My aim is to make a difference in readers’ lives with my mainstream fiction books as well as nonfiction stories, books, and articles.
My mainstream fiction novel, Unto These Hills, chronicles unflappable mill hill girl, Sunny Acklin’s odyssey through the rugged terrain of high hopes, undying love, dashed dreams, scandal, betrayal, heartbreak and finally to forgiveness and redemption.
How did you approach your first book? Is that different from how you approached the next? The most recent?
I approached my first manuscript, A Rose in Time (unpublished), as therapy. After the death of my eleven year old daughter, Angie, I incorporated my memoirs into my college senior English Composition and Rhetoric class (with the permission of the professor) and the purging acted as a healing catharsis. Years later, I drew from that manuscript over and over to enrich stories and books.
I approached the next book determined to write not only a story but a good story, the kind that snares me and keeps me engaged. Through A Glass Darkly is still unpublished but that’s because I’ve not yet submitted it. I’m currently polishing and sharpening the plot.
The most recent published book, Cocoon, is a story I couldn’t wait to write. Based on a true story of a miraculous experience, I did extensive research and wove the tale together with lots of fun fiction. I was tired of dark places and subject matter at the time and wanted something upbeat in the creative process, sunshine breaking through and dappling the scenes. It worked for me. I loved every minute of the journey.
What did you learn writing your first novel? Your most recent?
I learned that if I sat down daily, even when I did not feel creative, I would produce. That continues to work for me. I’ve never had writer’s block.
In my most recent book, Cocoon, I learned that truth is stranger than fiction, after all. And can be unbelievable if not tweaked a bit. And its such fun to be able to fictionalize truth in order to weave together a menagerie of “what ifs” that add action and adventure to maybe otherwise constrained narrative. That’s just a thimble-full of all I’ve learned with each new book I write.
How much do you plan out in advance, and how?
I plan the skeleton of each story: the beginning and the end. Then I add the middle. Next, I brainstorm sub-plots that move the story. Then I do characterization profiles, very involved, whether I use it all or not. I know the character by the time I start writing the book. Last, I’m ready to flesh out the story.
How do you approach writing characters?
I stated above that I profile each character in depth.
How do you give individual characters their own “voice.”
The voice comes from my perception of who the character is and most of the time, is a composite of personalities I’ve known who I would ‘cast’ in a movie of that particular story.
How do you decide on pacing?
I think “energy” at all times. Too, I think the fact that I majored in English in college, writing endless papers under scrutiny and criticism, plus the fact that I am a voracious reader who studies different authors’ styles and pacing gives me an edge on what works. I am and will always remain a student of Literature.
When it comes to description, do you think there’s such a thing as too much? Too little? How do you decide what’s your “right” amount.
Yes, I think a writer can do overkill with description. I’ve found that the best policy is to slowly leak the description into the story rather than doing an in-your-face treatment. There are exceptions, of course. And it can be frustrating to not have enough description. But subtlety is always better, in my opinion, because it allows the reader’s imagination to come into play and create an image to their own liking.
Do you have a specific place to write? A separate computer?
I have a study where I always write. And nobody bothers my computer. Ever.
Do you listen to music as you write? If so, what?
Most of the time I listen to easy-listening or light classical music as I write.
Do you finish, then edit, or do you edit as you go?
Both. Editing is second nature by now and I cannot write without editing all along. And then, of course, at the end, I do another under the microscope edit.
Do you wait until you have an idea, or do you sit down and write every day no matter what?
Depends on whether I have a writing assignment, as in contract. But I do other projects all along, between contractual obligations that keep me busy almost daily. I’m one of those who cannot “not” write. I do blogs all along as well as a newsletter to my old high school class on a quarterly schedule. I just finished a nonfiction book entitled, Breaking Through the Clouds, which includes most of my published and unpublished stories and articles, credits garnered through the years. As of this moment, a publisher is looking at it. I always have a book-idea floating around in my head, just waiting to be explored.
What’s your biggest hindrance to finishing a book?
I can’t think of any. I am extremely focused when I’m writing a book and work sometimes four to six hours daily. Fortunately, my husband is okay with that and respects my goals. He is my greatest ally in this crazy business.
How many people get to read your unfinished, or recently finished, work?
As a rule, nobody reads my entire book before publication with the exception of publisher and editor. Occasionally, I’ll ask Lee, my well-read hubby, to read a passage to see if it works. He’s really astute and honest with me and that helps.
What do you feel are your strengths as a writer? What advice would you give for someone who wants to improve that aspect of their writing?
I have a strong sense of family and relationships are very important to me so this comes across in my stories. I would advise any writer to delve more deeply into the human aspects of life, the how-tos of keeping relationships strong and harmonious. I would say the ingredient is “heart” writing.
What would you like to improve with your writing, and how would you go about doing it?
That’s a tough one to answer. I’m an over achiever by nature and work for excellence at all times so I don’t really know what I would do differently. But I keep my eyes, ears, and mind open so as not to miss important tips on plotting and characterization.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out, trying to finish (or start!) their first novel.
Read, read, read! And make the reading material best sellers in the genre you love because that way, you will see what works and what doesn’t. Go to an annual writers workshop and join writer groups. I cannot over emphasize the impact those two things made in my career. I served on the board of Directors of Southeastern Writers Association for 25 plus years, and also as president for a term. But first, in my earlier writer-aspiration days, I studied diligently. It’s called paying dues.
Who are your favorite authors?
I have so many, it’s difficult to pin down just a few names. But here goes: Pat Conroy, Ann Rivers-Sidons, Jan Karon, Fern Michaels, Rick Bragg and a host of others who are equally gifted. I have shelves of classics that I won’t part with. Two of my favorite classic writers are the Bronte sisters, Emily and Charlotte.
If you could ask your favorite author one question, what would it be? What would you like to learn from them?
Cec Murphey, bestselling author of many, many books, was my early years mentor and he taught me to not be “wordy” but to write tight and concise. And most of all, I learned from several other authors that we must respect our readers and not do overkill. They are intelligent and will “get it” the first time.
What’s your favorite book of all time?
Have you read any useful books that helped you with story, characters, or writing in general?
I have shelves of How-to writing books but the most important lessons I learned were hard ones of trial and error and being willing to put my writing out there to be critiqued.
How did you approach your cover artist, and what was that experience like?
Actually, I am blessed that my publisher, Story Plant, commissioned Barbara Aronica Black to do all my covers so far. And she’s phenomenal. For Cocoon, I really wanted a butterfly to appear somewhere on the cover but decided to simply leave it up to Barbara and her amazing creativity. When I got the cover photo, there, perched just outside the cocoon was a beautiful golden butterfly. Awesome.
What software do you use, if other than MS Word?
Are there any websites you found helpful in regards to eBook formatting?
Sorry, this is where any expertise I have ends. Story Plant does all the tech stuff.
Do you do any marketing? If so, what works for you, what hasn’t?
I only do the social networking scene.
Did you enjoy being a part of your StoryBundle? Have you seen an increase in sales separate from the Bundle?
I thoroughly enjoyed being part of StoryBundle. I’m not sure about outside sales but I’m sure it helped.
Emily Sue Harvey is The Story Plant’s Author of the Month. This means we are offering sensational deals on all of her works. You can learn more at our website.