My type of office!
Today I introduce a writer who has a few books published – Melissa Bowersock, who hails from Tuczon, Arizona, USA. Welcome, Melissa. What’s the secret to success?
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR WRITING JOURNEY.
My first two books were published by a New York house in the 80’s; these were both historical romances. From there I switched genres and was surprised to find that doing that threw me to the back of the line as far as publishers were concerned. Luckily my next three books were published by small presses, taking up the slack as the big houses got more and more reticent about non-celebrity writers. Finally I moved into self-publishing and have published my last five books that way.
WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A WRITER?
I’ve been writing since I was 5. I remember my mother reading a little story I wrote about bunny rabbits and her asking me how I knew about using quotes for dialog. I had just noticed how they were used in stories I read, so I copied that. Apparently I was born with stories inside of me!
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
The best part about being a writer is when the story comes alive and takes off on its own. I know this is hard for non-writers to understand; after all, I’m writing the confounded thing, how can it do something I don’t know about? But it’s true, and that is where the magic comes in. When I was writing Goddess Rising, I found myself writing things that I didn’t really understand the need for, but later on those same elements came back into play. By the same token, I thought my current work in progress (WIP) was going to be a light comedy. It has become instead a fairly dark drama. Just goes to show that the stories will be told how they want, not how I want!
Keeping at it. Writing is a very isolated and isolating process; we writers live inside our heads and there are no cheerleaders there. Sometimes it’s difficult to get back to a story, to keep chipping away at it, sentence by sentence. Sometimes it seems like I’ll never get through to the end, but I just have to keep working. Because it’s creative, it’s not a mechanical process like taking inventory or ordering supplies, and it’s more mentally and emotionally draining than non-creative jobs.
WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME A WRITER?
I have a feeling for most people this question is more allegorical than literal. However, being a hypnotherapist and having reviewed about 20 of my past lives (and my book Queen’s Gold is based on a past-life hypnotic regression), I can lay a pretty good claim to my past life history. I’ve lived in Iceland, Africa, Ireland, Greece, Egypt, Arabia, Mexico, Germany, Palestine, Minnesota, Tibet, South Dakota and the American Southwest. I’ve been an American Indian (female), a scholar and ceramicist (female), an Arabian prince (male), a settler (female), a priest (male), a stable hand (male), a religious agitator (female), and a temple guardian (male). My most recent past life was in the first half of the 20th century when I was a female artist living in Kansas. (And no, I’ve never been anyone famous!)
I’ve been happily surprised at the recognition my latest book, Marcia Gates: Angel of Bataan, has received. This is the true story of my aunt, an Army nurse and a prisoner-of-war during World War II. It was nominated for a biography award by the Military Writers Society of America and while it did not win the top prize, it was awarded an Honorable Mention. Shortly after that, I was contacted by a TV producer who was making a documentary about the military history of Wisconsin (my aunt’s home state) and wanted to feature her and my book in the program. It’s been extremely gratifying to see how the book touches people, and I love the fact that it’s keeping my aunt’s story and the history alive.
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
Currently I’m working on a ghost story. It’s about a ghost who was transported from London to Arizona with the London Bridge. This is the story I thought was going to be a light comedy, but it’s evolved into something very different. I had envisioned something like The Canterville Ghost, but my main (living) character has a dark, moody side to him and his friendship with the female ghost is leading him to question every aspect of his life. I honestly have no idea how it’s going to end!
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Good writing, good stories. Whenever I re-read one of my favourite books like A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving or Six of One by Rita Mae Brown, I just want to rush to the computer and start typing. Good writing compels me to write well. I’ve also found inspiration in dreams and in snippets of information that triggers a story. My book Goddess Rising came to me almost full blown in a dream. The ghost story was inspired by watching an episode of Arizona Highways that talked about the London Bridge and the hauntings there.
It might be easier to identify the genres I don’t write! I never like to tell the same story twice, and I’m drawn to a variety of genres. Up to now I’ve written action/adventure, western, contemporary and historic romance, fantasy, satire, spiritual fiction and biography.
DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS?
Keep at it! Writing can be tough, and if I ever sat down and thought, I’m going to write a 600-page novel, I think I’d be paralysed from the weight of it. Break it down in small pieces; write a sentence, then another, then a paragraph. Often it feels like it’s not going anywhere, but if you keep at it, it all adds up. The day you hold that first book in your hand, it’ll all be worth it.
DO YOU SUFFER FROM WRITER’S BLOCK?
I do, although I don’t generally think of it in that way. If I don’t feel like writing, I just don’t write. I know it won’t last and I know I’ll write again. If I’m not feeling inspired by my latest WIP, I still write in my journal, write my blog and guest blogs, so it’s seldom I go very long without writing something.
No; I’m a very undisciplined writer. I know the general consensus is that writers should write every day, but I don’t force myself. I’ve found that if I write without some inspiration, some feeling for what I’m doing, I end up throwing it away so as far as I’m concerned, that’s a waste of time. Luckily as a novelist, I have no deadlines and no pressure. I write when I write and I’m done when I’m done. Doesn’t work for everyone but it works for me.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE WRITING PLACE?
Not particularly, although I do like to be in a quiet place by myself with no distractions. Writing for me is like wading into water and I have to immerse myself to really get productive. If I’m interrupted, it’s difficult to slog out of the water, attend to the interruption, then wade back in. Luckily when I am writing, I can block out almost everything else. Sometimes people have to call my name several times before I even hear it.
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST JOY IN WRITING?
Creating something that was not there before. I love creating people, places, even whole worlds that never existed before. And the best part is, it’s mine so I can make it however I want.
My all-time favourite author is John Irving, particularly his A Prayer for Owen Meany. As far as I’m concerned, that is the best book on the planet. He has the most marvellous way of wandering as he goes, telling the story from start to finish yet still meandering all over the time span and the locations with effortless ease. I read Owen Meany about once a year and it always inspires me because it’s just so phenomenal; even after 20 readings, I still laugh out loud and I still cry. Owen Meany is one of the most fascinating and complex characters ever created. Once you meet him, you never forget him.
WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED FROM A READER?
That has to be the nomination by the reviewer at the Military Writers Society of America for my book Marcia Gates: Angel of Bataan.
WHAT WAS THE WORST COMMENT FROM A READER?
Interestingly enough, that same book (Marcia Gates: Angel of Bataan) received a review where someone said, “Not worth the price.” Ouch.
I have to be; I’m human. Everything that happens to me influences my outlook on life and how I respond to my experiences. While I don’t write about specific things that happen to me (except in my journal), I definitely use the emotional and sometimes spiritual experiences in my writing. I have to write from my heart, from my core. It’s all I really know about.
OTHER THAN WRITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
I love photography, primarily of wild animals and natural landscapes. One of my favourite places in the world is the Grand Canyon and every time I go, I take zillions of pictures (some strangely similar to ones I’ve taken before!). Those rare occasions when I’m able to get pictures of elk, condors or bighorn sheep are especially memorable. I also love to travel; my husband and I have been lucky enough to visit Australia, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Peru, all prime picture-taking locations! We’ve also travelled most of the western U.S. I love astronomy and since I work for the National Observatory, for me that’s like a kid working in a candy store.
I have never hired a professional editor. I edit all my own books, although of course I do ask friends to read and give me feedback. Interestingly enough, I’ve been published by 4 different traditional publishers and of those, only one ever offered so much as a suggestion about my book. The rest published my books verbatim, even including the typos!
DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY.
A day where I can look back and know that I worked hard and accomplished something but also a day where I had some time to relax, to enjoy music, to read, to watch a good movie. Satisfying interaction with others (but not too much—I’m an introvert at heart!), time outside to enjoy the day, to watch the clouds drift by, hear birds singing, see hawks soaring. Being out in the natural world recharges my batteries.
IF YOU WERE STUCK ON A DESERT ISLAND WITH ONE PERSON, WHO WOULD IT BE? WHY?
No contest—my husband. After 41 years he is still the love of my life and my best friend. We disagree on some things, but overall we have the same values, the same work ethic, the same dreams. I know the two of us would be able to work together and build a very nice home on that island in record time, and we would enjoy the solitude!
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IF YOU HAD THE CHANCE TO SPEAK TO WORLD LEADERS?
After quite a bit of dressing down for some, I’d like to ask them to imagine themselves on the last day of their life. When they are old, weak, dying, perhaps in pain, how comforting is the money they amassed? How comforting is the power they wielded? In the end, all that’s really important is the way we treat each other, the way we help each other. That’s our only legacy. All else is dust in the wind.
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
More of the same; read, write, work, relax, enjoy. I’m looking forward to retirement within the next year (not from writing!), and starting the next chapter of my life without the constraints of needing to be near a big city in order to make a living.
Easy: 1) A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, 2) Six of One by Rita Mae Brown, 3) The Mirror by Marlys Millhiser, 4) Queens’ Gold (by me) and 5) Superstition Gold (by me). I re-read all of these books every year.
DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN ANY OF YOUR CHARACTERS?
A little. I don’t base any of my characters on myself, but of course there are elements of me in each of them. The one thing I want for my characters is growth; I want them to know more, to understand more, to be better human beings at the end of the story, and of course I want that continually for me, as well.
DOES THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY FRUSTRATE YOU?
Not anymore. Back in the “old days” when I was sending out query letters, waiting, sending out 5-pound manuscripts, waiting, waiting, it did, but with the rise of self-publishing I no longer have to wait for a gate-keeper to let me in the publishing club.
DID YOU EVER THINK OF QUITTING?
Not so much quitting as just letting it fade away. There was a point in my life where I was putting all my energy into addressing issues of my personal life and I had no energy left to write. I realized it was fading, mourned for it, but had bigger fish to fry. Luckily once I got the kinks worked out in my personal life, I was right back to writing. I doubt I’ll ever stop.
My favourite manuscript to write was the one for Superstition Gold. Although I only had a nebulous outline of the arc of the story, that book just flowed out of me. I wrote it in 3 months from start to finish, pretty speedy by my standards. Most of my other books have taken me many more months, even years, to finish. Conversely, the most difficult to write was Marcia Gates: Angel of Bataan. Because this was my first non-fiction and because it’s about a family member, I felt a need to be accurate above all else, neither exaggerating nor downplaying the events. My aunt and all her generation are gone, but I felt the distinct pressure of family ghosts hovering at my shoulder, watching (and approving, hopefully) every word. I knew I wasn’t done until I could imagine handing the book to my aunt without flinching.
Success for me is writing the best story I can while being scrupulously true to the characters. That is all I have control over, and if I’ve done that, I’ve done my job. The next milestone in success is how that story touches others. If people read my books and feel a connection to my characters, if they remember them long after they’ve put the book away and they want to go back and “visit” later on, that’s a success.
WHAT SHOULD READERS WALK AWAY FROM YOUR BOOKS KNOWING? HOW SHOULD THEY FEEL?
I would hope they would come away from my books feeling satisfied, entertained, maybe enlightened. I would hope they might have found something they never knew about before, maybe considered something or someone they never considered before. I’d like to think my books had opened a door for them.
ANYTHING YOU’D LIKE TO ADD?
I’d just like to thank you for the great interview questions and to encourage anyone who feels they have a story inside them—write it down! Too often stories are lost forever because they are never written down. And nowadays with self-publishing coming of age, there’s never been a better time to write. It’s easy to do, it’s affordable and it’s fun!
Melissa Bowersock has left a new comment on your post "21 January 2013 - MELISSA BOWERSOCK - GUEST AUTHOR...":
Clancy, thanks much for the great interview. It's a pleasure connecting with you.
Clancy, thanks much for the great interview. It's a pleasure connecting with you.