THE CRAFT OF WRITING — AUGUST 2021
THE CRAFT OF WRITING — AUGUST 2021
NOW and THEN and ALWAYS
I’m excited that multi-award-winning author Melissa Tagg appears on the Craft of Writing Blog this month for the first time.
We don’t talk a lot about Romance novels here, so this is our chance to jump into that genre and learn some of the secrets of great romance writing. Melissa’s novel Now and Then and Always won the 2020 Christy Award for Contemporary Romance.
Melissa Tagg is the USA Today bestselling, Christy and Carol Award-winning author of swoony and hope-filled small-town contemporary romances. She’s also a former reporter, current nonprofit marketing strategist, and total Iowa girl.
Melissa has taught at multiple national writing conferences, as well as workshops and women’s retreats. When she’s not happily lost in someone else’s book or plugging away at her own, she can be found spoiling her nieces and nephews, watching old movies, and daydreaming about her next fictional hero. Connect with Melissa at melissatagg.com.
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Welcome Melissa and thank you for joining us!
Thank you for having me!
Have you always wanted to be a writer? Please tell us about your journey to becoming an author.
Oh yes, I can honestly say I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. I’ve just always loved stories…always, always. As a kid, I wrote a ridiculous number of stories in Mead 5-Star notebooks and, thankfully, I had the kind of parents and grandparents who read my stories and fueled my dreams with endless encouragement. I attended my first weekend writing retreat in 2009 and my first national conference in 2010, and those two things really helped me hunker down and get serious about completing a novel.
The story of how I got published, though, is wonderfully random (or perhaps not random at all considering I’m pretty convinced God opened the doors). An editor at Bethany House happened to come across my blog in early 2012 and contacted me out of the blue. She asked if I had any manuscripts in the works and I sent her two proposals. That summer, I signed with an agent, and about a month later, signed my first contract.
I love telling that story to other writers as a way of reminding them that sometimes we can do ALL the things people tell us to do—go to conferences and pitch to agents and editors and be everywhere on social media and enter contests and thing after thing—and yet, the open door we’re waiting for might be in a hallway we never even thought to walk down! I’d never pitched to a Bethany House editor, never figured I wrote the kind of books that might be attractive to them. It’s encouraging to me to remember that our dreams aren’t nearly as dependent on what WE do as what God can do. That doesn’t mean we don’t do the work and chase the dream…but it takes the pressure off to realize at the end of the day, the best open doors are the ones He flings open.
Can you give us a brief synopsis of Now and Then and Always?
Last year, after traumatic circumstances forced her from her job as a nanny, Mara Bristol finally found a place to belong–the winsome Everwood Bed & Breakfast at the edge of Maple Valley, Iowa. For months, she’s helped its owner, Lenora, maintain the ramshackle property despite their shortage of guests. But when Lenora fails to return from a month-long trip and the bank threatens foreclosure, Mara worries she’s once again alone . . . abandoned . . . about to lose the only true home she’s ever known.
Detective Marshall Hawkins is no closer to whole today than he was two years ago . . . the day his daughter died. Between his divorce, debilitating migraines, and a dependence on medication, his life is falling apart. And when a reckless decision on the job propels him into administrative leave, he has no other plan but to get in his truck and drive. A one-night stay at the Everwood was supposed to be just that. But there’s something about the old house–or maybe its intriguing caretaker–that pulls him in.
Together, Mara and Marshall set out to save the Everwood. But its secrets run deeper than they could’ve imagined. As they renovate the house and search for its missing owner, they’ll each confront the pain that brought them to the Everwood in the first place . . . and just maybe discover a faith and love to help them carry on.
What made you decide to write that book?
A couple of things: First, this story features an eerie old B&B that first appeared in one of my older books. It was just a brief appearance in that book but I knew as I described it that one day I wanted to set a whole book there.
And then the second thing that propelled me into this book, and really, the series as a whole, was the fun collection of side characters from previous books who I just knew were waiting for the spotlight. None of them were all that connected, but they’d shown up in past books individually and grabbed ahold of my heart for one reason or another. So when it was time to start a new series, I thought, hmm, what if I could take all these characters I love—characters with intriguing backstories that I simply haven’t had a chance to explore yet—and found some reason to pull them all together into a makeshift family? That’s where the spark of this story and its series came from.
What is the secret to being a great romance writer?
I think I could answer this question in so many ways, but as I think about it, I think one of the most vital keys to writing a great romance is knowing your WHY/WHY NOT for your hero and heroine and making sure those WHYs and WHY NOTs carry equal weight. What are the reasons your hero and heroine belong together? What are the reasons they don’t? What are their competing values?
To me, it’s that WHY/WHY NOT that adds wonderful tension to a romance. I think a lot of people mistake conflict for tension—they throw random conflicts at their characters, have them butt heads repeatedly, and while that might make for some nice banter and a good read, to me, it’s the tension and depth that takes it to a great read. And you find that tension in threading your WHYs and WHY NOTs through the story so that there’s a captivating push and pull for the reader.
Why did you decide to enter your work into writing contests?
You know, that’s a good question. I think after I was first published, I began entering contests just because I felt like that’s what I was supposed to do. Haha! Prior to being published, I entered contests for not-yet-published writers as a way to receive feedback from agents and editors and that was so helpful! But most of the contests I’ve entered post-publication don’t offer that kind of feedback. One of the reasons I continue to enter (though I don’t enter nearly as many as I used to) is because sometimes when you final, it’s a nice way of reaching new readers. It’s also simply just fun and affirming when a book does well in a contest.
But with the Christy Award specifically, that one was just a dream-come-true for me. I was in high school when that contest first began and as a young person who’d read the book it’s named after (Christy by Catherine Marshall) probably already five times by then, that contest just felt like a far-off dream that I held on to for many, many years.
There are an enormous number of writing contests available. Do you have any guidance on how an author should go about deciding which contests to enter?
I think one of the most important things to consider before entering a contest is who the judges are. If you’re pre-published, it’s so helpful to look for contests where the judges are agents or editors, especially editors who work for a publisher you’d like to land a contract with, or authors you look up to and admire. And then on the other side, I really appreciate contests where there’s a nice mix of judges—librarians, reviewers, bookstore owners, and avid readers…with a few authors or industry professionals mixed in, too. I like knowing it’s not only peers serving as judges, but people who represent who I’m actually writing the book for—readers.
Oh, an additional note for entering contests as a pre-published writer: I highly suggest looking for one where you get great feedback and suggestions from the judges. Some contests will only give you a number score, but others really strive to help you improve your book.
What one piece of advice would you give to new writers?
This isn’t going to be all that tangible, but it’s something I needed when I was a new writer and I still need it now—and that is, remember WHY you write. Write it down, even. Put it on a post-it note and attach it to your laptop if you need to. There are so many things that can come along with this journey, both good and bad, and it’s so easy to get tangled up in those things, to get overwhelmed or compare yourself to others, and in the process, forget why you started writing in the first place. Hold on to your Why. Hold on to your love of stories. Hold on to those first story sparks that grabbed hold of you when you first started working on your current manuscript and use them as kindling whenever your story flames start to flicker out.
What are you working on now?
I’ve got a new three-book series in the works that I’m oh-so-excited about! The first book is called Autumn by the Sea and it releases on September 28. While I get ready to market and promote that release, I’m also drafting the second book in the series, A Seaside Wonder. Like my other books, these are contemporary romances that take place in a small town. Unlike my other books, they take place in Maine and there’s an overarching mystery threaded through all three books, plus individual mysteries in each story. I’m having a blast!
Where can we find out more about you and your work?
The easiest places to catch up with me are on Instagram (@melissatagg) and Facebook (@authormelissatagg) and on my website (melissatagg.com).
Thanks again, Melissa, for being with us.
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