March 17, 2012

I Answer Fifteen Questions...

Hello! I know it's been a while but life needed a bit of attention. Fortunately, this post kind of fell in my lap. My oldest is away at college and she was reading Of Grace and Chocolate before and after classes, toting it around with her on campus. It caught a few of her classmates eyes, and one of the girls in her Spanish class asked if she could interview me as part of an assignment in a different class. I think it was for career research or something like that. It was a good little interview and I thought I'd share it with you! Maren Bishop is my interviewer.

1. How did you decide to do what you are doing now?
I've always toyed with writing poetry, essays, journals. But after my youngest child started school full time, I joined a writing group. I loved it. One of our assignments was to do something we hadn't tried before. For me, that was fiction. I wrote an entire novel in eight weeks. Nine months later it was accepted for publication. That is a rare story and I'm grateful. In the mean time, I wrote three more. I guess you could say I was hooked.

2. What do you do during a typical day? I read that an author has to write at least 2-3 hours a day. Is that true for you?
On a good writing day, I get the kids off to school, then sit down and write until lunch. Then there are chores and errands and life to get to. If I can, though, I'll come back to the manuscript as often as I can. That doesn't happen every day, but I try. Sometimes, if I hit the zone, I'll write until two in the morning. I don't notice the time.

3. What do you like most about your job?
The most amazing thing is hitting "the zone". I'll sit down with my laptop and get into a scene and everything disappears but those characters and their setting, and I'm lost. The best way to explain it is suddenly, the characters and the plot take on a life of their own, and I'm no longer directing, but watching this movie play out and writing it down like crazy. I love the "gasp" moment. Something happens I didn't know was going to happen, but it's absolutely perfect and moves the whole story forward. The other thing I like most is having a huge network of author friends. We get each other and the support is tremendous.

4. What are the disadvantages of your work?
Being patient is a hard lesson to learn. The publication process can be very drawn out, even after acceptance. It took three years between my first acceptance and my first publication, which, interestingly enough, are two different books. My publisher and I just felt that a later submission would be a better debut. So patience is tough. And working from home isn't easy, either. Lots of distractions and priorities to juggle.

5. What was it like to be an author when you first began?
When I first began writing seriously, it was all a big question mark. Success is very abstract in this field. Is completing the work a success? Is submitting, and continuing to submit after rejection a success? Is the acceptance the success? Or high sales? Or any sales? I decided to commit to this as though I couldn't fail. I blogged my experiences as "an author", even though I hadn't received an acceptance yet. I pursued it as though success, in any form, was inevitable, and celebrated as it came.
At the same time, you are creating this piece of art from something inside you, and then you send it out into the world to be judged and sentenced. Writing with intention to submit is a very scary undertaking at first and throughout. A lot of hand-wringing. A lot of butterflies. But there is this excitement. 

6. What is it like now?
My first book is out and it's doing well. I have two more accepted books waiting in the wings. I have three more in various stages of construction. Definitely, seeing the success of the first book is encouraging. I'm not as focused on the acceptance as I am in writing a really great story. Submission is still a scary thing, but, as with anything, experience builds confidence. And knowledge fortifies against self-doubt. I've learned so much since I first began. Researching how to write was like getting a whole second education.

7. How does your job affect your life-style (family life, leisure time, social life, vacations, material possessions, personal happiness, etc.)?
I sure do carry around my laptop a lot more! I need an iPad. Before I started writing, I was very much a full-time mom, housekeeper, cook. My energies were there. My house isn't as sparkling clean, now. Meals are often very simple and quick. I have a whole new community of writer friends. Before, when people I met asked me what I did, my answer was, "I'm a stay-at-home-mom." I was proud of that answer and loved that, but my kids are growing up and I wondered how that answer would feel when the kids were not home. Now, I get to answer that I'm a writer. For some reason, people find that a very fun topic. I feel that I've finally, after so many years, figured out who I am as me, not as mom or wife, which are wonderful things I wouldn't trade for anything, but as me, Krista. If, for whatever horrible reason, those other things were taken from me, I would still have this. Me. Before, I wasn't sure who I'd be without my family. It's a comfort.

8. What opportunities exist for advancement in terms of money, responsibility or personal growth?
If I keep writing, keep improving, keep self-promoting (by the way, another disadvantage--writers would generally rather hole themselves up somewhere than be out front and center), I'll sell more books. The more books sold, the more my name will be recognized for my work, the more budget my publisher will spend on promotion. Along the same lines, the more I'm responsible with deadlines, follow-through, being open to critique, the more my publishers will work with me and want to keep me around. Also, if the first printing sells out, and the publisher decides to do a second printing, my percentage goes up. So to write a quality book is a win for everyone. Because writing is such a personal field, writers tend to be emotional roller-coasters. But that also creates opportunity, you hope, to hit the highs. It's a tremendous opportunity for growth. But, it's also a very humbling field. So you keep working hard.

9. What type of training is best for becoming an author? What did you study in school?
I loved my high school English classes. Language and writing came very naturally to me. Maybe because I was so shy. It was much easier to express myself on paper. I was actually an art major in college, but again, I loved my English classes. If I could do it over, I would pursue an English major, Lit classes, creative writing, playwriting. My friend, Sarah Eden, actually majored in research, and now she writes amazing Regency era novels. Some writers have their BFA or MFA, but most don't. A lot of my friends are teachers. Annette Lyon's father is a linguist, and that inspired her. I think the atmosphere of education can be, in itself, very creatively stimulating. I would also recommend learning to edit. Grammar, punctuation, sentence structure. If a story is great but an agent can't get past messy script, he most likely will move on. I often hear, "Well, that's what your editor is for, right?" Wrong. That's a myth.  The cleaner the manuscript (MS) the more chance the agent will give your story a chance. Editors get paid by the publishers by the hour. If your MS looks like it's going to take a while to clean up, that works against you.

10. How do people find out about openings in this work?
I'll translate "openings" into "the submission process". I learned how to submit through my writing group. Let's say you've written a novel. You can go online and research what publishers/agents may be a good fit for you and your genre. Publishers Weekly is an excellent source, as is Writer's Digest magazine, and word of mouth. Once you find a few publishers/agents who might fit, you then MUST research their guidelines for submission. Though there is a general idea of how to submit a manuscript, these businesses receive a hundred submissions a day and going through them is exhausting and they each wanted a particular way of making things easier for them. So find out (on their website they will have a "submissions" link) what they require and do that. One may want a query letter and synopsis, while the other may ask for a synopsis and the first five pages. Agents have been known to fill their trash folder because of the way the subject box is filled in or how the query letter is all about the author and not the book, or the genre is not what the agent represents, or the font is obnoxious. So read the guidelines.
Most publishers in the national market require you to have an agent, and they work with them. You submit to an agent just as you would a publisher, and the agent shops your book. LDS publishers are different and most work directly with the author, as opposed to an agent.

11. If you were to hire someone to do your job, what qualifications would you look for?
A sense of humor. Patience. Endurence. A belief that you never stop learning. Open to critique. Humility. A level of perfectionism. Not someone with a lot of time on their hands, necessarily, but someone who makes time for the things they are passionate about. Voices in their head.

12. What are some related jobs that you could do with your training?
I've thought about being an editor. I know several writers who are, in fact. Copy-editing or freelance. Newspaper columnist. Book reviews. Teaching. Many authors present at workshops and schools. But really, being a writer leaves me open to any day job I might need. I currently work part-time at a quilt shop. I have friends who have full-time day jobs. Some have been able to quit their day job, like Jeffrey Savage and Dan Wells. And James Dashner. I want to be them when I grow up. Only a girl.

13. If you had to do it over, would you make the same career choice? Why?
Yes. And I would start sooner. Writing is like a second skin to me. It fits.

14. How many years have you worked at this job?
I started writing seriously in 2008. So almost four years.

15. How do you motivate yourself to keep working?
Setting a deadline works really well for me. For example, this month I set a goal of adding 30,000 words to my work in progress (WIP). This month is crammed full of life stuff outside of writing. If I didn't have that goal, it would be easier to fill up surprise free-time with other things. When I get discouraged or think my writing has taken a detour to Lame, I step away, listen to some music, watch a favorite movie, read, and just reboot. The problems generally work themselves out, sometimes talking to my writing group, sometimes bouncing ideas off my husband, or sometimes in the shower. But my passion for writing is a pretty good magnet in itself. I keep getting pulled back to my laptop. I really could use an iPad, though. Maybe when my royalty check comes in . . .

Also, Of Grace and Chocolate recently climbed to #22 on the Deseret Book fiction list. I'm very happy about that! My next book signing is coming up. I'll be in Tri-Cities, Washington at Far West Books on March 31 from 5:00-7:00 pm. It will be so fun to do a signing in my home town! More soon!
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