Q: How did you become a writer?
A:I told tall tales to my younger cousins, then later to kids while I babysat when they cried for their mamas. I read everything I could get my hands on. My mother took me to the library once every month where I could check out four books. I finished them by the week's end and had to wait another three weeks to go back. After the first week of first grade, I was moved up to the "horse" reading group. Before that, the teacher had me in the slow reading group because I was so shy, I never said a word. I can remember my feelings being hurt because I knew I was supposed to be in the "horse" reading group all along! By second grade, I'd read Rebecca Of Sunnybrook Farms. In third grade, I memorized parts of Heidi so I could perform on stage in a reading/character contest. Fred Flintstone's act won. He was hilarious. I learned that people love "funny." There's nothing better than a good belly laugh. I didn't have the internet back then and only three television stations were on the air waves. I read to take me places I'd never been but longed to go. While on a quilt under a tree one summer, I fell in love with Black Beauty.
When I was nine, I penned small poems and songs. My Aunt Lucille gave me a few piano lessons but her house was too far away for regular finger exercises and my request for a piano of my own fell on deaf ears. I began throwing out hints to anyone who would listen and my dear grandfather who used to play the banjo bought my first guitar from a flea market. It reeked of a strange odoriferous smell but I was elated. It had strings. Santa later brought an upgrade but forgot to drop off an amplifier. He'd mixed up someone's electric guitar with my folk guitar. I shuffled back to bed and cried. There was a story there. Even Santa could make mistakes. At least my parents were able to ship the guitar back to the North Pole so the elves could correct their error. When I wasn't impersonating other singers or throwing a saddle on a horse, I wrote songs. Even then I had a nice honest girlfriend who said, "The words are different but the tunes all sound alike." I jotted down a reminder to work on that. "Learn more chords."
At one time in my young elementary writing career, I typed out a neighborhood newsletter on my mother's ancient Royal typewriter about the happenings in the "hood." No one wanted to dig into their piggy banks to see their name in print so my new venture went belly-up at a time when there were no government bail outs. I planned play performances with the neigborhood kids. We staged our plays in my parents' basement with quilts for curtains and folding chairs for the adults who attended.
I never stopped writing, but it wasn't until many years later that I started trying to publish my work. I guess I've been stringing words together in yarns most of my life.
Q: What are some of your favorite books?
A:After the Dick and Jane books in first grade and lots of "See Spot run," I read Rusty Rings A Bell and There Goes Timmy. There was one book about a church mouse that kept eating the hymnbooks. I remember we kept a sheet of paper taped to our lockers and recorded all the books we'd read. By second grade I was reading Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms as I mentioned earlier. It's an old fashioned book. I read it to my daughters when they were in elementary school. It was part of our winding down time before bed. Anything C.S. Lewis has written I enjoy, kids or adult. He had incredible insight and was a gifted writer. I read Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier because my mother loved it. I also put it on my "favorites" list and go back every now and then and reread it.
I fell in love with Kate DiCamillo's Because Of Winn Dixie and then The Tale of Despereaux. Gone With The Wind is my all time favorite I read in junior high school. I enjoyed Tolstoy'sWar And Peace and Anna Karenina, Far From The Madding Crowd by Hardy, Dr. Zhivago by Pasternak and anything Charles Dickens wrote but especially A Tale of Two Cities. James Mitchener's Hawaii made me long to visit and I've been a couple of times. The most fun was with my mother. She wore an orchid in her hair everyday. My rule of thumb was always read the book before going to the movie and research the country or place before visiting.
Dr. James Dobson has written great books for children and adults. Madeleine L'Engle's books, children and inspirational made a huge impact. I have scarfed down anything Catherine Marshall has written - fiction or inspirational. I enjoyed reading Jerry Spinelli's Star Girl because I always wanted to change my name to "Star." One of my daughter's had a good friend named Star and I was thrilled! I had an excuse to say that name alot. While teaching a women's Bible class, I confessed about wanting a name change when I was a child. I reasoned that if Abraham, Sarah, and Jacob could have name changes, why couldn't I? June, a teacher and one of the most interesting women I've ever met, brought me the book the next time our class met and said, "Vicki, you have to read Star Girl!" Louis Sachar's Holes, is another great book and an all-time favorite because it was so wonderfully crafted.
Flannery O'Connor, Eudora Welty, and William Faulkner were Southern writers who influenced me. Women Christian writers Terri Blackstock and Angela Hunt are as awesome in person as are their books. I love reading material by Appalachian writers like Jesse Stuart, Lee Smith, Wendell Berry and others because that's part of where I'm from. I love Kentucky's George Ella Lyon for a children's author and Mike Shoulders is an up-an-coming children's author from Tennessee having already published 13 picture books. I've had the pleasure to be in classes taught by both of them. Mike has the best school visit presentation I've ever seen. Jane Yolen is one of the best children's writers out there and she once walked up to me at a conference in New York and started chatting like we were best friends. I didn't know who she was at the time and she'd written over 240 wonderful books! What a delightful lady who reaches out to emerging writers.
The stories in the Bible have influenced me more than any other book. I grew up in the Bible Belt, Chattanooga being the buckle of that belt. As a child, I loved pretty Bibles. Both grandmothers gave me one. I'd asked for them for birthdays or Christmas. I'm amazed at how the stories of the Bible were all interwoven to create the most incredible plot ever written. Only God could dream up such a story and tell His readers from the beginning how it would all end, and do it over thousands of years using different authors. Now that's craft!
Q: How old were you when you wrote your first story?
A:The story I remember and still have is the one I wrote when I was nine and in the fourth grade. It was titled My Trip To San Francisco, California. I had to research how I would get there from Chattanooga, TN, where I would stay, what I'd be doing, what I'd be eating, places I would see, clothes I would purchase for the vacation, and the cost for everything. I even included gifts I would buy and bring back home to my family. I stayed two months at the St. Francis Hotel close to Union Square. I visited Fisherman's Wharf, Treasure Island, The Palace of Fine Arts, China Town, Candlestick Park, the zoo, the University of San Francisco, Hoover Tower, and Cliff House.
My teacher, Mrs Priddy, encouraged my writing by leaving me little comments on some of the pages like an Easter Bunny dropping off dark chocolate. I gobbled them up. In red ink she wrote "How generous" on the gift page. On "My "Wardrobe" page she wrote, "My, what a wardrobe!" Remember, it was fiction. Back then, dresses were $7.98. I splurged. A sweater was $4.00. I must have used a couple of paper doll wardrobes for that trip and everything had to be priced. On "The Places I Visited" page, she wrote, "Very interesting." The total cost of my trip for two months was $2,864.59. That was in the sixties. Now, the St. Francis Hotel charges a couple of hundred dollars a night. Tomatoes cost more than $0.10. The train ticket was $141.60 and I even managed some sight seeing in New Orleans on the way from Chattanooga to California. Once in San Francisco, I traveled across the Golden Gate Bridge with a side trip to Lake Tahoe, all places I'd never visited until much later. I dreamed big. That writing exercise opened my eyes to a new world. And since then, I've visited most of those landmarks. I especially loved the seafood and sour dough bread on Fisherman's Wharf.
On the cover page of my "masterpiece," Mrs. Priddy wrote, "I enjoyed reading about your trip." I smiled. On the last page she penned "An interesting book!" I beamed. I received an "E" on the exercise. Back then that was an "A." I levitated off the floor a couple of inches. Okay, that was part snowball. But the best part - I'd written a book! I was hooked. Though the book's gray construction paper cover is now faded and the scotch tape holding my paper doll dress wardrobe to the pages has yellowed and fallen to the wayside, that's one of the few things I've kept from my elementary school days. If I could chat with Mrs. Priddy today I would say, "You believed in me. You helped me become a writer and gave me an exercise that would help make my dream come true. You required me to do the research so I would have skills to put a story together. Thank you so much for being an encourager."
I find it interesting that I have had another encouraging teacher at Precept Ministries named Mrs. Priddy. She taught me how to teach Kay Arthur's book The Cost Of Discipleship. I'm forever grateful for the "Mrs. Priddys" in my life!
Q: Was there a book that made you laugh and cry?
A:Oh, yes! The Education of Little Tree. I was reading in bed one night and I laughed so hard, I cried a creek. Then I sobbed so hard I cried a river. I know that's a cliche but it's the honest truth. I had to get up and change my night gown. Both of my daughters were curious after I raved about it and told about my nightgown debacle so they both read the book after that. I think it's important to share reading with your children. I know that what my mother read and discussed wtih me made a huge impact. She loved Whittier's poem Snow-Bound: A Winter Idyl and asked me to try to find a copy. I found an old book of his poems in an antique mall in Atlanta and was thrilled to surprise her. She smiled the entire time I read the poem and I knew it was taking her back to her childhood. That was a time when coal-oil lamps were burning as children snuggled on top of feather mattresses with quilts piled high and snow piled higher outside the window sashes. That poem didn't make me laugh or cry, but it made me smile alot.
Q: When did you start writing romance?
A:I wasn't into romance novels though I'd read Eugenia Price's books when I was younger. Shanna, by Kathleen Woodiwiss, was the first romance novel I read as an adult because I heard someone else raving about it. I never found a love story that could top it until I read Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. It was a powerful read. I realized a writer could write a beautiful love story and leave out explicit scenes and it still make a huge impact and be one of the best stories ever told. Then I read her "Mark of the Lion" series and couldn't get over the amount of research she'd done to write that series. What an amazing story teller. I'm a huge history buff so I learned lots from those books. When I read Francine's testimony, I had a sneaky suspicion God might be nudging me in the same direction with my writing. Though the first thing I wrote was the first 50 pages of a romance novel when I first became serious with my writing, I didn't feel comfortable writing explicit scenes. Then I felt a strong sense -pull, if you will - that God wanted me writing for Him. I didn't want to go there. I wanted to play it safe and write for children. After reading Bruce Olsen's book Bruchko I had to laugh when I read, "I had forgotten how hard God can make it on someone who won't do what he's told." I said, "O.K. God, I get the message." On a lark, I sent the 50 pages I'd written so many years before to a conference to be critiqued by Vicki Hinze, a secular romance author who switched over to Christian. She sent a message and phone number for me to call her. She was another encourager in my life. If it wasn't for that phone discussion, I doubt I would have attempted another romance novel. Again, I said, "O.K. God, you're making it pretty clear! I'll try. But you're going to have to make it happen. How's that?" Within a few months I'd written a proposal and landed an agent. That novel is being considered along with another proposal on a different book.
Q: Do I have to have an agent?
A:No, but it helps. More and more editors are refusing to accept unsolicited manuscripts.
Q: What are you reading now?
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
The Kingdom of the Occult - by Rische and Gorden
When Crickets Cry - by Charles Martin
I usually keep several books going at once.
Q: How do I become a writer?
A:Read like your life depends on it. I read somewhere you must read one thousand books to write one.
Write like there's no tomorrow while you're growing a thick skin. There are critics who lurk in the bushes. If you practice everyday, like you would a sport, you will gradually get better. You have to be persistant.
Attend writing conferences and read books on writing. Read in different genres, but especially in the genre in which you'd like to be published.
Hone your craft. Revise. Polish. Revise. Polish. Write what you know and then stretch it, with fiction. With nonfiction, write like you're talking to your best friend - be honest and tell the truth but with lots of flare!
Never let anyone discourage you. The writing business is subjective. One editor may not like your work, and again, it might be the perfect story for another editor/agent. Don't give up. Keep revising until you find your story a happy home. Editors and agents can have bad days too.
Cultivate friends who are encouragers - not discouragers - and will give you feedback in a professional manner with constructive criticism. Your mother is not a good person for this job because she will think every word you write will find its way to the best seller list or in a quote that will be written in stone on a building of higher learning for future generations to ponder. This could happen. Don't rule out anything. Dream big. But it's highly unlikely when in the prologue of your writing career. Find someone you can trust to be honest yet, gentle and kind.
And if someone is discouraging and knocks you off your pony, get back on and ride into the fading sunset. Tomorrow is another day. During the night, you could be like Robert Louis Stevenson and have a dream and wake up to write the next great classic like Treasure Island or Kidnapped. I found it interesting that Stevenson prayed about his work. He asked God to send him ideas. I tried it. It works.
If you get discouraged, don't hang up your hat and spurs. When I was going to lay down my writing pen after a discouraging remark, the next day I received a phone message from an editor who said, "I can't offer you a contract on this story, however, I like your work. Send me something else." That message kept my feet in the stirrups and my pony trotting. Within one month I had the interest of an agent and within four months, I'd cantered my way into signing a contract. I was back in the saddle preparing for my next race while my agent sent in my proposals. Always keep your eyes looking toward the straightaway and the finish line. And remember, just when you think you're looking good in your fancy hacking jacket or new Wranglers, ponies roll. It doesn't matter if you're riding English or Western, always keep a firm hand on the reins and sit deep. It's there you can run with the horses and a few small dogs.
~ Happy Trails ~