- Guest Author -
Today, I interview an interesting author from the USA.
Welcome, Monette ...
1. TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR WRITING JOURNEY.
I think I was pretty much born into it. My mother was a writer. My grandmother was a Grimm. When I found that out, I decided at a very early age that I was going to publish my own Grimm Fairy Tales. I still remember my first story, it had a cave in it. Now I’ve contracted to publish Grimms American Macabre with All Things that Matter Press for this fall, and there’s a story with a girl and a cave!
2. WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A WRITER?
I did some writing in high school. Once we performed a Monkees’ sketch I wrote, and I adapted a Smothers Brothers routine for Christmas that we performed. I also love acting, and writing scripts. I got to write my own graduation speech, and performed an Easter story over the PA. My first post-high school writing was in adapting my favorite novel into a movie script. I actually got a response from the author of the book, who said he’d already adapted and made it into a movie! I checked it out and thought it was awful. I wrote him back and said we could do better. He never responded. Was that the wrong thing to say?
3. WHAT TYPE OF PREPARATION DO YOU DO FOR A MANUSCRIPT? DO YOU PLAN EVERYTHING FIRST OR JUST SHOOT FROM THE HIP?
Shoot from the hip and then plan! Seriously, that’s the only way. I believe that we should go with our flow, with our idea, as far as it can take us, and then, when (if) we get stuck, write up the outline, the story treatment – the nugget of what it’s supposed to be in the shortest words possible from beginning to end. So many writers think that planning kills inspiration and creativity – it doesn’t! The creativity is not in the idea or the basic plot that you want to develop. It’s in the way you write it. Believe me, characters DO take over, and the outline can be adapted to them along the way. But I know a lot of writers (I used to run a support group) who get stuck in chapter three and never get any farther. That’s where I say, write out what you want the rest of the book to be. That always keeps me going.
4. WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
Writing. I’m not very sociable and it gives me an excuse to be alone! Seriously, where’d all my friends go? I’ve got a lot of “stuff” in my head. I’ve travelled around the country doing research and I rarely listen to music. I just need to hear what my head wants me to hear. That stuff from deep in the soul that keeps clamouring to get out. (I love all this spellchecking to the British style.)
5. WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
Marketing – both trying to find a publisher and trying to find a reader. A lot of authors focus on getting reviews, and a lot of reviews are lies. I only want honest ones. And I really hate it when someone takes a free copy and then refuses to review, as promised. I really hate that. I tell them a bad review is better than not doing it. All my reading now is to review, and I never let anyone down. If I end up not reviewing, I tell them why. Mostly it’s because they’re self-published and I can’t get beyond the first chapter. I won’t waste my time. Let it be known that from hereonin (isn’t that a word?), I will not accept a review copy of a self-published novel. I do, however, edit them for people. It’s like a side job. I think it’s become harder to get our novels read, once published traditionally, since so many people now can self-publish, and many do so too quickly. Good novels get lost in a swamp of bad material.
6. WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME A WRITER?
Currently I have an editing job. I’ve been paid to edit other people’s work, too. But I’ve had a long office career, because I like to type. I’ve been “becoming a writer” for 30 years. It’s a process. My first official submission came when I created a short story while being bored on a temp office job. And boy, did I do that wrong!
7. WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST WRITING ACHIEVEMENT?
I think sticking with my vampire, Arabus Drake, through his many incarnations, and finally seeing that book published. The comments I’ve been getting, too, mean that I’ve accomplished what I’ve set out to do with it. I’ve got several readers reading review copies. One was blown away by the beginning and I’ve not heard from him since, and another says she’s still reading but it’s slow (meaning, I think, that the read is an unusual one for her. I hope.)
But I have to say that getting meet David Dortort and getting him to agree to allow me to publish my two Bonanza novels was the greatest moment of my life.
8. WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
Two more Arabus Drake books: Misadventures in Death & Friendship, and BloodLove. Kind of working on them simultaneously. The nice thing is that the three books don’t have to be read in any special order, although it’s nice to read Death & Romance and anticipate BloodLove. It works better that way. I also have a publisher reading Sylvan Liberty, a fantasy romance. I also have two other books waiting for editing, and two other books that I’m querying on.
9. WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
I write with a lot of spirit and culture. So I think reading things that have happened in history are inspiring, since I write a lot of historical material. Bonanza was actually my first inspiration. I just loved watching them put fictional characters into real historical events.
10. WHAT GENRE DO YOU WRITE?
I got a master’s in history in 2006 and have focused on that kind of material. But throw in some fantasy, romance, and intrigue. I don’t write genre, actually, every one of my books is different. But they all have some elements in common that I think readers will come to recognize and appreciate, if they like that style.
11. DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS?
Do your homework and practice your craft. Stop expecting riches and overnight success. PLEASE submit to small presses and traditional press before self-publishing. If you do not have or cannot develop the thick skin for rejection, because you’ll get it from readers, too, find some other hobby.
12. DO YOU SUFFER FROM WRITER’S BLOCK?
Never. I always have too many projects to worry about that. Not to mention articles and other things, always something to work on. Inspiration is nice though, and it doesn’t come along too often. You have to work for it.
13. DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED WRITING SCHEDULE?
I have a preferred social schedule. Otherwise, I’m always writing.
14. DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE WRITING PLACE?
Anywhere, anyplace, anytime. I actually don’t like my desk much. It’s not cozy since I had to move to an apartment last year.
15. WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST JOY IN WRITING?
Creating characters and seeing them take on a life of their own.
16. WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR AND WHY?
You know, I used to be in love with Stephen King’s work. Little by little I stopped admiring him. Oh, I know he creates great characters and settings. But for heaven’s sake, is it that hard for him to write a satisfying ending? I still hate Pet Semetery. I don’t devour everything he writes anymore. I love Umberto Eco’s work, partly because he’s hard to read. You don’t read and toss, but say, hmmm, I think I missed something, I’ll have to read it again. I like to think I create work that’s re-readable, with depth and layers. Otherwise, no, no one comes to mind. Except Heinlein. I’ve always loved Heinlein. I wrote a story treatment for one of his novels, tried to get permission for the script, found out someone else has it and it’s in “development hell.” Shame.
17. WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED FROM A READER?
That my book stirred up all sorts of emotions, or that she’s read it three times already. I also recently did a new beginning to my KDP book, based on early reader responses, and the reader thought the changes were awesome.
18. WHAT WAS THE WORST COMMENT FROM A READER?
Oh, I have faced a lot of one star reviews for Bonanza because there are so many jealous fanfic writers out there! I mean, you can tell when someone is just being mean or trying to bring you down. It just makes them look petty, and actually probably even aids in more sales. But other than that, I guess what’s most hurtful, especially with Mystic Fire, is that there’s one element early in the book that it seems some readers can’t get past. I mean, it’s real, and it happens, but they think it doesn’t belongs in a Bonanza novel. But it’s there for a reason, and I’m always very sorry when they don’t see that.
19. WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU?
I think it has to be yes for all writers, right? But I still remember the day I had four active projects, all dealing with death, when I first noticed my “theme.” My sister died when she was four, back when I was six and had just started watching Bonanza. I think that’s part of what led me to being a Bonanza writer, because to get to sleep at night, I used to rewrite the episodes in my head. Then a couple years after Adam (my favourite) left the Ponderosa, my dad died. You begin to look for ways to keep people alive in your writing, or deal with death in unusual and sometimes remarkable ways, with a loss so great. I’ve never felt loved like that since. Now, as I write this, I face the funeral of my mother ahead of me. And while hers is not as traumatic as the other two, I think my lifelong dealing with death is what’s keeping me sane now and grounded in my grief. And yes, there’s a lot of pagan and reincarnation spirit in my books, for that reason, too. We do not die. Our matter disperses into another plane and reassembles. I think there is such as a thing as a soul atom.
20. OTHER THAN WRITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
Horses. Bikes. Being outside. Doing anything outside. Except ticks. I don’t like ticks. I need to be active, especially since writing is so sedentary. Now that I have a full-time editing office job, it’s even harder. The weight is slapping itself back on, so now it’s diet down time again! And my granddaughters – but I rarely get to see them, since they leave in Seattle. But they are so precious. It’s hard to explain how they make me feel.
21. DID YOU HAVE YOUR BOOK / BOOKS PROFESSIONALLY EDITED BEFORE PUBLICATION?
I’m actually a professional editor myself. And I tend to put them through a lot of drafts. So that answer is definitely no. I do know how hard it is to edit your own work, though. I try to find an interested reader or two. But it’s another reason I don’t self-publish. We always benefit from other eyes. Always.
22. DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY.
I get a response to a submission and it’s a yes. Everything is cherry after that.
23. IF YOU WERE STUCK ON A DESERT ISLAND WITH ONE PERSON, WHO WOULD IT BE? WHY?
Alive or dead? I have four heroes in life and would love to chat with any one of them. If alive, I would have to say Armand Assante, just because he fascinates me, and is the role model for Arabus Drake. I once wrote and told him he’s that role model, and he sent me a glossy back, autographed, “Monette, I embrace you.” I wish.
24. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IF YOU HAD THE CHANCE TO SPEAK TO WORLD LEADERS?
PEACE PEOPLE! What are you waiting for? We can share the planet, but we have to stop fighting first. Oh, and find a way to give the Black Hills back to the Sioux, okay?
25. WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
I am in the third “trimester” of my life, so to speak. My 30-year plan is to work until I’m 70, travel until I’m 80 and then write my memoirs. I don’t believe in having a bucket list. Death, of course, could interrupt those plans.
26. WHAT ARE YOUR VIEWS ON BOOK TRAILERS? DO THEY SELL BOOKS?
My thought is no. But then I don’t feel like doing them, so I’ll never know. I put some nice videos at YouTube about the Ponderosa Ranch, when it was still open and fun to visit. But I don’t think it helped me sell a single Bonanza novel.
27. DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN ANY OF YOUR CHARACTERS?
I think I do. I believe in honesty and truth above all things. I hate violence, so I have a vampire who is very conflicted about his demonic thirst. We all have conflicts in us, I think, so he was pretty easy to write. The Cartwrights reflect all my moral values, so that was a natural for me. They often say not to shoot if there was another way out of a problem. And Ben Cartwright sure knew how to raise his family without playing favorites. Family is very big in my books.
28. DOES THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY FRUSTRATE YOU?
I just had a conversation with a publisher before he agreed to read my submission. He won’t work with bookstores anymore because they return the unsold copies in unusable condition. That’s a very valid point. But there are a lot of indie bookstores out there that don’t do that. They don’t carry more than a couple copies of a book at time, of course, but they generally never return. I think publishers need to start working with them, especially since POD is more popular now. I don’t like the trend of making authors take on all this expense. And, plus, they can maintain a database of these locations for their many authors. There’s a lot to be frustrated by. Solstice recently put out the print edition of Vrykolakas Tales and the back cover has open space – they left off their logo! That makes it look self-published when I sell it. I don’t get why the industry isn’t evolving a little better than it is. We need to demand that authors who are self-published have to relate that up front. It indicates lack of oversight, in general.
29. DID YOU EVER THINK OF QUITTING?
All the time! But with two new contracts this year, and a short story winning an honourable mention due out soon (and a cash award coming), those days are fewer now. I just can’t think what else I’d do to fill up my time. Take up crocheting again? Ugh. I can’t watch a lot of TV, it puts me to sleep. I love movies, and writing scripts is fun, but I can see myself giving that up if I can’t get anywhere with my newest creation.
30. WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE MANUSCRIPT TO WRITE? WHY?
I have to say Felling of the Sons because of the easy way that novel fell together, and because, while I had the time to edit it, I loved reading it every time. I felt it was so good that I had to pursue David Dortort to get permission. And it started as short story! There was just too much there, and it became a novel. But yes, I did have an outline of sorts, and yes, it did change a lot from what I had originally envisioned. I love my Vrykolakas Tales but the process was agonizing. It was even agented. It went from third person to first person to third person, I rejected four contracts, I got advice on fixing the beginning – and it wasn’t until I listened to that advice that it finally got a decent enough contract. I think Mystic Fire really succeeds, but I had to write it too quickly and my publisher wouldn’t let me make it as long as it needed to be.
31. HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE ‘SUCCESS’ AS A WRITER.
Loving to write is first. Paying attention to where you need to be at all stages of the process, second. Doing things the right way, third. And finding readers – actually that comes after the other three, but without that, you have nothing.
32. WHAT SHOULD READERS WALK AWAY FROM YOUR BOOKS KNOWING? HOW SHOULD THEY FEEL?
I do like to think I imbue my books with a lot of interesting information. I don’t believe in following any formulas, and use lots of real history. In fact, in my first two Bonanza novels I used footnotes! Although in Felling they don’t look right in Kindle format.
I also put for further reading at the back of my Vrykolakas book to show the research I used. The death scene, for instance, was created from the Tibetan Book of the Dead. I like to think I make readers feel more in touch with their humanity when they read my books. What it’s really like to be a human being, no matter your skin color or culture.
33. WOULD YOU LIKE TO HAVE YOUR BOOKS MADE INTO MOVIES? EVER WRITTEN A SCREENPLAY?
I have about eight movies scripts written. Several have won minor awards. My favorite one is based on my nonfiction book that I haven’t found a publisher for. Following Orders tells the real story of what happened to Custer at the Little Bighorn, but it’s fictionalized because I put my research of my great-uncle into it. The book is called Civil War & Bloody Peace: following orders and follows the orders of my grandfather’s great-uncle Henry Bertrand, who was in the Civil and Indian wars. It just amazes me I can’t find a publisher. But then, how many want to learn that it was Grant’s fault Custer got killed? I wouldn’t mind if someone else wanted to adapt one of my books. I’m hoping someone picks up Dancing with Cannibals, because I won’t be doing that one myself.
34. HOW MUCH THOUGHT GOES INTO DESIGNING A BOOK COVER?
Sometimes I get ideas right off. Sometimes I don’t. With Vrykolakas Tales, the publisher went with a safe bet. I had a different idea that I thought would have been cooler. Since they didn’t use my idea, they should have at least had a bouquet of half dead roses in that hand bursting from the grave. With Dancing with Cannibals, I wanted a mask on the cover, but originally I thought of something a little more stereotypical. I was so happy of the work my son Adam did on that cover. For Grimms American Macabre, coming out in the fall, I really want the old house my dad grew up in, that was in Grimms, Wisconsin. His mother was a Grimm. And for Sylvan Liberty, the one I just found a publisher to read, I need a tree in a forest shaped like a woman. I found one once, but I wasn’t sure how to get the rights to it. So I’ll need someone who can draw.
35. WHAT’S YOUR ULTIMATE DREAM?
An academy award! Seriously! And giving a book presentation at Barnes and Noble. Both seem out of reach.
36. WRITING IS ONE THING. WHAT ABOUT MARKETING YOU, YOUR BOOKS AND YOUR BRAND? ANY THOUGHTS?
Oh, such a tough question. I just came through a book launch with little to show for it. I’m not a big fan of advertising on social media anymore. I wanted to get press releases in papers and my hometown paper said they don’t publish them anymore. I found a site recommended by a marketing expert – newswire.com – a little pricey but supposed to get you in newsprint. I still think that’s where you get attention, because of how people fight for space there. Anyone can do social media. It’s easy to tune out with all those voices. What works? Well, I’ve had to buy quite a few copies myself for reviews, and giveaways. Getting people to read and spread the word is probably the best. But honestly, I wish I knew. Bonanza novels continue to sell because of the fan base and lack of competition. My Vrykolakas will just have to catch on, somehow. I think it will. I think it should.
37. ARE YOUR BOOKS SELF-PUBLISHED?
Just Dancing with Cannibals. Here’s the thing – since it’s co-authored, and he lives in South Africa, and he was desperate and didn’t want to wait for the traditional route, he forced me to self-publish by finding another editor, leaving my name off, and publishing it at Amazon. When I found out, I had it removed, did a couple more edits and put it up there for us. He had no right to do that, but in his defense, he was desperate. I feel bad about that. I’m trying to get the print copy ready now.
38. DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN FIVE WORDS.
I don't like me much.
39. WHAT PISSES YOU OFF MOST?
When other people don’t like me. I think I’m nice, most of the time, but I have these negative thoughts; I tend to think the worst of people sometimes. Not everything is about me! I have to keep reminding myself of that. But I don’t make good first impressions and I don’t know what to do about that so I have to accept me the way I am. Since other people don’t like me, I guess I don’t like me either. I don’t do well in public, unless I’m performing or presenting. I had a boyfriend once, who said something profound. He said, you’re just acting all the time, aren’t you. I love honesty but people see me as insincere. Did I mention conflict earlier? We all have them.
40. WHAT IS THE TITLE OF THE LAST BOOK YOU READ? GOOD ONE?
No, it was crap. I had to read it for a review. Which is why I’m saying I won’t read self-published to review anymore.
41. WHAT WOULD BE THE VERY LAST SENTENCE YOU’D WRITE?
Huh. Well, I do plan to write until I die. I like Agatha Christie in that respect, and some of her books are good, too, but after a while they’re hard to tell apart. Who was it who always ended with “And so it goes.” Garrison Keeler? I like that. Something like that. “Humanity as seen from the eyes of Death” is the new pitch for Vrykolakas Tales. And maybe at the end, I’ll have that answer I’ve been looking for – why do humans have consciousness?
42. WHAT WOULD MAKE YOU HAPPIER THAN YOU ARE NOW? CARE TO SHARE?
I just want to be loved, I guess. But I think I’m too needy. If I could learn to accept myself, maybe people could learn to accept me, and then I’d be happy. Honestly, when I got the contract for Vrykolakas I expected to be ecstatic, I’d been trying for so long. But instead, I felt like Droopy Dog. So it’s not being published that does it—what will? I think being needed. It feels like no one needs me. I have to work on that, but sincerely, with having to move away from my husband to take this job, and him not caring, there doesn’t seem to be anything else I can do. Here I am and this is what I have to deal with.
43. ANYTHING YOU’D LIKE TO ADD?
Being a writer is not all glamor and riches and fun. Don’t go into it for that. Be sincere in having something to say. Or you’re just wasting everyone’s time. And if you have to write genre, find a way to be different!
Clancy's comment: Many thanks, Monette. Love your answer to number 43!