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Saturday, 16 February 2013
Author interview no.596 with multi-genre writer Lorna Collins (revisited)
Back in December 2012, I interviewed author Lorna Collins for my WordPress blog. I hope you enjoy it...
Welcome to the five hundred and ninety-sixth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with multi-genre author Lorna Collins. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Lorna. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Lorna: Thank you for having me. I am a native Californian, born in Hollywood and raised in Alhambra. I now live with my husband, Larry, in Dana Point. However, I have lived and traveled throughout the United States and the world. During my career, I have worked in Document Control and as a Technical Writer, so I’ve been writing most of my life. However, it wasn’t until after we’d spent thirty-one months living and working in Japan that I considered writing anything publishable. During that adventure, I sent home random essays every couple of weeks. Larry added his own observations occasionally. When we returned, friends suggested we turn those notes into a book. The result was 31 Months in Japan: the Building of a Theme Park, published in 2005. It was a finalist for the 2006 EPPIE and was named one of Rebeccas Reads best nonfiction books of 2005.
Morgen: Congratulations. I’ve introduced you as a ‘multi-genre’ writer, what genre do you generally write?
Lorna: We started with memoir, but have now written in several other genres. After attending a writing conference, we got the idea for a mystery. The result was Murder… They Wrote, published in 2009. We enjoyed the protagonist so much that we had to take him out of retirement for Murder in Paradise, which was a finalist for the 2012 EPIC eBookAward.
I’ve also written several romance anthologies with friends Sherry Derr-Wille, Christie Shary, and Luanna Rugh. Snowflake Secrets, the first one, was a finalist for the Dream Realm and Eric Hoffer awards. We followed it with Seasons of Love and Directions of Love which won the 2011 EPIC eBook Award. For our Christmas anthology, An Aspen Grove Christmas, we added new author Cheryl Gardarian.
My latest book, Ghost Writer, is a fantasy / mystery / romance set in and around Laguna Beach, California.
And, in addition to others in those genres, Larry and I are currently working on a historical novel set in San Juan Capistrano, California between 1820 and 1890. I guess I’m just easily bored!
Morgen: I love bringing back earlier characters, especially if they’ve gone from minor to major. I also write a variety of genres, although most tend to be ‘dark’ and for this year’s NaNoWriMo I started a crime series. Do you write under a pseudonym?
Lorna: Larry writes as “Larry K. Collins” to avoid confusion with the other Larry Collins, but I use my own name. I always thought it was a perfect pen name, so why should I change it? :)
Morgen: It’s easily remembered, which is half the battle when marketing. :) You’ve self-published, what lead to you going your own way?
Lorna: There is a difference between self-published, and subsidy or partner-published. We decided to use the latter method for our first book because it was written about building the Universal Studios Japan Theme Park, which opened in 2001. Although we approached a couple of agents, it was clear that the timeframe to publication would be three-to-five years. We felt that interest would be greater the earlier the book came out. So we decided to subsidy publish that one, and I’m delighted that we did. (It remains the only book ever written about a Universal theme park, but it’s also gained a following among those who live and work in Japan and named on the Forbes 500 recommended reading list.)
Morgen: The length of time it took to publish a book has been one factor in me going electronic. Are your books available as eBooks? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Lorna: All our books are available in ebook format. Right from the beginning, we opted for that format as well as print. We used to read ours on our Palm Pilots, and the print was tiny. We now have Kindles, and Larry has a Nook. In addition, we read on our computers. But we both still fill the house with paper as well, since we’re both book junkies. At any given time, I usually have several books partly-read.
Morgen: Me too. I think we all do. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Lorna: I think my favorite characters are Nan and Max, the ghost, from Ghost Writer. She is a young woman, and he is a grouchy, self-centered, old-fashioned curmudgeon with a British accent. Their sparing was great fun to write.
I’d probably have cast Clifton Webb or Jonathan Harris (from the old TV show “Lost in Space”) as Max, since that’s who I pictured when I wrote the book. Nan would have to be young and feisty with curly blonde hair. I’d love Reese Witherspoon in the role.
For the protagonist in our mysteries, Agapé Jones, I’d love to see Lawrence Fishburn.
I often ‘cast’ actors and friends in the roles as I write since it really brings the characters to life for me.
Morgen: I go on to Google images, although picking celebrities is a good idea. Did you have any say in the titles / covers of your books?
Lorna: Our anthologies and mysteries are published by the same publisher. For those, we have a great deal of input. And we have a FABULOUS cover artist, Melissa Summers, who takes our ideas and creates an even more gorgeous image than we could have imagined. I often ‘mock-up’ a cover idea and send it to her. For our mysteries, I wanted a woven background, suggesting Hawaii. She came up with a couple that just weren’t right, so I took a picture of one of my woven placemats and sent it to her. That became the background! The photos on both mystery covers were mine, although she modified them into works of art.
For Ghost Writer, the original cover idea was quite far afield from the actual story. So Larry mocked-up an idea which the artist used as inspiration for the final cover. I love it! (BTW, Larry did the artwork on the cover of 31 Months in Japan. The original cover photo we wanted to use wouldn’t work, and he came up with the sketches. He wanted to refine them, but they reminded me of Japanese sumie painting. So we left them as originally sketched. Unfortunately, this happened so late in the process that he didn’t get written credit.)
Morgen: What a shame. The good thing about self-publishing eBooks is that I can make minor tweaks and re-submit whenever I like. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Lorna: Just like my reading, I’m always working on several projects at once. There are a few new romance anthologies in the works. I have another fantasy / romance started. It’s called Sofia’s Garden and features another ghost. Larry and I are working on another mystery, called Murder on Maui as well as the historical novel.
Morgen: I write a variety of genres and I think it helps keep the brain fresh. Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Lorna: I try to do some writing every day. If I’m not working on one of my books, I also blog and edit.
I really don’t get writer’s block because I have so many different projects in the works that I can switch to a different one if the ‘voices’ stop talking to me.
Morgen: Me too. :) Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Lorna: I always know the overall arc of the story, and it’s not unusual for me to write the first chapter, followed by the last chapter. It’s the ‘muddle I the middle’, to quote Terry Brooks, that’s the hard part.
However, I also listen to my characters. I sometimes want them to do things they refuse to do. At other times, they surprise me by acting differently than I’d thought they would. I know that for non-writers it sounds strange, but once they are born on the page, characters take on lives of their own. And I love it when they change a plot. That’s when the real magic happens for me.
Morgen: I love it when the characters take over. Do you have a method for creating yours, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Lorna: I really craft my writing. I pay attention to every detail. Names are extremely important. In fact, Larry and I have done a whole workshop presentation on the importance of names. They must suit the character and also be appropriate to the age of the person. The character’s name should give the reader a clue as to who they are and how they will behave.
As I said before, I often ‘cast’ my characters by basing them on famous people and friends. For example, the character of Lovey, our protagonist’s mother, is based on a real friend, Lovie Cooper. (You can read about her on our website: http://lornalarry.com/books/loviecooper.html) She was really easy to write because I could close my eyes and hear her voice.
For Countess Elektra Rozanska, we used another real person, and this time we used her real name. Her story is also on our website: http://lornalarry.com/books/countess.html.
Agapé Jones is based on our friend, Love Smith. I adored his name, but decided to do a twist on it. Many of the facts of Love’s life became the backstory for Agapé.
I think a common mistake beginning writers make is having all their characters sound like them. We work very hard at giving characters their own, distinct voices with their own vocabulary and rhythm. That helps differentiate them and makes them seem more real.
Morgen: Love Smith’s a wonderful name. Maybe you could use it elsewhere. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Lorna: Unfortunately, I’m a perfectionist—and an editor. Each time I go back over the work, I find other ways it could be made better. I change words to find just the right shade of meaning. It’s a curse!
Morgen: And it never goes away. Do you have to do much research?
Lorna: I believe that research is critical to the believability of any book. Even for contemporary fiction, we do a great deal of investigation, and the burden for our historical is even more onerous. However, it is absolutely necessary.
For instance, we were in Hawaii (doing research) at the time of the final edits for our second mystery, Murder in Paradise. We’d written about a restaurant we knew well. But when we arrived, we discovered it had moved! We made a couple of changes to the manuscript, and it was published with the correct information. But that’s why it’s necessary to be thorough in researching even for contemporary writing.
Morgen: I had that with one of the locations in The Serial Dater’s Shopping List (TSDSL). It hadn’t moved but almost every time I went past it, it had changed names. I think it’s still ‘groove’ but I’ve not been there since I published the book (last month) so who knows. :) What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Lorna: I nearly always write in first person. I’m glad that it is becoming more popular because I love reading in that voice. I feel that the reader can get more involved in the story.
Second person is nearly always a mistake. Unless the writer is extremely skilful, it just doesn’t work. I’ve read a couple of books where the author tried it—and failed.
Morgen: Oh dear. I’ve written 20 second-person short stories for http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/5pm-fiction but they’re only a few hundred words each and I think that makes all the difference. The Dark Side (a free eShort) is my longest but that’s still less than 1,000 words (682). I’ve part-read Jay McInerney’s ‘Bright Lights, Big City’ a second-person novella and even though it’s my favourite point of view to write (for shorts) I’ve struggled reading it. Second person is often ‘dark’ (which suits me) but even with his, it doesn’t grab me. Do you write any poetry, non-fiction or short stories?
Lorna; I have written poetry and music. In fact, quite a number of years ago I wrote a musical, including the book and all the music. I had the pleasure of seeing it performed, and it was a real thrill. I also write short stories, but I prefer the longer formats.
Morgen: I started with short stories but wrote my first novel (a lad lit) for NaNoWriMo in 2008 and have done it every year since. I’ve only put out one so far (TSDSL) but the others are sitting waiting for me. I wrote a mystery between ‘Hitman Sam’ and ‘TSDSL’ which is just 46K so I’m working on that now (and have five first readers waiting to vet it :)). Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Lorna: After 31 Months in Japan was published, I started a fantasy / romance novel. It’s still languishing. I keep saying I’ll get back to it someday, but other things just seem to get in the way. I also wrote another novel set in Scotland many years ago that I’ll also probably never return to.
Morgen: I know all too well how things get in the way. My computer reminds me to write at 1pm daily but I usually just click on cancel. I should be more resilient. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Lorna: Fortunately, I always knew that rejections were part of the business, so when I got them, I simply moved on to the next option.
Morgen: Good plan. You mentioned three competitions earlier, are there any you could recommend?
Lorna: Since we have done very well with them, I do enter a few. My favorite is the EPIC eBook Award competition. It is judged by published authors and other industry professionals (editors, agents, publishers). When we final or win, we know that our work is rated highly by our peers.
Morgen: It certainly does help. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Lorna: I don’t have an agent, and with the rapidity with which the industry is changing, the model of the agent is coming into question. Most of my books are published by smaller independent publishers, and I believe they are the future of publishing.
Morgen: I’m inclined to agree although (as far as I know) the Top 6 publishers here in the UK (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_UK_book_publishers) still won't accept direct submissions, although http://authonomy.com is known as HarperCollins’ slushpile. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Lorna: I probably spend more time on marketing than the actual writing. Because I write in so many different genres, my ‘brand’ is harder to define. So it’s even more critical that I maintain a public persona.
I do public appearances at book signings, farmers’ markets, book fairs, and any other venues where I’m invited. I also keep a busy online presence, including our website, blogs, and social media.
Larry and I are also conference speaker and workshop presenters.
Morgen: Marketing is usually the answer to the ‘least favourite’ part of my next question. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Lorna: I think the overall time commitment is the most difficult. I guess we had the common mistaken impression that once the actual writing was completed, the work stopped. But that’s actually just the beginning.
Morgen: It is indeed. I was thrilled at having written a novel in a month but soon realised that was the easy bit. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Lorna: I quote Elizabeth George here: “Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Read, read, read.”
When asked, I also tell them to take a writing class where they will discover all the minutia so necessary to the writing process. Once the work is in process, find a critique group that’s a good fit. (It might take several tries.) Then, share your work with a few trusted readers who will tell you the truth.
Morgen: I run / belong to four groups and they are invaluable. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Lorna: My first thought, aside from family and friends who have passed and whom I miss terribly, is George Burns. He was funny and witty, and he’d make me laugh.
Next, I’d love to spend a little time with Adela Rogers St. Johns. I loved her fearlessness and feistiness.
Finally, I’d like to spend some time with Ghandi. I need more of his peaceful power in my life.
I’d probably fix something that required little preparation since I’d want to actually sit at the table and soak up the conversation. I have a great shrimp or chicken curry recipe that is cooked and served at the table. That might be the choice.
Morgen: Sounds like a great party. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Lorna: One of my favorites is: “Happiness is not having what you want; it’s wanting what you have.”
Morgen: Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Lorna: We belong to a wonderful critique group, and meeting with them weekly is one of the real joys of writing.
In addition, I do some editing as well as ebook formatting. And I read and write reviews.
Morgen: Ooh do you? Let me know if you’d like to be added to http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/reviews or any of its subpages. What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks? :)
Lorna: As a true bibliophile, I read. And, now that I’m retired, I like to spend time with Larry. We’re both theme park ‘junkies’ so we love going to Disneyland and just walking around. I call it ‘theme park aerobics’. We have annual passes, so we can go often—and do. We also enjoy visiting the local retirement home every week where we sing and talk with the residents. My mother lived there for five years, and they were some of the happiest in her life. So, although she is now gone, we love being in a place where she felt contentment. And we’re both very active in our church.
Morgen: The nearest Disneyland to me is Paris and I took a former boyfriend there (when he wasn’t ‘former’) one Valentine’s Day. He was definitely an un-grown-up grown up. :) Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Lorna: We have quite a collection of writing books that we’ve loved. One of my personal favorites is Lynn Truss’s Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. Sid Stebel’s Double Your Creative Power: Make Your Subconscious a Partner in the Writing Process is another that I recommend. And Anne Lamont’s Bird By Bird: Some Instructions of Writing and Life.
There are several blogs that I also enjoy. Penny Sanseveri’s website, http://www.amarketingexpert.com, always has references to other sites and blogs with valuable information.
Morgen: Thank you for the book suggestions – I’ve added Lynn and Sid’s to http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/books-other-peoples/writing-related (Anne’s was already on it). Barbara Peacock also recommended her in our interview. :) Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Lorna: I am on the EPIC (E-Publishing Industry Coalition) forums, and I am always learning new things from them.
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Lorna: With the increase in self-publishing options, anyone who wants to publish has the opportunity. Unfortunately, not everyone who wants to write should, and there is a great deal of poor and truly awful writing out there. However, I believe there will always be a market for well-written stories. So, on the whole, I’m very optimistic.
Morgen: There are some mixed qualities out there, which is where writing groups and reviews come in, although the latter vary greatly; I’ve had some great reviews on Amazon and Smashwords for the same things as Goodreads has slaughtered – Goodreads is clearly a tough crowd. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Lorna: We have a website, www.lornalarry.com where we provide lots and lots of information and links to other sites, such as my blog. I’m also on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Goodreads and other networking sites. I love hearing from readers.
Morgen: Let’s hope we do here too. Thank you, Lorna.
I invited Lorna to include an extract of her writing and here’s the beginning of Chapter 1 of Ghost Writer:
“I DON’T BELIEVE IN GHOSTS,” I USED TO TELL ANYONE WHO’D ask. I’m a ‘techie,’ a computer programmer. I deal with data and facts, not fiction and fantasy.
So how did I get mixed up with a temperamental, egotistical, rude, smart, funny, aggravating, self-centered, loveable... uh... spirit? Okay, if you insist, ghost.
It all started the day I moved into my house.
Well, it’s not really a house, more of a cottage on the sand south of Laguna Beach, California.
This place was the one blessing I received in a whole series of otherwise disastrous events, starting with losing my job.
I worked in the mortgage industry for five years following my college graduation. It was all I knew until I became another victim of the banking industry collapse. I went to work one day, and the company was gone. Pffft. Taken over by the government. The assets were sold and I got two weeks’ severance.
Of course, at the end of the first week, not only was my job gone, but so was Jeff, my live-in boyfriend, taking all the cash in my wallet with him. Since he hadn’t worked in over a year, I figured he’d found another gainfully employed female to support him. I was really ticked off that he split the minute he lost me as his meal ticket. I needed his help.
And a synopsis of her latest book…
When unemployed computer programmer Nan Burton inherits a California beach cottage from her great-great-aunt, she’s delighted. But she’s in for a huge surprise:
The house is haunted by the ghost of famous romance writer Max Murdoch (pen name Maxine DuBois) who insists Nan complete his last novel, threatening to keep her from sleeping until she agrees.
The ensuing clash pits youth against the long-dead but still egotistical author with humorous and moving results.
Lorna Collins grew up in Alhambra, CA and attended Cal State L.A. where she was on the Dean’s List as an English Major. She and her husband, Larry, penned their memoir, 31 Months in Japan: The Building of a Theme Park, which was a 2006 EPPIE finalist, Editor's choice Award winner, and one of Rebeccas Reads best nonfiction books of 2005.
Their mystery, Murder in Paradise, was a finalist for the 2012 EPIC Award, and an anthology, to which she contributed, Directions of Love, won the 2011 EPIC Award for romance anthology. In addition to her latest book, a fantasy / mystery / romance entitled Ghost Writer, Lorna plans another in the same genre called Sofia’s Garden.
Lorna & Larry reside and write in Dana Point, CA.
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