How Sunday School Led Me to Celebrity Interviews

I used to be very shy. Whenever I tried to speak to a group of people I’d get flushed and start shaking and sweating. My vocal chords would squeeze shut and my voice would come out in a squeak!

On oral report days at school, I would stay home and take the bad grade.

And then, by a fluke, I was elected leader of a women’s group at my church. “No, no, no!” I protested in panic. “I can’t do this!” They smiled and patted my quivering hands. “You’ll be fine,” they said.

The first meeting was excruciating. I’d prepared. I’d brought my notes. Everyone waited expectantly. I opened my mouth … and squeaked. They smiled and nodded. I squeaked again then managed a few words. Another squeak and a few more words. And then, thank God, it was over.

I tried to quit a dozen times, but they wouldn’t let me.

Gradually…I stopped squeaking. Then one day I realized I was having fun.
What happened? What had changed abject terror into exhilaration?

Then it hit me, I’d changed my format from talking to asking. I’d put the pressure to communicate on the others. Nicely, of course, and with genuine interest in their answers, but nevertheless, requiring them to respond.

Yes, I prepared questions, and yes, those questions led to the point (or lesson) I wanted to make, but they were doing the talking, and I was doing the listening.

It was an epiphany. I could lead/teach a class by posing (prepared) questions. (Do you see where this is going?)

I also discovered I’m nosey. Why do people act and speak they way they do? What motivates them? What makes them mad? sad? hurt or lonely? How did they get started in their job? Why are they are getting a divorce? a tattoo? breast implants?

So I ask them and I take notes. Then I compile the answers into an article or story and submit it for publication. Voila! An interview!

Most people want to tell their story (especially celebrities), and some will tell you anything if you promise not to print it.

(Confession: Sometimes in an interview I ask questions I’m personally curious about but never plan to put it in a story. Oh, the things I could tell you!)

That’s how – when they were filming the TV series “Sons of Anarchy” in front of my house – I could walk up to Ron Perlman and talk to him like he was my “Uncle Fred.”

Piece of cake!

The Perfectionist Ghoul

Perfectionism: rigorous rejection of anything less than perfect (Encarta Dictionary).

Perfectionism can lead to misery, frustration, and long nights of ranting to the dog because he’s the only one who will listen. Meanwhile, Fido wonders why he ever wanted to leave the pound.

Once you’ve finished the chapter (or paragraph, or manuscript), gone over the grammar, tweaked the dialogue, and clarified plot points, how do you decide it’s time to let it go? Or, until the date it’s accepted by an editor, do you continue to go back and do rewrites?

How obsessive are the WinR’s??? How obsessive are YOU? We’d love to hear how you handle this dilemma.

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Bonnie Schroeder

Since I haven’t been published a lot, I have the luxury of continuing to tinker endlessly with my work. My short pieces usually get at least ten revisions. After a few rewrites I read them aloud and/or get trusted colleagues to give feedback and then revise and revise and revise. (Does the word “perfectionist” starting resonating about now?) Longer pieces I probably rework at least five times. The first draft is generally so hideous I don’t show it to anyone except maybe the dog; I revise until it’s fit for human eyeballs and then workshop it two or three times, and even then I find little things (sometimes not so little) that I’m shocked to have missed before.

At some point though, quite honestly, I just so darn sick and tired of the piece it that I can’t face another read-through. It goes in the drawer, and some things have sat there for years. Then one day I’ll drag one out, take another look, and go, “Well, this isn’t so bad. If I just changed . . . . “

Does anyone ever get a message from the Muse that says “enough?” If they do, I’m jealous! I don’t like to read the published version of my work, because I’m always afraid I’ll spot some huge flaw that snuck past the editor and me. I’ve gotten pretty good at disconnecting from the writing by then and can (almost) pretend it was written by someone else.

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GB Pool

One Last Polish

“Only God is perfect.” The rest of us strive for just being good at what we do. As a wise man once said, “You might be stupid, but you don’t want to look stupid.” So we keep polishing that sentence, or paragraph, or novel to make it not only look good, but also, surprise, surprise, it might actually be good. And if you persevere, it just might be great. So each pass of the polishing cloth gets us closer to “good.”

Here is another saying: “Don’t beat a dead horse.” If everybody tells you something doesn’t work, start over with another approach. Or maybe bury it. Lazarus had help coming back from the dead. If you don’t have Divine help, get over it and move on. Time’s a wastin’.

But don’t polish you work for so long that the toes fall off. The Pieta in Rome has had the feet of Christ replaced numerous times because people keep rubbing the toes for good luck. I hope they got their good luck, but your work will only end up toeless if you don’t finally say: “I’m done.”

But as with all wise sayings, here is my favorite. My father told me after I had moved to California to write, “No matter how good you think you are, I think you’re better.” So my friends, find people who are in your corner. People who will give you heartfelt encouragement and constructive criticism. You need both. And then, do the toughest thing of all: trust yourself.

After all it’s your work. Have faith, do your best, and let it go.

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Jacqueline Vick

My Work of Art!

Have you ever gone back and read a piece that you “finished” last month (last year, last decade) and been horrified by the errors? What happened to your clever story—the one that was going to win the Pulitzer? Who the heck broke into your computer and destroyed your masterpiece!!!
Experiences like that make writers neurotic. The fear is that we’ll send out substandard stuff and that editors will add our name to the Black Book of the Damned—writers they would only read with a pitcher of cocktails and their BFF’s with the intent of having a giggle.

There has to be an end point or you’ll drive yourself mad. (An insane writer—is that redundant?) 1. Always set your work aside and get back to it after at least a week’s rest.

2. Expect that, when you pick your piece up again, it will have errors. This is good. You’re finding them before it goes out!

3. After this edit, you can allow yourself one more rest and read cycle. Unless you rewrite the whole thing from scratch, trust that you’ve found what needs to be found.

4. Have an objective set of eyes look at it. This is where a good writing group is invaluable.

5. Let it go.

There’s a line of thought that says you have to let things go in order to attract new things. Imagine all the writing projects you’re missing out on by obsessing over this one piece. Is it worth hanging onto for the rest of your life?

We all want to do our best, and that’s all we can do. I will make mistakes. I’ll learn from them, forgive myself and move on. Nobody’s perfect.

Meeting Your Writing Needs Through Blogs

There are so many writing blogs available on the web that it’s difficult to decide which ones to read. Fortunately, there is something available for every taste and need, as reflected by the variety of Favorites we have listed on this site.

1. Looking for Inspiration

Writing is solitary by nature unless you’re part of a team like Morgan St. James of the Silver Sister Mysteries. When you need to connect, there are blogs available where writers share their process, write about everyday events, and simply offer a connection to another creative person.

Under the Tiki Hut mixes writing advice and life observations. Carol Kilgore shares her writing processes in a personal way that leaves one feeling that they’ve been privileged to share her day with her. The same can be said of Kristol Holl at Writer’s First Aid. The observations at God’s Teeth are a bit more biting, (I couldn’t resist) but I’m working on making my point without indulging in self-righteousness.

For those who write for children, What a Mystery! will take you straight into those young minds. Read stories written by kids and get a feel for what they like.

If you need to jump start your imagination, there is nothing more interesting than the truth. You can read all sorts of fascinating and sometimes creepy articles by Dr. D.P. Lyle at The Writer’s Forensic Blog.

Good writers also read, and it helps to have dependable reviews to guide your buying (or renting) habits. Jackie Houchin’s News & Reviews is such a site. Whether you’re looking for a good book to read or you can’t decide which play to see this weekend, Jackie can point you in the right direction.

Other book review sites include Kevin’s Corner and A Book and A Dish. At the latter site, reviews are accompanied by recipes!

2. The book or story is done. Now what?

The Rose City Sisters is a flash fiction anthology that’s a delight to read and also a place to submit your work. In between the stories are quick bits of information including contests looking for submissions and writing tools.

When you’re ready to promote, Number One Novels is the place to go. Make sure you read the guidelines before submitting your work. Interviews are posted on Monday, and you can link to Rebecca Chastain’s personal blog from here for a closer look at NON’s author/creator.

Go to The Official Site of GB Pool and check out her Events & Signings page. This is what it looks like when an author gets involved in the writing community. Hopefully, you’ll be inspired to get out of the house and network with other writers.

One of my favorite blogs JA Konrath’s A Newbie Guide to Publishing. Here, I can laugh at his observations about both critics and writers or giggle over one of his outrageous author interviews. What the site is best known for is the amazing amount of information about marketing. I consider Mr. Konrath a genius at self-promotion, and writers would do well to observe and take notes.

3. The crème de la crème

Backspace lets you sample blogs from all over, with new posts every day from different writers. If you can only take time to visit one site, this is it.

Whenever you visit a blog, make sure to sample from the sidebar of Favorites. You’ll discover new blogs that provide what you’re searching for, whether it is information, inspiration, or a chuckle to help you out of a funk.

What are some of your favorite blogs?

Ripped From the Headlines!

The question this week for our WinR’s and readers is: How much do real world events–from natural disasters to political fiascos–impact your writing?

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Jackie Houchin

The “real world” has a lot to do with the kind of writing I do, in fact my web site is titled “News & Reviews.” But I tend to go for the softer sort of news, i.e. art gallery openings, classic car shows, author panels at our local library, and interviews with interesting business and career people.

Yep, you got it! I’m a chicken. The two or three investigative stories I’ve written – while providing good “press” – resulted in some nasty backlash for me and even a few threats. Yikes!

I did learn two things however. Confirm EVERY detail you get from your sources no matter how reliable they are, and be sure to cover BOTH sides of the issue thoroughly. Then take your punches like a … woman. (Oh, and be sure your editor doesn’t add his two – unconfirmed – cents to your article!!)

Politics? I avoid discussing them like the plague. Of course when controversial issues appear in the books or plays I review, I address them, but it’s in the context of the story presented. My personal convictions do occasionally leak through, however.

I write more about human-instigated disasters than those presented by nature (God). I interviewed an elderly shop keeper once who had been robbed and beaten by a gang of punk kids for the few bucks in the till. Terrified by the incident, he decided to close the small neighborhood market. You see, he knew the boys; had watched them grow up.

I also chronicled the burglary of a local Catholic Church, where the thieves walked off with the entire safe. The Priest’s pleas that the safe or at least the communion instruments inside it be returned went unheeded even though he promised “no questions asked.”

Another story was about a woman who was injured by an inattentive mechanic while having her car repaired. The owners and employees conspired to make her look the fool. Thank God for a part-time worker in a neighboring business who was willing to come forward.

These are the things that “get my dander up.” But I just report on them. If ever I were to write fiction, the sense of injustice I feel when interviewing these victims would assure a very nasty “reward” for my antagonist. Take that, you scumbag

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Bonnie Schroeder

The biggest effect real world events have on my writing is as a sometimes unwelcome distraction. Bad news scares away my muse, so I try not to read the paper or turn on the radio until I’ve done my morning’s writing (easier said than done). It’s hard to write if you’re worried about some unfriendly country launching a nuclear warhead at us. And politics is endlessly fascinating but more of a time-waster than a useful tool for the type of fiction I write.

I have used an occasional local story in my fiction. Key scenes in my recent novel take place during one of Southern California’s notorious October wildfires, the Santa Anas roaring in the background. And I keep a clip file of events that might sometime pop up in a story – a murder or a particularly flagrant white collar criminal, usually. I keep trying to find an irresistible heart-warmer to use, but so far that hasn’t happened.

Since I also publish an online newsletter for the local Red Cross, disasters do have a direct and immediate impact on that side of my writing. Our chapter deploys volunteers to national events like last year’s Gulf Coast hurricanes, and they also come out for local disasters like brush fires or even single-residence fires, to support the victims and the responders. I’m always attuned to news reports because if our chapter volunteers are deployed, I need to know and to report it to our readers.

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Jacqueline Vick

As far as story line, real world events don’t really impact my mysteries or children’s books. However, I can’t resist some commentary.

I wrote “Logical Larry” (an early-middle reader) out of disgust for the way children are targeted, whether it’s by commercials luring them with “must have” toys or a rogue teacher forcing young elementary students to wear pink shirts to support the union’s opposition to pink slips, threatening them with “NO PLAYTIME”. Larry attempts to teach children to think for themselves. They need to learn to question things at an early age.

In my mysteries, characters may make comments that address issues rather than actual events, such as when Deanna Wilder, feeling left out, considers calling herself a Euro-American.

Events tend to come out more in my blog, God’s Teeth. This is where I raise issues that drive me nuts and find a way to make them a useful writing exercise. The difficulty is how to make the point without being flat-out mean.

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GB Pool

Real life incidents are a great jumping off point for many of my stories. My first novel, Media Justice, was a conglomeration of all the wall-to-wall news accounts of every “trial of the century” last century. It was that super saturation of media frenzy and instant experts that seemed to come out of the woodwork that made for a compelling story.

But I prefer to pick my own villain rather than use the one in those headlines. It makes it far more interesting to develop the character when I can create their personalities. It is the essence I am looking for, not the facts from any particular case.

And what is even more fun is to take a well-worn news story, one of those that the media beats to death, and rework it so the bad guy ends up the victim and the original victim turns out to be the villain. It makes the story fresh and it keeps the reader guessing. Fact is great, but fiction is better. (Sometimes.)

I do have a spy trilogy, as yet unpublished, that follows my father’s military career and actual historical events. Most of the events I depict, at least from my father’s POV, are fictional, but there are many things I don’t know about his career. He was cleared to Top Secret, was a command pilot in the Air Force, and he didn’t talk much about his exploits. He did read the first draft of the first book. He sent me a letter and mentioned a few things that I got wrong. And here I thought I just had a great imagination.

But history and the headlines are a great source of ideas for any writer. I just prefer to rewrite aspects of it for a story. I don’t want to misrepresent history. That happens enough without my help. But I do like to flavor stories with real things so the reader doesn’t know where the facts end and the fiction begins.