Award-winning writer Kayla Westra is a three-time Golden Heart® finalist and a past Golden Heart winner. She’s currently a 2009 Inspirational finalist. In 2007, she finaled in Long Historical. Her first final took place in 1994, and she went on to win in the Historical Series category that year.
Writing romances that have placed in numerous contests is Kayla’s creative outlet, but her life has always revolved around writing. A professional technical editor and writer for 20 years, she holds a master’s degree in Technical Communications and is currently an English instructor at a community college, where she teaches a range of subjects from composition and technical writing to literature and mythology.
After living out of state for fourteen years, Kayla returned to her home state of Minnesota eight years ago with her husband and two girls. They now have two horses, one dog and numerous barn cats. Life on the prairie suits Kayla just fine, and she’s living her dream on her hobby farm. She enjoys attending activities for her girls, and spends her free time reading, being outside with her animals or working on family history.
Join me as we learn more about Kayla and her journey.
Kayla’s Journey Begins
You won the Romance Writers of America® Golden Heart back in 1994, so you’ve been writing romance for at least fifteen years. When did you begin your first story? What led you to the romance genre? The need for a change from the technical writing that was your livelihood, or perhaps a book you read for one of your literature classes?
I moved many times because my husband’s job took him from city to city, and I found that I had plenty of time for reading while I was settling in to my new home ans looking for a job. I’ve read romances forever, it seems, and I love the character development and happy endings.
Romance is a natural compliment to technical writing because it is absolutely an opposite form of writing. I worked as a technical writer for about ten years; writing romance when I came home was a treat after writing about power plants and wastewater treatment all day.
I started my first story while living in the Quad Cities (Davenport, Iowa; Bettendorf, Iowa; Rock Island, Illinois; Moline, Illinois). I took a weeklong “how to write a romance” class from Kim Cates, and I wrote an opening scene for that class. That scene turned into my first book, which I entered in the Golden Heart. Winning that year was thrilling!
You’ve finaled, placed or won in three different categories: Historical Series, Long Historical and Inspirational. What period do you write? Is your current Golden Heart finaling entry, Kasey’s Secret, Historical or Contemporary? Which sub-genre do you most enjoy writing and why?
This was a hard question! I love writing historical romance, in part I think because of the mystery of the time frames. In particular, I write about medieval knights and cowboys, men of honor who love strong-willed women. I have several finished historical manuscripts, and I still hope to publish in that area some day.
This year’s GH entry, Kasey’s Secret, is a contemporary inspirational, and a story that I’ve carried around a long time. All of my stories, though, are impacted by my faith. What medieval knight or lady wasn’t impacted by the church and his or her beliefs? And cowboys are notoriously faithful. Kasey’s Secret was one of those stories that just wouldn’t leave me alone until I wrote it down. I enjoy the research involved in writing historical, and I enjoy the challenge of writing inspirational. I enjoy writing both!
A common theme in all my writing is horses. I grew up on an Arabian breeding farm, and I’ve been horse crazy all my life. My gelding, Perockess (Sam), is one of the last sons of our main stallion, Perlezon.
You teach English as well as oversee a distance learning program for the college, so you’re immersed in writing all day. Plus you’re currently serving as co-coordinator of the Golden Pen with Amy Atwell, which is a big undertaking. How do you find time for your creative endeavors? Do you get up early to write before you head to work, or are you a night owl who pours out her stories long after others have gone to bed?
To be honest, sometimes I don’t find the time. I’ve come to terms with that fact. I do set goals for myself, even if it is one or two pages a day. I tend to write at night. Though I’m a morning person, I’m at the college in the mornings during the school year, and that time is devoted to my students.
I used to beat myself up about not pouring all my “free” time into my writing, but I’ve found that I need balance, and that if I stress less about “me” time I actually have more “me” time, if that makes sense.
How do you set aside your professional persona and shift from writing teacher to romance writer? Do you battle the internal editor on a regular basis, or do you have proven methods for getting into your creative zone?
I teach my students that writing and editing are two different processes, and I follow that mantra myself. If I’m doing technical editing on a project, I don’t try to write creatively, for example. I have found ways to compartmentalize the different writing styles and techniques, though I’m not sure I can explain “how” I do it. I just do it.
I also tell my students that the art of writing is the technique of putting one’s seat in the chair and writing. I really don’t believe in writer’s block, though some days the words flow easier than others.
Fifteen years ago, you received a phone call with the news that you’d finaled in the Golden Heart. How did you react? Were you at RWA® Nationals when your win was announced? What was your response? Disbelief? Elation? Some of both?
Young and naïve, I got that call and thought a sale was not far behind. I was happy, but not really sure what it all meant. My critique group was really excited, as they’d been writing longer than I had been, so I got really excited that I was on my way.
I booked a flight and headed to the conference, and I was there to accept my award. New York City is enchanting, and to a small town girl, the whole night was surreal.
Two more phone calls came from RWA, one in 2007 and one this past March. Did you get just as excited when you received them as you did the first time, or did you remain calm and composed?
I entered in 2007 because my critique partner at the time, Sylissa Franklin, suggested we enter together. This part year, my current critique partner, Caroline Fyffe, encouraged me. I was excited each time I received the call. It is definitely an honor to have your manuscript final in this contest.
The Golden Heart has provided several pinnacles on your writing journey, but you’ve had other contest successes. While doing my research, I saw your placements in the Gotcha!, Sheila, and Fire and Ice. Which of your wins stand out, and why?
I’ve entered contests for a couple of reasons over the years. First, I like to get feedback on storylines and characters in new manuscripts. Are they likeable (sometimes I want that answer to be no!)? Does the story draw the reader in? Secondly, I enter manuscripts in the hopes that they will final and end up on an editor’s desk. I’ve had this happen a couple of times; I’m still hopeful that I will find the right match for my work.
You’ve been writing for many years. If you’re like me, there have been low points when your energy and enthusiasm take a dip. How have you kept yourself motivated? Who or what has served as your greatest source of encouragement?
When we moved back to Minnesota in 2001, I was in the midst of a career change, built a house, had two small children, and was helping my parents with health issues. I didn’t write much of anything from about 2000 to 2007. The stories didn’t go away, and I wrote things down, but I didn’t submit or enter any contests. Life just dictated that the writing priorities change for awhile. I even thought about giving it up for good, but I didn’t, and I’m glad.
I’m pretty self-motivated, and I guess that’s helped me get back on track, even when I’ve had contest feedback that was discouraging (this week), or when rejection letters arrived on Christmas Eve (true story). I can’t seem to stop writing, and I think maybe that’s God’s way of telling me to stick with it.
Partners on Kayla’s Journey
Writing can be a solitary endeavor. Finding critique partners to come alongside and offer that needed feedback and support can be such a blessing. When and where did you find yours, and what makes your partnerships work so well?
Because I’ve moved so many times (seven times for my husband’s work, from 1988 to 2001), I had more than one set of critique partners. Linda Madl, Margaret Ohmes, Leesa Whitson, Nancy Parra, Valen Cox, and Kas Randolph (among others) were partners when I lived in Kansas City (I’m know I’m forgetting several – this was many years ago!).
I live in a very rural area in Minnesota now, about three hours from Minneapolis, so I don’t have a local support group. I met Caroline Fyffe in Dallas (blind date roommates!) and we’ve been critiquing through email since 2007. She’s a great help!
I’m so thankful for the many mentors I’ve had along my journey. Cathy Maxwell, Kim Cates, Cheryl St. John, Linda Needham, Linda Madl, Laura Haydn, Victoria Alexander, Karen Fox – and so many more – have encouraged me and been really positive influences. The groups of GH finalists each year, such as the 007 Bond Girls and the 2009 “yet to be named” group, as well as the Golden Network, have been tremendous support for me.
Kayla’s Journey Continues
You’ve met with a good deal of success in the past couple of years. What steps are you taking at this point? Are you entering more contests or focusing your efforts on submitting to agents and editors?
I’ve been focusing on contests and getting an agent. I try to have something “out there” at all times.
What story are you working on now? Another Historical or an Inspirational?
Since the holidays, I’ve been working on a rewrite of a historical, a partial of a historical, and a partial of an inspirational. I’ve been focusing the last month on the inspirational partial.
Five Fun Facts About Kayla
1) Do your prefer music or silence when your write?
Silence, but I tend to tune out whatever is going on around me, whether the kids have on the TV or someone is talking to me! My kids tease me when I’m in the zone and they are hungry! They have learned how to get my attention.
2) What’s your favorite place to go for a sit-down dinner?
I love going to my husband’s restaurant (The Hub), of course! In the winter, when the Hub is closed, we often go to the Kinbrae Supper Club. Kinbrae has a population of eight, but this is the best steak house anywhere, and I’ve been to Morton’s in Chicago and several great ones in Kansas City.
3) What’s your favorite work of classic literature?
No fair. I love literature, and I really can’t say just one work. I’m a big fan of Faulkner, Melville, Joyce, O’Connor, and countless others. Bill Holm, a Minnesota writer, has a special place in my heart – he recently passed away, and as a friend and mentor, he will be missed.
4) Do you have any special plans for your summer vacation?
I have two conferences scheduled this summer, and both are the same week this year! I’ll be in Minneapolis, then heading to DC for the RWA conference. I’ll spend the rest of the summer being a softball/volleyball/basketball/golf mom, and I love it!
5) If you were given $300 with the stipulation that you must buy yourself a treat, what would you get?
Kayla’s Question for You
I’ve enjoyed having you as my guest, Kayla. Thanks for your great answers to my questions. And now it’s your turn to ask a question of your visitors. What would you like to know?
I write because I have stories I want to tell. I want to share these stories, and hope that in doing so, I’ll brighten someone’s day in some way. Why do you write? What do you hope you will accomplish with your stories?
Learn More About Kayla
Visit her Web site: http://www.wwwestra.com
Look for her upcoming group blog, Nobody Writes It Better, being launched by the 2007 Golden Heart finalists
Friend her on Facebook: Kayla Westra
Leave a Comment for Your Chance to Win
My next drawing will take place June 10th. The winner will receive a 5 x 7 inch black leather Writer’s Journal, just the right size for purse or tote, in which to jot those sudden inspirations, plot a new story, etc.
To enter the drawing, just leave a comment on any blog post by June 10th and enter your email address when prompted. (I don’t share your information or add it to any mailing lists.) On June 11th, I’ll post the winner’s name in the Welcome post at the top of the blog.
You could also win a First Sale Scrapbook!
If you’d like to have a chance at winning a First Sale Scrapbook created by me, your blog hostess Keli Gwyn, leave a comment on any post between now and June 30th. Be 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.) Click red link above to see samples of covers and pages.
On July 1st, I will choose one person who will have her/his choice of several 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.)