Cara Lynn James sold her 2009 Romance Writers of America® Golden Heart® finaling entry, Love on a Dime, before she even made it to RWA® Nationals. Six years after emarking on her writing journey, Thomas Nelson offered Cara a three-book deal for her historicals, which are set in The Gilded Age of the 1890s, and she couldn’t be happier.
A New Englander, Cara now lives in northwest Florida near the Gulf Coast with her twice-retired husband, formerly a Navy pilot and then science teacher, her grown daughter, two-year-old grandson who calls himself Spiderman and a yappy Papillion named Sparky. Their son lives five minutes away and attends college full-time along with working full-time.
When she’s not busy creating her award-winning stories, Cara likes to play with her grandson, eat out, especially at Mexican, Japanese, Italian and seafood restaurants, go camping in her A-liner pop-up camper (it looks like an aluminum tent) and read romances, women’s fiction and mysteries at the beach.
Join me as we learn more about Cara and her first sale.
•Wow, Cara! What great news. When you were here as my guest on June 11th did you expect to be back so soon as a debut author with a contract offer on the table? Would you give us a quick summary of what took place in the weeks following the interview and leading up to that life changing phone call?
Keli, thanks so much for inviting me back. Actually, before I got ‘The Call’ I was finishing my second manuscript, the one in its third version. It’s an historical set like the first one in Newport, Rhode Island during the Gilded Age, around the turn-of-the-century. It was complete as a contemporary, which I turned into an historical version.
After I finaled in the Golden Heart Contest, I got excited about going to the RWA National Conference in Washington, D.C. And the conference really lived up to my expectations!
•And then you got The Call! I was so excited when I saw the BIG news over at The Seekers. As everyone who visits my blog soon learns, I love to hear Call stories. Would you please share yours?
I got THE CALL on a Monday afternoon around 3:00 while traveling back home with my husband from a weekend camping trip. My phone was in my purse ready for me to grab just in case an editor felt the urge to call with an offer. It’s never happened before, but it could happen at any time. It’s good to always be prepared. I’ve been ready for several years with my phone near by. But for some reason the phone didn’t ring when an editor actually called!
After we got home I immediately checked e-mail and found a few hundred messages. Then part way down the first page I found one that caught my attention. It came from a lady with a familiar name, but one I couldn’t place immediately. The subject line said Love on a Dime, the name of one of my manuscripts. Suddenly it dawned on me the sender was an EDITOR!
I opened the e-mail and read, not quite believing the words. It seems she’d phoned me earlier (while I was in the car), and then sent me the e-mail with her phone number. It was Natalie Hanneman of Thomas Nelson. I could hardly breathe.
I fished my cell phone from my purse and checked my voice mail. Hers was the third one. She wanted me to call her back. It’s hard to punch in a number when your hand is shaking, but of course I managed. Natalie answered right away. This was without a doubt the very best phone call I’ve ever received. She loved my book!
Two days later, thanks to Natalie and my agent, I signed a preliminary contract for three books. Woohoo! Perseverance is the key. And God’s perfect timing.
Every time I think of that phone call and e-mail I grin. I can’t stop grinning. And why would I? It was a moment to savor. I know the reality of revisions and deadlines will pull me down to earth, but I’ll flash back to THE CALL and remember what a great privilege it is to write the story God’s given me to write. I wish the same blessing on all of you!
•You got The Call, and life as you knew it changed. I’ve gathered your plate suddenly became very full as you embarked on your new career as a published author. Would you please share with us what’s going on now, what you’ve been learning and how you’re adjusting to living with deadlines?
The thrill hasn’t worn off! My contract specified a larger word count than the manuscript I first submitted, so I’ve been busily writing. I write tight (I think), so it’s hard to find places where I can easily add to the story. I didn’t want to pad it with unnecessary or repetitious words that didn’t add to the plot or the characterization. Eventually I found places where I could include more emotion, a few lines of dialogue and even a few sequels. It wasn’t as difficult as I first thought. The deadline for Love on a Dime is this September, and it’s about completed and ready to turn in.
Deadlines. Hmm. I have plenty of time to polish the second book. But the third book, Love in Season, will come due six months later. I get a little nervous when I think about finishing a book in less than a year when it’s still in my head and not yet on paper.
I’m not a fast writer, so I’m trying to compensate by organizing this manuscript more than I ever did before when I had the luxury of finishing whenever I felt like it. The key for me will be to know my characters inside out and have the plot figured out, even if my muse pulls me into another direction. I use the ‘W’ plot. Whether I follow it or not, at least I won’t come to a screeching halt and panic. Anyway, it’s an exciting prospect and a real challenge.
•Since you’ve just gone through the initial euphoria of getting a contract offer and the resulting return to reality that soon follows, what advice would you offer others who have yet to receive a call about how to prepare themselves for life as a published author?
At any stage of your career, it’s great to have a support group of other writers who encourage each other, act as cheerleaders, mentors, and just plain friends. Since writing is so solitary, it’s wonderful (maybe necessary) to find like-minded friends who understand the ups and downs of the writing world. I’m waving to the Seekers! I’m so glad the Seekers decided on starting our blog.
Before you’re published, take lots of online courses, especially in areas that you might be weak in. With a deadline looming, I think it’ll be harder to fit them into my schedule.
I’d also say it’s important to join a critique group, enter contests and learn to accept criticism and learn from it. I wish I’d thought about a website sooner. I’ve networked some at conferences, but I wish I knew more writers. Learning about promotion would’ve been smart, too! I’ll spend this year writing my third book, asking questions and learning more about the publishing business.
Questions for Cara
•Cara, it’s been wonderful having you back at Romance Writers on the Journey to share your wonderful news with us. Congratulations again on your first sale.
I invite your guests to ask you any questions they have about your sale, your debut novel and what life is like after receiving that long-awaited contract offer. And, of course, feel free to squee with Cara all you’d like.
Leave a Comment for Two Chances to Win
My Regular Drawing
My next drawing will take place August 10th. The winner will receive a set of thirty vinyl-covered paper clips and a set of six binder clips decorated with mock typewriter keys, a fun addition to any writer’s workspace.
To enter the drawing, just leave a comment on any blog post by August 10th and enter your email address when prompted. (I don’t share your information or add it to any mailing lists.) On August 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 August 31st. 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 September 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 debut novel in your hands.
(No scrapbooking skills required. You just add your photos and journaling.)