I have a vivid memory from about 4th grade, 9 or 10 year old or so, sitting at my desk in my bedroom, looking outside my corner windows. I had a story in my head but, for some unknown reason, I was trying to tell it in poetry form. (Yes, I still write poems, and lyrics.) It had to do with the ability to conjure and summon lightning and having it hit the large trees in my back yard. It was a perfectly clear day, and lightning terrified me. Don't ask. I was a weird kid. I've never stopped writing since, even if the stories got thrown away.
Who influenced your writing?
This is easy. Roy Hagar and Joyce Welch, my 10th, 11th, and 12th grade English teachers. In 10th grade I was struggling with going outside my comfort zone. I didn't like where I was, but had no idea how to grow. Mr. Hagar challenged me to view the Bible as literature, which was offensive at the time, because it was sacred scripture. I fought it for a bit, then opened my mind to the lyricism of King David and storytelling of Isaiah and Job. I didn't learn sacred truths, but I learned that truth can be written beautifully. He was also my 12th grade English teacher, when I was SO done with high school. He graded me against myself, which I asked him to do, and it wasn't easy getting those A's. He could tell when I was calling it in, full of crap, and wouldn't let me get away with it. Because of him, I always do my best when writing anything. The first time.
In 11th grade, Ms. Welch had us write eight to ten essays and stories throughout the year. There were guidelines, but she allowed me the freedom to find my voice through experimentation on each essay. She even gave me an A on an essay I made up because I had written such a convincing story about what a rotten teen I was outside school. She'd believed me, until my last sentence told her it was all made up. Without her in-class freedom to find out how I wrote best and play with styles, I wouldn't have my voice... and just like singing, having a strong voice as a writer is more important than grammar and sentences.
Describe your desk
It's a mess. Papers and pens and composition books all over. And in the middle of my front room. It's a computer armoire without doors because my children have broken them off.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
It was "The Story of the Other Wise Man" by Henry Van Dyke, and I was about three. I remember that I could read a few words, but the pictures are what I vividly remember, to this day. It was an original version, from 1896, that was my great-grandmother's - who was also an English teacher. The story of spending a lifetime doing what you hope is right, and wondering if anything you did was worth it, still resonates. It's one of the few stories that I re-read.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
FREEDOM!! I am ALL about control, ask anyone who knows me. I did fish around to publishers, but after a few "Thank you but not" type letters, I'd had enough. So I stopped. I had three full length (400 pages) novels but gave up. During my Masters program, I found Blurb, which is the printed book equivalent of Smashwords. The creator of Blurb had just as hard a time finding a print publisher as I did, so with backing, she started a completely independent, no limits, print company. I have a thing for those who say "Oh, yeah? Watch me!" after being told "You can't do that."
After my degree, I rewarded myself with an iPod Touch and found tons of books used Smashwords. I reformatted a few books, began a series, and, well, here I am. Sink or swim, no one is my boss, and NO ONE controls my stories or covers...hmm, yeah, that control thing...that's why I write, edit my own stories, do the covers and upload everything myself (website included).
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Getting the voices out of my head. Until I write their story, they never leave me alone!
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in the East Bay Area, California. It's a very multi-cultural area, but extremely suburban too. I believe that the main influence came with the ability to have learned a little bit about a lot of religions and cultures people, and how things work, and sometimes don't, between them. I was an hour from the ocean, and hour an a half from the Sierra Nevada mountains, and I worked for a summer on Market Street (financial district) in San Francisco. These locations have helped me visualize the background and settings for many of my stories. It's impossible to live near, and travel to and through urban cities, pasture land, beaches and mountains and not have some of that rub off into where I place my characters. No matter the book.
How do you approach cover design?
I design my own covers, and as I write I have a "movie" running through my mind. I hear sounds, feel the emotions, and see the people. I go through thousands of images from only two stock sites because they are the most reliable I've found. I will add ten to twenty images of the main characters and backgrounds to my lightbox. I then download a comp and mess around in PhotoShop until I get the images as close as to what I have envisioned and felt as I can. That's also why I update my covers often...I'm never truly satisfied because I can never seem to create the "perfect" blend of image and emotion.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
*snort* How hasn't it? You really think I'd know how to connect to booksellers in India or Japan? Through Smashwords' channels, I have access to a global audience. In one setting, not multiple pages. No hitting my head on "Where do I find my readers?" Marketing is still important, but without the ability to immediately publish worldwide, I'd be toast.
What do your fans mean to you?
Fans mean everything. I could write the "Great American Novel" but if no one reads it, who cares? The messages I get about my Aleph series are often the shot in the arm I need to put extra time aside to work on it. With teaching and having kids still in elementary, junior and high school, time gets away from me often. (That thing about voices? "Solomon Aleph" was only supposed to be one book...not two full length novels and five or six novellas...) Fans also mean that there's hope that, one day, I could quit my day job and do nothing but write...OK, much of that is serendipity, karma, the alignment of stars and a smile from God, but as long as what I create is being read and appreciated, it's worth all the effort.
Who are your favorite authors?
Jane Austen and Ray Bradbury. I guess I should explain that. Several of Jane Austen's lesser known novels aren't as good as "Pride & Prejudice" but they are SO far out of her comfort range that I can see the stretch it took to write it. Nothing impresses me more than writing outside of your comfort zone and growing. (That was "Lady Bryn" for me - smallest of my novellas, but the MOST difficult one to write. I spent more time getting it right....)
Ray Bradbury because, he's Ray Bradbury. Seriously, HG Wells and Jules Verne might have started the science fiction genre, but without Ray Bradbury, we wouldn't have wall size TVs and ear buds for our iPods. He thought so far outside the box, before there was even a box, and influenced so many, that his stories are still relevant today. Really, read "Fahrenheit 451" and see what I mean.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.