Interviews and Essays

I had a number of online Q&A interviews for All Who Are Lost. As time allows, I will repost my answers.

 Guest Post, October 21, 2014

As a new author, what challenges did you face on your path to publishing? How did you overcome them?

Biggest challenge? Two words: SHEER TERROR.

It’s a terrifying thing to publish a book. You are putting yourself on the line. With characters that you’ve created and cherished and nurtured, you are also putting your children out there. And the fears are plentiful. Will people love them? Hate them? Love me? Think that I have no business thinking I can write? Proclaim that I have wasted years of my life writing the worst book in the history of forever?

Will this be the biggest mistake of my life?

Truth is, I don’t know yet. I can only describe some of the challenges I have faced since I decided last November to publish the book I had been working on for years.

First, I had to accept that my story, 85% complete and already over half a million words, was not commercially viable with a traditional publisher. No new author will get such a long book published these days. I knew that at least one long fanfic had been broken up and published – the Fifty Shades books. I knew of another long favorite where the first third was about to be published as the first book of three, so I decided to try that approach.

So how to slice up my story? I’ll spare you the gory details about spreadsheets and word counts and number balancing. (What can I say? I work around accountants.) I decided where I wanted my characters to be at the end of Book 1 to set up the events of Book 2, and I divided the story into three books and then three acts within each book.

I am lucky enough, as I am an editor myself, to have access to world-class editing services. To shorten Book 1 (if 195K words can be called “short”), I and a couple of my fellow editors went through the book, line by line, and took out anything we felt was unnecessary for the story. I also compiled the e-book and sent it to some beta readers. One of those turned out to be a hard critic – exactly what I needed! Over a six-hour lunch, she and I discussed many facets of it, and I made notes of her ideas. Most of them I ended up integrating into the book.

She also told me to stop picking at it.

Writing/editing, for me, was a comfort zone. I had to learn the business of self-publishing. Through my job, I have access to a lot of high-end tools that many writers don’t have because they are so expensive. I and my fellow editors are skilled at print design; one of the editors worked for a book printer and advised me on fonts and feathering. I sent my interior design around for review and discussion and reaped the benefit of the expertise of people who, like me, do this for a living.

I needed a great cover, and I could not do it myself. I am graphically challenged! First, I turned to a relative who is a professional artist, but we soon discovered that creating art is not the same as creating a book cover that grabs readers and makes them want to learn more. From a Google search and email inquiry, I found my designer, Robin Ludwig. From the initial concept she sent me, I knew that she had the rare ability to read my mind and figure out what I really wanted and what really worked.

I tried to do everything else myself, but I finally threw in the towel to concentrate on what I know best – writing and editing and formatting. I knew I could handle the web sites as well, but that was my limit. My husband took over the “business” end – working on the blog tour and organizing all the steps to bring this to market. My daughter asked to manage the social media. I tried to compile the e-book myself, but when I couldn’t get rid of the “rivers of white,” I shipped the file to an expert, who turned it around in a day.

I had to clamp down on my tendency to pick, pick, pick – changing this phrase or inserting another paragraph. “Let It Go” from Frozen became my theme song! I was terrified to let go, to let my baby stand on its own. So I fussed with the mechanics, proofreading and copy-editing through FIVE rounds of print proofs. I kept finding one more thing to change. Ridiculous!

Before I could talk myself into reformatting the entire book, my family told me, “Enough. Let it go.”

And so I have.

Now I am the proud, nervous mama, hoping that my kid gets accepted by the other kids and brings home a good report card. I was a Velcro mom – I’m going to try not to be a Velcro author.

Now for Book 2! I’ve learned a lot and hope that this second adventure will not be as nerve-wracking as the first. Most of the mechanics are now in place, and I’ve got a great team.

So will this prove to be my biggest mistake? I don’t know. In the end, it all comes down to faith. Faith in yourself. Faith in your art and craft. Faith that, if you love your characters, other people might love them too. Faith to let go.


Interview Questions, November 7, 2014

As a new author, you’ve had to learn a lot. What’s been the hardest part for you and how have you overcome it?

The hardest part has been to get up the courage to go public with my writing. Working on my story for myself really took no courage at all, because I thought that only I and maybe a few close friends would ever read it. Putting your writing – your very self – out for public judgment took a lot of prodding from my husband and the determination that I needed to do this. I announced it early to my family and friends so that I would not chicken out.

I don’t know that I really have overcome my fear, but too late now! It’s out there! So my next challenge is to buckle down, get the second book (already written) ready to go, and finish the third one (halfway there).

The mechanics of publication were easy to learn. I did have to think like a businesswoman – setting up the publishing company, setting up an account with the Copyright Office, acquiring ISBNs, making contact with e-book formatters and book cover designers. I am lucky enough, because of where I work, to have a bevy of editors and print designers to work with.

Where’d you get the inspiration to write your book?

I’m interested in the secrets that lie within families. You may think you know a family member inside and out, but do you really know that person, or do you see him/her only in the role played within the family confines? Family secrets are the heart of the Ashmore’s Folly trilogy, as almost every character conceals his or her true self.

I also wanted to explore the relationship between sisters. A sister can be your best friend or your most implacable rival – or she can be both, depending on your situation in life. In the trilogy, sisters see once close relationships fall apart, while two sisters who once had little in common form a lasting bond.

Writing is often hard for families to handle. What type of support system do you have?

My husband is very supportive; in fact, when family crises threatened to overwhelm us during this last year, he was the one who kept saying, “No, you have to do this. I insist you do this.” He has kept me from throwing in the towel. My daughter has also been encouraging, and my sister has helped me a lot with her enthusiasm.

We do have a toddler at home – a very loud toddler, who thinks the universe revolves around him – and it’s a struggle to concentrate when he is in noisemaker mode. He has NO respect for the needs of a writer, but then why should he? He’s a baby. Thank heavens for headphones!

Who is your favorite character from your book?

I think picking a favorite character is like picking your favorite child (although that’s easy in my case, as I only have one). My favorite character to write is Diana Ashmore. She’s the quintessential unreliable narrator (the first thing she tells us is that she’s a liar), but she has a very strong voice and no filters. She is snarky, funny, opinionated, and passionately in hate with the hero. No one cuts Richard Ashmore down to size better than his estranged wife.

Who’s your favorite author? What’s your favorite book?

I have two. First is Ruth Rendell, under that name and as Barbara Vine. From her, I have learned a lot about writing about a past that haunts the present and blights the future. One of the best books I have ever read was Anna’s Book (called Asta’s Book in some countries), and The Brimstone Wedding and The Blood Doctor are right up there. Hands down, however, the most chilling book she ever wrote was A Judgment in Stone, where you know who done it and why from the first paragraph.

My other favorite, who died recently, is Mary Stewart. A whole generation of romance and women’s fiction novelists owe her a debt of gratitude. She wrote strong, independent heroines before they came into fashion, and no one wrote description and setting better than Lady Stewart. My favorite Stewart book, and the one that inspired the creation of Richard Ashmore, is Madam, Will You Talk? It was her first – probably not her best – but it had so many Stewart trademarks: the lovers existing in their own world, the strong heroine, the vivid background. To this day, 60 years after it was published, you can use Google Earth to view many of the locations she used, including the cliff spur at Les Baux (Provence) where Charity Selborne has a terrifying encounter with her destiny.

If you could meet anyone, who would it be and why?

I had to really think about this, but I think it’s a toss-up between J.K. Rowling and Stephen King. Not because they are famous writers, but because they are passionate about their writing. I’d like to pick Jo Rowling’s brain for her world-building technique; I’ve read that she did so much preliminary planning before she began to write the first Potter book that she has back stories for all the characters and reams of material that never made it into the books. I have back stories and hidden moments for all my characters too – I think it’s a useful exercise to develop that kind of material, because it makes the characters richer.

King, I would like to talk to just to understand his creative process. He loves words; he plays with them, twists them, wrings the most out of each one. He shared a lot of his thoughts on writing on his book (appropriately titled On Writing), but what I would like to know is – what toll does writing take on him? I know I occasionally have to step away from mine because I get too emotionally involved (as in, the emotion in the story can affect my daily life).

Who’s your least favorite character from your book?

My least favorite character to write is Julie Ashmore, the daughter of hero Richard Ashmore. A damaged child who does a lot of playacting, she is by far the most difficult character to write. In real life, the character I would least like to meet for tea is Emma St. Bride, a snotty, self-important woman driven by jealousy.

What’s your next project?

A close relative is involved in the art museum world, so I’ve long been intrigued by the contrast of the public face of a museum (dignified, quiet, cultured) and the private reality (lots of jealousy, backstabbing, and crime). I’m also fascinated by the Gardner robbery which remains unsolved to this day. So my next project is a trilogy set in the Pacific Northwest in a private art museum, revolving around an unsolved robbery and a mysterious death of a former art museum director.

How long have you been writing?

I started writing as a child, spinning stories about TV characters for my classmates. I even illustrated them with the Betsy McCall Fashion Designer Kit, which came with a lightbox you could use for tracing paper dolls. (I think one was made for Barbie as well.) I kept on writing for many years, and I have a trunkful of terrible novels that will never see the light of day. I actually started the Ashmore’s Folly trilogy over 20 years ago, but motherhood and a highly demanding career got in the way of my concentration. I do envy those women who can write under any circumstances, because I cannot.

One challenge has been to shift writing gears. At work, I write about income tax – the most boring subject on earth. Then I come home and get to work writing about my characters and their emotions. I have to be careful that one writing style doesn’t bleed into the other.

Coffee or Tea?

Tea! Green tea, to be specific. I have a hard time even tolerating the smell of coffee. I suffer from weather-induced migraines, and nothing helps me recover like a cup of green tea brewed on my Keurig.

Do you write with music, and if so, what’s on your playlist?

I always write to music. Spotify and Amazon Music Player are my best friends since I can create a playlist and have access to it both at work and at home. To me, the most important attraction of a piece of music is the emotion it invokes in me. A lot of my writing is very emotional, so I listen to a lot of Sarah Brightman, Moody Blues, Evanescence, and Muse. For the last Diana chapter in the book, I put “Layla” on repeat and listened to it for hours because it invoked a lot of tension and anger that I wanted in the confrontation that ends the Ashmore marriage once and for all. I haven’t wanted to hear it since I finished!

Are you a pantsier or a planner?

Half and half. On some chapters, I write detailed outlines, down to specific pieces of dialog. Other chapters, I wing it. I always know where I am going, though. For example, even though Book 3 in the trilogy is not finished, I wrote the last chapter years ago.

Strangely, in “real life,” I am a planner. I think most people would be surprised how much I do wing it in my writing.