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Saturday, February 19, 2011
Author Interview: Larion Willis
The Long and the Short of It is pleased to welcome Larion Willis, whose latest book It's Still Tomorrow is out from Swimming Kangaroo Books. Her next book, White Savage is scheduled to be released in May from Museitup Publishing.
From the first time Larion picked up a pen and notebook and wrote her first story ("which was horrible," she confessed) she was totally hooked.
"I had always been a story teller though the only person I told those stories to was myself. I became a writer when I started putting them down on paper. The stories were there, but the skill and technique came later," she told me.
Her inspiration for that first book?
"A spin off of I. Fleming's Bond books. Heck if she could do it, so could I. After that was a script for a series I liked. It gained momentum from there."
Larion told me that she's never called it writer's block but she does take spells when she feels overwhelmed and can't settle into a new project once she's ended one—she can't decide what she wants to work on next.
"That's when I dive into my book pile and go on a reading binge," she said. "I have no idea why, but for some reason that seems to clear my head. After I've read five or six books, I 'm ready to get back to something of my own, either a new story or doing what needs to be done on a finished one."
Larion writes the first draft by hand, and she hates to type it into the computer for editing.
"Maybe that's why I put it off with a reading binge when I know that's what I should be doing next," she mused.
"What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?" I asked.
"I'm liable to make some people made with this one, but I think foremost would be not being lazy," she said. "If you don't care enough to take pride in your work, why would anyone want to read it? When I started doing outside editing, I saw manuscripts that were so sloppy, in appearance, in story line, in continuity--I couldn't understand how they could present themselves that way. Stop and think about it; if you went into a store and a blouse was hanging on a rack that had been dropped on the floor, that was dirty and wrinkle, next to a blouse that was clean and pressed, which one would you buy?"
Larion told me that an author should research the preferred formatting of the publisher she plans to submit to as well as brush up on basic grammar and punctuation.
"Oh, yes," she added, "and give as much attention to your query letter and synopsis."
I wondered which came first in Larion's writing—the plot or the characters.
"That all depends on what started the story off in my head to begin with. Sometimes it's a person, sometimes it's a situation. Many times I can read an entire book or watch a movie where I come away with one thing in my head, maybe something no more than an expression, and I'm a people watcher."
For her first release, The Knowing, she witnessed a scene in a parking lot that was the seed that the story grew from. Characters might come from the situation or the situation might grow out of the characters, then the plot comes from both.
Larion knows her characters intimately, even though only a very small percent of their background actually makes it into the book. She knows, however, why they do the things they do and what happened in their lives to make them the way they are. She knows what they like to eat, drink and watch on TV even if the reader never sees it.
"The trick is to give the reader enough back story and glimpses into their personality to make them real, but not bore them to death with it," she explained.
She told me that there wasn't one book or author that most influenced her writing. From the time she was a child, lugging an armload of books out of the school library, she wanted to write. No matter what she reads, she takes something away with her, even if it's just a "don't do that."
Larion writes in multiple genres, so it's not surprising that she reads in multiple genres as well, actually more than she writes in.
"All of them are examples of different styles," she told me. "I find myself thinking I like the way she/he did that, or I like that kind of a character, and I'm sure I incorporate those things, if even at a subconscious level. I enjoyed reading a book about witches so much I wrote about one, with that big 'what if' working."
She admitted that sometimes titles can be one of the hardest things to come up with when it comes to her writing. She will look for a phrase in the story, or perhaps she'll use a place where the story takes place. Occasionally, if nothing else seems to fit, she'll resort to using one of the main characters' names.
The only thing harder than titles for her are the blurbs and taglines.
"Condensing a two or three hundred page book into a couple of paragraphs and still give the essence of the story and make it sound interesting enough that someone will want to read it is difficult, for me anyway. As far as that goes, a synopsis is hard. My tales tend to be complicated."
When she's writing, Larion doesn't really have a schedule—for the first draft, she looks up from her notebook and moves away only when she has to.
"I'm not quite as bad when I'm re-writing or editing," she said. "I often have a dog in my lap because he got tired of hearing 'just a minute' too many times and staring at me from the floor didn't work. Since it's hard to write around him, I set it aside long enough to take them out. I have two. Hubby yells at me, pointing to his stomach when it's time to eat, and he's learned to ask me early in the day if I have anything planned yet for dinner so it can be taken out of the freezer. I've become a real fan of those frozen entrees to save me for the times a reminder didn't work. Those who know me can tell when we're out if I've got a story going by my lack of attention and seeing me drift off in a daze."
When Larion's not working, in the spring and summer, she works in her yard which is edged with flower beds.
"Don't get the idea I'm a dedicated gardener," she warned. "I've gotten pretty good at knowing what plants are drought resistant by watching which ones start to droop first or just die before I notice. Same with my house plants. When I notice the most delicate start to shrivel, I water. I do occasionally even fertilize them--inbetween books, of course. I do spend each Friday with my daughter going along with her on her errands, running a few of my own that I've saved up so I only have to go out one day, and we hit a few yard sales. I'm a sucker for antiques and collectibles. Oh, did I forget to mention I read?"
"How many books have you written?" I asked.
"Okay, you're asking how many I've written, not how many I have published. At last count there were about fifty. I wrote for years without sharing, just as I had done with the stories I told myself. Four years ago, with pushing from my family, I entered the world of submits and rejections. The help of a few edited pages told me that one of the things I needed to do (and something I advise new writers to do) was brush up on composition skills. With those edited pages I did some major editing, resubmitted and was accepted. That was the start. You can see excerpts, blurbs, etc on all of them at my website and join in whatever contest I have currently running as well as request available goodies."
And… she can't unwrap a Starburst with her tongue but she can pick up things with her toes.
You can keep up with Larion on her blog, http://www.larriane.com/apps/blog/