Thus far into the interview, Alice has tolerated ruler jokes and my inquisitiveness about she transitioned from card-carrying nun to prostitute-playing civilian. For these details and more, see Part 1.
Jan: You don’t seem to spend much time in self-doubt or in fretting about your worthiness as a writer. (Not to say you don’t work at craft and self-improvement; merely, that you don’t seem to dwell in angst.) Did you work it out as a nun, so that the final showdown around that issue was symbolized by jumping the wall? Were you a decisive person before the convent or did your time there contribute to your robustness?
Alice: I was the image of an introverted wallflower in high school. Acting doesn’t count, because you’re not “you” on stage. You’re a character. But nuns are expected to lead. So, at age 19 with 6 weeks of Methods in Teaching under my belt, I was teaching. It was the ultimate “sink or swim” — and we weren’t allowed to sink!
The convent is a crucible. Picture 95 women in a closed loop, all cycling together. (Apologies to any men reading this.) Also, the training is one long fishbowl experience. People want you to succeed, and could go overboard in their eagerness to “help” the training staff.
Wasn’t that a polite way of saying it? What it means is too many people had their noses in what was none of their business. Trust me when I say that only the strong survive. Thus, I angst like everyone else. I have my times of “My writing sucks rocks. I have no business trying to get published. I’m a big, honking fraud and I should stick to knitting.” But I learned years ago that dwelling in that for more than 24 hours can become a hamster wheel of suckitude. So I trained myself to shake it off by brute force if necessary.
You are a plotter to the nth degree, as I understand. What method do you use? Did you begin this way or become converted?
I was a pantser for my first book. It took forever, partly because I was learning everything as I went. When I decided to write a mystery, I knew I had to have a way to plant clues or I’d be sunk. I went to a writers’ conference in 2006 and took a class by Randy Ingermanson, the creator of the Snowflake Method. What I like about it is it’s easily compartmentalized. After using every part of it the first time, now I only use the pieces that work for my own writing. My outlines are a masterpiece of anal-retentive writing. They’re easily 5K. Of course, when my characters take over the story, I end up rewriting the outlines. Darn characters!
You also seem very task-oriented, meaning you know your goal is to write novel-length fiction for publication. To date, for instance, you’ve spent less time than many on building platform, blogging, etc. Do you foresee any changes down the road? What do you see as the pros and cons of having done it this way, rather than concomitantly?
I had to prioritize. I have a Day Job and a family. The Internet is a black hole that sucks time. So I spent most of my time writing. I have a website now, and I’m part of the Midnight Ink group blog, the Inkspot, to which I contribute once a month. I don’t see myself starting my own blog, especially because I have contracted books to write. I’m glad that I didn’t have a website before the book deal, because I was able to tailor it to my mysteries.
Her body is virginal, yes, but in some ways, her practical streak and cynicism – honed from years as nun and teacher – give her a worldliness that eclipses that of other characters. How much of these complexities were intuitive? How much fleshed out through editing?
In a way, there are two Giulias: The one who’s a confident, sometimes-cynical teaching professional, and the one who’s trying to bridge a ten-year gap in personal and societal interaction. In the latter, she’s still a high-school senior with all those attendant insecurities. I drew a little from my own experience for that part. When I left the convent, I had no idea how to dress, or put on makeup, or hold a casual conversation with a guy. My social interaction skills were four years out of date—and they were those of a different person. The comic possibilities are rich—but they sure weren’t funny when they were happening!
Another question about artistic choices: You might have chosen to mine Guilia’s sexual cluelessness for its comedic potential. (Indeed, you go there at times as when she turns to Cosmo for advice about relationships.) Yet you chose to take your book in a darker direction. Much darker. I personally think that was a brilliant choice. You went for the higher conflict/higher stakes scenario. Was that gut instinct, your roots in horror, your agent?
Horror rules! I love horror—I’ve been reading and writing it since middle school. I particularly like horror with a touch of dark humor. It adds a creepy touch to the frightening parts. Also, something I read in Donald Maass’ terrific book, Writing the Breakout Novel, is stuck in my mind. To paraphrase, it’s “think of the worst thing that can happen to your character, and then do it to them.” Giulia is a sexually clueless virgin who is discovering romance for the first time. Mwahahahaha!
Given your accomplishments in the face of considerable time constraints, what tips can you share about staying productive?
The concept of “found time” is essential to my writing. I have many obligations throughout the day, a lot of which involve driving the kids places and waiting. I always have my WIP or a notebook with me. Those 10- or 15-minute blocks of time are perfect for plotting, working on character charts, or editing. They’re not great for actual writing, because I like longer stints for that—at least half an hour. But my books would take considerably more time to complete if I hadn’t trained myself to use every scrap of time in my day.
Guilia promises to have a significant character arc; she begins alone, betrayed, and in the grip of an identity crisis. I imagine she’ll be at a different place in another two books. Have you plotted her character arc for the series as well as the external conflict? Any advice for how to do so? Will book three be the last time we’ll see her?
I haven’t plotted her character arc separate from the actual books. When I tried to do that, the books developed differently and I went with the flow. So I’ll see along with my readers what happens to her in the next books. Her story certainly won’t finish in three books. I have many ideas for Giulia!
Alice, where do you want your career to be in ten years’ time.
My long-term goal is to become successful enough to make enough money for living expenses and health insurance so I can make writing my Day Job.
I also hope to get published in horror/paranormal and YA. Why dream small?
Lastly, if you could give one piece of advice to other writers, what would it be?
Never give up! Never surrender! I had a lot of setbacks on the road to my book deal. A lot. Head-exploding setbacks. But I started on this path with one goal: To see my name on a shelf in a brick-and-mortar bookstore. I wasn’t going to stop till that happened. I’m certainly not going to stop now that it is happening. My next goal is to see a total stranger reading my book. After that, well, I’ll think of something very soon.
With your determination and adaptability, I think your goals are a virtual certainty, Alice. Thank you for being here.
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