Q: Is there anything you would like to add about the role of imagination and dreams in creating fiction? Any other message for your readers?
I’m an example of never giving up on your dream. I’m a senior citizen who plans to write novels for the next 15 years.
When I decided I wanted to use my education to become an author to supplement my social security and keep me active and alive after retiring as a database administrator, I had a ten-year plan. My employer unexpectedly went out of business in 2003 in the aftermath of the dot.com bust. I suddenly found myself without a job and in early retirement. I could have decided that my world had fallen apart and why bother, but I stuck to my dream and accelerated my writing process.
Uncannily, it ended up being the ten years of writing that I envisioned. I sold OUT OF THE DARK and MATILDA’S SONG last year to Samhain Publishing, Ltd. These novels are e-released and will be in print in bookstores in 2009.
My most recent excitement as an author was to find I am being sold in Britain by Libresco (iliad e-book reader) for ?2.25, and by Amazon-UK and FantasticFiction.co.uk. I wonder what the British will have to say about an American writing novels set in 1120 A.D. England!
Q: How do you see the quality of courage coming in to play in the day-to-day life of a writer?
All writers are courageous. To face a blank page takes courage. To keep going despite naysayers takes courage. To face competition for the sale of the manuscript takes courage. To market your book in an economic downturn takes courage. To write a second book—after going through all you did with the first book—takes courage.
Q: You state that your love for writing historicals came naturally. Care to relate the first hand experiences you had with some of the acts your characters engage in?
I grew up with grandparents who were born in the late 1800’s. The pioneering spirit of those immigration movements to the U.S. and onward to settle the West lived in my grandparents. They saw relatives and children enlisted to fight both world wars. They survived the Great Depression.
My grandparents lived with implements and furniture from the late 1800’s farming communities, the Victorian period and the 1920’s flapper beaded dresses. Some of these experiences translate directly into my novel.
For instance, my great Aunt Martha cooked and baked on a wood-burning stove. In my two westerns (which haven’t sold yet) my heroines cook meals and can fruits and vegetables on such a stove. I saw trucks deliver blocks of ice and farmers sell freshly slaughtered meat from trucks. I’m using these in my paranormal suspense series set in WWII. The scissor grinder was still coming around when I was young—although I haven’t found a place for him in my stories. He fixed umbrellas and sharpened scissors and knives. Of course, my grandfather had his own grinding wheel to sharpen knives. I did use that in my medieval.
Q: What tips do you have for others who are gearing up for a serious run toward becoming published?
Write the book of your heart because you’ll be passionate about marketing it to publishers and to readers.
This advice has its drawbacks. By the time you finish the novel, the market may have changed so that it will be a hard sell. Or you may be before your time and have to develop a market niche. Nonetheless, I find from personal experience that you get a better novel when you write something you care about deeply.
Q: Some of your newer works being marketed are historical paranormal suspense. What caused you to change sub-genres? Do you enjoy both of them equally or do you have a favorite?
I started writing as I neared retirement. I chose to write novels that help me grow as a writer. My first novel—MATILDA’S SONG—answered the question, “Can I write a novel?” OUT OF THE DARK answered, “Can I write a sight-impaired heroine?”
POLITE ENEMIES answered, “Can I write a love story with older protagonists who have had successful marriages and loving memories of deceased spouses?” THE FARMER AND THE WOOD NYMPH answered, “Can I write a love story where opposite personalities learn to reconcile differences?” The three-book series—EXPECT TROUBLE, EXPECT DECEPTION, and EXPECT RETRIBUTION—answer the question, “Can I write a plot-driven series instead of character-driven romances?”
Now, I also added market trends in the mix. Medievals were out of favor when I finished my first one so I wrote about the American west. By the time I got those two done, medievals were making a showing again. Paranormals are strong now.
I have not given up on romances. I have—in my head—a story using one of the antagonists in my medieval romances as the romantic heroine of a comedy. Of course, I’m already being told that no one is interested in a medieval romantic comedy. But it’s one of those stories I can’t get out of my head.
Q: Will you talk to us about your daily routine? Also, your process (selling on proposal, etc. – how do you handle deadlines?) Do you break up your research, e.g. research first and then write the book? Or research as you go. Finally I hope you get to write that romantic medieval comedy. How do we know if there’s no interest if it’s never been done before?
I’m a structured person–a plotter. Before I ever write a word of the novel, I do my research, have my main characters fleshed out, my story question, theme, tag line and pitch sentence written, and the whole novel outlined in Excel so I know the purpose of each scene and how it carries the story forward. I tried the intuitive approach when I wrote my first novel and it just didn’t work for me.
My daily routine is to wake early in the morning, do a half hour exercise, write for 3-4 hours on my laptop in my p.j.’s, then rest a bit before showering and going downstairs for lunch. In the afternoon, I check my email, return phone calls, and handle household and marketing needs. The only time my routine slips is the weeks before and after a book release. Then everything flip flops. Marketing and ‘taking care of business’ take priority. I squeeze writing in when I have the energy. I write a book a year. During that year, I expect to have three months when family, holidays, vacations, and marketing take up most of my time (so in reality, I write a book in 9 months).
How do I handle deadlines? I’ve never waited to the last minute to do anything. I like having the time to carefully review what I do before submitting it.
I try to do my research first, but as I write there is always a need for more research. I write in eight+ week timelines so my historical settings are more important than the history of the period. Clothing, housing and food take up most of my research time.
My process revolves around my critique partners. I keep working on a novel until they are satisfied it’s ready to go into the public.
Q: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
As I approached retirement age, I looked for a way to supplement my social security income. Since I have my B.A. and M.A.T. in English and my MBA studies, I decided to go into the business of writing novels. It didn’t take me long to fall in love with my characters and with the process. Now, I’d keep writing even if I never sold another novel.
I considered myself a writer from the time I made my decision to write. I considered myself an author when I got my first manuscript done.
Published author came ten years later. I spent many of those years studying the craft of writing so that I can produce the best possible story to enchant a reader.
Q: What is the best part of the writing process for you?
I enjoy editing. As I peal off excess words, I feel like a sculptor who chips away stone to get to the image inside. Or, in my case, the story inside.
Q: What is the worst part of the writing process for you?
Facing a blank page is the hardest.
The decision on where to start the novel is crucial to the novel’s success. Capturing a reader’s attention with the first words on the page requires refining the thoughts by choosing or eliminating possibilities. It takes a significant amount of decision making to begin a novel. Our choices affect everything that follows.
Q: What comes first, plot or characters?
I write in historical settings. I choose my setting/time period first. I ask myself: What story problem can arise because of this time and place? Then I ask what type of character(s) is best suited to resolve the story question? From there I create at least five major crises the character(s) must face. Those crisis points are the story plot. As you can see, the plot comes last.
Q: Your biggest piece of advice to aspiring novelists?
Never give up. Stay optimistic.
When I speak to readers, I often have people come up to me and say that I’m an inspiration to them because I chose to change the direction of my life as I approached retirement. I stayed with the new direction until I succeeded by being published. I gave them hope to follow through on their dreams and not let age or a need to retrain themselves hold them back.
Out of all this journey, I learned to stay true to myself, stay focused on my goal and keep walking step by step toward that goal.
Q: What surprised you the most when you became a published author?
I was surprised by how I suddenly became an expert on writing and marketing a novel. I knew the same amount of information on the day before publication, but afterward people in audiences looked to me as an expert to give them guidance on writing and marketing their own books.
Q: Do you come up with your own titles?
I come up with my own titles, but not until well into the first draft. The title evolves from words in the novel itself. A publisher gets last say, but so far my titles have been kept.