Deirdra: When did you first know you wanted to be an author?
Maria: Around the same time I discovered the emotional impact of books, I wrote a story I was very proud of and just knew I should be an author. I was eight. Then, as time went by, I wanted to be a veterinarian, a geologist, and Annie Dillard. In high school and college I dabbled in writing again, worked in BYU’s Writing Center, won a short story contest, did some ghost writing and a little editing. My main goal, though, was to be a mom and as soon as that happened, writing wasn’t much of a drive for me. Maybe I needed the break to gain experience. As soon as my youngest entered kindergarten, the dormant obsession reawakened and over the past year especially, it has overtaken my every spare minute.
Deirdra: What is your writing and educational background?
Maria: At first, I majored in communications at BYU, thinking that writing for a newspaper was more practical than fiction writing. It wasn’t until I worked on the university paper that I realized I wasn’t a journalist. Mid-semester, I traded my spiral steno for heavy literature tomes and an English degree. Now my daughter tells me I earned “the only degree you can’t do anything with,” but all my writing experiences and studies have been helpful—even the statistics class I struggled through.
Deirdra: What makes you passionate about writing?
Maria: I would say I’m more obsessed than passionate. I can’t stop thinking about it: how I’m going to maneuver that scene or where I can tuck this experience into a novel. I almost feel like I have no choice, though of course, I do.
Deirdra: Besides writing, what other talents do you have?
Maria: I don’t know about talents, but I’ve got many interests: playing the oboe, photography, running, sleeping, and of course, reading.
Deirdra: What is your writing schedule like?
Maria: I have a luxury many other writers do not—all three of my children are in school and I only work outside the home two days a week while they’re in class. When they’re home, I try to do all the cleaning and domestic stuff so I protect the precious few quiet hours while they’re gone, to write. It’s surprising how quickly my days fill with household chores, PTA, and church responsibilities, but I find some of the best snippets of time for writing are in a parked car waiting for children. In fact, I’ve contemplated sitting in the car in the garage to wait for the muse to strike. I have been caught with my netbook next to the stove while I’m stirring something for dinner or late at night while everyone is asleep.
Deirdra: Where do your ideas come from? How do you now the idea is good enough to write a book about it?
Maria: I listen well. I love to garner ideas from conversations overheard at book group or the playground or from family members’ wards. Of course I don’t “report” the stories as they’re told, but I mold them to fit the situation I want, combine them, or use them as jumping-off places. I generally know they make the cut when I can’t quit thinking about them until they’re integrated into my story.
Deirdra: When did the idea of writing a book first come to you?
Maria: My first book, Nourish & Strengthen, started as a journal entry about our family cat and somehow I found I wanted to write a novel instead (and eventually the cat part of the story was axed). It only took me about six or seven months to write the first draft, but the editing has been quite another story. It’s gone through long draughts of time getting dusty in my computer and several major revisions to get it to its current condition. The idea for my current WIP came to me while I was riding my bicycle home from work 17 or 18 years ago, but I didn’t start writing it until recently. Obviously I think there’s something there since I couldn’t dismiss it.
Deirdra: What do you hope readers will someday get from your books?
Maria: The same thing probably most authors want: I want my readers to have vicariously experienced something new, learning a little along the way. I want them to close the book feeling uplifted and ready to take on their own personal challenges with renewed determination. I want them to have appreciated the book enough to recommend it to their entire book group and wide circle of friends.
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?
Maria: I always carry a small notebook in my purse to jot down ideas or situations as they come to me. Over months of collecting, the tidbits work themselves into a full-fledged idea (usually while I’m writing another book) and then I plot an outline, sometimes writing the notes on index cards. The outline is just the skeleton, though, and by the time I get to writing the scenes, sometimes the cards make no sense or characters and situations take me in unanticipated directions.
Deirdra: Do you ever experience a snag in a story, a form of writer’s block? If so, how do you deal with it?
Maria: I try to push through, reminding myself I can fix problems during the editing process. Sometimes that plan doesn’t work and it becomes a signal to take a break, go for a run, spend time with my family or spend hours on blogs.
Deirdra: Do you need absolute quiet to write? Do you listen to music when you are writing?
Maria: I don’t choose to listen to music when writing because I’ll start singing along and be jerked back into reality, which can be quite detrimental. I end up making exceptions for piano lessons, band practice, Rock Band, and, of course, the awful selection of music played at Barnes & Noble, because if I had to wait for perfect silence, I wouldn’t get much done.
Deirdra: What kinds of inspiration do you use during your creation periods?
Maria: The thing that helps me the most is running. It’s a great time to plan ahead or think through a problem. Letting my mind wander gives it opportunity to take the story in a different direction than I’d considered while at the computer. Although I get similar results while falling asleep, at least I remember the ideas I get while running. If I’ve completely run out of ideas, a ladies’ night out or book group often helps. Invariably someone’s got a great story that gets me thinking again.
Deirdra: Who has made the greatest difference for you as a writer?
Maria: For inspiration and example—my 16 year old son who spent his summer writing a 75K-word YA novel (that’s really quite good!). For direction—a friend who guided my efforts when I didn’t know what the next step should be. For my greatest strength and unending encouragement—my husband, who gives me the emotional support I need to never give up and who assures me I’m not crazy for wanting to write.
Deirdra: What’s your secret to making the characters in your book come to life?
Maria: I like to take several people I’ve met and cherry-pick certain characteristics to model a character on. My worry is that one of my friends or my sister will read my books and recognize situations, quirks or dialogue and say, “I’m not really like that.” To that I say, “Of course not! It’s fiction!”
Deirdra: What is your favorite snack to have while you are writing?
Maria: I try to steer clear of the snacking but I always like to have something sugar-free to drink nearby.
Deirdra: What words of advice do you have for other writers who desire to have their manuscripts become books in print?
Maria: Well, my husband would tell me to say “Give up, so there will be less competition for me!” But seriously, I think the thing that has helped the most was going to a writing conference and then joining a writing group. It’s great to have people to bounce ideas off, offer helpful critiques, and encourage me to NEVER give up!
Deirdra: What are you working on now?
Maria: I am working on another LDS women’s novel about a medical issue, this one about infertility and friendships. It’s written from four characters’ POVs, which is different from my last book and makes it interesting to write. I feel somewhat schizophrenic being in four different people’s heads at once (five, if you count mine!).
Deirdra: What is the most difficult thing about being an author?
Maria: Waiting. Waiting for responses from alpha readers. Waiting for responses from publishers. Waiting to see my hard work on a shelf, or better yet, in someone’s hand.
Deirdra: What is the best thing about being an author?
Maria: I love having the power to create a character who reacts to a situation differently than I might or have them say or do something I might not.
Deirdra: Where is your favorite place to write?
Maria: Without a doubt, Barnes & Noble. I love being surrounded by all those books; it’s inspiring. And I’ve had some really great conversations there which might end up in a book sometime. Also city parks if the weather is nice. Anywhere but home because then I feel guilty for not doing something domestic.
Deirdra: How do you come up with your characters’ names?
Maria: Baby name books, websites that give the popular names for the characters’ birth years, and from those nifty notebooks of mine where I’ve collected interesting names—some of which I can’t wait to use!
Deirdra: What is the best compliment you could receive from a reader?
Maria: To know the reader was still thinking about my book weeks after finishing the last page and is looking forward to my next book.
Thank you so much, Deirdra, for the opportunity to talk about my love of writing. Good luck to all of you out there who are also adding beauty to the world with the art of writing.
If you’d like to read a synopsis of Nourish & Strengthen, check out my blog at mariahoagland.blogspot.com.