Lois Ruskai Melina – Author Interview

What compelled you to tell the story/stories in your most recent book? (And specifically, why this genre?)

I’ve primarily been a nonfiction writer. I began my career as a journalist. I developed a specialty in writing about adoption and wrote three books on that subject that were published by HarperCollins. I had a second career in higher education that was brief but required writing academic articles. So when I wanted to move from journalism to literary forms, it was natural to start with memoir and personal essays.

When I started some of the essays for The Grammar of Untold Stories, I wanted to tell a particular story—something happened in my life that I thought was interesting or provocative. But the challenge with personal essay is to find relevance that goes beyond the writer’s so that the reader can connect to it in a personal way. The title essay, for example, started as something I was writing for our annual holiday newsletter, and for that purpose it would have been fine to simply talk about what happened when I visited my grandmother’s village in Hungary. But as I wrote, I began to think about the immigrants who were at the time trying to make their way from Syria through Hungary to other parts of the world and the conflicts in the United States around immigration. My grandmother’s story and, in particular, the role of language in both communication and identity, took on greater significance and, I thought, gave the story wider appeal.

Other essays were driven by a desire to write about a feeling. I was influenced by Lidia Yuknavitch’s writing to think about how sometimes, even in nonfiction, the point of telling a story isn’t to tell what happened but to use what happened to go deeper into the resulting emotion. I tried and tried to write the story of my getting fired from my last job, and it just kept coming out bitter and defensive, but in “The Fires of Dismemberment,” I don’t give any details at all about what happened, I just tried to describe how it not only feels to get fired but also the intensity of that feeling. 

What obstacles—either inner or outer—did you encounter while writing the book?

When I started writing these essays, I had written enough memoir and personal essay to believe that I had the ability to write literary nonfiction. I was not working and my husband was encouraging me to do what I wanted to do, which was write literary nonfiction, so I had time and support, which many, many writers do not have. I’m so grateful for that. What I lacked was what I’ll call a “professional support system.” I’d taken a couple of nonfiction classes and gone to a couple of workshops over the previous fifteen years, but I didn’t have an MFA or a degree in English that, in my imagination at least, would have provided me with guidelines on craft, a range of structures, a reading list to consult, a greater sense of why something worked or didn’t work. I didn’t have writers who could give me feedback or a mentor I could contact when I had questions or felt discouraged. So I didn’t know, for example, how to decide that an essay was finished—was as good as it could be. I didn’t know what literary publications to submit to. I sent out a lot of work that I realized later wasn’t ready to be sent out.

I signed up for a workshop with Lidia Yuknavitch without having read her work, but I decided I should read her memoir, The Chronology of Water, before taking the workshop, and it just broke open something in me, as did her workshop. From there, I took more workshops with her and met other writers, which led to a writing group that I have found to be invaluable in getting feedback on my writing. Lidia’s also been a great support for me and so many writers. 

How has writing your most recent book changed or added value to your life?

I didn’t write the book with the intention of “leaving a legacy” or writing a story of my life, but after I’d compiled the essays and read through them, I realized that there was a lot of my life on those pages, and lot of insight into who I am and what I found meaningful and hard and joyful in my life. The title essay describes my search to know more about my grandmother, and I realized this essay collection will live on after me and be a resource for my grandchildren, who are now 5 and 7. So I dedicated it to them, and they were the first people who received copies from me.

Did you self-publish or did you go the traditional route? Why did you choose the route you chose, and what was that process like?

My book is published by Shanti Arts, which is an independent book publisher in Maine. I was realistic about the prospects of an essay collection by an unknown writer being picked up by an agent or a major publisher, so from the beginning, I looked for a small independent publisher who would take good care of the book. I entered the manuscript in “contests” with publishers who chose one or two new titles a year. I was a finalist in three of those contests, which gave me encouragement to keep searching. But I knew that many small publishers tend to have a particular kind of book they’re looking for—a “brand” if you will—and I needed to find a publisher that would be a good fit for my writing. An author I know on Facebook announced that Shanti Arts was publishing her book, and because I was familiar with this author’s writing, I immediately thought this publisher might be interested. 

I was aware that with an indie publisher, I’d have to do a lot of my own marketing—even if I’d had a big name publisher that would have been the case. What was important to me was that the book design be high quality, that bookstores and individuals could easily order it, and that authors who’d previously worked with the publisher would recommend them. Shanti Arts checked all those boxes.

The publisher offered me a contract fairly quickly. The editor collaborated with me on edits and cover design. We had some COVID-related delays that made it hard to predict the publication date, but that was true for many authors at both indie publishers and major houses. Overall, it was a good process for me.

Are you friends with other writers? If so, how do they influence your writing? 

My husband reads much of my writing. He reads a lot of fiction and nonfiction, so while he isn’t a writer, he’s a good reader. He’s really helpful when it comes to “big picture” feedback—he tells me if something is confusing or too detailed or goes too fast or too slow. Now that I’m writing fiction, he gets very invested in the characters and their emotional journeys! He also knows that I don’t want line edits from him—I don’t want him suggesting different words or moving paragraphs or rewriting sentences. (He may not have always known that.) He’s also great at giving me an emotional response to what I’m writing. If he tears up or gets angry at something that happens in the piece, then I know I’m on the right track. I have a wonderful writing group that provides great feedback, too, but it’s nice to be able to have someone right there when I want an immediate response or need to talk through a difficult section.

He’s a painter, so he asks me for feedback on his work. We can also talk about our artistic processes, which is helpful even though we work in different media.

It’s interesting that we can give each other feedback on our most creative expressions without it becoming problematic in the relationship, unlike when we give each other advice on driving or cooking. I think that speaks to the respect we have for each other and for our own work.

Do you maintain a regular writing practice? If so, what does it look like? If not, how do you stay engaged in your writing projects?

I’m a morning person. Even in college, I was the person who signed up for 8 a.m. classes. So it isn’t surprising that I write most productively in the morning. I’ve been writing a long time, much of that time either working in a home office or working for myself, so I’ve become very disciplined and fairly acquainted with my own process. Once I was working on a big project and had a tight deadline, and friends were in town and stayed overnight. We had breakfast, and around 8 a.m., my husband stood up and announced he had to get to work and left, then I announced I had to get to work and walked into my home office, leaving our friends to depart on their own. I’m a little embarrassed by that now, but we’re still friends so I think they understood.

Exercise is an important part of my day. I either do that before I write or do it at the end of a writing session. I find it can be helpful to work out right after a writing session or if I’m stuck—the movement seems to allow things to settle and give me an idea of how to move forward. 

I know a lot of writers are having difficulty writing during this pandemic, but I’ve been able to continue to work. I’ve written through some difficult times—I’m able to block out both personal issues and unwashed dishes. But I also know that there are times when the writing just isn’t there and when that happens, I just take a break and let things germinate. 

How many other books or stories do you have in progress right now?

I’m working on a novel consisting of three separate stories braided together. I’ve never written a novel and now I’m basically writing three! The stories are set in Iceland, France, and the Pacific Northwest and each one involves relationships between a pair of women and explores identity erasure, betrayal, and faith. It’s a challenge, but this story came to me in a way that was very compelling in its synchronicity, and along the way I’ve had further synchronicity, which has reinforced the idea that I need to write this. So I persist. 

Do you view writing as a spiritual practice?

I haven’t thought of it that way. For me, being outside and interacting with nature is my spiritual practice. Writing comes from who I am and how I express myself in the world, so in that way it’s more psychological. That said, the psyche and the spirit aren’t separate, so I don’t want to suggest they are unrelated.

What would your life look like if you didn’t write?

I’d be one unhappy person, and I expect my relationships would suffer as well as my health. Writing is very connected to who I am and what I feel I’m called to do in the world. (Can I change my answer now about writing as a spiritual practice?)

Why do you write?

I write because it’s what I feel called to do. There’s sometimes an almost physical need to write, not just a psychological one. The biggest drive, though, is that writing is how I work out meaning and connect with others and live my fullest life. I hope that people read my work and find it interesting or meaningful—or both—because it means I’ve connected with them and contributed positively to someone else.


Raised as a city girl before Title IX provided many athletic opportunities for girls, Lois Ruskai Melina discovered her love of sports and the outdoors as an adult. Her relationship to mountains and water and wildlife and the female body shape her worldview and inform her writing. 

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Melina received a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Toledo and an M.A. in Journalism from The Ohio State University. She holds a PhD in Leadership Studies from Gonzaga University. She has worked as a journalist and in higher education.

Her writing has appeared in literary, mass media, and academic publications. Melina lives with her husband and their two dogs in Portland, Oregon, where she can often be found rowing on the Willamette River. She has a grown son and daughter and two grandchildren. 

More about Melina and THE GRAMMAR OF UNTOLD STORIES can be found at: https://www.loisruskaimelina.com/

Jackie Shannon Hollis – Author Interview

What compelled you to tell the story/stories in your most recent book? (And specifically, why this genre?)

THIS PARTICULAR HAPPINESS: A CHILDLESS LOVE STORY started off as an essay. I wanted to write about being childless, despite having been raised in a generation and a place where motherhood was a defining step in the path of a woman’s life. 

As I took pages of the essay to my critique group, the questions that came up made me realize my story was more complicated than could be fit into a short piece. I decided to write about the bigger journey that had led me to my husband, a man who did not want children, and then the journey we went on together despite having this one big difference between us. I was interested in exploring how events and decisions in my life twined together over time and formed the person I am today.

I like memoirs written from the distance of time from the events that are being written about. The narrative then reflects the author’s process of examining and reexamining the events and their impact on her over time. I think our understanding of events change and deepen in important ways as time passes. 

Even though I write both fiction and non-fiction, I never doubted that this would or should be a memoir. I think part of what makes my memoir appealing to readers is that it is true, and the honesty and personal exploration helps people turn the mirror to their own selves. 

All this to say, what started off as an essay turned into a five-year project!

What obstacles—either inner or outer—did you encounter while writing the book?

Oh gosh. I can find many obstacles to keep me from sitting down and doing the work of writing. The garden needs tending. The laundry folding. There’s a great book to read. And my husband is fun to hang out with. In non-pandemic times I enjoy being out in the world. So, creating structure and boundaries in my writing schedule is critical. But I had the (false) idea that I needed big chunks of uninterrupted time to write. This is true in some situations, when working on some intricate part of the structure or a deep revision. But, as I worked on my memoir, I taught myself to also write and edit in the odd fifteen minutes here or there. Overcoming that obstacle is helping me now as I work on new projects and has given me a new sense of freedom in writing. 

As to inner obstacles, writing memoir means being willing to hold up the mirror to oneself, to go back in time and excavate the moments that reflect the essence of the story and to try to do that with honesty and some level of objectivity. At times, this was very uncomfortable. To see the me I had been in the past, to say, “Yes, I did that.” In my memoir, I write about my own early sexual activity, about a broken friendship, a sexual assault, about leaving a marriage. I write about the longing I had for a child and how I held this longing up to my husband over and over, despite having married him with the agreement we would not have kids. 

I had to avoid thinking about the people who would read it. People who know me and people who don’t. And if I did think about the people I knew and was writing about, I held deep love for them as I wrote, even when the story was conflicted. 

If I felt myself having a reaction to what I was writing, I tried to recognize this as a good thing. People read to be moved, to recognize some part of themselves, or to learn something new or to step into another world. In other words, to have a reaction. So, I kept my eye on the story, the sound of sentences, the images and emotions I was trying to share, and my own reactions to the work. 

How has writing your most recent book changed or added value to your life?

It is so damn cool to have a book out in the world. I was 61 when my book was released. And even though I didn’t start writing until I was in my early forties, I had no idea it would take SO LONG to get a book published. But when it happened, it seemed like just the right time. I have been able to fully take in the joy and experience the positives of the journey. 

One of the joys has been doing book events and book clubs. I’ve been honored to have some very personal conversations with readers. And it has been a delight to receive notes from readers. One thing I will do more consistently as a consumer of any form of creativity is to reach out to the creator to let them know my appreciation. People put their work out into the world and they hope to get reviews (which are awesome when they are good ones). But the personal notes and connections are a delicious affirmation.

I want to also say that I didn’t expect or want to expect that I would feel differently about myself having a book published. Because publishing can be so uncertain, I really embraced the idea that having a book would not make me feel better (or worse) about myself. Though of course I think most of us who write do so because we want to share our work. So having the book published is a validation of the work. And though a joyful experience it didn’t validate me as a person. 

Did you self-publish or did you go the traditional route? Why did you choose the route you chose, and what was that process like?

The journey to publication can be a real test of the self. I pursued larger publishers, with an agent, and that was filled with hope and dashed hopes (though my agent was fantastic). Ultimately, I signed with an independent publisher, Forest Avenue Press. 

This ended up being a better outcome than I could have imagined. I hit the jackpot with Laura Stanfill, who runs Forest Avenue Press. She is a fierce advocate for writers and literature, and she created this lovely press in 2012. Originally, she published only fiction, but then she became interested in my memoir. I’m so glad I got to work with Laura. She creates an intimate relationship with her authors by learning what they want from the publishing experience, understanding their strengths and weaknesses in terms of their ability to participate in marketing the book, and then finds a way to weave that into a beautiful journey. And apparently Laura thought publishing a memoir was a good choice because she is publishing Beth Kephart’s memoir, WIFE | DAUGHTER | SELF, in Spring of 2021. 

I also want to say that the publishing process was intense and at times I was filled with anxiety about all the things I could be doing or should be doing to get word about my book out into the world. How to get those reviews? How to get the hand into the hands of booksellers? Of course Laura was doing much of this, but the author also carries a big part of the marketing role, whether you are with a big five publisher, an indie, or self-published. 

I’m now one year post-publication and I wish I could have calmed myself a bit more pre-publication, and known that everything would be okay.

Are you friends with other writers? If so, how do they influence your writing?

Oh yes! These days a large part of my social network are creators. Writers, actors in local theater, and visual artists. I love seeing how all the forms of creative self-expression share common necessary ingredients: commitment to the work, authenticity, practice, willingness to fail, and a healthy sense of humor about our small place in the world.

Portland, Oregon has a deep and supportive writing community. People who lift each other up and celebrate each other’s successes. With this larger community as a backdrop, I am constantly motivated by hearing or reading the work of so many phenomenal writers. 

Closer in, I’m part of a writing group with six fabulous writers. Each week we bring our pages and share our work and give feedback to each other on the writing. These are long term friendships that have supported me through both professional and personal ups and downs. I want to shout out a few of this group and their books. Joanna Rose who’s second book, A SMALL CROWD OF STRANGERS, was just released. Kate Gray a fabulous poet and novelist. Yuvi Zalkow’s second book, I ONLY CRY AT EMOTICONS will arrive in 2022. And I have ongoing conversations with other writers like Liz Prato who is a fabulous short story writer and essayist with two books out, and the novelist Scott Sparling. 

I find it vital to read a lot as a part of my ongoing study and development as a writer. Talking with other writers about story is a pleasure. I suppose the same as it might be for a farmer to talk with other farmers about soil and moisture and types of seeds to plant. 

As much as I enjoy my writing cohort, I am so glad to have non-writers as friends. This is the texture of life and we get to talk about other things. And anyway, everyone is creative in one way or another and I like discovering this in others.

Do you maintain a regular writing practice? If so, what does it look like? If not, how do you stay engaged in your writing projects?

I touched on this in an earlier question, but will add here that we are all different in how we create…that’s part of creativity – your own rules. 

I’m an afternoon writer. I block out two afternoons a week for writing and then take smaller chunks of time as they come. When I’m working on a revision, I deeply immerse myself, so I may work every day. When I am working on something new, the going is slower. And, in between projects or at times of transition in my life, I’ve taken long breaks. Weeks or months. Rather than shaming myself about this, I’ve realized this is the time when my ideas “compost” into the necessary. 

How many other books or stories do you have in progress right now?

I’m working on a novel, AT THE WHEAT LINE, which is a coming-of-age story set in 1976 during a summer harvest in rural Oregon. The 1970’s were a time when agricultural policies in the U.S. began to favor larger corporate farms. Small farmers began to feel the pressure of these changes. This pressure is a backdrop in the novel. In the forefront at this time, wheat harvests were worked by teenagers—boys running combines, girls driving trucks. Carly Lang is a truck driver on a harvest crew in the town of Springs. She’s grieving the recent death of her mother which happened under shameful circumstances that the whole town is still talking about it. A new boy joins the crew, a city boy with big ideas. Teenagers, tinder dry wheat, those big machines are fuel for an explosive summer. 

In other creative news, I’m learning to write songs and play a baritone ukulele. I started in April, and the pandemic has given me time to push the learning curve. WOW am I having fun. I feel like I get better every day with the ukulele. And writing songs is a whole new form that challenges me. Plus, I’m learning how to use GarageBand. It’s crazy what cool music can be made on an Ipad!

Do you view writing as a spiritual practice?

When I began writing it was a healing practice. I was in my early forties, in a career that no longer fulfilled me, and also confronting some difficult personal history. I was longing for some kind of creative expression, as a way to meet the next stage of my life. A friend suggested THE ARTIST’S WAY by Julia Cameron. That book opened the door to release the creative that had always been in me. Of course, the tag line to this book includes “a spiritual practice.” 

Though I haven’t considered my writing a spiritual practice, I have what might be called ecstatic moments of disappearing into the work and feeling great joy and elation from the writing and pushing myself through difficult elements of the craft or emotional elements of story. 

What would your life look like if you didn’t write?

My garden would be a bit more perfect and my house a bit cleaner. And I would likely have a smaller social circle. And I think I would feel something missing. But even saying that, after beginning to write, I have learned to honor the creative in me. Like my mom who was ALWAYS learning some new craft or skill, I think I will always find a way. 

Why do you write?

Writing is my medium to express myself, to explore, to learn and be challenged, and to experience community.


Jackie Shannon Hollis is the author of the memoir, This Particular Happiness: A Childless Love Story ( Forest Avenue Press, 2019). Her writing has appeared in various literary magazines including The Sun, Rosebud, Inkwell, High Desert Journal, VoiceCatcher, Nailed, and Slice Literary. She is also a storyteller and speaker and facilitates writing workshops for people experiencing houselessness or other profound hardships. She lives with her husband in Portland, Oregon.
Jackieshannonhollis.comInstagram @jackie.shannon.hollisFacebook @Jackie.Shannon.Hollis

Shayla Raquel – Author Interview

What compelled you to tell the story/stories in your most recent book? (And specifically, why this genre?)

The 10 Commandments of Author Branding is an authorship reference book, according to Amazon categories, but I like to call it a self-help book for writers. Reference sounds so dry, doesn’t it?

It was NaNoWriMo 2018, and I needed a book idea. I was a few days late coming up with something, and I had just published my debut novel, The Suicide Tree. While I was at a coffee shop with my writers’ group (we do Saturday NaNoWriMo write-ins during November), it struck me to start compiling all of my articles, email newsletters, Facebook posts, and more into a Word doc. 

It just kept growing and growing. I knew then: This is my book. I need to help authors learn about branding, marketing, and authenticity. And so I did.   

What obstacles—either inner or outer—did you encounter while writing the book?

The Suicide Tree took me three and a half years to write. I was constantly battling with perfectionism. Thankfully, I learned my lesson (to some degree) with Commandments. In fact, that book was written, edited, and published in under a year.

I did, however, encounter quite the setback when I realized an entire chapter (Commandment IX: Thou Shalt Not Bear a Boring Book Launch) had to be completely rewritten in two days before going to the editor. Originally, that chapter taught authors about Facebook launch groups. I knew, though, that they didn’t work anymore. 

That meant sitting down in my recliner and writing an entire chapter from scratch. Funny thing is, that chapter gets the most compliments! 

How has writing your most recent book changed or added value to your life?

I’m currently finishing up a book of poetry entitled All the Things I Should’ve Told You. Out of everything I’ve written, this has been the most important to me. It’s me bearing my soul and talking about grief, love, loss, resilience, and anger. Almost every poem was written in the moment—in the moment of grieving the loss of a loved one, in the moment of falling in love, in the moment of dusting myself off and trying again.

These poems helped me get through some dark times, and they’ve also shown me the light. It’s my hope that these poems will guide others out of the darkness and into a brighter world.

Did you self-publish or did you go the traditional route? Why did you choose the route you chose, and what was that process like?

Oh, self-publish all the way! I’m too much of a control freak to hand my books over to anyone else. Plus, the waiting game is unbearable. I have a hard enough time waiting on a microwave minute, let alone two years after getting a deal. 

I’m a self-publishing mentor and have been working with indie authors for years. It’s a blast for me, and I wouldn’t want to go any other route. 

The process for someone who has done it for years isn’t tough. But for those who are new to it, it’s seriously like taking on a full-time job. There are so many learning curves! I’ve been blessed with a team who helps me publish high-quality books, so that certainly takes a load off. 

I also have the Pre-Publishing Checklist: A To-Do List for Indie Authors because so many of my clients needed a road map for the process. 

Are you friends with other writers? If so, how do they influence your writing? (No need to mention names unless you and they are comfortable with that. We’re more curious about what your writing life looks like and who/what influences/supports you.)

Absolutely! I’m the organizer for the Yukon Writers’ Society in Yukon, Oklahoma. In fact, the majority of my friends are writers. We organize workshops and conferences together; we attend conferences in Texas (road trip!); we go to coffee shops to write; we send each other writerly memes and quotes. I’ve said it before in previous interviews, but there is no doubt in my mind that my books wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for writer friends.

I think, yes, accountability is a part of success, but it’s this loyal support I get unlike any other from them. If I talk about a new book I’m working on, or if I tell my friends about ideas for workshops, they immediately cheer me on. And I do the same for them.

Find your people, my author friends. It will change you.

Do you maintain a regular writing practice? If so, what does it look like? If not, how do you stay engaged in your writing projects?

No one has ever accused me of sticking to a routine. Ha! I’m kind of all over the place with my writing. The weekends and week nights (after 8 o’clock) are a lot easier for me. I get my coffee, a snack, my Bose headphones, and I get to work. I love setting a timer too, because it’s fun to see what I can accomplish in an hour. Or on the days when time is so limited, just 15 minutes of writing is better than none.

One thing that helps me stay engaged—and this is an odd answer—is ensuring my mental health is up to par. If I’m not exercising, eating healthy, staying in my devotions, and spending time with wonderful people, my mental health will deteriorate. And if my mental health is meh, then my writing is meh

How many other books or stories do you have in progress right now?

As I said, the book of poetry! But I am wildly excited about my first psychological thriller. It isn’t named yet, but I’ve been in research mode most of the year. This one . . . well, let’s just say it’s my magnum opus. 

For NaNoWriMo this year, I’m using this time to outline my entire novel using the Save the Cat! Writes a Novel method as my guide.

Do you view writing as a spiritual practice?

As a born-again Christian, I know God gave me the gift of writing, and I never want to let a talent grow stagnant. So I’m very grateful for that. When I’m writing, I do think there’s a spiritual aspect to it, because I am genuinely bearing my soul to the world. I don’t care what genre I’m writing in; there is a piece of my heart in my writing. 

You need to take that writing time seriously. Turn your phone on silent or leave it in another room. Turn on some rain sounds (I like rainfor.me). And for the love of Pete, leave your blasted social media alone.

What would your life look like if you didn’t write?

I wouldn’t call it much of a life at all. Honestly. My whole life is centered on books. I think I would feel empty. I would always know something was missing in my life. A void.

Why do you write?

Because I can’t not write. 


Shayla Raquel is the author of the Pre-Publishing Checklist, “The Rotting” (in Shivers in the Night), The Suicide Tree, andThe 10 Commandments of Author Branding. In her not-so-free time, she acts as organizer for the Yukon Writers’ Society, volunteers at the Oklahoma County Jail, and obsesses over squirrels. She lives in Oklahoma with her dogs, Chanel, Wednesday, and Baker.

Plotting and Pinching for NaNoWriMo

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

Are you a plotter or a pantser? I’m the latter. Without a doubt. In fact, I vehemently resist plotting. My intuition guides me through my story. I know who my characters are, I know what they want, and I know where they will be at the end.

I’m happy to sit down and pour out the connecting scenes that bubble up from my unconscious and get them on the page. I don’t suffer from writer’s block.

BUT… and this is a big one… there’s a lot to be said for creating a timeline/outline that serves as a road map for the creation of a novel. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself with a bunch of scenes only to realize you’ve left the protagonist’s deepest desire in the dust or the connections aren’t being made or the pacing is out of whack or…

This week, in preparation for NaNoWriMo, I’ve been working on my in-progress novel, Miranda’s Garden, which is about one-third of the way “finished.” I’ve created a time/outline in various forms.

  • A long-form textual portrait-oriented document that breaks down my acts and everything I’ve completed so far so I can fill in what’s to come – So. Much. Detail.
  • A more abridged version of that long-form document wherein I distill the key plot points and pinch points of the story, with each one highlighted for easy identification, and also includes the percentage of the story that should be told at each juncture, along with anticipated page numbers, based on a 250-word novel and a 300-word novel.
  • Index cards on the floor that condense and distill even more.
  • A highly distilled landscape-oriented version of the above. (See image below.)

If you want to get the most out of NaNoWriMo, I highly recommend creating one of these, even if you’re a pantser like me. Even if you highly resist doing so—like a cat being put into a tub of water—like me.

Creating this timeline/outline for yourself won’t rob you of your pantsing opportunities. There will be plenty of room for that within the framework you create. And I have to admit, seeing it all boiled down in front of me makes it all feel a whole lot more doable.

Best of luck to you in your novel writing adventures in November. I’d love to hear how the diagram helps and what your experience was like when December 1 rolls around.

Sending you mad writing mojo…

Happy writing!

Johnnie
XO

Sarah Sutton – YA Romance Author Interview

Image used with permission

What compelled you to tell the story/stories in your most recent book? (And specifically, why this genre?)

I’ve always loved the YA level of writing for the beauty of firsts. First loves, first kisses—first experiences are just so fun to write. Capturing the depth of a teenage mindset is so fun, because teens feel things so deeply. Everything is the end of the world or it’s the best day ever, and I love writing those moments. I’ve always been such a big fan of contemporary romance, either in books or fun rom-com movies, so whenever an idea pops into my head, I have to write it. It makes my heart truly happy.

What obstacles—either inner or outer—did you encounter while writing the book?

As far as inner obstacles, it was hard to nail the personality of my main character for this book. I couldn’t figure out how to blend her bitterness together with more positive traits to make a well-rounded character at first. This was also my first holiday romance, so that was also daunting. With holiday romances comes a shorter promotional period—no one’s going to want to read a Halloween romance in January, so knowing that this had a small promotional life was a bit scary too. But that didn’t stop my desire to get this baby out there—I just had to tell this story!

How has writing your most recent book changed or added value to your life?

It’s taught me that writing from my heart is the most important thing for me. Like I mentioned above, holiday romances do have a short promotional life. Like a vintage convertible, you wouldn’t drive it in the winter. But it’s something that brings you joy, right? This book is like my convertible. I’ll have it out for a few months and pull it out again next year. And that’s great. Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the marketing and numbers of it all, the “Will this sell, will I make a huge profit, is it even worth it” kind of mindset. But publishing IF THE BROOM FITS has reminded me that this is about the writing and the passion in the writing. It’s made me so much more excited for the stories to come.

Did you self-publish or did you go the traditional route? Why did you choose the route you chose, and what was that process like?

Initially, I’d chosen to traditional publish. Or, I had plans to traditionally publish. After a year and no offers, I felt discouraged. I give HUGE props to authors who can keep chugging along—I’m rooting for them from the sidelines! However, once I realized that I didn’t want to continue the query process, that only left one decision, right? Self-publishing. I remember freaking out. “I can’t self-publish,” I’d thought to myself. “I wouldn’t do it well.” And at the time, I was right. I knew nothing about self-publishing. So, to do it justice and to do it right, I threw myself into research about marketing and promotions and all things indie publishing. Honestly, looking back, I know absolutely that this was the route intended for me. All of the creative control, all of the freedom of deadlines—I love every single bit of it.

Are you friends with other writers? If so, how do they influence your writing?

I’m friends with other writers online, but none in my physical life. Those writing friends online have been absolute lifesavers, though. I host writing sprints on my YouTube channel every Sunday and Thursday, and my writing friends show up and we support each other, encourage each other. I have a few friends online as well who I go to with questions and they help me brainstorm. They help me push forward, cheer me on. I even have a few friends who help me proofread and beta read when those times come. I wouldn’t be anywhere without them!  

Do you maintain a regular writing practice? If so, what does it look like? If not, how do you stay engaged in your writing projects?

Yes and no. As I mentioned, I host writing sprints on my YouTube channel, so there I’m typically writing. I really get most of my best writing done at night, so I try to tune into my work-in-progress every night and get some done. I’m a single girl in my twenties, though. No kids, no other commitments, so I have a lot of free time on my hands, so I’m fortunate enough to choose when I write. I can write at night, in the morning, after lunch—whenever. So it’s not always a “regular writing practice” really. I suppose my regular practice would just be to write every day.

How many other books or stories do you have in progress right now?

I have two projects in the works at the moment—one is the beginning of the drafting stage and one is off with my copy editor. I don’t always work on multiple projects at the same time, but I’m liking the busyness of that practice. It keeps my mind constantly engaged!

Do you view writing as a spiritual practice?

Honestly, I never have before! To me, it’s like kicking back and unwinding. It’s like turning on your favorite movie and snuggling under a bundle of covers. It’s something that makes my soul just feel so happy. 🙂

What would your life look like if you didn’t write?

Oh, gosh, I don’t know! I’ve thought about that a time or two, what might my life be like without writing. Where would I be now? What career path would I have chosen for myself? And honestly, I have no clue. I’m not sure if I’d be in college pursuing a degree or jumping straight into the work force. I think because I’ve been a writer since a very young age—elementary school young!—that it’s so engrained in who I am. I can’t even imagine doing anything different!

Why do you write?

To be honest, I’ve been staring at this question for longer than I should’ve been haha! I suppose I write to liberate my mind. To spill forth the thoughts and murmurings that gather in my head and to see the story come to life on paper (or on Word doc). Because I see these characters, these stories, so clearly and vividly in my head that it’s almost like I’m watching a movie myself. To write them down is fun, but to edit the manuscript and watch the story evolve further is such a rush of joy. And to look at that finished product, to hold it in my hands? There’s nothing like it. There’s nothing like looking at an idea that broke free from your imagination. But I suppose I don’t write dreaming of the end product. I suppose I write because to not write is to surrender to insanity, and though I may be on the cusp of it sometimes—like when a deadline looms and I’m rushing to finish, or when I’ve got so many ideas in my head that it feels like my brain is about to burst—but I’m not quite ready to give into it fully yet. 😉 


Sarah Sutton is a self-published YA Contemporary Romance author from a tiny town in Michigan. She spends her days writing stories about teens falling in love with her two adorable puppies by her side being cheerleaders (and major distractions) or she’s probably taking a nap.