Here we are--another Saturday and time for our Louisiana Saturday Night. The weeks are flying by fast for me. If you think I might be running short on Louisiana authors, think again. This state has more than its share of interesting, talented writers. One of them is historical writer Winnie Griggs. I hope you enjoy getting to know her as much as I have. She's given me a great interview.
1) Tell us a little about yourself and what part of Louisiana you live in. Does living in LA influence your writing and are you originally a LA girl?
Well let’s see - I’ve been married to my college sweetheart for 30+ years and together we’ve raised four wonderfully independent, well-adjusted children. I have a day job at the local electric utility company and my husband is a farmer/cattle rancher.
And yep - I’m a Louisiana girl through and through. I was born and raised in the Southeast part of the state - in a small town called Marrero situated just across the river from New Orleans. I spent my college years in Natchitoches, which is located more centrally and prides itself on being the oldest permanent settlement in the Louisiana Purchase Territory. And for the last 33 years I’ve lived in the Northwest corner of the state in a little town called Plain Dealing, home of the Dogwood Festival. So I’ve experienced first hand much of the cultural diversity that exists within the borders of our state.
As for the influence that has had on my writing, while I have not yet set a book in a Louisiana setting (though I have an idea for one I’m just dying to get down on paper) I firmly believe that all of your life experiences shape who you are and thus influences your worldview.
2) What do you write and tell us about your path to publication.
I write historical romance, mostly 1890’s era Americana. My first five were published by Dorchester. My next two, however, will be published by Steeple Hill’s new Love Inspired Historical line and I’m very excited to be able to write stories where the character’s faith is an important part of their story journey.
As for my path to publication, it was probably typical of most. I’ve been an avid reader most of my life and always found myself dreaming up alternate ‘what ifs’ to go along with the books I read or even the movies I watched. I completed my first short story at the age of 13, and while it was by no means a great literary work, it gave me such a sense of ‘meant to be’ that I’ve been scribbling ever since. However, it wasn’t until years later, when my own children were school age, that it occurred to me to try my hand at a novel length work. And it would be seven years and two additional books later before I made my first sale.
3) How much do you know about how your books are going to be structured, who the characters are, and what the plot is going to be, before you actually start writing, and how much comes to you during the writing process?
I haven’t really spent a lot of time sitting back and analyzing my process. Most of the time, the process starts for me with a situation and a vague sense of who the characters involved are. For instance, my book Something More started with the idea of a woman who sets out to be a mail order bride only to find out when she reaches her destination that the man waiting for her was looking to hire a nanny, not a wife. And my book Whatever It Takes started with the concept of a women who hires a man to pretend to be her suitor, a man who hates deception but agrees because he has to repay a debt of honor. Once I have the situation, I’ll let it simmer around in my mind a bit until I have a clearer idea of who the characters really and then just dive in and write the first three chapters or so. Then I’ll stop again and determine the growth arc for my characters. This gives me a high-level road map for the rest of the book.
4) How much do you research? Do you love, hate it or look at it as a necessity?
The amount of research is totally dependent on the story. For instance, in my book Lady’s Choice, the heroine is a photographer and I had to do a lot of research on 1890’s era photography.
For my book, What Matters Most, however, the book was tightly focused on the hero and heroine in isolation on a small farm and required very little research other than making certain I got the tone and atmosphere correct. For the most part I enjoy doing research and often discover interesting little tidbits that can enrich the story or take it in directions I hadn’t previously considered.
5) If you could go back and talk to yourself when you were a beginning writer, what advice would you offer?
Look for opportunities to interact with other writers and industry professionals, because no one else will understand your dreams and aspirations like they do.
6) Do you have or have you ever had a critique group? What advice do you have for those writers who live and breathe critique groups?
I used to meet on a regular basis with a critique group and found it an invaluable source of advice, support and encouragement. We no longer meet regularly, but I still have a couple of writer friends who are there for me when I need to do some brainstorming or need a fresh set of eyes on a work in progress.
The key thing to keep in mind with critique groups is to make certain you are meeting with people whose opinions you trust and who are honest yet constructive in the feedback they offer. You also need to have a strong enough investment in your story to when the advice you’re getting ‘fits’ with your vision and when it does not.
7) Do you blog? How does blogging fit with your writing and has it helped you market your writing? Can you tell if your website/blog has raised your profile as a writer?
In addition to having a ‘day job’, I’m on the board of two writing organizations, am on the conference planning committee for two writing organizations and am head of the finance committee at my church. Which means spare time is a scarce commodity - LOL. So, no I don’t blog. I have to protect ever scrap of ‘spare time’ for my writing.
8) What do you find to be the hardest part of writing?
Finding the time to just do it! That and the self-doubts that seem to be a constant companion.
9) What piece of writing advice have you been given that you still bring to mind each time you sit down to start a new book?
Don’t try to do a perfect first draft. First drafts are like wet clay - squishy and messy. It’s only when we spend time molding, shaping and reshaping that the true beauty of the finished product emerges.
10) What is your work schedule like when you’re writing? Do you have a job outside of writing?
I do have a ‘day job’ so, as I mentioned above, time to write is at a premium. I do most of my writing on weekends or when I’m called on to travel for business (love to write in airports!!).
11) What is the last book you read and why did you read it?
Since the line I’m writing for now, Love Inspired Historical, is brand new I’ve been reading the new releases as they become available, just to get a feel for the line. The books are all really super - not one of them has disappointed me yet!
12) If you could change the publishing industry in any way, how would you change it?Do away with the open ended returns policy.
13) What professional organizations do you belong to and why? Or how have they benefited you?
I’m currently a member of Romance Writers Of America and about five of their local and special interest chapters. I’m also a member of the American Fiction Writers organization and am a charter member of the local chapter, Louisiana Christian Fiction Writers. Oh, and I also belong to Novelists, Inc.
Why did I join them? Well, when I finished my first novel I thought ‘What do I do now?’ I was a subscriber to Writers Digest at the time and saw an add for RWA. I looked them up and found out there was a local chapter about 30 miles from my home. The idea of having a local group of writers to meet and network with on a regular basis seemed like a dream come true. And it was. Joining RWA and the North Louisiana Chapter was one of the best things I ever did as far as advancing my writing career. And I made many dear, lifelong friends as well. I learned so much craft and industry tidbits those first few years - and I’m still learning today.
It’s only in the last few years that I discovered ACFW and it too has been a life-changing event for me. It’s allowed me to expand my circle to include wonderful people who are focused on writing books with a Christian world view.
Wrap it up by telling us what's new on the horizons for you.
Did I mention my first Love Inspired Historical comes out in March 2009
At the moment, I’m working on my second LIH, tentatively titled Family Matters. This is another small town Texas story but with very different characters. I’m having a lot of fun with it and hope reader’s will enjoy Ry and Sam’s story as well.
Thanks, Winnie. We'll mark our calendars and keep an eye out for your Love Inspired historicals. And I want to encourage everyone to drop by Winnie's website. She has some great interviews with industry professionals.
Until next week...