My children often ask me "Are you ever going to make any money doing this?" They are referring to my blogging activities and novel writing. What my children don’t realize is that while I would love to earn money doing something that I love, I am learning from all of the authors that I interview. I have learned a great deal from this weeks author Terri Main. Not only is she a prolific writer, she is also a teacher and humorous as well.
First I would like to congratulate you on your upcoming release of you debut novel DARK SIDE OF THE MOON, and you newly contracted project with Museitup Publishing A QUESTION OF DEFENSE. Now lets start with the easy questions…..
1. When did you first begin writing?
I would say about 5 or 6. I had trouble with the letter Q though. Something about the tail. Oh, you mean stories! That would be about 11. I remember coming up with this idea for a science fiction story featuring a guy from the 21st century just going about his business and suddenly on the same day his grandfather from the 20th Century and Grandson from the 22nd Century both show up at the family home. I didn’t go much further with that story because all I really had was a premise. I still think it’s a pretty good premise, and I still can’t figure out what to do about it.
I had my first item published when I was just out of high school. It was a poem and I got a big $2.00 for it. Over the years I published magazine articles, a radio drama, some video scripts, couple of short stories but this is my first novel. So I’m pretty excited.
2. Who are you inspirations?
Most of the "Golden Era" science fiction writers like Asimov, Bradbury, Simak, Clarke. They knew how to spin stories and create characters and have great conflict in those stories while still staying hopeful about the future. On the mystery side it would have to be Agatha Christie (Mostly her Hercule Poirot books) for successfully planting clues you only recognized as clues later and Lillian Jackson Braun’s Cat Who… books which really give a purely American flavor to the country cozy mystery. Not quite as much of a puzzle as Christie’s books, but wonderful atmosphere and character building.
3. Has your background as a communications teacher and psychology major helped you with your writing career?
Of course, it has. For one thing I have taught writing in various formats for almost 40 years. No better way to learn something than to teach it. Also, I have degrees in Speech, English and Journalism. (Minors in the last two but close to a major in both) I learned from my journalism classes to be observant and stick to the facts. It helps also to be precise with language and no added content. English brought me into contact with the master writers of history who painted words on the page like Michelangelo painted God on the Ceiling of the Sistine chapel. Much was of an "outdated" style, but the core issues of using evocative language and addressing universal themes remain constants.
Now, psychology really helps with motivations of the characters. One thing psychology shows us is that we are complex creatures. We are rarely purely evil or purely good. Most of us struggle to find balance in life, and we usually fail in one way or another. My villains have very clear reasons for doing what they. In fact, they are reasons we can all understand and sympathize with, yet never approve of. We look in their eyes and see ourselves staring back knowing that the same evil lurks inside of us and we made the decision to not give in to it, and they made the opposite one. They are not different from us. They are us. That is the scary part.
4. Congratulations on your new facebook fan page for DARK SIDE OF THE MOON. Do you feel this type of promotion is important due to the poor economy and changes in the publishing world?
I feel it is almost essential. BTW, I also have a new regular facebook page where you can "friend" Carolyn Masters, the main character of the book. It’s at http://www.facebook.com/carolynmasters1
Social networks are the new general store. People hang out there, trade gossip, get to know each other, discuss politics, religion, business, life, love and infinity. We have become geographically separated. At one time people lived in the same house in the same neighborhood all their lives. They worked, went to church and shopped within a mile of their homes. Today, it’s different. I’m two miles from the school, this is the fourth house I’ve lived in in 20 years. I go to a church in the next town. I see most of my friends online in between times at work, church or social activities. The automobile made us isolated. The internet brings us closer. Social networks then are where people are at. Marketing has to go where the people are.
5. You have an extensive writing background in script writing, articles, fiction and nonfiction. What do you like writing the best?
That is hard to say. I find magazine article writing to be the easiest for me. I can knock out a simple how-to in a couple of hours. Script writing is interesting, but very hard. You have to think about what is happening on the screen at the same time as what you are writing. I did documentary style writing and I would have to go through hundreds of hours of rough footage to find the half hour of clips to use. It was hard.
I like fiction writing, but I’m not as confident with it as I am with the others. The fun part of fiction writing is that you go on the adventure with your characters. It’s like you are the camera crew on the expedition. And you get to be different people. You can be a bad guy, a good guy, more heroic or confident than you are in real life. I would say it is the most fun, but it is also something I tend to question myself about a lot.
6. What is your favorite genre to write? To read?
That would be between science fiction and cozy mysteries. Maybe that’s why I wrote a Cozy Mystery in a Science Fiction setting. I also enjoy horror of the old school such as Lovecraft, Bram Stoker, Ambrose Bierce, etc. I like some of the Sword and Sorcery type fantasies, but mostly those in which the magic is just part of the story. I like L.E. Modessitt’s Recluse and Imager series. In both the magic is sort of like a public utility. I love the fact that in Modessitt’s The White Order, apprentice mages learn to use wizard’s fire by cleaning out the sewers. I am working on a fantasy novel now about a society built around "magic" instead of technology, but the source of that magic is running out and they have to rediscover the old technologies to survive.
7. You also teach a class called Creative Calisthenics. What are they and how will it help me with my writing?
I wrote a book based on a series of columns I wrote for the Fellowship of Christian Writers called Creative Calisthenics. I used to use these exercises at the beginning of creative writing classes to help the students "warm up." Sometimes we need to have something to jump start our creativity. Creative Calisthenics are writing prompts and creativity exercises that help us break out of a rut, get out of writer’s blocks and prevent them from occurring.They are also ways to help target specific problems we might be having with the writing. For instance, my character may be seeming a bit flat and lifeless. She is doing all the right things, but she doesn’t have any personality. Some things you can do include
- Interview her like she is on a talk show
- Do a "background check" on her
- Look at her bookcase
- Ask when the last time she cried and why?
- Write a scene from her childhood.
- Write down what her goals, dreams and aspirations.
- Describe her house, car, closet.
It’s both pre-writing and rescue writing.
8. What is THE LOST GENRE ?
Lost Genre Guild was the brainstorm of Frank Creed, author of Flashpoint, a Christian cyberpunk novel. The idea is that adult Christian or Bible-based or Christian inspired science fiction, horror, and fantasy has been largely ignored by the traditional Christian publishers. It has become "lost." However, there is an interest in this type of spiritually based literature. So, the Lost Genre Guild gives a place for networking, commiserating, inspiring and sharing among Christian authors who don’t always fit the accepted mold of a "Christian author."
9. Are you a pantster or a plotter? Do you sit down at the computer and let your story lead you where it wants to go or do you outline every twist and plot point?
I’m somewhere in between. For me it begins with characters in a location. Here’s an example. The other day I heard on radio a reference to the song, "Total Eclipse of the Moon." Since my series’ characters live on the moon, I started thinking, I wonder what a lunar eclipse looks like from the moon. It would be like a solar eclipse on earth. I could imagine it would be a big event and people would want to see it. But all my habitats on the moon are built underground which makes it easier to protect from meteorites and to create an earthlike look to the towns. But I thought, maybe an entrepreneur gets the idea to build a crystal dome for a resort on the moon. Some parts maybe built on the lunar surface itself. So, my main characters could go to this resort for the eclipse. Since these are murder mysteries someone gets killed. Now, I ask who gets killed? Who kills them? Why are they killed? Who other than the killer would want them dead? What essential clues does the killer leave behind? From all that I begin to build up in my mind a general plan for the novel. Then I do something weird. I lay down and visualize the story taking place in my mind. It’s very general at this point, but I follow them through the major events of the story. Now, I jot down a rough outline with the "landmarks" laid out. These are points I need to get to along the way. Then I begin writing, fast and furiously. I don’t take time for editing at this point. I also don’t always write straight through. I may jump around a bit. If I get a good idea for a scene near the end of the book, I may write it while I’m still working on the middle. Along the way, though, I discover a lot about the characters. Sometimes they do things I didn’t intend, but make perfectly good sense at the time. I also start adding subplots and character arc materials. So, my MC’s might be working through some issue in their relationship while solving the murder. Or there might be something going on in town that adds a bit of background to the story and the series. In the story I’m writing now, my MC is dealing with a marriage proposal.
So, it’s a little of pantsing and plotting together. One thing for a mystery writer, you have to know the ending. Everything you write leads up to the revelation of the killer. You may be spontaneous about everything else but who dun it and why they dun it has to be known to the author from the beginning.
10. Who are your favorite authors and what are you reading now?
Right now, I’m working through some lesser known works of Bram Stoker and I’m reading Lillian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who Went Bananas. Basically, my favorite authors are those that have influenced me. C.S. Lewis is one I didn’t mention, but is at the top of my list. Then there are the "Golden Age" science fiction writers Asimov, Bradbury, Simak, Silverberg, Clarke, and Harrison. I also find L.E. Modessitt’s Recluse series wonderful. I have to admit that he is influencing the fantasy novel I am writing. I also love the older writers H.G. Wells, Conan Doyle, Burroughs, Jules Verne, Mary Shelley, Lovecraft, Bierce, and the darker works of Louisa Mae Alcott. She wrote a lot of Gothic romances that most people don’t know about. And in that vein the Bronte sisters novels are also favorites.
11. What are your goals as a writer?
To inform or entertain my reader. It has to be about the reader. If it is about me, then I will neither be useful to the reader nor achieve anything significant for myself.
12. If you had one wish for your writing career what would it be?
To be interviewed by Terri Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air Weekend. I would know I had arrived if that happened. Otherwise, just to keep telling stories people enjoy reading.
13. What advice would you give other aspiring writers?
Read widely. Read good writing, Read bad writing. Read the backs of the cereal box. Read novels, short stories, essays, magazine articles, journals, anything where you learn something, are inspired by something or feel an emotion about something. Then write. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to write badly. Never try to edit when you write. Editing sets up a guard at the gate of your imagination that keeps out those wonderful creative ideas along with the stupid bad stuff. It is much easier in editing to throw out the bad stuff than to try to entice the good stuff to come your way a second time. Learn your craft. Don’t think just because you know letters and words and sentence structure that you know how to write. Those are important but they are just tools you use to build your stories. It’s like someone deciding because they know how to use a hammer and saw that they can design a skyscraper. Your education can be formal. You can take classes taught by professional writers. I would say a journalism degree is a bit better for a writer than an English degree. And I have both. The focus in Journalism is on writing. English is more focused on what others have written. However, both are useful. Go to conferences or attend online conferences like the Muse Conference in October. Read books by working authors. Read magazines like The Writer and Writer’s Digest. They will both help you learn the nuts and bolts of writing.
Networking with other writers is important as well. Writing is a solitary activity and without some interaction with other writers you can grow insular and your writing will suffer. Online writers groups like The Muse Conference Board, Lost Genre Guild, Fellowship of Christian Writers, Cozy Writers and Wicked Ways at Yahoo groups are good places to network as are many other groups both online and face-to-face.
14. Have you ever won any awards for your writing? If so please elaborate.
No, but then I don’t enter contests. That might have something to do with it. However, I doubt my writing is "award winning." It seems there is a style that wins contests and it isn’t always the same style that gets published. My awards are emails from people who read and have enjoy my writing.
15. Where can someone purchase your books?
The only one out right now is Creative Calisthenics. It is available from Amazon.com and you can download the ebook version at my website http://www.creativecalisthenics.com. Dark Side of the Moon won’t be out until February 2011
16. I just learned about the Muse Online Writers conference in October. I’m really looking forward to it. Can you give us some information about it, and your participation?
The Muse conference is a wonderful place to learn and to meet other writers and even to pitch ideas to editors. There are workshops offered by authors and editors in both chat rooms and on discussion boards. I do mine on the discussion board. I will be teaching two seminars. One is Creative Calisthenics. It will be very hands on with new exercises offered each day and some downloadable handouts. The other is on Finding the Time to Write. It seems a lot of writers have difficulty finding the time to write. This will be on methods we can use to first be more efficient with our time and secondly make use of minutes when hours are not there.
17. Do you belong to any writing associations?
Not right now. I belong to the online writing groups I mentioned. I gain most of the networking and support I need from them. Almost too much sometimes. I didn’t check my email for 12 hours the other day and came back to over 500 emails. So, I’m not sure I can handle any more support.
18. Please tell our readers about your book Dark Side of the Moon and the short story Parmenter’s Wager.
Dark Side of the Moon is a cozy mystery set in a lunar colony at the end of the 21st Century. Carolyn Masters, a history professor and former FBI profiler, moves to the moon after her mother dies of a stroke, an ailment virtually eliminated by a drug made from a substance mined on the moon. She is offered a job at the recently formed Armstrong University in Armstrong City, a town built underground and looking like any small town in America with the exception of exceptionally high ceilings because at 1/6g you tend to jump up quickly and hit your head on the ceiling. She isn’t there long before a colleague, a leader in the Lunar Independence Movement, is murdered. She and a former Dallas Police Detective, now a criminology professor, must solve the murder, stop a terrorist attack on earth, fight off their own personal demons, and maybe find love in the second half of life.
Parmenter’s Wager is a stand alone short story featuring Pastor Chris Parmenter. Pastor Chris is confident in his vocation, his doctrine, his ministry and his life as pastor of a large affluent church. Then one day a parishioner reveals to him that she is a clone. She asks him a provocative question, "Do I have a soul?" In his journey to answer that question he must confront church politics, prejudice, doctrine and his own pride. It’s a difficult journey leading to an unexpected end.
A Question of Defense is a short story recently contracted by MuseItUp Publishing.
Captain Horatio Albert Nelson, captain of the Earth Trade Alliance battleship had never found a planet he couldn’t conquer. Of course, he called it signing a trade agreement, but nobody was kidding anybody but the folks back home who believed in the moral superiority of Earth. Then he entered orbit around a small, unremarkable planet, marked on the star charts as Hansen’s Planet and known to its inhabitants as Jarlinden.
The confounded people would not fight, nor would they surrender. They seemed unconcerned that his ship could reduce their planet to space debris. They have no weapons, yet seem confident in their security. Are they fools? Or do they know something the captain doesn’t?
19. What are you working on now?
This is Julnowrimo (July Novel Writing Month) and I am trying to turn out 50,000 words working on two novels. I am working to finish Stormy Weather, the second book in my Carolyn Masters series. One thing you can count on living in an underground dome on the moon is the weather. They make it themselves. Rain, wind, sunny days, cloudy ones are all orchestrated by a sophisticated weather control system. Lately though, the weather forecasts have been wrong. Someone has been monkeying with the weather computers. Discovering why leads Carolyn and Mike on a journey into the seedy underworld of the casinos that ring Tranquility base and the sale of illegal tobacco, guns and steroids for the brain. But before they can crack the case of the messed up weather, their lead suspect turns up dead and puts them on the trail of a serial killer.
The other is a Tweener novel (Tweens are the age between picture books and young adult novels) featuring a boy genius, Tomas Alva Petrosky (TA for short). He has a knack for science, but a passion for solving crime. We meet him initially in Stormy Weather as a minor character who programs Carolyn’s house with the Alice character from the Brady Bunch. He has been getting into trouble as school every since his mother died a year ago. He uses his dads nanotechnology to punish the bullies at school. The last one left a kid with a bad rash. So, his Dad decides to take TA with him to a conference on Phobos where he will present the results of his late wife’s research on genetically modified trees which could live in the harsh Martian environment producing oxygen and beginning the process of terraforming the Red Planet. He is also bringing with him some seedlings to plant. This seems like a perfect time for father-son bonding. Three months on a luxury, solar sail powered space liner. But then someone steals the data and the seedlings. Making matters worse, TA is confined to his room for his "protection" when he would prefer to be investigating the crime. But he has a secret weapon – Gizmo, a lifelike robotic cat whom TA has modified to be a furry, four-legged, crime lab.
Author, Dark Side of the Moon, A Science-fiction Mystery to be released February 2011
She sought a new life on the moon, but the death of a colleague puts her on the trail of a killer, a terrorist plot and the love that evaded her in her you.