Today I am very pleased to welcome Family Saga author, blogger and fiction writer Amanda Staley to Dropped Pebbles. Amanda is into so many fascinating things (nature, photography, music…and ferrets) that I am intrigued to learn how they influence her writing. I’m sure you are, too! So stick around to meet Amanda and see how her writing and life are shaped by her creative loves.
I am 32 and live in Central Indiana, farming country, with my husband. We have been together for over ten years. We met in college, started dating then within the year we moved to sunny Florida. Just as we started enjoying our life there (4 1/2 years) we got the opportunity we had been waiting for… a chance to move back “home”. We have been back in Indiana about 3 years. It doesn’t quite seem like the home we left, but we have decided to make the best of it!
We share our little rental house with four adorably feisty ferrets. I don’t know how we manage to stay sane. Or perhaps we aren’t anymore and just don’t notice it! Suzy-Q (aka Sissy) is our oldest we bought her our first few months in Florida and she is now 7 years old, Pandora (aka Pan-Wan) is our little three-year old, and lastly we have Bonnie (aka Minky) and Clyde (aka Boogie) who are litter mates and just turned a year old. They keep our lives pretty interesting and they are spoiled rotten.
Sounds like you have you hands full!
Outside of my novel-writing and blogging I also write letters to several individuals in different countries. Though I have to admit I’m pretty slow at writing back sometimes! Aside from writing I have a great many hobbies which are constantly fighting to my free time. I read a lot. I love starting new crafting projects. I make horrendously deformed sock creatures for my niece every year for her birthday and Christmas.
Ha! You’ll have to send me pictures of those sock creatures. They sound adorable.
I am an amateur photographer, I prefer taking photos of places and nature over taking photos of people. I also enjoy bird-watching. I have several feeders in my yard that I am constantly watching and identifying every bird that lands on them. If I don’t know what the bird is I am frantically searching through my bird book attempting to find out who he/she is.
Every year I eagerly anticipate spring to see what will spring up in my wildflower / butterfly / bird garden. I planted it three summers ago with a cheap wildflower mix I bought from Lowes. It surprised me the second year by coming back. It’s not a beautiful as it was the first year, but it still attracts butterflies, birds and apparently inch worms. Last year it is filled with poppies ranging from the standard red and orange to odd pink and white ones.
That’s me in a nutshell!
Wow! A true nature-lover! Sounds like you have a great and full life. 🙂
Are you interested in other forms of artistic expression besides writing? Where does writing fit in? What keeps you motivated/inspired?
I am interested in many forms of artistic expression. I am an avid listener of music of many different forms. I listen to everything from industrial rock/techno to classical symphonies and piano concertos. I am a bit of an amateur photographer, throughout the summer it will not be unusual for me to take over 500 photos of just my little 10 ft diameter wildflower garden. I also enjoy painting, though I admit I am not very good, but the majority of the wall decorations in our house are paintings I have done at Bob Ross style classes.
I would say they fit in as an inspiration. I find myself listening to music as I am writing (though strangely enough not while answering these questions). Music is like the universal language, even if the words are in a foreign tongue or there are no words, I feel as I can still feel the music speaking to my soul. Sometimes the photos will inspire a scene or story and painting will help with writer’s block, even when I refuse to admit my motivation has dwindled. Mostly my other hobbies are autonomous of writing, though at times they do help inspire or motivate me.
Motivation is a fickle thing for me. I have noticed I tend to have a seasonal writing disorder. I tend to have a harder time keeping motivated in the dark, dank, and dreary months, but that falls within all aspects of my life not just writing. Though most of the time as long as I can come up with scenes for my writing, I have no problem writing and staying motivated. It’s the times when the idea well runs dry that it is the most difficult to stay inspired and motivated to finish projects, but luckily I have many other hobbies outside of writing to distract me. When I notice a complete lack of motivation, I realize I have let my mindfulness practice slip, so it’s back to mediation and yoga for me. Once I get back to myself the motivation returns and back to work I go.
What forms of writing (short stories, poetry, novels, essays, etc.) and genres do you prefer and why? What can you never see yourself writing?
In my youth I used to write short stories and poetry, but now I mainly write novels. I just finished my first one in August 2013. When I started writing Reverie it was intended to be a short story. I hadn’t written anything, other than journal entries, since high school. Before I knew it the story had grown and it was going to be a three-part series.
My plan for the year is to branch out and expand my writing skills. I will broaden my perspective to include writing in other genres and different styles along with writing short stories. Though I can never see myself writing steam-punk or vampire / werewolf type fantasy.
I’ve read books which annoyed me to the point where I wanted to throw them across the room. As a reader, what do you think makes a good story? What’s one thing a ‘bad’ book taught you to not do in your own writing?
I feel your pain! I have literally thrown a book across the room. I think likable and relatable characters make a good story. The plot can be weak if the characters are strong. I prefer having both strong plot and strong characters, but to me, characters are most important. I read a book last year that the plot was decent, I even liked the secondary character, but the main character got under my skin and was not believable at all. She would say and do things that didn’t make any sense given her education and advice to her friends. Her character was too weak.
Since the purchase of my e-reader, I have to admit I have read a lot of sub-par books. If at all possible I try to stick it out and finish reading the book, even if it was a free book. My mindset is someone took the time to write a story for me to read and I am going to finish it. I always hope for a redemption at the end of the book, but if that doesn’t happen at least I learned what not to do. There is always a lesson to be learned in a ‘bad’ book. Reading them has shown me a lot of flat dialogue, boring pacing, and character flaws within my own writing.
It’s great that you can apply what you have learned from a ‘bad’ book to your own writing, for the better.
As a writer, what elements do you find are the most crucial to include in your stories? What are your strengths and weaknesses?
I attempt to play to the heart-strings. I want my readers to feel the turmoil, the happiness, the love, and the loss that my characters are going through. I hope that my strengths are in my ability to create a memorable character. I try to describe all emotions the character is going through to make the reader feel like they are sitting in the same room experiencing the same events as the characters.
I have a difficult time describing settings. It seems so forced to describe an area in first person perspective. To me the setting is almost irrelevant to the storyline. During edits I go back and add little details here and there, but in reality I don’t much care where the story happened, just what happened.
Who/what are the biggest influences in your writing? How do they influence what your write?
I haven’t really put much thought into what influences my writing. I know music is very inspiring to me, it helps me write, but I am not sure that the notes actually influence my writing.
Nature does influence my writing quite a bit. I like to set near the window to write or when weather is permitting, I love to sit outside. The few details I do add of my settings are normally nature related, rain tapping the glass, birds singing, ducks swimming through the ponds, the way the wind blows through the grass, etc.
But the biggest influence in my writing, as arrogant as it may sound, is my own characters. I breathed life into them, at times they are more real to me than the people around me. They have taken on a life of their own and bring me back each time to write more of their story. I typically let my stories grow organically, at times it seems my characters decide their own destinies and shock me with their revelations on where they want their lives to lead next.
What draws you to your preferred genre? What do you think makes your genre unique? And why is it so popular?
When I started writing my novel I had no idea what genre it fell into. It was part tragedy, part romance and part literary fiction. It wasn’t until I had almost finished the book when I came across the family saga genre. My books follow one character through his life; perfect fit! I am not sure that family saga is all that unique, but I don’t see it very often. The most popular example of family saga that I can think of is The Godfather.
Can you tell us about your books? What other projects are you working on?
The Malcolm Stone Series is planned to be a three-part series with room for further growth. Malcolm recalls his life after his wife’s death. Follow him through life’s ups and downs, through his personal growth and emotional pitfalls.
Malcolm was born into a very affluent family in the Boston area. His influence has afforded him the opportunity to follow his passion of being a pianist. His musical career is starting to gain momentum, when his wife is murdered in their home. After her death, the truth of their relationship comes out. Malcolm endured years of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his beloved wife. Unfortunately his alibi cannot be confirmed, and he is tried for her murder. Dissonance is a story of heartbreak, forbidden love and intrigue.
I am hoping to finish writing Dissonance by the early March and have it prepared for release in late spring 2014 or early summer 2014.
I am also planning stages of a dystopian fiction book featuring Trovi, Layla and Elias, set in a post-apocalyptic society after the world, as we know it, has been destroyed by biological war. I am still in the early stages of this story, I have been spending so much time finishing out Malcolm’s story that I haven’t been afforded the opportunity to get to know this new cast.
I am also blogging twice a week and working on small pet projects like poetry and short stories just to mix it up a bit.
Note: Amanda will soon be on the look-out for beta-readers. Anyone interested can contact her via the links provided at the end of the interview.
What do you find is the most difficult aspect of writing and how do you cope with it?
The hardest aspect of writing for me is taking the time to sit down and write. I typically don’t have much problems with ideas, if I have a problem with a part of the story-line, I just jump ahead until I have an idea. But actually devoting time to sit down and write can be difficult for me. I admire those of you writers who work fulltime, raise a family and still find the time to write. I cope with my difficulties by not beating myself down about not writing and enjoy opportunities I do get to devote to writing. I don’t care how much I get written, but that I have actually written something down.
On behalf of all those writers, ‘Thank you!’
Who are your favourite writers and why?
I have three authors whom I would consider my favorites, John Connolly, Rob Thurman and Gene Stratton-Porter.
John Connolly, for those of you who are not familiar, is an Irish writer of the Charlie Parker mystery series, horror writer, along with other ventures. I love his work. He is able to spin mystery and suspense to where I am on the edge of my seat waiting to see what happens next. He is one of the few authors that can write a suspenseful mystery that I don’t always figure out in the first half of the book. Though one of my favorites isn’t the mystery series, but The Book of Lost Things, it’s a fairy tale for adults. I highly recommend reading it!
Rob Thurman, is a local Indiana author, but also a New York Times Bestseller of the Cal Leandros series. It is paranormal crossover series, where Cal is part demon creature, part human. He is such a memorable foul-mouthed, but hilarious character. I actually catch myself laughing at her cast of bizarre characters.
Gene Stratton-Porter, also an Indiana writer from the early 1900’s. She wrote several books that were turned into movies in her lifetime. She wrote most of her books about the swampy Limberlost forest that once covered a bulk of North East Indiana. She was also a naturalist, traipsing through the forest to take pictures of moths, birds and all sorts of wildlife. Her books have exquisite imagery of nature, making me feel as though I am walking through the Limberlost forest, even though it is long since drained and developed.
What advice would you give to new writers, especially those looking to break into your preferred genre?
My advice to a new writer is ignore all the writer’s help books, most of those are written by writers looking to make money. No one can tell you how to write your story, so just sit down and write it. There is no one right way to craft. After you have written your story or book get someone you can trust to read it.
And don’t worry about feeling like you aren’t good enough, your writing sucks, or you can’t think of what to write next, we’ve all been there, but it’s just a phase that we will eventually work our way out of.
I like that point about staying clear of writer’s help books. I think there are things we can learn from them, but in the end, a writer is going to write what they want in a way that works and feels right for them.
How can readers get into contact with you?
Readers can get in contact with me via:
my blog: http://staleybooks.wordpress.com/
Thanks so much for visiting us today, Amanda. I really enjoyed getting to know more about you and your writing. And just so you know, I love your pictures, especially of the sunflowers and the river rocks. How inspiring! Readers, you know what to do: please show your support for Amanda by writing her a message below. And check out her blog!
Have a good one, everybody!