Award Winning Author Winnie Griggs

 

 

 

 

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CONNIE COX

 

March 2008

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

CC:  Hmmm.  What should I say.  I’m fairly ordinary, despite what my friends say!  Yes, I have conversations with imaginary people.  Yes, I introduce lovely luncheon topics like, if you were a guy and woke up with a hangover, what would you feel like.  Yes, I look at my work at the end of the day and vacillate between patting myself on the back for the brilliant job or apologizing to the trees that died in vain for my printed dreck—and I hit both extremes in under 5 minutes.  Still, I’m fairly ordinary—at least for a writer.

It feels so great to say I’m a fulltime writer.  I have worked as an electrical engineer since 1982 (yes, I was a child prodigy :) ) and finally chucked it all to write full time when my debut sold. 

Hobbies: 

  • Wringing hands and staring out the window trying to catch sight of a muse. 
  • Collecting writing technique and writing inspiration books, in hopes that one special book under my pillow will reveal the secret of how to write a magnificent book easily and effortlessly.
  • Hanging out in cool coffee shops sipping high-calorie tea (can’t abide coffee), hoping someone will think I’m a famous author who just dropped in to ruminate.

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.

CC:  For those who think that writing is done in solitude, you might be right.  But if you think it doesn’t take a village to motivate, inspire, mentor and encourage, you’d be dead wrong.

I started my first story many before joining a writing group.  I quickly exhausted my supply of family and friends, making them read the same passage over and over again with a word or two changed, so my book got stalled at about  page four or five. A half-decade later, I found an online chapter of Romance Writers of America who paired me up with a patient and very knowledgeable mentor, Christine Murphy.   Christine was the first person to tell me it didn’t need to be perfect the first time and I could always edit later—a very novel idea (did you get that pun? LOL) that I still find invaluable after all these years.


Then I found a local chapter—imagine a room FULL of folks who talk to invisible people and are proud to admit it!  Winnie became my first critique partner.  It was a wonderful pairing.  We both ‘got’ what each other was trying to say and we loved each others’ writing, even though we wrote in such different subgenres.  Winnie has always been able to figure out what I mean to say and make insightful suggestions on how to turn get my message across. 

WG: Tell us about your journey.  

CC:  I wrote for ten years before I sold my first book.  Okay, I’ve written for about three years and griped, complained and whined for the other seven.  My first manuscript, a fantasy before fantasy was kewl, took a year or so to finish.  My second book, Taking Flight, the one that eventually sold, took over eighteen months and then would get a rewrite every other year or so as my skills grew.

I owe a lot to contest judges for helping me grow as a writer, both in contributing their expertise that taught me the tools of writing and in their comments that either gave me an ego boost when I really needed one (which is 24/7) or taught me to trust my own judgment when they’re comments made me go ‘huh’.  Through the years, I’ve finaled in almost three dozen contests, which means I’ve entered at least three times that many.  Sending a great big thank you to all the judges who donate their time and labor of love, even those—maybe especially to those—who told me things I didn’t want to hear.

I’ve received awards in multi-genres, mainly contemporary romance and fantasy–sans romance.  I’m pretty diverse, though.  I even have an award in cowboy poetry!  Surprisingly, of all the five or so books that I’ve entered in contest, Taking Flight never even finaled until the 2007 Golden Heart when it finaled under the working title Best Buddies

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

CC:  Taking Flight was the second book I completed, but I also have two other full manuscripts and a couple of partials that would love some discerning editor to buy them and make us both rich!

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

CC:  I finally considered myself worthy enough to  call myself a writer.  Sure, I made the noises, but I really felt like I was just peering through the window at the ‘real’ writers.  But now, when someone asks what I do for a living, I barely even  stutter when I tell them I’m a full-time writer.  Oh yeah, before the book sale, I wrote on weekends and after work.  Now, writing IS my work and life is much more enjoyable.

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

CC:  The engineer part of me wishes I had a schedule. The engineering side of my brain would dearly love a schedule.  And, to tell the truth, so would my writer side of the brain.  But I have this bit of a, well, some might consider it a problem.  I have a rebellious spirit.  So if I set myself a schedule, I’ll screw it up just because I can.  So I write when no one is looking :)

WG: Do you set writing goals for yourself?

CC:  Yes!  My writing goal is to write a fantastic book that I will be proud to put my name on.  I want to write a book that will make the reader gasp for breath at the brilliance of my very subtle insights. 

Oh!  You mean like page count or something.  No.  (See comment about rebellion.)

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

CC:  I write best with music.  When my rebellious nature wasn’t looking, I deliberately created an ‘anchor’ or pavlov condition where I can  type as long as music is playing.   I listen to whatever type of music seems to fit my story.  For Taking Flight, I listened to country music.  For the book I’m writing now, I swap between cutting edge pop and the soundtracks from Firefly and Serenity as I switch point of view characters.

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

CC:  What’s a plot?  I’m a pantser. (I write by the seat-of-my-pants.)  I like my  stories to surprise me. Why bother to write it if you already know what’s going to happen? 

The hardest part of being a pantser, I think, is trusting that your writer’s instinct will lead your through a beginning, a middle and and end.  But then, I can always edit.  –Thanks, Christine!

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

CC:  I usually have a full blown scene to start.  I write in scenes, with each scene coming fully formed when I put my hands on the keyboard.  The scenes are as fully developed as any movie scene, i.e. dog barking off screen, nick-nacks on the shelf , etc.  The hard part of that is picking out which details to write about.

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

CC:  My rebellious side would love to say no.  But I’ve written enough stories now to see that I DO have a common theme:  Trust in yourself.

And it is NOT true that writers show their own insecurities in their writing :).

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

CC:  I have a warped mind and rarely write clichés.  It’s not that I avoid them.  I generally don’t think about what would ‘usually’ happen next.  In real life, I always expect the unexpected and in my writing I can make that happen.  It keeps my characters from getting bored.

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?

CC:  My refrigerator.  Just as I should be staring out the window, trying to catch sight of a muse, my refrigerator invokes it’s spell and I find myself pawing past the carrot sticks for the dipping chocolate.  What do I dip in my chocolate?  My finger, of course.  Got to save calories somewhere.

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

CC:  My favorite movie line is from Gumball Rally.  "The only rules are, there are no rules.”  I guess that prophetic sentence really sums up my writing process.

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

CC:  I’m so eclectic in my reading.  I love Jennifer Crusie’s writing and Barbara Samuel’s writing. They are such brilliant women and their books reflect that.

I also love Neil Gaiman’s dark fantasies and George R.R. Martin’s epic books.  And a always pick up a copy of Women’s Weekly when I buy groceries.

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

CC:  I’m presently working on a psycho-psychic-thriller or dark urban fantasy, depending upon which side of the bookshelf you’re standing on.  It will be going on the agent tour as soon as it is done.

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

CC:  You’ll get your breaks in the strangest of places.  I got mine by bidding on a charity critique with an editor who liked it well enough to ask for the full. 

Make your own luck.  Do it with giving to the universe in mind.  That way, even if it’s not your time to be published, you’ve done something nice for someone else. 

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

CC:  Just because someone else has been at this game longer or is already published, doesn’t mean they know your story better than you do.  Write your story to your vision—not to your friends/critique partners’ visions or to the market’s visions.

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

CC:  The most rewarding:  I get to see glimpses of my subconscious and I find it a strange beautiful place. 

The biggest struggle:  I’m my own boss and some days, I should  probably fire myself for not showing up at the page.

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

CC:  Favorite self-indulgence:  Hanging out in bookstores or coffee shops or, best yet, book stores that have coffee shops.  What do I do for fun?  Chase my puppy around the room.

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

CC:  Favorite movies:  The original Star Wars Trilogy because—okay, I could go into analyzed detail about the Writer’s Journey and good triumphing over evil and character arc, etc, etc.  But the real truth is Mark Hamill is a hotty and so is Harrison Ford.

Favorite TV show:  Two and a Half Men.  The humor is quick and fun.  The timing is perfect.  The chemistry between the cast members is awesome and Charlie and Allan’s mother on that show looks and acts just like my M-I-L.

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.

CC:  Along with the above Gumball Rally quote is another one:  From the scene where the driver yanks off the rearview mirror and tosses it out the window:  What’s behind me is not before me.  –Very profound when trying to get past life’s uh-ohs 

Also, in high school Latin class, we all had to come up with a personal motto.  Mine still applies:  Potes quia posse vidimini, which means, You can because you think you can.

WG: Please tell us about your current project.

CC: Nope.  It’s bad luck to talk about works-in-progress, except with your critique partners who are sworn to secrecy and promise not to make suggestions about what should come next. 

WG: Tell us about your upcoming plans.   

CC:  This is my year to agent hunt.  With my griping-complaining-whining based business plan, I really didn’t need an agent.  But now that I’ve decided that I am a writer—that felt good, let me type that again—I AM A WRITER [note to Connie:  take deep breathe of accepting satisfaction], I will be wanting to get serous about selling the scribblings of my imagination.  And my future agent will take care of all those other details, like auctions and movie deals and NYT Bestseller Listings, etc.

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

CC:  Check out my website www.conniecox.com.  It’s always under construction because I build my own and I love to play with it when I should be writing instead.

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

CC:  Thanks, Winnie.  This interview was fun.  And did you notice I named a character after you in Taking Flight?   You’re my BFF!

 

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