This week on Author on the Couch,
I conduct a session with
*Saralee is giving away a copy of her novel A LIMITED ENGAGEMENT to one lucky person who answers the question “Who is your real-life hero?”
*For the month of January I’m giving away a $15 Amazon gift card to one lucky person who signs up for my NEWSLETTER.
Me: Tell me about an experience that had a profound impact on your life.
Saralee: When I was seven years old, my father’s job took our family to Mexico City, Mexico. We lived there for seven years. Though we were middle-class folks in the US, in Mexico we were rich. My brothers and I had a very sheltered upbringing – private school, live-in maids, a home surrounded by a high wall topped with broken glass and barbed wire. If I wanted to visit a friend, I had to be chauffeured to their home – walking down the street was out of the question.
So coming back to the United States at age 14 was a huge culture shock for me. I was enrolled in a public high school in Florida. The school was troubled by drug busts and race riots. My sheer naivete made me stand out and I got bullied. The teachers and school nurse knew why I developed these mysterious stomachaches every day, but they didn’t do anything. Fortunately, I only had to spend a year in that school before my parents sent me to boarding school.
Later on, I tried to “toughen up” – I earned a J.D. degree from Case Western Reserve University School of Law and a Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do. Not that those things changed who I am down deep. I’m much happier writing romance and mysteries with romantic elements. Still, I really relate to fish-out-of-water stories!
Me: Saralee you’re life is just full of fun stuff. Mexico City, a black belt is Tae Kwon Do! The stories I bet you have!
What personality trait of yours helps you most as an author?
Saralee: I like to make things. It’s so satisfying to turn an idea I have into something real – whether it’s cooking, sewing, knitting or writing a book. I enjoy the process of creation. The creative spirit helps me to understand that there are always gaps between the idea and the reality, so I can get past the idea of perfection. Perfect is the enemy of finished.
Me: Perfect really is the enemy of finished!
What personality trait of yours hinders you most as an author?
Saralee: Self-doubt. My biggest fear is that what I like isn’t going to please anyone else. Sometimes I get excited about something and people just look at me oddly, like, “Why on Earth do you like that?” It makes me wonder if I’m on a totally different wavelength from everyone else on the planet. I guess I still feel like an outsider sometimes.
Fundamentally, I write in order to please and entertain other people. Knowing that readers will enjoy my stories helps me maintain the excitement necessary to finish a book – so when I doubt that anyone will share my enthusiasm, it’s hard to keep going.
Me: You wouldn’t believe how many of the other Authors on my Couch struggle with self doubt too. It seems to be a universal theme amongst us writers!
What was your high point as a writer—a time when you were happiest, on cloud nine, flying high? What happened?
Saralee: Writing my first fanfiction story – even though I’d already had a novel and a novella published, fanfiction was a joy and a revelation for me. I was writing about a fictional character that I knew and had totally fallen in love with. The story flowed so easily from my brain onto the page – that had never, ever happened before. And the readers, other fans like me, were generous with their praise.
You can find some of my fanfiction here: https://www.fanfiction.net/u/3723524/Saraleee and https://www.wattpad.com/user/Saraleee . They’re free reads, so if you like The Hobbit movies, I hope you’ll enjoy them.
Me: What was your low point as a writer?
Saralee: During the final years of her life, my mother began to behave more erratically than usual. She ran up debts she couldn’t pay, then fell victim to scam artists who talked her out of all her money. But since legally she was considered mentally competent, there wasn’t anything I could do to stop her. I had to learn the hard lesson that you can’t control another person, not even to prevent them from messing up their life. Stubbornly clinging to her delusions of grandeur, my mother’s choices eventually rendered her homeless.
While this was all happening, I didn’t even notice that anything was wrong with my writing. But all the pleasure that I’d taken in writing romances had dried up. I kept starting new books that never got finished, pitching books but never sending in the chapters, spinning my wheels but not making progress. Apparently grief, guilt and shame had snuck up on me and I didn’t realize it.
Then, by pure luck, my mother wound up as a resident in an attractive, well-run nursing home not far from me. She wasn’t happy there, but I felt so much better knowing that she was safe and well cared for. A series of strokes eventually claimed her life a year and a half later.
Around the time that she passed away, I discovered fan fiction. What a joy it was to write for the sheer pleasure of spending time with characters I loved! No rules, no pressure, just fun. From there, I was able to find my way back to the joy of writing stories.
Me: What’s the most painful rejection or review you’ve ever received? How did you get over it?
Saralee: When I was fairly new to the romance-writing field, I won a three-chapter critique from the late well-respected romance editor Kate Duffy. Thrilled, I sent her the beginning of my historical romance novel – and was over the moon when she actually called me on the phone to give me her opinion.
Then, live and in person over the phone, she absolutely ripped my story apart: As a reader, she wasn’t invested in my heroine. My hero was weak. The kiss they shared “came out of nowhere.” The story was all history and no romance. She admitted that my basic story idea was good, but everything else was lousy. Did I even read romance novels?
I was gutted. I shared my experience with some other writers, and gradually came to terms with the hurt. But the good thing was, Kate had been an editor for more than 30 years and knew how to take a story apart and put it together. She told me straight out what I was doing wrong – which nobody ever does. So I figure that, painful though the experience was, I was saved from years of polite and vague rejections.
Me: I’ve been gutted a time or two also. I sooooo know the feeling. But how nice of her to tell what you were doing wrong.
What’s your writer’s mantra? Why does that mantra speak to you?
Saralee: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” This quote always helps me wrap my head around a big project. I am naturally drawn to short pieces that I can write in a single day, but those words from the Tao Te Ching help me understand that I can make it through the long haul of a novel.
Me: Gotta love the Tao Te Ching! A novel begins with a single word, and then another, and another and another, until you have a 90,000 of them!
If you could have dinner with any famous author who would it be? Why?
Saralee: J K Rowling. I absolutely loved the Harry Potter series. Every time I re-read the books, I find some new and delightful detail to consider. I love her characters and I especially admire the depth of the themes that she slides so gracefully into her stories: Life and death, love and loss, kindness, fairness, growing up – challenges that we meet every day of our lives.
And I admire her commitment to helping others, to being a good steward of the wealth that she’s received, and her thoughtful remarks on subjects like success and failure (loved her Harvard commencement address). She’s faced adversity in her life, but it seems like those experiences haven’t drained her of her sense of humor or kindness. Because of that, I think would probably be fun to talk to. Of course, her writing is far better than mine, so I bet I’d learn a lot from her too!
Me: Tell me about your book MORTAL JOYS (coming soon!).
Saralee: MORTAL JOYS is the first in my new series of historical mystery novels featuring Gilbert and Sullivan. The events in this novel are set around the time of Gilbert’s very first theatrical work, Dulcamara, or The Little Duck and the Big Quack, a comedy based on Donizetti’s opera L’Elisir d’Amore.
Later in his life (and in the mysteries), William Gilbert will meet Arthur Sullivan and the two of them will go on to write a dozen of the world’s best-loved comic operas, including “The Mikado,” “The Pirates of Penzance,” and “H.M.S. Pinafore.” Lucy Turner is part of both their lives, and in this series she is a mystery-solving sleuth.
London, 1866. Lucy Turner, who lives with her widowed mother in Kensington, has a big crush on William Gilbert. Unfortunately, William is a suspect in a murder case and it’s all Lucy’s fault. Lucy had to tell the police that she saw him talking to her wild cousin Daisy, not long before Daisy’s body was discovered at the Crystal Palace. What’s a proper Victorian miss to do? Why, investigate the murder for herself, of course!
Ambitious William Gilbert has just been admitted to the Bar. As a newly-minted barrister, he hopes to leave his comedy writing behind and build a lucrative and distinguished career — but he can’t if he’s mixed up in a murder case. Lucy Turner may look as sweet and harmless as a kitten, but her inconvenient testimony proves she’s disaster in a bonnet. Plus, she keeps turning up everywhere, snooping around – at his magazine editor’s office, at the theater where his new Christmas play will be shown, even at his mother’s house. What must a gentleman do to keep her from running headlong into danger? Well, go with her, of course!
Me: Share with us a favorite paragraph or two.
Saralee: This is a passage that I like a lot. One of Gilbert’s best traits was his lightning-quick wit and wordplay – and I am always trying to work his own words into my stories.
Aunt Lucretia’s loud voice penetrated my musings. “You have a duty to your mother, young man! She needs a man in the house, now your father’s gone to live at his club.”
I turned. To my shock, Aunt Lucretia was speaking to Mr. Gilbert himself. And about such a private matter! She must have learned about the Gilberts’ marital difficulties from one of our Kensington neighbors. Inwardly I groaned. She couldn’t have been ruder if she’d tried.
Mr. Gilbert bowed to Aunt Lucretia. “Thank you madam, for the benefit of your opinion. Permit me to say that I admire your ruddy countenance.”
“Do you? Oh. Well, then.” She gave him a brief, confused nod and turned away. At her side, Aunt Mary coughed into her hand to hide a laugh.
I touched Mr. Gilbert’s elbow and whispered, “Did you just tell my Aunt Lucretia that you liked her bloody cheek?”
“Tsk tsk. Language, my girl! I’m absolutely shocked at you,” he murmured back, and winked.
You can learn more about Lucy Turner, William Gilbert, and life in Victorian London at my blog, A Fine Mystery Indeed, http://saraleeetter.com/blog1/ . I post new material every Wednesday.
MORTAL JOYS will be coming soon! Look for it in e-book in mid-2016. Until then, you may be interested in my traditional Regency romances. In addition to two Christmas-themed novellas, I have a full-length romance titled A LIMITED ENGAGEMENT.
To buy A LIMITED ENGAGEMENT by Saralee Etter:
[Tweet theme=”basic-full”]#AuthorontheCouch @Saraleeetter shares an excerpt of MORTAL JOYS–her #historical #mystery novel. Via @Abbie_Roads http://wp.me/p5h5aN-jZ[/Tweet]
[Tweet theme=”basic-full”]#AuthorontheCouch @Saraleeetter chats about the critique that gutted her & finding the bright side. Via@Abbie_Roads http://wp.me/p5h5aN-jZ[/Tweet]
[Tweet theme=”basic-full”]#AuthorontheCouch @Saraleeetter shares her experience of growing up in Mexico City, Mexico. Via @Abbie_Roads http://wp.me/p5h5aN-jZ[/Tweet]
You can find Saralee here:
If you are interested in being an Author on the Couch, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org