Welcome to the two hundred and fifty-fifth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with multi-genre author and debut novelist Terri Morgan. 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, Terri. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Terri: I’m a freelance writer from Soquel, California and an avid reader. Writing is in my DNA. I was destined to become a writer after I learned how to read in first grade and fell in love with books. Once I got hooked on reading, writing was the next logical step for me to take.
Morgen: So many of my interviewees have said they had an early interest in writing. I was late 30s but I’m so glad I got there eventually. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Terri: ‘Playing the Genetic Lottery’ is my first novel. Until I wrote it, I had been exclusively a non-fiction writer. For the past 30 years I’ve been a freelance journalist and reporter, writing countless newspaper, magazine, newsletter and web articles. I’ve also written and co-written eight books, primarily sports biographies for kids. Photography is also a passion of mine, and I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a great photographer on two books; Take your Best Shot, which is for kids, and Capturing Childhood Memories, which is a photography guide for parents.
Morgen: My aunt’s an artist, brother a web designer and father a photographer so it’s fairly inevitable that I ended up doing something arty. What have you had published to-date? Do you have a favourite of your books or characters?
Terri: I published Playing the Genetic Lottery as an e-book on 11-11-11, and it’s definitely my favourite. While I’m proud of my non-fiction titles, they are what I consider to be commercial products. To succeed as a freelance journalist, you need to approach it as a business, and that includes taking on projects that a publisher wants rather than projects you’re enthralled with.
Morgen: But if you’re anything like me, you just love writing. Can you remember where you first saw one of your books in a bookshop or being read by a member of the public??
Terri: My first book, Take Your Best Shot, was published in 1991. I approached the owner of the Capitola Book Cafe, which is an independent book store near my home and asked them to carry it. The owner let my co-author and I set up a window display. Needless to say, I was thrilled.
Morgen: You’ve had so much published, what was your first acceptance and is being accepted still as thrilling?
Terri: I was ecstatic when Take Your Best Shot was accepted by a publisher, and even more thrilled when they paid me an advance, albeit a very small one, to write the book. It’s still exciting to me when a publisher wants me to write a book for them.
Morgen: Absolutely – to be asked. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Terri: I’ve had a number of book proposals turned down, and it’s always a bummer. I just remind myself that publishing is a business, and not to take the rejection personally. Still, it’s disappointing, especially since it takes a lot of time and effort to draft a book proposal.
Morgen: But it’s only one person’s opinion. I interviewed crime writer Sheila Quigley and it took her 30 years for her (first published) novel to be taken up; now that’s perseverance! Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Terri: One of my sports biographies won an obscure award issued by, I think, a library society. It was an ego boost, but highly tempered by the fact it was an award very few people had ever heard of. In fact, I can’t remember what the award was called.
Morgen: Oh dear. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Terri: I used an agent who specialized in children’s books to get my foot in the door and sell my first non-fiction title for young adults. After that I worked directly with the publisher to convince them they needed me to write other books for their sports biography series. I also have an agent who sold our proposal for my photography guide for parents. She hasn’t been interested in marketing any subsequent proposals, but she does send me a calendar every year so I guess I’m still represented by her. In the old days, back in the ’90s, I think an agent was essential to getting a book contract. Now, with the advent of eBooks and Print on Demand self-publishing, I don’t think it’s that essential. Unless of course, you’re a best selling author who commands huge advances, or is in wide demand by a number of different publishers.
Morgen: I love the control I have with eBooks but wouldn’t that be great. Speaking of which, are your books available as eBooks? Were you involved in that process at all? Do you have any plan to write any eBook-only stories? And do you read eBooks?
Terri: ‘Playing the Genetic Lottery’ is available as an eBook, through both Amazon and Smashwords. I was very involved in the whole process, although I did farm out the formatting because computers are not my friends. I’m working right now on putting out a paperback version of the novel because there are still a lot of people who don’t have eReaders. I’ve got a kindle, which I love, but I also read traditional books as well.
Morgen: Ooh… I’ve just bought a Kindle (literally, yesterday morning) and have been filling (well, nowhere near) with short stories. I just need time to read them – a reading-only night I think. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Terri: I do all of it myself. Marketing isn’t nearly as much fun as writing, but it’s essential if you want to get your book out before the public.
Morgen: It is, absolutely. And I’ve been very slow to market mine. I don’t want to tout but at the same time waiting for people to come and find them isn’t the way to do it. Did you have any say in the title / covers of your book(s)? How important do you think they are?
Terri: Titles and book covers are very important in attracting readers. I came up with the title, and my brother’s girlfriend, Katja Coulter, put the book cover together. She’s very talented. I told her roughly what I had in mind, and she came up with a cover that generates a lot of compliments.
Morgen: It’s very simple but conveys a lot… if that makes sense. What are you working on at the moment / next? Do you manage to write every day?
Terri: Mostly I’m working on marketing the book, and jump-starting my non-fiction freelance career. I’d love to write another novel, but unfortunately I need to earn a living.
Morgen: Oh yes, that would help. What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it?
Terri: For me, the occasional bout of writer’s block comes when I haven’t figured out what I’m trying to say, or haven’t, in the case of non-fiction, done enough research.
Morgen: Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Terri: Both. I roughly plotted out the novel, then largely ignored my outline and just ran with it.
Morgen: I did that with my first one but have done very little plotting with the next ones as I know the characters will take over (which I love). Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Terri: I do a fair amount of editing and tweaking. I like to read the last chapter I wrote before starting to write the next one. It helps me keep the flow going.
Morgen: Some authors leave their writing mid-sentence so they can pick up – I’ve not tried it but it sounds like a good plan for anyone liable to sticking. Do you have to do much research?
Terri: Yes, I did a tremendous amount of research for the novel. Even though it’s a work of fiction, I wanted to create realistic scenarios, so I read everything I could get my hands on about schizophrenia. I also had a lot of conversations with people who have schizophrenic relatives.
Morgen: And I’m sure it’ll show in the quality of the writing, especially having written so much non-fiction. Some writers like quiet, others the noise of a coffee shop etc., do you listen to music or have noise around you when you write or do you need silence?
Terri: I prefer quiet, although sometimes I put some music on. If I do, I keep the volume fairly low so it won’t distract me.
Morgen: I’m a classical fan. Speaking distracts me unless it’s my characters at play. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Terri: I prefer writing in first person. It helps me get into my character more fully.
Morgen: What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Terri: I like it all. I love researching, I love writing, and I even enjoy editing my own work.
Morgen: Oh my, you’re a strong woman. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Terri: Just do it! The only way to be a writer is to write.
Morgen: It is and I need to find more time to do it (slap wrist). What do you like to read?
Terri: Just about everything. I love fiction, biographies, magazines, newspapers, non-fiction, you name it. If there’s nothing else around to read I’ll read the back of cereal boxes. Fortunately, since I got my Kindle, I’m never without interesting reading materials.
Morgen: I have that to look forward to. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Terri: My favourite is “To Achieve, We Must First Attempt.”
Morgen: Exactly – you can’t edit a blank page. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Terri: I love going to the beach. I live a mile from the shoreline, and have always loved the ocean. I love to surf, take low-tide walks, hunt for fossils, and exercise my dog. I also love to garden, take photos, and spend time with my family and friends.
Morgen: How lovely. I’m three hours away from the beach (a long way for us Brits) and intend to go more oten… ooh, sandy beach, dog, Kindle. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Terri: The industry is changing rapidly. I think the advent of eBooks and the proliferation of Print on Demand services is making it easier for writers to get their works in print. Instead of a handful of editors and publishers deciding what the public wants to read, the public can decide.
Morgen: Indeed, and as an author now, that’s so exciting. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Terri: I’ve posted excerpts from Playing the Genetic Lottery on my website, http://terrimorgan.net, along with information on my other books and links to articles and blogs about my book.
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Terri: Thank you so much for including me on your blog site. Writing can be a lonely profession, and it’s wonderful to interact with other writers and readers.
Morgen: You’re so welcome, Terri. Thank you for taking part. It’s been a pleasure (off to play with my Kindle now).
I then invited to Terry to include an excerpt of her writing and this is the prologue from her novel ‘Playing the Genetic Lottery’.
Every morning when I first wake up I wonder and I worry. Before getting out of bed, before registering my full, aching bladder, before remembering what day it is and what responsibilities await — I assess myself for signs of the disease. I roll my eyes around the room, looking for phantoms that may have appeared while I was sleeping. For odd, moving sights, like my dresser transformed into a rolling automobile or roaring lion. To make sure that the clock radio on my nightstand or the framed photos on the bookshelves haven’t cloned themselves overnight and morphed into twins or even triplets.
Then I listen carefully. I hear Jason snoring lightly beside me. I hear the ticking of the living room clock. I hear the jangle of Rosco’s tags as he rolls over on his bed in the corner of our room. I hold my breath and listen for mysterious voices or alien noises. Then, once I’m sure I’m not hearing any unusual, strange sounds, I ask myself—silently so not to wake my sleeping husband—-a series of questions.
Who am I? What’s my address? Where do I work? How old are my children? What’s my husband’s name? Who’s the president? Only after the correct responses to the first five pop into my mind, and I chuckle to myself after answering “Calvin Coolidge” to the sixth question because I know good and well that Barack Obama currently resides in the White House, do I know I’m safe for another day. If I still have my sense of humor, and apparently my faculties, I’ve still escaped it.
Escaped the mental illness that afflicted and consumed my mother, my father and my brother. Escaped the schizophrenia that robbed them of their minds and me of a childhood.
I know that at 32 my chances of developing schizophrenia are miniscule and keep shrinking with every passing month. Despite that, I’m still obsessively terrified of developing the devastating mental illness that was an ever-present part of my formative years. It’s shaped who I’ve become, and I’ve worked for more than half my life to recover from its impact. My father, mother and brother all lost the genetic lottery, and their misfortune continues to ripple through my life even today.
My name, at least the name I go by now, is Caitlin. That’s the name I chose for myself 18 years ago when I fled my childhood home of horrors. I cast off the name on my birth certificate for the new one in hopes of casting off the madness that was my family.
Terri Morgan is a freelance writer from Soquel California. She has written thousands of newspaper, magazine, newsletter and web articles, and authored or co-authored 8 non-fiction books. Playing the Genetic Lottery is her first novel.
Update August 2012: My novel, Playing the Genetic Lottery is now available in paperback for $14.99. People can purchase it through my website http://terrimorgan.net and through Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
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