Thursday, January 12, 2012

Interview with a Writer

I had the opportunity to interview a fellow writer and dear friend. She is like the majority of us in the writing world, persuing a life long dream. I always find it interesting to read how others do it, what works for them and what doesn't. I hope you can find something in her words that helps you on your journey.

Welcome to Blackbird, Jan. I appreciate the time you took to answer my questions. First, Can you tell us a little about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?

I started writing about four years ago, when out of nowhere a story idea came to me that wouldn't let go of my imagination. I had thought about writing a book prior to that, but with four kids within four years of each other, I hadn't put any serious thought to it. While driving my 2.5 hour commute each weekend to and from work, the idea for a young adult, historical fiction novel with a paranormal twist just came to me and kept occupying my mind. I spent the following four months writing like a demon and ended up with a 500 page novel. Which was basically nothing more than me spitting out words on paper in the form of a verbal story. Even with two degrees under my belt, I had no freakin' idea how to write. I mean technically, artfully, compellingly write. So started the long road of writer's conferences, rejected query letters, and attending two separate writing groups, in two different towns, on two different days of the week. And that was just the first year. I quickly learned that I had a great story to tell, with no idea of what it took to skillfully write it. A few more writer's conferences over the next three years, a lot of constructive criticism, and many rewrites later, and I finally felt like I had the writing part down. Then came the structure of the whole thing. Since at most writing conferences you don't get much help or feedback on your entire book, this is when I decided I would be better served hiring a private editor. I made this decision one year ago, and can honestly say, it was the best decision ever.

Can you tell us about your current project?

My current project is aimed at the young adult readers, with hopes of it crossing over to adults as well. Like I said, it is historical fiction, based on the Sheepeater War of 1879, with a serious paranormal twist. Haven't heard of the Sheepeaters? Don't feel bad. The Sheepeater Campaign, being the last Indian war of the West is a little known fact, due to the small size of the mountain wandering tribe, and most likely the low number of casualties that resulted. (When all truth be told, only one soldier died during the six month skirmish between the normally peaceful and isolated Indians and the three troups of calvarly and the one troup of infantry they evaded until the brutal demands of winter in central Idaho along the river of no return, forced them to surrender.

What is your writing process like?

Since I have been told many times that I started this whole adventure in all the wrong ways, I should warn you my techniques are by no means the norm or recommended. Besides advanced English courses in college, I never studied the art of writing at all prior to deciding to up and give it a whirl. I wrote this huge monster of a novel, which by the way ended up being broken down into what is now looking like at least three novels from that one original, and then started wondering what it took to be a writer.  HA. I did not write short stories or articles. I had written some poetry over the years, but other than that, I was pretty much the poster child for "Naive' Writers of America". Needless to say, I have rewritten, restructured, and outlined my book more times than I care to count. However, I can also truly say, had I not written it in the way that I did, it probably never would have happened, and I wouldn't be the writer I have become today.

What made you decide to use a professional editor?

After attending several conferences, I started to feel like I had hit my peak at what I could learn in a weekend or week long session with large groups of other writers. I knew I still had some things to learn and I was not getting any bites on the query letters I was sending out, so I took the advice of a writer at a conference I attended and looked up the private editor she had used for one of her published books. It was the best decision of my life. I love my editor! Her name is Kristen Weber. Kristen knows how to get the best out of a writer without tainting their work or style. She is an experienced professional who has been in the business for years and went independent after a life changing move from New York to Hollywood. The money I have spent hiring Kristen, in my opinion, has been very well spent, but I must say had I hired her too early in all of my learning processes, it wouldn't have worked out.  Timing is everything, right?

What is the process of working with an editor like?

I contacted my editor by her web page and sent a sample of my writing for her to read. Based on the sample I sent her, she then came up with a quote of what she would charge to read my entire manuscript and provide structural feedback. Kristen also had to decide if the type of story I was writing was her thing or not. Believe me, it matters. If someone is not interested in your type of story, it doesn't mean it can't be great, it just means you need to keep looking for that person who will love the idea as much as you. That being said, Kristen believed in what I was writing and wanted to be a part of developing it. After a decent sized down payment, I sent her the full manuscript and three months later she returned it to me with her edits. I then sent the remaining amount of the contracted fee for her services after receiving the thirty plus pages of comments she sent me in addition to her text notes. Yes, I had a lot of work ahead of me, but I didn't give up and I didn't let all I didn't know, stop me. I finally had someone to tell me yea or nae and I can't tell you how helpful that can be when you have the right person doing that for you.

In terms of writing, what has your editor helped with the most?

I must say that among the many things Kristen has helped me learn, the biggest has been seeing my story fully. Knowing my world, my characters, and my story, above and beyond what is in the book. I also learned I had been trying to squeeze too much story into one novel, biting off more than I could chew, I believe is the way it was put to me several times over the years. I think it just took me longer to figure out exactly what that meant, but once I did, oh baby, look out series, here I come.

What advice would you give to new writers?

I would tell a new writer that meeting other writers, hanging out with other writers, sharing your work and critiquing each other is critical. I had no idea what half of the things i was doing wrong even meant in writers terms until I started walking the walk and talking the talk, so to speak. Conferences, writing classes, writing groups, even book reading groups, all played and still play an integral part in my learning. Oh, yeah, and the real biggie. You can't be a writer in a certain genre, if you don't know what is currently on the market. You must read like a demon and type like one too, in order to write what will compete with today's writers.

Finally, can you give us a little sample writing of a future project?

Sure. This is something I just started working on, a YA titled The Art of Being Ugly.

I'm alone in a room. A door opens and in walks the ugliest girl I have ever seen. She is holding a tampon in one hand and a Shakespeare novel in the other. If she wanted to ward off the opposite sex and thoughtless female twits alike, she's hit the mark. It's not as if she couldn't upgrade to homely if she tried, but girl, the way she's looking now, is down right beastly. I watch her with a skeptical eye as she closes the door and moves like a leper across the room, dropping personal items out of her open backpack and leaving a trail behind her not even a sanitation crew would dare touch.

Damn, wouldn't you know, of all the work stations in the classroom, she picks the empty seat beside me. I cringe, expecting her to smell as bad as she looks, but strangely she harbors no odor. Thank God! It's mid-afternoon and the air conditioning has been down in the biology lab since last week. I don't think I could handle ugly-chic-funk on top of the overwhelming smell of formaldehyde hovering in the air. I'm not normally this canine cruel, but the August heat is killin' me and I haven't finished my biology homework. I'm toast if I don't get an A in this class. I already tried seducing our young, preppy teacher. He's gay, in case you're wondering. Didn't even bat an eye at my attempts to show him my newly landscaped cleavage. Just as well, I may be sporting the latest model headlights, but all I feel like doing is shutting off the motor and garaging this speedster for a while.

Ugly girl drops her stuff on the floor and turns to me, as if expecting me to notice her or something. She smiles. It's a crooked, catch-me-if-you-can, kind of smile and it makes me wonder what, of all things, a butt ugly reject like her thinks she has to smile about. She offers me the tampon she's had in her hand, and then I notice it's really a pen. She's holding it out to me like a green and white treaty flag, and for the life of me, I can't help but take it. My morbid curiosity gets the best of me and I inspect it like it's a loaded weapon. After taking it apart and putting it back together again, I stare at her wondering what possess a girl to buy a pen that looks like a feminine hygiene product, much less actually bring it to class and use it. She smiles and nods her head like the pathetic pen holds the wonders of the world.

The bell rings and the class begins to fill with the after-lunch crowd. One of my perfectly pleasant, barf-ably beautiful friends motions for me to join her.  I slip the offering into my bag, gather my books, and move up and over a few stations from Miss Hygiene USA, smiling at her shyly as I do so. I give her a little wave and a flirty smile to top it off. She can think I'm shy, scared, or gay for all I care, just as long as she keeps her ugly oddness the hell away from me.


Anonymous said...

That sounds like a book that would be right up my alley. I love history and paranormal genre. Great advice, too!

Kelley said...

Hi there!

I just wanted to let you know that I left you awards over at my blog!!

Pop on over and get em' :)

Liane said...

Nice work Jan! Your new book sounds great, I want to read more! Good descriptions too!