Now when I show up on television or radio, I’m typically a guest speaking about writing, as I’m a children’s book author. And I’m really happy that my next publication will represent my home state of Wisconsin in an upcoming Holt/Macmillan anthology called the Haunted States of America. Another thing I do is help run Fantasy Art Workshop’s Illustration Intensive, a week-long art retreat. You can learn more about what I’ve done since my TV days by looking at the About me section of my website, but I can tell you that I greatly enjoyed my 25+ years as a news reporter, anchor, and guest talk show host.
It’s true that journalists do quite a bit of traveling for stories. TODAY’S TMJ4 covers the state – and news in general – very, very well and is committed to broadcasting the news where it happens, so all of us press types have traveled at some point or another. Most of my reports were based out of somewhere in Wisconsin, although they were frequently sent via satellite feed around the country – even around the world.
So how did I find time to write? I used my off time well. Deadlines teach journalists to write whenever there’s available time, so even if I only had ten minutes, I’d take advantage of those ten minutes to write a few sentences or clean up a paragraph. We all do what we can. I’m also blessed with supportive family and friends who won’t let me quit. My biggest supporter is my husband, Jeff Miracola, who has been published hundreds of times already in the gaming and children’s book industries. He gives constant encouragement.
The most challenging aspect was freeing my imagination.
News doesn’t allow for anything but facts. Equally importantly, it doesn’t allow flowery prose. There are no long, descriptive passages setting the scene, parties are only minimally described, and the language is short and succinct. That was my training.
Fiction, by contrast, absolutely requires descriptive passages, along with varied depth, pacing, and intense character development. It has to; fiction writing is creating a new world rather than chronicling the events of the existing one.
That’s a toughie because we see ourselves differently than others might, so I’m not sure how many people would agree with my self-assessment, but here goes. I like to think I was outgoing, friendly, talkative, unconcerned with social or economic status. I was musically inclined, enjoyed sports, thirsted for knowledge. I loved reading, exploring, and horseback riding, which I could only do when I saved enough money for a short trot on the horses at a stable about 40 minutes from my house. I walked there or rode my bike and always wished the section where the horses flat out ran would stretch out forever. I loved every second I got to spend with my extended family in Puerto Rico, especially the summers. I valued travel.
Firefighter, fighter pilot, politician, whistleblower, writer, someone who somehow made a difference.
It’s personal in the sense that I write the stories I would have liked to read as a teenager (and still enjoy reading today). It’s personal in that I write in genres and for age groups that interest me. It’s also personal in that I’m proud of the act of writing itself because it’s no easy thing to see a novel through to completion. But it’s not personal in many other ways, and I think those aspects are what people most mean when they ask this question.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with fiction writers pushing an agenda, but having said that, my stories are not manifestos on my belief system.
I create plotlines and characters that I believe make for a compelling story. By compelling, I don’t mean “pushing my agenda.” I mean “interesting.” I think all authors sample a bit from their life experiences to add detail, emotion, and intrigue to their stories. After all, how else could they write a story that resonates? How could they develop characters with depth? How could they create motivations to move the story along?
But I think that people who ask this question often want to hear anecdotes about how the author is just like the protagonist for this and that reason or that the author is pushing this certain theme because she feels strongly about it thanks to this particular moment in her life. Well, an author’s writing might mirror her personal life or beliefs, sure, but not necessarily.
Now, one of the reasons I write fiction is to experience new worlds. Writing about new places and different types of characters stretches me to put myself into others’ shoes – just as reading stretches readers to see life from others’ perspectives. Sometimes my story takes me places I hadn’t expected, but I can’t lessen the story for fear that someone who knows me might assign the story to my belief system. If that were the case, in God Awful Loser, every time I give Mars, the god of war, a paragraph of dialogue, am I advocating war? And, in God Awful Thief, by including Bacchus, the god of wine, am I pushing wine consumption? Of course not. Those are merely characters with distinguishing quirks. Those quirks make them who they are.
So I can say with certainty that, at least with my writing, samples of my experiences are sprinkled throughout, and I might have brought personality traits of acquaintances to the page, but no single character is wholly me or wholly reflective of the people in my life, nor are the themes I cover the sum total of what I deem worth writing about. In fact, even theme can’t be identified with certainty, as different readers see varying themes, depending on the experiences they bring to the book. And even that isn’t necessarily very personal; it may just happen to match a moment they remember.
It’s one of the genres I liked to read as a young adult. I found most of the stories to be rather clever mechanisms to explain the world as people of ancient times might have seen it. Some of the stories were silly, sure, but even the less-than-spectacular tales featured gods and/or beings with superhuman capabilities.
The gods were especially fun because, having specialties as they did, they themselves became concentrated passions. So the god of theater may purposely fail to solve a problem the easy way because the hard way promises much more drama. Writing these types of neurotic characters – and the humans with whom they interact – is hugely entertaining.
In any genre, I want to write engaging stories that give readers something to think about after they’ve closed the book, be it the theme, a scene they liked, a particular character, what have you.
In mythology particularly, I want the same as above but also an appreciation for the myths and characters of antiquity. They served the fascinating purpose of trying to explain the origins of life and nature. The myths were creative and provided an interesting glimpse into the value system of the past. Mythology is worth considering.
Manipulation is a strong theme in traditional mythology. The gods often kneaded and molded circumstances to create the outcomes they desired. And this could be very entertaining. I’ve created fresh scenes involving manipulation and also sampled some from ages past, one example being the story of the golden apple, which you can read about in the third book in the God Awful Series. Three goddesses, each seeking an advantage, manipulated a man over something we mortals would see as trivial. The manipulation resulted in a war, something definitely not trivial, but which again led to more mythological tales.
I allow the gods to manipulate and scheme in my modern mythology because, to my way of thinking, that’s the way these gods would react. The reader can look forward to it, sort of an, “Oh, boy! Cupid’s not gonna like this!” moment. It’s fun.
Yes. I’ve also written middle grade and picture books, which are not as easy as they look.
Ha! Without a doubt, it would be Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, theater, and drama – not that I’m into drama because I’m not sure my poor heart could handle how much drama he’d bring to my life, but Bacchus is cultured and worldly. He’d be a great companion for a night out on the town.
I’m guessing some people would be surprised that I wouldn’t choose Cupid. I’m confident he’d be a pro at wooing a date, but I’ve been so close to him for so long that I really feel he’s tailor made for Tamara, who’s all that he’s not and vice versa. I’d hate to break up a winning pair.
(Alert! Answer includes a spoiler.)
In the God Awful Series, I most relate to Tamara. She’s smart, loyal, and giving, and who wouldn’t like to believe they have some of those traits? I’d also like to think in my wildest fantasies that I’d behave as bravely as she does in trying times. She befriended a hellhound and even slept on a panther’s back, so I must admit she’s made of tougher stuff than me.
I have a few other characters with whom I relate, but they’re in my unpublished works. Maybe someday those stories will see the light of day.
(Alert! Answer includes a spoiler.)
Again, limiting my answers to my published works, the most challenging scene to write was the duel scene in God Awful Loser. It was a pivotal scene with a lot riding on it.
The scene consists of a dashing, up-and-coming celestial who challenges Cupid to a duel for his crown. I had to make the duel riveting with rousing action and daring moves. Cupid had to lose spectacularly, and by that I mean he had to profoundly underperform against his own true skill. Having a funny moment or two thrown in would help. It was a tall order, and I’m pleased with how it turned out.
How easy it can be to write extensively in a genre you already love. There were sections in each story that wrote themselves; I was a conduit to how the characters reacted, and I was struck by how real they seemed. Of course, those were small sections of the whole manuscript. The rest required planning and work.
I’m not intimidated by it, as I’ve done it for decades. However, my standards for what I call “good writing” keep changing, and I’m constantly trying to stretch my abilities and take on new challenges, so there will always be times that I find writing exacting. For example, I’ve written a narrator speaking to more than one audience at a time. I’ve written an action scene with one character present at two separate locations. These scenes made the story a better read than had I shied away. Without challenges, I’d get bored and, I fear, so might readers.
Pretty fantastic, let me tell you. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, which is the worldwide professional organization for creators of literature for children and young adults, awarded its Spark Award to God Awful Rebel, the final book in my God Awful trilogy. Rebel had a lot of work to do wrapping up the series, but I’m especially pleased with how it turned out, and the Spark Award puts a gorgeous bow on top. I’m incredibly honored.
I don’t write memoirs, so someone disagreeing with my writing is actually them disagreeing with a story element, like the subject matter or a character’s action or dialogue. Some people get upset with the mere existence of a book that doesn’t align with their worldview. We all have different tastes, and even those can vary from day to day, so a creative person has to keep in mind that they can’t please everyone. I will say that I haven’t come up against strong disagreement to my fiction work, although I certainly did with my journalism. Sometimes journalists are harangued just for covering a story, no matter how they do it. Writers need to have thick skins.
Now more than ever. At the very least, I write a general outline with chapter bullet points. I sometimes don’t detail getting from one point to another so that I can enjoy the spontaneity of my characters’ actions and reactions, but I always know where the story is headed.
I don’t have a set routine. I write when I find (or make) the time. I type directly into my computer when I feel like it. When I don’t want to be in front of a screen, I write longhand in a fancy, old-timey journal with rough, handmade paper, which is supremely satisfying because my rollerball pen makes a great scratching sound as I write, reassuring me of progress and making me feel like an author of a bygone age. Don’t laugh. We all have our quirks.
I most often write at a coffee shop or the library because:
- Any crashes, bangs, or shouts have nothing to do with me (although I’ll look up to make sure everyone’s okay),
- I don’t have to actively ignore the dishes, laundry, or any other chore staring me in the face at home, and
- The white noise and solitude provide the unfettered time I need to fall into another world.
I write at home mostly when:
- I’m transposing into my computer what I wrote in my journal,
- I’m line editing, or
- I’m doing freelance work for clients or utilizing a more fact-driven style for whatever purpose that doesn’t require deep, creative meditation.
Tea is nice. Cookies are, too.
Not at all. When I’m writing, I’m deep into the psyche of my characters and in the world I’ve created. It’s crowded in there, if not with characters then with thoughts. I’m very happy when I’m writing. I’m also pleased to meet other writers and readers, though. I guess the short answer is, I’m happy with my own thoughts and fine being alone, so I don’t often feel lonely.
Absolutely. I love meeting writers, who understand the journey, and readers who’ve found some value in the work. And I admit it feels good to be treated like a rock star.
Every author I’ve ever read, without their knowing it, inspired me to write, to go for it. As far as influences, it’s difficult to say. Many creative types say their influences are so many and varied that they become subconscious and unrecognizable. So I’ll just say that many people from many creative fields inspired my work.
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