Like many writers, Carol Stratton doesn’t limit herself to one niche. She also sometimes wonders what she’s doing! Today, she’s here to tell us how she does it and to share some writing advice.
Welcome! Why did you pick your genre?
I do wonder why I write, especially on those days when nothing exciting comes out of my fingers but jumbled up plot points, dull dialogue, and flat characters. The reward comes when a reviewer says, “This book forced me to look closer at my life,” or “I learned about forgiveness in this story.” These readers encourage me to push on in spite of the hard work. Stories have a way of crawling up into a reader’s soul, able to teach truth (often more effectively than non-fiction). I view my writing as a ministry and find joy when readers catch the spiritual values I weave into my work.
What’s your favorite book on writing? What do you like about it?
Other than some of the basics like Stephen King’s On Writing, and Elements of Style, I love anything written by James Scott Bell. At my first writing conference, I took a fiction writing class from him and so much of his advice stayed with me. When I read his books I can hear his voice talking to me. His books on Plot and Structure and How to Write Dazzling Dialogue are exceptionally helpful. In addition, he is a fun read.
What conference do you most want to attend? Why?
Well, I’d love to attend the Mount Hermon conference in California. As I grew up around that area, I have happy memories of attending conferences at Mt. Hermon, including becoming a Christian at a Young Life conference. To combine spending a few days in the redwood trees with studying writing … now that would be heaven.
How do you combat writer’s block?
I find taking a break and doing something physical helps to jump start my brain. Doing a mindless task allows my mind to wander. And often a walk is another way to sort out a problem scene.
If you’re self-published, why did you decide to go that route? If you’re traditionally published, why did you decide to go that route?
I decided early in my career I wanted to be traditionally published as it seemed a way to get my stories out to more people. In traditional publishing you have editors who critique your work and make sure your writing is the best it can be. In addition, the traditional publisher offers more marketing support. With Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas I also found a strong camaraderie among the authors as we all helped each other get out the word about any new books. Writing is a lonely endeavor, but having that tribe of other authors has made such a difference. I think without some of my friends I would have quit a long time ago.
I did I self-published a children’s Christmas book last October. I’ve always wanted to write a Christmas book and it seemed like the perfect time. I enjoyed the process of picking out a cover and finding an illustrator. It stretched my creativity as I helped the artist envision my characters. Several times she came up with the perfect picture and I thought, “Oh yeah, that’s exactly how my character looks.
What’s surprised you the most about the publishing process? Why did it surprise you?
My biggest surprise came from other authors. I have been so blessed to have made friends with other writers who choose to spend their valuable time encouraging, praying and supporting me with any new book. In turn, I’ve tried to be a cheer leader for their projects. Often family and friends don’t understand the grueling time, the rejection that is needed to complete a book, so talking over issues and celebrate victories with my writing buddies refreshes me.
I’ve been to secular conferences where the competitive vibe is palpable. Other authors are seen as opponents in a rush to get that coveted contract. But in the Christian community I’ve found a different attitude as we are all trying to do the Lord’s work.
What advice do you have for new authors?
New authors have unrealistic, romantic notions about writing. The truth is writing is hard work with lots of rewrites and rejections. I tell prospective writers not to put “Write a book” on their bucket list unless they understand the time commitment needed to become published. But then I say, “If you can’t not write, you have a writer’s heart.” Some of us are born with a God given desire to communicate, whether through the written or spoken word and we have to follow that path.
How do you self-edit your manuscript?
After I’ve finished a rough draft, I close down my computer and take a break. I may not even write anything for a few weeks while my story marinates. When I come back to review my manuscript I am able to look more objectively at my story and can find it’s horrifyingly awful. After fixing some formatting issues and running spellcheck a second time, I print a clean copy, find a cozy armchair and read what I have. I don’t make changes right away but I do read to see if the plot moves well and the characters are well developed. I may insert notes such as, (need an extra scene here) or (this plot point doesn’t make sense) At this point I am working on the main plot.
After I’m satisfied and fixed my plot and beta reader, I print up another clean copy and examine word choices, setting, and dialogue. I’ve found sitting and reading an actual piece of paper helps me focus and see errors better than when I am editing on my lap top.
A novelist, reporter, and freelancer, Carol has penned 500 articles and two books, Changing Zip Codes, and the award-winning debut novel, Lake Surrender (inspired by her work with autistic students). The sequel to Lake Surrender, Deep End of the Lake, is now available.
An avid hiker and baker she also speaks to women’s groups such as Mothers of Preschoolers. Married to her literary muse, John, they have four children and eight grandchildren and reside in Clemmons. She loves to encourage new writers and readers who have moved.
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Parenting a rebellious teen and autistic son, satisfying a demanding boss, and learning to love again, single mom Ally Cervantes learns when you’re in the deep end of the lake you’d better know how to swim.