Why did you decide to become a writer? I have always loved stories and some of my earliest memories are of my parents reading to me. I grew up in a house filled with books, always reading, and soon I wanted to create my own stories. My first “published” story was a children’s book I wrote in sixth grade for a class project, which I also had to illustrate. We were required to read our books to the younger students. The kids loved my book and after that I was hooked. I have been writing ever since.
Do you have authors who inspired you to write? If so, whom? I loved Madeleine L’Engle’s books as a child and she was a big inspiration to me. Still is. Of course I read every horse book that was published, especially Margaret Henry’s books and The Black Stallion series. I wanted to write books like that when I was young. In the world of non-fiction, as an adult I admire Patsy Clairmont and her humor-filled inspirational books. I read so many different genres that it’s hard for me to list all of the authors who inspire me!
What genre(s) do you write and what made you choose it(them)? My first two books were inspirational Christian non-fiction. The first one is about a difficult period in my life and how my faith got me through. I had a story and felt that God was leading me to share it. It was hard to write because I had to remember some difficult times I had gone through, but I have heard from so many people about how it has touched their lives that I know God is using it. I have a book out about writing, called Six Steps to Successful Publication. I wrote that because I teach a lot of writing workshops and wanted to give people something to refer back to. I also write inspirational fiction/romance and chick lit. My latest book, which came out on Nov. 14th, is called Mrs. Chartwell and the Cat Burglar. It’s a romantic mystery and I hope readers have as much fun reading it as I had writing it!
What kinds of classes, workshops, organizations, groups helped you learn the craft of writing? I can’t stress enough how important it is to find a group of writers to hang out with. I have learned so much over the years from my local writer’s group. We meet once a month and share ideas, and admittedly sometimes we just visit, but I always come away inspired. I also have a critique group that I am in, where I share my work. Formally, I have a dual degree in Creative Writing and English Language and Literature from the University of Michigan. I also worked as a journalist for The Ann Arbor News for many years. As a journalist, you are edited daily, have some pretty intense deadlines, and have no time for writer’s block. I think this practice helped to hone my skills and taught me to focus in a busy newsroom. Now I can write anywhere!
Do you belong to a critique group? If so, how often do you meet? Yes I do, as I mentioned above. It’s wonderful! There are only three of us, and we meet once a month. Before we meet we send out our latest work for critique and are ready to discuss each other’s projects when we get together. It’s a blast and I get to hear what others think of my work in progress. I take notes and use them when I go back to rewrite/edit. We all write different genres, but we are avid readers in all genres so that helps with our critiquing.
Tell us about your first break into publication experience. That was a God moment! I went to a women’s business dinner with a friend, just for fun, not as a writer. There, I met a publisher who just happened to publish Christian non-fiction, and I had a manuscript sitting in my drawer waiting for me to have the time to send it out. I had a new baby at the time so was pretty busy with him. She asked to see it and after reading it, accepted it. It was really fun to work with her publishing company and the book sold pretty well. It’s called Why Is There a Lemon in My Fruit Salad? How to Stay Sweet When Life Turns Sour.
What’s one tip you’d share with other writers? It can be a practical how to tip or an inspirational/encouragement tip. Write! It sounds simple, but you’d be surprised how many people talk about writing, attend writing workshops, read about writing and never write! I call it the BIS rule: Butt in Seat. You must make writing a priority or it will never get done. Write every day if you can. Even if you only write one page a day, in a year you will have 360 pages and that is a book! Set a goal – 10 minutes a day, 300 words a day, whatever – and stick to it. The only way you get better at something is to practice and writing is no exception. Each book will be better. Each day you will grow more confident. Write!
Please share your most recent book title and the opening line. (Please include a buy link.)
Mrs. Chartwell and the Cat Burglar: a Romantic Mystery
Mrs. Abigail Chartwell filed away the last document in her stack and prepared to go home for the evening, but the gentleman at the counter kept talking.
Pamela Gossiaux is a humorist, inspirational speaker, and the author of the books Good Enough, Why Is There a Lemon in My Fruit Salad? How to Stay Sweet When Life Turns Sour, and A Kid at Heart: Becoming a Child of Our Heavenly Father, as well as the highly anticipated inspirational romance, Mrs. Chartwell and the Cat Burglar.
Pamela has been writing and working with writers for several decades. She has a dual BA degree from the University of Michigan in Creative Writing and English Language and Literature, and over 20 years of journalism writing experience. She teaches writing workshops and has been the editor for published books in a wide variety of genres, both fiction and non-fiction, including best sellers. She has self-published a book on writing called Six Steps to Successful Publication.
An avid horse enthusiast, she enjoys being outdoors and working in her garden. She also loves chocolate, and prefers to curl up with a good book in her downtime. Pamela lives in Michigan with her husband, two sons, and three cats. Visit her website at PamelaGossiaux.com.
In a writers’ group on Facebook, I recently read the words “I lost the flow.” She didn’t know where to go next. How to get the scene in her mind down on paper. Writer’s block is something that happens to most of us. So what’s the solution?
Years ago while visiting friends who had a large parrot, my husband was told, “Step away from the bird!” He had his back to the cage and the parrot, whose previous owners had mistreated it, was leaning forward to bite. He moved quickly and no husband or bird was harmed in this story. Writer’s block bites, too, and the advice to “step away” can be very helpful.
How do we know when to step away? Here’s what works for me.
If I’m not clear on what should happen next, stepping away for a time lets ideas marinate in my subconscious. While I go about other tasks, my mind can work on the puzzle of the scene. It can mull over the character and discover what would be her most natural next step. Doing other things can give me a fresh look at the problem.
I might even work on a different writing project. Or do further research. I might play with blurbs or look up comp titles. I’ll read blogs and articles about writing. I’m a sucker for good writing quotes and collect them, and will search for them. I’ve tried writing something totally new, such as a poem. Having fun with words makes me desire to keep writing. Jeff Goins says, “You do not overcome writer’s block by refusing to write until you feel ‘inspired.’”
If I’m overly frustrated with how my writing is going, stepping away for a time means I won’t toss the whole project unnecessarily. Perhaps I’m simply too tired. Or hungry. Or too stressed by what else is going on in my life. Stepping away is a necessity in these cases. Or maybe, I’ve just been sitting in the same place too long and getting up and moving will help. Sometimes I need to fill up my creative reservoir by going out and doing something new and fun. Other times I get filled up with inspiration by attending a workshop or other writer event. Taking a portion of my writing to my critique group is helpful for me, too.
One of the keys about stepping away is that it is only for a time. Just as my friends didn’t give up on rehabilitating their parrot, don’t give up on your writing. Yes, some projects may just not work and they’ll be set aside. But finishing projects, reaching the end, is a goal worth striving to, and really the only way to do that is to do the actual writing.
My pen-name is Carol Roberts, and writing is the outcome of a long journey. When I left school I was interested in psychology, and I would have studied that, had I not decided to travel first. As was, I left my birth place of Vienna at the age of 18 and never returned to live there.
I travelled through South America and Asia, indulging my interest in culture and tradition, whenI met my husband-to-be in India. He was a photographer from New Zealand who was working for an agency, and his idea of travelling was a lot more intrepid than mine. We ended up in places that were so distant and remote, that I can still remember the feeling of eternal timelessness that took ahold of me in such locations. I was completely fascinated; what were those people’s stories, what did they preserve in terms of their mythology? I took a lot of notes about places and people, and by the time I settled in New Zealand, I had a firm plan of compiling a non-fiction book about stories and myths from all around the world.
What kinds of classes helped you learn the craft of writing? And tell us about your first break into print experience.
I took classes in Basic writing and Composition, Article writing and Creative writing, and started to experiment with freelance articles about our travels. Some of my work was picked up by a couple of magazines, but since my husband had allowed me to use some of his excellent photography, it’s shared credit. Writing articles satisfied my interest in non-fiction, the book about mythology was never written, and I was ready to move on to fiction.
What genre(s) do you write and what made you choose it(them)?
I dabbled with poetry, then with short stories, and when I finally decided to write my first full length novel, I was drawn to write a mystery. I chose Atlantis as a setting, because it perfectly fitted the type of speculative story I wanted to tell. Myth is often based on a real event that is important enough to have survived the ages, yet it transcends the event itself as symbolic and meaningful. Translated into genre, it’s fantasy/mystery.
What’s one tip you’d share with other writers?
Being a new author, I am still getting my head around the concept of self-promotion. It’s one thing to compile non-fiction articles, but it’s an entirely different thing to share and stimulate interest in one’s own creativity. So my tip (to myself as well) is that if you have written that first story, don’t be shy to connect with it.
Please share your most recent book title and the opening lines.
ATLANTIS by Carol Roberts
“And that is all I can tell you.”
The big, leather-bound book closed with an air of finality, as if to never again disturb the dust particles that resettled on the ancient, worn cover.
You can find the book on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B0777J2MC8/.
Carol Roberts is a freelance writer with particular interest in cultural myth. Originally from Vienna, she has spent all of her adult life in the Far North of New Zealand. Her passion for stories that tell of origins took her to several different countries, where she researched oral traditions of the oldest creation myths. Atlantis is her first full length novel, and her second novel Tower of Babel is also complete.
Twitter link: https://twitter.com/authorRobertsC
I hear about an ebook, or take a book off of a shelf, and the premise sounds interesting. My next step is to read a preview of the book. If the opening pages catch my interest, I’ll purchase it, or check it out from the library. However, I decline even free ebooks when the opening doesn’t grab me, and especially if it isn’t edited well enough.
This is not just about grammar and punctuation, although that’s definitely a stopper. It’s often about less obvious things.
Blunder #1 – the overuse of “as.”
For example, when reading the opening of a mystery recently, in the first eight sentences I spotted four sentences that started with “as” and another sentence also included an “as.” I don’t want to embarrass another author so will make up my own example with the same number of sentences and “as”es and how they could be fixed.
Sandra dropped her keys as a noise behind her startled her. She checked over her shoulder. Nothing in the dimly lit hallway. As she bent to pick up the keyring, it came again. As she snatched up the keys, the skin of her back crawled. As she searched for the key to her apartment, her fingers trembled. Click—there it was again. As Sandra shoved they key in the lock, she saw a small flame out of the corner of her eye.
Writing that made me cringe. Let’s talk about why.
Sentence #1 - Sandra dropped her keys as a noise behind her startled her. This is a perfect example of trying to show simultaneous actions, but in the wrong chronological order. What happens first? The noise. It should be first. Possible rewrite: A noise behind Sandra startled her and she dropped her keys.
Sentence #5 - As she snatched up the keys, the skin of her back crawled. Since sentence #4 started with “As she,” varying sentence structure will make the text more interesting. One way to do so is by using a conjunction. Possible rewrites: The skin of her back crawled, but she snatched up the keys. OR She snatched up her keys and tried to ignore the crawling sensation going up her back.
Sentence #6 - As she searched for the key to her apartment, her fingers trembled. Again, this one is not quite in the right order. Possible rewrite: With trembling fingers, she searched for the key to her apartment.
Sentence #8 - As Sandra shoved they key in the lock, she saw a small flame out of the corner of her eye. Sometimes we need to use other words than “as” such as “while” or “when.” One possible rewrite would be: When Sandra shoved they key in the lock, she saw a small flame out of the corner of her eye.
So what could this paragraph look like using these ideas?
A noise behind Sandra startled her and she dropped her keys. She checked over her shoulder. Nothing in the dimly lit hallway. As she bent to pick up the keyring, it came again. She snatched up her keys and tried to ignore the crawling sensation going up her back. With trembling fingers, she searched for the key to her apartment. Click—there it was again. When Sandra shoved they key in the lock, she saw a small flame out of the corner of her eye.
If I saw this version, I’d keep reading. What about you? Do you think it is stronger? Feel free to comment below.
Some writers say, “write until you have a first draft with no editing.” Others like myself edit as we go along. Proponents of the “no editing” say that doing this stops the creative flow. For some reason it doesn’t for me, although I know it does for other writers.
Here’s how I work. I’m writing away and then have to pause to think about what’s going to happen next, or maybe I should say, how it’s going to happen. While I’m thinking, I often go back and reread a paragraph or more and at that time may make edits. It could be I don’t like how I said something. Or perhaps I need to add a few more details of setting. Or cut dialogue that is unnecessary. I also fix obvious typos while writing as they bug me. (For example, in this sentence I originally typed wiriting—my word processor underlines it in red--argh!—so I can’t ignore it.)
I think part of my process is that I’m discovering things as I write. A discovery on page 20 may affect what has gone before as well as what is coming. For some issues I make a note, but others won’t leave my mind unless I go ahead and go back to the beginning and fix them. Donna Gephard says, “And if writing were blocks, I rearrange more than a dozen times for some of my word towers. And even if the whole structure topples, I begin again.”
After a break in writing, whether it’s two hours, two days, or two weeks, I usually reread what I wrote in the last writing session. Rereading gets me back into the character and the scene and helps me move forward. And I make any edits that jump out at me.
Once I have a number of chapters written, I usually take a chapter to my critique group. I reread it and edit before they see it. Then I edit based off of their comments. They can really help me see where to deepen or add to a scene, and sometimes where I need to develop a simple transition into a scene. Some of their advice carries through to where I’m currently writing in the novel.
When the novel is “done,” I usually let it sit awhile before going back to make more edits. Then I read the whole thing straight through to get a better picture in my head of how the story is working. But that waiting time is so important first. As Robyn LaFevers says, “A critical part of my process is letting the book lay fallow for a while between drafts.”
My process means I don’t have draft numbers as other writers do, but it’s what works for me.
How about you? Are you a “write the first draft without editing” writer, an “edit as you go” writer, or something in between?
SM Ford writes inspirational fiction for adults, although teens may find the stories of interest, too. She also loves assisting other writers on their journeys.