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Saturday, February 26, 2011
Author Interview: R. Ann Siracusa
The Long and the Short of It, in conjunction with R. Ann Siracusa, author of The Tour Director Extraordinaire series. Ann's latest story, Tiffany, her first short contemporary with a paranormal twist, released this month.
Ann has always liked to read and write stories. Her mother was a librarian and they always had a lot of books around the house. She was encouraged to write by a wonderful English teacher in high school, but never considered it as a profession. Instead, she earned a degree in Architecture from UC Berkely, worked in Rome and got married there, then got caught up with family and her profession, where she did a lot of non-fiction and professional writing. She didn't follow up on her interest in fiction writing until she was in her forties.
"I read a novel that everyone was raving about and said, 'Oh, man. Even I can write better than this. So, I sat down and wrote my first complete novel in about eight months (working about 60 a week at a full-time job)," she said.
Once she retired ten years ago, she started serious, get-published writing.
She's currently working on the fifth and final book in her Tour Director Extraordinaire series which features a young tour director who is searching for what she wants to do with her life, which has been good, but ordinary and predictable…until she meets the hero, a Europol Spy and US covert operative with a dark and troubled past. Then her world turns upside down.
The first three novels, All For A Dead Man’s Leg, All For A Fist Full of Ashes, and Destruction Of The Great Wall, have already been released. The fourth full-length novel (working title Russian Roulette) is scheduled for release, but not before the end of 2011. The series also includes three “bridge” or short stories with the same hero and heroine. The final book is set in South Africa and Botswana, and she outlined the novel while she was in southern Africa in 2008.
Most of the time, the plot line or a particular line in the book offers ideas for the title. Sometimes, though, it's more planned than that, because Ann believes that the title should reflect the genre so the reader has a sense of what kind of book it is. She was particularly concerned that the titles for the books in the series reflect the nature of the humorous spy adventures.
"I do write down phrases that sound like good titles and stick them in file for future consideration, such as one I picked up at the International Spy Museum in Washington D.C. from a T-shirt―Deny Everything,” she explained. "I’ve actually used a couple of the ideas from that file, and one title inspired a storyline."
"What advice would you give a new writer just starting out?" I asked.
"Run away from home! Actually, that’s the best piece of advice I can give, but since that may not be possible, here are some practical ideas which nearly every author advocates in one form or another.
▪ Start today! Never think you’re too old or too young. Don’t put it off; the “right time” never comes.
▪ Set aside the time to write, and stick with it, in spite of your family. Don’t allow interruptions.
▪ Hook up with a writer’s or critique group. Feedback is invaluable; critique partners keep you writing.
▪ Learn to take criticism and learn the difference between useful and hurtful criticism.
▪ Be persistent and never get discouraged. (But don’t expect to win the first few contests you enter or sell the first manuscript you send out. You might, but don’t set your heart on it.)
▪ Know your market. Even as a beginner you should know what kind of book you’re writing.
▪ Read. Lots. Variety. But also read books in the genre you want to write in; do your homework.
▪ Be cautious of who you take advice from. Your English teacher or best friend may not know what sells and may not know the craft of writing fiction.
▪ Don’t expect writing to be easy. It’s hard work, but it’s worth it if you are truly a writer.
▪ Don’t parrot what happened in real life. The story has to work as fiction.
▪ Learn all you can about your computer and programs you intend to use; otherwise, you will go nuts.
▪ Learn to write anywhere. Always have something with you, tablet and pen, items to edit, whatever. Use whatever time is available to write, edit, etc. (Buy a mini-laptop.)
▪ Learn the craft of writing (plotting, structure, character development, etc.) by writing a lot. There is no substitute for craft or for writing, writing, writing.
▪ Finish the book. Don’t get stuck rewriting the first couple of chapters over and over.
▪ Send your work out (it will never get published if you don’t), but polish it first and do your homework. Follow the submission rules. Editors have lots to choose from and are looking for reasons to turn you down.
▪ Learn to take rejection without losing confidence; learn how to extract useful feedback.
▪ If you are serious, you must go about writing like running a business.
▪ Understand that you have to pay your dues.
"Most of the time, the idea for the plot comes first and then Ann has to find the right characters for the story. Sometimes, however, a character will pop into her mind and then it's a question of what will engage that character, then finding the correct story. She finds it difficult to separate plot and character because, for Ann, fiction is all about people reacting to circumstances and each affecting the other.
"If I put one set of characters into a given story idea, it becomes a particular novel. If I put different characters into the same situation, it ends up a different novel because the characters react differently," she told me. "The characters’ reactions, in turn, affect the action/plot. The old chicken and egg syndrome. As I write the backstory for my own use, I begin to see more clearly the characteristics, goals, and motivations of the characters."
Ann has a bedroom in her house that she uses as an office.
"It’s small, but it’s mine, mine, mine! I don’t share it with anyone, although my writing has to share with my quilting, the ironing, and personal things like bills and income tax files. And the bathroom is close," she said.
"I tend to be very organized and have everything in files and three-ring notebooks, color coded by what I consider the four aspect of writing: Business, Education and Craft (which includes my professional organizations), the actual Writing, and Marketing. I organize my computer files by the same categories. Then there is personal stuff which has it own set of color codes and categories. Still, I have stacks of papers everywhere and am always in a state of mass confusion. Heaven only knows what it would be like if I weren’t organized."
Her goal is to write every day, seven days a week, usually from 5-7 or 8 AM, then again in the evening after her husband goes to bed.
"I’m not always consistent, unfortunately, but I that’s the schedule I shoot for. If I don’t have appointments during the day, or grandchildren to take care of, I try to devote all morning to the business of writing, which include marketing and everything else."
On a personal note, even though Ann likes dogs and over the years she and her husband has bred and raised both Rottweilers and Golden Retrievers, she doesn't want one now.
She doesn't have a clue what her strangest habit is. Her husband offered to tell me, but she curtailed that idea.
I asked her about the strangest thing she's ever eaten.
"I don’t know that these are strange, maybe unusual for some Americans, but they stick in my mind.
▪ Chocolate covered bees and grasshoppers. (In college. Early 1960s. Crunchy. Not bad. Thanks, Neil.)
▪ Beef brains. (Rome, 1964. The only time I ever hurled when pregnant. Not the taste, but the odor.)
▪ Roasted Mammary glands. (In Sicily, circa 1970 and 1980. My sister-in-law fixes those, either beef or lamb. Not bad if you don’t know what you’re eating.)
▪ Sea urchins. (2000s. My extended Italian family eats sea urchins, so I’ve sampled them. Once. No comment, unless you like orange snot.)
▪ Peking duck (China, 2001. There were a lot of things I ate there but really didn’t know what I was eating. Everything “unknown” was chicken, according to what they told us.)
▪ Crocodile, zebra pate, ostrich, warthog, and the Mopani worm (you don’t want to hear about that, either). (South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Botswana, Africa, 2008)
▪ Alpaca and yucca in Peru over Christmas and New Year 2010-11.
"I have no idea what I might have been eating in Egypt, Morocco, and India. I used to be willing to try anything, at least once, but I’m much less adventurous as I’ve gotten older. I’m saving my calories for things I know I like."
As you might can tell from the above answer, when Ann's not writing, she enjoys traveling. Unfortunately, that's only possible for a limited time every year. On a more regular basis she enjoys quilting and reading. Before she got arthritis, playing the piano was a daily activity.
Finally I asked, "If you could wish for anything, what would you wish for?"
"Unlimited wishes. But that tends to fall into the category of 'be careful what you wish for.' I’d probably screw sometime when I was frustrated and wish for something terrible and that would be all she wrote.
"I’ve had my shot, and what is, is. So, instead, I’d probably wish for a happy, healthy, and fulfilling lives for my three children and eight grandchildren."
You can keep up with Ann on her website, http://www.rannsircusa.com