Women on Writing Author Interview

 

Meet Fall Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up Claire Fullerton, Author of “Metal Gray”

Claire Fullerton is a runner up in the WOW! Women on Writing Fall Flash Fiction Contest with the very beautiful story Metal Gray. She is the author of contemporary fiction, Dancing to an Irish Reel, set on the west coast of Ireland, and paranormal mystery, in two time frames, A Portal in Time, set in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. Both books published by Vinspire Publishing. Claire’s third novel, Mourning Dove, is a Southern Family saga, set in Memphis, Tennessee, where Claire grew up. It will be published in June of 2018 by Firefly Southern Fiction. Claire has been published in multiple magazines, including Celtic Life International, Southern Writers Magazine, and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. Her essays have appeared in five of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Currently, Claire is writing her fourth novel. She lives in Malibu, California with her husband, two German shepherds, and one black cat.

Find out more about Claire by visiting her website www.clairefullerton.com, her blog, Writing Notes, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter @cfullerton3.

Interview by Crystal J. Casavant-Otto

WOW!: Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule for today’s interview. Congratulations again on your many accomplishments but most recently as a runner up in the WOW! Fall Flash Fiction Contest! So now down to business: where did you get the idea for the character of Ella in Metal Gray? You describe her so well it seems she must be part of your personal story as well? Please tell us more.

CLAIRE: I would love to tell you about Ella, thank you for asking. Ella is a significant character in my forthcoming novel, Mourning Dove, which is a southern family saga, set in Memphis, where I grew up. The book will be published by Firefly Southern Fiction in June of 2018. The background of Ella and this book is that I entered a 3,000 word piece in The 2013, San Francisco Writer’s Conferences’ contest, in the narrative nonfiction category. The piece came in as the runner up, and I will tell you now that when I entered the piece, it occurred to me that should anything in the slightest happen, I’d turn the piece into a novel, which I did. To clarify the obvious, a novel, of course, is fiction, yet I knew with my nonfiction piece that there was an entire world already there to work with, as long as I changed names, created scenes and other characters that contributed to the momentum of the story. I can report that Mourning Dove is fiction, but that the character of Ella as she appears in the book as well as in the flash-fiction piece I sent to WOW! is a composite of many women who populated my life while growing up in Memphis. Ella represents the voice of brass tacks reason, wherever she appears, in that she sees all, knows all, and keeps her lips tight. Ella is in it, but not of it, which provides fabulous objectivity. What I did when I entered WOW!’s flash fiction contest was give the description of Ella, then made up the ending to fit the 750 word guidelines, which means it needed to be unique, self-contained, and brief!

WOW!: So clearly, you are no stranger to Ella and no stranger to writing contests. What role do flash fiction pieces play in your writing life? Do you have advice for other authors as far as contests and flash fiction pieces are concerned?

CLAIRE: Yes, I love entering flash fiction contests, for it is a way of fine-tuning one’s craft. The art of brevity should be in each writer’s tool-kit, and I was thrilled when I discovered WOW!’s contest. To answer your question about advice I’d give to any author, I’d say getting in the traffic and staying in the traffic is very important. I’ll give you a personal example: Vinspire Publishing honored me and basically started my career by publishing my first two books back-to-back. My third novel, Mourning Dove, will not be out until 2018, so I have a gap, with regard to staying engaged with my readership. By entering contests, and hopefully placing somewhere, it gives me the opportunity to share my work as it is published. This, along with staying engaged with social media is the life-force of an author’s career. It also gives authors the opportunity to meet nice people like Crystal with WOW!

WOW!: Now I’m blushing – thank you so much! It certainly is sound advice about staying in the traffic. Wally Lamb is one of my favorite authors and I didn’t realize he had released a new book because he had such a gap and even though I’m an avid reader, he really fell off my map. I hope other authors take your advice and stay in the traffic (not to be confused with playing in traffic…giggle).

You recently wrote “I tend to be a stream of consciousness writer, in that I write whatever it is I’m thinking.”

Can you give us an example of when that wasn’t such a great idea or when it served you well?

CLAIRE: I think it has always served me well, and I’ll tell you why by answering this generally: I prefer writing in the first person. I think it lends immediate intimacy, and gives the reader the complete idea of who it is they’re listening to. I say I am a stream of consciousness writer because writing comes to me easily. I write the story from the voice within me, and very rarely labor. I think if a writer decides who the narrator is, with whatever nuances or backstory they may have, then they can assume the narrator’s voice, and write from there. Before I begin a novel, I know the story I want to tell. I know the beginning, middle and end, and let the rest create itself, though I do take notes along the way, when something comes to me that I think I should include, in order to drive the story forward by illustrating a point, or perhaps it is something wittily said that will lend flavor and help the reader better understand the narrator or other characters. Summarily, I think that, when writing, it is best to trust one’s own thoughts. I’d rather risk writing from an authentic place and having it misunderstood, than constructing something inauthentic only to realize it sounded contrived.

WOW!: I’m going to repeat what you just said because it’s worth repeating: “I’d rather risk writing from an authentic place and having it misunderstood, than constructing something inauthentic only to realize it sounded contrived.”

This is a quote to remember fellow writers. Thank you Claire for sharing this insight and truth.

Dancing to an Irish Reel will now be available in all the South Dublin Libraries and I’m curious
what part you played in making that happen? What advice can you give to other authors as far as getting their books into more libraries (in the states or outside the states)?

CLAIRE: I give full credit to the unlimited creativity and enthusiasm of Dancing to an Irish Reel’s publisher, Dawn Carrington of Vinspire Publishing. Dawn was well aware that I once lived in Ireland, and that Dancing to an Irish Reel is set on Ireland’s west coast. She wrote to many Irish library’s and simply introduced the book: it’s blurb, its cover, and much about me as its author. She embraced this book and got it out in the world, as she educated me on exactly how to be involved in the promotional process. I have learned that the promotional process is unending, and to me, it is actually fun. The process starts out in a small arena, by aligning with the obvious social media outlets ( FB, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, etc.) but the thing is, once you’re aligned, it gets bigger! You end up meeting other authors through social media and by watching where they are and what they do, it triggers unending possibilities. I can tell you that after two novels that have been out in the world for a while, I am still discovering new places to promote because it is essentially a domino effect. But yes, library’s are a great avenue to explore, so I recommend that authors start locally, then get creative on the locations of libraries that may embrace the book, due to the book’s setting or subject matter.

WOW!: It’s nice to meet up with others who enjoy social media networking and all the endless possibilities!

I love your position of staying out of politics on social media (I too would rather talk about what unites us instead of what divides us). Have you ever approached a friend or colleague suggesting they tone down their political posts? How can we help spread the social media mentality of “See no evil…Hear no evil…Speak no evil” like Confucius

CLAIRE: Great question. I assume you saw the Word Press blog post I delicately wrote and hesitantly posted on this subject! I was torn over whether to post the piece or not! The impetus behind this came from too many months of vitriolic posts on Facebook during America’s recent presidential election. So many friends I’d been aligned with for years used Facebook as a forum to post their political views, and many of these friends are authors. I spoke to one author friend who was dismayed because one of her readers had taken her to task on something she posted concerning the election, and had declared she would unfollow her. I have pledged to never comment politically because I think it is polarizing. This isn’t to say that there is anything wrong with someone who chooses to do so, it’s just that many are so heated over the issues that a difference of political opinion can have unintended consequences for an author. I adore meeting readers and other authors via social media, but am clear why it is that they’re my friends, and what it is that brought us together. My overarching respect for books, authors, and readers makes it easy for me to leave politics alone.

WOW: That’s a good way to look at it – it’s out of respect! I love that!

Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Claire! Congratulations again on Metal Gray and best wishes to you all your future projects!

The Here and Now

It took me years to call myself a writer. For a long time, I thought in order to call myself a writer, I’d have to be making a living at writing; that many people had to know I exist. This is nowhere near the current case for me, and who’s to say if it ever will be? What’s on my mind in this moment is that twice, in the last month, I’ve read posts tap-dancing around the question of “When does a writer quit?” Quit because of what? I asked myself. The question sounded to me like a temper tantrum, like a challenge to the Gods to take our toys and go home should we not receive the gifts we expected in our timeframe. Who are writers trying to appeal to, and further, why? I think writers should ask themselves these questions so they don’t get frustrated, should it come down to the meager fruits of their labor. I use these questions as a reality check every so often, because I recall years ago thinking all I wanted was to be in the game; have a book available in the world; that it would be enough. And in this moment of blog post confession, I can honestly say having two books out in the world is enough, and what happens from here is not my business. Except that it is a business. I have to acknowledge that, having chosen the traditionally published route, with contracted books is responsibility. I have to do my part in joining the grid of how the game is played by engaging in social media, looking for public appearance opportunities and basically being creative in shouting from the rooftops that my books are out in the competitive field. These things are a given when a writer aligns with people who have a vested interest, and for me it comes down to upholding my end of the bargain. But recently, I’ve had an epiphany: enlightenment descended with the awareness that I truly love the writing lifestyle, even though by many people’s standards, I’m experiencing downtime. My second novel was released two years ago, and my third won’t be out for more than a year. There’s a good reason for this, which I’ll get to in another post, but I’ve asked myself a few times if I shot myself in the foot, with regard to momentum. I’ve seen a few authors I admire disappear for years then emerge apologetically for creating the gap. But the thing is I’m not a prominent enough writer for anyone to miss me, and I’m thinking my recent epiphany answers the question some writers ask of when to quit. My personal answer is never, and here’s why:  I love the writer’s lifestyle, and the proof is I’m spending my alleged downtime writing another book. Plainly and simply, writing is what I love to do. I’m also having a blast sharing what I’ve learned over the past few years with other writers. It’s a pay-it-forward- labor- of -love for me to help new authors in any way I can. And I’m just as enthusiastic over books my fellow authors are getting out in the world as I ever was for my own work. I love to watch some of the friends I’ve made through writing prosper, and it is my honor to share their work on all the social media outlets I established for my own books. Frankly, the writing lifestyle is my idea of fun, and I love everything about the arena. There are fascinating, talented authors out there generating the kind of work that inspires me. There are also authors now long deceased who set the bar for the rest of us, and the luxury of reading their work gives me something to aim for as I study what and how they write.

So it is the lifestyle that writing affords that is the gift to me. Many times on this blog I’ve written that the thing about writing is there is no there to get to. I’d like to go deeper with the message and offer another consideration: the “there” to get to with writing is the here and now. It is enough to love it, and if this is case, then why ever quit?

Claire Fullerton is the author of Contemporary Fiction Dancing to an Irish Reel, and paranormal mystery, A Portal in Time. http://www.clairefullerton.com

Rejection Before Your Open Door

I’m a woman of my word, and am therefore following through on a request from one of my WordPress friends to share a little something about the rejections I received, on the path that ultimately aligned me with my literary agent, concerning my third novel. I’m going to leave specific names out here, and know you’ll understand why.

The rejections I received were by and large voiceless, in that these days, most literary agents leave a qualifier on their submission page that simply says, “If I am interested in your query and want to request more, I will be in touch.” From this, one can safely assume if they don’t hear back from an agent, then the agent is not interested, for what could be many reasons ranging from the genre of the book, to its subject matter, to the possibility that the agency’s guidelines were not followed, or it could be the simple fact that the agent’s hands are full. And because my third novel is a Southern Family Saga set in 1970’s and 1980’s Memphis, the task, for me, became all about ferreting out exactly who is representing authors with books set in the South. But one has to cast wide, when looking for an agent. They have to get creative on where their book will fit. In the case of my third novel, I wrote to literary agents that represent Women’s Fiction, Literary Fiction, and commercial fiction, yet my focus was on those interested in or connected to the South. In reading the bio of each agent I queried, I read the fine print to ascertain which authors they represent, what their reading preference is, and paid close attention to those who revealed where they are from. Every time I discovered an agent either from the South or currently living in the South I took a chance; followed the submission guidelines to the letter; and e-mailed my query. If one keeps in mind that a query letter is basically a letter of introduction; that you are writing to say who you are, what your book is about, and where you have been published, then it is less daunting. Remember you, as the author, are also looking for a good fit!

And speaking of daunting, I’ll digress here to say that when I made the rounds with one of my first two books, I received a response from one agent, who wrote only this above my submission: “Show, don’t tell.” Ouch. At least that’s what I thought at the time. You should understand that I write in the first person, and am big on establishing the narrator’s voice, so after I got over the sting, I went to my bookshelf and revisited Anne Rivers Siddons “Peachtree Road,” which is roughly seventy-five percent of the most flawless narration ever written. I pressed on, and the book was published in 2015 as “Dancing to an Irish Reel.” This goes to show to each, their own, and again, you as the author are looking for a good fit.

And speaking of “Dancing to an Irish Reel,” all 54 of its reviews on Amazon are good ones, and I will always be proud of the book. It didn’t make an earth-shattering splash, but I am satisfied that it represents who I am as a writer, and remember, “A writer’s career is a marathon, not a sprint.” I’m mentioning this here because it ties in with another rejection I received for my third book, which is to report that an agent actually took the time to write me to say “You should have hired a publicist; your sales are anemic!” Ouch, again, but I pressed on, and I’ll tell you why: I think writers have a sense of the simple fact that they should be writing. I think this is the salient truth that spurs us on. And whatever one’s belief system is, regarding faith and luck and timing, to possess something of this, in whatever amount, is enough to foster the spirit of pressing on.

All told, I had three literary agents interested in the manuscript of my third book. Two of these agents were in the process of reading it, when joy of all joys, the agent, Julie Gwinn, of The Seymour Literary Agency, called me and offered me representation. Julie felt so right to me for many reasons. I’d done my homework on her, was awed by her background, learned that she lives in the South, and I happen to have a friend who is currently her happy client. The last agent called me after I signed with Julie Gwinn, and I am thrilled to report that I strongly believe the stars aligned with Julie, in the manner they should have all along.

In summation, if you embark upon the road to finding a literary agent, it helps to keep in mind that you are seeking a good fit. What you want to find is an agent who wants to work with you just as much as you want to work with them, for finding the right publisher is essentially a team effort.

To answer my WordPress friend’s request that I write about rejection, I will say it isn’t always easy to weather, but if you press on and keep the faith that the stars will align when and as they should, then one day you’ll come to see rejection as part of the process.

 

 

 

 

 

The Query that Got me my Agent

Dear Readers,

I recently signed a contract for representation with The Seymour Literary Agency, and am thrilled to be working with the agent, Julie Gwinn. Already she has altered the dynamic of my days; once the contract was signed we accepted an offer from Firefly Southern Fiction for the June, 2018 publication of my third novel, Mourning Dove. I like to keep my posts here streamlined and to a helpful point. In the spirit of this, I will get right to it and share the query letter I sent to Julie Gwinn last November. This query letter went through many revisions, in my attempt at succinctly portraying the arc of the story. I queried many  agencies, in spaced rounds of eight at a time, and adjusted as responses came to me. I found that the most difficult task in writing my query was to get to the crux of the story as clearly and briefly as possible. One does not have the luxury of rambling in a query letter, and I’ve heard it said that the first paragraph is crucial; that one needs to open with title, word count, and genre then segue to a hook, followed by an author bio.

Below is the query from which I received multiple requests for my manuscript. Each agency has its own requirements of what they’d like to see: synopsis; first ten pages; first twenty five; first three chapters, whathaveyou. It is imperative to follow each agency’s guidelines to the letter.

For those of you seeking representation, I hope you find my query letter informative. There are many ways to construct an effective query; this was mine!

 

 

 

Dear

I am seeking representation for my third novel, MOURNING DOVE, which is an 83,000 word, literary fiction story set in the opulent South, where everything glitters, but is not gold. MOURNING DOVE is told in the voice of younger sister Millie Crossan, as she reminisces about growing up in the Deep South with her charismatic brother, Finley, in post-civil rights Memphis, where society inexorably clings to its deep-seated nuances, while times are changing around them. Millie’s sanguine mother, Posey, is the queen of denial. She is of the era many view as the last of the Southern belles, and her devotion to upper class appearances keeps a tight lid on the cauldron of family turmoil as it seethes and suppresses expression through the events that lead to Finley’s death. Millie leads the reader through the ways of the South: its private schools, debuts, and relationship with the domestic help. It portrays a bond between siblings and a common family dynamic that is experienced individually by characters with admirable intent, but who are subject to their own culturally influenced hubris.

I know well of which I write, for I grew up in Memphis and have maintained a life-long love affair with its complexities, which I brought to the commitment of writing MOURNING DOVE. I am the author of two books: A Portal in Time, and Dancing to an Irish Reel, which is a 2016 Readers’ Favorite and a 2016 finalist in the Kindle Book Awards. Both books were published by Vinspire Publishing. I have invested joyously and heavily in my author platform via book signing appearances, public speaking engagements, and social media. I am a consistent contributor to magazines, including The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Southern Writers Magazine and Celtic Life International, and my first person narratives are published regularly on the online Irish community, The Wild Geese. Five times, I have contributed to the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series. In 2013, my short story entry won the runner-up position in the San Francisco Writers Conference’s contest, and it is this piece that I turned into MOURNING DOVE. I was a finalist in the conferences’ 2014 contest, and the epilogue of MOURNING DOVE was published as a short story in Southern Writers Magazine’s Best Short Fiction 2015 edition. Currently, I am writing my fourth novel, which is contemporary fiction set in the South. As for my future goals, I intend to write contemporary and literary fiction as best as I can, for as long as I can. It is my hope that you will be interested in reviewing the full manuscript of MOURNING DOVE, and I thank you so much for your time.

Respectfully yours,

 

 

Claire Fullerton

E-mail

Mailing address

Telephone Number

Website

An Author’s Connections

It’s important for an author to consider that once their novel is out in the world, the repercussive work becomes all about connections. It happens organically from the state of affairs at play in today’s publishing world, which is to say that authors are expected to be actively involved, not only in promoting their books, but in getting in the online traffic and more or less promoting themselves. Readers want a face with a name; they like to discover similarities between themselves and the person behind the words, and they can find this via the social media community, where edges are often blurred.

Pinterest, for example, is a great author platform on the one hand, but on the other, an author can establish boards that declare their love of dogs, their affinity with a certain region, the city or town in which they grew up, and a myriad other creative possibilities that give a follower something in which to connect with the author as a person first.

Twitter affords similar opportunities, and what is imperative to keep in mind about Twitter is that it is an ever-expanding network with endless connective possibilities that come in all manners. The ethos of Twitter goes beyond the act of following someone who follows you back; it’s all about staying engaged; promoting books by other authors; retweeting something that resonates with you out of the goodness of your heart, and basically staying in a flow that lets you present who you are as well as your interests.

I’ll venture to say it’s the same with Google+, Facebook, Tumbler, About.me, Instagram, and a host of other platforms. All are online forums in which an author can make themselves known, and have it be about way more than their books. The way I see it, with regard to authors, as long as they’re on these social media outlets, they may as well have fun.

I think there’s much to be said for authors coming to the social media table without an iron-clad agenda. They can let their contacts with people be about sharing, connecting, and supporting those with similar interests. Certainly social media is a great place to promote books, but at social media’s foundation is a sense of community, and this can be its own reward.

Of course, all this is not to say that authors shouldn’t come to social media without a plan; just that it doesn’t need to be a constant, self-orientated agenda. I think it’s best to consider social media and online forums as a place to connect with people who share common interests, and to stay engaged out of that sense of commonality, for its own sake.

Certainly, there are different vantage points from which to engage in social media. The good news for authors is that all of them create a ripple effect through the habit of that engagement. If your contacts regularly see your posts and like what they see, it stands without question that they’ll look into your profile, which is where they’ll get the great thrill of discovering your books!

 

There is no There to Get to

I tend to be a stream of consciousness writer, in that I write whatever it is I’m thinking. I don’t labor as long as I’m putting ideas on paper, and there’s a quiet ease that ensues from not looking over my own shoulder. This is how I began writing in the first place. I began by keeping a journal I knew nobody would ever see. No one suggested I keep a journal; I simply felt compelled at a young age from the resounding depth of that interior chamber that tells a person who they are. In truth, I have a running inner monologue that deciphers the world, and it is this I call upon when writing. There has never been a time when I didn’t write. I’ve used it as a way of interpreting the world for as long as I remember. What began as a desire to understand myself evolved into a daily habit, then one bright day, I turned through my journals and discovered, not only had I been documenting my life, I had a particular way of experiencing its vagaries. Once I realized this, my writing came into focus. I thought maybe I could forge a career. I sought to articulate at such a pitch that there would be no misunderstanding. I began paying scrutinous attention to word usage, craft, and flow, reasoning that the more clarity I brought to language, the better the chance for a reader’s understanding. Here’s what happened as I stayed the course: I fell in love with the act of writing. I learned it is a deepening process predicated upon development, with no there to get to, only the experience of the personal path.

There was a time when I was confused by this. I thought calling myself a writer meant I had to achieve a sanctioned plateau that gave me permission to continue writing. I was wrong about this, and have only recently figured out why. The world didn’t have to tell me I am a writer before I became one. I didn’t recognize I became one the day I followed the call by putting pen to paper in my journal. No number of published books or lack thereof will alter this salient truth; not for me or anyone else. Being a writer begins with giving yourself permission to be one. However you choose to experience it is ultimately in your own hands.

I believe all writers care about writing for the same reason, which has something to do with the desire to compare notes in this business of living. Whether we’re published, or by whom is not the point, the point is all writers are on the same path, propelled by an inexplicable urge to communicate, however or wherever it is they tell their story. It is enough, to me, for its own sake. The real merits of writing lie intrinsically in its pursuit. For a writer, there is no there to get to, there is only the fulfilling, soul-driven act.

What Price an Author’s Politics?

 

I don’t believe I’m the only one disenchanted with the current state of affairs on FaceBook. Rather than launching a campaign in broad strokes of generalities from a supercilious pulpit, I will keep things simple and try my best to articulate where I’m coming from as an artist, for writing, to me, is a high art.

 

Like legions the world over, I joined FaceBook to stay connected with many people I’d lost touch with over the years. I grew up in Memphis, which means I’m a Southerner, and Southerners are raised in packs attendant to other packs. The domino effect of this reaches into the hundreds. And I care about all my pack members, so I considered the advent of FaceBook a gift that kept me connected, now that I’m a transplanted Southerner living in California.

 

And then I cultivated a writing career. I, like other writers, was therefore obligated to do my share of marketing and promotion for my books, and Facebook is, perhaps, the most viable avenue to do so. In short order, my list of “friends” grew longer, and I, wanting to help my fellow writers, turned around one day to discover I was connected to unfathomable numbers of authors I would have never known otherwise. And it thrilled me. I will always be fascinated by those who create, be they a writer, musician, dancer or painter. Give me your art, says I; it softens the blow of the human experience. In my opinion, there is such beauty in this world, and it is the artist’s God-given aptitude that points this out. It has been my pleasure and honor to help promote other authors, and there is safety in numbers in this business of living, if one is lucky enough to come across others of their ilk. Like begets like, or so it seemed to me, but lately I’ve become soul-sick and heart-confused while looking at FaceBook, and I’m trying to get to the bottom of why.

 

I feel hoodwinked, led into the miasma of a bait and switch. I came to Facebook because of friendship and art, but now it seems I’m being held prisoner for political ransom. I know the arguments: freedom of speech, a forum for “voice,” and all the other rights people stand up for. I’m not suggesting any of this is wrong, but I do question its appropriateness. Just because one can doesn’t mean one should, and the irony for an author is pontificating politically automatically polarizes their followers. There’s no sense in not admitting this, and those that don’t might be assuming their followers completely agree with their views, yet if this is the case, then why preach to the choir?

 

I think authors should seriously think through posting their political view on FaceBook, and weigh it for the potential ramifications to their career. After all, the way an author shows up in the world begins with deciding how they want to be perceived. I had this question posited to me recently, when my literary agent asked me to articulate “my brand.” It’s going to matter when my next two novels come out, and currently there is wisdom in establishing and investing in my base. I’m thinking the more streamlined and specific I can be, the better.

 

Readers align with us for stories. Reading stories gives many suspended quarter in a hectic world. Readers don’t necessarily need to know who the person is behind the story. If an author is doing it right, their stories will speak volumes to answer the question, without detracting from the author’s mystique.

 

I’m not saying I long to be seen as mysterious, only that I like the idea of my stories speaking for themselves. As for who I am, I’ll let the readers decide, and willingly leave politics to the political pundits.