Member Spotlight – Erika Kelly

Erika Kelly Bio picIt’s always fun to get to know our amazing chapter members better, and learn from their great advice.

Today, we have Erika Kelly visiting the blog.

Welcome Erika

Q: When did you first start reading romance? What prompted you to write your first book?

A: I didn’t discover the romance genre until my mid-thirties, and then only because an editor wrote on my manuscript, Does this author know she writes romance? But I sure wish I’d known about it! All I did know was that my pulse kicked up at the moments of romantic tension in the books I read —and then I’d find myself skimming just to get back to the “good parts.” Once I found romance, I gorged on it. I’m still gorging on it.

I started writing screenplays right after college, but I didn’t find the medium satisfying. So, I took a break to do a creative exercise. 650 pages later I realized I’d found my voice and my medium in fiction. It was about two misfits from dysfunctional families who become inseparable. But Robert’s inner demons send Sarah running out of self-preservation. She moves across the country, trying hard to put their tumultuous history behind her. The one person in her childhood she could count on was Robert’s stable and grounded best friend, Cassian. When she comes back home ten years later, she runs into Cassian and, just as they begin to fall in love, Robert comes back into her life, still wanting her. Which man will she choose? I still love that wildly passionate story. Too bad I didn’t know about romance, because I could’ve whipped that behemoth into a really hot New Adult story!

Q: What are some of the differences between writing screenplays and novels?

A: You’ve got 120 pages to tell a story in a screenplay. That means you have to nail each bit of emotion, description, action, and dialogue in one stroke. You also only get to tell what can be seen. So, if you want to express an internal thought, you have to do it in a way that the viewer can visually interpret. It makes your writing sharper and more focused—which is great—but it frustrated me. Story is about a character’s journey from one way of being to another. People don’t like to change. So, it takes something extraordinary to make someone willing to change. For me, that’s the fun of writing, dragging the character through all those conflicts to get him to go from seeing glimpses of who he could be to finally living an authentic life. I definitely make full use of my 350 manuscript pages in tracking that journey!

Q: How has your degree in English literature served you as a romance writer?

A: Certainly, the more you read and the more widely you read the better your writing becomes. Regardless of genre, every book has suspense (or we wouldn’t want to keep turning the pages), so we can learn suspense and mystery from the best writers of those genres. Poetry teaches you about subtext and multiple layers of meaning. Reading grows your vocabulary and helps you absorb tropes and story structure. But, I have to say, while I’m sure all that literary analysis embedded some sense of theme, recurring motif and all that, I don’t consciously employ any of it during the creative process!

Q: In your opinion, what is the appeal of contemporary romance? What attracts readers to the subgenre?

A: I think what made FIFTY SHADES OF GREY so wildly popular is that an ordinary woman made a very hot, very successful, very desirable man love her so hard he was willing to change who he was to win her. The author delivered a core romantic fantasy, and she did it by making Christian Grey’s internal arc so compelling. It’s very hard in contemporary romance to find external conflicts that ring true to modern readers. Other genres can rely on barriers like religion, cultural mores, and familial relations to keep couples apart, but that’s harder to pull off in modern times. So, I think in contemporary we draw more on our characters’ wounds, which is deeply and universally compelling because we’re touching the very core of a character—this is what I desperately need, but I can’t have it because of my profound fears—and healing it. With love. 

Q: How has being a member of writing organizations, such as RWA helped / influenced your writing career?

A: Before I joined RWA, I had no clue what I was doing. RWA, my local chapters, and all the generous and helpful writers I’ve met along the way have driven me toward a professionalism I could never have achieved on my own. They’ve given me inspiration, encouragement, support, and invaluable guidance.

Q: You recently sold your first book. Do you have any advice or encouragement for authors waiting to make that first sale?

A: I know writers who sold right away, and others who took decades to sell. I know some who insist on traditional publishing and others who want nothing more than to take their career into their own hands with self-publishing. I know some people who devour craft, and others who squeeze their eyes shut and cover their ears at the mention of GMC.

And that’s what makes this business so great. We’re not in competition with each other, and we don’t have to follow a prescribed pathway to success. There’s room for every single one of us, and we get to honor our own process. Sweet!

Here’s what’s worked for me:

  1. I set aside inviolable hours and try to write every day—not giving into blocks, doubts, or outside influences. Even if you only have 3 – 4 PM on Sunday, if you honor that time, you’ll absolutely finish a book.
  2. I study craft—a lot. It’s given me the tools to identify and fix what doesn’t work. And, the more manuscripts you write, the more ingrained craft becomes.
  3. I’ve never given up. Rejection hurts—but I only let it knock me down for a couple of hours before determination comes roaring back in.

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday and wish you a happy, healthy 2015. Did you grow up reading romance? I’m still making up for all those years I didn’t know about that delicious section of the bookstore—what are your all-time favorite books?  What attracts you to contemporary romance?

Award-winning author Erika Kelly has been spinning romantic tales all her life—she just didn’t know it. Raised on the classics, she didn’t discover romantic fiction until later in life. From that moment on, she’s been devouring the genre and has found her true voice as an author. Over three decades she’s written poems, screenplays, plays, short stories, and all kinds of women’s fiction novels. Married to the love of her life and raising four children, she’s lived in two countries and seven states, but give her pen and paper, a stack of good books, and a steaming mug of vanilla chai latte and she can make her home anywhere.

4 thoughts on “Member Spotlight – Erika Kelly”

  1. Congratulations on your first sale. I’ve been reading romance for decades now. My mom used to bring home stripped books from the drug store where she worked, we’d read the books and then she’d take them back. So it’s all Mom’s fault!

  2. You are lucky! As for that 650-pager, I think about it from time to time, but I’m always onto the next project, so I haven’t even looked at it in all these years. Probably a good idea, right? Since it was my first attempt at a novel! Thank you for commenting, Janet.

  3. I was lucky enough to have a romance-addicted mom who introduced me to the genre early, so I’ve been devouring it my entire life!
    Are you ever going to do anything with you 650 pager? Sounds like an interesting story!

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