Tuesday, August 25, 2015


Q: What made you become a writer?

A: To tell you the truth, I don’t think I had a choice. It’s what I do — it’s what I’ve always done. I was writing one-page short stories when I was in elementary school, and I think it was a means of escaping some difficulties I was experiencing. Also, I’ve kept a journal for as long as I can remember. Writing is just a part of who I am. I like to ask “what-if” questions and then see where they take me.

Q: What is your typical writing day like?

A: Well, I have a writing day job (deputy news director at a University of California campus), so my fiction writing happens around that, usually in the evening. I also sometimes work in the early morning. But I don’t have a set schedule. Some writers will produce a set number of pages per day or will work for a set number of hours. I do not. I may write one page one day and 50 the next. It all depends on how the storyline is flowing.

Q: Do you outline? If so, how extensive are your outlines?

A: I never write an outline. Never. I start with a general story idea, which I flesh out into a story arc with the requisite characters at the outset and build everything from there. With A Foolish Consistency, I knew I wanted to explore themes of loss and of children grieving for their mother. And I knew I wanted the main female character to step in as a potential stepmother, but also as someone who had experience the same kind of loss. So I knew I needed a divorced female — Callie — and a widower —Will — with his two children — Lizzy and Wiley. And aside from knowing that Callie and Will were a couple in college who went their separate ways and then reconnected 25 years later, every bit of the storyline developed as I was writing it. When I sat down at my computer to work each day, I had no idea where I’d be going or what characters would pop up. Everything grew very organically. I tend to write in sections — I don’t start at the beginning and work through to the end. I have many different pieces that I develop and expand. They usually start with a snippet of dialogue or a particular scene and I build the story around it. With A Foolish Consistency I ended up with about thirty individual sections. And the full storyline emerged as I wove everything together. It’s a really interesting process and a bit intuitive. For example, I had no idea how the main conflict would resolve, and the way it did was actually a surprise to me. 

Q: How many revisions will you typically do on a novel?

A: More than I can count. I revise the individual sections as I’m working on them and then I revise the novel as a whole. And I don’t think I’m ever finished revising. Even now I see things I’d like to fix/adjust/change. It’s the nature of the beast, I think.

Q: What is your best tip for editing a manuscript?

A: Every situation and every character should move the plot forward. If a scene or an exchange or even a character doesn’t advance the plot, it has to go. No matter how much I might like it. And finding the right balance is extremely important. Too little detail makes the writing sparse and uninteresting, but too much makes it cumbersome and dense. The balance is critical.

Q: Which writing habits and/or tricks of the trade have made you a better writer?

A: The most important thing is to get the words on paper. So when I’m writing, I try to keep the flow going by not stopping to edit or to find the exact right word at the moment. As I’m writing, I put what I call understudy words in brackets and then go back later and replace them with the words I really want to use. Trying to get everything right and complete from the get-go is a losing proposition. And once I have everything on paper — or at least the section I’m working on at that particular time, I go through and omit as many adverbs as I can. More often than not I can find a verb that is strong enough to stand on its own, without the support of a qualifier.

Q: Do you ever suffer through writer’s block? If so, how do you fight it?

A: I do suffer writer’s block sometimes, and when it keeps me from working I just try to do something else — take a walk or go for a run, read a book, write something else. Sometimes just letting my mind wander for a while helps me work through writer’s block in fairly short order. I know that the worst thing I could do is to panic.

Q: What drew you to write your preferred genre(s)?

A: I like to explore universal human themes and emotions and experiences, and for me the best way to do that is through contemporary fiction (though historical fiction is one of my favorite genres to read). I like to put characters in the kinds of challenging situations and circumstances most of us experience at some time in our lives and see how they handle them.

Q: Do you utilize beta readers?

A: I don’t utilize beta readers, but I do work with an experienced editor who helps me keep the storyline on track, particularly when I’m having trouble getting out of my own way.

Q: In your most recently published novel, what’s one scene you really enjoyed writing—and why?

A: It’s really an extended scene that begins with Callie and Will having a conversation about the significance of lasts — how they can be more important than firsts because you don’t know when something has happened for the last time. That leads to a scene in which Lizzy, surreptitiously seeing Will and Callie together, thinks about her mother and how life would be if she were still alive. And that in turn leads to a scene between Callie and Wiley in which Wiley asks questions about the nature of love and loss and loyalty — the main themes of the book. 

Q: What makes the main character(s) of your most recent novel so special?

A: Their flaws. And the fact that they want always to do what’s right even though they don’t always know what that is. Also, their willingness to examine the choices they’ve made and actions they’ve taken that led them to this particular moment. They take responsibility for their lives.

Q: What is your best advice for author self-promotion?

A: Know your target audience and aim your marketing and promotion in that direction. Create a strong social media network that includes Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, etc., so you can keep in touch with your readers. Reach out to book bloggers and ask them to review your book. Ask bookstores to sell copies of your book on consignment. It’s a good deal for the bookstore and for the author. Keep your eyes open for events that dovetail with your book and find ways to participate. Maybe it’s a panel discussion, maybe it’s a reading; maybe you have expertise you can share. Capitalize on it.

Q: How do you deal with negative reviews?

A: I’ll be honest — negative reviews sting. But I try not to hold onto them. Not everyone is going to like my novel. It’s a fact. And, fortunately, I haven’t received any scathing reviews. However, it does bother me when a review demonstrates that the reader completely missed an important (and obvious) detail. It also bothers me when someone gives a negative review and concludes it by saying something like, “But I don’t really like that genre anyway.” I’m not sure I could fairly review a book in a genre that doesn’t appeal to me.

Q: What is your favorite aspect of being an indie author?

A: Having more control over how my work goes out into the world, and not having to compromise on the things I think are most important.

Q: What is your least favorite aspect of being an indie author?

A: You know, I’m not sure. But I might say it’s the responsibility that comes with the control.

Q: What is your current writing project?

A: I’m working on the sequel to A Foolish Consistency. It doesn’t have a title yet, but I’m about a third of the way through it.

Q: What are three of your favorite novels?

A: It’s hard to choose only three. But I think I’d say A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende, and North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Q: If you could have lunch with any novelist, living or dead, who would it be? What would talk to them about?

A: That’s a really difficult question. But I think it would be John Irving. I’d want to talk about his writing process and how he develops such well-rounded quirky characters. And I’d want to ask for his best piece of advice.

Q: What is your best piece of advice for budding authors?

A: Just write. And find someone whose opinion you trust to read your work. Join a writing group, if necessary. But also, be clear about why you write. Knowing what the act of writing means to you will help keep you going through the inevitable dry spells.

Q: What is your favorite inspirational quote?

A: That depends on my mood and mindset on any particular day. But it generally has something to do with courage, because I believe that is at the root of everything we do, including our kindness and generosity.

“Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I’ll try again tomorrow.”  — Mary Anne Radmacher

“The secret of happiness is freedom, and the secret of freedom is courage.” — Thucydides


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