An author interview on the craft of writing.
Featured Writer: Deborah J. Ledford
Books: Snare, Staccato (more info below)
Buy Deborah’s books:
Intro, from Heidi:
I met Deb on my 36th birthday. I had been writing furiously, collecting odd thoughts, dialogue and ideas in various notebooks, and had absolutely no idea what to do with any of it. It was the first time in my life I ever looked at writing as something fun to do instead of a chore, like all of those school book reports. Plus it was about the only thing keeping me sane.
At that time, I was coming out of a pretty deep depression, and my therapist (brilliant woman that she is) suggested writing. Just writing. All those ideas floating around in my head, bumping into all the other things that I needed to do, cluttering up the joint—get them out of your head and down on paper! Best advice I ever got.
But what to do with these notebooks, now half-filled with half-formed ideas? I looked at my local library flyer and noticed an open writer’s group, and the meeting happened to be scheduled on my birthday. I went, as my present to myself. I haven’t looked back since.
Deborah J. Ledford, affectionately known as Deb by our ramshackle gang of misfit writers, was the moderator then, and for several years she shuffled our papers around the table, monitored everyone’s allotted time, and made thousands of edit notes.
I learned some of my most valuable writing lessons from Deb, and for that I will be forever grateful:
Get rid of all those WASes and JUSTs!
Just yesterday, I browsed the new releases at Barnes & Noble and picked up a title that I’d been hearing so much buzz about: Chris Colfer’s The Land of Stories. It looked promising, and had an impressive imprint (Little, Brown), but after I counted at least 7 “was”es on the first page, I had to put it back. Too bad this promising young talent didn’t have Deb to edit his book! It does look like a fun read for middle-grade kids though.
I’m honored to have helped Deb edit her two books, Staccato and Snare, and to host her here on my blog. Enjoy the interview! And take notes.
How old were you when you started writing?
I can’t really remember not writing. I was a shy girl and always had my nose buried in a book, or a pen in my hand. I began to express myself through artwork, starting out painting oil on canvas, scratchboard and pen and ink. My love for movies and rockin’ dialogue is what got me interested in writing screenplays, which then led to novels and short stories (after Hollywood broke my heart).
Where do you write?
At my dining room table. I need a lot of space to spread out my research materials and other items that keep me motivated. I’ve found that a room with 4 walls, facing a wall does not work creatively for me. The space is wide open and the window where I sit looks out on the front yard.
When do you write?
My most creative time is in the late afternoon to very late at night. My background is in technical theatre as a professional scenic artist therefore I usually didn’t begin working until after 10:00 PM. I start my day with emails (so many!), then edit other writers’ pages. I find that I need to take a break and begin to switch gears to my own work. Then I’ll read the previous day’s writing and go from there.
What helps you write—music, pictures, maps, journals, etc.—what gets you into that mindset?
Music, all the time I’m at the keyboard. The songs or artist depend on the scene as well as the characters I’m working on. If it’s a climax I’ll go with a rock group like The Killers, Within Temptation, Muse, and Evanescence. When I’m working on a Native American location I prefer Robbie Robertson and Robert Mirabal. But I’m hooked on contemporary Broadway Musicals and always have a soundtrack going. My current favorite is Next to Normal, Spring Awakening and Book of Mormon.
What are some things that stand in your way? Logistically as well as creatively?
The lack of time to write. This year I’m the current President of the Sisters in Crime Desert Sleuths Chapter which is the Arizona chapter of an international writers organization, and also the lead editor for the 4th anthology, SoWest: Desert Justice, written by member of our group. These tasks take quite a lot of my time, but I’m honored and thrilled to be associated with so many professionals. Our main goal is to be supportive of one another.
What do you do when you “hit a wall?”
I try to avoid this! But what works for me is to read what I’ve already written. That usually kick starts me, or at least gives me ideas of what else needs to be implemented.
How do you draft/revise? (i.e. do you just get it out in one big “dump,” then revise, revise revise, or do you revise and edit as you go)
I write chapter by chapter. Not always consistent with chapters’ timeline. During the “first draft” I focus on one chapter per day. Pound out the highlights, then print it out and make notes on the hardcopy, go back and flesh out those elements, print out again, repeat over and over until I’m quite happy with the chapter. I prefer this method as the version tends to be more of a seventh draft, which is much easier for me to deal with when it comes time to “final” edits of the entire manuscript.
I tend to write front to back, but absolutely have to know the first 5 chapters, 2-3 climax points and the ending before I know I’m ready to dive full-force into a new project. It’s also crucial to know the 3-4 lead characters inside and out—complete biography details and most importantly their psychological drive which helps me with their motivation. I need to know that I love the concept and characters because I’ll be living with them for months on end. This process is somewhat the same for writing short stories. I work out 90% of the piece in my head and through notes before I sit down at the keyboard to compose a draft.
What are some tools that you use? (reference guides, manuals, websites—a favorite pen/notebook/computer)
I’m also a professional content editor, so I need to stay up on current Industry Standards for formatting and what is “acceptable” when approaching agents and editors. I rely on the Chicago Manual of Style and A Pocket Style Manual by Diana Hacker. PublishersMarketplace.com is the best site for researching agents and editors. I work on an Acer laptop, but hook it up to a full-size keyboard and large monitor.
Do you use critique groups? How did you find them?
Until fairly recently I was the moderator of the Scottsdale Writers Group through the public library. I met loads of excellent writers at this group (including you, Heidi!) and am still in touch with them. I’m a current member of a small intense group with four other highly motivated professional writers. Their advice and support is invaluable and I couldn’t do this without them. I highly advise any dedicated writer who intends to submit their work for publication to find a critique group. After reading our own words for the 100th time, we don’t see the problems anymore. Objective, fresh eyes are crucial when polishing your work.
On your current project:
What was your inspiration for this book?
I always wanted to be a rock star, which is where the idea for SNARE originated. Sounds a bit silly, but that’s what is fascinating about being a writer—we can do whatever we want. I was a screenwriter and filmmaker in my previous profession and so was able to be creative on many levels. However no other medium, other than writing, can one be not only the writer but also the casting director, location scout, composer, director, editor, costume designer…essentially everything. Which is why research is so important.
What kind of research did you do for this book? And, were you surprised by something that you learned in your research?
So much research for STACCATO and SNARE. The first book focused on two world-class pianists and finding the proper classical pieces was instrumental in showing their world. SNARE was much different as the location and mind-set of the Taos Pueblo Indians is what I needed to convey. Once I decided on the Tribe to focus on I came into contact with the communications director on the Taos Pueblo in New Mexico. Floyd “Mountain Walking Cane” Gomez read every word of the manuscript as I composed each draft. He either approved scenes, characters and elements, or told me flat out “No, you cannot use this.” (He told me this a lot!) Elements Floyd wasn’t sure about were cleared by the Taos Pueblo Tribal Council.
How good did it feel to write that last line?
I always get a little down when I finish a novel—not that it’s ever truly finished. I allow myself a few days to grieve, then start thinking about the next project which is usually a new short story to keep me sharp.
On the business of publishing:
How did you find your agent/editor?
I was very fortunate that my publisher found me. I submitted STACCATO for “The Next Great Crime Writer” competition sponsored by CourtTV (now TruTV) which was featured on Gather.com. STACCATO finished 6th in the first round of more than 350 entries and was in the top ten for the semi-final round. Fortunately for me my publisher found out about this contest and was looking for talent.
How has self-publishing shaped your career as a writer? / What is your opinion of self-publishing?
I’m actually not self-published. My publisher, Second Wind Publishing, is a small independent publisher. This has been a good fit for me as I have very specific ideas regarding the overall “look” of my books. Second Wind has allowed me to provide input and final approval of the formatting and cover design for SNARE and STACCATO. Traditional publishers have their own staff to provide these elements. Quite a few of my writer friends have decided to go the self-publishing route—and I highly considered doing so for the third book of my Steven Hawk/Inola Walela series, but I decided to finish the trilogy with Second Wind. I do plan to write novellas in the future featuring characters from my books, as well as fleshing out some of my favorite published, award-winning short stories. I will self-publish these.
What can you share with our readers about marketing? (i.e. what, if any, support did you have from your publisher? Costs involved? Things that worked best/weren’t worth it, etc.)
It’s never too early to start establishing yourself on the Internet. A website or blog is crucial—somewhere agents/editors can start their legwork on researching you. Yes, you will be vetted, especially when it comes time to a representative requesting your work. It takes loads of time establishing “friends” and followers on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads, but I highly beginning this process even as you’re writing your first novel. Agents and prospective publishes need to be certain you are capable of promoting your work and the Internet is step one in being recognized.
I’m with an independent publisher and a majority of the PR and market falls on my shoulders. This is happening more and more, even with big traditional publishing houses. Unfortunately time away from the keyboard, but the Internet truly is the only way to keep your name out there. Name recognition is huge, especially when you are about to release something new and want to get the word out. Do not over-promote. Blatant Self-Promotion (BSP) is a no-no.
However, I do not advise spending too much time marketing online. Stick to your main goal: writing. The more you have written the better your chances of succeeding will be. I spent hundreds, if not thousands of hours promoting my debut novel, STACCATO and don’t believe this benefited me much. I scaled my hours online way back with SNARE.
Be supportive of other writers, and find other avenues (rather than Facebook, Twitter, etc) where potential readers may be found. I’m still trying to figure out where to find readers so please give a shout out if any of you out there could provide clues to accomplishing this.
What is a trick that you’ve learned along the way that has made the writing process easier?
Stay focused. When I’m working on the first draft of a novel I push for 2,000 words per day. Sometimes this takes a few hours, other times eight. This helps me stay in the head of my characters and on top of what needs to happen next.
What do you like to read for enjoyment?
Literary fiction continues to be my “candy” and I read everything by Michael Cunningham, Pat Conroy, James Irving, Ann-Marie MacDonald and Isabel Allende. Due to the need to be current with crime fiction I now follow everything by John Hart, Cara Black, Karin Slaughter, Lisa Gardner and Gregg Hurwitz. I also love the British mystery novelist Kate Atkinson, who is quite literary with her lyrical prose. My favorite book continues to be Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. Up-and-coming author favorites are historical mysteries by Rebecca Cantrell and Kelli Stanley.
We all know that learning from our mistakes is part of the process of becoming who we are. As a writer, what’s one lesson you’ve learned that you would like to pass on to others?
Don’t be shy! I lost out for years because I was so timid, preferring to stay on the periphery and watch rather than put myself out there. Go to writers conferences and approach published authors. Essentially hang out at the bar, which is where agents, editors and authors hang out. If you’re a fan of someone approach them.
If you’re a crime writer, join Sisters in Crime (SinC). I’ve met so many big named authors by merely stating, “I’m also a member of Sisters in Crime.” Unlike so many organizations you don’t need to be a published author to join. I research who will be attending the conferences and make a point of seeking out authors I know, or want to know. Establishing these relationships are crucial when you reach the point where you are, or about to be published. Willing authors will provide back cover blurbs, which looks great to your publisher and potential readers. I’m also convinced that my relationship with SinC members is what led to becoming The Hillerman Sky Award Finalist for my latest thriller, SNARE.
Also: read, read, read. Not only the genre you write. Debut novels are a great resource in discovering what agents and editors are currently publishing.
What’s next for you?
Just about to submit Book Three of the Steven Hawk/Inola Walela series to my publisher. CRESCENDO wraps up the series—which is a bit sad. But I’m excited to move on and am about 10,000 words into the first book of a new mystery series. This one will be set entirely in the Taos, N.M. area and will feature a Native American female city cop and a different cast of characters. Also a Young Adult traditional mystery about a boy and girl who set off on their own to solve a rash of arsons in their small Oregon town. Another exciting project is Book Two of Rubicon Ranch. As with the first book, Rubicon Ranch: Riley’s Story, this is a collaboration with other Second Wind authors.
What’s the funniest thing you’ve seen online lately? (we’ll take a link or image if you’ve got it)
I absolutely love The Red Pen of Doom blog by the brilliant Guy Bergstrom—especially his “Evil Cat” posts. Favorite video is the dog talking about bacon, and the Mishka the Husky saying “I love you.”
Where can we find you on the Internet?
My personal website is: www.DeborahJLedford.com
You can find all of my books and short stories at my Amazon Author’s Central page.
Native American pop singer Katina Salvo embarks on her first live concert appearance. There’s one problem: someone wants to kill her.
Katina and her bodyguard, Deputy Steven Hawk, are attacked during her performance, leaving her to wonder—could the assailant be a dangerous man from her youth? Or her estranged father recently released from prison?
Performed against the backdrop of the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, and the mysterious Taos Pueblo Indian reservation, SNARE pays homage to Tony Hillerman Native American mysteries and Lisa Gardner thriller novels.
Please feel free to comment or leave questions below. Thanks for stopping by!