Creativity is often innate. Did you begin writing as a child?
I’ve heard a lot of people who say they started writing stories when they were in elementary school. When I was that young, I wasn’t a writer—I hated writing, as a matter of fact. I made up plenty of stories, but they were acted out with my Barbie dolls or in my imagination as I played outside—other people, other places, other times all came alive in my mind’s-eye and I didn’t mind playing by myself. In fact, I rather preferred it, because then I didn’t have to explain to anyone else what I was envisioning and try to get them to play along the way the story went in my head.
Was there an a-ha moment when you decided to turn writing into a career, or did your interest develop slowly?
As an adolescent, I started to read voraciously. My fancy turned to romance novels and by the age of twelve, I was reading one or two historical romance novels a week—mostly YA, but some adult fiction in there, too. These books grew in me not only a love for history, but a love for story telling because they inspired me to write. I wasn’t content with a kiss and a happily-ever-after ending. I wanted to know what happened the next day, the next year, the next decade. So the first writing I ever did was around fourteen years old when I started writing “sequels” to my favorite books. This, then, inspired me to start putting some of those stories that were always running through my head down on paper.
That experience—realizing I could put words down on paper and express the stories that I’d always had within me—opened a flood-gate; and for the last two decades, I’ve never stopped writing.
Do you (or did you) have other career aspirations? What would you want to do if you didn’t write books?
I’ve always thought I’d teach—community college or small four-year college; in fact, that’s why I went to graduate school in my early thirties to get my master’s degree (in Writing Popular Fiction): because after years of working in “jobs,” I thought becoming a college instructor (the “family business”) was what I was being called to do. But I ended up working as an editor at a publishing house and getting published myself. So if there ever comes a time when I’m no longer getting published (because I doubt there will ever be a time when I’m not writing), I will probably pursue teaching college creative writing as my “other” career.
You write both contemporary and historical romance. Which genre do you prefer to read when kicking back with a good book?
I grew up reading historical romances—I don’t think I ever read a contemporary romance until I was in my late twenties and trying to figure out why all of these contemporary characters and storylines were running around in my head when I was certain I was supposed to be writing historicals (and Civil War–era historicals at that).
So one day at LifeWay, I saw a couple of contemporary romance novels—by Linda Windsor (Along Came Jones) and Dee Henderson (The O’Malley series) and I realized that it was okay to write contemporary romance—that, in fact, it would be so much easier to put everything I was learning about when it came to the craft of writing into practice by writing contemporary settings instead of giving myself a double-whammy of learning craft and researching the historical setting.
But when reading for pleasure, I still turn to historical first. My first and enduring love is for medievals.
Word has it you sometimes write in your car. How did that come about? Where else do you write? What is your favorite time of day to write?
With having to write three books a year, I’ve had to get creative in finding time to write—even though I’m a “full-time” writer, to make ends meet, I also work almost full-time as a freelance copy editor for several publishing houses. Since my travel schedule has picked up considerably in the past six months, I was losing whole days of working/writing time. Right before Thanksgiving last year, I decided my seven-year-old laptop had outlived its usefulness, so I bought a new one. With a book (Ransome’s Crossing, releasing June 15 from Harvest House) due December 1 and me still needing to write about 30,000 words to complete it, I’d considered buying a digital recorder to take on the trip to Arkansas for the holiday so that I could dictate in the car and type it into the computer later. But then I discovered that Windows 7, the operating system on my new laptop, came with its own voice recognition software. So I started playing with it and realized that I could dictate into the laptop and have the computer transcribe it for me as I talked. Thus, “writing while driving” was born! To date, I’ve used this method on six trips and written somewhere in the neighborhood of 15,000 words this way on four different manuscripts (Ransome’s Crossing, Love Remains, Ransome’s Quest, and The Art of Romance).
I can write just about anywhere—church (yes, I have dozens of church bulletins covered in story ideas or scenes), doctor’s/dentist’s office, during concerts, etc. At home, in nice weather, I like to sit on the porch with either a notebook or the laptop, or I take the laptop to a coffee shop or café when I need a change of scenery. The place where I’m most prolific, though, is after 10 p.m. sitting in the bed with either my spiral notebook or my laptop with just the bedside lamp on and a little soft music playing in the background.
This question seems particularly appropriate for you since one of your recent characters was a chef. When the words aren’t flowing—or when you want to celebrate if they are—what is your favorite comfort food? Why?
Popeye’s spicy fried chicken. Or McDonald’s french fries. Pretty much anything that’s fried and really bad for me is what I’m going to turn to—and then I’m going to follow it up with lots and lots of sugar. The reason why? Because I’m a food addict, and it’s been scientifically proven that for food addicts the combination of fat and sugar release the same dopamine reaction in the brain that cocaine does for drug addicts. (Okay, yes, I know that’s a lot more serious of an answer than you were looking for.)
So, I’m trying to learn to substitute other activities for food—going to a movie I’ve been wanting to see, going shoe shopping (I have a hard-to-fit foot and find most shoes uncomfortable, so this isn’t as dangerous to the pocketbook as it sounds), going for a drive (and taking the laptop with me, just in case inspiration strikes), spending an afternoon at the library or book store, or getting together with friends.
It’s difficult to break into book publishing. What was your big break? How did it come about?
I took somewhat of a back door into getting published. Rather than spending years and years and years racking up rejections, I took a decidedly different route than most authors. After my first writer’s conference in 2001, I joined a national writing organization (which became American Christian Fiction Writers). Because it was small when I joined, I very quickly got involved in volunteer positions. In 2004, I became an elected officer with ACFW, and in 2005, I was elected Vice President. Through these positions, I made contact with most of the top editors and agents in the Christian publishing industry at that time. But again, rather than leveraging those relationships at that time, I went to graduate school. Over the course of a concentrated two years, I went through a very intensive learning process—learning not just the craft of writing but about the industry and marketing as well. I continued networking with all of those industry contacts throughout this time. And once I knew I had a marketable manuscript (my master’s thesis), I knew I would never be more ready to submit. I had known agent Chip MacGregor for several years, so it wasn’t too difficult to approach him in the hall at a conference and ask him if I could submit my manuscript to him. He invited me to submit a proposal and sample chapters. Four months later, I signed my agency contract. Less than a year after that, I signed my first book contract—with Rebecca Germany from Barbour, whom I’d also known for years through ACFW—on my master’s thesis novel: Stand-In Groom.
What advice would you give other writers who are looking for their first break?
Spend more time working on your story—on developing the depth and breadth of your plot and characters—than on anything else. It’s less important to have a trunk full of rejections than it is to have a great story that will catch the eye of your dream editor/agent. And don’t rest on just one or two completed manuscripts. Once you send something out, start writing your next novel—and be planning the one after that. The best way to prepare for being a multi-published novelist is to write multiple manuscripts before you ever sign that first contract.
Who/what influenced your career the most?
My parents always encouraged me to be practical but also to chase my dreams. From the practical side comes great experiences I’ve been able to use in my writing—different places I’ve lived, different jobs I’ve had to pay the bills. From chasing my dreams comes great relationships with authors and writers around the world; knowledge of the publishing industry that allowed me to move into it on both sides: as an editor and an author; and my dream job of being a full-time writer and part-time freelancer so that I don’t have to get up and go work in an office for someone else all day every day. If my parents hadn’t taught me to be self-sufficient, to believe in my own intelligence and talent, and to lean on God (and them) in the hard times, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
How does your faith play into your writing?
Having grown up in church, with parents who are both deacons, God was never a question to me. The amount of faith I’ve had in Him at any given point in my life has been questionable, but never His constant presence in my life. I never enjoy the tough times, but afterward, I enjoy being able to look back and see how God was working during that time to mold me or teach me something I needed to know so that He could give me even greater blessings. That worldview is the lens through which my characters see the world—knowing that God is going to get them through the tough times, even when they can’t see or feel Him working, and then being able to look back and see His handiwork and blessings afterward.
Has God ever provided an unexpected “detour” in your life that turned out to be positive?
When people used to ask me what my dream job was, I’d always tell them that I’d love to be able to stay at home, write full-time, do some freelance editing on the side, and maybe a little teaching, too. But as a single woman living alone, I never really figured this would happen—at least, not for a very, very long time, until I’d saved enough money and had everything planned and organized and arranged just-so.
In 2008, I signed contracts for three books (The Brides of Bonneterre series), and Harvest House was looking at the proposal for The Ransome Trilogy. I was working full time as a copy editor for a small publisher here in Nashville, and I started doubting the wisdom of having Chip send the historical proposal out. If they decided to acquire it, how was I possibly going to be able to not only write but also promote multiple books while working full time?
Then, in July 2008, after a little more than two years of working as an editor at a publishing house, I learned I was being laid off. Thanks to those industry contacts I’d made over the years, within two days of learning I was losing my job, I had freelance work coming in. I was eligible for unemployment benefits, and I had enough money saved from the advances for the Bonneterre books that I could take my time to find another job.
Within a month of my last day of work, the economy went belly-up. Not only was no one hiring, but lots of other people were losing their jobs. Freelance work was still coming in . . . but they were small jobs, not paying enough to cover rent and utilities and other bills, but enough to keep me from having to dip too far into my savings.
By the time November rolled around, I had decided I was going to have to get some kind of job—probably secretarial, since I’d done that for fourteen years before becoming an editor—just so I could have enough income to keep afloat and not have to move back in with Mom and Dad at age thirty-seven.
The week before Thanksgiving, everything changed. I got a call from Harvest House that they wanted to acquire the Ransome Trilogy.
Getting laid off was no random chance or episode of bad luck. God wanted to bless me with my “dream job” but in such a way that I wasn’t relying on my own planning and saving and self-ingenuity. He wanted to teach me to rely on Him through the transition from being a full-time employee to being a self-employed author/editor. That experience, like a few others I’ve had in my life, strengthened my faith and opened me to new ideas, new understandings of how and what God could do.
Where do you get your ideas for books? Do your characters or your plots usually come first?
I was asked in an interview once what my superpower would be. My answer was: The ability to fall madly in love on a regular basis with characters from TV shows or movies and develop them into my own characters and write romance novels about them.
My story ideas start with characters—and then it’s usually the hero. You see, I have a tendency to develop a “crush” on a particular actor in a particular role (or possibly a series of roles that are similar) which makes a character start to form in my head. Then once I have that character, I come up with the perfect mate for him (or her, if she comes first, which is highly unusual for me). Once I have the characters figured out, I can come up with several main plot points of the story and the ending—enough to write a synopsis to send to my editors. The rest, I figure out as I write.
Writing is really hard work. How do you discipline yourself to write every day?
What? I’m supposed to write every day?
This is one part of the deal of being a full-time writer that I regularly fail at. I set daily word-count goals for myself . . . and then regularly blow them off, which means I spend the last month or six weeks before a deadline trying frantically to write several thousand words a day to try to meet deadline. Though that seems to work for me—some of my favorite scenes I’ve ever written have been written during those panicked frenzies of adrenaline-fueled marathon writing.
Let’s talk about Ransome’s Crossing, the second book in your Ransome Trilogy series for Harvest House. Tell us a little about it.
Ransome’s Crossing is the second book in The Ransome Trilogy from Harvest House publishers. Picking up where Ransome’s Honor left off, it continues the story of William and Julia, while turning the focus onto William’s younger sister Charlotte and the goals only hinted at in the first book:
To get to her secret fiancé in Jamaica, Charlotte Ransome disguises herself as a midshipman and joins the crew of one of the ships in the convoy led by her brother William. First Lieutenant Ned Cochrane has only known his captain’s younger sister for a brief time, but is sure she’s the wife he’s been praying for—except he’s about to leave for the Caribbean for at least one year.
An attack on the convoy gains Ned the promotion to commander he has long dreaded—especially once he discovers one of his midshipmen is actually Charlotte Ransome in disguise. After seeking Julia’s advice, Ned decides to keep Charlotte’s secret…and hopes to win her love. Charlotte will soon discover that losing her heart to Ned is not the greatest danger she’ll face on this Atlantic crossing.
Besides providing entertainment, what is the one thing you hope readers will take away from this book?
For me, the theme of this book is about being at cross purposes—with God, with oneself, or in a marriage . . . mostly because each of the characters is trying to run his or her life without consulting God about what He has planned for them or how He would have them behave. So I hope through their mishaps and mistakes, readers will remember to seek God’s will before making plans for their own lives.
This website features writers as well as musicians, so I like to mix it up a bit. Do you have musical, as well as literary, talent?
I’ve been a singer longer than I’ve been a writer. Through children’s choirs at church, I learned how to read music as I learned how to read. I sang my first solo in church in an elementary-school choir musical. Because I didn’t want to have to sit with my older sister in youth choir, I started singing alto—and discovered I have an ear for harmony, which turned out great, as my sister and I sang duets together throughout high school and college. I sang in two different choirs at Las Cruces High School, made the All-State choir and scored the highest marks possible in the Solo portion of the state-wide Solo and Ensemble competition my junior year of high school. One of my mom’s closest friends during that time taught vocal performance at NMSU and gave us all voice lessons.
Throughout college and into my adult years, I sang in the sanctuary choirs at the various churches I attended, in addition to ensembles and performing special music. For a few years, I even sang in a Southern Gospel quartet at my church here in Nashville.
I haven’t done much public singing in the past five or six years, but since recently joining a new church, I hope to once again get involved in singing in choir.
What kind of music do you listen to when you’re relaxing with the radio or an mp3 player?
When I’m kicking back—around the house, in the car—I’m listing to a vast library of Standards, either from the original crooners (Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, etc.) or from newer cover artists (Steve Tyrell, Harry Connick, John Barrowman, Michael Bublé). Occasionally, though, when I’m feeling nostalgic, I’ll crank up my “Hits of the ’80s” station on Pandora—Bon Jovi, Hewy Lewis and the News, Air Supply, Journey, Chicago, REO Speedwagon . . .
I always have music going. But when I’m writing or working, I can’t listen to anything with lyrics. So I have a vast library of instrumental movie soundtracks—my favorite composers being John Williams, Michael Giacchino, Patrick Doyle, and Martin Phipps.
If you were a song, what kind of song would you be?
I think I’d be a Handel chorus—lots and lots of layers with lots of different “voices” doing different things all at the same time, yet blending together into a harmonic whole.
Are you a major or a minor chord?
Depends on the day and what I’m working on. Usually a major chord, though.
In the story that is your life, are you the strong, female lead; the girl next door; the mysterious woman behind dark glasses; the super heroine; or the little girl trying to walk in high heels?
I guess I’d have to say the strong female lead; it’s a role I’ve had to learn to take on in my adult life, especially the longer I’ve lived on my own and had to take care of myself. But put me in a room with a bunch of people I don’t know, and I feel like the weird, awkward girl with no social skills.
I’m a dog lover, so I like to ask about pets. Do you have any? (If you are a dog lover, what is your favorite breed? If you are a cat lover, what is your favorite breed?)
I’m a dog lover, too, but because I rent—and because I travel a lot—I don’t have any pets. I grew up with Cocker Spaniels, so I have a soft spot for them. I love medium- to large-size dogs. My parents have a standard Schnauzer who’s pretty much the ideal dog (she sleeps all day, doesn’t bark, and might acknowledge your coming home by lifting her head from the pillow-like side of her dog bed). Dogs make occasional appearances in my books—in Menu for Romance, Meredith finds a stray puppy. In Love Remains, the hero’s grandparents have a Great Dane named Maximus. But like me, the characters in my books tend to be people whose lives are just a little too busy to have pets.
What’s coming next from you? What is your current writing project?
In addition to Ransome’s Crossing, I have one more book coming out this year: Love Remains, Book 1 of the Matchmakers series from Barbour, which comes out in August. I’m currently working on two books: Ransome’s Quest, the third and final book in the Ransome Trilogy, and The Art of Romance, Book 2 of the Matchmakers series. Both of those, along with the third Matchmakers book, Turnabout Is Fair Play, release in 2011.
Thanks, Kaye! Your words and your willingness to share are always an inspiration.
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For more information about Kaye Dacus, visit her website at www.kayedacus.com.
For more information about Middle Tennessee Christian Writers, logon to www.mtcw.wordpress.com/.