Hello Claudia, please tell us about you, as a writer.
Ever since I can remember, I have always wanted to be a writer. I have been writing fictional stories and poetry since a young age. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English, I began writing for local newspapers while still working on my fictional projects when I could. For the past eight years, I have worked as an investigative journalist for a legal and business newspaper while occasionally taking on freelance projects such as writing a teleplay for a client and a biography for another client. Now I work full-time as a writer for an assortment of clients writing news articles, marketing articles, blogs, and pursuing my fictional projects.
Your latest book is Harbor's End; perhaps you’d you give us some insight into it in a few sentences?
Harbor’s End is the title of my published novel and while some bookstores promote it under Romance it is actually a story about different forms of life and death. The novel is about dealing with the past in order to move forward. It is the story of Shanyn Tomilson, who is one of the top riders in the world in show jumping. She has been diagnosed with a brain tumor and moves to the small town of Harbor’s End, Oregon, to die. There she meets people who show her that her life is just beginning.
How did you come to write this particular book?
I suffer from chronic headaches. In college, my doctor wanted to do a CT scan to make sure there was not a tumor. I thought of what I would do if there was a tumor and this book was the result of that process. I also love horses and show jumping and wanted to write a book with those elements.
Do you have a favourite character from the book? If so, who and why this particular one?
I’m not sure I favour one character over another because they each play an important part in the story although I adore the dog, Luke.
Where can people buy your books?
Harbor’s End can be purchased through any major bookseller such as Barnes & Noble and Amazon. I have also seen it offered by Indian book websites.
What qualities does a writer need to be successful?
Everyone’s definition of success is different, but to be a successful writer, you have to have a true passion for what you do and you have to be willing to devote a lot of hours to your craft as well as perform the necessary research. I’ve heard it said that being a writer is 10% talent and 90% hard work and I agree with that. I spend a lot of time doing research.
What’s your working method?
I have an organized approach to writing books, keeping an electronic file and a paper file on each project which contains sketches of landscapes, character profiles, plot ideas, floorplans (I design home floorplans and use them for my books), notes on research subjects, data pulled from reputable websites, and other information related to the project. I also create each chapter as its own document with a title that reminds me of the main event in that chapter. Doing this makes it easier to find a scene when I need to check something and to edit. Scenes that I decide to take out are kept in a separate file for possible use later.
The first thing I do when preparing to write a new book is research the topics that are going to be in the book. For example, I found a great book on show jumping with the technical terms, training tips, and outlines of courses to help me create some of the scenes in the book. Then I sketch ideas and start writing the first chapter. I also write out a general plot to map out events in the story.
What’s the single biggest mistake made by beginner writers?
I think most writers tend to ignore the importance of research. To be an effective writer, you have to know your subject, and that means you need to do your research if you are not an expert. For example, if you are writing about a person who is a lawyer, you need to sound like a lawyer and you need to know legal terms so that you can use them in the dialogue. When I wrote Harbor’s End I did a lot of research to find the right tumor that would work for my story line and I used a real medical procedure in the novel.
To what extent are grammar and spelling important in writing?
Grammar and spelling are extremely important when it comes to writing—especially grammar. To be a good writer, you need to be able to assemble sentences and you need to be able to structure paragraphs. You can hire a professional editor to clean up your writing, but that can be very expensive. I do all of my own editing and that works well because I am the one making the decisions regarding structure and flow. Also, you should never rely entirely on your spell check because it will miss errors. Reading and rereading the manuscript with a critical eye is the best method.
How much do you revise your MS before sending it off?
I am a perfectionist so I do a lot of editing to make sure the book is the way I want it to be. I will not let anyone look at the manuscript until I get to a point when I can read it without wanting to make any changes to it. Then I know it is ready.
As a writer of fiction, to what extent do you think genre is useful in the publishing world?
I really do not pay a lot of attention to genres. What is important to me is the story itself and the message I want it to carry. Sometimes I think genre titles can be a bit distractive.
Many authors see marketing as a bind. What's your opinion on this, and how do you deal with it?
Unfortunately in today’s modern age, marketing is becoming an essential part of being a writer. My feelings regarding marketing are conflicted because there are many examples of books that attract a lot of readers without a lot of marketing and vice versa. I write because I love to write and teach—not because I am trying to be famous, and for me, the greatest joy is sharing what I create with other people and encouraging them to think about issues and concepts. I think it’s important to do what you feel comfortable with, when it comes to marketing. You can talk about your book all you want, but you cannot convince every person to read it. If you like to blog, keep a blog. I would rather write books than write a blog, but I do have a blog that gives information about my fictional projects and posts about issues I feel are important. I find that talking with people and letting them find out that I have a novel works more effectively in creating interest. Because my novels deal with important societal issues, my goal is to get people to think about these issues—not to necessarily sell books.
What support, if any, do you receive from family and friends, writing group, or dedicated professionals?
I have a small group of friends with whom I share my novels. The deal is that they can only read the chapters if they give me an honest opinion and feedback regarding the story. This is really helpful because sometimes they will catch something I didn’t see. It is also a lot of fun to be able to talk about the characters and the story with others.
Is presentation of the MS as important as agents and publishers suggest?
My publisher was recommended to me by another author and so I just filled out the paperwork and sent them the manuscript. I have not done book queries. I look at publishers as what they can do for my book rather than what I can do to get them to take it. I feel it is important to send an edited manuscript that is professional and without errors. Publishers are more likely to pay attention to a manuscript that is polished and ready to go, than a manuscript full of errors and structural problems. When my novel was published, it was kept 99.99% the way I wrote it. There were only a couple of small word changes and I attribute this to the effort I put into the novel to make sure it was polished before I submitted it.
How long does it take you to write a novel?
The length of time it takes to write a novel varies. I wrote Harbor’s End in about a year and then took a couple of years to edit it as I worked on it when I had free time. My recently completed novel was drafted in three months and then took about 15 years to rewrite and edit because I would put it away for months at a time. I am estimating my next project to take about a year—I am already five chapters into the novel.
Who or what inspires your writing?
Just about anything can inspire me when it comes to writing. As I’ve already stated, music is a huge source of inspiration. Places I visit are also sources of inspiration—I use a couple of places I’ve been as guidelines in my current projects. Being an investigative legal and business journalist, I am inspired by societal issues that I see in the world around me and some novels reflect that. My sequel to Harbor’s End for example, will address animal abuse as well as a couple of other things. History is a big inspiration and one of my future projects came from my studies of the Holocaust and my thoughts and impressions from the things I have read.
If there’s a single aspect of writing you find frustrating, what is it?
The most frustrating part of writing is what some writers call writer’s block. I hate it when I know where I want the story to go but my mind goes blank for a while regarding how to move it to that next point.
Is there a particular feature of writing that you really enjoy?
I love it when the characters take over and tell you what they are going to do. While Harbor’s End was not that way, my recently completed novel was. It’s so exciting when characters suddenly appear and you know that they are supposed to perform some role but you have no idea what that role is until the moment in the story arrives and then the answer is clear. I had several characters that were intended to be minor characters and took on a larger role and characters that appeared out of nowhere. It was like going on the adventure with them because I often had no idea what was going to happen next. It was a lot of fun to write.
Do you believe creative writing is a natural gift or an acquired skill?
I believe that a good writer has both elements of possessing a talent for writing and putting in the work to develop that talent. You can have a very creative mind and love to make up stories but it takes a lot of hard work and discipline to sit down and write a novel. You should always be looking for ways to improve those skills. A good writer will tell you that they do not know everything while a poor writer will tell you they do know everything. You should know your weaknesses and be working to strengthen those weaknesses. You should also try different kinds of writing which will help you hone your fictional skills. I often use journalism rules in fictional writing and am always looking for the best way to tell the story.
What are you writing now?
I recently finished writing a new ending for my fantasy novel, The Legend of Kaira, so now I will turn my attention back to the second book for the Harbor’s End series. I will also probably be resuming work on my novel about domestic violence. I like to have a couple of different projects to work on so that when I have writer’s block on one, I go work on another novel for a while.
Do you have a website or blog where readers can visit?
My blog is www.claudiaculmone.blogspot.com
Given unlimited resources, where would you do your writing?
If I could write anywhere, it would be in a little cottage on the Oregon coast where I could sit out on the deck, listen to the ocean and have my horses grazing nearby. I would also probably travel to places around the world with a laptop where I could sit for a while and write.
Where do you actually write?
My office is in the bedroom so that is where I do a significant amount of writing. However, I also work in the living area on a laptop and occasionally on the deck where I can enjoy a view of the mountains and smell the fresh air. I have a smart phone so I have also been known to write scenes in stores, at church, and in other places—especially when inspiration hits.