1. When did you first know you wanted to be an author?
There wasn’t any one defining moment when I decided, “Hey, I want to write a book.” I’ve always been a reader and thought about the author’s intentions with words, sentences and phrases. I think about how I would write a paragraph or scene or dialogue differently.
In high school, I wrote a lot of brooding, bad poetry and I edited the literary magazine. Friends from high school say they knew I would eventually be a writer as a profession. It was a windy road to get here, though.
My parents directed me toward getting a bachelor degree in something practical which ruled out journalism, English, or anything similar. At their urging, I went to pharmacy school to begin with, but after a summer internship in a hospital, I knew it was the wrong career for me. I ended up with a degree in education.
Instead of going to the head of the classroom, I went to graduate school and earned a master degree in experimental psychology then continued on, working on a Ph.D. in developmental psychology. I had married my college boyfriend by this time and within a year into my doctoral program, I was pregnant with our first child. A little over a year later I was pregnant with our second child. Needless to say, goals changed and I decided to leave the program A.B.D. (all but dissertation) and stay at home.
We had two more babies in quick succession. When our youngest was about two, I came out of a hormonal fog and decided I wanted to do a little something on the side. So I nagged and bugged and cajoled the editor of one of the local papers into letting me write a weekly newspaper column and eventually from his fetal position on the floor in the corner of his office he said, “Yes, if you’ll please take those four animals you call children out of this building and submit everything by e-mail.”
A career was born.
2. What is your writing and educational background?
To shorten the longer story from above, I have a B.S.Ed. in education, as M.S. in experimental psychology, a graduate certificate of gerontology, and all of the classes, but none of the dissertation, toward a Ph.D. in developmental psychology.
I didn’t begin writing professionally until 2003, when I talked my way into a weekly newspaper column in a local paper. I talked a few more papers into running it, some on a weekly basis, a few on a whenever they feel like it basis. From that, my first book, If Mama Don’t Laugh, It Ain’t Funny, spun off in 2007. The publication of If Mama resulted in gaining me some freelance work for magazines. In January 2011, my second book, Tuck Your Skirt in Your Panties and Run, was released. Both books were published by Palm Tree Press.
I’ve also been blogging since 2007. Both blogs can be read and commented on at my web site, http://ifmama.com/. There are also links to some of my freelance articles there, plus podcasts, videos, free ebook downloads and more.
3. What makes you passionate about writing?
I love words. I love the flow of words. I like the challenge of saying something ordinary in an unexpected way. I enjoy drawing pictures for readers to see as opposed to simply telling them about a character or an event. When I am writing I can actually feel my brain shift and I move into another zone. I become completely disconnected from the here and now and transported to a place where I’m not even myself anymore. It’s a crazy feeling, probably akin to the freefall craved by adrenalin junkies.
I want to take my reader with me on that surreal journey. I want her to touch, taste, hear, smell, see what I do. If I achieve eliciting a giggle, a tear, an Ah-ha, a deeper thought, a nod of the head from someone, then I’ve achieved something.
And I won’t even go into the thrill of a deadline, here, but, my gosh, I can’t live without one.
4. What was the pathway like for you to getting published?
I had an unusual journey to the publication of my first book. The publisher, familiar with my educational background and my weekly newspaper column and its often humorous look at family life, invited me to write a book on parenting; a how-to book, essentially. This was both flattering and, at the same time, terrifying. At the time my children were still young. Although, I thought I was doing a pretty good job with them, who knew how they would ultimately turn out. Who was I to tell other people how to raise their children? Mine could up and discredit me at any given time (I’m pleased to say, they haven’t yet, but we still have a long way to go).
I had to turn down the offer. My husband, who is my biggest cheerleader, encouraged me to not let the opportunity to slip out of my hands. He told me to counter with something. You know, say “I can’t do that for you, but I can do this.” It worked and If Mama Don’t Laugh, It Ain’t Funny, a humorous book about parenting and family life, was initiated.
5. Were you ever discouraged along the way? If so, how did you deal with it?
In my writing career, two things have discouraged me: A) getting repeatedly turned down when trying to syndicate my newspaper column and B) the daunting task of book marketing. Both can take the breath out of a writer.
I have learned over the course of time that rejection is rarely, if ever, about me. It usually is related to the other person’s budget considerations, available print space, audience, even mood at the time that I approach him or her. And “No” has its upsides. It releases me to move on and put my energy into the next opportunity. The most cruel editor or publisher is the one who can’t bring him or herself to say it, despite thinking it. It bogs us both down in wasted efforts.
Then there’s the book marketing mire. Writing a book is hard work, especially for someone like me who reads and re-reads passages and paragraphs to try get them just right. But marketing a book is incredibly difficult and complex. I’m not a natural salesperson. It is a continuous learning process, figuring out what works and what works best for me. Sometimes, it is disheartening when I undertake a big marketing project and it doesn’t seem to produce immediate returns. I keep reminding myself that marketing is like a snowball, it builds as it rolls.
6. What is your writing schedule like?
My family wishes I could easily answer this question. They would love for me to have an actual schedule. I write when it strikes me. Paper and pen are my constant companions, always ready to bend to the weight of my thoughts and ideas. Creativity cannot be scheduled. It flows. I stay ready to get caught up in its current whenever that happens, whether the middle of night, or when I’m in the shower, or while having dinner.
7. Where do your ideas come from? How do you know your idea is good enough to write a book about?
Where do my ideas come from? Sometimes I don’t know. Suddenly, there they are, standing right in front of me demanding to be recognized and recorded. Other times, something I see or hear triggers a whole creative process and I just start writing until it’s all out. I keep my eyes and ears open all the time. I listen to what people say, the stories they tell. I watch their mannerisms.
Other people often tell me, “You ought to write a book about ______________.” Ideas like that are almost never developed into anything meaningful or useful. Suggestions don’t work for me.
8. Can you tell us about your books?
My recently released book, Tuck Your Skirt in Your Panties and Run, is a chronicle of mishaps, miscalculations, follies, foibles and embarrassing moments. Having grown up in Georgia, where I still live, Tuck Your Skirt has a distinctly southern drawl and sense of humor. The theme, however, of the proverbial toilet paper stuck to the bottom of your shoe is universal. Who hasn’t suffered through the realization that she has just done something so incredibly stupid she might never live it down. Of course, whether we’re having a hawg killin’ with the communists or getting caught with our panties down running to the garden gate naked, on a dare, we always survive, don’t we?
If Mama Don’t Laugh, It Ain’t Funny was released in 2007 and is a compilation of stories about parenting and family life. It features a three legged pig, an immortal roach, and a watermelon funeral. The primary lesson is that every moment contains something of the extraordinary. There’s more to life than laundry and rounding up wayward socks.
I’ve also recently complete a book club and reader guide for Tuck Your Skirt. It’s available on Amazon.com for Kindle and as a free ebook download from my web site, http://ifmama.com/.
9. Can you tell us a little about your speaking presentations?
I love talking to groups both big and small. I will even join book club meetings via Skype. My goal when speaking to groups is to share a few life lessons while making people laugh.
Obviously, when guesting at book clubs I’m there to discuss and answer questions about my book and being an author. For speaking engagements, I have three primary presentations:
Finding the Miracle in Every Moment
Surviving Embarrassing Situations
Writing: The Impractical Profession
10. You also write for newspapers. Can you tell us a little about this and how it differs from writing a book?
Writing for a newspaper has its distinct nuances. I have to consider my audience, which is different from a book audience. While a book and its contents reflect solely on me, my column and its material reflects on the newspaper and the editor first. Also, I am limited to 600 words for a column, so I have to deliver my message quicker but still give it the same impact as if I had a thousand words. It’s a great exercise in brevity and I am a far better writer due to it.
11. What do you hope readers will get from your books and other work?
My writing style tends toward the dissection of singular moments, unraveling them and uncovering their most basic but oft overlooked parts. If readers don’t get anything else from my writing, I want them to gain an appreciation for the miracle in the mundane. The majority of life takes place in the daily routine, not in big milestone moments. To really live and appreciate our existence and get the most out of it we have to find joy, inspiration, humor, meaning in the ordinary and arbitrary.
12. What kinds of inspiration do you use in your story creation periods?
This is a hard question to answer. There’s not a tangible object on which I focus or a person who keeps me going. Truly, I turn inward, and I’m there, in the story, brushing up against it, feeling its breath on my neck. I leave here and I go there.
13. Who has made the greatest difference for you as a writer?
Now I feel like I’m on the stage at the Academy Awards trying to think of all the people I need to thank and fearing I’ve left out someone very important. So, I’m going to say, my 11th grade English teacher, Naomi Williams, who never encouraged me to go into a career in writing. When I showed her some of my material, she did not critique content. She picked apart the grammar and punctuation and would not accept my explanation for why I had used the punctuation and grammar the way I had.
Why her? Because she taught me that I had to know how to write right. I had to become an expert at that first. A person can write fabulous content that reads absolutely non-sensical if the grammar, punctuation, sentence structure and word usage lead the reader down the wrong path.
14. What authors do you admire and why?
All the female southern authors who came before me. And Faulkner, of course.
15. Besides writing, what other talents or hobbies do you have?
I can balance a spoon on the tip of my nose. I am a reluctant runner. I enjoy riding roller coasters. Thinking up remodeling ideas for my hundred year old house preoccupies me for long stretches. I take pictures, but these days who doesn’t?
I like to paint. In fact, my first career goal was to be an artist and live in my parents’ garage, which might explain why they pushed me toward a college degree in something practical.
16. What words of advice do you have for other writers who who desire to have their manuscripts in print?
· Begin cultivating an audience NOW. Don’t wait until your book is published. Publishers feel way more confident working with writers who already have an audience.
· Master social media; not just using it, but also etiquette. Book marketing is no longer about the book signing in a store. It’s about personal relationships and reaching out to friends of friends or friends.
· Join a couple of writers’ groups on LinkedIn and/or FaceBook. So much about writing, publishing and marketing can be learned through the exchange of ideas.
· Keep an open mind. The publishing industry is changing, rapidly. Traditional publishing isn’t necessarily the only route to a successful career. Going indie doesn’t have the stigma that it did even a year ago.
17. What are you working on now?
My personal motto is “I’m always happy, but never content,” so I’m always working on something. I’m always writing freelance articles for magazines and my weekly newspaper article. And, of course, I keep up with my blogs and speaking engagements and book club visits. My next book project is a short ebook titled A Drinking Family Christmas, to release on Kindle and Nook and at IfMama.com in late September/early October. The Tuck Your Skirt book club and reader guide has also been welcomed enthusiastically by readers, so watch for a similar ebook release for If Mama coming soon.
18. Where can our readers go to find your books and order them?
All major on-line bookstores, like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, carry both Tuck Your Skirt in Your Panties and Run and If Mama Don’t Laugh, It Ain’t Funny. Local brick and mortar bookstores will order them upon customer request. And signed copies are available from my web site, http://ifmama.com/.
19. Any final words you would like to share?
Thank you for hostessing me at A Storybook World. I’ve had a great time. You’ve asked questions that spurred introspection. I like that. I’m happy to answer any follow-up questions your readers might have. If they leave them as comments, I’ll comment answers.