"It's impossible to discourage the real writers; they don't give a damn what you say." Sinclair Lewis

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Chat with Carol Curtis Stilz

When did you begin writing?

My first stories were written in first grade, but in third grade, I began sharing what my teacher, Mrs. Winter, called creative writing. She returned my first effort with an “A” and said, “You can be a writer when you grow up.” Her comment encouraged me, as did teachers throughout school. I began writing stories and plays when I taught creative dramatics to preschoolers. Eventually, I entered KIRSTY’S KITE in a Willamette Writers Contest and won the Kay Snow Award that year in 1987.

What have you written (books, short stories, articles, etc.)?

In addition to writing articles, stories and books for children, I have had articles, interviews, and a food column published with newspapers and magazines. The food reviews were in “Check It Out” for a local Gannett newspaper.

Which of the novels you’ve written are your favorite and why?

I wrote one novella in grad school. So far, I’m not a novelist.

What is your favorite genre to read?

Mysteries. I love a good mystery. I enjoy guessing the ending. It's so much fun for me to see how the author developed the conclusion.

What is your obligation to your readers?

To provide a good reading experience so the reader feels satisfied when he/she has finished.

What is your obligation to yourself as a writer?

To pace myself and not neglect other areas of my life.

Who is your favorite hero/heroine?

As a young reader, my hero was Nancy Drew and later Jessica Fletcher. I love super sleuths. My real life hero was Mattie Stepanik who wrote HEART SONGS while he dealt with challenges for a rare form of muscular dystrophy.

What was your easiest book to write?

None are easy. I wrote KIRSTY’S KITE in one sitting but had to revise and revise.

Which was the hardest?

It’s usually the one I’m writing now. I have one in research, two in revision, and one with an agent.

What is the hardest part of the creative process for you?

Choosing the format for the story or information.

Do you write by an outline?

Sometimes. I sketch 3-12 main points depending on the length of the writing project. Three to five points works for articles and short pieces. I use 10-12 stepping-stones in historical fiction.

If not, what is your method?

I write in sections, like one quilt piece at a time and then stitch the sections together.

Do you have set hours in the day to write?

I like mornings best but write whenever I can.

Writing is tough. What makes you keep coming back?

It’s in my blood and gives me the “high” runners talk about. When I have a passage that I can read over and over and over again, without editing, I know I’m done for now. That feels great!

Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

Read, read, read! Read in the area in which you want to write, not just books on how to write. You will find your own process as you read and write, write, write.

Monday, August 4, 2014

A Chat With Linda Sandifer

When did you begin writing, and why?

I started writing when I was 12. I loved to read, and it became clear to me early on that I wanted to create stories like the ones I read.

What have you written (books, short stories, articles, etc.)?

I've had 13 books published, several short stories, and a number of industry-related articles. When I was a teenager I wrote a lot of really awful poetry.

Which of your novels are your favorite and why?

I'd have to say The Last Rodeo is my favorite. Probably because the characters followed me around for over thirty years, so I grew very close to them. I tried several times to tell their story, but it kept going back in the closet while I wrote other books that were under contract. The story itself was sort of like having to wait for a peach to ripen before you can pick it. The characters ranged in age from 16 to 80, and I think I needed more life experiences to give me the insight necessary to write each character's story.

Who are your favorite authors?

I usually think of favorite books rather than favorite authors because, ultimately, it's the nature of the story that intrigues me. There is some subject matter and some settings that just don't appeal. But there are a few authors who I'll keep going back to because I love their writing styles, and I know their stories will never disappoint.

In women's fiction I like Barbara Delinsky, Kate Morton, Alice Hoffman, and Lucinda Riley. For westerns and western novels: Elmer Kelton, Louis L'Amour, and Larry McMurtry. In the romance category, I've recently enjoyed Kaki Warner, Carolyn Fyffe, B. J. Daniels, and Sharon Sala. I seldom read mysteries but I do like James Lee Burke, Craig Johnson, and everything Tony Hillerman ever wrote. And even though I'm not one to read horror, I will read Dean Koontz. A foreign author who comes to mind is Carlos Ruiz Zafón. For nonfiction, I'd have to say Hampton Sides, who writes history as engaging as any novel.

What is your favorite genre to read?

I like both historical and contemporary fiction. As a general rule, I'm not interested in horror, sci-fi, "Tolkien" fantasy, erotica, spy thrillers, vampire books, or who-dun-it mysteries. I do like paranormal elements, however, like ghosts, skinwalkers, time travel, reincarnation, and Southwestern culture and settings. I don't waste time on anything that doesn't engage me in the first few chapters. If it doesn't seem to be going anywhere on its own, I put it on a fast track to the used bookstore.

What is your obligation to your readers?

When an author starts a story, they make a promise to the reader. It is my obligation to not only give them that promise, but to fulfill it in a big way. I want to entertain, of course, but I want to craft a story that readers will truly feel was worth the read, and I want to create characters that are not easily forgotten. Also, it is my obligation to know who my readers are, and to give them the type of book they expect in any given genre. Sometimes, this can be the hardest part of writing a book because if you don't know who your target audience is, you won't know how to write the book.

What is your obligation to yourself as a writer?

To write the best story I can! But it's important not to second-guess yourself at every turn. If you begin to doubt yourself, then your voice becomes stilted and you become crippled. Critiques are good, but a writer ultimately has to trust his/her instincts. When I finally determine the story has gone through enough revisions that I can say it's finished, I want to feel as if I truly did accomplish what I set out to do, and that I didn't compromise the heart of the story with self-doubt and fear (like worrying what my family and friends will think!).

Who are your favorite hero and heroine?

Rhett Butler comes to mind from Gone With the Wind. And Meg Cleary from The Thornbirds. But I think heroes and heroines who are memorable are those who are tortured in some way, and who have to go the farthest and face the highest obstacles (but within reason--no Perils of Pauline, please!). One hero who comes to mind is McCall in Lonesome Dove. It's interesting what Larry McMurtry did when he wrote that book because he made Gus the likeable one, the obvious "hero," and yet it was his friend McCall who set the entire sequence of events into motion, and who was the last one standing. So he was the true hero, and, technically, the main character. He isn't a hero anyone would think of as their favorite, but he certainly was memorable.

What was your easiest book to write?

"Easy" and "writing" and "book" don't really go together! But, I suppose I'd have to say Desire's Treasure. The hero and heroine played off each other very well, and it came together without too much angst. It was a fun book to write. I also found Came A Stranger quite easy to write.

Which was the hardest?

I'd have to draw straws, because it seems the more I've learned about writing, the harder it becomes. Each book has its own particular challenges. But I'd have to say The Last Rodeo was one of the most difficult because it wasn't genre specific, and there was no "formula" to keep me on the straight and narrow. In general fiction, the path you take is entirely up to you and if you take the wrong one, you could be wandering around in the forest forever. I got lost in the woods a helluva lot while writing that book, but I finally found my way, thanks to some comments made by agent Donald Maass who read the book in an earlier draft.

Also, Raveled Ends of Sky was tough because I was under a tight deadline with the publisher, and it was a monumental undertaking with tons of research and a lot of characters and storylines, both real and fictional, that had to be woven together. I had research books scattered over the entire floor of my office for the eight months of writing. I was completely burned out when it was finished. But I'm very proud of it.

What is the hardest part of the creative process for you?

I would rather write a 500-page novel than wrestle with a one-page query letter. They didn't used to be so tough when I first started in this business, but agents have become entirely too anal about them.

Do you write by an outline? If not, what is your method?

Outlines are too restrictive. But I don't write completely by the seat of my pants, either. There are certain things I want to happen, and there's always a destination, but how I reach it remains fluid. My method is kind of like putting together a grocery list. I only write down the stuff I absolutely have to have. Then I go to the store and walk up and down the aisles and pick up all the other goodies I see along the way.

Do you have set hours in the day to write?

I used to when my life had a schedule; i.e., when my children were in school and my husband was working. Now that my husband is "retired" and I have children scattered from Florida to California, I'm doing more "time-traveling" than writing. (There is at least one member of our family in every U. S. time zone!)

Writing is tough. What keeps you coming back?

Insanity, most likely. But I prefer to believe it's in the blood.

Tell us a little about your venture into the self-publishing market.

I self-published The Last Rodeo. The agent I had at the time loved the book and shopped it around New York to all the big publishers. It got good feedback, but ultimately no sale. From what I could gather, it was a marketing issue. My agent suggested that if I wanted to turn it into a "cowboy erotica" she could probably find an editor for it because that was a hot market (no pun intended). I wasn't about to dismantle all the years of hard work I had put into that story and those characters. I could have continued to search for a publisher (and a new agent), but I decided to publish it myself so no one could possibly turn it into something I didn't want it to be.

Would you self-publish again?

The advantage to self-publishing is that your book can be available for as long as you want it to be, so, yes, I'd do it again if I had a book I felt was worthy. It's nice that there's no longer a stigma for self-published books.

Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

Probably more than a beginning writer would like to hear! But, seriously, follow your heart and your instincts. Write the story that speaks to you and it will likely speak to others. Learn the craft. Don't ever think that the rules don't apply to you (they do). Writing is a creative process but once it's on paper, it becomes a business. Keep abreast of the industry and the markets. Read. Read. Read. Evaluate what makes good books so good. Interact with other writers (it's nice to know you're not wandering the Desert of Insanity alone). Realize that your writing will never be perfect--no one's is--but always strive to make it the best you can. When you feel strongly about something you've written, stick to your guns. And never give up. As William Feather said, "Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go."

You can find Linda's books at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.