The Write Way Café welcomes LeAnne Bristow, who discusses writing surprises, obstacles, and dreams coming true.
When did you first have the thought you'd like to write a book? Was that first thought related to writing romance?
I’m not sure exactly when I realized I wanted to write a book, but it was definitely related to romance. When I was a teenager, one of my aunts would bring me a shopping bag full of Harlequin romances every time she came to visit. I devoured every book she brought. At some point, I ran out of books and started scribbling my own stories while waiting for her to bring me more.
What was your path to getting this book written and published? What type of research did you do?
I started this story back when I was in high school. In 2011, my husband pulled a box out of our shed and asked if he could throw it away. Turns out, it was all the old stories I’d written. So I started editing this story and rewriting it. First, I submitted it to a few contests and soon discovered that my writing sucked. No, really. It sucked. And the judges used phrases I’d never heard before. Things like, shallow POV, and telling instead of showing and my favorite, head hopping. I had no idea what any of those things were. So I started taking some classes and joined a writer’s organization. A year later, my story started placing in contests but had gotten rejected by every publisher I sent it to. After landing an agent in 2014, the story got another rejection, but the editor suggested that my voice might be better suited for their sweet contemporary line. Until then, I’d been targeting the Love Inspired line at Harlequin. With my agent cheering me on, I edited it again and submitted it to Heartwarming. One revision and six months later, they offered me a contract.
Because my story revolves heavily around a group home for children and teens, I had to do a lot of research on how children’s homes are run. Luckily, I have a childhood friend who helps run a wonderful home in central Texas. She answered random questions for me for months. I also read a lot of articles and by-laws online.
Where did the idea for your story come from?
I came up with Tony’s character while I was in high school. I grew up in the era of the big hair bands and I was obsessed with their bad boy persona. I wanted my own bad boy and since my hometown was full of farmers and cowboys, I created my own. Because my town was a very small, conservative town, I could just imagine what would happen if a bad boy got mixed up with one of the good girls in town.
Why did you pick the setting you did?
All my stories take place in small, rural towns because that’s all I know. I tried out a lot of different settings for “Her Texas Rebel” but in the end, I had to go with a town similar to the one I grew up in. After all, that’s where I first got the idea for Tony, so in a way, we both returned home for this story.
Are your main characters completely imaginary or do they have some basis in real people? Do they reflect aspects of yourself?
I got a little inspiration from lots of places. Tony was imaginary and easily formed in my mind, but it took me a lot longer to come up with the perfect girl for him. I based Sabrina on a combination of 2 girls I grew up with that really were the ultimate good girls. They were selfless, caring and kind.
Did you face any blocks while writing the book, and if so, how did you handle them? If not, what's your secret?
All the time! When I decided to revise the book to go from Love Inspired (55k words) to Heartwarming (70k words) I stared at a blank screen for weeks. How was I going to remove the integral faith element from the story and add more than 20k words?!? Whenever I would get stuck, I would call up one of my writing buddies and have a freak out session. Immediately, we’d start brainstorming ideas. I also spent a lot of time re-reading my favorite craft books. I discovered that every time I got stuck, it was usually because I’d either strayed too far from my original plot, or there was a hole in the plot that I hadn’t noticed before.
What have been surprises you've encountered while writing the book and after?
The entire publication process has been a whirlwind and amazing. I had no idea how any of it worked. My lifelong dream has been to be published with Harlequin. After the thrill of getting offered a contract subsided, panic set in and I was afraid I would do something wrong or screw something up. After all…this was Harlequin. One of the best known names in romance. They could have anyone, so I better mind my P’s and Q’s. Only they were AMAZING. My editor was available any time. I don’t know how many times I would send her an email full of questions while I was going through my edits. She responded immediately and even called me several times to see how things were going. The entire team was warm, friendly and super, super supportive. That was probably my biggest and best surprise.
What did you learn? For instance, what did you learn about yourself, your process, the writing world; about single mothers, bullying, and oppositional defiant disorder?
First, I learned that I have no idea what my writing process is. I started out as a pantser and found my story floundering (pre-pre-pre-publication). Then I latched onto plotting and got so deep in the plotting process that I never got around to writing. Luckily, writers are some of the most generous and supportive people in the world. Every time I got stuck, someone was willing to listen to me, encourage me and give me ideas.
Second, I really had to dig deep into my research to make Levi’s situation believable. Most kids with true Oppositional Defiant Disorder go way beyond just arguing with adults. It is a deep seeded need to be in control and will oppose anyone in authority at all costs. In all my years of teaching, I’ve only encountered one truly ODD student and the behavioral issues shown at home and school can disrupt the lives of everyone around them. I wanted Levi to be like his dad, Tony. A heart of gold but wouldn’t back down for something he felt was right. I had to give Levi a reason to be in trouble but I had to keep him likeable, too.
Tell us about your writing space and how or why it works for you.
Currently, my writing space is being overhauled. We moved to a new house in July and our new home doesn’t have as much room, so my desk wouldn’t fit into the corner of my bedroom anymore. I found a great computer armoire that is in the corner of my living room. I love it because I can post my sticky notes all over the inside of the doors and close it up to hide my mess. While I loved the desk, it’s hard to write in the living room while my husband is watching television. My daughter just moved out, so I’m going to convert her old bedroom into an office. I can’t wait!
What are some of your favorite books and why?
My standby favorites are any of Janet Dailey’s American series books. I read one of those when I need to be inspired. I also love The Secret Garden. It may be a children’s story, but I love the use of description and emotions in the story. I’m also a huge fan of Marsha Canham’s Robin Hood Trilogy.
What are you working on now?
Right now I’m working on a story about pride and forgiveness. After serving 7 years in prison for a DUI accident that killed his best friend, Caden is determined to make it up to the girl his friend Daniel left behind. But the heroine is too busy trying to keep her mother in a quality healthcare facility and her small store from going under. The hero is compelled to try to fix everything for her and falls in love with her in the process. But how can he earn her love when his past destroyed her future?
Would you like to try your hand at writing a different genre? Which one and why?
Someday I would love to write a historical romance. I absolutely love reading the genre. I’m a huge history buff and I’m afraid I’d get so caught up in the research I’d never get the book written!
If you were not a writer, what would your dream job be?
I would love to be an archeologist. With my love of history, it would be the perfect job for me!
What aspect of writing gives you the most trouble?
Right now I’m struggling to find time to write every day. I’m a public school teacher during the week. I leave school at 3:30 and go straight to the tumbling business that I own and run. I teach from 4:00 to 7:30 Monday through Thursday and by the time I get home, I’m exhausted. On Saturdays, I babysit my granddaughter and there is no writing going on when she’s there. Currently, the only time I can really count on writing is from 5 am to 6 am, the time between when my husband leaves for work and I have to start getting ready for school. Somewhere in there I have to fit in laundry, cooking and housekeeping.
Who is your favorite hero/heroine?
Wow. That’s a tough question. Of the books that I’ve written, my favorite hero is Caden (sorry, Tony), the hero from the story I’m working on now. My favorite heroine is Sabrina from Her Texas Rebel. I love that she is willing to give up what she wants to protect her son.
There are lots of stories that I’ve read over the years and some characters really stick with me. My favorite hero is Jamie Frazier from Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander. My favorite heroine in Brenna from Marsha Canham’s The Last Arrow (Robin Hood Trilogy).
He abandoned her when she needed him most, just as she'd discovered she was pregnant with his baby. And now, ten years later, Sabrina Davis has returned home in search of refuge for her at-risk son as the struggling single mother works toward becoming a nurse. Except Tony Montoya, now a cop, has also returned to Sal Creek, Texas.
Recovering from being shot in the line of duty, Tony plans to use this time in his hometown to make amends for the trouble he caused as a youth. Amends that included breaking Sabrina’s heart. But trouble seems to follow the police officer no matter where he goes, and he doesn't want to hurt the woman he never stopped loving… or the son he just found.
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About LeAnne: LeAnne Bristow may have been born and raised in central Texas, but she’s a desert rat at heart. She calls southeastern Arizona home, even though her husband wouldn’t let her claim the title Arizonan until she’d officially lived in Arizona longer than Texas. It only took twenty years. When she’s not arguing with the characters in her head, she enjoys hunting, camping, and fishing with her family. Her day job is teaching kindergarten, but now that her three kids are grown, she’s determined to teach her granddaughter how to catch lizards and love the desert as much as she does.
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