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Word Refiner by Mark Schultz

Dear Heart - February 10 through February 18, 2019

Tell us a little about yourself.

To tell you the truth, I'm fairly ordinary, although I've accomplished some extraordinary things, like writing Dear Heart and getting it published. I've been married forever and live in Pennsylvania with my husband, Arthur, and my dog, Sam. I actually enjoy promoting my books on social media, which is perfect for me because I'm not as articulate in person. When I can carve out time to read, I'll pull out a Matt Helm spy thriller by Donald Hamilton, or a Nero Wolfe mystery by Rex Stout. I also enjoy books by Stephen King and John Grisham. My all-time favorite book is The Adverturers by Harold Robbins.

Why is The Adventurers your favorite book?
Are you a full-time or part-time writer?
What inspired you to write this book?
Why did you choose this genre, or do you feel the genre chose you?

The Adventurers has it all: interesting and unique characters who are a little dangerous, and a fast-paced plot, packed with intrigue and glamour. I usually re-read it every year and each time I do, I think to myself, "boy, that man could write." And I find myself wishing I could write half as well. No other book has made me feel like that, which is why The Adventurers in my favorite.

I'm retired so, theoretically, I could write full-time, but I actually consider myself a part-time writer because I only write when I'm inspired. Conventional wisdom is that writing in 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. But for me, writing is 100% about the inspiration, because when you're inspired, you won't have to break that much of a sweat. I'm not saying you won't have to work, but the fact is that a truly inspired story will tell itself, while a story light on inspiration and heavy on perspiration will end up hopelessly contrived.

I awoke on the morning of my fortieth wedding anniversary thinking about all of the ups and downs my husband and I had survived, and about how love had changed for us as we weathered the bad times and the challenges of day-to-day living. Then I began to wonder how life would have been if romantic love had lasted forever. The next thing I knew, I was sitting at my lap top, writing the first chapter of Dear Heart. 

I didn't consciously choose to write romances. I was actually working on a mystery when the idea for Dear Heart came to me, so I guess I'd have to say that the genre chose me. I have two other romances on the drawing board but I've also outlined a mystery and a story about labor unions because, for me, the spark of inspiration comes from the story, not the genre.

The Adventurers sounds like a good book. It has had quite an impact on you.  

I like that idea, heavy on inspiration makes the writing light. We will get back to that idea later.

Forty-some years, congratulations! My wife and I are headed toward 43, in August. Romantic love, head-over-heels, almost-drunk love doesn't last forever, does it?  It is replaced by a deeply-committed-to-the-ends-of-the-earth love. The concept is interesting and in your hands very entertaining!  You and your muse are certainly in an intimate relationship. It's very good to have multiple genres, I think.

Who designed the cover of your book? 
What do the elements on the cover represent?
Have you entered any contests with your writing?

Melissa Miller, the CEO of Solstice Publishing, is responsible for the cover. We're permitted to recommend five stock photographs from Shutterstock for the cover art, but Melissa makes the final decision.  I was very lucky in that Melissa decided to go with my first choice of the entwined hearts. But it was her idea to put the hearts on a white background, which I thought was very effective.

When I was writing Dear Heart I got the idea of using entwined hearts as a brand for the story so when it came time to choose cover art, I didn't have to think about what it should look like. But it took me days to find the right rendering because Shutterstock actually has thousands upon thousands of photos of entwined hearts -- and I looked at every one of them! 

To me, the entwined hearts represent the fact that Deirdre and Lee would always have an unbreakable connection, even though they were separated for nearly forty years.

A friend entered Dear Heart in the Critters Crunch poll and it placed in the top ten. And I've entered Dear Heart in the Book Pipeline competition for movie adaptation consideration. Semifinalists for that will be announced later this month and I'm keeping my fingers crossed because I've always envisioned Dear Heart as a movie. In fact, that's what led me to write Sweet Heart. I realized that the story had to be fleshed out so that the audience got to know more about Lee for Dear Heart to be successful as a movie.

How nice, you and Melissa were on the same page. The cover is striking. It really stands out.  I have never searched for something like that for so long on Shutterstock. I didn't realize they had so much.  


Placing in the top ten must have been very encouraging. Congratulations! The possibility of a movie adaptation or a play is very exciting! 

Was it hard to find a publisher?
How did you pick your publisher?
How do you think your book compares to a book published by a major publisher?

It took me two years of sending out queries every couple of weeks to find a publisher. I received a few encouraging personal rejections, but when I saw the email from Solstice, the morning after I submitted the manuscript, I was sure it was another rejection and almost didn't open it right away. And when I did, it took me a minute to realize that I had reached the Promised Land. 

Like the genre, I didn't pick the publisher, the publisher picked me. 

As far as content, style and readability goes, I don't know how Dear Heart compares to books offered by major publishers, although I like to think it could hold its own. I do believe that I retained more control over the final product by going with an Independent publisher, which was important to me. The royalty rate is about the same, and even established writers are starting to promote on social media, so that's about the same. I think the big difference is that paperback copies of Dear Heart are printed on demand, so they aren't stocked in book stores. Some book stores will make room for books published independently, but it's next to impossible to get them to feature such books or do book signing events for independents who haven't yet achieved name recognition. I'm okay with that for now because my theory is that once Dear Heart is made into a movie, book sales will take off.

Two years seems like a long time, but I realize that the business is getting harder and harder for publishers. Amazon has turned the apple cart over and kicked the fruit all over the street. I have read that publishers are looking real hard at the social media presence of an author as one important indicator, among others, of profitability for a book.

You must have shot straight over the moon when you opened that email! What a wonderful feeling!  Have you visited local, independent bookstores to get your book placed on the shelf? Do you live in an area with lots of tourism? You might be able to place your book in motels and bed and breakfast inns, as a local featured author. 

There are many unethical practices in publishing, which one is the most unbearable in your mind?
Did you have a favorite book as a child?
Does writing have a spiritual or healing component for you, does it energize you or make you feel tired?

Haven't done the bookstore tour yet, but it's on my list. And thanks for the suggestion about motels and B&B's, I think that has a lot of promise.

To me, vanity publishers are the worst. They prey on naive, hopeful people and sell them a matchstick platform for their dream. Of course, the flip side of that is that writers aren't forced to sign with vanity publishers, but I imagine it's hard to resist the lure of seeing your book in print if you're tired of rejections and are intimidated by the self-publishing process.

My favorite books as a child were the Trixie Belden mysteries and the Cherry Ames nurse stories. I still have a complete set of the Trixie Belden series and several of my favorite Cherry Ames books.

I don't find writing cathartic, if that's what you're asking. For me, it's just about telling a story I think is interesting. The process itself exhausts me, because I only write when I'm inspired and then I'll write for hours upon hours until I finish what I started out to say. For example, I wrote Sweet Heart in a week. I wrote twenty hours a day and only slept by taking catnaps when I couldn't keep my eyes open any longer.

Even restaurants might feature your book in a small countertop holder. Any business depending upon tourist trade is a likely possibility. Play up the "I am your local Author" angle. A small, local newspaper, the local cable access channel, both good possibilities for interviews. Also the local high school and junior college for a writing class. There are so many potential places to get your name and book out. 

The vanity publishers are such vultures. No question, but a lot of big names are trying to pad their bottom line with the intellectual property rights of authors' work. I have heard of some authors loosing all access to their book forever, some have lost movie and playwright rights, audio book rights, foreign market rights. Books are exploding all over the world right now. So many people speak English and are hungry for books to improve their skill.

I remember Trixie Belden, my sisters use to read those books when we were young.

Some people feel energized when writing, especially if the story is flowing well. You have taken that to beast-mode level by staying up for 20 hours! I am impressed!

Is it important for writers to tap into the emotions of the characters?
Have you ever used yourself as a starting point for a character in a story?
Have you ever used other acquaintances as the basis for a character, to the point they have recognized themselves in your book?

I think it's essential for writers to tap into the emotions of their characters, otherwise they'll come across as one-dimensional to the reader. Here's a good example of that in a secondary Dear Heart character: when Deirdre implores Denise to find out how to exhume Bill's casket, Denise's husband, John, says: "What in the name of Christ is with that ring?" When I wrote that chapter, it was all about Deirdre's emotional response to losing the ring Lee gave her, but in that one sentence I think I captured John's emotional state as well. 

I think there's a little bit of every writer in the characters s/he creates. But if the story's any good, the characters will quickly take off and develop their own personalities. And Deirdre is a good example of that because I am nothing like her, although I wish I was. 

I've used the relationships I have with some of my friends and acquaintances as bases for characters but, again, the characters soon develop their own personalities, which are often wildly different from those of the people they were based upon. One thing I did in Dear Heart was use the first names of close friends for some of the secondary characters. My friends were flattered, but also confused because the characters they were reading about were nothing like them. 

You ably proved the importance of creating.  Many times, emotions are mixed together also, letting the mixture be expressed must be more difficult. 

Many writers have expressed the same sentiment, they are surprised, sometimes chagrined and even delighted occasionally, when the characters develop a life of their own.  I have no doubt your friends were confused, I would be also. 

Do you listen to music or have the TV on when writing, or do you need quiet?
Action, dialogue, or narration; which is easiest to write?
Of the five senses which is the easiest to write and which is the hardest?

When I was younger, I was able to write with music playing in the background, but not anymore. I have to have absolute peace and quiet, which is why I generally don't sit down to write until after my husband and dog go to bed. If I try to write during the day, one or the other of them will find fifteen different ways to break my concentration.

Action, dialogue or narration? I think it depends on the story. Obviously, it was easier to write narration for Dear Heart and Sweet Heart. But the novel I'm working on now, Interoffice Romance, is told through a series of emails and text messages, so it's 100% dialogue -- and 100% harder to write!

Boy, I really had to think about that last question. Just based on what I've written so far, I'd say smell has been the hardest of the senses for me to write about, and touch was the easiest -- LOL.

I think I am like you. When I am proofreading I turn all sound off. Otherwise I have the radio playing or listening to my daughter's YouTube channel, sometimes both.

Your new book sounds interesting. 

I bet smell is hard to write about, it is so individual. Yet, smells are linked to memories so deeply for most of us. A smell can trigger an old memory for good or ill. 

How many drafts do you go through to have a ready-to-publish manuscript?
Going back in time, did you do any kind of creative writing, even back in grade school?

It's hard to say how many drafts I do before I consider a manuscript ready to query because of the nature of my process. I can re-work a chapter a dozen times before I move on to the next one, so by the time I've completed the book, it's generally fine-tuned. Then I'll walk away from it for a week before I go through it one last time before starting to query.

I also don't always write in chronological order. I start with the first chapter, but then I’m likely to skip all over the book. For Sweet Heart, I got stuck on the ending to the first chapter and couldn't figure out how to transition to Chapter Two. Meanwhile, I got an idea for the last chapter which excited me, so that's where I went. I wrote it in less than two hours and without having to open a vein. After that I skipped all over the book, writing what the spirit moved me to write. The end of the first chapter was the last thing I wrote.

I was a late-bloomer. I started writing very bad fiction when I was in high school, but I didn't really find a voice until I went back to college when I was in my late twenties. I had a wonderful creative writing teacher named Mel Woolf, who didn't mince words when it came to criticism, and I learned a lot from him. A few years later, I published a short story in Seventeen Magazine. Then I took a break from writing to build a career in public service and only went back to it about six years ago.

You are not one of those writers that write just to get the first draft down on paper. Your muse stays with you during the polishing, that is really nice.

You are not the first person who writes in a non-linear fashion. There is even a guest blog on my website about that exact topic. I think it's smart to write what comes easiest first. 

Do you have alpha-readers and/or beta-readers to help you smooth out a lot of wrinkles before publishing? If you don’t, why?
If you have alpha-and beta-readers, how did you find them?

Three of my close friends, Denise Lowey, Pat Miller and Jill Bender Schade, read Dear Heart before it was published, but I don't know if they'd qualify as Alpha-readers because I had already started to query the manuscript before they read it. Moreover, I didn't really ask them to read the manuscript for input. Denise knew I was writing Dear Heart and kept tabs on my progress during the two years I was writing it, so I wanted her to see the finished product. Pat and Jill asked if they could read it when I told them I had been sending Dear Heart out to publishers but, again, I wasn't really looking for input.

This is probably going to sound terrible, and I don't mean it to offend anyone's process, but I think that a writer doesn't need Alpha or Beta-readers if they know what they're doing and believe in their talent. My feeling is this: everyone is going to have an opinion about your book. Why waste time getting an opinion from someone who can't offer you a contract? 

I'm probably different from most writers because I didn't have a burning desire to be published. I just wanted to tell a story. Once Dear Heart was finished, I wanted the story to have a life outside of my file cabinets but I wouldn't have loved it any less, or felt like a failure if I hadn't found a publisher because I told the story I wanted to tell in the best way I could. 

In fact, I was more than a little worried about the editing process because I didn't want anyone else's fingerprints on my story. So I was relieved to read in Solstice's contract that their editors would point out problem areas but the author would get to do the actual rewrites. And, yes, there were a few problem areas in Dear Heart that had to be smoothed out, but they mostly had to do with punctuation and not content.

You have a different angle about your writing than many authors. I love that you wanted to tell the story, first and foremost.


Many authors talk about how the story is screaming to get out of their head at times, it just wants to be written down. 

I understand and share that concern about editing. I strive not to impact the author's voice when I am proofreading, I try to keep the characters true to who they are also. 

Do you have other writers you connect with, as in a critique group or support group?
What is the most important thing you learned from publishing your latest book?

I don't belong to a critique group and probably never will. However, Solstice has a private Facebook page for it's authors to share tips and experiences and I'm active on that. I've learned a lot about promoting from my fellow authors and from Melissa Miller (CEO), Kathi Sprayberry (Editor in Chief) and KateMarie Collins (COO), and I'm very grateful for that.

What's the most important thing I learned from publishing my book? That getting published is not the finish line. Once you're published, the hard work of promoting begins. That's not a criticism, because I actually like promoting my books.

The Solstice group sounds a lot like a support group. It's good to share wisdom and gain from the experience of others. 

I agree, writing and publishing are easy for most authors when compared to promoting your book and your brand. It takes a long range plan and doing a little bit each day, to master the beast. There is a constant fluctuation also, what worked well one day may not do so hot the next time. You have to be flexible and on your toes all the time. 

What are three things, that you wish you knew before you wrote your first book?

What is the most valuable piece of advice you have ever received from another writer?

Wow, these questions really made me stop and think. Three things that I wish I knew before I wrote Dear Heart: that I would ache from the pain of not working on it when it was finished, that the person I most wanted to like it, wouldn't, and that I would lose a cherished relationship because of it. 

The most valuable piece of advice I ever received from another writer? How to make a free book trailer with LUMEN 5. Here's mine:

The most valuable advice I ever got about writing came from my creative writing teacher Mel Woolf, who told me that a likely impossibility is always preferable to an unconvincing possibility, and that there are three elements to good fiction: consistency, credibility and conflict. I remind myself of both of these things every time I sit down to write.

Losing a cherished relationship is a big price to pay. That is very sad. I can imagine there would be a bittersweet feeling when you were done writing it. 

That is a nice trailer for your book. Well done!

Interesting advice from Mel. I like all of it. 

You have published a number of books. You are writing more. Are you writing anything strictly for your own pleasure, not necessarily planning to publish it?
What are common traps for beginning writers?

Ironically, when I started writing Dear Heart, I had no plans to publish it. It was only after I was about a third of the way through it that I started thinking about finding an audience for it. Now that I've been published, I doubt that I'd write anything that I'd be content to let live in my file cabinets.

Common traps for beginning writers? You know, that's a hard question to answer because some really badly-written books have become sensational sellers, been made into movies and made their authors multi-millionaires. I guess I'd just caution beginning writers that that's the exception rather than the rule.

Great! Then we will see everything you write. Some authors write things strictly for their personal pleasure. 

That is good advice, a million to one shot, more or less.

Writing the book is the easiest part of the equation, publishing is hard, promotion is harder still.

Do you think a strong ego is an asset or liability for a writer and why?
Can you describe your ideal reader? Who is the core audience you are seeking to find?

I think having a strong ego is a two-edged sword. Writing is largely a solitary endeavor, so a writer has to have self-confidence and believe in her abilities. However, if a writer begins to believe his/her own press and their belief in their importance and/or ability is misplaced, then a strong ego is a liability.

My target audience for Dear Heart is women over 40 and baby boomers of both genders who are young at heart.

I think you nailed the strong ego problem. It requires delicate balance. I guess that describes much of life, though. 

Excellent, you have a large target audience. Not every author understands who they are writing for. Of course, an author writes for themselves first, but if they don't have an idea of who their audience is the book will probably not do well.

Do you see an advantage of writing under a pseudonym, why or why not?
If you branch out into a different genre, will you use a different pen name, why or why not?

I can see reasons why one would use a pseudonym, but I'm not sure I'd consider them advantages. Stephen King used the pseudonym Richard Bauchman because he wanted to see if his success was due to talent or luck, and because his publisher was afraid that he'd over-saturate the market if he published too many books in one year under his own name. And I guess you'd use a pseudonym if you wanted anonymity for any one of a hundred reasons. As for me, I don't foresee any circumstance under which I'd use a pen name. My real name has a nice ring to it, and it's short and sweet and easy to remember. But, hey, never say never, right?

There are many reasons why authors use pen names. You are right. I have heard some multi-genre authors say their fans of one genre are not interested in crossing over to a new genre. So they keep publishing under the pen names. I have seen at least one newsletter that had different genres under different names to keep their fans happy and costs down. Personally, I like reading different stuff from a favorite author. 

Your name does have a nice ring to it. I wholeheartedly agree. 

Do you read books for entertainment or just research homework?
Do you think reading, watching movies or listening to music help you be a better writer?

I read for entertainment. And I don't want to have to work at it to remember too many complicated names or details. 

I absolutely believe that reading, watching movies and listening to music makes me a better writer. Reading good books helped me learn cadence and pacing and expanded my vocabulary. Watching movies opens my mind to possibilities I hadn't considered. And listening to music helps me set the tone for my novels. Of course music plays a key role in Dear Heart, and I actually created a sound track for it to help me visualize the action on a movie screen. It was so helpful that I've created soundtracks for Interoffice Romance and for Change of Heart, the last in my trilogy of romances that is still on the drawing board.

I agree with you about movies helping to make one a better writer. The movies start out as a screenplay, words on paper, we see the visualization of those words, so angles, pacing, setting and every aspect of the story is laid out for us to see. 

Music is somewhat similar as you mentioned, tone and emotions are built in a different way. I have heard of many authors having a playlist for writing their book, sometimes down to the chapter or even scene. Have you thought about sharing that list in the book? 

What type of book is your favorite guilty pleasure to read for fun?
Have you ever read a book that changed the way you look at writing?

I didn't include a play list, per se, in Sweet Heart, but I did include a discography of all of the songs that were meaningful to Deirdre and Lee. 

Ironically, I'm not drawn to romances. I like spy, detective and legal mysteries, and most of the books written by Harold Robbins and Sidney Sheldon.

I'm not much for how-to or self-help books, but I did read Stephen King's On Writing when it first came out and I'm sure it probably had an impact. Now days I just write what the spirit moves me to write and let the chips fall where they may. This is probably heresy, but my feeling is that sometimes writers overthink the process. To me, a writer's job is to tell a story and an editor's job is to worry about the process. 

I like your reading list. I have read many in those categories. I used to be hardcore sci-fi and fantasy only. Simply because there was so much to read. Now, I love good writing no matter where I find it, for the most part. 

I am going on vacation soon, Stephen King's book is going with me. I will have my Kindle also. We will be in the air for quite a few hours.

I am not going to say that is heresy, by any means. It actually makes a fair amount of sense the way you have put it. I do fall into that latter group, after all.

Would you agree or disagree with the statement: suffering is a requirement to be a good writer, and why?
What were your intentions or your goals when you wrote this book? Do you feel you were successful in getting that message across to the reader?

Nah, I don't think a person has to suffer to be a good writer. I think a person has to have talent to be a good writer. And I don't think talent can be learned. It can be developed and enhanced and enriched but it has to be there in the first place.

In Dear Heart, I wanted to tell a story about passion and I think I accomplished that. But the underlying point of the story is that Deirdre and Lee were able to sustain their passion for forty years because they were not together for most of that time. I don't think readers necessarily get this, which is fine. The story went where it wanted to go and I'm okay with that.

You accomplished that quite well. Your muse really wanted that story told! 

The idea of suffering was an old meme from a very long time ago. Artists and writers were not thought worthy of their talent unless they had suffered for their talent. A touch of ancient and misguided stoicism, perhaps.

Do you ever brainstorm with non-writers and if so, is it effective?
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer to enhance your career?Do you subscribe to any magazines, newsletters, blogs or podcasts that enhance your writing career?

OMG, you're going to think there's something wrong with me because I don't brainstorm with anyone about what I'm writing and I don't subscribe to any magazines, newsletters, blogs or podcasts to enhance my career. I do subscribe to a couple of newsletters to support fellow authors, and I subscribe to Jenna Moreci's podcast because I think she's a riot. I also belong to Solstice's writers Facebook Group, and I have found that to be invaluable for learning skills to promote my books. I trust my instincts with regard to my writing, but I need all the help I can get when it comes to promotion.

The best money I ever spent to enhance my career was upgrading my free website and buying a domain name for it. Other good investments include buying a new laptop that's faster and has a lot more memory, and purchasing licenses for several dozen photographs of models who depict the characters in the books. I use these in my promotional work and I find them quite effective. You can see some of them here:

You're not crazy, or anything like that. Every author has a different way of pursuing their art. You have answered quite well and have demonstrated that there are many ways to write. 

The promote-my-book is a hard nut for almost everyone to crack. There are so many different angles to pursue. It could easily turn into a full-time job and then where would the writing be?

I agree with you about the website. I started free and it took a long time before my business would support buying the domain and securing my hosting. 

I was hoping you had bought the licenses for the pictures of the people you use. 

Do you think you were born to write or did you have to learn the craft?
Why do most authors write in 3rd person POV instead of first and second POV?

 I think I was born with talent and finally chose to use it. Writing is hard work and not everyone with talent chooses to go down that rabbit hole. Plus, there are only so many hours in a day, and one does have to make a living. 

When folks write in the third person, they are the masters of the universe they create. The narrator knows everything about every character and situation and is free to relate it to the reader without becoming personally invested in the story. Writing in the first person only provides the perspective of the character telling the story. It's limiting and requires a much deeper personal and emotional investment in the story. Writing in the second person is very difficult to pull off because, essentially, it's one character talking to another for the length of the story. It's a narrow and focused perspective that could easily become pedantic and preachy in the hands of any but the most skilled of writers.

I think you are correct, not everyone is willing to put in the work. A lot of people never get past the thinking stage. Among those that do, many never finish the manuscript. 

I have found first person POV is very intimate story telling. Sometimes that is done very well. 

What is the easiest part of writing a book in general?
What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

There is no easy part about writing a book. That being said, I'll pass on this tip I picked up somewhere along the line. Never stop a writing session at the end of a paragraph or chapter. Always stop at the end of a sentence or, better yet, in the middle of a sentence. It'll be easier to pick up where you left off when you sit down to write again.

For me the most difficult part of the process is finding the right voice for my characters. I could write 100 pages but none of it works if the voice isn't right.

That is an interesting tip. It sounds like a very good one. 

Now, I am not a writer, I am a reader. So, I don't think about voice. Could you elaborate on that for me? I want to be sure I understand what you are talking about. 

I think of voice as the way a character talks, which is the primary indicator of their personality. It includes rhythm, cadence, sentence structure, tone, and use of language. In Dear Heart, Deirdre's voice is formal and wistful while Denise's voice is casual and crude. That was purposeful. Ironically, Deirdre's voice, which is nothing like mine, came easily, but it took me forever to nail Denise's voice, which is a lot like mine. Go figure.

Thank you, that helps. I believe I was confusing character voice with the author's voice. The former is a part of the latter. Correct me if I am wrong. I think the author's voice is everything involved in bringing the plot and story to life. Including, but not limited to, rhythm, cadence, sentence structure, tone and use of language, your entire list; not just of characters but the entire book.

How do you celebrate when you publish a book?
What did you buy with your first royalty check?

It's easy to confuse a character's voice with the author's voice as a writer. I think of the author's voice as "style", but I could be wrong.

When Dear Heart was published I threw a big launch party for all of my friends. It was Dear Heart-themed, of course, and all of the food and decorations came right from the book. My friends even built a replica of the cabin on my front porch. You can read all about it here: 

I didn't make a big deal out of it when Sweet Heart was published, a few months later. I just went about the business of putting things in order so I could promote both books together.

I still have the money I earned from my first royalty check in a separate bank account. I'm dumping all of my royalties into that account until I can figure out something special and meaningful to buy with them.

Style is a good substitute word. 

That party must have been a lot of fun! You have some great friends!  

That is nice to save for something special. 

What was the earliest experience that made you realize that you could influence and change lives with the power of writing?
Do you have a hidden message in your writings for a particular person or group?

There are writers who can influence and change lives, but I'm probably not one of them. The most that I hope for is that my readers will be entertained.

Aside from the shout-outs to friends and family whose first names I've used in my books, there are no hidden messages. I'm just not that complicated.  Anything I have to say, I say explicitly -- for good or for ill. 

A well written story is entertaining. 

That is good to know. Some writers like to put that stuff in. 

What is the biggest myth about writing that would help aspiring authors?
Do you base your characters on people you know or have met, or is it easier to just invent them completely?

The biggest myth about writing? That your job is done when you publish your book, which is absolutely not the case. Once you publish, the hard work of promoting begins. Actually, I misspoke. Promoting itself isn't hard; keeping yourself motivated to promote when you don't see an uptick in sales is the real challenge. And a writer's inability to do that has cut short many a promising career. 

Some of my characters are wholly made up and some start out being based on people I know -- but by the end of the book they've taken on a life of their own and are unrecognizable, which is probably as it should be.

I agree. Promoting is not easy, especially if you don't see immediate results. I have come to believe it's a daily requirement, each day do something to promote your book. I have heard that scientific studies show that a person has to see something 7 times before they will act on it.

Do you have any problems when writing about characters of the opposite sex, why or why not?
How do you balance the demands on your time as a writer with personal relationships?

I worried myself sick about writing male characters, but when I actually sat down to write them, it was surprisingly easy. Maybe that was because by the time they showed up in the book, I knew who they were.

When I was working, my personal relationships took a back seat to my high-powered job. When I retired, I vowed that I wouldn't let that happen again. So now my personal relationships come first, even if that means that I have to put off writing, even if I'm really inspired. I may not be the one who suggests outings and get-togethers, but when one of my friends invites me out, I'm there. This was one of my many lessons and one I actually learned.

It's very easy to get tied into a job, feeling it must get done. In the long run, relationships are far more important and finding the balance is key to a long and happy life.

Did you have pieces of the story that were removed from this book? If, so why did you remove them?
Do you have any other passions or creative outlets to pursue if you didn't write?

There were beautifully written passages that had to go because they didn't advance the story. And of course I put off deleting them because I loved them so much. But when I did my final edit before querying Dear Heart I kept two criteria in mind: was the prose in keeping with the character and did it advance the story? If not, I deleted it. 

I have favorite television shows and movies that I watch and re-watch, and I like to re-read books whose characters I love, but other than that, no. I wish I was handy enough to do crafty things, like my friend Pat does, but I have no talent whatsoever in that area.

That is good criteria for pruning the fluff out of the story. As wordsmiths, it's very easy to become attached to your creation in all its glory.

Learning a new skill might be fun and bring you pleasure down the road. 
I want to learn watercolor painting someday. I love that form. I also would like to learn Spanish, and Russian. 


Do you experiment with writing or prefer to stay in the safe zone?
Is there a cause you are passionate about?

I don't think I play it safe. I try to tell the story in the way it wants to be told and go where the story leads me. For example, Interoffice Romance is told entirely through emails, text messages and memos. That's not a conventional format, and there are challenges with telling a story in that way, but that's how I saw it unfold. 

There are causes I support, but the only cause I'm passionate about is getting Dear Heart made into a movie.

Interoffice Romance is going to be interesting, I have a hunch. That is an unconventional format, yet oh so familiar to so many of us. I look forward to it.

Do you have any experience in screenwriting or any other film industry experience? 

What type of scenes do you find hard to write and why?
Did you have a favorite book as a child?

I have no screenwriting experience, so it's been a struggle to write the screenplay for Dear Heart. The struggle hasn't been with the actual writing, because I can see the movie clearly in my mind. The struggle has been with the formatting, which is off-putting. There is a basic screenplay format on WORD, but hit one wrong key and pouf! you're in the weeds. 

Everything's hard to write in one way or another, but the most difficulty I had with a scene was the end of the first chapter in Sweet Heart. For some reason, I just couldn't get it right. I played around with it for a week until I finally gave up and wrote the last chapter, and then skipped all over the book writing what the spirit moved me to write. The last scene of the first chapter was the last thing I wrote, and even then, I still struggled.

My favorite book as a child was Trixie Belden and The Mystery of the Mansion.

I have heard that screenwriting is a very rigid form. What kind of research have you done for that format? Have you done any screenwriting before? Have you presented the idea to any producers or filmmakers? 

You wrote "Sweet Heart" in an entirely different fashion than "Dear Heart". I have a wonderful guest post elsewhere on my website about that exact style of writing, non-linear. You proved it works.

What did your family say when you announced your desire to be a full-time writer? 
Do your friends and family members buy your books?

I did a bit of internet research about screenwriting and I found the format on WORD, which I'm slogging through. But I'm not a screenwriter, and I don't want to be a screenwriter because, as you pointed out, it is a very rigid format. So my plan is to get my vision for the movie down on paper, doing the best I can with the script-writing format. I won't query the screenplay, I'll pitch the books for movie consideration. If I land a producer, I'd just hand off my version of the screenplay for the producer to use as a jumping off point. I'm just starting to think about how best to query producers.

My family and friends have been very supportive of everything I've ever wanted to do. But don't forget, I was retired when I started writing full-time, so they didn't have to worry about my ability to make a living at it. 

My friends and family members have purchased my books, and some have purchased multiple copies and gave them away as gifts. Doesn't get much better than that.

You published with Solstice Publishing. Do they have the movie rights to your book or did you retain those rights to your intellectual property? 

Have you started to build a list of producers? I think I have seen some on Twitter.  I do have a short list of screenwriters on my Twitter home page. That might be useful. Those people may well be following producers also and they may have tips on the query process.

Your family and friends are a good bunch, no doubt about that!

What area of your writing has the greatest need for improvement at this time?
What non-writing skill could you learn that might prove to be useful for writing in the future?

Solstice allows its authors to retain the movie rights. I can't emphasize enough how supportive and nurturing Solstice is to its authors.

I have started to build a list of producers and I have the germ of a query idea, so there is progress of that front.

I have to get better at dialogue, which is why there is so little of it in Dear Heart and Sweet Heart. It also makes writing a script that much harder.

I wish I were more verbally articulate. I think I do okay on paper, but I'm a mess in person.

That is a great recommendation for your publisher. I am sure they will appreciate it. 

Dialogue is something we don't think much about. We talk all the time and have been for our whole lives. Writing it down on paper, with a movie screen in mind has got to be tough. I bet there is a video about that somewhere.

Many years ago, I took a Dale Carnegie course in public speaking. I benefited a great deal from that. I can also think of Toastmasters, a public speaking organization, probably all over the world. Either of those might be helpful in the long term. 

When do you think your next book will be published?
What will you do differently with this new book, in terms of publishing?

Oh, you're going to love these answers. I don't know and I don't know. Ideally, I'll publish Interoffice Romance this year but I'm focusing on promoting Dear Heart and that doesn't leave a lot of time for writing.

There are huge advantages with being associated with a reputable, established publisher and I'm thrilled and beyond grateful to be associated with Solstice. However, I've noticed that many of my fellow authors also self-publish and I'm learning that there are advantages to that as well. So, I don't know. I guess I'll just cross that bridge when I come to it.

I believe you completely. Promoting can take a lot of time. It's really hard at first, as you try one thing and another, to see what will work. The bad news is, what worked one day may not work the next week. The target you are trying to hit moves constantly. Doing a little bit each day gets easier over time. 

Many authors run on both sides of that fence. Ask those other authors what works and doesn't work for promoting a book. You have to keep in mind every situation is a little bit different. 

How do you deal with a difficult section in a WIP? 
Have you ever read that section out loud to try and sort out the difficulty?

That depends on what you mean by difficult. If you mean, the-words-won't-come difficult, I walk away because first of all I'm probably on the wrong track and need to get some perspective and secondly, to me, there is no sense in beating a dead horse.

If you mean emotionally difficult, like the separation chapter in Dear Heart, I type as fast as I can to get the words down on paper while tears stream down my face.

I don't read out loud to sort through difficult passages, but I do read the entire book out loud when doing the final edit to make sure I didn't overlook any misplaced words or punctuation.

I have been an advocate of space as one of several ways to deal with writer's block. I also think a few weeks of space after completing the first draft is a good idea. How much time away from the WIP do you take, on average?

Emotionally difficult passages are a whole other thing. I think your solution is as good as it gets. My eyes were pretty sweaty while reading that chapter. 

That is a very good idea. Reading the entire book aloud works pretty well, I imagine. 

Do the reviews of your books make an impact on how you write subsequent books or volumes?
For your own reading, do you prefer ebooks or print books?

When I'm blocked, I could stay away from a manuscript anywhere from a day to a month. It depends how long it takes for a solution to occur to me. Sometimes I'll turn to research, or work on my website or on another part of the book, but there have been times when I've walked away completely. 

I haven’t had any negative reviews yet, but I have had negative feedback. In one case, a friend observed that, in Sweet Heart, my male character came across as ‘weak’. Initially, I was shocked and defensive, but then I took a good hard look at how I had drawn the character and I realized she was right, I’d over-emphasized his sentimentality. This will definitely have an impact on how I write future books. 

I prefer paperbacks, but I buy e-books, because they're cheaper and I don't have to store them.

Most of the time there is a nugget of truth in a negative remark. A positive change can result. That is excellent! Perspective and objectivity can make a big difference. 

I have a lot of ebooks on my Kindle, the darn thing is getting heavy, my TBR pile is so large. ;-) 

What books are you reading at present for your business and for pleasure?
Do you proofread and edit your own books or use a professional?

I'm reading The Reckoning by John Grisham. I haven't read any books about writing for years, which is going to make some of your readers lose their minds, but that's the truth of it.

I don't use a professional proofreader, other than the one assigned to my books by Solstice. This is something I may reconsider going forward.

Grisham has cranked out a lot of books. You are correct, some of my readers are scratching their heads about now.

If you go independent, then the cover, editing, et cetera is all on you. But, you get to keep the lion share of the profits also and don't give up any of your IP rights. 

Some writers find it much easier to get an agent after they have several books out and can show sales.

Have you ever thought about doing an audio book?
Have you ever thought about doing a book trailer?

I have thought about doing an audio book, but only because I, personally, would like to hear the story narrated. But, at this stage of the game, it would do little to boost sales, and my promo budget is better spent elsewhere.

Now, a book trailer is another thing entirely. I have done one for Dear Heart, one for Sweet Heart and one which combines both trailers. My trailers have generated some sales and have definitely boosted my following.

I am really glad to hear the book trailers are working for you. Not all authors have had positive results. 

Audio books are a growing market for a number of reasons. There are many different countries with English as an official language and many different tribal or local languages. These markets are growing rapidly. It might be worth looking into. 

Our time is drawing to a close. You have been so generous with your time and so candid with your answers. Thank you, Linda, for being such a wonderful guest over this last week.

The pleasure has been all mine, Mark! Thank you so much for your wonderful review of Dear Heart and for your insightful interview, which made me stop and think on more than one occasion.

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