1. What is your favorite part about writing? The most challenging part?
My favorite part of writing is the grinning face after I have a complete first draft. Until then, I don't really know what the story's about. And--sometimes--I have to work pretty hard to figure out which one thing my story is about. But I know I have to narrow it down. Once I know who desperately wants what and what hideous thing is going to happen if she doesn't get it, then I begin revising. I love to revise. I think I love to revise because only then do I start to have hope this is a real story. The most challenging part for me is to come up with a single-sentence premise line. I understand why it's needed, and I support the idea--but, geesh, it's hard work.
2. What’s the worst writing advice you’ve ever received? How did you overcome it?
The worst writing advice I ever got came at the of my three-year stint in an MFA program. My advisor praised my novel, but insisted I break it into three discrete books and present it as a series. It wasn't as much a suggestion as one might hope. So I did it. It took quite a bit of rewriting and revision to make three books that could stand alone. Then I went to a conference and had a meeting with an agent from an agency I admired. The agent scrawled Bravo across my manuscript and we spent the meeting time talking about working together. But when I asked him how we'd transition from book to book, he looked shocked. No, he wanted the entire story in one book. He was certain I could write it in 400 pages. And as soon as I got that done, he wanted to see it. Majorly bummed. More years of reworking the novel in my vanishing spare time. When I overcome that bit of academic advice, I'll send out an email.
3. Looking back, what did you do right that helped you become an author?
There came a day in my zoo-like* shipwreck of a life that I realized if I were ever going to do what I wanted to do, I was going to have to be the one to speak up. I started in journalism and got paid 50 cents a column-inch for feature articles in the Brown City Banner. It takes a lot of inches to feed five teenagers. I moved up through big papers, then on to technical and nonfiction books. I got my MFA in fiction writing and discovered the best times of my life were had workshopping with a few writers and drinking fu-fu coffee. No matter how the powers-that-be drove me into IT or Finance, I kept saying I was a writer. By then I was an editor, too, and I found that editing was what I did best. Editing is a finely tuned glob of writing and encouragement. I confidently report I am no longer in danger of slipping off into an IT department somewhere.
* Note the five teenagers
4. What would you change or do differently when it comes to your writing career?
If do-overs were permitted, I would speak up for myself in high school journalism. I loved it--even though the teacher was one crotchety dude. I'd told my dad that journalism was the career I was going to pursue. Encouraging sweetheart that he was, he told me I'd never be able to do that. I needed to stick to math and science. Wonder what would have happened if I'd had 30 more years of writing experience. Anyone waiting to speak up for their inner writer, be encouraged. Don't wait any longer than you absolutely have to.
5. What are you working on now?
Currently, with a small team of editor/educators, I'm developing a series of online courses for fiction and non-fiction writing. The fun part is that the courses have workshops built into them, so when they go live, I'll have all the joy of being with writers in real time. I'll have to buy one of those fancy coffee machines.
And, finally, what can we expect from your workshop?
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to tell about the workshop. It's my chance to ask authors to bring with them a scene or two from their works in progress. We'll be trying out our powering-up techniques on our own writing.
To thwart the audio-visual jinxes that haunt me, I've created a small workbook for the workshop. Using the workbook, we'll cover three power tools for boosting our prose.
For this one session, we'll look away from story structure and big picture concerns, and we'll focus on sentences and short passages. We'll play with ways to power them up so they are more vivid, more effective, more fun. One fun part is that almost all the examples of story used in the workbook come from authors in our community, who have generously shared their work, and I'm excited about showing off their work.