An author interview on the craft of writing.
Featured Writer: Virginia Nosky
Books: The Fall from Paradise Valley; Blue Turquoise, White Shell; Ring of Fire; Pima Road; Kachina
Coming Soon: To a Certain Degree; White River
Buy Virginia’s books:
Intro, from Heidi:
Virginia is an award-winning author, and one of my earliest cheerleaders from my beginning days at the library critique group. I have to say, she intimidated me at first, being one of those no-nonsense types who would put a huge “X” over an unnecessary paragraph, scratch corrections over my manuscripts, and has a take-no-prisoners attitude when it comes to punctuation and grammatical errors.
I learned a great deal from Virginia. She gives amazing feedback, and I knew I was getting better at this writing thing when I started to see that she drew a star in areas of my work. That was a sign that she liked what I wrote. And if I got a star on the front page—whoa! Look out! A star from Virginia is like a nod of approval from the Queen.
If any of you are interested in writing romance, take a cue from Virginia. This lady may look polite and proper, but, man can she steam up some pages! And she writes a hundred times better than E.L.James, so if 50 Shades of Grey left you wanting more, pick up a copy of one of Virginia’s books—you won’t be disappointed!
How old were you when you began to write?
All mixed up in my mind are these little plays my sister and I would put together with neighbor kids. There was very little written down, but these little dramas were full-blown affairs, with beginnings, middle and ends. They were also fully costumed with whatever our fevered imaginations could come up with. I remember playing a Maria Montez role—she was a popular sultry movie star—always, it seemed, in harem type costume. I wore my mother’s tin measuring cups as my bra, over my nonexistent chest. There was a little woods beside our house and once we even built a little fire in a clearing—to dance around. We had a lot of freedom back then. My point is that I spent a great deal of my play time in a world of glamour and exotic situations. My imagination was engaged constantly in other worlds. Making up stuff has always been with me, and I can’t really remember when I started writing it down. I majored in Communication at Ohio State, worked in broadcasting and advertising. Writing is just there, in my life.
Where do you write?
When my sons went off to college, my husband took one of their bedrooms for an office, and I took the other one. It didn’t happen suddenly…we just sort of moved their stuff out…like squatters.
What helps to inspire you? Music, maps, journals.
I have never liked background music. Total quiet is best, but I can tune out ambient household noise when I really get into something. Sometimes I would like to screech at interruptions by my sweet family…but I don’t. I can’t come out with “Do you realize I’m trying to get this woman in bed with the guy and now, NOW”…etc. But that scene will be different for the interruption. That’s true of any artist whose train of thought is broken. The piece will change. You can only hope it will be as good or better.
What stands in your way? Logistically/creatively?
Not much. A busy schedule is the most disruptive. Or some kind of emergency that requires your attention. It’s hard to be creative when you’re troubled about something.
What do you do when you hit a wall?
Just going back to reread what I’ve already written just gets everything going. The worst thing is to get into a corner, where something doesn’t work. But I find those insomniac hours at night can come up with some amazing solutions. “Sleeping on it” is really good advice.
Do you outline? Know how the story will develop?
Outline? No. Never. I know how the story begins, how it will end, and there is usually a dramatic scene somewhere in the middle that triggered the whole idea. That’s not to say the story will end like you thought. Stories develop lives of their own, and sometimes the end will be different than you started out. A character will assert herself or himself. But it’s important to know where you’re going when you start out. For that matter the beginning might change a bit. The best advice I ever read was from Tony Hillerman. Don’t spend so much time polishing and polishing the beginning. You’ll make some changes when you’ve finished. He said when he started out, he did that. He wrote the most perfect first chapter in the universe. It was lapidary in its brilliance and it still nestled unread in a dusty drawer. That has stayed with me and saved a lot of grief.
How do you revise and edit?
I edit as I go. I get ideas as I go along and work with them. Then when the book is finished I go back and do it some more. And, as I mentioned, if I’m stalled, it’s a good way to get going again.
Do you have any special tools?
I work on a desk top and I have an extensive library. I have books on birds, astronomy, flowers, history, physics, geography, wildlife, minerals, weather, sports, games, food, wine, native plants, survival, Native American healing. I have maps and word books: Roget’s, Word Menu, Synonyms, Reverse Dictionary. I have several grammar books: The Chicago Book of Style; the Oxford Book of Grammar; Strunk & White. I have a French Dictionary, and Spanish, Italian, a Japanese, Navajo, Portuguese. I have books of quotations. One book I love is the Book of Everything. Everything has a name and this book has every screw, spark plug, beam, anchor, sail, knot…well, you name it. And it’s there. I have dozens of books on writing. Then I’ve collected a number of books on Arizona Indian culture, mostly Navajo. If I don’t have an answer in those books, Google is my friend.
Do you belong to a critique group?
Yes. I belonged for years to the Scottsdale Writers Group at Mustang Library. That’s where I met you. And many lovely people. My most valuable group is an offshoot of that. There are five of us and we read much longer excerpts from each other. Take them home and write serious criticism. I love them. Every serious writer needs readers to bounce their work off of. We all write different things, but that isn’t a problem, and sometimes it’s invaluable.
What kind of research do you do?
A lot. One thing leads to another. You read that something happened. Then you find you have to know why it happened. I’m working on a sequel to Blue Turquoise, White Shell called White River. But in writing about an important incident in the Navajo history, it took place during the Civil War. And I had to get into that, which I hadn’t meant to. That’s the trouble with history. Nothing happens in a vacuum.
Did something surprise you?
Not really. Particularly with White River. Oh, fascinating details crop up, but I had immersed myself so much in the first book, I pretty much knew what was going to happen.
How does it feel to write the last line?
With Kachina, my first book, there was a huge surge of pride that I had done it. But I face the last line now with a sense of uncertainty. Is this the right ending? Also a sense of regret. You do get into the lives of your characters and you can’t stop thinking about them. But you do have to send that baby out into the world. A book isn’t truly finished until somebody reads it. I always sense that it’s the same with an artist. When to lay down the brush.
On the business of publishing:
How did you find an agent?
I don’t have one now. But it was endless queries, endless sending out mss. Two of my books I’ve used a Canadian publisher that I met at a conference. Conferences are a great place to meet editors and agents. They’re sort of obligated to look at a little bit of your stuff.
Has self-publishing shaped your career?
I’ve had all my books come out with traditional publishers. I don’t have a problem with self-publishing and I’ve thought about using it to publish my poetry and short stories. These have been in anthologies, but I may get to it one of these days as the rights devolve to me. One has all that nice control when you do it all yourself.
What can you share about marketing? What didn’t work?
It’s ongoing, it’s time-consuming and most writers hate it. I do. But publishers don’t do it anymore. Oh, maybe if you’re ever so famous. I’ve tried a bunch of stuff, even hired a publicist, but it was pretty much a waste of money. I have a great gal who helps me with computer things and we’ve become great friends. But it’s just getting your name and work in front of the public on and on and on. Speaking to groups is great, and you can hope that the more you write the more your name will become familiar. All the social media is a must.
Tricks to make writing easier.
It’s not supposed to be easy, but it’s fun most of the time. When you get a good scene going, you soar.
What writers inspire you?
Updike, because he notices the smallest things. Maybe all the good writers do. Don Delillo, Pat Conroy, T.C.Boyle, Chrisopher Moore, Richard Russo, Barabara Kingsolver. David Sedaris is hilarious, Christopher Buckley. Tony Hillerman, Elmore Leonard so simple…well, on and on.
What do you read for enjoyment?
All of the above. I’m really all over the map in what I read. I sort of lean to literary, but well- written trash is fun, too.
What’s next for you?
As I mentioned above, White River has gone off to the publisher. It will probably be out the first of the year. I’ve done some short stories, and have put together some contest work. I’m relaxing doing a little romance that’s been around in my drawer for awhile.
Where can we find you?
My website is www.virginianosky.com. I have a trailer on YouTube for The Fall From Paradise Valley. I just did a long interview on web radio with Al Cole, a broadcaster out of Boston. All my books are on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, ChampagneBooks.com/store. Some of them are in libraries around town, but they can always be ordered. Poisoned Pen book store has several.
For those of you in the Phoenix area, Virginia will be giving a Workshop:
“Writing Romantic Scenes” for the Scottsdale Society of Womens Writers on October 31, 5:30-7:30, at the Chaparral Suites Resort in Scottsdale.
When a privileged east-coast Med school student agrees to work on the Navajo reservation in exchange for getting her Harvard education paid in full, the last thing she expects is to fall for the tribe’s newest congressional Golden Boy, Nicholas Nakai. But what is in her secretive grandfather’s past that makes him send Lily to the Rez? You’ll have to read to find out!