An Interview With Taleweaver

Conducted May 2003

1. How's Isolation 2020 coming?

It's amusing that you ask me about ISOLATION 2020. My partner scolded me last night for talking about my half-finished projects. She said that it is totally unfair if I get people's hopes up for specific topics or plots, and then it takes forever to produce the completed story. She asked me, "What if you never finish that? How can you lead readers on that way!"

My answer was that when readers know about a plot I am working on, two great things happen: 1) interested readers remind me of the story and ask about it which encourages me to continue; and 2) sometimes someone will send me a news article or some sort of information that helps me in my researching and thinking process. So I don't regret talking about unfinished works.

As for ISOLATION 2020, it's in the background, still percolating. I've got about one-fourth of it done, and I keep making notes and adding interesting news clips to my file on it. I am not worried about getting back to that one. It captivates my imagination, so I will return to it before too long.

2. How has your life changed since your first book contract?

My first book contract was a fiasco that I try to forget ever happened. From it, I learned how important it is to research a market, a publisher, and the details of a contract. All my subsequent contracts and publisher dealings have been great. My life has changed in many ways, the most important being that my partner and I were able to put into effect a 5 year plan to allow me to quit the "sucky day job" and write full-time. As things turned out, we reached our 5 year goals in a little less than three years, and for all of 2003, I have been able to write full-time.

One of the most profound things that has occurred is making friends with other authors and with many avid readers. The dialogue and sharing that occurs just by email has enriched my life in remarkable ways. In addition to the moral support, ideas, and gentle prodding, I also get a lot of laughs. It's been quite wonderful and inspiring, and every day it seems like I meet yet another interesting person.

3. What do you find the most challenging aspect of writing for a living?

Lack of funds. The coin of the realm doesn't come easily in writing.
Truly, I do not earn anywhere near enough from my books to make a living (unless I made my home under a bridge somewhere-and then, how would I plug in my computer and modem?).

If it weren't for savings, good budgeting, and the solidity of my partner's job, I wouldn't be able to do this. Of course we dream that one day I will write a book or a series that really takes off, but we can't count on it. Instead, we have vastly simplified our lives. So far, it's going well.

4. How do you name your characters? Is there anything that makes you lean more toward one name than another?

I try to pick distinctive names that read well and are somewhat easy to remember as well as to associate with the character. Sometimes I start out thinking of a character by a certain name-or spelling of a name-and after time goes by, something doesn't seem quite right. As I write, it just seems like the character grows into the name-or not, and then I adjust.

I am also acutely conscious of having too many similar names in a story: Jennie and Jean and Jill and Jamie and Jinny, etc. Unless I want the reader to think of those characters as a background, flat-as-cardboard secondary characters, I make every effort to vary the names, both first and last.

I am not sure that there's anything I can put my finger on that makes me lean toward one name more than another, except perhaps what "feels" right. I knew, for instance, when I named GUN SHY's Desiree Reilly that I had hit on the right name. Her mother calls her Desiree, but she is hardly like any Desiree I had ever met, and therefore her nickname, Dez, suits her best. Yet her given name is indicative of important things from her past: the reflection of her mother's French heritage in her first name; her father's Irish heritage in her last name; and her parents' implicit hope for their child's "femininity." The name suited her.

5. It is said that an author should be well read. What makes you choose one book over another if you've never read either one before?

I totally agree that an author should be well-read-and not just in the field s/he is most often writes in. Every genre, style, and topic is useful to read if only to observe the use of language or the structure of the piece. The more a writer reads and analyzes, the more tricks of the trade can be learned.

Mood and purpose for the reading have a lot to do with what I choose. Sometimes I am in the mood for action, so I may pick up a thriller or a sci-fi adventure. Or maybe I want to read something dramatic and emotional, so perhaps I look for a romance or a mainstream piece of literature. Most often I crave a good mystery, so I pick something from that genre. However, if I am reading for a purpose, I am a lot pickier. For instance, if I am reading to think about plot or to learn about a particular era, topic or style, then I may struggle more to decide what to read.

I like well-plotted books, and I am fond of series, so if I have liked something an author has done before, I am likely to read more from that writer. I also read reviews about fiction and take recommendations from people I know and trust.
I never have only two books to choose between, though. Right now, I have some six dozen volumes on my To Be Read bookshelf.

6. What is the best kind of research for you?

There is no single kind of research that I like the most or that works best for me. I find that a combination of library, internet, workplace, and interview research usually gives me what I need to know in order to write the majority of a book. For instance, to write the GUN cop novels, I read a number of books (fiction and non-fiction) containing stories about crime, police organizations, and interesting individuals. I scoured the internet and hung out in chat rooms that were for cops. I visited one of the St. Paul police stations, talked to officers there, and went on a ride-along with a sergeant. I interviewed a few current and former policemen & women, and I had a beta reader who worked patrol in Michigan. That gave me a lot of information, real-life stories, and an overall worldview to help me understand what it was like to be a cop.

In contrast, the book I am focused on right now takes place in WWI and WWII. It's easy to read library books and study via the internet, but there aren't any chat rooms for WWI soldiers or survivors. I have little access to concentration camp survivors for personal interviews nor can I afford to visit Eastern Europe, but there has been much written, so I have to rely more on that kind of research, rather than visiting or talking in person to people. I have had email conversations with residents of Germany and Poland, and they have given me lots of information. I can also talk to experts who really know that era of history, though I haven't done much of that yet.

Bottom line is that whatever research methods get a variety of information and details will be the ones I use. Sometimes that really slows down the production of a book. It's not always easy to get everything needed-especially since I tend to you figure out what I need as I write.

7. How have you changed personally since your first book came out?

I'm older and wiser. I hate to admit, but I started into the publishing process with stars in my eyes. Since then, I've discovered what a tremendous amount of work it is-and the work doesn't end when you finish the book! I have had to learn a lot of things about promotions and editing, book production and distribution. It's been a fascinating learning process.

I think I am taking my writing more seriously. In many ways I am much more focused, but also find myself feeling more comfortable with it every day, too. Perhaps one of the best things that has occurred is that I am happier. I think I went through a lot of years being unhappy and stressed in my day job and not exercising many of my creative muscles. Now that I have been novel writing consistently for the past five years, I feel more settled, more content. This means that I am a much easier person to live with, and my partner and I have just been reveling in time together. I also seem to have more time for my friends and relatives, and being more relaxed overall has meant that people and events rarely drive me crazy anymore. This is a tremendous advantage.

8. What's your biggest challenge in writing a how-to book?

Torn loyalties about time. Along with a number of fiction projects, I've actually got two how-to books up there spinning on sticks, and both are time-consuming challenges. One is a writing instruction book, and the other deals with marketing small press books. I try to parcel out time for both fiction and non-fiction, but at times, something is sure to get the short shrift, and it's usually the how-to books.

9. Now that you have a few books and more experience behind you, has your view on sex scenes changed in any way?

I don't think my view has changed. There are a multitude of other authors who write erotica SO MUCH better than I do. I'd rather they attended to that while I focus on other aspects of story. I'm still not writing "sex" scenes, but I do include love scenes which I hope integrate well into the plot and allow for continued explication of character and relationships.

10. How did you decide to make Luella a character in Gun Shy? How did you decide that Dez would share a duplex with Luella?

The spirit of Luella is based upon a woman I knew in my late 20s. She was a loving and courageous elderly woman who had lived through early deaths in her family, great poverty, racism, segregation in the South, and other indignities, but she had never let any of it put out the fire in her heart and soul. She was especially kind to young people, regardless of their color or orientation or educational level. She always said she loved all God's children and that if everyone would follow Christ's example, the whole world would be a better place. She died a decade ago in her early 90s, but I will never forget her. Luella is a younger version of her, transplanted to Minnesota.

It's been so long, though, since I first started thinking about Gun Shy (about five years now), so I am not sure exactly how I settled upon Luella being the downstairs neighbor for Dez. What is very clear to me is that the person Luella is based on was warm and loving, and for some reason, I thought she'd be the sort of person to connect with a person like Dez.

© 2003 Lori L. Lake