Answering a few questions from my readers
Q: What do you like most and least about your job?
A: What I like most about writing? I don’t really think of it as a job. It’s a calling. I like or love all of it. Inventing something out of nothing. Researching the past to find inspiration in people, places and events so interesting I want to share them with the world. Envisioning another time period and the motivations of people who formed our world today. I love getting lost in the lyrical flow of words. Painting pictures with words. I enjoy going to conferences to meet readers and other writers to share the passion we all share for story. I love hearing from readers and working with editors and agents whose passion is making the written work better. Hmm. What I like least, would have to be sitting too many hours of the day.
Q: What do you see as the purposes, goals, and values, that this work serves?
A: Great question. The purpose of story telling is to share the truths of our human experience, to transport readers to another time or place, or into an experience that broadens our understanding of the human experience. Stories offer us wisdom, deeper understanding and escape to worlds unknown. Historical fiction reminds us of the context, connections or changes for better or worse rooted in our past. Well-researched historical fiction offers an opportunity to time travel from your favorite armchair. Genre fiction presents the heroic figure, the worthy quest and our search for happy endings. Romance writing is generally the voice of women addressing a readership of women about the quest for meaningful connections. Reading a favorite author exercises the mind in such a fun way.
Q: How did you get interested in a career as a writer?
A: As a child I spent my free time reading, writing stories and drawing children’s books about snails and horses. From then on, my interest in reading, and writing never flagged. I wrote poetry, collaborated with a school friend on a book. Wrote screenplays for my favorite TV programs. Then I wrote a Western, and finally found the time period I enjoyed the most in the Regency and Georgian era.
Q: Would you encourage someone to go into this line of work? What kind of person would it take?
A: Most of the successful writers I know are driven to write from within. They must write. They are not motivated by money or a quest for fame as much as they have something to say in a medium that brings them, and their readers joy. Writers tend to be introverts, comfortable with long hours alone in front of a computer screen, highly imaginative, creative types. Most writers are more comfortable with the written word than the spoken word, although many go on to be wonderful speakers about writing, because it is a subject for which they have great passion. Fiction writers tend to be observant people watchers, with empathy, who recognize body language cues and hear accents or vocal tone with clarity, and love the concepts of symbolism, foreshadowing and pacing. The best fiction writers are masters of seeing the beginning, middle and end of story, recognize the big picture, and allow themselves to be transported into the flow of thought and imagination to a point that time and reality falls away. Most successful writers are right- and left-brain thinkers, passionate, creative and yet able to step back and edit the creation once it is done.
Q: Who was your inspiration in entering into this career?
A: The people who helped me most were my father, who told me I could achieve anything I set my mind to, my mother, who read to me as a child, and took me on countless trips to the library, an aunt who gave me my first Jane Austen novel, and several writing mentors and teachers, who pushed me to improve my craft. It helped that I was eager to listen to good advice. Classic writers who drove my love for Regency romances are Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, and Georgette Heyer.
Q. What were your interests in high school?
A: I liked school. Deeply enjoyed learning. Writing papers. Digging into history. Doing research. Questioning. Learning to express my opinions. I also liked creativity in all its forms: theater, art, creative writing, music. All of these things came together to help in the process of my writing.
Q: What did you major in, in college? What prepared you for your career?
A: I double majored in Advertising art, and English. I took Journalism and creative writing classes, joined a writing critique group. Reading a lot of fiction prepared me for writing fiction. You pick up the rhythm of writing, pacing, dialogue and reader expectation.
Q: What did you read as a child? And how did that influence your writing today?
A: My mother read to me as a child. She was born in London, and retained her British accent all of her life. That voice is deeply embedded in my mind and memory and has helped me capture British voices in my historical writing set in England.
Mother taught me to read with British children’s book by Beatrix Potter, and Ant and Bee, which highlighted and repeated words like Ant and Bee, for a child to recognize and realize that they were reading. I can still remember that elation and empowerment in being able to decipher words on the page.
In grade school I enjoyed animal focused books by Marguerite Henry, Jack London, and the beautifully illustrated Tarzan series my grandmother had on her bookshelves, along with the Trixie Beldon series.
My American Aunt Lois introduced me to Jane Austen when I was in the third or fourth grade. I read Austen aloud to myself, using the English accent of my British aunts, uncles and cousins, to better understand the subtle possibilities of her amusing and witty dialogue. Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre were my favorite books for many years, but as an adult I grew to enjoy Persuasion more. I consider it Austen’s most evolved work. Historical settings intrigued me and Austen’s work introduced to me the idea of writing from theme.
As a child I was very much like Bronte’s Jane Eyre, and Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet--observant, articulate, introverted, smart, possessed of great unvoiced depths, holding intense thoughts and feelings private. “A great reader.”
I still am an avid reader. I read under the covers with a flashlight throughout my childhood after lights out. A good book still keeps me reading into the night. Reading instills the patterns of story, the rhythm of beginning, middle and end. It allows one to explore other places, times, and the ideals of heroism and moral and noble acts. Good books lift us out of the mundane. All of that influenced my love of reading, and fuels my writing.
Q: When did you start to write?
A: As a child, I had a very active imagination. Before I started school I had an imaginary friend. When I was reading animal books, I wrote a series of horse stories, and a book about snails who lived under a garbage can. I illustrated them, too. This brought me such pleasure, I kept writing and doing artwork from then on. I collaborated a book with a junior high school friend. Wrote poetry. Won some contests. Wrote a Western, some screenplays and was published, all of which fueled my passion for writing.
Q: What kind of jobs have you held? Did any of them contribute to your work as a writer?
A: I was a babysitter, and a grocery store checker in high school, an art historian slide presentation organizer in college. I cleaned potato chip machines on the weekend (It paid for books and art supplies. I double majored in advertising art and English.) As an exchange student to Denmark for a year, I worked as a maid at Dragsholm castle (Very evocative. A haunted castle.) I worked at advertising agencies and in a photography department at an insurance agency as a college intern, and as an illustrator and art director for a number of years after graduating. All that time I was writing on my breaks and weekends, painting pictures with words, reaching for deeper creative outlet. Boring or frustrating jobs fueled my deep need to be creative. I joined writing workshops and critique groups, honed my craft. I owe much to numerous kind and generous published writers who helped me with encouragement and delving critiques of my work.
Q: Have you ever had writer’s block?
A: Mmmm, no. I consider myself fortunate in that regard. I always have stories in my head, and work in some way on my writing. Always have ideas simmering for the book I’m working on, or the next book. I have had life events take precedence over my writing. When family members, on both sides of the family were gravely ill, terminally ill, or dying—when I was involved in caretaking others on that level, I found I could only do historical research, or edits on existing works. I did rereleases of works in ebook form when life events required my focus. I am intensely focused—in another world—when creating the fictive world.
My understanding of life and death was deeply enriched by participating fully and passing through these important life moments. Understanding grief and suffering, and the priorities of life and death, ends up in the writing.
Q: Tell me what is it like working with an agent? How do you find the right one for your book?
A: Big question. Usually the first question budding writers put to published authors, and usually before they are ready to approach either an agent or an editor. Every agent is a different personality with specific tastes and interests. The best matches of writers and agents are a bit like a marriage—enough in common for compatibility and good communication, and enough differences that you help each other succeed and prosper in the demanding world of publishing. A good personality match, goals match, and vision for your work is what you are looking for. Some agents are very hands on with the writing, offering editorial suggestions to prepare the book for its best opportunity to sell. Some agents only take on clients who have the book ready for an editor in a market flush with opportunities. It’s good to do your research before approaching an agent.
Most agents tend to be a combination of slightly introverted, book-loving reader and a bit more extroverted “putting-people-together” individuals who have the marketing savvy to recognize the potential of stories finding an audience, and the editor, or editors, looking for that sort of story, or voice. Agents have specific preferences when it comes to subject matter, tone and style of writing.
Some agent preferences: Specific genres. Specific time periods or settings. Plot driven, character driven or theme driven work. Literary fiction, commercial fiction, crossover fiction. High concept. Humor. Pathos. Light read. Dark read. Deep read. Fun read. Fast paced action. Languid, cerebral writing. Heroic characters. Likeable characters. Dark flawed characters. The list goes on. Read some of the works an agent represents and you begin to get a feeling for the tone of work they prefer. Their bios often state what they prefer in the way of genres and style. You can hear agents speak at conferences, even pitch book ideas in person. Remember, they want to find wonderful new books to sell.
Q: Do you have any other job that takes precedent over your writing career or are you free to write as you please?
A: When I started writing Regency romances I worked in advertising as an art director doing magazine ads and illustrations. Art and words have always interested me. Once the first book, The Silent Suitor, sold, I took a chance and dove into writing full time, on my own schedule. I’m glad I did.