RR: Times have sure changed. When I first started writing, our daughter was a preschooler and our boys were in grade school. Now, she is in college, our middle son is starting an MBA program, and our older son is married with two young children--and he's going back to college, too. The house is much quieter.
I think I always hoped for the reverse of your question: that my hard work on the long road to publication--and all the hard work afterwards--would inspire our kids to pursue their dreams...and would teach them that almost any dream is possible if one is willing to work hard, and stay on course.
CB: And the many pets?
RR: Right now, our head count is the lowest it's been in years! We are down to three horses, two rambunctious border collies, eight fluffy, friendly barn cats, and Mr. Fish--a giant goldfish who summers in the tropics (our horse water tank) and winters in our guest room. We had just about every sort of reptile, rodent, furred or feathered creature you can imagine during the years the kids were growing up. The one that I don't miss too much was Sid the Snake. He stayed home when Brian first went off to college, which meant that I had to feed him, and I really, really felt bad about those poor little mice. Sid now lives with a kindergarten teacher. Whew!
Animals of all kinds have played a part in quite a few of my books, and continue to be a big part of my life now. In fact, I recently started a blog called "the all creatures great and small place" where authors have been posting all sorts of amusing stories on their animals, complete with pictures.
CB: You’re also a dietitian and work part time. When do you find the time to write such wonderful books?
RR: I work 20 hours a week, which leaves several days for writing during the week. During pressing deadlines, I also write during the evenings and on weekends. When things were much more hectic at our house, I usually went to a motel for several long weekends with my laptop when deadlines loomed.
CB: How did you get started in writing?
RR: A friend owned a horse magazine and asked if I would write humorous feature articles for her. When she gave me my first computer (a Packard Bell, back in the Word Star days!), it opened up a whole new world. Writing was such fun with those new-fangled editing functions! Judy also gave me some books written by one of her favorite fiction authors, and I became entranced with those books...and then she eventually invited me to join her critique group. Somehow, I started writing a story along the way....and just kept at it. I owe Judy quite a debt of gratitude!
CB: You belong to several writing groups. Explain the advantages and how that has helped your career.
RR: ACFW (American Christian Fiction Authors) and RWA (Romance Writers of America) are both absolutely wonderful organizations. They both offer excellent education opportunities and networking through national and local conferences, local chapters, writing contests, a wealth of online classes, writers' loops, and other resources. I belong to Author's Guild because I feel I should support an organization that protects authors' rights. Novelist, Inc. and Pasic are published author groups, and that networking is valuable. Since I often write romantic suspense, the Mystery-Suspense RWA chapter is phenomenal--they offer excellent online classes every month, and if you have a question on rigor mortis or the trajectory of a certain type of ammunition, you can post a question on the loop day or night, and someone will know!
CB: Do you ever work on more than one novel at a time?
RR: Generally not--though the various editing stages of the previous book will often overlap the writing of the next manuscript. When the schedule is really tight, I might be working on a new manuscript, doing revisions on the previous manuscript, and then also get copy edits on the one before that. It can take a minute to switch gears!
CB: What (or who) would you say, is the biggest influence you’ve had during your writing career?
RR: RWA and ACFW are both wonderful. Without RWA--especially all the contests for aspiring authors--it probably would have taken me many more years to reach a first sale. And Lyn Cote was extremely helpful when I switched from secular to inspirational fiction. Years back, she and I were unpublished writers in a little critique group, hoping to make a sale someday. Now, she is multi, multi-published, but despite her busy schedule, she has such an open and giving heart--she really spent a lot of time encouraging me and showing me the way when I wanted to make a change in my writing career. I owe her so much!
CB: When you get stuck, how do you approach moving forward with the novel? Do you start farther into the book and then go back to that spot, or wait until you can continue?
RR: I have a simple tool....one that I've used from the beginning. To make a sale, most of us need to write a synopsis. With what I learn about plot and characters from that, I make "lists of twenty"--ideas of what should happen/needs to happen for each subplot. I just sit down and let the ideas flow, and type fast as I can. Then I look at each list, and pull those ideas into an approximate, logical order under a heading for each subplot. Using 10 pt font and columns, I condense it all into the least number of pages possible, so I can see it at a glance. Now, the plot may take a completely different turn...and often does. I won't use everything....and I may add a lot as I go. But being able to glance at this list of possibilities above my computer means than I always have somewhere logical to go in the next scene. Even if it's just a glimmer of an idea or I need to turn that idea 180 degrees for a better twist.
CB: Some authors plan ahead, by keeping a list of characters and plotting. Do you use this method or are you a “by the seat of the pants” writer?
RR: I don’t plan scenes and chapters for a book before I start. Too much changes once the characters start to come alive, and their personalities start to dictate what they would logically do. Though we create these people, we can't create them in a certain way, put them in difficult situations, that make them change, and then think that we can force them to act in ways that are against their characters but convenient for our plot!
I did more extensive plotting for my first few books, and then sort of internalized the rhythm of the kind of stories I write. Again--most of us have to submit a synopsis in order to sell, so that forces some degree of planning, even if we never really refer to that dreaded document again. I do make those plot idea lists, which is a huge help. I like to have an idea of how the book will end. I do have four other tools that I use with every single book as I write to keep everything straight....to make sure I'm not dropping subplots or forgetting characters...and to make sure everything wraps up in a logical way. I think I'll be teaching an ACFW class this winter on plotting, and will get into a lot more detail with this process then.
CB: Are any other members in your family also writers?
RR: Ahhh, yes. Our daughter has been a storyteller since she was three. She'd dress up, "sell" tickets to her brothers and me; then she'd launch into long, complicated stories that actually did have rising action, a black moment, a dramatic climax and a resolution. Her brothers would try to slink away before it all started, but her stories (mostly about rabbit families) even got them hooked.
CB: What advice can you give aspiring authors who are seeking to be published?
RR: Work hard. If this is truly, truly your dream, then never give up. Many highly successful authors took five to ten years to make a first sale. Google "rotten rejections" to see a few of them!
But while you are persevering, don't polish the same old manuscript. Finish one, finish another. Take online classes, enter contests, and listen to what contest judges say. Save every penny and go to the ACFW conference or RWA, and immerse yourself in the workshops. Many, many authors donate critiques to the annual Brenda Novak auction (every May) and this is a great opportunity to receive feedback from successful authors.
CB: What would you say, are the most important ingredients when working up a query or proposal letter to get the agent or publisher’s attention?
RR: I've only done two, so I'm afraid I'm not a good resource on this. In fact, before I first sold, I sent a query letter to an editor. She sent back a form letter rejection. BUT, the same project had already been entered in some contests. A month or so later, that editor judged the final round of one of the contests. My entry won, and she wrote on the score sheet in bold, triple-underlined letters, SEND THIS TO ME! So obviously, I'm a flop at query letters!
CB: Have you ever had any rejections and if so, tell us a little about those and what kept you focused on continuing with your career despite the setbacks.
RR: My first manuscript won the Golden Heart. Four editors requested the manuscript--three final round judges, plus a single title editor just out of the blue. I was so naïve--I was sure that I'd be quitting my day job to become a writer any day! All four rejected it....though one of them took over eighteen months to get back to me. The reason it was rejected by all? The first three chapters were polished--the rest of them, which were not judged in the contest, were a beginner's attempt to finish a manuscript. I'd written it all fast, to make the contest deadline. It definitely didn’t deserve to sell! That it didn't was a true blessing. I wasn't ready.
CB: Any recommended sites to help other aspiring authors learn more about craft or promotion once published?
RR: Go to http://www.sff.net/people/Alicia/index.htm and click on "Archive of the Articles of The Month" for absolutely wonderful articles on writing.
RR: Steeple Hill (www.steeplehill.com) or your local bookstores are the best source for current books. When those are gone, one can try Amazon or barnesandnoble.com. There are links to click for each book on my website. Also, I usually buy a box or two of extra books from the local bookseller, in case readers want autographed copies. Those are available for the cover price, plus book rate mailing, through my website.
CB: What else would you like to tell us about yourself that I may not have covered here in this interview?
RR: Just that I am really honored that you allowed me to join you here. Thanks so much!