Interview with Stacey Keith

Interview with Stacey Keith

What genre do you write and why?

As a woman and as a writer, I reject the notion that romance novels are the lowly stepchildren of “real” literature. First of all, over 70% of books sold these days are romance or so-called “women’s” fiction, so hey, a little respect here, people, because we’re footing the bills ;-) Second, the quality of writing has risen exponentially over the past twenty years. Pick up any novel by Nora Roberts, read ten pages in and then try to set that puppy down. You can’t. We have Rhodes Scholars, former litigators, and Oxford graduates in our writing ranks these days. Romance has arrived.

Just because a story is about relationships doesn’t make it the exclusive purview of women or women’s fiction. Just because a story is about emotional and sexual connections with men doesn’t make it any less feminist. There is no power in the universe mightier than love—except, perhaps the maternal instinct. If that’s not worth writing about, what is?

With romance, it is wise to check your prejudices at the door. Romance is read by intelligent beautiful women, women with jobs and responsibilities, women in relationships. It is not porn masquerading as commercial fiction. It is not consumed by crazy cat ladies or “chicks who can’t get laid.” If there is anything that drives me loonier than the aspersions cast on romance readers (all of which are not only sexist but untrue), it’s the notion that writing about love is itself a second-class pursuit. Those kinds of statements display an appalling ignorance.

What advice do you have for other writers?

1. Be proud of your craft but humble about your abilities. And this holds especially true for new writers who, feeling vulnerable in the first place, tend to take criticism badly. Even established ones can get bristly. Look, it’s hard to know who’s right sometimes. And yes, a critiquer’s motives may be suspect. So I do what I call a gut check. If what she says feels right or makes sense or gives me pause, I pay attention. If what she says is poorly communicated or ill-considered or generally insipid, I ignore it.

2. Recognize that you’re playing the long game. It takes a ballet dancer ten years to achieve a state of technical proficiency. Ten years. Personally, I think it takes almost as long to become an effective writer. That’s not to say there aren’t exceptions. Of course there are. But to have true and consistent mastery of your craft requires a long apprenticeship. Are you ready to commit to that? Because even after you gain mastery, you are looking at an equally protracted gruel finding an agent, landing a book contract (if you decide to go with a legacy publisher rather than self-publishing), remaining commercially viable. If you’re serious about writing professionally, expect heartbreaks, setbacks, crippling disappointments. They are part of the process. Writing professionally is a raw Darwinian struggle where only the strong survive.

3. Talent isn’t as important to commercial success as you think it is. Yes, I realize what I just said is tantamount to heresy, but it’s true. With all due respect to her huge commercial success, E.L. James (author of FIFTY SHADES OF GRAY) will never be accused of being a great writer, but she must be doing something right. Look at her numbers. So what propelled FIFTY SHADES series to the top of the heap? James tells a compelling story. The way it’s written is secondary. Don’t get too hung up on crafting well-turned prose—half the time, the “artistry” of a sentence eclipses the flow of the narrative anyway. That’s not what you want. The brilliance of the writer or the writing should never get in the way of your story. You want the characters to stand out, not you.

4. Welcome failure and humiliation. And now you’re thinking, what kind of masochist is this woman? Who actually welcomes these awful, painful things? Yet I am here to tell you that every spear thrown your way by life, critique groups, beta readers, paying readers, agents, book contest judges will either kill you or make you stronger. You need to be stronger. But being strong isn’t a mindset. It’s a process. Strength comes from having survived. And in order to survive, you must hazard your person upon the field of battle.

So every rejection letter you get is one more opportunity for survival. Every bad review, every broken contract. The Buddha once said, “The fingers pointing at the moon are not the moon.” Once you’ve internalized that wisdom, praise no longer boosts your happiness and criticism no longer demoralizes you. You can achieve a state of Zen, but the cost is that the highs aren’t as high and lows aren’t as low.

5. Make a choice: Results or excuses. If you decide not to write (because let’s face it—writing is hard), don’t lie to yourself. Don’t make excuses for your decision not to write, even if those excuses are valid. Just own that you aren’t going to write, thank you very much, and who are you looking at anyway? At the end of the day, however, you will have one of two things: Results or excuses. Results can be half a page of stilted, awful prose. Excuses can put a salve on the burn of disappointment that comes from making “bad” choices. But you’re going to have a heaping plateful of one or the other. So don’t B.S. yourself. If you don’t write, don’t write. If you do write, give yourself props for that, even if production is slow or you feel it falls short of the mark.

Why do you think readers are going to enjoy your book?

Interview with Stacey Keith
DREAM ON is the first book in my “Dreams Come True” series. It came out in November of 2017. The second, SWEET DREAMS, comes out in March, and DREAM LOVER will be released in July. The series is about three sisters who live in a small Texas town called Cuervo. Before moving to Italy, I lived in Texas, so I am quite familiar with small Texas towns. The series was a blast to write.
My purpose in writing the series was to take a popular trope (in this case, a football quarterback) and explore in as real a way as possible what happens when a celebrity athlete tries to make a relationship work with his hometown honey. Fame is tough. You give up your privacy, your anonymity, even your right to the truth. How many specious articles are written about the rich and famous? Plenty. So I wanted to see what happened when you took a shy, unassuming heroine like Cassidy Roby and dropped her into Mason’s high-pressure jet-set lifestyle. To the best of my knowledge, this hasn’t been done before in a romance novel. But my goal as a writer in this genre is to make it as reality-based as possible. Real people. Real problems. Real life situations.

Where can people find out more about you and your writing?

I’ve had many lives! More than my share. In my one and only indie book, STRIPPED DOWN: A Naked Memoir, I talk about my time as a men’s magazine model (far from glamorous) including a stint in the Hollywood of the 1990s. But keep in mind, these were things I did in order to carve out enough time to write. They included working as a dating service salesperson, a peddler of vacation packages, a personal trainer and a fitness instructor at a popular Houston gym. I considered all these professions as a means to an end. One end. And that was writing.

A simple Google search of my name, Stacey Keith, will lead you to my books. On my website, you will find Blog Candy, which is where I riff on a variety of subjects, such as what’s it like to life in Italy and my geeky enthusiasm for Tudor and Jacobean history. You can see that here:

Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with the bad or good ones?

I do occasionally read my book reviews, mostly to discover what worked/didn’t work for the reader. What’s helpful: being able to read a clearly articulated analysis of what may or may not have worked. A writer can learn just as much by knowing what works as she can by knowing what doesn’t.

But what doesn’t work is this, and I see it all too often in my reviews and the reviews of other authors: a straight rehash of the plot. Book bloggers are especially guilty of writing plot synopses, which are not the same things as analysis. If a book falls short, it’s helpful to know why. If you ding it, explain it. As a judge of many book contests, I never ever take points off without discussing the reasons why.

One of the most rewarding things about being a writer, however, are those sweet emails from people who were really transported by the world you created, who read the book and couldn’t put it down. Those are the great folks who make doing this job worthwhile. I treasure every single one of them.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I’m a wannabe plotter! What fun it would be to know exactly what to write next without all that annoying uncertainty. It ain’t never gonna happen. Being a pantser is like walking a tightrope without the net. I’m forced to listen to what my characters want to do—without editorial direction from me. As wacky as that sounds, it’s true. If you can shut off your brain and just listen, your characters will tell you where to go next. And sometimes that can genuinely surprise you. It’s a spooky process, one that makes you question your own sanity.

In DREAM LOVER, the final book in my “Dreams Come True” trilogy, I had no idea what the climax of the story would be until I started writing it. I had no idea it would be so dramatic or so unexpected. But when I read that book now, it makes perfect sense. Of course it had to reach that fever pitch. Of course there was going to be emotional fallout. Of course Brandon and April had to make sacrifices. If it’s not real, it’s not worth writing about.

Interview with Stacey Keith
How long did it take you to write your book series?

2017 was nuts. Truly. I came back from a quick trip to Houston around Christmas time of 2016 and then hit the deck running. I wrote SWEET DREAMS in four months. Then my terrific editor at Kensington Books invited me to contribute a novella to an anthology by New York Times bestselling authors Janet Dailey and Lori Wilde called A WEDDING ON BLUEBIRD WAY, which I wrote in ten weeks. After that, I was pretty jammed for time—and there was no chance of a deadline extension—so I locked myself in my office and wrote DREAM LOVER in seventy-six days. That was rough. There were times I was so overwhelmed, I put my forehead on the table and cried. Fueled by cappuccino, fear, and desperation, I stayed up for three days straight to get that book finished. And I learned that writers really can do the impossible. Even when they’re drunk with exhaustion, they can pull themselves over the finish line before finally collapsing in the pool of their own vomit. Amazing, but true.

Does your family support you in your writing career? How?

I’m the proud, happy mom of two great kids—my son, Dane, who is the youngest police officer in his Houston precinct, and Katie Scarlett (yes, that Katie Scarlett) who is in her junior year of high school. For most of their lives, I was a single mom, which meant that finding time to write was a pretty tall order. There were many Thanksgivings and New Year’s Days I would take advantage of having family around by hiding out in my car so I could meet a deadline. My decision to move to Italy had to do, in part, with the need to live more cheaply so I could devote myself fulltime to writing. My fiancĂ©, John, who is a jazz musician—and fortunately, a fluent Italian speaker—has been the very definition of supportive. He gets it. But I would be the first person to confess that being a partner, a parent, a friend, can be damned difficult for someone whose profession demands monastic solitude. John helped me turn a ruined garden shed on our terrace into a real writer’s studio, complete with heat and air conditioning. I love to paint and decorate, so that part was easy, but he did all the insulating, which isn’t. Now I have a view of Monte Soracte in one direction and 12th century Saint Gregorio (a church) in the other, close enough to reach out and touch. Talk about an upgrade from hiding out in my car!

Plus, I get to go to work in my pajamas. So there’s that.

When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?

I’m a hopeless sightseer. Where I live in Italy, a 3000-year-old village called Civita Castellana, affords me many such happy indulgences. There’s the 11th century Duomo where Mozart played, and the Forte San Gallo, former Borgia stronghold. Just walking the streets here gives me joy. But all of Italy is like that—Rome, Florence, Venice, Bologna. And not just the major cities, but the hundreds of tiny medieval villages that are scattered throughout the mountains and foothills. I’ve gone from living in a moldy apartment behind a mall in Houston, Texas, to a mini-palazzo constructed during the Italian Renaissance that has a terrace overlooking the historic center. Dues? I’ve paid them.

What’s your favorite quote for writers?

Charles Bukowski: “Find what you love and let it kill you.” He wrote that in a letter, I believe. And it’s so true. Why do anything by half-measures? Why not let that lovely obsession of yours consume you? Why write and publish stories that fail to emotionally resonate, that don’t speak some truth about our lives, that fall short of what a reader deserves in exchange for giving up her time? There is nothing wrong with enjoying a good story, a story that transports you and keeps you turning the pages long after you should be in bed. Don’t let anyone shame you for your reading choices. When you read, you have a projection screen in your head. The act of reading requires active participation. And that’s why readers are smarter than non-readers—and that has nothing to do with the material read; rather, the imagination it takes to keep that mental movie projector running.

Keep reading. If you’re a writer, keep writing. Above on, keep on being the unique and wonderful being that you are. There’s only one of you in the whole world, so make the most of it!


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