Natalie Charles is the author of six romance novels, and we are discussing how she deals with stress, craftiness and her latest contemporary romance, Seeking Mr. Wrong.
Do you find it challenging to find the perfect work-life balance? How do you handle it? Can you offer any tips for other busy writers?
The balance comes in knowing your priorities. As a general rule, my family comes first. My children will not always be begging me to read them a story and tuck them in. Time with my husband is precious. Writing is very important to me and I make space for it, but when my family needs me, I set it aside and try not to feel guilty about it. The writing will always be there. That said, dreams take sacrifice. Sometimes I tell my children that I’m working and they need to respect that. But they’re still young and so usually the sacrifice comes at the expense of my own free time. I write instead of watching television or visiting social media.
Some writers meditate, others practice yoga. How do you de-stress?
I do both of those things. Meditation especially has brought so much peace into my life and helped me to detach. I try to meditate daily, though I’m not perfect. Practicing yoga for an hour and reminding myself to simply breathe can alter my stress level for days. I also enjoy exercise, like running and weight lifting. I’ve also found that calling up a friend and having a good laugh is priceless.
In your last interview with us, you mentioned that you like to “always have a project going” and that you’re “a person who wants to try All Of The Things” Any fun new projects you’re working on?
Yes! I just made a quilt. I thought it would be a fun, quick project, but then I decided to cut it up and make it more complicated. Sigh. I’m really happy with it, though. I’ve also made a few batches of soap: one with essential oils and one with milk, honey, and oatmeal. It’s fun to stretch other creative muscles.
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve received?
Besides “be yourself”-type advice, learning about story structure changed my writing life. Understanding that good stories follow a similar pattern was profoundly helpful. It’s like seeing the wizard behind the curtain. There are so many resources and books out there but I thought Libbie Hawker’s book “Take Off Your Pants!” was fantastic.
What are you reading now? Who do you read for fun?
Right at this moment I’m reading “In the Cards” by Jamie Beck and enjoying it very much. I just finished “Concrete Blonde” by Michael Connelly (I’m a Harry Bosch junkie but I jump around in the series) and next up I’m reading “The Marriage Lie” by Kimberly Belle. So, a romance, a mystery, and a romantic suspense. I read mostly genre fiction and I’m partial to anything with a puzzle in it.
Do you ever run into writers block? How do you deal with those moments?
So…yes, I have in the past. But I haven’t for a very long time because I’ve come to understand that writer’s block is really about fear–fear of failure, humiliation, rejection and any other nasty thing. Meditation has helped me to release a lot of my anxiety about writing and experience has taught me to surrender and trust the process. That helps. I give myself permission to write something terrible that I would never show to anyone. I write with the mindset that the words are for my eyes only and I never have to show them to anyone else. In other words, I try to create a safe space for myself before I begin writing.
What is your biggest challenge in writing?
Openings are always difficult. Even when I have an idea of how I want a book to progress, it’s like setting off to climb a mountain and being presented with an infinite number of trails. I come to the page with a lot of different ideas and it’s tough to pin down the story: the tone, the voice of the characters, the set-up, etc. It’s not unusual for me to write 40k words before I’m satisfied with those critical first three chapters. Once I wrote over 100k. The trouble is that I’m is usually working on a few books at once and I have to figure out how to separate them.
How about the aspect of writing that you find comes the most naturally?
Dialogue comes pretty naturally. When characters are talking, I often feel like I’m watching them interact and simply transcribing what they say. I hear their voices.
How do you come up with your story ideas?
Writing a book is a mysterious process that I’ve decided I’m no longer going to pretend to understand. Sometimes stories feel inspired, but not always. Sometimes it’s work at first and the inspiration comes later. When I’m actively trying to plot a story, I like to put unlikely elements together in order to generate conflict from the premise. I ask, “What if?” So in SEEKING MR. WRONG, I asked, “What if a sweet, mild-mannered kindergarten teacher had to write erotica?” There’s inherent tension from the start.
You’ve been writing and publishing for six years, how do you think the industry for romance writers has changed? Has it been for the better or worse?
Self-publishing has created a huge shift in the industry, particularly for romance writers. I think any time there are more options for readers and writers, that’s a good change, though others in the industry might disagree. E-books have leveled the playing field and allowed writers to connect directly to their readers. I love that people who live in remote areas can find my books in an online bookstore and read them immediately–that’s amazing. But there are also more expectations with technology. Authors are expected to be on all kinds of social media formats, send out newsletters, and blog. Writers can literally spend all day running their social media platforms. I’ve had to make choices about how to use my time and interact with readers while preserving most of my time for, you know, writing and real life.
You’ve published three romantic suspense novels and four contemporary romance novels. What is your favorite genre to write?
Right now I’m enjoying writing light contemporary romance because it brings me to a happier place. I love romantic suspense, but it can get awfully heavy. It’s nice to write about people falling in love when there are no bombs going off.
Is romantic suspense easier or harder to write than contemporary?
It’s harder. Talk about subplots! Right off the bat you have to balance a suspense plot with a plausible romance. The characters’ lives are in danger, but you have to make it seem reasonable that they would fall in love at that moment. Hard, right? And if you’re writing a suspense plot that involves an intricate mystery, you’ve got a lot to juggle. The suspense has to drive the romance and vice versa. It’s an amazing feat when it’s done well.
Do you have a favorite book that you’ve written?
The book I’m currently working on is usually my favorite. But of the books I’ve published, my favorite romantic suspense is “When No One Is Watching” and my favorite contemporary romance is “Seeking Mr. Wrong.”
Do you think fans of your romantic suspense will enjoy Seeking Mr. Wrong? Why or why not?
I sure hope so! I always strive to write an intelligent, independent heroine and a strong hero with a heart of gold. If my romantic suspense readers have enjoyed the characters in previous novels, I hope they will give Lettie and Eric a chance. Even if there are no corpses.