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AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT

Roseanne Bittner

 

September 2013

 


WG:      Welcome and thanks for stepping into my spotlight this month. To start off, please tell us about yourself.

RB:      HI! I'm from a little town in southwest Michigan and have been married 48 years to Larry Bittner. We graduated together in 1963 but didn't date till after high school. We have both lived in this area our entire lives and have two sons, three grandsons, three step grandchildren and two step great-grandchildren! They all live in this same general area. One son owns a business related to tool & die and the other son works for him as a CNC machine programmer. My husband does odd jobs for the business and I do all the bookwork, so the entire family is together every day! My office is a huge apartment on the second story of the building that houses the business and it's wonderful up here! My grandsons are now almost 13, 11 and 10 and all are into athletics.

I did have a dog for over 16 years, a little Bichon called Lashon, but she died a few years ago and I haven't been able to bring myself to accept another dog in her place. I do "dog sit" for others, though, including one son's black lab when they go on vacation. All my life I worked as an executive secretary until I quit in 1984 to work full time.



WG:      Let's talk about your own personal road to publication:
Is there some individual, group or event that you can point to as the catalyst/impetus that set you on the road to becoming a writer? Explain.

RB:      My writing comes simply from a love for telling stories and a love of my topic - American History and especially the American West of the 1800's and Native Americans. I love the west, its magnificent landscape, its rich history, and its phenomenal growth, which provides plots for hundreds of stories. The road to publication was NOT EASY!! I read nothing but books about Indians and pioneers growing up. My favorite is still A LANTERN IN HER HAND, by Bess Streeter Aldrich - wonderful, wonderful! That story so impressed me at a young age that I wanted to read only about pioneers after that. I wrote lots of poems at a younger age but never thought I could write a whole book until I was about 30, when I read THE PROUD BREED by Celeste de Blasis. I decided then and there I wanted to write a generational saga of my own, but my first book (never published) was almost 3000 pages long because I didn't know how to skip time!!! It was a day-by-day blow of a couple traveling west. Ha!

Anyway, I went on to write 8 more books over the course of 3 years until I finally sold one - which was the 9th book I wrote, so each book was a learning experience. This was 30 years ago, and I was writing on a manual typewriter at first, then an electric typewriter. No computer!! There was also no help back then in the way of writers' groups and conferences. I didn't know any writers, and technically didn't know what I was doing - period!! No coaching, no editing, no critiquing. There was no RWA, no Romantic Times - nothing. I just sat down and started writing stories, all while working full time and raising two energetic boys. It was very hard and I was sleeping about 4 hours a night! To this day I don't accept any aspiring writer's excuse for not having time to write. No, there really isn't time to write when you're a young working mother, but you MAKE THE TIME TO WRITE!


WG:      Tell us about your journey.

RB:      I wrote for 3 years and through a lot of hardship with no sales. I wrote on a manual then an electric typewriter, sitting in the corner of our tiny living room in the house we lived in then, trying to shut out TV and wrestling boys and all the things that come with family life. I did "sneak writing" at work, and through it all I took thousands of notes and saved hundreds of articles. I still have a full 4-drawer file of labeled notes, all pertaining to anything and everything you would want to know about Native Americans and America's Old West. I also began collecting my own resource books, of which I now have hundreds in my own library, most from the University of Nebraska and the University of Oklahoma.

I submitted and got rejected about 90 times before that first sale, which turned out to be the first book of my 7-book Savage Destiny series! What sold it was one scene involving the heroine's little brother that is very sad. The editor said she had to close her door because she was crying, and that's what sold the book. She asked if I could make it into a series, and I said "sure!" - But I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do in future stories. I just sat down and continued the story of Zeke and Abbie Monroe. I wrote all 7 books with no outline of any kind. I just took my characters on a journey through life and let things happen. Hero and heroine grew old together, and later books involved their children and grandchildren - and to this day Savage Destiny remains my most popular story, with continued sales after 30 years. They are now available on Amazon for Kindle and soon for all e-readers.

Writing without an outline is still my favorite way to write. That's how I wrote my most recent book, PARADISE VALLEY. I just sat down and wrote it, and after 10 years with no sales, that one sold, so that says something for writing from the heart - writing in a way that you just let the story "happen," and writing characters that are so real that you lose yourself in them. PARADISE VALLEY is my 58th published novel!


WG:      How many books did you complete before you sold your first? Have all/any of them sold since?

RB:      As I said above, I wrote 9 books before finally selling one. No, none of the other nine sold, but I learned a lot from them and I've used bits and pieces and a few characters from some of them in books I wrote later.


WG:      Can you tell us something about your experience in getting 'the call'?

RB:      Well, that was over 30 years ago. I remember being excited, but I had no agent and I sold myself really cheap!! I didn't care because I just wanted one of my books on the shelves. They only paid me $500 for that book (Savage Destin #1), but by gosh, 30 years later the book is still selling, so I guess I've made up for that tiny advance!


WG:      How has being a published author impacted your life?

RB:      No special way. I live my life like anybody else - small-town woman living a daily family life like any other. The only difference is that some people come up to me just overwhelmed that they are meeting an internationally-known writer, and I'm thinking, "Hey, I shuffle around in my housecoat like anybody else, work at my office all day every day, go home and make supper, have my grandkids over a lot, and whatever. I'm no different from anybody else. I just happen to write for a living."


WG:      What aspect of life as a published author surprised you the most - either in a good or bad way?

RB:      The "bad" was the surprise that you don't get rich right away. It takes years - if ever! You'd better be in it for the love of writing and not for the money. The money did get better, but only after I'd had about 20 books published and got an agent. The "good" is being thought of as famous - seeing your books on the shelves - and mostly hearing from my fans who send glowing reviews and compliments and beg for more books. I have also won numerous writing awards, and that part is nice, too, especially the Willa Award I won from Women Writing the West, and the "Legends of Romance" award I got from Romantic Times.


WG:      What about your writing process. Do you maintain a set schedule? Is there such a thing as a typical day for you?

RB:      I just cram the writing in whenever I can. As I said above, you make the time to write. If you are really passionate about your characters and your story, you will be anxious to get back to the computer and continue. Usually I am so attached to my characters by the end of the book that I want to write a sequel, which is why I wrote 7 books for SAVAGE DESTINY and have written four trilogies. I am not a good sleeper, so I am often at the computer at 2:00 - 4:00 a.m. My best ideas come in the middle of the night.


WG:      Do you set writing goals for yourself?

RB:      At 68 and after 58 published books, I don't have many "goals" left - other than to stay healthy enough to write till I'm 100, because I have lots more stories to tell! I am currently working on book #59, a western romance set in Montana. I would, of course, like to be a NYT Best Seller. I've come close, but it still hasn't happened.


WG:      Do you have a 'mood setter', something (music, ritual, environment, etc) you use to get you going when you sit down to write?

RB:      Oh, yes - sound tracks from big westerns. I love the theme from THE BIG COUNTRY (great movie!) - and when I'm writing a Native American story I listen to Indian music - flutes, forest sounds, all that.


WG:      Do you do a lot of up front plotting before you start or do you just dive in?

RB:      As I said above, I usually just dive in. I have a very general plot, but I don't get too involved in detailed outlines. I do only what is necessary to sell the book to a publisher, and I hate doing even that much. I hate having to write a synopsis, because I truly don't really know everything that will happen, and the story often strays away from my original idea.


WG:      Do you normally start with storyline or with character or with some combination of the two?

RB:      I use a basic story line that involves location and time period, then get my fictitious characters involved. I always use real history and real locations. I don't make anything up because I love American history and like "teaching" a history lesson in an entertaining way by getting my characters involved in real historical events.


WG:      Do you find certain themes or character archetypes making recurring appearances in your stories?

RB:      Oh yes - the alpha hero and the strong heroine - strong, brave pioneer characters who are very much in love and it's the love that holds them together as they face the perils of settling the American West.



WG:      What do you see as your own personal strengths as a writer?

RB:      Determination - perseverance - a passion for my genre.


WG:      Are there any obstacles/conflicts, specific to your particular lifestyle, that get in the way of your writing? If so, how do you try and overcome them?

RB:      Just the "busy - ness" of daily life and finding time for my grandsons before they get so big that they don't want to come stay over at grandma's house any more. I am also very social - lots of friends - belong to a local charity organization - work about 4 hours a day for the family business, things like that.


WG:      Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about your process?

RB:      I think I've covered it pretty well - if you want to be a successful writer, you just sit down and WRITE! And you don't give up when you get rejected. You just go on to another book and another and another until one of them sells.


WG:      Do you have a favorite sub-genre as a writer? as a reader?

RB:      Not really. Once in a while I will read something very different. Recently I read DEATH ON TOUR by Janice Hamrick - a delightful read about a woman who goes on a group trip to Egypt and people start being found murdered. It's really hard to put the book down and she does a wonderful job of describing the things she sees on the tour - it's suspenseful, funny, and I couldn't put the book down.


WG:      Is there a genre you haven't been published in yet that you'd like to try your hand at someday?

RB:      Only WWII. I have a story finished but it still needs work. Even at that, I'm with American history and a love story, so it's really not out of my genre. No, I don't want to write anything else. Tried that - no sales for almost 10 years. Then I wrote another western romance and sold it right away. That tells me I need to stay with where my passion lies.


WG:      Do you have any advice to offer writers still striving toward publication?

RB:      Keep at it! And you'd better love your characters, your genre, your story in general. Write from the heart - and "be" the characters. Don't write from the outside looking in - write as though you ARE the character. Write in a way that the reader doesn't see the author "telling" the story. Keep it active and accurate.


WG:      Is there a specific 'ah-ha' moment you've had as a writer that you would like to share with us?

RB:      The only one is when I finally figured out what my agent meant when she said I shouldn't write in an omnipotent way (the author looking down on the story and thinking she needs to describe the characters/setting/etc herself and making sure the readers feel the way she wants them to feel). You have to let the CHARACTERS do the describing through their own action, conversation and thoughts.


WG:      Rejections, notes from unhappy readers and less than stellar reviews are all part of this business. What is your own method for dealing with these and moving on?

RB:      I haven't had a rejection since those first 9 books I wrote - other than the WWII story, which almost sold but when I got the same reasons from several publishers as to why they didn't take it, I've finally figured out what's wrong with it. It didn't upset me because I had a deep feeling it just wasn't quite right. The reason I went 10 years without a sale wasn't because of publisher rejections. It was MY OWN rejections for every book I tried to write that was out of my genre. I hated all of them and never submitted any of them. Soon as I went back to my own genre, I sold the first book I tried - PARADISE VALLEY.


WG:      Is there some piece of advice you received or bit of 'conventional wisdom' that you wish you had ignored?

RB:      Try something different … try a contemporary … try following the new genres. Worst advice I ever got.


WG:      What do you find to be the most rewarding thing about being a writer? What aspect do you struggle with the most?

RB:      Rewarding? I guess it would be knowing that my work will continue to sell long after I'm gone. My love for American history and the Old West will go on. My biggest struggle has always been allowing personal problems/emotions sometimes interfere with sitting down and writing. It's hard to write when you're upset about something.


WG:      When you're not writing, what do you do for fun or what is your favorite self-indulgence?

RB:      Lawn work - grandchildren.



WG:      When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

RB:      A secretary and a writer. I ended up doing both!


WG:      What would your readers be most surprised to learn about you?

RB:      Not sure. I'm pretty ordinary.


WG:      What are your favorite movies and/or TV shows? Why?

RB:      Hate current TV/. I watch only Turner Classic Movies and old TV programs like Lucy, Beaver, Friends, Seinfeld, etc. Today's programs are boring and it seems they only talk about sex in every way, shape and form. There are no moral lessons in today's tv programs. Most of the CSI/cop shows etc. are too graphic now. There is too much horror in today's news. I don't need to deliberately watch it every night on TV.


WG:      I love to collect quotes, all kinds of quotes - inspirational, quirky, motivational, profound, etc. Do you have a personal favorite you'd like to share.

RB:      Most of mine are from the Bible. I wouldn't know which one to pick as a favorite. Anything to do with having faith and believing in yourself.


WG:      Please tell us about your current project.

RB:      DESPERATE HEARTS - already sold to Sourcebooks - will be published next summer. It's about a young woman from New York running from someone (I'll leave who that person is and her reason for running a secret). She decides to go to the last place this person would look for her, a remote little gold town in western Montana - where life is far, far different from anything she has ever experienced!! Her stagecoach is attacked in the opening chapter - wild excitement and a real action-packed western shoot-out with a man who will become the hero of the story. He, too, is unlike any man she's ever met. The story will be exciting, romantic, suspenseful, and in some areas a lot of fun, but with all the western drama readers expect from a Bittner book!


WG:      What inspired you to write this particular story?

RB:      What ALWAYS inspires me - the Old West!


WG:      What sort of research, if any, did you have to do? Did you stumble across any unexpected interesting/fun tidbits along the way?

RB:      I've been researching the West for over 30 years, so I didn't need to do much for this one. A lot of what I need to know is in my head. I did, however, do more reading about Montana's vigilante era, because my hero is a lawman with a vigilante attitude.


WG:      Tell us about your upcoming plans.

RB:      I still want to re-write that WWII book. 2015 will be 70 years since the war ended. That would be a great time for such a story. I also want to do a BIG story about the beginnings of Chicago, such a major, major pathway to the West.


WG:      And before we close, tell us how your readers can get in touch with you.

RB:      e-mail - rbamericanhistory@parrett.net
Web site - www.rosannebittner.com - click on Rosanne Bittner "Heart of the West"
Blog - www.rosannebittner.blogspot.com
I'm on Facebook and Twitter also - and on Goodreads and heaven knows where else I have a social networking guru who does all that for me. I could never keep up without her. If anyone out there wants help setting up their social networking, contact MyGirlFriday.VA@gmail.com. My web site was designed by www.HookAndWebDesigns.com.


WG:      Thanks so much for spending time with me and my readers this month. It was fun 'chatting' with you, as always!

RB:      You are very welcome! Thanks for inviting me!

 

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