Here’s a quick quiz to get us started today?
What do these three have in common: calculus, Taekwondo and romance writing?
Answer: All three are things in which my current guest excels.
Whether you have questions about derivatives, down blocks or dialogue tags, Tatia Talbot is one person who can answer all three. This multi-faceted woman teaches by day, has earned a black belt, and writes romances by night. A two-time Golden Heart® finalist, she crafts western historicals in which “ordinary people become extraordinary, their mettle tested by adversity and their fight to thrive in a harsh, unsettled land.”
I met Tatia when we both finaled in the 2008 Golden Heart contest. We attended RWA® Nationals in San Francisco. While there, the Pixie Chicks, as we finalists call ourselves, gathered for dinner one evening. While waiting for our table in the Cheesecake Factory atop Macy’s, some of us went shopping. I was one of those who got to help Tatia pick out some very cool shoes.
And now, help me welcome this talented woman who isn’t at all stuffy, even if she does teach math, and who is still nice to me even though I told her that in my opinion her favorite subject is a four-letter word.
You’ve said your love of romance goes back to your fascination with Disney princesses as a girly girl. In middle school you discovered and devoured romance novels. Which authors captured your attention? Who are your favorites today?
I didn’t pay any attention to authors until about ten years ago. Prior to that time, I was such a voracious reader that I’d pick up anything that had a decent cover, an engaging back blurb, or an interesting first page. (This consumer slant to my development as a writer gives me great insight into why an editor might accept or reject a story based on the first paragraph.)
I LOVED the Harlequin books and read a book a day from age 11 to 17. Every week, I would visit my local library or bookmobile for another armload of books. My reading tastes ran the gamut from sweet to sexy, from historical to contemporary, from dark to light and funny. I loved it all. My romance consumption slowed a bit once I entered college, the work world, and parenthood. Now, I have to be much more selective because I simply don’t have the time to read as much as I’d like.
When my youngest son was about a year old, I started to toy with the idea of writing a novel myself, and it was only at that point that I began to pay attention to who had penned the stories I’d loved. Even though I’m more selective now, I’ll still pick up a new author when the buzz, packaging, and first page snag my attention, and my TBR pile has grown to gargantuan proportions as a result. There are too many good books out there!
Favorite authors I carve time out to read on a semi-regular basis are: LaVyrle Spencer (my all time favorite), Susan Wiggs, Kristin Hannah, Rachel Gibson, Laura Lee Guhrke, Jane Porter, Lisa Kleypas, Jodi Thomas, Linda Lael Miller, Stacey Kayne, Carolyn Davidson, Patricia Potter, Kate Bridges, Cheryl St. John, Pam Crooks, Elizabeth Lane, Charlene Sands, and my awesome CP, Jennie Lucas. I know I’m forgetting others (sorry!), and I’m sure I’ll add new favorites in the years to come.
I read on your website that you, a self-professed lover of fairy tales and happy endings, ended up with—of all things—a football scholarship. What’s the story behind that?
In my immature pre-college blindness, I only applied to the one college I just knew was the school for me. Unfortunately, when I went to visit the campus several months later, I HATED it. I knew I would never fit in at that particular university, and that I’d missed all of the deadlines for other schools. Since I’d received a full ride academic scholarship, I also knew my parents wouldn’t support my switching schools unless I could get the tuition funded.
Desperate to go ANYWHERE else, I approached the admissions personnel at my brother’s school, the University of Utah, and told them my dilemma. They referred me to the dean of mathematics, who promised he’d find me the money to attend, as long as I agreed to major in mathematics. I agreed, and he was able to finagle a football scholarship for me. I didn’t dig too deeply into the politics behind that move; I just kept my head down and studied math. To this day, I don’t know who was privy to the diversion of funds.
In college, despite your love of romances and reading, you didn’t pursue a degree in English. Instead you earned an M.S. in mathematics. What led you to your choice of that major?
When I was in school, I loved *everything* except PE. (My husband calls me Miss Oblivious, and my father affectionately referred to me as his “Ballerina in the China Shop,” so you can imagine my talent in sports has NOT served me well.) I wanted to study English, biology, math, psychology, music, drama—you name it. Left to my own devices, I’d probably still be in school with an undeclared major.
Fortunately, fate stepped in and directed me toward math. I’ve never regretted my path, as it led to a teaching assistantship and the discovery of my dream career. (Or perhaps I should say, my OTHER dream career.) I was good enough with numbers and mathematics theory to attract attention, and I enjoyed it enough to continue once I’d completed my bachelors. Heck, as long as people were willing to pay me to attend school, why would I leave?
I taught on the college level because that’s what master’s candidates did. I never dreamed I would love it as much as I do. Maybe it’s because I’d been exposed to so many words; maybe it’s because I love English as much as I love math. Whatever it is, I’m able to articulate complex mathematical concepts in a way that others can understand, and the students’ gratitude at finding a teacher who can actually make math accessible is enough to inflate any ego. It’s a heady feeling to be constantly lauded for something that comes naturally, so despite my husband’s misgivings, I decided to pursue teaching as a career.
So, you teach AP calculus by day and write by night. And there are a husband and—count ’em—three young sons in the picture these days. I’d definitely say that adds up to a need to escape into a romantic world of your own creation at times. How do you juggle a demanding teaching assignment, mothering three active young fellows and writing?
Yes, my home is a far cry from the fairy tale castle I’d envisioned as a child. There are no elegant soirees, no beautiful dresses, no cozy evenings doing needlework by the fire whilst discussing the affairs of the day. No. It’s all about wrestling, trampolines, screaming, fighting, and skidding down the hall in dirty socks. I’m neck deep in Legos, basketballs, video games, HeroScape, AirSoft guns, and car magazines. Thank God for my romance novels, or I’d go crazy. Whether reading them or crafting my own, romance provides a welcome refuge from the testosterone infestation that makes up my life.
As for fitting writing time into the melee? Well, to be honest, it doesn’t happen as often as I’d like. There’s a reason I’ve been writing for eleven years and am still unpublished. My writing tends to occur in fits and spurts. I do a lot of writing after the AP exams in May and during the early summer mornings after I run and before the kids wake, but the initial months of school are always so incredibly busy that I get absolutely nothing done. The whole family wakes up at 4:30 a.m., we’re out the door by 4:45, and we often do not arrive home until 5:30 or 6:00. Add dinner, homework, assorted concerts, sporting events, and stacks of tests to grade, and I’m lucky to tumble into bed by 10:30.
My writing is usually squeezed in on the weekends or in the car between piano lessons, cross-country meets, and taekwondo. By November, things start to settle into a routine and I’m able to steal more time in the evenings. (It could be that my husband is so tired by that time that he doesn’t protest when I leave him to stare blindly at the television while I steal away with my laptop.) For the most part, my writing time comes in snatches: one little sentence or paragraph at a time.
How does living in a testosterone-filled environment affect your writing? Do aspects of your husband and sons work their ways into your heroes? Is hearing malespeak on a daily basis what enables you to write the fabulous dialogue I read in the excerpt of Lily’s Outlaw on your website?
My husband helps me craft conflict, merely because he’s a master at confrontation. Unlike me, he has no tolerance for wimpy avoidance. He tackles issues head-on. He never allows things to fester, and I definitely try to imbue those same characteristics into my heroes. And yes, being surrounded by males keeps me from being too “cutesy” or feminine in my writing. If a line of dialogue would make my husband roll his eyes, I don’t use it, no matter how much I might think it works. My sons have yet to embark on the girlfriend stage (and I’ve no desire to hurry toward THAT particular developmental milestone), so right now, they provide endless fodder for any writing involving sons, nephews, or obnoxious, impish boys.
I see that Lily’s Outlaw, a historical western, is set in Idaho territory. Since you live in the Boise area that must facilitate your research. How much time do you spend delving into the past before moving forward on a story? Do you weave actual places and events into your stories or create your own?
I used to spend a lot more time than I do now. I’ve discovered that, after steeping myself in the research for so long, I’ve developed a feel for the time period and its historical detail. Sure, I’ll make mistakes that I have to fix later, but for the most part, I can write scenes now without having to do a lot of research. It’s like what Elizabeth Boyle said in one of her recent workshops: If you read enough primary sources, peruse enough catalogues, and visit enough libraries, you eventually “get it.” I’m not sure I’m quite there yet, but I’m getting close.
Until then, I tend to create my own fictional towns so I don’t have to spend a lot of time making sure that what I write matches with entries in history. If I can set a scene in Greenville instead of Boise, and the content of the scene remains the same, why tack on an additional layer of complexity and research? If actual places and events aren’t required by the story, I’ll opt for creating my own.
I knew you finaled in the Golden Heart this year, since you’re one of my Pixie pals, but I didn’t realize you’d done so before. What’s even more amazing to me is that your first manuscript was your 2002 finaling entry and your second took the honor in 2008. Many writers produce numerous manuscripts before such a feat. What do you credit as having led to your successes?
To be honest, I think the GH finals are a total crapshoot. I know there are many incredible manuscripts that don’t final, and I can’t point to anything that would make mine stand out from the entries I’ve read and loved. I’ve judged for the GH and thought manuscripts were flawless that didn’t end up as finalists. So, if someone is writing good books and they don’t final, I wouldn’t interpret it as a failure. Just entering the GH, crafting a complete manuscript, and having the guts to put your baby out there is cause for celebration. Whether you final or win is not a measure of your success as a writer. It’s a matter of taste, the judges you happen to be dealt, and whether or not the story you’ve written appeals to that particular judge. I’ve just been lucky. Twice.
That said, I would say that having a good critique partner is a definite must when embarking on the path toward publication My CP Jennie Lucas is brutally honest, and her feedback has made me a better writer. If something doesn’t work, she makes me improve it. If something doesn’t make sense, she brainstorms with me until it does. When I’m too caught up in the actual words to see the story, she reels me back and points out the flaws. I tend to spend WAY too much time fine-tuning sentences and paragraphs; she forces me to consider the big picture. Watching her craft her stories helps, too. Her process, though different than mine, is very instructive. I’ve learned a lot by having her blaze the trail ahead of me.
You and your family have settled in the Boise area, but you grew up as an Army brat. Where did you live? Which place was your favorite, and why?
I lived in 20+ homes and in 10 different states. I’ve lived in the South, East, West, and Midwest. I’ve lived inland and on the coast. I’ve lived with humidity and drought, in urban cities and small hick towns, among green hills, flat plains, and the Rocky Mountains. It’s hard to say which home was my favorite, as I lived in each at a different developmental stage of my life. So much of the place is tied up in who I was at the time, the friends I had, the school I attended, and my age. Maybe the question should be which age was my favorite? And to that, well, I love where I am right now. I’m busy beyond belief, but I’m happy and healthy and surrounded by friends and family whom I love. Life doesn’t get much better than that.
And what’s this about you holding a black belt in Taekwondo? Did you get it so you could keep your students in line or so your sons knew not to mess with mom when she said, “Clean your room”?
I earned my black belt because (1) I wanted an activity that all three of my sons could do simultaneously—the transportation to individual pursuits was KILLING me! (2) I thought it would be good to bond with the boys in a way that worked for them—talking and sharing, while wonderful with girls, is a non-starter with boys, and (3) once my boys convince me to let them start something new, quitting is not an option. I wanted to model exercise, self-defense, perseverance, and grit for my kids. What better way than to tackle something I’m NOT good at? It was a great ride for all of us, and now all four of us are black belts. Sadly, though my newly acquired credential may make me sound rather fearsome, I’m still the clumsy PE-phobe of my early years. All three of my kids (the twelve year old included) are capable of taking me down in no time flat. Alas, despite my training in the martial arts, my first and only reliable defense is and always will be to RUN!
How do you shift gears when it comes time to write? And what do you do to fuel your creativity? Listen to music? Eat chocolate?
Yeah, I eat a lot of chocolate, but I’d be lying if I said it’s because it fuels my creativity. Mainly, I shift gears by shutting myself in my room with my computer, shoving in a pair of earplugs, and opening my manuscript file. I don’t have time for transitions or for shifting gears. I just have to start writing. I prefer silence, probably because I am inundated with noise all the time. I have to be able to hear the voices in my head before I can get them onto paper, so music distracts me.
Since I’m not writing the eight hours a day like I’d love to have, I’ve yet to smack up against the “well running dry” hurdle. I usually have so many hours between writing sessions to think about my stories that by the time I actually sit down to write, I have more to say than I have time to say it. Even so, I find inspiration in my favorite books, the lives around me, and in great movies. (The pickings for films are pretty slim, given the four males in my home, but I’m able to sneak in the occasional Pride and Prejudice every once in a while.
In closing, what words of encouragement would you offer other writers on the road to publication?
I’d tell them the romance-writing world is a small one, populated with amazing women who are willing to help you when you’re down. They’ll cheer you, they’ll teach you, they’ll share their wisdom, and they’ll provide invaluable support no matter where you are on the journey. Cultivate good friendships, make writing into a habit, and don’t get so lost in the production of the perfect book that you forget to enjoy the process.
Writing is TOUGH! It’s hard work. It’s not always fun, and rejection hurts. But every step forward is HUGE, and sticking with it makes that elusive success all the sweeter. Writing “The End” feels amazing! And with every book, every scene, and every line of dialogue, I discover more about what works and what doesn’t. I just keep moving, keep writing, keep studying, and keep learning. Eventually, I’ll get there.
A friend of mine, Candis Terry, has been in the trenches longer than I, and she is a major inspiration. She never gives up, no matter how many times she gets knocked down. She trusts in her voice, and she believes. And you know what? She’s right. She’s going to make it. By never giving up, she will succeed.
By watching friends as they struggle toward publication, I’ve learned that it’s not about who crosses the finish line first. It’s about those who cross it after everyone else has gone home. It’s about those who never quit and who work at their craft and continue to submit until finally, finally they meet with success. I’m way too late to be one of the earlier finishers, but I plan to finish nonetheless. I may be old and doddering by the time I get there, but I’ll cross that line. I hope you can join me on the journey.
Tatia, it’s been great having you as my guest.
And now a final question for those who’ve stopped by to learn about my bright and beautiful guest. Have you ever struggled to put words in your heroes’ mouths? What have been the best lines of dialogue your guys have uttered? The worst? The funniest? Tatia will choose the comment she enjoys most to determine the first drawing winner, and I’ll choose the second.
Leave a Comment for Tatia
All those who leave a comment for Tatia between now and October 8 will be entered in a drawing for some M&Ms-themed goodies, M&Ms being one form of chocolate Tatia loves. We’ll hold the first drawing the evening of October 6 and the second October 8.
Congratulations to C.J. Redwine, winner of the first drawing, and to Anne Barton, winner of the second.
If you don’t see a comment form below, please use the link by the post title.
If you don’t wish to participate, note that in your comment, and your request will be honored.
Learn More About Tatia
Visit her website: www.tatiatalbot.com