and here is what she had to say:
Hi Linda. You must be excited about the upcoming release of your new historical novel! Tell us about yourself and your book.
A love triangle of extremes has proven to be a solid platform for my writing. From my roots in Alaska I receive strength, solitude, centeredness and respect for the awful power of nature. My short story “Raindrop People” and numerous adventure articles including my most recent “Raven Brings the Sun” about my float down the Tatshenshini River take place in my homeland. In Hawai'i I found nurturing, a spiritual awakening, sensuality, peace and my heroine for my historical fiction, Wai-nani: High Chiefess of Hawaii - Her Ancient Journey, which will be released this spring. (Read more about it.)
In Southern California, I obtained a degree in English Literature and a doctorate in urban savvy. I continue to enjoy opportunities here for intellectual stimulation, exciting contacts and friends. It makes a great base for exploits that I will share in my travel collection Lost Angel Walkabout.
On my website www.LindaBallouAuthor.com you may see an assortment of my many travel articles that have been published in magazines along with photos on my areas of expertise page. Your reward for going to my website will be to discover the secret to youth!
Q. How long have you been writing? What made you put that first story down on paper?
A. I have been writing all my adult life. When I was transplanted from Southern California to Alaska at the age of thirteen, I felt out of step with my peers. Books written by great authors became my best friends. I began journaling to help sort things out. I collected experiences and did character sketches of the unique people I met in Alaska. My first short story, “The Short but Happy Life of Charlie Bell”, a baby fur seal my mother adopted, remains one of my favorite stories and is yet to be published.
I didn’t get an article published until about 15 years ago when I combined my love for horses with my love for writing and came up with a piece called the “Art of Falling.” In it, I taught riders how to part company with their horse without getting hurt. I sold the idea to Equus Magazine. They gave me a five page spread and a nice check. I found that articles were easier to incorporate into my real estate work schedule and to sell than big projects, so I focused my efforts on that arena.
Q. Do you write in a particular genre? If so, what genre is it?
No. I write what I want to write. So far that has been a screenplay, Fortress of the Bear, which takes place in Alaska, my historical novel set in ancient Hawai`i, and a young adult novel, The Cowgirl that Jumped over the Moon, still in first draft stages.
About ten years ago, I injured my back. I had to give up my horse and riding about four times a week. It was difficult time for me. When my back finally healed, I decided to have more fun with my writing and to branch out into travel writing. Going to guest ranches and writing about great experiences in gorgeous country was a natural for me. I’m still doing it, and I still love it.
Q. Tell us about your publishing credits.
I've been published in numerous national print magazines as well as e-zines. A half dozen of my essays have appeared in various literary journals, and anthologies. My debut historical novel, Wai-nani, High Chiefess of Hawai`i: Her Epic Journey, is scheduled to be released in April of 2008 by Star Publications.
Q. What was the first story? Where was it published?
“Once Stung Thrice Shy”, a humorous essay about an allergic reaction to bee sting, received a full page spread in the L.A. Times, Life and Style section. It was a very dramatic moment for me to finally be acknowledged as a writer.
Q. How long did it take to write and publish?
I think most writing careers are built upon rejection and mine is no different. I can’t tell you how many agents, and/or publishers I’ve queried over the years with various projects that have been rejected for one reason or another. I don’t count. I just keep putting it out there. People tell me I lead a charmed life. I have to agree it feels that way now, but I tell them that I worked very hard at getting “charmed.”
Q. What was the process?
A. It is a bit like fishing. You just keep your lure baited with something you think will entice a whopper onto your hook. You must be patient and you must not take it personally if big, glassy-eyed characters pass you by. I like to have as many lines in the water as I can at one time. That way when I open my mail I am pleasantly surprised with a positive response comes my way. By the time some of these editors get back to me, I have forgotten what query or article I sent to them. I keep track with a submissions list.
However, with e-queries the process is accelerated and responses much more speedy. Don’t ask the question if you can’t deliver in a hurry. While on the subject of the internet, may I say that it has opened a floodgate of opportunity for me as a writer. My webpage enables me to query without the time and expense of mailing and clips. I can find the editor of a given magazine and their current guidelines with one click, sparing myself from wasting time and energy on a tunnel with no cheese. While mega-mergers among traditional publishing are closing doors, the internet is growing like Jack’s magic beanstalk to the heavens. Writers never had it so good. I say start climbing.
Q. Who’s your favorite author and why?
Jack London. I wrote a piece called “Jack London and Me” about how our geographical lives have intertwined. The unrelenting beauty of Alaska, the lushness of the Hawaiian Islands, and proud California were his physical cornerstones and they are mine as well. I don’t dare to compare my writing to the greatest adventure writer of our time, but I do seem to be walking in his footsteps. I can’t live with the fury that he did, but I do admire his zest for life. He was the meteor while I am just a speck of cosmic dust.
Q. How did you deal with rejection letters, if you received any?
I mark on my submissions list what date I got it to make sure I don’t approach that editor, publisher or agent with the same idea twice, and then put it in the round file.
Q. What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?
It depends upon what kind of writing you are talking about. Let’s talk about travel writing since I am successful in that arena. It is essentially place setting. I try to make use of the five senses to create vivid images and active verbs to put the reader in the scene. My travel writing hero, Tim Cahill, tells two stories at once. He intertwines them with a surprise ending that pulls them together in a pretty little bow. I like writing that is thought provoking. I enjoyed the observations and reflections made by William Least-heat Moon upon life as he journeys across America on Blue Highways.
Bill Bryson’s, In a Sunburned Country, is informative and entertaining with tongue and cheek humor. I strive to have all of these elements in my stories.
Q. How do you develop your plots/characters, ideas/concepts ? Do you use any set formula?
I think we all build on what has been done before. I did not really understand what I was supposed to do as a writer until I took Robert Mckee’s screenwriting seminar. It was an intensive three-day event that answered this question for me.
I made my heroine, Wai-nani, whose character is inspired by the favorite wife of Kamehameha the Great, fulfill the hero’s journey model as outlined in Mythic Structures for Storytellers. I tried to keep the hump in the middle of the story from sagging by plotting each chapter like a scene in a play with a beginning, middle that centers around a confrontation and builds to a climax that pulls the reader forward to the next chapter. I did extensive research so that I could give the story rich detail. I tried to place myself in the minds of my characters and to act in a situation they way they would. I tried like hell to show the story and not to tell it. I followed guidelines set in the many books I have read on writing. Is the result formula writing or a distillation of all that I have learned over the years? I don’t know.
Q. What do you do to unwind and relax?
I am a nature nut. Hiking, swimming, horseback riding, yoga and a long stroll on the beach all serve to settle my mind and allow me to digest input. Jack London wrote a thousand words each day before noon and then he swam for a couple of hours. Thoreau walked every afternoon for four hours reflecting upon what he was going to say next. It’s a great life if you can arrange it.
Q. What do you like to read?
I have come to love travel narratives. Mark Twain was America’s first really great travel writer, but Jack London was no slacker in this category either. Paul Theroux’s Happy Isles of Oceania is one of my favorites. The list is endless, but I learned the most from Tim Cahill. He uses dramatic techniques with a liberal sprinkling of a self-deprecating humor that makes his stories a joy to read.
Q. What does your family feel about your writing? Are they supportive?
I am the only one in my oh-so nuclear family that has a college degree. I think they are proud of me, but I don’t expect them to really appreciate what I do, it is not their world. My life-partner is very supportive. Even though he is not a literary type, he gives me the space to be who I am. Self-actualization has been my goal in this lifetime. When I decided to be an artist, I knew it would set me apart and make my life goals different from those around me.
Q. What inspires you? Who inspires you?
People who are living according to their own inner convictions and have the courage to do what they want in life. People who are thoroughly engaged in what they do and are therefore vitally alive inspire me. I meet a lot of these people on my adventure treks. Many of my guides are people who have broken molds handed to them by parents. Some of them have had near death experiences that made them acutely aware of the fragility of our time on the planet and how important it is to be doing what you really want to do. In my forthcoming travel collection, Lost Angel Walkabout, I spotlight a few of the individuals I have met that I see as living in a “naturally high” place.
Q. What are you working on right now?
I am working as hard as I can as fast as I can to get my work in publishable format so that I can get it out of my drawer and onto the streets. Lost Angel Walkabout is up next. Then, I will get my Great Outdoor Days in L.A. book ready to go. I do have a book on real estate in me, but it will have to wait until I finish the re-write of Cowgirl.
Q. How do you handle Writer’s Block?
I don’t have time for writer’s block. If I get stumped, I put that piece down and go to something else that is easier. I come back later after I have had time to become objective. Then, I can nip and tuck to my darlings with the cold-hearted abandon of Edward Scissorhands. Sometimes, I will spare them and set them aside in hopes to find them another home that is more fitting.
Q. What is most frustrating about writing? Most rewarding?
Even though I have a degree in English Literature, I am not good at grammar. I think I must have been the child that got left behind in that class. I’m lucky to have found a great editor who saves me from my failings.
The most rewarding….you mean besides the sense of evolving as a human being, connecting with my tribe of other writers, giving continuity to my life, allowing me to reveal myself to myself, manifesting dreams after years of hard work. Oh I don’t know, the pleasure of having people say they enjoy my work is right up there. I met a man at a guest ranch in Colorado who told me I had saved his life. He had internalized techniques outlined in my “Art of Falling” piece. He had never fallen, but when he did he knew what to do. He made me feel like my writing had real value in the world.
Q. Do you have any kind of writing schedule?
Yep. I get up at 7AM, read for an hour and then work on my writing until about noon. Then I run outdoors to seize the day. I incorporate my real estate career in there as need be. I have sold real estate all the years that I have been privileged to be a writer to support my eating habit. After dinner, if I don’t have an appointment, I work a few more hours on my writing endeavors. I read about something I’m writing about before going to sleep and enlist my subconscious to help me with ideas.
Living in California makes it hard for me to write. The weather here is stunning year round. I hike all over the Santa Monica Mountains and take long walks on the beach on my day off. Great writers live in soggy places like England where it’s just more fun to sit in your study with a spot of tea and a warming fire. Maybe if I move to Seattle, I can get serious
Q. What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given as a writer? What’s the worst?
Best advice was given by Jack London who said, “The world is filled with boneheads and boobs, don’t get hung up listening to them. Just write from your own heart. Don’t worry about them understanding your work. They never understood his!”
The Renegade Writer by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell is filled with great shortcuts for freelance article writing success. I took The Artist’s Way to heart and have a date with myself most every day. Another very important book on writing to my mind is The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. He gives you the roadmap on how to create a universal and therefore engaging protagonist.
The worst advice was when I was told I should adapt my “Charlie Bell” story to fit a "Northern Exposure episode. I did. The agent I was working with told me it was Emmy material. I was very excited until she called to tell me the show had folded. Television is a fleeting venue. Trying to fit into that commercial mold without being on the inside track went against odds I would not take again.
Now, I choose topics and venues that I hope will stand the test of time. That was one reason why I wrote historical fiction. I figured what happened two hundred years ago was not subject to change. I was wrong about that. It turns out debate still rages about the Hawai'ians role in Captain Cook’s death and that other aspects of Wai-nani’s story are controversial today.
Q. If I were sitting down to write my very first story, what would your advice be?
All good stories, articles and essays have a fetching beginning, an engaging middle and a satisfying end. Jack says story is desire, struggle, realization which equals character arc. When you are describing a setting or person you should be appealing to at least three out of five of the senses. This applies to fiction, travel writing, article writing movies you name it. Think about what it is you want to get across. What is the point of this story? Who are your characters? But, most importantly write the story. Don’t get log jammed by trying to be perfect. My work is not perfect. I re-work it constantly.
Q. What is your best advice for getting published?
Keep trying. Go to seminars. Talk to people. Learn from their experience. Learn your craft and about the business of writing. Remember the dance is all there is. It’s in the writing not being published. But, published is good!
Q. What has been the single most important part of your success?
Emerging as a writer is a bit like a butterfly scratching out of its homely chrysalis. The earth laughs in flowers, but the butterflies spread her joy.