We’re pleased to have New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author Cathy McDavid with us today. She’s here to tell us about her new Sweetheart Ranch mini-series and her transition from writing for Harlequin Western Romance to Harlequin Heartwarming.
What is your writing process?
Perfect timing for this question. I’m giving a workshop at the end of October, and my topic is gearing up to write the book!
After more than 45 published titles, I definitely have a process. I lean more toward plotting but always allow for inspiration to strike. In fact, some of my best ideas have come to me while writing the book rather than beforehand during the plotting phase.
I generally start with an overall idea. A situation. A problem. An event. Then, I decide on the community or family and what kind of interesting characters might inhabit the story. From there, I develop and refine the three conflicts: external (premise), internal (GMC), and romantic (obstacle in the heroine and hero’s way). Once I’m comfortable with those, I move on to my ten critical turning points. These are the foundation for every book I write and span from opening hook to resolution. From there, I build the story. Yeah, you did just get an hour-long workshop in a few sentences!
I write every day if possible, seven days a week, other than holidays and when I’m on vacation. I start out by sketching each scene in my trusty notebook. Then, I read through the pages I wrote the previous day, giving them a light edit. Next, I charge ahead until I reach my word count. I edit each chapter multiple times when I’m done with them and edit the book when it’s done. Yeah, lots of editing. Still, I get revisions. It’s a way of life and part of the process.
I realize I’m a left-brain writer, but I’m not advocating it. A writer should embrace whatever process works best for them. I do, however, suggest that writers sketch out scenes before they sit down to write. I believe it helps eliminate wasted time staring at a black screen.
A Cowboy’s Christmas Proposal, your November 2018 Harlequin Heartwarming title, will be the first book in your new Sweetheart Ranch series. Can you tell us a little bit about these books and what inspired you to write them?
I love being asked this question because the answer comes from a wonderfully happy occasion in my life! In early fall of 2016, I was spending a lot of time online researching wedding venues. I never really thought I’d get married again, but the magic happened at a high school reunion a couple years earlier when I (re)met my now husband and, as the saying goes, sparks flew. If you had told the two of us back in sophomore Spanish class that we’d one day get married, neither of us would have believed you!
So, here I am researching wedding venues online, and I came across a charming Victorian house in a nearby town that looked promising. Ultimately, we chose a different location for our nuptials, but I still loved that Victorian house and kept thinking about it. Being a writer of contemporary westerns, I naturally envisioned a country home rather than a Victorian house. That idea grew into a western-themed wedding ranch complete with honeymoon cabins. For me, there was never any other name for my imaginary place except Sweetheart Ranch. So glad my editor agreed!
The idea for A Cowboy’s Christmas Proposal is also close to my heart. My daughter was asked to officiate her good friend’s wedding at about the same time as I was researching venues. Again, having that writer’s imagination, I started picturing this good-looking cowboy who arrives at Sweetheart Ranch as a temporary substitute wedding officiant, his online certificate in hand. Oh, and he’s a single dad with three young children. From there, the story took off.
While you have written books for our Harlequin Western Romance line previously, your November release will be your first book with Harlequin Heartwarming. Can you tell us about the experience of writing for a new line? What can readers of your previous books expect from your Heartwarming releases?
I love writing contemporary western romances. Even after thirty of them for Harlequin Western, I could write another thirty and be happy. Heartwarming has given me a place to do that, and I’m very grateful. Readers of my Heartwarming books can expect to see some of the same settings and many of the same characters in secondary roles that appeared in my Western Romances. I tend to focus on community and family and strong emotional conflicts in my books. That hasn’t changed with my move to Heartwarming.
The main difference for me between the two lines is that the Heartwarming books are longer in length, which gives me the ability to develop the heroine and hero’s romantic relationship at what I feel is a more realistic pace. I also try to dig a little deeper into what makes my characters tick, explore their motivations and how they react to the difficult situations I put them in.
In your own words, can you describe what defines Harlequin Heartwarming?
It’s been said before, but it’s well worth repeating. Heartwarming books are much more than just a sweet romance or a clean read. These are feel good, emotionally satisfying stories with characters the reader wants for their friend and compelling storylines that keep them turning pages. The tone can be light-hearted and fun—like my November release, A Cowboy’s Christmas Proposal—or gut-wrenching and gripping with storylines that tackle tough subjects such as PTSD, devastating loss and individuals with disabilities.
When readers pick up a Heartwarming book, they know they’ll be introduced to two people, probably entirely wrong for each other, facing an almost impossible obstacle, who will eventually overcome that obstacle. Along the rocky road to their happily-ever-after, the reader will visit an interesting and charming community, meet all kinds of quirky or endearing characters, and become completely engrossed in a satisfying, read-it-in-one-day book!
What books have you read and enjoyed recently?
I recently finished How to Be a Blissful Bride by Stacy Connelly. No, not a Heartwarming book, she writes for Special Edition. But Stacy is a good friend of mine, and I love her books! I also recently finished The Husband’s Secret by Liane Morarity, which I enjoyed very much (my tastes are eclectic). Just yesterday, I downloaded Cari Lynn Webb’s Heartwarming book, The Rancher’s Rescue to my Kindle. Can’t wait to start reading! For my cowboy fix, Linda Lael Miller is one of favorites.
What is the best thing about writing for Harlequin?
These days, a writer has many choices when it comes to publication. No doubt there are people telling you to take a non-traditional path. And, for many, it’s successful. There are certainly pros and cons to each. I’m a little old school, I love seeing my book on the shelves of stores. It’s a thrill that has yet to get old.
But the biggest reason I love publishing with Harlequin is the tremendous support I receive, from editorial input, copying editing, marketing and promotion, online summits, workshops at RWA National conferences, career advancement opportunities, and recognition. Harlequin has always made me feel like I’m valued and important. Okay, and I love, love, love that they re-issue my backlist, either in various anthologies or foreign editions.
What advice do you have for writers?
One of my go-to pieces of advice is for all writers, regardless of where they are in their career, is to get as much feedback as possible, either through contests, critique partners, beta readers, reviewers, friends and family, or mentors. We can all benefit from suggestions. Then, take as much emotion out of it as possible before you listen to or read their comments. It’s hard, I know. Nobody likes criticism. But being receptive to good advice is crucial for making your writing the best it can be. And you don’t have to take feedback that doesn’t resonate with you. Only consider it. I like to sit on comments for a day or two and let them simmer.
This kind of segues into my other go-to piece of advice: don’t stop learning. I still attend dozens of workshops every year (or listen to recordings) on all kinds of subjects from the craft of writing to marketing and promotion. Just when you think you know it all, you’ll learn something new.
Lastly, network, network, network. The biggest strides I’ve made in my writing career and the best advice I’ve received have come from meeting industry professionals at conferences, chapter meetings, workshops, and book events. I ultimately sold to Harlequin because I pitched to an editor at a local conference. Yes, I pitched to many editors at many conferences, but finally, I connected with the right one at the right time.
In the third grade, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Cathy McDavid made it her goal to read every Black Stallion book ever written. Who knew such an illustrious ambition would eventually lead to a lifelong love of all things western and a career writing contemporary romances for Harlequin? With over 1.2 million books sold, Cathy is also a member of the prestigious Romance Writers of America’s Honor Roll.
An “almost” Arizona native, she’s married to her own real-life sweetheart, whom she re-met a few years ago at a high school reunion. Her grown twins are out on their own and finding their happily-ever-afters. In 2014, Cathy retired from the corporate world to write full-time. She now spends her days penning stories about good looking cowboys riding the range, busting a bronc, and sweeping gals off their feet. It a tough job, but she’s willing to make the sacrifice.