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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Writing Motivation: Author Interview with Courtney Pierce

Most everyone thinks they can write a novel.  How did you come up with the idea of your first book?
I came up with the idea for STITCHES while in my former corporate job. I spent 25 years in a theater seat as an executive in the Broadway touring industry. I've enjoyed many fabulous stories on stage, but writers weren't addressing the world of 73 Million baby boomers, their wish to grow young with wisdom, and their quest do the right thing for all the wrong reasons...or better yet, do the wrong thing for all the right reasons. I wanted to write that story.  Middle-age characters became my focus. I'm one, so I know the demographic well. 

When did you start writing novels? 
In 2011, I took a break from corporate life to help my family. My parents and younger sister were seriously ill. My first book asks the question, "What would you do today if you knew you could be immortal at the end of your life?" It's about leaving a legacy, dealing with heirlooms, and keeping our heritage alive long after we're gone. A mystery with adventure. 

As the situation became more dire with my parents and sister, my writing became lighter and more fun. My goal was to "fix it" in fiction. I wrote STITCHES in three different wings of St. Vincent's hospital in Portland. I sat at their bedsides with my laptop as I talked to my dad about life, rubbed my mom's feet, and bonded with my sister. I did lose my father, but my mother and sister made it through and are doing fine today.

How long did it take you to write it?
It took a full year to write STITCHES , and it became a combination of THE THIN MAN meets ANTIQUE ROADSHOW with magical realism. I needed a little magic in my life. Then I was hooked on writing. The story became a trilogy after so many readers emailed me to keep the characters going. BRUSHES and RIFFS followed with their magic of art and jazz. My characters make their immortal decision in RIFFS.

What did you learn in writing your first book that helped you in writing the second book and getting it published?
I studied craft and storytelling with NY Times best-selling author Jennifer Lauck at the Attic Institute, a haven for serious writers in Portland. Storytelling is a science of structure. Emotional and action beats have to happen at just the right moment to keep the reader hooked. It's an invisible expectation that the hero can't go back in Plot Point One, the action explodes with new information at Plot Point Two, and the hero is pushed beyond her comfort zone in Plot Point Three, then the story comes to a satisfying conclusion in the Resolution. 

My world opened up with over two years of intense study. My second coach, Karen Karbo, is another NY Times best-selling author who took my education to another level. We sip coffee at Starbucks and talk about my chapters. We mostly laugh. And then I get to talk with cops afterward about police procedure. I love cops. If I could date one, I'd be happy. Running a red light might be a good strategy...hmmm.

You've published 5 books since 2013. Were some of them already written? Or do you complete a novel in 6-8 months?
I start fresh with every book, but I have at least two ideas in the hopper. I complete the first draft in three to four months, then spend another four months in critique with my coach, put it into the hands of beta readers, and finally send the manuscript to my editor. I get my toughest critique from my 84-year-old Mom. Wow, seriously. She wants bragging rights on Pogo, a social gaming network for seniors, so I have to be stellar for her chat friends.

The great thing about trilogies is that you know the characters so well after the first installment. I live with them, sleep with them, and drive around with them. I record my chapters on CDs to listen to the rhythm of the words like an audiobook. The process gives me a road map of the characters' nervous ticks and quirks. I know what they look like, how they talk, and understand the deep damage under their skin. They tell me what they're going to do and say. My characters become real people to me. 

By the third book of the trilogy, I sit back like a therapist and ask questions. They always spill their secrets, and then I just write. My book production will slow down, however, since I'm re-entering corporate life. Now, I'll write in the early mornings, wee hours of the night, in airports, and on planes. All good for fresh character development. I treasure the five-year sabbatical I took to write full time. Everyone needs that break from life while you have your stamina and health. My retirement career is established. I look forward to writing full time again when I retire for real.

Your books have been indie-pubbed. What's the hardest part about going the self-pub route?
I decided to self-publish in order to learn every aspect of the publishing business: how it worked, who made what, understand royalty structures, and embrace the best practices to be a professional author. Then I became a board member of the Northwest Independent Writers Association and an Advisory Council member of the Independent Publishing Resource Center to help first-time writers. Pay it forward for all those who supported my journey. 

When I finished my first book in 2012, the traditional publishing industry was in chaos. The explosive growth of e-books and self-publishing software through Amazon re-engineered an antiquated business. Publishing houses were merging, editors and marketing staff were reserved for A-list authors with a proven track record, and agents were leaving the business in droves. 

These factors contributed to my reluctance to give up any of my rights, my biggest asset. If I sold them for pennies on the dollar, I'd still be expected to build my own platform and take on the marketing. Now, they can pursue me. That's how it works these days. You build your audience, and the publishers will seek you out when your books sell. This strategy makes the most sense to earn serious money from the incredible personal investment. 

I have no aversion to going the traditional publishing route, but the numbers need to make sense for authors. Currently, they don't. Predators are everywhere. In 2013, I was invited to join Windtree Press. We are a collective of over twenty indie authors. We cross all genres and co-market, promote, and organize events. We also share ideas to keep up on the latest social media trends, technology, and distribution outlets. Publishing is an ever-changing landscape, and staying current can be a challenge. I love my relationship with Windtree Press.

What surprised or frustrated you the most in writing/publishing your first book?
How incredibly hard it is to produce something people will want to read. It takes grit and a willingness to let someone say your baby is ugly. I now write for the reader from my soul. I don't think about grammar, punctuation, or sentence structure anymore. I have that knocked. I speak to the themes that not only resonate with me but those that connect with others. That takes millions of words to get there, most of which you trash.

First books are purely selfish, an indulgence. Fourth, fifth, and sixth books are benevolent. If I had my way, I'd spend all my time in the writing cave, but that's only the first step. Discoverability and marketing take up more time than writing the book. And when you're balancing a separate career, it's called obsessive-compulsive, over-achiever behavior. My cat keeps me sane because there hasn't been time to find a man in my life. The house stays clean, though. No toothpaste splatter on the mirror
or whisker rings in the sink. That's a plus.

How do you write? Did you do an outline first? Did you do individual character development before doing the full plot?
I do. I plot out everything in detail to make sure my emotional beats and plot points hit at the hook, 25%, 50%, 75%, and at the conclusion to my target of 80,000 words. Then it all falls apart when my characters make their own decisions. They say something that takes me in another direction, and I have to swish faster on the elliptical at the gym to change course. I'll hear someone say something on TV or in a movie that gives me an idea. I get a "Duh" moment and the whole trajectory of the story changes. I let it happen. That's the ultimate fun of writing. My outlines are only a ghost of my final product, but all the beats are there and in the right place.

What type of promotions have worked best for your books?
I love participating in online Q &A Facebook parties with other authors. I also live to sign books at events where baby boomer women gather. Believe it or not, Home and Garden shows are a sales boom for me. Post-menopausal women want to buy books while their husbands extol the virtues of fake turf. The women leave with my books to laugh and realize their dreams; the men leave with only their tool fantasies. And how much do I love Umpqua Bank? A lot. They wrapped their arms around me after my divorce. They're displaying all my books in the lobby of the Sellwood branch and 100% of the sales go into my checking account. Unbelievably great.

What is the best advice you’ve been given about writing or that you’ve learned that you would like to pass along?
Write because you love it and are compelled to get that story out, not because you want to make a buck. You'll be eating Spam if you get into this nutty profession for money. It's an investment of the heart. When I'm ninety, I'll be dictating my words into an audio translation program because I won't be able to type or see the screen anymore.

Do you have any other works in the process?
I have two books in the process. The final installment of the Dushane Sisters Trilogy, titled INDIGO LEGACY, is in its final draft. I hope to release it in early 2017. I hate to leave these fabulous characters to their own devices, but a stand-a-lone story calls out to me. 

I've plotted a new book titled UNFAIR RATIOS. It will be a hilarious and poignant look at the epidemic of "gray divorce". Baby boomers are divorcing in their fifties and sixties at a rate never seen before. I, too, am a victim of it after being married for 37 years. I'll be infusing a lot of my personal experience into this book. I can't wait to write it. The transition to single life was quite traumatic, and the book will be equally so for my character. She has to re-invent herself with heavy baggage. I write painful truth with humor. It's a literary food group for me.

That's all for today's interview. If you would like to know more about Courtney and her books, here's how to do it.
website: http://www.courtney-pierce.com
Windtree Press:

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