Welcome to the four hundred and eighty-fifth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with adventure novelist and non-fiction author Sondra Smith. 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, Sondra. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Sondra: First of all, may I say, thank you Morgen, for sharing the work of authors on your blog.
Morgen: You’re so welcome, lovely to have you here.
Sondra: I am based in a small, rural town, named Elkton, within the state of Virginia, USA. I have always had the desire to help other people in some way. It was a hard to figure out what has not been done in the past that would help people today in the world. I chose to help people learn, teach and use same sounding words, known as homophones and homonyms, when they write in English. It is very easy to misuse a same sounding word and often confusing as to which word to use.
Morgen: their / there / they’re I have a Mexican lodger and I correct her English whenever she makes a mistake (he do vs he doesn’t is a regular faux pas) and it’s made me think about my language (and how crazy it is!). What genre do you write?
Sondra: Write the Right Word is for all people who write the English language. I have also written two action, adventure novels for the general audience. After I had completed the two novels, I chose to write about homophones and homonyms, because I felt there was a need for such information to the world.
Morgen: The English language does seem to be deteriorating; I often hear “I’ll learn you” and “borrow me £10”. Scarily it’s becoming recognised speech. What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Sondra: I have published Unicorns and Rainbows, Harry the Snail, Whata (What do) Ewe (You) “Mean” Bye (By) That?, and most recently, an app, Write the Right Word. Unicorns and Rainbows, and Harry the Snail are an action series. Whata (What do) Ewe (You) “Mean” Bye (By) That?, and Write the Right Word are both about homophones and homonyms.
I have remarried since my first two books and they are written under the name of Sondra J. Short. The latter two are written under my current name, Sondra Smith.
Morgen: An app? Ooh, that would make a great guest blog topic. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Sondra: Of course, I have had rejections. Rejections are part of the writing process. Yes, they are painful, but one must believe in their work, pull yourself back up and go forward once again. Some of the best authors in the world have had hundreds of rejections, prior to being accepted by a publisher. Knowing that and believing that I can and will do this, has kept me going.
Morgen: They have; Dean Koontz apparently had over 500. I only have 20-something but then I rarely submit anything so that doesn’t help (or does help, perhaps!). Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions?
Sondra: Not to this date. I keep dreaming of the day it will happen.
Morgen: Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Sondra: Well, there are pros and cons about agents. I feel if you have the right agent, they can be very beneficial to you, but many authors have been extremely successful without having one. Finding the right agent to help you with your career can be more difficult than finding a publisher to publish your work. I feel an agent can have access to publishers that one cannot reach on their own. Now days, many publishers will not accept any work written without having an agent backing you.
Morgen: That’s true and I have heard it’s become harder to secure an agent than publisher which is why so many small publishers are more than happy to deal with the author directly. Are your books available as eBooks? Were you involved in that process at all?
Sondra: Harry the Snail is available as an eBook. No, I was not involved; the publisher took care of handling it.
Morgen: That’s such a sweet title. Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Sondra: Yes, occasionally I will read an eBook. I actually am old fashion and prefer paper books, although I have had a book published in that fashion. Harry the Snail is also available in book form, so feel that is the best of both worlds. It really depends on what one wants personally. The app is very beneficial and different than an eBook or book. On my recent released app, you can check a word to see if you are using the correct word when writing, by putting in part of the word or the whole word. The group of two or more homophones/homonyms will arrive on your device, along with each words meaning. One will be able to determine which words is the proper word to use.
Morgen: Very few of the authors (probably only enough to count on one hand) have said they prefer eBooks exclusively, most still love the feeling of holding a book. I bought an iPad on Monday and love reading on that as holding it horizontally gets two pages (anyone want to buy a Kindle Touch?). How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Sondra: I market my brand new app on numerous sites and spend several hours each day doing so. I post on as many groups as I possibly can to market my work and app. Posting on LinkedIn is currently where I post the most.
Morgen: That’s the downside of course; that it’s so time-consuming, but essential these days. 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?
Sondra: Whata (What Do) Ewe (You) “Mean” Bye (By) That?, and Write the Right Word, are both educational, so have no characters. My favourite of my two novels is Harry the Snail. Harry is a huge magical snail who takes people back into the time when he was King of his land. There is Ben the dinosaur, Harry’s friend. Both create excitement and adventure in the book. Those two have to be animated, if a movie was to be made from the book. As far as leading actor/s that will depend on when I am discovered and who the popular stars are at that time.
Morgen: I’m such a child and adore animated films. Did you have any say in the title / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Sondra: Yes, both the title and the cover. I think they are extremely important. No one tried to change my decision about the titles or the cover, but I would suggest listening if suggestions are made to you.
Morgen: I’ve seen comments on Facebook by (even top) authors who have seen their covers for the first time and, on the whole, have been pleased with them but some must be overruled and disappointed – I remember one author being pleasantly surprised at one of her new US covers. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Sondra: I have invented a fun, challenging, educational game using the same sounding words. It will be in three group levels. I have a lot of it completed, but need to put the finishing touches prior to getting a patent and doing the copyright on all the different levels.
I am also going to write a screenplay about Unicorns and Rainbows and Harry the Snail. I plan to combine the two books into one screenplay. I have never tried to write a screenplay prior, therefore have a lot to learn about how to do so. A friend has convinced me that I can do it. As the saying goes, ‘you will never know if you can or can’t without trying.’ I have started doing my “homework” to learn how-to write a screenplay. I have chosen James Cameron as my mentor. He is the author of Avatar, Titanic and much more. If you have seen his movies you know how much action there is and I am learning how he described the action on paper for the directors to follow. Of course he is the director often, but after reading the screenplay of Avatar and then watching the movie, I have to commend him for his brilliant work.
Morgen: I was very visionary wasn’t it. I wrote 102 pages of script for the now defunct Script Frenzy and whilst I didn’t like the process (I found it too ‘bitty’) I enjoyed the story so converted it into the beginning of a novel. Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Sondra: Yes, in some way. There are times that my brain must take a break, so will go back and reread what I have written, make corrections, take notes concerning the plot and the next steps as to where to head with the plot.
Yes, I have had writer’s block. Thank goodness, not often. I find by taking a break from time to time, that will help, plus by doing the above mentioned, it keeps me going in the right direction.
Morgen: It must help writing so many varied things. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Sondra: Both. It depends on how the juices are flowing when I am writing. At times I will be doing something else other than writing and an idea that this or that should happen or it would be beneficial for this to take place, comes into my mind. I jot a note down about my thoughts. That is when I plot to fit / put things into my story. Sometimes, my best ideas come to me when I am not sitting at the computer keyboard.
Morgen: Perhaps because you’re not trying to concentrate too hard? I’m the same; a dog walk can do wonders. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Sondra: I chose a person I like or dislike and mould my characters around what I have seen in those people and build their character from there. Names, I make them up. Sometimes, I combine names to make them unique. If the character fits a certain name, then I will use a common run of the mill name. Have you ever noticed that often a person will fit their given name or someone will say, “You don’t look like a Jane. You look more like a Martha”. Recently we blessed by having our fourth grand-daughter to be born to the family. Kalynn was a very large baby, with lots of long very dark, almost black hair. She has dark / redish complexion, in comparison to the rest of us (her great-grandmother is part native American), so must have come up through the genes. Both her mother and her grandfather say she looks like a Sofia. A very cute Sofia, I must add.
Morgen: How sweet. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Sondra: When I write a story, I write my thoughts as fast as I can type the words. I do not worry if they are spelled correct, if I have put in a coma or anything else. I want to get those thoughts down while they are there. Then I go back and edit…lots of editing. Yes, I have gotten better in time, but honestly don’t worry about it while the thoughts are flowing.
Morgen: I’m the same; I just get the story out and deal with the dross afterwards because you can’t edit a blank page. Do you have to do much research?
Sondra: For my App, Write the Right Word and for my book; Whata (What Do) Ewe (You) Mean Bye (By) That?, I did many hours, weeks, and months of research. It was not an easy task to find over 2,600 same sounding words that are within the English language. The first go around I missed quite a few words. I feel I have found the majority of them on the second go around. I do not plan to repeat the challenge a third time. I feel sure I may have missed a few along the way. I didn’t mean to and if I did, I would say I am human and am sorry about that. A few I chose to leave out. It was a personal choice to leave them out. The words were downgrades to women in particular and I could see no reason to give them any type of glory, so did not add them to my app or book. If I was wrong for doing that, then I am wrong. It was a personal chose to do so.
Morgen: That’s the great thing about electronic versions, if you spot a mistake or something needs updating you can do it instantly. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Sondra: In my mind, yes. Written down on paper, no. If I start something, then I finish it and get it out there.
Morgen: What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Sondra: I love to write novels and plan very soon to turn my two novels into one screenplay. I have chosen a mentor and am reading his screenplay so I can learn how to do one myself. My least favourite is the hours / months of research it took to find all those homophones / homonyms. The task actually turned into an enjoyment for me, knowing my goal was / is to help people who have trouble using the correct same sounding words when writing in English. I was bound and determined to do it, so did work very hard to help other people learn and use the words properly.
Morgen: I think for everything that takes perseverance to finish feels more satisfying when it’s completed. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Sondra: Never give up! Write, write, write, edit, edit, write, and write. Most important…believe in yourself and your work. Some of the most famous authors of the world were turned down hundreds of times, before being accepted by a publisher. Also, listen to what people are telling you, their suggestions and comments. Take them or leave them, but do consider them. I have learned that no matter who you are, or how good you truly are, there is always someone who will try their best to give you a hard time.
Morgen: They will, sadly, or inundate you with spam (are you listening Mr/Miss ‘lista de emails’ ). 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)?
Sondra: Jesus Christ, James Cameron, and Oprah. I would have my husband (he’s our chef) to fix a very healthy seven course gourmet meal, using only the freshest and best ingredients available. I would have the meal built around fish, pork or Cornish hens, with my Key Lime cheesecake, which I do make from scratch myself.
Morgen: Yum. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Sondra: If a woman doesn’t take the time, time will take the woman, by Mary Kay Ash
Morgen: Oh so true. Time (or lack thereof) is my biggest bugbear. What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks?
Sondra: I am also an artist. I just completed three new works of art, which I am donating for a fundraiser for one of our town’s local businessman who is recovering from cancer. I enjoy gardening and watching all of the creatures we have which share the neighbourhood with us. We live very near a National Park, so have many critters to watch, including black bear. If the park has an animal, we have the same animal here at our house. We have learned to look out the window before we open the door. We never know what will be on our front porch.
Morgen: Wow. I have the occasional neighbour’s cat although most know better, my dog is more than willing to chase them away. Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Sondra: I find out so much information by being a LinkedIn member. I belong to lots of groups that are about writing. Often there is very good information on them, as well as connections to helpful websites.
Although I wrote the book, I do refer to my own book. I know from experience how easy it is to misuse a same sounding word, so double-check myself to make sure I am correct. http://www.whataewemean.weebly.com and/or http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/write-the-right-word/id507976285?mt=8.
Morgen: LinkedIn is great, isn’t it. I was running low on interviewees earlier this year so I put a shout-out and am now booking 7 months ahead (which is great although it’s frustrating that people have to wait so long but I can’t do more than one a day). Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Sondra: Yes, LinkedIn is my favourite. I have found very valuable information pertaining to writing on their writing groups. I have also made a couple great friends through their connection that I would have never had the opportunity to know without their groups.
Morgen: I love technology and in just over a year have made so many wonderful contacts online. Whilst some interviewees come for a day then disappear back into the ether, many hang around and take part over and over which is great. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Sondra: I truly feel there are changes blowing in on the wind for writers. Everyone likes a wonderful story… it takes you away… away from your own problems or concerns. Sometimes, you will find an answer to one of your problems when you read. Most of the time I am reminded about how blessed I am and I remember to say “thank you” and most of all, too sincerely mean it.
I really feel that the world is in for a major change in the publishing field. Having books on the shelves of bookcases is becoming a thing of the past, I am sad to say. The new, in Vogue thing is to be online as an e-book or app. On the positive side, it does save trees, our salvation to survive on this planet, plus many other things. However, it does bring to an end to many jobs that have depended on income from the publishing field. Libraries will close, too. That is sad to think about, but is slowly happening worldwide. Almost anything you want to know today can be found online.
Morgen: I do think with so many formats available (mobiles, Kindles, iPads etc) and the likes of Harry Potter and Fifty Shades of Grey being written, more people are reading so whilst I agree about the uncertain future of libraries and bookshops, I like to think that people will still read paper books, they’ll just buy them from Amazon and co. instead. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Sondra: To order Whata (What Do) Ewe (You) Mean Bye (By) That?, one can go to www.whataewemean.weebly.com or to obtain the app, go to https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/write-the-right-words/id571627374?Is=1&mt=8 It is my understanding that once you click onto the App website it will change to UK instead of the US that I have written above, or into any other countries call letters, making it available worldwide.
Morgen: It didn’t for me (I’m in the UK) but it did have a ‘view in iTunes’ button and it came up as £2.49 there. Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Sondra: The App is for ALL people who write the English language. The US has a few words that have been changed from the British way of spelling, but the majority of words are the same in both versions of the English language.
Morgen: Thank you, Sondra.
I then invited Sondra to include an extract of her writing…
earn v., payment received for work, be paid
erne n., an eagle that lives near the sea / a river in North central Ireland
urn n., a kind of vase / a large metal container with a spigot, used for making or serving tea or coffee in quantity / a vase for holding the ashes of the cremated dead
eave n., projected structure / the overhanging lower edge of a roof
eve n., close of the day, before a church festival
edition n., literary work, special stamp or form / a version of anything printed or not, presented to the public
addition n., the sum of two or more / the act or process of adding or uniting / adding a room to a building
effect n., result / consequence
v., to produce as an effect / bring about / accomplish / make
affect v., to influence / to act on / produce an effect or change
n., feeling or emotion
eh interj., an interrogative utterance, usually expressing surprise or doubt or seeking confirmation
a n., the first letter of the alphabet / any / one / a particular / a single / to or for each
eight n., the number 8 / a cardinal number, seven plus one
adj., amounting to eight in number
ate pt., having eaten
n., one acted upon / group of people holding a office or rank
v., cause to be modified or affected by
ait n., a small island
elicit v., to draw out / bring out / forth / educe / evoke
illicit adj., unlawful / unlicensed / disapproved of
ell n., an extension usually at right angles to on end of a building, something that is L-shaped
L n., the 12th letter of the English alphabet, a consonant; something having the shape of an L
elude v., evade / escape by speed / to avoid / cleverness or trickery / not to understand, no perception or appreciation of
allude v., to refer / casually or indirectly
elusive adj., evasive / eluding clear perception / hard to express or define
allusive adj., suggestive
emend v., correct / to edit or change / to free from faults or errors
amend v., to change / to alter, modify / improve / to remove or correct faults in / rectify
Update December 2012: I continue to work with “my” words and am in the process of looking for gaming companies that will be interested in the game I have invented using the homophones. That is as hard and time consuming as it is to find a publisher. The field of educational games is much more limited than normal games that you find on the internet, so is a lot of reading and hunting for such a publisher. Some game publishers publish both the normal and educational, but educational games seem to play second fiddle. With more and more schools bringing game playing into the classroom to teach, I feel confident that will change.
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.
If you go for the interview, it’s very simple; I send you a questionnaire (I have them for novelists, short story authors, children’s authors, non-fiction authors, and poets). You complete the questions, and I let you know when it’s going to go live. Before it does so, I add in comments as if we’re chatting, and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know.
Alternatively, if you’d like a free Q&A-only interview, I now have http://morgensauthorinterviews.wordpress.com on which I’ve rerun the original interviews posted here then posted new interviews which I then reblog here. These interviews are Q&A only, so I don’t add in my comments but they do get exposure on both sites.
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