Welcome to Author Spotlight! Each week will feature a different author. We’ll get the scoop behind their writing life and dish a little. The authors will also be giving away a copy of their latest book. FUN.
This week we welcome Dale Cramer. To win a copy of the Dale’s latest book, Paradise Valley, leave a comment on this post! And mark your calendars. Dale will be on Amish Wisdom on November 18th!
Welcome Dale, share a little bit about yourself. Married with kids? Empty nester? Do you work full-time and write when you can squeeze it in?
Married for 35 years, so far. It took us a long time to have kids, so we ended up with small kids in the house when we were forty. Two sons, a couple years apart, and the youngest just graduated high school.
And share something about your writing. What’s your genre(s), your areas of interest…
As much as it sounds like a cop-out, I’m not sure what my genre is, and my areas of interest are absolutely everything. I’ve written about Amish people, soldiers, farmers, sailplane pilots, real estate developers, miners, housewives, bandits, young, old, men, women, in every time period from 1920 to the present. What’s important to me is that I (the characters, the story) have something to say, a new way of looking at things. There’s nothing I like better than when somebody reads one of my books and writes to me saying, “You know, I never thought about it like that.”
How did you get started writing? Did you have a dream of being a published author?
It was always in the back of my head, growing up, but I guess I didn’t take it seriously. Always, when I’d read a book— and I read a lot of books— I’d see something clumsy and think, “I could do that better.” But I didn’t actually try to do it. It was on my bucket list, but I figured everybody wanted to write a book someday. Just because I wanted to write a book didn’t mean I was a writer.
After you started writing seriously–how long was it before you were published?
About two weeks. Seriously. I was building an office for a friend (I’ve been in construction all my life) and we got in an argument one night over labor/management stuff. He said I should write an article about my views, so I did. He showed me how to edit myself, and it was like the light came on. Suddenly it all made sense. When I finished the third or fourth draft of that piece he sent it to a major magazine and about two weeks later they called and said they were buying it. It was literally the first thing I had written since high school, about twenty-five years.
Aside from a cup of good, strong coffee, what helps you get all of your “brain cylinders” firing so you can write well? Do you have any favorite places and routines when you write? How many hours a day do you spend writing?
I think what helps me more than anything is consistently working. I mean, if I work on a story every day I pretty much know what needs to be done tomorrow. Little plot problems seem to solve themselves as long as I keep moving. It’s when I start trying to think too far ahead and map out the whole story that I get bogged down. It seems strange, but the biggest boost to the brain cylinders seems to be momentum itself.
As for places, I do most of my writing at my desk, on my computer, although I have written chapters by hand in all sorts of bizarre places, including the back seat of the car while my wife was driving. I prefer working in the morning, but there again I don’t always get things the way I want them. A writer has to be ready to write whenever.
What has been the biggest help to you in the journey to publication? Writers’ conferences? Writing groups? Your mom as your first draft reader?
Really the only group thing I ever participated in was an online writers’ forum that started out at Compuserve. Section Six of the Compuserve Writers Forum was the Exercise Section, and it seemed like a safe place so I decided to give it a try. I posted a few short pieces for critique, and people liked them. The folks at Section Six were the best— supportive, knowledgeable, and a lot of fun. If they had a fault it was that they were too kind, but that’s what made it possible for a rank beginner to stick his neck out. After a while they started telling me I should try to publish my short fiction in literary magazines, and then they taught me how to go about it. That’s where I got my start.
Is the “writer’s life” what you thought it would be?
Mostly I’d say yes, it’s what I expected. I was, and still am, surprised at how much time and energy is devoted to non-writing activity. These days, with so many titles out there, the competition is stiff, and with the advent of social networks like Facebook and Twitter the bulk of the responsibility for promotion seems to have shifted to the author.
What are your biggest distractions?
My kids. When they were little I wrote in fifteen minute bursts between emergencies and during naps. Now that they’re out of high school I don’t change nearly as many diapers, but there’s still constant traffic in and out of this place, doors slamming, TV blaring. The next biggest distraction would be all the things you can do on a computer other than writing— you know, surfing, gaming, emailing, browsing, shopping. The computer has advantages and disadvantages for those of us with ADD.
What was one of the best moments in your career and what was one of the worst?
I have to say right up front I can’t think of a worst moment, unless it was the time I forgot about a live radio interview and missed it. Best? I’ve won two Christy Awards, a really unexpected honor, and I was listed among the Best of the Year in Publishers Weekly. The list was in alphabetical order, so I ended up right between Michael Connelly and Michael Crichton. I thought that was cool.
What do you least like about being a writer? Most like?
I like getting paid for doing something I love. I like the commute (get dressed, walk to the kitchen, make coffee, sit down at the desk and go to work). I like those rare moments when I look back over something I’ve written and see that it’s better than anything I thought could come out of me. I like hanging out with writers. There are lots of things to like; I can’t imagine why I’d want to dwell on what I don’t like.
What is the role and importance of an agent?
I just got back from a client retreat hosted by my agent (Janet Kobobel Grant), so I have all these fresh images of my agent with her flock, and it has become clear to me that, most of all, an agent is a cat herder. Janet is the level head, the voice of experience, the Objective One, the all seeing eye, and it’s her job to manage the careers of a large group of individuals who, almost by definition, each lives in his own fantasy land. Writers, on the whole, are myopic visionaries, fiercely independent children, starry-eyed pessimists, and extremely intelligent idiots (and I’m not, by any stretch, excluding myself from this description). They are without a doubt the most interesting group of people I’ve ever had the privilege to be around, but I can’t imagine trying to corral them, let alone manage their careers.
What advice would you give to new writers?
Work on craft. You can write an average book and join the millions of people waving average manuscripts in the air hoping to get noticed, or you can write a great book and rise above the throng. Publishers are looking for great books.
Pretend I’m a customer at a bookstore looking for a good book. Give me a one or two sentence promo to convince me to buy your book.
Oh, I can never do it in one or two sentences. I’d have to drag you into a conversation about writing and family history and philosophy and religion. In ten or fifteen minutes you’ll buy my book just to get away from me. Works every time.
What’s on the book horizon for you?
Right now I’m entirely focused on the trilogy— The Daughters of Caleb Bender. The first book, Paradise Valley, comes out at the end of November. The second one is written and in the editing pipeline, and I’m working on the third one. After that, I’m really not sure what I’ll do.
Last question, how can readers find you and your books?
They can find me at dalecramer.com or my blog site, dalecramerblog.com. I’m also on Facebook. My books: Levi’s Will is still available at most stores, although some places may have to order it for you. When Paradise Valley comes out next month it’ll be available at all the Christian stores as well as the major outlets— Amazon, CBD, B&N, Booksamillion, Walmart, Sam’s, even Kroger. It’s also going to be available through Crossings Book Club.
Thank you for sharing your writing life with my bleaders! (blog + readers = bleaders)