Interview: Sierra Cartwright

Jen: Today we welcome Sierra Cartwright to Romancing the Book.  Sierra, will you share a short bio with us?
Sierra: USA Today and #1 best-selling author Sierra Cartwright was born in Manchester, England and raised in the Wild West of Colorado. Moving to the United States was nothing like her young imagination had concocted. She expected to see cowboys everywhere, and a covered wagon or two would have been really nice!

She now lives in Galveston, Texas. Like her image of the Old West, her writing is untamed, and nothing is off-limits. She invites you to take a walk on the wild side…if you dare.

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Jen: Please tell us about your newest release and where the idea came from.
Sierra: I’m convinced there’s an Idea Fairy. Even though I build her shrines, drink champagne in her honor, offer her coffee, bribe her with the finest chocolate in the known universe, she refuses to be romanced. She shows up when she’s damn well good and ready.

The idea for the Donovan Dynasty series didn’t occur in a linear fashion, meaning the Idea Fairy had her own crazy, wicked way of behaving. Rather, all the ideas came to me at one time, colliding into each other so fast I could hardly sort them out. Generally speaking, three books don’t flood my brain at once.

A visit to the spectacular Moody Mansion in Galveston provided untold inspiration. I was on a brainstorming trip, and I took a number of tours. I was fascinated by the historic house and the story of the family, enough so that I bought a book about them. It was as if I couldn’t get enough. So I went back again.

The second tour was led by a different docent, and he shared parts of the story that I hadn’t already heard. This time, I was even more intrigued by the way William Moody, Jr. built the family fortunate and the way he and Libby’s four children became part of history and lore.

Even more fascinated, I visited the mansion a third time. The what if’s that came to mind formed the book. What if the person who “should” have been in the role of William Moody, Jr. actually fell in love with another woman and had a love child with her? How would he fit into the series? How would the oldest legitimate child (Connor from Bind) react to that? And then…what if the father died prematurely? And then, what if one of the kids had been driving the car when the father died?

Until the Donovans, I’d never written a series of books that played with family dynamics. Even though it was a challenge, it was also more rewarding than any other writing I’ve done to date.

For Boss, I wanted to play with the boss and secretary trope. I knew a lot about Nathan’s personality already, but the actual plot didn’t come to me until I heard a story of a relatively small oil and gas firm in Louisiana that had been sold, all without the employees knowing!

They showed up for work one day and the business had a new name. It was even more devastating to the employees because the owner was beloved. After Hurricane Katrina, he’d even helped employees get reestablished in a new location. He paid for this out of his own pocket.

That story became the general idea that I worked from. What if the heroine, Kelsey, worked for this man and thought the world of him? And what if she showed up for work one morning and there was a new man in the boss’s office? And what if she was incredibly loyal to the old owner?

Of course it’s complicated by the new boss being incredibly sexy, handsome, determined. And dominant. What would it be like to work for such a man? And just how deep would the tension run?

The tension in Boss was immediate and real, and the conflicts were powerful. The elevator scene was steamy. I’m no longer looking at elevators the same way…

Here’s a short excerpt:

Kelsey froze when she saw her boss, Nathan Donovan, on the treadmill. His headset was plugged into the machine, and he was watching business news on the attached monitor.

He wore a dove-gray T-shirt and shorts that showcased his powerful, muscular legs.

Damn. How was it possible that he was more appealing out of a suit than in it? He ran with a fluid, purposeful grace.

Everything in her responded to him. Her pulse thundered, her lips felt parched. On some deep, core level, she wanted to be possessed by him.

She’d never had that kind of visceral reaction to a man before, and it made her edgy.

In the window’s reflection, Nathan met her gaze and didn’t let it go.

She rationalized that it would be ridiculous to skip her workout just because her boss was in the same room, so she fiddled with the settings on her phone, pretending she’d been doing that all along.

As she walked behind him, he gave a curt nod.

After stepping onto the treadmill belt, she selected a medium pace and pretended to ignore him and her questions about whether or not he was a Dom.

Even though the music in her ear was loud, every part of her was aware of his punishing, grueling pace. Did he ever slow down or relax? And would she ever be able to keep up?

Helpless to resist his magnetic draw, she glanced over at him.

Sweat dotted his brow, and his Donovan Worldwide T-shirt clung to his damp skin. Seemingly unaware of her, he continued to focus on the screen in front of him.

Or so she thought, until he suddenly turned his head and caught her looking at him. He captured her gaze, compelling her not to look away.

What was it about him?

Unnerved, she missed a step and had to grab the rail to steady herself.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

Obviously he hadn’t missed a thing. His lack of attention had been an act.

With a half-smile, she nodded and found her stride again.

For the next few minutes, she played with the controls for the television monitor— attempting to drown out the overwhelming man next to her.

When his machine beeped, he hit the stop button.

He was barely breathing hard, which seemed really unfair.

Then he pulled off his shirt and wiped it across his face.

If she hadn’t been holding on, she might have misstepped again.

She’d been very much aware of his size and breadth, but until now, she hadn’t realized just how muscular and toned he was. His abs were hard and tight, and there wasn’t any excess fat on him. Everything about him, from his posture to his attitude to the state of his body, screamed restraint and discipline and, damn it, sex appeal.

He cleaned off the machine.

Finally. She’d have the place to herself and could finish her workout in solitude.

Instead, he pulled his shirt back on before walking into the free weight area.

Because he was looking in a mirror to check his form, she was free to study his reflection.

As he bench-pressed enormous plates, she noticed the flex of each of his muscles.

Her heart rate accelerated in a way that had nothing to do with the workout. She told herself she’d never hit the gym with her boss again. He was too dangerous to her physical state.

A few minutes later, he lifted a hand in acknowledgment as he passed behind her.

She made sure he was gone before heading to the locker room.

After pulling on a lightweight jacket and slinging her bag over her shoulder, she grabbed her purse and exited into the hallway.

Nathan Donovan stood there, arms folded, leaning against the wall, waiting for her.

She stopped so quickly that her bag slipped to her forearm.

Quickly, he took two steps toward her to readjust it.

“I… That’s not necessary.” And because he raised an eyebrow, she added, “But thank you.”

He’d showered, and he looked devastating. More than ever, she felt as if she were at a disadvantage.

“I’d like to take you to dinner.”

Her resolve was complicated by the sudden, wickedly hot images tumbling through her mind…of being in his arms, of him looking at her purposefully before lowering his mouth toward hers, of him skimming his fingers up her spine.

Thinking of her boss in that way would be a rabbit hole leading to pure, pure madness.


Jen: At what age did you discover writing? Tell us your call story.
Sierra: There’s never been a time when I wasn’t chasing ideas. I wrote my first books, in pencil. I like to think I was eight, but the truth is, I was nine. I misspelled baby as “babby.” And heaven was “haven.” My mom was my very first editor!

From there, I moved on to starting the elementary school newspaper. I graduated to blue ink in my early teens, and I wrote a 123-page Star Trek novel. I managed to see William Shatner in a live production once, and it remains a highlight!

I completed my first historical novel, “Royal Captive,” when I was around eighteen or nineteen, and I’d graduated to a computer by then. The book was produced as an audio several years later, as “A Queen’s Ransom.”

I figured I was well on my way to being a successful novelist. But I wrote ten books that were rejected by every publishing house on the planet before I finally sold my eleventh to Harlequin.

Except for a period of years where a divorce decimated my creative energy and I struggled to pay the rent, I’ve always been a writer.

Jen: Are you a plotter or pantser?
Sierra: Yes. I know that’s not the answer you were expecting! When I wrote my first novels for Harlequin/Silhouette, I was one hundred percent a plotter. And I could never be a pantser because the continuity issues alone drive me batty. My writing style has evolved a bit over the years.

I start with a basic idea. Then, to get to know the characters, I begin writing the scene that’s in my head. Then I drive my publisher a bit mad by starting the story over again at some point. It’s then that I go into full plotting mode. I will do character charts, a style sheet to track details, and storyboards. I’ve been known to send my publisher pictures of my storyboard so she actually believes I am writing the story. And typically I don’t tell her I’ve started over.

Jen: Do you have a writing routine?
Sierra: I’m a very different writer at the beginning of a book than I am at the end. At the beginning, I may write four or five hours a day, maybe getting a thousand words. I’m fairly normal at that point. I still hang out with my friends and post on Facebook.

As a book really takes shape, my schedule changes. I begin to have bad dreams, often nightmares. I may actually sleep more, occasionally ten hours a day. Of course, I also sleep less at times, perhaps only four hours. I’ve been known to get up as early as two a.m., which makes me difficult to live with. On a recent project, I left the house twice in three weeks, once to go for a walk, another time to go to the farmer’s market.

Since I’m so difficult to live with and don’t interact well with others when I’m on a deadline, I’ll often go to a cottage alone. Fortunately, I have a friend who emails me periodically, reminding me to eat.

Every book, I promise myself I’ll do it better, that I’ll only write about two thousand words a day so that I can have a normal schedule. But after almost fifty books and novellas, I still haven’t changed my ways!

Jen: How do you remember ideas that come to you at odd times?
Sierra: One thing I’ve learned about the Idea Fairy, she likes hot baths and long walks in nature, when I don’t have a notebook with me. She also seems to enjoy car rides. So writing down ideas is a risk to life and limb!

I almost always have a notebook with me. I’m quirky enough that I use a three-subject notebook. The first section is where I write my notes. Yes, I’ve gone onto a new notebook without ever filling the other two sections. I have no idea why I do that, but I bet a therapist would have some fun trying to figure it out!

Technology has provided some great answers! Except for when I’m in the bath or shower, I keep my phone with me. Sometimes, I’ll record a voice note on my phone. And I find Evernote to be indispensable. Evernote allows me to write a note with my fingertip right on my screen. Since the app is cloud-based, the note is already synched with my computer when I arrive home.

Jen: What do you do in your free time?
Sierra: I love being outside, taking walks and looking for birds. One of my very favorite things to do is putter in the garden. A couple of years ago, I moved from Colorado to Texas. The growing season is much longer, and I am able to enjoy a wider variety of flora here. A great big bird of paradise recently bloomed, and I feel relaxed every time I look at it.

Being away from the computer and other technology is good for my creativity, and it helps me to put things in perspective. And that longer growing season I mentioned? It means there are weeds to be pulled year-round. So I’ve got a reason to be outside every day. Stopping to smell the roses is always a good thing!

Jen: What’s next for you?
Sierra: I’m in the courtship stage with the Idea Fairy again. I’m working on a series for Julien Bonds, the enigmatic character from the three-book (Crave, Claim, Command) Bonds series. Honestly, I never conceived of Julien as a hero. So when readers began asking for his story, I was flabbergasted, and, truthfully, more than a little resistant. He’s quirky and mysterious. And I liked him that way. But ultimately, he wants his story to be told, as well. At some point, I’d like the Idea Fairy to bring me an easy story to write. The new Bonds trilogy will be my most ambitious storytelling yet.