Welcome to the three hundred and thirty-fifth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with multi-genre author Valerie Stocking. 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, Valerie. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Valerie: I was born in Connecticut in the U.S. a number of years ago! And wrote my first story when I was 5. My mother was a writer, and I guess I was imitating her. I loved storytelling from the beginning! It was so much fun to relate something I’d made up, and have people be interested in it and what was going to happen next. I fell in love with the stage when I was 9, and saw my first play, and subsequently wrote my first play when I was 10. I was told off and on that I should be a writer, and for a number of years while I was working I did write as part of my job duties. Then I got a job abridging books for audio, and cut over 100 novels. I didn’t write during that period, but I learned an awful lot! I started writing plays after that job ended, and switched to novels about 6 years ago.
Morgen: So you’re bound to be good at editing. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Valerie: Well, it’s funny you should ask, LOL! My first published novel was a mystery, “A Touch of Murder”. “The Promised Land” is historical fiction, but it can also be considered a fictional memoir. Parts of it really happened, and parts didn’t. Next up is another mystery; the sequel to “Touch of Murder”. After that, I’m going to write a ghost story, then either another mystery, or the sequel to “The Promised Land”. I have several ideas for stand-alone novels, too. I don’t want to be stuck writing one genre or one series all the time. That would be boring.
Morgen: For some certainly. I’ve interviewed some authors who read one genre and can’t imagine writing (or wish to write) anything else but I love variety so stick to what I call ‘dark and light’ (crime and humour with everything else in between). Can you remember where you saw your first book on the shelves?
Valerie: Very vividly! It was at the end of July 2010, in a Borders bookstore. “Touch of Murder” had just been published, and it was in a rack by the registers. That is something I will never forget. “The Promised Land” is on the shelves of a local bookstore, the largest in town since Borders folded. It’s very gratifying.
Morgen: It must be thrilling. I have a story in a charity anthology which may or may not be stocked by Waterstones and that really would be a buzz. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Valerie: I did very little for “Touch of Murder”, but I am pulling out all the stops for “The Promised Land”. I’ve been on local TV, and I’ve done 2 readings / signings so far. The next one will be April 11 at Collected Works Bookstore here in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Also, I am posting on Twitter and Facebook regularly, putting out flyers, and doing free book days on Kindle. As far as being a “brand,” I’ve heard a lot about that, and all I can think of is, it’s turning me into a box of cereal or a can of soup or something. Since I write so many different kinds of things, and don’t use a pseudonym, people may initially be confused by my output. I don’t expect anyone to read everything I write, except for my closest friends, and even then, some can’t or won’t because they don’t like the genre I’m working in at that time. And that’s okay. I’m hoping to attract a wider audience that way.
Morgen: There are plenty of readers so they can pick and choose. By writing different genres I’d say you’d be hitting more of them. You mentioned Kindle, so your books are available as eBooks? What was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Valerie: Yes, both of my novels are available as eBooks. I am a strong believer in digital publishing and digital product, and am an avid reader on my Kindle. I have gotten to the point where I prefer reading eBooks to regular, paper books. The process of converting my books to eBooks was a bit exasperating, as it seemed to take a relatively long period of time. “The Promised Land” didn’t come out on Kindle until a month after the physical version was published. Maybe that doesn’t seem like a long time to you, but for me, waiting, it was an eternity!
Morgen: Even just a few hours for my first piece to go on Amazon seemed ages but once it’s up, it’s great to see (and especially to sell the first one!). Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Valerie: Have I had rejections???!! Is a frog waterproof?? LOL I’ve dealt with rejection as long as I’ve been writing. It is part and parcel of the business of being a writer. It used to crush me; I’d be depressed for days and unable to write for a while. But I always managed to pick myself up and begin anew. That’s what is most important, I think: to not take rejection to heart (although that’s tough!) and above all, keep writing. Writing is the best revenge! Now that I self-publish, I don’t have to worry about rejection – except from critics, and readers. But I’ve learned to take that in stride, too. It’s kind of exciting, because “The Promised Land” is getting very good reviews now. So each time that happens, it’s like an acceptance. Very nice!
Morgen: “Is a frog waterproof?” I love that. I wonder if there are any that aren’t? I had two 1* reviews for ‘Feeding the Father’ on Goodreads recently, one of whom had said it had put her off my writing for life. Rather than be gutted, I actually found it quite amusing that someone would feel so strongly (albeit not the way I would want her to) but I do wonder if she knew it was based on a true story if that would have made a difference. Probably not. How boring would life be though if we all liked the same things… or wrote the same things. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Valerie: Right now I am marketing “The Promised Land” and writing my blogs. Once the marketing dies down a bit, I am going to return to “Seen of the Crime”, which is the sequel to “A Touch of Murder”. I have been conducting some paranormal research lately, to prepare for writing my ghost novel, which will be up after that.
Morgen: Ghost stories have always been so popular, haven’t they, and I think hard to do well, although fun to write. Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Valerie: No, unfortunately I don’t. I write in spurts. When I’m working on a first draft, though, I do write every day. My average is about 5-7 pages daily. Usually that takes me an hour or so. I tend to write quickly. The most I’ve ever written in a day was about 15 pages. I did that four days in a row, then I got sick!
Morgen: Oh gosh. The most I’ve done in succession is NaNoWriMo 2011 when I wrote 47,000 words in eight days. I knew it was going to be tough with doing this blog as well (the first time I had) and got ahead on day 1 but then did nothing to it for three weeks so had that week and a day to catch up. Fortunately I had the week off work but I wouldn’t leave it all ’til then again. I had a 21-hour day one of those days and although I felt OK at the time it certainly caught up with me. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Valerie: I tend to have a pretty good sense of the plot before I start. I write out a synopsis, rather than an outline, but of course I always end up deviating from it! That’s part of the fun of writing: sometimes you just don’t know what’s going to happen until you’re actually typing it!
Morgen: It is and I adore that. Every other Monday night I run a writing workshop and quite often we’ll just start with a one-word prompt and we all come out with really different things. One of our first was ‘chicken’ and one of the guys wrote about a memorable chicken dinner and I wrote about a group of lads who were egging (pardon the pun) on a new boy to cross a busy dual carriageway as part of an initiation to the group. And we only have 10-15 minutes so to think of something and then write a fair chunk impresses me every time. We’ve not mentioned characters yet, do you have a method for creating yours, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Valerie: Great question!
Morgen: Thank you.
Valerie: The characters in “A Touch of Murder” are all basically fictitious. I had great fun making them up. I do write out character studies usually, but as with the plot, they tend to up and surprise me sometimes. I don’t always know what’s going to come out of a character, in terms of personality or most especially dialogue, until I’m typing it. They always surprise me.
For “The Promised Land”, most of the characters are based on actual people that I knew fairly well (some extremely well), so I didn’t have to develop them. There are a couple of noted exceptions, but interestingly enough, I didn’t write out anything about the characters I made up, either. They seemed to pop out whole, which isn’t typical for me. Sometimes a character can give me problems, so I write out a dialogue between the two of us to get things clarified. That seems to help whenever I get stuck.
Morgen: It certainly sounds like you know yourself well as a writer which I’m sure helps. What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Valerie: I get the germ of an idea. For instance, I have an idea for a stand-alone novel that started with me musing, “How could someone commit a murder and leave no forensic evidence whatsoever?” I found out how, and that will be a key component in this story.
For “A Touch of Murder”, I envisioned the young detective in the back seat of a Buick, being driven to a health spa on a rutted road while she was nursing a hangover. That’s how that one started for me. For “The Promised Land”, it was more cerebral, since it was based, in part, on a period of my life back in 1966. Different elements popped up for me, and they were very vivid. “Promised Land” was the easiest thing I’ve ever written. It just rolled right out!
Morgen: My NaNoWriMo 2011 novel was like that. My ‘therapy’ piece. Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Valerie: I used to write everything out by hand first, but I’ve become too impatient with that. So I taught myself to compose at the computer. I type pretty fast, so I can save a lot of time that way.
Morgen: It certainly can. I’ve been a secretary since I left school (twenty-something years) so I type quickly but because I’ve done more of that than handwriting in the last few years so, although my handwriting is legible, it’s so slow by comparison. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Valerie: Back when I was first getting going with writing, when I was in my 30’s, I wrote 3 novels that were never published: one sci fi, one horror, and one a political thriller. I am tempted to put them out on Kindle, but I would have to reread them first, and probably I would end up doing rewrites. I would rather, at this point, concentrate on what’s new and up for me right now.
Morgen: Mine only date back to 2008 so I’m hoping they don’t need much work but at least a fair amount of time has passed (and I’ve developed my writing since then) so I can edit them with a sensible brain… I hope. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Valerie: Go to writers’ conferences, take classes, join a group if you can. And above all, keep writing, no matter what anyone says. Be open to improving, and learning from others. I believe self-publishing is the way to go, but only if you have a quality product that has been professionally edited, and that has a professional cover.
Morgen: Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Valerie: Don’t give up. Remember, the mighty oak was once a nut!
Morgen: And drivers once learners. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Valerie: I take long walks with my dog. I love to play chess. I enjoy short road trips. I like old movies – I’m talking from the ’20’s and ’30’s! I got a degree in Cinema Studies, so I’m pretty passionate about film history. I am also a voracious reader! Mostly I read fiction, mysteries and thrillers, but occasionally other types as well.
Morgen: I love the cinema and see at least a film or two a week. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Valerie: The best place is on my website: http://www.valeriestocking.com. There you will find my plays as well as my books. Also, I do two blogs a week. The first, which comes out on Mondays, is a potpourri of topics, from the writing process and publishing “The Promised Land”, to paranormal activities of myself and others, to 1960’s memories, which of course ties in again with “The Promised Land”. On Thursdays I am writing a serialized mystery called “Color Me Dead”. You can read it from the beginning on my blog page, which is found on my website.
Morgen: Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Valerie: How did you come to have this blog? Obviously you’re a bibliophile. But having a blog devoted exclusively to books is a big step and commitment to make. How do you manage the blog with the rest of your life?
Morgen: <laughs> writing is my life. I hadn’t a clue how big it would get when I started this blog (31st March 2011) and how much it would take over but I put a few of my own comments on then within a couple of months I’d been invited to do a blog interview, loved it, saw how easy it was and put the word out that I was inviting interviewees. It snowballed from there. It would be easier to just stick to the blog interviews so I’d have more time for other things (like my writing) but I really enjoy every aspect of it and I think it’s good to have variety, and it seems to be working out well. Thank you, Valerie.
I then invited Valerie to include an extract of her writing…
Joy asked, “What’s your mom like?”
“She’s real pretty. She has blonde hair and she’s tall. Taller than my dad. And she’s real nice.” Clay hesitated, then said, “You should meet her sometime.”
Joy didn’t say anything for a minute. She wet her lips and said, “I’d like to. But…”
“Well, my mom’s pretty prejudiced.” She looked away, bracing herself for Clay’s anger.
He stiffened. “I see,” he said. “But are you?”
“I hope not,” Joy said fervently.
“You can’t be. ‘Cause we’re friends,” Clay said.
Joy relaxed. “That’s true,” she said.
“Why don’t you tell me about your parents?” Clay pressed.
Joy sighed loudly. “What do you want to know?”
“What’s your mother like?”
There was a long pause. She didn’t want to lie, but she didn’t dare tell him the truth. Finally, she said, “She’s okay sometimes.”
“What about the other times?”
Another pause. What do I say? Finally, she decided she could tell him a little of the truth. But her heart was pounding, and there was a tightness in her belly as she said, “Well, sometimes it seems like she just flies off the handle.”
“So she gets mad a lot?”
“Does she yell at you?”
If you only knew… Joy felt tears spring unbidden into her eyes. “Sometimes,” she whispered.
Clay put his hand on her shoulder. She could feel the warmth coming from him. Involuntarily, she shivered under his touch.
“That must be rough,” he said.
Joy nodded and looked away.
Valerie Stocking was born in Waterbury, Connecticut, and wrote her first short story when she was five. When she was eight, she won a short story contest in Jack and Jill Magazine. She wrote her first play at the age of ten. In 1966, when she was twelve, she and her mother moved to a small town in Florida where they lived for a year. During this time, Valerie experienced difficulties with the public school system, tried a Seventh Day Adventist school briefly, and then dropped out altogether. It was her experiences during this year that inspired The Promised Land. Later, she would finish high school, graduate from college and earn a Master’s degree in Cinema Studies from NYU.
For nearly 30 years, she wrote and edited in various capacities, including copywriting, newspaper articles, and short stories. She wrote nearly 20 full-length and one act plays over a ten year period, which have been performed throughout the U.S. and Canada. She edited books for audio, abridging over 100 novels in a 6-year period. In 2010, she published her first novel, A Touch of Murder, which is the first of what will become the Samantha Kern mystery series. It was nominated for a Global eBook Award in 2011 for Best Mystery.
Valerie lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico with her dog and cat, and is working on her next novel. You can visit her website at www.valeriestocking.com.
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