Claire Harris on Tender Alpha Males and Unconventional Women Warriors

I am thrilled to host Claire Harris, author of The Savage from the Sea. In this post, she shares the challenges and joys she has faced through the long process of finishing and publishing her debut.

How long have you wanted to be a romance writer? When did you decide to write a book?

I’ve always had a love for books. I think it came from growing up in a rural area. Our family had little access to TV, radio, and computers (they were not really around back then). I spent most of my childhood and teenage years reading books to escape and excite my imagination. That carried over into adulthood. As I aged I became more selective in the types of books I was reading. I found that I really enjoyed romance novels, especially historical. There is something about the dashing hero and the beautiful heroine that really captivated me. As I dug through the books out there I realized that many of them were not the types of stories I wanted to read. I detest a hero who is cruel to the heroine, but she still falls in love with him anyway. I prefer a strong alpha male who is also tender and kind to the heroine. From the female perspective I want the heroine to be strong in her own right and able to face any challenges that come her way. I decided that I would write a story that I wanted to read. If it got published great. If not then it would be a fun process and something I could tell my family about. That was nearly 3 years ago now.

What inspired you to write this story?

History is often saturated with the stories of men. We read and hear about their deeds in textbooks and folklore. However, there are a lot of incredible and nontraditional females in history; think Joan of Arc, Queen Elizabeth I, Catherine the Great, Pocahontas, etc. I am fascinated with these women who chose to be different and defy conventional roles. One particular area that I found of interest are women warriors. Relics found from both the Scandinavians (commonly known as Vikings today) and Amazons feature women warriors who bore arms and fought alongside the men in their cultures. This really sparked my imagination and I decided to write the story, The Savage from the Sea, from the viewpoint of a women warrior.

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How long did it take to complete?

The Savage from the Sea was a labor of love. The first draft was by far the hardest. I knew how I wanted the story to progress and the key events, but I had to fit them all together into the big picture. I would spend all of my free time crafting the story and working out the details. It ended up taking longer than I expected to get the first draft completed, about eight months. After that the rounds of editing took over. In my initial edits I wanted to refine the story, to really make sure the characters were developed and likeable. That ended up taking another six months before it was ready for submission to any publishing company. The second rounds of edits took about the same timeframe, but focused on pacing and flow. In the end it took almost two year to see the final results of my labor. I am very satisfied with the final outcome.

Did you work on simultaneous projects?

No, but as a new author I juggle many things. I have a full time job which keeps me busy during the day. I teach science classes at a local college. I love interacting with students. Many are struggling to figure out what options are available to them in science. I enjoy helping them decide on a path and what type of career they are best suited for.  I don’t think I will ever be able to give up my day job. In the evenings I juggle my children and family. This leaves me a small window of time for writing each week, which means I can only focus on one project. I do keep a list of interesting ideas and plot lines on file, so when that time comes I can look them over and create the next novel. I currently have an idea and an outline for my next book, but no real writing done on it.

How did you fit your writing into the rest of your life?

I work in time to write between my job and kids. This means that I don’t have a set schedule. Some weeks I end up writing more than others. I find that the time I get the most done is after everyone is in bed. The house is quiet and I don’t have any distractions, like spilled milk or papers to grade. I usually end up writing for a few hours before I fall asleep.  My plot outline and planning really help with my sporadic time.

Who gave you feedback as you worked through writing the book?

Mainly my mom. She reads a lot as well and we usually chat about different books. Throughout the process I found myself asking her opinion about certain events and character responses. It was important to me to have characters that respond in a realistic manner to certain situations.

What kept you going through the process?

The thought of finishing it. I am the type of person that likes to complete any task I start. I enjoy the challenge and pushing myself to see what I can achieve. I truly believe you do anything if you are determined and dedicated. I guess I tend to be like an extremist in some aspects.

How many submissions did you send out?

It is hard to remember, but I think it was five total. I sent them out, not expecting to hear much from them. I was writing because I enjoyed it, not because I expected to have the next best seller. When I received several no’s I was ok with it and able to let it go. I figured there are a lot of talented writers out there and I just may not be one of them.  SMP was the last place I submitted to and the one that picked up the book.

What did you do when you got the go-ahead?

I was actually teaching a class when I got the call from SMP. The students were doing a lab assignment, so I stepped out of the room since I did not recognize the number. It ended up being an editor from the publishing company telling me that they were interested in my submission. I think I almost peed my pants since it was completely unexpected.

Who’s the first person you called?

My husband. He has been my biggest support in this whole process. When I first told him I was thinking about writing a novel, he encouraged me to do it. He has also listened to my questions, let me bounce ideas off him, and explained emotions from the male perspective to me. He was as excited as I was to hear that the company was interested in the novel.  He is also my biggest promoter.  I tend to be more reserved and shy when talking about my own accomplishments. He tells everyone about my work and how proud he is of me.

What happened between hearing your yes and getting the book to print?

A lot of waiting and then a flurry of editing.  It takes months to see the cover art that the graphic designers have come up with. It also takes your editor some time to read over the entire manuscript to see where improvement can be made. This leads to several rounds of back and forth editing before you see the final results. I feel like it is a game of hurry up and wait.

What has surprised you most about this process?

How talented both the editor and graphic designers are. They take your raw idea and help you cultivate it into something that readers can really connect with. The cover art draws the reader to your book by giving them a visual idea of what the story is about. That takes a lot of finesse and talent. The editor helps you create a cohesive, flowing story that will pull the readers along. It is an incredible process.

What would you change if you could?

With this book, nothing. It was a huge learning process. Every tip, edit, and mistake I made I look at as part of the learning process. I know all of the information will be put to good use when writing my next book.

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Claire Harris loves history and has been an avid reader from a young age. As a child she would spend hours lying in the grass, absorbed in the tales and characters of a story. After many years of reading the books penned by others, she finally decided to write her own.

When she is not writing, Claire enjoys traveling and cooking. One of her favorite places to visit is the United Kingdom. The landscape and the castles are simply majestic and each has a rich history that inspires the imagination. As for food, she believes there is nothing better than a warm peanut butter or sugar cookie right out of the oven. Aside from writing, a large portion of her day is spent teaching biology classes at a local college as she holds both a masters and doctorate degree in biological science. She is passionate about education and getting students interested in science. Claire was raised in Florida and currently lives in Tallahassee with her husband and children.

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