WG: Welcome and thanks for stepping into my spotlight this month. To start off, please tell us about yourself.
RR: Thanks for having me, Winnie. It’s both a pleasure and an honor, especially since I’m such a big fan of you and your work.
As far as all things Renee, hmmm, let’s see. I grew up in a small beach town on the east coast of Florida. It was a great childhood, back during a time when parents shut us kids out of the house until dark-thirty. I lived most of my life barefoot, running between the beach, the pool and friends’ houses. The best part of growing up on a beach was that there was always something to do, even in the winter.
I never thought I would leave Florida, until I met my handsome husband and he moved me to Iowa. Believe it or not, I fell in love with the Midwest immediately. I adore the four seasons, especially the snow. Suddenly, all those Christmas songs made sense. My life motto is now: LET IT SNOW!
WG: Let’s talk about your own personal road to publication:
Is there some individual, group or event that you can point to as the catalyst/impetus that set you on the road to becoming a writer? Explain.
RR: I had an AHA moment during my years as a high school teacher. I taught pretty difficult (all right, boring) subjects – Economics. Latin and American Government. I soon learned that my students were more likely to pay attention if I presented the information in story form rather than straight lecture. It didn’t take me long to discover I was a storyteller by nature.
WG: Tell us about your journey.
RR: I didn’t decide to pursue writing seriously until my son started middle school and my daughter entered kindergarten. After my years as a high school teacher I had come to the conclusion that it was important to stay-at-home with my children as they got older. I’d watched too many kids get into trouble due to lack of parental supervision. I wanted to be on top of things. But I quickly found out that I wasn’t good with all that downtime during the day. I decided to try my hand at writing a novel, something I had threatened to do for years as a teacher, but found every excuse not to start. With all that free time, I had no more excuses and, looking back now, a lot to learn.
WG: How many books did you complete before you sold your first? Have all/any of them sold since?
RR: I completed six full manuscripts before I finally sold. The first five were terrible, and have long since been filed in the trash can where they rightfully belong. At the time, I thought I was better than I was. But I wasn’t studying the craft like I needed to be doing. My sixth attempt was my “almost novel” because I was finally learning the craft and applying my new found skills. The seventh manuscript, EXTREME MEASURES, was the winner, literally. I sold that one through a contest.
WG: What changed most about your life as a direct result of selling that first book?
RR: I wish I could say everything changed, but the reality is that not much changed. I was already acting like a working writer. I was writing consistently. I was finishing manuscripts and submitting them. Even my family was taking my commitment seriously. The only real difference was now I could add a genuine publishing credit to my query letters.
WG: What about your writing process:
Do you maintain a set schedule? Is there such a thing as a typical day for you?
RR: A typical day starts with getting my family off to work and school. I then take care of the cats, read/study my Bible, exercise, and then shower. Only after all of the above is complete can the writing begin. I find I have to have everything else settled before I’m able to focus. I usually start writing around 9:30 AM and go until I’ve met my daily goal.
WG: So tell us about those goals.
RR: When I’m in the first draft phase I have a daily page-count goal. When I’m in the later drafts I also have a page-count goal, but it varies according to how close I am to my deadline.
WG: Do you do a lot of up front plotting before you start or do you just dive in?
RR: I’m a plotter, but not in the traditional sense. I’m a character plotter. I decide who the people are going to be in the story. I don’t worry about what sort of clothes they wear or what they carry in their purse. No, I start by trying to figure out their deep, inner workings. What do they like, what do they dislike, what lies do they tell themselves? I then try to focus on how their minds work and whether that thinking helps them or hinders them in life. I ask myself what are their strengths? Their weaknesses? What do they need to learn and why do they have to learn it? After I know all that, I figure out the major plot points that will take them from where they are at the start of the novel to where they will end up. The “whys” never change, however the “hows” often do. Hmmm, maybe I’m not really a plotter or someone who writes by the seat of her pants. Maybe I’m something in between?
WG: Do you find certain themes or character archetypes making recurring appearances in your stories
RR: I find I’m very interested in exploring “sins of the heart”. We tend to hide those behind smiles and what I call “Sunday-School” answers. I like to explore what happens when my characters have to face their own flawed thinking and/or behavior. That always drives them to personal accountability as well as owning up to the consequences of their actions – another set of themes I tend to use a lot.
WG: What do you see as your own personal strengths as a writer?
RR: I think my biggest strength is my world-building, at least in my historical romances. None of us operate in a bubble. With that in mind, I love bringing an entire world alive for my readers, one that includes interesting secondary characters, animals, settings -- everything that makes up my hero and heroine’s everyday life.
WG: Do you have any advice to offer writers still striving toward publication?
RR: Finish manuscripts. It is the most important step to reaching publication. If you aren’t consistently finishing manuscripts before you sell you won’t be able to do so after you sell. Not only that, the only way any writer learns his/her own personal process is by actually writing all the way to the end.
WG: Rejections, less than stellar reviews and notes from unhappy readers are all part of this business. What is your own method for dealing with these and moving on?
RR: I have one, concrete solution that helps me face the negativity you’ve just mentioned: Focus on the next project. After all, rejections and bad reviews are for a finished project. That’s the past. It can’t be changed. What matters is the present. The current project. The here and now. The immediate. The…well, you get the point. :)
WG: Is there some piece of advice you received or bit of ‘conventional wisdom’ that you wish you had ignored?
RR: Never allow the hero and heroine to be apart for more than a few pages. I find that “rule” so incredibly confining and, worse, unrealistic to how most of us operate in real-life. No one lives in a bubble. The hero and heroine shouldn’t either. I’m not advocating a hundred-page separation, but I don’t think they have to be in every scene together either.
WG: I love to collect quotes, all kinds of quotes - inspirational, quirky, motivational, profound, etc. Do you have a personal favorite you'd like to share.
RR: Success comes through Commitment without Compromise. I love this quote because it reminds me to stay true to my beliefs, to remember that if I have to compromise any portion of my values in order to get ahead then it’s not true success.
WG: Please tell us about your current project.
RR: HANNAH’S BEAU is the second book in my CHARITY HOUSE series. Here’s the official blurb:
A career on the stage is deemed unseemly for any lady, let alone a preacher’s daughter. But then, actress Hannah Southerland is no ordinary lady. When a foolish elopement threatens her sister Rachel’s reputation, Hannah will risk everything to bring her home. Reverend Beau O’Toole, brother of Rachel’s paramour, agrees to help Hannah find the missing pair, but after that they must separate. Beau’s looking for a traditional wife—which Hannah is not. But could this unconventional woman be his perfect partner—in life and in faith?
WG: Tell us about your upcoming plans.
RR: I just completed a historical set in 1860s Kansas. HEARTLAND WEDDING is the second book in the Love Inspired Historical AFTER THE STORM continuity series and will be released in February 2010. I’m also working on a contemporary Inspirational story—a first for me. After focusing on historical fiction for so many years I’m finding the switch fun, interesting and challenging. VERY challenging.
WG: And before we close, tell us how your readers can get in touch with you.
RR: My web site address is: www.reneeryan.com
WG: Thanks so much for spending time with me and my readers this month. It was fun ‘chatting’ with you, as always!