Barbara Dan


Writer’s Tips

Q.: How does a writer find their niche?

A.: Probably by trial and error. It varies with the individual. All I know is that no matter what I do to earn my bread, I simply must write, because nothing else can fill that void.

Q.: Is it absolutely necessary for a writer to have a college degree?

A.: No! For several years I ran multi-genre critique groups in Las Vegas. I also organized a sell-out Writer’s Workshop at the Palace Station, with writers coming from all over the country. Agents, editors, and publishers were invited to speak and meet with writers in all stages of career development. I know of people who can’t spell, are dyslexic, or even brain damaged, and are published authors. Some of the most talented people have overcome their shortcomings. I’ve known dyslexics who’ve become speed readers and now write faster than most of us can type or think! It’s all a matter of desire. If you are a storyteller at heart, you will prevail.

Q.: What key ingredients make for an historical romance that lights a fire in the reader’s heart?

A.: For me, the catalyst for a rip roaring novel starts with an idea centered around conflict and in the case of romance, sexual tension. To carry the story forward to a dynamic conclusion, I rely on character-driven plots and subplots, motivation and solid historical research.

Q.: Describe the women you write about.

A.: I love writing about women who are bold and unafraid—like the men who are attracted to them. Nothing is more off-putting than a heroine who comes across as a weepy, helpless female, throwing herself into the arms of the hero. I am happy to say that the women I write about do get their happy ending because they deserve happiness, not because the hero feels sorry for them. Men want bold women who aren’t afraid to meet life head-on.

Q.: Do your novels always contain steamy love scenes?

A.: Of course not! It all depends on the storyline and the characters involved. For instance, in my award-winning Western, Silent Angel, it would have been inappropriate to portray the savage rape of my heroine; even though this is a key event in her life. When it comes to sexual violence, I prefer to handle it “off-stage.” Jenny’s story is about healing and fighting her way back to emotional wholeness. Throughout her difficult journey, she refuses to let life’s injustices rob her of future happiness. She does not run from life. She faces it. In the end she finds the love and affirmations she needs in the arms of an amazing and supportive man.

Having said that, I never shrink away from portraying human sexuality; it’s as normal as breathing. Getting inside the head of my heroine or hero is what makes a story come alive. Whatever wayward, quirky, or inconsistent traits may lurk beneath the surface, these are likely to be the very characteristics that drive the plot and teach us the most about the human psyche and ourselves, because, you see, I don’t just write stories. Each story contains a ‘take-home value.’

Q.: What advice would you give someone who wants to succeed as a writer?

A.: First, familiarize yourself thoroughly with the genre. Read 100-200 novels at least. Saturate yourself with contemporary and historical fiction. You don’t have to finish them all, but among them you will discover perhaps a dozen authors who strike a resonant chord with your spirit. Reread them. Notice how these authors captured your interest and held it. Throughout this process of self-education, take breaks to clear your head. The goal is not to imitate, but to learn what sells and why, as well as how to structure a novel that will keep your reader turning pages all night.

Q.: Is that what you did when you began writing romance?

A.: No. From an early age I had carried on a love affair with words and various genres, reading fiction, non-fiction, biographies—you name it! Some of my friends accuse me of being a “wordaholic,” and they’re probably right.  Besides being a wordaholic, I’ve always been cursed with an overactive imagination.

Q.: Are there any shortcuts to becoming a successful published author?

A.: No. You must discover your own voice and how best to communicate with readers. Whatever you do, be an Original.

Q.: Rumor has it you turn out 10-20 pages a day. How is that even possible?

A.: It’s easy. Just get inside your character’s head and let him/her tell the story. At times you may find yourself dealing with a strong willed or wayward character, such as Dr. Sarah in my Civil War romance, Petticoat Warrior)! Fortunately I’ve learned to trust the character to speak for him or herself. My advce is to go with your gut instinct. Besides, you can always edit out the things that make you blush later.

Even if you only have time to write 5 or 10 pages each day, make a commitment and stick with it. You’ll be amazed quickly you finish your novel.

Also, write your first draft from your creative right brain. I generally let it rest overnight, then go over the previous day’s work with the critical (analytical) side of my brain. Don’t overwork it. After a short exercise break to shake up the brain cells, let the creative right brain take over again. (Tip: Avoid doing taxes or bookkeeping chores on the same day you work out of your right brain. Analytical work can definitely interfere with creative impulses.)

Q.: How do you gather research for your novels?

A.: When I’m not reading history and biographies for background atmosphere, I am often prowling around in some musty old museum, always on the hunt for details to include in my next story. I love to travel and breathe the same air as my characters. Visiting old graveyards, photographing historic sites, soaking up details on the apparel, décor, tools, and houses of another era helps me get inside the skin of my characters. I love picking the brains of local archeologists, and wherever I go, I scout for books full of folklore by local authors.

Q: What is most difficult for you as a writer?

A.: Letting go of characters I’ve fallen in love with by the end of the story. For instance, when I finished writing Macgregor’s Bride, my War of 1812 love story, it was hard not to want to continue the friendship. Even though Lydia and Bruce were fictional characters, I had invested so much emotional energy into this passionate young couple’s lives that, truly, “parting [was] such sweet sorrow.”

To make the transition easier, I finally jotted down major highlights I envisioned taking place in the MacGregors’ long and happy life together, such as details about their eight children and the love and joy that kept their romance alive into old age. Only then was I able to say goodbye. This is a problem I often experience with my heroes and heroines.