Sunday, February 27, 2011

W- Interview with Author Amanda Washington



Deirdra: What made you decide to become an author?

Amanda: I never really decided to become an author. I’m an avid reader. No, that’s an understatement. I’m a devourer of books. But in January of 2009 I started having these really insane apocalyptic dreams. I told my sister-in-law about them and she encouraged me to write them down. Well, I kept having the dreams until I finally took her advice. Once I got the dreams out of my head and on to paper they were edited vigorously and transformed into Rescuing Liberty – my first book that I self-published in December of 2009.


Deirdra: When did you start writing?

Amanda: February 2009


Deirdra: What genre(s) do you write?

Amanda:Rescuing Liberty was post-apocalyptic, faith based (crazy combo, eh?). Chronicles of the Broken is a young adult series.


Deirdra: Is there anyone who has inspired or influenced you in your career?

Amanda: I’m constantly being sent inspiration. Probably the biggest influence has been Krista Darrach because she always tells me like it is and never pulls her punches when I’ve written complete and utter slop. She’s become a great friend and an invaluable writing buddy. I’ve met so many others who are always there to inspire, nudge and literarily slap me across the face when I need it. I couldn’t write without any of them.


Deirdra: What is the most exciting thing that has happened in your career?

Amanda: Every day is filled with new and exciting experiences. When Leeway Artisans offered me a publishing contract, that was the most exciting moment of my career. Then they sent me edits that felt like the perfect piece to my manuscript puzzle and that was the most exciting moment of my career. Then came a marketing plan and a release date and then came the cover … and … I guess since I never thought this would happen it’s all amazing. I can’t wait to see what happens next!


Deirdra: For you, is writing a full time job, part time job, or a hobby?

Amanda: By day, I’m the junior vice president of a non-profit trade association, so it’s not my full-time gig, but I’d be hesitant to call it a job or a hobby. It’s more like an obsession.


Deirdra: Writing a novel is time consuming. What is the most effect method you have found for managing your time?

Amanda: I duct tape my children to the wall and throw food into their mouths on break. Okay not really. Time management is always a challenge, but when something is important to you, you just get it done. Writing is beyond important to me. It’s like breathing. I can’t just decide not to breathe any more than I can decide not to write. I probably don’t sleep enough, but that’s okay. It’s worth it.


Deirdra: What is the most difficult thing about being an author?

Amanda: In learning to write, some sort of bizarre internal switch was flipped, and now every book that I read seems to be a learning experience. I can no longer sit back and just enjoy a book without appreciating what the author did well and visualizing what I’d do differently.


Deirdra: What is the best thing about being an author?

Amanda: For a long time I struggled with writing faith-based books, because I’m not a pastor or a really religious person. I’m just me. One day when I was feeling especially self-conscious I found the perfect scripture – John 15:16, “You did not choose me but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.” The scripture just felt right—like God was telling me to get over human inadequacies and buck up because we had work to do. So writing makes me feel … obedient and closer to God.


Deirdra: What are your goals as an author for the next three years?

Amanda: At least two more books on the Chronicles of the Broken series, and my Rescuing Liberty readers are probably going to tar and feather me if I don’t finish that sequel as well.


Is there anything that gives your writer’s block? How do you solve that problem?

Amanda: I go to the gym and crank up the tunes on my Zune while I see how fast I get the stair machine going. It’s amazing how much your brain starts when your teetering on the border of cardiac arrest and adrenaline bliss.


Deirdra: Do you have a favorite writing snack food?

Amanda: Dark chocolate. I’m quite certain it enhances creativity.


Deirdra: Where is your favorite place to write?

Amanda: I write on my laptop, so I tend to go wherever the family is.


Deirdra: How do you come up with your character’s names?

Amanda: My kids are a huge help for that. I usually describe the character and they all give their input.


Deirdra: What is the best complement you could receive from a reader?

Amanda: More than anything, my books are about hope. I pray that they find people in the dark, impossible places and bring them a better understanding of God and therefore hope for the future. I try to do this without being preachy or condemning, but by using the characters to relate to the readers and show how no one is beyond redemption.


Deirdra: If you have any books published what are they and where can readers find them?

Amanda: Rescuing Liberty can be found on Amazon.com or at Barnesandnoble.com. Chronicles of the Broken will have a brief special holiday release and can be purchased between December 14th and December 31st at http://www.leewayartisans.com/broken. The real release date will be in March.



This is the publisher’s website with my latest book: http://www.leewayartisans.com/broken. My website is www.amandawashington.net. Chronicles of the Broken is now available for pre-order, and will be released for a “special holiday release” from December 14th to December 31st. This special, holiday edition will have an bonus Christmas chapter that will only be available in this edition. After December 31st, sales will be put on hold until the official versionreleases in March. The pre-order price is a discounted $9.00 (no shipping and handling charges).

Saturday, February 26, 2011

V - Interview with Author G.G. Vandagriff








I realize that I am one of those rare people in the world who gets to live a life full of passion, suspense, angst, fulfillment, humor, and mystery. I am a writer. Everyday when I sit down to my computer, I enter into world of my own making. I am in the head of a panoply of characters ranging from a nineteen year-old Austrian debutante (The Last Waltz) to a raging psychopath (The Arthurian Omen).

How did this come about? I think I was wired to be a writer when I was born. Even though my formal career was in finance, writing was all I really wanted to do. I started at the age of nine by winning a contest for "The Ballerina Who Couldn't Dance," my first short story. There were a lot of things about my surroundings that I couldn't control during my growing up years, so I retreated to whatever alternate existence I was creating.

I studied writing in an advanced workshop when I was at Stanford, but was discouraged because everyone but me wanted to be J.D. Salinger. I hadn't yet found my writing voice. But with my study abroad in Austria, I finally found the story I wanted to tell—the decline of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and its collapse into fascism. (I never for a moment thought that this might be a bit ambitious.) I eventually began this project while commuting to and from my job in Los Angeles as an International Banker. I had an outline. My studies abroad had given me the historical background. Using that, I created characters as prototypes of the ideas that existed in Austria in 1913. Then, while teaching economics and waiting for my first child to be born, I read all of Churchill's books on World War One, and everything I could get my hands on that would give me the zeitgeist (literally "time spirit") of the age.

By the time my three children were born, I had a draft, but I knew it wasn't going anywhere. It was too superficial. I didn't understand the European mind. I couldn't convey the degree of suffering they had endured, nor the trauma the Austrians experienced at the collapse of their empire.

I turned to writing a more modern story that was semi-autobiographical at that point. I was living in the Ozarks, full of conflicted feelings that I worked out over the course of five years in the novel that has now becomePieces of Paris. However, I knew also that that project had not yet lived up to its potential. Discouraged, I turned to writing what I read—light mysteries. For color I imparted to my heroines another passion of mine—genealogy. Finally, I felt significantly secure to submit something and I was published.

However, for fifteen years, I had been the victim of bi-polar disorder (a common ailment among writers), and after publishing three books, I became too ill to write. During that ten year struggle to survive, I learned enough about overcoming pain, and about life and love to be able to complete my Austrian project. That became The Last Waltz. After two more mysteries, I was able to completePieces of Paris. I am, at this writing, 62 years old. Though I was "born to write," my apprenticeship has been long. However, any endeavor that enables us to further understand ourselves, our world, and our loved ones is never wasted. I have found my Savior during this journey, and that alone makes it worthwhile.







Deirdra: When did you first know you wanted to be an author?
G.G.: When I was a little girl. I wrote before I could read. I did crayon drawings in nickel scrapbooks that told a story. My home was dysfunctional and I escaped through my "writing"

Deirdra: What is your writing and educational background?
G.G.:I went to Stanford Undergrad and George Washington U. for my master's. I have written eleven books, two of them non-fiction. Seven are mysteries or suspense which is easy for me to write. My two serious books, The Last Waltz (Whitney Winner) and Pieces of Paris took 40 and 25 years respectively to write.

Deirdra: What makes you passionate about writing?
G.G. I think I was wired to write. I have had stories in my mind and led alternate existences in my head ever since I can remember. Writing makes me really happy and relaxed. I worked out my PTSD in my writing (even though I didn't know that's what it was). I love developing characters and seeing who they become. I guess one life just isn't enough for me. I have to get into the skin of lots of other people and see what life is like for them.

Deirdra: What was the pathway like for you to get your first book published?
G.G. I had a great piece of luck there. I took a class in Kansas City from an editor. She loved the proposal I had to write for the class, and asked me to send it to her. They accepted it. Then I got an agent in New York for my mystery, but she didn't put enough time into trying to sell it, so I sold it myself to DB and have been writing for them ever since.

Deirdra: Were you ever discouraged along the way? If so, how did you deal with it?
GG: I get very discouraged about how little publicity my Shadow Mountain books get. I rage and storm around the house, and then try to calm down and write a rational e-mail. They try their best and have funded some expensive marketing programs, but nothing seems to work. I am currently exploring other publishing avenues for my non-LDS books.

Deirdra: What is your writing schedule like?
G.G.: I get up at 6:30, have a devotional with my husband and then get right to work. The morning hours are the very best and creative for me. I force myself to get up and exercise for half an hour halfway through the morning, and then go back to work until about half-way through the afternoon when I do more exercise. Sometimes I write until 5, but I mostly do marketing projects in the afternoon.

Deirdra: Where do your ideas come from? How do you know the idea is good enough to write a book about it?
G.G.: Book ideas abound in my head. I will never get them all written. Life is so rich and offers so many opportunities for stories. Place is really important to me. I get very stimulated intellectually by travel. I have never written a book about a place I was living in at the time. My imagination would seem to be exceptionally fertile.

Deirdra: What do you hope readers will get from your books?
G.G. My books are all about the same thing: The redemptive power of love. Sometimes you have to look closely, but it's always there. Love makes us better people. Love solves life's hardest problems. Love makes pain endurable.

Deirdra: What is your process of brainstorming a story? Do you just sit down and write, waiting to see what happens next? Or do you outline first?
G.G. Sometimes I have a vague idea. I do a lot of brainstorming with my husband. I did outline The Last Waltz, but that is the only book I ever outlined. I prefer to get to know my characters really well before I write. I do extensive character sketches—down to things like what they wanted for Christmas when they were little. These facts don't show up in the book, but they show in the character, because the people are as real as I can get them. When they are that real, they are ready to tell their own story. On the one book I outlined, I had to go back years and years later and write character sketches which changed the book a lot and very much for the better. Of course, now I would have done that first thing.

Deirdra: Do you ever experience a snag in a story, a form of writer's block? If so, how do you deal with it?
G.G.: I have never experienced writer's block. If I get to the point where something needs to happen and I don't know what, I just go deeper into my characters and they always come up with something entirely unexpected, which sometimes results in massive rewriting. I am not a fast writer. I layer my books.

Deirdra: Do you need absolute quiet to write? Do you listen to music when you are writing?
G.G. I love to listen to music while I write. The music of the Romantic period, or Tenor Opera Arias are my favorite. Their passion spills into my writing.

Deirdra: What kinds of inspiration do you use during your story creation periods?
G.G.: Travel. I always visit the places I write about and use the locale almost as another character. My stories almost always arise out of place.

Deirdra: Who has made the greatest difference for you as a writer?
G.G.: John Gardner and his book: On Moral Fiction. His quotations about Tolstoy's values have really planted the idea in my heart that characters should be so real that the reader identifies with them to the extent that they would follow the path that character would take when posed with a moral problem. I also was greatly inspired, technique-wise, by Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones.

Deirdra: What’s your secret to making the character’s in your books come to life?
G.G. Characters are always flawed, just as we are. The trick is to make that flaw something we can understand, sympathize with, and hopefully work mentally with the character to overcome. Characters need to engage our minds, not just our imaginations. The deeper we go into our characters, the more real they are. We should write pages and pages of backstory about them (not in the book) until we have reached the point where we meet that character in our own heart and head. Then they are "real" to us.

Deirdra: What authors do you admire, and why?
G.G. My absolute favorite all-time writer is Tolstoy. His characters breathe. He demonstrates their emotions and choices in such human ways. I also love A.S. Byatt for the same reason. Chaim Potok's writing is genius, because he is so minimalist, he leaves almost everything up to the reader to fill in. And when you uncover his theme it is like discovering a gold mine. It has layers and layers and layers. I guess all these writers do, now that I think of it. To me, that is what makes a good read.

Deirdra: What is your favorite snack to have while you are writing?
G.G. Ummmm. Yumm. I love Greek yogurt mixed with granola. (And pray that nothing lands on the keyboard!

Deirdra: What words of advice do you have for other writers who desire to have their manuscripts become books in print?
G.G.: Don’t forget that writing is an apprenticeship. You wouldn't expect a beginning pianist to give a Chopin concert. Why do you expect to write a brilliant novel right away? Give yourself a break. Don't think about publishing. Think about your writing. Enjoy the journey. One of the best things I ever did to improve my writing was to work with a free-lance editor who really knew what she was doing. She was like a gem-cutter. The next best thing, was to meet with a brilliant friend once a week and do writing exercises with her. She was so strong where I was weak. Eventually I was able to learn to have that strength. One of my writing exercises developed into my first published fiction.

Deirdra: What are you working on now?
G.G.: For the last year and a half I have been writing about the Crazy Ladies of Oakwood—and ensemble novel about four women in a therapy group who decide to go to Florence with the aim of solving their problems. It is the most fun I've ever had, but ensemble writing is extremely challenging!

Deirdra: Where can our readers go to find your books and order them?
G.G: Voices in Your Blood (my first non-fiction) can usually be found on Amazon, Alibris, or E-bay as a used book. We are working on an e-book right now. All the others can be found on Amazon, some on Barnes & Noble. Seagull and Deseret Book carry them. If they're out of stock, you can order (and save yourself shipping). Barnes& Nobles in the Wasatch Front and Wal-Mart also carry them. They can all be ordered through my website: http://ggvandagriff.com.

Deirdra: Any final words you would like to share?
GG: Writing is not a profession, but a way of life. Everything is grist for your mill. You should respect your talent. Don't be hard on yourself. Take the time to develop your writing until you absolutely KNOW it is the very best you can do. Do daily writing exercises just as a violinist practices his scales. Being a writer is a difficult life in some ways, because once you are published, that is just the beginning. Marketing actually takes more time than writing. It is good to realize this at the outset. .:

Deirdra: Thank you so much, G.G. It is a real honor to get your insights.

GG: Thank you. It is always fun to talk/write about writing. I do a lot of it on my blogs and websites: http://ggvandagriff.com; http://ggvandagriffblog.com (I'm running a contest right now for those who subscribe!)











Picture of Deirdra and G. G.

V - Interview with Author G.G. Vandagriff








I realize that I am one of those rare people in the world who gets to live a life full of passion, suspense, angst, fulfillment, humor, and mystery. I am a writer. Everyday when I sit down to my computer, I enter into world of my own making. I am in the head of a panoply of characters ranging from a nineteen year-old Austrian debutante (The Last Waltz) to a raging psychopath (The Arthurian Omen).

How did this come about? I think I was wired to be a writer when I was born. Even though my formal career was in finance, writing was all I really wanted to do. I started at the age of nine by winning a contest for "The Ballerina Who Couldn't Dance," my first short story. There were a lot of things about my surroundings that I couldn't control during my growing up years, so I retreated to whatever alternate existence I was creating.

I studied writing in an advanced workshop when I was at Stanford, but was discouraged because everyone but me wanted to be J.D. Salinger. I hadn't yet found my writing voice. But with my study abroad in Austria, I finally found the story I wanted to tell—the decline of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and its collapse into fascism. (I never for a moment thought that this might be a bit ambitious.) I eventually began this project while commuting to and from my job in Los Angeles as an International Banker. I had an outline. My studies abroad had given me the historical background. Using that, I created characters as prototypes of the ideas that existed in Austria in 1913. Then, while teaching economics and waiting for my first child to be born, I read all of Churchill's books on World War One, and everything I could get my hands on that would give me the zeitgeist (literally "time spirit") of the age.

By the time my three children were born, I had a draft, but I knew it wasn't going anywhere. It was too superficial. I didn't understand the European mind. I couldn't convey the degree of suffering they had endured, nor the trauma the Austrians experienced at the collapse of their empire.

I turned to writing a more modern story that was semi-autobiographical at that point. I was living in the Ozarks, full of conflicted feelings that I worked out over the course of five years in the novel that has now becomePieces of Paris. However, I knew also that that project had not yet lived up to its potential. Discouraged, I turned to writing what I read—light mysteries. For color I imparted to my heroines another passion of mine—genealogy. Finally, I felt significantly secure to submit something and I was published.

However, for fifteen years, I had been the victim of bi-polar disorder (a common ailment among writers), and after publishing three books, I became too ill to write. During that ten year struggle to survive, I learned enough about overcoming pain, and about life and love to be able to complete my Austrian project. That became The Last Waltz. After two more mysteries, I was able to completePieces of Paris. I am, at this writing, 62 years old. Though I was "born to write," my apprenticeship has been long. However, any endeavor that enables us to further understand ourselves, our world, and our loved ones is never wasted. I have found my Savior during this journey, and that alone makes it worthwhile.







Deirdra: When did you first know you wanted to be an author?
G.G.: When I was a little girl. I wrote before I could read. I did crayon drawings in nickel scrapbooks that told a story. My home was dysfunctional and I escaped through my "writing"

Deirdra: What is your writing and educational background?
G.G.:I went to Stanford Undergrad and George Washington U. for my master's. I have written eleven books, two of them non-fiction. Seven are mysteries or suspense which is easy for me to write. My two serious books, The Last Waltz (Whitney Winner) and Pieces of Paris took 40 and 25 years respectively to write.

Deirdra: What makes you passionate about writing?
G.G. I think I was wired to write. I have had stories in my mind and led alternate existences in my head ever since I can remember. Writing makes me really happy and relaxed. I worked out my PTSD in my writing (even though I didn't know that's what it was). I love developing characters and seeing who they become. I guess one life just isn't enough for me. I have to get into the skin of lots of other people and see what life is like for them.

Deirdra: What was the pathway like for you to get your first book published?
G.G. I had a great piece of luck there. I took a class in Kansas City from an editor. She loved the proposal I had to write for the class, and asked me to send it to her. They accepted it. Then I got an agent in New York for my mystery, but she didn't put enough time into trying to sell it, so I sold it myself to DB and have been writing for them ever since.

Deirdra: Were you ever discouraged along the way? If so, how did you deal with it?
GG: I get very discouraged about how little publicity my Shadow Mountain books get. I rage and storm around the house, and then try to calm down and write a rational e-mail. They try their best and have funded some expensive marketing programs, but nothing seems to work. I am currently exploring other publishing avenues for my non-LDS books.

Deirdra: What is your writing schedule like?
G.G.: I get up at 6:30, have a devotional with my husband and then get right to work. The morning hours are the very best and creative for me. I force myself to get up and exercise for half an hour halfway through the morning, and then go back to work until about half-way through the afternoon when I do more exercise. Sometimes I write until 5, but I mostly do marketing projects in the afternoon.

Deirdra: Where do your ideas come from? How do you know the idea is good enough to write a book about it?
G.G.: Book ideas abound in my head. I will never get them all written. Life is so rich and offers so many opportunities for stories. Place is really important to me. I get very stimulated intellectually by travel. I have never written a book about a place I was living in at the time. My imagination would seem to be exceptionally fertile.

Deirdra: What do you hope readers will get from your books?
G.G. My books are all about the same thing: The redemptive power of love. Sometimes you have to look closely, but it's always there. Love makes us better people. Love solves life's hardest problems. Love makes pain endurable.

Deirdra: What is your process of brainstorming a story? Do you just sit down and write, waiting to see what happens next? Or do you outline first?
G.G. Sometimes I have a vague idea. I do a lot of brainstorming with my husband. I did outline The Last Waltz, but that is the only book I ever outlined. I prefer to get to know my characters really well before I write. I do extensive character sketches—down to things like what they wanted for Christmas when they were little. These facts don't show up in the book, but they show in the character, because the people are as real as I can get them. When they are that real, they are ready to tell their own story. On the one book I outlined, I had to go back years and years later and write character sketches which changed the book a lot and very much for the better. Of course, now I would have done that first thing.

Deirdra: Do you ever experience a snag in a story, a form of writer's block? If so, how do you deal with it?
G.G.: I have never experienced writer's block. If I get to the point where something needs to happen and I don't know what, I just go deeper into my characters and they always come up with something entirely unexpected, which sometimes results in massive rewriting. I am not a fast writer. I layer my books.

Deirdra: Do you need absolute quiet to write? Do you listen to music when you are writing?
G.G. I love to listen to music while I write. The music of the Romantic period, or Tenor Opera Arias are my favorite. Their passion spills into my writing.

Deirdra: What kinds of inspiration do you use during your story creation periods?
G.G.: Travel. I always visit the places I write about and use the locale almost as another character. My stories almost always arise out of place.

Deirdra: Who has made the greatest difference for you as a writer?
G.G.: John Gardner and his book: On Moral Fiction. His quotations about Tolstoy's values have really planted the idea in my heart that characters should be so real that the reader identifies with them to the extent that they would follow the path that character would take when posed with a moral problem. I also was greatly inspired, technique-wise, by Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones.

Deirdra: What’s your secret to making the character’s in your books come to life?
G.G. Characters are always flawed, just as we are. The trick is to make that flaw something we can understand, sympathize with, and hopefully work mentally with the character to overcome. Characters need to engage our minds, not just our imaginations. The deeper we go into our characters, the more real they are. We should write pages and pages of backstory about them (not in the book) until we have reached the point where we meet that character in our own heart and head. Then they are "real" to us.

Deirdra: What authors do you admire, and why?
G.G. My absolute favorite all-time writer is Tolstoy. His characters breathe. He demonstrates their emotions and choices in such human ways. I also love A.S. Byatt for the same reason. Chaim Potok's writing is genius, because he is so minimalist, he leaves almost everything up to the reader to fill in. And when you uncover his theme it is like discovering a gold mine. It has layers and layers and layers. I guess all these writers do, now that I think of it. To me, that is what makes a good read.

Deirdra: What is your favorite snack to have while you are writing?
G.G. Ummmm. Yumm. I love Greek yogurt mixed with granola. (And pray that nothing lands on the keyboard!

Deirdra: What words of advice do you have for other writers who desire to have their manuscripts become books in print?
G.G.: Don’t forget that writing is an apprenticeship. You wouldn't expect a beginning pianist to give a Chopin concert. Why do you expect to write a brilliant novel right away? Give yourself a break. Don't think about publishing. Think about your writing. Enjoy the journey. One of the best things I ever did to improve my writing was to work with a free-lance editor who really knew what she was doing. She was like a gem-cutter. The next best thing, was to meet with a brilliant friend once a week and do writing exercises with her. She was so strong where I was weak. Eventually I was able to learn to have that strength. One of my writing exercises developed into my first published fiction.

Deirdra: What are you working on now?
G.G.: For the last year and a half I have been writing about the Crazy Ladies of Oakwood—and ensemble novel about four women in a therapy group who decide to go to Florence with the aim of solving their problems. It is the most fun I've ever had, but ensemble writing is extremely challenging!

Deirdra: Where can our readers go to find your books and order them?
G.G: Voices in Your Blood (my first non-fiction) can usually be found on Amazon, Alibris, or E-bay as a used book. We are working on an e-book right now. All the others can be found on Amazon, some on Barnes & Noble. Seagull and Deseret Book carry them. If they're out of stock, you can order (and save yourself shipping). Barnes& Nobles in the Wasatch Front and Wal-Mart also carry them. They can all be ordered through my website: http://ggvandagriff.com.

Deirdra: Any final words you would like to share?
GG: Writing is not a profession, but a way of life. Everything is grist for your mill. You should respect your talent. Don't be hard on yourself. Take the time to develop your writing until you absolutely KNOW it is the very best you can do. Do daily writing exercises just as a violinist practices his scales. Being a writer is a difficult life in some ways, because once you are published, that is just the beginning. Marketing actually takes more time than writing. It is good to realize this at the outset. .:

Deirdra: Thank you so much, G.G. It is a real honor to get your insights.

GG: Thank you. It is always fun to talk/write about writing. I do a lot of it on my blogs and websites: http://ggvandagriff.com; http://ggvandagriffblog.com (I'm running a contest right now for those who subscribe!)











Picture of Deirdra and G. G.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Research


I recommend spending at least two weeks researching before you start a book. This is vitally important if you are writing historical novels or novels that take place in real world settings, with real life objects or ideas.

Not only is it important to get your history and geography right, but even simple concepts need to be researched.

Does a horse have hair or fur?

Do sharks eat dolphins?

Do penguins live in the North Pole?

When was velvet invented? Would my character have a velvet dress in the 12th century?

Do the Chinese believe in Santa Clause?

How long does it take for a body to decompose? (Good to know for mystery books.)

Where does baking soda come from?

How is bread yeast made?



Your characters also need to be researched:

Is this an appropriate accent for a character from South Africa?

Would a six-year-old normally use that word?

Does your character’s religious beliefs forbid them from wearing red?

Does their hair curl at the nap of their neck when it’s humid?


You can see how researching your material will save you from embarrassment later on. You can’t depend on your editor or agent to catch mistakes like this.

Research is the author’s responsibility.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

T- Interview with Author Rebecca Talley



Deirdra: When did you first know you wanted to be an author?

Rebecca: When I was a kid I made a “Velt Book” out of felt. In sixth grade, I started a novel similar to the Encyclopedia Brown series, I even illustrated it.

Deirdra: What is your writing and educational background?

Rebecca: I graduated from BYU with a degree in Communications—my oldest son believes I over-communicate J. I’ve taken classes from the Institute of Children’s Literature and Writer’s Digest. I’ve written numerous children’s magazine stories and articles, some of which have appeared online and in the Friend. I am the author of a children’s picture book, Grasshopper Pie, as well as three novels, Heaven Scent, Altared Plans, and my newest release, The Upside of Down.

Deirdra: What makes you passionate about writing?

Rebecca: I have to get the stories in my head out on paper or they won’t leave me alone. I hear my characters talking to each other and, some days, they drive me nuts. I have to write their stories so they can stop talking in my head. I also love to create worlds and people, especially if I can include a theme that’s important to me. I can’t imagine not writing.

Deirdra: What was the pathway like for you to get your first book published?

Rebecca: I worked on my first novel on and off for years while I read how-to books, attended conferences, took classes, and met other writers. Before the internet (yes, I’m that old—I remember life before the internet) I was pretty isolated, but as soon as I was able to connect with writers online, I learned so much. It took me about 10 years from the time I decided I wanted to be serious about writing until I had my picture book published. A few years later, my first novel, Heaven Scent, was published by CFI.

Deirdra: Were you ever discouraged along the way? If so, how did you deal with it?

Rebecca: Discouraged? Absolutely. The Ensign rejected my first official submission and I was crushed. I cried and was sure I’d never write again. My picture book was rejected before it found a publisher as well and I often considered throwing in the towel. After my first novel was published and I received some negative reviews, I considered quitting again, but I just couldn’t do it. I love to write, it’s my outlet and even if I never have another book published, I will continue to write. I write because I love it and that’s what keeps me motivated and helps me through the discouraging times.


Deirdra: What is your writing schedule like?

Rebecca: Hahahahahaha. I try to write every day M-F. Some days it might be for an hour and other days it might be for 10 minutes. I’m a list person so I keep lists each day with my goals and I include writing in that. I try to get other things done like taking care of kids, housework, laundry, etc., so I can have time to write but that doesn’t always work. I have found that if I trust in the Lord and do my best to serve Him by taking care of my family and doing my calling He will help me find the time to write.


Deirdra: Where do your ideas come from? How do you know the idea is good enough to write a book about it?
Rebecca: My ideas come from my life. Grasshopper Pie was based on an experience when my kids tried to feed me a live grasshopper. Heaven Scent was inspired by my mother who died when I was a little girl. Altared Plans is based loosely on my courtship with my husband. The Upside of Down is about an LDS woman who is raising a large family and includes experiences I’ve had with my kids (they say write what you know J). I play with an idea and plot it out to see if it can sustain a book. If not, I toss it out.




Deirdra: I was really touched by the premise of your book The Up Side of Down. Can you tell us more about it.

Rebecca: The main character, Natalie, thinks she’s spiritually invincible. She’s endured years of her mother’s rude remarks about being LDS and thinks her faith is secure until a series of events pushes her faith to its limits. She learns that she has to fight to reclaim her faith as well as trust in a plan that’s different than she imagined. She also learns that even in trials Heavenly Father sends blessings and that everything is not always as it seems.


Deirdra: It seems like being close to nature, from the ocean to the country, has played a big role in your life. Can you tell us about how your environment shaped you as an author.

Rebecca: I love the ocean. I love the peace that comes from sitting on the shore and listening to the waves lap against the shore. I also love the mountains, especially when the sun rises and paints the snow-capped peaks in shades of pink. We’ve been so blessed with such a beautiful world and I think in nature, away from the city stresses, we can feel Heavenly Father’s presence and bask in His creations. Being in nature has helped me to appreciate my blessings.


Deirdra: What do you hope readers will get from your books?

Rebecca: I have included themes in each of my books and I hope readers will take something from those themes and see how they apply to their own lives. My themes have included eternal families, learning to trust in Heavenly Father’s plan, and seeing beyond someone’s physical limitations.

Deirdra: What is your process of brainstorming a story? Do you just sit down and write, waiting to see what happens next? Or do you outline first?

Rebecca: I outline. I’m a planner. I’m not a pantser at all. I sit down and come up with scenes, a narrative of the whole story, character goals, descriptions—I put all those together before I start writing the story, but I leave enough room to adapt my outline as I write.


Deirdra: Do you ever experience a snag in a story, a form of writer's block? If so, how do you deal with it?

Rebecca: I have such little time to write, I don’t really get writer’s block. I “write” while I’m driving, washing dishes, taking a shower, vacuuming. When I actually sit down at my computer, I already have ideas going.

Deirdra: Do you need absolute quiet to write? Do you listen to music when you are writing?

Rebecca: Absolute quiet? What’s that? My house always has noise. I write while Sesame Street is playing, while my kids are practicing piano, while they’re running around playing games, or when my teens are listening to what they call music.

Deirdra: What kinds of inspiration do you use during your story creation periods?

Rebecca: I find photos on the internet to help me “see” my characters. I write letters as the characters. I interview my characters. I also talk to my older kids to get ideas for characterization. I also watch movies and read books to get ideas for characterization and plot.

Deirdra: Who has made the greatest difference for you as a writer?

Rebecca: After my mother died, a woman became my “second Mom.” Her name was Jeannie and she always encouraged me to write as a teenager. She believed in me. Unfortunately, she died when I was a senior in high school. Since then my husband has been a huge support as well as the rest of my family. They all believe in me and lift me up when I am down. Without my family’s support, I couldn’t accomplish much of anything.

Deirdra: What’s your secret to making the character’s in your books come to life?

Rebecca: I try to base them on real people I know and think about how that person might react. I also think about how I, or my kids, would react in certain situations. I will also ask others if a character’s reaction seems realistic.

Deirdra: What authors do you admire, and why?

Rebecca: I love that JK Rowling inspired reading again in so many kids. What an incredible imagination. I also admire Suzanne Collins’ ability to pull you right into the story.

Deirdra: What is your favorite snack to have while you are writing?

Rebecca: Nuts—almonds, peanuts— and water.

Deirdra: Besides writing what other talents or hobbies do you have?

Rebecca: Ummmm. I used to play piano and knit but I gave those up. Does changing diapers, doing mountains of laundry, and swishing toilets count? I’ve recently started making jewelry and flower barrettes to spend more time with my kids.

Deirdra: What words of advice do you have for other writers who desire to have their manuscripts become books in print?

Rebecca: Write, write, write. Read, read, read. Attend conferences, network with other writers, take classes. Above all, though, never give up. Keep writing.

Deirdra: What are you working on now?

Rebecca: A YA paranormal for the national market. I’m still in the rough draft/working out the plot kinks stage.
Deirdra: Where can our readers go to find your books and order them?

Rebecca: Amazon, Barnes and Noble online, LDS Bookstores, eBay.

Deirdra: Any final words you would like to share?

Rebecca: Thank you so much for inviting me to your blog. I’m just grateful for the opportunity to write and have my books published. I feel very blessed and hope I can serve the Lord through my writing. I love to write and I am so happy to be able to share my writing with others. Thank you again!

My blog www.rebeccatalleywrites.blogspot.com

My website www.rebeccatalley.com

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

S - Interview with Literary Agent Deborah Schneider


Deirdra: What made you decide a career as a literary agent?

Deborah: I think most agents would tell you that they found their way to the agency business indirectly or in a roundabout fashion. Unlike the people entering the publishing workplace today who are familiar with how we do business, when I first came to New York looking for a job in book publishing, I had never heard of a literary agent. I learned about agents through my first jobs, scouting book publishing for the movie studios. The appeal of working with books and authors of my own choosing and being my own boss, especially as I was single, mortgageless and childless at the time, was enormously alluring. I built my list in what now seems to have been a Golden Time for publishing. If I had to start my career in today's shapeshifting marketplace, I don't know if I would be as fortunate as I have been with the choices I've made.


Deirdra: When you are not wading through massive amounts of query letters what do you like to do in your spare time?

Deborah: I don't really read "massive amounts of query letters," as I have a full and long-established roster of clients. As the publishing business grows more challenging, it's important to focus my time and energy on the authors to whom I am already committed; I am reluctant to stretch myself further to take on new ones. Referrals from authors and editors come my way, and occasionally someone can slip under my radar, but it's simply not possible to read the hundreds of queries that come into my inbox weekly. Even if those authors were publishable, I don't have enough leftover bandwidth to take them on.

In my time away from my office, I read for pleasure. I live in a beautiful ex-urban area where I walk regularly for many miles on dirt roads with my two rescued greyhounds. I am hopelessly addicted to Mad Men, but commuting and long hours dictate that I can watch it only after the fact, on DVD. I'm waiting for Season Four to be available on Netflix. I have a home in Cape Cod, where I go all year round; I love it especially in the off season. I try to work from the Cape in summer, and the beach is where I catch up on "OPB," Other People's Books -- all the wonderful books that I don't have time to read during the year. I am married to a published poet and it is a particular joy to share our overlapping literary interests and pursuits.


Deirdra: How does one become an agent?

Deborah: See answer above. I do not think there's a direct route. Publishing courses allow people to be more familiar with how the business works and provide an idea of what is involved in being an agent. When we interview prospective assistants, we look for people who not only have an aptitude for critical evaluation and an understanding of the marketplace, but people who are independent, who can multi-task and know how to take the initiative, who are self-confident, self-starting and unafraid of making cold calls, of creating their own contacts, and of making their own way into the business. Above all, they are readers. (You will see that this is a consistent theme in my answers to your questions.)


Deirdra: What do interns looking to someday become agents usually do at a literary agency?

Deborah: To work in a literary agency is to learn the business in all its aspects and permutations. Our interns read the slush pile, which despite our best efforts, never seems to diminish. Anyone who works in a literary agency should read every piece of mail, every contract, every trade publication and catalogue that comes in our door. They should become familiar with the business of our business: rights, royalties, permissions, copyrights and all the many ways that literary properties can be exploited, protected and marketed. They should read, period -- books, journals, newspapers, magazines (and blogs don't take the place of published and curated journalism), anything and everything, from contemporary to The Canon, literary and commercial, fiction and nonfiction. Reading The New York Times daily is asine qua non of our profession.


Deirdra: What is the most challenging obstacle agents encounter when working with authors?

Deborah: I love authors. The longer I work in this business, the more I am humbled and awed by their talent and artistry. I don't think I encounter "obstacles" with authors,as there is a process of self-selection involved: I choose the authors with whom I want to work and vice versa. In general, I would counsel all writers to be realistic about their expectations,be grateful when their success exceeds their expectations but understand that no one is actively courting failure, either: we all do our best and the author's success is our success.


Deirdra: What is the most challenging obstacle agents encounter when working with publishers?

Deborah: Publishers are being more cautious than ever. They want the tried and true, the branded and the formulaic, the guaranteed return on those few square inches of bookshelf real estate. When presented with something new and fresh, publishers are unwilling to take a chance. Who can blame them? The retail book business is in free fall, good books go unsold in the bookstores, returned to the publisher unread and unnoticed. That said, I still believe that good books will and do prevail. Publishers are saying no more frequently, but the lights are still more yellow than red.


Deirdra: What kind of books are currently in demand?

Deborah: Seems to be anything with a vampire in it, or written by a dead Swede.


Deirdra: Are there any specific genres that are flooded or publishers in general shy away from?

Deborah: Fiction in general is in decline, with the notable exceptions of those lucky authors who own the top ten slots of the New York Times Bestseller Lists, but even those sales are proportionally lower than they were a few years ago. Nonfiction, memoir, narrative, history, politics and some popular science, seem to be holding on better.


Deirdra: Do you prefer to find your authors through query letters, live pitches or as references from other authors or agents?

Deborah: See answer above. If I do take on a new client, it is through a referral from another author or publishing colleague.


Deirdra: What is the worst mistake authors make on a query letter?

Deborah: Check all the directories and listings to see who does and who doesn't read email queries. Check to see if the agent represents screenplays or children's books or romances, and if the agent doesn't, don't send the query anyway. Make sure not to send a query to fifty agencies at once and leave the addresses visible. Be sure to spell the agent's and agency's names correctly. Above all, master the basic rules of grammar, spelling and punctuation. It's shocking to see how often these basic precepts are ignored.


Deirdra: What is the best time of year to query an agent?

Deborah: Most of the agents I know seem to follow the rhythms of the school calendar: holidays and summers are slow as people's attention and focus shifts elsewhere.


Deirdra: What’s the best part of your job?

Agent: I think I'm one of the luckiest people in the world: I get to read books for a living; something I would have done anyway; I work with creative, talented, interesting, brilliant people; and I have had the privilege of being able to make a living doing work that uses everything I've got. I hope the next generations are as lucky as I have been.


Deirdra: What’s the hardest part of your job?

Deborah: Loving a book with all my heart and not selling it. Investing years of time and psychic energy into careers and relationships with authors, only to watch as sales decline and publishers decide not to renew contracts.


Deirdra: Would you ever consider representing a new client who previously self-published? Why or why not?

Deborah: Sure, why not. I would make a distinction between an author who has had a vanity publication, and one who has sold a respectable number of his or her self-published books and therefore pre-tested the marketplace.


Deirdra: What is a realistic time frame to sell a manuscript?

Deborah: There is no formula for this question. Depends on the book. It can take a week or it can take six months.


Deirdra: What is a realistic price range a new author’s manuscript will sell for?

Deborah: The "realistic price range" is what the publisher will pay for it. Again, it depends on the book, the author and the market. There is no formula for this sum. Don't believe anyone who tells you there is one.


Deirdra: How do you think the growing popularity of e-books will affect the literary market?

Deborah: As long as people are willing to pay to read books, there will be a literary market and a need for people to sell to it. The ground under our feet is changing almost daily, but it seems that, even as p-books wane and bricks-and mortar stores close, e-books are bringing more and new readers into the game and that's good for everyone.


Deirdra: On average how many query letters do you receive each year?

Deborah: Tens of thousands. It would be depressing to count them.


Deirdra: On average how many new authors do you take on as clients each year?

Deborah: One. In a big year, two.


Deirdra: On average how many manuscripts does your agency sell each year?

Deborah: 100


Deirdra: What advice would you have for someone aspiring to become an author?

Deborah: Read. Read some more. And then read more after that.

The best writers are readers.

I sometimes think that more people are writing books than reading them. I'm not being glib. It's amazing how people confuse "having a story to tell," with "being able to write one." Writing is a skill and requires craft (as well as the aforementioned ability to spell and use words properly). I love opera, but the fact that I have an ear for it doesn't mean that I can sing it. And being an "author" requires a canny knowledge of your audience and market as well as the ability to put words to paper. This is Writing 101, but a lot of the aspirers out there haven't taken the course.


Deirdra: What advice would you have for someone aspiring to become an agent?

Deborah: Same as above: READ.


Deirdra: Any final words you would like to share?

Deborah: Thank you for inviting me to share my experience with you and your readers.

S - Interview with Covenant Communications Senior Editor, Kirk L. Shaw


Kirk L. Shaw is senior editor for Covenant Communications. He has also done work for Boston publisher David R. Godine, Northwestern University Press, and the scientific journal Western North American Naturalist. During his career, he has produced and edited fiction (in most genres), memoirs, historical, art, gardening, gift, technical, scientific, scholarly, creative nonfiction, and other nonfiction. He enjoys writing short stories and especially relishes reading speculative fiction, historical and suspense novels, young adult, post-apocalyptic, and dystopia novels. He is looking for good suspense, historical, romance, adventure, and other fiction.

Deirdra: What made you decide a career in the literary world?

Kirk: I love books. Always have. Always will. For me, going into publishing was something that hit me as I was seriously preparing for law school. It's like those couples who know each other their whole lives, are best friends, and finally realize, "Why haven't we gotten together before now. It just makes sense." That's how it hit me. Books have always been there for me--have fueled the story of my life--why shouldn't I jump right in? I've never looked back.


Deirdra: If someone wanted to become an editor for a publisher what kind of education would they need and what advice would you give them?

Kirk: It really depends on a person's interest. Publishing/editing is a vast, multidisciplinary field. My main interest is in fiction, even though I read and edit a lot of nonfiction, too. I would break down the main categories of publishing and editing into these:


1. Trade fiction/nonfiction publishing: This comprises your NYT bestsellers and most of what you find in your local Barnes & Noble.
2. Textbook and educational publishing: This is a vast field and is constantly expanding with new technological applications and content generation.
3. Scholarly publishing: Different from textbook/educational in many ways, this publishing includes university press work and is focused more on creating books to contribute to humanity and knowledge as a whole, even if the subject is esoteric. This field also includes the lucrative journal market.
4. Corporate communications and publishing: This branch can be higher paying than the other fields at times. It focuses a lot on marketing, branding, interdepartmental communication. Creating the "voice" for a company. Like in textbook publishing, there are a lot of jobs here, and I would wager a bet that most editors find their homes here.

I would recommend a potential editor try to get internships in his or her interest as early as late high school and early college/university and continue to work with publishing-related internships for their entire university education. Again, you could major in myriad degrees and still be an editor: medicine, law, business, languages, history . . . Sometimes universities will have outlets to gain more editing experience: writing fellowships, editorial minors, etc. I'd also recommend picking up some electronic publishing classes if at all possible. That is one direction publishing is headed toward, and it's infinitely useful to have experience in HTML, typesetting (primary InDesign, these days), Dreamweaver, Microsoft Office (and electronic editing), etc.

Something to bear in mind is that the first two of those four categories are primarily based out of New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and L.A. (with limited options elsewhere), whereas the other two have options all over. Also, editing is very auspicious for freelance work.


Deirdra: How many manuscripts on average do you receive each year?

Kirk: Somewhere in the ballpark of one to two thousand.


Deirdra: How many new books do you publish each year?

Kirk: We publish about 30 to 35 fiction titles a year, with an additional 15-20 nonfiction titles, and a number of children's books and derivative projects.


Deirdra: On average how many new authors do you take on as clients each year?

Kirk: This is a guess, but I'd say around a dozen. But that doesn't mean we publish them all in the same year they're accepted. Usually it's one to two years from acceptance that a book is published by a new author in our market.


Deirdra: Is there a specific genre your company is looking for?

Kirk: We're looking for good fiction and nonfiction in a variety of genres and topics.


Deirdra: Is there any genre that is flooded or not in high demand for publication?

Kirk: Young adult and middle-grade, to the tenth degree (in our market, at least). That doesn't mean we don't still do it; it just forces us to be selective. We're actually doing an amazing new MG series by Julie Wright and Kevin Wasden, fully illustrated, and sci-fi to boot. Check out Hazzardous Universe this March. (I'm done with my shameless plug.)


Deirdra: What is the worst mistake authors make on a query letter?

Kirk: It happens before the query letter is ever written. Many authors don't do their research on whether a publisher would be remotely interested in the topic of their book. Authors need to take the time to read books from the prospective publisher--or at the very least read their catalog--and know whether the publisher is a good fit for them. I definitely don't want to see a book on Zen or the New York Giants submitted to me. It's just a waste of time and postage.


Deirdra: Do you prefer to find your authors through query letters, live pitches or as references from other authors or agents?

Kirk: All of the above. I personally have had my best luck through pitches/networking and from referrals from authors.


Deirdra: What advice would you have to someone aspiring to become an author?

Kirk: Write what you love and are passionate about--not what you think is the latest trend or will be the next trend (unless you're passionate about that trend). I've seen too many people think they're getting into writing for the money. It's not about the money. If authors wanted to make money, they'd get into stocks trading, business, medicine, technology. If they want to write amazing stories, then they're in the right industry.


Deirdra: What advice would you have to someone aspiring to become an editor?

Kirk: In addition to what I said earlier, I would tell new editors to focus on building long-term, enjoyable professional relationships with authors and agents. Those two groups of people are your compatriots in the book-making business, and you want to treat them like gold. Learn to negotiate revisions, contracts, etc., with fairness and win-win compromise, and what you will end up with is a group of highly talented people who enjoy working with you and who will bend over backwards to make some amazing books. There are a gazillion other things I could recommend, but they all stem from this primary focus.


Deirdra: What is the best time of year to query a publisher?

Kirk: April Fool's Day. By far.

Deirdra: What? Are you serious?

Kirk: Absolutely serious about April Fool's Day. ;)



Deirdra: What’s the best part of your job?

Kirk: I enjoy people, and working with authors and their creative stories is very rewarding. I get to read stories for a living and brainstorm with some of the greatest minds I have the privilege to know. Who could ask for more?


Deirdra: What advice do you have for authors who will be doing a live pitch to an agent or editor this year?

Kirk: Enjoy yourself. Stay calm. Wear those lucky zebra-print high heels if it helps. If the agent/editor has read a sample before the pitch, come prepared to talk about it and answer questions. If he/she hasn't, then come prepared to give a concise, short pitch of the project, talk about the "hook" or unique marketing slant for the book, and be sure to talk a little bit about your relevant background--what might help you sell this series (you used to be a spelunker, and your book takes place in a cave). Above all. Above all. Don't be defensive if the agent/editor gives you advice on your story. In pitches I do with authors, I want to make the most of their time with me, and so after we cover the basics, I give them feedback on their writing, recommend possible revisions (usually with the concept or overall story or plot), and possibly talk about other projects they're interested in writing (to help them prioritize what sounds like the most promising story to take on next). Very rarely I have had one or two authors who are rude and defensive even for the most tactful suggestions. Don't be this way--especially since it's entirely up to you what you decide on any revisions. Be polite even if the editor's/agent's advice is appalling to the heart and soul of your story. One final piece of advice is to take advantage of the window of opportunity--get your story in to the editor as soon as possible if it's requested. Reference the pitch session on your cover letter and bring up something about you that the agent would remember (I'm the author with the zebra-print high heels).


Deirdra: What is something that not everyone knows about you?

Kirk: I'm big into music--almost majored in vocal performance. I like to sing opera, classic rock, Latin, you name it. I also play the trumpet, piano, and guitar.


Deirdra: When you’re not at the office how do you enjoy spending your time?

Kirk: I enjoy reading, especially speculative fiction but definitely not exclusively. I love spending time with my kids, building Legos, playing games. I watch a few spy TV shows. I serve in the community. I enjoy gaming. I like trying new restaurants, and I've been on a sushi kick this past year; also have always loved barbecue, especially the Tennesse dry-rub variety. I enjoy traveling.


Deirdra: Any final words or advice you would like to share?
Kirk: Good luck to everyone out there who's trying to get published. Remember, it's worth taking the time and money to get published well rather than running down to Kinko's just to have a printed work with your name on it.

Thank you so much, Kirk. Its great to get an inside look into all the hard work you do.