Sandra Leesmith, an award-winning novelist who writes inspiration, humor, and romance, signed her first contract for a romance novel with Avalon Books, Inc. Price of Victory will debut as a hardcover book in June 2011.
Sandra officially lives in Arizona with her husband, a rowdy Labrador Retriever puppy, and a spoiled poodle. A retired elementary teacher who holds a masters degree in multicultural education, Sandra travels most of the year with her husband in their motorhome to escape the desert heat.
Sandra loves to read and write. In her spare time she hikes, swims, bicycles, and plays pickleball. Traveling is high on her “to do” list also. She especially likes to explore new settings for her novels. She sets up her desk on the dash of the motorhome. Her husband parks the motorhome and tells her: “Honey, here is your beach office, your lakeside office, your mountain office, your desert office, etc.” You get the idea.
Sandra, your interview is a first. Before we could even get a regular interview scheduled, you sold, qualifying you for a Saturday Special post. How cool is that?!
•I’m eager to hear about your sale, and we’ll get to that soon, but I’m a historical writer, so let’s go back in time. I understand you were published in the days when manuscripts were printed and mailed and Richard Gere wasn’t gray (although he does gray well, imo. :-)). How did you get started writing, what took you away from it, and when did you choose to resume your story telling?
I started writing in the eighties when I was involved in a program with Arizona State University learning to teach writing in schools. The professor said if we were going to teach writing, we needed to write ourselves. He challenged us to write that summer. We asked, “Write what?” His reply, “Write what you love to read.” I was reading a romance novel a day so you guessed it. I wrote a romance novel and fell in love with the process.
I discovered Romance Writers of America® and the world of writing and published my first novel, a Harlequin, in 1988. During the next four years I published two Harlequins, two mid list novels for Warner and 17 self help books for teens with Rosen Publishing Group.
•So, you resumed teaching, subsequently retired, and prepared to return to the hallowed halls of the published, eagerly awaiting your next contract. But you spent some time on Unpubbed Island before a wise editor recognized your talent and bought your book. What did you learn during those days of working and waiting, besides where the best coconuts on the island are? Were you surprised by any of the changes that had taken place since your first foray into the publishing world?
In 1991, I lost all three editors and the new editors weren’t interested in my writing. My husband convinced me to go back to teaching and finish my career. He said I could retire from teaching and go back to writing then and not have to worry about the income. He was right. However, when you have been away from the publishing world ten years, you start all over again. I even qualified for unpublished writers’ contests and when I contracted this summer, I received a “first sale” ribbon at RWA® Orlando.
The writing style changed so much in those ten years I had to relearn the craft. In the eighties, romances had a lot of what we called “purple prose.” In today’s lingo you would say, “less passive voice and more active.” I accepted the fact that I had new things to learn. But what surprised me was that it took nine years to get a contract. I’m sure that was a God thing, because I truly hadn’t retired. I wasn’t teaching anymore, but I spent ten years involved in active elder care. And now looking back, I am so thankful I didn’t have deadlines and contracts so that I could spend quality time with our moms before they passed away.
•In July, you sold to Avalon. When did The Call come, where were you at the time, and how did you react? Since you’d been published before, was the news as thrilling as before to sell, or did you take it all in stride?
The call came in the morning and is rather embarrassing, to be honest. My hubby and I were in the motorhome and the cell phone rang. Well, we didn’t know where the phone was. I was feeding the dogs so I asked him to get it. By the time he found it, the phone had been ringing quite some time. And the blue tooth was still on, so he’s yelling “hello, hello” and, of course, can’t hear anyone answering. So I’m yelling “get the blue tooth,” and he’s getting frantic (Thank goodness he didn’t swear) and saying “I can’t find it.”
I finally run over, find the blue tooth and, laughing by now, say “hello,” thinking it is my dad, the only person who would call me that early. In between hysterical laughter I apologize for the delay. This sweet voice says, “My name is Lia Brown and I’m an editor for Avalon.” I’m in shock since they have had my book for two years and, quite honestly, I’d forgotten all about it and, of course, totally embarrassed about the whole “where is it” conversation. But to my surprise and joy she offered me a contract.
And yes, yes, yes, I jumped up and down with joy and scared the dogs with all the screaming. My hubby and I snoopy danced around the motorhome and yes, we were just as excited about this call as the one in the eighties. Probably more so because the stay on Unpubbed Island was much longer than anticipated.
•I’ve heard a writer’s plate becomes quite full as she embarks on her career as a published author. You’ve been down this path before, so you have some experience, but the world has changed since your earlier sales. More is expected of an author these days in the area of promotion. What have you been doing in preparation for your release?
As I said earlier, the writing world has changed tremendously. The technology has been the hardest to conquer. (Blue tooth incident a case in point.) Learning to blog, correspond on loops and keep up with the immense amount of information is overwhelming. My generation doesn’t have electronic brains like the young folk have, so it is very difficult to keep up with all of the changes. The publishing world itself is changing with the onset of e-pubs and the great electronic readers like Kindle and the Nook, etc. I think we have many more changes to look forward to.
•Since you’ve gone through the initial euphoria of getting a contract offer and the resulting return to reality that inevitably follows, what advice would you offer others who have yet to receive The Call about how to prepare themselves for life as a published author in today’s marketplace?
My advice is to act like you’re already published. Treat your writing like a career. Get a website up and running, get a blog going, get your professional photos taken (with publishing rights included), and learn how to do Facebook and Twitter (two things I still have to conquer.) These are expected of you and were included in my contract so I imagine they are in other houses also. Trying to learn and set up all these things when you are under deadlines can be very stressful.
My other advice is to keep on writing and finish as many manuscripts as you can. Many times editors wait until they see several submissions, mainly to see if you are serious about your writing. Then often you can sign multiple contracts. Writing more manuscripts also improves your writing skills. Practice, practice, practice.
•Please tell us about Price of Victory.
Sterling Wade, a successful cyclist, finds the one thing he’s missing in life—a woman to love. Debra Valenzuela refuses to allow a relationship with any man to interfere with her determination to become a professional cyclist. She must succeed to earn her father’s love. Will Sterling be able to help Debra achieve her dream?
To research this article, my husband joined a bicycle club and raced so I could see first hand the cycling world. I was able to meet female professional cyclists and they gave me a lot of information that ended up in Price of Victory.
Five Fun Facts About Sandra
(That Even Her Seekerville Sisters Don’t Know)
~ I was on the sailing team in college and we won the Nationals
~ My husband and I backpacked a year in Central and South America in the seventies.
~ I used to chase deer off the school playground on my first teaching job. I also saw my first calf birthing and learned to milk a cow. I think my students taught me more than I taught them. LOL
~ I’ve hiked to the top of several mountain peaks.
~ I’ve personally—in the wild—encountered mountain lions, bears, buffalo, wolverines, bobcats, rattlesnakes, gila monsters, coyotes, wolves, sharks, manta rays and moray eels. What can I say? My hubby is a type A extreme sports enthusiast.
Questions for Sandra
Sandra, it’s been great to have you at Romance Writers on the Journey to share your wonderful news with us.
And now, I invite your visitors to squee with you and to ask you any questions they have about your sale, your novel, and what life is like on when one has left Unpubbed Island.
Sandra has contracted her second picture book with Tau Publishing entitled: God’s Spirit Calls Me. She has generously offered to give away a copy of it and her first book, God’s Spirit Within Me. She writes her children’s books under her maiden name, Sandy Wardman.
To enter the drawing, just leave a comment for Sandra by midnight August 29 (Pacific time) and enter your email address when prompted during the comment process. (You don’t have to leave it in the body of your comment this way.)
On August 30, I will hold the drawing and post the winner’s name here as well and will contact her/him via email to get a mailing address. (I don’t share your information with anyone, other than sending your mailing address to my guest, and I don’t add your name to any mailing lists.)
Congrats to Joselyn Vaughn, winner of Sandra’s two children’s books.
Note: Offer void where prohibited.
Odds of winning vary due to the number of entrants.
Drawing limited to those with a U.S. mailing address.
Learn More About Sandra
Visit her romance website ~ www.sandraleesmith.com
Visit her children’s book website ~www.sandywardman.com
Visit her group blog~ The Seekers