My Interview with Smashwords

Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I was born and raised in Independence, Missouri, USA, but I don’t know if the town itself influenced my writing or if my family did. More likely, I got some writing talent from certain family members. I was born during the Great Depression, but I don’t think being poor had any great influence.

However, I learned to read in First Grade from the famed Dick and Jane readers, and those made a big impression on me. I think it dawned on me there were people besides myself on this planet, and some of them even wrote down their stories. I loved those books. And from there, I read everything else I could get my hands on, mostly adult books. 

Oh yes, I had a Big Big Storybook with such classics as Black Beauty, Heidi, Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates, and others. But the grownup books gave me a larger introduction to life, even the sordid side (Erskine Caldwell’s Tobacco Road and God’s Little Acre), Gone With the Wind, and even a 12-volume set of Zane Grey’s westerns. When I got to high school, I read books I’d been forbidden to read earlier.

Perhaps it took all my life to get my act together and write my historical novel, Face the Winter Naked, which is set in Missouri (Independence, Kansas City, Springfield, and St. Louis).

When did you first start writing?
I first started writing as a young teen, beginning with poetry that was really terrible. I call those my “therapeutic poetry days,” because I was mostly an unhappy loner.

The real writing–which included teaching myself nearly everything–didn’t begin until after my second marriage. I think I needed something to keep me from going crazy raising five kids. This time, I didn’t write much poetry, but instead wrote some one-act plays. Novels came later.

What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
My greatest joy of writing is finding a story inside of me that I never knew existed. I’m always amazed when I read back a finished first draft and realize I did something spectacular. Well, spectacular for me, at least. The act of creation is a powerful thing.

What is your writing process?
I’m a firm believer in right-brain writing and that all stories come from my subconscious storehouse of memories. The right portion of the brain is the creative side, the left side, the analytical. Many professional writers use their creative right brain, some without realizing they’re doing so, and others do it deliberately. It’s fairly easy to switch from one mode to the other. 

I never talk my stories out with another person. My stories are inside of ME, and my creative right mind is searching for plot details. Only my subconscious knows what information I need to write a particular story. If I talk a story out, I no longer have a need to write it. My subconscious will become confused with the input of other people’s ideas, and may go on vacation. Discussing a story with someone else is often the reason people stop writing and stash the manuscript in the back of a closet; they’ve talked the story out, so there’s no longer a burning desire to write it. Wait for a finished draft before sharing it.

I also use music to help me write. For example, while writing a canoe scene in my Arctic novel Drum Dance, I played drum beats from Enya’s “Watermark” repeatedly. Each time I wanted to work on that scene, I put the music on and was immediately in the scene again. I used the same technique for my novel Face the Winter Naked. My main character is a hobo who plays a banjo, so I played banjo music throughout the story. If I play those pieces now, the scenes flash into my mind.

When working on the first draft of a novel, I set a word quota for the day and try to stick to it. I shut myself in my office with coffee and music and let ‘er rip till I’ve reached the quota, usually about noon.

A good way to break a writer’s block is to leave a sentence or paragraph unfinished. When I sit down to write again, it’s usually very easy to pick up the thread and continue writing. Once I begin, I don’t stop writing until I run out of ideas for that day.

Describe your desk
Describe my desk? Egads! 

Well, the first thing I see is a HUGE mess, and the next thing is my Tortoiseshell cat, Jazzbaby, who creates the mess. Beneath all the papers, calculators, CDs, pens, pencils, cracker crumbs, and stuff to clean my computer with, etc., is a large wooden desk with a hutch. I’m a little bitty thing, just 4′ 11″, so imagine me putting that sucker together all by myself! 

I’m not going to describe the rest and will just blame it all on the cat. Jazzy changes her bed every few months (no, she doesn’t change the sheets and pillow cases), and she’s currently sleeping in a ream-size manuscript mailer on one corner of my desk. But come midnight, she chases me off my chair so she can sleep there. When she shows her teeth, I flee to the bedroom.

What motivated you to become an indie author?
My first children’s novel was published traditionally in a time when having an agent wasn’t as important as it is today. I sent my manuscript out to three publishers, over the transom, and it was picked up by the third one. 

Today’s traditional publishing climate has changed so much that it’s almost impossible to find an agent, let alone a publisher who’ll take direct submissions. It’s all about money now, and they keep publishing their big money makers. 

I finally got tired of submitting and submitting and getting rejected repeatedly, so I published a few older books with Lulu while still trying to find an agent for two newer titles. Need I say I was overjoyed when digital publishing came along? Especially Smashwords. I love being my own publisher, editor, proofreader, cover designer, promotional and marketing director–all without middlemen and agents saying, “Thank you for submitting your book, but it’s not quite right for us.” (Or in the case of email submissions, not replying at all.)

How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
I love Smashwords! This company provides me with all the tools needed to publish and promote my books, plus finding the retailers to sell them. Once I get my books listed in the Premium Catalog, I can just sit back and wait for the royalties to come in. Of course, I also make use of social media to promote my books. If there’s one thing that doesn’t work for me, it’s that few of my readers come directly to Smashwords to buy–so all my sales have been from the other distributors. I haven’t found an easy way to make people come to Smashwords, and some say the site isn’t very user friendly. But I expect that will change some day.

What is your e-reading device of choice?
My e-reading device of choice is currently Kindle PC. I have a Kindle; however, since I’m almost always at my computer, it’s easier for me to read from my monitor. If I should start traveling a lot, then I’d want the Kindle along with me. In the meantime, my poor Kindle’s battery is probably so dead that even mouth-to-mouth resuscitation won’t bring it back to life.

Who are your favorite authors?
My favorite authors? There are way too many to recall offhand, but here are a few: Mark Twain, James A. Michener, poets Robert Service and Edgar A. Guest, O.E. Rolvaag, Jack London, Frances Parkinson Keyes, and Thomas Tryon.

What are your five favorite books, and why?

My five favorite books are: 

* Giants in the Earth (O.E. Rolväag). I had to read the classic many years ago in high school and was probably the only student in my class who loved it. This book, I believe, is one of the most important pioneer stories ever written. I’ve read it four times.

* Steamboat Gothic (Keyes). I love novels set in the deep south.

* Chesapeake (Michener). His novels are so rich with detail that I get educated while also being entertained.

* The Odyssey of Homer. I think the epic poem just pulled me in, because I love and understand poetry.

* Harvest Home (Tom Tryon). The story was intriguing and very mysterious. I couldn’t put the book down. Tryon was an excellent writer.

My favorite genres are historical, literary, and young-adult fiction, humor, Americana, mainstream, commercial–almost anything except crime thrillers and violent, gory tales. Those turn my stomach–there’s enough violence in the world.

What do you read for pleasure?
I’m stuck on stories set in the Arctic.

What’s the story behind your latest book?
My current work in progress is “The Ghost of Calico Acres,” women’s fiction set in southwestern Wisconsin. Born thirty years ago, this novel (which I call a psychological romantic ghost story) had been collecting dust in a closet until a few months ago, at which time I re-read the manuscript and decided that, with a few minor changes, it would work as an e-book. Little did I realize how much time–and research!–it would take to make my plot behave, and how much more I’d learned about writing during those thirty years. For one thing, I’ve become more detail oriented and I’m a much better editor and proofreader, which makes myself a pain in the butt to work with. So far, those “few minor changes” have taken about six months and four or five revisions. If I didn’t love my characters and their problems so much, the story would probably stay buried in a box somewhere.

Summary of The Ghost of Calico Acres:

Young Dr. Marc St. Clair’s great-aunt Miriam has left him her old Victorian house at Calico Acres, in SW Wisconsin, but her will says he can’t claim ownership until he and his paraplegic wife, Summer, have lived there for one year. Marc loves the house and is determined to own it, but Summer hates “the ugly gingerbread house” on sight, with good reason–the house is claimed to be haunted.

What are you working on next?
Someday I hope to finish a nonfiction book about my psychic experiences and experiments. I wrote that one a good number of years ago and even found a publisher. However, the small publisher and I didn’t see eye-to-eye, so we called it quits. I still think there’s an interest in that type of book.

And–if it’s the last thing I ever do–I want to write my Flapper-era YA novel, Jazzbaby. I’ve kept that title in my mind for about twenty years, and even bestowed the name upon my current feline pest. I’m aware there will be a great deal of research involved, but I look forward to researching because I love doing that.

When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
When I’m not writing, I’m either reading or marketing or researching. I work a daily crossword puzzle with my morning coffee, without fail. Boring as hell these days, because I’ve probably memorized all the three- and four-letter words by now. I’m OCD about doing those darned puzzles, but I also know they keep my mind sharp and help prevent Alzheimer’s.

Since I began publishing e-books, my time is pretty much filled with promoting my other works and I can’t seem to find the time I need for writing something new.

There are also my young grandchildren to consider, and I don’t spend nearly enough time with them. If I’m very lucky, I might find time to take a walk (through a nearby cemetery!) and have to use a walker for that now due to balance problems.

What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Nothing inspires me to get out of bed each day. I love my bed.

How do you discover the ebooks you read?
Most ebooks I read are given to me by writer friends in return for reviews. I don’t get to read as much as I’d like these days.

How do you approach cover design?
Except for two professionally contracted covers, I enjoy making my own.

What do your fans mean to you?
After my first children’s novel, The Haunted Igloo, was published traditionally, I visited local grade schools with a life-sized, handmade Inuit doll and a bunch of stuffed polar bears (toys, not real ones!), encouraging middle-grade students to keep reading and writing, and offering *polar bear hugs* along with my autograph. All the kids were very generous with their praise of my book and my writing. I loved being with them, and always received packets of thank-you notes and great drawings from them later. Those experiences meant the world to me.

Among my favorite fan letters are these gems: 

“Mrs. Turner: I’ll give you a million dollars for this book!” 🙂

“Dear Mrs. Turner: Thank you for getting me out of sixth hour!!!” 🙂 )

“Dear Mrs. Turner: Thank you from all the lead in my pencil!” 🙂 ))))

I haven’t interacted much with fans of my adult stories, except online and at book signings. But those middle-grade kids were simply priceless. In my opinion, this is the best age group to visit in schools, with some coming of age emotionally and physically, but a great many more still quite innocent.

Tell us something about yourself.
I’m a Scorpio witch born in Independence, Missouri, on a dreary Halloween night at the height of the Great Depression (1932) and currently live in De Pere, Wisconsin. I’m a mother, a grandmother, and a great-grandmother, and also a Green Bay Packers football fan. Self-educated beyond high school, my interests are many and varied: astronomy, astrology, geography, geology, science, history, yoga, philosophy, psychology, metaphysics and parapsychology. I am a jack-of-all-trades, a Mensa *almost*, a classical music and jazz fusion aficionado. My favorite guitarist/composer is Al Di Meola. I’m interested in spiritual healing and practice transcendental meditation when I have time.

Published at Smashwords 2013-11-18.

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