What is your genre? Why did you choose it?
I write adult contemporary fiction. I didn’t really choose the genre as much as it chose me. I write with a driven purpose, and the message I’m conveying and they way I tell it puts my work into this category.
Do you work on more than one manuscript at a time?
Definitely! I’ve spoken with many authors who write more than one at a time. I admire that, but I can’t. I bond with my characters so strongly that I can’t imagine cheating on them by dividing my time between stories. Also, I need to make sure my stories have factual accuracy, and I don’t want to risk cross-contamination. I know that others can do what I’m describing across multiple manuscripts at once and do it very well, but my scattered mind needs a single-minded focus.
Do you work with a writing/critique group?
I don’t. There are many benefits in these, and I am open to feedback and constructive criticism. I primarily shy away from them for a couple reasons: time constraints (in the form of a husband and two active kids) and a healthy dose of social anxiety.
I feel your pain with the social anxiety!
Can you remember your first reading book?
Perhaps not a single book, but a group of books. Of course there were the toddler/pre-school books that my mom would read to me, but I was young enough that I don’t remember specifics. But when I was four or five, she subscribed me to the Weekly Reader club, and I received wonderful hardcover picture books in the mail. So many are popping into my head right now! (Spring Comes to the Forest, Miss Suzy, Gus and the Baby Ghost…) I actually still have the entire collection. My kids read them when they were young, and now the books are in a gigantic tub on a high shelf in my garage. I need to make them more accessible.
Do you nibble on snacks while writing? If so, what is your chosen treat?
Every time I try, and I do try, I end up with a disaster. I’ve tried packets of nuts but ended up with grease on my keyboard and salt between the keys. I’ve tried energy bars but have ended up with crumbs between the keys. I do have much success with Dove dark chocolates or Tootsie Rolls, but it would not be a good thing at all to go through daily bags of them! I end up drinking: coffee, tea (hot and iced), Sobe Life Water, and Water. What happens then is that I make trips to the bathroom and then while I’m up, I swing through the kitchen for a Dove dark. I’m hopeless.
Tidy desk or a bombsite? Describe your writing area with us.
Both! Currently, if I turn my head to the right, I look past my coffee cup, notecards, Kleenix, a post-it note holder that I painted myself at a pottery shop, a water bottle, an unknown key that air-conditioning installers found yesterday in my crawl space, and my eyes come to rest on the binder I’m using for the novel I’m currently writing. It’s organized logically and neatly, and I refer to it constantly throughout the writing process. It has cute little cartoon foxes on it. If I turn my head to the right, I see my daily/weekly planner and my cell phone. These have slid off of a black binder with materials for the Board of Directors for my local National Alliance of Mental Illness (I’m in the US). That binder is on top of a purple binder full of logically-organized marketing information and resources. I like binders! Sometimes my desk is an explosion of mess, and it’s wallpapered (or, more accurately, desk-papered) with, well, papers. I can take that and take that and take that, but then suddenly it will overwhelm me and I have to clean it immediately or risk spontaneous combustion.
Sounds like mine at the moment!
Are you published in the traditional manner or self published? Share your journey.
I work with a hybrid publishing house that is a cross between traditional and self-published. They have high standards, and authors must submit their manuscripts for acceptance the way one would with an agent. They handle design work, e-book formatting, submission to the various online sales channels, etc. – all stuff that I’m bad at and don’t want to get good at. It’s still independent, though, which means that I fund my own projects, but I also earn a much higher royalty percentage than a traditional publishing house would offer, and I retain the full rights to my work. It’s a good fit for me.
I took a long time in deciding the route I wanted to take, and I did quite a bit of research. I read up on the various options, I spoke with authors I knew who were traditionally published and self published, and I attended workshops and conferences that offered information on publishing. I even went to a large conference where attendees could, for a cost of course, sign up to pitch to up to three agents. Rather than fully pitching (I half-heartedly pitched Leave of Absence and was invited by two of the three to submit the manuscript for possible, but not guaranteed, consideration), I spent most of my time with them questioning them about the traditional publishing industry. After all of this, I decided that, for me personally, a hybrid model is what would work best.
What’s nice is that there are so many different publishing options available to meet the needs, desires, and personalities of individual authors. I don’t think there is a “right” and a “wrong” way to publish. We all need to find our personal “right” way, but there isn’t a method that is inherently better or worse than the others.
Who would you say have been the three most influential authors in your reading/writing life?
Hmmm. This is a tough one for me. I know that one is a novelist by the name of Heather Sharffedin. I like her books, but what was most influential to me is her mentorship. I met her when I signed up for a program with the Oregon Writers Colony. She provided a mentorship weekend at a beach house. She provided manuscript critiques and insights, and I learned a great deal from her.
There is a writer whom I don’t personally know (she’s rich and famous so why would I know her!) who has influenced my writing regarding what I don’t want to do. Hee hee! I’m not even sure if I should say who it is or even admit that this person (okay, it’s Jodi Picoult) influences me this particular way, but I will anyway. I’m definitely not a negative, judgmental person! I look at things positively, and I appreciate all sorts of writing. I even appreciate hers. As do millions and millions of people and probably even many of you so please know that I’m not trying to be offensive. I’ve read, and tried to read, many of her books, but they’re a struggle. To be sure, she creates great stories and is a good storyteller except for one thing. She’s way too metaphorical. So much so it’s distracting to me (she has awards and book sales that say that many people do not, in fact, have a problem with her flowery, metaphorical writing.) So Picoult does two things for me: she reminds me that metaphors do enhance writing and that I should strive to use them, and she reminds me that being too metaphorical, too forced-fancy with words, can detract from the characters and the stories. I don’t want readers to focus on my literary prowess; I want them to get lost in the characters and the story itself.
For the third, I keep coming back to a vague concept. Rather than a single writer, I’ll say that for me what has always been power is a writer who addresses important issues in social justice and/or the human experience. One of the books that has stayed with me is Mirrors Never Lie. I read it in sixth grade so I don’t even remember the author. It was a novel that illustrated the impact of eating disorders. Another of my favorites is Mark Haddon’s the curious incident of the dog in the nighttime, told from the perspective of a young man with autism. Books like these have definitely shaped my own writing, novels about mental illness and the people who live with them.
Loved The Curious …, great book!
What advice would you like to share with other writers/authors with regard to preparing a manuscript?
I don’t think I have any profound writing advice! What works for me is to begin with a message/theme/purpose about which you are passionate. Then, conceptualize who (as in the main character) will convey the purpose. Before I even begin to craft the story, I spend time in my head and heart with that character so that absolutely everything in the story is intimately connected to him/her. And I make sure I feel the character and feel the story, and I write with my heart as much as I do with my head.
If the movie rights to your novels are purchased, who would you like to play your main characters?
I’m so strange! Whenever people talk about my novels as movies, I can never decide who I’d want to star. I’m not very good at identifying and remembering Hollywood people, and I’m not proud of that. I do know that Eric McCormack could have any role he wanted in any of my stories! That said, he’s doesn’t look like any of my characters. I think that’s my problem. I have my characters embedded into my being, and they look like who they are. I can’t picture someone playing them. Another part of that is that they seem so real to me, and I can’t picture someone “playing” them. I have a hard time watching any movie after I’ve read the book because I know everything will look wrong. I also won’t look at book covers that have people on them (I’ll try not to look hard and will cover up the people with paper and tape). Are you getting an idea of my strangeness?
I was on my way to the supermarket, when … Do you have a tale to tell relating to an everyday, boring event?
I do have a story that happens to involve a recent trip to the supermarket; however, it happened as I was on my way out of the supermarket. (I won’t tell it as if I were writing a scene of a novel. I’ll just tell it like I’m chatting with you. I did happen to write a scene in My Life in a Nutshell where Brian (main character) attempts to go to a grocery store. He’s anxious and panicked because he’s not used to going to this particular grocery store at this particular time of day, and he’s just trying to hurry to get out. He goes to the computerized self-checkout, but the machine glitches and keeps hollering at him to put items on the belt then take them off. His anxiety increases faster than the line behind him builds. This scene happens to be adapted from a similar experience I had, although it’s tailored just for Brian!)
So my recent story: I had to make a quick grocery store run one rainy morning. I was hurrying so I could get home to write, but as I scurried across the parking lot, I came to a screeching halt when I spotted a glint of copper on the ground. There, in a shallow puddle, was a shiny penny. It was even tails-up (the proper superstition is that heads-up equals good luck, but I tend to go against the grain on absolutely everything so I prefer tails). Although I’m not at all superstitious, I decided to pick it up for good luck (and kicks and giggles). There’s a reason I’m not superstitious. The little things that are supposed to happen, like good luck from a penny or bad luck from a black cat scampering across your path, never actually happen. And so it was with my penny. Good luck, my patootie! I bent down to rescue it from drowning in the puddle, and at that moment, a nearby car backed out of its parking spot. It evidently saw the need to back up yards beyond what it really needed to and came very, very close to hitting me. Of course, because I was crouched down, the driver couldn’t see me in the rear-view mirror. I popped up, penny in hand, but the car still continued in reverse. I had to jump sideways out of the way. I narrowly missed the collision – I think it was only a few feet away when I sprang to the side. And there you have it: the story of the unlucky penny (or the story of the idiot who was dumb enough to practically lie down in a parking lot in the rain just to retrieve the most useless currency in the world).
Ha, thanks for the story. I am always dropping down to retrieve a coin.
I’d love for people to stop by my website. I have a bio there in case you haven’t had enough of my oddities. My bio explains why I write the novels I do (novels that relate to mental health/illness (hint: I’ve been on both sides of the proverbial couch as a counselor and as a patient). You can also find info about my novels. Oh, and I have a blog, too. Please stop by! tanyajpeterson.com
Also, I write a weekly column about anxiety on HealthyPlace, a large mental health website. In My Life in a Nutshell, poor Brian lives with debilitating anxiety. Millions of people experience anxiety. If you want to learn more, come visit! HealthyPlace Anxiety-Schmanxiety
BUY LINKS AND AUTHOR LINKS
Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC
Mental Health Novelist, Writer, & Speaker
My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel is the story of one man’s struggles with debilitating anxiety. Brian Cunningham has isolated himself to such a degree that his human contact is barely more than an hour a day. While lonely, he feels powerless to change his life. Unexpectedly, his safe little world is invaded by one Abigail Harris, a seven-year-old girl who, for the last five years, has bounced from foster home to foster home. She has come to live with an aunt and uncle she has never known. Unsure if she can trust her new environment, she turns to Brian. Neither one quite knows how to live in the world. Can they possibly help each other?