Award Winning Author Winnie Griggs

 

 

 

 

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Gabrielle Meyer

SEPTEMBER 2016

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

GM:   Thank you for having me, Winnie! I live on the banks of the Mississippi River in central Minnesota with my high school sweetheart-turned-husband and our four children. We have two daughters who are twelve and ten, and a set of six-year-old twin boys. I was an employee of the Minnesota Historical Society at the Charles A. Lindbergh Historic Site for ten years and an employee at our local historical society for two year before staying home full time to raise our children. Among other things, we homeschool, operate my husband's landscaping and lawn care company, and volunteer in our church and community. Our menagerie of animals includes two dogs, a cat, a turtle, a beta fish, and the random mammals, reptiles, and bugs my boys bring into the house. We love to spend as much time as possible on the river, visit historic sites and museums, and hang out with friends and family around a campfire. There's never a dull or boring moment in the Meyer home.


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.

GM:   I've wanted to be a writer since I was about eleven years old. Through college and the early years of my marriage, I dabbled in writing but never finished a story. After having our first two children, I picked up one of my favorite manuscripts and started working on it again, but then I discovered I was pregnant with twins. I remember the night I was lying in bed, tears streaming down my face, when I heard God whisper that I needed to put down my pen for a season. I knew if I was obedient, He would honor my dream and allow me to pursue it again one day. I imagined that day would be a long way off…but it was only two shorts years later that I felt the nudge to pick up my pen again. I read voraciously, and one day my Kindle suggested a new-to-me author named Laura Frantz. The book was The Colonel's Lady. I was hooked. I read the story as fast as I could, while savoring every little detail. At the end of the book, I remember thinking: "Why am I not writing like this?" I found Laura's blog and read an early post, when she had just been published. In essence she said: "If you have found this blog, and God has called you to be a writer, take heart. He will honor that call on your life." Even though the post was several years old, I felt as if it had been waiting for me. I found Laura on Facebook and we soon became friends. That was the catalyst that propelled me into the writing world, where I soon made dozens of other writing friends, and where I found my community support.


WG:   Tell us about your journey.

GM:   I read Laura's book in January of 2012 and it was in February that I pulled my manuscript out of its folder, blew off the cyber dust, and really dug in. I had a lot to learn! Over the spring and summer, I did just that. In July, my husband asked if I wanted to attend the ACFW Conference that year in Dallas (he'd heard me talk so much about it). I wanted to have my manuscript ready, so I began to rewrite it as fast as possible. I finished the final draft in August and attended my first conference in September. I truly felt like Cinderella attending her first ball. It was a magical experience meeting all my online friends in person, pitching to my dream editors, and meeting so many of my favorite authors. I had requests for full manuscripts and I had a friend offer to recommend me to her agent, Mary Keeley from Books & Such Literary Management. I signed with Mary in the spring of 2013. The agent contract arrived on my twins' third birthday. It was confirmation to me that God was honoring His promise because I had been obedient to put down my pen for those two years.

After signing with Mary, I continued to write. I finished three more full-length novels over two years. I was a semi-finalist in the 2013 Genesis contest and a finalist in the My Book Therapy Frasier contest. In the summer of 2014, I received my first two contracts from Barbour for novella collections. My stories were published in May and July 2015. At the same time, I had entered the Love Inspired Blurb2Book Contest and I advanced to the final round. I wrote a story in two months and was one of seven finalists who were offered a contract. My first Love Inspired Historical, A Mother in the Making, releases this month! After writing that story, I wrote another historical geared toward Love Inspired and I was offered a three-book contract. That story, A Family Arrangement, releases in December and is the first in the Little Falls Legacy series. In the meanwhile, I signed two more Barbour novella contracts, so I have one novella releasing in December and one next July. The December collection is titled Seven Brides for Seven Texans, and was written as a chronological collaboration with six other authors. The other is a collection I proposed to Barbour titled Of Rags and Riches Romance Collection: Nine Stories of Poverty and Opulence during the Gilded Age. It's been a whirlwind experience, and I've only just begun!


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

GM:   I often tell people I had written almost 500,000 words in story form before my first 20,000 sold. I had completed four full-length historical novels before I submitted a proposal to Barbour for a novella collection. The four I wrote have not sold, although one is still being considered by several publishers.


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

GM:   Ironically, I didn't get a call for my first sale (two novellas for Barbour)-I made the call! I was with three of my best writer friends having a brainstorming retreat when I checked my Facebook messages. Another writer acquaintance had messaged me to congratulate me on making the sale. Since my agent was on vacation, I had to call her to find out if it was true. Thankfully my lovely agent answered that call and checked her email. Sure enough, I had made the sales. There was much rejoicing with my writer friends and we went out to my favorite restaurant to celebrate.


WG:   How has being a published author impacted your life?

GM:   I write stories set in my hometown (with the exception of the Seven Brides for Seven Texans novella collection), so it's been fun to see the pride my community has for me and the stories. It's also been amazing to live out my dream in front of my children, and hear them talk about their own dreams. They truly believe anything is possible, and because they believe that, it will be. I think the biggest impact publication has had on my life is simply contentment. It feels good to fulfill a dream and keep reaching for more. I believe all of us have God-given gifts, but I don't believe everyone utilizes them. There's nothing as fulfilling in life as using the gift God has given me. I hope to inspire and encourage others to do the same.


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

GM:   The stress of a looming deadline! I'm a fast writer (I wrote four full-length novels in two years), but a deadline is like a ticking timeclock sitting on a shelf over my shoulder. It's hard to be creative when I'm conscious of that clock! This is my first year with deadlines, so I know it's something I'll adjust to-but in the meantime, I'm racing to the next deadline, trying to keep a balanced schedule and lifestyle.


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

GM:   With four children at home, there is never a typical day. I do have a specific process, though. Every story starts with a seed of an idea. I spend two or three weeks mulling over the idea, doing some preliminary research, and then I sit down and fill out the My Book Buddy worksheet from Susan May Warren. I do character journals for all my main characters, I figure out their backstories, their dark moments from the past, their greatest dreams, etc. Then I fill in a spreadsheet I created from Susie's teaching, hitting all the My Book Therapy elements. I outline the plot with that spreadsheet, including every scene, and then I write the synopsis. It's usually five to seven pages long. After that, I begin to write the story. Every day I try to write one scene (roughly 1,500 words). The next day, I reread the scene I wrote from the day before, tweaking it only slightly, then I plunge ahead to the next scene. I do this until the book is finished. I give it about a week to rest, and then I go back in and start to revise, edit, and polish. When it's ready to go, I send it to my two critique partners. After they're done, I implement their thoughts and ideas, and then I send it to my Kindle where I proof read it for the last time. I seem to find more mistakes on the Kindle and I can't stop to edit along the way, which allows me to read it with better flow. After that, I send it to my agent for submission.


WG:   Do you set writing goals for yourself?

GM:   I do. I try to write 1,500 words every day, five days a week. That's very doable for my family and schedule.


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

GM:   With my life, I try to sneak in writing whenever there is a "quiet" moment, which isn't often. The majority of my writing is done late at night, when my hubby and kids are in bed and the house is truly quiet (if you don't count the hum of the dishwasher or washing machine…). We live on the banks of the Mississippi River and my writing chair is positioned with a spectacular view of the rushing water. I grew up along the river (just a little ways away from where I currently live) and it inspires me like nothing else. I incorporate the river into all of my stories, even my Texas novella.


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

GM:   My least favorite aspect of writing is revision, so I do as much upfront plotting as possible. Sometimes the story changes a bit, or a character surprises me and takes me in a direction I didn't see coming, but for the most part, I stick to my original plot.


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

GM:   That's a great question. Every story is a bit different, but for the most part, I write books that are inspired by real events, so the storyline usually dictates the characters. There are a few exceptions. A Mother in the Making (my September Love Inspired Historical release) was inspired by a picture that came into my possession about fifteen years ago. It's the saddest picture I've ever seen. It was taken in my hometown (there is a photographer's imprint on the corner), and it's a picture of a dad and his four young children standing over the coffin of his deceased wife. Every time I look at the picture, my heart breaks all over again for that family. Those people (though I still don't know who they were in real-life) were the inspiration for the characters in my story. My next Love Inspired Historical, A Family Arrangement, was inspired by the real events and people that started my hometown.


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

GM:   Because my stories are inspired by real people, places, and events, I don't see many recurring themes or archetypes…however, my mom once told me that all my heroes remind her of my husband David. :


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

GM:   I would say my historical voice, the gentle growth of the love story between my heroes and heroines, and my plotting.


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?

GM:   Definitely the stage of life I'm in. It's hard to balance writing with parenting, especially when we homeschool. Somedays, the writing seems to take center stage and my house falls apart all around me. Other days, I'm so caught up in daily life, that my writing doesn't get the attention it needs. I've had to step down from a lot of my volunteer work over the years (I used to be a volunteer queen!), and learn to say no to a lot of opportunities. I never want my family to suffer, so it's required giving up other things I used to enjoy.


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

GM:   One of the hardest things for me is to stay on task when I'm researching! I love to go to our local historical society and pour over old newspapers from the era I'm researching, but sometimes I see something that piques my interest and I get lost down a different trail. I have to pull back, write a note to investigate the idea later, and get back on track.


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

GM:   I adore historical romance, so if I'm not writing it, I'm reading it. I read contemporary only when a friend has a new book coming out…other than that, I'm historical all the way.


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

GM:   Here's something I've only shared with a handful of people (not even my agent)…I have an idea for a middle grade allegory. The idea came to me when I was about thirteen. God continues to prompt me to write it, but I know it will require a great deal of soul-searching, so I keep putting it off. It's been interesting to see the story develop in my mind and heart over the past twenty-two years. I know I'll write it one day, I just don't know when.


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

GM:   My best advice is to finish the novel you're working on, put it aside, and then write the next one and the next and the next. The most successful writers I know are the ones who didn't stick with one story for years and years. You learn the most when you are forced to deal with the challenges of a new story.


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

GM:   I think the biggest 'ah-ha' moments came when I sat under Susan May Warren's teaching. She's truly brilliant and she's an amazing teacher. I respond to her teaching style and learned so much from her. She's also become a good friend, and she continues to share her experience and wisdom with me.


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

GM:   Oh, rejections…sigh. They're inevitable, and they sting like nothing else. Some are harder to deal with than others. My first few rejections were the hardest. I allow myself to grieve for a day or two, but then I remind myself that it's not the end. I use the pain of rejection to propel me forward to the next project. There is always something to be learned, and even if the manuscript is rejected, it wasn't wasted because I gained more knowledge, wisdom, and insight from the experience.


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

GM:   As I look back, I can honestly say I've been surrounded by amazing friends and mentors who have given me great feedback and advice. There has been a little here and there that I knew wasn't right for me, but for the most part, I've been fortunate to have no regrets.


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

GM:   The most rewarding thing is to feel that what I'm doing is honoring God. It's my act of worship to Him. There have been amazing moments where I've written something that came out of nowhere, and I know it's Him working through me. I feel very intimate with God while I'm writing. Before the story is read by anyone else, it's just Him and me, side by side, doing what He created me to do. At this point, I struggle the most with finding the time to write.


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

GM:   I love, love, love to read to my children. I also love to take them to historic sites. Those are my two biggest passions in life, and it's so much fun sharing it with them. My husband is a big basketball fan, so we spend a lot of time in the winter at basketball games. All of our children play, he coaches and refs games, and I sit on the bleachers and cheer my heart out. My favorite self-indulgence is watching old movies. The movies made in the forties and fifties are my go-to, but I'll watch silent films from time to time and maybe something from the sixties once in a while.


WG:   When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

GM:   A mom. : I used to run around with a baby doll under my shirt and pretend I was pregnant from the age of three. I also wanted to be a wife, a writer, a tour guide, and an architect. I've done all but be an architect.


WG:   What would your readers be most surprised to learn about you?

GM:   Some of my early ancestors were Mormon (one was baptized by the founder of the Mormon Church, Joseph Smith), so I have a plethora of amazing genealogical resources. I've traced my mom's family back to the first century in what is now Sweden. I discovered that I'm directly descended from King Edward "Longshanks" of England, though he wasn't a very nice guy…and I had an ancestor, Thomas Hubbard, who was burned at the stake in 1555 by Queen Mary for not converting to Catholicism. Our family arrived in America in 1630, ten years after the original Pilgrims, and one of my ancestors, Gideon Burdick, was a drummer boy for General George Washington during the Battle of the Potomac. No wonder I love history!


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

GM:   Oldies! I love the nostalgia of WWII and early 1950's movies. I appreciate the American spirit and patriotism of that era, and love the wholesome plots.


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.

GM:   One of my favorites is from C.S. Lewis: "Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, 'What! You too? I thought I was the only one.'" I love this one because I'm an extrovert and an old soul. Growing up, I knew I was unique because of my love of history and writing (there aren't many twelve-year-olds hanging out at the local history museum on Saturday afternoons researching for their next novel). Kindred spirits are few and far between, but when I find one, I hold them close.


WG:   Please tell us about your current project.

GM:   I'm currently working on the second book in my Little Falls Legacy series for Love Inspired Historical. It's about a young lady who arrives in Little Falls in June 1857 to claim her inheritance, a hotel her father left to her and her younger sisters. She's eager to take control of her life and operate her own business, but when she arrives in town, she discovers her father had a business partner! The hero didn't know his old partner had a family, so he's just as surprised as her. He tries to get her to sell her share before she discovers his secrets, and she tries to get him to sell to her, but neither is willing to give up the hotel.


WG:   What inspired you to write this particular story?

GM:   The story is set in 1857 during the Little Falls War, a real event that pitted a group of honorable citizens against a gang of desperadoes (including the local sheriff). The war began one night during a ball held at the Northern Hotel when the gang leader fired a bullet into a sitting room where a bunch of prominent settlers were visiting. It culminated with a shoot-out in an old ravine a couple blocks away. I wanted my characters to be enmeshed in the war, but not directly part of it, so I decided to make them the owners of the hotel. Somehow I needed the hero and heroine to own it together, without being married in the beginning-and thus the idea was born.


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

GM:   I have been researching the history of Little Falls since I was young, so I didn't have to do a lot of research. I did pull out my resources to check facts and see if I could glean any other ideas. I also went to our local museum and poured over newspapers from that time period (my favorite way to research). That's where I get the names of local stores and businesses, and read about interesting news of the day. Some makes it into my story, some is reserved for future ideas, and some is just fun information I enjoy reading.


WG:   Tell us about your upcoming plans.

GM:   My next deadline is for a Barbour novella set in 1898 in Little Falls. It's inspired by two neighboring mansions on a hill overlooking the Mississippi River where co-owners of the largest lumber mill in the world lived at that time. The hero is a footman and liveryman for one of the millionaires and the heroine is a lady's maid for the wife of the other. Both have jobs that are highly coveted by almost everyone in town. The hero thinks the heroine doesn't have the skills for her job, but was given it out of guilt (her father was killed in the lumber mill). He believes his sister should have been given the job. The heroine has to prove to him, her new employer, and the rest of the community, that she deserves her job and that she's good at it. Every year, the lumber mill owners hold a community appreciation picnic and there are several competitions held between the household staff. The competition heats up as the hero and heroine fall in love. The story is called A Tale of Two Hearts and will be part of the Of Rags to Riches Romance Collection: Nine Stories of Poverty and Opulence during the Gilded Age.


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

GM:   I love connecting on Facebook. You can find me on my author page at www.Facebook.com/AuthorGabrielleMeyer. I also have a website www.gabriellemeyer.com and a group blog at www.coffeecupsandcamisoles.blogspot.com. I'm on Instagram at www.Instagram.com/gabrielle_meyer. If you want to be updated on all my upcoming releases, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter, which you can find on my website.


WG:   Thanks so much for spending time with me and my readers this month. It was fun 'chatting' with you, as always!

 

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