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.
The winner from last week’s Author Spotlight with Lisa T. Bergren is Betti Mace! Please email my assistant Christen with your mailing address. (email@example.com)
This week please welcome Valerie Weaver-Zercher in the spotlight! To win a copy her book Thrill of the Chaste (The Johns Hopkins University Press 2013), leave a comment on this post
I am married and have three sons, ages 12, 10, and 8. I am a freelance editor and do developmental editing and copyediting work for a variety of publishers and individual authors. In addition to writing Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels, I write book reviews, features, and essays for a variety of publications. I love both writing and editing, and try to maintain some balance between the two.
And share something about your writing. What’s your genre(s), your areas of interest…
In addition to more academic or analytical nonfiction, I enjoy writing creative nonfiction and memoir. Frankly, I love to combine a journalistic approach to a topic with personal narrative writing, so that the prose ping-pongs back and forth between an investigation into some issue and my own experience of that issue. I also enjoy writing review essays that examine two or more books that revolve around the same topic.
How did you get started writing? Did you have a dream of being a published author?
I have enjoyed writing ever since I was in elementary school. My first job out of college (after a year abroad) was in editing, and it gave me the chance to write editorials and features and news articles. That first job was invaluable in terms of teaching me to write in a disciplined way, and under deadline! It also gave me critical experience in the editing side of the publishing equation; now that I have editors editing my writing, I understand and appreciate their role more than I would have had I not had that first job.
After you started writing seriously–how long was it before you were published?
That first editorial job gave me the opportunity to publish short pieces, and it gave me the confidence to keep submitting pieces for publication even after I had moved on to other jobs and to graduate school. Only after I had kids, however, did I begin to take myself more seriously as a writer and start treating it as a vocation that I wanted to pursue rather than just a hobby to be dabbled in. I don’t think I started really seeing myself as a writer until a few years ago, actually. It was much safer to call myself an “editor” or a “mother” than a “writer.”
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 usually write in my basement study. (This room, which we remodeled a few years ago into my study, is likely different from most home offices in that it is, shall we say, a “multipurpose” room. There are a toilet and a sink in one corner! Our house was built in the 1960s, and we assume that the original owners decided to add a toilet in case they ever added a whole bathroom. We have simply put bookshelves up in front of it to hide it from view.) Anyway: I write best by myself—i.e., not in a coffee shop and not when my kids are home. I don’t have to have a beautiful place to write: just a computer, a desk, a chair, and some quiet.
What has been the biggest help to you in the journey to publication? Writers’ conferences? Writing groups? Your mom as your first draft reader?
Although I had already been publishing by the time we began meeting, my writing group has been invaluable in terms of helping me learn to revise. The women in my group are incredibly intelligent, careful, and compassionate critics and teachers of writing, and they offer helpful feedback whenever I show them a piece of my writing.
Is the “writer’s life” what you thought it would be?
I don’t think I anticipated how much I would love the writing life. It is much more difficult than almost anything I’ve done, but also much more absorbing and lovely than most activities that fill my life. When I am in the middle of a large writing project, the time passes extremely quickly and I am surprised and saddened when the end of my work day arrives.
Apart from raising kids and keeping a household running (someone always seems to be getting sick, and the laundry always accumulates way too fast), my biggest distraction these days is worrying about how my book is being received. I am very distracted by reading reviews of my work, scheduling interviews and signings, and worrying about whether people like my book. My tendency is to become the epitome of the needy-writer stereotype, and I’ve really had to work on separating myself from those extrinsic rewards and criticisms. I’m slowly learning to focus on the work of writing itself rather than people’s responses to it.
What do you least like about being a writer? Most like?
One of the difficult things for me about being a writer is that it’s such a private, at-home activity that many people who know me don’t really know what I do. That is, people at church and friends and acquaintances aren’t necessarily reading the things I write or edit, so I think they sometimes wonder what I do all day! Freelance writing and editing is also difficult in that the payments I receive for various jobs are quite inconsistent, and so it’s hard to plan on any specific monthly income. There also aren’t the usual “perks” of a regular job—health and retirement benefits, tech support, raises, and a supervisor to help you figure out how to do your work better,
Having said that, I feel incredibly privileged to be able to do the work that I most love to do in the world. Being able to devote some daytime hours to writing, rather than only after the kids are in bed, feels like a gift.
What advice would you offer to new writers?
I have found getting published to be an incredibly slow process of accruing contacts and confidence and skills. Frankly, I would not recommend it to the faint of heart! Learning to just keep writing and to remain hopeful in the face of rejections is akin to a spiritual discipline. In fact, writing often feels like a spiritual practice to me. So I guess I’d say: approach writing with care, cautious joy, and fear and trembling!
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.
A new Amish romance novel appeared on the market at the rate of one every four days in 2012. Ten years earlier, only two new Amish novels were published. What has changed between then and now? Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels explores why Amish-themed fiction is so incredibly popular. If you find yourself curious about why so many people are curious about the Amish, you will enjoy this book.
Last question, how can readers find you and your books?