Saturday, May 31, 2008

Louisiana Saturday Night with Author Connie Cox

Meet my new friend, Connie Cox. I really like what Connie has to tell us about contests, contests judging and critique groups. Thanks for 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?
I'm a Louisiana gal, born and bred. I grew up in Shreveport, raised my family in West Monroe and now write full time just north of Bossier City in a small town called Benton. Growing up in the northern part of Louisiana definitely has influenced my writing as well as my life.
I love where I live. I am in awe of the respect we give to each other. In my little town, we still pull over for funeral processions to pay our respects, we wave at strangers when we pass them on the streets, men of all ages call me Miss Connie and ma'am and hold open doors for me and we stop to ask about the family when we see each other at the grocery store. And it's all sincere. We all truly care about each other's well-being.

2) What do you write and tell us about your path to publication. I'm an eclectic writer just like I'm an eclectic reader. I write traditional fantasy, urban fantasy and contemporary romance. I think most writers have a love/hate relationship with writing. One moment we're emptying our hearts onto the page and the second moment we're wondering if anyone will really care. In the next heartbeat, we're writing again because the story needs to be told, whether anyone else wants to read it or not. That's the art of writing.
Then we have to remember that publishing is a business.
Like any other business, networking is essential. I met an editor for Avalon Books at a local writing conference. She read the first few chapters, asked for more, then six months later, left Avalon. Fortunately, she passed my manuscript to editor Faith Black who cared enough to buy it and make my dream of being published become a reality. Today, my sweet Southern romance, Taking Flight is on the bookstore shelves. That book shows a big piece of my heart.

3) You're a Golden Heart finalist and you've won and placed in other contests. How important is entering contests?
It seems that writers enter contests for two different reasons 1)feedback from their peers or 2)a chance to get their work in front of the final round judges who are agents or editors.

As for feedback, they are also one of the best reality checks a writer can buy. Contests advice can be insightful or awful. A new writer must strike a balance between valuing the feedback that the anonymous judges give and believing in her own vision for the book. If a writer really wants to learn from a contest, she should volunteer to judge. Analyzing someone else's work gives great insight into your own work and take your writing to a new level in a short time.

IMHO, legitimate contests are one of the best networking tools a writer has. If a writer wants to bypass the slush pile, entering contests where the final round judges are editors and agents can get you noticed, and sometimes can get you that first sell--if you final. Then, again, if you don't final, that doesn't mean your book isn't any good. Having coordinated a huge writing chapter contest recently, I was privileged to see many great entries. I would say that the top ten percent, about twenty entries, were all wonderful, but the contest only allows for six finalist. So six lucky entries out of twenty great entries landed on agents' and editors' desks.

A writer needs to make her own luck through persistence and stubbornness. Entering contests until the right person sees your manuscript is one way to make your own luck. A great contest for romance writers to enter is The Suzannah sponsored by NOLA STARS writing chapter which is a north Louisiana chapter of the professional organization Romance Writers of America. I think NOLA STARS start taking entries in September.

Of course, not every contest is legitimate. I would guess that contests sponsored by writing chapters would be safe bets, but be aware of contests that offer book editing or self-publishing contracts for an added fee as the grand prize. Check out the final round judges and ask about the scoring procedure.

4) If you could go back and talk to yourself when you were a beginning writer, what advice would you offer?
I would tell myself to write the story that needs to be told, not the one that I think will please an agent or an editor. I've started a lot of stories because of my idea of market appeal. The only problem they had was that they stopped appealing to me. Write the story that needs to be told. If it's a good story, well-told, someone will want to buy it.

5) 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 do have a critique group. I love them for their encouragement, enthusiasm, brilliant writerly conversations, pity parties after bad news and diversity of opinions. There are about five of us that drop in and drop out as needed. We all need different things from each other and we all have different strengths and weakness. To make a critique group work for me, I had to figure out my own personal strength and weakness. It turns out that I'm good at helping to brainstorm for other's stories. I love playing what-if, devising actions and motivations and fixing plot holes. But it also turns out that my strength for my group is my individual weakness. When my partners offer to brainstorm for me, I lose sight of my own story and start second-guessing myself.

Instead of helping me brainstorm, my critique partners read my completed first draft for credibility, consistency and commas (another individual weakness) but they respect my need to leave the initial story to me. It works out great for all of us!

When I first started writing, I was sure that everyone who critiqued for me knew the secret to success and if I changed my story to suit them, I would learn the secret, too. So I changed my story every time someone offered an opinion. I throw out hours and hours of work and change my story to fit the latest suggestion. My husband who is my greatest fan asked if I was really writing my own story or if I was just taking dictation and allowing the story to be written by committee! It was an eye-opening--if sarcastic--question. It took me a while to understand that opinions are like noses. Everyone has one, but some smell better than others. Even after ten years, I need to remind myself to gracefully accept my group's support and gently leave the well-intentioned group story plotting on the table.

6) 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?
I don't blog. I wish I did. But I seem to only have a limited amount of words in me each day and blogging leaves them all on 'net instead of in my manuscript. I think blogging is a great publicity tool, as well as a wonderful outlet for writers who might be isolated from the world. I wish I had enough words to go around. But, alas, I seem to have a daily quota and once I've written them up, they're gone.

8) What do you find to be the hardest part of writing?
The hardest part of writing for me is having faith. I'm from a culture where everything has a dollar value on it. The whole time I'm writing, this horrid little voice sits on my shoulder and screeches into my ear, asking if I'm getting value from my time. It chides me and taunts me and gets downright ugly about my presumptuousness that I could make a living by writing. I have to give myself daily (sometimes hourly) lectures, to remind myself that we all have a purpose, and I truly believe that my purpose in life is to write. When I write, I have to talk myself into closing my eyes and free-falling and believing the net will appear. It helps that I have a great support group (see critique partners and husband) that boost my ego when I can't. My brother-in-law Pat and sister-in-law Sonia, have always believed in me, too. Someday, I hope to believe in myself. Maybe next book.

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?
Write something, anything! Even dreck! You can fix a bad page, but you can't fix a blank page.

10) What is your work schedule like when you’re writing? Do you have a job outside of writing?
I wrote on weekends and stolen week night hours for years. When I sold my first book, I made the leap and now write fufull timeI can't say I write any more than I used to. But now, I have a life on weekends and after five. It's probably the best life decision I've ever made--which doesn't mean I advocate it! Make sure you can support yourself first! Starvation really doesn't lead to better art.

Okay, here's an addendum. I also design websites for writers and other artists. I take very few new clients and only by referral because I guard my writing time carefully and can get lost in web design too easily and have no time left for my stories. I'm an electrical engineer by trade, and love the beauty that happens when art and technology collide.

11) What is the last book you read and why did you read it?The last book I read was Grimspace by Ann Aguirre. The cover had been calling to me during my last few bookstore foragings and finally, I let the book go home with me! It's a gritty, in-your-face book by a new writer. If you like good quality space opera, give it a try. Before Grimspace, I read Devil in the Junior League by Linda Frances Lee. What a great Southern book! I hear the Austin Junior League was a bit miffed over it. One of my favorite writers is Barbara Samuels. She is so brilliant at turning emotion into words. I'm in awe of her talent.
Did I mention I read eclectically?

12) If you could change the publishing industry in any way, how would you change it?
Hmmm. If I could be Queen of the publishing world, I would listen to booksellers. I've never met a bookseller who didn't have strong and accurate knowledge about what their readers want. They'll even give the information away for free! No expensive, demographically-hampered test group needed.

I would buy diversity instead of a carbon copy of what sold yesterday. And I would promote heavily, not just my publishing house's stories, but reading in general. I think that promoting reading will not only gain more readers which should equal more profits, but will also contribute to the greater good for our world. Knowledge IS power and the publishing houses have the ability to spread that knowledge far and wide.

13) What professional organizations do you belong to and why? How have they benefited you?

I belong to Romance Writers of America (RWA), to whom I owe my writing career. This professional organization teaches the business of writing as well as the skill of writing. If I could only use one word to describe RWA, it would be nurturing.

14) Tell us what it feels like to be a debut author for Avalon Books. :)Being a debut author is great and writing for Avalon Books makes it extra special! My editor and her staff took such good care of my manuscript and turned it onto a real book with a great cover (I'm really into covers.) Having a hardback book that is so heavily distributed to libraries as well as in bookstores makes me feel immortal, or at least makes my writing feel immortal!

Tell us what's new on the horizon for you, etc.
Having the opportunity to be a full-time writer is better than I could have ever dreamed. I'm working on a gritty urban fantasy that is very different than Taking Flight. The first draft is done and I'm fighting off that nasty little voice of self-doubt while I layer in all the words I had meant to put in the first time around. I hope to have it ready to send off by the end of summer. After that, I'll pick whichever story my muse dictates to me. Zeb, from Taking Flight has been wanting his own story. After the intensity of the book I'm working on now, I'll probably be ready for a sweet Southern story again. No worries about writers' block for me right now. I've got more than a lifetime's worth of stories that want to be told.

Be sure to check out Connie's website and go to Avalon Books to study their writer's guidelines. To order Taking Flight, go here.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Something to Think About

You're on the road to success when you realize that failure is only a detour.
- Anonymous

Failure is not a single, cataclysmic event. You don't fail overnight. Instead, failure is a few errors in judgment, repeated every day.
- Jim Rohn

Make failure your teacher, not your undertaker.
- Zig Ziglar

I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.
- Thomas A. Edison

You haven't failed until you quit trying.
- Anonymous

One cannot think crooked and walk straight.
- Anonymous

Are you fit company for the person you wish to become?
- Anonymous

Never live in the past but always learn from it.
- Anonymous

A man sees in the world what he carries in his heart.
- Johann Wolfgang Goethe, from "Faust"

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
- Eleanor Roosevelt

You can't expect people to look eye to eye with you if you are looking down on them.
- Anonymous

You can tell more about a person by what he says about others than you can by what others say about him.
- Anonymous

The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.
- Winston Churchill

Friday, May 23, 2008

Louisiana Saturday Night with Winnie Griggs

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 ? Hand Me Down Family was such a joy to write. It is set in 1880’s NE Texas and is a bit of a twist on the mail order bride story. The heroine, Callie, is vulnerable physically, but her walk of faith is strong. The hero, Jack, appears to be the strong ‘lone wolf’ type but of course he’s hiding emotional scars. Sparks fly between these two from the outset and there’s a lot of butting of heads, but in the end, of course, they discover that they were made for each other.

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...

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Congratulations, David Cook

I wasn't a David Cook fan in the beginning but he grew on me. He worked hard and it became obvious that he has what it takes to be American Idol. I can't tell you how many times I voted Tuesday night. My daughter and I grabbed our cell phones and sent 'vote' messages over and over again to 5701. Daughter eventually crashed but me...well, I stayed up until midnight. Evidently, I wasn't the only one who sat up texting votes for 'Cookie." :)

Congratulations, David Cook. I'm so thrilled for you and proud of you. Prayers going up for your family and your future.

Something to think about:

Every happening, great and small, is a parable whereby God speaks to us, and the art of life is to get the message. ~Malcolm Muggeridge

What we are is God's gift to us. What we become is our gift to God. ~Eleanor Powell

Your talent is God's gift to you. What you do with it is your gift back to God. ~Leo Buscaglia

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

CFBA Presents Embrace Me by Lisa Samson

This week, the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance is introducing Embrace Me (Thomas Nelson March 4, 2008) by Lisa Samson


Lisa Samson is a Christy Award-winning author of 19 books, including the Women of the Faith Novel of the Year, Quaker Summer. Lisa has been hailed by Publishers Weekly as "a talented novelist who isn't afraid to take risks."

In Embrace Me, the latest novel by acclaimed author Lisa Samson, readers are privy to the realization that regardless of outward appearances…hideous, attractive, or even ordinary…persons are all looking for the same things: love, forgiveness, and redemption.

This story explores a world that is neither comfortable nor safe, a world that people like Valentine know all too well. Masterfully crafted by Samson and populated by her most compelling cast of characters yet. It is a tale of forgiveness that extends into all spheres of life: forgiving others, forgiving oneself, forgiving the past.

She lives in Lexinton, Kentucky, with her husband and three kids.


Biting and gentle, hard-edged and hopeful...a beautiful fable of love and power, hiding and seeking, woundedness and redemption.

When a "lizard woman," a self-mutilating preacher, a tattooed monk, and a sleazy lobbyist find themselves in the same North Carolina town one winter, their lives are edging precariously close to disaster...and improbably close to grace.

Valentine, due to her own drastic self-disfigurement, ahs very few friends in this world and, it appears as if she may be destined to spend the rest of her life practically alone. But life gives her one good friend, Lella, whose own handicap puts her in the same freakish category as Valentine. As part of Roland's Wayfaring Marvel and Oddities Show, a traveling band of misfits, they seem to have found their niches in an often curiously cruel world.

Residing in a world where masks are mandatory, Valentine has a hard time removing hers, because of her disfigured face but more so because of her damaged soul. It is much easier for her to listen endlessly to different versions of a favorite song, Embraceable You, and escape reality. Yet, life has more in store for her when she meets Augustine, replete with the tattoos, dreadlocks, and his own secrets. With his arrival, Valentine's soul takes a turn.

If you would like to read the first chapter, go HERE

Check out Lisa's blog for a list of book signings.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Louisiana Saturday Night With Rosalind Foley

Every now and then we come across a writer we know is the publishing world's loss. Rosalind Foley is that writer for me. I can't remember when I met Ro, but I do recall sitting on my sofa totally captivated by her novel, Hero's Welcome. I didn't budge until I finished it and very few days go by that I don't think of some aspect of the story. When I'm asked about my favorite book, Hero's Welcome springs to mind. Ro and I have been friends for years, critique buddies and conference pals. I can't tell you how pleased I am to share her with you today.

1. You've written some articles, essays, poetry, screenplays and novels, some of which have been published. You co-authored a memoir, now in its second edition. How did you learn to be so prolific?

Curiosity, I guess. I wanted to see if I could. I come from a family of readers. Words matter to us. We moved a great deal and I went to a lot of different schools where I think I got a fairly broad education.

2. You did a lot of research for your novel that I particularly love, Hero's Welcome. Tell us about it.
It started when a neighbor happened to mention that her dad used to drive German P.O.W.s to work in the rice fields of Acadia Parish (i.e. county, outside Louisiana). I hadn't known there were POWs here in WWII. I had one of those "what if?" moments when I wondered what it would have been like for a Cajun rice farmer to wake up his first morning back from the war hearing German voices.

The more I learned, the more intrigued I was by the elements of conflict. There's a rice farming area of Louisiana which was settled many years earlier by Germans who live side by side with Cajuns. That where I planted my characters.

3. Didn't you get involved in a very extensive research project?
Yes, when I discovered the POW experience was much larger than I could have imagined. It had never been documented. (There were 49 POW camps in Louisiana with thousands of captured Germans in them.) I teamed up with History Professor Matt Schott to collect everything we could on that remarkable era, both here and in Germany. Recently, we turned over all our interview tapes, correspondence, other papers, photographs and memorabilia to the ULL archives.

4. Did your novel get published?
No, but I'm still hoping. And it led me into screenwriting which I find really satisfying. I'd always felt Hero's Welcome had great dramatic potential. An earlier version of the novel took first place in the Deep South Writers Conference contest. The feature length screenplay version finished second in a Shot in LA contest at Loyola, New Orleans.

5. What does it take to be a screenwriter?
The ability to think as the camera sees. A certain degree of masochism, because it's just as difficult a market as literary fiction!

6. You submitted work and were accepted in a class taught by Ernest Gaines. What did you learn from him?
To write "clean", and how one small just right detail can speak volumes.

7. What advice would you give?
Two books every sincere writer should read and re-read whether writing fiction or screenplays: Strunk & White's The Elements of Style, and Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey.

8. What are you working on these days?
Marketing. A series of short stories imagining events around minor Biblical characters. My most recent screenplay is set in colonial Louisiana. It's the story of a woman of color, the mistress and great love of a French planter. Unable by law to marry her, he is forced by his family to let her go. With incredible willpower she develops the piece of land he gives her, becoming successful in her own right and swearing never to rest until all her children, too, are free. Truly a liberated woman.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Something to Think About

Many of life's failures are from people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up. ~Thomas Edison

Love the moment. Flowers grow out of dark moments. Therefore, each moment is vital. It affects the whole. Life is a succession of such moments and to live each, is to succeed. ~Corita Kent

It is better to have enough ideas for some of them to be wrong, than to be always right by having no ideas at all. ~Edward de Bono

A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable but more useful than a life spent in doing nothing. ~George Bernard Shaw

It is on our failures that we base a new and different and better success. ~Havelock Ellis

I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure: which is: Try to please everybody. ~Herbert B. Swope

Remember, no man is a failure who has friends. ~From It's a Wonderful Life

Every great mistake has a halfway moment, a split second when it can be recalled and perhaps remedied. ~Pearl S. Buck

There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all. ~Peter Drucker

We learn wisdom from failure much more than from success. We often discover what will do, by finding out what will not do; and probably he who never made a mistake never made a discovery. ~Samuel Smiles

According to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

The criteria for failure are heavily dependent on context of use, and may be relative to a particular observer or belief system. A situation considered to be a failure by one might be considered a success by another, particularly in cases of direct competition or a zero-sum game. As well, the degree of success or failure in a situation may be differently viewed by distinct observers or participants, such that a situation that one considers to be a failure, another might consider to be a success, a qualified success or a neutral situation.

Something to think about when we feel we've failed.

My reputation grows with every failure.~George Bernard Shaw

Friday, May 2, 2008

Louisiana Saturday Night with Bev Marshall

I'm very excited to share my in-depth interview with Louisiana author Bev Marshall. We all know time is precious to a writer so I appreciate Bev's detailed response to my many questions. Don't skip a word. There's wonderful, interesting info in every sentence.

1) Tell us a little about yourself and that wonderful little town of Ponchatoula. I've been there once and thought it was so charming.

I grew up in Mississippi and married my high school boyfriend, who became a pilot in the USAF and we’re still happily together forty-three years later. During his military career we moved from coast to coast to England, and after retirement, landed back here in Ponchatoula, where he began a new career as a pilot for Delta Air Lines. We fell in love with the town ten years ago. There’s Old Hardhide, the caged alligator downtown, antique stores, crafts and art galleries, and the famous Paul’s CafĂ© where we often eat great country lunches with the colorful locals. There are deer in my backyard, egrets, blue herons, a red-tailed fox, rabbits, and the requisite Louisiana armadillos. Perfect setting for writing and I hope to die here someday . . . but not any time soon.

2) What do you write and tell us about your path to publication.
I began my writing career in non-fiction, penning lifestyle pieces for various military publications. After earning a Masters Degree in English with a creative writing thesis at Southeastern Louisiana University, I began publishing literary short fiction. When one story I was writing grew longer and longer, I realized I was writing a novel and that as a gregarious storyteller this was the genre for me. My three published novels are WALKING THROUGH SHADOWS, RIGHT AS RAIN, and HOT FUDGE SUNDAE BLUES. The path I traveled on to publication is a serpentine one, winding from encouragement from Tim Gautreaux here in Louisiana to Douglas Glover and Nicholas Delbanco at The New York Summer Writers Institute to my agent, Lisa Bankoff at ICM in New York. I met my first editor at the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, published with MacAdam Cage and moved to Random House for books two and three.

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?
My father, a great storyteller with a prodigious memory, trades stories for food. I feed him pot roast and he tells me a story or gives me an idea for a character. Some of my stories, however, begin with a voice, a story idea that is vague and often not the story I write. I’m not schizophrenic (at least I’m not on medication) but I hear the voices of my characters and rely on them to tell me their stories. Although I have a concept of how the story will end, it oftentimes isn’t the ending I supposed. I love the surprises that continually arise during the process of writing. I’m a reviser junky. I wrote WALKING THROUGH SHADOWS from one point of view, that of the young girl Annette, and then threw out over 200 pages and rewrote it from the points of view of five different characters, so I learned early on that imposing a specific structure on a book isn’t the best course for me.

4) Who are some of the writers who influenced you?
Like most English majors I fell in love with the literary giants like Shakespeare, Dickens, Proust, Faulkner, Porter, Welty, and so on, but I was most influenced to write my stories when I began reading the work of contemporary Southern writers like James Wilcox, Ellen Gilchrist, Clyde Edgerton, Lee Smith, Kaye Gibbons, Barry Hannah, and Larry Brown. And today I’ve fallen in love with writers Silas House and Ron Rash, and too many others to name who are writing fine fiction today.

5) If you could go back and talk to yourself when you were a beginning writer, what advice would you offer?
Were I a beginning writer today I’d deliver the same advice I gave to myself all those years ago: Read read read, believe in myself and my work, be dogged, and most importantly, have the courage to write through the fears and the angst that writers encounter when they write from their hearts. I tell my students who receive rejections that rejections are only opportunities to try again. Hope cures disappointment.

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’m still in the writers group I co-founded nearly twenty years ago. I value my critique group and rely on them for revising, support, and fun, too. Through the years I have learned that a group needs guidelines to function successfully, and having seen many groups fail for various reasons, I wrote a guide for writers groups entitled, SHARED WORDS, which includes advice for maintaining a successful book club as well. I will be selling them on my web site as soon as I can find the time to set that up. For the moment they are only available at Bayou Booksellers in Hammond.

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?
I admire faithful bloggers and wish I were one of them. I’m a lackadaisical blogger on our writers group blog, The St. Tammany Writers Group, at blogspot, and I write journal entries on my own website. I learned that the journal on my website receives the most hits there, but as to whether it raises my profile, I haven’t a clue. I enjoy posting and that’s primarily why I do it. I feel connected to my readers and other writers each time I post a new entry.

8) What do you find to be the hardest part of writing?
Hmmm. I don’t think I have a definitive reply to this. Each novel I’ve written, as well as my short fiction proposes different difficulties at various points in the process. Sometimes when I’m in the middle of a book, a character just begins to frustrate me, and I’ll find myself feeling bored with him or her. The beginning of a piece is always easy, and generally the euphoria lasts about half way through. I don’t believe in writers’ block; I do believe in writers’ breaks. That’s when I catch up on the laundry. I’ll add here, that I positively detest having to sell the book once I’ve gotten it published. I love tours and book signings, meeting readers and talking about books, but nowadays the publishers expect the authors to come up with all sorts of gimmicks to sell books. For me promoting is the hardest part of the writing life and the part I like least.

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?

10) What is your work schedule like when you’re writing? Do you have a job outside of writing?
I am the writer-in-residence at Southeastern Louisiana University, but I only teach one class and that’s my joy and inspiration. Occasionally, it interferes with my writing time as do appearances for speaking engagements and readings. I attend book clubs, conferences, and festivals routinely and enjoy interacting with other authors and readers, but when I’m working on something, I become manic. I write all day every day, and even if I’m not at my desk, I’m writing in my head as I go about my day elsewhere.

11) What is the last book you read and why did you read it?
Amy Tan’s SAVING FISH FROM DROWNING. I wanted to read it when it first came out and then forgot about it. When I was browsing the shelves in our local bookstore, I came upon it and was thrilled to rush home and begin reading. I admire Tan’s talent to blend humor and pathos in her work. I’d also add here that one of the bonuses of being an author is that I have the privilege of reading a lot of Advanced Reading Copies of books that haven’t yet been published, and there are some great ones coming out this year like MOON IN THE MANGO TREE by Pamela Binnings Ewen, who’s a Louisiana writer, too.

12) If you could change the publishing industry in any way, how would you change it?
There are so many things wrong with the publishing industry today I hardly know where to begin. I would like it to revert to the days of yore I suppose when I imagined a tweed-suited, pipe-smoking editor who invited authors to lie on the leather couch in his office while he read their manuscripts before taking them out for martinis and fine dining. Today the sales team drives the train of publishing and it rolls through the big chains and arrives at destinations where decisions are based on nothing more than profit and loss statements. The days of nurturing first time authors and their careers are no longer and authors have become the products as well as their work. Sadly, I think most editors feel the same as the authors, but the monoliths who own the publishing houses are the ones wearing the conductors’ caps. I’ve been very fortunate to have wonderful editors and great support from my publishers, but I know scores of other authors who cannot say the same.

13) What professional organizations do you belong to and why? Or how have they benefited you?
I am a board member for the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival in New Orleans, and a member of The Hammond Regional Arts Association, and the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters. They have all benefited me in various ways. As I said earlier, I met my editor at the TWF, but just as importantly, I’ve also made numerous friends over the many years I’ve attended the festival, and the same is true for the other organizations to which I belong. The contacts for a career are an obvious advantage, but that is less important to me than if I enjoy the members and believe in their goals. Organizations like these have become the last bastions of support for the arts and I’m proud to be an advocate for creative work in all mediums.

14. Tell us what's new on the horizons for you, etc.

My personal goals right now are to get SHARED WORDS out into the world via my website and to finish the novel I’m working on. It’s a sequel to RIGHT AS RAIN, working title, RAIN BEFORE SEVEN, and it’s set in the eighties and continues to follow the lives of the characters I fell in love with so long ago. It’s a great joy to work on this book. I also have a failed memoir about being a military wife during the Vietnam era which I may revise. I may also work on becoming a better blogger although I doubt I can ever aspire to the excellence on this site!

Thanks for the interview. I enjoyed answering the thoughtful questions you posed
Thank you, Bev! I'll bet you didn't enjoy answering all these questions half as much as I enjoyed reading your answers.

Promotion Isn't for The Squeamish

Promotion is a thorn in our sides, isn't it? We hate it. We love it. And publishers can't get enough of it. We use bookmarks, flyers, conferences, book trailers. We chase our tails running from one book signing to another and we speak to civic groups on whatever they want us to speak on. There's nothing we won't do to sell the books we've put heart and soul into. When you really think about it, promotion is a brave thing to do.

My friend Lesa Boutin is a brave woman. I met Lesa several years ago when she'd just started her writing career. She was working on her first book, Amanda Noble, Zookeeper Extraordinaire. She won a few contests, including one with Highlights Magazine so she trekked off to New York all alone to take advantage of what Highlights could teach her. I thought that was pretty brave.

She took on the presidency of a writers group before she really knew much about writing. I thought that was pretty brave.

When she got tired of trying to sell Amanda Noble, Zookeeper Extraordinaire, a book she believed in with all her heart, she formed her own little publishing company and published that book herself. Brave--without a doubt.

Today Lesa is working on the sequel to Amanda Noble, Zookeeper Extraordinaire. She's also up to her eyeballs in promotion. She volunteered at the Houston Zoo for research--don't tell me that's not brave.

To show you just how courageous my friend Lesa Boutin is, take a look at these pictures.

I would never do this. I know it's not smart to say never, but believe me, I would never do this. Lesa Boutin is an author after any publisher's heart. You go, girl!