Interview with Award-Winning Author Terry Trueman

9780062221810Get to know Terry… 

Terry Trueman was born on December 15, 1947 in Birmingham, Alabama, but grew up in Seattle. He attended the University of Washington, where he received his B.A. in creative writing. He also has an M.S. in applied psychology and an M.F.A. in creative writing, both from Eastern Washington University. The father of two sons, Henry and Jesse, Terry Trueman makes his home in Spokane, Washington, where he has lived since 1974.

His novel, STUCK IN NEUTRAL was a Printz Honor recipient. INSIDE OUT, his second novel was released in August 2003. In October of 2004, his third novel CRUISE CONTROL was released — a companion to STUCK IN NEUTRAL that tells brother Paul McDaniel’s intimate side of the story. Hodder Books released SWALLOWING THE SUN, which follows a teen’s heroic efforts to save friends and family after his Honduran village is destroyed by a devastating mudslide, in October of 2003 (only in the UK). And NO RIGHT TURN, Trueman’s fourth US and fifth all-around novel. 

Trueman’s hobbies include his love of corvettes and walking his dog Rusty in the warm Arizona sunshine! One of his heroes is poet Charles Bukowski. He considers Terry Davis and Chris Crutcher two invaluable mentors. For more info, visit his site.

Let the conversation begin!

What one word describes you?

Indescribable.

If I gave you a brick, what would you do with it?

Depends on my mood; some days throw it through a window, some days use it as a paperweight, some days admire its color/texture/patterns.

What do you do when you see a spider in your house?

VERY rarely do I kill it. 90% plus I try to capture it and throw it outside where it belongs, scolding it but not too harshly; I’m a big believer in rehabilitation rather than punishment

Do you bake or buy?

Well, I sure as hell don’t bake. LOL.

What classifies as a boring conversation? What classifies as an interesting one?

Hmmm. Nice question. Boring conversation to me is a conversation in which I’m bored, it’s not based on content as much as other factors (the listening versus talking ratio, for instance), Same goes for interesting. I think that intelligence, originality of view point, honesty and that kindness/thoughtfulness component play a big role in this.

What would you rather have: a nanny, a housekeeper, a cook, or a chauffeur?

A minion, who’d do all of the above.

Would you rather be trapped in an elevator or stuck in traffic?

What kind of sick question is this? LOL. Neither, but if I had to choose and the elevator was either empty or occupied only by myself and an interesting other person (and by interesting it could be, smart, funny, sexy, kind, etc) the elevator for sure.

What inspired you to write your first book?

My first published novel STUCK IN NEUTRAL was inspired by being the father of a son with a profound developmental disability.

Do you have a specific writing style?

I’m afraid I’m totally addicted to present tense/first person POV.

What is your earliest childhood memory?

I can’t remember.

What is your favorite board game?

I would never play a board game.

What food item would you remove from the market altogether?

Nothing, to each their own and if I started with, let’s say pickled pig’s feet, who’s to stop some other food Nazi from coming in and removing things I enjoy?

What do you think you do best in your writing? Bragging is encouraged.

Rarely does anyone need to encourage me to brag. LOL. I think my greatest strength is creating deeply emotional scenes and therefore deep emotions in my readers.

What projects are you working on now?

I am VERY focused on a new line of e-book and print-on-demand paperbacks of some of my own older works with a new e-book start-up called Stillwaters Publishing. We’re doing our first two titles in the next few weeks: CLASS CLOWN a FREE downloadable short story, which is also a chapter from M.C. IDOL, THE FUNNIEST KID IN THE WORLD our second publication, a YA novel quite different than the seven novels I wrote with Harper Collins. 

Name one entity that supported your writing journey outside of family members.

An entity? Hmmm. My undergraduate degree is from the University of Washington in English with an emphasis on Creative Writing and my MFA is from Eastern Washington University in Creative Writing; I had great instructors and learned lot in those programs.

stuck in neutralIf you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?

I never go back and read my books once they are published and out there. My latest novel is LIFE HAPPENS NEXT a sequel to STUCK IN NEUTRAL and I like it a great deal. So, I wouldn’t change anything in it.

What initially inspired you to pursue a career in writing?

A terrific writing teacher in high school, Kaye Keyes.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in writing? What comes easily?

The biz of writing/publishing is changing so rapidly, keeping up on how to go about making a living is hard. But I LOVE to write and it all comes easily—kind of like some people who enjoy and are good at board games, my thing is writing.

What books have most influenced your life?

Too many to list, but my favorite author is poet/novelist Charles Bukowski.

If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?

I had a lot of good teachers, but again, Bukowski.

Who’s your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

See my Bukowski comments above. What strikes me about his work is the honesty and straight forward clarity of his lines/ideas/emotions. His work has integrity, or at least it always feels to me that it does.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Write because you love it. Period. All else will come from that or it won’t, but you’ll be getting the best you can get from writing if you write for that reason.   

What song best describes your work ethic?

THE BRIGHT SIDE OF THE ROAD by Van Morrison, which has nothing to do with work ethic because I have no work ethic—I’m blessed to get to do pretty much whatever I want with my time, pretty much all the time—I just have always liked the sentiment and joy in that song.

What kitchen utensil would you be?

I would never be a kitchen utensil—I’d find the life to restricting.

Should you tip for take-out?

Absolutely! If you have the $$ to buy take-out or to eat out at all, you should always tip…no exceptions.

If you could be anyone else, who would you be?

I wouldn’t be and not because I love myself so much (although I think and hope I do) but because it’s difficult enough to figure out who/how/what I’M doing, much less guess what’s really going on in President Obama’s life.

If you were a road sign, what would you be? 

NO RIGHT TURN, for what I suspect are pretty obvious reasons—hint, I HATE Fox news.

If you were to attend a costume party tonight, who would you be? 

I wouldn’t go to a costume party—why intentionally put myself into a mini-version of hell?

Which is worse, being in a place that is too loud or too quiet?

Being in a place that you don’t want to be in, which for me is more often too loud.

What is one quality that you really appreciate in a person?

Kindness and thoughtfulness, I know you asked for just one, but these are equally important to me.

What is the most distinguishing landmark in your city?

My presence in it. LOL. And that goes for both my cities: Spokane in summer and Tucson in winter.

Do you believe in UFOs?

No, but then again I hate the phrase ‘Do you believe in . . .’ and can pretty much ALWAYS answer that question with ‘no’.

What is your concession stand must-have at the movies?

Sorry, I know I’m kind of wrecking the interview, but I HATE to go to the movies and I doubly hate people being able to buy gobs of crap to munch on and ruin the experience because God knows if they can’t EAT something for that hour and a half they’ll DIE!  

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Cat Bauer

Get to know Cat…

Cat Bauer has lived in Venice, Italy since 1998. She is the award-winning author of contemporary novels featuring the young protagonist, Harley Columba, (Harley, Like a Person and Harley’s Ninth) and was a regular contributor to the International Herald Tribune’s Italian supplement, Italy Daily. Her blog, Venetian Cat – The Venice Blog shares an insider’s view to cultural events around town, and has been featured in the Financial Times Weekend Magazine.

Let the conversation begin!

What’s one rule you’re dying to break?

Oh, I think I’ve broken just about all of them. 

What advice would you give young writers?

Read. Write. Imagine. Create. Believe in yourself even if no one else does — if you really are a writer, you are right and they are wrong. Norman Mailer called writing, “The Spooky Art.” If you understand why it’s spooky, then it’s the life for you. 

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Count your words. 

What one word describes you? 

Durable. I know how to walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death and fear no evil. 

What would you like your life to look like in ten years?

Sunny and harmonious with a baby grand piano in the background. 

What element would you add to your writing space if money wasn’t an issue?

A fairytale forest. 

What’s the first item on your bucket list?

I don’t know what a “bucket list” is. 

What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?

Go to the sea and lie in the sun. 

Do you let anyone read your work-in-progress? 

I like non-writers to listen to me read aloud a chapter or two. Especially if they are Italians who are not completely fluent in English. If it holds their interest, then I think it’s okay. 

What initially drew you to writing?

It was the other way around. Writing drew me into its world. I think I was born that way. I started writing as soon as I could formulate words and hold a pencil. I was about six-years-old. Then I would go around the neighborhood and sell what I wrote. “Children of Other Lands,” was my first book, complete with illustrations. It was inspired by a pack of cards. 

If there is one genre you’d never write, what is it? 

Is there a cowboy genre? I don’t think I will ever write a cowboy book. It’s not that I don’t like cowboys, but I have other topics that interest me more. You never know, though. I could end up writing a book called, “The Wild, Wild West.” 

Would you rather publish a string of mainstream books or one classic?

One classic. Definitely. A classic can last longer than an empire. 

Do you write with music?

Yes, to classical music, mostly Bach and Mozart. But I prefer to write with silence playing in the background. 

Describe your dream vacation.

It would include lions in the wild and exotic food. 

If you could only write one more book, what would it be about?

You will soon find out. 

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Author Interview with Daniel Darling

daniel-darling-590x577Get to know Daniel…

Daniel Darling is the Senior Pastor of Gages Lake Bible Church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago and is the author of Teen People of the BibleCrash Course, and iFaith. His work has been featured in evangelical publications such as Relevant Magazine, Focus on the Family, Marriage Partnership, Pray!, RelevantIn Touch with Dr. Charles Stanley. He has guest-posted on leading blogs such as Michael Hyatt, The Gospel Coalition, OnFaith (Washington Post), and others. He has been profiled by The Chicago Tribune.  Daniel is a contributing writer to Zondervan’s Couples Devotional BiblePublisher’s Weekly called his writing style “substantive and punchy.” Dan is a contributing writer to Christian Today‘s online magazine, Kyria as well as Lifeway’s men’s devotional, Stand Firm. He also maintains a blog at patheos.com, entitled, The Friday Five, where he interviews leading evangelicals.

Visit Daniel’s site here.

Let the conversation begin!

Was it easier to write before or after you were published? 

I worked on staff at a large Christian organization as a writer and editor for about 5-6 years before I began putting my toe in the “freelance” waters. Ironically, it was easier for me to write the more I got published. Perhaps it was just having someone professional affirm that I had some talent. And the more of my work that is published, the more I want to write. 

Where do you get your ideas? 

I get my ideas from a variety of places. In the shower. In the middle of a movie. I get a ton of ideas from listening to sermons. I podcast guys from all over the country. I also read quite a bit. And then I like to stroll through a Christian bookstore from time to time just to imbibe the latest in talented writers and editors. 

What advice would you give young writers? 

I would give three pieces of advice. First, start writing now. Launch a blog, volunteer to write for your church’s newsletter or bulletin, put together a community bulletin, write book reviews. But start writing now. Secondly, I would say to “not despise small things.” Many writers start off wanting to publish their magnum opus, a New York Times bestseller. They’d be better off starting with smaller, but achievable goals like articles, devotionals, and other stuff. Third, and this is vital, get critical and professional feedback. This means you should invest time in a good writer’s conference and also work hard to get to know professional writers, one or two, willing to mentor you and offer real honest feedback. You’re mom is great, but her smiley stickers won’t get you published. 

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received? 

Ironically from a movie, Finding Forester. Sean Connery’s character, William Forester tells his young protégé, Jamal Wallace to “write the first draft with your heart and the second draft with your head.”

How many words do you write each day?

I’m not a word-limit guy, which makes me a bit unusual. I crank out a ton of words each week between sermon manuscripts, blog posts, columns, devotionals, articles and book chapters. But I stopped beating myself up for not being the 5,000-words by noon guy. I write best when I’m sweating a deadline, which has been the story of my life the last ten years or so.

Outliner or a seat-of-the-pants writer?

I outline. Mainly because I feel it gets some of the heavy lifting done. For instance, since I write mostly nonfiction, I feel the chapter outline is some of the hardest work of a book project. I feel it gives me direction. Now, of course, I’m always free to tweak it as I begin working on the project. But I’m an outline freak.

When are you the most productive?

Since I have a demanding job (pastor) and a growing family of three (with one on the way), I find the best time to write a big-time project is at night, say between 10 am and 2pm. But I also find other pockets of time to write as well.

What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?

I’ve found music and a good book do the trick. I’m constantly reading. I feel if I’m not filling my head with good content that I’ll have a shallow well from which to draw. And then there are times I need to completely relax, which was what ESPN and couches were invented to do! A good movie doesn’t hurt either.

Do you let anyone read your work-in-progress? 

I get my work as good as I can get it at that moment (something my mentor Cec Murphey taught me) and then I send to a few top-notch editors and readers I know will beat it up. I actually like the critiquing. I long for it, because I know I can only get a project so far, then I need some pruning to pull out the additional fruit.

Would you rather publish a string of mainstream books or one classic?

I’d like to have a body of work. I’d like to write as many books as I can and leave a spiritual legacy. Hopefully among those is maybe a memorable classic or two. But I can only do my best. God does the increase.

Do you write with music playing?

Absolutely. Pandora and iTunes Genius. I’ve found Andrew Peterson, Chris Rice, Fernando Ortega great for writing.

What initially drew you to writing?

When I was in high-school in a Christian school, I had a teacher who looked at my work and said, “Dan you’ve got some talent, you should pursue this.” I’ve loved it ever since.

Describe your dream vacation.

I’m with my wife and children. It’s a tropical Island. I’ve got a stack of great books, I’m sitting by the pool. And somebody has stolen my iPhone so I can’t possibly be reached. Oh, and there is plenty of Mexican food available. 

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Marion Dane Bauer

0440466334Get to know Marion…

I was born in a four-room frame house in the shadow of a cement mill. The mill, at the edge of a small northern-Illinois town called Oglesby, provided the houses for the families of the men who worked there. My father was a chemist at the mill, so throughout my childhood, the dusty, old mill filled my horizon.

How I loved it all! The huffing, banging trains delivering coal and carrying away cement. The deep-bellied whistles from the mill itself, announcing that my father would soon come walking home. The wide green yard, the luxuriant woods that took up where the yard left off, even the column of smoke that puffed across my sky from the tall stack.

My mother was a taciturn woman who loved babies, and she surrounded me—and my brother, Willis, who was two years older—with an unspoken but utterly solid love.

There happened to be a goodly pack of boys for Willis to run with, but few—often no—girls for me. But I entertained myself easily in my mother’s cozy world and can remember no discontent from those early years. I don’t know what it was like for Willis to leave this idyllic existence for school. For me, it was like being cast out of paradise.

To read Marion’s blog, click here. To learn the inspiration behind her blog, read below!

When did you start your blog journey? 

I’ve been writing for young people—board books through YA novels—for forty years and have published about 85 books.  I only began blogging last spring in response to my desire to promote my first novel in verse, Little Dog, Lost.  

Despite wanting to give that book all the exposure I could, I was initially resistant to blogging.  It felt like sending my words out to disappear into the ether, no one out there to receive them.  But that’s what publishers want you to do these days, and the folks who manage my website and various other aspects of my publishing life at Winding Oak encouraged me, so I took the leap.

At first, I wrote about Little Dog, Lost, of course.  That’s why I started the blog.  But it didn’t take long before I ran out of things to say about that one book, and then I turned to what I have done for even longer than I’ve been publishing . . . to being the teaching writer.

I love teaching, especially teaching writing to adults.  I have recently retired from my position on the faculty at Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, so this gave me a way to continue teaching without the commitment of working directly with a group of students.  And it gives me a chance to teach without leaving home.

What is best about writing my blog is what is always best in teaching writing.  I get to struggle out loud with whatever conundrum I’m solving for myself in my own writing at each particular moment, and that cuts through the isolation of this good work.

Then some of my readers write back, which thrills me and lets me know that my words really are being read, despite this strange ethereal medium. 

What nuggets of wisdom have you discovered about yourself and your writing process along the way?

I’ve discovered that whatever I’m struggling with others are struggling with, too.  And that, because I’m what reviewers these days politely call a “veteran”—it means I’ve been around for a  l o n g time—other folks are reassured that their struggles are legitimate because, after forty years, I’m still trying to get these things right.

Where do you get your blog ideas?  

Sometimes I get ideas from questions or responses from my readers—and I love having that happen—but most of the time my blogging ideas simply rise out of whatever I’m writing at the moment, whatever I’m thinking about concerning what I’m writing, and whatever questions I’m asking myself.

Perhaps more than anything else that’s the core of my blog, the message that the questions are what matters . . . in writing and in life.  

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Author Interview with Ann Haywood Leal

Get to know Ann…

Ann Haywood Leal comes from a long line of musicians, artists, and teachers.  Since she’s never been able to carry a tune, she was always given plenty of writing supplies and allowed to use the sharp scissors.  Eventually, she put those writing supplies to good use and wrote her first novel, ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER.  A Seattle-area native, Ann is an elementary teacher and now lives in Connecticut with her husband, Andy; her cat, Pepper, and is a train and a subway away from her daughter, Jessica.  Her second novel, A FINDERS-KEEPERS PLACE, was released in October. Visit Ann’s site here.

Let the conversation begin!

Do you begin with character or plot? 

In ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER, I began with a character and with a setting.  I was on a run one day, and I saw a house with an eviction sign.  Right away, in my mind, I saw a little girl tearing off that eviction notice.  In A FINDERS-KEEPERS PLACE, I actually started with the setting.  I love anything that is broken-down and falling apart, because it always gets me wondering about what happened there, who lived there, and what their stories were.  When I run across an interesting setting, I like to take pictures for my idea file. 

Describe your perfect day.

I would wake up in Seattle and go for a run with my dad.  Then I would write for the rest of the morning at a coffee shop near the Freemont Bridge troll sculpture, and zip to New York to have lunch at the Yaffa Café with my friends and family.  I would write for the rest of the afternoon in my cousin, Sean’s pasture in County Mayo, Ireland.  Then I would have dinner on a sailboat with my husband in the Florida Keys, listen to jazz at the Blue Note in the Village, and watch the fireflies from my backyard treehouse in Connecticut (without mosquitoes!). 

Who inspires you and how are you a bit like them? 

My mom was wonderful.  She was a very busy person, because she was a teacher and an artist, but she always had time for my brothers and me.  Her mother, my grandmother, was also very inspiring.  She was born without the fingers on one hand, but she never let that stop her from doing anything.  She used to say that the only thing she couldn’t do was to pound a nail.  She was bold and always tried to do the right thing, no matter what people thought of her.  My father is still very inspiring to me.  He always had time to read to my brothers and me, and he taught us to love and appreciate good stories.  He is a retired biology teacher and he taught me so much about science and questioning what is going on around you.  I think I got my curiosity and creativity and my love of words from all of them. 

Where do you get your ideas?

Absolutely everywhere!  I true to always pay attention to what is going on around me and to notice the small details. 

What advice would you give young writers?

Save all of your stories and write every day, even if you only have a small window of time.  Read everything you can get your hands on! 

What was the weirdest food you’ve ever eaten?

Hmmm…probably eel.  Sushi is one of my favorite foods, and I’ll try most any of it. 

What do you consider to the most valuable thing you own?

My grandmother’s bible and my great-grandmother’s stories.

What one word describes you? 

Probably friendly, because I’ll talk to almost anyone, often to the embarrassment of my kids! 

What’s the first item on your bucket list?

I’m not sure if it’s the first item, but it’s one of them…I’d love to zipline over the Amazon Rainforest. 

What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?

I go for a run or a bike ride, or read a great book of poetry.

Do you let anyone read your work-in-progress? Or do you keep it a secret?

I let my agent read my work-in-progress, because he has really good intuition and feedback.  I’ll also read chapters to my dad and to my best friend and critique group members. 

RyanOutliner or seat-of-the-pantser?

I’m trying to be less of a seat-of-the-pantser, but the truth is, I’m probably somewhere in between. 

What element would you add to your writing space if money wasn’t an issue? 

A rooftop garden with a fully catered lunch nook, and a skywalk that goes out to my treehouse.  My treehouse can stay rustic, because I really like it that way. 

How long do you take to write a book?

For a first draft, anywhere from six months, to a year.

In grade school, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a writer and a teacher.

Easier to write before or after you were published?

Hmmm…part of me thinks it was easier before, because I didn’t have the pressures of deadlines and reviews.  But I’ve learned so many valuable and helpful things from the people around me since I’ve been published – my editor, my agent, and other authors—people I probably wouldn’t have come in regular contact with before publishing. 

Earliest childhood memory?

I was going up in the Space Needle with some of my family.  I remember being really scared, and holding tightly to my dad, because it was dark at one point when we were going up in the elevator. 

What is your secret talent?

I have a really good singing voice in the car, by myself, with the CD player turned up high. 

What’s one rule you’re dying to break?

I would love to ignore the ropes and the glass cases at a museum and really get a good look at things.  I want to touch all the mummies at the Met and get up close and personal with the dinosaurs and the dioramas at the Museum of Natural History. 

If you could spend a vacation with three authors, who would they be? 

I’m going to have to cheat and double that number; two dead, four alive:  John Steinbeck, Roald Dahl, Judy Blume, Harper Lee, Anne Lamott, and David Sedaris. 

 

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Introducing Author Dotti Enderle

hiddenGet to know Dotti Enderle…

Who knew that a child labeled “Reluctant Reader” would grow up to write and publish dozens of books for children? Yeah, that’s me. 

I was born in Killeen, Texas on a cold January day in 1954. My family moved around a lot, allowing me to, over the years, live on a farm, in a historic home and always near rivers or bayous. My playthings were hula-hoops, old typewriters and a wooden leg named Charlie. (Yep, you read that right.) If you want a true glimpse of my childhood dreams, read my novel, Man in the Moon. The character Janine allows you inside my young mixed-up mind. 

Since I grew up among tall tales and family stories, storytelling is in my blood. I’ve entertained at numerous schools, libraries, museums and festivals since 1993. I especially take pride in my vast collection of original stories and folk tales, and specialize in “participation” stories, allowing my audience to join in the fun. 

I’ve lived most of my life in Houston and still live there today. You’ll find me here reading, writing and smiling. 

For more info, check out my site.  

Let the conversation begin!

What do you miss about being a child?

The family get-togethers. I come from a musical family, so all our holidays were like jam sessions. And there were plenty of antics as well. My parents and most of my siblings have passed on now. It’ll never be the same. 

What is the best part of writing?

The fun of creating. 

Worst part?

The agony of creating. 

What specific thing have you done that impressed yourself?

I’m always impressed when I get a book published. And when I read a few pages and think, Wow, I wrote this? 

Can you share a nugget of writing wisdom?

I could share lots of nuggets, but it seems most authors learn from writing, rewriting and making mistakes. Experience is everything.

If you could pick one fictional character to meet, who would it be?

Victor Frankenstein. I might help him dig a few graves. But unlike him, I wouldn’t abandon the creature.

Do you keep a writing journal?

No, but I have notebooks jam-packed with thoughts, snippets of dialogue, and choppy ideas. One day someone might read it, piece it together and discover my biography.

What is your passion?

What I do every day…write.

Coffee or Tea?

Diet Coke.

When are you the most productive?

Time of day – afternoon. Amount of writing – when I’m on deadline.

Daily word count?

Varies. Sometimes my muse doesn’t like me.

If you could only wear one color for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Black.

Why?

It’s slimming.

As a teenager, what was your favorite musical group?

The Beatles. Paul McCartney was my first celebrity crush.

If you had to lose one of your five senses, which one of them would you prefer to lose and why?

Smell. I’d eat healthier.

Is there a story behind your name? 

It’s accidental, but my real name is Dorothy Gail. At school, kids always asked me where Toto was.

Who was your first date?

My first love – a British boy named Glen. 

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Not sure, but hopefully breathing.

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Author Interview with Anne Elisabeth Stengl

Veiled Rose_final cover.inddGet to know Anne…

Anne Elisabeth Stengl is the author of the Tales of Goldstone Wood, a series of adventure fantasy novels told in the classic Fairy Tale style. She is married to the ever-so-dashing Rohan de Silva, whom she met at fencing class, and lives with him and a kindle of kitties in Raleigh, NC. When she’s not writing, she’s thinking about writing. When she’s not thinking about writing, she has probably stopped thinking altogether and should be served tea and sent to bed. Her first novel, Heartless, won the 2011 Christy Award in the Debut Novel category.  

Let the conversation begin! 

Do you begin with character or plot?

For the most part, I have to say that I begin with plot (Veiled Rose being the one exception to that rule so far). For instance, when first drafting the original version of Heartless, I began with the plotline of a princess who, due to heartbreak, disappointment, and selfishness, becomes her own worst enemy and can only be saved by grace.

However, there wasn’t much to that plot until the actual person of Princess Una, with all her naiveté, good humor, and flightiness, walked onto the page. And even with her development, Heartless would be a mere shell without the cast of colorful supporting characters. Monster the cat, Prince Felix the aspiring swordsman, and enigmatic Leonard the jester create the comedic moments and dramatic tension that make for the true fairy tale flavor. And where would the story be without the enormous contrast between the seductive Dragon and steadfast Prince Aethelbald? 

In the development of my current work-in-progress, this question of plot vs. characters has become an increasingly pressing one. The plot of the story has been in my head for I couldn’t even tell you how many years! But when it came time to sit down and actually write the thing, I realized I didn’t really know who the characters were going to be. Oh, I knew in a general sort of sense! I knew one was an acolyte in a pagan temple. I knew one was destined to become king. Another, I knew, had a scar across his face. But who were they, exactly? Through the evolution of this draft, the basic plot has not altered at all. But the characters, as I get to know them, shape the actual story.

Other than my second novel, Veiled Rose (which began with nothing other than the thought, “I wonder what a story about Leonard the jester would look like?”), all of my novels have begun with the plot. However, this in no way decreases the emphasis on characters! The difference between a plot and a story is always the characters.

Who inspires you and how are you a bit like them?

I have a whole list of great novelists who are always my inspiration! Topping the charts would be names of children’s and YA fantasy novelists such as C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, Edith Nesbit, and more. I love how they recognized the truth that writing for young people did not mean writing down to young people. Children’s and YA fiction has the potential to be among the most beautiful and most profound in all literature! Lewis never forgot his childhood; he never lost the little boy hidden within the grown man. And by virtue of remembering that child, he was a more mature man. After all, doesn’t the Bible say that it takes faith like a child to enter the kingdom of heaven? (Matthew 18:3) I believe it is equally true that it takes faith like a child to begin to grasp the great and fantastic mysteries of the world. To look upon the rational and see the fantastic. To look upon the irrational and know it for truth.  

This attitude, this link to the inner child, inspires me as I write. I try to remember the sense of wonder I felt when I was younger and able to revel in the wondrous. And I admire tremendously those great authors who did the same! 

What advice would you give to new writers?

Write, write, write. Oh, and read, read, read. Don’t limit yourself to what is “comfortable” either in your reading or your writing. Don’t just write what you know . . . expand what you know! If you’re a fiction writer, don’t neglect to read the great poets of older ages. Don’t forget to study histories of ancient times. Don’t turn away from those theological and philosophical tomes just because you write historical romance, or speculative fiction, or whatever genre is your preference. If you want to be a good writer, you need to be a student. And that is for always! There will never come a time when you “know enough.”

Study, experience, live. You’ll have a lot more to write about! And if you don’t have the experience to write the story that it is pressing on your heart right now, don’t worry. Live a couple more years, and you might be surprised to find that suddenly you know just how to tell it. I take comfort in the fact that I am currently only 25 . . . I have a LOT of experiences ahead of me still! And a LOT of study! I can’t even imagine how much my work will (Lord willing!) improve. 

DRAGONWITCH completeWhat book was the easiest to write? Hardest?

Tricky question! Each of them has been difficult in its own way. I suppose Heartless was the easiest to initially draft. It was my first full-length novel written post-college. It was a straightforward plotline, and I wrote it very simply. That being said, it also went through more drafts than any other project of mine so far! The difference between the original Heartless and the published form is . . . let me find a suitable word . . . astronomical, maybe? Ridiculous? Incalculababable? The core is still there: Princess suffers heartbreak, becomes a dragon, is rescued by undeserved grace. But, my word, did it ever need to grow!

Veiled Rose might have been both my hardest and my easiest. It was hardest in that I drafted the entire thing very quickly, sent it to my publishers and . . . they hated it. The whole thing. The entire story from beginning to end (except the character of Rose Red. Everyone loves her). We almost skipped that book entirely, they liked it so little!

But they gave me a second stab at it. In just over two months, I got to rewrite my 120,000 word manuscript. And when I say “rewrite,” I don’t mean “tweak it a little here and there.” I mean toss the entire thing out, start from a completely new position, work to a completely new climax, introduce an almost entirely new cast of characters. It wasn’t a rewrite. It was a new novel. 

That being said, it practically wrote itself in those two months. I mean, I wasn’t eating, sleeping, thinking, or functioning on anything like a human level, but the book turned out really well. My publishers loved it, I loved it, so far my readers have loved it. So, yes. Hardest and easiest. 

I think every book is the hardest ultimately, though. Every project presents a whole new set of challenges. If not, you might be stagnating as a writer and should consider increasing the challenge for yourself. As long as each new work-in-progress is more difficult than the one before, you are probably making good strides toward improvement! 

Outliner or seat-of-the-pantser?

Both, absolutely! I like to have a decent outline to work from. But within the framework of that outline, everything is spontaneous. Each scene can be written innumerable ways from innumerable perspectives. But the outline keeps me gently controlled so that I remain pointed in a specific direction. No rabbit-trailing allowed! 

I think, whether you are an outliner or seat-of-the-pantser, it is wise to have a beginning, middle, and end in mind before you get started. Always have something to work toward. Working as I do under pretty tight deadlines, keeping my beginning, middle, and end-goals in sight forces me to stay focused!

But you don’t want to get too crazy with your outline either. Be sure to leave plenty of room for that dramatic inspiration of the moment! Much of my best writing happens in completely unplanned plot-twists. 

How long do you take to write a book?

Oh, it varies! In the case of Veiled Rose, two months. Normally, something around five months gets me to a relatively polished draft (though with several rounds of rewrites yet to go!). My most recent finished work I expected to take me about three months. Eight months later, after the longest, hardest slog of my writerly memory, I typed: The End. And then started on the revisions. 

As I said above, every book is its own journey. It will take you down completely new paths and on unexpected detours. But this makes the writing life interesting! On the whole, I write pretty fast compared to most. This is not necessarily good . . . nor is it bad. Ultimately, the important thing is to write at a pace that is right for you. As long as you are finishing projects, does it matter if it takes you two months or two years? (Okay, it does if you have a deadline, but you get my point!) 

Daily word count?

I go for an average of 4,000-word days. On a really good day, I write up to 8,000. However, there are also those incredibly long and difficult work days when my end result is 5 words. Or none at all. Yet I still feel as though I’ve run a marathon! 

Ultimately, the writing life isn’t about word count. It’s about what’s going on in your head. I often feel as though my novels are like a complicated mathematical equation (EEEEEEEEK! MATH!!!! But bear with me here). There is a right solution to this equation. Plug in the right formula, and I’ll solve for X in no time! Problem is, I don’t know what that formula is. Or I haven’t invented it yet. And I might need to try half a dozen (half million?) wrong formulas before I find the right one. 

Those are the days when 5 words are a victory. But take heart! We all have days like that. It’s part of what it means to be a writer. I like how this gentleman puts it: “There are days when the result is so bad that no fewer than five revisions are required. In contrast, when I’m greatly inspired, only four revisions are needed.” –John Kenneth Galbraith 

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