Stories have arcs. Characters have arcs. Writers have arcs. We write, we get better at our craft. We read, we get better at our craft. We interact with other writers and our readers, we get better at our craft. Whether you are a professional writer or just starting out. Hobby or career. We are all in this together. Welcome.

Contact: Elena Hartwell - elenahartwell@gmail.com and visit me on the web at www.elenahartwell.com

Past Interviews

Click on the names to link to interviews 

Christina Hoag

Steven T Callan

Nancy Herriman

Allen Eskens

Jennifer Kincheloe

John A Connell

Bryan Robinson

Pamela Hobart Carter

2015/2016 Debut Authors, International Thriller Writers: Kim Alexander, K.L. Hallam, Karen Katchur, DB Kennison, Shannon Kirk, Nina Mansfield, Nadine, Nettman, Holly Raynes, Brendan Rielly, Emily Ross, J. Todd Scott,  Joyce Tremel, Tim Washburn, Pamela Wechsler

Carew Papritz

Carla Kelly

Arleen Williams
Author, ESL instructor

William Kenower
Author, Speaker

Deborah Schneider
Author, Librarian

Robert J Ray

David R Gross
Author, Veterinarian

Richard Lederer

Dennis Must

Judith Van Gieson

Jack Remick
Author, Poet, Short Story Writer

Sarah L. Blum
Author, Activist, Veteran

Terry Persun
Author, Poet

Nicole J Persun

Nick Stokes
Author, Playwright

Jamie Ford

La'Chris Jordan
Author, Playwright

Deb Caletti

Janna Cawrse Esarey

Peter Clines 

Elizabeth Day

Ivan Doig

Scott Driscoll

Sheila Hageman
Part II

Bharti Kirchner

Brian MacDonald 
Part I
Part II

Beverly Magid

Sarah Martinez

Jerry McDonnell
Playwright, writer

Kaya McLaren

Marc Tyler Nobleman

Elyse Stephens

Tess Thompson

Susan Wingate

Ernie Witham

Frances L. Woods

Scroll down for previous Interviews, done before I figured out how to archive individually...

Jason Black, Freelance Editor
Carolyn J Rose, Author
Deborah Terrell Atkinson, Author

Drusilla Campbell, Author
Erin Brown, Freelance Editor
Pacific Northwest Writers Association
Robert Dugoni, Author

Jason Black
Book Doctor extraordinaire!

I have had the pleasure of hearing Jason Black speak on various aspects of writing at PNWA events. He is smart, funny, and knows the writing business inside and out. I highly recommend his services and his lectures.

Visit him on the web at Plottopunctuation.com

The Interview

Describe your process working with an author.
It's actually quite straightforward. About 95% of what I do is developmental editing: providing writers with a holistic, high-level analysis of their stories plus detail critique on their writing technique. I believe it is important for me to serve as a proxy for the reader--albeit a reader with an unusual level of experience with literary analysis--and as such I like to do as close to a "cold read" as possible. Which means I don't really want any hints about anything in the book before I dive in.

So that makes the working process pretty easy. Clients e-mail me their manuscript. I read it. I take copious notes. I write up my feedback in a report that typically weighs in at 15 to 20 pages of specific guidance on, well, everything: mechanical issues, issues with style, grammar, pacing, and all the way up to large scale issues with their premise, plot, and character arcs. I e-mail that back to the writer.

The writer then has a detailed roadmap they can use in revising their novel. It's their story, not mine, so there is no obligation to agree with every one of my recommendations. But in the main, I've had very good feedback from my clients telling me that my insights have helped them step up to the next level in both writing craft and story craft.

How will a writer know their work is ready for your services?
The real tip-off is when you find that you can't get the depth of feedback you're looking for from the sources you have.

You know how it is. You give your manuscripts to friends and family and ask them for feedback. Typically, you'll get back an "I loved it!" or a polite "it wasn't my cup of tea." That's nice data to have, but there's nothing in that feedback which you can take back to your keyboard and actually use to improve the work. So you move on to a critique group. Those are better, because at least they're writers too, and probably have some exposure to the rules of thumb which form the wisdom of our tribe: don't use too many adjectives. Don't infodump. When they work, critique groups are great because that really is feedback you can use to improve.

But critique group feedback is limited too. Rare is the critique group that is filled with crack experts who have the time and generosity to read your whole manuscript in one stretch and offer you end-to-end feedback. More often, critique groups look at one chapter per month or something like that. They're great for giving you feedback about detail issues in your writing craft, but it's often not the best format for feedback about deeper issues of story structure, premise development, characterization, and so forth. As well, while critique groups can often help you figure out that you have an issue with something in your book, they are often not great at articulating exactly why it's an issue, identifying the true source of the issue, and helping you figure out what to do about it.

That's what I do. I'm really big on helping you understand why. Whether you're looking to friends, family, or critique groups for feedback, if you feel that you've reached the limits of what those people can offer you, then you're probably ready to start shopping for a book doctor. That's what I do, and I'm hardly the only one out there. Book doctors deconstruct your novel to find the issues, show you where the issues are, how those issues are detrimental to the work as a whole, and what you can do about them. A good book doctor gives you that roadmap you can follow to produce a much stronger revised draft.

What do you find is the most common mistake inexperienced fiction writers make?
Heh. How long have you got?

I'm going to interpret that question as "how can you tell that something you're reading is a writer's first manuscript?" Basically, what are the hallmark tip-offs that scream "newbie writer!" at me? It's hard to say what's the most common, but there are certainly a few classic issues I see a lot.

Infodumps. Inexperienced writers often labor under the impression that they need to explain absolutely everything for the reader, and as soon as possible. That if they don't, somehow the reader is going to question or reject everything. The result is a narrative that is crammed full of boring digressions which explain things that the reader either doesn't care about at all, or else can figure out well enough on their own.

Examples: If you've written a sci-fi piece with spaceships that can travel quickly by wormhole around the galaxy, we do not need a three page pseudo-science infodump which attempts to justify this mechanism. We'll accept that as part of your premise, because we already know it's fiction.

Backstory, often in the form of a short capsule biography, is another tip-off. This is when the writer introduces a new character and then immediately subjects the reader to a short history of that character's life. Where they were born, where they went to college, et cetera. Trust me on this, 99% of the time, We Just Don't Care.

Especially so for bit players, such as the bellhop at a hotel where your characters who are on the run from the law are trying to crash for the night. We honestly don't care that this bellhop has two jobs, working days at the 7-11 and nights at the hotel in order to save money for college so he can become a doctor and find a cure for the disease that his dear sister is suffering from. I mean, good for him, but he's not the story. Your characters who are running from the law are your story. And in the 1% of cases where we do care about the backstory--for your major protagonists and antagonists--you shouldn't give us the backstory either--you should actually withhold it--because all it does is spoil any curiosity about these people that might otherwise have kept us interested in the book.

Recapping. Perhaps this one springs to mind because the client manuscript I'm reading at the moment is rife with it, but it's another newbie red-flag. It is rare indeed that you need to tell a reader anything more than once. Seriously. Readers are smart, and if you show them something in a way that makes clear how that fact relates to the story as a whole, they will remember it. When that fact turns out to matter later, they'll know what's going on without being reminded. Yet, inexperienced writers often suffer from the misimpression that readers will forget everything they just read as soon as they turn the page. These writers puff up their manuscripts with all manner of reminders that do nothing but bog down the pace of the writing and insult the reader's intelligence.

Plot motivation. This is when characters do things or make choices because of where the writer wants the plot to go, rather than because of what the character would actually do in that situation. The writer has in mind some series of plot events, leading up to what may well be a thrilling climax scene or whatever. And to do it, he needs to get character Al, Bob, and Cindy all into their places on novel's the stage, so that events can unfold the way the writer wants.

Example: let's say the thrilling climax of the book is going to
take place in the lingerie department at Macy's, where ex-Marine Al is going to stop Bob from shooting up the joint with an AK-47, thus saving Cindy's life. These people need reasons to be there. It's pretty easy for Cindy and Bob. Maybe Cindy is there because she works there, and Bob is there because he's the disgruntled middle-manager who has flipped his lid because he's been working at the store for 25 years and still can't get the promotion he wants. But what about Al? What's an ex-Marine doing in the lingerie department at Macys? He needs to be, so he can save the day, but why? The inexperienced writer may simply put him there, for no apparent reason at all. Or perhaps we'll get some haphazard, flimsy excuse: he was at the mall to buy new shoes and got lost and found himself in the lingerie department. That's plot motivation: Al doing something that seems to make no sense merely for the sake of the plot.

The opposite is character motivation. The experienced writer will have looked into Al's life, into who he is and what drives him, to find a reason. For instance, maybe Al's psychologist has assigned Al to go to malls in order to be around crowds as part of his process of working through the PTSD he has from his time in Iraq. That's reasonable, but it won't work if it comes in the form of one of those backstory infodump paragraphs right before the climax. The experienced writer will lay the groundwork for Al being in the lingerie department at the critical moment from the beginning of the novel.

The experienced writer will have given us scenes where Al has trouble with crowds, where his PTSD causes him to have panic attacks when he's out in public. We'll have seen the moment when the psychologist tells Al that he has to re-acclimate to the peacetime world, and gives him that assignment. The experienced writer will show us Al psyching himself up to face the crowd at the mall, and then bravely walking in. Finally, the experienced writer won't just place Al to the lingerie department (because still, why there in particular?), he'll drive Al there on the basis of Al's inner reality. So we'll see Al at the mall, barely holding it together in this crowd of shoppers. We'll see Al knowing that another panic attack is coming unless he
finds some kind of sanctuary, and fast. So that's how he ends up in the lingerie department, because he knows it'll be quiet. More specifically, he knows it won't have a lot of men, because in Al's PTSD-afflicted mind a man might be a suicide bomber with a bunch of C4 hidden under his shirt. That's character motivation. We can believe, 100%, that Al would be in that place at that time for reasons that are wholly consistent with what we know about him.

There are tons more, but this is getting long so I'll stop.

As a writer yourself, how do you balance your time between working on your own material and your editing projects?
It's hard. Unfortunately, I still have a day job. Book doctoring is my night job, until such time as I have the client base to quit the day job. Between work, family, and my clients, I'm not left with a lot of time for my own writing. The thing that keeps me moving forward on a semi-steady basis is my critique group. Yes, I'm in a critique group because even book doctors need other people's help.

It's like that old riddle about the town with the two barbers, one of whom has an impeccable haircut, while the other is scruffy-looking. Who do you go to for your own haircut? You go to the scruffy looking barber, because obviously the two barbers have to cut each other's hair. I have a critique group because I'm too close to my own work to see the same issues I catch for my clients. The fact that I have to have new pages ready for my group every month forces me to find time to work on my own stuff.

Describe your writing process.
I do National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo.org) every year. If you haven't tried it, I highly encourage you to check it out. It's a hoot. It's the one time of year that I specifically block out for writing.

Now, that said, I am definitely not one of those "seat of the pants" writers who can dive into a blank page with nothing in mind and just go. I'm the opposite. I'm a plotter, which is in some sense a challenge for NaNoWriMo-style speed noveling. What it means is that I have to get my whole story worked out before November starts, so that in November I can just write, write, write, with the confidence that I won't get hung up on writer's block. After all, writer's block is just another name for not knowing what comes next. But if I've done the homework ahead of time to break down the novel on a scene-by-scene basis, then I _always_ know what comes next. Poof, no writer's block!

So, I spend as much time in October as I can plotting out a new novel, then in November I bang it out. Well, mostly. Usually I don't actually finish the whole story until sometime in December. Then I spend the rest of the year working on it with my critique group. I love the focus and intensity that NaNoWriMo brings, the social aspect of it, and also the competitive aspect of racing my friends to see who will get to 50,000 words first. Writing a novel is hard, and one thing I've learned is to draw on any and every available source of motivation I can find in order to get the job done. For me, NaNoWriMo has been invaluable in that regard.

Now, once I am able to quit my day job, I'll have a lot more time for writing and boy am I looking forward to that. So, hire me, eh?

How do you see the publishing industry changing over the next couple of years?
While I think traditional publishers will still be with us for some while yet, it is equally clear that we are witnessing the ascendency of the independent writer. It's exciting. Internet and social media tools are making it increasingly possible for writers to connect directly with readers, and make money doing so. In rare cases like Amanda Hocking, a LOT of money.

That's great, but there is a down-side to it as well. When writers can connect directly to readers, then there are no filters anymore. All the quality filters developed over decades by the traditional publishing industry, are gone. The traditional publishing model gave us a world of bookstores filled with books that we could expect had some base level of quality, because we knew they had passed the industry's filters. The system of agents and publishing house editors sifted the good stuff out of the slushpile. At least in theory. Bad stuff always sneaks through once in a while, but for the most part that system actually worked.

Now, we're trading that world for a world in which writers don't have to pass any filters at all before putting their work in front of readers. Readers are now shopping in the slushpile, as it were, rather than in a bookstore. In this new world, readers have the job of filtering the good stuff out of the slushpile and using these new social media tools to expose the good stuff where others can find it. It's unfortunate that readers are going to start seeing a lot more really bad writing than they used to, but in the balance I think this new world is a good thing. Something about the egalitarian nature of a whole population of readers having the power to make a novel successful greatly appeals to me. It's going to be a rough transition, but I think the end result is going to be better than the traditional publishing world we're leaving behind.

Final Words of Wisdom
It's true that the publishing industry is changing. That can be scary, but take your time. My final words of wisdom? Don't rush your book out into the world.

I know that seeing the news stories about Amanda Hocking becoming an overnight e-book millionaire are exciting. Of course we want a piece of that action, and sometimes we feel like if we don't get our book out there Right Now that we're going to miss our chance or whatever. Relax. You're not going to miss your chance. Readers are not going to stop reading tomorrow, or next year, or ever. Take your time, so you can put out the very best book you are capable of.

In a world where anybody can put a book up on Amazon through CreateSpace or put up an e-book for download on SmashWords, suddenly readers are exposed to the slushpile in all its raw, unfiltered glory. They'll find the good stuff and rate it up for others to find, but they'll do the opposite too. Readers will grow more savvy over time about what's good writing and what sucks. If you give them a manuscript that isn't ready for public consumption, they'll rate it down and you won't get another chance with that reader or that book.

Be patient. Give yourself the time to succeed. That's the best thing you can do to make your work stand out from the work of writers who don't have the self-discipline to do the job right. Those high-quality books we've come to expect in actual bookstores, the ones that passed the traditional publishing
industry's gauntlet, didn't get to be that way by accident. They aren't the product of miracle writers who produce perfect, finished prose with tight storylines just as easy as breathing. No, those manuscripts get critiqued and revised with the help of the writers' literary agents and the editors at the publishing houses. Those writers have a lot of help.

But in a world where writers are circumventing agents and publishers in order to go direct to their readers, it becomes your responsibility to get that help. Maybe you'll get it from me, maybe from some other book doctor, maybe from a great critique group, maybe from a writing workshop. Go wherever you need to, but find the help you need to take your novel and your own skill to the next level. You will need to do revisions. You will need to re-draft chunks of your book. You'll need to write and edit and re-write and re-think over and over in order to polish your novel until it shines. That takes time. Give yourself that time, so your book stands head-and-shoulders above the work of the writers who rushed it. That's how you'll succeed in the new world of publishing.

Carolyn J Rose  
Author of several novels, including the Devil's Harbor series, the Paladin series and the Casey Brandt series. She also writes a blog, when her dogs don't take over the keyboard.

An interview with a very funny lady.....

You went from news/TV researcher and writer to novelist, what prompted that shift and what was that like?
Well, I haven’t been able to quit my day job jet, so novel-writing isn’t my sole occupation—maybe someday.

When I was a TV news producer and later an assignment editor, I often entertained fantasies about doing away with some of the people who made my life difficult—folks who didn’t return phone calls or wouldn’t reveal information, reporters who didn’t get their stories done in time to air in the slot I put them in, drivers who lollygagged along on the freeway when I was in desperate need of ice cream, etc.

While I was working in Eugene (1989-1994), I channeled that urge to kill into a mystery I called So Easy to Kill Her. To be kind, it was just this side of dreadful. To be honest, it was about half a mile on the other side.

After clinging to it for about a year, I shelved it and wrote a mystery called Face Time. (Face time, for the uninitiated, is the amount of time a reporter or anchor is visible to the audience and I’ve known news anchors to record a newscast, add up their visible seconds, and complain if the co-anchor got more.) Deadly Alibi Press (now defunct) liked it and wanted to publish it, but the publisher said no one would know what face time was. So, it became Consulted to Death.

When I wrote for TV news, the stories had to be tight, factual, and unbiased. A novel, of course, is the opposite. It took me some time to be comfortable “breaking the rules” and putting a lot of myself on the pages.

When Consulted to Death came out, the publisher told me that readers don’t perceive that writers are “real writers” unless they have more than one book, so I should hurry up and write a sequel. Eager to please, I wrote Driven to Death and followed up with Dated to Death (for which I borrowed some of the plot from that dusty old manuscript on the shelf).

All this time, I kept working in TV news, moving from Eugene to a small station in Vancouver, Washington, when my husband got a job at KEX radio in Portland, Oregon. When that station folded in 2001, I dusted off my teaching credential and began subbing in Vancouver high schools. That job—which I’ve come to love—has been buying the groceries ever since.

Subbing leaves me free to stroll away from school at 2:05 and put in a few hours at the keyboard. And it gives me winter and summer vacations to write full time—and budget like crazy while I do because subs get paid only when we work.

You often write as part of a duo or writing team. What do you find are the advantages and disadvantages of that?
I’m not sure how we started doing this. I think it was when we had the idea for Paladin, the protagonist of The Hard Karma Shuffle and The Crushed Velvet Miasma. We both felt ownership and neither of us would budge. Instead of fighting about it until one of us caved—which, let’s face it, is how we resolve most other issues—we decided to try to write together.

At first it was tough, but then we laid down some ground rules—number one being that Mike is NOT allowed to touch my computer—and got going. We’d talk about each chapter, then I’d hammer it out, he’d write comments and additions, and I’d do another draft.

It worked so well we turned out two mysteries, a fantasy (The Hermit of Humbug Mountain—Mike wrote the drafts on that one), and then two more mysteries (The Big Grabowski and Sometimes a Great Commotion).

The advantages are that we could come up with more than double the plot ideas and characters so there’s lots and lots of material.

One disadvantage is that sometimes there’s too much material. Mike’s a “toss it all in” kind of person and I’m a “let’s frame the house first before we buy the furniture” type, so there’s friction.

Mike also isn’t as disciplined as I am and doesn’t always meet the deadlines I impose. We joke that he’s easily distracted by shiny objects.

Another disadvantage is that we can get stuck arguing about what works and what doesn’t in terms of plot points and character development direction. We finally decided that the person who takes the lead and writes the draft gets to decide.

Tell us about your writing process.
The process varies depending on the book and whether it’s a solo project. The Big Grabowski, for example, has 16 point-of-view characters. A lot of index cards gave their lives to plot the character arcs of all of those characters. And a lot more gave it up to keep track of character tags and traits. Another few hundred died for the sequel. Right now, even more are croaking because we have a third book in the works.

The other jointly written books emerged from the printer on the basis of a few notes here and there and a lot of discussion. Same with my three TV mysteries.

Hemlock Lake involved more thought, a legal pad to keep track of ideas, and bigger index cards for the characters. The books I’ve written more recently (not yet published, but bound for independent issue over the next year) have involved notebooks with sections for characters, calendars to keep track of plot events, and research into subjects like events in 1966, the training of search and rescue dogs, the psychology of serial killers, wildlife rehabilitation, phases of the moon, sunrise and sunset tables, etc.

What is your biggest challenge as a writer?
Fitting into my jeans.

And I’m only half kidding about that. If I didn’t love water aerobics so much, I could sit here all day visiting with my characters, eating cheesy snacks, and drinking the occasional adult beverage.
Promotion is another challenge. I’m not a blatant self promoter by nature, so I have to psych myself up for it. But the more I do the easier it becomes. And opportunities lead to opportunities. (Case in point, here I am, on your blog.)

What do you wish you'd known working on your first novel that you know now?
I wish I’d known more about scene structure and subtext, and I wish I’d paid more attention to the importance of the theme of the story, and to developing the author’s style, and characters’ unique voices.

Working as an associate editor with Elizabeth Lyon forced me to concentrate on those and other aspects of novelcraft as I edited manuscripts. I think the novels I’m writing now are deeper and richer because I had that training and years of practice helping other writers build those elements into their stories.

What are you working on now?
I’m finishing up the first draft of a sequel to Hemlock Lake. I have some plot holes to knit together and three or four final chapters to write and then comes my favorite part of the process—revision. (No, I’m not lying.) Because we plan to write the third Devil’s Harbor book, it will be late fall before I finish Through a Yellow Wood.

Final words of wisdom

The winds of change are blowing through the publishing business, so I would advise writers to be flexible, believe in yourselves, and be willing to take a chance. If you can’t find an agent or a publisher, go independent, put it out there yourself, and see how readers “vote” on your project. You could be the next indy success story.

Deborah Turrell Atkinson
Author of the Storm Kayama Hawai'ian mystery series - Debby brings together my favorite place and my favorite genre!

Visit her on the web at: www.debbyatkinson.com

Describe your writing process:
I treat writing as a job. One I love and feel fortunate to have, but a job nonetheless. I show up at work every day, though I often take the weekends off because of family. Since I punch my own time clock, I try to get some exercise in the morning. Solutions to problems often come to me, especially if I’m riding my bike. Whatever works, right? One writer I know plays solitaire, but with real cards, not on the computer.

After a shower and breakfast, I sit down to work. I usually review what I wrote the day before, edit, and move on to my characters’ next adventures. Oh yeah, and on those bike rides—or whatever fits your needs—carry a little notebook and pen. I keep paper in the car, too. Ideas come at the oddest times, don’t they?

How do you balance the "creative" side with the "business" side of being a writer?
Balancing the business side of writing with the creative is an area I’m trying to develop. I’d prefer to write, but marketing is critical in the publishing biz, and it falls heavily on the author. Online promotion is more and more crucial. That said, everyone is looking for the next best idea in terms of online exposure. If anyone has any brilliant ideas, I’d love to hear them!

Though I blogged with a terrific group (Type M for Murder), I have my doubts as to whether blogging helps a writer reach the general reading public. Reviews are extremely important, but the demise of newspapers and their book review sections has diminished this resource. Online reviews are proliferating, but their credibility varies wildly. The business and marketing aspects of publishing are changing every day.

Working with other writers is very satisfying. I try to stay involved with writers’ groups and associations such as Authors’ Guild, Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America (MWA), and writers’ workshops and conferences. Elena and I met at the Jackson Hole Writers Conference, which I have found to be an intimate, informative conference.

How does your environment impact and inform your work?
Environment has a big role in my work. Since I write a contemporary mystery series that weaves the folklore and legends of Hawaii into the stories, my work is suffused with aspects of my environment. I can’t think of a novel I’ve read recently that doesn’t use setting, culture, weather, and atmosphere. Humans use their senses, which involves their surroundings. Readers like to feel as if they’re in the story.

What is your biggest challenge as a writer?
My biggest challenge as a writer is to be a better writer. I want my plots to be tighter, my characters to be better developed and to move with increased purpose throughout their travails. Even as the characters flail and resist, my efforts should be invisible.

How have things changed for you between your first book and now?
Things have changed a lot in terms of my perspective of the industry. The first published book is a stepping-stone into a new realm. Then the author discovers that the realm is shifting every day. Witness the skirmish between MacMillan and Amazon over eBook pricing, and then Apple’s and Google’s struggle to dominate the tablet market. All this affects the writer.

Agents and authors are wrestling with new roles and everyone is trying to predict the market. Will new books be released in predominantly paper, or in eBook formats? How will they be priced? What percentage will the author get? The author and reader are at the bottom of a pyramid of struggling giants, yet we feed the machine.

What are you working on now?
I’m working on a suspense/thriller novel that is not part of my regular series. I have a couple more revisions to do, and then we’ll see what happens.

Final words of wisdom:
Write because you love to create on the page. You no doubt have picked up on my concern as to where the publishing industry will take us. Our love of the written word and story must be the driving force behind our creative exertions.

Drusilla Campbell
Visit her on the web at: drusillacampbell.com

Author of several books, her most recent, The Good Sister, is available from Grand Central.

What the critics are saying...

...Campbell repeatedly confronts the reader with the nuanced and blatant dynamics of challenged motherhood, codependence, postpartum depression and the gradual descent into the terrible and welcoming embrace of psychosis...
--By Kit-Bacon Gressitt (Book Reviewer)

...The characters are totally captivating...
--The Romantic Type (Online Book Review)

Describe a typical writing day
I don't really have a typical day. Over the years I've learned to write when I can which means on a day like today when I have two meetings, I will postpone work on LITTLE GIRL GONE until afternoon. Usually, I like to start around nine with email and facebook, a glance at the headlines. By ten I'm ready to work and I keep at it until I've finished "a chunk" which in some cases means a whole chapter, other times a scene. If I have no energy and am not feeling like a writer at all, I do revisions which almost always flips the switch to on. I write every day. It's a muscle that I have to exercise daily to keep fit and responsive.
What is your biggest challenge as a writer?
There is a committee in my head that tells me that my success is all a big accident, pure luck that has nothing to do with skill or talent. I find that the best way to deal with the committee is to acknowledge it (I will probably live with self doubt my whole life and think it's a waste of energy to try to eradicate it) and then get on with the day.
How did you find your agent?
Research, trial and error. I've had half a dozen agents in my career: one had his office in a closet (but sold two ms for me), one was a drunk and a liar, one was so aggressive she scared me, one died, one retired. My current agent is great but it took a long time to find her.
What do you know now you wish you had known when you first started out?
Craft is more important than talent.
How do you know when a manuscript is ready for submission?
I know intuitively when it's almost ready but my agent and editor tell me when it's really ready.
What are you working on now?
LITTLE GIRL GONE is the story of Madora, a woman who lives with a man who is keeping a girl prisoner in a Great Dane trailer. The story's told from Madora's point of view and two others. Pub date for LGL is January 2012 but my latest, THE GOOD SISTER is in stores and available electronically right now.
Final words of wisdom:
Read as much as you can across all genres. Learn the craft because that is what will carry you through the first draft when you don't know what you're doing, what story you're telling. And it will carry you through countless revisions by helping you understand what's good about your book and what needs to be fixed. There is a mistake many underpublished writers make. They believe that because they aim high, to be a literary writer, they don't need to worry about craft and can just follow their inspiration. Beware of inspiration that is not guided by craft. It's like setting sail on the Titanic.

Spotlight On: Pacific Northwest Writers Association

Founded by Zola Helen Ross and Lucille McDonald more than 50 years ago. Open to writers of all levels

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Conference: The annual conference in Seattle during the summer
Access to agents, editors, book doctors, workshops, and keynote speakers.
Meet with industry professionals for one-on-one critiques, speed pitching, and agent meetings.
Literary Contest
12 Categories
Cash Prizes
Entries receive written critiques
Finalist's are read by agents and editors to find the top three submissions in each category. A great way to get attention for your work by professionals. Winners announced at the conference.
For more information visit them on the web at:

Spotlight On: Erin Brown

Freelance Book Editor
Visit her on the web at www.erinedits.com
I Personally Recommend Her Services!

The Interview:
What is a book doctor/professional editor (and are those two terms the same)?
It depends on the book doctor/professional editor. Both provide services to get an author’s manuscript in the best shape possible before approaching agents. I prefer the term editor to describe what I do, because I offer multiple services beyond reworking a manuscript. A book doctor takes the manuscript and provides a line edit, tackling copyediting issues, as well as editing for content, line by line. The book doctor makes the actual changes versus the author. I do give line edits (as a book doctor does), but I’ve found that most authors ask for an evaluation, in which I read the manuscript and make suggestions for revisions in the form of a 15- to 25-page feedback letter.

Then the revision process is in the author’s hands, providing a learning experience for the writer. Therefore, while I give the author the tools necessary to bring the manuscript to the next level, with an evaluation I’m offering my expertise so that the author can tackle revisions on his or her own. This is nice for many authors because the work, in the end, is still completely theirs, even though I provided the suggestions and guidance. I also work on query letters and synopses, offer advice on finding agents and information about how the publishing industry works in general. This is usually beyond the scope of a book doctor.

What got you interested in the publishing industry to begin with? Was that your goal when you went to UT Austin?
I graduated from UT with a BA in Creative Advertising and headed to New York with stars in my eyes, ready to be the next great copywriter! When I arrived, I realized that although I liked the creative aspect of advertising, I hated the day-to-day business side of it (You can imagine how thrilled my parents were after that phone call! “Thanks for college and everything, but I’m going to temp for a while”). So I decided to take a detour.

After working in the music industry for a few years, I stumbled onto an opening for the editorial assistant to the VP at HarperCollins. I thought, “Wait a minute. There’s a profession that pays
people to read?” For some reason, after two and a half decades of voraciously reading everything I could get my hands on, simply for the love of reading, it never dawned on me to get into publishing. Anyway, I fell in love with the industry and knew I’d found my calling.

Over the next decade, I worked at two houses, covered about ten genres, with countless bestsellers, and enjoyed every second of it. I was still able to use the skills I learned while studying copywriting, though—I became the queen of jacket copy!

How does a writer know their work is ready for your services?
I am not a ghostwriter or an author coach, so when a writer is finished with their manuscript and has decided to seek out an agent, that’s when I step in to edit the completed manuscript. Some authors realize that their grammar isn’t the best, even though they’re great storytellers (and yes, many published, bestselling authors have this issue!).

Some get feedback from writers’ groups that make them realize that they need a fresh set of eyes to pinpoint why the novel isn’t quite working. Others just want to make sure that their manuscript is the best it can be from the viewpoint of a professional who’s worked in the business for a long time. I not only bring the editorial ability, but I offer a unique perspective because I was an editor at publishing houses—I can offer insight into how everything works, what the market is, what agents and editors are looking for, what they aren’t, etc.

How does a writer know which of your services is best suited to them?
Usually, I have several email exchanges and/or phone calls to figure out what the best fit is for each client.
As I mentioned, most authors go with the evaluation, not only because it’s less expensive, but also because ultimately, the revisions are still in the author’s hands. Each client can do what he or she wants with my suggestions.

Often, I look at sample chapters so that I can give my opinion on what the manuscript truly needs. And I am always very honest about what I suggest; it has nothing to do with cost—I am in this business because I love to read, write, and support authors. I also have a great knack for taking manuscripts to the next level and it’s a thrilling process in which to participate. That is why I recommend evaluations about 75 percent of the time. I don’t want authors to waste money getting a copyedit or a line edit if it’s not necessary.

You also participate in conferences- do you recommend conferences for writers in any stage in their career? Anything a writer should look for in choosing a conference?
I love conferences, but there’s no reason to go to more than one or two a year. Pick a favorite by location, word of mouth, appealing speakers and workshops, and/or by genre specialty. The most important thing is to network, get advice from professional editors and agents who attend, improve your craft, and meet other authors!

How do you perceive the Internet is impacting writing (This is really broad- answer however you want - blogging, finding agents, promoting books, traditional publishing, self-publishing etc)
This is funny because I just wrote my monthly article for the Pacific Northwest Writers Group on this topic!
It’s called “The Rise of the Fearsome eBook” (and no, I don’t actually think it’s fearsome at all) and it’s available at (Author Magazine).

If you look in the Erin Brown article archives as well, I have written over the past two and a half years articles on building a platform online, traditional versus self-publishing (I got a lot of feedback on that one. I am very opinionated on that topic), and many other “Internet and publishing” topics.

Final words of wisdom?
Remember that getting published is incredibly difficult. It is easy to give up when faced with roadblocks and rejections from agents. If you do consistently hear the chirping of crickets when you send out queries, then consider a freelance editor for the manuscript or query letter (how can you get an agent to read your manuscript if they never request any pages!?), a supportive writing group, or
set that manuscript aside and work on something else (novels #2-4?).

But if writing is your passion, then you must write. I always believe that “real” writers write for the love of writing, not to get published. And hopefully, that elusive book contract will come along in the end because the author’s love of writing has made his or her novel into something so remarkable that it must be shared with the rest of the world.

Spotlight On: Robert Dugoni 


Describe a typical writing day:
Typically I’m up early. I’m more creative in the morning and that is where I try to actually write – create characters and dialogue and scenes. I’ll go from around 7 to 2, then break for a workout of some sort, which helps clear my mind and get the plot flowing again. After working out, I return for a couple more hours then it’s usually kid’s sports time. At night I try to answer my emails and do facebook type stuff.

How do you know when your book is ready?
You know the manuscript is ready when you are endlessly editing it, changing words here and there, then changing it back. Manuscripts are a lot like your children. You have to have the courage to know you did your job well, then let them go and succeed on their own.

How did you find your agent?
How I found my agent is a very long story. Those who have heard me speak know that my first agent died and the agency didn’t bother to tell me until three months later, by post card. That lead me to realize that writing is truly a business and I went back to work learning the craft and treating it like a business. At a party I ran into an EPA agent in Seattle with a great story to tell that became The Cyanide Canary. And that got me to the Jane Rotrosen Agency.

What challenges you the most as a writer?
Definitely plot. I never know fully where my plot is headed until I know the characters better. I used to panic about this, but with experience I’ve come to learn that the Characters will show me the way. I just have to trust that they won’t lead me astray. Once I know the characters, what they are feeling, what is important to them, then I can finish the book. The ending in Bodily Harm is a good example. I didn’t know I was going to do that – in fact, had no intention of ending the book that way until I got there and the character, David Sloane, let me know it was the right thing to do.

What do you know now that you wish you had known with your first novel?
Christopher Vogler’s book, The Writer’s Journey on story structure. Once you understand story structure and how characters relate to that structure, the rest is just writing and that’s what I love to do.

How do you balance writing, a personal life, and the business aspects of being a writer?
Not well enough. I have trouble saying ‘No.’ But it is part of the job to promote. As much as we don’t like it, we’re salesmen. So we have to be artists and business people. The key is finding that balance. I know some writers who are just business people. They’re selling a product. The writing is secondary. And I know some who are tremendous writers, but not good sales people. You have to be both, I think, if you want to be not only successful, but respected by your readers and colleagues.

What are you working on now?
I just submitted the fourth in the David Sloane novel and I have to say, it blew me away when I finished. While waiting for the edits I’m researching a non-fiction idea and working on a literary novel I’ve had in me for a long time. A lot of fun….

My last words of advice. What we can control as writers is the writing. Focus on the writing.