Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Leah McCurry Responds to Questions About Her Life and Writing...

Many pictures used are from Leta's
trip to Ireland with friends...
I’ve always been a voracious reader. My mom said I was reading Dick and Jane by the time I was three.  I know the adventure, companionship, comfort and inspiration I received from being an avid reader is what first inspired me to put on paper the stories that were bouncing around in my head.

And, I had an English teacher in high school, Rosemary Bell, who gave me a lot of encouragement and helped me believe I could be a writer.

Leta, I just had to add a picture of your first book...I think it will never go out of date! Many children have read this story and probably many more will...

What is the very first thing you ever had published?

The local newspaper published a poem, “The
Death of Kathy Fiscus” when I was about twelve. It was about a little girl who fell down an abandoned well in our area and died.

Wow...did you keep a copy? Would love to read it...This tragedy was also put to song... Memories last, don't they?

How much does your upbringing influence your writing?

A lot. My upbringing and the cultural and social environment played a great role in shaping me as a writer. The Texas Hill Country, where I grew up, is prominent in my first two books, and figures significantly in my work in progress.

I don’t believe writers can escape or ignore their life experience and knowledge. It is who they are and that in some way and to some extent influences a story.

Leta, I was touched by both of your books... We are not so far apart in age that I don't remember my own mother with three children, working continuously to bring us up...And there were many who were far worse off than we were... I agree that life experiences do much to add to the depth and breadth of each book... and you have effectively used them to bring your stories alive for readers...

What are your most rewarding experiences from writing?
Leta, the tilt of your hat makes me
sure we would be friends; I've
got a red one I wear like that!

The most rewarding experiences are when a reader tells me the story resonated with them and they think about it long after they finish the book.

I appreciate every reader review but the one that probably touched me most was the reader who said, “For the first time ever, I found myself 'talking' to her characters as if I was actually there. That is how real her characters feel.”

While in the middle of reading High Cotton Country, another reader told me that she was riding in the car with her husband, and turned to him and said, “I wonder what Owen’s doing now?” It took her a minute to stop and think Owen wasn’t real.

I love it when characters are this real to readers.

That is such wonderful feedback for you and I can verify that both could easily be correct! I'm almost through reading and can easily remember and think about the actions of your many characters and what their lives meant to bring about those actions...

What has been your most rewarding experience in your publishing journey?  

Two come to mind: the letter I received from an editor at Prentice Hall during the publication of my only non-fiction book, and the moment I held that first book with my name as the author in my hand.

Congratulations! Not too many writers get the chance to have a publisher reach out and commission a book! Certainly speaks well for your reputation and writing expertise! And I can see where part of your life experience came into play in your first novel!

Do you come up with your title(s) before or after you write the manuscript? 

Before.  But I changed the first one from Hummingbird to High Cotton Country and the second one from The Family Bible to A Shadow Life. I can’t see changing the third one though – Dancing to the Silence.

Hmmmm, I think you made the right decisions on both books!

What is your genre and why?

Women’s fiction because I am fascinated by strong women who grab life by the horns and wrestle it to the ground while hiding their vulnerabilities from the world.

Or a fancier way of saying it- I write about women on a journey to self-discovery, about the inherent dignity of the human being, of the burning desire to be in command of one’s own destiny, of the will, not only to survive, but to achieve, and to face adversity with courage and honor. I write not only about the fighting spirit of the main character, but also about the people who influence her self-esteem, shape her self-image and participate in her destiny.

I like that, but I do hope you also list under the historical genre...There is much to find regarding the role of women and how some responded--both good and bad--to those conditions... Women have advanced, but only when you read what happened to many historically, can we appreciate and strive for...more...

Do you always write in the same genre?

I never intended to write non-fiction but when Prentice-Hall, New York offered me a contract, I accepted. That was just an unexpected side trip.

I refer to my genre as women’s fiction but I have been told it is more general fiction. High Cotton Country has been read and reviewed by several men and I’ve had really good feedback from them so I guess it is a cross-over between general and women’s fiction.

Oh, Leta, let's put it right where it is...Historical Literary Fiction!

What was your inspiration for High Cotton Country and A Shadow Life?

For High Cotton Country, it was an incident that happened in our little town when I was about nine. It was so shocking, I never forgot it.

Ahhh, I surely can guess that incident and can fully understand your need to share it with readers...

For A Shadow Life, it was some family records found in a very old Bible of my mother’s after she died. It totally contradicted family history we’d always believed.

This book turned into somewhat of a mystery...I couldn't see where you were going...and the suspense started to build until the climatic ending. Really, I think you've already moved into multi-genre material...

Who is your favorite author and why?

I can have only one? I could list at least a couple of dozen. If I can have only one, I would say, Ayn Rand because she was a visionary and she had courage.

Actually, Leta, I normally respond to either favorite book or author, with...the one I'm reading right now...Why choose! LOL

It's like that ice cream cone you're enjoying...Why limit yourself to just one flavor or type cone! LOL... And then there's sherbet, frozen yogurt!
Just like...too many books, not enough time!

Who are the literary heroes that inspire your writing?

Fannie Flagg, Harper Lee, Carson McCullers, John Steinbeck. Larry McMurtry, Ayn Rand, Susan Crandall, Robert Walker, Mark Twain, Pearl S. Buck. I could go on and on.

What are your favorite books?

Way too many to list but definitely Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (she makes me think - I’ve read it about six times), The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Shogun by James Clavell, anything by Fannie Flagg.

I also like Elin Hildebrand – she entertains me.  Susan Crandall and Robert Morgan because I love their “voice”. They’re from my “neighborhood”. And Lincoln and Childs for a change of pace - they transport me to other worlds.

I totally agree with Lincoln and Childs, but my favorites tend to be more contemporary with, perhaps, J. D. Robb's series one of my favorites... I think I've traveled more through books than any other way...and am grateful for all the books I've had the opportunity to read here at Book Readers Heaven...

What has been the biggest help to you in your journey as a writer?

First, when I decided to actually sit down and write, I was lucky enough to be the beneficiary of the tough love, encouragement and guidance of the Lewis County, Washington Writers Guild. They really held my feet to the fire; they demanded I leave my comfort zone behind and write better and better, but in a kind and encouraging way. I was also fortunate to become a member of another great critique group online after I left Washington.

Next, feedback from readers gives me clarity about my writing and is a big help in my on-going endeavor to become a better writer.

And, support, input and guidance from other writers through local and online communities. I’m a member of several but probably at the top of the list is the Women’s Fiction Writers Association.

What other work have you done, and how has it impacted your writing career?

Sales. I think sales taught me to take risks and put myself out there. And not to take rejection personally. And, raising five children.

How long did it take you to publish your first novel?

About a year and a half from writing the first chapter through to publication.  (although I had been writing it in my head for about thirty years ).

Do you have any special time or place you like to write?

I write every opportunity I have in a little cubby-corner office at home.  Nice big windows with a view of the green Oregon trees and mostly blue sky. The squirrels put on quite a show most every day and we frequently have deer just over the fence.

Are you published through a traditional publishing house? If yes, how did you find your agent and publisher?

Yes. Non Fiction. College Text Book. Publisher Prentice Hall. As mentioned earlier, I was commissioned to write the book.

Why did you choose to go the self-publishing Indie route in lieu of traditional publication on your novels? 

I had interest from agents on both novels and am confident I could have gone that route. I chose Indie publishing or several reasons but the main one was because of the time factor involved in getting a book on the market via traditional sources. It just seemed that a year to two years was a long time.

Authors and publishers are always talking about finding your “Voice”. Exactly what does that mean to you and how did you find yours?

I think an author’s voice is the perspective on life that is unique to each of us.  It is the culmination of our circumstances of birth, the “imprinting” we received as we grew to adulthood, our experiences, and our emotional journey. The voice is always changing, growing, expanding, because as long as we are alive we are continually influenced by the world and people around us and our responses to those circumstances.

Great Response! Do you follow a structure pattern such as staying in chronological order, or alternating points in time or different POV’s?

I don’t follow an exact chronological order but I do follow a loose time framework. I write each chapter in sequence though. I have writer friends who may write chapter 20 then come back to 5 then write chapter 18 then 35 and come back to 6.  That would drive me crazy.

Writers are usually “pansters” or “plotters”. Which are you?
I write by the seat of my pants. When I sit down at the keyboard, I just let’er rip and worry about editing and finessing later. I know other people are avid plotters and outline the story from the first chapter to the last, but that’s just not my style.

I do, however, keep a running chronology of events as I write just so I don’t have someone getting married when they’re six!

What is the hardest part of writing?

First, it’s not the writing. It’s getting exposure for my books. With the advent of Amazon, the competition for the reader’s attention is fierce. There are hundreds, even thousands of really exceptional books that never garner any real following simply because they are lost in the plethora of titles constantly hitting the market.

Second, is getting reviews. Reviews, if they are not the single most important factor in the success of a book, they are very near the top for an Indie writer. It’s not that readers don’t have good intentions when it comes to reviews; mostly they do. It’s just that life spins like a top for most of us and a lot of good intentions fall by the wayside. If readers understood how critical reviews are, I think they would make the effort. I appreciate every single review of my books because I know that person took of their time and energy to do it.

Another reason people don’t review is that they think they have to make some really fluent, pithy comments. This isn’t so; just a brief comment that the reader liked the book or not and why is a great help.

Word of mouth is the most powerful success factor of all, so the best thing a reader can do is tell all their friends about a book they liked.

Lastly, what, for me, was stunning and unexpected was my vulnerability. There are a lot of really helpful and worthwhile resources out there, but there are just as many scammers. People know that new and inexperienced writers are eager to get recognition for their work, so this is a field ripe for harvest for the bad guys. This ranges from unscrupulous vanity publishers to “expert teachers” who offer empty courses, writers of meaningless “how-to” books, and marketers who promise to get your book in the hands of thousands of readers – all for a fee, of course.

Marketing our work is really the hardest part for most writers I know and there is plenty of “help” out there. I remember one “how-to” book that had a great title – sounded just like what I needed – and it was only 99 cents. It was useless. The only thing of value about it was the title. That was the cheapest of the lessons I learned.

There are some great – in my opinion – resources for writers. Some are free and some are not. A few that I have found viable and helpful are:

Women’s Fiction Writers Association
Mark Dawson’s Self-Publishing Formula
Story Genius and Wired for Story by Lisa Cron (Must read for writers.)
Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View by Jill Elizabeth Nelson
Writers in the Storm (blog)
Fiction University (blog)
Author Marketing Club
Book Funnel
Publishing and other forms of insanity (blog)
Dave Chesson – Kindlepreneur (blog)
Kirsten Lamb’s Blog
Indie’s Unlimited (blog)
Book Marketing Tools (blog)
Create Space (print on demand publisher)
Pronoun (ebook publisher)

I’m sure there are others but these come to mind.  Some bloggers ultimately have something to sell you; others don’t. Even those on this list who do have something to sell aren’t pushy (if they are I don’t hang round) and they routinely provide good, free information.

Important information, and one thing I would suggest...Check out potential reviewers...see if they've reviewed on Amazon of Goodreads and other sites and see what they've said. Reviewers can be shysters as well, sad to say...

Write – write – write! There’s a saying that water doesn’t flow until the faucet its turned on and that is especially true with writing. You can have a desire to write; you can have a lot of ideas. Doesn’t matter. Nothing happens until you sit down and write something.

I would add read, read, read...I've had quite a few people submit material and when I mention other authors in the genre, they indicate they rarely read! I'm thinking, ahhh, now I know why your book writing, format, and editing activities are as bad as they are...

How do you develop your ideas? Do they come to you full-blown? Do you have an idea of the ending before you begin?

I’ve never had a concept for a story come to me full blown. It always starts as the smallest seed of an idea. A spark of some kind – like the story from my childhood for High Cotton Country or the discovery of a family record in an old Bible for A Shadow Life.

That’s the point where you have to turn the faucet on and start writing. Once I begin, my mind takes over and starts filling in the “what if’s” and the more I write the more fertile and active my mind becomes. It is kind of along the idea of a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s exciting. The flow has always been there for me.

I may have a general idea of the ending when I first start, but a story takes on a life of its own and usually builds its own ending.

What if a new writer has an idea but doesn’t know what to write or where to start?

Every idea has a character at the center of the story. Set the story line aside for a while. Get acquainted with the character. She must have a name. Write that down (you can change it later). How old is she when the story begins? You must have some idea. Marital status? Kids? Love chocolate cake and hate oysters? You’ll probably never use any of this in your actual story, but the idea is to turn that faucet on. Write! Give your mind a chance to amaze you.

It's very clear that you're sharing your own advice...great ideas!

What is the most interesting thing about the writing process?

People think I’m crazy when I say this, but the most interesting thing is how characters have a mind of their own. Sometimes they won’t do what I want them to do. There’s a saying – writer’s block is when your imaginary friends stop talking to you (or get sulky and testy)  - how true. It’s a writer’s thing!

Leta, I've heard that from some other authors...My creative stories always come in dreams, only one I was able to remember and write as a short story...LOL  I guess what I'm saying is that I don't believe that everybody has a book in them, especially fiction... It takes more than a desire to be a writer, don't you think? It takes all that you've shared above and more... And the ability to apply it... You certainly have it, but I know I don't--I have ideas but not the ability to mold them into a complete novel-length book... But that's OK for me to acknowledge that...because I know what I am...A Reader!
Who is constantly thrilled to be reading so many wonderful writers' works...

A Great Discussion! Now my part starts...First Review next!

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