Friday, February 05, 2010

Author Becca Wilhite ~ Interviewed

Becca Wilhite graduated from Brigham Young University and then lived, among other places, in Indianapolis and Oklahoma City. Now she lives in a little valley in the Rockies where she can see mountains out of every window. Every day she discovers miracles of every shade with her husband and four kids. Her debut novel, Bright Blue Miracle, released in February 2009.

Tell us a bit about your current project.

I’m working on “flexing the muscle” by writing something every day. My blog isn’t supposed to count. But do you know that theory/saying/idea that you write five books before one is publishable? I may owe the universe a few unpublishable manuscripts, so I just keep plugging at it, even if the writing isn’t very good. Write. Write. Write.

We are all about journeys...unique ones at that. How convoluted was your path to your first published book? Share some highlights or lowlights from your path to publication.

My first book was a slush-pile success story. Don’t hate me because it worked for me – you can use me as that one-in-a-zillion example. I sent the manuscript (unrequested – gasp) to Shadow Mountain, and they published it. I know. That never happens. Except once it did, right? (The book was called Bright Blue Miracle)

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work, or struggle in a particular area such as writers block or angst driven head-banging against walls? Please share some helpful overcoming hints that you’ve discovered.

I have a desperate and pathetic need for outside validation. This is a major character flaw. My best bet for overcoming that is to take a little break from a project, and when I come back to it, focus on the parts that I can laugh at (you know, in a good way).

Also, buttered popcorn goes a long way to relieving angst. (Better than head-banging, even.)

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication? Or to narrow it down further what’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?

Is it ungracious to admit that I hate the query letter? This one-page monster is harder for me than any number of novels. Maybe I should write the title first, then the query, and then write the book… Hey, that doesn’t sound like a bad idea.

What two or three things would you do differently if you were starting your publishing career today?

Get into a group. Having other people read your work is the best thing for it. Especially if some of those people hate everything you write. This is humbling, which is great, but also, it allows you to say, “Thank you for that viewpoint,” and then dismiss it. Because you can’t please everyone, so you shouldn’t try. You should learn which voices to listen to EARLY, so critics don’t crush your soul.

What one issue makes you struggle the most as an author? How do you handle it?

Being an author is my second job. Being a mom is first (and even more fun). So I struggle with prioritizing. Making time. (That’s different than finding time, because it’s really not like finding a penny on the sidewalk. Making time is a choice, because we all have 24 hours in a day and we can, to some extent, choose what to fill those hours with.)

My other challenge is allowing myself to write [here’s me trying to find a more polite way to say this… I’ve got nothing] crap. It needs to be all right for me to write words that will not last, words that will be deleted. Writing is sometimes like weightlifting, and you need to keep doing it in order to keep the muscle strong. So if I flex my writing muscle but all that comes from it is, ahem, deletables, well, that has to be okay with me. I’m not there, but I’m getting better about it.

What is your favorite source for finding story ideas?

I’m not very easily embarrassed, but I think embarrassing situations make the greatest starting points for discovering characters. When you recognize the things that make them squirm, you already know a lot about them. Then you sort of uncover their inconsistencies and that helps flesh them out into real people (you know, in a fictional sense).

Have you ever had one of those awkward writer moments you’d like to share with us, the ones wherein you get “the look” from the normals? Example, you stand at a knife display at the sporting goods store and ask the clerk which would be the best to use to disembowel a six foot man…please do tell.

I took notes at my grandma’s funeral when the aunties were telling a wonderful story I’d never heard. I got a few looks (the kind like “What is the matter with her? Why is she giggling and giddy?”)

What is the best writing (or life) advice you have ever heard or wished you had followed? Why?

You can laugh, or you can cry. Choose laughing as often as possible because it doesn’t make your nose run.

With the clarity of experience what advice would you offer up to the wet-behind-the-ears you if beginning this writing journey today?

Don’t be afraid of letting characters make mistakes. I tend to want my characters to be Good. Kind. Upstanding. Like I want my kids to be, you know? But that doesn’t make very interesting stories. So I would tell me, “Becca, let them screw it up. Let them fight. Let them insult and hurt and ruin things. Then we’ll make a story about cleaning up the mess.”

What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why? (Doesn't have to be one of your books or even published.)

When I was in college (totally not studying to be a writer) I had to write a paper about something, I don’t really even remember the assignment. Dr. Jacobs read my paper to the class (it was a huge class, maybe 250 people) and people laughed. Out loud. I shuddered with glee. I was bit.

What gives you the greatest writer buzz, makes the trip worth the hassles (besides coffee or other substances, or course )?

If it can make my husband laugh out loud, that is a successful piece of writing. As a guy who doesn’t read YA or romantic comedy or (OK, let’s be honest here) anything, really, his reactions are the gold standard.

What is one of the more unique or strange life experiences that has really given you an extra oomph in your writing?

I don’t want to wax all sentimental here, but when I was a teenager my mom died suddenly (at least it was sudden to me – she knew it was coming in that way you can tell your body is giving out). Having that experience (and the subsequent life experiences related to it) has helped me look at things in a different way than I used to. I see a wider view than I did before. (Some of that may just be related to growing up, though, so maybe everyone has that wider view.)

What is the first thing you do when you begin a new book?

When I’m successful at it, the first part of a new book is a scene that really gets inside a character’s motivations or desires. The first scene I wrote in My Ridiculous Romantic Obsessions is the part where Ben and Sarah are dancing at a wedding reception. Her character and her flaws and her neuroses all came so perfectly clearly – I knew what I wanted to do with her story right from that scene. When it works, it’s priceless.

Writing rituals. Do you have to sit somewhere specific, complete a certain number of words, leave something undone to trigger creativity for the next session? Some other quirk you’d like to share?

I like to get up at 5.30 in the morning. No, I am not making that up. I work early and aim for 1,000 words, but I’ll stop at 500 if it’s time for the kids to get up. I work on a desktop Mac, the one I share with the whole family. I turn the sound way down so I can’t hear the email “bing” noise (otherwise I’m totally unreliable, checking and answering emails instead of writing my words like a good little author).

Plot, seat of pants or combination?

Plot? What’s plot?

My style is to be like a toddler playing with beads. Ooh, that one’s pretty. I like this square one, too. Hey, Gimme that shiny thing. Okay, now I need to string them together. Ta-da! Story!

What is the most difficult part of pulling together a book? Ex. Do you have saggy middles, soggy characters, soupy plots during your first drafts…if so, how do you shape it up?

I’ve found out that I’m pretty good at starting out, mediocre at middles, and endings are like pulling teeth. So I must must finish what I start. It’s like a drill, a checklist. (This is a flaw common to my entire character. I’m great at starting things, but finishing? Not my favorite.)

Have you received a particularly memorable reader response or peer honor? Please share.

I think every author’s day is made by the kid who writes to say, “I don’t even like to read, but I like your book.” The day I received my first note that said those words, I got all sniffly and said, “I’m REAL.”

Note: Becca is offering a free copy to Novel Journey readers (Continental US only). Leave a comment and make sure I can get in touch with you. This contest closes next Friday, the 12th at midnigh and the winner will be chosen at random.) I'll be in touch.


Kelly Klepfer said...

Thanks for dropping by, Becca. Your interview made me want to read your book.

Cindy W. said...

Loved your interview and would love a copy of your book!


Becca said...

Thanks, Kelly, for having me. I'll be keeping my eye on you guys over here.

karen said...

I'm new to this website and have been wondering if God has a book in me. I loved this interview! Thank you!

Barbara E Brink said...

Great talk. Glad to hear I'm not the only one who doesn't outline or have an entire plot thought out when I begin to write:)

Janie said...

Delightful interview. I especially liked your answer to the question about plot. I just wrote my first novel, Finding Herself Blessed, and I, too, worked from that random child's play framework and mostly in the wee hours of the quiet and uninterrupted mornings. Thanks for the encouragement that whatever style works for a writer is a valid writing style.

homemaker, MD said...

Your interview made me feel better that I hate outlining! I'm also a mom and writer. Would love to read your book.

Kelly Klepfer said...


You win. I'll be contacting you via email for your contact info to pass along to Becca's publicist.

Thanks all.