Monday, December 6, 2010

Author spotlight with Jane Toombs

Hello Jane and welcome. Tell us, what has been your biggest influence on becoming a writer?
My father. As a child I watched him I watched him type his articles for the Michigan History Magazine and his non-fiction books on his big old L.C. Smith typewriter. I begged to use it. He told me I couldn’t until I could spell a lot of words. Then he’d teach me, but in return, I had to type him out a story. I’d been read to before I could read, but it never occurred to me until that moment that I could write a story. He was the perfect critiquer, first praise, then a firm but never mean pointing out of what could be improved.

How did you feel when you got your first publishing contract?
Here’s the scenario. I was less than a year into my second marriage, where I added my three still-at-home kids to his two. My stepdaughter took to me right away, but her brother, who’d been his dead mother’s favorite, remained standoffish. As luck would have it, when the phone rang and it was the agent telling me he’d sold my first book in 1973 , a gothic called Tule Witch , to Avon, the only one home was Mikel—out in back shooting baskets. I ran out on the rear deck and down the stairs to where he was standing, shouting his name. At the bottom I grabbed him and hugged him, screaming, “I sold my book!” He stiffened, but then relaxed and hugged me back. “That’s wonderful,” he told me. From then on, our relationship warmed up. So selling that book also helped Mikel and me become closer.

How do you categorize yourself: pantser or plotter?
I stated out as a pantser because, when I began writing seriously I thought you had to finish a book in order to sell it. So I simply started at the beginning and wrote to the end—these were typewriter days. After I acquired an agent, and sold, I still wrote my second gothic that way, which he promptly sold. If any editing was done, I never saw any of it, and these were major NY houses. But the third gothic I wrote the same way didn’t sell. Then he called me and said he had a packager asking for authors to write a gemstone series and needed one to do topaz. Could I send him a synopsis and three chapters? I had to ask him was a synopsis was. He was surprised, but told me, adding that most books sold on a partial, which was what this was. News to me. I decided to try this method and my partial sold. I finished the book with the help of the synopsis I’d written and had an Aha! moment. After selling again on a partial, I decided to go back and write a synopsis for the book that didn’t sell. After I discovered how I had wandered all over the place, I tightened the book and it sold. So from then on, I became a plotter. I don’t follow a synopsis exactly, but it does keep me from wandering.

What makes a book great in your eyes?
One that not only grabs me right away and keeps me glued to the pages, but also one that resonates afterward, so that I think about the characters, and how the author made me feel everything they did. A book I remember in the years to come.

What is the biggest piece of your advice you can give a beginning writer?
Finish every story or book you start. That, plus a ton of perseverance will sell a book, providing you have at least an ounce of talent. I have a bad habit of planning a series and starting the first book, then getting distracted by another writing project. I took my own advice the year and made a New Year’s resolution to finish the first book in every series I’ve started that still seemed viable—seven at last count. I could not write anything else unless it was already contracted for. I chose A Darkness of Dragons Trilogy to begin this project. Dragon’s Pearl, the first book, had three chapters written. I wrote the fourth, then had to pause to finish a contracted-for anthology novella. Picking up again, I finished this first book. As I was wondering what epublisher to send it to, Devine Destinies sent out a call for books. Deciding this was more than a coincidence, I submitted and they took it, asking to see the rest of the trilogy. So then I had to finish the second book, Dragon’s Diamond, which had only one chapter written. When it was accepted, I knew I had to write the third, Dragon’s Stone, which had nothing but a synopsis. Which I’m doing. Now I can see that in a series, once you do finish the first book, if it’s picked up, then you have to keep going with the next, and so on. Which means it may take me the rest of my life to finish all the first books in those series. But it does illustrate my point. You can’t offer any publisher a book you haven’t finished. Not unless you’re a multipublished author and that publisher knows your record.

Do you have any guilty pleasures?
Unfortunately, I had to give most of them up as I aged, so I’m not admitting to any of them as I can no longer indulge.

What influences your writing? And why?
This stumps me. Like all writers, many of the ideas that circle the landing field in my mind all the time, never make a landing for one reason or another. Most current events are too ephemeral to base a book on. And the older I get, the less I’m likely to write about something that’ll take a ton of research, though I’ve done a lot of that in the past.

We’re all influenced by what goes on in our lives and around us and I’m sure a lot of that creeps into every authors’ books, but I know I don’t deliberately choose to have it happen.

Name one thing readers don’t know about you.
I’m an introvert. Like most are, I’m. shy. Maybe this is why I hate to make phone calls, though I enjoy talking to whoever calls me.

What are you working on now?
Besides writing Dragon’s Stone, I’m finishing another contracted-for anthology novella. This is because I belong to a promo group of twelve authors who promote each other called Jewels of the Quill—where I’m Dame Turquoise. One of the ways we promote each other is by doing anthologies, some of which have won awards. So I don’t do this just for myself.

Who is your favorite all-time author?
All the old ones, most of them dead. E.A. Poe; A, Merritt; H.P. Lovecraft.; Charlotte Bronte; Jane Austin.

Are love scenes easy/difficult to write?
Love scenes never have been easy for me. First of all, I believe they have to fall naturally within the context of the story—which gave me a lot of trouble with H/S editors when I was writing for them. I was always being told—more, more. Also love scenes have to fit the characters’ personalities. And I’ve never been able, after being a nurse, to call sexual parts anything but their actual anatomical names. But I do believe making love is a part of romance novels and I’ve learned to write love scenes, even hot ones, which none of my early books had.

Do you write in one genre or several different ones? And why?
I’ve written in all genres except men’s action and erotica. Because at one time or another in my long writing career, each of the other genres appealed to me. Or else the genre I was writing in no longer was popular and I was forced to try another. I’m sort of stuck on paranormal right now. It actually was my first love, but editors kept telling me to take it out. And look at it today!

If you could be anywhere right now, where would you be?
Hey, I live across the street from the south shore of Lake Superior and this is June—summer is here! With perfect weather. Ask me again in December and you’d hear a different story.

How do you deal with the dreaded writer’s block?
Never have it. If I park myself in a chair in front of the computer and start writing anything, I may have to rework it later, but I’m off and running. I might procrastinate, but I’m never really blocked.

Do you have another career besides writing? What is it?
I was an RN for many years and I wrote right along with nursing.

What’s your biggest reward in being a writer?
Selling. No, I mean it. I think every author wants to have readers and getting books published means readers, whether or not you make a lot of money. Mind you, I don’t knock money—it does make life easier.

To date, which is your favorite story? Which one did you have the most fun writing?
I think perhaps a book I wrote for a packager about immigrants. My agent asked me which nationality I wanted to write about. Because The Scots—which was the name of the book—were part of my heritage, that’s the one I chose. The research was endless because it started in Scotland with the reason for emigrating, then went through several more generations in this country and some wars. Took loads of research and a long time to write, but the book went through more than one edition in paperback. I got a lot of satisfaction from writing that book and feel I learned something about what my ancestors had to face when they came to the United States. I hated to let go of the characters.

How do you go about developing your characters and setting?
I decide what the book will be about first. In A Darkness of Dragons, I needed background first. So, in the past, Merlin steals magic from the Immortal Black Dragon in an attempt to heal King Arthur. He fails, and in the doing, makes a bitter enemy of the dragon, which from then on is determined to destroy mankind. Merlin succeeds in trapping him in a Welch mountain cave, but can’t keep him there unless subsequent generations renew the wards that keep the dragon trapped. Which is the problem the characters in modern America face in my three stories. Because, you see, the dragon emigrates with their Welsh ancestors to this country and is forced into the stope—a cave-like area created by having been mined-out—of an abandoned copper mine in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. They must learn how to keep him there.

So I had to choose characters who had Welsh ancestry. Some had to know a fragment or so of what they were because they needed to be able to lead those who knew nothing in the right direction. After I figured that out, it became easy to create such characters. As soon as I begin writing about any character, she or he comes alive in my mind and I soon learn all about him or her as they demonstrate to me who they are. But when I put something in, such as Nala, the Siamese cat, I don’t always know why. Not until the third book did I understand why she was there.

As for setting, I live in Michigan’s U.P., surrounded by abandoned copper mines. I usually set books in areas where I have lived, which includes different areas of California, Upstate New York and Northern Nevada, as well as the U.P. If I must use another setting, my research is as thorough as I can make it.

If you had the opportunity to say one thing to your readers, what would that be?
Suspend disbelief and enjoy.

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