When AutoCrit members have reason to celebrate, it means all of AutoCrit has reason to celebrate. And there’s little worth more celebration than successfully bringing your books into the world – especially when it’s to the delight and appreciation of your readers and peers!
In this AutoCrit Author Spotlight, we’re turning our eyes to Rita M. Boehm, the creative mind behind the Second Chances trilogy and the 2019 Royal Palm Literary Award-winning children’s book Bluebirds in the Garden.
We recently sat down with Rita for a Q&A, where we asked about her background, her inspirations, her approach to writing, and the challenges she’s faced along the way.
To begin, give us some background on your history as an author. When were you bitten by the writing bug? Did you have ambitions to be published from a young age? What was the first big breakthrough for you?
I discovered the magic of the written word as a young child. My family couldn’t afford summer camp or travel adventures, but my days were still adventure-filled. The librarian at my small local library knew me well, and I quickly read through the bulk of the books in the children’s section. Horse ownership was denied me, but Misty of Chincoteague and Black Stallion were well within my reach.
I shared Laura Ingalls Wilder’s nineteenth-century adventures on the prairie, and I happily went along for the ride as Nancy Drew and Trixie Beldon discovered secret staircases and solved intriguing mysteries. I may have been alone, but I was never lonely.
By the time I reached high school, I was committed to the idea of being a writer. I edited the less than impressive document we called our newspaper, and contributed regularly to the school’s more impressive literary magazine. I was on my way… or maybe not.
My work schedule made it impossible for me to take the one late-afternoon English class that was available when I registered for my first semester in college, and (for some reason I still don’t understand) even though I was a declared English major (and English was, after all, my native language) I was denied authorization to take 2nd semester English without having taken its precursor.
I eventually took the required English courses (in order) but by that time I had a new focus. It was the early seventies and I was much a child of the sixties. I majored in sociology, started our feminist group on campus, was responsible for bringing some exciting speakers to our small campus, and graduated summa cum laude wondering what on earth I was going to do with my life!
After a couple of short-story worthy years making barely above minimum wage as personnel manager for a less-than-enlightened discount store, I grabbed hold of an opportunity to take a clerical position in the contracts department of a defense electronics company. Fast forward forty years: after a couple of cross-country career moves, I retired in 2014 from the position of Senior Director of Contracts and Compliance. Not a bad career, and it paid well, but reviewing, managing, and negotiating contracts (and dealing with the frustrations of ever morphing management teams) was a far cry from my childhood dream of being an award-winning journalist and published novelist.
As my career was winding down and I could no longer find a shred of excitement in my job, I started to refocus on my earlier dream. It seemed a bridge too far to even consider becoming a writer in my sixties. Where does one even start?
I discovered the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) competition and started ‘hanging out’ in the chat rooms of the participants. I absorbed the energy, the focus, and the support that these wannabe authors gave one another. I learned ‘stuff’ and I started writing. The advice and constructive comments I received from the talented and supportive people who entered the contest provided the encouragement that allowed me to believe that I, too, could be an author.
In 2014, I self-published my first suspense/romance novel, Second Chances. My childhood dreams of being an author had been delayed, but they hadn’t been denied.
Tell us about your novel, Another Chance: Peter’s Story. Since this is part of a series, can you fill us in on the history so far?
Another Chance: Peter’s Story is the third and final book in what became the Second Chances trilogy. When I wrote Second Chances I had no plans for a sequel, let alone a series, but readers encouraged me to continue Lindsay Talbot’s story, and Beyond Second Chances was the result.
Both of the books are told from the first person perspective of a woman who, as a kidnap victim, faced terror and daily uncertainty in the hands of the enigmatic and emotionally distant – but surprisingly benevolent and attractive – man who controlled her life. By the time she learns that her own past was a lie, her captor’s dangerous past catches up with both of them.
In Beyond Second Chances, Lindsay must decide whether to travel to a terrorist-filled country to save the man she loves, or leave his future to chance. She makes her choice and pays the price, but the unexpected consequence of a simple act performed much closer to home in England nearly costs her life. As she struggles to regain her health, she is faced with deciding whether to accept the love and devotion of a man who betrayed her trust, or face the future alone.
I wrote Another Chance: Peter’s Story, because Peter Campbell’s story deserved to be told, and he needed to tell it. I view it as a story of redemption. Peter is one of the main characters in both of the other books, but his story was left unfinished. In Another Chance, Peter focuses on the renovation of an old Irish farmhouse as he attempts the delicate task of rebuilding a life destroyed by Yemeni terrorists. He becomes entangled in the complicated and secretive lives of his neighbors, a precocious six-year-old boy and his mother, and rebuilds a tentative bridge to the dangerous world he used to inhabit in order to protect them. As he does so, the wall he’s so carefully constructed around his heart begins to crumble and he reconsiders his belief that he’s a broken man incapable of love.
Are there any particular authors you think have influenced your style most heavily? What do you admire most about the work of these authors?
I read an eclectic mix of authors and genres. I can’t point to any one particular author who influenced my writing or my style. Some authors whose books I enjoy reading are David Baldacci and David Silva (suspense, espionage), Louise Penny (police procedural), Cindy Brandner (historic Irish fiction), Kristin Hannah, Delia Owens, and the list goes on.
Lately, I have also been focusing on reading books by some of the talented local authors who I count as friends and colleagues. I read and/or listen to two to four books a week.
What’s your writing routine like? Do you stick to any kind of schedule or have specific rituals to keep your creativity and consistency up? Are you a planner, pantser, or somewhere in between?
When I’m in the middle of a project, I try to write 500 words a day. When my muse is taking a break, I edit the previous day’s work. When my muse is over-caffeinated and the ideas are flowing, I may write 1500 words in a sitting. I usually write in the late afternoon.
I’m somewhere between a planner and a pantser. I don’t do detailed outlines. I have a general idea of where I want the story to go, and then I let the characters loose to tell the story. I do develop main character outlines, however, including pictures and back stories.
Sometimes the characters surprise me, as they did in Beyond Second Chances when a secondary character demanded a stronger role and the story didn’t end quite as originally planned. Since the role I had planned for Peter Campbell changed and his story was left unfinished, the third and final book in the series was written.
You won the gold at the 2019 Royal Palm Literary Award competition for your children’s book, Bluebirds in the Garden. How was the experience, and do you think writing for children might become a larger part of your career going forward?
Bluebirds in the Garden was an unintentional creation – and that makes its success all the more rewarding. One of my hobbies is photography (with a focus on horses, birds, and the natural world). I also enjoy gardening. When a delightful bluebird pair chose a decorative metal birdhouse in my garden to raise their family, they didn’t seem to mind that the little house was not actually designed for their purpose.
They built their nest and I was gifted with a ring-side seat in the care and feeding of three adorable bluebird chicks. Fortunately, the birdhouse was relatively close to my home and I was able to get some incredible photos through the window. I never tired of viewing the dedication of the parents. Once the chicks hatched, both parents were tireless in their efforts to keep their demanding brood fed.
They fascinated me and I kept taking photos. Once I reviewed all of my pictures, I realized I had captured their story – from the moment the parents decided to make my garden their home, until their three babies were fully grown and on their own. Putting the book together was a labor of love. The pictures told the story, and I added text to keep young children engaged.
When my name was announced as the grand prize winner of the award for Best Children’s Book, I was astounded. I floated up to the stage in a euphoric cloud to accept the award. I’m thrilled that my desire to share the story of these charming creatures was so well received. However, I don’t currently have any plans for additional children’s books.
You’re very active in engaging with your community and readership, with personal appearances, signings, launch events and more. How important do you think it is for authors to engage with readers in that way?
I have found it to be incredibly rewarding to be engaged with both authors and readers in my community. I am actively involved with, and former president of, The Writers League of The Villages which is an organization of local authors (and wannabe authors).
Our monthly meetings provide speakers on a variety of topics of interest to our members, and I look forward to participating in our highly successful annual Central Florida Book Expo where eighty plus authors and thousands of readers converge on an exciting afternoon in January. I am also a member of the Florida Writers Association and look forward to receiving the detailed and invaluable judges’ feedback that all Royal Palm Literary Award contest entrants receive.
I find speaking to book clubs and other groups stimulating and extraordinarily helpful in my growth as a writer. I strongly urge other authors to get involved with writing groups in their own communities.
Has it been a tough road? What do you think are the biggest challenges you faced, and the most important lessons you’ve learned so far? What do you think is the best advice you could give to fellow authors who are closer to the beginning of their journeys in publishing?
Marketing is my biggest challenge, as it is for most authors – especially independent authors. We love to write, but we are not necessarily all that good at promoting ourselves. Like many, maybe most, other writers, I write because I am driven to do so. There are characters that want their stories told and I love telling their stories.
However, anyone expecting to actually make a living by writing needs to understand that their journey will be difficult, if not impossible. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t do what they love – they just need to find another way to earn a living (at least until the world acknowledges their genius!).
One choice is to do as I did and wait until you’re retired. However for the multitudes who will find that to be unacceptable advice, I say go for it. Someone who is talented, good at self-promotion, and willing to put the time, energy, and discipline into following a detailed marketing plan, may beat the odds.
Nike’s trademarked line, “Just do it”, may be trite but it is excellent advice. I can’t count the number of people who have told me they have always wanted to write a book, yet most never will. My advice is, if you want to write, if you have a story to tell: do it.
Some people have one story in them. From my experience, that story is usually a memoir. If so, that’s fine. If that is the one story you want to tell, then tell it. If you want more, if you love to create characters and craft a world for them to live in, go for it. And, as with just about anything else in life that is worth doing, the more you write, the more you focus on improving, the better you will get.
That advice goes hand in hand with the following: you can’t edit a blank page. I first saw that line attributed to Jodi Picoult. Whether or not she was the first one to make the point, I don’t know. What I do know is that it’s true. You can stare at a blank computer screen for hours searching for the perfection that will never come, or you can write what’s in your mind at that moment – even if it is less than perfection.
My advice is, if you want to write, if you have a story to tell: do it.
Speaking of editing, Stephen King borrowed from William Faulkner when he wrote: “[K]ill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” I’ve discovered that, for me, killing my darlings gets easier as my rewrites and edits progress. When I’m going through the first or second rewrite/edit, I’m too close to the original creation to do any serious cutting.
However, the more time that elapses between the struggle of creation and the scalpel (hatchet?) wielding final editing, the easier it gets to make the cuts – and the story is the all the better for having wielded the knife.
Where does AutoCrit fit into your publishing process? Do you like to finish the first draft before taking it through editing, or do you have a different approach? How do you think AutoCrit has improved or changed your experience as an author?
I like to complete my first draft including at least one round of revisions/rewrites/edits before I use AutoCrit. I want the book to be in a reasonably complete and final state before I start focusing on the various AutoCrit elements.
I might upload the entire book to get a Summary Report ‘grade’ just to see where I’m starting from, then I go chapter by chapter through each part of the AutoCrit program focusing more on some areas than others. I tend to focus on the elements of the Strong Writing and Pacing & Momentum sections, although I always make at least a cursory check through each of the other sections as well.
I started using AutoCrit about 5 or 6 years ago (a relatively early adopter, I think) and I’ve appreciated the various improvements the program has gone through. Using AutoCrit has helped me learn what to focus on both in my writing and in my editing. It’s definitely helped me improve as an author. I recently signed up for Autocrit Elite and plan on working through the various course materials to continue my growth.
It’s important for those (like me) who tend to be ‘over achievers’ in test-taking to understand that with AutoCrit there is no such thing as a 100% score. I think AutoCrit’s posting of ratings for popular books by well-known authors is extremely helpful in that regard. It allows authors to see how their writing stacks up, but more importantly it provides a good tutorial to allow for an understanding of how the tools can be used.
What’s up next for you?
I’ve self-published five novels and one children’s book in the last six years. I don’t have an immediate plan for my next book. I plan to spend the next few weeks/months working on marketing my work, entering contests, and improving my writing.
My guess is that within six months I will be working on a new, as yet undefined, project.
Any final points you’d like to mention for those who might be reading?
It’s never too late to dust off and follow your childhood dreams.
Many thanks to Rita for taking the time to chat with us – and, of course, for being a valued member of the AutoCrit community.
As Rita Boehm considered retirement from a successful forty year career in Contract Management, she refocused on her childhood dream of being an author. Career moves had taken her from New York to Colorado and a final long stint in suburban Maryland, near Washington D.C. – all great locations for story-lines. She began work on her first novel, Second Chances, which was self-published in 2014.
Rita now lives in central Florida with her husband and has published five novels that fall into the suspense, romance and mystery genres. In October 2019, her children’s picture book, Bluebirds in the Garden was awarded the grand prize of Best Children’s Book from the Florida Writers Association.
When she’s not writing, or reading an eclectic mix of authors, Rita enjoys photography, gardening, and most especially, riding her dressage horse, Kosi.
Pick up Rita’s books today at Amazon.