Monday, July 7, 2008

Meet RITA Nominee: Tamara Leigh

Tamara Leigh is a wife and a mother. Although she holds a master’s degree in Speech and Language Pathology, she has written full time since her first child was born in 1993. Her first seven novels earned awards and became national bestsellers, but she was dissatisfied that the stories were not God-honoring. In 2003, Tamara determined to write books that more directly represent her faith. Tamara and family live in Tennessee.

I screen most of my calls, especially during “writing” hours, so when I didn’t recognize the number that popped up on caller ID, I didn’t answer. And they didn’t leave a message. “Fine,” I muttered, “it can’t have been important.” They called again. “Hmm, persistent.” And again. This time, since I was in the kitchen making coffee, I decided to get rid of the pests once and for all. When the caller identified herself as being from RWA, I winced. What did you do? Break a bylaw? Delinquent on your dues? Hold it—the contest! Dream on, you did something wrong. And then I was told that SPLITTING HARRIET had been nominated for a RITA. A RITA! My Harriet was up for a RITA! I don’t remember much of the exchange that followed, but when I hung up, all happiness broke loose. Very undignified, but joyous!TELL US ABOUT THE RITA BOOK AND WHY YOU THINK IT STOOD OUT IN THE CROWD:

The back cover of SPLITTING HARRIET says it best:
Once upon a time, I was a rebel. And I have the tattoo to prove it.

Did I mention I’m also a preacher’s kid? That’s right. And like the prodigal son after whom I modeled myself, I finally saw the error of my ways and returned to the fold. Today my life is all about “lead me not into temptation.” When I’m not serving as Women’s Ministry Director at my father’s church, I’m serving at Gloria’s Morning Café. I even have worthy goals, like saving enough money to buy the café, keeping my Jelly Belly habit under control, and never again hurting the people I love. No more parties. No more unsavory activities. And no more motorcycles! You’d think I was finally on the right track.

But since my dad’s replacement hired a hotshot consultant to revive our “dying” church, things aren’t working out as planned. And now this “consultant” says I’m in need of a little reviving myself. Just who does this Maddox McCray think he is? With his curly hair that could use a good clipping, tattoo that he makes no attempt to hide, and black leather pants, the man is downright dangerous. In fact, all that’s missing is a motorcycle. Or so I thought… But if he thinks he’s going to take me for a ride on that 1298 cc, 16-valve, in-line 4-cylinder machine, he can think again. Harriet Bisset is a reformed woman and she’s going to stay that way. Even if it kills me!

That’s Harriet, and was she a delight to write! Well, mostly. It took four revisions to get the proposal right. At one point, my poor editor even asked if I’d like to set Harriet aside and work on something else. You see, as originally plotted, SPLITTING HARRIET was heavy on church politics and light on humor and romance. And this is chick lit. Though I’m still growing out the patches of hair I pulled, according to readers, I hit on the right balance between a girl, a guy, a Jelly Belly addiction, church growth, the acceptance of God’s forgiveness, and humor. I believe that is what made Harriet’s story stand out.

SPLITTING HARRIET is my tenth published novel. My first seven books (1994-2001) were medieval romances written for the secular market. Though I believe I handled the requisite love scenes tastefully in those first books, I am so blessed to now be writing in the inspirational market. FAKING GRACE, available this August from Multnomah, will mark my eleventh book. The twelfth book, PAYING PIPER, is the first in my SOUTHERN DISCOMFORT series, and the deadline is fast approaching…

Now, you can’t have a favorite, can you? That’s like having a favorite child. Okay, not really, but I do like them equally, just in different ways—STEALING ADDA because it was my first inspirational book and featured a medieval romance writer as a heroine (very cathartic); PERFECTING KATE because my heroine has to overcome low self-esteem which I have struggled with like so many women; SPLITTING HARRIET because of my heroine’s difficulty in accepting God’s forgiveness (been there); and FAKING GRACE because we all need grace and to be “real.”

I am very organized, so one might expect my writing to be highly structured. It isn’t. I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer. Though I sometimes start with a plot and create a character to fit, and other times start with a character and create a plot to fit, I really don’t know the story or character well enough to synopsize until I’ve written a hundred or so pages. Unfortunately, if it turns out that the story doesn’t fit the publisher’s line, the wasted time and energy can really smart. If you can avoid it, do not follow my example! However, I did recently purchase a nice set of index cards and am determined to overcome this weakness.

Once I have the “green light” on a story, I try to write 1,000 words a day; however, I rarely hit the bell. I’m also an “edit as you go” writer. Though some frown upon this, it allows me to stay on top of my story and makes for fewer rewrites. When “writer’s block” hits, which I know some say doesn’t exist, my best remedy is to put away the computer and pull out a notepad and pen. What may have been a one-page-day often becomes a five-page-day.

When I reach “The End,” I read through the manuscript with an eye toward cutting (I always exceed my word count), then again to check for consistency, pacing, and characterization. If I come in ahead of deadline, I put the manuscript aside for as long as possible, then do a final read before sending it off to my editor.

From the age of ten or so, I was writing full-length novels –well, what had the potential to be full-length novels. When my husband and I began planning for children, I decided to pursue my dream of being a writer in hopes it would allow me to remain home and raise our family. In 1993, two weeks after sending my first manuscript to my agent, Bantam Books offered me four-book contract. After lengthy negotiations (“I do, I do, I do!”), I accepted.

Following the publication of seven medieval romances with Bantam, HarperCollins, and Dorchester, I left the secular market to write for the inspirational market. For several years, I'd felt God moving me in this direction, but ignored the calling. Following a struggle between what I was comfortable doing and what I knew I should be doing, I finally crossed to the "other side". As for the leap from medieval romance to "chick lit", I didn't see that coming. Set on bringing my medievals into the inspirational market, I was stunned when the publishers asked my agent for "something different." And, boy, is “chick lit” different!

Up next is FAKING GRACE:

All she wants is a job. All she needs is religion. How hard can it be?

Maizy Grace Stewart dreams of a career as an investigative journalist. A part-time gig at a Nashville newspaper might be her big break. A second job at Steeple Side Christian Resources could help pay the bills, but Steeple Side only hires committed Christians. Maizy is sure that she can fake it with her 5-Step Program to Authentic Christian Faith—a plan of action that includes changing her first name to Grace, Jesus-themed accessories, and learning “Christian Speak.” If only Jack Prentiss, Steeple Side’s two-day-stubbled, blue-jean-wearing managing editor wasn’t determined to prove her a fraud.

When Maizy’s boss at the newspaper decides that she should investigate—and expose—any skeletons in Steeple Side’s closet, she needs to decide whether to deliver the dirt and secure her career, or lean on her newfound faith, change the direction of her life, and pray that her Steeple Side colleagues—and Jack—will show her grace.

If writing is “in your blood”—kind of like the first bloom of romance rife with infatuation, longing, and need—you will WRITE. Through writer’s block, interruption, revision, and criticism, you will PERSIST. Once your story is on paper, you will REVISE—detail characters, fill gaping holes, pump up scenes, etc. You will SEEK FEEDBACK, asking trusted friends and other writers to read your work. Organizations such as American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and Romance Writers of America (RWA) have local chapters where you can network with other writers. And you will READ, not only books on the craft of writing, but other authors whose work you admire. Lastly, you will be PATIENT and PRAY (Psst…that last one really ought to come first).
Thanks for having me!


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