Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Interview With Author Victoria Grossack
Please join me in welcoming author, columnist and instructor, Victoria Grossack to Pen and Prosper today. Here she shares helpful tips for writers, as well as strategies for success.
Can you tell Pen and Prosper readers a little about who you are and your professional background?
I’m the solo author of two mysteries: The Highbury Murders: A Mystery Set in the Village of Jane Austen’s Emma and Academic Assassination (a Zofia Martin Mystery). Together with my collaborator Alice Underwood, we have written five novels based on Greek mythology, including Jocasta: The Mother-Wife of Oedipus; Antigone & Creon: Guardians of Thebes and a trilogy about Niobe that starts with Children of Tantalus.
I always spent a lot of time thinking about what makes a story great, which started me down the path of working out issues that I was not seeing addressed in other books and articles. That got me writing my own column at Writing-world.com, and I have now pulled my ideas to create the book, Crafting Fabulous Fiction.
As for the rest of my background: I have a degree in Creative Writing and English Literature from Dartmouth College, an MBA from Indiana University, and I am also a fellow of the Casualty Actuarial Society. That means I understand quite a lot about insurance and mathematics.
Describe your writing process. Do you have any rituals? Do you write every day, or when your muse inspires?
These days, I write nearly every day, because I have the interest, the time and the energy. When I had a full-time job, I discovered that Mondays and Tuesdays were more intense at the office and so I was too tired to write on those days. Instead I dedicated time to my writing on Wednesdays through Sundays. I tend to write in the mornings, often very early, because I am a morning person. I think people who want to write should determine when they have time and when they have the energy, both physical and emotional, to write.
As for rituals, I find Bach very soothing, and I occasionally light a candle to summon my muse, but I often write without any music or flames.
I see that you are widely traveled and have homes in Switzerland and Arizona. Is travel writing a part of your portfolio as well?
Actually, yes – I have sold quite a few travel articles through Constant Content. I’m not trying to establish myself as a travel writer, so I usually sell all rights. That means you may never find my byline.
I don’t care much for traveling myself, but my husband does a lot for his work and so I occasionally find myself in some out-of-the-way places. Not everything goes as planned, of course, and so while we’re having problems with a hotel room or difficulties driving around Peru, I start thinking up an article. It’s a way to make lemonade out of lemons.
Your column at Writing World, and your new book both provide timely tips on “Crafting Fabulous Fiction.” What would you say is the most common mistake in creating quality fiction for new authors?
Many new authors assume that because they know how to read that they also know how to write. This is like someone saying that because he has been in a lot of different houses that he knows how to build one.
In my new book, Crafting Fabulous Fiction: Levels of Structure, Characters and More, I take people through a tour of the levels of structure in fiction. We begin with words, then move on to phrases, sentences, paragraphs and even up through series and even the world of literature. I believe that a writer who understands what is going on at each level of structure in his or her book is much better-equipped to write a fabulous story. Of course, there’s more than just structure to creating a novel, so Crafting Fabulous Fiction has a section dedicated to characters and another section covering miscellaneous topics such as dialogue and description.
A reason for pulling together the book is because my columns can’t go far enough. In an article of 1500 to 2000 words, you cannot see the big picture; you can only cover one corner of it.
Tell us a little about your Tapestry of Bronze series and what it was like to collaborate on that project.
The Tapestry of Bronze series started when Alice Underwood and I decided to collaborate on Jocasta: The Mother-Wife of Oedipus together. Many people think that trying to write with another person is nuts, and I had my own doubts when we started. But Alice and I discovered that our strengths were complementary.
When we were writing Jocasta, we did a lot of research into myths that overlapped with the myths of the characters of the Oedipus story, including Niobe, who was queen of Thebes just before Jocasta and Laius (Laius was the father of Oedipus). The main myth associated with Niobe is the story that her many children one day were killed by Apollo and Artemis. However, when we put all the myths together, the name of real, mortal person behind the mass murder became clear. That is why we wrote the Niobe trilogy: because we had the solution to a three-thousand-year-old crime. We felt as if we had to write it in order to clear the names of those who have been falsely accused.
Our most recently finished book in the Tapestry of Bronze series was Antigone & Creon: Guardians of Thebes – some reviewers are calling it the best – and we’re deep into the next one.
Working with Alice is great fun. There’s someone else in the world who understands my preoccupation with chariot races and siege warfare in the Late Bronze Age. On the other hand, the books, at the end, don’t really sound much like either of us, which is kind of peculiar.
I see you haven’t joined the “blogging bandwagon.” Any particular reason? Has it hindered you in terms of promoting your work?
It’s possible that not blogging has kept me from getting the word out about my work. But I write a column twice a month for writing-world and have done many guest articles for other sites. I don’t have the time or the inspiration for a blog; if I blogged, I don’t even know what I would say. I do maintain a website.
How did you find your current agent? What do you recommend to other authors seeking representation?
Actually, she found me, quite recently. She does not accept queries so I will not give out her name. It was always my dream for an agent to contact me instead of the other way around, so that’s pretty cool. We’ll see if it leads to big things.
For authors seeking representation, besides the usual process of preparing manuscripts and sending out query letters, I recommend (a) working on your writing; (b) getting your name out there; and (c) active networking. Meet people, and always be pleasant and professional. I would also warn that agents are not miracle workers; many manuscripts, even though they are agented, do not get picked up by publishing houses.
What would it surprise others to know about you?
I enjoy tutoring high school mathematics. After five or six hours of concentrated creativity, I find it relaxing to talk about simultaneous equations.
Columnist, author, instructor, editor…What would you identify as being your favorite creative role?
Author. It’s by far the most challenging, but it is also the most satisfying when a story really comes together.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Not today. Thanks for the opportunity, Jennifer!
To Kindle version of Crafting Fabulous Fiction: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00LGBX3OC
Also available for the Nook and in hard copy.
To Victoria’s website: