It was Angie Timmons turn to host Christmas dinner for her adult family and friends. This wonderful assortment of characters brings their quirks to the holiday table. Each person determined to make the best of things; but, all bets are off when a freak blizzard holds them captive.
A fast-paced read filled with humor, drama, and adult themes. A reminder of why we dread the holidays. A story that begs the question, could any average family survive this much togetherness?
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If you could work with any other author, who would it be and why?
I would have loved to work with Ernst Hemingway. His prose offers a brevity and complexity that I marvel at. He used simple language and simple sentences. He didn’t bother with complex descriptions. For instance, in his short story Hills Like White Elephants the only description we have of Jig, is that she took off her hat and set it on the table. Also, anyone who says “write drunk, edit sober” is okay in my books. I love off-beat characters.
Alex Kava also comes to mind. We are both members of the Nebraska Writers Guild, and I had the opportunity to sit and visit with her at the 2011 Spring Writers Conference. I found her to be both gracious and engaging. And, she’s developed these marvelous contacts with law enforcement that allow her to bring a sense of reality, and believability, to her stories. Also, she’s pretty and she smells nice.
My writing style has been compared to John Grisham’s; so, I don’t want to work with him. He’s a lawyer, and I would probably have to do all of the heavy lifting.
What would be a typical working day for you? When and where do you write?
I still work for a living – writing isn’t supporting me yet. So, my writing time is limited to about two hours on weekday afternoons; Saturday mornings; and, Sunday afternoons. During the day, if I get an idea that I think may prove useful down the line, I make a note of it and stuff it in a shirt pocket. When I get home, I take the notes, reexamine them, and capture the better thoughts on a digital recorder. Every couple of weeks, I move these notes to my laptop computer. Currently, I’m using a text to speech recognition program, called Dragon Naturally Speaking, so the process is not as burdensome as it sounds.
Most of my writing is done in my parlor, or at my lady friend’s computer room. Also, if I’m on holiday, I’ll take my laptop and try to get some writing done wherever I am. A great deal of Merry Hell was outlined at Estes Park, Colorado, at a cabin on the Big Thompson River which was a very creative environment.
What is the hardest part of the writing for you?
Finding the time to write. I mentioned earlier that I work fulltime. I also need to find time to write, edit, outline, promote, and do a little reading myself. Merry Hell is actually my third novel; but, it’s the first one I’m taking to market. I self-published it, without realizing how much work promoting it would entail. It’s a great story, a real page-turner; but, it’s also a big world. And, it’s sometimes difficult to get the world’s attention.
When and why did you first start writing?
I started writing short stories thirty years ago. I compiled them into a book with the working title You Can’t Walk to Florida Naked. They are still safely in a drawer and may see the light of day someday.
Next, I started writing short essays and editorial pieces for a friend who owned a newspaper entitled The Patriot Whistle. These were my first published works.
My real interest in writing came several years ago. One of my serious hobbies is photography. I thought I had signed up for a photojournalism class at the local college. My thinking was, if I could improve my writing skills, I could sell some freelance photos with articles. Actually, I had accidently signed up for a course titled How to Write a Winning Novel. It wasn’t what I wanted, but I had paid good money for the course and stuck with it. Steve Alcorn was the instructor. He’s a remarkably accomplished individual as well as a superb instructor. He taught me how to organize and write a story. Under Steve’s tutelage, I flourished and became infected with the writing bug. So, it was the best mistake of my life.
After the course, I wrote a historical action/adventure novel with the working title The Whiskey Scrolls. It took three years to finish all 435 pages. I’m hoping to bring it to market in the next two years. I also had a short story, Found Them, published in the Summer Edition of Golden Visions Magazine. I started the actual writing of Merry Hell in November of 2011. So, I am getting a little faster at this business.
How did you come up with the idea for the book ‘Merry Hell’?
The story of Merry Hell concerns a strong female character, Angie Timmons. Angie is hosting Christmas Dinner for her adult family and friends. She is also planning to enter an important cookie contest the next day. Everything is perfectly planned, until a freak blizzard hits. The storm traps everyone in her home, and her oldest daughter goes missing. It’s a family drama with a lot of humor – sometimes a bit over the top; but, certainly believable. Everyone has family or friends with quirks, and it’s glorious fun when they’re trapped together.
I live in an area that is largely agrarian. The area is populated with strong women who are very self-reliant. I also live in an area where the winters can be very difficult. Heavy snows and strong winds are the norm from December to March. I have always found it fascinating that families will make plans for Christmas in this area, then agonize over whether the weather will actually let them happen. The saying here is “People make plans, and God and Nature laugh”. That’s the basis for the story. While the characters are made up from my imagination, they incorporate elements of everyone I have met along the way.
Are you a big reader? If so, what are you reading now?
Since I do my own editing, it seems that over the last two years, I’ve mostly read my stories. However, I am a big reader, when I have the time. I have just finished Steig Larsson’s works. I’m currently reading The Elephant to Hollywood by Michael Caine. A friend gave me Charles Frazier’s Thirteen Moons, so that’s next on the list.
Do you have any advice for other aspiring writers?
My first piece of advice would be to organize. Learn the proper steps in constructing a novel. These stories are essentially a three act play. Learn to outline your plot points. That way you don’t wander off course. It drives me crazy when I read a comment like “I’ve been writing this story for three years, and I’m not sure where it’s going or how it ends”. Also, if you learn to outline, and you happen to get stuck in a scene, you can just move on to the next scene until you can resolve the issue. You can write backwards or forwards. Personally, I won’t even start an outline until I have the first scene and the last scene firmly in my mind.
Also, when you are first writing your story, just write. If the creative juices are flowing, then is not the time to agonize over just the right word choice, or to worry about typos. Those will be fixed in the editing process. Your mission is to get your story to the “Crummy First Draft” stage.
I would also commend the current version of Dragon Naturally Speaking. This is a speech to text program. You talk into a headset, and the words appear by magic on your computer screen. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty close; and, I can talk faster than I type. Again, just getting to the “Crummy First Draft” stage. I wrote my last novel (110 pages) in three weeks with this program.
Finally, join a support group; you’re going to need it. I’m a member of the Nebraska Writer’s Guild. These groups aren’t going to help you sell books. But, they are useful for tips and techniques. They are also useful for those times when you just need to tell someone what a rough business this can be. Odds are, whatever the problem, you haven’t invented something new. Someone probably has faced it before and may have an answer. And, if you have invented a new problem, then you have something interesting to share with the group. Also, most of these organizations have an annual conference. If you can make it there, and square off into groups, someone is bound to have beer money.