Monday, September 19, 2011

Believing in romance: Sandra Hyatt

Romance writer, Sandra Hyatt loved happy endings and believed everyone deserved one. She had a lovely smile and curls I would have killed for. I met her at my first Romance Writers of New Zealand(RWNZ), Auckland Branch meeting and was impressed with how friendly and open she was. During the coffee break she introduced herself to me and mentioned she lived just around the coast in Clevedon and maybe we could carpool for meetings from time to time. I remember being slightly overawed that someone who was everything I was dreaming of being (a successful, published author)would be happy to carpool with me.

In late March Sandra very graciously agreed to be interviewed for my websites and that is how one chilly autumn afternoon found us together at my dining room table, sipping hot drinks and talking about romance.
At the time, I was, for a wide variety of reasons, struggling with the idea of writing romance, so I asked Sandra her thoughts on why people are ambivalent toward the genre. She gave her amazing curls a shake and took time to think a moment before replying.
“You know, I think that ambivalence has always been there and some of it is because romance is usually written by women for women and even today that creates issues I suppose. It’s important to remember to enjoy the spectrum of genres and styles available. One doesn’t have to spoil you for others. I enjoy gourmet cooking for example but I still love pizza. It’s not one or the other.”
She paused a moment and then added “personally I just like a good book.

Sandra, who sold her first book in 2008, didn’t set out to be an author, let alone one who was a USA Today bestseller. In fact, she had a successful career in marketing before taking up writing and was home on maternity leave when boredom drover her to enrol in a writing course.
“When I started writing, this light bulb went off and I thought ‘wow, this is it’,” Sandra told me. “But I still wrote for ten years before selling a manuscript.”
Sandra, as most members of RWNZ know, was in Reno for a Romance Writers of America conference when she won a critique session with Tessa Radley’s editor. That meeting was the turning point.
“I was rooming with Tessa and it was very cool to be in a group of writers who understood the joy I felt. “

The meeting pushed Sandra to take her writing seriously and she soon had a routine of writing every weekday, while her children were at school. It was important to her she said, to show her children you could have a dream and that it wouldn’t always be easy but that you could achieve it all the same.
She admitted, with something of an embarrassed grin, that she usually didn’t plan her work out ahead of time.
“I’m absolutely a pantser,” she said. “Sometimes I have an idea but that’s about all. The details come when my fingers are on the keyboard.”
Once the first book had been sold, she said she simply rolled up her sleeves and “got on with the next one”.
At times, Sandra did write in other genres but felt she wasn’t as good at it, preferring to stay with romance.
“I love a happy ending; I think they’re good for us. I like people falling in love. “

Sandra didn’t mind the solitary nature of writing but admitted she did struggle with the discipline required for meeting her 1,200 word a day target. To help avoid the distraction of email, Twitter, Facebook and the likes, Sandra kept one computer internet free and did most of her writing there. When she forayed online, she usually managed to raise a smile.
“You would think, being a writer, that I could find a pen somewhere in my house,” she once tweeted.
As we began to wind up the interview I asked Sandra what advice she had for new or unpublished writers.
“Take what you want from conferences and meetings and course but always listen to everything. Be careful about who you give your work to, to read. Then write, write, write – don’t write-edit – just get it down on paper. You can come back and fix it up later.”

Sandra died on August 21, 2011 after being taken suddenly ill at the RWNZ conference.  I was devastated because although we had met again at my house about six weeks after the interview, we didn’t know each other well enough to be friends yet. I would like to think that perhaps one day we would have become so because on that cold autumn day as I watched Sandra drive away, I knew one thing.

I wanted to be just like her.

Photo of Sandra Hyatt:  Janice Van Huenen Photography
©2010 Angelique Jurd – All Rights Reserved.

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