This week's guest is Annette Lyon, a veteran author and Twitter friend of mine. In fact, I'm currently reading her book, There, Their, They're, a grammar tutorial I will keep on my desk at all times.
K: Thank you so much for being here, Annette! I have to say I'm a little intimidated. Not only are you a seasoned author, but you are the Word Nerd. I hope my grammar falls in all the right places today! Aside from the spot of intimidation, I am very excited about this interview. I just finished reading your new book, Band of Sisters, and I can't wait to talk with you about it. Or would that be talk about it with you? Hmmm... But first, tell us a few things about yourself.
A: I tend to get long-winded, so I'll keep it short: wife, mom to four, sister to three, daughter, owner of an ornery but beautiful cat, literature lover, word nerd, chocoholic, knitter.
K: Mmmm, chocolate... essential to a mom of four. You've been writing since you were little. Did you always know what you wanted to do?
A: I've wanted to be a "real" writer since about second grade, but I grew up assuming I'd go to college to become a high school English teacher. The writing bug bit when I watched my older sister scribble stories. She was in sixth grade (four years older--I had a serious case of idol worship). Anything she did was cool. After reading Beverly Cleary's The Mouse and the Motorcycle, I tried my hand at writing stories--following Cleary's lead, I wrote about mice and hamsters. Eventually I moved past rodents.
K: Wise choice. What is your favorite part of the writing process? Are you still surprised?
A: I love drafting, because that's when the characters and story come alive. I almost feel more alive myself during that time, as odd as it might sound. But I also find a great deal of satisfaction in revision--at least the first few times, before it gets old--because I can take the rough pieces and make them better, reshaping the manuscript into the right form, like molding clay.
What always surprises me is that every time I hit a wall and think I just can't do it, that maybe this time I won't be able to finish an entire novel, or that (worse) this one will stink, somehow the pieces manage to click together after all.
K: Any tricks you use when discouraged or stuck?
A:When I hit a really bad writing block, I have a specific CD that I pop in and write to. I never listen to it any other time. It's music I associate with happy times and relaxation, so when I hear it, my brain calms down, and I can write again.
But there are times where I can feel that something just isn't working. Instead of writer's block, I have "writer's speed bumps." I've learned to feel in my gut when it's time to step away from the computer and let my mind work at the problem while I do something else. The answer always shows up eventually.
A: (Punctuation correct!)
K: (Whew... that was a tricky one.) Please, tell us about Band of Sisters and what you love most about it.
A: The book began as a simple freelance project--an article for a magazine that had an issue focusing on our soldiers. I decided to talk with a friend going through her husband's deployment, and via e-mail, I interviewed her and four of her Army wife friends in the same position. After the article ran--which was so tiny there was no way to do the women justice--the topic wouldn't let go of me. After months of thinking about it, I gave in and wrote an entire novel about deployment.
What I love most about the book is how each of the women in it is so different, whether in age or life situation, yet each one has something to offer the others. I learned by "watching" them how destructive comparing ourselves to others is and how close friendships may be found where you least expect them.
K: I agree. The whole deployment experience was eye-opening. I suspected it was difficult, but after reading your book I have much more insight into what a couple of friends are going through right now. The thing I loved most about the characters is their "realness". Maybe I didn't connect with one or two of them, but I don't connect with every woman I meet, either. But as opportunities come to serve and know one another better, connections can be found. Perhaps I didn't understand a character's reasoning or ideals, but as relationships unfolded, I found connections, often surprisingly close connections, and then I was crying all over the place.
A: Thanks! I hope that every female reader can get something out of the book, whether that means relating to one character or simply seeing those connections and they relate to their own experience in some way. Several members of my critique group disliked me calling Band of Sisters my "deployment" novel, because to them it wasn't just about deployment; it was about women--their friendships, their trials, their strengths. My group was right; the book really is about so much more than deployment--although deployment plays a big role.
K: How is Band of Sisters different from other things you've written?
A: It was a huge change for me. For most of my career, I wrote historical fiction based on old Utah temples, always with a romantic thread. Then, suddenly I'm writing about deep issues and things happening right now.
In some ways, the change was refreshing. (No research about horses, geography, clothes, hairstyles, colloquial terms, food... the list goes on. And my characters got to travel in cars and use cell phones and got to go to restaurants I know!)
But on the other hand, this book became a serious stretch of my writing muscles. Not only is the book not historical, but there's no romantic thread at all. In addition, it has FIVE main characters, each with her personal story arc and conflict. Then it has a format that jumps days and sometimes weeks at a time. Basically, the entire book is completely different from anything I've ever written.
K: You are promoting the "Flat Daddy" program, which I think, in all it's simplicity, is genius for the families of deployed soldiers. Tell us what you know.
A: The concept started out in I'm Already Home, a book by Elaine Dumler with tons of ideas for military families coping with deployment. Creating a Flat Daddy (or Mommy) was one of those ideas--making a life-size photo of the deployed parent from the waist up. A Flat Daddy helps ease the pain of the parent's absence in so many ways. it keeps Dad or Mom "with" the family, even if it's just a picture. families take their Flat Daddies to church, to the store, to soccer games, and more. They help very young children recognize their parent when they come off the plane.
The concept took off, and now there's an entire charity devoted to providing Flat Daddies for military families. They function entirely on donations, and I've been working with them to spread the word. One thing that's brand new is that people can donate in small increments--five dollars if that's all they can do--rather than donating an entire Flat Daddy, which can be too much for one person's budget. Follow the Flat Daddy links on my website to donate.
K: Are you currently working on something new? Please say it's a sequel!
A: I hope to do a sequel! There's still so much of the wives' stories to tell--especially for Jessie, whose story didn't wrap up as cleanly as some of the others. Sales for Band of Sisters will determine whether I get to do a sequel. That book would be about the period after the deployment; the re-entry process is an entirely new can of worms!
In the meantime, I plan to turn in a murder mystery in the very near future (speaking of writing something different), and there's a collaborative project in the works that I can't talk about yet but that I'm very excited for!
K: I have to mention the chocolate book. The title alone sends me to a happy place. When will we see it in stores?
A: The cookbook is a lot of fun! (Okay, it's chocolate. I guess "fun" is a given!) The angle I took with the book is to remove the "scary" from making chocolate recipes from scratch. The book is filled with easy recipes that are made with ingredients readily available at the grocery store--and they're delicious. Chocolate Never Faileth! will hit stores in October.
K: Speaking of deliciousness, give us a taste of LDStorymakers '10 Writers Conference. And try not to make it sound as amazing as I know it's going to be because I can't go this year. Say 2011 is going to be even more amazing. Yeah, say that.
A: Of course 2011 will be better! Every single year has been better than the last, and I've been on the committee since its inception, so I can say that in total honesty. The conference brings in national agents and editors as well as editors from LDS publishing houses, and attendees can sign up to meet with them one-on-one. There's a broad range of workshops for writers, whether they're just starting out or whether they're seasoned veterans. One of the best parts is the optional Boot Camp, a two-day intense, hands-on critique workshop held before regular conference hours. Many attendees say it's the most helpful part of the conference.
K: *sigh* Sounds wonderful. Any advice for aspiring authors?
A: Read. And I mean everything: your market and genre, the classics, books on writing, good books, books that stink--read it all! And learn to read like a writer, analyzing what worked, what didn't, and WHY. Write--a lot and regularly. Get solid feedback--not your spouse or mom saying how brilliant you are, but someone who knows what they're doing and will be frank with you: "I love this character, but his motivation in this scene doesn't feel real," or, "The pace really sags in this chapter," and so on.
Then learn about the business side of things (you can find tons of industry blogs and websites out there with oodles of information). Count on rejection; it's part of the business, so plan on what you'll do when (not if) that happens. (Answer: keep working.)
K: Final question: If you could be a character in any book, who would you be?
K: I need to look that one up. It's been a long time since I've read L.M. Montgomery. Annette, it's been a thrill having you. I know you're busy. Thank you!
A: Thanks for having me!
Annette Lyon's books:
Lost Without You (Coming soon to Amazon Kindle)
At the Water's Edge (Coming soon to Amazon Kindle)
House on the Hill
At the Journey's End
Spires of Stone
Tower of Strength
There, Their, They're: A No-Tears Guide to Grammar from the Word Nerd
Band of Sisters