Confessions of a Writer Tag
I was delighted to be tagged by one of my favorite authors, Kevin Ansbro, to do this Confessions of a Writer. I have had so much fun reading the Confessions and I was thrilled to be asked to continue it. The Confessions tag was started by Nicolette at A Little Bookish, A Little Writerly nicoletteellzie.com/2015/10/02/the-confessions-of-a-writertag/
When did you first start writing? Was being a writer something you always aspired to be?
When I was young, I wrote fanciful books with my own artwork for my younger sister, Elizabeth. They were tales of animals and dolls coming to life and having adventures with Elizabeth. Later, I wrote short stories that were published in my school’s literary journals.
My parents were voracious readers and early on, my father introduced me to Faulkner, whom he knew, and I was entranced! Writers held a mystique for me, but I never thought of being one.
What genre do you write?
I have written two books, Smitten, a WWII romance based on a true story; and a contemporary legal suspense novel, inspired by my career as a corporate attorney. I have also started a suspense novel, with a TV journalist as its main protagonist. I was a legal liaison with a Boston news station and my daughter, an Annenburg Fellow at USC, was a TV anchor and reporter. She is my editor for all my writing.
Can you tell us a little about your current work in progress. When did you start working on this project?
I am editing both Smitten and the legal suspense novel. I started both 10 to 12 years ago but dropped them, then picked them up again 2 years ago.
I wrote Smitten based on over a thousand love letters from the Forties as well as four years of the man’s wartime diaries, and my extensive research into the era. It is a love story between two strong-willed and passionate people, a story of a woman’s empowerment in an age of restricted opportunity, of her rise to fame, and ultimately her decision that sealed their fate: would she choose love or fame?
When I started writing it twelve years ago, I was working a 60-hour week as a lawyer. I sent out a batch of queries, like flinging mud against a wall to see what would stick, never expecting an 85% positive response from NY agents. Even Vogue wanted me to write an article about it. I wasn’t ready. I had only written a few chapters. I worked with a freelance editor and learned so much with the intense one-on-one; however, by the time I was ready to send in the requested chapters, the agents and editors had left, usually to go write their own novels!
Then I was waylaid by a number of tragedies including my lymphoma. I turned to art to restore my soul. It was a creative outlet in which I could lose myself for hours. I loved it and I still do.
Eventually, writing called to my heart again. I found Nancy Aronie’s workshops on Martha’s Vineyard where I lived part-time. Nancy is fantastic. I have seen her change people in four days. Their writing goes from staid and conventional to something that is unique and soars. I can’t praise her enough.
What was your first piece that you remember writing? What was it about?
Other than the books for my sister mentioned above, my first serious stab at it was when I was a young mother.
I wrote a legal romance novel in Memphis on a Navy base where my husband was stationed. It was a fun, combined effort—a group of friends read my book in chapters giving me more encouragement than anyone could expect. Silhouette loved it, but before I could send them the completed manuscript, my husband died in a horrific car accident involving a U-Haul. I lost everything including the manuscript with no backup. The male protagonist was based on my husband so I had no desire to return to that book—ever.
Fast-forward ten years. I pitched a legal suspense romance to a Harlequin editor at a conference. She requested five chapters, which she loved, but asked if I could put in more mayhem and murder. I tried, but honestly, it didn’t interest me. It started to feel contrived—kiss of death for me—so I dropped it. But it was nice to know that an editor liked my writing enough to ask for a complete submission.
What’s the best part about writing?
Creating. Seeing characters and scenes come to life purely from my imagination.
What’s the worst part about writing?
Juggling writing and life. Family and friends come first. That is because I had a series of tragedies, losing my young husband, my sisters, parents, almost losing my current husband and at one time losing everything I owned. Being active is crucial for my health and keeps the creative juices running. It is easy for me to work 10 or 12 hours straight, but it is not healthy so I have to force the breaks.
What’s the name of your favorite character and why? (This can be from a book by another author or from your own work.)
Carmel, from my unpublished novel, Smitten. Carmel was my mother’s name. It is a melodious but strong name that is forever linked in my mind to a beautiful woman with smiling blue eyes, thick auburn hair streaked with amber, a softly lilting southern accent, slender, curvy body, and a strong will tempered with a graciousness that drew people to her.
How much time a day/week do you get to write? When is the best time for you to write (morning or night)?
When I’m on, I can write 5 to 8 hours every day, usually between 1 and 5 pm when I get a burst of creative energy. I wrote my first book at night. I worked during the day doing TV commercials and modeling, so I wrote at night, with about 4 hours sleep. I was young and I could do it!
Did you go to college for writing?
No, I majored in French Literature, which meant tons of reading in French. I have a Juris Doctor degree. Law is all about reading and writing, which is why so many English majors end up in law school. During the last fifteen years I have taken a number of creative writing courses and worked one on one with an editor.
What bothers you more: spelling errors, punctuation errors, or grammar errors?
Grammar errors distract me from the flow of a story. It is too bad because a lot of writers haven’t had the luxury of a great education, which simply means they need a good copyeditor but often can’t afford it. I’ve tried to help some find free or inexpensive resources via universities or writing groups.
What is the best writing advice that anyone has given you?
From my daughter, Kyla: “Cut, cut, cut!” She is right. Forcing me to pare down always makes my writing stronger.
From author Nancy Aronie: Don’t let anyone tear you or your writing down. Nancy is the best writing teacher I’ve ever known. Her workshop, “Writing from the Heart,” is all about the positive and it works. It is amazing to see how people flourish with this, opening up to honor their voice. It is a wonderful experience.
What advice would you give to another writer?
I am fascinated by what works for authors, often contradictory things. For example, the advice to write a first draft without interruption and edit later. That works for many, but I have a friend who edits so completely as she writes, she doesn’t do much revision. She is a successful author with several published books. Choices are scary, but the idea of possibilities is affirming.
Run away from anyone or any class that makes you feel bad or inferior. It is either nurturing and helpful or it’s not!
Art and writing are similar. Knowing when to stop editing takes practice. I have wrecked many paintings by over-doing. With time I gained confidence and knew when to stop, when the work was complete. Now to apply that to writing!
What are your favorite writing sites or blogs that you turn to for help, tips, or encouragement?
I love blogs and articles from social media, like Confessions of a Writer, which I’ve enjoyed thoroughly. I like Julie Haiselden’s blogs, informative, honest and filled with humor.
Besides writing, what else do you enjoy doing? What are your hobbies?
I am a high-energy person and workout daily. My husband and I take long walks, bike, and kayak. We bareboat sail in the Caribbean. I love snorkeling, which is so beautiful and other worldly. I am an artist, usually with oils though the turpentine may have caused my lymphoma. So I sketch in pencil, pen, and charcoal. Examples of my art are on my website. My husband and I travel a good deal and visit our children in Texas and California. I also do a lot of volunteer work, often using my law and mediator background. I still do the legal work for my husband’s business.
What is the best book you’ve read this year?
I love both of Kevin Ansbro’s books, Kinnara and The Angel in my Well (5 star reviews on my website). Kevin’s books are enchanting, thoroughly entertaining, yet also have serious themes and a poignancy that tugs at your heartstrings. Others authors I loved this year and have given 5 stars: Julie Haiselden, Linda Abbott, Tracie Banister, and Michael McCormick (Across the Pond, a novella that is the best book I’ve ever read about Vietnam).
What is the best movie you’ve seen this year?
I’ve only seen the new James Bond movie, and that was disappointing (see Kevin Ansbro’s critique of it; I couldn’t agree more!) I like TV series like Ray Donovan, spectacular acting, especially Liev Schreiber. Also House of Cards.
What is your favorite book or series of all time?
Sorry, I can’t limit to one! From the past, Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea and Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. From living authors, The Odd Thomas series by Dean Koontz and Beloved by Toni Morrison.
I have to add To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee because that book and Atticus Finch are why I became a lawyer. I also love Catcher in the Rye. I reread it recently, a torn copy with my older sister’s comments, which brought forth tears and laughter. I know why she loved the book and I do too.
Who is your favorite author?
From the past: Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Faulkner. For those living: Toni Morrison and Dean Koontz. I love Morrison for her eloquent, poetic expression and epic themes.
I fell in love with Dean Koontz when I read A Big Little Life about his retriever, Trixie, who changed his life. This was a memoir, a beautiful love song to his wife whom he met in high school, and a peek into the life of a successful author (snippets about the publishing process which made me laugh and cringe). Koontz came across with sincerity, humor and warmth. I love his Odd Thomas series, about a young fry cook doing battle against evil while on a quest to achieve perfect humility. Koontz’ publisher disliked the book so much, he refused to talk to Koontz about it, but it was a smash hit, touched a nerve with readers, and never received a bad review. His books often have an element of horror, but they are not noir or nihilistic. Quite the opposite, they are about hope and redemption, and that is what I, too, write about.
What are your plans for the rest of the year in terms of your writing?
To complete the editing of both novels.
Where else can we find you online?
My website: juliagrantham.com
For more about my author themes please see my blog: Optimism and Hope: My Author Themes