Today, I’m joined by Swoon Romance author Veronica Bartles. Her debut, TWELVE STEPS, shares a book birthday with DAUGHTER OF CHAOS, so we’re practically twinsies. Veronica’s here to talk process, projects, and inspiration: enjoy!
1. When did you start writing?
I’ve been writing pretty much for as long as I can remember. When I won the State Young Author’s contest in second grade, I decided I was definitely going to be a famous author when I grew up. Unfortunately, fear kicked in about the time I graduated from college, and I stopped writing for about ten years, but when I picked up my story pencils again in October of 2008, I promised myself that I would never again let fear stand in my way. And I haven’t stopped writing since.
2. Are you a pantser or a planner?
Mostly, I’m a pantser. I usually meet my characters and get to know them really well, and then I just watch their stories unfold until I know which portion of the story I want to tell. But every once in a while, I meet a character who is so organized that I have to write a story outline in order to fully get inside her head. Andi, from my upcoming debut novel, TWELVE STEPS, was one of those characters. (Though I will admit that my finished novel only very vaguely resembles the outline I created!)
3. Can you give us an idea of your writing process?
My writing process has been different for each manuscript I’ve written.
My first (still unpublished) novel was written almost as diary entries. Over the course of 3 weeks, I poured that first draft onto the page as if I was my main character… and I ended up with a full first draft with well-defined characters and lots of interesting events, but no real plot to tie the whole story together. I typed up my hand-written pages, printed it all out and literally cut and pasted scenes, moving things around until the plot emerged. (That’s when the real work of revising began!)
For TWELVE STEPS, I had to write an outline. I’m usually a “pantser” when I pick up my story pencils (writing “by the seat of my pants” instead of plotting out the details in advance), but Andi is a planner and a list-maker. In order to get into her head and find her voice, I had to step into the unfamiliar organizational territory of outlining.
I wrote my middle grade manuscript in layers. It was difficult to write for me, emotionally, so every time I got to a scene that was too hard, I just skipped over it and left gaping plot holes. Each time I revised the draft, I filled in a little bit more of the story, adding in some of the scenes I’d skipped, until the full story had evolved on the page.
And my latest, super-secret work-in-progress is coming in bits and snatches of conversations first. I’ll fill in the background details once I get the story down in dialogue form.
The only consistent element in all of my manuscripts is that my first drafts are always written by hand on plain, spiral-bound notebooks, with special pencils that I started collecting in third grade, specifically for this purpose. (I bought a bunch of pretty pencils from the school store and announced to my entire class that I wasn’t going to sharpen them until I was ready to write my first published novel. And when I finally sharpened them in 2008, I knew I was ready to get serious about my writing.)
4. Which authors have influenced your work?
Wow. That’s a tough one. Is it cheating to say that every book I’ve ever read has influenced me in one way or another? I love to get lost in fictional worlds, and whenever I read something new, I pay close attention to the things the author does to build believable worlds and realistic characters. Whenever I find books or authors I particularly connect with, I’ll read them over and over again, focusing on my favorite scenes and analyzing the story to figure out why it worked so well. And if I read something that just doesn’t resonate with me, I like to analyze that too.
My debut novel, TWELVE STEPS, released from Swoon Romance on 25 March 2014, so of course I’m super-excited about that.
I’m also totally in love with my middle grade novel, which recently caught the eye of my amazing agent, Jessica Sinsheimer (I signed with her in October 2013). LETTERS FROM HEAVEN is about twelve-year-old Missy Tuttle, whose mother dies from a brain tumor. Dad starts dating too soon, her best friends have gone AWOL, and Missy has no one to turn to. But then, a letter arrives, signed Love, Mom. When the letters keep coming, referencing events Mom couldn’t possibly have predicted, Missy realizes she’s receiving actual letters from heaven.
This was the most difficult, emotional and deeply personal manuscript I’ve ever written (I have a brain tumor, and it was far too easy to put myself into the story). It took me a full three years to complete the manuscript, because I had to keep putting it aside to work on “easier” stories. But I feel like it’s the most important story I’ve ever told, and I can’t wait to be able to share it with the world!
6. Any tips for new writers?
The first, and most important advice I can give is: Don’t give up! You may be closer to your goal than you think, but you’ll never get there if you stop moving forward. Everyone should have people who love and support them unconditionally. You need cheerleaders who will tell you that you’re wonderful when you’re feeling not-so-great, and who won’t let you quit when you’re discouraged and ready to give up.
The second, equally important, thing is to find a good critique group, or at least several critique partners who aren’t afraid to give you honest feedback on your manuscripts. If you’re only getting feedback from people who tell you that you’re wonderful and perfect, you’re not likely to improve. You need people who aren’t afraid to tell you when your writing isn’t good enough, and who will help you improve. Some of the best feedback I’ve ever received was the kind that made me cry and throw things. It’s hard to take sometimes, but without fail, these honest, but difficult critiques have made me a better writer.
7. Any tips for old writers?
First, be patient! Be patient with the process, and be patient with yourself. Sometimes, it’s easy to get caught up in the race to the finish line. And when you’ve put years into your craft, it can feel totally unfair to watch someone who started writing her first novel two months ago announce that she just signed a three-book deal with a big publisher. But we’re not in competition with each other. We may be running on the same track, but we all have our own races to run, and trying to jump into someone else’s lane is the surest recipe for heartache and frustration. Don’t give up. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other, and things are sure to work out in the long run.
Second: The support groups you established when starting out are still vitally important. No matter how experienced you are as a writer, you will always need trusted critique partners to help you shape your rough manuscripts into glittering diamonds. And your cheerleaders will keep you from giving up when negative reviews roll in. In fact, you may need to double or triple your cheerleading section once you’ve established yourself as a “real” writer. (Just don’t let the praise go to your head!)
Veronica Bartles grew up in Wyoming and currently lives in New Mexico with her husband and four children. As the second of eight children and the mother of four, Veronica Bartles is no stranger to the ups and downs of sibling relationships. She uses this insight to write stories about siblings who mostly love each other, even while they’re driving one another crazy. When Veronica’s not writing or lost in the pages of her newest favorite book, she enjoys creating delicious desserts, exploring new places, and knitting with recycled materials.
Veronica’s debut novel, TWELVE STEPS, will be published by Swoon Romance 25 March 2014.
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