Award Winning Author Winnie Griggs





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Linda Castillo


May 2013


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

LC:      Hi Winnie—first of all thank you so much for having me. I can’t begin this interview without mentioning that it was the late K. Sue Morgan who introduced me to your RWA chapter NOLA and ultimately introduced me to you and the rest of your fabulous chapter members. I met her at the RWA conference in Dallas in 1996. Such a wonderful lady…and a wonderful group. I feel lucky to have gotten acquainted with all of you!

Anyway, back to your question. Though I consider myself a Texan—I’ve lived here since 1985—I was born in Western Ohio’s farm country and grew up there. We had cattle, horses, pigs and chickens. I have a particularly intense love for horses and learned to ride at a very young age. One of the things my parents passed along to me was a love and respect for animals and they are a huge part of my life to this day. I went to high school in Arcanum, Ohio. After graduation, I enrolled in college and worked through several semesters while working full time. But I didn’t graduate—a decision I regret. That said, I’m not sure graduating would have affected my writing career one way or another. I’ve always loved writing and it was that love of the written word that drove me to teach myself the mechanics of it. My imagination and love of a good story took care of the rest.

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.

LC:      I think writing is in my blood. I’ve always loved to write. Even as a pre-teen, I loved creating stories and characters and I enjoyed the act of putting words on paper. (I still have my first novel that I wrote when I was thirteen years old—yeah, it’s bad, but still…)

WG:      Tell us about your journey.

LC:      Winnie, as you can imagine because you are a writer yourself, it was a long and arduous journey to publication and I lost faith in my ability to achieve my goal many, many times. I received hundreds of rejections from both agents and editors. It was frustrating and, at times, heartbreaking, but I persevered, which I believe is a vital component if you’re going to succeed in this business. You have to be tough and you can’t let any kind of negative feedback deter you from your goal. I was in it for the long haul and I kept my eye on the prize. I wrote four complete novels that never sold (and rightfully so.) Those are dark times in the life of any writer trying to make that first sale. But I am a hard-headed individual and I didn’t give up. I did ride the contest circuit for a while, which was helpful in terms of getting my name (and my work) in front of agents and editors. I was a triple Golden Heart finalist in 1999, which was quite exciting. It took me eleven years to sell my first book, which was a romantic suspense titled REMEMBER THE NIGHT to Harlequin in June of 1999.

WG:      How many books did you complete before you sold your first? Have all/any of them sold since?

LC:      I wrote four full ms before selling my first book to Harlequin. It was tough to have one ms rejected, and then jump right in to the next. But I loved my stories and my characters. I believed in my goal. I *wanted* very much to become a published author and full time writer.

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

LC:      I’ve read so many great stories over the years about authors getting that first call. Mine is actually kind of mundane. It was June 8, 1999 and I was, of course, sitting at my computer, writing. I’d just learned a couple of months earlier that I was a triple Golden Heart finalist. I sensed strongly that things were heating up. In fact—and I know this is going to sound a little woo-woo—but a few minutes before I got the call I had a very strong urge to stop what I was doing and pick up the ms that was under consideration, just to hold it. Which I did. I sat there for a moment, holding it and wondering how all of this would end up. Then I set the ms down and got back to work. Then the phone rang. It was the terrific Melissa Jeglinski at Harlequin telling me they wanted to buy my book. The moment had been such a long time coming….it was almost anticlimactic. I took the news calmly. I called my husband, then I called my friends in my critique group, and then I did what any self-respecting writer would do and I got back to work.

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

LC:      Selling that first book was the beginning of a wonderful new chapter in my life. I’ve always had a very strong work ethic. And during those eleven years I was trying to sell that first book, I worked full time as well. I had a demanding job and I’d been working evenings and weekends for as long as I could remember. I was starting to get tired. I was starting to wonder if all the hard work, if all the sacrifice would pay off. It took a while, but I can honestly say it has. I’m in a wonderful place right now. Not perfect. There are still plenty of stresses and some days it seems as if I can never get enough done. But looking back, I don’t think I would have done anything differently.

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

LC:      I think what surprised me the most is my success. The level of my success. I still think of myself as a kid from Ohio. I never imagined I would become a New York Times bestselling author or have one of my books made into a movie. It’s been an amazing trip so far!

WG:      What about your writing process?

LC:      I usually start my books with a premise and then build on it from there. Because I’m currently working on a series, I already know my characters. Still, I always try to uncover at least one thing I didn’t know about them previously. I think that keeps them fresh. Once I have my premise down, I write the synopsis, which is usually seven to twenty pages in length. Most writers hate writing synopsis, but I’ve come to enjoy it. I use the synopsis as a plotting tool. Once I have my synopsis down, I start chapters. Most of the time I don’t follow the synopsis verbatim because I’ll conceive better or more creative ideas as I delve into the story and the situations the characters face.

WG:      Do you maintain a set schedule? Is there such a thing as a typical day for you?

LC:      I look at writing as a job. I’ve always worked and I’ve always kept a pretty strict schedule. I start at 7:00 or 8:00 in the morning. Sometimes if I need a change of venue, I’ll take my laptop to a local coffee shop and work there, which is a really nice break. I usually try to get out and take a walk in the middle of the day, just to get the blood circulating and give myself time to think about what I need to write next. Then I go back to the computer. Later, I try to concentrate on putting news out on FB or Twitter. I also try to respond to any email or letters I’ve received from fans.

WG:      Do you set writing goals for yourself?

LC:      I’m big on goals: short term, mid term and long term. I try to write at least four pages per day Mon through Fri and a couple of pages per day on the weekends. If I can do more, that’s even better. My all time record, btw, is 42 pages in a single day but that doesn’t happen very often. Usually, I’m happy with four or five pages per day.

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

LC:      I love music, but I usually don’t use it when I write. I would consider a playlist of sorts, but it would have to be exactly right and capture the mood I’m looking for. I haven’t found it yet.

WG:      Do you do a lot of up front plotting before you start or do you just dive in?

LC:      Yes, I’m a plotter. When I first began writing, I would write the book by the seat of my pants. But I’ve always been plot driven and I write a pretty detailed synopsis before I begin.

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

LC:      Since I’m currently writing the Kate Burkholder series—which I’m loving, btw!—I guess you could say I start with character. While I’m very familiar with all of these characters, there are still times when they surprise me by revealing some new morsel of information about them I didn’t previously know. That’s a lot of fun for me and I love it when that happens.

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

LC:      Early in my career, one of my very astute critique partners pointed out that I like to write characters who are in the midst of some kind of professional catastrophe. I always attributed it to all of those years I worked in the corporate environment while I really wanted to be home writing. I guess I was fantasizing about getting fired. =) I also tend to write troubled characters. My male characters tend to be very alpha. It’s just the way my mind works.

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

LC:      That’s a tough question. I’ve had people tell me that I’m a courageous writer. That I don’t hesitate to go to some dark places. I don’t know if that’s courage really, but I do have the ability to stay true to my characters, even if it takes the reader (and me) to an uncomfortable place.

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?

LC:      No matter who you are, there are times when life gets in the way of your writing. Whether it’s from something good and exciting, or some tragedy that knocks you off your game, that’s just the nature of the beast. I think it’s important for writers to learn to work through the good and the bad. Writing is not easy and there are days when the words simply won’t come. When that happens, I allow myself to “write badly” and do what I need to do to get the words on the page. Usually, if I can do that, I can go back and fix those words later.

WG:      Do you have a favorite sub-genre as a writer? as a reader?

LC:      I love the thriller genre, both as a writer and a reader.

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

LC:      I’ve always wanted to write a post apocalyptic novel. I’d also love to try my hand at a horror novel.

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

LC:      Publishing is an ever changing industry. It’s inherently difficult to break into, but there are more opportunities than ever for writers today. Don’t ever forget that a good book boils down to two things: great writing and a great story. Work hard and hone your craft. When things get tough or you find yourself getting rejections, rely on your love of the writing process to get you through. It’s a cliché, but don’t give up. Perseverance is extremely important.

WG:      Is there a specific 'ah-ha' moment you've had as a writer that you would like to share with us?

LC:      Early in my career, when I was writing romantic suspense I had a difficult time grasping the concept of internal conflict. One of my critique partners introduced me to Deborah Dixon’s GOAL, MOTIVATION AND CONFLICT. The book was tremendously helpful. I have a hundred or so stories just like that one that I experienced before I sold (and still do.) Snippets of wisdom I picked up in books, in workshops or simply by reading and figuring things out on my own. For most people, becoming a good writer is a process you build on every day.

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?

LC:      That’s a great question, Winnie. I deal with the negativity by reminding myself I can’t please everyone. If you’re a writer, you shouldn’t even try because it can stifle your voice or suck the power from your prose. I very much enjoy hearing from fans, but over the years I’ve received my share of negative feedback. I try not to let it bother me and usually I’m too busy to dwell too much on it. But there are times when it bothers me. For example, recently I received a piece of what I can only describe as hate mail from an Amish man telling me he’d burned my book. It bothered me because I understood where he was coming from, even though I disagreed with the gist of his complaint. And then there was the fan who accused me of writing hate and contributing to the mistreatment of animals. She couldn’t have been more wrong. I don’t respond to the negative mail. I’ve learned there are some people whose mind you will never change and I’ve ceased trying—and I’ve learned to let it go.

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

LC:      In an overall sense, not really. Yes, I stumbled through some things I listened to and probably shouldn’t have. But I’ve always been pretty good at finding my way and I did.

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

LC:      The most rewarding thing about being a writer are the people who read and love the books. A reader sharing their love of the story or the characters is pretty much the ultimate for me. As far as struggling….I think it’s striking a balance between writing, promoting the books, and finding time to relax—really relax—with friends and family and making time to do the things I love to do. A book is such a massive project. I tend to be a results oriented person. That’s a tough combination because it’s difficult for me to relax before the book is finished.

WG:      When you're not writing, what do you do for fun or what is your favorite self-indulgence?

LC:      I have horses and I ride them every chance I get. My husband and I ride Palo Duro Canyon, which is beautiful. I’ve dabbled a bit in barrel racing, but we’re not very fast. =) I love the out of doors so I enjoy working in the yard and walking. Those are some of the ways I recharge, too.

WG:      When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

LC:      A writer, of course. But I was a practical Midwesterner and I thought being a professional writer was a pipe dream and so I entered the corporate world. I should have listened to myself when I was thirteen and anything was possible!

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

LC:      This probably isn’t much of a surprise, but Kate Burkholder is much, much braver than I’ll ever be.

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

LC:      AN AMISH MURDER.... =) Really, though, I love watching CASTLE. Love the humor and the characters. Some real LOL moments. JUSTIFIED is fabulous….such smart writing. And I love the cable series THE KILLING.

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.

LC:      I do have a favorite. I don’t know its origin, but my dad used it when I was a kid. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” As an adult, I’m a firm believer.

WG:      Please tell us about your current project.

LC:      I’m currently working on Kate Burkholder number six and loving the story. I’m only a hundred pages in and already I’ve discovered some revelations about the characters. I’m also working on a standalone I’m very excited about. The heroine is a slightly shady private detective. The story is set in West Virginia and evolves around the coal mining industry and family secrets.

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

LC:      I love research. For the police procedural aspect of the books, I’ve graduated from two citizens police academies. Such a terrific learning experience that was also a lot of fun. Last summer, while I was on tour with GONE MISSING, I visited some Amish friends and I actually got to drive a buggy. Really a wonderful experience.

WG:      Tell us about your upcoming plans.

LC:      I’m invested in Kate Burkholder. I’m so enjoying the series and the characters. As long as readers are loving the books, I will continue to write them and love every word. The next installment, HER LAST BREATH, will be released on June 18.

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

LC:      I love hearing from readers (and writers!) I’m perpetually behind on email (never a reflection on the importance of the correspondence) but that’s the best way to reach me.

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

LC:      Winnie, thank YOU for the invitation. It was a pleasure visiting and I very much appreciate the opportunity to talk about the books. Tell all the NOLA folks I said hello!