Monday, May 23, 2011

Interview with Author and Senior Editor, Joshua J. Perkey

Josh works as a senior editor for the Church magazines. Prior to coming to work for the Church, he was an associate editor with the McGraw-Hill Companies. Josh also writes fantasy novels. “My first love was epic fantasy,” he says, “but I’m having so much fun writing my second middle grade fantasy, I may have just switched genres!” When he’s not wrestling with his kids, sneaking in a date with his wife, or serving in his church callings, he tries to catch up on sleep—a sadly long lost pastime. Josh’s blog You can also follow him on Facebook.

Deirdra: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

Josh: That’s an interesting question, really. I’ve loved to daydream since I was a little kid, and that’s a big part of my inspiration for writing. I first read The Hobbit when I was about 10 or 11, and since then have loved the fantasy genre and wrote a few little stories. I didn’t get serious about it until college, though, and even then got distracted a lot by life before I gave it a consistent effort. Still, I’ve learned a lot about myself and writing along the way. Every writer’s journey is unique.

Deirdra: What is your writing and educational background?

Josh: I have an M.A. in medieval history, and a B.A. in history, focusing on Classics, English, and Spanish. I’ve written a number of poems, but mostly focus on fiction. My first love was epic fantasy, and I’ve written several unpublished pieces. But a year ago my oldest daughter asked me to turn some bedtimes stories I tell her and her brother into a novel, and thus was born Lizzie Peterson, or as I’m calling it now, The Legends of Kyreo. The title is still in flux, but this fun MG fantasy has really allowed my creative energies to thrive. It’s a blast, much, much easier to keep a handle on than epic (which was 4 times longer), and is just so much fun to write for kids. Oh, and I also work in my day job as a senior editor for an international magazine. Before that I was an editor for the McGraw-Hill Companies making textbooks.

Deirdra: What makes you passionate about writing?

Josh: I love to daydream and imagine in my mind, and I love seeing those ideas take shape in story. That’s how the story for my kids began—just letting my imagination carry me away as I told it to them. When I began crafting the actual book, the story evolved and became more complex—definitely a necessity given the original serialized form. That part of the craft also excites me, even though it can be tedious and challenging. But I tell you, nothing is better than getting feedback. Today I actually received my first fan mail from a twelve-year-old young man who was one of my beta readers for the middle grade. He told me how much he loved my book, offered a few suggestions on the title (it’s great to get market feedback like that). He even drew pictures of two of the main characters and gave them to me. Wow! It just doesn’t get any better than that.

Deirdra: What is your writing schedule like?

Josh: Inconsistently crazy. As I mentioned, my day job as an editor keeps me editing and writing quite a lot, and I have a busy young family. That means there’s never enough time to really write. Sometimes weeks go by without any activity. Then I’ll get an idea bugging in my head and I’ll write several thousand words a day for a few weeks. When I’m firing on all cylinders, I can write 65,000 words in a month. But it comes and goes with my time. I prefer to write either on a word count schedule, or on a chapter schedule.

Deirdra: Can you tell us a little about the work you do as the Senior Editor for The Ensign Magazine.

Josh: I suspect a few of your readers don’t know this magazine, so here’s a little background. The Engisn is a human interest magazine promoted by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It’s intended to build faith, strengthen individuals and families, and inspire people to be better. The field is much different from fiction in many ways, but much of the craft, and the skills I’ve developed as a novelist, still apply. I write and edit articles, solicit specific works from authors, and generally prepare content for print and online publication. I also write about 5-7 articles a year for several magazine audiences. Lately we’ve been reinventing ourselves as multimedia editors with a broad online context. It’s a great job, mostly standard work hours. But I do travel once a year to gather stories from members from around the world. It’s a fantastic job.

Deirdra: You also write fantasy books. Can you tell us a little about this?
Josh: Well, I’ve already touched on this, but fantasy for me is an extension of dreaming about the fantastical world out there and about the people and creatures and magic that inhabit them. I love good swashbuckling adventures, great magic and the power of magic, and funny medieval stuff. Writing about it is a great outlet. But I also love the craft of creating those worlds and making the stories come alive, especially, as I’ve learned recently about myself, the motive of character.

Deirdra: How many beta readers do you have review your manuscript before you send it to your editor or since you are such a rock star editor yourself do you send it to anyone else for review?

Josh: That depends on how many people I can entice to read it! Last time round we sent it out to about 60 people, about 40 of whom were middle grade readers. I got solid feedback from about 20. Very, very helpful.

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

Josh: Truth is, a whomping good time! I hope they enjoy the works, can imagine new places and magic and creatures and adventures and just enjoy themselves. But on top of that, I believe that everything we write impacts people on some level, and causes them to think. So I also try and tackle some deeper themes on a subtle level—the sort of thing that you can ignore if you don’t really want to, but can engage if you start thinking about it. In my current middle grade, the main character is an eleven-year-old girl with a ton of confidence in herself. The trouble is, she’s impetuous as a result and often gets into hot water. That begins to wear on her confidence. So there’s a very subtle current of self-awareness and what it means to have natural confidence versus confidence you build through conscious choices that lead to successes versus failures. Wow, I wasn’t even aware of that in my book. Cool!

Deirdra: What kinds of inspiration do you use during your story creation periods?
Josh: I love to listen to Celtic music, especially Loreena McKennitt. Sometimes a little U2. But mostly I just think about the story and let my mind wander around in it for a while. Sometimes inspiration comes from my kids, or from telling the story. If I get stuck about motivations, I’ll talk it through with someone or wait from alpha reader feedback. I don’t have a lot of trouble with getting inspiration, but then, writing time is not as frequent as I would like, so I’m doing a lot of undercurrent thinking about character and plot before I sit down to write. In fact, I’m about to rewrite chapter 4 of book 2 in the Legends of Kyreo series based on a movie I saw on Saturday and a flash that came to me about a new scene.

Deirdra: Yeah! Another Loreena McKennitt fan!

Deirdra: Who has made the greatest difference for you as a writer?
Josh: I’m not sure I could single out one person. A lot of people have helped, and my wife has been tremendous in supporting a craft that has taken years squeezed in around the edges of a busy family and life to produce some worthy material. The wise thing would be to say her! But I’ve had a lot of good friends give fantastic advice, including a comment from Brandon Sanderson, who told me once to stop peddling just the one epic fantasy and write something else. I did, and it changed my entire focus.

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

Josh: Motivation. Description that allows freedom in the mind of readers, but detailed enough to cement a few things. Using multiple sensory experiences in setting. And then getting back to motivation. I don’t think huge background copy is necessary before you start writing. You need to know enough about your character to know what they want and why they can’t have it. Answer that question before you write, or as you write, and it will shape the story.

Deirdra: What authors do you admire, and why?
Josh: David Farland for his tenacity and gentle mentoring spirit. Brandon Sanderson for his creativity. J.R.R. Tolkien for establishing the fantasy genre. Raymond E. Feist for illustrating how a similar story can be completely reinvented. Tracy Hickman for teaching me that none of us has written our best work yet, for we are constantly growing. And a thousand other writers who have helped me see that we need to keep honing our craft based on what people want to read today. Oh, and of course J.K. Rowling. Where would I be without Harry Potter? (My daughter is reading book 3 right this moment!)

Deirdra: Can you tell us a little about your blogs and how they will help authors?

Josh: Currently I have one blog on writing and the craft:

In this blog I write about the craft of writing, including pulling in the ideas and posts of other talented writers (mostly much more talented than me!) Also I’m following the e-publishing industry closely and posting about that. I see it as increasingly more viable each day, and plan on going that route in the near future. So if you’re interested in honing your craft or about what’s happening in the industry, come along! I believe that that the more we help promote each other, the more successful we’ll all be.

Deirdra: Besides writing what other talents or hobbies do you have?

Josh: Music. I love to play the piano, compose music, sing, play the guitar, the recorder, and such things. I don’t have a lot of time for other hobbies, unfortunately, as service in my church and work and family take up the rest. However, my wife and I love to watch movies, from sci-fi and fantasy movies to British stories and the like.

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

Josh: Daydream. A lot. Think through stories and what makes them of interest to you. Delve into the motivations of your characters, both the heroes and the antagonists. Write a lot, and rewrite, and edit later, but definitely do edit—give yourself the freedom to re-craft. I’m a multi-draft writer, and I believe things only get better with new approaches and effort. Also, go to writing conferences, make friends with other writers, and read about the craft as much as you can. Then don’t be afraid to develop your own style—just know what the rules are and why you break them.

Deirdra: What are you working on now?

Josh: A middle grade fantasy series, the first book of which is called The Legends of Kyreo: The Places of Naming. It’s about an eleven-year-old girl who flees to a magical world where the shadows from her dreams really to come alive. That’s the elevator pitch. Here’s the longer pitch:

“Lizzie Peterson carves adventure. Well, who wouldn’t if your secret pets—a unicorn and a flying horse—helped raise you to believe you might be a child of prophecy in a far off world? Yes, somewhere beyond her Ohio home is the magical world of Kyreo, where eleven-year-old Lizzie dreams of going someday to meet the cunning gnomes, mystical faeries, and hungry hippogriffs, and to see the five moons and the lands of crystal and cloud. And, of course, to find out what that prophecy really is all about.

“But when the Shadow Wizard attacks Lizzie’s family, she and her brother Jack have to flee to Kyreo just to stay alive. The world they find is not nearly so fanciful and fun as Lizzie had hoped, for the Shadow Wizard has conquered the heroes and champions and enslaved most everyone else.

“Dark forces begin to hunt them almost immediately as Lizzie, Jack and their horses set out to find new heroes to defend Kyreo. If they fail, their lives, the world of Kyreo, and even Earth itself may hang in the balance.”

Deirdra: Any final words you would like to share?
Josh: Thank you so much for having me on your blog! It’s been a blast.

Thank you so much, Josh. It’s a real honor to get your insights.

Josh and his Fantasy stories for all ages visit:

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Interview with Author Elana Johnson

Bio: Elana Johnson’s debut novel, Possession, will be published by Simon Pulse (Simon & Schuster) on June 7, 2011. Her popular ebook, From the Query to the Call, is also available for free download. School teacher by day, Query Ninja by night, you can find her online at her personal blog or Twitter. She also co-founded the Query Tracker blog and WriteOnCon, and contributes to the League of Extraordinary Writers. Elana is represented by Michelle Andelman of Regal Literary.

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

Elana: Dude, never. I’ve never thought to myself, “I want to be an author.” Ever. My writing came from somewhere else. I started writing with genealogy in mind. I was turning 30, and wanted my kids to know stuff (technical term, yo) about me. I found writing to be therapeutic, and fiction evolved from there.

And since I’m sort of an OCD pitbull, the next logical (to me) step was to figure out how to take this all the way. So that’s what I did.

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

Very long and winding. Much like a lot of people’s, I think. I queried another book before POSSESSION. No one wanted it. It sits on my hard drive now, and will never be opened or fixed.

Then I cleaned up POSSESSION and started querying it. Several phone calls and revisions later, I finally got an offer. The deal came shortly after that, and it’s been pretty smooth sailing from there. But I’ve endured many a tidal wave, make no mistake about that.

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

All the time, every day, every second? Yeah, pretty much. But I’m emotionally intense, so this can’t be helped. What helped? Chatting with friends. Watching movies. Grounding myself to what really matters.

Deirdra: What is your writing schedule like?

Schedule?? Surely you jest. I don’t really write to a schedule. My life is pretty hectic, so I plan to write around the other stuff I have going on each day. Sometimes it’s in the morning, sometimes the afternoon, sometimes at night. My “standard” writing time is from 9 – 11 PM each night. If I’m caught up with my TV shows… but who’s ever caught up with their TV shows??

Deirdra: Can you tell us a little about your book Possession?

POSSESSION is an angry girl YA novel set in a futuristic society where there is no free will. Angry girl + broken rules + cute boys + hover technology + ensuing chaos = POSSESSION.

Deirdra: Where can readers get Possession?

Elana: POSSESSION is out everywhere in North America! Hopefully it’s in your local bookstore, but if not, it’s online at B& and Amazon, and a whole bunch of other places. Here’s a link.

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

Elana: Six. I work in two waves of three readers each. The first wave is people who won’t judge my huge plot holes and poorly constructed sentences. The second wave is people who are better at fine tuning (thus, making my MS more polished). The third wave is my agent, who is so brilliant editorially that it makes my head hurt.

So I guess seven. Then we ship it off to my editor. Who then pokes more holes in my “brilliance.” Ha!

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

Elana: Honestly, I hope they get what they need at that time in their life. I know what I get from the book, and it’s actually different each time I read it. I have no set agenda, but I hope POSSESSION will find a connection with those who read it.

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

Elana: I think characterization is what sells a story. For me, I just try to make my characters as true to life as possible. And I try to give them one interesting thing. Just one. That’s all it takes to distinguish your character from the hundreds of thousands of other characters out there. Ask yourself: How is my character different? If they’re not… Houston, you have a problem.

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

Elana: While writing, I don’t really need a snack. It’s during the revising/editing that I need something. Sour patch kids are my favorite, but I’ll take chocolate chips or whatever is in the pantry. I just need something. Revising/editing is HARD! (Don’t judge.)

Deirdra: Besides writing what other talents or hobbies do you have?

Elana: I can make a mean chocolate chip cookie. And in a previous life, I used to do a lot of paper crafting. I still do some sometimes… Okay, not really. There’s no time!

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

Elana: Work, learn, practice, perfect. Then submit. And submit. And submit.

Deirdra: What are you working on now?

Elana: Uh, nothing? Seriously, it’s way too hard to write and market at the same time. It’s two different halves of the same circle. But if I were writing, I would be working on a time travel novel that’s been bouncing around in my brain.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Query Letters

Oh boy, the query letter.

Some authors spend as much time on this page as they do their whole book.

There are whole work shops, websites and books focusing just on the query letter.

I’m going to give a brief list of basic dos and don’t and remind authors that every agent is different and has different tastes. There is no magic query that will appeal to all agents you just want to do the best letter for the agent of your choice.

Do say if you've been referred.
Do mention any previous publications or credentials.
Do target the right publisher or agent,
Do have the right address.
Do address your letter to a specific editor or agent
Do include your name, address, and telephone number.
Do be professional and brief in your query.
Do include a one or two sentence pitch or hook.
Do thank the agent or editor for reviewing your query.
Do include the title.
Do include if the work is fiction or nonfiction

Don't brag about how this book is the next big best seller.
Don't lie. Agents and editors do their homework.
Don't neglect basics of spelling, grammar.
Don't indulge in a long story synopsis.
Don't address your letter "To Whom it May Concern” or “Dear Agent".
Don't use tiny font.
Don't immediately send another email query if an agent has just rejected your first.
Don't use elaborate fonts or backgrounds.
Don't query more than one work at a time.

For more info see your dream agent’s website. They usually have tips on there. You can also check out the Query Tracker’s blog at:

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Interview with Author A.J. Walker

A.J. Walker is an archaeologist who likes to get to the bottom of things. His training has taught him that under an innocuous field may lie a vanished village, while turning over a simple stone may reveal ancient writing. Finding the hidden under the surface is what archaeology is all about.

It's what writing is all about too. What makes people do what they do, and feel what they feel? It's often hard to find that out in the real world, but building a character from the bottom up makes for a satisfying pastime because it takes the writer from cause to effect. Like all writers he has been an avid reader since childhood and it wasn't long before he took the ideas in his head and put them on paper. When he's not writing, he likes to explore the natural world. He has a love of long-distance hiking and has recently discovered the joys of caving. He has yet to come across any monsters while exploring the underworld, however.

Roots Run Deep, published by Double Dragon, is his first published novel and the first in the House of Itxaron fantasy trilogy. He’s blogs about the Middle Ages, writing, and his books at

This book is rated PG-13: includes several bloody fight scenes, a few sex scenes that aren’t graphic, one scene of sexual harassment, a dozen four-letter words.

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

A.J.: I can’t remember! I’ve been writing since I was very young, usually adventure stories with me as the hero. I stopped writing in my teens and twenties and got back into it when I graduated university.

Deirdra: What is your writing and educational background?

A.J.: I have a Masters degree in Archaeology and Medieval Studies. Writing background? Oh dear, only that book on the top of this post! Of course I’ve worked on academic papers, as well as a small mountain of unpublished short stories and novels. My next novel, Murder at McMurdo, will be published by LL-Publications next month. It’s a murder mystery set in the McMurdo research station in Antarctica.

Deirdra: What makes you passionate about writing?

A.J.: Expressing my feelings and beliefs through writing. Trying to express my world view while entertaining people and not preaching to them. Also, I love it when a character does something unexpected. They really do have a life of their own, don’t they?

Deirdra: Can you tell us a little about e-publishing and how this publishing route has worked for you.
A.J.: I’m the typical story of a writer waiting for months, even years, before hearing back from traditional publishers. Tor holds the record at 19 months, which included a year when they had lost my manuscript but didn’t tell me, or didn’t notice. I realized at that rate I’d look like one of the ancient skeletons I excavate before I got published, and since even traditional authors are left to do all their own marketing, it made sense to jump to ebooks. I’m very happy with Double Dragon and LL-Publishing. They’re professional, have good editors, and actually respond to emails.

I’ve heard horror stories about some epublishers, though, so writers should be careful. One good source of information is Piers Anthony’s Publish on the Web page at

Deirdra: Were you ever discouraged along the way? If so, how did you deal with it?
A.J.: I get discouraged every day, and inspired every day. I’ve decided to ignore the first emotion and use the second to make my books the best they can be. That works any day I don’t get a rejection slip.

Deirdra: What is your writing schedule like?

A.J.: Hectic. I work part time for a local Archaeological Unit, and part time at a laboratory. My schedule is always changing so I slip in writing wherever I can. Weekends are the best time and I always have at least one long session of three or four hours in front of the keyboard.

Deirdra: Can you tell us a little about your book Roots Run Deep?

A.J.: The backcover blurb says:

She fought her way up from a shanty town to a palace in order to change the world, but her hardest challenge was to change herself.

When a small-time goblin gambler falls in love with a deposed human king, the least of her worries is his vengeful usurper. Kip Itxaron has to follow religious visions despite having lost her faith, unite her squabbling people, find the fabled Lost Tribe of Goblinkin, overcome her fear of battle, and somehow be a leader to a people who have never had one.

But that’s nothing compared with loving someone who reminds her of every man she’s ever hated. Human men can barely be called male. Pasty skin, weak bodies. . .they don’t even have tusks! Not to mention that when he was in power he treated her people just as badly as the rest of them. Kip can see he’s changed, but has he changed enough? Can she change enough?

Kip has more to deal with than that. She has to struggle with her own self-racism and learn to trust others. She has to learn that the guy charging at her with a sword is only the most obvious of her enemies.

Deirdra: I'm very interested in your trade as a medievalist. Can you tell us a little about how what you do and how that has influenced your writing career.
A.J.: I’m an archaeologist with a specialty in the medieval period. In the UK, Archaeological Units excavate historic sites threatened by development and manage any accidental finds by farmers and other people. Work is on-again, off-again depending on the need and the weather, but I also have a part time lab job analyzing artifacts. While my specialty is the Middle Ages, my work has me excavating everything from Mesolithic hunting camps to Roman burials to lost nineteenth century villages!

A deep study of the history and culture has certainly influenced my work, but I try to incorporate those influences seamlessly into my narrative. I don’t want it to read like some of the textbooks I had to read in university!

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

A.J.: Eight. They were all extremely helpful. I made sure to get people with a variety of tastes including a couple who don’t normally read fantasy. You want a wide range of opinions from beta readers. None of them were friends or family, because they’ll only tell you what you want to hear.

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

A.J.: A character whose own limitations are her greatest foe. Kick-ass battle scenes. A rich tapestry of different cultures. A troubled but triumphant romance. A twist on the traditional rags-to-riches tale.

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?
A.J.: I get the germ of an idea from. . .somewhere. Then I begin to work on it in the back of my head until I have the potential for a story. I do an outline, and then wing it. In fact, I rarely look at my outline once I’ve written it. The outline is more to organize my thoughts before getting started.

Deirdra: Who has made the greatest difference for you as a writer?
A.J.: My friends and family. They may be no good as readers, but they’re great for moral support!

Deirdra: What authors do you admire, and why?
A.J.: Robert Silverberg for his long work in the field. Some of his science fiction and fantasy are classics. His first book came out in 1955 and he has one coming out this year. After half a century he hasn’t given up writing! While Silverberg is a personal favorite, I admire all the Grand Old Masters who write year in, year out, and keep honing their craft.

Deirdra: Besides writing what other talents or hobbies do you have?

A.J.: I love to hike. The English and Scottish countryside offer some of the best hiking in the world. Getting out into nature is an excellent way to clear your head.

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

A.J.: Listen to all that basic advice everyone’s telling you (“observe proper manuscript format” “read submissions guidelines”, etc.). All of this information is freely available on a million websites but editors are constantly complaining about improper submissions. Don’t think you can break the rules. You can’t. You may be able to stretch them, maybe, but not break them.

Deirdra: Where can our readers go to find your books and order them?
A.J.: Direct from Double Dragon:

Amazon Kindle:

And many other online venues.

Deirdra: Any final words you would like to share?
A.J.: If you are a writer, don’t give up. If you are a reader and not a writer, get in touch! Find your favorite writer’s blog and post a comment. Do the same with publishers. We need to know what you like, what you hate, and what you want to see published in the future. Publishing is a strange business because there’s very little market research. Writers and publishers throw books out into the wind and hope a few of them fly to the stratosphere. Social media helps us know which way the wind is blowing.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Interview with Author Marsha Ward

Marsha Ward was born in Phoenix, Arizona, and although she spent two years in South America, she never roamed far from the Southwest, where she currently lives near Payson, Arizona. Marsha is an award-winning poet, freelance writer and editor whose published work includes three novels, two collaborative non-fiction books on writing, and over 900 articles, columns, poems and short stories. Her novels, The Man from Shenandoah, Ride to Raton, and Trail of Storms, received rave reviews from both readers and reviewers. Her website is at, and she regularly blogs about writing and life at “Writer in the Pines,” found at and "The Characters in Marsha's Head" at

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

Marsha: According to my older sister, I wrote from the time I could hold a pencil. I believe her. There's never been a time that I didn't have some kind of story to tell. I was editor of the 4th Grade class newsletter. I wrote a play about that time. I wrote screenplays for our film club during my high school years. And of course, the infamous "Great American Novel" began its life in 1965. I didn't get the commercial I-think-I'll-actually-let-other-people-read-my-work bug until the 1980s though.

Deirdra: What is your writing and educational background?

Marsha: I have a couple of years of college education, but no degree. However, when my 6th grade teacher asked us to raise our hands if we thought we could self-educate if schools disappeared, I was the only one who did. Those were the days pre-dating the Cold War, when we did duck-and-cover drills under our school desks (as if that metal and wood piece of furniture could save us from the Atomic Bomb!). I've believed in continuing education all my life, and I'm always learning something new. I've taken several writing courses or classes, ranging from mail order lessons to community classes to summer college retreats to one-on-one instruction. I read 150 books for background information for my first novel.

Deirdra: What makes you passionate about writing?

Marsha: I so love indie publishing. It's a one-on-one opportunity for the writer to connect with a reader, without someone saying their publishing list is filled for the next three years so they can't use your work. I'm a bit of a rebel, I guess. The advent of widespread availability of electronic books is right up my alley. I only held off putting my work on Kindle because 1) I told myself it had to wait until I finished my current novel, and 2) I heard it was difficult and I didn't want to tackle the learning curve. It's actually quite within my skill set, and I should not have waited so long.

Therefore, I must say I'm passionate about connecting with readers, and having them enjoy my work.

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

Marsha: I began my "Great American Novel" in 1965, when my train to opera stardom took a detour and I had to give up my full-ride music scholarship and come home to help out financially. I created a huge Southern family, wrote what was, essentially, a twenty-chapter narrative outline, and lugged it around with me for the next 35 years or so. Then my interest in writing commercially got very keen when I read a truly badly-written book. "I can do better than that!" I exclaimed, and hauled out "The Book." I eliminated some children, found some juicy conflict, read 150 books for background, and worked on the novel for a while. I took classes in fiction writing, and started sending the novel out to editors as I wrote the sequel. I even had an agent for a year. I was getting some good rejection comments, but no offers. I decided a re-write was in order. Then life happened.

My daughter was killed in an auto accident. My creativity dried up. It didn't come back, oddly enough, until my husband died. He was my biggest supporter, and I'm eternally grateful to him for that.

Then life happened again, and during a health crisis, I determined to leave published works behind, even if I had to publish them myself. I polished up The Man from Shenandoah and Ride to Raton. Because I didn't want to start a publishing company, I chose to use the cheapest services available from iUniverse, and get feedback from writers and readers I knew. When The Man from Shenandoah appeared, I hand-sold a bunch of copies, and lo and behold, other readers liked it! Several months later, I brought out Ride to Raton. Trail of Storms took a while to write, but was published in 2009. I'm working on the fourth novel about members of the Owen family, Spinster's Folly.

Fortunately, I survived the health crisis.

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

Marsha: I'm often discouraged. It's part of the writer's makeup. I have to muddle through, with a lot of prayer and communicating with other writers to get my balance back.

Deirdra: What is your writing schedule like?

Marsha: I'm supposed to have a schedule?

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

Marsha: I get ideas from all over. Mostly I see something in real life, or I read something that interests me. I put ideas into my "idea folder," then I mix them up, asking "what if?" If a particular idea sticks around, I know I can write about it.

Deirdra: Can you tell us a little about your book Trail of Storms?

Marsha: Yes. It's the third book in a series I'm now calling The Owen Family Saga. It completes the story begun in Ride to Raton, where my main character, James Owen, has come through a particularly hard time, and at the end encounters the girl he was forced to leave behind in Virginia. Trail of Storms loops back in the Shenandoah Valley and answers the question, "How on earth did Jessie Bingham get to Trinidad, Colorado at the end of Ride to Raton?" It's a mashup of Jessie Bingham's and James Owen's stories, and has a satisfying conclusion, after the standard trials and tribulations. Here's one description:

Jessie Bingham put heartbreak away to tend to her sister's needs, but when she settled for second best in love, she didn't foresee that James Owen would come back into her life. The aftermath of the Civil War creates cruel circumstances for the Bingham family. A brutal attack on Jessie's sister, Hannah Fletcher, drives the extended family to flee to the West. They are soon joined by Heppie Bingham's beau George and his brother, Ned, who bring news that the Binghams are being pursued by cronies of Hannah's attacker. Even after they fight off that onslaught, poverty, bad weather, and Hannah's frightful secret plague their journey. Nursing her battered heart when she hears James Owen took a wife, Jessie accepts Ned's offer of marriage, but puts off the wedding until they reach Albuquerque. Then a stop on the trail holds surprises that launch Jessie into a bewildering tangle of values, emotions, and high adventure.

Deirdra: Can you tell us a little about the LDS Storymaker "Secrets" books.

Marsha: The LDS writers' guild, LDStorymakers, once put together a publishing arm, when questions arose about how to get published in the LDS market. Thirteen or so of us put our heads together and answered some hard questions. That book, LDStorymakers Publishing Secrets, was followed the next year by LDStorymakers Writing Secrets, which addressed the question of how to write for the LDS market so you can get published in it. The books have helped a lot of people. They're out of print, but I have a number for sale at my website,

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

Marsha: Hope. I had an epiphany several years ago when I realized that I write to let people know there is always hope, and to show them through the experiences of fictional characters that they can get through hard times, even really, really terrible times, and find happiness at the end of it all.

One of the hallmarks of my fiction is fast-paced adventure peopled with believable characters. Readers tell me when they're forced to put a book down they worry about my characters until they can read about them again. If I can take people out of their own worrisome lives enough to be concerned about fictional folks and see them through to a satisfying ending, then I've done the job of relieving some of their day-to-day stress. Isn't that what books are for?

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?

Marsha: Once I have a vague idea of what I want to write about, and who will inhabit the story, I sit down and begin. Then, as the story takes shape, I have some very dear friends who are fantastic brainstormers. I talk things out with them. It's am immense help. All writers should have such fabulous resources!

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

Marsha: That terrible sound you hear is me groaning in agony. Yes, I encounter snags. My favorite way of dealing is to avoid and procrastinate, but that doesn't get the book written. The best way is for me to set very low expectations for myself so I don't self-sabotage. A lot of highly creative people have oppositional defiance, and I find that tendency is well-developed in me. To counteract it, my goal is often to write 25 words a day. I could do that on a sheet of toilet paper, right? Surprisingly, it works.

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

Marsha: Right now, I'm listening to the music of my dryer drum turning. I don't need absolute quiet, but since I'm very easily distracted, music with lyrics is a no-no. I use instrumental music to get me in the proper mood for certain scenes that could be hard to write. Exceptions to the no-lyrics rule? Neil Diamond and "Sweet Caroline." That will put me in the mood.

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

Marsha: Mindless activities are great for letting the mind wander while I accomplish a task. Taking a walk, taking a shower (water seems to inspire, or relax or something), getting enough sleep so the characters come to talk to me.

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

Marsha: Wow! I've had a lot of influences through the years. However, I'll have to say that my eternal companion, Robert Ward, made the greatest difference. He believed in me. He supported me. He made it possible for me to live where I do and have the time to write. Unfortunately, he died to accomplish that.

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

Marsha: I get to know them very well. I have a sheet of questions I fill in about them, and I also interview them. Then I don't overwrite them with too much description. I let their actions define them, instead. That way, the reader invests the characters with their own unique qualities and peculiarities, and they come alive in the reader's mind.

Deirdra: What authors do you admire, and why?

Marsha: Robert Newton Peck, whose writing contains the unexpected elements. Louis L'Amour, for his fastidious research. Elmer Kelton, for creating great characters. Frank Roderus, whose titles always have a multitude of meanings.

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

Marsha: Some kind of juice and Special K protein bars. I'm trying to cut back on sweets and chocolate.

Deirdra: Besides writing what other talents or hobbies do you have?

Marsha: I'm musical, both vocally and instrumentally (piano, organ, guitar, viola). I get to use the piano and organ talents every Sunday, and the voice in choir. The others, not so much anymore. I'm not artsy-craftsy at all. I dabbled in oil painting one year, but not much came of it. I smile a lot.

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

Marsha: Two words: Indie publishing. There's nothing stopping a writer from making the connection directly to the reader anymore. Read the blogs/websites of JA Konrath and Dean Wesley Smith. Google will find them for you.

Deirdra: What are you working on now?

Marsha: I'm writing Marie Owen's story in a book entitled Spinster's Folly. Believing she's getting too old to attract a husband in a location with few choices, Marie takes a desperate gamble that goes very badly wrong.

Deirdra: Where can our readers go to find your books and order them?

Marsha: All the online booksellers, such as and, have the trade paperback books. The easiest way to find all my online eBooks is to go to my author pages at Smashwords: and at Amazon: The eBooks are also on Kobo Books, and Diesel Books, in Canada.

Deirdra: Any final words you would like to share?

Marsha: I'll address this to writers: Believe in yourself, but learn all you can about writing, too. No first drafts are set in stone. Don't hang around negative people. Write at least 25 words a day. Listen to people to learn the flow of language. Find a good, encouraging group of writers who will show you the ropes. Read, read, read! When you start writing in earnest, find a good critique group. Reach down and help another writer along the way. Is that enough?

Share |