Award Winning Author Winnie Griggs





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Margaret Brownley





WG:      Welcome and thanks for stepping into my spotlight this month. To start off, please tell us about yourself.

MB:      Winnie, thank you so much for having me.

Let's see, what can I tell you about myself? I was always a storyteller and was constantly in trouble as a child for making up stories. The writer part was harder to acknowledge, partly because English was my least favorite subject. My eighth grade teacher told me not to even think about being a writer. Diagram a sentence? Never! I'm like the musician who can't read music. It's hard to let go of the negative messages of childhood and I published close to a half dozen books before I could work up the nerve to call myself a writer.

I might have spent the rest of my life scribbling in notebooks had I not "volunteered' to edit my church newsletter. After I made the church picnic read like a Grisham novel, my former preacher took me aside and said, "Maybe God's calling you to write fiction." Until that moment I never had the courage to follow my heart.

On the personal side: My husband and I have three children. As for hobbies, I like to sky-dive, race cars, chase down bad guys, and rob stages. Wait at minute. That's not me, that's my characters.

WG:      Let's talk about your own personal road to publication:
Is there some individual, group or event that you can point to as the catalyst/impetus that set you on the road to becoming a writer? Explain.

MB:      When I first started writing I didn't know that such groups as Romance Writers of America existed, so I was pretty much on my own. I didn't even know there was such a thing as genres. A rejected manuscript came back with VP written all over it in large letters. I had no idea what VP was? Were they offering me a job as vice-president? Finally, a friend dragged me to a local RWA meeting. Wow! What an eye-opener. There I learned that VP meant viewpoint, and that my habit of jumping in an out of heads was bound to give readers whiplash.

WG:      Tell us about your journey.

MB:      When I finally made the decision to make writing a priority, it turned out to be more difficult than I anticipated. With three children, a husband and a job, writing time was at a premium. I got up at 4 a.m. every day and wrote until six when it was time to get everyone else up. I was pretty much on my own in those early years. No critique groups, no contests, no conferences appointments. I wrote, submitted and eventually sold. That's when my troubles began. It seemed that each time I sold a book, the publisher went out of business. I sold four books that never saw the light of print. When I finally made my first sale to Harlequin, my writer friends begged me not to sign the contract. They feared I would close Harlequin's doors, too.

WG:      Can you tell us something about your experience in getting 'the call'?

MB:      I remember I did a lot of jumping and screaming. For me, every "call" is as exciting as the first which, I found out much to my dismay, can be a detriment to my husband's health. After one such call, I was so excited I'd forgotten the running bath. The tub overflowed and there was water everywhere. My husband and I ran around frantically mopping the floors, which made him late for a doctor's appointment. By the time he reached the doctor's office, his blood pressure had skyrocketed. The doctor was about to take drastic measures until my husband explained the crazy chain of events.

WG:      How has being a published author impacted your life?

MB:      Ha, ha! This makes me think of young parents-to-be who claim that having a baby isn't going to change their lives. Between writing, deadlines, promotion, researching and blogging it can get pretty intense at times. The hardest thing is turning it off. Characters wake me up in the middle of the night and it's darn annoying.

WG:      What aspect of life as a published author surprised you the most - either in a good or bad way?

MB:      I think most surprising thing is that with all the thousand of great books out there, readers plunk down good money to buy my books. That's not only surprising, it's humbling.

WG:      What about your writing process:
Do you maintain a set schedule? Is there such a thing as a typical day for you?

MB:      I try to hit the keyboard Monday through Friday somewhere between 4 and 5 a.m. I usually stop at noon, eat lunch and make nice with the treadmill. Afternoons are reserved for the business of writing. The perfect day is 10 pages, 3 miles on the treadmill, and family.

WG:      Do you have a mood setter, something (music, ritual, environment, etc) you use to get you going when you sit down to write?

MB:      Music distracts me. I like quiet when I write. I'm a big believer in the subconscious. For this reason, I think about the next scene or chapter before retiring at night. This gives my subconscious ample time to work. Us writers need all the help we can get.

WG:      Do you normally start with storyline or with character or with some combination of the two?

MB:      That's a tricky question to answer. Each book is different. With my current book, A Lady Like Sarah, it was all about character. Sarah has a distinct speech pattern that kept running through my head and I just had to get to know her better. The next book in the series is A Suitor For Jenny (release date 09/10) was inspired by an organization that really existed: The Society for the Protection and Preservation of Male Independence. What fun the heroine has breaking through that society!

WG:      Do you find certain themes or character archetypes making recurring appearances in your stories?

MB:      All my female protagonists are strong, survivor type characters. I didn't set out to write that kind of heroine, it just happened.

WG:      What do you see as your own personal strengths as a writer?

MB:      I like to think it's creating strong, complex characters. My editor says I'm able to address complex issues with humor. I don't know if that's true or not, but it was nice to hear.

WG:      Are there any obstacles/conflicts, specific to your particular lifestyle, that get in the way of your writing? If so, how do you try and overcome them?

MB:      I don't know who said it but it's true: writing is 3% talent and 97% avoiding the Internet. It makes me think of writer Dorothy Daniels who was very popular in the 60s. She wrote more than a 100 gothic novels before ever meeting an editor, reader or another writer. That's how isolated writers were back then. Today, I'm in constant contact with the writing and reading world. It's wonderful, it's great, but it's also distracting. Some days I just have to force myself to turn it all off-and write!

WG:      Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about your process?

MB:      I like to make collages of my book. This allows me to create the book not in words but in colors and themes.

WG:      Is there a genre you haven't been published in yet that you'd like to try your hand at someday?

MB:      I wrote a mystery novel in 5th grade and I still want to publish one. I have one ready to go which I think is hysterically funny. Unfortunately I haven't found a publisher who agrees.

WG:      Do you have any advice to offer writers still striving toward publication?

MB:      If you haven't already seen it, rent the movie Julia and Julie and pretend it's about writers instead of cooks. Julia Child enjoyed the process of cooking, even the failures. Julie didn't enjoy the process, which led to constant meltdowns and relationship problems. The lesson here is that you have to love the process. If you're just getting started, stay focused on learning the craft and discovering your inner writer. Don't worry about the publishing end. That's down the road. Celebrate every little success. Enjoy the ride. And write, write, write. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell talks about the 10,000 hour rule to success. Before I was published I put in my 10,000 hours by writing four books. At least two of them were pretty crappy but I learned.

WG:      Rejections, notes from unhappy readers and less than stellar reviews are all part of this business. What is your own method for dealing with these and moving on?

MB:      I've come to view rejections as a second chance to find something bigger and better. I once had a book that was rejected something like a dozen times (back in the good old days before so many publishing houses were swallowed up). On the 13th time out, it not only sold, it helped to launch a whole new line. If it hadn't been for all those rejections I would have missed out on a wonderful opportunity.

WG:      Is there some piece of advice you received or bit of conventional wisdom that you wish you had ignored?

MB:      I ignored the conventional wisdom that says "don't give up your day job." When I sold my first book, I did quit my job so I could devote my time to writing. I thought selling a book meant I had it made. Boy did I get that wrong. Still, the sink or swim method worked for me, even though it meant some pretty lean years. If I had it to do all over again, I'd do the same thing.

WG:      What do you find to be the most rewarding thing about being a writer? What aspect do you struggle with the most?

MB:      One of the best things about being a writer is I get to live many lives-through my characters. I love that. I still struggle at times with self-doubts.

WG:      What would your readers be most surprised to learn about you?

MB:      The fact that I failed English and yes, even history might surprise readers. I just couldn't remember all those dates and battles. I already told you how I feel about diagramming sentences.

WG:      What are your favorite movies and/or TV shows? Why?

MB:      I love Dancing With The Stars. I think there's a dancer inside me trying to get out. If only I didn't have two left feet.

WG:      I love to collect quotes, all kinds of quotes - inspirational, quirky, motivational, profound, etc. Do you have a personal favorite you'd like to share.

MB:      I'm a quote person, too. One of my favorite quotes was written by Mavis Leyrer who I believe was in her 80s when she wrote it: Life's journey is not to arrive in the grave safely in a well-preserved body (as if) but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting "Whoopee, what a ride." I love that

WG:      Please tell us about your current project.
MB:      A Lady Like Sarah takes place in 1879. Preacher Justin Wells leaves Boston in disgrace, and encounters a wounded marshal on a dusty road in Missouri. Justin promises the dying lawman to take his handcuffed prisoner to Texas. This proves harder than he thought, for the prisoner is a woman and she's determined to miss the hanging party waiting for her.

WG:      What inspired you to write this particular story?

MB:      The story was very loosely inspired by the escapades of Pearl Hart. Desperate to help her seriously-ill mother, she stopped a stage and, with the help of a loaded pistol, convinced its passengers to help pay her poor mama's medical bills. (Bet you didn't know that health care was highway robbery even back in the old west.)

WG:      What sort of research, if any, did you have to do? Did you stumble across any unexpected interesting/fun tidbits along the way?

MB:      One unexpected tidbit: I just finished the copy edits on my book A Suitor for Jenny. My wonderful copy editor questioned that I called Lottie Moon a confederate spy. She insisted that she was a beloved missionary and that calling her a spy might offend Southern Baptists. Confused, I checked my sources but could find nothing about Lottie being a missionary. Finally, I turned to good old Google. It turns out that there were two Lottie Moons in the 1800s. One was a spy and one a missionary.

WG:      Tell us about your upcoming plans.

MB:      I just completed the 2nd book in my Rocky Creek series. A Suitor For Jenny and will be published September 2010. I'm currently working on the 3rd and last book in the series.

WG:      And before we close, tell us how your readers can get in touch with you.

MB:      They can reach me through my website; I also blog on

WG:      Thanks so much for spending time with me and my readers this month. It was fun 'chatting' with you, as always!

MB:      Winnie, thank you for having me. It's been great!