Q: We noticed some recent changes at your Smashwords Publishing Page. Can you tell us what changes you are making and why?
A: Well, first of all, writing stories is an interesting and ever-changing process – at least for me. In December 2011, I published Desperate Rescue with Smashwords. I had already published that book with a vanity press, three years prior to that, but selling books with them was a huge challenge. When I discovered e-publishing, well that opened up a whole new world for me, just like it has for every other Indie writer out there.
I only intended to write individual books; in other words, stand-alone’s, but that changed somewhere along the way and my first book became the beginning of a series. So here I am, with an entire series of eight novels. But to do this, I needed to unpublish Desperate Rescue, as well as Unwitting Alliances. Both have been re-edited and are now part of the new series – Duplicity.
Q: Do you worry about what readers will think when you unpublish something?
A: No. Not really. I mean, the publishing world has changed so much and the ease of publishing as an Indie writer, and particularly with Smashwords, has allowed every author the ability to make necessary adjustment, or corrections, if you will, with minimal consequences. Plus, both of those books were free. If I had sold them for a price, I might feel differently about it. But I think anyone who has already read Desperate Rescue or Unwitting Alliances, will actually enjoy the re-edits of those two books and the entire series over all.
Q. When did you first start writing?
A: I think my first serious efforts at writing began when I was in high school. I remember turning in a paper to my English teacher and her comments were very positive and encouraging. Unfortunately, my confidence in my ability to do more than simply turn in assignments hadn’t developed yet, and it would take quite a few years before I actually tackled writing a story.
Q: So, what finally nudged you to do that? To write a story?
A: I have to laugh about my nudge. It started from a dream I had one night. I decided to write down what I could remember, and things just grew from there. And although it began with a dream, the story has morphed completely away from that initial nudge. At the time, I was already married and had two or three kids. I’d stay up late, after they were in bed and work on the story. It wasn’t long before I was completely absorbed in it, but it would take another few years before I actually pushed myself to finish it.
Q: And that’s when you published?
A: No. It took a few more years to do that. However, I had a friend who was, and still is, a professional writer – Sharon. She agreed to read my story and gave me a lot of valuable feedback. She didn’t white-wash anything, and I’m grateful. To this day, there are still some things I inadvertently do, when I’m writing that I’ll catch and fix, because of Sharon’s skills as an editor and the feedback she’d given me.
As for publishing, I was in my middle forties, when I actually published that book the first time. By then I had five kids! I also kept working on other writing ideas and stories as well, including some children’s stories.
Q: Do you still write children’s stories?
A: Not actively, at the moment, but it is something I’m thinking about returning to. I do have one book for kids at Smashwords, called Danger in the Woods. It’s about a brother and sister who get lost in a wooded area and have quite an adventure of their own.
Q: Can you tell us about your writing process? Like, do you write every day? If so, for how long? Do you set goals? That sort of thing.
A: I do try to write every day. Sometimes it might be for just an hour or so, sometimes up to eight hours or more. It just depends on a lot of things. As you know, I retired from a job in 2018. While still working, my writing was limited to a few short hours a day and usually late at night. Now, though, I can set my writing hours however I please. I like that. In fact, it’s because I finally left that job, and freed up my time, that I was able to finally push myself to get this new series completed and ready to publish. If I were still working at a job, publishing the series would still be months or even years away.
As for goals, that is actually a very important and necessary aspect of writing. If you don’t set a goal, and if you don’t force yourself to be accountable to that goal, you’ll never accomplish anything. I don’t see how you could. Some people may say they don’t set goals, but if they actually complete something, then I’d say they are goal-setters, but very disciplined. They may not write down their goals, but they have them tucked away in their brains somewhere and they are obedient to them. I kinda envy them, to be honest. I have to write everything down and calendar everything. It’s the only way I can keep track and stay on course.
Q: What is the greatest joy you derive from writing?
A: Good question. I think for any writer, whether fiction or non-fiction, you need to find some measure of joy in what you do. If you don’t, I wouldn’t expect that you could produce great work. For me, as a writer of fiction, I thoroughly enjoy developing characters and discovering how they will interact with each other. I mean, you can set up a list of characters and begin your story, but it isn’t until you really get into that story, that you begin to see who these characters are and how they will behave. Some of my characters have surprised me. For instance, in the beginning, I thought one of them, in particular, was a good guy. Boy, was I surprised when I discovered that maybe he isn’t.
Q: So, you don’t have a clear idea of the kind of people your characters are before you start a book?
A: Not completely, no. Not always. I mean, when you meet someone for the first time, do you always know exactly what kind of person they are? Sometimes you do immediately. It could be their smile, tone of voice, or a handshake. At other times you’re not quite sure and want to get to know them a little better. Right?
So, okay, you’ve decided to write a story. And let’s say you have these two characters talking about a particular situation. Doesn’t matter what the situation is, but realistically each character should have their own opinion or perspective of that situation. They will react individually to the situation. Maybe the same, but maybe not. I cannot always see where a particular situation is going to lead at the outset of writing a scene, which may involve several characters, all with their own perspective. You have to understand that each character needs to have his or her own voice. When you put yourself into the shoes of each character, and try to imagine what their reaction might be to a situation, that’s when that character’s ‘voice’ becomes apparent. And in that moment, the direction of the scene can change, which will affect future scenes within the story.
It’s like what you and I are doing right now. You ask a question, and I respond based on how I understood the question and what I think it is you want to know. In a fictional story, it’s not much different. You still have to figure out what each character will do in any given situation. How they will respond to each other and the events going on.
Q: That sounds like a lot of work.
A: It is, but once you determine what each character’s actual role is in the story – to move it along, it gets easier. One of the ‘tricks’ I’ve used is to think about people I’ve become acquainted with or known during my life. Or people I’ve observed. By mimicking some of the characteristics, phraseology, body language, and so forth of real people, you can begin to sculpt your fictional characters. It does take some time and plenty of rewriting – sentences, paragraphs, etc., but it’s just the way things work. In fact, leaving some scenes alone for a few days or even weeks – stepping away from some parts of the story – then coming back to them, helps provide some clarity which helps with the rewrites.
Q: What about keeping relationships straight? The characters’ relationships to one another. Is that a challenge for you?
A: It sure enough can be. For instance, in the series Duplicity, there is this family, the Voclain’s, that we meet in Book 3, a Calculated Risk. This family plays an important role in the story. I had to create a pedigree chart of the family, to recognize and keep the relationships straight and understand the dynamics of the family. I needed to make sure I knew how they all interconnected. I even developed backstories for most of the key characters, which also required doing some historical homework to keep dates and events in alignment. Bits and pieces of those backstories find their way into the novels, but not everything. It just helped me understand my characters better. I needed to know more about them in order to recognize how they would conduct themselves throughout the story. I’m actually considering sharing some of those backstories, and maybe even the pedigree chart to readers on my email subscribers list – Occasional insider perks for being a loyal fan and faithful subscriber.
Q: Well then let’s talk about your fan’s and subscribers. How do they affect your writing?
A: Fans and faithful followers provide me with perks of my own. As much as I enjoy writing and will continue to write, reader feedback, pro or con, is exciting and encouraging. I don’t think any writer can fully enjoy any measure of success without the support of their fans. Money, alone, is not the measure of success. How you can affect people, hopefully in a positive way, is a truer measure of success. Up until I published Duplicity, my books have been free, but I still felt a great sense of success at watching the growth in the numbers of downloads I’d get each month.
Whether you charge for your books or not, the fan base is what keeps a writer encouraged to continue to write. I love to write, and sure, I’d like to earn some additional income from it, but even if I don’t, I’ll still continue to write. It’s satisfying. It’s fulfilling.
Q: That’s interesting. Besides what you just mentioned, how else is it satisfying or fulfilling for you?
A: I’ve thought about that, a lot. To begin with, I think for me the initial satisfaction came from discovering that I can write. Obviously, how well I write depends a great deal on the responses I get from readers. So, it is satisfying when I see the number of downloads my books get or the reviews.
Writing is fulfilling in a number of ways. For instance, as a kid, I was very shy. And I used to think things like, ‘If only I had…,” or “I wish I had….” Through writing I can sorta ‘re-write’ some parts of my own life that I regret not pursuing – that fact that I didn’t even make an effort to do something, or didn’t have the courage to do it. For instance, and this will sound silly, but in high school I wanted to be a cheerleader, but I didn’t even go to the tryouts. I was too shy and had already made up my mind, they wouldn’t choose me. Obviously, they didn’t choose me because I didn’t make an effort because I didn’t show up.
That was then. I’m not all that shy any more and I tend to be rather outspoken a good deal of the time – it’s almost a one-eighty for me. I finally ‘showed up’. I didn’t want to live out the rest of my life ‘wishing’ I had done this or that; to wish I had written a book. So, rather than wishing, I made the decision to actually do something. I was tired of the regrets. That classic, but worn-out phrase, ‘You only live once’, is absolutely true. So – live! If you continue to keep telling yourself, ‘Naw, it’ll never happen for me,’ you’re right. It won’t happen unless you make it happen. You have to show up.
Q: What would you say to any aspiring author?
A: Pretty much what we’ve already talked about. If you deeply desire to be a writer and a published author, then be one. Be an Indie writer and take advantage of an opportunity like Smashwords to make that happen. Then you have to write. Write often, daily, if you can. Work on your craft. Take writing courses, join a group, if you think that might help, or find a writing buddy who is determined to make something of their writing desires. But the key point of become a better writer is to write, write, write, then get feedback and write some more.
I use BETA readers to read and critique my work. BETA readers have become one of the best tools a writer could have. I demand that my BETA readers are one-hundred percent honest with me. I do not want sugar-coated reviews. I use questionnaires to help them with their evaluations. It’s been good. I love getting their feedback. I actually enjoy the feedback that points out my weaknesses or lack of clarity, bad scenes, unrealistic characters, and so forth. The last thing I want to do is publish something that will draw levels of criticism from the readers that could have been dealt with long before the book was published. Like I said, BETA readers are so valuable, but you need people who will be absolutely honest with you, so develop a thick skin, hand out draft copies, and let it all happen. In the long run you’ll appreciate the work they do.
Q: Okay, well I’m sure there are people who want to write a book, but don’t know how to get started. So, let’s say, I want to write a book, how do I get started?
A: You just start writing.
Q: No, seriously, how do I get started? I have no idea what to write. I don’t even know how to begin.
A: Write that down.
Q: Write what down?
A: What you just said. Those exact words you just said. Okay, so when I’m having a challenge, lets’ say with a scene, or maybe I think I know where I want my story to go – the general direction of it – but I’m having a hard time pulling it together, That ‘writer’s block’ thing – I’ll sit at my computer and start having a conversation with myself. But I write down every single thought and comment that comes to my mind. Sometimes I carry on a verbal conversation with myself, but I still write it all down. It doesn’t take long to discover that once you start creating conversations with your characters, the flow of the story begins to move along. I even start using conversation quote marks, because lines of conversation begin to develop. I’ll add in the ‘he said’s and she said’s.” I know it sounds a little crazy, but it works really well for me because the scene starts to take shape and before you know it, I’m completely engrossed in my writing again.
Another thing I do, when I’m at a stalemate, is jump forward. I’ll work on a chapter where I can envision the events or interactions of some of the characters. I’ll jump in and work on that chapter, even if it is out of sequence but while it’s still fresh in my mind because I don’t want to forget or lose any of it. Either way, the ‘writer’s block’ usually vanishes and off we go again!
The same will work if you want to start writing something like a book, or article, anything. I’d like to think you have some kind of an idea of what you want to write about. Start with a list. Bullet points, or something, and keep doing that. Then when you run out of bullet point ideas, start having a conversation with yourself, but write it all down. The whole conversation. You do that, and before you know it, you’ll be writing. But you have to write down all of your thoughts, even if some of it doesn’t make sense at the moment. It will eventually. You don’t want to lose any of those fragments or ideas. Not one. So, be a writer and write them down.
Q: I’ll have to get that a try. Okay. So, what are you working on next? Another series?
A: That’s a very good question and one I’ve begun to ponder on recently. I have a few ideas I’d like to explore, but whether or not I’ll pull together another series is to be seen. Writing a series is challenging. You have to make sure all the pieces and parts fit together to keep that lengthy storyline true to itself. It’s a lot of work. Right now, I’m thinking about doing some stand-alone books next. We’ll see. But who knows? Something may end up as the catalyst for another series.
Q: Will any of your current characters end up in any of those new book ideas?
A: I don’t think so. I’d like to create some new characters. See what I can do with them. Hopefully, those new characters and I will all get along just fine so we can produce something else ‘read-worthy’.
Q: It sounds like you really do enjoy your writing. So, is there anything else you’d like to say or comment about? Any words of encouragement?
A: I think the most important thing anyone should think about is discovering what their own passions are and work on them. It may not be writing. It could be anything! Cooking, sports, travel, art, community service, getting a pilot’s license, choosing a new career goal, going back to school to finish a degree program, or simply exploring something completely different – learning something new. Anything. A phrase I frequently use is “Pursue your dreams, whatever they are, just never give up.” It applies to anything but the key is to never give up unless you reach a point where figuring out how to leap across the Grand Canyon without the aid of a motorcycle or a helicopter just won’t work. Because the minute you tell yourself, “It’ll never happen for me,” then you are absolutely right, no matter what it is – it never will.