Demi: Which came first for you – novel writing, magazine articles, or blogging?
Cara: I actually started out writing magazine articles first because I didn’t understand “blogging.” It was new back then and just giving your writing away for free seemed crazy. The magazines didn’t pay much (some not at all), but it felt more real. Eventually, I jumped into blogging and still love to blog every week about my foster dogs, and occasionally my writing. It depends on your definition of “novel writing” as to whether it came first or last. I was always writing my novel in secret. I didn’t imagine anyone would ever want to read my stories—I just loved writing them and did it as a kind of therapy to escape my life. Finding success with freelancing and blogging gave me the courage to take my novel writing seriously.
Demi: What’s it like to see your byline in a major magazine? How did that come about?
Cara: The first time I saw my name in a big magazine was so, so, satisfying. Not to mention, the money was great. I’d been writing for smaller regional magazines and our local paper, but when a magazine with international circulation took my piece I felt like I’d hit the big time. It came about because I finally decided I had nothing to lose by sending my articles to the ‘bigtime magazines.’ I sent in a complete article with my query rather than a pitch because I figured they’d never heard of me and might not be willing to take a chance on me. Plus, many of my articles were in first person and my writing voice has always been my strength. It made up for my lack of formal education or experience.
Demi: Tell us about the birth of your first book.
Cara: I have two first books and they basically tag-teamed each other, which made my life super wonderful and crazy-stressful at the same time. I had just self-published my nonfiction book based on my long-running blog (with Demi’s help!) when I got word that my novel had been a runner-up in a contest sponsored by a publisher. I hadn’t won the grand prize, only an ipad mini, but I was thrilled to have been selected. The best part, though, came shortly after that news. The publisher contacted me and said he had read my manuscript and thought they had a place for it in their house. I put him in touch with my agent and a few weeks later, I had a three-book deal for my women’s fiction. Whew! It was a crazy time – editing my first novel, writing my second, while promoting my nonfiction book. I tried never to complain though, it was too many dreams coming true at once.
Demi: When did your “big break” finally come through?
Cara: My big break was being a runner-up in that contest. The funny part is, when I got news that I’d won I couldn’t remember even entering it. I had to go back through my Spaghetti Book (the notebook where I keep a list of everything I’ve submitted. I call it my Spaghetti Book because sending out as much as possible is like throwing spaghetti on the wall—eventually something will stick). I found the note that I had entered the contest six months prior, but the book I entered wasn’t even the book I was currently trying to sell with my agent. It was one that had received hundreds of rejections already and I had shelved. I’d entered it in that contest on a whim as a kind of Hail Mary pass before putting it in the drawer.
Demi: Has life changed in any way now that you’re writing to deadline?
Cara: It has and it hasn’t. I’m still enjoying writing and writing through my thoughts, ideas, whims. But now there is a little more pressure to work every day. Before, if I wanted to take a few days or even a week off and put in a new garden or finally clean my house or train for a race, I could do that easily. Now, there’s a schedule to keep. My publisher just sent me the copy edit of my third novel and it’s due back in three weeks. So, I’ll be working on that manuscript every day because combing through those edits and agreeing/disagreeing with them takes time, plus it’s my last chance to make any significant changes to the book. That creates a pressure and forces me to put aside some of my fun writing and blog writing and keep my butt in the chair.
Demi: Can you give us a hint about what’s on your writing desk right now?
Cara: As I said, the copyedit is what’s on the top of the pile on my desk right now. That’s for my novel coming out in June 2017 titled, Practicing Normal. This is my most favorite book I’ve written. It was such fun to write and I miss that world. Picking it apart for the next three weeks will not be easy, but I can’t wait for everyone to read it! It’s about a family who live in a neighborhood of McMansions trying to be ‘normal’ when they’re anything but normal. I hope it sends the message that none of us are normal—we’re all dealing with our own demons. I had to do more research for this book than the others. I learned a lot about Asperger’s Syndrome and also what it’s like to be a hospice nurse. I also learned how easy it is to break into houses with security systems!
My other project right now is a memoir about our first 18 months fostering dogs for a non-profit, all-breed rescue. I’m passionate about this story. Our country euthanizes well over a million dogs every year and rescues are beginning to have an impact on that number. Foster homes are many times the key to a rescue’s success. We’ve had such a journey taking in these dogs, nurturing them, and saying good-bye to them when they find their forever homes. I’m hoping by sharing our story, it will encourage others to consider fostering or adopting a rescue dog.
Cara Sue Achterberg is a writer and blogger who lives in New Freedom, PA with her family and an embarrassing number of animals. Her first novel, I’m Not Her, was a national bestseller. Her second novel, Girls’ Weekend, was published May 3, 2016. Cara’s nonfiction book, Live Intentionally, is a guide to the organic life filled with ideas, recipes, and inspiration for living a more intentional life. Cara is a prolific blogger, occasional cowgirl, and busy mom whose essays and articles have been published in numerous anthologies, magazines, and websites. She teaches Creative Writing for the Southern York County School District’s Adult Education Program. Links to her blogs, news about upcoming publications, and pictures of her foster dogs can be found at CaraWrites.com. Follow Cara on Twitter @CaraAchterberg or connect with her on Facebook @CaraSueAchterberg.