Saturday, February 12, 2011

J - Interview with Author C. Michelle Jefferies


C. Michelle Jefferies practically grew up in a library. The oldest daughter of four, she spent hours devouring books with her mother. When she was ten, she realized that she wanted to write stories like the science fiction books she loved to read. In high school, she met another writer that inspired her to write a novel instead of just short stories. She finished that 189 page handwritten novel the summer of her junior year.

A mother of seven, she put her writing on the back burner while she focused on raising her young children, and volunteering as a breastfeeding counselor in her community. When her children were old enough for her to spend a few hours on the computer, without them burning the house down, she returned to writing and hasn’t stopped since. Often writing or editing with a baby in her arms or under her feet.

Married to the guy her high school boyfriend introduced her to; she claims the last 15 + years as her education and mission experience. With a love for natural mothering, and a passion for secret agents and all things Asian she writes about bad boys turned good and romantic family life. All while beating herself up three times a week in Karate class as she works toward her black belt in Tang Soo Do.

Deirdra: When did you first know you wanted to be an author?

Michelle: I’ve always been a reader. My mom loves to read, and I grew up seeing her with a book in hand or spending time at the library. When I was ten, I found a little series of science fiction books that I fell in love with. It was then that I decided that I wanted to write stories like the ones I was reading. I’ve always had an over active imagination and those desires began to play out in my head in scenes that I would act out with my friends. It was about that time I also found an Americanized Japanese Anime called “Battle Of The Planets” and I fell head over heels in love with the loose cannon character named Jason. All of those factors created in me, the desire to write.

Deirdra: What is your writing and educational background?

Michelle: I actually went to college for art and not writing. I don’t remember if I decided that I was more interested in art or that my experiences in high school as a writer jaded my desire. I wasn’t very good in English and I hated writing essays. I took AP US History but I never took the test because the DBQ’s scared me. I have horrible handwriting and no one could read what I wrote, including my creative writing teacher. This was before everyone had computers. My writing education is from the school of hard knocks. I would write a story and give it to a critique partner and it would come back dripping in “blood”. I got the “your grammar stinks, but I couldn’t stop reading the story” comment more than once. I have learned how to write by taking the edits, and comments and fixing my mistakes. I went from a constant 15% passive voice to between 2-4% by learning about passive voice and then taking every passive sentence in a 70,000 word manuscript, and rewriting it in the active voice.

Deirdra: What makes you passionate about writing?

Michelle: I love words. I love how a well written sentence, a subtly written description, a twist or foreshadowing makes your body tingle and your mind race. I love a book that makes me pause in the middle of the page, or wish that I could write as well as them. I once wrote a short story solely for the use of foreshadowing, I don’t even have that story any more, but I remember how great the planning and writing of the story was.

Deirdra: What was the pathway like for you to get your first book published?

Michelle: Well I’m not published yet but I just received a rejection letter that said they could see I had spent a lot of time on the MS, and that I was a talented writer. I was giddy about the rejection for days. *Laughs* I thought I had a decent MS and submitted it to a few places testing the waters. After a few rejections I ended up re-writing the whole book going back in time in the main characters life to answer the questions that my crit partners and agents were all asking. (hint: if everyone is asking the same things, it’s probably a good sign you need to address the question.) I edited that book several times by myself and had readers look at it. Just when I thought I was ready to submit, I had a dear friend who’s published and a professional editor offer to edit my book. I of course took them up on it and we edited the MS over the next year. Now I have a beautiful polished ready to submit work. That is where I stand right now.

Deirdra: Were you ever discouraged along the way? If so, how did you deal with it?

Michelle: I have been so discouraged about my writing that I actually quit writing both my manuscripts and my blog. I had just moved to an extremely small town and had lost my crit group and an awesome job. Both things I needed to stay sane and be happy. Those people who think that writers crave solitude and are strange reclusive creatures are wrong. Well at least about the solitude. We writers need support and friends. I returned to writing when I found some online friends and realized I still had stories to tell and the characters weren’t going to leave me alone even if I moved.

Deirdra: What is your writing schedule like?

Michelle: Chuckles, with seven kids, including one infant and a precocious four year old I don’t have a schedule. When either the baby learns to sleep for more than a few minutes and when the pre-schooler goes to kindergarten. I will have a chunk of time to write. Otherwise I grab little snitches of time when I can. This isn’t the best schedule for me. I don’t get a lot done in short pieces of time I usually do better when I can have two uninterrupted hours or so to get in the groove. I’d be a lot more productive if my office was upstairs too but there’s no room.

Deirdra: Where do your ideas come from? How do you know the idea is good enough to write a book about it?

Michelle: Where do your ideas come from? I see, hear, and imagine ideas all around me. Like I said earlier I have a VERY VIVID imagination and have had characters walk in the room introduce themselves and start telling me their story. MY son was watching a storm the other day and mentioned something about it to me. Soon enough I had a planet that was trapped by furious storms in my head. Then the bad guy stepped in and explained how he was taking advantage of the residents of the planet by making them mine for a very valuable mineral that was making him rich and how he was supplying them with their food and other things at an extremely inflated rate because he could. Then the Mc and hero stepped in and told me what he was going to do to save the planet. It was sweet. I had a vampire, of all types of characters, come and talk to me at church a few years ago.

How do you know the idea is good enough to write a book about it? A lot of ideas go through my head and some of them I toss because they aren’t either good enough or saleable or just too hard to write. (think Arthur C Clarke type of Scifi.) I know when I have a good story when the character becomes real and the idea won’t leave me alone even if I am working on another story. I usually throw ideas at my best friend who is a writer and she will tell me if they sound interesting. She’s really good at what ifs and with her I will take a small idea like a stormy planet and develop it into a real plotline.

Deirdra: Can you tell us about the Prophecy Rising series.

Michelle: Prophecy Rising Series is about a character named Antony. In Emergence, an athiest assassin goes from being a“bad boy” to a “good guy” and vows to correct his previous mistakes. Latent Awaiting and Prophecy Rising follow him as he begins to live the good guy life and tries to save the world from men bent on world domination. All while falling in love, having a family, fulfilling prophecy and experiencing other challenges.
This is my blurb for Emergence:
He was the corporation's prized hit man--untill he refused an assignment. Now he's going to find it's a lot easier to kill a man--than keep him alive.

Deirdra: I noticed many butterflies on your website. Is there any symbolism behind them?

Michelle: Butterflies are a symbol of change. Metamorphosis. Of taking a caterpillar, something not that good looking or even ugly in some peoples opinion and transforming itself into something amazing and beautiful. In this story, and others I have written, the base theme is taking a flawed man and changing his life into something good. Transformation, metamorphosis. Did you know that butterflies have taste sensors on their front legs? They experience life through movement.

Deirdra: How many beta readers do you have review your manuscript before you send it to your editor?

Michelle: I have had anywhere between one to five or six. It all depends on where I have lived and what I am writing. I am in a awesome crit group now so I think I won’t need as many betas as I used to. My grammar has improved too, and that makes it easier. Funny story, I gave my MS to a friend, a beta reader, and she took it to work with her especially when she worked the night shift. She left it on her desk and the cleaning lady started to read it and ended up stealing it promising to return it in a few days. She did return it and made my friend promise that she would tell her when it came out in print cause she wanted a copy.

Deirdra: What do you hope readers will get from your books?

Michelle: I hope they get adventure with out the excessive language, smut, and blood. I hope they walk away feeling satisfied with the process my character takes and I hope the walk away with a feeling of hope for the future. I really dislike dystopian because I don’t like the hopelessness it often portrays. I write in the future and while everything isn’t peachy keen, (where’s the story in that?) Things aren’t hopeless like some story’s portray.

Deirdra: What is your process of brainstorming a story? Do you just sit down and write, waiting to see what happens next? Or do you outline first?

Michelle: I was a seat of the pants writer a long time ago. Now I am a structure gal. I usually get an idea and let it sit and simmer in my brain for a while. (weeks, months) then when it refuses to leave me alone any more I will start to think about structure. Then I start to fill out all the things in my Project Notebook (I have a blog post about them, trust me they are worth it.) and then I free write. While I dislike something so structured that I have written the story before I have written it. I like to know where I am going and therefore avoiding mega numerous rewrites. I write my rough drafts with my voice. If I revise and edit too much I lose my voice and my story becomes a massive story of telling. I use Story Structure by Larry Brooks as my “recipe” for the story. I also use “The Hero’s Journey” as the basis for my characters arc in the story. Once I have these basic structure ideas I use them to free write the story.

Deirdra: Do you ever experience a snag in a story, a form of writer's block? If so, how do you deal with it?

Michelle: I do get writers block sometimes but to be honest Story Structure has eliminated a lot of that. I know where I am going and If I get snagged I usually move on to another part of the story. If I really get blocked I take time off from writing and refuel myself. I read, watch movies, draw pictures and do those types of things that make me happy and feel creative. I have also had to learn that I am a good writer and storyteller regardless of what others think. This last year I found myself so emotionally caught up in my edits that my confidence really went out the window. I had to force myself to stop that. It was ruining my self image and my writing.

Deirdra: Do you need absolute quiet to write? Do you listen to music when you are writing?

Michelle: My house is almost never quiet, and if it is, it feels weird. I have learned to just tune the kids out unless someone is screaming and bloody. LOL. Granted, I almost always have an older teen to keep an eye on things if I am writing or editing. I do have some music I listen to and have a playlist I call my Emergence soundtrack. Emergence is the working title of my MS. It’s on my blog if you want to go listen. Granted I was writing about an assassin and some of the music is dark and harsh.

Deirdra: What kinds of inspiration do you use during your story creation periods?

Michelle: My best inspiration is rainy days. But I often find myself reading a good book or watching Anime for inspiration. My life is heavily influenced by Asian things, from tea sets, to martial arts. When Emergence gets published, you can look for my tribute to “Bleach” a popular Japanese Anime in the story. Even if the inspiration isn’t similar to my WIP I find that taking in something artistic refuels me.

Deirdra: Who has made the greatest difference for you as a writer?

Michelle: Wow I could fill lists of people who have changed my writing life. The most influential people are Paulette Inman my best friend who is also a writer. She is my sounding board my greatest fan and a great critic. She is the best “what if” I have ever met. I would also have to list Tristi Pinkston. She has answered questions, critted pieces of my work, celebrated my victories with me, and listened to me complain. I would count them as my two best writing friends. However, I have lots of other writing friends IRL and online. To all of you, thank you.

Deirdra: What’s your secret to making the character’s in your books come to life?

Michelle: Again I would say that my vivid imagination has a lot to do with how real my characters are. Some characters have a frequent running dialogue going on in my head as I interact with other people and live my life. A lot of characterization is letting them have a little free reign and seeing where they take you. Sometimes a secondary character will surprise you by becoming a main character or stealing the show.

Deirdra: What authors do you admire, and why?

Michelle: I admire Melissa Marr for her subtle and eloquent descriptions, Donna Boyd for her beautiful prose, Dan Wells for his amazing characterization, Jim Butcher for his reflections of real life and humor, and finally Bree Despain for her ability to translate a bible parable into an amazing story.

Deirdra: What is your favorite snack to have while you are writing?

Michelle: My can’t do without snack is ice water even if it’s cold. I crave it. Seriously! I also sometimes need Dove Caramel Chocolates and Oreos. A new must have is the new Cranberry Sierra Mist nummy! I try not to eat as I work because I am a grazer and will eat all day without consciously thinking about it. So, Ice water is a very safe snack. J

Deirdra: Besides writing what other talents or hobbies do you have? (Ehem. make sure you mention your totally awesome skill with Tang Soo Do!)

Michelle: I am also an artist and draw especially my characters. I like to sew and knit as long as I have a loom. I collect teapots and sets and have 19 teapots and over 35 cups and saucers. I have an old ceramic one cup teapot that says “Made in Germany” so it must have been made before World War 2! I am a red belt in Tang Soo Do which is a Korean form of Karate. Red belt means I am half way to black and I am now able to learn weapons. I can’t wait to learn bo staff and sword. My assassin is also a student of Karate and it really helps me to write awesome fight scenes.

Deirdra: What words of advice do you have for other writers who desire to have their manuscripts become books in print?

Michelle: Learn your craft. Study it. Practice it. If you are still in school or can go back to school, learn proper English and grammar. If you get discouraged, don’t give up. Writing is a craft, and while some people succeed in this market with only a little skill, talent and luck, most spend years perfecting it and write hundreds of thousands of words before making it. This isn’t like a paying job where you punch a clock and get paid for every hour. In fact, most writers probably spend more in paper and ink than their first royalty is worth. Find a good crit group. If that group doesn’t fit you, find another. Find readers that are willing to be honest with you. Most important of all, develop a thick skin. You’re going to fail and sometimes miserably before becoming proficient. People are going to tell you your writing sucks and you need to go back and rewrite maybe thousands of words. Don’t let it get to you, treat it as training and go back and revise and edit because you are learning to be a great writer. Lastly, don’t give up on your dream. The difference between a published author and a wanna be writer is the author kept writing.

Deirdra: What are you working on now?

Michelle: I am just starting to free write on the storm planet story. It’s going to be different because the MC is YA and I am not as skilled writing YA. But I am learning to stretch my wings. I am also starting to send the sequel of Emergence called Latent to the crit group and I am revising and editing that one.

Deirdra: Any final words you would like to share?

Michelle: Shameless self promotion? LOL Go see my blog become a follower if you like what you see.http://cmichellejefferies.blogspot.com Check out my website http://cmichellejefferies.yolasite.com although it is pretty stagnant. Be my friend, and we’ll all succeed together right?

13 comments:

  1. Thanks again for this opportunity. It was a blast to do. :)
    Michelle

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  2. sweet and fun interview! can relate to way too much of it tho (like the wanting to give up section? um, ya) :) i totally like the blog--gonna have to follow it

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  3. Thanks Deidra for interviewing Michelle. I just love her. I hope she already considers me a friend? I can't wait for her books to be in print. I've read a snippet and I REALLY liked it. I'd love to read more. Hint. Hint. I can't wait for the storm story!!!!

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  4. Nice interview! You are a very talented lady, Michelle!

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  5. I especially enjoyed hearing about your pathway to getting published. It certainly takes a lot to get that MS polished. Good luck!

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  6. Nice to meet you Michelle. Good luck with all your projects.
    Nancy
    N. R. Williams, fantasy author

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  7. Great interview! I'm headed over to your blog!

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  8. This is a fantastic interview, Dierdra and Michelle! It was nice to get to know you better, Michelle :)

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  9. Wonderful interview of a talented lady.

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  11. Wonderful interview, Michelle ! Can't wait to read your books! You have become an amazingly kind, talented and eloquent woman. Auntie Paula

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  12. Awesome interview with one of my favorite people.

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