Welcome to the sixty-first of my blog interviews with novelists, short story authors, poets, short story authors, bloggers, scriptwriters, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with romance mystery writer Rosanne Dingli. 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: Hello Rosanne. I’d love to know how you came to be a writer.
Rosanne: I started writing over 25 years ago, while living in the country in New South Wales a couple of years after emigrating to Australia. It must have been a combination of boredom, nostalgia and a lot of letter writing. People would ask what I did, and I’d say I was a writer. So a time came when I had to do what I said. I started getting poems and articles published, almost right away. My poetry gained the attention of academics, because I published in university magazines and journals, so I often got asked to talk and read. It was great fun. I moved from the country to Perth, where it all gathered momentum. I got a job writing for a magazine, so I freelanced for a number of years, and then took a series of jobs as editor, EIC, columnist, literary editor – you name it, I’ve done everything except sub. I’ve also lectured, taught and conducted workshops on writing and publishing. (Author’s picture ©Jill Beaver 2011)
Morgen: My goodness, you really do live and breathe (me too ). Is there a genre that you generally write and if so, have you considered other genres?
Rosanne: My first novel Death in Malta was published in 2001 – it’s a romantic mystery. After that BeWrite Books also took on my thriller According to Luke. I guess I like the combined genres of thrillers and romance – or romantic suspense – because the scope to delve into the characters’ backstories and personalities is greater, and we are all concerned with love and its attendant emotions. All my short stories could be considered literary fiction – but even there I take a romantic, classic, or mysterious twist. If you think of it carefully, it can be quite hard to contain any author strictly within one particular genre.
Morgen: Which is what agents dread but I have one of those. What have you had published to-date? If applicable, can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
Rosanne: I have two novels published by BeWrite Books, and six independently re-issued collections of stories that went out of print in 2003. There’s also a poetry collection that first came out in 1991 that I have independently published for old time’s sake. Last week, as an experiment, I published two ‘singles’ on Kindle – individual short stories. Then of course there is my body of commercial reviews, columns, articles, stories, features… quite a lot of work I wrote in many years of freelancing. I first saw my poetry book on a shop shelf in 1991 – it was satisfying, because it was a lot of hard work. It was a black and white cover with red writing, so it stood out.
Morgen: I’d be very interested to hear how your singles go. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Rosanne: Most of it, of course. My publishers do their bit, but they have 80 other authors to cater for. Only I market my books to the total exclusion of all others, and only I know who my readers are with any accuracy. I am the only person who knows everything there is to know about me and my work. And I am learning how to spread a proportion of that knowledge as far as it will go.
Morgen: Absolutely. Only an author can know where the inspiration comes from or meaning behind something they’ve created. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Rosanne: Oh yes – a lot of success with awards over the years. There are about twenty listed on my website. It can be fun entering and winning a commendation or a prize. It’s important early in a writer’s career to do that kind of thing, because it brings about confirmation of what you are doing, and affirmation if there is success. Later on, there is much less time, and of course it becomes more fair to leave the competing to authors who are still starting out.
Morgen: Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Rosanne: I have had a measure of success without an agent. I have tried to get one, but no-one is interested enough in my works to peddle them around to publishers. I have negotiated my own contracts with BeWrite Books and I have not had a moment’s regret doing that. Agents used to be vital when it was impossible to gain a publisher’s attention without one. In the last few years, there has been a change in that attitude. The industry will never be the same again, and some agents are having to resort to other services. Small publishers are very willing to deal with authors directly when they see potential.
Morgen: I know a lot of authors are going the eBook route if they get nowhere (myself included). Your books are available as eBooks, what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Rosanne: Yes – eBooks are a very important part of the publishing industry and I do read a few. That number will increase when I buy my Kindle. I have held back for numerous reasons. I have been super-busy in the last three months because of the launch of According to Luke. I am waiting for the eReader evolution to come up with a model I like. All my books are available as eBooks and they are the editions that sell best. The ratio is about 3 to 1. For every paperback that’s sold, three eBooks make their way to readers’ appliances, of whatever format. My publishers have been abreast of the digital revolution since the beginning. Death in Malta has been available as an eBook since 2005 or even before. BeWrite Books are brilliant in that regard. I took a leaf out of their book, and when I published my collections of short stories, I made sure they were available in all possible formats to attract all possible readers. It works.
Morgen: And it can only get better. What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Rosanne: More than a thrill it is a necessity – like in any other sector, selling a product of your hard work and getting it on the market is what working authors do. So yes, acceptance and refusal are two things that always happen to me, and the ratio of one with the other is improving in a pleasing way. It is always a thrill – and there is always a bottle of champagne laid away for just such an occasion, even though I do not drink! I’m afraid to say I can’t remember which piece it was that first got accepted all those years ago when I started – but it was a poem.
Morgen: You mentioned refusals, so you’ve had a few rejections? How do you deal with them?
Rosanne: Thousands – literally thousands of rejections. There is no need to deal with them – they are a normal part of my working life and I file them away in exactly the same office-like way as I do my car service, power and home maintenance bills, personal documents and all the other pieces of paper that litter my life. I used to suffer disappointment, but that is the natural and very understandable reaction of a beginning writer. I got my first rejection in the spring of 1985, and I have had a lovely on-and-off writing career since then, with all its ingredients, of which rejection is only one. It would be very strange to have a rejection-free writing career – it simply means that you are not writing and submitting. Just as paying no income tax means you do not make any money.
Morgen: I like that (and know how it feels). What are you working on at the moment / next?
Rosanne: I have two novels on the go and they are the source of enormous confusion, trouble, strife … you might call it trauma. One of the things I hate about being a writer is writing. Ha ha! But seriously, the first drafts are the hardest things to work on. Inspiration is not an ingredient that comes readily into my life. I love the research, the editing, the negotiation. I can even put up with the waiting, and the requests for re-writes. But those first drafts are torture.
Morgen: Some people (one of my poets for example) do actually hate writing but they ‘have’ to do it (as you say, ‘torture’). It’s not the case for me, I’m pleased to say, I would write all the time if I could (although when I have a deadline I do it… note to self: set lots of deadlines). Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Rosanne: No – of course not. I put it off and off. Sometimes I’d rather do housework or wash the car! No – I blog, I comment on the blogs of other writers. I promote, and I write articles. I respond to forums and do all I can to avoid going back to my draft. There comes a point, however, when the story starts to combine with the plot in my head, and there is a kind of fermenting process. When that is ripe, I write it all out in fits and starts. I have no idea how much I write in a day when I am in a writing fit – sometimes I do not stop for either food or showers or tidying up… the family drags me kicking and screaming from my keyboard.
Morgen: What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Rosanne: It does not exist. A writer goes through spurts, lags and phases that are quite normal and natural. Some phases are longer than others, as I have explained above. If I can’t write I don’t – it’s that simple. It will all come out when the story, the plot, the characters and the props and locations all gel into one cohesive thing. One should not fight their natural stop-start rhythm. One must write when one can, and think of other things when one can’t.
Morgen: Well said. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Rosanne: Both. I am not as good at plotting as my husband, who is TOO good at it…
Morgen: Ooh, he writes? Would he like to do an interview?
Rosanne: …and the rest of the family gets involved at Sunday breakfast, which is fun and can get quite animated and noisy. I have to hurry away and write it all down before I forget the best bits and the most amazing ideas, some of which seem ludicrous after the excitement dies down. I sometimes depart from that outline, or lose it, or change my mind, because developments that happen while I am writing seem to be more practical.
Morgen: Which is why I don’t plot much. How do you create your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Rosanne: I create them using available live choices: my antagonists are a conglomeration of character traits I generally detest in people, and I turn them into personalities I would never want to meet.
Morgen: I like them already.
Rosanne: My main characters and protagonists take a long time to create – I don’t do it in writing, but ‘cook’ them in my head until I can see them and almost converse with them. Then I ask myself whether what I make them do is at all realistic and practical – all my creative writing needs to be as lifelike and feasible as possible. The names come out of an old baby-naming book that’s been in the family for a long time. It’s got some good ones. It’s very important to get the right name for the right character, and I can see the process take shape when I stumble on the perfect name.
Morgen: Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Rosanne: My husband is the perfect first reader. He is a very well-read man with powerful analytical skills. He is philosophical and scientific at the same time, which is perfect for thrillers. With an excellent memory for anything he has read or watched, he can nail a concept in a few words and has a nose for things that just do not work in fiction. I could not do any of this without him, and I’ve said this several times in the dedications of my novels and stories.
Morgen: What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Rosanne: For my novels, I like a really tight third-person POV, which I sometimes have to loosen only slightly, in order to get the story right. Some of my literary short stories have really worked well in the first person. Yes, I have tried the second person and found it to be contrived and a bit too arty. It is really a twist on first person narrating, which I find to be artificial in English. It can work in some other languages such as Italian.
Morgen: No parliano Italiano. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Rosanne: I suspect all writers have works they feel do not quite represent their style, or do not provide what their readers come to expect of them. There are always those pieces that – no matter how hard you work on them – never take the fancy of a publisher or never quite ring true to the author. I have a couple of pieces like that.
Morgen: You’re so accomplished (note to self: be more disciplined ). What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Rosanne: I do not encourage people to take up writing, because I know how slim the rewards are, how unforgiving and crazy it is as an industry, and how solitary the writing life is. My advice is to take up something else if you do not like having your work rejected, if criticism upsets you, or if you are a perfectionist. I used to teach creative writing at university, colleges and schools, and I found it troubled me to tell a whole class that anyone could be successful as a writer – it’s not true. Some people are just not cut out for the ups and downs.
Morgen: And if they’re not perhaps they don’t want it enough but yes, it’s hard. A writer has to love what they do. What do you like to read?
Rosanne: I read in my genre, of course. I like what some call ‘general fiction’, which consists of novels not easy to categorize. Robert Goddard, Arturo Perez-Reverte and Carol Goodman have all written excellent novels. Elizabeth Kostova, Anita Shreve and AS Byatt write the kind of well-researched, classic or romantic novel that I hold in high regard. I also read the works of colleagues or friends if I feel I will find something to like – reading as a favour never works, so I try to choose works I would not mind reviewing.
Morgen: In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Rosanne: I live and work in Western Australia, where I came in 1988. It has produced a very high number of talented writers such as Tim Winton, Robert Drew, Anna Jacobs and Elizabeth Jolly, to name only four. We have a huge land mass and a tiny population, which makes for easy living. I promote my work here and hold signings occasionally, but I consider the world to be my audience, so I feel I am an international writer. I was born and raised in Malta, which gives me a European slant, and I have travelled a lot in Europe. The locations I use are largely places I have visited overseas and interstate. The internet has broadened my market, so I write for readers everywhere. It doesn’t really matter where a writer is located – rapid communication and the internet have nullified any obstacles an isolated writer might have had in the past.
Morgen: Malta… my Litopia / Twitter buddy Joseph V Sultana (http://twitter.com/JosephVSultana) is part Maltese. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Rosanne: I participate on a number of forums, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, GoodReads, Writers Digest, AuthorAdvance, Kindle Forums … I sometimes feel I spend more time responding to posts than I do writing fiction.
Morgen: Me too.
Rosanne: They work to a certain extent – it’s one way of propagating a name, a brand, or a title, and an author would be silly not to jump at such opportunities. They are valuable in that sense, and I have registered a few sales from this kind of presence.
Morgen: Great! Where can we find out about you and your work?
Rosanne: I have a website, http://www.rosannedingli.com, which contains an enormous amount of information, including free samples to read, details about my publications, a list of awards I am proud of, and links to other writers’ sites. I also host a blog about books, publishing and writing, and other associated material. I am rather happy with the number of responses I get, considering the enormous number of writers’ blogs on the internet. It is at http://rosannedingli.blogspot.com. Googling my name will bring up thousands of results showing my activity on the internet for the last thirteen years or so. Anyone interested in my exploits can spend hours seeking and finding things about me that I hardly remember myself.
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Rosanne: The future for writers holds exactly what it held in the past: the necessity of an inclination to like a solitary pastime, which is that is rather thankless and which only produces a satisfying outcome if one spends almost all one’s time at it.
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Rosanne: Yes – I am an optimist with a realistic outlook. I know, from over 25 years’ experience in writing, teaching writing, publishing editing and all the other things I have done through my involvement with books and their production, that publishing is a crazy industry, which sometimes suffers great upheavals, such as the one we are experiencing now. I also know that it’s almost impossible for an author to enjoy success with just one book. So I resign myself to the understanding that it’s very hard work that allows very little room for self-indulgence or dreams. It’s just like any other area of the arts, such as music, painting, sculpture or acting: a few exponents surface to become well-paid household names, the rest chug along and persist, mainly because they feel they have to. Artists subsidize society – they work much harder than they get paid – it’s always been so, and will never be any different. It’s still fun.
Morgen: The most important thing for me. Would like to include a self-contained excerpt of your writing?
Rosanne: This is from “Shacks” a short story that appears in the collection The Astronomer’s Pig, in which each story is accompanied by a recipe.
When Jack was gone, the boy made me sit on an upturned plastic crate. He placed the gun carefully in front of him on a rough table made from planks and rocks. Then he lifted the lid on the hamper and started to unpack the food. He laid a place and served himself careful portions of chicken and beef, slicing the bread stick with a penknife, which seemed extremely sharp. He ate slowly. I had expected him to wolf down the food like some demented starved creature. His slow well-mannered eating was even more absurd. It was pathetic – endearing? I still do not know what it was.
I sat and watched him in silence. After clearing his plate and knife away, he filled a small plastic cup from the hamper with wine, and drank it slowly. Then he stood under the awning of his shack and shouted. He shouted a kind of signal, like a birdcall. I didn’t know what to expect: a dog, a tame parrot? There were hosts of parrots on the island, and bats, which would leave the shelter of the gum trees and fly low over the mainland at dusk to the apricot orchards on the other side of the Five Mile.
Without a sound, from the rocks to one side of the shack, a girl emerged. She was tall and thin and just as tanned as her companion. She looked at me and then at the boy. ‘Another boat? What did she bring?’
He waved a hand and she looked inside the hamper.
‘And two rods,’ he said.
Morgen: Thank you Rosanne.
ROSANNE DINGLI is the Western Australian author of According to Luke, Death in Malta and six collections of short stories. She is the award-winning writer who published All the Wrong Places, her poetry collection, in 1991. Her travels in Europe, the UK, Australia and South-East Asia have informed her writing. She lives in Perth, still loves cacti, and now collects yellow crockery.
UPDATE JUNE 2012: In March 2012, Rosanne’s third novel, Camera Obscura, was launched by BeWrite Books.
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