Welcome to The Five Year Project! First things first. Why don't you tell everyone a bit more about yourself?
Thanks for having me. I'm an author and also a playwright and screenwriter. I've had one play produced at two separate venues, and that play was then turned into a short film that premiered in San Diego last November. On top of that, I write Sherlock Holmes stories and have just had my novel The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller published by Tirgearr Publishing.
More personally, I grew up in Texas and attended UT Austin. I did the Shakespeare at Winedale program there and later used what I'd learned to teach Shakespeare at summer camps. I also interned on the film set of Hope Floats. Then I went to Boston to get my graduate degree at Emerson College, and that's where I met my now husband Scott. Boston is great in a lot of ways, but driving in snow and ice gave me panic attacks, so we moved to California, which is where we live with our three kids and a hamster.
Sounds like you've had a very interesting life. Tell me a bit more about The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller. What's it about? What inspired you to write it?
The book is set in the 1960s and is about a gay British spy (Peter) whose lover is accused of being an enemy agent. Peter manages to escape with Charles, but then he begins to wonder whether the accusations could be true. When he's offered a chance to return to the Agency, Peter uses that access to try and discover the truth about Charles.
I'm not sure what inspired the story exactly. I think the story started as I was brainstorming new Sherlock Holmes ideas but then morphed into something else entirely. The first part of the book came spilling out quite rapidly. The rest took much longer. All told I spent almost three years on the whole thing.
Sounds like a fascinating project. What's your favorite aspect to the story?
I'm primarily a character writer. I love exploring the depths of people. When I write, I fall a little bit in love with my main character(s), and so Peter himself is one of my favorite aspects. The way he thinks, the deep well of his feelings . . . There is a scene in which he comes home to an empty flat (apartment) and thinks Charles has left him, and his response is, I think, beautiful. A testament to how quickly he fell for Charles, how important Charles has become to him. That was a tough scene to write because I had to feel everything for Peter and it was painful, for him and me!
So this is no fast-paced James Bond of a story. It's more psychological. I liken it to John Le Carre's works.
I also hurt for my characters when they're in pain. How do you approach your stories? Do you plan ahead or do you go by instinct?
I have a weird hybrid of planning and feeling it out. I go in with usually only two things: 1. A scene that I've played over and over in my head until I'm ready to write it down, and 2. A vague idea of how it will end. The middle is always mushy and up for grabs. It's sort of like having two points on a map but it's up to me to figure out how to get from A to B.
And the scene I have might not even be the first scene. So I'll write it, then decide what, if anything, needs to come before. So what I've really got is a point in the story and an end point, but I sometimes still need to find a starting point!
It's not the most efficient way of writing, but it's the only way that works for me. I can't outline. I can't work under too much structure. I do, however, keep a notebook beside my computer, and I will write down plot questions and then answer them so I can understand WHY things are happening. I think motivation is important. That's a character thing again. I'm really all about character.
So I take it you have substantial edits by the time you're done with your rough draft?
I wish I were a fast writer who could spit out a first draft and then get down to editing. I really do believe that's actually the best way--just get it on paper and then perfect it. Alas, I'm not that kind of writer. I can't speed through the first draft. I pick at it and fret over it. I want it to be perfect the first time, and then of course it isn't and still has to be rewritten.
When I finish a draft, I have to give it to others to read. I'm too close to the material; I won't see the flaws as clearly as they will. My husband reads it and so does my critique group. I ask them to mark anything that doesn't make sense, anything that slows things down, whatever. Most of them will also mark spelling and punctuation, but that's not crucial at this stage. Then it might still be a while before I'm ready to tackle the story again. I'll usually try to go write one or two short stories, a short play or something between novels.
Right now I'm doing a rewrite on a YA fantasy. One of my critique partners slashed whole chapters at the beginning because she wanted to the book to get to the action more quickly. It was valid, and I think it makes the book better, but it was still painful to hear that I needed to cut huge chunks of material! Back when I was an editor, we would call that a "bleeder" because of all the red marks on the pages.
I also swear by having my books critiqued. What's your best advice for finding a critique group?
I lucked into mine. I met someone at a writers conference who turned out to be from the next town over from mine, and she already had a group and they invited me to join. We meet weekly which, based on what I hear from other writer friends, is more than many groups who meet maybe once or twice a month. But of course all of us might not make it to every meeting either. It's very fluid and comfortable and I can't imagine a better group.
If I were going to go looking for a group? It's easier, I think, to start online. But the person-to-person aspect is important, too. Body language sometimes says a lot more than words being spoken. And you can hug one another if you're face to face! So I would check with local libraries to see if there are any groups, or maybe post at the library to start a group. Local bookstores might also know of writing groups, and certainly there are local chapters of writing associations (here we have the California Writers Club). They can usually hook you up with a critique group if you become a member.
Good tips. :-) Last but not least, where can people find you and The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller?
Well, my main site is here. I'm also on Facebook and on Twitter at @sh8kspeare.
The best place to find The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller is on the publisher's website. There's an excerpt there and all the buying links for various formats/e-readers. It's only available as an ebook for now, but if it does well enough the publisher says it will consider a print version.
You can also find all my books on either the Shop page on PepperWords, or on my Amazon author page.
In 1960’s London, British Intelligence agent Peter Stoller is next in line to run the Agency—until he falls in love with cab driver, Charles, and his life goes off the road. When Charles is accused of treason, Peter is guilty by association. Peter manages to extract them both, but the seeds of doubt have been planted, putting Peter’s mind and heart at war. Is ignorance truly bliss or merely deadly?
Thanks again for hosting me!
You're most welcome!
Anyone else wanting to sign up to be featured is more than welcome. (Regardless of whether they're published or not.) All you have to do is mail me at mishagericke(AT)gmail(DOT)com with "Thursday Feature" in the subject line.
Who else gets empathetic pains when their characters suffer?