An Interview

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine asked if she could interview me for a class project. The interview would be turned into a speech that she would have to give to the class. She decided to send me the questions by email so that I could answer at my convenience (and so she wouldn’t have to be furiously scribbling notes as I talked), which means that I have a copy of my own interview sitting in the sent folder of my email.

And then I thought, “Why not share it?”

So, here it is. The questions are pretty generic, which means that some of them aren’t really questions you would normally ask a part time, self-published author. But I did my best. I’ve put explanations and comments in brackets. Enjoy.

1. How did you decide to enter this field? [I mentally translated this as “How did you decide to write and publish Jane Austen fanfiction?]

I discovered Jane Austen the year after I graduated college. I was living abroad with a number of other people, and one of them had the 1995 BBC miniseries of Pride and Prejudice. I am a staunch believer in book before movie, so when the movie caught my interest, I promptly left the room and sought out the book. It wasn’t long before I had finished both book and miniseries.

From there, it took me several more years to discover fanfiction. The first step was when I was once again living abroad (in a different country this time). I bought an electronic copy of Pamela Aiden’s trilogy (An Assembly Such as This, Duty and Desire, and These Three Remain). I read them all. At the time, it didn’t even occur to me to look online, but I did eventually discover several communities online.

As I read my way through just about every story I could get my hands on, I started thinking about what kind of story I might write. I was in graduate school at the time, and writing became a way to relieve stress. I never expected much of a response and was surprised when people started commenting. It astounded me that so many people were reading my writing.

From there, it was not much of a leap to attempting to self-publish, which I did out of pure curiosity to see what would happen. That, too, has been more successful than I anticipated!

2. What kind of education and training do you have?

For writing, none beyond the required high school classes and voracious reading in my own time. Since I started writing more, I’ve been frequenting blogs and other forums for writing advice, and I hope to take some classes in the future.

As for education in general, I am an evolutionary biologist specializing in the study of animal behavior.

3. What are your activities and responsibilities on the job? [This is one of the questions that made me shake my head a bit.]

The primary activity is striving to get words down on paper (or into a computer). When I’m stuck, I will move from one medium to the other, or switch to editing or outlining in order to clarify my ideas. But that’s not the only thing I do. Once the words are out of my head, I often find they don’t fully convey the picture that I had in my head. So there is editing. I have several wonderful beta readers who brainstorm with me when I’m stuck and assist me with editing.

4. Generally with organizations, individual workers do not make all decisions.  How are work decisions made in your organization? [And this is another one.]

I am my organization. This is not to discount the invaluable help of my betas. One beta comments mainly on the structure and pace of story in general, the second helps me keep my characters in character (although she is picky about dialogue, and will often comment on that as well), and the third gets the story when it’s complete and reads it through almost all at once fixing grammar and commenting on the story as a whole. But it is up to me to decide what, if anything, to do with their input. (In case you’re curious, I almost always listen to their sage advice.)

5. How much influence do you have over those decisions?

See the question above. Since I am self-published and don’t have an official editor, I am the final authority on what goes into or gets cut from my stories.

6.  What do you like best about your job? Least?

What I like most:
The freedom to explore new ideas. I can create characters and watch how they react to situations. I love finding a believable solution for my characters to use when confronted with a difficult tangle of problems. It’s a great intellectual challenge.

What I like least?

Writer’s block. It’s particularly nasty because this is not my primary job. My “official” jobs take precedence, and sometimes they leave very little time for focusing on my writing. This makes breaking out of a block a bit difficult.

7. What do you find most difficult about your job?

Finding time to do it. Mixed in with all my responsibilities is writing. It is a side job with no deadlines, and it’s easy to relegate it to a level down the hierarchy of important things that need to be doing. Coming home from a day of work at my other jobs it’s often an effort to sit down and open the file, let alone get any words out.

Second place is when I come up with something I want to change that requires me to edit almost all of the story up to the point where I am. Finding all the little comments and facts that need to be changed requires very careful reading.

8.What about the job would you change if you could?

There is nothing about the job that needs to be changed. Only in how I approach it. Just about every advice page ever written includes the advice “write every day.” And I aspire to do that some day soon. Really…

9.What sort of person do you have to be to be really good at this job?

I think, like in many jobs, you have to be able to pay attention to detail. There are a lot of little things that go into good writing.

Another very useful trait is having a bit of a thick skin when it comes to reviews. Everybody has their own reading preferences, and not every person who buys and reads your story will like it. Some will be quite vocal in their dislike. It feels personal, because it is an attack on your baby, something you poured your heart into, as well as countless hours of thinking, plotting, writing, rewriting, editing and so on. But it’s not personal in any way you can do anything about. It’s just that your story wasn’t for them. The only criticism you can avoid is the technical sort. Punctuate your story properly. After that, almost everything else is personal preference of the reader.

10. What specific advice would you give to a person entering this field?

First, tell your story. Some writers will write for an audience, and maybe that works for them, but I find it best to not worry about writing for the mainstream. It is your story. Write what you feel needs to be written, not what you think other people will want to read. There is somebody, somewhere, who will appreciate your effort, which is a bonus, but write primarily for yourself.

Second, find somebody to give you feedback. Brainstorm with other people, get them to read what you’ve written and consider their suggestions. Things that make sense in your head might not make sense to other people, and an editor, beta or just a friend can give you a good idea of what is working and what is not.

11. Where do you expect to go from here?

Right now I am editing a second story for publication and not so patiently chipping away at the writer’s block facing me on my third. I hope to continue this as a secondary occupation. I don’t expect to make this a full time job, and for me, that’s okay. It is still a source of pleasure for me, and I don’t want to turn it into a source of stress instead.


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