Author Interview 123 – Linda Acaster

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Welcome to Linda Acaster

Where are you from and where do you live now? My formative years were in Kingston-upon-Hull – 2017 City of Culture, no less – and I now live 20 miles away on the Yorkshire coast, a gentle five minute stroll from a quiet promenade and views over Bridlington Bay to the white chalk cliffs of Flamborough Head. Aah, breathe in the salt air and re-laaax.

Please tell us a little about your writing. I’m a multi-genre writer, always have been. I started my career writing short fiction for any magazine that would have my work, from the national women’s magazines that paid me money to the Sci-Fi/Fantasy and Crime outlets that paid in printed copies. Although I now write mostly longer works, the multi-genre aspect has carried through, first to mainstream published historical novels and then to my indie-published trilogy and novellas. I like the scope.

Where do you find inspiration? Everywhere. Since childhood I’ve been interested in the day-to-day lives of the Native North Americans of the upper plains, and for several years was part of a living-history group. Beneath The Shining Mountains came from that experience, that and around 400 research books. The Paintings came from a single line in an email exchange with an artist friend.

Are your characters based on real people? Never. Mostly they are based on aspects of myself, which to a reader will sound highly egotistical, but that isn’t how it works. I write very close in to my story via the viewpoint character’s senses. I become them via an emotional bridge – and lots of pre-planning of character motivation and fears.

Have you ever used a person you don’t/didn’t like as a character then killed them off?I’ve met a person I didn’t like – maybe because overtly and very loudly she ridiculed my accent. Oooh, I can be nasty in print. Not that I hold grudges, you understand. Who, me?

Research can be important in world-building, how much do you need to do for your books? I need masses, and of different types for different books. Research for The Paintings was 17 open tabs on my internet browser as I wrote. The Torc of Moonlight trilogy meant poring over history books and Ordnance Survey maps, then visiting the chosen locales to get a physical feel for them, knitting the place + history into the fictional premise, and then writing. The books are accurate enough to be used as walking guides to the modern locales, with the history hovering overhead. And no, I do not intend to take on such a complicated project again!

Is there a message conveyed within your writing?  Do you feel this is important in a book? Most of my fiction has a theme, but I believe that every novel, and most short fiction, should convey some sort of information that often the reader isn’t aware of, alongside a pacy story. No one wants to be preached to. It’s one of those things that should rise quietly to the surface but stay once the reading is over. If it doesn’t I’ve failed to connect.

Sort these into order of importance: Great characters; great world-building; solid plot; technically perfect. Can you explain why you chose this order? (Yes I know they all are important…)

Joint 1st: great characters & world-building – one simply can’t exist without the other or the entire edifice is out of balance and cracks will appear.

Joint 2nd: solid plot & technically ‘perfect’ because it is a symbiotic relationship, even if perfection is in the eye of the beholder. A plot can be as solid as granite, but if it is conveyed with the finesse of shovelling pig-muck, no amount of world-building or fully-formed characters are going to render the story readable.

In what formats are your books available? (E-books, print, large print audio) Are you intending to expand these and if not, what is the reason? All my titles are available as ebooks via the major online retailers, and e-readers take care of large print. Beneath The Shining Mountains, my writers’ guide Reading A Writers’ Mind – Exploring Short Fiction, and the first two books in the Torc of Moonlight trilogy are also available in print. I’m still working on the third, but it won’t be long in following. Audio is a whole new world I still have to get to grips with.

Do you self-edit? If so why is that the case? Do you believe a book suffers without being professionally edited? I do self-edit, but I’ve been a reader for a London literary agency so feel I have some background experience. I continuously edit throughout the writing process (there is no quick & dirty draft), and again as a whole when it’s completed. Then the text goes through the automated Pro-Writing Aid which lists how many times x word has been used, queries sentence structure, punctuation, etc. Most of the items it flags I’ve specified for a purpose, but it does catch me out and I’m grateful for that. Then it goes to beta readers who are other writers, who look at the typescript with a critical human eye. I believe there is no such thing as a novel that falls direct from mind to page as publishable with any degree of integrity. A genius need not apply.

Do you think indie/self-published authors are viewed differently to traditionally published authors? Most readers, and just about all digital readers, don’t care. I read lots of indie published fiction and have only wasted my time twice in the last year, which is about the same percentage as with mainstream published paperbacks. Readers expect a “good read” in a format in which they can immerse themselves. I don’t touch fiction using spaced block paragraphing. White space is important to the ebb and flow of a work’s rhythm. Having it inserted wrecks the pacing.

What are your opinions about authors commenting on reviews? How important are reviews? Reviews are very important, and I always check on a handful when contemplating purchasing a book by an author I haven’t previously read. Then I ‘Read Inside’, and I make my decision. It isn’t usually the cost in money that is being weighed, but the cost in time. Who wants to get halfway through a novel and find the story has turned into limp lettuce? I’ve had my Native American novel lambasted because it was a novel and not a non-fiction book. Er, pardon? It annoys me that the particular review pulled down my ratings, but I’d never comment as I consider such troll-bait.

What are your views on authors reviewing other authors? Oh for goodness sake, it’s been done since books were bound. Amazon got itself into a pickle over this, but how can an author avoid it? Never review? Should hairdressers not review hair products? That’s ridiculous. I read, full-stop. Most authors are prolific readers, that’s why they’re writers.

What three pieces of advice would you give to new writers?

* Learn your craft.

* Pay for editing of a polished work at least once, and learn from it.

* Don’t indie publish everything you write, and never throw anything away. It will come in useful, even if for inspiration, further along your career.

Thanks for asking me along, I’ve enjoyed the challenge. If anyone wants to ask questions I’ll be lurking around the Comments list. See you there!

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Book links, website/blog and author links:

Amazon (worldwide): http://Author.to/LindaAcaster

Nook:  http://bit.ly/BN-LAcaster

Kobo: http://bit.ly/Kobo-LAcaster

iBooks:  http://bit.ly/iBkst-LAcaster

Website:  http://www.lindaacaster.com

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/lindaacasterUK

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/LindaAcaster   @Linda Acaster

YouTube:  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_Ra2dqyf-xlsqK4nJjF4fw

 

Crossing Categories in Writing – Guest Post Jacquelynn Luben

In 2015 I am welcoming a number of guests to my blog, where they discuss all manner of topics. I am sure my regular followers have seen the Fantasy and Literary Heroes in Society posts, which will be a continuing feature but today I am pleased to welcome Jacquelynn Luben who talks about the challenges of writing in multiple genres, her work in a small publishing house, research and the challenges faced by many authors. Over to you Jacquelynn…

Crossing Categories in Writing

Jacquelynn Luben

Over the years, I’ve written both fiction and non-fiction, short and long.  That is to say, I’ve written two non-fiction books and two novels (and am in the process of writing the third) and I’ve also written many short stories and published quite a few articles.

In terms of success, one of my non-fiction books was commissioned and published by a mainstream publisher, while the other was self-published, and of course, my articles were published in print magazines.

My novels, on the other hand, are published by a small publishing house, in which I am a director, with two others – so quite a small concern – which makes it more difficult to achieve the same sort of success as with a mainstream publisher.  However, on-line sales through Amazon have provided me with a very satisfactory income during the last three years, and this specifically applies to my fiction work.

I have never been a professional writer, and have never had to rely on writing for an income.  So from this point of view, I am happy with the way my writing has progressed.  It means I write what I feel like writing and when I feel like it, and am not normally boxed into a corner where I have to produce something to a deadline.

In the past, my non-fiction writing has been praised for its clarity, and perhaps I should have concentrated on that.  However, the truth of the matter is that I do not really like researching a subject.  My first non-fiction book (The Fruit of the Tree) was written from the heart, as it dealt with the death of my baby daughter through cot death.  Having written articles on the subject, I wanted to put the event into context, and so described a period of five years of my married life, including the births of my other children.  No research was needed.  At the time when I wrote it, it was all there in my memory.

I have spoken to writers who say that they love the research more than the writing.  This does not apply to me.  The writing is the part which is enjoyable;  I like using words – as any writer should – and I like editing what I have written, moving words, sentences and paragraphs around.  (Computers have made that aspect of writing so much easier.)  My articles therefore, have, on the whole, been based on my personal experience, the most recent having been published in a ‘nostalgia’ magazine, and have therefore not required much in the way of research.

It was as a result of writing my first book – which in the end, I published myself – that I was commissioned to write a self-help book on the subject of cot death, and for this I had to use my head and try to be somewhat more objective about the subject.  I did, of course, have to research the topic, and I interviewed a number of people, taking notes and using, at that time, a tape recorder, before going to the computer to transcribe the interviews.  I tried to make them wide ranging, including as my interviewees, bereaved parents, doctors and a midwife, a funeral director, and representatives of the charity which gave support to bereaved parents.  The parents, too, were diverse and included, for example, those who had had more children and those who chose not to, and religious and non-religious people.

My motivation for writing fiction is really quite different, the common factors being my enjoyment of writing, and my interest in the structure of any piece of work.  I am a sucker for stories.  If I turn on the radio or TV, half way through a play, I will probably get hooked and want to know what happened.  So constructing a story and living in the world of that story is a different kind of escapism.  Fiction comes in for criticism from my engineer husband, because it’s ‘not true’, but I believe that there is sometimes more truth in fiction than in factual stuff.  In my opinion, whenever fiction writers describe events, they are remembering something that occurred in their own lives, or that they have heard about.  The truth is in the emotion that was experienced, even if the fictional characters do not exist.  So a piece of fiction is a tapestry of true or half remembered events or events that could happen.  Even in fantasy and science fiction, (which I generally don’t write) good writers usually represent their characters with normal human emotions.

I think that writers have to recognise today that it is very difficult to make a living from writing unless you produce a best-seller.  But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t opportunities to get work read and even paid for, particularly in the field of ebooks.  My novel, Tainted Tree, is the piece of work that has provided me with an income recently and is the most read of my current work.  Initially on the Amazon discussion pages, I promoted it a great deal, though this can bring Amazon’s wrath upon your head, so after a reprimand,  I made sure that I was more cautious in this respect.

I made sure that I made good use of the categories on the book’s Kindle page, and was fortunate in that another writer who had created a ‘Listomania’ of genealogical novels, added it to his list.  If you are the writer of ‘literary fiction’, your book may not be too specific, but as I don’t come into that category, and prefer plot based books, it is probably easier to categorise them.  Having said that, I don’t believe that any book fits into one category.  Tainted Tree is a genealogical romance with a bit of mystery and history in the package.  My current novel in progress is a crime thriller, which also has a romantic thread.

My books have in common one thing.  I have read and reread them over and over again and made changes to numerous drafts.  Even if I break the rules, I regard grammar and spelling as of great importance, and, with the help of my fellow directors at our shared publishing house and other writers at my writing circle, I try, to the best of my ability, to sift out all errors.  I also try my hardest to make sure that loose ends are tied up and that there are no errors of continuity.  I am not a professional writer, but I try to be professional.