- Guest Author -
Welcome to an interview with an author with a great sense of humour who lives in an area I once lived - Maria Keffler from Arlington, Virginia, USA.
Welcome, Maria ...
1. TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR WRITING JOURNEY.
By day I’m a Progeny and Habitation Development Specialist (in common parlance, Mom and Housewife). Now that all three of the urchins are in school full-time people often ask if I’m going to go back to work. That makes me wonder, “When did I stop working?” But I do understand the question: Am I going to once again exchange my time and energy for income? Well, yes.
And I have. I got a book royalty payment from Amazon a few weeks ago. $3.44. For that first novel I spent twelve years writing. That’s work. That’s pay. Right?
2. WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A WRITER?
I’ve wanted to write books ever since I read my first “See Spot Run” tale. There’s something heady and delicious about the crisp, white pages and black, ringlety letters inside a book.
I’ve tried various types of writing. I majored in professional writing at university, and I dabbled in magazine journalism, blogging, comedy. But my deepest love is fiction. The endless variety of characters, settings, and plot developments swirl around my imagination constantly. Which is probably why I get lost all the time when I’m driving and frequently have to ask my conversation partners, “I’m sorry. What did you say?”
3. WHAT TYPE OF PREPARATION DO YOU DO FOR A MANUSCRIPT? DO YOU PLAN EVERYTHING FIRST OR JUST SHOOT FROM THE HIP?
I’ve tried it both ways and neither worked out very well.
Micro-managing the plot made the experience of writing tedious and predictable. Therefore the story, as well, turned out tedious and predictable. Alton Gansky (http://www.altongansky.com), who is apparently a more flexible thinker than I am, counselled his seminar students to try writing without an outline or much detailed forethought; I attempted that, then gave up half-way into my novel when the story had more rabbit trails than the Easter Bunny’s GPS and as much emotional and intellectual depth as a Warner Brothers teeny-bopper sit-com.
Now I try to work somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. I typically start with a question to which I don’t fully know the answer, then I explore that question through my characters and their stories. Many writers, I’ve heard, begin from the “What if?” proposition and develop their plots and characters from there.
My planning seems to be very scene-based. For example, I’ll know that at some point the characters are going to be in a rowboat on a river that’s taking them toward a waterfall. I’ll try to work the symbology and plot toward those integral points, linking the scenes together as the characters interact.
Does that make sense to anyone but me?
4. WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
I’ve heard a number of people say they love having written, but not so much the writing itself. That’s not me at all. I love word-smithing. Turning out a meaty, pithy phrase or a descriptive scene that evokes something visceral gives me great satisfaction.
Eric Liddell famously said, “I believe God made me for a purpose… And when I run I feel his pleasure.” When I write something true, something meaningful, I feel God’s Word in me. It’s my job and my joy to keep learning to put all my foolishness aside and let those true, meaningful words come out onto the page, as untainted by me as possible.
6. WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME A WRITER?
I’ve been a restaurant hostess, nanny, customer service representative, scuba diver, overnight shelf-stocker, teacher, paper-collator in a paint sample factory, dog-sitter, administrative assistant, and professional student. I probably missed a few things, but I’m getting older and losing track of more stuff. They say the first thing to go is your… what was it? Phooey, can’t remember.
Anyway, beyond Novelist, I never could figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up.
7. WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST WRITING ACHIEVEMENT?
Anytime someone tells me, “I enjoyed your book. It really made me think,” I feel a great sense of achievement and gratification.
One sweet surprise brought me to tears, because I learned of it at exactly the right moment, when I was feeling desperately low and discouraged about my writing career. My friend’s husband, who is a U.S. Navy chaplain, framed something I’d written, to have hung on his office wall. Thinking of all the people who’ll come into his office, who may well read those words, both thrills and humbles me.
8. WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
I’m nearing the end of the first draft of the sequel to my last novel, “Drawn”. I didn’t intend to make that story a series, but I love the characters so much, and they’re simply not done with all their business.
I also keep up my monthly installments for “Year-in-Review: the Entirely True Histories of a Perfectly Wretched Family”. I update it each year in January with my annual Christmas letters, which sounds perfectly dreadful, except that I don’t write those kinds of Christmas letters. Mine tell the unvarnished, hideous truth about who we are and what happens in our lives.
Every year I try to pare down the list of addresses to which I send Christmas cards. Then I get emails and phone calls: “Please don’t take us off your list. We wait all year for your letter.”
It’s gratifying, really, how much people enjoy reading about the savagery and mayhem that is my household.
9. WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Chocolate. Lots of it. And maybe a little wine, too. I write really well when I’m dopamine’d on Hershey’s and perhaps also a bit tipsy. Of course, the editing then becomes more of a challenge…
10. WHAT GENRE DO YOU WRITE?
I tried historical fiction. That was painful. I’m not a researcher to that degree, but I loved the story so I did the footwork. Now I enjoy writing for young adults. “Drawn” and its sequel are set in the 1980’s, which has been a surprisingly fun read for both the target audience of pre- and teen-aged girls, but also their mothers, who came of age in that decade.
“Drawn” has been referred to as speculative fiction, because of the spiritual-gift element in it, but I’m not sure I agree with that description. It’s not quite fantasy or sci-fi. I’d classify my fiction more as drama with splashes of supernatural mystery and comedy.
I’m writing from the first-person perspective of a young girl these days, and I have some new story ideas about women of my own age, as well. I’d love, love, love to try writing from a man’s point-of-view, but I’m scared. Men and women think and process life so differently. I’m not sure I can even get into a man’s head, much less stay there long enough to finish a novel.
And what if I can’t get out again?
11. DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS?
Learn everything you can from anyone who will teach you. That goes for everybody, not just writers. Attend conferences and take the workshops and seminars. Be humble. You’re not as good as you think you are. (Present company included.)
12. DO YOU SUFFER FROM WRITER’S BLOCK?
I don’t really know what that is. Sure, there are times I stare at a blank screen and nothing comes for hours. Days. Weeks. But that’s usually because I’m simply not sure where the story is going. The sitting and thinking is just as much a part of writing as the typing and editing.
13. DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED WRITING SCHEDULE?
I’m at my best in the morning, so I like to get the kids off to school, go for a morning run (which I loathe, because I’m not athletic and I don’t enjoy exercise, but I must do it to support my copious eating habits), then sit down with my laptop and a cup of coffee the size of my head.
I try to write for distance, rather than time. My goal is to get one thousand words out, five times a week. I rarely make it.
14. DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE WRITING PLACE?
My rocking chair in the corner of the living room.
I also really like coffee shops. I feel so chic and cosmopolitan at a coffeehouse with my laptop and a bagel. “Yes, I’m a novelist. You may have heard of me. Maria Keffler. No, not Marie. Maria. Keffler. Not Kessler, Keffler. I’m not the monster-slaying lady from “Grimm”. Yes, I’m a famous writer. Really. You’ve never heard of me? Well, you must not get out much.”
15. WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST JOY IN WRITING?
When my sales numbers go up.
Oh, that’s so shallow and money-minded. Strike that. I never said it.
My greatest joy is knowing that I’ve put something beautiful and powerful and meaningful into the world.
And when my sales numbers go up.
16. WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR AND WHY?
If I had to pick just one, I’d say C.S. Lewis. “The Chronicles of Narnia”? No explanation needed. But I’m reading his topical essays right now, and—I mean this in the best possible way—he makes me feel stupid. It’s a challenge to really follow him to the logical conclusions he draws, and I ache to have that sort of wisdom and depth. Yet he’s so witty and not at all pretentious. I’ll be pulling myself along this profound strand of philosophical thought, then suddenly he’ll say something like, “A man cannot continue to make sacrifices for the good of posterity if he really believes that his concern for the good of posterity is simply an irrational subjective taste of his own on the same level with his fondness for pancakes or his dislike for Spam.”
Maybe this is my low intellect revealing itself again, but that cracks me up.
17. WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED FROM A READER?
“I couldn’t put it down.”
18. WHAT WAS THE WORST COMMENT FROM A READER?
“I didn’t read your book for a long time because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to find anything good to say about it.” (That was a relative. Ouch.)
19. WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU?
Very much. The romance in “Drawn”, for example, is the kind of sweet, first love I didn’t have. There was no great tragedy or trauma in my early experiences of girl-meets-boy, but neither was anything very worth remembering or writing about. In some ways I penned Damon and Julie’s relationship for my own catharsis.
There are other autobiographical elements in my writing, as well as stuff that’s pure fiction. But I’m not telling anyone which is which.
20. OTHER THAN WRITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
I miss the water terribly. When we moved from Hawaii to the Washington, D.C., area I asked someone about scuba here. He said, “Maybe diving for bodies in the Potomac?”
Knitting and crocheting are obsessions as well. My husband says I need a twelve-step program for my yarn addiction. Whatever. I can give it up any time I want to.
I just don’t want to.
21. DID YOU HAVE YOUR BOOK / BOOKS PROFESSIONALLY EDITED BEFORE PUBLICATION?
Sort of. Maybe. Not quite. I never paid for editing, anyway.
My first novel, “The God of Mists and Shrouds”, went all the way up the ranks at a traditional publishing house before getting cut at the last wicket on a theological issue. So I got very good feedback from editing and marketing, including two pages of notes. In trying to re-market it to other traditional publishers I got some more reactions and guidance from other editors and agents, as well.
I also have several friends who are fantastic writers, one of whom is also a freelance editor. They go over my books and help me make them as good as they can possibly be. I’m hoping one day, when their children are older and they get their writing careers steaming more fully, I can somehow be of service to them, as well.
22. DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY.
Going out to a French bistro for a breakfast of chocolate croissants and strong coffee with heavy cream. Spending the morning reading on a windy beach with another cup of coffee and a bowl of strawberries. Having a picnic lunch of deli sandwiches, cheeses, and cold lemonade. Napping inside a beach house with the windows open, the smell of bread baking, and the sound of the surf below. Waking for high tea…
Hmm… a lot of my perfect day seems to revolve around food. Maybe I better go out for another run.
23. IF YOU WERE STUCK ON A DESERT ISLAND WITH ONE PERSON, WHO WOULD IT BE? WHY?
I know, that sounds sickly-sweet romantic. But it’s actually very pragmatic. I enjoy his company a lot, and he’s an engineer who doggedly refuses to let any problem defeat him. If anyone could turn that single palm tree into a fossil-fuel powered, ocean-worthy vessel, it’s him. He was also in the Navy and knows how to navigate by sextant, which he would construct from island vegetation and seashells. We’d be home by Christmas.
24. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IF YOU HAD THE CHANCE TO SPEAK TO WORLD LEADERS?
“Today is Boxing Day, like in the U.K. For twenty-four hours you’re going to live the life of the people you lead. Good luck.”
25. WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
Well, I’d like to have Mexican food for lunch.
Oh, did you mean, like, the far future? No idea. I just hope to still be alive when my children launch, so my husband and I can sleep late and travel and do all the things we used to do before kids, before we knew we should really appreciate doing those things because they’d go away as soon as that first baby popped out.
26. WHAT FIVE BOOKS WOULD YOU TAKE TO HEAVEN?
I’m not sure I’d take the Bible. I mean, wouldn’t one already be there? Or maybe you don’t need one in Heaven. That’s kind of a conundrum to me.
I’d probably take all of my books, and leave them strategically “abandoned” here and there around Heaven.
27. DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN ANY OF YOUR CHARACTERS?
I plead the fifth.
28. DOES THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY FRUSTRATE YOU?
Is a bear Catholic? Does the Pope… wait a minute. Um, let’s just say, “Yeah”.
29. DID YOU EVER THINK OF QUITTING?
Sometimes. But then a new story pops into my head, and the keyboard calls, “Maria… come dance your fingertips upon my cool, beautiful letters…”
30. WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE MANUSCRIPT TO WRITE? WHY?
Definitely “Drawn”, and now its sequel, which is still working on getting a title. The main characters are in eighth grade. Several people have applauded how well I get into the heads of adolescents, how believably I write them.
That’s probably because I’m still fourteen inside.
31. HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE ‘SUCCESS’ AS A WRITER?
It’s easy, and tempting, to look at numbers to decide whether one is successful or not: how many books did I sell? How much did I earn? How many reviews did I get?
But that’s not real, or lasting.
To me, success is doing what God made me to do, being obedient to the calling in my heart. When someone reads what I wrote, and it brings them closer to understanding truth, God, themselves—that’s meaningful and real and important. That’s success, I think.
32. WHAT SHOULD READERS WALK AWAY FROM YOUR BOOKS KNOWING? HOW SHOULD THEY FEEL?
I want my story to walk away with the reader, long after the reader has walked away from the story. I want questions to linger, thoughts to stir, ideas to foment. I want the characters to seem like real people, and their lives to have real impact.
33. HOW MUCH THOUGHT GOES INTO DESIGNING A BOOK COVER?
I think covers are insanely important. I choose books by their covers, and I freely admit it. (I choose wine the very same way—ooh, what a pretty label!) I’ve been lurking on Flickr lately to find artwork for my covers. A very generous and talented young photographer in France, Christopher Bratanic (http://500px.com/chris67/photos), granted me rights to use one of his shots for “Drawn”. I’ve found another photo that’s perfect for the sequel, but I haven’t approached the photographer yet.
I would advise authors to get the best covers they can. If you’re not gifted in the graphic arts, hire someone. Follow the rules—you can get good advice online about how to create a book cover. Don’t slack on this part, or on the jacket copy that accompanies your book. These are two of your most important sales tools.
34. WHAT’S YOUR ULTIMATE DREAM?
You know, I think I’m living it. I’ve gotten to do so much. I got my university degrees, traveled, met interesting people and learned foreign languages. Then I married a wonderful man, had three amazingly interesting (and occasionally baffling) children, who provide endless fodder for my horrifying Christmas letters. And I get to do what I love: write.
It doesn’t get much better, really.
Okay, if I had my own island that would be cool.
35. WRITING IS ONE THING. WHAT ABOUT MARKETING YOU, YOUR BOOKS AND YOUR BRAND? ANY THOUGHTS?
I hate marketing. If anyone else would like to do it for me, that would be awesome. Awesome.
36. ARE YOUR BOOKS SELF-PUBLISHED?
37. DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN FIVE WORDS.
Honest, impatient, goal-oriented (I’m counting that as one), somewhat fairly funny (adverbs shouldn’t count against my five words, I think), and whimsical.
I don’t know if I’m actually whimsical. But I’d like to be whimsical. If I could plan for whimsy, and organize whimsy, and make whimsy efficient.
38. WHAT PISSES YOU OFF MOST?
Hypocrisy. Say what you mean and mean what you say, man.
39. WHAT IS THE TITLE OF THE LAST BOOK YOU READ? GOOD ONE?
“The Book Thief” by Marcus Zusak. Really, really good. The movie, too, although Hollywood kind of American-ized it; we must have our happy endings here in the New World.
40. WHAT WOULD BE THE VERY LAST SENTENCE YOU’D WRITE?
“Avenge me, my children!”
41. WHAT WOULD MAKE YOU HAPPIER THAN YOU ARE NOW? CARE TO SHARE?
If I could know everything I know now, yet keep the metabolism I had when I was nineteen. Oh, yeah.
42. ANYTHING YOU’D LIKE TO ADD?
Thank you so much, Mr. Tucker, for inviting me into your blog!
"The God of Mists & Shrouds:" https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/125386
"The God of Mists & Shrouds": http://www.amazon.com/God-Mists-Shrouds-Maria-Keffler-ebook/dp/B00B5HVQQ4/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1405352209&sr=8-3&keywords=maria+keffler
Clancy's comment: Thanks, Maria. Love ya humour. I hope you find that island.
Think about this!