Give a warm welcome to Annie Weissman. You can follow her at www.annieweissman.com and be sure to catch her blog, “The Single Senior” (theseniorsingle.wordpress.com). It is by turns funny, heartwarming, and reflective.
Sharon: Annie, you are a well-published woman! How many books do you have in print right now?
Annie: A is for Almanac: Complete Lessons to Teach Library Reference Sours Grades K-6, Transforming Storytimes Into Reading and Writing Lessons, and Do Tell! Storytelling for You and Your Students are all aimed at teachers and librarians and published by traditional publishers. As One Door Closes: A Memoir about the Plane Crash of Northwest Flight #255 is available from both Amazon and the POD publisher XLibris. Amazing Animals is available from Blurb, another POD publisher.
Sharon: When did you publish your first book? What was it about? Why did you write it?
Annie: My first book, The Castle of Chuchurumbel, el Castillo de Chuchurumbel, a bilingual picture book was published by Hispanic Books Distribultors in 1987. I was a school librarian and storyteller and had many bilingual manuscripts “in the drawer.” I had sent some retellings of folk tales to publishers, but this is the only one that was published. I did NOT do the illustrations. That isn’t my forte.
Sharon: What is your most recently completed work? What’s next?
Annie: I have just completed a novel, Our Mother’s Keeper. It’s the story of an eighty-year old woman whose dementia must be dealt with by her and her three daughters. It’s currently out with an editor and an agent and I have high hopes it will be accepted.
I’m completing a play for senior community theaters about a forty year high school reunion.
And lastly, I’m in the germination stage of a new novel about mothers and children.
Sharon: People always ask authors this: where do you get your ideas?
Annie: My nonfiction books were all based on my experience. The books for teachers and librarians are the culmination of a long career as a librarian and a principal. I wrote my memoir first as fiction in 1994 but it didn’t seem to work. In 2000 I changed it back to real life and it worked much better. The events were so painful I had wait until I could think about them in depth.
Some ideas for fiction come from my imagination with no basis in my life, like the play I’m writing. I went to my twentieth and twenty-fifth high school reunions, so I have an idea how they go, but this one is totally fabricated.
Some of my ideas for fiction come from life stories that other people tell me. That gives me the germ of an idea and I embroider it.
Some of my ideas for fiction are from my life experience. This is tricky. If it’s the truth, then it’s memoir. My latest novel is “true” in that my mother with dementia came to live with me so I had the experience to write about it. But many of the characters and incidents are from my imagination.
Sharon: When you are starting a new piece, how do you go about it? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Annie: I am definitely a plotter. I have an analytic nature. I decide on plot points and make a time line of events and approximate pages for each section. However my characters take on a life of their own and I see my original timeline as a suggestion, not a strait jacket.
Sharon: It is difficult for an author to keep a character real, show the flaws as well as the positive traits for the heroine. How do you go about making your characters multi-dimensional?
Annie: I find it quite difficult to give flaws to my main character because I usually admire her so much. That’s where the critique group is a critical part of the writing process. My writing partners remind me to make the characters more flawed.
Sharon: How do you learn more about the craft of writing?
Annie: I’ve gone to the University of Iowa Summer Writing Festival twice and taken full week classes on writing the novel and on writing for children. I’ve taken a class at Phoenix College on writing for children. I’ve taken courses on writing fiction from the Y that used to have a very active writing program. I‘ve taken novel writing at Scottsdale Community College.
I also attend writing conferences. The workshops there offer help on specific topics, such as Point of View, Setting, etc.
Sharon: What is the best writing advice you’ve learned?
1. Join a writing critique group.
2. Read dialogue aloud to see if it sounds natural.
Sharon: From your critique group experiences, what is the number one writing rule you see authors breaking?
Annie: Point of view. It’s so important to decide through whose eyes the story will be told and to stick with that point of view.
Sharon: I know you are in writing critique groups (which is how I know you). What role do you see critique groups playing in your own writing?
Annie: The weekly critique group is invaluable as a catalyst to make sure I keep writing regularly. The advice I get from my fellow writers helps me see what I’m too close to the work to see. The other members are bright, imaginative people who offer terrific suggestions.
Sharon: If you could sit down, one-on-one with a reader of this blog, what would you say to him/her?
Annie: There is no substitute for your time “in the chair.” No matter how good your idea is, or how brilliant the writing, if you don’t finish it, it won’t be read or appreciated.
Sharon: Anything else before we close up shop for the day?
Annie: Although it is difficult to get fiction published by the traditional system, today there are many other outlets: on line and print-on-demand. I would caution people to go through the traditional system first to see if your project needs improvement before rushing to publishing it yourself. There’s a lot of very bad writing being published by people who think no one should tell them how to write.