- A common misconception entwined with authors is that they are socially inept, how true is that?
I can only speak for myself. I have always liked spending time by myself, even when I was a kid. I tend to be somewhat shy and sometimes get nervous if asked to speak in front of people or make an important point during an argument. However, I am very good at mixing in at gatherings or parties when I can choose who I talk to and which conversations I engage in. I must say that I do like my own company and enjoy spending time alone to pursue my many interests. And I like being productive, which is easier without a lot of interruptions. I did not choose writing because of this; writing chose me. I was always interested in words and ideas, taught high school English, and had a modicum amount of talent. So, in light of that, writing has always been fun, enlightening, and fulfilling for me. But, it in no way has affected my social skills negatively. In fact, I believe it has done the opposite.
- What makes this particular genre you are involved in so special?
Writing memoir requires dealing with reality and getting at the truth. That’s important to me. True, it puts pressure on the writer’s memory. But I love the challenge, as well as that of using fictive techniques to enhance the reader’s experience. I have always preferred reading biographies and non-fiction pieces to fiction: although, I have read a lot of fiction including most of the classics. But, to me, non-fiction has more credibility. Anyone can make up stories, but I feel that stories, from and about real people, carry more weight. I also enjoy doing research and most memoir requires the writer to seek out information in the form of diaries, documents, articles, and other written and verbal sources. Although time-consuming, it can be interesting, rewarding, and exciting. I love the challenge; it always reaps newfound insight, and sometimes surprises and joy.
- How important is research to you when writing a book?
Extremely important. In order for the reader to understand the nature of the story….it’s meaning, it’s message, it’s events and characters, it must be set in a highly relevant or specific context. And that context has to be believable and make sense. For example. If your story is set in the 1800s in a small village in England, there will be no automobiles, and you might have to research what kind of transportation was used then and there. If it’s set in New York, in the 1940s, it will be different than if it were set in Africa during the rising of Hutus and Tutsis. Locations, clothing, food, everything will change depending on when and where, and with whom the story is concerned; in other words, the context. It is the writer’s responsibility to create an appropriate setting for his characters.
- What inspires you to write?
Honestly, just about everything. I started out writing essays and articles, working for a couple of online magazines. I had to be ready, when I received an assignment, to write what they wanted me to write. So I got used to jumping in, researching if necessary, and making the best of each assignment I turned in. To add to that, I had been an English teacher and taught high school kids to write. One message I imparted to them is that any subject is writable. I would give them topics to choose from, like Bubblegum, My Computer, My Back Porch, Basil, New Shoes, etc. They would have to pick a topic and write an interesting article about it. They amazed me with their responses. Now that I am writing books, I find that it’s the process of writing that I love. It is so compelling to me.
- How often do you write?
I write every day, unless I’m sick or out of town. Sometimes it’s a few pages, sometimes it’s a chapter, and sometimes I will write for hours and have to stop myself to eat something or to just get up and walk around or exercise. I keep a clock on my desk, so I know how long I’ve been sitting at the computer. I rarely write by hand, unless I’m making notes about something I’ve just read, mostly on my phone where I keep books and stories on my Kindle. I do not remember ever having writer’s block; although; I have put a manuscript away for a few weeks in order to return to it with fresh eyes, for perspective.
- Writers are often associated with loner tendencies; is there any truth to that?
I think yes, there is. Writers need to think, concentrate, pull ideas from memory and from their imagination. They need time to research, look up definitions, find the right synonym, antonym and come up with appropriate and interesting metaphors. They need to finish their first drafts in record time, rewrite, edit, and craft what they’ve written in that draft. This can take months or even years. They cannot do all this with people standing around wanting to talk to them or asking them to do things or go places. And when they are away from the computer, their thinking mechanisms, related to that book or another piece of writing, do not always stop. When writing a book, the story is always with you. Yes, writers tend to be loners, for good reason.
- Do you set a plot or prefer going wherever an idea takes you?
I prefer going wherever an idea takes me. I believe this has a lot to do with one’s personality. I do make lists, but I find it next to impossible to adhere to schedules, budgets, and daily routine, except for maybe brushing my teeth and having my morning coffee. It’s the same with my writing. I just start, and it usually comes pouring out. Occasionally,
If I accumulate a lot of text or information, I will make a graft or outline to help with dates, names, events, and chronology, but I never plot the story out ahead of time. I’m aware that stories should have some kind of arc, but so far that seems to have automatically happened in most of what I’ve written. Of course, that may be do to the fact that I write memoir and non-fiction and the structure somehow rises out of the memories or content like a phoenix.
- Over the years, what would you say has improved significantly in your writing?
My ability to go deeper and reflect more on what I’m saying or trying to get across in my writing. I’m still not there yet. This has been somewhat hard for me. My reticence may have been due to not wanting to reveal some things about myself or the way I feel, or just not wanting to take the time to reflect on certain subjects, or even because of habits I’ve acquired over the years. And I’m pretty sure that one of the main reason was that I just didn’t know how to do it; I’d never really done it before. It is not necessary when writing essays or journal articles unless they are personal in nature. But with memoir, it is important to do so. Readers want to know who the writer is, what they think, where they’re coming from (emotionally, politically, etc.) and how they feel about important matters.
- What is your take on the importance of a good cover and title?
If you want to sell books, a good title and cover are essential. They both attract readers. Your cover should reflect whatever the content is underneath, between the pages. Along with the blurbs on the back, it should give the reader an idea what they might be in for if they decide to buy and read the book. The title should hook the reader even more so, to the point they can’t resist. Lackluster covers and vapid titles can turn prospective buyers away, especially if there are better looking and sounding books in the vicinity.
- Do you read and reply to the reviews and comments of your readers?
Always. This is extremely important if you want to build a platform of readers who are truly interested in you and what you write, a group of followers who like and trust that you are also interested in them. And the more honest and open you are, the better. They want to get to know you, to know you’re a real, person, likeable and caring. So, you need to converse with them and let them know you appreciate their support.
- Does a bad review affect your writing?
Anyone who publishes needs to learn to believe in themselves, their abilities, and their writing. If they cannot, and they intend to publish, they will be miserable if they let what readers say about their published works dictate whether or not they continue to produce. Not everyone will like your work. And some will like it more than others. That’s just the way things are. To resort to an old colloquialism, “If you can take the heat, stay out of the kitchen.” Or go back to school.
My first mediocre review stung a little, but I consistently get enough good ones to offset my reaction. And I do not let it affect my writing. If anything, it makes me want to write more and continue to learn more about my craft. I know I get better the more I write.
- What did you want to become when you were a kid?
From the time I was six or seven years old, I wanted to be a teacher. I would set up a classroom in my bedroom, with a desk for myself (the teacher) and a row of chairs in front of me for my imaginary students. I had paper and pencils and a ruler on my desk, along with a couple of books, that I would attempt to read from to my students. Sometimes I would enlist my little sister to be one of my students, although she rarely lasted more than five or ten minutes. But, I didn’t care, my class would always go on with or without her.
I was a pretty good student in elementary school and an average one in high school. But by the time I got to college and still had the dream of being a teacher, I started taking my education more seriously. I began studying English composition. The following year, I switched to a double major: art education and English composition. Two years later, I switched to music education where I remained until I graduated with a Masters in Voice/Music Education. I became a high school teacher for the Chicago Board of Education while earning a Science of Education masters with a major in Special Education. I later worked on a Ph.D. in Education at the University of Illinois/Chicago campus and taught in their school of education. I also taught English as a Second Language at night in a junior college. I remained a teacher, loving it, for nearly forty years.
- Have you ever incorporated something that happened to you in real life into your novels?
Yes, all the time. I am a non-fiction writer, having written personal essays and articles, as well as memoir. My first memoir was a story about re-inventing myself from a teacher (of nearly forty years) to an innkeeper (for twenty years). During that twenty year journey, I gathered stories about my interactions with guests, employees, friends, and acquaintances. So many of them are in the book. In fact the entire book is about things that happened to me as I went through a life-changing transition.
- People believe that being a published author is glamorous, is that true?
It’s only glamorous if you are already a celebrity and have made it to the New York Time’s list of best sellers. Or you are Tina Fey and have just written a very funny book about your life. Or a prolific writer like James Patterson and Stephen King who have the option of having several assistants help them get all their books written and to the mall. Even then, your life may consist of sitting at a computer for hours, coming up with unique stories to tell, interviews, and plane rides to New York to promote your book.
I know there can be a lot of perks, but that’s for a relative few and they have usually worked hard to get there. Writing is not glamourous. It’s a lot of hard work and you are responsible for every word you put out there to be read, criticized, scrutinized and hopefully enjoyed by the public.
- Does your day job ever get in the way of your writing?
My day job is writing. I am retired and living in Vermont, so I can be close to my family. I live alone so I am able to write without interruption and whenever I want to, day or night. I am fortunate to be able to do this. I came up with the plan to do this while I was still innkeeping in Louisville, Kentucky. When I sold my beautiful Victorian inn almost three years ago, I came out with just enough to move my personal belongings to Vermont and buy a small condo just fifteen minutes from my daughter and son-in-law. It has worked out very well and I get to spend a lot of time with them on the weekends and get a lot of writing done.
- Is it true that anyone can be a writer?
I am not sure about this. I guess if you had a good understanding of how to use the English language and either self-taught yourself or got a degree in English composition, and were very determined you might be able to give it a try. Creativity and a unique perspective help, as does strong desire to succeed and believe in yourself and what you have to say.
I think probably it takes a certain type of personality to see it through, one that doesn’t mind spending hours alone at a computer or with paper and pencil. It also takes a long time to develop one’s skill. Most writer’s start writing at a very young age. Many times, they feel they must write, that writing chooses them instead of the other way around.
- What is your view on co-authoring books; have you done any?
I think it’s a good idea and, in light of number 16 above, it’s a good way to get started as a writer, especially if you are working with another writer who has been writing for a while. It also lends to your credibility if you’ve published something. I co-wrote a coffee-table cookbook in 2008 that was a huge success. We won an award and sold lots of copies. It was a good experience for me; I learned a lot. The only drawback was that there were four of us, all strong, independent women and at times got bogged down arguing about the right choices to make.
- What is that one thing you think readers generally don’t know about your specific genre?
Unfortunately, there seems to be some ambiguity about what exactly memoir is. Most people think a memoir if the same as an autobiography. I can be, but it can also be many other things instead; such as an account, a history, record, chronicle, narrative, story, portrayal, depiction, sketch, or a portrait. It can also be a biography. Example: “in 1924 she published a short memoir of her husband”
My next memoir, a work-in-progress with a working title of Roxie and Alfred, is a memoir of my grandparents: It is not my autobiography. It is not about me, although I am included as part of the family in the story. The purpose of the first chapter is to introduce Roxie and Alfred and begin telling their story. Memoir can have long narrative passages, or it can read like fiction, using fictive techniques such as dialogue and character development. It can have a story arc or not. My first memoir did not. The one thing that it always does, no matter the structure, is tell the truth.
My new book is divided into three parts of varying time periods. Although there is a common thread that holds it all together, each part requires separate historic research for that time period. It is not fiction; I cannot just make stuff up whenever I come to a roadblock. The story must retain a basic truth, even though I am allowed a little leeway in character development, dialogue, and evolution of events.
One last thing, I cannot use a formula, as many fiction writers do, to get me through quickly. Some of the events occurred so long ago that my memory needs to be constantly jostled. There are few records, no notes, and only my sister and two daughters, who weren’t even born until Part Two of the book, to help me recall. It’s moving along slowly, but no matter how difficult dredging up old stuff may be, this is what I do….. I write memoir.
- What is the secret to becoming a bestselling author?
Hard work. Write the best book you possibly can, take the time to see it through, get a lot feedback from Alpha and Beta readers, copyeditors, and anyone else who is qualified. Find a good agent or publisher and hire a publicist. Be prepared to do a lot of your own marking and book promotion. Don’t let the ball drop.
- Do you see the ‘writing germs’ in any of your family members?
Only in my oldest daughter, although my mother and grandfather were both writers. Although never published, except for her poetry, she has tried her hand at fiction. But, she always comes back to poetry. For which she’s won awards. She was an editor for a few years at a literary magazine and has written copy for advertising companies and companies with advertising departments which is what she is doing at present.
- Do you keep a diary?
No, I have never kept a diary or journal except one time on a trip to Europe. I have tried many times, but I am not consistent enough to make it worth my time. I frequently make notes if I see, hear, or read something I consider interesting, valuable to my writing life, or worthy and appropriate for a piece or book I’m working on. Or, I’ll write down something I think would make a good topic for an article.
- How big of a part does music play in creating your “zone”?
I never listen to music when I am writing. I am a musician. I wouldn’t be able to concentrate if I were to play music while I was writing. I would be listening to the music and probably analyzing it.
And when I sit down to listen to a piece of music at home, I choose a Beethoven symphony, a Schumann song in German, a piano piece by Chopin, or a jazz recording, preferably by someone like George Shearing, Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis, or Chris Botti. Then, I really listen. Just the way, I really write when I sit down to the computer. I need to go within and concentrate, in both situations.