Author on the Couch: Sara Portman
Sara chats about self doubt and the conversations she has inside her head that help her be a better writer!
Today I’m conducting a session with… Sara Portman!
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Me: Tell me about an experience that had a profound impact on your life.
Sara: In 1997, as a college student, I lived and studied in London for four months. I tell everyone that I cried the day I got there and I cried the day I left, because that’s true and it really sums up my experience. I had just turned twenty and had flown to another country by myself. I am not extroverted and I do not make friends easily as others often seem to do. So even though I had wanted it so badly and worked very hard to get there, I was terrified and felt very alone.
But I was okay. That’s really where the transformation happened. I was determined not to waste the experience simply because it was initially more overwhelming than I had expected. I did meet other people and made great friendships, but I am most proud of the things I did on my own. I learned the underground system and navigated my way around the city to do all sorts of things over the four months I was in London. I was there to go to school and I learned a lot in class, but I learned a great deal more about my own independence and how to trust myself to be adventurous.
Me: That is an amazing story. I’d be terrified as well.
What personality trait of yours helps you most as an author?
Sara: This may be an admission that makes me sound a little odd, but I have fictitious conversations in my head. It’s not necessarily intentional. It just happens. When I am upset by something, or even excited about something, I will often dwell on these moments through imaginary conversations. Some help me crystallize what I want to say. Others help me purge things I probably shouldn’t say. I think this drives the way I write. Most of the pivotal scenes in my books begin from the dialogue. There are definitely points in my early drafts that read more like a screenplay than a novel.
Me: At least you use the voices in your head to your advantage. Mine just tend to argue back and forth haha.
What personality trait of yours hinders you most as an author?
Sara: This is easy. Self-doubt. Hands down.
Me: The dreaded self-doubt. Don’t worry you are not alone. So many of the authors on this couch suffer from self doubt too.
What was your high point as a writer?
Sara: The highpoint in my career thus far is definitely winning the Romance Writers of America® Golden Heart ® award for Historical Romance in 2015. I was just getting back to writing after a long break (more on that later) and the validation that I was worthy of following this path could not have come at a better time. On top of that, the class of 2015 finalists –The Dragonflies—has proven to be the true prize of being a Golden Heart finalist. These women are an amazing group of authors and I would not be where I am today without the wisdom and encouragement they have all shared. I remember, too, after the awards ceremony, getting into an elevator with Victoria Alexander and Stephanie Laurens and gushing over actually riding an elevator with them. Stephanie Laurens said, “Don’t be silly. You’re one of us now.” I felt like a rock star. Winning the Golden Heart helped me to land an agent and a publishing contract, so I can’t overstate how significant it has been.
Me: Wow that’s awesome. Congratulations on your win! I’m sure that will always be a top memory!
What was your low point as a writer—a time when questioned your path?
Sara: After drafting a couple of contemporary novels, in 2010 I started writing a regency-set historical romance. I’m not sure why I never tried before, as I read more historical than contemporary, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is that I received some very positive feedback, so I entered my partial into the 2011 Royal Ascot, which is the contest for unpublished authors sponsored by The Beau Monde chapter of RWA. I was a finalist! (I know this isn’t sounding like a low spot, but stay with me.) I immediately registered for The Beau Monde conference (at which the winner would be announced) and my first ever RWA National Conference. I was not just tinkering around anymore. I was seriously pursuing a writing career. I booked a plane ticket, and I vowed to finish my manuscript, because if I was lucky enough to get an editor or agent request I needed to be ready.
Then my world changed. I found out my marriage was falling apart in ways I had not thought to expect. I did not go to New York for the RWA Conference that summer because I was busy getting a divorce instead. In the midst of worrying about whether my daughters were going to be okay, and lamenting having wasted my good-ass years on the wrong man, I received word that I had won the Royal Ascot. I had received not one, but four requests for the full manuscript. Four requests. Two agents and two editors. My golden opportunity had arrived and I wasn’t ready. I immediately emailed all four, explained that my manuscript was not complete, and asked if I could send it when it was finished. All of them agreed.
I tried to finish it. I really and truly tried. I spent evenings staring at the screen. I spent evenings not even able to open my laptop. Weeks passed. Months passed. Eventually, enough time passed that I knew the offers to go ahead and send when I was finished were not really on the table anymore. I had earned the golden opportunity every aspiring author dreams of earning and I had squandered it. Life had gotten in the way, as they say, and I had failed. A few years passed in which I did not write a single word. My children were doing well. I met my current husband. We dated. We got married. We moved. Life went on quite happily, but I wasn’t writing. My husband is the person who convinced me to try again. Toward the end of 2014, I dusted off my historical manuscript, finished the draft and entered the 2015 Golden Heart. You know the rest of that story. 🙂
Me: Fate has a way of stepping in just when you need it the most. What an powerful story you have to tell.
Which of your characters are you most like? Why?
Sara: I am definitely the most like Lucy, the heroine of The Offer, which will be my second release from Lyrical Press. She prides herself on always trying to be practical, always making the correct choice. She learns with the help of the hero that ‘right’ is relative and if it doesn’t make you happy, it may not be the right choice after all. I need this lesson myself sometimes and my real-life hero helps me do that.
Me: I can’t wait to read her story.
What’s your life motto? Why does that motto speak to you?
Sara: Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” This quote speaks to me, not because it describes me so well, but because it encapsulates something with which I struggle so fiercely—focusing on a meaningful use of my time. I know what my priorities are. Wasted days are those spent without attention to those priorities. I sometimes have very busy days that manage to miss the mark.
Me: Yes that quote is spot-on. I agree that everyone should make the most of their days.
What is a story your family always tells about you?
Sara: My sister and my husband like to laugh about a Facebook post I made a couple of years ago. We had some kind of home repair incident—I don’t recall what—and my husband handled it. When I posted about it on Facebook, I said he handled it “with aplomb”—because he did. Both my husband and my sister were thoroughly entertained and poke fun to this day, because who uses ‘aplomb’ in everyday speech?
Writers. That’s who.
Me: Haha! I can relate. My husband constantly reminds me to “speak english”.
Tell me about your upcoming historical romance, The Reunion.
The resurrection of a man four years dead is enough to disturb most anyone. When that man is Viscount Brantwood, heir to the recently deceased Duke of Worley, no one is more disturbed than his fiancée, Lady Emmaline. Understandably so, considering his presumed death came about when he chose to risk his life on the battlefields of Spain rather than marry her. Or so she believes…
John Brantwood’s wait is finally over. With his father gone, he can return home after years of self-imposed exile in America, claim his birthright, and set right a wrong his father committed against his sister. He needs a wife to champion her properly and as he’s still engaged to Lady Emmaline, the solution appears simple.
Of course, it’s not at all simple. Emma despises the Duke of Worley and can see no reason why she should agree to marry him—unless, that is, one realizes her alternatives to marriage are few, if any; and one understands the true reasons for the duke’s absence were rooted in integrity and familial devotion. So she does agree to marry him, but with the full knowledge that he is marrying for his sister’s sake and to develop any affection for the duke would be naïve.
John has vowed not to repeat the irrational jealously that caused his father to destroy their family. He knows that’s a simple matter of not falling in love with his wife—a task he finds increasingly difficult.
Brash, unapologetic, and bitter, Charlotte Brantwood is not the insecure, grateful young girl Emma expected to mentor. Unsure she can suppress her growing feelings for John, and quite certain she’s not up to the task of preparing Charlotte to be unleashed on society, Emma suspects she has gotten in way over her head by agreeing to this marriage.
THE REUNION is coming in 2017 from Lyrical Press.
Me: Wow, I cannot wait to read this.
Share with us a favorite paragraph or two from your newest release. Why do you love this paragraph? What makes it special to you?
I had a lot of fun with Emma’s spirit in this book. She is sharp and sarcastic. Usually, politeness dictates that she keeps the sarcasm to herself, but in this exchange she is angry enough to vocalize it.
She leaned forward in her chair and lanced him with her severest look. “Do you deny you arrived here today for the express purpose of selecting a bride from among the new debutantes?”
He leaned forward as well and met her look without guile. “No. I don’t deny it.”
She sat back in her chair. “Well, then. We are in agreement. I appreciate your…”
“I came here for that purpose,” he interjected, “but I find I have changed my mind.”
“Changed your mind?”
“Indeed.” He looked a bit nonplussed himself by the revelation.
“Ridiculous.” She spoke the word aloud, but to her aunt rather than to him. Clearly, explaining to him the ridiculousness of his position would be futile. “Could you please help me explain, Aunt Agatha, the absolute absurdity of this notion?”
Aunt Agatha bore the look of a trapped animal. She gave a delicate cough before responding. “Perhaps we should at least listen to his explanations, dear.” She turned her attention to the duke. “You do, I hope, have explanations, Your Grace?”
“Certainly.” He smiled at Aunt Agatha as though pegging her an ally then faced Emma again. “Don’t you want to know why I have changed my mind?” His impenetrable confidence set her fingers itching.
“Very well, Your Grace,” she ground out. “Pray tell me, why have you changed your mind?” She couldn’t imagine what sort of excuse he could possibly fabricate.
“The situation is this: I find I require a wife with specific…attributes. When I learned of our continued engagement, I was convinced from our prior encounter that you did not possess those attributes. Our conversation has proven otherwise.”
“I see.” She did not see at all. He was baiting her still, she was certain of it. “And what would those attributes be that I have demonstrated so well in our brief meeting? Could it be that you simply require a wife with all of her limbs and teeth, Your Grace?” She crossed her arms. “Or perhaps you require a wife who is not deaf or mute. I suppose I have aptly demonstrated my ability in those areas.”
Absurdly, he smiled at her then, as though she had just said the most charming thing imaginable.
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Abbie Roads writes dark emotional novels featuring damaged characters, but always gives her hero and heroine a happy ending… after torturing them for three hundred pages. Her first novel RACE THE DARKNESS is available now!
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