My time spent in the company of these two authors was the highlight of my adventures at RWA’s Annual Conference. They graciously lent their valuable time to share their thoughts at our AGM meeting at Nationals held in San Diego.
With our chairs pulled close it was an intimate gathering of ideas and techniques on how they build their worlds of small towns or communities. Below are some of their responses.
What are some thoughts on characters in your community?
Sheila Roberts (SR) says her character(s) reappear in her small town series. Each character has his or her on characteristic that is prevalent in each story they show up in. There’s the charming one or the gossipy one, etc. What draws readers to these characters is the idea of the close-knit neighborhood, i.e. community. They all try to take care of each other.
RaeAnne Thayne (RT) offers an example from her book, BLACKBERRY SUMMER, continuing the idea of community where the people all care for one another. In BLACKBERRY SUMMER, she shows how the whole town is affected by a car accident of a teen.
What makes your community unique?
RT says it’s geography—the place or location of story, it could be the school(s), it is all the parts of a place or setting for your imaginary town.
SR says she used the city of Leavenworth, Washington to create her fictional town of Icicle Falls.
How do you end a series?
RT tells us that she moved a character from an old series to create a new one. (Hope Crossing to Haven Point)
Do you have a specific theme?
RT’s running theme in her Haven Point series is healing. The lake and water represents that healing theme.
High concept books
SR tries to balance the coziness of a familiar neighborhood with a unique concept. (Eg: in WHAT SHE WANTS several men in town try to fix their woman problems using romance novels as tutorials.) She often centers her stories around Christmas. But usually with an unusual idea (EG: What happens when “Santa” loses his Christmas Spirit in THE LODGE ON HOLLY ROAD?... What happens – CHRISTMAS ON CANDY CANE LANE - when that “perfect” neighborhood that goes all out for Christmas encounters some imperfections?) Her inspiration—family members.
RT’s is also Christmas. It represents family.
How do you keep up with your “town”?
SR creates a Story Bible with town and all its characters in it.
RT laughs and says she’s had a book giveaway contest where she asked the name of a character in a particular book she’d written because she couldn’t remember the character’s name.
How do you feel about the books you write?
RT: I cry when I write some of my scenes.
RT and SR: They love parts of their books and hate parts of them.
Any random thoughts you have?
SR: When a book doesn’t sell well, the time’s not right. Perhaps you’re just ahead of your time.
Is the focus in your books more on women’s fiction issues or more on the romance?
SR says hers are more women’s fiction, such as, money problems for her character, diets, dealing with difficult people, etc. But she always has some romance in them as well.
RT says that her books are more on the romance, but she does explore relationships of mothers and daughters.
Who publishes your books?
RT—Harlequin HGN publishing
What type books do you read?
RT reads historical. Her nonfiction suggestion: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
SR reads John Grisham and other genres, such as The Nightingale; All the Light We Cannot See; Unbroken; and she reads nonfiction. Says it helps keep the creative juices flowing. One that she mentioned—The Writer’s Way.
How long before you felt you’d created a brand?
RT: When she’d written 25 books. Her books are centered on the characters and the emotions involved. She says she rereads reviews to see what readers liked about her books and this is what she decides to focus on.
What do you consider as your biggest problem with writing?
RT: Time to write
What is your process?
SR: She writes her synopsis first. Says you need a general idea, at the least. A synopsis is the “bones” of your story. Once you have the bones it’s a lot easier to build the rest of the body.
Do you have any suggestions or thoughts you’d like to share with us as writers?
SR: Take an old idea that’s been written about and give it a new twist.
RT: Believe in yourself. Cherish your abilities.
SR: Never stop learning. Remember you are in it for the long haul.