Name – Serita Stevens (Serita Deborah Stevens on some books)
Where are you from
I now live in Los Angeles but I grew up in Chicago and spent several years in London getting my master’s degree.
My nickname from Serita is Ritie because I always had a book in my hand and in fact, used to escape in the nitch behind the curtains reading and hiding – immersing myself in my fictional world – as my parents argued. I knew I wanted to write but my folks said you can either be a nurse or a teacher. You’ll never make a living as a writer!! So, growing up on Cherry Ames (a nurse detective ala Nancy Drew) I became a nurse.
Nursing was not, of course, anything like that, but I met someone on line who had a handle SleuthRN – I followed up and discovered forensic nursing.
My family continued to think that I was unrealistic and living a “dream” for many, many years. In fact, I think my father would have preferred seeing me going down the aisle to get married again rather than going down to get an award for an Academy Award. I am not sure if either of my siblings despite the fact that I have now published over 30 books and had some of my scripts films and others optioned, consider me a successful writer.
Going to England for my masters in communication with Antioch University – I lived and toured there for two years – and loved it. But I fell in love with the British Museum Reading Room where I was able to read original manuscripts from Richard the Lionhearted and William the Conqueror.
When one agent in Chicago read one of my books, she asked if I could write a treatment. I did so and when I was out in California at a writing conference – where it was 80 degrees compared to the wind chill of 80 below and getting up in the middle of the night to start my car in Chicago, I moved out here to Los Angeles and got a job teaching writing at USC.
Wanting a child, I adopted my daughter as a single mother from Romania. She, of course, now says I was at the computer 24/7. I was blessed to meet my current husband on line 10 years ago. He’s very supportive of my writing as are Caesar , Othello, Happy and Sammie – my animals.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
My recent books include The Ultimate Writers Workbook For Books And Scripts – based on my teaching at USC, UCLA; Against Her Will – a teen drama – based on my work with teens as a psychiatric nurse; A Pagan’s Love – which will be out in September – a historical romance about Boudica’s revolt London 60AD; Deceptive Desires – a December release – a western romantic suspense; Books that I am working on now are The Master’s Will – due out in October – a true historical Civil War story that I was hired to write by a descendant of 3 African American slaves who married a lonely South Carolina plantation owner and their fight to legally inherit the estate he left them after he was murdered by the Klu Klux Klan — and The Mark of the Dragon – Jurassic Park meets Dracula – a science fiction romance where Dracula is brought back by DNA.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I dabbled in writing from a very young age and used to write stories constantly. While studying for a physics exam in nursing school, I wrote a short story that was published – but I failed the exam.
One of my novels was about Deborah, the prophetess. My then husband- who had not really been supportive of my writing – gave the manuscript to a literary writer friend of his father’s. She said to me “Honey, go home and do your housework and forget about writing.” I went home and cried for a few days and then said…well I won’t say what I said here — but I was determined to show her and my family that this one would be a success.
I wrote 8 books before the 8th became my first published book. I was later able to go back and revise 4 of the 7 – and saw how immature my writing was and how I had grown and continue to grow with each thing I write.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When I was 11, I wrote a short story that while it did not published did get me an award and I knew then that I had writing in my blood. Of course, when I received copies of my first articles and then my first book, I knew I was.
In one class I took someone asked the instructor when one should give up. His response was “If it’s in your blood, it is in your blood and you cannot deny it. If you can give it, by all means do so because you do not have the persistence and courage to see it through.”
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
An avid reader, I had always loved history and recognized the need for conflict in stories. I liked spunky female heroines and since my middle name is Deborah, I was fascinated with the two pages in the Bible about Deborah, the Prophetess. I realized there was no explanation given for why Yael, whose husband favored the Canaanite crown, had put the tent pin through Sissera’s head. So I did a ‘what if’ and created a back story – a love triangle of sorts that she was in love with Barak – Deborah’s general – but realized she could not have him. Then I had to develop Deborah and Barak’s characters to give them a relationship and the difficulties she had getting the Hebrew tribes to follow her. Lightning and Fire was one of the original 7 that I later rewrote and was published in 1990 by Leisure Books. It took me several years to get this out because at that time biblical stories were not popular as historical romances. I had to wait until I had published several other books and my name already attracted attention before the publisher was willing to take a chance on this story. I have since scripted it and that script has won several awards.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
I find that shorter paragraphs and short sentences increase the reader’s tension and the speed of writing. I like to use all my senses when my character is in a situation. Before I start writing I do character bios on my major players -including the antagonist – with not only goals and back stories but flaws and other humanizing traits – and then I do a detailed outline. Character always overrules plot and controls it. The outlines help me to do more than one project at a time since they are all at different stages.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Lightning and Fire was because the name Barak means lightning in Hebrew and Fire because of Deborah’s passion for the people. Another title I came up with was Red Sea, Dead Sea – my grandmother mystery series from St. Martin’s Press – because it takes place in Israel and Against Her Will – because that is the theme of the book. But the other titles my publisher chose the titles.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Yes, most of my novels have some sort of a message. People are often changed by what they read and it’s important to do so in a way that is not preachy.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Of Tame the Wild Heart – who’s tagline says “No man would be her master” my brother says that is me as well as my heroine. Events in my life have definitely influenced what I write and how I do it. Against Her Will is based on my experiences with teens in psychiatric ward. The Master’s Will is based on true events with very little fictionalization. Red Sea, Dead Sea was born out of a desire to honor my late mother. All my books have an element of me in them in some way. The Unborn one of my short stories and films, is about domestic violence since I not only experienced it, but counsel victims of it. You want to keep the books as realistic as possible so that the reader can say “Okay I can buy that” and then they can suspend disbelief to be involved with the character in that story.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?
I never had a writing mentor, though I often mentor other writers. I think I cut my reading teeth on biographies, gothics – like Phyllis Whitney, historicals – like Norah Lofts and Phillipa Carr, and thrillers -like Mary Higgins Clark – and told myself that I can do just as well…and it took some time, but finally I did…I think.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest and who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I like a lot of authors so it is hard to mention just one. I constantly have a book in my purse and read where ever I am.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
My agent Italia Gandolfo has been extremely supportive of my work as has my current husband and many of the people where I work and teach, too.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
I would say so. My daughter says I am at the computer 24/7. That’s not 100% true, but it is my career.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Well, my latest book I agreed to work with a partner and that is always a tricky thing. It’s important for each partner to understand what is expected of the other and to share their work as they go along.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I always had a book in my hand and loved to read. I also had a vivid imagination. At one point I said, I can do as well as that…little did I understand then how much work really goes into writing!
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Two books that I am currently finishing are Mark of the Dragon, which I developed with Director Sean McNamara, is a science fiction romance – Jurassic Park meets Dracula; and The Master’s Will – pre-Civil War a lonely plantation owner buys 3 female slaves and when he is murdered by the Klan, his family is horrified to discover that he has left all his property to the women and their children. They need to fight the family and post Civil War South to get a landmark decision in 1878 for blacks and women — a true historical, I was hired to write this by a descendent of the women. We have several places interested in script version, as well. I am also expanding my award winning story about domestic violence and revenge – The Unborn – into a book and feature.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Yes, being unable to split myself in half! It’s difficult to do everything I want. But establishing priorities helps as does detailed outlining.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
I have in the past. It is tax-deductible and keeping receipts is crucial – but you need the money to do so before you can take them off your taxes. I do a lot of speaking engagements about writing and travel to conferences often and when I do, I try to see something unique of the city, like the historical society museum. Sometimes I will set a story in that city.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
Publishers have always designed my covers. However, I have had to comment on some of them. For Red Sea, Dead Sea they had the Hebrew text upside down, and for Lighting and Fire they show the Dome of the Rock centuries before it was every conceived and not in my heroine’s time period.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
The only hard part was determining not to plop down in front of the TV constantly, of putting my tush to the chair and writing. Outlines help enormously. As with most writers, I doubted if what I was doing was good enough – would the reader suspect the killer before I was ready for the reveal? Did I plant enough clues, but not too many? Did I have too many coincidences in my story? How can I make this book more unique than others in the same genre?
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I learn from each book that I have written how to be better. When I went back to those original 7, I was shocked at how far I’d come with the 8th (first published book) and even now, each time I learn and grow better. Yet, despite my success, I still take classes and seminars because you can learn from everyone. And even if they are repeating what I think I know, it jiggles me and reminds me that I have to do that for the next character biography, etc.
Fiona: If any of your books was made into a film who would you like to play the lead?
Several of my books are on the very of this and no, I wouldn’t play the lead, but I wouldn’t mind a bit part. Actually, The Unborn was a short film and I did play the doctor in that movie.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Yes, persistence and practice. If you really want to write, don’t let excuses get in your way. Find the time, somehow. When I worked full time, I would read or take notes on the bus into work, I would skip lunch or eat rapidly and use the rest of my lunch hour to write, and I would not go for drinks after work with my co-workers but went home to write. (Did not make me very popular, but I had a goal.)
And if one story doesn’t hit it right, start another one and another. Sometimes, even though your writing may be all right, it’s not the right time. One book, The Shrieking Shadows of Penporth Island, I wrote just at the height of the gothic craze. But I did not understand how the market worked. But by the time I finished the manuscript, editors were no longer interested. (When something is at the height, it means the market will be saturated.) I submitted that book 21 times – 7 times to the same publisher – who kept on telling me that time was not right. Then I made a few twists and put sex ( yes she was married to the man she thought was the villain) which the gothics had not done. It made my book stand out and finally was published by Zebra Books.
As one mentor told me “If it’s in your blood, you can’t quit and if you can, all the more power to you.” Keep taking classes, reading articles, going to conferences and meeting people. Especially in Hollywood, if you want to do a script, it is a relationship industry. A personal connection helps immensely. You have to network and get people to know who are you and not just think you’re writing will woo them. (And yes, you can do this outside of Hollywood. There are groups like http://www.stage32.com and http://www.roadmapwriters.com where you can Skype pitch, and established relationships, etc.)
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I am always interested in hearing from them especially if they like or dislike something. It helps me to grow as a writer. And if they are, themselves, thinking of writing they should pay attention to what they are reading as that will be the easiest starting point for them since they will already know the beats needed for that genre.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
A lot of books I read currently are industry related, but I am reading Never Sleep Again by Thommy Hutson – the back story of Nightmare on Elm Street series. I gravitate toward thrillers and historicals.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Hmm. I think it was a biography of Jane Adams who created Hull Street or maybe it was a Phyllis Whitney mystery.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
I could answer that two ways. When reading things, especially self-published, it makes me cry when I see how sloppy the spelling and grammar are and the mistakes that new writers make. But on the reading level, a good emotional story with a satisfactory where they capture the character and her/his feelings makes me cry. As to laugh, I like witty repartee with plenty of subtext.
Fiona: Is there one person past or present you would meet and why?
There are a lot of people I can think of, but if I had to narrow it down, maybe Hannah Senesh – a young girl who fled Hungary during WWII and then went back to spy. Captured by the Germans she was shot. Her courage and determination not to let life pass her by has always intrigued me.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why ?
Everyone who came in contact with her was changed for the better. Why? I try to help people whenever I can.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies ?
I do animal rescue. Not as much as I would like to, but where I can. Sometimes I crochet or needlepoint when watching TV. And I do a lot of reading. Of course, I love being with my husband and daughter.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
Right now I am watching Outlander – I love the book series; Underground and Law & Order as well as the History and Discovery channels. It has to be something special to tear me away from my writing.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
Favorite color is purple and royal blue, but red and yellows are also popular. Foods-Good Chinese, Middle Eastern like shwarma in pita, and popcorn at the movies. Cannot go to the movies without buying my popcorn. Music – Classical, Oldies Rock – things that were popular in the 70’s and 80’s like the Carpenters.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
Well, I am trained as a nurse and have worked in the field for over 30 years. I might have done social work as another possible career. I enjoy working with and helping others.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it? My website is www.seritastevens.com
. and my blog is on google https://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=3456316530102368600#allposts