What’s it like in a day of the life of Elizabeth Ann West? Funny you should ask that, as I’m in the process of evaluating my day by logging what I do. You see, I’m a Mom and Wife first. Writer is a distant third. 🙂
I suck at schedules. So I use a notecard system where I plan my day the night before or morning of, that way I can keep variety in my life. A typical card has my daily tasks of shower and dress, pick up bedroom 5 min, 3 kitchen clean ups, 2 sweeps of house, 1 afternoon pickup, 1 load of laundry, dinner, and baths and PJs for my kids. That’s what I HAVE to get done, and it’s worth 50 points. Yes, I assign points to my tasks and when I earn certain levels, I treat myself to things like new books, video games, or ordering dinner in. It’s how I manage my Mommy Guilt for working at home, but still being there for my kids. On the flip side are the spontaneous goals that might be errands, time for me, and time for writing. Also, all worth points. And when I don’t accomplish a task, even if it’s a REALLY good reason? I deduct the points. It keeps me honest and prevents me from constantly over-scheduling myself. My working hours, including taking time for me, are from 7 AM until 10 PM, everyday. I work a full-time job and a part-time job. LOL. 🙂 And I love every minute I’m not in Corporate America anymore.
You wrote “Cancelled” in a male’s POV. What motivated you to do this, and did you find this challenging? The story always came to me from Johnathan’s point-of-view. We’ve all heard the female side of dealing with the hero having a past. But I don’t know many books out there that give a man’s side of our familiar romance story lines. I knew the only way I would finish the book was to strive for something different; that would keep me motivated when things grew rough. Early on, I did try writing the story balanced between Johnathan and Alexis telling the story, but it didn’t grab me. I figured if it didn’t grab me, it wouldn’t grab a reader, either.
As far as challenging, it was a wonderful challenge! My husband helped a great deal when I asked him about certain situations. One of the criticisms I’ve heard from readers is a lack of emotional introspection on Johnathan’s part, and it’s 100% valid. But that was a deliberate decision on my part. One of the ways I kept the voice male was to model my husband’s own behavior. I have a really nasty habit of asking him “What are you thinking?” and the answer is always “Nothing.” For years, I couldn’t grasp that, as my brain never….ever…shuts off. I’m thinking about what I did, what I could have done differently, how are the kids, what’s the plan for tomorrow, next week….etc. He doesn’t borrow trouble. And after 7 years of marriage, I finally believe him and don’t ask him anymore. LOL.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of “Cancelled?” I come from a non-fiction article writing background. I wrote web based articles for money for 4 years before writing fiction. After a few non-starts in 2009 and 2010, I decided in January 2011 I was going to write a novel that year. I outlined and wrote spontaneous scenes for two months, then really buckled down and wrote chapters in March. I used a technique called #wordmongering on Twitter, where writers join at the top of the hour, start writing, and share their word counts at the :30. I average 750-1,000 words per session.
Around the end of June, I was late on my self-imposed finish line and about 20,000 words short between when Alexis learns about the baby to connecting to the engagement dinner night. I sat my butt on the couch and glared at the manuscript, wanting to quit so badly. Thankfully, I had told too many friends and family members I was writing a book, so I couldn’t quit. Instead, I gritted my teeth, typed until my hands swelled, and wrote 18,000 words in 3 days! I officially finished the second week of July, and since I outline meticulously, the nuts and bolts of the manuscript were pretty sound. Then I took a month off away, started editing in August, and six weeks later, it was in the hands of readers. So concept to first sale, 9 months.
Will there be a sequel? Yes! Johnathan’s story is a three-book series. Tentatively the titles are CANCELLED, SERVED, and APPROVED. It’s the Red Ink Collection. I planned for SERVED to come out in September, but the outline recently went through an overhaul… so I will know more this summer it’s release date. It’s looking that it might be more towards Christmas or possibly early next year. I have some other characters that bugged me with their stories while I was writing CANCELLED and I told them to wait their turn. Now I have to flesh out their dramas, and then I can get back to Johnathan’s story picking up when his daughter is about to celebrate her first birthday.
Why do you love the Chick Lit genre? I started reading chick-lit with the Shopaholic series during my husband’s extended deployment in early 2007. I was an Ombudsman for the submarine, so I had to deal with Red Cross messages (we had a wife diagnosed with terminal cancer and a miracle baby born 1 pound 1 ounce who is alive and thriving today), help 80 families move across country, and deal with my own dilemmas of living without my husband for 7.5 months. On top of that, my husband’s ex-wife was making very ignorant decisions concerning my stepson’s health, so I was regularly flying back and forth to Texas to deal with that drama. Did I mention I was 25 years old?
As an Ombudsman, you work with the wives of the CO and XO to serve the other families as much as you can. The XO’s wife and I grew very close, and she recommended the books to me. I grew up a Navy dependent, so what was technically my seventh or eighth military deployment was the first for 75% of the wives attached to a sailor on the boat. I needed laughter. I needed Becky’s Aunt Ermintrude dying of becoming septic when Luke catches her with the scarf he helped her buy. As my husband’s ex-wife was pregnant with her now soon-to-be-second-ex-husband, and I had just miscarried a baby, I absolutely NEEDED the “She’s a red-headed bitch and I hate her” T-shirt romp in Shopaholic and Baby!!!
I have drama in my life. It’s not going anywhere. I can be ashamed of it or laugh and be merry despite it. I choose the later. And that is why I love a good chick-lit story that makes me not feel so bad about my modern life.
Do you have any favorite snacks while you write? Hershey Kisses with Almonds. The unwrapping always gives me a second to mull a detail, and it has a nut in it, so it’s half healthy, right? I am also starting to drink coffee, though I still love Prince of Wales tea. But my coffee is 50% coffee, and the other 50% is Coffee Mate’s Italian Sweet Cream creamer and milk. It’s more of a latte. Oh, and when I hit a milestone? Trip to Starbucks for a Tiramisu cake pop.
What do you do when writer’s block hits, and how do you get over it? I am an outliner. Yes, things develop as I’m writing that can impact the outline, and that does happen, but for the most part, I am a woman with a plan when I sit down to write. If I get stuck, it’s usually when I’m in the outlining process. I’ll give a little time, and if a solution doesn’t come, I will back track and think about an alternate plot path.
Actually writing, I don’t generally get writer’s block. If I’m not really in a mood to write, but need to put words on the screen, I give myself permission to suck. I #wordmonger and just write whatever comes in 30 minutes. Every writer needs to figure out what causes their writer’s block. Mine isn’t a lack of ideas, it’s fear that they aren’t any good. When I shut up my internal Queen Bee judge, I’m free to let my fingers fly. Later on, it’s usually not half bad and just needs a little tweaking here or there to clean it up.
From the first page to a published book, what is your favorite during the writing process? Outlining. I love, love the logic puzzle involved. I love coming up with a problem this set of characters has to solve, and then figuring out how all of the puzzle pieces fit. I ascribe to the 3-Act structure, and love to weave in my subplots so that at the end they all come together in one ending. That’s a LOT harder than it sounds. I think CANCELLED is doing so well as a debut novel, from a writer who rarely involved herself in creative writing, because I planned out every little detail and how it all ties together before I wrote the book. I honestly didn’t think I would get any 5-star reviews. I expected people would hate my characters and give a resounding thumbs down. I’m okay with being wrong! 🙂
Second favorite is editing. I love to shred my own writing. It’s the non-fiction writer in me. I’m verbose. I know it, my red pen knows it. Therefore when I wear my editor hat, I am a word killer. CANCELLED’s first draft was 85,000 words. Only 75,000 of them made the cut.
Who or what motivates you? My husband. He and I have been together for nine years. When we first met he was a young pup in the Navy, not sure if he was going to stay in or get out. Like I said earlier, we had drama. And it never stopped us. Together, we’ve weathered many a storm, and while he’s cautious about me and my big ideas (waiting to see if they stick), he always 100% supports me. I do the same, and his career in the Navy has advanced beyond both of our imaginations to where we are very comfortably living in Connecticut with our two children. No more deployments! 🙂
I want to succeed in my writing to make him proud of me, but at the same time I know that I don’t have to because he already is. He’s my best friend, can go toe-to-toe with me in Scrabble, and I care about his opinion first and foremost.
Do you have any goals for yourself that you’d like to accomplish within the next five to ten years? My husband’s military commission is up in ten years, so I have a rough ten year plan of publishing as many great stories as I can and build a healthy back list. I’m a business woman at heart, I love the logical side of life. Statistically, it is so unlikely to have a break out novel, let alone an author’s debut, that I never counted or coveted the overnight success story. I’m more interested in a slow, sustainable build where readers know I’m there for them, not their dollars. At the same time, I do have two children to put through braces, college, and hubby and I still have three continents out of seven to visit. 🙂 I would like to build up a catalog of titles that bring in “fun money” and maybe, just maybe, when my husband retires from the Navy after 24 years in, we can take a year off before we start our next adventure.
What is the best advice you’ve been given? 90% of life is showing up.
I once took a Constitutional Law class at the ungodly hour of 8 AM on the complete other side of campus, three times a week. Smashing my alarm clock at 6:30 AM at the stay-up-all-night-age of 19, every morning I seriously questioned my sanity when I registered for classes the previous semester. Starting with a class of twenty kids, only eight of us made it to the end. In one of my many conversations with the professor, who was our university’s counsel and had argued in front of the Supreme Court of the United States, he cut through my undergraduate bullsh*t whining one day by telling me that life is about showing up. You didn’t do the reading, you didn’t finish the project, who cares? Show up. Because you can’t accomplish anything, especially making up where you are already behind, if you don’t show up.
Following that simple advice landed me on the Dean’s List that semester, a challenge I didn’t feel compelled to do again. But still, eleven years later, I am my own worst enemy when it comes to if I can’t do something perfectly by my standards, I end up not doing it at all. It’s a quirk I have. I have to really push myself to accept less than perfect to get anything done. I push myself to just show up. It sounds like a false flaw to have, but believe me, when you have what I call “crippling perfectionism,” you know what I mean when I say you end up accomplishing nothing. But your plans to get stuff done? Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.
Do you have any current projects going on that you’d like to tell us about? I am working on a stand alone novella titled STONE. Melanie Stone still dreams of walking into a department store and browsing a clothes rack with her name on the label. A single-mom and owner of an alterations shop, Melanie auditions for a spot on a reality TV show for fashion. Not expecting to find a handsome stranger along the way, Melanie puts the romance on hold as she frantically fulfills dozens of prom and Easter dress orders to pay her bills. But this new beau just won’t take “I’m busy” for an answer. Stressed by her judgmental mother, Melanie struggles to forgive the woman who abandoned her and her grandson five years ago, find greater financial security, and oh yeah, kick out the total creep worming his way into her world. There’s NO TRESPASSING in Melanie Stone’s life.
STONE is due to come out early this summer.
– Thank you so much for this opportunity to be on Chick Lit Goddess! 🙂 I love answering interviews, and hope one day to do a few life events via Google Hangouts. You are helping so many readers and authors with your blog, Isabella. I send you hugs and big smiles! Thank you. 🙂
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**HERE is my review for “Cancelled!”