Interview with Valerie Willis

Published 2016-06-21.
Describe your desk
Oh man... Messy. I have two monitors and a huge CPU tower sitting on it. Between the keyboard and screen is a landfill of random items: jewelry, things my kids bring me, pens, markers, medicine, salt shaker, broken microusb wire, flash drives, and hair clips and bands. Between the tower and screen is a huge dump pile of opened mail that is now too big... I should go through that. And then the poor tower has a stack of books on top, but not blocking the vent! It's a small little space within my bedroom... but hey! It works!
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Oh my! It's more like the first novel I ever wrote. I had a composition book assigned to me in fifth grade, and we were asked to write something, anything in it. Well, I figured an on-going story would be the fun route. By the end of the year, I had filled it front to back, all hand written, a story about a girl lost in Africa after her plane crashed. Maybe one of these days I will pull it off my bookshelf and revisit it. Yea, I still have it! It's a totem of inspiration!
What is your writing process?
Oh, I am a planner! When an idea comes into my head, my first step is to research any of the apparent elements I think I will need as tools to lay it to paper. Immediately I start listing out major events I want to happen in the book, For example, I start with three core areas: the main beginning event, the big climax, and how I want to end the story or book. I start to fill in the gaps between these three points that address character development and growth, world building and understanding, and reader immersion. It's a rather unique outlining system I developed years ago. After that I focus on my first draft, often organizing music playlist for that book to help set the mood. I've even been known to put a song on repeat until I finish capturing a moment.
How do you approach cover design?
Cover Design is a tricky thing. A cover has to be eye catching, legible, and clean in overall design. The best starting point is to look at books in that same genre and see what is trending and working for the covers and readers. Each genre has different appealing consistencies to help the audience know what the story might have for them on the inside. For The Cedric Series, I used something far from the typical Paranormal Romance cover. Granted I may change my mind later, but as it stands I wanted to downplay the Romance aspects in the cover since I lack the soft, squishy romantic elements. The Stone wall is rough and medieval to reflect the story setting and tone, the shadow of a sword implies something dark and violent is going to happen, and even the clock on the spine implies there's a lot of time span covered. But, in the end, the audience may not see the symbolism until they've read it.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
If you don't see me writing, odds are I am doing something with my family. We often plan trips to go fishing or family cookouts and dinners. When I am not with the family, I am usually out with fellow writers at events around Orlando Area. Recently I have been reading my work at various cafes and bars, hosting workshops and attending conventions. If all else fails, I will sneak off at any hour to get some mono-e-mono time, but usually that involves me, my laptop and of course, writing.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
Word-of-mouth and Book Reviews help a lot. I also frequently launch discounts and freebies when I can. In general, I try to post snippets of my novels, teasers, blurbs, and reminders about me and my work, books, where to find them, blog posting and so on. This year I plan on hosting several workshops to share my own experience and knowledge with my fellow writers.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
Usually my go-to route is books recommended to me by friends and family. I think word-of-mouth is a great way to discover books, but it also gives me someone to talk about the book to later! Sometimes I visit the local bookstores and casually start reading random book covers and even sample the first few pages of the first chapter. Lately I have been picking up tons of books by my colleagues. So many, that I am severely overwhelmed by my "to-read" list! Right now I am reading an Anthology called "Fight Like A Girl" that was just published by Kristell Ink! Loving it so far!
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
The first Fantasy novel that really blew my mind was CS Lewis's 'The Witch, The Lion and The Wardrobe" and the storytelling that unfolded. I think my favorite characters were actually Mr and Mrs Beaver! Regardless, the amount of mythical creatures and talking animals was absolutely delightful. Up until this point, I was really into non-fiction animal and how-to-draw books. All of a sudden, I had something that connect those mountains of facts with my creativity and I never looked back!
What are your five favorite books, and why?
CS Lewis - The Witch, The Lion, and The Wardrobe - Completely broke me into the Fantasy genre!

Robin McKinley - Deerskin - Taught me you can tear your main character apart and build them within a plot to be stronger.

James Clavell - Gaijin - Blew my mind in both historical accuracy and the amount of characters that all managed to still move one plot.

Lewis Carroll - Alice in Wonderland - Worldbuilding doesn't have to make sense to the reader, just to those living inside it!

Rudyard Kipling - Rikki-tikki-tavi - Dialogue can explain and move plot just fine and still hold the reader hostage.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I have to say, I am in love with the Kindle Fire Tablets. Teamed with the Amazon market, it makes life easier. Often my kids steal it from me, so luckily with the Kindle App on my phone I can continue reading where I left off! Plus, the price versus quality I find stunning!
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