When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I started writing stories in second grade and wrote stories and poetry through middle school. A creative writing teacher my junior year in high school got me into serious writing through the school literary magazine. Although, I think deep down I’ve always wanted to be a fiction writer, but my journey here took many tracks over the years. While I continued to write short stories in high school, pursuing a degree in history led to writing non-fiction and for a time, lyrics to the songs I sang. When family and career took priority, writing became researching and writing social studies curriculum for schools and national parks.
Then about 22 years ago, I sat down and wrote my first novel. From that point on, I went to writer’s conferences, attended workshops, did a summer writing intensive at UW. And I pitched, queried and entered lit contests. While mulling over plots, I wrote some essays too. I don’t think I identified myself as a writer until recently. Perhaps it was when I got my first story about being a rugby mum vs soccer mom published in Rugby Magazine in 2002. That was a great thrill. Then, in 2006, I won the top prize for non-fiction at Surrey International Writers Conference.
What are your thoughts on self-publishing?
The publishing world has changed so much and continues to act like the Wild West, but once it became less likely about having 1000 boxes of books in my garage, I took the plunge into indie publishing. In 2010, I self-published Tree Soldier, my novel about the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Great Depression. I haven’t been disappointed. The novel went onto win the 2012 EPIC ebook award for historical fiction and the 2013 grand prize from Chanticleer Book Reviews. In 2014, it was a quarter finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest out of 10,000 entries. Tree Soldier is also now an audiobook.
So—yes!—I love being a hybrid author. I’ve had articles and essays published in traditional publications (Cup of Comfort series, The Sea Chest), and for some of the novels I’ve written, a traditional publisher could be the appropriate place for them. I certainly would want an agent to help with foreign rights, so I occasionally query, but connections and networking are now becoming the way to reach out. I use Twitter, circles in Google+ for daily news and take advantage of free webinars.
How did I do it? Well, I’m not sure if there is a best, best way, but for me, Createspace has given me the opportunity to create a book and have it professionally produced. They make a beautiful product (because that is what a book is). I used their templates to create the interior, but had it checked by a professional before the final upload for a proof copy. I have the covers done professionally and the manuscript edited. POD (print on demand) has made it possible to order the number of books that I need. The drawback is that though I have signed up for two different distribution systems so bookstores can order, there are no returns, so that often leaves me with consigning my novels. Yet one indie store, Village Books in Fairhaven has been so supportive, that it is all worth it. I can take the books on book talks, send them off to book clubs. (Yes, book clubs. I’m fortunate there. And they want a physical book)
I also used KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) and have both novels in that program. I did Nook for awhile with Tree Soldier, but they had poor support for authors (Amazon, the big guy, has a lot of help) . I also put Timber Rose into KOBO briefly, but was getting nowhere with that so pulled it. It’s in KDP Select, but I may withdraw it and put it into other platforms. Audiobooks is the third form I’ve tried. I went through ACX and with the help of book clubs, had my narrator picked out of the auditions narrators submitted. I contacted my narrators directly in the ACX system to speed things up. I got my narrator, Jim Mentnik, before the change in royalty share went through. I’m marketing it right now, an entirely different animal to promote.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve received in your publishing journey?
Cultivate a supportive community which can include a critique group and writer’s association. As you advance, be sure to reach back to help the writer coming up behind you. For publishing skills you don’t have, hire someone. Book cover and editing are the top needs.
How long did it take to sign your first publishing contract and what helped you get there?
My first publishing contract came with an memoir essay I wrote, “Technicolor Dreams.” It was published in the A Cup of Comfort for Women anthology in 2002. I eventually submitted five other essays to different anthologies in the series, four of which were published. Not long after, I began writing for Historylink.org, all paid work.
I guess the most things I’ve learned to reach the many milestones in my writing, is
- Share and support each other
- Submit your work to lit contests for feedback
- Write every day
- Read and write some more
- Don’t be afraid to step out and try something new
What are you currently working on?
I’m working on a historical novel entitled Thatch’s War. It’s drawing on the experiences of my great-grandfather who was a Union surgeon at the Battle of Gettysburg. I’ve been researching Civil War medicine, did a work vacation at Gettysburg through the Friends of Gettysburg, went to the 150th anniversary of the battle to be there real time with my ancestor. I’m now studying the Civil War in the Pacific NW where the novel will eventually go. There was a lot of intrigue out here that’s not well known and a lot of fun for a novelist to explore and write about. The novel is also exploring the Civil War version of PTSD. I’m about 20,000 words into it.
This past spring, I published Timber Rose, the prequel to Tree Soldier. This novel has received a “highly recommended” review from the Historical Novel Society as well as praise from a judge in the Self-Published Writer’s Digest 2014 contest. Set in the same area 30 years earlier, Timber Rose, focuses on the life of a young woman who balances her heart and family with her love of the outdoors and climbing mountains in skirts. I think it is off to a good start. I’ll be doing a four library book tour in late January. Another novel, The Jossing Affair, is in edits. My first ever novel, it is set in WW II Norway. It’s won awards and praise but no publication offers, so I’ll indie-publish it in late winter.
What’s something your fans may not know about you?
I have a very nice collection of corded petticoats. I’ve also been teaching hands-on history with school children for many, many years. Starting with presenting workshops for teachers on social studies enrichment in the classroom, I got the best gig of my life, – working in the woods for a school district teaching pioneer life in the Pacific NW. I built cabins and structures with 8th graders for ten years, taught everything from making butter and biscuits, splitting shakes and identify trees and logging tools with 3rd graders. From there I became a museum educator and for the past 18 years, demonstrated 19th century foodways and a 1860 school for San Juan Island National Historical Park. Good times!