Dual Identities: Journalism Professor by Day, Romance Author by Night

As an assistant professor in journalism, Sara Netzely teaches students the foundations of news writing. In her spare time, she’s dreaming up colorful characters for the romance books she creates under her pen name, Sara Whitney. Here, she talks about her writing and how she balances it all with her teaching responsibilities.

Why use a pseudonym for your romance novels? 

My pen name is mostly about separating searches for Sara Netzley, the academic, and Sara Whitney, the author. I wanted to make it as easy as possible for people searching for each version of me to find it without confusion. As for the name itself, Whitney is a family name on my dad’s side, and I love being able to embrace that in a public way.

Describe the Cinnamon Roll Alpha series.

A cinnamon roll is a certain type of hero in (the genre) Romancelandia. It's a man who's soft and sweet and ooey-gooey on the inside. Since I tend to write sweet, funny men, it works to describe my heroes, but at the same time, they've got that confidence and take-charge nature that alpha heroes have. Basically, my guys are the best of both worlds, and I wanted the series name to reflect that.

How do you come up with your characters in the books? 

A lot of times, I'll get an idea from a show I'm watching, or a movie or a song lyric. I doubt those inspirations are recognizable once they make it onto the page, but they get me in the headspace of a character with a background I don't share or an outlook I think would be fun to explore. 

Recently, I pulled from FX's “The Bear” for one of my heroes, and the heroine of the book I'm writing now is my grown-up take on Daria from the '90s MTV cartoon.

Do you have a favorite character or favorite traits you like to explore? 

Most of my characters are pretty outgoing and chatty because that's how I am. That said, the hero of “Tempting Taste” was a ton of fun to write because he's the opposite of that. He's reclusive and cautious, and he's a little bowled over when he meets the outgoing heroine. People love a grumpy/sunshine pairing, and so do I as a reader and a writer. 

How do you apply your fiction writing skills in your journalism classes?

Good writing is good writing. My fiction output has contributed to a leveling-up of my descriptive and observation-based writing skills, which makes my teaching stronger. Although journalism is certainly not fiction, it can be approached as narrative non-fiction, and even basic news stories benefit from a well-turned phrase. Feature stories are elevated by literary writing techniques. Basically, my writing muscles have never been stronger than they are right now thanks to my fiction, and that comes through in the classroom. The advice I give students is to READ. 

How do you keep up the pace with your book output?

Because teaching at Bradley is my main priority, my fiction productivity drops off during busier times in the semester, which makes maintaining a consistent pace difficult. Romance readers are voracious, so there's always pressure to get out the next book. 

Where do you hope to be in five years?

I want to keep putting out books that make people breathe with me: Laughing when I hope they'll laugh, gasping when I surprise them and sighing when they hit a swoony section. If I'm still doing that in five years, I'll consider myself a success.

To learn more about her books, visit her website.

— Emily Potts

Cinnamon Roll Alpha Series by Sara Whitney.