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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Moving from a Short Story Idea to a Novel: Author Interview with Pamela Ann Cleverly

Your bio says that you started telling stories to your brothers when you were a child, but you didn’t start writing your first novel back in 1982.What happened to that first book? 
In the summer of 1981 I nearly lost my left leg in a hiking accident. It was almost a year before I could walk without assistance. During those long months of rehabilitation I read over 300 books, mostly romance and mystery. The characters and plots were beginning to be so predictable that I stopped reading and began writing the story in my head that had been keeping me company during mundane parts of my day. It was a time travel set in London and without the aid of the internet I spent many long hours in my local library doing the research. 

As happens in many lives, my second marriage of seventeen years was falling apart, more like exploding. At the same time my sixteen-year-old daughter was getting in trouble at school, hanging with the wrong crowd, and the police were at my door. My book was the last thing on my mind and the typed manuscript went on the shelf. In hindsight I wish I’d checked out the library bulletin board as there was a writers group in my town back then. 

Writing, or I should say, learning how to write could have helped me through the difficult years of reinventing myself. That story still occasionally pops into my head and I will at some point finish it as I’m currently writing a time travel.

Your first novel shows a publication date of 2015. What was going on with your writing from 1982 till then? 
In 2005 a story jumped into my head and wouldn’t go away. Until then I hadn’t considered actually writing one of the many stories that occasionally popped into my head. They were just my therapy. They say to write what you know and I’d known a lot of heartache so I sat at my computer and began writing. I quickly realized that I didn’t know how to write, so I did what every person who loves research does, I bought a bunch of books on how to write a book. 

In The Shadow Of The Lighthouse was finally finished in 2007 at 160,000 words. I sent out my manuscript to dozens of agents who all had the same comments; great storyline but too long and not sure how they would market it. That same year I attended a local writer’s conference and met a published author who belonged to a critique group. She offered to read the book. She had the same comments and suggested I join the group. 

After months of debate with the group, I decided to whittle the book down to under 100,000 words in order for an agent to consider taking me on. I spent the next year tearing the book apart and looking for an agent. I also attended my first Romance Writer’s Of America conference and gained a wealth of information and agents who agreed to read the first few chapters. With much feedback I continued with rewrites. By my next RWA conference the shift was beginning to head in the direction of self-publishing and I focused my attention to the business end of publishing.

What type of research did you do before you chose your source to publish? 
With each RWA conference that I attended I talked with indie-authors and the various editorial and marketing services. I learned the importance of good websites, cover designs and professional publishing help. I finally decided to go with Writers Space and enjoyed working with them on the design of my website and help publishing. 

What is the hardest part of writing for you? 
Since the stories just seem to appear in my head, the first thing I do is a rough draft of what I “see.”  I'll jot down the general characters and plot with enough information so I don’t forget the details. I have to say even years later I can bring the story back enough to begin writing. 

The most difficult part is taking what would be a short story in my head to a full-length novel. Also, I need to develop a writing schedule that I can follow. Since I retired from my day job I’m finding the hours in a day are too flexible. I thought taking a guest room and creating the office of my dreams would be the motivator, but I’m still too easily distracted by what is happening beyond the windows!

What does your editor remind you to do most often?
My editor is always wanting more deep point of view. I’m trying to remember to put everything my characters are thinking and doing onto the page. Also, she emphasizes the importance of choreography. A character can’t begin speaking or doing a task in another location unless he or she has done something to get there.

What’s the best encouragement you’ve had in your writing?
I’m very motivated by my readers who tell me that a character in a book has inspired them or helped them deal with adversity. I love history and do a lot of research when writing in a particular time period. 

In my book, A Beacon In The Dark, Olivia Bentley reads her mother’s journals that were written during the 1940’s. While writing I listened to music of the period, studied the fashions and slang of the period, as well as the challenges of living during World War II.

I’m encouraged when my readers express their excitement over memories that my story brings back or places they have visited. I love that they can relate to the story and yet be entertained by the storyline.

We have all experienced rejection. How have you learned to write past it?
My most vivid rejections came early after completing what I felt was a best seller and agents would be fighting over me. My ego was quickly deflated when agents and other authors agreed that my writing style didn’t fit a norm, and they couldn’t place me in an accepted genre. 

I considered myself a mystery writer, yet I was told there wasn’t enough mystery, it had too much mystery and suspense to be a romance (so I added more romance), and it had a convoluted storyline. Well it did, after all, take place over a twenty year time period. 

Women’s Fiction was suggested, but that didn’t seem to excite the agents either - too much conflict. Once again the workshops at RWA conferences and the folks at Writers Space encouraged me to write what I want in the style that is comfortable and my readers will follow. I am finding my voice and sticking with the mystery/suspense genre that I’ve always loved.

What has surprised or 
frustrated you the most in writing/publishing? 
The length of time needed from finishing a manuscript to publishing. If writing a story was all that I had to do I could easily put out three novels a year. I didn’t realize how time consuming the whole editing process takes, then working with a separate company to do the formatting and another company to do the cover designs. 

I find the time spent on the actual publishing aspect frustrating, not to mention trying to fit my writing life into normal family obligations. It doesn’t help that I am also the Executive Director for two non-profit organizations in two different states. Maybe I should work on my priorities!

What do you know now about writing you wished you had known sooner?
I wish I’d known about writer’s groups and conferences back in the 1980’s. I needed encouragement from other authors, not just family and friends telling me that I had great stories and to write them down. 

It wasn’t until I opened myself up to the writing community that I got the help and motivation to go on. “Sit your butt down in the chair and write.” Nora Roberts always preaches this in her workshops, and that is what I did.

What is the best writing advice you’ve received or could give?
If you have a story to tell then write it. But while you’re writing study. Study and learn your genre, get connected to local writing groups, attend writer’s conferences, make the local library your best friend, many of them now have writers centers. 

I found out about Sisters In Crime through my library and attended a workshop. I was so impressed with the authors and their presentations that I joined. The local chapter does field trips to fascinating places such as the City Morgue, the Bones Department in the Natural History Museum, and a Crime Lab. Once your manuscript is finished and you’ve done a gazillion drafts then find the best editor and follow his or her advice.

Are there any other points about writing you would like to add?
It’s a solitary journey you take in your mind. The challenge is to create the time and space to put the words on the page. To have the courage to put those thoughts ahead of everything else in your life at the moment. I guess that means to allow yourself to be selfish and let your inner creativity out.

What is the next book coming out? Can you give me a short synopsis?
A Paper Key will be available in the fall for the holiday market. This book will be a stand alone time travel and not part of the Tanner Family series. 

World famous interior designer, Tatyana Dupree is hired to take the empty and boarded-up old Halle Bros. Department Store and turn it into modern high-end condos. But when she arrives in Cleveland with her drawings, Burton White, the project’s architect, is horrified. This is not the classic, elegant design he wanted for the famed building, but a monstrosity of glass and chrome. 

Before he can say a word, Tatyana sends Burton off in search of the source for the cold draft that only she felt. Suddenly, all alone, Tatyana is faced with either freezing to death or pushing her way through the shimmering curtain that is now pressing her forward and the scene before her. Once through the wall of cold, she finds herself in Halle’s during the Christmas season of 1961. The store leads her on a journey into her past and the challenges she’s tried so hard to forget. 

Meanwhile, Burton searches the empty building, floor by floor for the mysterious draft, but instead, discovers his own connection to Halle’s and the role he played in having the young Tanya sent away to live in the Big Apple.

That sounds intriguing, but that's the end of today's interview. If you'd like to learn more about Pamela's books, here are some links to get you started.


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