The Northwest Arkansas Writers Workshop meets Thursday nights at 6:30 at the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Velda Brotherton and Dusty Richards mentor the group and do their best to keep twenty or so self-proclaimed creative types in line and on track. Both these authors have a gift for putting thier finger on the exact spot where a writer's work has slipped off the tracks. They also know how to encourage and bring out the best in a fledgling author. In addition to these two much published and talented authors, the group has an abundance of gifted writers and editors who share freely of their knowledge and expertise as well as their opinions and preferences.
I sent emails to these authors and many of them took the time to respond to my questions. The following is a compilation of their answers. (If any of you would also like to participate in this round table interview, just answer the questions that appeal to you and email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1) What's the last experience you had that lit a creative spark and led you to write?
I'm writing a history of Eureka Springs now with a July deadline. Go the idea of doing a time travel/ghost possession romance from the research of this book.
I recently read a newspaper article about the last geisha in one of the small northern towns of Japan. She has survived four tsunamis. I knew there was a story there, and now I'm writing a fictionalized version.
I did a morning interview with a couple of people for an assigned magazine article. That afternnon, the creative spark led me to write an essay about a totally different subject.
Having a deadline (writers' group meeting, for example) gets me going. Schlepping my way through a dreary workday makes me want a different job. But really, writing is a kind of addiciton, and I'm certainly caught. Or should I say that when the Muses sing, I'd better listen?
I had an idea about an old rancher needing help and these two ladies of the night rode out and told him they wanted to be his "cowboys". I think it could be hilarious.
Ruth Burkett Weeks
I went to my publisher's website and read about a paranormal anthology that she is doing. I had the beginnings of one already started and this spurred me to finish it.
The last experience that lit a creative spark for me was the wind almost blowing my hat off my head. I was in a place I didn't want to be (walking in my 9 to 5 job) and my hands were full. My left held the lunch cooler and the laptop/book bag, my right had my coffee cup. The wind ships the hat down over my eyes, my right hand automatically comes up to grab what is trying to become a sail/Frisbee, and I throw coffee in my face! That was a wake-up call for me, in more ways than one. Working for somebody else sucks! So, her I am--creative sparks flying--editor-at-large! How can I help you?
The last ten seconds of a music video burned an image into my mind that I could not shake. A short story grew from that image.
I was working on a story and got side-tracked by publisher requests for rewrites on a couple of other novels. I'm hoping I'll wake up in the morning and will be inspired by the rain so I can get back to work on the current work in progress.
Nicholas W. Payne
I get a lot of inspiration while I'm driving listening to my ipod. Certain song lyrics inspire me to write a story or to add something into a story I'm writing. I try to keep my eyes and ears open, always searching for inspirado.
When the editor of a local newspaper emailed me and asked if I would write a series about the old cafes along highway 71 during the 50s. Editor's requests always inspire me to write, but other things do as well. After I read a bit in Flashback (the Washington County Historical Quarterly) about a man who came home from the Civil War to find his wife had remarried. He kicked her and her new husband out, giving them a horse and a choice of one of their four children. That inspired my short story Hard Way Home which is now at Smashwords to be published as an ebook. My ideas come from everywhere, including my own imagination that often works at 3 a.m. when i wake up and can't go back to sleep. I've written entire novels from those kind of inspirations.
2) Given your druthers, would you write fiction or non-fiction?
Nicholas - Fiction. Always fiction.
Dusty - Fiction
Ruth - Fiction! I love to make up stuff without having to prove it.
Pamela- Fiction. Even when I tell the truth, it gets tweaked and twisted a bit.
Greg - Yes
While I enjoy writing both non-fiction and fiction, I have to say I prefer the latter. My degree is in engineering, so I am a detail-oriented person by nature. Non-fiction (I'm writing a reference book right now titled "The Writer's Guide to Guns) requires making sure every word is accurate, every photo correct. That attention to the minutiae is daunting for some but I find satisfaction doing it. On the other hand, I can exercise the same discipline in my fiction writing plus I get to allow my imagination to go on flights of fancy that take me to strange places and even stranger people. Fun!
Rebecca - I like both.
Velda - I love making up stuff, but a lot of times I'm inspired by a true event or person.
3) What's the most difficult thing, for you, about writing?
Distractions like lawn mowing, writing out bills, and not to go trout fishing.
The most difficult thing about writing is being undisturbed enough to maintain focus. One of my greatest strengths is my ability to concentrate. I've found I can bring to bear a level of attention much tighter than most. The drawback to that, and every strength is also a weakness, is that I don't multi-task at all well. That means I only get to do one thing--what was that, dear?
Yes, Dr. Oz has a very good point there. Thanks for telling me. Now, where was I? Oh, yes--at a time.
Finding time, motivation, peace and quiet - that order. Often my characters wait until I have all of those before they'll sit down and talk to me. Either that, or they talk to me while I'm driving or in the shower, and I have no means to record their conversations.
Once I get started and things are flowing, I don't want to stop. I have to because there are other things that need to be done and my arms and neck start hurting. I'm always afraid that if I stop writing, the flow won't come back. It always has, so I shouldn't be that concerned, but I still freak.
Finding enough time without distractions, like eating, sleeping, laundery.
Finding the time. My house looks like a wreck, but I have a published book!
Writing. Followed by editing. Getting published is a whole other area of difficulty.
Finding uninterrupted time.
The most difficult thing for me is putting the images, scenes, thoughts, characters, and motivations I have in my mind on paper the way I imagine them, so others get the same picture.
Finding enough time to get everything done I want to do.
Insisting on the time for myself. No phone calls, no answering burning questions from my love. No falling under the the spell of Chesty, our clown dog. Just keep my fingers on the keyboard and stay in that other reality I'm creating.
4) What kinds of books do you read? Do you have a favorite author?
I read a lot of suspense, detective, forensic stuff. I like it deep and dirty. James Lee Burke and the late Robert Parker are high on the list, but I like David Morrell and Thomas Harris a lot for they go to the dark places and I like to follow them.
Mysteries, Suspense, Thrillers. Patricia Cornwell, Ted Dekker.
I like best books set in the United States in my lifetime. That said, if the prose is good, I'll read any genre. I check out a dozen books or so a week from the Blair Library. At the moment I'm gorging myself on James Lee Burke. Best all time favorite has got to be Steinbeck.
I enjoy reading women's fiction and historical fiction. My favorite author is Jodi Picoult, because I like the way she writes from different points of view.
I read for escape right now...lots of stress in my life, so I'm into action/adventure, mystery, romance, regency, etc.
I read all genres. My favorite author is Robert A. Heinlein, called "The Dean of Science Fiction Writers." My first love was science fiction. I learned to read on "Classics Illustrated" comics, and my favorite was H.G. Wells's War of the Worlds. Shortly after, I expanded into print-only books. I discovered so many wonderful worlds created by fabulous (and some not-so-fabulous) writers and I think a part of me never really left those worlds. Hey, it's sci-fi--you can split yourself between several places at the same time! The part of me that stayed on Earth found other genres--historical fiction, westerns, spy novels, adventure, romance, horror, fantasy--and I found there's something in all of them for me. But the more I read, the more I realize how good some writers are...and how much help most of us need.
You do enjoy easy questions, I see. But turning off the sarcasm, I enjoy writers who wrote before the twentieth century (Tolkien and O'Brian were born out of their natural time), except for the modern writers that I also enjoy. My list is likely too long for the space.
I'm ashamed to admit that I don't read by author. I pick the book from the cover and the blurbs on the back. Mystery, romance, fantasy, and everything in between. However, I am not a big fan of non-fiction. Yawn! Boring! Unless it is creative non-fiction like Velda Brotherton's Fly with the Morning Dove.
I love history and studying other cultures and religions. As for fiction, I'd have to say the genre that I read the most is suspense and/or mystery. Elizabeth George is an all-time favorite. I like authors such as John Burdett (detective in Thailand,) Ellis Peters (life and times of a monk in 12th century Wales,) Ken Follet (WWII and 12th century England,) and Laura Joh Rowland (17th century Japan.) they incorporate history and/or culture into their novels.
Romance authors I enjoy include Rachel Gibson, Pamela Morsi and Lavyire Spencer. I like characters who are flawed, who overcome their weaknesses and save the day or get the guy. Gorgeous, 18 year old heiresses who win the hearts of devilish, but equally gorgeous and wealthy Earl bore me to tears. I'm a strong believer that frumps need love too and stories about their path to happily-ever-after are much more interesting.
Good ones. Mostly history. Read some entertaining fiction. Most in my genre.
I read a little bit of everything, most recently I've been re-reading a lot of my old favorites and those literture classics. My favorite author, if I must only choose one, is J.D. Salinger.
5) When do you write? Mornings? Evenings? Sleepless nights? When there's nothing on TV?
I write when I can. I feel like I write best in mid-morning through late-afternoon. Astonishingly, I've discovered that when I write and I'm not sharp--say, in the middle of the night when I can't sleep and I'm beat--I still end up with something on paper! I can always revise it (and revise, and revise, and...), but if I wait until I feel like writing...well, there may not be anything there to revise.
All in all, I've learned the right time to write is any time I can!
My best time to write is very early in the morning. However, now that we have a puppy, that's not working so well, because that time is hardly uninterrupted. Now, I write when I can squeeze it in. That's why I haven't been getting much writing done lately.
All day into the night.
I write mostly in the evening and a lot really late at night/into the early morning. But usually just whenever the muses chose to visit me, regardless of the time.
Mornings. I wake up, grab something caffeinated, sit at my computer and write. Don't even think about contacting me before noon.
I work full time so I write at night. But I'm a night owl and would pick that time of day even if I didn't have a job. There is just something magical and mysterious about deep, dark night.
Mornings. Coffee and writing being my drugs of choice.
Whenever I can get the cats and the dishes and the essays to grade and on and on to shut up.
Mornings until about 11:00. Then the creativity wanes and I edit.
Whenever I can find that "uninterrupted' time.
I write afternoons every day six days a week. I may do writer scut work in the mornings. I read if there's nothing on TV cause I'm writ out by six o'clock or so.
6) Tell me about the book or project you are currently pitching or marketing.
Just finished by first novel, Broken Dolls, and am querying and querying and querying agents.
I am putting the finishing touches on my non-fiction book about miraculously surviving advanced stage ovarian cancer. At the end of each chapter, I will have supportive recommendations for patients as well as their family and friends. I already have two written endorsements, and will be receiving at least two more from physicians. There is a specific publisher I have in mind, and I'll begin the "pitching" process soon.
If You Want Peace...is a science fiction story, complete at 140,000 words, about an officer, Thomas Cochrane, in the space fleet stationed at Barnard's Star who is given his first command. With the help of an engineer that he has known since childhood, a friend from his days at the Academy, and a scientist, Cochrane discovers a plot by a distant empire to conquer the space that is controlled by humans. My inspiration for this story was Patrick O'Brians series of novels that began with Master and Commander.
I am promoting my first published novel, Soldiers From the Mist. It is an out-of-the-ordinary Civil War, ghost story, love story, and adventure all wrapped up in one great book. The story is unique because it is channeled information given to me by ghosts that haunt my house. I have included my experiences and actual events that occured with them in the book. It is a must read that will leave the reader joyful and full of hope.
I have a contemporary romance that I'm pedaling to an e-publisher and a women's fiction I'm sending to a publisher in May.
I'm trying to become known as an editor/publisher as well as an author. I offer editing that incorporates teaching as well as manuscript editing. People tell me it's something I have a gift for. Also, I'm the creator/publisher of the ezine Frontier Tales, which has enabled me to publish thirty-seven authors so far, with many more to come. Lots of these stories would not have had a chance to be read if not for Frontier Tales. I'm pretty proud of that.
I'm marketing Redneck Goddess, due out this summer. While working in Central America, young southern woman falls in love with a gorgeous Latino. When she brings him home to her rowdy, opinionated and loving family, the grits hit the fan. It's a fun southern romp.
I'm pitching Bigfoot Blues. The daughter of a Bigfoot hunter, this protagonist is torn between her redneck heritage and her desire for something more than owning a bar known locally as VD's.
The Hidden History of Eureka Springs for History Press in S.C. I'm pitching my Science Fiction novel, The Alien, and posting a Christmas Romantic Fairy Tale on Smashbooks: Christmas for Annabell. (Annable's a dog.)
I have a few stories sent to various fiction magazines, awaiting a rejection. But, as far as marketing or pitching, nothing.
A new series about a Texas ex-ranger. A young lawyer in Fayetteville in 1870.
A mountain man in 1820 in Arkansas and now the old man and the two Dove cowgirls.
Currently, I am totally concentrating on getting books published to ebooks. I have several unpublished novels I want to do there, as well as the six published books on my backlist. This is a huge project and will probably take me at least a year to get them all up and selling. I'm convinced that with the proper promotions this can be a place where I'll acquire more readers than one can imagine.
7) Why do you write?
I write, hoping to affect someone with my story. And often, in finding my characters, I also find myself.
I write because it can be carthartic. It's just something I enjoy, and I hope to make a career of. I love the feeling of getting into the flow of a story and it seemingly starts writing itself, although it happens so very often. Writing is like making love to a beautiful woman - it's exciting, passionate, then afterwards you find out you weren't very good.
Well, obviously it's not to get rich. The voices in my head tell me to. I think most writers will say that. I'm addicted to digging deep into my crazy brain and pulling out crazy characters who are hammering on the top of my head and screaming in my ears. Besides, if I didn't write, I'd drive my husband nuts talking out all the things I imagine.
I write because I'm an explorer. I want to see the places I can't go, interact with the people I can't meet, and do the things to live the experiences I can't have. Writing allows me to do all that. When I write, I'm free!
I've always had stories going on in my brain. As a kid during the summers, I'd weed a two-acre garden and make up stories to pass the time. My family has a tradition of storytelling. We're a rowdy bunch of folks, but when my grandmother started telling a story, the entire clan would go silent. We'd sit on the floor in front of her and soak up every word. Even now, several family members are known for their stories. During reunions, there's a request list --Stith Clan Greatest Hits. If it tells you anything, I'm the calm one in my family. When I was in elementary school, I started writing down the stories that were floating around in my head. I finally decided that I should try this for a living. So far, the hours suck and the pay is even worse. But, I have faith.
Why do people drink? Why do people eat? I have to write to get all these good stories out of my brain. It is too crowded.
I write because I love the process and because when I create something to which other people respond, I feel less alone in the world.
I write to keep young. Creativity keeps the brain churning and the heart beating.
Samuel Johnson said that no one but a blockhead ever wrote, except for moneyt. I'm in it for the wealth. Oh, and I don't seem to have much choice any more, writing being an addiction.
To escape into a world of my own making and possibly with the anticipation of entertaining a reader or two.
Any of you who didn't answer the email, please, send me your responses. I'll do an update.
Any mistakes in grammer or spelling or any other gaping mistakes in presentation, they are entirely my fault. Those who know me, don't need to be told that I am technically challenged.