a point, the next day I’m using a principle from Aristotle or Shakespeare. I dipped into the history of vaudeville recently and found a whole new set of principles for arranging an evening’s entertainment, an area of knowledge I call “Showmanship”. The Hero’s Journey language is certainly useful, especially when I’m dealing with someone who is already versed in it.

Q – The Hero’s Journey began as a legendary seven-page memo that you wrote for your own amusement while working at Disney in the 80’s. It soon became required reading for young executives in Hollywood. In what capacity were you working at Disney when you wrote that memo?

A – I was a story analyst, reading and reporting on eight to ten scripts a week and occasionally doing story notes and research projects. I was in the process of carving a niche for myself as a consultant by showing interest in certain genres, like comic books, science fiction, historical fiction, horror, and fantasy.

Q – What was the catalyst that made you write it?

A – I had discovered Joseph Campbell’s work in mythology while in film school and had written a paper about it, an essay which I carried with me when I became a story analyst. I showed it to various people, writers, executives, other story analysts, when we got to talking about the principles of story-telling. It was the foundation of the memo. I could see that at Disney, memos were a way of getting into the corporate mind, a way of transmitting ideas and expressing a vision, for a specific project or for the entire industry. I had the feeling that in Campbell’s work I had discovered something very useful for the movie industry, and I needed to go through the formal exercise of correlating Campbell’s stages of the hero’s journey with what I perceived happening in movies. So I wrote the memo and started circulating it around the studio.

Q – Whatever happened to the memo that started it all?

A – It spread all over town by fax and xerox like a virus. It was plagiarized a number of times, once by a young Disney executive who threw away my cover page and put his own name to it. So I knew I had something worth stealing. I added to the original seven-page version eventually, doubling and tripling its length, but there was something magical about the starkness of the earliest version. People place an almost superstitious value on finding a copy of the seven-pager. I don’t know if I even have one.

Q – How did you originally intend for writers to use The Writer’s Journey?

A – I hoped people would use it as a rough guide to structure, a framework against which they could compare their own stories. I never wanted it to be a cookbook or a book of rules, but rather something to inspire people and invite them to think more deeply about the purpose and design of stories. You can use it to outline a story in the early stages of development, or you can use it as a diagnostic tool once the story is written, checking each part to see that it is doing its job.

Q – How do you feel when you see students rigidly adhering to The Writer’s Journey as a “story cookbook”?

A – It disappoints me and makes me uncomfortable, that’s how! If you only look at the map, you’ll never see the sights or experience the wonderful lucky mistakes and wrong turns that sometimes lead you to totally new worlds.

Q – Many writer’s keep your book in mind while writing their projects. What is something you keep in mind when you are writing your personal projects?

A – I am always trying to make complex subjects and time periods accessible and interesting to the reader and viewer. I like densely interwoven stories from history and mythology. I am like a traveler who has spent a lot of time in these distant places in my imagination, and now I have to bring some of it back in a form that people can handle and enjoy, without having to spend years there themselves.

Q – You studied film at the USC School of Cinema, ended up at Disney and then went on to write one of the most influential guides on writing for our time. What were your original career plans?

A – I was trained as a journalist at the University of Missouri and had thought I would be some kind of foreign correspondent. I caught the film bug there and it got worse when I joined the Air Force and became a documentary filmmaker for them. While at USC I imagined I would be a screenwriter or director and didn’t anticipate quite the way things have turned out, although I did foresee that Campbell’s ideas were useful and would have a big impact on the industry.

Q – Though your company, Storytech, offers services to writers of all mediums, it seems geared towards helping screen-writers. How are the challenges of guiding screenplays different or similar to guiding novels?

A – It’s no different except that novels can afford to have a different, more sprawling structure than a screenplay. A screenplay has to be like a simple bridge with two or three sets of piers and arches, while a novel can connect the basic elements into almost infinite spans with more levels and offshoots. In scripts a great deal of material that can be easily described in a novel has to be artfully crammed into nothing but the words and pictures, what people are doing and saying. Of course there are special skills in novel-writing – how to describe things, how to handle dialogue, how to end chapters, etc.

Q – What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

A – Joseph Campbell told me “You go with this stuff, young man, it’ll take you a long way.”

Q – What is the worst?

A – When I applied for a job with a TV producer very early in my career, he told me I needed to go to a bar, get drunk, and get into a fight with some sailors.

Q – Are there any words of inspiration on your computer, in your office or in your mind when you write or guide another writer?

A – On the bulletin board by the computer: “There must be a beginning to any great matter but the continuing on to the end until it is thoroughly finished yields the true glory.” Sir Francis Drake

Q – What do you attribute your success and longevity in the industry to?

A – One thing seems to have served me well and that’s enthusiasm. I really, really like my genres – science fiction, fantasy, children’s lit, myth, etc. – and I let my employers know it. I claim territory and they seem happy to let me work on projects in my areas. Fortunately my genres make good special effects movies and are popular right now so there is a lot of work.

I also have a Germanic strain of thoroughness and I will attack a subject with more detail and depth than most people would bother with.

Q – Have you ever suffered writer’s block? If so, how did/do you get past it?

A – Aggh! Terrible writer’s block. One of the great things to deal with that is Julia Cameron’s idea of “morning pages” from THE ARTIST’S WAY, bless her heart. That got me writing something every day and made it habitual and much, much easier. I also learned from Natalie Goldberg who teaches that it is truly and simply making words flow through your fingers into the pencil or into the keyboard. The other key is having somebody else setting deadlines for me since I can’t do that for myself. A deadline is a great blessing.

Q – What are you dying to try next?

A – I want to write something very personal about the wonderful experience of moving to a farm with my family when I was twelve years old. In another book I want to set down the story of how story-telling came to be and some of the principles I believe in.

Q – Can you give me a statement that defines you or your career or where you are at in your life/career right now?

A – I am still a seeker of meaning and purpose. My major work is trying to understand how stories came to be and how they can be used to heal and transform.

Q – What is the one thing you’ve never been asked, but you wish someone would?

A – How did stories come to be? I could talk your arm off on that one.

For more with Chris Vogler join me at OCC’s Autumn Affaire. I’m hoping to get him to talk our arms off about how stories came to be, but I have a feeling that whatever he discusses will surprise and inspire us.

Dana Diamond is the OCC/RWA Secretary, a columnist for OCC’s award winning newsletter, Orange Blossom, a contributor to The Writers Vibe and hard at work on her next book. For more on Dana and her interview with Chris Vogler, be sure to visit Dana’s blog at: www.danadiamond.blogspot.com

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June 3, 2006 by in category Archives tagged as ,

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 it’s difficult to sell every book. But it’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 – My father’s never-say-die attitude and OCC/RWA. The first is self-explanatory and as for OCC/RWA, I’ll always give our chapter credit for being the best, most generous, most informative, friendly place for a serious writer.

Q – When you were just starting out, how did you keep those rejections from getting you down?

A – I love this question. The truth is I did let it get me down – for a day or two – then I’d get good and mad. Determination spurred my creativity. I’d say, okay, they want a story with more emotion – I’ll give them more emotion. Or, okay, they need a stronger conflict then I’ll give them a stronger conflict. There. Take that.

Q – You’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 – I’m an expert at making mistakes. I’ve made all of them! That’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 don’t “get” that entirely. None of us have only one goal, one outstanding trait, we’re multi-dimensional people.

Q – 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 I’m most experienced in that – but my advice to new writers is DON’T DO IT. Maybe one person in thousands gets that break with a remarkable story, but most writers can’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 wouldn’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 didn’t want to take a chance on alienating my newer readership. I wasn’t happy, but I understood. After all, my aim as an author is to build my readership and gain their trust – and you know, the story worked just as well, was just as emotional and was extremely well reviewed without it. I say – 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 there’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 it’s very sexy, but remember – 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 – You’ll have to take the class!

Q – What’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, “Don’t believe in the odds. Believe in yourself.” That advice stuck like glue.

Q – You write both historical and contemporary. Which is your favorite time period to write? Why?

A – I don’t have a favorite. I like doing them both equally. To date, I’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 – You’re known for your Western historicals and contemporaries. What is it that so draws you to write about the American west?

A – 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, I’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, I’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 – 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 author’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 – 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 – 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 – 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 Dana’s blog at: http://thewritersvibe.typepad.com/the_writers_vibe/

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