Thursday, March 31, 2011

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.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Harry Potter Blogfest

Which two characters would you want for your BFF, AND what kind of trio would you be?


My BFFs would be Hermonie and Luna.

Both these ladies have amazing fun facts floating through their heads at all times.

We are all animal lovers and enjoy a good laugh.

Though we have lots in common the reason why I chose these ladies if for our differences. We would make a well rounded group.

Luna is laid back even in stressful situations while Hermione tends to be more uptight.

I think we could all gain valuable insights from each other.


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Nominate your favorite blog for an award!


Take a look at the “Awards!” page and nominate your favorite blogs for an award by leavening a comment on this post.

Remember to post the link to your favorite blog so we can all see how great of a blog it is!


Remember to become a follower.


Friday, March 25, 2011

Good News!!!

An article of mine was accepted for publication. I am working on deals between two publishers and will post more info later!!!

Languages

In my opinion the master of languages is J.R.R. Tolkien.

What he did with his creation of actual working languages was a miracle.

In my books I don’t have any specific foreign languages that need to be interpreted, but I do have people with accents and unique phraseologies. This distinguishes my characters from each other and gives a sense of who they are.

Another author who used this same concept was J.K. Rowling in her Harry Potter series.

Here are a few lines from her books. See if you can match up the character to their quotes:

Severus Snape

Albus Dumbledore

Mad-Eye Moody

Harry Potter

Aunt Petunia

Hagrid

Hermione

Ron

Luna Lovegood

*****

1. “Is that my Dudders?”

2. “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.”

3. “I say there are spots that don't come off.... Spots that never come off, d'you know what I mean?”

4. No, I think I'll just go down and have some pudding and wait for it all to turn up.... It always does in the end.

5. "He was my mum and dad's best friend. He's a convicted murderer, but he's broken out of wizard prison and he's on the run. He likes to keep in touch with me, though...keep up with news...check if I'm happy..."

6. "Brilliant! It's Potions last thing on Friday! Snape won't have the time to poison us all!"

7. "Yeah, Quirrell was a great teacher. There was just that minor drawback of him having Lord Voldemort sticking out of the back of his head!"

8. “What's comin' will come and we'll meet it when it does.”

9. “The mind is not a book, to be opened at will and examined at leisure. Thoughts are not etched on the inside of skulls, to be perused by an invader. The mind is a complex and many-layered thing.”

10. The ceiling isn’t real. It’s bewitched to look like the night sky. I read about it in Hogwarts, A History

11. "Ah, shut up, Dursley, yeh great prune."

12. "Ah, go boil yer heads, both of yeh,"

13. “Cause I'll look like a bloody idiot, that's why.”

14. “Blimey, Harry. You've slayed dragons. If you can't get a date, who can?”

Answers:

Aunt Petunia= 1

Albus Dumbledore= 2

Mad-Eye Moody= 3

Luna Lovegood= 4

Harry Potter= 5, 6, 7

Hagrid= 8, 11,12

Severus Snape = 9

Hermione=10

Ron= 13, 14




Monday, March 21, 2011

Interview with Author Marya Ashworth



Marya Ashworth grew up on a ranch in Northern California. After college, she worked as an editor, in the movie business and in advertising and marketing. The first-time author lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and three dogs.

My website is www.maryaashworth.com and I can be reached at my blog www.elvenchronicles-marya.blogspot.com


Deirdra: When did you first know you wanted to be an author?
Marya: I grew up listening to original fairy tales from my Russian mother and grandmother. Those tales inspired me to write stories of my own.

Deirdra: What is your writing and educational background?
Marya: After college, I worked as an editor and kept journals. Three years ago, I wrote a fantasy for middle grade readers, and I'm now working on a sequel. I am a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and Jacketflap and have attended many of their writing and marketing seminars.

Deirdra: What makes you passionate about writing?
Marya: I love reading, especially YA and middle grade fantasies, and books inspire my writing. I get really cranky when I don't have time to write!

Deirdra: What was the pathway like for you to get your first book published?
Marya: I tried for over 1 1/2 years to find an agent and although I received some very encouraging feedback, ultimately, I did not find one. Because book publishing was in a downturn, I decided to self-publish my first book.

Deirdra: Were you ever discouraged along the way? If so, how did you deal with it?
Marya: I was sorry that I couldn't find a publisher for my book. At least by self-publishing, my book is out in the world and getting into the hands of readers. I've had many author readings at schools and libraries and kids really respond to my book, which is very rewarding.

Deirdra: What is your writing schedule like?
Marya: I try to write for a few hours every day.

Deirdra: Where do your ideas come from? How do you know the idea is good enough to write a book about it?
Marya: My idea for my book came to me and I was driven to write the story. My book addresses the issue of bullying in schools, and my heroine finds self-esteem, new friends and first love.



Deirdra: Can you tell us a little about your book Marigold?
Marya: A lonely thirteen-year-old girl moves from Ireland to a school in Washington State. Marigold is bullied by her classmates, her father is an absentee workaholic and her best friend is her horse.

While riding her horse deep into the forest, Marigold rescues a boy from dangerous banshees and discovers her ability to control things with her mind. This chance encounter leads her to a hidden Elven World where she meets new friends and her first love. When she is invited to attend ElvenAcademy, she begins her magical journey and her true nature is revealed.

But, Marigold uncovers an evil that threatens everything she has come to love. A wicked Elf and his banshees are controlling her father in a plot to destroy the real and magical world. With the help of her friends, Marigold must race against time to save her father and stop the diabolical plan.

Deirdra: How many beta readers do you have review your manuscript before you send it to your editor?
Marya: I had many critique partners read my manuscript, including some younger readers.

Deirdra: What do you hope readers will get from your books?
Marya: I hope to inspire readers with Marigold's audacity and confidence to stand up for what is right. My book has been described as a "fantastical morality tale".

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?
Marya: I had an outline of all three books in the series, but with the grand vision in place, I just sat down and started writing.

Deirdra: Do you ever experience a snag in a story, a form of writer's block? If so, how do you deal with it?
Marya: In my sequel, my characters are travelling in England and Ireland at the beginning of the book. I had to interject some action scenes and more dialogue to keep it from sounding like a travelogue.

Deirdra: Do you need absolute quiet to write? Do you listen to music when you are writing?
Marya: I can listen to classical music when I write, but get distracted by any music with words.

Deirdra: What kinds of inspiration do you use during your story creation periods?
Marya: I think back to the wonderful stories from my grandmother.

Deirdra: Who has made the greatest difference for you as a writer?
Marya: I think that it is important to read a lot of books in the age group and genre, so that the word and dialogue are appropriate.

Deirdra: What’s your secret to making the character’s in your books come to life?
Marya: My own life was part of the inspiration for my heroine. I rode horses, took martial arts, etc... If only I had been an Elf!

Deirdra: What authors do you admire, and why?
Marya: I adore Brandon Mull, Cinda Williams Chima and of course, J.K. Rowling. The complexity of their books, the intricate plots and their amazing imaginations humble me every day.

Deirdra: What is your favorite snack to have while you are writing?
Marya: I try not to snack when I write, since I'm trying to keep my weight down. ;-} If I must, grapes are always good.

Deirdra: Besides writing what other talents or hobbies do you have?
Marya: I am a jazz singer. I sing with several groups and perform at small local venues.

Deirdra: What words of advice do you have for other writers who desire to have their manuscripts become books in print?
Marya: Keep writing and don't get discouraged!

Deirdra: What are you working on now?
Marya: The sequel to Marigold, called Belladonna: Book Two of the Elven Chronicles.

Deirdra: Where can our readers go to find your books and order them?
Marya: My books can be ordered on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and ordered through independent bookstores.

Deirdra: Any final words you would like to share?
Marya: I am more proud of my book than anything I have ever done. I am leaving a legacy for readers for years to come.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Interview with Artist Sarah B. Seiter





Interview with Artist Sarah B. Seiter

Sarah B. Seiter is a fantasy artist and doll sculptor. She resides in Utah with her husband, three young children, and two guinea pigs.
Sarah offers her dolls and art for sale to the public through her business, The Mushroom Peddler (http://www.themushroompeddler.com/ ) which she opened in 2010. Prior to that time she sold her art as a freelance artist from 2000-2010.


Deirdra: What made you decide to become an artist?

Sarah: I decided I was going to be an artist when I was very young. I was around 5 when I first recall admiring my aunt’s art (she draws fairies and mermaids a lot). I wanted so badly to be able to draw like her. I was often frustrated that my hands couldn’t seem to draw what I pictured in my mind, but my mother told me to keep going and I would eventually get there. She reminded me that my aunt (who was around 30 at the time) had several years of practice that I didn’t. That kept me working hard.
I decided to become a doll artist later (around age 20) and have finally found my own style in that area.


Deirdra: What kind of special training did you receive to help you in your art career?

Sarah: I was home schooled by my mother from 2nd grade up. As soon as I finished my school work and chores each day, the rest of the time was mostly my own. I spent the majority of that time drawing, sewing, and sculpting things. I didn’t have much of a social life then outside of my family (3 sisters) and cousins, but I did have a lot of time to practice doing things I love. I have taken a few community classes along the way, but I am mostly self-taught.


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

Sarah: Again my aunt was my biggest influence. Seeing her art as I grew up, along with Disney animated films, gave me a strong pull toward fantasy. I also felt very drawn toward sculpture and wished to be able to sculpt fantasy figures, but didn’t know quite where to start with that other than the small figurines I made from clay. When I was a teen my family moved to a new house which happened to be next door to a professional sculptor who worked in clay and bronze to create life-size statues. His work was also a great influence in my desire to sculpt.


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

Sarah: I have entered many contests and art shows and it is always exciting to win a ribbon or cash prize, but probably my most exciting was a contest I entered around 2001 where a company was looking for a mascot and gave a description for people to draw. I drew the character they described and when judging was over I had won $1000. I was really pleased and excited about that you can imagine I am sure :)


Deirdra: Did you get discouraged along the way? How did you deal with it?

Sarah: I had more struggles with discouragement when I was younger and I didn’t feel like my art and sculpture were up to the standards I expected from myself. I just kept reminding myself of my mother’s words that if I gave up, I would never reach my goal. I finally drew something that was very close to what I had imagined when I was 18 and it really made me happy, but even now I still have times when my hands and mind don’t work together very well. I usually deal with these “artistic blocks” by taking some time off and focusing on some of my other interests until it is past.


Deirdra: What is your favorite median to work in?

Sarah: For art I love to work with watercolor and then finish details with colored pencils. I feel it gives a depth and color to the work that I couldn’t seem to achieve with other mediums.
I also love sculpting and have now created a business around my art and sculpture. I decided that the best way to apply my skill and interest in sculpting and sewing is by creating dolls. I began customizing dolls like Barbie to sell on eBay back around 2000 when I saw some other people had done sell for hundreds of dollars. I knew I could do that too so I did and it helped my family to get through some difficult financial times. Later I discovered ball-jointed dolls which have now become quite popular. I began customizing them and eventually decided it was time to sculpt my own. I create the original in clay, then make silicone molds and cast the final doll in poly-urethane resin.




Deirdra: Do you do freelance work?

Sarah: Most of the art and sculpture I do is for myself. Then I duplicate it through prints or cast dolls so I can share the things I love with others as well as help to support my family financially. I do occasionally take commissions though depending on my time commitments and what is requested.


Deirdra: What is your favorite subject or genre to work with?

Sarah: Fantasy such as fairies and mermaids, elves, dragons, wizards, and the like are by far my favorite subject. Always have been and probably always will be :) I love that with fantasy so can create anything and it is ok even if it doesn’t look like a known creature because it is your own world and no one can tell you it is wrong. I am always amused when I draw something like a mermaid and someone asks “Did you use a live reference for that?” I am always tempted to say “Yep, I keep a mermaid in my bathtub.” lol

Deirdra: Are you an independent artist or do you work with a company?

Sarah: I am both. I do work as an independent artist and have done it that way for many years, but last year I registered a business name “Mushroom Peddler Creations LLC” and officially made it into a business. Currently the business in focused mainly on the dolls I sculpt. I work full time at a workshop I am renting since my home was being overrun by supplies and also I didn’t want my children exposed to the fumes from the resin I pour while creating my dolls.


Deirdra: What are you currently working on?

Sarah: I am currently spending most of my days working on my dolls full time. I sometimes take a little time to work on pet projects such as a website I built for another doll artist for a contest. She asked for a fairyland for her dolls to live in. This is what I designed:http://www.themushroompeddler.com/bjtales/index.htm
This is the voting page: http://bjtales.wordpress.com/
If you like the site I made for her (site #4), please vote for me :)

Currently the dolls that are available are my bunnies at http://www.etsy.com/shop/TheMushroomPeddler





Deirdra: What is the best part of your job?

Sarah: I think the best part is when all the hard work is done and you have a beautiful thing that you can look at and say “I did that!” It is a great feeling. The other best part is being able to support my family doing something I love.


Deirdra: Who are your top five favorite artists?

Sarah:
1. My aunt of course is my first favorite. Her name is Ina Jane Harvey and she created some fantasy coloring books when I was about 13. I attribute much of my skill to the hours spent coloring copies of the line art she drew over and over. Now she offers them for everyone to enjoy. Her website is www.worldsbestcoloringbooks.com (she has free samples there that can be downloaded)

2. James Christensen is my second favorite. His fantasy work is amazing and inspiring.https://www.artifactsgallery.com/art.asp?!=A&ID=643

3. Third is a doll artist, Kaye Wiggs, who is also a sculptor who started out making a few dolls and now has a business around her dolls. I loved them when she first started making them and still do. She is very inspiring. http://www.kazekidz.com/

4. Another doll artist I admire id Lidia Snul. She works in clay and casts in porcelain. Her dolls are beautiful and unique. http://bjtales.wordpress.com/

5. Next is Stephanie Law, a watercolor artist. Her art work amazes and inspires me.http://puimun.deviantart.com/


Deirdra: Is there anything you do to get into the mood to create art? (i.e. listen to music, take a nap, etc?)

Sarah: I watch (or listen to) movies while I create whenever I can. For some reason having my mind engaged with a movie seems to help my creativity flow more smoothly. Maybe it is because I stress less about what I am doing and just do it.


Deirdra: What is the most difficult thing about your job?

Sarah: Making molds for my dolls is very tricky as well as making sure that the parts don’t have bubbles when I pour the resin. Drilling the pathways in the doll parts for the elastic which holds them together is quite hard on my hands as well.

Deirdra: What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a professional artist as a career?

Sarah: Don’t give up. Confidence in what you do and a love for what you are creating is very important if you want to move forward with art as a career. It is not an easy market to get into, but a very rewarding one when you do.


Deirdra: Any final words you'd like to share?

Sarah: Always follow your dreams and don’t let discouraging words or setbacks make you give up. Mistakes are inevitable along the way, but really, they are only mistakes if you don’t learn from them. I like to think of mistakes and setbacks as learning experiences. If you don’t allow yourself to give up and instead go forward no matter what toward your goal, you will make your dreams become reality.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Magic and Rules for Usage:


For me I have never been a huge fan of complex fantasy with bizarre worlds and rules for magic.

Since I am a fantasy writer I build off of things that people already understand in places they are familiar with. My fantasy books take place here on earth. Right off people know how gravity works, that the air is breathable, familiarity with weather patterns, ETC etc etc.

When my characters use “magic” I approach this in the same way I approach my world building, by using things people can relate to: Science, weather phenomenon’s and religious miracles.

Let me touch briefly on religious miracles for all you with raised eyebrows.

In the Old Testament when Moses raised his staff and parted the Red Sea was that magic or a miracle?

In the New Testament Jesus Christ raised people from the dead was that magic or a miracle?

In the Book of Mormon when Nephi stretched out his hand and shocked his brothers was he a wizard or a prophet?

When Gandhi fasted for twenty-one days … miracle?

When Peter Strudwick ran a marathon WITHOUT FEET, miracle or magic?

What about when someone is given days to live and years later they are alive and well, miracle or magic?

People hear amazing true stories all the time. For me, as an author, I want to give people something to believe in. I want people to read my books and feel like they can see, hear and accomplish miraculous things too.



Thursday, March 10, 2011

Kirk Shaw's list of qualities an author should strive for:


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.


Kirk Shaw's list of qualities an author should strive for:
Quick to communicate
Humble
Quick to learn (technology, process, skills, successful habits)
Prolific
Patient
Well-versed in the market and process
Dots I’s and crosses T’s: submits polished work
Good negotiator and compromiser
Picks the important “battles”
Great public “presence”
Good at networking, with contacts in the industry
Has a good web presence and knows how to connect with readers

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Interview with Author Peggy Shumway


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

Peggy: Believe it or not, a local newspaper published one of my poems when I was in the first grade. Even as a six year old, I loved seeing my work in print. That got me started writing for the elementary school’s literary magazine. But it was my eighth grade English teacher who first taught me characterization and plot development. She opened up a universe of writing possibilities. I entered the school’s creative writing contest that year and won. The day the principal announced my success over the loud speaker to the whole school, my jaw dropped to the floor and my passion to write ignited.

Deirdra: What is your writing and educational background?

Peggy: I learned the most about writing while I created my first novel. I won a couple of writing contests, started writing for local LDS newspapers, and flipped when one of my stories was published in another author’s book. Imagine my thrill when I received a contract for my first novel. But when the publisher plunged into financial difficulties, they released most of their contracts, mine included, so I sidetracked for awhile. I attended a computer school and graduated with a multimedia degree, which landed me a position as a graphic designer. Though I lay out graphics during the day, my literary education continues with each writing project I take on.

Deirdra: What makes you passionate about writing?

Peggy: Words and the way they fit together inflame my passion to write. Just the thought of reading a well-crafted sentence accelerates my pulse. I also love attending writer’s conferences. Hearing a day’s worth of authors’ writing techniques sends me home with the desire to plant my backside in the seat and write until I drop.

Deirdra: Besides writing what other talents do you have?

Peggy: I’ve dabbled in many different creative pursuits over the years. I spent time as a florist, crafter, dancer (ballet), and artist (watercolor and pastels). The problem is I want to do it all. I finally realized I had to choose what creative outlet thrilled me the most. Guess which talent came in first?

Deirdra: What is your writing schedule like?

Peggy: My writing schedule consists of snatching moments. Finding time to write hasn’t come easy while raising a special needs child, going through a divorce, taking care of my parents, and earning a living. I’d love nothing more than to have a huge block of time to practice my craft every day. Since I don’t, I write between five and six in the morning and after my father goes to bed at night. I jot down ideas, research, or read on my lunch breaks.

Deirdra: Where do your ideas come from? How do you know the idea is good enough to write a book about it?


Peggy: I guess the trite answer is I get my ideas from life—gleaning material from all the follies and joys that bombard me every day. But if I think about it, the ideas that turn into books are those ideas that spring up from some place beyond the scope of my imagination and experience. Those inklings nag at me, begin to buzz inside my mind. As they grow louder and more annoying, I corner the ones that are most clear and try to capture them on paper. I often wake up in the morning with direction and focus and eventually follow that inspiration right to my keyboard.

Deirdra: When did the idea of writing a book first come to you?

Peggy: The idea to write a book gelled about the time I won my first writing contest. I didn’t chase the idea until I had several children in my home.

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

Peggy: I hope my readers will see, smell, hear, and taste what I’m trying to say. I want them to feel as enthusiastic about my subjects as I do. I especially want them to love the characters they relate to enough that they’ll want to bring them home and invite them to dinner.

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?


Peggy: I’ve done both. My first book was an experiment. I let the ideas and words flow without structure. As I write my second book, I am outlining so I don’t forget vital plot development. However, I often veer away from my outline. My characters are as stubborn as my kids. They want to do things and say things I never planned or hoped for them.


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


Peggy: Writing is a serious of snags. Sometimes I haggle over solutions for days. Sometimes I let ideas simmer while I’m asleep. Usually after brainstorming with people in my writers group, I’m able to push myself over the hump. My greatest struggle is fear—fear of making mistakes in grammar or plot, of stumbling over dialogue or character development lest someone dubs me a terrible writer. Fear is the ogre who sits in the middle of the road blocking my project’s progress on the way to completion.


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


Peggy: I’ve learned to write through distractions: screaming kids, barking dogs, and blasting video games. However, I do like quiet when I write. I want to hear the words forming in my head, not someone else’s words beating a tune inside me. The break room at work is noisy and people could care less about what I’m trying to do. So I’ve learned to shut out the noise. My co-workers have commented on how my concentration baffles them.


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


Peggy: Inspiration is everywhere. I read, read, read, research a little here, a little there. I go to movies and pay attention to plot development on TV. I listen to conversation in grocery store lines or in conference room meetings. I like to absorb how authors put sentences together; it helps my own creativity kick in. But I have to chose whose work I read with care. Reading a less talented writer’s stories affects me as much as reading the good stuff.


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


Peggy: I wish I could thank my eighth grade English teacher who handed me my life when she introduced me to storytelling. My talent might have remained dormant otherwise. In my later years, attending the first meeting of the American Night Writers Association (ANWA) in the back room of the Gilbert, Arizona library provided me a source of encouragement and writing education from which to draw over the years. I can’t say enough about joining a writers group.

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

Peggy: I use a combination of techniques to make my characters come to life. Sensory descriptions and realistic dialogue help me mold my characters into shape. Then I sprinkle on the essence of who I am as an author, and my characters begin to move and walk and live life on the page. They think my thoughts and feel my sorrows and joys. Even my evil characters have a part of me lurking around inside them. That’s why writing is so therapeutic. I’m always learning something about myself through my characters.

Deirdra: What authors do you admire and why?

Peggy: Any author who helps me envision life and people has my vote. O’Henry’s short stories and plot twists kept me fascinated as a young girl. I read with mouth agape the works of James Alexander Thom, Jennifer Lee Carrell, and Geraldine Brooks for their choice of words. And even though he uses never-ending sentences, I love the way Faulkner’s characters come to life. The list goes on. The world is full of great writers.

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

Peggy: Food is the last thing on my mind when I write. Most of the time I forget to eat. When I do feel hungry, I say to myself, “Just one more paragraph. Just one more sentence.” Before I realize I’m still hungry, an hour or two has gone by.

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

Peggy: Never give up. That’s my motto. If someone has a passion for turning words into worlds, they should do everything they can to see their goal take root. To know I came so close to getting my first novel published gives me hope. If I snagged the interest of one editor, I can do it again.

Deirdra: What are you working on now?

Peggy: My pet project at the moment is my archeological adventure centered on the Michigan Relics and the Hopewell civilization that once lived in North America. I use Indian folklore, science, and religion to pose some thought-provoking questions about Christianity and about who these ancients were. I also have two other novels and a non-fiction book in various stages waiting for me to revisit them.

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

Peggy: The most difficult thing about being an author is to know I’ve worked at writing for years without anything significant to show for it.

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

Peggy: The best thing about being an author is when I satisfy the urge to create. At these times, my status as a writer doesn’t matter. Inventing new ways to say what’s in my heart is all I want to do, and whether I publish or not is not as important as improving the talent my Father in Heaven has blessed me with.

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

Peggy: My most pressing goal is to finish my book and get it published. Three years from now I’d like to see another project almost completed.

Deirdra: Where is your favorite place to write?

Peggy: I usually write on my laptop because I can take it anywhere in the house or wherever I go. It allows me to be alone when I want or to be around family when they need me. Other times, I write in my home office. If I had a more comfortable chair at my desk, I’d probably prefer to write there all the time.

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

Peggy: Naming characters is a complicated process for me. I search baby name sites or on the back of book covers for inspiration. Sometimes I look up the meanings of names. I know I’ve chosen the right one when the name rolls off my tongue, and I feel like my heroes and heroines are long-time friends.

Deirdra: What is the best complement you’ve received from your work?

Peggy: Many years ago I wrote and performed a narration for a production called Daughters of Eve. The program featured women of the Bible through music, narration, and sculpture. One day, we performed the program for American Mothers, whose president at the time was Barbara B. Smith, the former General Relief Society President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After our performance, Sister Smith made a beeline to where I stood, hugged me, and said, “You are a master.” In fact she found me once more after the program and repeated her sentiment. That was by far, the most humbling and uplifting comment anyone ever gave me.


Deirdra: Any final words you would like to share?


Peggy: Thanks, Deirdra. This interview was a lot of fun. I’ve remembered things I haven’t thought about in years. I’d love it if you and your readers would visit my blog at fragranceofthought.blogspot.com and leave your comments about writing.