Welcome to the fifty-ninth of my blog interviews with novelists, short story authors, poets, short story authors, bloggers, scriptwriters, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with multi-genre author Betsy Riley. 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 Betsy. Can you please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Betsy: I have always written; poetry, fiction, essays, memoir, it didn’t matter. Words just flow to me and I have to write them down.
Morgen: Is there a genre that you generally write?
Betsy: Definitely mixed genres. In poetry I write both blank verse and strict rhyme and rhythm. In fiction I write fables, paranormal, thriller, humor/satire, and who knows what else.
Morgen: Yes, definitely a variety then. What have you had published to-date? If applicable, can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
Betsy: The first piece of mine I saw in print was a short non-fiction piece (about how to remember the difference in stalagmites and stalactites) that was published on the front page of my hometown paper when I was twelve. I remember seeing one of my essays in print in junior high. My first paid piece was an invited non-fiction piece in The Office magazine in the early 1980’s. Up until this year my published work has all been non-fiction (http://brws.com/publications.html). I haven’t seen my first fiction book on the shelves yet, but have seen it on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The Comet, print version ISBN-13:978-0615475783, ISBN-10:0615475787, is available from Amazon.com and http://BlueDragonPress.com and my website http://brws.com. An epub version for the Nook Color is ISBN-10: 0983735603, ISBN-13: 978-0-9837356-0-1
Morgen: My family used to go to south-west of England (Devon, Somerset…) for our summer holidays and I remember going to a cave (possibly Cheddar Gorge or Wookey Hole) and my dad telling me that the stalactites were holding on to the ceiling very ‘tite’ly J and the stalagmites ‘mite’ reach the ceiling if they tried hard. It’s a time I remember very fondly. Anyway, back to business… how much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Betsy: I do all of the marketing for myself and my book as I build my brand.
Morgen: Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Betsy: I’ve won first place two months in a row in a monthly short story contest on LinkedIn.
Morgen: Ooh, I didn’t know there was one… I’m going to have to check that out.
Betsy: I don’t know that it has affected my success, other than making me aware I have a talent for short-short fiction.
Morgen: Apart from one poetry win, all mine have been short story successes so I know how you feel. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Betsy: No, I haven’t even looked for one. I may look for one for one of my more mainstream books.
Morgen: Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Betsy: Yes. It was a bit difficult since my first book is illustrated and needed a fixed format. I had to get someone (Amit De from India) to convert it for me since the auto-converters did not work well with illustrations. I don’t have an e-reader–I prefer paper. But I do have the Nook for PC emulator so that I can take advantage of free samples.
Morgen: What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Betsy: All my published work as an adult has been invited (non-fiction) or self-published. Getting that first check for a magazine article in The Office was definitely a thrill. Every invitation or acceptance is still a thrill.
Morgen: On the flipside, have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Betsy: I had lots of rejections when I was trying to publish poetry. With the advent of POD and e-books, I feel the whole submission process is a waste of the author’s time for a lot of material.
Morgen: Is there something specific that you’re writing at the moment / next?
Betsy: I’m working on a number of projects, so I’m not sure which one will be next. One is a zombie novel that does NOT involve a zombie apocalypse, which I consider a satire (although it has elements of horror, paranormal, and thriller). I’m developing a set of fables and nursery rhymes with a working title of “The Grimmer Goose”. I’m also working on a piece that is a combination of poetry and short stories that together tell a murder mystery.
Morgen: You said earlier about how difficult it is to find spare time, do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Betsy: Although I’m still working full time at my day job, I do find time to write almost every day. The most I’ve written in a day is about 10,000 words (on a weekend during NaNoWriMo).
Morgen: Wow. Mine’s 9,000-odd for the same reason; we could get together and do a novel in a week. What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Betsy: That’s the reason I keep multiple works in progress. When I get stuck on one, I switch to another. Sometimes I’ll switch from prose to poetry, or briefly switch to working on illustrations or web pages.
Morgen: With your prose, do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Betsy: I’ve tried plotting, but my characters tend to take over and go places I had not planned.
Morgen: Don’t they just (that’s my favourite aspect of writing). Speaking of which, how do you create your characters, and what do you think makes them believable?
Betsy: I often base character descriptions on people I know, I think that helps with the believability. They have real quirks and habits to make them more dimensional.
Morgen: Do you have a first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Betsy: I have a private review group, made up of people I met in the AARP memoir forum. There are five or six of us that read and comment on each others’ work. We haven’t actually met in person, only on-line. I also send some pieces to my brother or show them to my husband.
Morgen: I’ve not heard of the AARP (good old Wikipedia tells me it’s ‘American Association of Retired Persons’). My brother’s a very good editor but unfortunately has a busy job and life (he’s as living and breathing Octopush – www.gbuwh.co.uk – as I am writing) so I’ve gone a different route, with an American lady actually. What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Betsy: I’m constantly thinking about “what if” and “then what”–the ideas stack up until I have to write them down before I forget them.
Morgen: Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Betsy: I generally prefer a computer for prose and paper for poetry.
Morgen: That’s interesting. They do say that screen / paper use different parts of the brain.
Betsy: But if my computer is not available, I always have pen and paper available.
Morgen: Me too, in every dog-walking jacket. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Betsy: I’ve done some in first person, but generally favor third person. I’ve always wanted to do a prose piece in second person, but haven’t had the right project. I have used second person in poetry.
Morgen: You could try one of my second-person sentence starts (http://twitter.com/sentencestarts). Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Betsy: Oh, definitely. Some of my memoir pieces are too personal to share outside of family and friends.
Morgen: I find writing personal good ‘therapy’. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Betsy: My favorite part is the thrill of creating my own reality, and making the events fall the way I want them too. Another favorite part is hearing readers’ reactions to my work. The least favourite part is all the editing passes, and dealing with formatting glitches.
Morgen: I’d agree with that. If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Betsy: How much my characters deviate from my plans for them, and how much readers like my weird characters and plots.
Morgen: Oh indeed. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Betsy: Never stop writing! The lottery folks say “you can’t win if you don’t play”, well, you can’t publish if you don’t write.
Morgen: Absolutely. What do you like to read?
Betsy: My tastes are very eclectic. I read thrillers, westerns, sci-fi, even romance.
Morgen: Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Betsy: The various writers groups on LinkedIn (http://linkedin.com) have been very helpful.
Morgen: In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Betsy: I’m in the United States.
Morgen: Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Betsy: I’m primarily on the AARP forum and on LinkedIn. Both are valuable. AARP is where I found my critique group. LinkedIn has provided scads of useful tips and contacts for writing and publishing. I highly recommend it.
Morgen: Where can we find out about you and your work?
Betsy: My website is http://brws.com. It links to my blog “Just One Thing . . .”, and my Twitter account.
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Betsy: I think the future holds unprecedented opportunities for writers by removing barriers to publication. Unfortunately, with that comes the challenge of marketing amidst a flood of new authors.
Morgen: Do you have an extract of your writing you’d like included?
Betsy: Yes please…
Tom heard the crackling of the torches before he turned the corner. Down the block was a chanting crowd waving signs bearing two overlapping capital A’s, in a sloppy red font that looked like dripping blood. They had crosses marked on their foreheads in gray smears that looked like ash. And most of the crowd was carrying torches. Torches! Who carried torches anymore? And where would you even get a torch? Were they sold next to the pitchforks at Home Depot or something? He made a mental note to check.
Tom was dialing 911 when the sound of the crowd changed. They’d been chanting ‘Abolish the Abominations’ — not the easiest slogan to chant in unison. The crowd quieted to face a man in a pale pink suit, with the pompadour hairdo Tom associated with Southern preachers.
Standing on a small crate, the preacher could see over the heads of the crowd through a gap left between the signs on the right and torches on the left. Tom gave a wry smile; at least they’d learned not to put the torches too close to the signs. He wondered how many accidents they’d had before they figured out that safety tip.
Morgen: Thank you Betsy. They say you learn something new every day and my nugget today is AARP.
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