I've always wanted to be a writer since I was about six years old. When I was 10, instead of reading magazines about movie stars and make-up, I was reading Writer's Digest. It's just all I've ever wanted to be, and it's really exciting to get to do that.
Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?
I tend to base my characters on feelings or emotions, not really real people. For example, when I wrote my Daphne Winning story, I based it on the way I felt when I listened to a song from Phantom of the Opera named “Past the Point of No Return”. As I listened to the song, I started getting a sense of what my story character was thinking and feeling. I developed the character around that. From the character I created the plot because I started to imagine their life, how they view others and their world.
Next, I start to think of or experiences and emotion. I'll play with a little story in my head and think, “Okay. If someone was feeling that emotion, what are they feeling and why? What's going on in their life?" The story kind of builds around one particular emotion. It might sound kind of weird, but it works for me. And then other characters may be drawn from people I've experienced, but the primary characters—especially the one of two major characters—will usually come out of a specific emotion that I experienced or that I think about. And then I develop the story around there.
What was the most interesting research you had to do for any of your books?
I think the most interesting research was in my very first book only because I was learning the art of research. For that book I had a character that was in a wheel chair so I actually rode around in wheel chairs to try to experience what some of the issues would've been. Also, since I had a couple of young children at the time and so did my character, I did things with my kids trying to figure out how a mom, who was used to walking, would navigate in a wheel chair.
That was the most interesting for me because I really had to learn how to do it and explore that person's world. There’ve been other interesting things that I've read about and places that I've read about and places that I've seen while doing the research, but I really think that very first time understanding what research was really about was the most exciting for me.
How do you go from an idea for a book to the birth of the story? Is the process the same for every book you write? How long does it take you to write a book?
Most of my story ideas come about again because of a feeling that I've experienced. I start out with an emotion or a circumstance. When I was younger I used to be terrified of the dark (and by younger I mean in my late 20’s). I was absolutely terrified of the dark and my brain would create all these crazy little scenarios of who might be walking by and what danger might be lurking in my basement.
I started to think of how I would get out of that situation and that's how I start my stories now. I try to put somebody into a circumstance or a situation and then help them work their way out of it. Really the process of creating a story is just answering the question what if. I got that from Stephen King when I read his book On Writing a few years back. He just says, what if this, what if this, what if this. And that's really how my story is built, all of them. I ask a series of questions.
In terms of how long it takes me to write a book, I’ve written them as fast as 65,000 word first drafts in 20 calendar days. There are definite revisions that have to be done. My story “A Face in the Shadow”, which won the Daphne, I wrote that story in six weeks. I wrote the first draft in six weeks, we got the edit and did the edits in about another month, month and a half, so in 12 weeks I had that story done. I don't recommend doing it that way necessarily unless you're in the flow. Other stories have taken me a year or more to really get them honed down.
Do you have any advice for beginning writers on how to write a book? Do you have any advice for them regarding promoting that book once published?
I think the best advice for beginning writers is to keep writing and definitely get feedback from people who know what they're talking about. The caveat to that is don't take all advice from all people. Not all advice is created equal. When you're in a group it's tempting to try to change everything that everybody suggests, but you need to really look for what most of the people are commenting on. That's probably your biggest trouble spot. And also listen to see what they're saying. If they just don't like a person's name, is there a reason? I once had a story full of characters whose name ended in a long I sound like Jimmy, Jamie, Tommy, Chucky, Charlie, and that was annoying. So when they said to change a character's name, it made sense. But if you have someone else who simply doesn't like the name Alexa, well that doesn't mean you need to change it. By contrast, if Alexa doesn't really fit, you need to have a reason to keep it.
And definitely on marketing, it is crucial that you work to develop relationships with people in the industry and who are interested in the subject matter of your book. This is not to take advantage of people but you need to have a relationship and a rapport with people. You need to serve them before you sell to them. You need to be a part of that community and working within that community before you go off trying to push your books on them.
Who is your favorite contemporary author? Are you currently reading any contemporary novels?
I love Dean Koontz right now, and let me tell you why. He has a really neat way of infusing faith in some of his books. My absolute favorite is called The Taking, and I'm not going to ruin it by telling anybody what it's about, but as a Christian when I read that book I loved it so much it's one of only two books in my life that I've ever got to the end of and then went back to the beginning to start reading again. I love to read contemporary novels. I particularly love inspirational SciFi/Fantasy/Spec Fiction. That is my absolute favorite and I read those whenever I can.
What’s your writing schedule like? When do you find time to write?
I use a series of folders. Each folder is labled. It could be article ideas, rough drafts, revisions to be done, things to submit. Then I also have a folder by project, because I do things for other people. So whenever I have set time put aside to do my writing, I simply grab one of those folders. If I'm not in a very creative mood, I'll do revisions. If I'm in a super-creative mood, I'll do writing. I grab out my article ideas and write a rough draft.
If I've completed writing something and I need to spend some time or if I only have 10 or 15 minutes, I do research on markets and on where to send things. If I have a deadline coming up, then I go ahead and grab the project that has that deadline.
So really the way I schedule my writing is I set aside the time and I make sure it's productive. I don't sit at my computer waiting for the wonderful muse to strike me. The other way I find time to write, is I prepare myself for writing. So if I'm going to be writing at 10:00, I'm thinking about my stories before that. Or I'm at least thinking creatively. I'm trying to get myself into that space.
When I wrote my first book, I was seven months pregnant and I had a 20-month-old and a four-year-old. So I didn't have a lot of time. But I put the kids to bed at 8:30 and I wrote from 9:00 to 11:00 every night. So between 8:30 and 9:00, when I was picking up the house and cleaning up the dishes, I would be thinking about the story I was getting ready to work on. Then I wrote for two hours, and then I went to bed. So that's how I was able to get so much done, and I try to do that now. It's harder now that I run a writing company and I have so many other things pulling for my attention, but it's no different than any other 9-to-5 job. You just work around it and you make time, because if it's a priority you find a way to do it.
How have your friends and family received your career as an author? Are they supportive?
Early on, my family and friends were timidly supportive. “Oh, that's nice.” You know, kind of pat you on the head. Then they wanted to know more about it. And then when it went on into the years and I still wasn't earning full-time income, then they started having some questions.
But in the last few years, they've gotten really, really supportive, because they see I take it seriously and now they take it seriously. The final big step was in March when I moved out of the house, meaning I moved to an office in the city and started working full-time, paying office rent, going to work and then coming home. When I took that seriously and I took that major step everyone’s attitude changed.
I realize not everyone can do that, but I had been working full-time as a writer for almost nine years, at that point. And it was a sacrifice for me then. It's been an adjustment and it's been hard, but by separating my writing time from my family time, it's allowed me to support my family better. It's allowed me to take my writing more seriously. And when I took it more seriously, they took it more seriously.
I can tell you when I go and speak at writers' conferences and when I counsel with writers, and even when I work with small business owners as Writing Career Coach, that many times the reason why our families are not taking our stuff seriously is because we're not taking it seriously. If I continually try to be a stay-at-home mom and then get mad at my family for not taking my writing seriously, then who's to blame, me or them? I cannot push my writing off as a low priority and expect them to make it a high priority. I have to be the one that says “No, I can't do that. I’m writing.”
Find Tiffany online:
Tiffany's website and blog: www.WritingCareerCoach.com
Her teaching website [some free lessons, others for sale. A monthly subscription is available that gives add'l free lessons to members] is www.WritingCareerCoach.net
Tiffany, thank you so much for stopping by today. I enjoyed chatting with you and getting to know more about you and your writing.