Welcome to the three hundred and fifty-first of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with mystery, non-fiction writer and poet Rebecka Vigus. 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, Rebecka. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Rebecka: I am a resident of northern Michigan. I am two hours shy of the Mackinac Bridge, in the process of selling my home and moving to a warmer climate. I retired from teaching in 2012 after a long and marvellous career. Now I can devote my time to writing and other hobbies. I started writing nonsense poems as a kid and something I wrote when I was eleven or twelve prompted a teacher to tell me that one day he’d see my books in print. I have worked to that goal ever since.
Morgen: Good luck with the house move. I’m tempted to say, “keep your writing safe” but I’m sure it’s one of your most precious items. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Rebecka: I am a mystery writer, although I started my writing career as a poet. Someday maybe I’ll think about romance, but only if there is a mystery involved.
Morgen: They are hugely popular. What have you had published to-date?
Rebecka: I’ve self-published several books: Only a Start and Beyond is a book of poetry; So You Think You Want to be a Mommy? is a self-help chapbook for tweens and teens; Secrets, Out of the Flames and Target of Vengeance are mysteries. Unforgettable Books Inc. released Cold Case: Sleeping Dogs Lie at the end of February.
Morgen: You’re like me, and like writing different things. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Rebecka: I do not have an agent. I’m not sure that one is a necessity. I found a small press with the help of a writer friend.
Morgen: They do say it’s more difficult these days to get an agent than a publisher and small presses are certainly paving the way (as the cliché goes). Are your books available as eBooks? Were you involved in that process at all? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Rebecka: At this time the only eBook I have is Cold Case: Sleeping Dogs Lie. My publisher has had me involved as much as possible. I read paper books. There is too much eye strain to read on my computer I don’t see how eBooks change that.
Morgen: I thought that but eReaders, on the whole, aren’t backlit so not really that different from a book (although you get no spine damage with a Kindle ). How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Rebecka: To this point all the marketing has fallen on my shoulders. With the acquiring of a publisher I am getting ideas on how to market and having an input on to the strategies that will work.
Morgen: If you find out what they are, do let me know… ooh, or even better, write me a guest post on them. Did you have any say in the title / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Rebecka: I have had input on all my titles. If your title is not catchy or eye grabbing you lose sales. No one wants a book that looks boring.
Morgen: I do love ingenious titles and smart / clever covers and they’re often what first attracts me to the book but I still bought James Patterson’s ‘The Quickie’ which I think is an awful title, but then it’s co-written with Michael Letwidge, the team for the brilliant ‘Step on a Crack’. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Rebecka: I am working on a book launch for May. On the writing end of my work, I have recently finished three short stories that will be made into eBooks and the second book in the Macy McVannel series that starts with Cold Case: Sleeping Dogs Lie.
Morgen: Not long now then, I’m really grateful for you taking time out to do this interview. Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Rebecka: I do not write daily… more’s the shame. I’d get a lot more accomplished if I did. I don’t know that I have writer’s block as I have story ideas that get stuck. I walk away from the story and work on something else. Usually it works out.
Morgen: That’s what most authors have said, it refreshes our brains. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Rebecka: I am a seat of the pants writer. I get an idea and run. Sometimes it takes me where I think it will and other times it surprises even me as to where it goes.
Morgen: I’m the same. I plotted the first one (well, about four pages of notes) and it went off-track quite a few times so have been less planned since and enjoy following it as it weaves. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Rebecka: I am a people watcher. My main character for Secrets was a woman who was sitting on the other side of a restaurant. I wrote her features on the back of a placemat. Names make me crazy, so I have taken to using old family names. At least in the Cold Case book. McVannel was my maternal grandmother’s maiden name. The characters are believable because they have human flaws; nail biting, pacing, regrets and they feel emotions.
Morgen: So that hopefully relays to the reader. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Rebecka: Editing…I edit as I go. I have family members who go through to find my errors. I edit again. Cold Case: Sleeping Dogs Lie even went through a writer’s workshop. It has been edited twice by my publisher and me. It got a final edit when the galley proof came. I was looking at the book set up last night and still wanted to make changes. I will be the death of my publisher. It has to be the best it can be. We don’t change the substance of my writing, we use better descriptors.
Morgen: It amazed me recently when a fellow LinkedIn member said he was going to do his own editing. Unless you’ve been writing your whole life, and then some, there’s no way the writer should just put their work out without a second opinion. Not to be sold, anyway. As you say it has to be the best it can be before you can expect a reader to part with their time and money (especially where the latter is more valuable than the latter). Apart from anything else an editor or first reader often comes up with great suggestions. Do you have to do much research?
Rebecka: It depends on what I’m writing. For Out of the Flames I knew nothing about arson. I called a friend who is a fire fighter and had just completed a course on arson. She brought me her text book, notebook, notes, and showed me a website to refer to. I have a copy of Black’s Law Dictionary I refer to. I also have several friends who are police officers that I call on from time to time.
Morgen: How useful is that! If you don’t know your facts there’s going to be a reader who does and will take great delight in telling you when you’re wrong. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Rebecka: I’m not sure. First person for me is harder however the Macy McVannel series will be in first person. Yes, I’ve written second person. I took a week-long class at the University of Iowa’s Summer Writing Festival and we did second person for an assignment. Not sure I’d want a whole book in second person.
Morgen: There aren’t many of them. Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights Big City is probably the most well-known. I have it and haven’t finished yet and it’s tiny (182 pages) but I love to write it and reading it in short pieces is no hardship for me. It’s an acquired taste and I’m weird… or as Haruki Murakami is quoted as saying “I’m not so weird to me”… I have a badge to prove it. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Rebecka: I think all writers do.
Morgen: Some of said they haven’t but I’d be surprised if someone doesn’t over their entire writing career. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Rebecka: The best part is seeing the story come to life. I’m not sure I have a least favourite. Yes, I get surprised when my characters take over and start writing. It amazes me every time. Like they think they are in charge or something.
Morgen: They are. It’s my favourite too. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Rebecka: Don’t quit. Find a job to pay the bills, but write every chance you get. I self-published in 1978. I was very young then. The book was titled Only a Start. It was my poetry from age sixteen to twenty-three. I gave most of them away. Yes, that book is included in Only a Start and Beyond. My dream was to write a novel. I entered National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in 2005 and wrote my 50,000-word novel in 21 days. Yes, 21 days. Was it finished then? Not a chance. It was 2006 before it was published with a vanity press. That novel was Secrets. It’s been a small success and has helped me build my fan base.
Morgen: I’ve done NaNoWriMo four times and find it’s the only way to get me writing huge chunks (especially 2010’s which was 117,540 in 29 days ). I’d struggle now with the blog taking so much time but I did manage it last year (albeit 3,000 in the first weekend then 47,000 in the last 8 days)… to say I was tired was an understatement. 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)?
Rebecka: Wow, it would be an amazing mix. I’d invite Elizabeth I, Eleanor Rosevelt, and Maya Angelou. I think high tea would be in order, complete with scones and pettifores.
Morgen: Very gentile. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Rebecka: I try to live by four words: Imagine, Dream, Believe, Achieve. I think all writers have something they strive for. I imagine my characters, dream about what could happen to them, believe in my ability to bring them life, and work to achieve that.
Morgen: My four are Passion, Patience, Purple and… er, Cuddle. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Rebecka: I do reviews for other writers. I am also very interested in giving young people a chance to explore writing. I’m very willing to do writing workshops…even in schools.
Morgen: Ooh, do you do book reviews? I’m always looking for names to add to my reviews page so when I have to turn down requests I can point them in another direction. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Rebecka: I crochet. I am learning glass fusing, love hiking and swimming. I think it is time to get back to my agricultural roots and plant a small garden. I love flower gardens, too.
Morgen: Gardening is very therapeutic. It takes me forever to make the time to go into my garden but when I’m there, I’m there for ages and I enjoy it. Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Rebecka: There are a ton of websites out there: www.dailywritingtips.com is a good one. Janefriedman.com is an excellent source. Jane also puts out a daily blog for writers. www.fundsforwriters.com is done by Hope Clark and is a place to find writing work that pays and tips on how to find funding. The last one is www.fictionistaworkshop.com. They have a collective for writers that helps tremendously no matter what stage you are at.
Morgen: They all ring a bell but I’ve not been on them (or if I have not for ages), thanks for that. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Rebecka: I’m pretty easy to find www.ramblingsbyrebecka.blogspot.com is my blog. Rebecka Vigus-Author on Facebook. I am working on a new website.
Morgen: Thank you, Rebecka.
I then invited Rebecka to include an extract of her writing…
Detective Sgt. Macy McVannel,” I saidflashing my shield to the uniformed officer while looking at the door hanging by its hinges. “Where’s the victim?”
The officer on duty replied, “No victim.”
“Taken to which hospital?”
“No victim, Sergeant.”
“What do you mean no victim?” I was gettingimpatient.
“This was a disturbance call. When we arrived, there was no one here. We cleared the rooms, saw blood, signs of a struggle, called for detectives, and crime scene techs.”
“My partner, Detective Tom Maxwell, is coming, help him with the canvass.”
Standing in the doorway I wondered how it had come to this; detectives on domestic calls. The room reeked of stale cigarettes and cheap perfume. On the night stand, by the bed, was a lamp with a worn lampshade with beads glued haphazardly around the bottom. Lying on the nightstand were some tabloids, True Confessions was on top. An ashtray full of cigarette butts sat beside the magazines. The sheets on the unmade bed looked and smelled as though they had not been washed in weeks.
Through the worn, tacky curtains a neon light from the bar across the street blinked. It added to the dismal atmosphere in the room. The dresser had been purchased cheaply and painted black to hide the scarred veneer. The top was covered with cosmetics, nail polish, and hair accessories. The once elegant floral wallpaper was peeling and had faded with age.
Retired teacher Rebecka Vigus spends her time writing, reading, crocheting, hiking, and swimming. She travels seeking the ideal place to call home.
Cold Case: Sleeping Dogs Lie is the first book in her Macy McVannel series. She has been busy penning the second book, Crossing the Line. She has also written three short stories soon to be released as 99 cent Ebooks; Ghost House, How Did I End Up Here? and Dixie’s Dilemma.
She loves spending time with family and friends. She is the mother of one and grandmother of three. She finds time to crochet preemie afghans for a neo-natal unit and volunteers to read and teach writing in local schools. Find her at www.ramblingsbyrebecka.blogspot.com.
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