Monday, October 31, 2011

NTRWA President Marsha West

Tell Me Your Story Tuesday


North Texas RWA 
             Marsha is a former elementary school administrator who presides over our RWA chapter meetings with grace, poise and, as is essential for our group, a sense of humor.  She joins us on the blog today to talk about parenting and writing. 

     Thanks, for inviting me, Dawn. I decided to start with an issue that’s important to me. Good parenting. However, not so much in the delightful way Regina Richards speaks of it in her Bad Mommies Blog. (You really should check that out; it’s so funny.)
      All of my adult life, I’ve been involved in schools as a secondary teacher, parent, volunteer, school board member (In Texas this is a volunteer, non-partisan elected position.), an elementary school assistant principal, and principal. I’ve seen first-hand what a difference good early parenting makes in a child’s life, for his/her teacher, class and school. The ripples extend far.
     Most of us model what our parents did, be it good or bad. (I’m pretty certain mine didn’t have training.) All parents do the best they can, but sometimes even though we’re trying to help, we hinder. For instance, probably the worst thing we can do for our kids is rescue them. I’m raising my hand as a major offender. If one daughter forgot her lunch, I’d dash down to school with it. If the other daughter waited until the last minute to tell me about a project and needed the poster board, I’d head out to the grocery store for the supplies. I really wanted to be a good mom. Experts tells us rescuing teaches the child they are not capable and can do real harm to their self-esteem.  Rescuing is worse than neglect. In that situation, somehow the kid concludes, "My parents think I can handle this." Talk about counter-intuitive.
      I serve on the Advisory Board of Texas Parents as Teachers, giving them time, advocacy, and money. Your school district or child-care facility may have access to this program. I’d love to tell you more about TPAT and how trained parent educators work with parents of children from birth through four, using an evidence based curriculum. The crucial early years are most important for how successful a child is at school and in life. 
      Education is powerful. 
 We can change anything with the knowledge and the will to do so. 
 (Bolded by Dawn)
That’s my soapbox, and now I’ll answer a few of Dawn’s questions.

  What made you decide to write? What did you do before becoming a writer?
I’ve answered the second question already. But as to the first, when my mother was ill a number of years ago, I buried my worries in romances. (After a hiatus of probably 20 years when I only read educational related material.) Visiting with one of my husband’s friends, I said, “I think I could write one of these if I knew what to write about.” He said, ”Write about the huge scandal in the school district we’ve just been discussing.” (The scandal started after I left the board.) Thus the kernel for my first book was born. 
Tell us about being President of NTRWA. What has that been like? What have you loved? What has been a challenge?
I like to think being president of an organization is one of the things I do well, though not perfectly by any means. I love to see problem solving by group members, and I’ve actually experienced chill bumps when it’s really going well. It’s almost magical. (A little weird, I know.) J The biggest challenge has been my inability to juggle the time commitment to allow for writing. On the other hand (people who know me will tell you, I can almost always come up with an “on the other hand.”), when times got really tough with writing this year, and I gave serious thoughts to quitting, my involvement in NT and friends I’ve met there kept me going.

  Do you have a writing routine? What does it look like? Where do you usually write?
When I was writing new books (I’ve been editing all this year.), after sending my husband off to work, I’d sit in front of the computer in our study and quickly check emails. Then I’d read over whatever I wrote the day before, making some edits, basically getting back into the world. I’d write all day until time to fix supper with breaks to see why the puppies were barking. For approximately three-and-a-half-years, I averaged 20 pages a week, cranking out 2nd-5th books. Our critique group met weekly, and we almost always had our new pages. Knowing the others depended on us kept our rear in the seat and fingers on the keys. (Both of those talented people will be published soon. The first of Jeanne Guzman’s Dragon Hunters series, Dragon Lover comes out momentarily, and Jerrie Alexander’s The Green Eyed Doll makes its appearance in 2012.)

   Do you have any special time management tricks for working in writing time and living a normal life?
The short answer is “Not really.” However, from my theatre background, I’m used to having a date when something has to be ready and backing up from that date to see when I have to begin. That translates to deadlines for contests, and hopefully, someday to sending edits back to an editor. If someone doesn’t give me a deadline, I have to create one, or I don’t get anything done.

 What is the best advice you have received about this journey?
That it is a journey, and there are many paths to publication. The only person who can defeat us is ourselves—if we give up.(Amen!)

 What advice do you wish someone would have given you when you were starting out?
“Don’t query until you’re certain sure the ms is in as perfect a condition as possible.” I queried much too early before I learned basics of the craft and self-editing strategies. “On the other hand,” that allowed me to become an RWA PRO, and I’ve learned a great deal form that group and our local NT PRO loop.

What kind of scenes do you have a hard time writing?
The first one. J Seriously, I have the dickens of the time finding where to start a book. I usually cut 2-3 chapters. Even now, when I get that the story needs to start in the middle of the action, I don’t write it that way.

   Do you ever write material based on your close relationships, such as a best friend, and how do you balance that material with the need to tell an interesting story?
I based the first book more than any other on real people, fictionalized of course. (To my knowledge, sex and murders weren’t connected to the school scandal mentioned in question 1.) In other books, I’ve borrowed characteristics or a name I’ve modified. More than people, I borrow situations and places. Bottom line, it’s fiction. People, places and situations provide the inspiration, and then my imagination takes over.

What do you do when you aren’t writing?
Family—three grands, who I enjoy babysitting, two “puppies” (12 and 13 years old), and wonderful trips with my husband. I take Pilates a couple times a week at my younger daughter’s studio. This year lots of NT related work. Emails and blogs. I feel sorry for authors if not many folks have taken time to respond, so I do. Unfortunately, as you’ve noticed, I’m not brief. I don’t write in sound bites. Need to work on that. LOL

  Tell us a bit about your work in progress.
I’m doing the last edits on my 5th book with Renee, my new in person critique partner, and Denyse, a new on-line CP.
    In Truth Be Told, a 95,000 Single Title Romantic Suspense, Meg, an Atlanta SWAT team member visiting her family in Fort Worth at Christmas wants to stop whoever is blackmailing her father. Meg pursues a resistant Scott, who struggles to accept his new physical limitations, which he received saving the life of Meg’s brother. The disability prevents Scott from returning to the force, and in his mind makes him unacceptable to Meg. In uncovering the pieces of the puzzle, they learn the truth, which threatens to ruin her father’s career as mayor and destroy Meg’s family. She and Scott discover real love will require sacrifices on both their parts.

  What is next for you?
Book 6, a single title romance with no title. The log line: When a member of the board of a non-profit arts agency in Fort Worth turns up dead, a homicide detective looks at everyone involved in the organization, including the Executive Director.
This time last year, I did a lot of planning for this book. With NT’s retreat coming up next weekend, I expect to spend the time writing like a fiend. I’ll continue to take on-line classes and attend conferences/retreats, enter and judge contests, critique, and query. There’s always more to learn.
 How can we find out more about you? Blogs? Facebook? Twitter?
I don’t have my own blog. (That’s probably all I’d ever do if I had one.) I’m super pleased to be able to post on Dawn’s however. 
My web site is 
and I FB a bit as Marsha Riegert West.
Thanks for having me, Dawn. 
 Thank you for stopping by.  It was a pleasure getting to know you better.
I’ve loved your questions. 

   I’m going to throw one back to our readers. What do you wish you’d known before becoming a writer? For those of you who are parents, what’s the best advice you’ve received from anyone on how to be a better parent?


Jerrie Alexander said...

Interesting post Marsha and Dawn.

Whether the person is a writer or any profession, I'd advise them to never stop learning. Write the very best book they can. Suffer the rejections, learn from them and keep honing your craft.

It's only when you give up that you've failed.

Marsha said...

Thanks for stopping by Jerrie. Good advice and very succinct. I may paste it over my computer. Have a good writing day. Marsha

Regina Richards said...

What a great interview! Marsha, you are a huge asset to the NTRWA organization, a person of practical, unstoppable energy. You have proved you are willing to do the work to learn the craft and the business.

And I can't tell you how impressed I am with your work with young parents. I believe that most parents do the best job they know how for their kids. Making sure they have real tools to do a great job is so important. You make a difference!

Barb han said...

Wonderful post, Marsha! I didn't know you had a theatre background! Truth Be Told sounds like an exciting story. What was the inspiration? Take care.

Marsha said...

Thanks for stopping by,Regina, and your kind remarks. You always add a few months to my life when I chuckle at your Mean Mommies blog. I started as a high school teacher, but the issues were so large, I kept back tracking to find where to "fix" the problems kids struggled with. Fortunately for me, a good friend became one of the first parent educators for Texas Parents as Teachers. You can check out their web site at or the national center at Marsha

Marsha said...

Good morning, Barb. Thanks for stopping by. Yes, over the years, I've read lots of different hats, bouncing back and forth between my creative and what I'd call my administrative side. (In writing, we might call it our "editor side.") Sometimes, when I was in the middle of rehearsals after school, I'd think, "Wow! Someone is paying me money to do this." Lots of fun, but headaches, too. (Sounds a like lot writing.)

I wish I could tell you some cool story about the inspiration for Truth Be Told. Actually, it was a house I drove by several times a week on my way to babysit and take Pilates. Who lived there? What was their life like? You know how it is. One question leads to others and soon a plot is born. Keeping my fingers crossed for you Barb, know you're getting close in the publication race. Marsha

Jessica R. Patch said...

"That it is a journey, and there are many paths to publication. The only person who can defeat us is ourselves—if we give up."

Great advice! Love that! So nice to meet you. Great interview, Dawn.

Marsha said...

Thanks for stopping by, Jessica. Nice to meet you too. Like all good advice--easier said than done. (I know, a cliche, but it fits!)
Dawn,thanks so much for inviting, me here. It's been fun.

Emily Seate said...

It's hard to get past your lovely photo, Marsha! Excellent interview. You are so natural with your comments. Sounds just like you.

Writing is one of the hardest jobs I've ever undertaken. It requires stamina, allowing ones characters to have a voice, and a whole range of other things for which I doubt any of us have had training. In hindsight, I'd say my best training came from daydreaming which polished my skill of being able to envision a scene so vividly that if anyone walks into the room while I am writing, I could fall off my chair. I've learned to call that "Getting into the Zone."

Writing is so personally rewarding. Probably addictive as well. I love my book-children.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Marsha.

Emily Seate

Dawn Alexander said...

It has been a pleasure having you, Marsha.

Thank you to everyone who stopped by to say hi!

Denyse Cohen said...

Great stuff, you guys!
Marsha's talent is as big as her solidarity toward her fellows writers. I am incredibly lucky for partnering up with such skilled writer and top-notch human being.