Don't forget to check out the exhibitor tables at the OWFI conference!
My friend, Mike Miller, insisted that August McLaughlin be a speaker at OWFI. Mike is a persuasive fellow--hence the Reading Room as a feature of this year's conference. Don't get me wrong, I can resist Mike's charms and tell him flat-out tell him when I disagree with him. Only problem is, and I'd never admit this to him, he's usually right. Of course, I had to check out Miss August, find out what all the fuss was about. I read one blog post and I started following her. After reading three posts, I started cyber-stalking her. Okay, not really, but you know you've made it as a blogger when you get a stalker and I just wanted to make her feel better. Not that she needs any help from me. She's bloody brilliant! Seriously, y'all. She's fantastic and... accomplished and... smart and... pretty. And I don't hate her. It's amazing!
1. How did you start your writing career?
I was working as an actress in Los Angeles and had written a short film featuring a character I wished to play. On somewhat of a fluke, the film was optioned by a production company. Rather than feel ecstatic over the opportunity, I felt pretty lost. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I missed writing. (They also cut the dog from the film. I mean—seriously?!?) I was sitting in an acting class after a storytelling exercise one night when it struck me full-force: I’m a writer! I haven’t turned back since. (See? She likes dogs!)
2. Tell us about your current release.
My current, and first, release is a psychological thriller called In Her Shadow. It’s based loosely on my experience with anorexia. It features a psychologist named Claire, who develops bizarre eating disorder symptoms near the anniversary of her parents unexpected deaths. Meanwhile, another woman is locked away in a basement, enduring horrific abuse. In order to survive, both women must face unfathomable truths, and jump through hoops no one should ever have to. Though it’s a dark tale, it’s also meant to be inspiring. It’s about hope, perseverance and the extreme lengths we’ll go to for those we love.
3. Entice us, what future projects are you considering?
Other than the sequel to In Her Shadow, I’m most enthused about Girl Boner, a blog series, Facebook community, Twitter conversation and overall movement-in-the-making. If #GirlBoner doesn’t entice you, well—I’m not sure we can be friends. (KIDDING!) I can’t say much about the Girl Boner book project, other than that it exists. I’m grateful to have the support of my agency reps and readers, and can’t wait to let it loose!
4. What was the scariest moment of your life?
I’ll be sharing one of my scariest moments during my reading at OWFI—a near-death experience that led me to recover from my eating disorder and eventually pursue my creative dreams. The scariest part wasn’t the nearly dying, but my mindset at the time. I’d say more, but you know—spoiler. ;) Injury and death, involving my loved ones or myself, frighten me significantly more now than they did back then. Life matters so much more, infused with vitality and passion. (From a reader's standpoint, I find this intriguing. On the personal side though, I'm sorry for August's pain.)
5. What are the most important attributes for remaining sane as a writer?
GREAT question. Some amount of insanity is understandable—I mean, we’re writers! That said, there is a ton of pressure on writers today. We’re expected to not only write publishable works, but maintain a strong online presence, market and promote our work, and somehow fit eating, sleeping, breathing and, holy smokes, other responsibilities in beside. If we maintain passion for our craft and careers and an openness to roll with the punches, I think we’ll be okay. I also think it’s vital that we apply our creativity to the business aspects of our careers—not simply pages. I’ll be chatting more about this during my workshops.
6. Would you change gender for one day?
YES! Where do I sign up? I think all writers are fascinated by others’ lives. Gender differences, I find particularly fascinating—same for the cultural, environmental and scientific reasons behind them. (I KNOW! How cool would that be. Even if it was just for a day. I might be able to write dual POV romances if I did this.)
7. Do you have a favorite quote, quip, or saying? What is it?
After graduating from high school in Minnesota, I moved to New York to pursue a fashion career—a culture shock I craved. I arrived to the Big Apple exhausted, and with Big Tears streaming down my cheeks. While unpacking, I found a card my dad had slipped into my suitcase. The cover featured an Eleanor Roosevelt quote: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” It reminded me that dreams should never stop, regardless of how “grownup” our lives become, and that no matter where life led me, I was loved. It still does. (How cool! My dad gave me a $2 bill for luck. Still have that sucker too.)
My favorite quote related to writing comes from one of my favorite authors/activists, Maya Angelou: "There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you."
8. Do you have any suggestions for beginning writers? If so, what are they?
Stay true to yourself. What makes each of us unique is our voice, which is really an extension of who we are deep inside—our thoughts, ideas and emotions. It can be easy to seek and apply too much feedback, particularly early on in our careers. While some critique can be helpful, and arguably vital, going overboard can cause frustration and self-doubt—creativity zappers. Second, write your heart out when you can, and practice patience with yourself. We all carve our own paths and methods. What works for someone else may not work for you and vice versa. Lastly, always prioritize writing. Marketing, social media, classes and conferences can be invaluable, but they should never, ever take precedence over our work. Write first, party later. ;) (Amen, sister!)
My mama always told me to use my friends wisely. There are many aspects of the writing world that I just don't get. I've mentioned my poetry deficiency, but creative non-fiction and memoirs also allude me. With non-fiction, I take the creativity a little too far. I'm usually flat out lying by the second paragraph, which really is odd since my life is a true testament to the "life is stranger than fiction" statement. There is no reason to embellish, but before I know it the fish was 4 feet long with 3" fangs and a mermaid tail hanging out of its mouth.
As for memoirs, I get them. I value them. I wish to goodness my grandmothers had written theirs, but I know nothing about writing them. So, I used my friend, Brenda Black, to get some ideas on who to invite to OWFI. Brenda is writing the nicest story about her husband's family. I could sit and listen to her read her tales all day long. She's so descriptive and honest in her writing. So when she suggested Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett, that was all the recommendation I needed. Not only did my mama teach me to use my friends wisely, she taught me to choose my friends wisely.
I chose wisely with Brenda Black.
So, here we go. Matilda and Kendra tell us about their writing careers and their 30 year collaboration.
So, ladies, how did you start your writing career?
KENDRA: This is a bit of an atypical interview, Patty, in that just one person usually responds to your questions. Instead today you have co-authors who have worked together for more than 30 years. Matilda lets me tell this part of the story. You see, Matilda was my first boss. Just out of graduate school at UC Santa Barbara I felt I needed to go to the city to get a good job. Even though I’m originally from the East Coast, I knew I wasn’t ready to tackle New York City. Instead, I choose a city where I felt very comfortable--San Francisco.
A friend helped me become a temp at the Far West Laboratory for Educational Research and Development. After a few months, I was getting a pretty good reputation for my editing and writing skills, and that’s when the editor position opened with the Women’s Educational Equity Communication Network. I interviewed with about 25 others (although I didn’t know that at the time).
MATILDA: Let me jump in here. I didn’t do the initial interviews so at this point in the story, I hadn’t met Kendra. My associate director, Jean Marzone, interviewed the large group of applicants. Later, she walked into my office, sat down on my flowered sofa (well, it was the 70s) and told me about her three favorite candidates. As she described them, she concluded by saying “Kendra’s my first choice.” I looked at the three resumes and hesitated to even include Kendra in the top candidates I’d interview. I remember saying, “Jean, she doesn’t have the right experiences and hasn’t written about women’s issues.” But Jean insisted, and I agreed to the interview. Even after I talked with Kendra, I was somewhat hesitant.
KENDRA: Matilda, I knew I was a quick study and obviously persuaded you to give me a try. Being editor turned into a great learning experience. I was responsible for dozens of publications each year. I remember the first time I was faced with a publication layout, I sneaked in on the weekend, and found the mechanicals for some previously published materials piled in the closet. I pulled them out and began taking one apart.
“Rubber cement!” I shouted to the empty office. That was more than 30 years ago. Our page layouts were still done with rubber cement and layout boards. Well, my mother was a commercial artist, and she’d taught me long ago the proper way to work with rubber cement. That was when I was certain I could do the job.
MATILDA: That was the fall of 1979. We could never have imagined that 30-plus years later, we’d continue to be friends and colleagues and now business partners and co-authors of two books -- the award-winning collective memoir Rosie’s Daughters: The “First Woman To” Generation Tells Its Story [ http://RosiesDaughters.com ]and our new Writing Alchemy: How to Write Fast and Deep [ http://womensmemoirs.com/the-writers-store/writing-alchemy/ ]
KENDRA: Well, Patty, back to your question. Assuming a career can start long before one gets paid for it, I’d say I started my writing career when I was about eight. I invented a game I named Editor and Reporters that I played with my little sister and brother. Even though they couldn’t read or write, they knew the alphabet and could copy words, and that’s all I required of them. I equipped them both with small pads of paper, freshly sharpened pencils and a couple of Daddy’s old felt fedoras. They were my reporters, and it was their job to search for “news.” Not events but words, and whenever they found them—an ad in a magazine, the title of a book, a recipe, a listing in a phone book or a piece of junk mail lying on the kitchen counter—they had to write it down. They’d bring me the slips of paper filled with their eclectic and unrelated collection of words and phrases, which I’d assemble into a story. We’d entertain ourselves for hours, and I had an excuse to play with Daddy’s old manual Smith-Corona typewriter. The metal chassis was painted black and scarred from years of use. The keys were flat and cold to the touch; there was nothing ergonomic about their position or angle. The rubber platen was old and hard, and the ribbon equally dry. I just loved that old typewriter.
MATILDA: Smith-Corona played a role in my early years as well. My parents bought one for my older sister who rarely used it. I, on the other hand, decided to become an entrepreneur while in the fifth grade and soon was pounding away on the typewriter. I got the idea that I’d create a school newspaper and sell copies for $.05. I carried a steno pad--one that was spiral bound at the top--around with me throughout the day and jotted down ideas for stories. Then at night I’d write them out and finally type them onto Ditto masters. On the weekends, my father let me tag along with him to his office and use his Ditto machine. I learned to put the master on the drum, load the tray with paper, grab the handle and turn it round and round until I had the number of copies I needed. This was not a particularly successful venture, but I learned to think about the readers, learned to see events and find what could be made interesting, learned about layout, and even learned a bit about printing at least as far as having purple ink on my fingers.
PATTY: You two are right. This is definitely a different kind of interview. You mentioned a couple of books you have written together. Could you tell us a little about writing those?
MATILDA: Let me start with a brief description of Rosie’s Daughters: The “First Woman To” Generation Tells Its Story.
I am a Rosie’s Daughter. What does that mean? I was born during WWII; my mother was part of the iconic Rosie the Riveter generation. I conceived the book after attending the 40th reunion of my class at National Cathedral School for Girls in Washington, DC. In one joint session, we were seated around tables in the cavernous room where four decades earlier I had studied English Lit, American History, French and Algebra every afternoon and evening. Representatives of each quinquennial reunion class spoke about their experiences, telling stories that were alternatively humorous and serious because of the momentous times in which we all have lived. I was struck by how the stories of my class differed from those of women who graduated even five years earlier or later.
Once back in my California home, my thoughts returned many times to that session. For the most part, despite good educations, women who graduated earlier than my class did not seek careers but found fulfillment as wives, mothers and homemakers. Women who graduated some years after my class (Baby Boomers) took their careers and the juggling act of work and family for granted. They were fulfilling a pattern they had observed and planned for.
My class had a much more complicated and even confused story to tell. When we were in high school, we expected to spend our lives in traditional roles. (Our high school even taught us how to entertain, including the protocol of tea service.) Some time after that--in fact, at different times for different reasons--unprecedented numbers of women born during WWII switched tracks and pursued careers. None of us remember thinking, Well, of course that’s what I’ll do. Instead, we opened closed-doors and moved in what seemed to be the right direction until the next doors appeared, then repeated the process. By trial and error, we became proficient in careers that we never imagined when we were the well-chaperoned charges of our alma mater in Washington. Combining careers and children presented novel changes, but we were young and energetic. I assumed we were among the role models that the younger alumnae observed, inspiring them to think, Well, of course that’s what I’ll do.
Trained as a social psychologist, I wanted to determine how well this model held up across my generation. And that led me to a formal study of many Rosie’s Daughters to better understand whether “war babies” truly belonged to a generation of women on the cusp of change or whether I was listening to an isolated set of women’s experiences. I interviewed more than 100 women across the United States. Multi-hour interviews, some conducted in person but the majority by telephone, were tape recorded, transcribed and computer indexed.
The results did indeed hold up. We were unique, pioneering opportunities for all subsequent generations of women.
This was a story of women that begged to be told but not in the way that I originally envisioned. When I started work on the book, I saw myself as a social psychologist writing a research-based non-fiction account of a generation of women. By the time I completed the interviews, I had become a memoirist, helping a generation of women to tell their stories in a collective memoir.
KENDRA: Furthermore, we know from the comments we continue to receive from the readers of Rosie’s Daughters that they are emotionally moved to a greater understanding and appreciation for the force this generation has had on changing women’s roles in the United States. We named these Rosie’s Daughters the “First Woman Two” (FW2) Generation based on a phrase frequently used in newspapers in the 1970s as so many barriers were broken by these women. All one has to do is read even a partial list of FW2s to see that some of the most accomplished women in politics, entertainment, sports, education, literature and business of the last 30 years have one thing in common--they’re all Rosie’s Daughters: Nora Ephron, Annie Dillard, Leslie Stahl, Martha Stewart, Diane Sawyer, Anita Roddick, Sherry Lansing, Alice Waters,, Jill Clayburgh, Penny Marshall, Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer, Billie Jean King, Angela Davis, Judge Judy and Twyla Tharp. These are just a few of the names.
MATILDA: With Rosie’s Daughters published and marketing underway, Kendra and I began teaching writing.
KENDRA: Not so fast Matilda. You’re skipping the story of how the marketing of Rosie’s Daughters led us into a new business with associated merchandise. A business, by the way, that has quadrupled over each of the past four years and is set to really explode this year as we pursue new markets for the book and related Rosie the Riveter gear.
MATILDA: Yes, Kendra, that’s a story for another day. Do you want to tell some about our newest book, Writing Alchemy: How to Write Fast and Deep, since that’s the basis for our workshop at OWFI’s conference?
KENDRA: Sure. I’ll at least start this by giving the backstory. When Matilda and I began teaching writers, we discovered a significant difference between what they knew about writing and what they actually wrote. We saw our students’ frustrations with writing in the sense that there was often a disconnect between what writers envisioned would be their finished product and what they actually wrote. Knowing the basics of writing wasn’t the problem. It was the writing--the execution--that wasn’t working. We’d critique their work, point out the source of problems, even rework sentences and paragraphs to illustrate what we meant. Our challenge, however--what kept us up at night--was figuring out how to give students something that could guide them when we weren’t around to help. Something that would help them make sense of the different books they would read and the different teachers that they had.
We had been talking for some time about a new approach to writing, but we were struggling for the right concept. We didn’t want another rehash of books and ideas that were already on the market. On one of my visits to Matilda’s home--she was still living in California at the time--we attended an evening concert in San Jose’s Le Petit Trianon performing arts center. The Ives Quartet was debuting a new piece they had commissioned, and the composer Dan Becker was present to talk about his work. He explained how he deconstructed the elements of his composition into their most basic form--rhythm, harmony and melody. He actually wrote the piece once for rhythm, once for harmony and once for melody. In between, he listened to the quartet play each version. Then fully understanding each of his deconstructed elements, he went away and composed a fourth piece that was the construction or orchestration of all three elements.
The concept clicked with us. “That’s it,” we mouthed in unison and began writing in the margins of the evening’s program notes. We knew in that instant that we’d found our solution, or at least the beginning of our solution. Becker was the springboard that moved us away from one more amalgam of writing tools and toward a revolutionary new writing system that puts the writer in complete control of the words.
MATILDA: Let me pick up on the story here. We immediately began developing what we eventually called Writing Alchemy and testing it with our students and coaching clients. From the beginning, the results were remarkable. As people slowed their writing process, spent more time in what we call the pre-writing phase, they went deeper into their characters and story detail. And what they wrote came alive on the page and connected with readers. They were happy with the results, and we were thrilled. From what we’ve seen with our students, we believe that Writing Alchemy has the potential to become a truly revolutionary process and a great asset to writers at all levels of their craft. From what we’ve observed first hand, Writing Alchemy does not appear to be like any other book on writing currently on the market.
While working with our students and conference attendees, we continued to refine the system. For example, we realized that we needed Writing Alchemy Lite after our first conference workshop when the evaluations told us the participants absolutely loved this approach. They even saw the difference in their writing during the workshop. But, and there was a big “but,” they didn’t know how to proceed after they left. This sent us back to better understand the process and to figure out how we could communicate it. After almost four years of teaching and presenting the concept in workshops and conferences, after testing our method with hundreds of students, we were ready to commit it to the book Writing Alchemy: How to Write Fast and Deep.
KENDRA: As usual, Matilda, we’ve gotten long winded. Let me wrap this up by saying that the objective of Writing Alchemy is to remake writers into purposeful writers by giving them the means to achieve greater focus, banish superficiality and help them connect with their inner writer...in short to put them in control of the writing process. The fact is, good writers all have a system. It may be intuitive. It may even come naturally although probably most have worked hard to develop their craft, their style, their voice. Rather than a fill-in-the-details tool or rigid, formulaic method that dictates a typical set of results, Writing Alchemy reflects the organic, non-linear nature of writing. It adapts to the many ways individual writers choose to work. Most of all, it’s a reminder to slow down and collect one’s thoughts before starting to write.
MATILDA: Kendra, since you started this interview, let me end it by briefly mentioning the unusual support system that we have built for readers of Writing Alchemy. Kendra and I have a bit different take on marketing. Earlier we mentioned that with Rosie’s Daughters we created an entire Rosie the Riveter product line complete with red and white polka dot bandanas, Rosie mugs, Rosie collar pin/employment badges, and even a DIY Rosie the Riveter Kit that includes a Rosie Cookbook, handful of rivets in a red and white polka dot bag, as well as the bandana, DIY poster, and a World War II ration book. With Writing Alchemy, we decided that if we wanted writers to get the most out of this new writing system, we needed to find a way to continue to give them new ideas of how to use it. We figured we would be successful if our readers were successful. So we founded the Association for Writing Excellence (AWE). Each buyer of Writing Alchemy just has to register their book and they become a Charter Member of AWE. In the future, membership will cost $99. But for now, membership is free and includes monthly webinars. We have a number of other benefits planned for later this year.
PATTY: Typewriters, childhood endeavors, two successful books, merchandise, and even an association for writers. This has been quite an interview. I look forward to seeing you both at OWFI in May.
I met Alex Miner when he joined the Northwest Arkansas Writers Workshop, the amazingly wonderful group founded by Dusty Richards and Velda Brotherton. He is brilliant. He never lets a participle dangle and not only does he know what gerunds are, he uses them correctly. Add to that his appreciation of snark and I knew he was the critique partner for me. When he moved away to the dreary Pacific Northwest, I cried. But alas, the world has created the handy-dandy internet and we were able to continue as critique partners.
I can't wait to see him again. I'm curious if he wears stocking caps regardless of the weather, listens to garage-punk-grudge-funk-metal-death music and carries around a giant, giant, venti cups of Starbucks everywhere he goes.
What does your significant other and family think of your writing career?
They’ve been encouraging me to become a drifter or panhandler because the Department of Labor website has a lot of good things to say about those career paths, especially compared to "writer." But to make myself feel better, I look down on poets.
Do you have critique partners or beta readers?
I'm part of a vicious group of cutthroats that some might call a workshop. We're more competitors than partners, each trying to blow out the creative spark of the other. Passive aggression is our preferred method, but we also rely on sabotage and ad hominem attacks thinly disguised as constructive criticism. In fact, the stories we submit to one another tend to be heavy-handed satires about the group members themselves. You might say we hate each other.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned while writing your books?
That I'm a genius! (I also never revise.)
How do you describe your writing style?
Annie Proulx meets Chuck Palanhiuk meets Dr. Seuss. One publisher described my writing as "a word salad with little bits of broken glass mixed in that you have to pick out."
Use no more than two sentences. Why should we read your book?
Because I took my cues from Tolstoy and George Eliot: the thicker the book, the better the value. My 300,000-word tome covers a single two-hour session spent in the bathroom when I got food poisoning.
You just won a huge lottery. What is the first thing you'll buy?
When I'm rich, I fully plan to embrace the humble, Warren Buffet lifestyle, and will limit my purchases to bare essentials, such as a solid gold rims for my Bentley that are shaped like dollar signs, a bathrobe made from the fur of an endangered species, and an extraordinarily large haircut.
Melanie Billings from Whiskey Creek Press will be at the 45th annual OWFI conference taking pitches. I don't know Ms Billings so I can't add any pithy side-notes, but I can tell I already like her. Yet another person who understood the significance of Firefly. Her 7th grade English teacher inspired her to write. I often wonder if I had any effect at all on the kids I taught. Wouldn't it be nice to know that you encouraged someone to follow their dream?
How did you start your writing career? I had an awesome English teacher in 7th grade and I started seriously writing then. I did not pursue publishing until college and after.
Where do you dream of traveling to and why? Germany and France, the vicinity of the Alps. I went about 20 years ago and the scenery of places like Bavaria and Gordon, the various castles I got to visit, these are still a haunting, aching memory.
Who is your favorite author? Terry Brooks
What was your first sale as an author? Climbing the Mountain, my first poetry anthology
When in the day/night do you write? How long per day? I prefer to write in the morning, as the sun is coming up. I love the idea of a fresh new day, full of new possibilities. Typically, when I get a chance to write, I’ll spend about two hours per day.
What does your significant other and family think of your writing career? Because of my responsibilities as an editor, I don’t have a lot of time to pursue my writing. My family views it as more of a hobby at this point.
Does your significant other read your stuff? No. Poetry isn’t his “thing,” and I’m not sure if he has ever read my short stories and vignettes.
Do you have critique partners or beta readers? My cousin, Laura Josephsen, will read anything I write and give me wonderful feedback. She is my go-to person when I need an opinion. (You've got to love family members as critique partners. They never pull their punches....or is that just my family?)
Who are your books published with? Currently, my two poetry anthologies are published with Whiskey Creek Press, LLC (whiskeycreekpress.com). I have a handful of short stories and vignettes published with Digital Dragon Magazine (http://www.digitaldragonmagazine.net)
How do you describe your writing style? I like to write stories with an element of fantasy. I enjoy writing free-form poetry, with a little bit of a shock factor.
What do you think makes a good story? I enjoy storylines with a twist in the plot. I like characters that overcome obstacles and grow over the course of a story.
Plotter or Pantser? Why? Plotter, with elements of Pantser mixed in. I like to know where the story is going, so I’ll loosely outline. What happens in the course of the writing is not always set in stone, and sometimes, I veer from what I’ve originally planned.
Tell us about your family. I met my husband in college and we have been married for almost fifteen years. We’ve got two boys, eight and thirteen. No pets yet, but the kids keep pushing for a cat… (Come on. Get a cat already. Or perhaps a rabbit? or a chicken? Maybe a donkey? Kids should have a pet, you know?)
Do you listen to music while writing? If so what? I prefer to listen to classical music while I write: Bach, Mozart, and Wagner are my favorites.
What was the scariest moment of your life? The scariest moment was when I thought I would lose my first child during pregnancy. It was a very high-risk pregnancy and I was in the hospital for a long time before the emergency C-section.
What books have most influenced your life? The Bible. The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien. This Present Darkness, by Frank E. Peretti. The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis.
What are your favorite TV shows? Firefly, Psych, Star Trek (all incarnations), Dr. Who, Grimm, Castle, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel
What canceled TV show should be brought back? Why? Firefly and V, too many unresolved things and wonderfully memorable characters!
What songs are most played on your Ipod? Paralyzed, by Love and Death; Eye On It, by TobyMac; Make a Move, by Icon for Hire
What do you do to unwind and relax? Editing, crocheting.
Do you have any suggestions for beginning writers? If so, what are they? Revising and rewriting are gifts that should never be squandered; you can only get better! Be open to constructive criticism, even if it doesn’t feel so constructive at the time. Be part of a writers’ group, either online or in real life.
What would you consider to be the best book you have ever read? Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen (Amen to that!)
What is something people would be surprised to know about you? I’ve been to Europe, but never to NYC…and I live in Upstate NY!!
You just won a huge lottery what is the first thing you'll buy? A Peppermint Mocha Frappucino from Starbucks.
Do you have a favorite quote, quip, or saying? What is it? Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.
Is there a piece of advice that you have received that has really stuck with you? If so, what was it? Treat everyone with kindness.
Steve Semken of Ice Cube Press will be taking pitches at the upcoming conference, May 2-4. I love his advice for beginning writers. It is so true. Never hide your light under a barrel. I know it seems like there are millions of writers out there especially when you hang out with other writers, but guess what? There aren't. Writers are a unique bred of folk. We're obligated to share our gift with the world. So, listen to what Mr. Semken has to say and get your manuscripts ready and polished. He's attending to conference to find folks to publish!
Q: Has someone been instrumental in inspiring you as a writer?
A: I was originally inspired by a talk of Barry Lopez’s on nature and the environment. I was captivated by the inquisition to details, the use of words as almost tricks and teachings at the same time. After this I begin to discover devour environmental writing by a many contemporary authors: William Kittridge, Scott Russell Sanders, Gary Synder, Terry Tempest Williams, and the like.
Q: Do you have any suggestions for beginning writers? If so, what are they?
A: I believe you should be brave and not hide your writing. I choose to share my writing with six people that were alive and find out what they thought. There is no better schooling than this to arrange your confidence into an upword spiral. Writers are people who share their thoughts, diary writing, journals are fine, but they aren’t the stuff of be a writer.
Q: Do you have a favorite quote, quip, or saying? What is it?
A: Yes, I have two that guide me all the time and I paraphrase them both here: Matthew Fox, “The environmental crisis is a crisis of the soul.” and Jim Harrison, who writes, “It only gradually occured to me that it’s not people’s problems that interst me, but their solutions to their problems that interest me”
Q: What do you find most rewarding about writing?
A: I enjoy the rapture of the creative process in action. When you are striking what you feel are golden ideas while working on a book it is unlike anything else.
Q: What’s your 5 word memoir?
A: Creatively devising modern environmental myths.
Steve Semken began the Ice Cube Press in 1993 and now bases his business in North Liberty, Iowa. He was one of Radish Magazine’s Top Ten People award winners for 2009. A publisher of well over 50 books, he has focused primarily on place-based writing as a way to better understand how to best live where we do, whether through fiction, nonfiction, poetry, visual arts, or memoir. He is also the author of six books, including The Great Blues (Woodley Pres
s) on great blue herons, which won the Kansas Book Award and Pick Up Stick City (Rivers Bend Press) a novella which Publishers’ Weekly called “funny, poignant and more than a bit whimsical,” adding that “this allegorical tale of small town and environmental care is suffused with wonder.” He was also a writer-in -residence at the Island Institute in Sitka, Alaska.
Linda Apple is my hero. I'm in awe of this woman. When I first met her, I thought there's no way anyone can be that perfect. Guess what? She's living proof that what you see is what you get and that is perfection. She has a loving heart and a generous nature. To top that off, she's a talented writer and an amazing speaker. She connects with her audience instantly. Plan on attending her lunch session at OWFI. Even if you're the most tongue-tied person on the planet, you'll walk away with a platform and a megaphone. She's that good!
How did you start your speaking career? It came about as a question. After selling several stories to the Chicken Soup for the Soul books, someone asked me, “What’s your secret?” After thinking a while about it I realized it was because I used the creative nonfiction style of writing. So, I put together a workshop in the hope that it would help others get published. I called it My Recipe for Chicken Soup for the Soul. This workshop grew in popularity and it also lead to other types of speaking opportunities covering different aspects of writing and life.
Have you had any formal training as a speaker? In my very short stint in college I took Speech. That course taught me the different kinds of speech, but nothing technically. Then, when I began to write in 1998 I joined a Toastmasters group with a friend. Great group and I highly recommend them. You will learn technique with them. But mostly, I learned by doing and making mistakes. My book, Connect! A Simple Guide to Public Speaking for Writers is written from my doing and falling on my face.
Why do you think public speaking is important for writers? It gives you a connection that the social network cannot. It is true that the social network is worldwide, but very few of us are selling thousands of books because of it. There is something about meeting people, integrating with them, sharing with them in a conversational style, and giving great information that they appreciate. I have found that one speaking engagement results in at least two more invitations and boosts my social network strength. I sell a lot of books after I speak, and the icing on the proverbial cake is meeting great people and traveling on someone else’s dime. My goal is a speaking engagement in the UK! (I've already volunteered to carry her bags!)
Tell us about your public speaking workshops. They are very practical and involve audience participation and discussion. We look at how we can find topics other than our book, where we can present these topics, how to approach groups for a speaking invitation, the tools we need, and then fun nuts and bolts about how to overcome fear, insecurity, how to dress, what to do with our hands (a big problem) body language, voice inflection. My students leave with PLENTY of material to work with.
Have you heard from writers who have taken your class? Did it help them? Yes, just recently as a matter of fact. I spoke to a Masters Class in Eureka Springs, AR. One lady contacted a group and they were excited that she wanted to come and speak to them. The lady sold a lot of books. She was ecstatic!
Finally, tell us a little about your writing. What is your current work in progress? I have two books, Inspire! Writing From the Soul, and Connect! My agent is pitching my novel, The Journey. In October I pitched an idea to Wild Rose Press Publishing and they liked it, so I’m writing a romance set in Mississippi. Here’s hoping they like it! (Of course, they'll like it!)
In case you haven't noticed, we're thirteen years into the 21st Century. I kind of miss rotary dial phones and party lines. Goodness, what a great way to gather gossip on the neighbors. Now, you have to use those high-dollar, CIA microphones and sit in your car in the dark with night vision goggles to get dirt on them.
Only having four television stations was kind of cool too. Because let's be honest, even with three thousand channels to choose from there still isn't anything worth watching on TV. At least when there were fewer options you gave up quicker and moved on to more productive tasks. Now, carpal tunnel sets in as you keep the remote control buzzing from channel to channel. Okay, I do have to admit that I love remote controls. I was always relegated to the front of the living room to change channels and adjust the volume.
The good old days: bubble gum cost a penny (green apple was my fave!) radio stations played all genres and album covers were works of art. There was no such thing as a PG-13 movie and a G-rated movie actually meant you could watch it with your grandmother without dying of embarrassment. Remember the days when dropping the f-bomb at school or work would result in immediate dismissal?
Times change. Sometimes for the better. Sometimes for the worse. Personally, I think our children would be better off without all those dadgum video games and such. Then again, I don't have kids. I can still distract my cats with a shiny ball of foil on the floor so what do I know? One of the changes I do appreciate, and am admittedly addicted to, is the internet.
I remember submitting my first manuscript to an agent. I printed out four-hundred pages of pure brilliance, bond them with a rubber band and went to the post office. Trying to explain to the postal worker that I needed to include a SASE was AWFUL. The poor guy was so befuddled. He couldn't for the love of God or country figure out why the heck I had a bunch of papers to send to some chick in New York and why in God's name she would send them back to me. That hassle lessened the thrill of submitting my novel, not to mention the fact that it cost me $45! Of course, finding the SASE in my mailbox a few months later really sucked. I had to PAY for rejection? Come on, really?
These days it is very unusual for anyone in the publishing world to request hard copies of manuscripts, which is one of the reasons OWFI in transitioning to electronic contest submissions. Heather Davis, TMI Mom and teacher of middle school Language Arts, is presenting a workshop on how to Tip Toe into Technology. She chatted with me a bit and here's what she has to say about the workshop.
Q: “Tip Toe Into Technology” –are special shoes required?
A: No special shoes needed, just an open mind ready to learn about electronic submissions, organizing your electronic life and other extra technology tips and tricks for the beginner.
Q: What skills do attendees need to get the most out of this course?
A: I’m going basic, baby! I won’t tell you how to turn on the computer; I’ll give you that much credit, but I will walk even the most reluctant user through the best ways to get the most of his or her computer and other technology as a writer.
I’ll share technology vocabulary and give step-by-step instructions on how to submit your writing electronically, how to organize your writing electronically, and how to feel more comfortable with your computer.
Q: You think you’ve got what it takes to teach this workshop?
A: Yep, yep, yep! By day, I teach middle school English/Language Arts. I also have two daughters, one husband, two dogs and two cats. That right there demonstrates my patience. I use technology almost every minute of every day and have been known to even tweet in my sleep. Plus, when I was a lifeguard the summer of my senior year in high school, I attempted to teach my own momma how to swim. She did not drown and we didn’t kill each other. That’s the sign of a good teacher.
Q: Tweet in your sleep? In what other ways do you use technology?
A: I am a blogging queen supreme. I blog at www.Minivan-Momma.com and www.Chick-Wit.com. I am also an administrator and editor with www.OklahomaWomenBloggers.com. I cruise Facebook like a teenager on Main Street on Friday night (Heather Smith Davis—friend me!), and I tweet in my sleep (@MinivanMomma2). My husband and I have our calendars synched up on our smart phones (we’re still late to most events). I voice record my story ideas with my iPhone, and I have a total of five email addresses. Five.
Q: So, you’ve got quite the presence online—what do you do when you’re not in front of a screen?
A: My daughters are active in basketball, golf, softball and horseback riding. I also write a bi-weekly humor column for my local newspaper, Bartlesville Examiner Enterprise. My first book TMI Mom: Oversharing My Life was released in April 2013. My second book, Fooling Around, will be released in fall of 2013. I’m busy writing book number three. I’ve taught a couple of social media classes and blogging classes in my spare time as well. PLUS, I’m associate producer / director of the Listen To Your Mother-OKC show. Of course, I also like read and write.
Q: When people leave your session at OWFI 45, what do you want them to say?
A: I want them to be excited to get in front of their computers and to feel like they are ready to take their writing to the new levels that technology is affording a 21st century writer.
I heard Marilyn Collins speak at the Northwest Arkansas Writers Workshop free conference in March 2012. That's a hard group of folks to keep under control. Velda Brotherton and Dusty Richards have instilled the fear of God into us, but we're kind of rowdy when other folks are speaking. Not that we're being rude or disrespectful to the speakers , but goodness knows we have to share our opinions on the speaker with the folks sitting next to us. When Marilyn spoke, there were no asides. Folks were raptly enthralled with her topic and her speaking ability. I'm thrilled she'll be joining the 2013 OWFI faculty.
1. As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? My friends wanted to grow up, get married, and have children. My sisters wanted to be teachers. I wanted to be a “high-heeled business lady” like my mother. Somehow, I managed to do them all.
2. What books have most influenced your life? It’s hard to choose among favorites. I’m most drawn to adventure books or those with deep personal challenges for the author/characters. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t reading hardback books. My Mother had a huge wooden box in the attic of our two-story barn filled with incredible books on many different subjects. More books filled shelves in our house. No restrictions were made on ones we read. My aunt was the town librarian and her inspiration opened up an even greater wealth of books. My world is still surrounded by books. (Is it just me or does this sound like heaven?)
3. What was your first book sale? I was director of the Beaufort Historical Association (NC) and responsible for several historic houses on site; a double-decker, English tour bus; and the Old Burying Ground. As a seaside town, this ancient burying place held the stories of star-crossed lovers, pirates and privateers, an entire Sunday School class and their teacher who died from the yellow fever scourge of 1864, and even one little girl whose precious body was preserved in a barrel of rum when she died at sea coming to America. Arcadia Publishers, large publisher of local/regional history, asked me to write a book about Beaufort. Instead I collaborated with a professional photographer and a historian to write my first published book: Beaufort’s Old Burying Ground (NC).
I’ve since published two more history books with Arcadia—Rogers: The Town the Frisco Built (AR) and a pictorial book, Rogers, Arkansas. I was born in Rogers and hold dear many of the old stories. For instance, my grandmother was the first business woman in town. Many colorful and nationally-known characters have walked these sidewalks and centuries-old streets of brick.
4. What is the hardest part of writing your nonfiction books? I love the research but can easily get lost in all the tantalizing side stories that I discover in a library or museum archive. I’ve finally learned to make “notes to self” for future reference about these stories and where I found them—otherwise I’d never finish my primary book. (Boy, can I relate! The first book I wrote was about Followers of the Signs (folks who take up the serpent in worship) I think I read every book on the topic. I think I only had one or two pages about it in my book!)
5. What is your writing schedule? Do other family members become involved? Who else reads your drafts? I’m one of the morning people—fully clothed, full of coffee and ready to go. No writing in jammies for me. My husband, Larry, was formerly an editor with a government agency and one of my sisters, Barbara Youree, is a multi-published author and they both read most of my work. Also, I belong to a great writing critique group of published authors, Northwest Arkansas Writers’ Guild, who regularly meet to help each other. I rely on this quality input and encouragement.
I’ve published well over 100 magazine/newspaper articles and work these deadlines in with book publishing and speaking.
6. How do you describe your writing style? I write a Step-by-Step Writing Series that offers practical and easy-to-follow advice along with warm encouragement for writers. I give common-sense tips on structure, research, interviewing, writing, publishing and marketing. I cut through the fluff so readers can quickly find answers to their questions. The series currently includes: Memoir Writing Guide: Brighten Your Leaf on the Family Tree; The Art & Business of Writing Local or Regional History; You Can Write a Book about Your Family; and Write History Right (www.chspublishing.com ) .
As a conference speaker, writing coach, and inhouse/online instructor, my goal is to help each participant develop their confidence and write the story they’ve always wanted to tell.
7. How do you develop your plots and your characters? I’m a Pantser (rather than a Plotter) when I write fiction. The first line comes to me and I just start writing. I’m fascinated with the characters who show up and walk on my stage. They come complete with name, personality, problems, position with other characters, and their own special voice. I can be right in the middle of a story and a character shows up completely unexpected. What fun. I write mysteries so at some point I have to consider where to plant clues and determine a direction for the plot. However, I went to a seminar that insisted that as a writer I must first outline. So, I outlined—first—my next mystery. Then lost all interest—I already knew what would happen. Why bother?
8. My favorite quote is by Erma Bombeck: “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left—and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.’”
Marilyn H. Collins held professional marketing and publishing positions in Washington DC, Virginia, and North Carolina. She is author of several how-to books and ebooks for writers, regional history books, and magazine features. Currently she is owner of CHS Publishing (www.chspublishing.com) and editor of an online newsletter for writers, Proficient Writer NEWS (www.proficientwriter.com). Collins is a writing coach, online/classroom instructor, and frequent speaker at writers’ conferences.
Desiree Holt, author of over 130 books--many of them erotica--is being interviewed on CBS Morning News, March 24th. Desiree will be conducting a workshop at OWFI Friday, May 3 from 10:30-11:45.
How Hot is Hot-or When to Wear Asbestos Glasses
With the huge success of the Fifty Shades and Crossfire trilogies, erotic romance has moved from the corner of the bedroom into the mainstream. Where once upon a time every scene was almost “fade to black,” now people are hungry for details. But as with anything else there are degrees. Not everyone wants the same level of heat.
So how do you distinguish between “spicy,” “hot,” “erotic,” “highly erotic,” “erotica” and just plain out and out “porn?” During this workshop we will discuss the history of erotic romance and erotica and study excerptsfrom romance authors who write at various levels of heat. We’ll talk about what works and what doesn’t. And we’ll explore how the emergence into mainstream of these genres is helping a lot of women (and men) learn to appreciate their own sexuality.
Be sure to bring your questions with you!
For some insider information of the interview and the visit to Ellora's Cave, check out the Publishers Weekly blog on the steamy, exotic trip. I've got to figure out how to get invited to one of these photo shoots!! Oy!
Madison Woods stopped by a for a visit. I thought you might want to get to know this amazing woman. And she is amazing. She's a member of the Northwest Arkansas Writers Workshop hosted by Velda Brotherton and Dusty Richards. I thought I lived in the back of beyond, but Madison makes my quaint, little Ozark farm look positively metropolitan. Not only does she live in the boonies, her commute to work is unbelievable (close to 3 hours a day,) plus she has children, horses and a fiancé to contend with and yet, she still writes and blogs and does all kinds of mind-boggling online stuff. She starts discussing social media and my eyes glaze over. She knows it all and I'm always so overwhelmed.
Her workshops at OWFI will be entertaining and informative.
Where do you dream of traveling to and why?
I want to go to the old worlds, into the countryside where real life transacts, away from tourists and commercialism. Tuscany, Provencal France, and Germany, Scotland most of all, but really anywhere I can soak up the tradition and heritage of a culture.
Does travel play in the writing of your books?
My work in progress, Symbiosis, involves a lot of travel between different realms. The distances between them all aren’t great but the cultures from one locale to the other are widely varied.
What does your significant other and family think of your writing career?
My children don’t think of it as my “career”. It’s hard to make anyone else understand that even though it isn’t paying the bills, it is my vocation and career-in-progress. My fiancé, Rob, is 100% behind me and even pushes me when I am teetering on despair. He’s enabling me to reach the full-time writer status I have dreamed of for so long.
Does your significant other read your stuff?
Yes, and he’s a great critic. He thinks I use far too many commas though. I’m trying to wean myself off of some of them, but I really like commas. He’s told me he’s my #1 fan
Do you have critique partners or beta readers?
My first reader is Rob. I have a few other people waiting to read Symbiosis when it’s finished. When I’m able, I like to attend the Northwest Arkansas Writer’s critique group. The founders there, Velda Brotherton and Dusty Richards, have been an inspiration to me. The other writers of that group always offer useful and honest opinions.
What do you think makes a good story?
One that the reader identifies with the protagonist, but most of all, one that makes me wish it hadn’t ended. A good story makes me want to read far beyond the end. I don’t know exactly what makes one fall into that category though. I only hope mine does that to readers when it’s out there in the published world.
Ever since I've become involved with OWFI folks have requested that Jordan Dane speak. Well, guess what? Jordan Dane will be speaking at the 45th Annual OWFI Conference. Yes! You read that correctly. JORDAN DANE is presenting at the 45th Annual OWFI Conference, May 2-4, 2013. That's like, forever away, you know? So, I thought I'd ask her a few questions and feature her on the blog for those of you who can't wait until May.
All I can say, is WOW! I have a new hero. I can't wait to meet her.
Please tell us about your latest release, INDIGO AWAKENING.
INDIGO AWAKENING is book #1 in the Hunted series with HarlequinTeen (Jan 2013). The story centers on a fifteen-year old boy, Lucas Darby, who escapes a mental hospital and is lost on the streets of LA. As the drugs fade, the voices he hears become louder and beckon him to find them. The last phone call he makes before he disappears is to say good-bye to the only person who really loved him, his sister Rayne. She refuses to heed his warning to stay away and not look for him because it’s too dangerous, but she has no idea how right he is. Lucas is an extraordinarily gifted psychic boy hunted by a faction of a fanatical church (the Believers), people who fear he’s the next evolution and a plague to test mankind. After Rayne becomes a target of the Believers, she’s rescued by a mysterious runaway boy, Gabriel Stewart, who’s even more powerful than her brother with awakening Indigo powers that could get them all killed.
Your adult thriller books started with a greatly successful boom with NO ONE HEARD HER SCREAM (HarperCollins) sold in auction and being named as Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2008. Very few authors seem to be able to balance writing adult fiction, young adult fiction and nonfiction, but you seem to excel at all three. Do you have a favorite of these formats?
Fiction is definitely more fun, but I wanted to share my writing epiphanies and connect with other writers through my craft book that emphasizes writing for the young adult market – ONE AUTHOR’S AHA MOMENTS. There are challenges in writing for both the adult and young adult markets in fiction. Getting the YA voice right is not easy. I also see a distinct difference in how I plot both types of books. In adult thrillers, I tend to come up with my characters first, then build a plot around them. But in YA, I had to train myself to devise the premise first and fit the right teen in the story, so my teens from book to book would be different and unique for each plot. Another difference is that when I write for the adult thriller market, my books have tighter narratives and less internal monologue, but in YA it’s important for the reader to relate to the teen voice, so the internal monologue is a key element and there’s more of it. The challenge then becomes a balance of that teen voice and pacing.
YA is a booming market and you are in the midst of a great trajectory. Can you share how you view the increased popularity of today's YA books? What is the appeal of yours that have made them so successful? In other words, what kind of social network feedback are you getting from your avid readers?
YA is growing in popularity and is setting trends for many reasons. Publishers Weekly did an interesting article on September 13, 2012 – New Study: 55% of YA Books Bought by Adults. YA appeals to a broader audience than teens which is great news for the publishing industry. In the case of HUNGER GAMES, for example, many adult readers didn’t even realize they were reading YA. The story lines are HUGELY imaginative and are very cross-genre. A big concept in YA is called “YA mash-ups” where strange combinations of subgenres are being matched up in extraordinary ways—Sci-Fi/strange science with horror and romance, for example. The romance angle keeps the story line and characters relatable. Romance is a key component. For me, I love how writing YA fuels my imagination. It not only taps into my memories as a teen (Oy!) and allows me to go tripping down memory lane, but it also expands my storytelling. Very cool.
A hard adjustment in being an adult thriller author who now writes YA too is the promotion infrastructure. They are vastly different, so it’s been a challenge to target two audiences, but in many ways, learning what it takes to promo for YA gets me plugged into social media more and I have to get creative. Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, group blogs, virtual tours, Goodreads – online promotion is becoming more important than it was when I first started out in 2008. Online marketing skills can help with promoting my adult books too. I’m finding that my adult readers are discovering my YA books and loving them. My debut YA – IN THE ARMS OF STONE ANGELS (HarlequinTeen) – is a cold case murder mystery with paranormal elements. I wrote it with the idea that my adult crime fiction readers might find it appealing and they have. And as my teen readers get older, I’m hoping they transition into my thrillers too. The characters in my Sweet Justice series with HarperCollins are in their mid-twenties and fit into the target market of New Adult that some publishers are embracing. If it sounds like all the pieces to the Jordan Dane puzzle fit together, that is no accident. I think it’s important for an author to have a vision of how they will fit into the future of an ever-changing industry.
I love the wording in some of your great reviews and endorsements: that your books are "thriller country" and my favorite, that your novels are "as cozy as brass knuckles." How would you briefly describe your new series, THE HUNTED, which launches with INDIGO AWAKENING?
I love dark YA and teen psychics hunted on the streets of LA by a fanatical church punches all my buttons. In this series, I’m bumping up against horror too. I’d describe it as plenty of action, intense paranormal scenes, and a memorable cast of characters. Early reviews have been AMAZING and I’m hoping this series appeals to boy readers too. Here is what Romantic Times Magazine wrote:
“Dane’s first offering in her new series, The Hunted, is sensational. INDIGO AWAKENING has strong characters and a wild and intense story, matched only by the emotions it will generate within you. Readers will love this book and eagerly await the next adventure. Fantastic! A keeper.”
~Romantic Times Book Review Magazine – 4.5 Stars (out of 5)
Can you give us a couple of "Ahas" from your nonfiction book on writing tips, ONE AUTHOR'S AHA MOMENTS? What inspired you to write that work? As a long-time teacher, I think you must be a teacher at heart to write that book and share so many helpful articles on your website.
I have the utmost respect for ALL teachers, but I could never be one. I’m not patient enough. I just love sharing what works for me. I speak to a lot of writing groups and pass on my thoughts on group blogs, like The Kill Zone, but doing a non-fiction craft book is yet another way to reach out to fellow writers. For writing tips, I also maintain some freebie posts on my For Writers page.
Your website (http://www.JordanDane.com) is full of great advice for authors. I'm especially intrigued by "Giving Characters A Unique Voice." Can you define the way you approach this in your own key characters in INDIGO AWAKENING?
With such a wide variety of characters in INDIGO AWAKENING, I had to pay special attention to absolutely every voice to make each one distinctive. That was a BLAST to do. I love a challenge.
In this new series, I load up the main characters with conflicts and emotional baggage. They’re at odds with themselves and each other. The emotional scars are deep. I also wanted to imagine what it would be like for kids to be faced with life or death choices, without the safety net of parents. They become a family of strangers. In this cast of diverse characters, I make sure there is a variety of cultural and educational backgrounds, accents, street lingo, and gender differences. Even my internal narratives are in the voice of each character. They are real in my head and I hear their voices as I’m putting them in a scene. Crazy, right?
You have been praised for balancing paranormal elements with reality in your work. Is that a real challenge in your YA novels or is that something that comes easily to you?
Put yourself into the tormented nightmare of a Native American boy whose peyote-induced vision quest went horribly wrong and got him separated from his spirit guide. One girl is the only person able to penetrate the veil of that vision. When she touches the boy, she’s sucked into his nightmare where every dream symbol is a clue to a tragic murder. Is he the killer or the only witness?
Or imagine what it must feel like to awaken a frightening psychic power in you, something that makes you a freak and dangerous. How would that power manifest? What does it feel like to course through your body?
I start with a base of research that triggers my writer “what if” questions. Lately I’m a freak for the Science NOVA channel, but I love it when paranormal elements are based on science or something real. It’s scarier, I think. If you had asked me about writing paranormal elements in 2008 when my adult thrillers came out, I would have told you that I’m a crime fiction girl. My how things have changed! Writing any story is about emotion. I’ve tapped into something new and I’m doing it my way, so it fits.
You are so diversified and your author schedule is impressive--conferences, workshops, meet-the-author appearances. So I had to smile when I saw your past career was Energy Sales Manager. Granted that was in the oil and gas industries, but how do you balance promotions for your writing career with time for actually writing and having a "real life"? Any advice?
When I had my energy day job, I still wrote every day, several hours at night and more on weekends. Even with a full time job, I wrote two books a year, submitted proposals, attended conferences and workshops, entered writing contests, etc. As a full time author, I can devote my efforts to my passion to write and it doesn’t feel like work. My advice? If writing is important to you, make time for it. Even if you only write one page a day, that’s progress and you’re working toward a finished book. Learn your craft and be a sponge to absorb new things. Balancing my personal life is harder. Since I love what I do, it’s tough to set it aside when my mind is always plugged into my stories and wild imaginings. Even when I’m watching TV, I might conjure an idea from a commercial. That comes from joy.
Amy Shojai has been reinventing herself for years. She’s a certified animal behavior consultant, and the award-winning author of 26 best selling pet books that cover furry babies to old-fogies, first aid to natural healing, and behavior/training to Chicken Soup-icity. She is the Puppies Guide at puppies.About.com, the cat behavior expert at cats.About.com, and hosts a weekly half hour Internet Pet Peeves radio show. Amy has been featured as an expert in hundreds of print venues including The New York Times, Reader’s Digest, and Family Circle, as well as national radio and television networks such as CNN, Animal Planet’s DOGS 101 and CATS 101. She’s been a consultant to the pet products industry and a host/program consultant for select “furry” TV projects. Amy brings her unique pet-centric viewpoint to public appearances, writer conferences keynotes/seminars and THRILLERS WITH BITE!
Sure she writes Thrillers that Bite, but Amy doesn't. If you have questions or comments, feel free to contact her via her website or blog. Honestly, how can you not love someone whose blog is titled Bling, Bitches and Blood? Website: http://www.shojai.com Blog: http://www.amyshojai.com
How did you start your writing career?
I call myself the “accidental writer,” because I never planned to be published. I have a double major in music (voice) and theater, was going to star on Broadway! Ha! Instead I met someone, fell in love and we ended up on a tiny town in Eastern Kentucky. After a job as the local TV news anchor went away (long story involving investigative piece that got the school board president fired…), I got a job as the office manager/assistant at a new veterinary clinic. It frustrated me to see clients come into the clinic who didn’t know how to care for their cats and dogs and made mistakes that could have been prevented. So I began writing these personal experience stories for the “pet press” (Dog Fancy, Cat Fancy, Bird Talk, etc.) from my work at the clinic, and somehow that turned into a career as a pet journalist, certified animal behavior consultant, and nonfiction book author. I wouldn’t trade my job for anything in the world! Well . . . maybe Broadway. *s*
Tell us about your current release.
LOST AND FOUND is my debut thriller, a first novel after 20+ years writing 26 nonfiction books. But it’s close to my animal behavior roots and even includes “dog viewpoint.”
An autism cure will kill millions unless a service dog and his trainer find a missing child . . . in 24 hours.
AN AUNT searches for her lost nephew—and dooms her sister.
A MOM gambles a miracle will cure—and not kill—her child.
A DOG finds his true purpose—when he disobeys.
Animal behaviorist September Day has lost everything—husband murdered, career in ruins, confidence shot—and flees to Texas with her cat Macy to recover. She’s forced out of hibernation when her nephew Steven and his autism service dog Shadow disappear in a freak blizzard. When her sister trusts a maverick researcher’s promise to help Steven, September has 24 hours to rescue them from a devastating medical experiment impacting millions of children, a deadly secret others will kill to protect. As September races the clock, the body count swells. Shadow does his good-dog duty but can’t protect his boy. Finally September and Shadow forge a stormy partnership to rescue the missing and stop the nightmare cure. But can they also find the lost parts of themselves?
Do you hear from your readers? What kinds of questions do they ask?
Oh yes! I constantly hear from readers. Mostly they ask me how to stop the cat from “being creative” outside the litter, or how to keep the dog from stealing their underwear—or similar behavior type questions. And at a book signing I once met a couple who, with tears in their eyes, greeted me and thanked me for writing THE FIRST-AID COMPANION FOR DOGS AND CATS because it had saved their dog’s life. Wow, that just made me weepy, too!
More recently I hear from readers of my thriller, asking if the September character is me. Uh—no. She’s prettier, smarter, younger, and more athletic than I am, and…a bit more damaged. They also ask when the next book will come out featuring September and Shadow. I don’t have a date yet, but do have two more books in the series planned to continue the roller-coaster ride. My thrillers have BITE!
What do you do to unwind and relax?
To relax, I read, or perform on stage (it ain’t Broadway but it’s fun!), do training drills with the cat and dog, and write music. They all sort of go together. This past year I co-wrote, produced and performed in a musical theater production, KURVES, THE MUSICAL and the next show we plan to write is STRAYS, THE MUSICAL. The pets are my worst music critics and howl or chatter when I hit a wrong note, LOL! And yes, cats can be trained. You just need to find the right bribe to float kitty’s boat. Just watch out, the dog doesn’t swipe the treat first.
What makes you happy?
Laughing with friends and interacting with my pets makes me happy. My friends and my pets like me, whether I’m a “success” or not—they don’t even care if I wear sparkles. *s*
Do you have any suggestions for beginning writers? If so, what are they?
Write what you love, because you’ll be in it for the long haul. And give yourself permission to suck. Everybody sucks when they first begin to write. So write through the suck-icity, sit down the next day and do it again, and the next and the next. Don’t look at the crap writing, give it time to cool off and some of the bad aroma actually dissipates with distance. Then you can go back, pick out the gems and save them, and dump the other stuff, and you’ve got some solid beginnings to work with.
The first draft is the most difficult writing for me, and for many writers. It’s painful. And it’s created that head-shaped dent in my office wall, because I hate hate hate working through the first draft. Only rarely do you have those out-of-body-writing-experiences where the words flow like a gift from God—and then it stops and you want to shoot yourself when you can’t regain that rush. But once you work through the pain barrier and have a first draft done, you have a lump of clay to mold, shape, add to and carve up into sparkling prose. That’s where the joy comes in.
Successful writers must have a bit of masochism inside to get ‘er done. Even once you’ve found “success” the rules can change and you end up in the down-and-the-dumpsters. That’s when you suck it up, and reinvent yourself, if you’re really intent on being a writer. I wrote LOST AND FOUND in part because the unique dog viewpoint hadn’t ever been done before and it was the book that I wanted to read—and taking that chance has made a huge difference in my career. Be unique. Be fearless. Grab that brass ring! It is within your reach.
Why do it? Because it feels soooo good once the pain stops and your baby is sparkly and ready for readers! I’ve had to reinvent myself over and over again. If I can do it, you—can—do—it!
Here are some more great Amy Shojai reads:
I met Romney Nesbitt in 2009 at the West Texas Writing Academy in Canyon, Texas hosted by Dusty Richards and Jodi Thomas. We were both in the advanced novel writing class. Each of us had to read the first chapters of our works in progress to the group and then they were critiqued. To this day, I remember in vivid detail the chapter Romney read. It was poignant and hilarious. When I found out that she is a creativity coach, I was even more intrigued. The woman is a genius!
In case you haven't noticed, I'm--as my other brother Darryl often says--a little high strung. Romney is like Yoda. She's calm and dispenses wisdom and as a result, she calms me. No easy task!
I can't wait for you to get to know her! I know her workshop at the OWFI conference in May is going to be fantastic.
Besides...Duck Dynasty and dog CPR? This woman is awesome!
WHY SHOULD YOU READ MY BOOK?
Many creative people struggle with everyday problems such as time, focus or purpose. My book shows you how to identify your block and offers simple strategies to turn things around fast.
WHAT ONE WORD DESCRIBES ME
WHICH WRITER DO I IDOLIZE?
I idolize Jodi Thomas. She writes engaging stories full of true to life characters-- and she’s NICE. She gives her time and talent to nurture her students. See for yourself, go to her West Texas A & M Writers’ Academy in Canyon, Texas.
WHO IS MY WRITING MENTOR?
Peggy Fielding. She was the first person to tell me that I could write. I think Peggy is the Wizard of Oz of the writing world—she knows all—and she is willing to share her knowledge. She encourages me to become more than I am today.
WHAT I DO TO UNWIND AND RELAX
I watched Ghost Adventures or Duck Dynasty. Ghost Adventures fuels my interest in the paranormal and Duck Dynasty makes me laugh OUT LOUD!
THE ONE PASSAGE THAT GETS TO THE HEART OF MY BOOK
This short passage explains why people don’t do what they say they want to do
Excerpt from SECRETS FROM A CREATIVITY COACH, pgs. 20-21
Don was a student in my Creativity Coaching class at Tulsa Community College who said he wanted to write a novel but admitted spent his free time doing yard work.
“Don, do you ever think about writing while you’re mowing?”
“Yeah, I think about writing all the time.”
“Does the urge ever hit you to stop what you’re doing and go to your laptop instead?”
“Yeah, but I don’t.”
He paused and let out an exasperated breath before he spoke, “Because I don’t have time to make any progress, so I do something that shows, like mowing. My girlfriend is happy when the yard looks nice. It’s a no-brainer. The grass is high. I cut it. It looks good. My time and effort make a difference.”
“Mowing makes sense,” I said, “unless what you really want to do is write.”
Don’s excuse for not writing had nothing to do with time; he had plenty of free time. His reason for not writing was all about “mattering.” Don needed to feel as if his time counted for something-like it mattered. He wanted to see results for his efforts. A cut lawn was nice. It made him feel good to do the work. His girlfriend was happy, the neighbors were happy, but Don wasn’t happy. He had simply found something to do that kept him busy, that made him feel good. Not writing made him feel bad. Mowing was a noble substitute activity. Now all I had to do was help Don find a way to make writing feel good—maybe even better than mowing the lawn. ”
MY FIRST SALE
True Confessions magazine. I wrote a story about a school bus driving pastor’s wife who did CPR on a dog!
WHAT PEOPLE MAY NOT KNOW ABOUT ME
I am an ordained minister and pastor a small church in Tulsa. My love for writing developed under the ever-present deadline of a Sunday sermon. A sermon is a short story with a beginning, middle and end. Preaching is basically story-telling with a purpose.
I met Rhonda Penders in Eureka Springs, AR at the Ozark Creative Writers conference. I liked her instantly. Her presentation on how to lose an editor was hilarious. Linda Apple was so impressed she asked Rhonda to present at the 43rd annual OWFI conference. I know several folks, myself included, who have been published by The Wild Rose Press. The most common comment I hear is how fair and equitable TWRP is. They are a very user friendly press and I hope all you romance, women's fiction and western historical folks have polished manuscripts and are ready to pitch up a storm in Norman.
Rhonda took the time to answer a few interview questions so we could get to know her better. You have to appreciate the irony of an Editor-in-Chief who hates to edit. (see question #5)
How did you start your writing career?
My writing career started probably like a lot of writers – as a child. I have stories I wrote when I was 7 or 8 about our family pets, then as I got older I wrote some “Nancy Drew” type mysteries, and then finally settled into romance. I was the editor of the high school newspaper, I wrote for the local neighborhood paper, and then our town paper. Writing has always been a part of me but I never published anything until my first short story sold to Adams Media for their “Cup of Comfort” books (similar to the Chicken Soup for the Soul books)
Does travel play in the writing of your books?
Yes and No. I live in Upstate NY and most of my stories are set in Texas but I wrote the first of those books before ever stepping foot in Texas. However, now that I’ve been there I love to go back as it inspires me and does give me good research for my next book or short story. So yes it does inspire me but I don’t think a writer has to travel in order to write about somewhere else.
Tell us about your next release.
My next release is due out in the Spring of 2013 and is called “A Hero for Tonight”. Its actually rather special to me as the cover model is my own son who at the time was deployed to Iraq. He sent me the photo of himself in the desert and I loved it so much I saved it for a book cover. It took me four years to come up with the story to go with the cover. The story itself is about a Marine Reserve named Shane but it definitely is not my son. It would be incredibly difficult to write a romance with my own son as the hero. Very tough to do. I will admit, however, that there are parts in the story that have happened in our own family – little conversations that I couldn’t resist dropping in there as they worked for what I was writing.
When in the day/night do you write? How long per day?
I’m a morning writer. I can’t even write a grocery list at night. I would rather get up before dawn and write for several hours then try to squeeze it in during the day. As for how long, it depends on the rest of my life. Sundays for example are my best writing day as there’s no other demand on my time so I am free to sit at my computer most of the morning and write for hours and hours.
What is the hardest part of writing your books?
I really hate editing. I mean hate it. I like the creative process of getting the story out but editing just doesn’t do it for me. I have to really force myself to get through edits.
Where do you research for your books?
If I have to research and typically I don’t – I use made up towns to avoid this – I will use the internet and also reach out to people who live in the area I’m researching. For example, a favorite story is when I was assigned by a magazine editor to write a story around Groundhog’s Day and Punxsutawney Phil. I had never been to the Groundhog Festival so I researched the area online but once I reached out to their Chamber of Commerce, they invited me to come be part of the festivities. That was a, shall we say, once in a lifetime experience. But I use that research all those years later if I need to write about that particular event. It has also turned into a once a year radio interview that gets me publicity in a round-about way.
Who are your books published with?
My books are all published with The Wild Rose Press, however, I have had several shorter items also published by Dorchester and Adams Media.
Plotter or Pantser? Why?
Always a Pantser. I have a beginning in my head, I have characters and they tell me their story. I never know the ending or what’s going to happen ahead of time. When I try to plot or put the whole story down, I get bored with it. While I write I’m telling myself the story and I enjoy that. If I know the story already, it makes it tougher to write it out.
What do you do to unwind and relax?
Read, I love magazines because I can flip through them and read what catches my eye while watching TV. I also love to cook and bake in my spare time. In the summer, we have a place at the lake and I adore taking a boat ride or hanging out with my kids around a fire.
Morning Person? Or Night Person? How do you know?
Morning. I’m the most creative in the morning and the happiest. I think the way you know which you are is pretty easy. When are you at your best? For me that’s early morning. I can roll out of bed and hit the ground running but by 9:00 p.m. I’m getting tired and grumpy and ready to drop.
What makes you happy?
That’s easy. My house full of my kids and their friends and family. My sons are young adults now and I love it when they are all back here and around my dinner table or just hanging out. The more people I’m surrounded by the more I like it.
What are your hero and heroine of the story like?
My latest hero, Shane, is a Marine Reserve who has spent time in Iraq during a deployment. He works as a Deputy Sheriff in a small town and is at the point in his life where he has his own house but no one special. He is a bit of a ladies man having dated most of the single gals in their town from time to time but not ending up with any of them.
My heroine, Krista, is the typical girl next door. Her mother and Shane’s were business partners in a small gift shop and now with her mother’s passing she is partners with Shane’s mother. She is always around and has been a thorn in Shane’s side her whole life. This is not the they are friends turned lovers story – Shane thinks of her more as a huge annoyance than anything else. But, in the usual way, during the course of the story events unfold that make Shane suddenly see Krista in a new light. Krista has no interest in following the road to heartache that is Shane.
If you could exchange lives with any of your characters for a day which character would you choose and why?
That’s an easy one. In my Double B Series, the characters live on the fictitious ranch of the Double B. The entire family lives there as they have the largest cattle operation in the country. I would love to live on the Double B. It’s a lot like the television show “Dallas” without quite so much drama.
Is there a piece of advice that you have received that has really stuck with you? If so, what was it?
A wise author once told me that you can’t edit a blank page. I know a lot of people say that but she was the one who shared that with me. It’s very true. Even if you write complete garbage you’ve written. Another piece of advice or rather statement that sticks with me is that even if you only write 1 page a day – in a year you’ll have written 365 pages. Sometimes we think we can’t write if we can’t have marathon sessions but some of my best work has been done in 20 minute spurts squeezed in here or there.
You have a time machine. What time period would you visit and why?
This will sound weird but again being a mother of young adults I look back sometimes on the days when they were all young. I would give anything to go back to one day in the life of myself when my boys were in elementary school. Young mothers miss so much by being busy and stressed out. I would love to go back and do this again.
I met Frank Danna at The Wild Rose Press writing retreat in Bandera, Texas in October. Wow! The man knows his stuff. My head just about exploded from all the information he provided. At first, I thought the head explosion could've been caused from all the chocolate and bourbon I consumed, but I double checked with others who attended his workshop and was assured that he was brilliant and informative.
I asked him a few questions so OWFI members could get to know him a little better. His answers have verified that he's a smart man. He, Wayne Harris-Wyrick and I have to have a Firefly marathon one of these days. Plus he likes Mumford and Sons. Love them!
What canceled TV show should be brought back? Why?
Firefly. Without a doubt…FIREFLY! First of all, Joss Whedon is one of the greatest writers/directors of our time, and his show was just getting started when FOX decided to cancel it. The character depth, pacing, and action was truly first rate and unique. It was one of the first TV shows that felt like a movie and broke many barriers that had run most shows for the past few decades. In my opinion, it ushered in a whole new era of television that prized high concept ideas, themes and story arcs resulting in classics like LOST and Breaking Bad. Firefly deserved far more than one season of television, and has since proven to have one of the largest fan followings of any television show. Firefly deserves another chance to tell it's story (I'm looking at you NETFLIX).
Is there a piece of advice that you have received that has really stuck with you? If so, what was it?
I was having a conversation with one of my professors in college near the end of my first fall semester when he gave me a piece of advice that's stuck with me for a long time. We were talking about our lives, choices we make and how they effect others, and a few other things when he leaned over and said "Frank, you'll be building things your whole life. Make sure you build bridges, never build walls." It was quite profound. He didn't go into anymore detail - just paused for a moment to reflect, then continued describing his thoughts about twenty somethings and their insatiable appetite for pizza.
What’s your 6 word memoir?
I was taller than most people.
What book are you reading now?
I'm currently reading Ted Dekker's thriller 'The Sanctuary', as well as J.K. Rowling's 'The Casual Vacancy'.
What do you think makes a good story?
Mystery and grounded character development. I like being unsettled and having to wander deeper and deeper into a story to find answers. I like it when books become increasingly layered and nuanced, resulting in twists and turns that I usually don't see coming. I'm not just a fan of thriller/suspense - I like when these plot devices are woven into any type of story. I'm also a pretty big fan of relatable characters and believable emotional reactions. Don't bore me to death with a unique description of her fingernail polish, but don't describe her in three words and expect me to connect and respond when a zombie hoard starts gnawing on her leg. I think great writing can be found on shows like: Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and Game Of Thrones as prime examples of building mystery and quality character development.
Do you listen to music while writing? If so what?
I listen to a very eclectic blend of music while writing/working. For whatever reason, techno and dance music helps me focus, while specifics like Mumford & Sons, Sleigh Bells, James Taylor, Coldplay, Sucre, David Crowder, Frank Sinatra, Kimbra, Ellie Goulding, and M83 also grace my spotify account. In a word - eclectic.
Oh my. What do I know less about then poetry? Children's books, butI love picture books! Absolutely love them. My friend, Annie Patterson, is a brilliant illustrator. I open a picture book and just fall into the pages. Since I always have to cut about 20,000 words from every manuscript I write, I'm in awe of the talent of a writer who can say so much in so few words.
Tammi Sauer is an award-winning children's book author who will be joining the 2013 OWFI Conference faculty. One of her books, Cowboy Camp was made into a musical. How cool is that?! Tammi took the time to give us a little insight into her world and the world of children's books. You have to like someone who has the ability to zone in on her inner six year old!
What is something special about picture books?
Picture books are a way to take readers and listeners on adventures. You can open one book and suddenly you’re sailing off to sea with Jeremy Jacob and a wild band of pirates. You can open another and find yourself hanging out in a cozy cave with bear and his friends on a cold winter’s night. You can open another and you’re standing right alongside Petunia as she tries to convince her parents she needs needs needs a pet skunk.
Picture books are invitations to wild and imaginative experiences as well as to beautiful, heartfelt moments.
They only require two things: a reader and a listener. Together, you have magic.
Tell us about your journey to becoming a picture book author. How did you get started?
I never planned to be a children’s book author. The Plan was to be a third grade teacher. During my senior year of college at Kansas State University, however, Dr. Marjorie Hancock, my favorite teacher ever/language arts professor pulled me aside after class. She said, “Tammi, you have a gift with words. You should pursue publication.” Now if Dr. Hancock had told me I would have made a great international spy, I’d probably be doing top secret things in Europe right now. Knowing she believed in me, made me believe in myself.
But I didn’t get serious about writing right away. Years went by. I became a library media specialist. Then a pre-k teacher. Then a mom. It wasn’t until an illustrator visited my daughter’s preschool class that I decided to make a commitment to writing. That day I went straight to the bookstore, picked up the latest copy of The Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market Guide, and made a promise to myself. Instead of watching Oprah, reading US Weekly, or talking to my mom on the phone, I would devote my kids’ naptime to studying picture books and doing my very best to figure out how to write one. I proceeded to write some very terrible stories…and received more than a hundred rejections. But a year later, I had an offer. Cowboy Camp was pulled from the slush pile. Yeehaw!
What are your biggest strengths as a writer? What are you still trying to learn or master?
I think my biggest strengths are that I have a knack for finding the funny in a situation and I can zone into my inner six-year-old.
Other things are much harder for me. I am constantly trying to find a good balance of heart and humor in my manuscripts. My biggest struggle, however, is finding good ideas. I know people who can come up with 2,412,474 ideas in five minutes. I am not one of those people. Sometimes it can take MONTHS for me to come up with an idea that is fresh, funny, and worth pursuing.
What is one of your favorite parts about being a children’s book author?
There are so many! One of my absolute favorite parts, though, is seeing the art for the very first time.
Usually, this event begins with an out of the blue email from an editor that lets me know the art for the book is attached. At this point, I am filled with excitement/hope/panic. I take a breath, try very hard not to have a heart attack, then open the file.
And Every Single Time, I have been blown away. As a writer, I try to build a lot into my manuscripts, but that’s just my layer. The illustrators that I have been paired with have always taken my words to a new and much more impressive level.
Dan Santat, for instance, made Elvis Poultry a bit of a diva in Bawk & Roll. Who knew that the King of Bawk and Roll had a stylist, a masseuse, and a beverage-toting pig at his disposal? I certainly didn’t.
Do you have an agent? Which publishing houses do you work with?
Yes, my agent is Laura Rennert at Andrea Brown Literary Agency. I work with Bloomsbury, Disney-Hyperion, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Simon & Schuster, and Sterling.
In one sentence, share a great tip for writing picture books.
Tell as much as possible in as little as possible.
TAMMI SAUER is the author of more than a dozen picture books. In addition to winning awards, her books have gone on to do great things. Cowboy Camp was made into a musical in Katy, TX. Mostly Monsterly was a 2012 Cheerios Spoonfuls of Stories selection (more than a million bilingual copies were printed). And Chicken Dance was released in French which makes her feel extra fancy. Tammi is a former teacher and library media specialist who loves to speak at schools and writing conferences across the nation. When she's not writing, Tammi enjoys reading, skiing, spending time with family and friends, and eating out as often as possible. She lives in Edmond, OK, with a husband, two children, one dog, two geckos, and a tank full of random fish. www.tammisauer.com
Get ready folks, Desiree Holt--erotica author extraordinaire--has provided some insight to her writing habits and her writing career. All I can say is I want to move in with her. Hot doctors, former Army Ranger firearms instructors and she's surrounded by cowboys! Holy smokes! Life is plum boring here in Booger County. It's time to pack my bags, load up my cats, dog, rabbits, chickens, ducks and donkeys and head 'em out to Texas!!
Okay, that might not be possible, but I'm certainly going to be reading her books!
How did you start your writing career?
Almost by accident, at least as far as romance novels are concerned. I’d always read straight mysteries and thrillers and I was sure that was what I’d write when I finally sat down to do it. But although I had a plot and characters and all the necessary pieces, after two months I only had three chapters written. Then I read a romantic suspense that I ordered by mistake and I was off to the races.
Tell us about your latest release.
Soul Dreams was released December 19th. I absolutely loved writing it. It’s a takeoff on Beauty and the Beast and it practically wrote itself. It’s the story of a man nursing his physical wounds and a woman nursing her emotional ones and what finally brings them together. I hated to end the story. I hope everyone will love Blake and Nina as much as I do.
When in the day/night do you write? How long per day?
I write during the day, usually late morning until late afternoon. Unless of course I’m on a deadline. Of course, that gets interrupted when the cats want their scheduled snacks. They remind me they come first.
What is the hardest part of writing your books?
Getting started. I kid you not. I can have the plot, the character profiles, everything I need, but writing that first chapter is a killer. I want to grab the reader but not choke him or her. I want to get the necessary background in but can’t stand an info dump and I try to remind myself I’m not writing a textbook. Then I worry if I made my characters likeable on the first page or turned the reader off. Did I set the stage properly. It’s like preparing a new dish every time and hoping that first bite will please the palate so you finish the whole thing.
How do you develop your plots and your characters? Do you use any set formula?
Most of my heroes are based on real people, at least in part. Guys who have left a real impression on me, so I want to put them in a book. I even based one character after my doctor. I signed the cover for him and he has it in his office! Another person who’s been the basis for most of the heroes in my Phoenix agency series is my handgun instructor. He’s a former Army Ranger and just makes you want to drool. Then, of course, I’m surrounded by cowboys so I can take my pick! And many of my heroines are drawn after women I’ve met, some of them even based on parts of me. The problem with that, of course, is then everyone keeps asking when it’s their turn to be in a book. Plots usually show up almost fully formed after I create my characters (I like to say I write relationship stories). However, I have one book that started with nothing but one line that I was determined to build a plot around.
What do you do to unwind and relax?
Read and watch football. Too bad it’s only on for six months of the year.
Are the names of the characters in your novels important? How and why?
Oh, yeah. I sometimes struggle over my character’s names. I don’t like to use names that are so obviously contrived that people say, I can’t imagine anyone with that name. I don’t like names that sound too fake. And I like them to reflect the personality of the character, so the reader can say, Oh, yeah, I can see her as Riley/Jinx/Corey or him as Cade/Jake/Sam. I also don't like the names to be too perfect because, after all, people aren’t perfect, right? (Except me, of course! LOL!)
Describe what it’s like to be an author in three words.
Frustrating, stressful, rewarding.
Entice us, what future projects are you considering?
I have several series that are doing extremely well that aren’t finished. The Phoenix Agency revolves a round five partners, all ex-military who are into security training and covert ops. Books 6 and 7 are on the list. Night Seekers, my series about a team of shifters hunting the legendary Chupacabra, is only halfway finished. Rawhide, my Cowboy Kink series for The Wild Rose Press, has four more novellas on the drawing board. And I’m working on Aftershock, the sequel to Holt Medallion-winner Joy Ride. Oh, and two more books in my Naked Cowboys series for Samhain.
If you could exchange lives with any of your characters for a day which character would you choose and why?
Hands down Grace Delaney in Rodeo Heat. She’s a woman who, widowed young with two children, buttoned up her life and soldiered on to raise her children. But her life has been empty of romance and relationships. Then she gets dragged to the rodeo by her friend and meets Ben Lovell, hot rodeo rider ten years her junior but years older in living. The attraction is immediate and intense and through the pages of the books he takes her on a journey of sexual awakening and self-realization that changes her life. I so wanted to be Grace while I was writing this.
Conference Chair, Jan Morrill, was asked to find the poet for the 2013 conference. I know nothing of poetry. I've written two poems in my life. One was written in a creative writing class in college. It was so bad that the instructor decided to move the lesson plan on to the next subject. The second poem was written as a joke for my boyfriend. He broke up with me as a result. Now, that I think about it, maybe poetry is a blessing!
I digress (don't I always?) Jan contacted Mendy Knott to speak on poetry at the 45th Annual OWFI Conference. In addition to conducting a session, she's also going to arrange a POETRY SLAM! Woohoo. How cool is that?
Mendy agreed to answer a few nosy questions in order for us to get know her a little better. I have to say, she has the most interesting beginning to a writing career that I've heard in a long time.
1.How did you start your writing career?
I wanted to be a writer from the time I began to read seriously; say 4th or 5th grade. I loved biographies at the time, especially bios about writers and adventurers. Adventuring won out for a long time. I was policing for Atlanta Fulton County PD and was 35 years old. I had just lost 3 car thieves who led me first on a high speed car chase, then on foot through a bit of woods. I had the car but not the perps, and a cut on my hand that bled onto the blacktop at my feet. While waiting for back-up and an ambulance, I watched the drip of my blood like seconds on a watch tick off the time and decided then I would rather be a writer than a cop even if it meant writing in a broom closet and living in a cellar.
2.What was your first sale as an author?
I will never forget my first sale as an author. I was 38 and had written my first chapbook which contained maybe 6 poems at the most, but there were some dandies in there. My artist friend, Jane Voorhees, had designed the cover for "Profound, Profane, or Sacred." I was invited to read and lead a workshop at the Asheville Poetry Festival alongside greats like Marge Piercy and Joy Harjo. I was ecstatic. I made 50 copies of my chapbook, because as a bookseller that's all I could afford, and sold them for $5 each. I sold out and couldn't believe my good fortune as I felt that wad of $250 in my pocket. For the first time in my life, I said to myself, "I AM a poet."
3.When do you write, and how long?
I write first thing in the morning. I'm at it by 7 a.m. at the latest. I happily join a long line of bed-writers like Capote, Collette, Walker Percy, and Mark Twain. I write one hour at the very least and that is if I have appointments or non-writing work to do. I like to write for 2-4 hours and can do this happily with the light pouring in my windows, watching the birds at the feeder and as they bathe in the sun. However, revision requires a different part of my brain and a different setting. For this, I have a desk top computer and a tiny office dedicated to this necessary but more difficult process.
4. What's it like to be an author in 3 words?
Expectant, Exhilarating, Exhausting.
5.A passage from my book that gets to the heart of the matter.
From the book's title poem, "A Little Lazarus": "And that's how it was with the hummingbird./ Like some biblical Martha Stewart I worked, worked, worked/ while you performed a miracle./ Hard labor without love is just more work./ It's love that makes a miracle./ And the hummer perched upright now on your thumb/ not looking the least bit frightened, only stunned./ I watched as you touched your finger to that bright and shining feeder,/ drew back one glistening drop of sugar water and held it out to him./ He dipped his needle beak and sipped it from your fingertip,/ then flew. Just lifted up and flew/ as if he'd never been a broken body lying on a porch step,/ as if the sweetened water from a bright and shining feeder was a baptism/ and you a layer on of hands, healing/ with your quiet words of comfort/and a clean bird feeder."
6.I think people should read "A Little Lazarus" because there are a lot of people who have preconceived notions about what poetry is. My poems are designed to tell the reader a story; to share a world of images which we understand are often fraught with pain, but which also contain the simple miracles that make life not only bearable, but beautiful.
I always like to get to know literary agents.When I first started writing, they scared the stuffin' out of me. They were the gatekeepers between me and the publisher. I'd see them walking down the halls of conferences and I'd practically bow. Not that I worshiped them or anything. It was simply because they were so cool and aloof and knew so many important people and I was just a lowly ant among the hundreds of other ants trying to get published.
Experts say you should face your fears. So, I volunteered to work the agent/editor appointment desk for OWFI. You know what I discovered? Agents are people. I was shocked! Not only that, they were kind. Not only were they kind, they provided guidance to lowly ants like myself. They were professional and courteous. Of course, I've yet to convince one that I'm the next Dan Brown, but there's still time. After all, we have several attending the 45th Annual OWFI conference in May. Surely, one will be wowed by my brilliance. Right?
I thought it would be a good idea for our members to get to know the agents who will be taking pitches at our May conference. Sara D'Emic has very kindly answered a few interview questions for us. I have to admit that after reading her responses, I thought it would be fun to sit and have a drink with her. I'm sure you can probably figure out which answers got my attention, but I'll tell you anyway: #6 and #7.
Ms D'Emic will fit in just fine with our OWFI members. I'm looking forward to meeting her.
1. What do you think makes a good story?
It needs to say something about something. Not that there needs to be Social Commentary (nobody likes a story that tries to shove something down their throats). But readers need to be able to take away from it. That could simply be what a character learns about themselves or the world, or how an event shapes characters' lives. It's the old rule that that by the end of the story a character has to change. If everything stays the same then what was the point of telling it in the first place?
2. What book are you reading now?
In my free time, I've been powering through A Song of Ice and Fire.
3. What makes you want to take on a client?
Quality of the book and salability are the two big factors. But there's also whether I think I'm the right agent for the book-- is it a genre I'm familiar with, do I know the market, and do the author and I have the same goals in mind for the work.
4. What do I need in a query?
There's a lot out there on query writing so first I will say that google is your best friend ever. But I'll hit a few big points that come to mind. Always include a ten page sample even if the submission rules don't technically require it. Put everything in the body of the e-mail, no attachments. Don't waste time talking about how the book will make a great movie, how it encompasses every theme and genre and will appeal to every person ever, how this book is your baby and it comes from your soul; none of these speak to the quality of your work. Focus on conveying the central conflict, characters, and tone of your book. And if it sounds like a Hollywood tagline, get rid of it.
5. New York or LA? Why?
New York. You can be whoever you want in New York, and if it exists you can find it. Plus, you can't jaywalk in LA which I find bizarre.
6. If you could select one book that you could rewrite and add your own unique twist on, which book would that be and why?
I'd take a Jane Austen novel and make it really sordid. Probably Emma. Everything about her world is so strict and chaste, I'd want these characters to go crazy. (Admit it. You want to read this!)
7. You have a time machine. What time period would you visit and why?
The 20s, for the jazz, the outfits, and the speakeasies. It's also about the farthest back when people still bathed regularly. (Speakeasies and bathing. Really good arguments for the Jazz Age, don't you think?)
I know I can't be the only one wondering about how the role of agents is going to change in the new world of publishing. Seems like e-publication, self-publishing, and small/ independent presses are taking over the market. I asked one of our agents, Paul Lucas of Janklow and Nesbit for his opinion on the subject.
Patty asked me to take a crack at devising an answer for questions about agents and our role in the future of publishing. I’m not equipped with a crystal ball (+1 or otherwise) or any of the algorithms possessed by Amazon but I’ll do my best.
First, a little bit about me. Reviving from a prolonged illness (incoming sob story) in my mid 20s, the prospect of returning to my cube at a big corporate office did not enthuse me greatly. You can imagine. For 6 months at my parents’ home (with fevers consistently reaching 104), I spent most of my seemingly inexhaustible days reading. Well, I went back to work briefly before deciding to take a hiatus, where I largely continued what I had done on my leave. I again found myself reading…a lot…and pretty much indiscriminately. It was this that made me want to test the old adage about attempting to fashion your hobby into a career and that was how I ended up in the business of representing writers.
There aren’t too many clear paths to becoming an agent. For most, it starts with an apprenticeship with an agent in the form of an internship or assistant role. With my background at a law firm, I came to Janklow & Nesbit to help their legal department with contract review, one of the staples of our agency’s strengths. I don’t want to launch into a long tangent but our agency was founded by Morton L. Janklow, a very successful corporate attorney. He approached publishing agreements with the same tenacity that had gained him success in mergers, acquisitions and whatever other types of law he practiced. We still consider zealous review to be a cornerstone today.
Ok, back to the plot: I hope, for some selfish and some pragmatic reasons (I plan on doing this for many years), that agents will be around for as long as there are writers. While we do not know how people will read in the future, it is becoming clear that people will continue to read. There was a real fear a few years ago that people would stop reading. Further, the fear/sky is falling sensation crops up every few decades and is at least as old as cinema and radio. There are so many ways for people to spend their very limited amount of relaxing/entertainment time. Movies, radio, television and the internet all offer their own unique benefits for relaxing. None of them has successfully suppressed reading as a form of entertainment. Our pleasure hasn’t declined with other options. In many respects, with sites like Goodreads, independent blog reviews and national book clubs, the culture for reading is growing. We also know that, far from signaling the death of reading, e-readers are fostering more book purchases.
Still, none of that addresses the role of agents in the new landscape. For one, we don’t know what the next landscape will look like. We have to deal with mergers, rumors of mergers, changing distribution, losing book stores, shifting marketing expectations, losing formats, gaining formats…well, hopefully you get the idea. Not all of the news is grim – as I mentioned above e-readers offer the potential for good margins and climbing sales. There are new bookstores (plural!) opened in my neighborhood over the past few years. New publishers are springing up, online and off. Independent publishers are investing in their brands. Regardless of these changing conditions, agents offer a unique service: our interests are aligned with our writers. We want to retain as much control over the presentation and distribution of the work, while creating as much wealth for the writer as possible. That applies to helping our clients conceive book ideas, editing manuscripts, selling rights, monitoring the publication and staunchly protecting the book in connection with foreign and media sales. Other players are not necessarily going to take the author’s view 100% of the time and what’s best for a publisher and filmmaker isn’t always ideal for the author. (I’m not trying to malign anyone in this space).
Quick anecdote – I met a wonderful person at a media conference and he told me he was getting ready to push the ‘publish’ button on his book. I congratulated him and said, ‘so how are you going to get the news about the book out to people?’ He was totally stumped. He didn’t have a plan for publication. If you think writing a book is difficult, try selling it. I gave him some pr contacts, suggested that it was time to hustle and wished him well. Self-publishing may be your first choice or last resort. In either case, all of the chores of publishing a book that traditionally fall to other people will come down on you. Make no mistake, it’s difficult. And we’re frequently seeing successfully self-published authors work with agents if for no reason other than there’s a lot of work to do.
Thanks to Patty Stith for giving me this space. I didn’t address many topics. I don’t know the answers to many questions. But I’m looking forward to meeting many of you in May.
The 2012 conference was the first time we had a paranormal panel. We're bringing it back by popular demand. OWFI's very own, Wayne Harris-Wyrick is a ghost hunter and will be appearing on the panel. Not only is he a wizard and a ghost hunter, he writes children's books and he agrees with me that "Firefly" should never have been canceled. How can you not love this guy?!
For those of you who haven't had the honor of meeting the Celestial Wizard, here's your chance.
How did you start your writing career?
I created a comic book, sorry, a graphic novel when I was in the 3rd grade. My hero was a detective named Otopat. A sharp-eyed reader may recognize that as an anagram of potato. My detective-hero was created when a bag of potatoes was accidentally tossed into a nuclear waste pile. After all, isn’t that how ALL superheros are created?
Where do you dream of traveling to and why?
Ireland, because I have had at least one past life there and that country, its land an history have called me throughout my entire life. Next destination of preference is the Great Barrier Reef, the greatest feat of engineering on our planet. I want to experience it before we humans destroy it.
Tell us about your current release.
After much cajoling by my employer, Science Museum Oklahoma, and my publisher to write a book about astronomy, I wrote “A is for Astronomy,” an alphabet book that comes out in early 2013.
Tell us about your next release.
My favorite one of all. Mom says those silly “momisms.” We’ve all heard about the starving children in Africa and how, somehow they’ll be magically saved if I only eat my entire plate of food. Normally they’re ignored, but one day, they all start coming true. Find out how to cope in “If You Swallow that Seed…”
Who is your favorite author?
Douglas Adams. The “increasingly mis-named “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy” is the most enjoyable time I ever spent reading!
Where do you research for your books?
Mine are children’s picture books. I listen to my children when they ask questions. 5-year-old Azuranna recently asked me “Dad, what if my bones were made of pretzels?” An instant book idea, now being shopped.
Does your significant other read your stuff?
Occasionally. But I have learned through two marriages that your spouse is not generally your most valuable critique. Either they think it’s all wonderful or, if they are angry at you for some reason, it all stinks.
What canceled TV show should be brought back? Why?
“Firefly.” It did what the entire “Star Wars” epic tried to do but not nearly as well as “Firefly.” It was a totally believable set of characters in circumstances that people can really relate to.
At what point in your life did you realize you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve been writing stories since I was 9 years old. In college, I even sent a few off. But I ran into editors who possess no understanding of the writing ethos. I hung on to that complaint for years, until I met one of my favorite all-time authors, C. J. Cherryh, at a writer’s conference. In one of her presentations, she gave a list of things NOT to do when writing a story. To my horror, I sat as she listed off most of my own tactics for writing a book. That’s when I started realizing that writing a good story was HARD.
For some reason, when I typed the title to this blog posting, I heard the voice of Raj Koothrappali from The Big Bang Theory ringing in my head. Probably because Rob M. Davis is an illustrator of graphic novels including a couple of Star Trek editions. Ron Fortier is known for writing the Green Hornet and Terminator comic books.
I can see Raj and Sheldon thumbing through the bins at Stewart's comic book store and going bonkers when they ran across a copy of Ron and Rob's collaborative project: Daughter of Dracula. (Isn't that a great title?) Come on, admit it. You watch TBBT because you can relate to the characters. You probably know all the words to Soft Kitty, don't you?
But, I digress. Rob Davis along with Ron Fortier will present at the 45th Annual OWFI Conference May 2-4, 2013. It's the first time we've had a graphic novelist/illustrator present. Exciting times, my friends!
Here's an opportunity to get to know Rob and Ron a little better.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST PUBLISHED WORK?
RON – In 1978 I wrote an eleven page science fiction comic script that was illustrated by artist Gary Kato and appeared in Charlton’s Bullseye # 3. Six months later they published a comedy super-hero story, again drawn by Gary, that appeared in Scary Tales # 38. That was the beginning of my comics writing career.
ROB – I started as a letterer on a comicbook titled SYPONS in the mid 1980s. Soon I was inking and then penciling, my real goal in the industry.
WERE YOU A LIFELONG COMICS FAN?
RON – Totally. My father gave me my first comic, a western, when I was five. I couldn’t read it but remember be thrilled by all the artwork in the panels on every page. Eventually by seven I was reading them and an avid fan. I’ve remained so all my life.
ROB – From the time I was about eight years old. I was hooked by the dynamic artwork of an artist named Jack Kirby. He was the first artist whose work I recognized and had a name associated with it. Powerful stuff!
DID YOU HAVE ANY FORMAL TRAINING IN WRITING & DRAWING?
RON – Initially, like most comic fans, I wanted to do it all; write and draw them. By my high schools years I realized my art talents were minimal and so turned my attention to writing and in college took any creative writing class I could find.
ROB – I had formal art training in College, the typical drawing and painting, etc. The “grammar” or storytelling of comics I learned through personal study in books and magazine articles as well as talking to editors and publishers at comics conventions.
WHAT ARE YOU BEST KNOWN FOR IN THE COMIC WORLD?
RON – Most fans remember me for my run on the Green Hornet for Now Comics back in the early 90s. It was the character’s first reappearance since the 60s TV show with Van Williams & Bruce Lee. I stayed on the book for two and a half years. During that tenure I also wrote Now’s Terminator sci-fi title.
ROB – My most recognizable work would be on the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine comics for Malibu in the 1990s as well as the other Star Trek books at DC comics. Likenesses of the actors and actresses was key to those books and I have a knack for that sort of work and a love of research. This helped when rendering backgrounds on the ships and futuristic settings in the “Trek World.”
HOW LONG HAVE THE TWO OF YOU BEEN A CREATIVE TEAM?
RON - Well, Rob and I actually entered the business about the same time and through our various published comics became aware of each other. We began corresponding and had hopes of doing projects together but alas none of these efforts was picked up by the comic companies and over time we lost contact with each other. I’ll let Rob pick up the story.
ROB – Right. Then Ron ran into me through some mutual comics pals on the internet when I started a weekly webcomic called SPIRIT OF ROUTE 66 that some of them were aware of. Ron contacted me and he talked me into doing a pulp character strip, DOCTOR SATAN, for a startup website called ADVENTURESTRIPS.COM. After that Ron just kept pitching things at me with one particular idea sticking: DAUGHTER OF DRACULA- a graphic novel Ron had done after originally attempting to sell the script as a screenplay. I liked the idea, but I had a pretty busy schedule and figured I couldn’t do the book. So, attempting to let Ron down easy, I told him the best I could do on the 112 page book was one page a week. To my surprise he said he was fine with that! Well, I was stuck with my promise, so two years later, true to my word of one page a week, we had the finished Graphic Novel which we ended up self-publishing. Since then we’ve gone on to found Airship 27 Productions reviving public domain pulp era characters in prose novels and anthologies as well as numerous other comics projects.
RON, WHEN DID YOU START GETTING INTO PROSE?
RON – All the while I was writing comics, I had a day-job. Ten years ago I retired and decided to try something else; a new challenge. So I began writing pulp short stories and novels, some for our own line of Airship 27 Production titles.
IS THERE A MAJOR DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PROSE & COMIC SCRIPTING?
RON – Most definitely. Whereas in prose, the writer is pretty much God into him or herself. It is a singular process of creation and is all about the use of words. Whereas in comics, the primary focus is on the artwork as it is a visual storytelling medium. It is not about the words, it is about the story. If a writer cannot put aside his or her ego and accept this second-fiddle position, then they should forgo doing comics.
ROB, DO YOU AGREE WITH RON’S ASSESSMENT?
ROB – Ha! As an artist shouldn’t I? Actually, I’m of the opinion that comics are about the sharing of story and art. If the art isn’t serving the story it’s not doing its job. There’s a saying amongst comics creators that good or great art can carry a bad or mediocre story, and bad art can kill a good or great story. That’s mostly true.
ROB, WHAT DO YOU FEEL A WRITER BRINGS TO THE PROCESS AND AS AN ARTIST WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR IN A SCRIPT?
ROB – What I look for are good visual “hooks” to build a panel or page on. You can have pages and pages of exposition in a novel or short story, but if you’ve got talking heads in a comic page after page you’re going to bore your audience. The characters or scene has to have some action or emotion in it—the characters have to be doing something or feeling something. The best art/story melding has the action of the characters say something about the character visually and/or move the plot forward. That’s where the writer can come in the background, laying out his/her ideas about the characters- giving the artist some personality hooks to hang their depictions on. The writer brings the skeleton, the artist dresses it with flesh and clothing.
RON, HAVING DONE BOTH PROSE AND COMICS SCRIPTING, WHICH DO YOU PREFER?
RON – Well, I mentioned earlier how prose writing is a lonely one man operation. It does have its rewards and being able to entertain readers is wonderful. But at the same time learning to work with another, different artistic sensibility, to be able to inspire an artist and watch your ideas turned into gorgeous sequential artwork is like enjoying Christmas morning every single day. Given one or the other, I’d always choose writing comics. It keeps the soul young.
ROB, WORKING FOR AIRSHIP 27 PRODUCTIONS YOU TOO HAVE TAKEN ON A NEW ROLE AS AN ART DIRECTOR, RESPONSIBLE FOR THE DESIGN AND LAYOUT OF PROSE BOOKS. HOW HAS THAT CHANGED YOUR ABILITIES AS AN ARTIST?
ROB – Book design is exercising a different set of skills than illustration. You’re still telling a story but you have to be a lot more subtle—picking the right font to give the right feel to drop caps and chapter headings, designing logos that fit the gist and feel of the story… And in all this you can’t inject too much into it design in books should be “invisible” in that it’s not noticed by the reader. If it’s noticed by the average reader then it’s failed, as the design should enhance the reading experience not call attention to itself. At least that’s my theory of book design. Illustrating books is different from comics as you have just one panel to tell a story rather than a series of them. I usually try to pick a scene with some emotional beat to illustrate when I’m working that part of the book. That’s made me concentrate more on subtlety with characters and setting in a scene.
FINALLY, WHAT WILL THE TWO OF YOU BE PRESENTING AT THIS YEAR’S CONFERENCE?
RON – Rob and I will be giving two 90 minute presentations on How To Create a Graphic Novel. We’ll be breaking this up in three sections with me describing the script writing process followed by Rob demonstrating his process in interpreting that script via art and then together opening the floor to questions and answers.
WILL YOU BE USING VISUAL AIDS IN YOUR PRESENTATIONS?
ROB – The plan is for me to have a Powerpoint presentation built with visuals from our work together- mostly from DAUGHTER OF DRACULA, though there may be some other stuff thrown in there that illustrates a point Ron and I will be trying to make about sequential storytelling. I haven’t even started building that yet when these questions are being posed just before the Christmas holiday, but I should begin work on that right after the holiday. I have a wealth of stuff to draw on (and yes, pun intended) so there will be plenty of visuals.
HAVE EITHER OF YOU EVER GIVEN COURSES IN YOUR RESPECTIVE FIELDS?
RON – Yes, I’ve given both workshops to teachers’ groups on the History of American comics in the past and recently begun offering an eight week course on How To Write Comics at a local comic shop in my hometown. Both Rob and I are very thrilled and honored to be invited to this year’s conference and hope to offer an informative, fun presentation to the attendees. Thanks so much for having us.
ROB – I’ve given many presentations on comic book storytelling to Jr. High, High School and College age art classes over the years. It’s my intention to add some inspiration to budding talent out there when I can. This is an opportunity to speak to a bit of a different audience and perhaps spark some creative ideas in the minds of your members! That’s always an exciting and fun prospect.
Saundra Mitchell is a screenwriter and author of young adult novels. She agreed to let us get to know her a little better. I was already impressed with her accomplishments, but her 6 word memoir wowed me to say the least. That and the fact that she too was influenced by S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders cinched it for me. I like this lady. I can't wait to hear her speak out the 45th Annual OWFI Conference!
How did you start your writing career?
On accident. I don't remember a time when I wasn't writing. All through school, I wrote stories and plays; I participated in the class literary magazine. I even sold some short fiction and non-fiction starting in high school.
Despite all that, I didn't think that writing would be a career. I joined the military in an attempt to get the GI Bill, but got hurt and got discharged. Then I started a string of random jobs in the hopes that one would stick.
I processed checks for mail-in music clubs that don't exist anymore. I did typesetting and lay-up for a community newspaper, back when lay-up consisted of cutting the articles into columns, then laying them on giant wax boards to be sent to the printers. Nobody does this anymore, either.
I sold cars (or, more accurately, I was supposed to sell cars and failed miserably.) And, I was a phone psychic for a while—the most depressing job I've ever had. No one calling a psychic at 3 in the morning really wants to talk to a psychic. They just want another human being to tell them they're not alone
While I did these jobs, I wrote. I still submitted. On a lark, I wrote a four minute screenplay because a friend had forwarded me a call for entries. I'd written one screenplay in my entire life; I had no idea what I was doing. Somehow, my script was chosen anyway.
Dreaming Tree Films bought that script, and then another, for a student film project they were producing. Then the other screenwriter on the project bailed, and the producer asked if there was any way I could pound out two more scripts by deadline. I could; I did.
Four years later, after I'd written almost two hundred short films for various Dreaming Tree projects. I was still submitting fiction and non-fiction for publication, and I'd started to think about writing a novel—that's when I realized this was my career. Nobody ever said I was quick on the uptake!
Has someone been instrumental in inspiring you as a writer?
Every year for my birthday, Susan Bettis gave me books. She was my best friend's mother, an English professor with a passion for women's literature and history that she instilled in both of us. Sometimes, the books were fiction. Often, they were folktales and fairytales, like Jane Yolen's Not One Damsel in Distress (a book I bought for my daughter when she turned ten, so it made a big impression!)
While the books themselves helped shape my sense of self, it was the inscription that made all the difference. Mom Bettis always wrote a note in the front. And she always said, "One day, when you write a book..." Never if. When.
Even though I was growing up in public housing, even though I couldn't afford college, I always had a destiny. One day, I was going to write a book—Mom Bettis said so. The difference between if and when is monumental. I wouldn't have a writing career without Mom Bettis' when.
Has someone helped or mentored you in your writing career?
I have to say that I've found that most people who write YA are generous, kind, and eager to help. Top among them is Cynthia Leitich Smith, who wrote Rain Is Not My Indian Name, Tantalize, Eternal and more.
I sold my first book in 2007. The economy was still booming, everybody was excited, and then 2008 came. The market crashed. Then the book market crashed, hundreds of editors laid off, imprints closed, agents disappearing. Digital books clomped onto the scene, and everybody was freaking out. Especially me—my first book was finally due to come out in February 2009, and all I could see was disaster.
Then I read a blog post that mentioned a speech Cynthia gave. She'd talked about her start in writing a decade before, when everyone was convinced that picture books would disappear onto CD-ROMs, that there would be no more fiction for children... basically, the dire predictions of a previous era, none of which came to pass.
So I wrote her and asked if there was a copy of that speech online. I wanted to watch it, because my first book was coming out, and I was afraid of the literpocalypse. The speech isn't online. But Cynthia asked for my phone number. I was a total stranger, absolutely no one, but she took time out of her day to call and reassure me personally.
Every day, I'm so grateful for her, and I try to follow her example. It's hard to be a new author when the sky is falling—it's nice to reassure people that it always has been, and probably always will be.
What books have most influenced your life?
All of them, but there are four in particular. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson was the first time I read a book where bad things happen for no reason. When you grow up in poverty, in a bad neighborhood, lots of terrible things happen. And this book comforted me—it was a relief to have a book say you didn't do anything wrong. Sometimes bad things just happen.
Then, when I was a little older, it was S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders. This was the first book I read where the neighborhood looked like mine. Where crime happened, where kids sometimes crashed on your couch because their dad was too drunk to go home to. Where people jumped you for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was a relief to realize it wasn't just my neighborhood. Other people lived in these places, too.
Still a little older, I realized while reading Stephen King's IT, that it was possible to talk about the horrors around you without naming names. With a safe film between you and the real monster, because it was dressed up as a hideous clown, a monster in the sewers, a giant spider: whatever frightened you most. The real story in IT is about kids like I was, confronting the things that poisoned them as children. And yeah, a hideous clown, which completely justified my fear of clowns, mimes, and anyone wearing a giant character head.
Finally, Annette Curtis Klause's book, The Silver Kiss, told me it was okay to love something and to let it go. It's hard for a poor kid to get out of the neighborhood. And when your friends and family are all you've had, it sometimes feels like you're betraying them by trying to get out. Yes, The Silver Kiss is about a girl and a vampire, but it's a love story that ends when they leave each other. And that reassured me that I could love my history, but still leave for something new and hopefully better.
Do you have any suggestions for beginning writers? If so, what are they?
I think it's important for all writers to remember that there's a difference between making art, and being published.
If you decide you want to go into business, you should know that, at various points in your career, you're going to be afraid, demoralized, rejected, angry, frustrated, overlooked, underestimated and underappreciated. There's never enough money, never enough marketing, never enough of anything. Getting an agent and getting published doesn't end the struggle, it just changes it.
If you decide you don't want to go into business, you're still a writer.. At various points in the practice of your art, you're going to be afraid, demoralized, rejected, angry, frustrated, overlooked, underestimated and underappreciated. You still have your words and your art. Your stories still matter; your voice is important
Every writer must write, but no writer has to go into business. Knowing that you can walk away from the pursuit of publication helps make you a stronger writer. Remember always, it's the words that matter.
What are the most important attributes for remaining sane as a writer?
Whatever works, works. There's no one thing that keeps every writer sane. Some authors refuse to read reviews; others need to study them obsessively. Some write only at night; others only during the day.
Some require a hard word count, some just a period of time. Maybe you have to send 7 query letters every three days; maybe it makes you feel better to touch the oven knobs three times before you start working for the day.
You can drive yourself crazy comparing your methods to other authors'. And there's enough lunacy in crafting words and trying to sell them anything. SO the most important attribute is flexibility. It's knowing that what works for you is what works for you.
Your way is the right way. You should never feel small, or like you're doing it wrong. As long as you're putting words down (in your head or on the page,) you're doing it right.
What’s your 6 word memoir?
Afraid, but she kept going anyway.
Saundra Mitchell is a longtime screenwriter and author. Her debut novel was SHADOWED SUMMER- winner of The Society of Midland Authors Book Award for Best Children's Fiction and was an Edgar Nominee in 2010 for Best YA Mystery.
Harcourt Children's Books published her next novel for teens, THE VESPERTINE, which was followed by THE SPRINGSWEET in Spring 2012. Next will be THE ELEMENTALS in June 2013 and MISTWALKER, Fall 2013. Also in June 2013, her YA anthology, DEFY THE DARK, will debut from HarperTeen.
Her short story "Ready to Wear" was nominated for a Pushcart in 2008. In her free time, she enjoys ghost hunting, papermaking, and spending time with her husband and her two children. She lives in Indianapolis and welcomes you to visit her on the web at www.saundramitchell.com.
I thought it would be fun to get to know the 45th OWFI Conference Revive! Strive! Thrive! faculty a little better before May.
I sent a series of questions to each of our faculty (speakers, agents, editors, the book doctor, etc.) and let them choose 6 or 8 questions they thought were interesting. I've gotten a sneak peek at their questions and answers. Oh my! We have some interesting folks heading our way. I can't wait to meet them.
At this point, I'm planning on running an interview every Sunday starting tomorrow (12/9/12) with young adult novelist, Saundra Mitchell.
I hope you'll stop by each week and meet our speakers.
Oh, Ruthie. You've got to love her. She's one of a kind and I mean that in a good way, not in the southern woman, bless-her-heart kind of way. She's an award-winning author (Book of the Year from the Ozark Writers Leaguefor Soldiers From the Mist,) a tarot card reader and she talks to ghosts! Trust me, things are never dull when Miss Ruth is around.
How can you not like someone who relates to Crazy Cora from Quigley Down Under and Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird?
How did you start your writing career?
I have a ghost to thank for jump-starting my writing career. I dabbled in writing in school and even told Mom, at the age of seven, that someday I would write a book, and I did—fifty years later. I had reached a point in my life that demanded a new start. I moved to the country and bought a home near the Pea Ridge Battlefield Park in Pea Ridge, Arkansas. A physic friend came to visit one afternoon and told me a ghost of a Civil War soldier was standing in my backyard. That sighting was the beginning of a very unique relationship and my writing career. My first book, Soldiers From the Mist is not only his story but our story as well. The experience gave a whole new meaning to the term, “ghost writer.”
How do you describe your writing style?
Believe it or not, I never really thought about my writing style until I saw this question. With the exception of my first book, Soldiers From the Mist, I love to write in first person. My heroes are usually women who are always strong and independent. Their men are larger than life, beyond handsome and who are secure enough in their masculinity that they aren’t afraid to let their women be true to who they are. I tend to use a lot of similes and metaphors and beautiful descriptions bordering (at times) dangerously close to purple prose. My characters are real. The paranormal usually plays a big part in the story. Good always triumphs over evil in my books and the theme of the importance of unconditional love skips through the pages.
Plotter or Pantser? Why?
Definitely a pantser! Most of the time when I sit down to write all I have is a title. The plot, characters, locations—all that jazz just develops on its own. I “channel” my characters. They give me all I need. It’s a trust thing. They trust me to write their stories in my beautiful, unique style, and I trust them to give me the plot. The book I’m currently working on, “The Church of the Howling Moon,” is a perfect example of this. I wrote twelve chapters without knowing where I was going or how I was going to get there and it is my best writing to date! If I thought about it, I couldn’t do it. Trust is a wonderful thing.
Have you ever read or seen yourself as a character in a book or movie?
Oh, my gosh, how many pages do you want? I see myself in almost every book and movie. I was Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird (book & movie), Mattie Ross in True Grit (book & movie), Nicole Kidman in Australia, Sandra Bullock in Practical Magic, Crazy Cora in Quigley Down Under, Emmie in Soldiers From the Mist, Both Raven and Madame Katanga in The Rook and The Raven. Nancy Drew, Norma Rae, Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet, Woopie Goldberg in Ghost, and Bethany Ann in my next book, The Church of the Howling Moon. Egotistical? Nope. Just wonderfully talented.
What are the most important attributes for remaining sane as a writer?
Rum and Coke. Ice cream and chocolate. A strong critique group. Lots and lots of laughter. (AMEN, Sister!)
Would you change gender for one day? If so, why?
Yes. I want to be an outstanding professional running back in the NFL.
Is there a piece of advice that you have received that has really struck with you? If so, what was it?
My friend, mentor, and outstanding author, Velda Brotherton told me once,“Make em’ cry and they will buy.” Need I say more?
The OWFI Writing Contest opens for entries TOMORROW! December 1st. Are you excited? How many of you already have your stories ready to go? If you're like me, you'll notice that the contest is open and not even think about it again until say January 30th and realize you only have 2 days to finish everything. That's just me though, I hope.
This year, we're going to accept both hard copy and electronic entries. There are many reasons we've decided to do it this way. The main two being 1) it's industry standard to submit your work electronically and 2) it saves OWFI and YOU a lot of money in postage.
As mentioned we're have a transition year. For those of you who really, really, really want to continue mailing your entries do so, but please try to enter at least one category electronically so you can see how easy it is. The system is set up so that an entrant must pay his contest registration fee before his can access the entry forms.
The forms are very easy to fill in--name, phone number, etc. You can only submit one entry per category. The system is set up to block multiple entries in one category.
If you can send an attachment on an e-mail, you can do this. I promise. It's easy!
There are a couple of things you need to know:
1) Only one entry per category per e-mail address.
2) All unpublished category submission MUST be in .doc format. All published books MUST be in. pdf format.
There are clear, step-by-step instructions (including screen) shots available on the website.
Here are the major points to the process:
Step One: Go to www.owfi.org and click on the contest dropdown box, select ENTER ONLINE
Step Two: Make your payment. (You can use either PayPal or your credit card.)
Step Three: After payment, you'll be directed to the Categories Page: BOOKMARK THIS PAGE! You don't have to enter all your manuscripts at one time. You can upload them as you have them ready, but you MUST bookmark this page in order to do so. Otherwise, you'll be taken through the payment option again.
Step Four: Select the category you're entering and fill out the cover sheet.
Step Five: Upload your entry.
Step Six: Review the information and hit the SUBMIT button. One your entry is submitted, you'll be redirected to the Category Page so you can submit entires for other categories.
Folks, here's a great deal! Cindy Davis, Book Doctor extraordinaire, has given us one heck of a deal. She's agreed to provide in-depth, one-on-one reviews of 25 lucky OWFI members' first 50 pages for $50 each. This is at least half price. Please e-mail
if you're interested in getting a review. The pages must be submitted by April 1st. She has generously agreed to split the review fee with OWFI. So, not only do you get an amazing deal on a professional edit, you're helping out OWFI. It's a win-win!
Hey there Fellow Writers,
I thought it would be a good idea to introduce the 2013 OWFI faculty through a series of interviews. Our first guest is Cindy Davis, the Book Doctor. Before I became a writer, I always thought interviews were a bit trite, but then again, I'd never read interviews conducted by and for writers. Goodness, we're a clever group of folks who are NEVER boring. I was delighted to ask Ms Davis a few questions and I have to say my favorite answer is to question #9.
So, sit back sip your coffee (or bourbon) and get to know Cindy Davis a little better. This will be her first time at OWFI, so be sure to send her a welcoming note, comment or question.
1. Welcome, Cindy Davis, and thank you for allowing me to interview you. Please, tell us a little about yourself. I guess first off, I’m a wife, mother and grandmom, living in the sunny/snowy/muddy/buggy four season state of New Hampshire. I love all facets of the writing world, except possibly promoting--grin. Anyone who likes this angle is suspect, in my book! I am a published author, editor and publisher, and in my spare time enjoy gardening, hiking, needlework and reading, lots of reading.
2. I understand you’re also an author. Do you find this helps or hinders your dealings with authors? I think it definitely helps. I can understand and sympathize with their frustrations and problems. Sometimes I can help find solutions.
3. What are some of your pet peeves as an editor? What do we authors do that drives you absolutely insane? Writers who think their first drafts are ready to send out. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no such thing as a manuscript that’s ready on the first go-round. I recommend authors read their stories out loud, and really hear to what they’ve written. Listen for the cadence in the sentences (cadence is not just something found in poetry). Make sure characters have absolutely irrefutable motivations for what they do. Check that tag lines don’t merely mimic what’s been said in dialogue. Give the plot unexpected twists, find ways to work in second or third plot lines and have them criss-cross each other as the story moves along.
4. As a wife, grandmother, bird breeder, author, publisher and editor, where do you find the time to do everything? I think people who are self-employed learn to budget their time. It’s important to fall into a routine, and not to procrastinate (too much). And do you ever have time to yourself? I have to chuckle here since a writer’s life is mostly spent with themselves. I try to make a little time every day. It tends to be short periods; a morning coffee break, a half hour in the garden, that sort of thing. And, every night, after my husband falls asleep, I read. Outside of my writing, that’s probably my favorite time.
5. Do you adapt to an author’s voice, or do you think you add your own to their work? Hopefully there’s nothing of me in an author’s work except new ideas. I like to suggest alternate words for some which might be overused or trite. I love giving the author examples to help draw out character emotions and motivations, or strengthen the plots.
6. What advice would you give an author just coming into the publishing business? Read read read, not just what you enjoy, but all genres. Learn all you can about the industry. Never feel as though you’ve done a perfect job. And don’t let the rejections get you down (for long), keep plugging away.
7. As an editor, what exactly do you look for that makes you push a book into being published? If I dream about the characters or plot, the author’s done their job. The story needs to have something to push it past the zillions of others: a special plot situation, quirky characters or a unique ‘voice’.
8. When reading a manuscript and it comes time to make those red marks, how hard is it to be brutal with their work? I don’t pull any punches. If the characters don’t speak to me, a situation is trite or the writing is too plain, I say so--gently. I’m dedicated to making the stories be as good as they can be. After all, none of us make any money if I don’t.
President Aside here: I've worked with Cindy on a couple of projects. At one point, she threw up her hands and said, "I don't like your main character very much. She's a door mat." She doesn't pull her punches and because of that, my main character became downright feisty and the book is 10x stronger.
9. Do you find yourself trying to soften the blow, or do you come at the author with red ink blaring? I hope I manage to temper the seriousness with softness. I don’t want to come off as overbearing or demeaning. As I said, I want the stories to be as good as they can be. I want my relationship with an author to be like great sex. When the SEND button is pushed, the ms is on the way to the publisher, and it’s all over, I want my authors to heave a sigh and say, “Whew, that was awesome! I want to do it with Cindy again!”
10. Finally, thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak with you. Do you have a website where readers can find out more about you? My author web site is www.cdavisnh.com, and I’m open for questions or conversations about writing, editing, or the industry in particular. My fiction doctor addy is www.fiction-doctor.com.
Yes, folks, we’re biting the bullet of progress and giving it a go. OWFI is going electronic—for the contests that is. Do NOT freak out. It’s a transition year. The 2013 contest will have both paper and electronic entry options. AND there will be online directions and a step-by-step video demonstration on how to enter the contests. We decided to go this route for several reasons:
1) It’s the industry standard. The vast majority of agents, editors and publishers request electronic submissions
2) A cost savings to both OWFI who averages over $830 a year in postage for the contest, and the contestants
3) It streamlines the process. No more addressing 33 envelopes to enter 33 contests
4) It saves trees—no, let me rephrase that. It saves forests!
I encourage everyone to enter at least one contest electronically this year even if you’re more comfortable with the paper submission method.
The categories are listed on the website. Get busy writing because the contest opens December 1st.
So, why this theme for the 2013 conference? Well, it rhymes. And look at all those exclamation points! How fun is that? For all those people who've asked me over the years why I don't write poetry, you now have your answer.
When conference chair, Jan Morrill, and I discussed the upcoming conference, we threw out all kinds of theme names: Write On, Write Now, Holy Smoking Ink Balls, The Write Way, Slaughtering Those Pesky LY Words, etc. After a couple cups of coffee, our ideas didn't get any better. So, we backtracked and discussed what we wanted the attendees to gain from the 2013 conference.
We reviewed our list of speakers and realized that we have folks who could inspire authors to spark and/or regain their creativity. There are times when as writers we begin to question our abilities, second guess every sentence and fret over our storylines. I can't tell you how many times I've been 70,000 words into a novel and stop dead in my tracks, smothered in doubt. Fortunately, I have wonderful friends who kick me in the backside and get me going again. Sometimes, though, you need to hear the same message from a different messenger. We need to gain confidence in our talents and REVIVE our creativity.
There are speakers on the 2013 faculty who will help you hone your craft. We have several speakers who are leaders in their genres: Jodi Thomas, Ron Fortier, Rob M. Davis, Jordan Dane, Lauri Owen. These speakers will show you the ins and outs of those genres and help you STRIVE for excellence.
It is our hope that you'll take the information you gain from the 2013 conference, apply it to your writing and your careers will THRIVE! Thriving is awesome, don't you think? Wouldn't it be awesome if the 2014 Famous Author Banquet took 4 hours?? Okay, maybe not, but it would be incredible to have hundreds of published authors to celebrate each year.
The next Board of Directors meeting is scheduled for September 9 at 2 PM at the Norman Embassy Suites and Conference Center in Norman, Oklahoma.