Welcome to the thirty-seventh of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with multi-genre author Nancy Dodd. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here.
Morgen: Hi, Nancy. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Nancy: As a child, I was always imagining stories. I found that my stories were good entertainment for me, but I didn’t actually start writing them down until junior high or high school.
Morgen: Still about 25 years earlier than me. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Nancy: I write in many forms—plays, screenplays, short stories, novel-length manuscripts and some inspirational. I also write in several genres. My favourites would be action/adventure and some romance, some science fiction, some literary and coming of age.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date? How much of the marketing do you do?
Nancy: Just released is The Writer’s Compass: From Story Map to Finished Draft in 7 Stages. It’s about the creative writing process, using a story map to understand your story and more importantly what’s missing from your story, how to write more efficiently by organizing rewrites into 7 drafts, and how to develop your own “true north” in your writing to write the story you want to tell. It is based on 25 years and thousands of hours of studying writing, including two graduate degrees. I’m spending a significant amount of time marketing The Writer’s Compass to let other writers know about this resource. A couple of friends in the entertainment industry are currently working toward independently producing one of my screenplays about a minister whose son is murdered. And I’m working on a short story collection about the forgotten people that I want to put on eBooks. One of those, “The Bus Boy,” I’ve published as a free read at http://issuu.com/smudgedinkpress/docs. There are several other writing projects waiting for my time and attention.
Morgen: No rest for the very productive. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Nancy: I have received awards and been placed in several competitions. I think they help to give the writer credibility and confidence, but I don’t know if they help to get you published or produced. And entering competitions can become very expensive.
Morgen: Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Nancy: I do have an agent, but we are only working together on one project. Some of my other projects do not fit what this agent represents. In the recent past an agent was vital, but with the internet and the economics of publishing today, there are so many ways to get your work out to the public that you don’t have to have an agent. I do believe that having an agent and a traditional publisher makes it easier to get your work sold and distributed more widely. You have to be very entrepreneurial to self-publish. But whether you use a traditional publisher or self-publish, you still have to do a lot of marketing and self-promotion.
Morgen: Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Nancy: Writer’s Digest will be publishing The Writer’s Compass in an eBook format. My plans are to put the series of short stories I mentioned earlier on eBooks to test that process in the next few weeks. Although I don’t currently read eBooks, mainly because I already spend so much time on the computer, I prefer to read printed books for leisure, I’m sure I will at some point.
Morgen: I’m heading in that direction. What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Nancy: Years ago my first short story “Tiny Tears” was accepted by a small literary journal. It was a great thrill. When I was given the opportunity to read some of my short stories on public radio that was also very thrilling. However, I’d already been publishing articles before either of those happened, and I don’t even remember my first acceptance for those. Because I write in so many forms, it has felt like a first acceptance several times. Just getting this book accepted and published so quickly was very exciting. However, I never relax, I’m always looking to get the next project out there.
Morgen: I can tell. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Nancy: About a trillion. I’ve dealt with them very badly.
Morgen: Oh dear.
Nancy: I got depressed and told myself I’d never write again. Then after a few days I’d realize that writing is a large part of who I am.
Morgen: Me too; about 99%. Fortunately I have a very supportive boss and understanding dog. :)
Nancy: I’d pray about whether to give it all up or keep going, and the answer always seemed to be to keep going. That’s one of the reasons I wrote this book, for people like me to whom writing and publishing has been a real struggle.
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment / next?
Nancy: Along with the series of short stories, I also have a feature-length screenplay about a minister whose son is murdered that has received several awards, which friends and I want to independently produce. And I have a play about an autistic child whose father keeps him in a cage that I’ve received excellent feedback about that I want to get produced.
Morgen: Yay! Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Nancy: I don’t manage to write every day. I have a fulltime job as an academic editor, I teach screenwriting at a university one semester a year, and I have devotionals and my family, and I’m marketing The Writer’s Compass. I think it’s important to write every day, but I believe that is a continuing struggle for many writers. I would say I have easily spent 12 to 14 hours writing in a single stretch a few times, but I don’t often get that luxury. I once committed to spending 15 minutes a day writing and to meet that goal I’d sometimes be writing in my sleep. Some days the time turned into more hours, but at the end of two years, I had a rough draft of a 650-page manuscript. So committing even a small amount of time every day can make a difference in what you accomplish.
Morgen: Absolutely. 100 words a day is a short story a week. What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Nancy: My cure is “put your pen to the paper and push” eventually something will come out. My biggest problem is when I’m writing nonfiction, I can’t write creatively during that time and that seems to be true when I’m doing heavy editing on articles for the journal where I’m academic editor. The other problem is not creating a consistency in time and place. There is a whole theory about how long it takes to get into the writing mode and turn on the creativity, so writers have to learn how to make a place and time that gets them through that transition more quickly. It’s sort of like going to a job, you don’t always want to go, but you do so because it is a commitment and you need the income. With writing, because it takes so long sometimes to see the benefit, it is sometimes harder to justify and easier to put off. Deadlines are also a big motivator. My students have to write the first draft of a 90-page screenplay in one semester, which is an amazing amount of work. I teach them the first three stages from my book to give them the tools they need to do that. Sometimes they tell me they have writer’s block and can’t get past it, but as the semester weeks go by and they see that deadline coming, they usually snap out of their writer’s block.
Morgen: Good incentive. A deadline always works for me. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Nancy: I write in many ways. Sometimes a word or a song or a visual gives me an idea and I start asking myself questions about what that means. While writing The Writer’s Compass, I came up with a great story title, but no story. In that case I started thinking about what that story could be about and so I’m doing more plotting. Basically, the main thing is to capture your ideas in some way until you have enough of them to write a draft. I like to capture them on 5×8 cards and then when I have a hand full of cards I organize them and do a story map. Other times I’ll create a story map as a way to plot the story and see what I already know.
Morgen: My goodness, you’re as organised as me. :) Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Nancy: I’m sure I do. Some things I’ve written were more personal fantasy or written to solve a personal problem, but not terribly interesting to others. I also have some things that I wrote in one format, but since discovered they might be more commercial or better told in another format. I have a great sitcom idea about a couple reconnecting years after a very bad breakup and what that means to their lives now. I love the series As Time Goes By, I guess this might be an American version.
Morgen: I love it too. I have one of the series on DVD; I love Judy Dench and Geoffrey Palmer (he and Wendy Craig were brilliant in ‘Butterflies’).
Nancy: I’ve always loved stories where people are pulled apart for whatever reason and then years later find each other again. For several reasons I’m not sure I could sell this as a TV series, so I may rewrite it into a novel, I’ve even thought of independently filming it as an internet series.
Morgen: Ooh, that sounds interesting. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Nancy: That I don’t have enough time to write and the constant guilt. I feel bad when I haven’t found time to write, and I feel bad when I spend blocks of time writing while everything else gets shuffled aside.
Morgen: I so know that feeling. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Nancy: First, write and write and write. Write good stuff and bad stuff and mediocre stuff. Second, never let anyone talk you into cutting anything from your story that you really care about—no matter how bad it is. Sometimes in that bad writing is the heart of the story you are trying to tell, you just haven’t figured out what that is or how to say it yet. If you keep working with it until you do, you may find it becomes the best part of your story.
Morgen: What do you like to read?
Nancy: Everything from the Bible to commercial fiction to history and biographies, with the exception of horror and pornography. Probably my top choices would be action/adventure, political intrigue, and spy thrillers. Because I don’t get a lot of time to read and I spend a lot of time commuting, I listen to audiobooks and get most of my reading done that way. I am reading a particularly bad book right now, but I keep reading it because I’m learning ways to give examples in my workshops of what doesn’t work.
Morgen: I love audiobooks. I’ve just finished Kazuo Ishiguro’s Nocturnes (five stories) and was really disappointed with the ending of the first one… then the second one… and them all. I love stories with strong endings and unfortunately they seem to be a weakness of his, although his novels may be different. Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Nancy: There is a huge list of books that I’ve learned from in the back of my book. There isn’t a particular website, I usually do a search and find various websites on various topics as I need them.
Morgen: In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Nancy: I’m in the United States in the Los Angeles, California area. There are lots of opportunities there, but also lots of competition. Because my book is sold around the world, I’m trying now to target some of my marketing on the internet to other geographical areas. The internet has made it a much smaller world.
Morgen: Hasn’t it just. Speaking of which, are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Nancy: I think LinkedIn is a very useful professional networking source. I’m also on Facebook, but I consider that more for friends and family. I haven’t used Twitter, yet, although I know people who find it very effective.
Morgen: I do, although it’s very easy to become swamped in the ‘timeline’ tweets if you follow a lot of people. Great for
Nancy: I’m continuing to explore and expand social networking opportunities.
Morgen: Where can we find out about you and your work?
Nancy: I have a blog where I discuss writing and other topics and link to some of my films and stories at http://nancyellendodd.com. My website for The Writer’s Compass is http://thewriterscompass.com.
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Nancy: I love teaching and The Writer’s Compass is a culmination of what I struggled to learn. It is full of tools to enhance a writer’s arsenal of tools. It can be used at all writing levels. By just reading the book, writers will learn new tools to enhance their writing; by answering some of the questions and doing some of the exercises, writers will find their skills improves; by using the book as a textbook and trying the suggestions, writers will find that they develop to a new level of writing.
Morgen: Thank you Nancy. That was great!
Nancy Ellen Dodd is a university instructor, and editor. She received her master’s in Professional Writing (MPW) from the University of Southern California with a concentration in dramatic writing/screenwriting and her MFA in playwriting at USC’s School of Theatre. Dodd currently teaches screenwriting at Pepperdine University to undergraduate and graduate students. Dodd has received numerous awards for her writing, which includes screenplays, plays, short stories, short films, and novel-length works, as well as inspirational writing. Some of her short stories have been read on public radio. She also studied writing with several successful, award-winning writers. Currently on faculty at the Graziadio School of Business at Pepperdine University, Dodd serves as academic editor of the Graziadio Business Review. She also produces and edits video and audio interviews for the journal. Dodd’s journalistic career includes publishing more than 130 articles in local and national publications including interviews with celebrities and business leaders.
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