In May, Creative Writing Institute focused on Self Publishing versus Traditional Publishing and they asked to interview me. Here is the full interview.
Interview of Jianna Higgins
by Farheen Gani
- Which is your favorite genre and why?
I prefer literary fiction because it crosses genre boundaries, so it’s like a box of chocolates. That’s win-win for me. I love variety and chocolate!
- How did you start writing your first novel?
Characters started having conversations in my head and I thought I was developing multiple personality disorder. Once I started writing down what they said, I got some respite until the next time they demanded attention. It snowballed from there.
- Did you ever feel like giving up on your novel? If yes, how did you overcome the feeling?
I gave up on it many times. I’d written 120,000 words of a supernatural trilogy when I took my first writing course with CWI. I learned with crashing reality that I didn’t know what I didn’t know. The first novel in the series was a short-listed finalist in the Cygnus Awards 2014 for unpublished manuscripts in speculative fiction, so I think it has potential, but it’s not ready to fly yet. It’s on the back burner as I’m in the early stages of my new novel, the third in the Sorrento series.
- Tell us about your journey from writing to publication.
Destiny’s Alliance started as a 250 word assignment in Creative Writing 101. I had a sneaking suspicion that at some point I would have to write more. This scared me as it was YA dark fantasy and I felt out of my depth. Sure enough, a few assignments later I was asked to turn it into 1,000 words. I continued working on it in the next writing course and published a 28,000 word novella in February 2013. When I woke up the day after publication and several copies had sold, I had achieved my dream of becoming an author. There is debate about whether self-published writers are real authors or just wannabe writers. I made the executive decision that if readers are buying my books, then I’m an author. Destiny’s Alliance is a current finalist in the Chanticleer Summer Shorts and Novellas contest 2015.
- What are the disadvantages of self-publishing?
Being a self-published author is a lonely journey. I think it’s important to have a network of other authors. I find this invaluable on Facebook, especially as I live in New Zealand and am not hooked in with Romance Writers of NZ or other writing groups. You also have to be your own publicity machine, which takes a large chunk out of writing time.
- With more and more writers publishing e-books, how do you manage to get readers’ attention?
It’s not easy. I have entered my books in several international competitions, and while I haven’t won first place, they have been finalists every time, and 'Just Going' won an honorable mention medal. Both books in the Sorrento series are current finalists in novel contests, so I still hope to bring home the gold. Results give your writing credibility, so I’d encourage writers to source reputable writing contests, whether short stories or novels, and advertise any success. I also have short stories published in anthologies. Each time a new one is published, I notice an increase in sales a short time later, possibly because readers have liked my writing style and sought other work written by me.
- Would you recommend any special tools you used?
I developed a template to collate everything I need to know about each character. Even if I don’t use most of the information, it informs me on how and why they react to certain situations. I print it out and carry it in my notebook because the characters will choose random moments to tell me their darkest secrets and what they’re planning.
- How do you make social media work for you?
I use twitter and spend several hours a week tweeting about my books and also retweeting others. If I slack off, I notice a drop in sales. I use Facebook to announce if my books have had success in competitions. My Facebook banner has the covers of my books on it.
- What advice would you like to give to writers who wish to publish an e-book?
The best advice is to take a writing course before publishing. You will look at what you’ve already written and cringe. Once you get over the shock, apply your new knowledge to your WIP and see the difference in both versions. Also very important is to pay for editing and a great cover. Readers are drawn to attractive covers, and they hugely dislike a book filled with typos and grammatical errors. There is no point publishing a great story if other factors will result in negative reviews. Having a proofreader to check the manuscript immediately before publication will clean up any leftover errors. Kindle and Smashwords offer free information on how to format your manuscript so that it passes scrutiny and internally it looks as it should. Missing a step can have drastic results. I'd advise following every step.
- Many writers work part-time or have other full-fledged careers. Do you think writers should only focus on writing?
I think it’s more about whether you can afford to be a full-time writer, and if that’s an aspiration. I still work full time, partly to ensure I can afford to eat and pay my mortgage, but also because I love my job. I interact with colleagues, clients, their families, and people from community organizations. Some of their personality traits and conversations mysteriously end up in my books. Even if you write full-time, I think it’s important to maintain outside links to talk to people, watch them, and be part of the world. It’s too easy to shut yourself away and spend the majority of your time with your characters. And let’s be honest, they have issues.
As a finalist in the Kindle Best Indie Book Awards 2013, I was invited by Caleb Pirtle III to be interviewed by anyone I liked
for the Venture Galleries website
Dream Interview by Maggie Smith
Although I am in my seventies I am still a sought after actress. In my limited spare time I enjoy reading women's contemporary short fiction. I particularly loved the story called 'Just Looking' because the main character is an acerbic old lady who speaks her mind. I hear you thinking, well that sounds just like Maggie, and you'd be right. Don't mess with me. I see myself playing the role of Alice in a movie of the story. Jianna, I am excited to be in New Zealand to interview you. Please tell me about Alice. Where did she come from?
Thanks Maggie. I decided to enter a dialogue-only competition and had a vision of an old woman sitting in a car at a retirement facility, refusing to get out. It was so much fun listening to the characters talk and writing it down. Once I had written the story I realized the judges were men and nearly all winners from past competitions were also men. I rewrote the story and published it instead. The story follows Alice on her first day at Sorrento Retirement Facility. She just wants to go home to her cat, Bella. Unfortunately her doctor and daughter have decided she is not safe to live alone.
Who names your characters?
They name themselves. I ask them and then listen to their answer. Sometimes I think whoa, really, that's your name? One character in my YA book 'Filled To Completion' insisted his name was Shadow. So I said, well, if you're sure. He was. As his backstory unfolded it turned out his mother had a reason for giving him that name. He has a brother named Storm. Their mother took Prozac.
'Just Looking' is a short story. I loved how it ended but I wanted to know what happened next. Can you help me out?
No problem. Alice decided that she had more story to tell, so she let me further into her world. I have now published a sequel novella called 'Just Waiting". It continues Alice's story, and also Ruby and young Lily from 'Just Looking', and it introduces a new man called Henry. Alice is attracted to him, but so is her friend Ruby, and that woman is a force unto herself.
I love how you used humor in the story so that I feel sorry for Alice but also admire her and recognize her strength of character.
I didn't want this to be a story about 'poor Alice'. It is an emotional subject that we often face with our aging parents, and eventually we too will become old. I wanted readers to see Alice as still being a valuable member of society, and not someone tucked away, quietly watching TV for the rest of her life. I've witnessed this many times in resthomes.
Will there be any more stories about Alice and her friends?
When I receive the final edits I am publishing a companion to the Alice series called "Just Going'. It is Lily's story, the 15 year old girl sentenced to community hours that Alice met on her first day. Lily's parents have never shown her love, and although she hated being sent to work with old people, she finds a whole new family. In December I will be publishing another novella called 'Just Wondering' that wraps up Alice's story.
How about putting all of the stories together? I'm available next year. Hint, hint.
Ruby is pushing me to write her story as well, so I am considering putting them together in a novel. When the movie rights are picked up I'll give you a call. What's your cell phone number?