Award Winning Author Winnie Griggs

 

 

 

 

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DEBORAH SCHNEIDER

 

OCTOBER 2009

WG: Welcome and thanks for stepping into my spotlight this month. To start off, please tell us about yourself.

DS: I grew up in upstate New York, but moved to the Pacific Northwest thirty years ago. I have a degree in Secondary Education, Social Studies, and a teaching certificate in American History. That's one of the reasons I love writing stories set in America, and especially in the West. I'm employed full-time at one of the busiest library systems in the US, creating library programs and author events for 44 libraries. I used to quilt and sew, but I confess - since I started writing I don't do as much of that. I make jewelry and do Book Arts, which means I tear books apart and then use them for journals and scrapbooks. It sounds kind of evil for someone who works in a library, but I only use discarded books I buy at Friends of the Library Book Sales. I live in a small town nestled up next to the Cascade Mountains with my husband of 34 years and my youngest son who just graduated from college. We have two cats who pretty much own us.

WG: Let's talk about your own personal road to publication:
Is there some individual, group or event that you can point to as the catalyst/impetus that set you on the road to becoming a writer? Explain.

DS: My first book, "Beneath a Silver Moon" was published as a result of the Romantic Times BookClub/Dorchester Publishing contest for unpublished authors. It was called, "New Historical Voice" and I didn't win. But, the three finalists all received contracts from Dorchester, and strangely enough, they were all Westerns. Just before that, I won the "Molly" award for Most Unsinkable Heroine for that book.

WG: Tell us about your journey.

DS: I wrote my first book without any knowledge of what I was doing. I had a six week medical leave because my son was going to have a kidney transplant. For someone who had worked 12 hours per day for years, (I operated my own child care center) that sounded like plenty of time to write a book. It took almost eight months and then I asked a book store owner to read it and she told me about the local chapter of Romance Writers of America. I recently found that book while cleaning out a closet, and I really groaned when I read some very "purple prose". I attended my first conference, and was too frightened to pitch. I was actually terrified of all those "real writers". But I found critique partners at the RWA group and I'm proud to say after ten years, one of them is still my critique partner. It took me five years from becoming serious about my writing to sell a book and it was the second manuscript I'd completed. But, it took another five years after publishing that book to sell another. Your first sale isn't always a guarantee of a quick writing career. I never quit my day job.

WG: How many books did you complete before you sold your first? Have all/any of them sold since?

DS: "Beneath a Silver Moon" was my second completed manuscript and "Promise Me' will be released in January 2010 and is my third. I have two other completed books, and I always think maybe when the time is right, they will sell too.

WG: Can you tell us something about your experience in getting �the call'?

DS: The editor for Dorchester was at the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention in 2001, and she'd told the two of us who attended that no matter what happened, she wanted to talk to us after the announcement of the winner. At the Dorchester Rock'n'Roll party that night, I finally found the editor, and she told me she wanted to buy my book - BUT - I couldn't tell anyone until she called me. So, I had to wait for three weeks, but then she called me at work and made the offer.

Oh - and right after the editor told me about the sale at the convention, Tony Renudo, who was Mr. Romance came over, flopped me over his arm and kissed me. When I asked him why he did that, he just shrugged and said, "I don't know." My theory - alcohol was involved. It was a great night though and I had a blast.

WG: What changed most about your life as a direct result of selling that first book?

DS: I gained a lot of confidence as a writer, and learned a lot about book promotion. My life was very complicated at the time, (my son was chronically ill) so I had a lot of balancing to do.

WG: What aspect of life as a published author surprised you the most - either in a good or bad way?

DS: I was shocked with the lack of support from the publishing house in terms of promotion and distribution. I think I probably had an unrealistic expectation about what they would do, and I've since learned that the author has to assume a great deal of the responsibility for promoting their books and writing career.

WG: What about your writing process:
Do you maintain a set schedule? Is there such a thing as a typical day for you?

DS: There is no typical writing day, and I squeeze it in when I can. I do a lot pre-writing planning, with journals, character outlines and research. I also create a mind map of the plot and a collage of characters, story arcs, etc. So by the time I start writing, it can move pretty quickly. I start slow, and it takes me a several weeks to get the first three chapters written, but after that I write 3-4 times per week, and as I get closer to the end, every day.

WG: Do you set writing goals for yourself?

DS: I usually write a chapter of 12 - 15 pages in about two hours. I could be a lot more productive if I established a writing schedule every day, but I work full-time and my job includes evening and weekend work. So I'm not as disciplined as I should be.

WG: Do you have a mood setter, something (music, ritual, environment, etc) you use to get you going when you sit down to write?

DS: I set up the page in Word manually. I know I could do it as a template, but that's my ritual, establishing page layout, margins, typeface, etc. I don't listen to music, but I often write in the living room with my husband watching TV. I've been promised a new office this year though and I'm looking forward to my own place to create.

WG: Do you do a lot of up front plotting before you start or do you just dive in?

DS: I do a lot of research, plotting, outlining and character studies. Plus the mind maps and collage. I have notebooks filled with research and another one with character and story notes.

WG: Do you normally start with storyline or with character or with some combination of the two?

DS: I usually research a time I'm interested in writing about and then choose a place, then once I have that I figure out who my characters are and what they want. Of course, the biggest question is - "Why can't they have what they want?" That creates the tension and conflict.

WG: Do you find certain themes or character archetypes making recurring appearances in your stories

DS: I write about "ducks out of water" - women who find themselves in new places, dealing with new experiences. I write strong, opinionated women, no doormats allowed! My favorite themes seem to revolve around a woman discovering her own strength and power.

WG: What do you see as your own personal strengths as a writer?

DS: AI don't mind editing, so the rewriting is not a problem for me. Dialogue is very easy for me to write and I love "banter". I'm constantly reading writing books, attending conferences and learning my craft. I'll never learn enough because I always want to be growing as an author and writer.

WG: Are there any obstacles/conflicts, specific to your particular lifestyle, that get in the way of your writing? If so, how do you try and overcome them?

DS: Having a very busy, very demanding career is tough to balance with the writing. But, I have the opportunity to meet so many different, wonderful authors and learn about their process, and my job is very fun and creative. So it limits my production, but I think it helps me become a better writer. I meet interesting characters all the time.

WG: Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about your process?

DS: I take my advice for the first draft from Jennifer Crusie, "Tell yourself the story first!" Don't stress over that first draft. I think Nora Robert's said, "You can fix anything but a blank page" and I agree. Getting words on paper is Goal #1.

WG: Do you have a favorite sub-genre as a writer? as a reader?

DS: I love Americana Historical, but very little is published. I read a lot of Historical Fiction and really enjoy non-fiction about real people who lived in the past. I read a lot of Young Adult fiction, and the historical books are simply amazing.

WG: Is there a genre you haven't been published in yet that you'd like to try your hand at someday?

DS: Steampunk is my new fascination, and my current WIP is a Young Adult Steampunk set in an alterative USA following the Civil War. It has Teklas, (the techies of the age), witches and shape shifters. I gave the Indians their own territory in the middle of the country. It's Victorian, Fantasy, Western all mashed up together. Very fun to write.

WG: Do you have any advice to offer writers still striving toward publication?

DS: Keep learning your craft, attending conferences, taking on-line classes, and writing. Don't measure your success by someone else's standards, and don't give up. It's a tough business filled with rejection, but writing is very fulfilling and if you are in love with your stories, eventually someone else will fall in love with them too.

WG: Is there a specific �ah-ha' moment you've had as a writer that you would like to share with us?

DS: When I finished my first manuscript and typed, "The End" to realize I'd completed a 368 page novel. That's when I realized I could be a published author, because I could create product.

WG: Rejections, notes from unhappy readers and less than stellar reviews are all part of this business. What is your own method for dealing with these and moving on?

DS: I hate rejection letters so I put them back in the envelope for a few days. Then I re-read them and if there is something good in the letter, about my characters, stories, writing, etc. I highlight it. Then I file them to prove to the IRS that I'm serious about my publishing career. For reviews, it's only their opinion.

WG: Is there some piece of advice you received or bit of conventional wisdom that you wish you had ignored?

DS: Nope. Because I don't color within the lines or follow the rules.

WG: What do you find to be the most rewarding thing about being a writer? What aspect do you struggle with the most?

DS: I love the writing, creating the stories and watching the movie in my head. I'm not fond of all the on-line promotion we have to do, and I refuse to be part of Twitter. I just don't have a lot of time every day to spend sending messages about what I'm doing. I just want to do it.

WG: When you're not writing, what do you do for fun? What is your favorite self-indulgence?

DS: I make jewelry and I'm a real clothes horse. I get my nails done twice a month, and that makes me feel like a Princess. And of course, I LOVE to read.

WG: What are your favorite movies and/or TV shows? Why?

DS: I watch "True Blood" and follow several shows on HBO. I love Jon Stewart, and l recently discovered "Warehouse 13" which has a kinda "Steampunk" feel. I actually watch a lot of HGTV and Discovery channel, because that's what my husband watches and I'm usually in the living room reading or writing. One of my favorite movies is "Practical Magic" because I love the characters and would move into that house if possible. "Appaloosa" was my favorite movie of the past year.

WG: I love to collect quotes, all kinds of quotes - inspirational, quirky, motivational, profound, etc. Do you have a personal favorite you'd like to share.

DS: "You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture, just get people to stop reading them." - Ray Bradbury. I wrote a grant for our library to be part of The Big Read, and one of our books was "Fahrenheit 451". In reading that book again, I was struck by how much of what he wrote about has come true, large screen TV's, personal music players, the use of drugs, and the way people isolate themselves. The censorship issue is there but that book has much deeper meaning. I encourage everyone to read it.

WG: Please tell us about your current project.
DS: "The Scarlet Cloak" is a Steampunk YA, and my inspiration was a bad movie, "The Brother's Grimm" which I watched taking a red-eye to NYC in May. I turned off the sound and listened to music, but there was a point when Little Riding Hood disappeared and only her red cape was left, swinging on a branch. That's when the story question appeared, "Why was the little girl given a red cape? Was the color significant? Was it magical?" I played with some story ideas for a while, and then discovered the world of "Steampunk" and pretty much built my outline around the Victorian age in the West. What many people forget is that the West was settled in the Victorian age, from 1848 through the turn-of-the -century. They might have been cowboys, miners, loggers, school teachers and dance hall girls, but they lived in the Victorian age. That was a huge influence.

WG: What inspired you to write this particular story?

DS: I wanted to write a coming of age story and find myself reading a lot of Young Adult fiction. When I realized it could be Steampunk too, I felt like all the pieces fell together for me.

WG: What sort of research, if any, did you have to do? Did you stumble across any unexpected interesting/fun tidbits along the way?

DS: I'm writing in an era that is pretty familiar, because I've set several books in the same time and place. I enjoy the etiquette and manners of the time, the way "young ladies" were expected to behave and follow the rules of society. I'm learning a lot about steam engines.

WG: Tell us about your upcoming plans.


DS: I'm heading to Montana this week to do some more research for the next book in the Big Sky series. It's not contracted, because my publisher needs to see the entire book before making an offer. But - I've planned 3 books in the series, "Promise Me" is about a widow, the next one about a divorcee and the final one about a "soiled dove" because I think there were a lot of women forced into prostitution because they had so few choices.

WG: And before we close, tell us how your readers can get in touch with you.

DS: You can call me, at --- no, wait. How about visiting my website, www.debschneider.com? My blog is there too, and a link to my Facebook page.

WG: Thanks so much for spending time with me and my readers this month. I enjoyed getting to know you better.

DS: Thank you for inviting me, I am very honored to be here!

 

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