Web Interview

This is an older interview I found in my files. The questioner is lost to me but the answers still apply! Updates are in italics.

1. Writers are told to write daily and find their voice. Do you feel you have more than one voice in your writing?

Fortunately, voice isn’t dependent upon the mood a writer is in at the beginning of a writing session. I would say I can sound pretty cranky and opinionated because of being kept from creative writing by other people and life’s maintenance chores and crises! It’s best for me to start over with a piece, once the crabbies are out of my system. My real voice is the sum of everything I’ve experienced, laced with the empathy and humor that arises from living in the real world among real people. It is my perception, my interpretation of the universe. As with many, if not most creative writers, I see what others don’t seem to see. I can’t keep my characters from commenting in a story on how people treat each other, on the foolishness so often expected by society, even handed down by tradition. Some traditions are fantastic! I’m not knocking them. But others could be beneficially hewn down. There are nuances to my voice, I’m sure, based on the age group I’m writing for.

2. When did your passion for writing begin?

Story telling began when I was quite young, making up shadow-puppet tales for my little sister, and sitting on the front porch steps reading to a 3-year-old neighbor. By age 13, I was making up stories for my friends, based on favorite TV shows and films, and I had 23 pen-friends scattered across the globe. I was always writing when I wasn’t reading or taking nature walks.

3. What inspired you to keep writing while getting rejection letters or struggling with writer’s block?

I’ve dealt with rejection and scorn all my life. For one thing, we were poor, and the British caste system is merciless. It’s inhumane. But it works both ways. If you try to better yourself, you get attacked from above and from below. “Who does she think she is, putting on airs?” So I left. The United States has its own problems with racism, discrimination against those who are from another country, and against those who are financially-challenged, shall we say. Dealing with rejection letters or worse at any stage of a writer’s career is always painful. It doesn’t get easier. You just have to keep going in spite of what other people think, say and do. You must believe in yourself! That includes continuing to learn your craft as the years slip by. And don’t forget to associate with other writers several times a year. Too often, and you’ll socialize more than you write, but don’t try to go it alone. Writer’s block isn’t much of a problem. Plenty of other blocks make up for that, of course. 😉

4. How do you come up with ideas for your writings and why do you feel you choose some over others?

I guess it’s natural to choose what we think will be the easiest to write, though that choice frequently turns out not to be true. The ideas bubble up from my subconscious all the time. I also find my brain rather randomly saying “Ahah! Now there’s a story!” from just about anything unusual that happens in life. Right now I’ve got four new ideas for children’s picture books, but that’s a fiercely competitive market. Getting stories down on paper is the most difficult part. Some days I’d like to scream at the world to leave me alone. And I pray constantly for a windfall so I can write without my energy being drained from worrying about how to pay the bills. Maybe someday.

5. Are you a daily, disciplined writer? Do you find it difficult to stick to your schedule? Do you have certain tricks you use so that you don’t stray from your writing?

Mentally, I’m very disciplined, but that doesn’t mean I stick to my schedule. Socially, I’m constantly challenged by those who know when I’m between full-time jobs [no longer an issue but the demands are still made] and think I need more social and volunteer distractions. When you’ve been known as a volunteer type in the past, it’s difficult to make writing the priority in your life. It’s the same problem encountered by those who finally decide they’re not going to be a doormat for anyone any more. It’s very, very hard to get people to see you in a different light. But you have to treat writing as you would any other job. Get in there at the computer and write every day! The books and the articles don’t write themselves without your doing your share of the work.

6. How much time do you devote to marketing your book/s and what kind of marketing do you recommend?

Marketing is very hard and very expensive to do it right. I haven’t the budget for huge display ads or shipping copies to bookstore buyers across the country. I search the Internet and do something every month to get the books listed somewhere new. I include a signature in my e-mails. I keep my website updated, as much as possible, without going crazy. I attend the occasional book festival. Though they’re not a source of huge revenues, they can be a good advertising venue and fun, too! Hard work, of course. Word of mouth is very valuable. Finally, Jay Levinson’s Guerrilla Marketing has a lot of unusual and helpful ideas.

7. How do you prepare for a writing idea for fiction? Do you outline the characters, settings, plot, etc. before you begin writing?

I start writing first to capture the idea before it flies away again. (I learned that the hard way.) Once the characters appear on the pages, then I do a little back-filling for a separate folder. Every character tells me who they are, what they want, maybe where they came from. Just a few paragraphs that I’ll probably add to later. I also keep track of their names, what color eyes and hair they seem to have, any quirky habits or favorite expressions, and so forth. All this can be charted, too, for complex works. I try not to have a Max, a Marcus and a Matt in the same story. It’s too annoying for the reader to keep them straightened out. Besides, you’ll drive yourself crazy. And I do a lot of research along the way.

 8. How many rewrites do you usually write before submitting it to a publisher?

Two or three complete rewrites, but then I tinker endlessly, looking for typos, plot bloopers, and other inconsistencies, so the editor won’t have to red flag so much. I’ve worn both hats (in tech writing), and writers can get too close to their work to catch everything. Or they get lazy. I’ve actually seen a writer say on a discussion board that she doesn’t bother fixing typos and spelling mistakes because that’s the editor’s job! It isn’t the editor’s job, but it will get your MS tossed in the Out basket really fast. Things can go wrong during the printing process, but the writer’s job is to present a really good story as professionally as possible.

9. Have you had any bad experiences in working with a publisher/agent or failed publication/payment of writings done? If so, how did you handle it?

Let’s stick with recent years, so I don’t get long-winded. I haven’t worked with any agents yet and am leery of doing so. Publishers, of any kind, can be frustrating to deal with. So much back and forth, so many delays, both with publication and with the money! It comes with the territory, though. Learn and move on.

10. Who are your favorite authors, and why do they inspire you?

The remembered kids’ books I read were the classics: Swiss Family Robinson, The Jungle Book, Treasure Island, and the books by Grey Owl. Now there are so many more to choose from and a parent needs to be much more vigilant. For a time there were more writers just for grownups. Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn curled my hair! The evil in it was so shocking, my biggest fright since Blind Man Pew. I cut my actual mystery teeth on Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, and Phyllis A. Whitney, sure that some day I could write books like theirs. Still haven’t had the courage to try, though!

Nowadays I really enjoy Lilian Jackson Braun, Janet Dawson, Sue Grafton, Tony Hillerman, Rita Mae Brown’s Mrs. Murphy series, and Nevada Barr. Their books hit me where I live, though every one of them has a unique style and niche. I’m a goner for mysteries with smart animal characters or stories of tough, independent women who don’t take any crud off anybody. Occasionally a book in a series has language I greatly dislike and never use in my own work, so I don’t spend time on those pages, just get the gist of the story and move on.

I greatly respect and enjoy Hillerman’s books because of the story lines and the great sensitivity he shows for Native Americans. History did not treat them well — so many events for which our government should have been ashamed. I can’t stand liars and broken promises myself. That’s push-my-buttons time, every time!

And Nevada Barr’s books about her female forest ranger are riveting. Her human characters, whether good or evil, are strong and real, and our environment itself is a vital character in the books. [Her latest books, however, have gone over the edge into horror.]


Shirley Ann Parker’s fiction and non-fiction for all ages has appeared in a variety of publications, including Ford Times, the Denver Post, and The Christian Science Monitor, as well as the When We Were Young anthologies, published by A Community of Voices in Santa Barbara, California. She is a senior technical writer and editor, although she prefers creative writing and journalism. Parker is a member of Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) [formerly, Publishers Marketing Association (PMA)], the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, with a minor in Communications, graduating with multiple honors from Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. Additional interests include reading (especially “cozy” mysteries), animals, photography, tennis, and marine life. She was born and raised in southern England and has lived and worked in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota and Utah, in addition to two extended stays in California. She now resides in West Hills, California with her latest kitty, Lucky, since her husband passed away.