Deirdra: When did you first know you wanted to be an author?
When I was very young. I was about three when realized that I could tell a very good story. (Translation, I was a great liar.) I loved to watch my ‘audience’ and see the horror or wonder or amusement on their faces as I spun a tale. My mother said sometimes I would tell her a story and even though she knew it wasn’t true, I told it so well with so many details, she was almost convinced. And then I learned how to write!!! And I found out that lies written on paper were called ‘fiction’ and I knew that was for me. I wrote my first chapter book in the fourth grade. It was about World War II and Nazi Germany. I’m sure it was terrible but my mother said I had talent and I believed her! In high school I wrote novels in spiral notebooks and passed them to my friends during class changes as I would finish each chapter. As a young mother I wrote short stories about my mother, who died at age 43. Then I discovered LDS fiction and it was a perfect fit.
Deirdra: What makes you passionate about writing?
It’s something that cannot be understood by someone who doesn’t have a vivid imagination (believe me I’ve tried explaining it to my husband and children). But ideas come to be constantly. I used to worry that I would run out of ideas. Now I realize I will run out of LIFE first! The creation process is overwhelming and exhausting and sadly never as satisfying as I think it will be. I usually ‘settle’ to some extent on every book as I run out of time and have to turn it in and focus on the next one – which now seems to have all the promise – but will eventually be ‘settled’ on later. But I guess it is the dream, the lure of the perfectly written book, the beautifully crafted characters, then intricate plot, the intensely emotional scenes, that drives me, passionately, to develop a new idea.
Deirdra: What was the pathway like for you to get your first book published?
My pathway was unusually easy. I never seriously considered writing as a ‘career’. It is more of a hobby, a passion, something I dreamed about when I had a few free seconds. I wrote the occasional short story – usually a Christmas memory for my brothers and sisters who were all younger than me and therefore had less vivid memories of our mother. Then my grandmother died in Salt Lake and I went there for the funeral. While in the old ZCMI mall I visited the Deseret Book store and saw, for the first time, LDS fiction. My aunt told me that if I could channel the passion I was able to generate in the stories I wrote about my mother into another type of writing – I might have a chance of being published. I was very flattered by her comments but didn’t really think it was possible for a woman with eight children, who lived in Alabama, to be published in the LDS market. But some changes took place in my life. I transferred from a very busy high school office to a tiny, separate kindergarten campus of an elementary school. I had a lot of spare time on my hands – and a computer at my disposal. I told the principal I had extra time and asked for something to do. She said it would be more trouble to transport work to me than it was worth. She suggested that I read a book. I looked at the computer and thought, I might write one. So I did. It took me about eight months to write my first book. I submitted it to all the LDS publishers I could identify. My plan was to wait until I found out if anyone had an interest in the book before I tried another one. But it was summer and I had a little extra time so I started my second book. I finished it just as school started back and mailed it off the Tuesday after Labor Day in 2000. I received my first rejection letter on the first book the next week – followed by a couple more. Then I got the call from Valerie Holladay at Covenant saying they were interested in my second book. I replayed that message on my answering machine many times… I have always been thankful that I sent off the second book before I got the rejections on the first one because I might have given up. Hearts in Hiding was published in 2001. I re-wrote the first book (twice) and it was finally published as my third book – Until Proven Guilty.
Deirdra: Were you ever discouraged along the way? If so, how did you deal with it?
I still get discouraged often. Time is so limited in my life and I never feel like I can adequately concentrate on anything. So I regret that I can’t spend more time marketing my book or blogging or journaling or writing the next book. The most difficult time for me is the beginning of a new book. I start my detailed outline and it’s easy to get bogged down in the details (that I’m not sure of yet) and then I find excuses not to write. It’s so hard at that stage. I know what I have written isn’t very good and I want so badly to go back and ‘fix’ everything. But I know I have to press on and get to the end. I try to make myself detour around problems in the plot and go on. But sometimes, if the problem is critical enough – you can’t go on until you solve it and then I find myself coming up with even more excuses not to write. I love it when the ideas and words are coming so fast I can barely type them. And that does happen sometimes. But in my experience more often than not writing is hard work. When you’re discouraged you just press on through. Because the truth is you’ll never get a book published if you don’t finish it. So keep writing, even if you hate it and think it’s terrible. Once you get to the end then you can go back and fix everything. And that stage of writing is MUCH more fun to me. But you can’t fix what you don’t have. So keep writing. Don’t let discouragement stop you.
Deirdra: What books have most influenced your life?
I have loved to read since I learned how. In high school I checked out a book every morning from the school library and checked it back in the next day – so I could get another one. The only two books that took me two days to read – Dr. Zhivago and Gone with the Wind. I read in every spare moment – even at stop lights. So I would say first that books in general influenced my life. More than any writing class I’ve taken reading helped me to learn about character development (from books that did it well and from those that didn’t) and pacing and plot and sentence structure. I learned without even realizing I was learning. I love words, but I don’t like wordiness. Characterization is crucial because if I don’t care about the people in a book – I don’t care what happens to them – so the best plot is wasted. And I love to be tricked – so a plot full of things that are not what they seem appeals to me. So here are SOME of the many books that influenced me strongly –
To Kill a Mockingbird – Characterization, painting a picture the reader could see and feel. Emotional involvement with the characters – it makes me laugh and cry and when it was over I didn’t want to leave.
Agatha Christie books (all of them) Plot twists. Her characterization was usually a little vague, but the plots were amazing.
The Old Man and the Sea – I read it in high school and all the symbolism went right over my head. I told a friend “I could have written this entire book in two pages and made it a lot more exciting.” Honestly – I still feel the same way.
Deirdra: What dreams have been realized as a result of your writing?
I have not been faithful in all things, but surely in multiplying and replenishing the earth I have done my share. When our kids were little they didn’t cost much. We handed down clothes and I made cheap meals and we never went on vacation. But as our kids grew and college and missions loomed I became concerned. My husband is more faithful and he assured me that the Lord would provide a way for us to do what we needed to for our children. But I needed to know HOW! We were both already working, him for UPS and me for the school. I didn’t see how we could generate any additional income. Then I thought about my writing and what my aunt had said. Then I took it to the Lord. I told Him I was willing to work hard but knew I would need His blessing to make it happen. Over the next few months I transferred to the new school, was given permission by my new principal to write in my spare time, and was blessed with supportive co-workers who gave me a wealth of ideas. Since then we have sent three sons on missions and sent seven of our eight children to college (two have graduated, four are still working on degrees, one is currently serving a mission, and our youngest is a sophomore in high school). I have met so many incredible people through my writing that I would never have come in contact with any other way.
Deirdra: What is your writing schedule like?
I try to write some every day except Sunday, but I live my life in constant crisis-state, putting out the biggest fires as they become life-threatening. So if a deadline is close I write much more and if one of my daughters just had a baby or its Christmas – I might not write at all for a few days. But I’ve learned that the longer you stay away from a work in progress – the harder it is to go back. It’s like losing your place, you’re not sure where you are or where you were headed. It’s best to stay involved in a manuscript daily until it’s finished.
Deirdra: What do you do to relax and unwind?
I am never completely relaxed even when I am asleep. That is a drawback to an active imagination. I almost cannot turn it off completely.
Deirdra: Where do your ideas come from? How do you know the idea is good enough to write a book about it? Everywhere – a random comment, a strange looking person I pass in Wal-Mart, a story my grandmother tells me, a child standing alone at a bus stop in the rain. Anything can spark a story. Now, knowing whether it’s good enough to write a book about is another thing. Usually I think about it for awhile and see how I can develop it before I actually put it to paper (or in the computer). Then even if I don’t want to develop it then, it’s waiting for me later and sometimes little ideas become subplots in books.
Deirdra: Can you tell us a little about your book, (name of book here)
My new book is called Pivot Point and it is my first attempt at a non-LDS, self-published book. I love publishing with Covenant and will continue to publish LDS books with them for as long as they want my books! But I wanted to try something a little different. Self-publishing has many negatives, but it also allows some versatility and control over when a book will be published that you don’t have when working with a publisher who has schedules and hundreds of other projects besides yours. So I self-published this book through Amazon.
The basic concept is that we all have regrets. And even more than regrets, we have curiosity about how different aspects of our lives might have turned out if we’d made a different choice somewhere along the way. Sometimes the choices are small and the affect of a different choice would be minor. Other choices could have a major affect. A friend told me that whenever she was mad at her husband she would day dream about how things would be now if she had married an old boyfriend instead. I thought about how dangerous that was. And how intriguing. What if the technology existed so that you could go back, just through dreams, and make a different choice at certain ‘pivot points’ in your life? How would that affect your ‘real’ life? Would it make you feel better about the past? Or worse? I decided to explore the concept through a two book series. My main character is Megan Collins, a successful Atlanta pediatrician. She is happily married and gives service to the community. She has a good life. But she is haunted by a decision from her past and when she meets a Nobel-Prize winning scientist who has developed a dream therapy she is eventually convinced to try it. She goes back, through a dream, to the day when her eighteen year old boyfriend asked her to marry him so they could provide a home for the baby they had created by mistake. In her dream she accepts his proposal and has the baby. But then she wakes up. Meghan finds it increasingly difficult to concentrate on her real life and becomes a dream addict, living for the next dream session.
Deirdra: Do you need absolute quiet to write? Do you listen to music when you are writing?
If I needed absolute quiet I would never have completed a sentence. I dream of a little cabin in the woods where I could go for a few weeks and work around the clock to finish a book. But the reality is I write amid the chaos of my life. I write in the car, I write in the doctor’s office, I write during my lunch break at school, I write on the couch while my husband watches football games or the Mentalist (we count this as spending time together), and if I could figure out a way to write in my sleep, I would. Then at least it would be quiet. Who knows, maybe I need the noise.
Deirdra: What words of advice do you have for other writers who desire to have their manuscripts become books in print?
Keep writing. There is a therapeutic side to writing that will benefit you if you never get a book published. As the mother of eight children – most of whom did not listen to much of what I said let alone mind me – I found being an author so empowering. My characters did EXACTLY what I told them to do. The lived or died according to my will. They even married who I wanted them to. It was wonderful. Expressing yourself through the written word, the feeling of accomplishment when a book is finished – these things have value. And if you are not accepted by a publisher, self-publish through Amazon. There is no cost to you and you never know what might happen!
Deirdra: Where can readers go to find your books and order them?
All my books are available on my website www.betsybrannongreen.net. My LDS books are available in Seagull and Deseret Book stores and most other LDS bookstores. My self-published book, Pivot Point, is available on my website and at Amazon.com (in paperback and Kindle versions).
Thank you so much. It’s a real honor to get your insights.