Interview Today with . . . Michele Levigne, my friend and President elect of the ACFWOhio
How long have you known that you were a writer? Did you receive a clear "call?" Or have you just loved writing all your life?
I've been daydreaming all my life, adding to stories I loved, making the characters' lives continue past the time the story ended – I can remember rewriting Star Trek episodes when I was in elementary school, putting my own twist on things. Or giving Zorro a daughter long before Catherine Zeta-Jones showed up. I had tried writing down some of my stories probably since junior high, and they usually died after a few pages. Then in high school my daydreams got in the way of semester exams. Not a good thing. I started writing down the current daydream to kill it … and haven't stopped writing since.
What is the genre you write in? Would you explain what it is?My genre is the "Angie Hunt" genre – I write all over the place. Science fiction, fantasy, romance, suspense; with variations into Inspirational and YA. I have several "universes" that I play in. The Commonwealth is science fiction, with a long, complicated history and people with genetically engineered talents and some prophecies and epic battles between good and evil and the question of what it means to be Human. Then there's my Zygradon series – basically Arthurian fantasy, set on another world. I just turned in the 4th book, which will release in April. The 5th book (sob) will be the last. Then there's my Tabor Heights, Ohio series, which is my contemporary Inspirational romance series. I'm just getting going with that at Desert Breeze. The 3rd book was released in November and book 4, "The Family Way," about a marriage in trouble, will come out in March. I have an offshoot series I need to find a publisher for, that's more action/adventure with women as the main characters and a little bit of angelic "interference." There are several more series I've been working on, but I won't mention them here. I could go on and on … but you don't want me to do that.
How do you spend your writing days? Do you set goals to reach a certain number of words per day? Can you give us a general idea of how long it takes you to write a novel?
Unfortunately, I have to make a living at something besides my writing. For now, anyway. Between office work and trying to do promotion, I'm happy if I can manage about 2 hours of actual writing time each day. During NaNoWriMo, I was managing to put in at least 1-1/2 hours on new, rough writing every day, first thing in the morning. I loved it! I don't have a goal of words or pages each day. I just write as much as I can, whenever I can. I've found that I can produce more writing if I do it first thing in the morning. If I wait until the end of the day, after I've spent 6 hours editing other people's books, doing bookkeeping, running errands, cleaning the house … I just don't have the energy to be creative!
It's hard to give an accurate figure for how long it takes to write a book, because some books are longer than others and require more thinking and re-arranging than others. Usually it takes me about 1-1/2 months to do a first draft – if I can manage to put in 1 or 2 hours every day. Say 80 hours for an average book, 75,000 to 85,000 words. Then another 40 hours for the second draft. 40 hours for the third draft. Sometimes I need a fourth and fifth draft, depending on how much revising I need to do – especially if my editor points out instances of "too stupid to live" on my hero or heroine's part. My usual practice is to write a rough draft, then put it aside and work on something else for a few months, then come back and revise it, put it aside, revise, put it aside, revise. With my Zygradon books, I had a deadline of mid-September every year to turn in for April release the following year. So I had to produce each book in about 8 months – in between other projects for other publishers. There are other books that I literally wrote more than 10 years ago, and they've been sitting in my files, waiting for that brainstorm that will make them "work" so I can send them out to find a home.
Does that answer your question?
Tell us about your new book. What is the spiritual message in it? What can readers expect to get from reading it? How and where can readers buy your book?
My most recent release is actually two books – "Seasons," a Tabor Heights, Ohio anthology, from Desert Breeze Publishing (www.desertbreezepublishing.com) and "Just Peachy," the third in my contemporary romantic suspense series at Amber Quill Press (www.amberquill.com). Both books came out November 1.
There is no spiritual message in "Just Peachy." It's a romp, some silliness and some danger – and takes place in Ohio.
With "Seasons," some of the stories don't have an overt spiritual message. They're short stories, romances. What connects all the Tabor Heights books is that the main characters are members of Tabor Christian Church. They'll stop and pray, or they'll be involved with church activities, and sometimes when they're smart they'll wonder what God wants them to do. "Troubleshooting," the second story of the four in the anthology, deals with Jake's bad history with other churches. He misses his childhood commitment to God. When he finds Tabor Christian, he's afraid to open up his heart to "church people" again – especially when the girl he follows to church and eventually falls in love with is the prime suspect in an embezzlement he's investigating!
Where do you get ideas? Character names? Do you find your characters similar to you in any way?
Ideas come at me from all over the place. Dreams. Stories that didn't work on TV or in books I read, that I rewrite. Offshoots of other stories. Daydreams. And some stories, such as the two Tabor Heights books coming out in 2010, "The Family Way" and "A Quiet Place," came when the pharmacy messed up a prescription and I was in hormonal/chemical depression. I'm not joking! You get the most depressing dreams. Fortunately I realized what was wrong before it went on too long – but a couple weeks was bad enough. Both books have some pain in them, and horrid situations that should not happen among families – especially families that claim to be Christians.
With my science fiction and fantasy names, I might just make up names from sounds, or borrow them from similar stories/TV shows/movies. Especially if I pattern a character after an actor or the character he or she played. In my Zygradon stories, since they're Arthurian fantasy, I twist a lot of Arthurian names. Merlin is Mrillis, Morgana is Meghianna, Morgause is Megassa, Guenivere is Ynfara, etc.
I don't think my characters are like me … except maybe that some of them are the way I would like to be someday, strong and capable and able to handle things. And knowing the right words to say at the right time!
Do you ever feel like giving up? Most people don’t understand the stress, the work, and the joy of being a writer. How tenuous becoming a writer is. Do you care to share how it feels, what discouraging/encouraging times you’ve gone through? Who’s inspired you the most?
I've been writing, seriously, aiming at publication, since high school. I'm addicted by now. I can't live without my private playgrounds in my head. For a long time, I wasn't getting anywhere, professionally – BUT I was getting publication and recognition in fanzine writing (amateur publications devoted to various TV shows and movies). That kept me going past the "this is a waste of time" phase. I remember my first book and my first rejection letter. I sent it to Zondervan, my first year of college. I can't remember how long it took them to respond, but of course they rejected it. I must have cried for an hour. Nobody told me that a 2-page, single-spaced letter from the editor who reviewed my book was an unusual thing. I don't know where that letter is, but I'd love to find it someday and find that editor and thank him or her for encouraging me.
Fanzine publication kept me going for probably seven or eight years, until I made my first professional sale, in conjunction with a writing contest. That encouragement lasted me for another 10 years until I signed my first contract, to e-publish "Heir of Faxinor." When I discovered the world of e-publishing, that opened a lot of doors and opportunities. That was in 2000, the same year I discovered RWA and joined the local chapter. When I found a group of people who were writing in somewhat the same area and understood what I was going through, and I learned how to find the information I needed to make that final leap to publication, that made all the difference. I have a lot of gripes with RWA, and I quit several years ago. BUT I can't say enough for belonging to a group of writers who can give you feedback and encouragement – and slap you upside the head when you need a reality check!
Who has inspired me? That's a hard one. Sometimes the best inspiration is something that was so badly written, with flat characters and too many "too stupid to live" moments – yet got published. My reaction is "I can do better than that!" and then I set out to prove it.
I keep going back to some words of C.S. Lewis, talking about science fiction and fantasy. He basically envisioned someone someday making better use of the genre as a tool for Christ. That's a challenge I want to continually rise to meet. I've often failed. For a long time I strayed away from that goal because the allegedly Christian publishing houses weren't giving me the time of day (I wanted to write epic fantasy with strong women and they wanted devotionals and prairie romances) – so I went to publishers and readers who wanted the stories I wanted to write. I'm in the process of "cleaning up my act" and letting the contracts on some stories run out. It's a long process. But I'm getting there.
Would you explain how you "chose" (or were chosen by) a publisher? Do you just go "inny, minny, miny, moe?" Grin. Now, that you’re published, can you sit back and relax from the success you’ve experienced?
Relax? Never! A literature professor made a remark about famous authors never being able to rest on their laurels, because people are always asking "So what have you written lately?"
Choosing a publisher … you read the market listing and find the publisher who is looking for what you write. In my case, I found my first publisher in Sally Stuart's column in "The Christian Communicator." It was a new publisher, venturing into e-publishing, and willing to take proposals in all genres. "Heir of Faxinor" is a fantasy – swords, magic, visions, maiden warriors. My publisher told me her only exposure to SF/F was Star Trek, but she was willing to give me a chance!
Through that, I became exposed to the whole e-publishing explosion. Whenever I heard about an e-publisher looking for books that I had ready or that I was working on, I queried. I had years of books stored in my computer, just waiting to be polished up and sent out. I was willing to take chances. Sometimes I got burned. As I got more experience with publishers, I was able to relax enough to lose the "gotta get published" desperation, so I could afford to become choosy. And in some instances, I've been invited to submit either because of being nominated for writing awards or because the publisher used to be an editor or a fellow author at a previous publisher, they liked my books, and wanted to see what else I had to offer. Networking is important. Never burn bridges. The same adage in traditional publishing goes for electronic: The go-fer you insult today could be the editor you have to placate tomorrow.
Would you give us your blog or webpage so everyone can check it out? Anything else you’d like to share? Promotional information?
I'm also listed at Author Island – www.authorisland.comPublishers:
- Amber Quill Press: http://www.amberquill.com/
- Awe-Struck E-books: http://www.awe-struck.net/
- Desert Breeze Publishing: http://www.desertbreezepublishing.com/
- Hard Shell Word Factory: http://www.hardshell.com/
- Mundania Press: http://www.mundania.com/
- New Concepts Publishing: http://www.newconceptspublishing.com/
- Uncial Press: http://www.uncialpress.com/
- Writers Exchange: http://www.writers-exchange.com/
Contracted but not yet published:
- Oak Tara: http://www.oaktara.com/
Thank you, Michele, for joining me today. I'm sure readers will enjoy reading about your writing journey. May all your novels be sucessful for the glory of God!