The text of the following interview first appeared in The Emerald City Romantic Quarterly, the official newsletter of GSRWA, and was conducted by my friend and fellow writer, the very cool Lori Lyn. I’ve made minor tweaks to it again since then (and added some extra photos for fun), but it’s essentially the same. I want to thank Lori again for inviting me to do an interview, it was a lot of fun, and also Michele Staci, fabulous editor of the newsletter, and her terrific staff, for all the hard work they put into creating such a beautiful piece of art. Thank you, everyone!
- What genres or sub-genres do you write?
Hi, Lori! First, I want to thank you for the interview, how fun! This is my first one, ever.
I always thought I was writing romance, either contemporary or historical, usually with paranormal or fantasy elements. Then I had a heart-to-heart with the fabulous Mary Buckham, who very kindly asked what I was writing. After I described it to her, she looked me in the eye and said, “Well, you know, that’s not really romance.”
After I picked myself up off the floor, we continued talking. By the end of the discussion, I had a new answer to the “What are you writing?” question: Mythic Romantic Fantasy. A Hero’s journey. A Medieval setting, plus a new Fantasy world. Epic battles between good and evil with a strong romance throughout, BUT (brace yourselves…) not necessarily a happy ending.
- How long have you been writing with the intent of becoming published?
I wrote my first book when I was 8 years old – 200 pages on my life plan, now unfortunately long lost – my kids would have loved it – and went on to earn my degree in Creative Writing and English Literature, but I didn’t get serious about writing for publication until about two years ago.
Since then, there have been many starts and stops and missteps along the way. I have four or five partial manuscripts moldering away that I will probably never revisit, but I learned a lot from each one. The fantasy series I’m working on now, and am committed to finish, is based on a story I started when I was a freshman in college (24 years ago! OMG!) and have fiddled with over the years. I have enormous files of research and notes on it that I’m now trying to organize and make sense of, and of course it has changed dramatically – hopefully for the better – since then, too.
- How does a story first come to you?
My stories usually first come to me as one particular scene and almost always start off with the heroine, not the hero. For example, my WIP originally came to me as a scene of the heroine nearly drowning. A novel I was working on last year (one of those moldering away) came to me as a scene of the heroine running through an apple orchard, on her way to meet a group of her friends. Another one started with the heroine breaking into her cousin’s house. Then it’s all about figuring out who this person is, and why she’s doing what she’s doing in those initial scenes. The plot grows from there, with the hero taking shape based on who would be the best man for that heroine.
*Extra Note: Since the original interview, I have completed Laurie Schnebly Campbell’s FABULOUS Plotting Via Motivation online course (available at WriterU), and TWO rounds of her Master Class and… The WIP is fully plotted! Hallelujah! Laurie is an incredible teacher, and I highly recommend her classes. She helped me achieve what has eluded me for decades – a truly, 100% completed plot outline. I’m over the moon! Not only that, I actually have two completed outlines, the WIP and a Contemporary YA Romance I began specifically for her class. TWO BOOKS! Yes, yes, yes, they still have to be written (and the WIP still requires tremendous amounts of worldbuilding), but the outlines are there: 25 and 22 chapters, respectively, of 3 to 4 scenes each. And I have the skills now to go back to the aforementioned moldering manuscripts and whip them into shape, as well! Whooooohooooooo!!!
- Tell us about something that inspires you.
My kids inspire me, nature inspires me. A beautiful piece of fabric, a painting, a clever phrase in a good book. A song lyric. But the biggest dose of inspiration I receive on
a daily basis comes from the people right here in GSRWA and my other writing loops-n-groups. I’m constantly amazed by the depth of generosity from writers as a group. The knowledge, the support and the willingness to share is just incredible. I’m inspired by the notes of success when members post their good news, and by the notes of support that flow in when the news is less happy. I’ve learned so much, and gained so much in friendship and support, since joining RWA just over a year ago. I can’t even verbalize the difference it has made in my life. I am not at all the same writer I was in January, 2009, nor am I the same person. My life has been enriched by these associations, on a deep, cellular level.
- What is your workspace like (do you have an office, use headphones, have a whiteboard/plotting board, use candles)?
Oh, my workspace. <laughs> Our main computer is in the family room, where everyone congregates. There is NO privacy, no door to shut. Our three kittens are constantly crawling all over the desk. It’s a family computer, so everyone has their piles of work alongside mine. The book shelves in the hutch are stuffed with books (those are almost all mine, I admit, but they’re a total mess.) My husband and I both have overflowing inboxes, there’s the family calendar, the drawers are full of household files rather than writing files, which are all in boxes, some of which are not all that accessible. Filing and organizing for the writing life has been an ongoing problem for me. I’m hyper-organized in every other aspect of my life, but for the writing accoutrements, I need an intervention!
I have candles that I forget to use, and tons of instrumental music in my iTunes folder that I forget to play. I prefer to write in silence (not that I get a lot of that), but I will pull out the earphones if I’m trying to work while anyone else is home. I try to avoid that as much as possible. In the past, that has led to not working at all on school holidays or when my husband takes a day off work. Having dedicated myself to becoming a professional, producing writer, that doesn’t work anymore, so I’ve been looking for solutions. I know a lot of writers go to cafés or Starbucks to write, but I’m too self-conscious for that, so now I’ve started taking my laptop into the dining room and using the earphones in there. It’s still not ideal, but it’s better than being in the middle of everything in the family room.
I do have plotting and whiteboards for drawing out my world, but they’re locked up so the cats can’t chew on them right now. I love those little furballs, but I’m ready for them to morph into stately older gentlemen!
- How do you handle family and/or friends requests for your time when writing?
With a snap and a snarl. LOL It depends on what it is, really. If it’s homework help (especially math!), that often has to, uh, wait until I’m done… or forever. If they want to take me out to dinner, I’ll make the sacrifice to leave right away. (Kidding! I’m kidding.) We’ve worked out a system. They know that I’m working in the morning, until at least 1 PM, Monday through Friday. During that time, they try not to disturb me unless it’s an emergency.
- What is your daily writing regimen? Are you more of a morning worker or a night owl?
I’m an insomniac and a total night owl, but that doesn’t work so well with family, or with trying to write, at least for me. If I don’t get the words in first thing, they don’t get done. So, despite my natural tendencies, I get up and write, and I don’t do anything else until I meet my daily word count goal. After that, if things are moving along I’ll keep going, otherwise I switch to dealing with online classes, email, things for 1st Turning Point (where I’m the Cabin Girl) or Membership Chair duties or whatever.
Once my family is in bed for the night, I go back to work until my eyes glaze over. By then, I’ve spent so much time on the computer that I can’t really tolerate any more for the day, so I’ll work at the kitchen table, going over my plotting, character sketches, drawing maps of my world, things like that. I am trying to turn my schedule around a little bit, though, because I have trouble staying awake to write when I’ve been up until 4 or 5 AM, then have to get up by 8 AM to get the kids to school.
- Do you use any audio or visual aids when writing?
I use photos of movie stars or models out of catalogues and magazines as references for my characters, and I have piles of pictures I’ve collected over the years of everything from lingerie to a baby’s stuffed animal to a castle above the sea. Now I’m working on drawing up the world I’m creating.
- What is the most important thing you need to have happen before you can begin writing a story?
Hmmm, tough question. I’d say it depends on the story and the day. I’m a pantsing-plotter, so I can go at a story both ways, but they each have drawbacks. If I get too caught up in minutia, I can do detail work forever and never write. I once created a 400-member family tree, not just with their names, but their dates of birth and death, the name of the hospital, city, state, country where they were born, the cemetery where they were buried, the college they graduated from, the church they got married in, where their kids were born, why they moved there… I mean, it went on forever, for characters three or four generations back (including aunts, uncles and cousins and all of THEIR spouses – I had to make up my own genealogy forms, because the standard ones only deal with direct lines of descent!), who were never going to be seen or mentioned in the book.
However, if I just start writing, I can get 50 pages down pretty fast, but then come to a screeching halt because I have no idea where the story is going or who the characters really are or need to become. I’m taking an online class with Laurie Schnebly Campbell this month – Plotting Via Motivation – that is helping me identify the critical things I really need to know before I start writing, while keeping me from getting too bogged down in irrelevant details. We started with a brand new story idea for class, but I’m going to take her Master Class in March (through WriterUniv) and apply the concepts to my WIP to identify and resolve any plot holes or problems with characterization.
*Extra Note: as mentioned above, I’ve completed Laurie’s wonderful course now, and the truth is that I’m really a plotter. The pantsing never worked out well. Thanks to Laurie, I’m now a happy plotter!
- What is your most embarrassing moment regarding your writing career?
The most embarrassing moment I can think of (among many. Eh-hemm), happened in my very first writing workshop when I was in college. The workshop involved, by turns, each student bringing in copies of a completed short story for everyone else in the class to take home and critique over a week’s time. The following week, we’d deliver our critiques for the class. The first problem turned out to be length. Everyone else in the class believed “short story” meant no more than 10 or 12 pages. Mine were never less than 30, so my classmates really hated me when it was my turn, LOL.
But the really embarrassing moment was listening to my first critique. I could tell something was up when I walked in the door, because my classmates were fairly bristling in their seats. They couldn’t wait to let me know what they thought, and what they thought was that I was a complete and utter idiot! They loved the story. Loved it. Until the very last page, when I made the ultimate newbie-writer mistake by killing off all my characters in one fell swoop because I had no idea how to end the story, and I knew I was already way over my page count. They were positively furious. Then the instructor jumped on the bandwagon to let me know how very uncool that was and how I was to never, never, ever do such a thing again. I think it took a solid week for the blood-rush to drain back out of my cheeks.
- What is the best moment regarding your writing life so far?
There have been a lot of great moments, but the very best has to be a tie between my first GSRWA meeting and first OlympiaRWA meeting. Oh, and the Emerald City Conference. And being asked to join 1st Turning Point. Becoming GSRWA’s Membership Chair. Too many to count! Though I have to admit that getting The Call will probably jump to first in line when it happens. I know you guys will understand that one!
- What’s your favorite comfort food?
Chocolate is the only possible answer to that question.
- What’s one of your favorite words?
- What’s a word you hate?
“No.” ‘Nuff said.
- What are some of your writing career goals or plans for the next few years?
My goal for this year is to complete, polish and send out my WIP. My dream, five or so years from now, would be to have the third book in my series coming out, to wild acclaim, of course. I’d also like to develop an online workshop. I enjoy taking them so much, I’d like to try my hand at giving one if I can come up with enough content that would be beneficial to people. I’d also like to get the nerve up to do some live workshops or public speaking, but that’s a phobia of mine, so it will require serious work on my part to be ready for anything like that. The writing is #1. If I’m lucky enough to do some sort of book tour/signing type thing, I’d love to include a signing booth at a renaissance or fantasy faire. That would be a blast, and let me make use of all my favorite costumes, many of which were made specially for me by my middle daughter.
- What words of wisdom would you like to leave us with?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned over the last year is to write your story your way. Don’t try to force it to be something it’s not, or something that doesn’t feel right to you. If you fight yourself too much on that, it sucks all the joy right out of the process. Writing should be fun, even when it’s hard.
March 2010 Bonus Question:
- What is the first American city to put police on bicycles?
In its modern form: Orange, New Jersey. (Thank you, Google!)
Answer to January 2010 Bonus Question:
The first soft serve ice cream machine was located in an Olympia Dairy Queen!