Award Winning Author Winnie Griggs





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Debbie Macomber


MAY 2011


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

DM:      Thanks for inviting me, Winnie. I'm a small-town gal, born and raised in Yakima, Washington. My cousins lived nearby, so there was always someone to play with and lots of family gatherings. I loved living in this extended family environment and in this close, friendly community. My childhood there was pretty idyllic, so it's no surprise that I love to write about family, relationships and small-town living!

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.

DM:      I've always enjoyed telling stories. I was a popular baby-sitter in my Yakima neighborhood because I'd make up stories to entertain the kids I looked after. I'd always include them in the story and, of course, they loved that.

It wasn't until I was a young stay-at-home mother, living in Kent, Washington, that writing for publication became a focused goal rather than a distant dream. My cousin, David, to whom I'd always been close, died of leukemia. That was when I realized there's never an ideal time to pursue your dreams; if I wanted to be a writer, I couldn't wait until the kids were older, we were more financially secure, and so on.

WG:      Tell us about your journey.

DM:      After I'd decided to make a serious effort to get published, it took four manuscripts and five years before I sold a book. These manuscripts were written on a rented typewriter, which was moved from the kitchen table at mealtimes.

My rejections included a rather brutal one at a writers' conference. I was able to attend this conference - my first--because of a sale I made to Women's Day magazine. I'd had such high hopes of talking to a real editor. Clearly that particular instance didn't work out too well - but I refused to be discouraged.

I don't have a university degree, but did attend community college and took correspondence writing courses. This was before RWA was formed, so romance writers were pretty much on their own!

I learned very early on to celebrate small successes along the way. I sold an anecdote to a church magazine, for which I earned $5. I also got a small contract to convert scripts to book format for the TV show Knots Landing. Every little success encouraged me.

After my first book sale I wrote to Norman Vincent Peale to tell him that his book, The Power of Positive Thinking, had helped me persevere as a writer. I received a reply - a letter that now hangs on my office wall!

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

DM:      I seem to have anticipated your next question before you asked it! One or two manuscripts remain unsold and will stay that way.

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

DM:      I will always remember getting "the call" from Mary Clare Kersten, who was at Silhouette. It came in September 29, 1982 at 4:39 p.m. in the afternoon. There was joy in Mudville that night. Wayne was waiting to get work on the Alaska pipeline, while the kids and I lived on his unemployment check of $150 a week. We celebrated by having pizza for dinner!

The first book I sold was Heartsong, the first book in Silhouette's Inspirations line, published in February 1984. However, one of the other manuscripts I had ready was Starlight, and that was actually my first published book. It appeared in November 1983.

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

DM:      Many things changed over the years, but many stayed the same. I was still a stay-at-home mom with four kids and a husband, I was still cooking meals, cleaning the house, volunteering for the kids' schools, etc. But my writing did add to the family income. I learned the value of self-promotion and began to put some of my earnings back into my career.

As a result of being a published author, I've been able to travel, both as a presenter at conferences and also abroad to promote my books. One highlight was a trip to Australia and New Zealand; my husband was able to accompany me, and it was fantastic.

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

DM:      Getting reader mail was probably the first real surprise - and a wonderful one! I'd never written to an author myself, and when I got that first letter I was overwhelmed. I felt grateful, I was moved, I was excited. Since then readers' comments have been a guiding force in my career.

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

DM:      Currently my husband and I are in our winter home in Florida, and our lives are very different here than in Port Orchard, Washington, where I live a much more disciplined life. Here's a typical work day in Port Orchard: The alarm goes off at 4 a.m., I do my daily Bible reading and journaling and am in the high school swimming pool by 6 to swim a mile in laps. By the time I get home, shower, dress and get to the office, which is about ten minutes from my house, it's almost 8 a.m. I read the mail and then go upstairs to write. When I'm on deadline, I write a certain number of pages every weekday, and I don't go home until they're written. Then it's off to fix dinner for my husband. (I love to cook.) And in the evenings, I knit.

Life in Florida . . . I get up when I wake, do my Bible reading and journaling, followed by a session in my home office, where I write my daily pages. I'll stop for lunch with Wayne or friends, and we'll have dinner out several times a week. Exercise comes from dance classes, Pilates and walking the dog. Way more relaxed . . . Northwest and Southeast, disciplined and relaxed--it's a good blend, I think.

WG:      Do you set writing goals for yourself?

DM:      I'm a goal-oriented person - as my previous answers probably suggest - and that's always served me well.

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

DM:      Not really. In the early years the mortgage payment and other bills kept me motivated. I became adept at filtering out noise so I could concentrate on writing. As a result I don't have music playing in the background - there's no point! I wouldn't pay attention to it anyway.

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

DM:      I write a complete synopsis and use that as a guideline. It's a fluid document and I make changes as I work, depending on where the story ends up going (and on my editor's input), but the framework is there.

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

DM:      Usually the plot premise and then I build from that. But the characters are a critical part of this, and they determine so much about the way I actually develop the premise. I base my characterizations (loosely) on people I know - on some combination of personality factors, background and traits. (Trust me, no one is going to recognize him or herself!) My goal is to create believable, cohesive characters who find themselves in equally believable situations.

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

DM:      I seem to write a lot of stories having to do with forgiveness and redemption. And second chances...

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

DM:      Early in my career I had to devise a method of deciding which stories to develop. What I came up with was five words, five criteria.

The first is provocative--I want my readers to think. For instance, if they were in a particular character's circumstances, would they react as that character did? Do they understand why my characters make certain choices? Would they make the same choices?

Next, the story has to be relevant to my readers. I want them to relate to it in a personal way. I want the characters and situations to be reflective of real life.

I want to tell the story in the most creative way possible. To give you an example: That could mean making decisions about structure and point of view that aren't necessarily the obvious or predictable ones.

The story needs to be entertaining. I'm not going to inflict my opinions on my readers. I'm telling a story that should interest and engage them, move them and - depending on the kind of story it is - make them laugh.

And finally, the book needs to be honest - which to me means realistic. The characters and situations should seem credible to my readers.

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?

DM:      Not really. The only thing would be the fact that there's too much to do and too little time (which I think is the curse of women everywhere!). And I haven't figured out a way of overcoming it. Anyone who does should let me know...

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

DM:      Just that I'm always willing to try something different, a new approach or technique or kind of story. Which means I'm also willing to risk failing - and to start over.

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

DM:      I love to read Regencies and biographies. I read widely, and I try to keep up with new books by my author friends.

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

DM:      Not really a genre, but perhaps a book set during World War II. I have my mother's diary from the war years. My father was captured during the Battle of the Bulge and taken inside Germany as a POW. That period has always interested me.

By the way, anyone who's read my Cedar Cove series will recognize that the secondary characters of Jacob Dennison and Joan Manry (whose letters and diary were found in 1022 Evergreen Place) is based on my parents and their wartime experiences.

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

DM:      Dream big, believe in yourself and don't ever give up. Passion will carry you farther than talent.

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

DM:      I guess those first reader letters, which I mentioned above. They proved that real live people were reading my books! And liking them! These letters connect me with what my readers think and feel - and they really are a kind of guide for me.

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?

DM:      I consider whether the complaint has legitimacy and if so, try to figure out what I can do about it.

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

DM:      No, I honestly can't think of one.

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

DM:      As I've already suggested, the most rewarding thing is getting readers' comments and hearing how my stories have touched their lives or helped them through a difficult period in their lives.

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

DM:      You probably know that I love to knit. That's my favorite method of unwinding. It allows me to process the day, let my mind relax. And it's so satisfying to create something beautiful, soft and warm! Most of my knitted projects become gifts or go to charities.

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

DM:      I've always wanted to write books . . . or own a yarn store. And now I write books and own a yarn store. (Or at least I'm a partner in one.)

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

DM:      I seldom watch television anymore. If the TV is on, it's either the news or something on the Food Network.

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.

DM:      I collect quotes, too, and have so many favorites it would be difficult to share just one.

WG:      Please tell us about your current project.

DM:      I have four original books coming out this year - A Turn in the Road, which is a hardcover being released in May, two Cedar Cove books (1105 Yakima Street and 1225 Christmas Tree Lane, which is also - as you might guess from the title, this year's Christmas gift hardcover) and a Christmas cookbook. Those are completed projects, obviously.

I'm working on a new story titled Starting Now about a female attorney who loses her job and through unemployment finds meaning to life and purpose.

WG:      What inspired you to write this particular story?

DM:      The current economic situation.

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

DM:      My website is full of information: I also have a smart phone app for free download and I'm on Facebook.

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