Kaye Dacus writes “inspirational romance with a sense of humor.” She’s a Jane Austen “fanatic” who’s loved reading romance since she was a girl and penned her first one as a young teen.
Although born in Louisiana, Kaye’s family soon moved to Alaska shortly thereafter. Her earliest memories are of moose feeding in her family’s backyard in Alaska. She’s also lived in New Mexico and Northern Virginia. Since 1996, Nashville, Tennessee has been her home.
After twenty years of writing fiction, Kaye’s dream came true when she landed a three-book contract with Barbour. Her debut novel, Stand-in Groom, hit the shelves in December.
I met Kaye through her blog, Write Place, Write Time. Like me, she has a heart for writers eager to land that first contract or who are just launching their careers. Her blog is a wealth of information on craft, and she has an array of articles archived under Writing Series Index.
I invite you to read Kaye’s interview and leave her a comment. One of those leaving her a comment will win a copy of Stand-in Groom. In addition, all those leaving a comment over the next month have a chance at winning a First Sale Scrapbook created by me, your scrapbooking blog host, Keli Gwyn. See details at the end of the interview.
•Kaye, your debut novel, Stand-in Groom, is on the shelves. After dreaming of seeing your first book published for twenty years, what was it like when you were finally able to hold your firstborn in your hands and see your name on the cover? Did you laugh, cry or startle the neighbors with your whooping and hollering?
I think I was probably more excited when Stand-In Groom was first listed on Amazon.com than when I actually received the copies of the book—mostly because that was before I’d finished the second book and received a contract offer for another three-book series. But I do have to say that when the two cases of books arrived, I had to share the moment with someone, and that someone happened to be my mail deliverer. She was excited for me and watched while I ripped into one of the boxes and pulled out a book.
Now, the excitement is going into stores and looking for my book on the shelves. So far, I’ve only seen it in one store (Lifeway in downtown Nashville), but I’m keeping on the lookout for it all over the place!
•Would you please tell us a little about Stand-in Groom, where you got the idea for the story, and what character or scene is a favorite of yours?
As many people have probably guessed, the inspiration for Stand-In Groom came after watching The Wedding Planner. I wasn’t happy with the way the romance in that story revolved around the breakup of an engagement. As a writer, most of my ideas come from asking “what if” questions. What if a wedding planner thinks she’s falling in love with the groom of the biggest wedding she’s ever planned . . . but then he turns out not to be the groom? And the story grew from there.
Anne is my favorite character in this book—I learned a lot about myself while writing it, mostly through Anne and the way she was able to grow beyond bad things that happened early in life: losing her parents as a child and having a fiancé walk out on her. She never lost her determination to make a good life for herself by finding out what it was God had given her the talent and drive to do—which is to make every bride’s Happy Ending dream come true, even though she thought she’d never have it for herself.
My favorite scene in the book would have to be when Anne and George dance to Dean Martin’s song “That’s Amore.” It was so much fun to write, and now every time I hear that song I think of that scene.
•I fought a moment of jealousy when I read in your interview on Lena Nelson Dooley’s blog that Stand-in Groom was the first manuscript you ever submitted and that you don’t have tales of multiple rejections. The feeling passed when I learned this was your fourth manuscript, which you spent three years editing and revising. What was it about this story that was different than the ones before? How did you know when it was time to stop tweaking and start submitting?
You know, when I first got The Call I was almost embarrassed to talk about how I managed to get a book contract on the very first thing I submitted. But when I thought about how much work that manuscript represented—three years of my life when I was working 40+ hours a week at the newspaper, 20–30 hours a week in my officer positions with American Christian Fiction Writers, and attending undergraduate and graduate school part-time—I realized I didn’t have anything to be embarrassed about. I chose to view my experience as an example of how hard work and perseverance pay off.
From the beginning, when I first started working on this story in 2003, I knew there was something special about it. I felt almost as if God told me this was the story He’d given me that was going to be the one. So, that’s the attitude I had when I submitted it to the 2004 ACFW Noble Theme contest. Imagine my surprise when it not only didn’t final but came back with mediocre to low scores!
I went through several different story/character variations and wrote the first ten chapters three times before submitting them as my thesis novel for graduate school. There, I was forced to move beyond chapter ten, which is when I finally came up with the idea of what I call the “Shakespearean hidden-identity plot.” But rather than going back immediately and rewriting the first ten chapters a fourth time, I completed the manuscript—and then I went rewrote the beginning, based on what I’d learned about the story/characters by actually writing to its conclusion.
After finishing the first draft at the end of my first year of grad school, I spent the next six months on three revisions before the story passed as my thesis for my M.A. in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill. I entered the first twenty-five pages in the 2006 ACFW Genesis contest. When I had to choose a selection to read at my oral presentation before graduation, I realized the beginning needed to be revised yet again.
So, what placed second in the Genesis contest wasn’t even the final version of the opening! Because of the revisions I’d done and the feedback I’d gotten on the full manuscript from critique partners and my grad-school mentors, I knew I couldn’t procrastinate any longer. It was time to start submitting. So, I did. To two agents. One rejected me; the other signed me as a client.
When Rebecca Germany of Barbour asked to see the full manuscript, I pulled up the file and started reading—and wanted to start revising again. But I realized I needed to trust in my story and myself and have faith that I’d done the necessary work. Either the time was right for that manuscript or it was time to move on to something else.
•Wow! What an impressive background you have. What role do you think your education and work experience played in landing your first contract? Would you say you had a definite advantage over other writers, or did you deal with discouragement, doubts and disappointments like the rest of us?
I’d say the greatest role my education and experience played in getting published is that not only was I able to send out a manuscript that was polished and ready for publication, but I was prepared for it to happen. From the time I seriously started studying the craft of writing in pursuit of publication in 2001, I immersed myself in learning everything I could about the industry.
I got involved in ACFW, not just as a member but also as part of the organization as a volunteer and then an officer. I’ve attended every ACFW conference, and I’ve made a point to get to know industry professionals. I knew my agent, Chip MacGregor, for several years before I ever asked if I could submit something to him—in fact, the first in-depth conversation we had was when he was still working for Warner Faith and interviewed me for a job. He didn’t hire me, but he did give me some of the best career advice I’d ever received. Working in the advertising side of the media business (in the newspaper industry) for thirteen years taught me the skills of observation, perseverance, and personal interaction, which used to be extremely hard for me.
And the greatest advantage I had when I finally got around to submitting my work was that I was prepared for whatever reaction I got. I wasn’t crushed when the first feedback was a rejection letter. I was able to shrug it off and realize it was a business decision, not a rejection of who I am as a person.
My other advantage: I’m a pessimist by nature. I expected my submission to be rejected. That way, when it happened, I was fully prepared for it and it didn’t really upset me.
But when my story wasn’t rejected, when it was actually accepted, the fact that I hadn’t anticipated or fantasized about landing the first contract made it all the sweeter. I’m not suggesting that it’s a great way to be, but it’s just one of the quirks of my personality. I expect the bad and am pleasantly surprised when the good happens.
•Stand-in Groom earned you a second place final in the 2006 ACFW Genesis contest, which is quite feat. You also got the green light at that year’s ACFW conference to submit your story to top-notch agent Chip MacGregor. He signed you as a client in January 2007, but it wasn’t until December that your book sold. What was that year of waiting like? What or who kept you going? And how did you react when you finally got The Call?
During that year of waiting, I was finishing the first book in my historical trilogy, Ransome’s Honor. By mid-year, we thought we’d heard from all of the publishing houses on Stand-In Groom—all rejections.
At Chip’s suggestion, I created another proposal for a contemporary fiction series, which caught the interest of a publishing house. I spent several months writing eight or ten sample chapters for it. In September 2007, I met with one of their senior editors, who took it to pub board (the week of the ACFW conference!) We didn’t find out until October they’d decided to pass on it.
At the 2007 ACFW conference, the only editor appointment I got was with Rebecca Germany. I couldn’t remember if we’d ever received a rejection from her on Stand-In Groom, so I asked her about it in our one-on-one. She remembered the proposal, and wanted to look at it again. A week later, she asked for the full manuscript. So, I had two things under consideration around the same time.
What kept me going those twelve months was a driving need to prove to Chip that he hadn’t made a mistake by taking me on as a client. I was determined that if Stand-In Groom didn’t sell, the Ransome Trilogy would; but then if that didn’t sell, the Tennessee Home contemporary series would; and so on. I’m the kind of person who, when someone puts his trust in me, will do whatever it takes to prove he didn’t make a mistake.
Because we’d had the experience of the Tennessee Home proposal going to pub-board (but ultimately being turned down just five or six weeks earlier), when Chip called to say Barbour wanted to contract Stand-In Groom, I reacted with a little trepidation. Again, it’s that pessimist in me. I told a few people, but I didn’t really want to let too many people know until I had signed the contract. And even then, I didn’t announce it publicly until Christmas Day—but that was because I wanted to surprise my parents and grandmother on Christmas with a framed, mocked-up cover announcing the pub date. After that, I pretty much told everyone—my co-workers, my trainer at the gym, the masseuse, and so on.
•Once a wannabe-published writer lands that long-awaited first contract, I’ve heard life changes. Many find suddenly being under pressure to meet publisher’s schedules challenging, even scary. You, however, say you “thrive in a deadline-oriented environment.” What adjustments did you make in order to deal with the multiple dates when drafts or edits for your contracted books are due? With your experience in publishing, did any aspect(s) of being contracted come as a surprise?
The scariest thing for me about being a contracted author is that I’ve always had as much time as I wanted to get my books finished. Before I sold, I took three years to write/revise Stand-In Groom (2003–2006) and two years on Ransome’s Honor (2005–2007). Now, I only have eight or nine months to get books written and revised.
The biggest change writing under deadline has made is that I no longer have the luxury of being a seat-of-the-pants writer, just following the story wherever it wants to go. I’ve had to start working with a rough synopsis and a structure of several major plot points so I have a road map and know what “landmarks” I need to aim toward every day when I sit down to write. Oh, and that’s also new for me—making myself write every day.
I can no longer give into the “I don’t want to write today” procrastination. And now that I have two book contracts going concurrently, not only will I have to make sure I’m writing daily, but I’ll have to stick to a schedule and a daily word count on two manuscripts!
Another change is that I’ve decided not to work with critique partners for now, but instead to enlist several “Beta Readers” who will read the first draft of a manuscript to help me iron out story kinks, plot holes, and character problems. I’ve found that as I worked with critique partners over the last couple of years, I started writing for their particular likes and dislikes in the technical aspects when what I needed to do was focus on getting the first draft written—and worry about the technical aspects in the revision process.
Because the first manuscript I sold was one I’ve extensively revised, I have yet to find out what really going through the editorial process is like. I’m on pins and needles waiting for the initial editorial feedback on Menu for Romance, the sequel to Stand-In Groom. I have a feeling there may be a few surprises about the publishing process I haven’t anticipated.
What made my transition from unpublished to published author the smoothest was remembering that this is a business—that my relationships with my agent and editor are business relationships, not friendships, no matter how much I like them; that the decisions made aren’t about me as a person but about making the best choice for the publishing company. It also helps that I worked at a publishing house for two years—and I have a personality that wants to see every situation from both sides. I want to be known as an author who is easy to work with and open to suggestion/constructive criticism.
The first thing that happened after I signed my contract was being told that we needed to change the name of the book (it was originally entitled Happy Endings Inc., after Anne’s business). Even though I was partial to the name (at that time), I saw how coming up with a more unique title would help with marketing the book, so I jumped on board—and even turned it into a marketing opportunity by holding a contest on my blog for people to vote for the new title.
•As I mentioned in the introduction, I met you through your excellent blog, Write Place, Write Time, where you share bounteous information on craft intended for beginning and intermediate writers. You’ve been blogging since January 2006 and have become quite visible in Cyberspace. We unpublished writers often hear how important it is to have a Web presence. Considering many of us have limited time, resources, and technical skills, what would be your advice on how we can make that happen?
When I first started blogging, I wasn’t sure what I was getting into. All I knew was that others said it was the best way to start building name recognition without the expense of building a Web site.
The one piece of advice on blogging that stuck with me was to find a focus and develop a schedule. Some people blog only once a week, on a particular day of the week; some post two or three times a week; others post every weekday; and there are some who post more than once every day of the week.
I chose to post Monday through Friday, with Fridays being my “fun” (or off-topic) day. I chose the craft and business of writing as the focus of my blog for the main reason that I’ve always felt part of the calling on my life was to teach Creative Writing. Since I’m only getting to do that once a month right now (at the Middle Tennessee Christian Writers’ monthly meetings), the blog gives me that outlet.
There have been times when writing a blog post every weekday was difficult. And I didn’t always manage to do it. But I’m addicted to blog stats. When I noticed the correlation between blogging daily and an increase in daily hits, I was encouraged to stick to my schedule.
I also purposely set out to build the regular readership of my blog. I copied the links list from several blogs that have really long blogrolls and spent at least an hour two or three times a week going through that list and commenting on at least twenty of the blogs each week. Not only did that lead me to making some wonderful friends and an increase in readers of my blog, but I also learned a lot from what others were writing about. I only did this for about a year, until time constraints limited me to reading the few blogs in my own blogroll.
Is blogging for everyone? No. Does a blog have to be more than just a personal journal? It depends on what you’re writing in that journal. Some avid readers who go online looking for an author’s website/blog want to feel like they’re connecting with their favorite author on a personal level. As I’m a private person and choose to share the more intimate details of my life with very few people, keeping my blog focused on my greatest passion, writing, is personal enough for me.
•You say you’re not an adventurous person, so I’m guessing you don’t spend your spare time skydiving, snowboarding or snorkeling. What hobbies and interests do you have, aside from writing wonderful stories?
I love movies and TV and admit I’m a couch potato. I have more than 200 DVDs in my home media library, in addition to a three-at-a-time subscription to Netflix and another to digital cable, which includes Turner Classic Movies and several Encore movie channels. From late August through Bowl Season, I’m a football fanatic—love my LSU Tigers and Tennessee Titans.
I love music and sing in the choir at church (alto)—and several years ago, I sang in a Southern Gospel quartet (first tenor). But in recent years, I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t like attending concerts. Aside from the fact that most of my favorite singers are dead (Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, etc.), I can’t sit for long and listen to music without feeling the need to be doing something—writing, since that’s what I’m usually doing when the music is on at home.
I love history and enjoy visiting historical sites, which I don’t do often enough, but hope to start doing more this year. With a minor in American History focusing on the Civil War, and having lived in Northern Virginia for almost four years, I’ve visited many of the major battlefields and historical sites multiple times, including Manassas, VA (Bull Run); Harper’s Ferry, WV; Sharpsburg, MD (Antietam); Gettysburg, PA; Chickamauga and Lookout Mountain, TN; Stones River, TN; and many of the sites scattered around Middle Tennessee connected with the Battles of Franklin and Nashville. The one place I’m determined to visit before 2009 is out is the Shiloh battlefield near Pittsburgh Landing, TN.
I also draw—I have a couple of sketch books filled with pencil drawings of characters who populate my imagination, some whose stories I’ve written and some I haven’t. And when I’m not doing that to keep my hands busy while watching movies or TV, I’m knitting. I’m really good at scarves and lap-blankets.
•And now a question just for fun. You spent ten years working for The Tennessean. If the newspaper were to invite you back to write a profile of a public figure of your choosing from anywhere in the world, who would you interview, and why would you pick him or her?
This may come across as a really obscure and bizarre answer, but I’d love to interview Jim Dale. He’s the voice talent behind the audio books of the Harry Potter series and the narrator of the short-lived TV series Pushing Daisies (just two recent entries in a very long career). He’s in the Guinness Book of World Records for having created 150 distinct voices for the fifth Harry Potter book. Why would I want to interview him? Because I believe he has a unique perspective on storytelling, as a professional narrator, and I’d really love to pick his brain about it.
It’s been great having you as my guest, Kaye. And now, in closing, is there a final comment you’d like to make or a question you’d like to ask?
A friend told me that while she was reading Stand-In Groom, she just had to go out and buy a bunch of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin music. I’ve had an experience that when I read a book that mentioned a dessert I love (lemon pie), I spent the next couple of days craving that pie until I broke down and made one.
What I want to know is if there’s anything you’ve done that was sparked by something you read in a book—whether it was cooking something, buying music, watching a movie, or trying something new? Did acting on that inspiration from the book give you a different perspective on/appreciation for the story?
Learn more about Kaye. Visit Write Place, Write Time.
Leave a Comment for Your Chance to Win!
The evening of January 6 Kaye will choose one person from all those who leave her comment to receive a copy of her debut novel, Stand-in Groom.
So, leave your comment, making sure to include your name and email address when prompted if you want to be entered in the drawing. (Your information will not be shared.)
Congrats, Jessa Slade! You’re the winner.
You could also win a First Sale Scrapbook!
If you’d like to have a chance at winning a First Sale Scrapbook created by your blog hostess, Keli Gwyn, leave a comment on any post between now and January 31, making sure to include your name and email address when prompted if you want to be entered in the drawing. (Your information will not be shared.) You may enter once per post.
On February 1, Keli will choose one person who will have her choice of four covers on an 8×8 inch, twenty-page scrapbook in which s/he can document that long-awaited first sale. The pages will cover various milestones including The Call, signing the contract, receiving the first advance payment and holding your “firstborn” in your hands.
(No scrapbooking skills required. You just add your photos and journaling. Watch for pictures added on future posts.)