Author Natalie Charles Dishes On Meditation, Quilting & Story Structure

By Kortney Price

 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?

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Natalie made this cool soap bar!

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?

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And she made this!

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.

mrwrong2How 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?b1llzn6xhas-_ux250_

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.

For more information about Natalie and her latest book, Seeking Mr. Wrong, check out her website and follow her on Twitter at @Tallie_Charles!

The Revision Letter: Why and How to Follow it to a T

By Rachel Burkot

When an agent takes the time to write a thoughtful revision letter for your manuscript, it’s a really good thing because it means he or she is interested enough in your story and characters to invest in this. It just means your book isn’t quite there yet, but they’re willing to put in the effort to help you get it there. It means they want you to succeed! But revision letters can contain a lot, and there are often many ways to interpret a change that an agent is asking for. The goal of this post is to help you make sense of revision letters.

keepcalmIn an ideal world, an agent will read a manuscript, like it but have some thoughts for improvement, send off a letter detailing these thoughts, and then the author will read it, nod, and get right to work, producing the manuscript of the agent’s dreams. But this is rarely the case–in fact, one round of revisions is usually not sufficient. So it’s likely that authors might wonder, when asked to do more revisions, What did I do wrong?

Revising is tough. We get it. Sometimes our ideas and reasons for having a character do X instead of Y make perfect sense in our heads, and we think we’re conveying exactly what we mean in our revision letter, but what you read and what we wrote are actually coming across like two totally different languages. German and Swahili. Arabic and Spanish. Or maybe just Agent and Writer. So how do we all get on the same page (literally)?

It’s important to understand the reasoning behind a change an agent is asking for. Especially if it’s something major, like a plot line, character’s motivation, or deleting an entire chapter. If the agent hasn’t laid it out in a clear enough way that you understand and agree with, probe further. Ask more questions. If you’re just blindly making a change because your agent said to, the changes you make won’t necessarily be stronger. Plus, you’ll learn for next time that, say, having your main character’s estranged cousin come back into her life and reconcile with her at the end of the story doesn’t work because it distracts from the purpose of the book and creates a contrived relationship that’s totally separate from and unnecessary to the main story line.

You might often be asked for revisions to a character’s goals, motivation, or conflict. A realistic book with stakes and heart is going to need these three things in sufficient doses. So one revision note might be, what is Mandy’s goal in the scene when she looks up her cousin with the intention of reconnecting? Why does she want this reunion in the first place? Such revision points should cause you to question your own choices for your characters and story. If you can stand by your decisions, by all means, give your agent your rationale and have a conversation. The key is to ask if you’re still confused about a certain point after reading through the revision letter. It can never hurt to get more information.

script-revisionsAmong other things, we might ask in revision letters for higher stakes to the plot as a
whole, slowing down or speeding up the pacing of the story, beefing up a character’s past or conflict, and so on. These are all important things that are sometimes not brought out in early drafts. Additionally, we might give some pointers on the mechanics of writing, though we generally expect the authors to acquire this knowledge on their own. We might question why a character is hiding their true identity, or some fact that seems important, from another character. If it seems unethical or makes a character seem less appealing, we’ll probably note that, and we can discuss whether the deceitful action is worth the less-appealing light it puts the character in in order to accomplish whatever purpose he had.

Think of a revision letter as a pair of eyes on all of your characters and story lines. If they’re doing something that doesn’t ring true to the book, it’s going to be questioned. But the most important thing to keep in mind is that a revision letter is like a conversation. So be sure to respond with any concerns or questions that you have after reading over your agent’s thoughts, and never hesitate to ask for clarification if you need it or are still confused on a certain point. The book will be stronger for it, when all is said and done!       

 

Rachel is an agent with Holloway Literary. Learn more about her here and then follow her on Twitter @Rachel_Burkot.

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