Each week, I try to tailor my questions to the individual author. Sometimes, the questions are tried and true, working equally well with each subject. This week, I have chosen to ask standard questions rather than tailored, simply because, this weeks author answers them so well with her in-depth, comprehensive insights and expertise. Read on and I am quite sure you will agree…
Connie Gotsch is the author of the youth novels, Belle’s Star and Belle’s Trial, both available from Artemesia Publishing at apbooks.net. Written from a dog’s point-of-view, the books empower children aged eight to twelve to make good choices and practice self-discipline. The character of Belle is based on the personality of Kiri, a dog that shared Connie’s life for 16 years before passing over the rainbow bridge.
In addition to the novels, Connie has written three short plays: A PECK OF DIRT, OR ARE YOU CINDERELLA, and NEW DELIGHT. OR ARE YOU CINDERELLA won third place in the San Juan College Biannual One-Act Play Writing Contest in Farmington, New Mexico, while A NEW DELIGHT was presented in New York’s Soho District by the Saturday Players, as part of THE FARMINGTON ARMADA, gathered by Charles Pike.
Connie is the program director of public radio station KSJE FM in Farmington, New Mexico, where she hosts a classical music and arts news show called Roving with the Arts, and a book show entitled Write on Four Corners. She interviews writers and artists for both shows. Connie also contributes regular columns to Southwest Colorado Arts Perspective Magazine, Four Corners Free Press, and Majestic Living Magazine.
Belle’s Star won first place from both the National Federation of Press Women and New Mexico Press Women for Juvenile Fiction in the 2010 NMPW and MFPW Communication Contests. The book won a Silver Mom’s Choice award and was nominated for a New Mexico Book Award in 2010 and 2011.
This year, Belle’s Trial won a Silver Mom’s Choice Award, First Place in the New Mexico Press Women Communication contest for Juvenile Fiction, and an Eric Hoffer award nomination.
IDI – Connie, how do you stay interested? What keeps you motivated?
CG – I think the variety of writing that I do keeps me interested. I am the program director for public radio station KSJE in Farmington, New Mexico for my day job. Broadcast style is more chatty than formal prose style. One does not learn to write as one talks. You learn to write like you talk, in other words. As an announcer, I write for the rhythm of speech and the limitations of the ear, as well as to turn the printed word into something that sounds like ad libbing. Radio is very much like a Chopin impromptu. It sounds off the cuff, but is very well-planned and built.
I also write for some small newspapers in my area. Since the written word only approximates speech, that can be its own challenge. How for example, do I imply inflection and pause in a quote that cannot be heard? How do I trim a quote and keep its essence? If I am listening to a recorded interview, I have some idea of tone of voice and can describe it with strong verbs and nouns. but what happens when I email interview questions to a subject? I have no idea how he or she is inflecting, unless he or she uses icons or I know the person. Email quotes are the toughest to use.
Then there’s my novel-writing. That requires a different sort of imagination. As does a journalist, a novelist must observe the world and use sight, sound, smell, touch and taste to tell a story. But the novelist is freer than the journalist to wander from the truth of the event that forms the basis of a story. In fact sometimes, it is necessary to do so because an event might have unfolded over a period of time too long to fit into a book. So an author must condense and stretch specific aspects. This changes the event.
For me, each kind of writing informs the other. Journalism helps me construct a tight sentence, organize a story, and do research. Novel writing allows me to use creative nonfiction methods to write an article. The interrelationships are endless and fascinating.
IDI – When did you know that you were born to be a writer?
CG – Like a lot of people, I always wrote. I never received much encouragement as a kid. Never made the high school or college paper staff, never got into the literary magazines, etc,. When I got into college, I took a broadcast course and found I could write quite well for ear and the eye. I also studied photography, and that helped me develop my ability to describe what I saw, and to fit picture and word together. So, I became a journalist and teacher. That process was my first inkling that maybe I had some ability. Becoming a novelist took longer. I had trouble creating characters that were believable. A good friend who was an actor and an acting teacher talked to me about how actors use body language, voice, and expression to develop a character based on the lines of a script. A door opened and my writing took off. That’s when I knew I could write in many styles. I suppose that was the Eureka moment. What I needed were teachers to see my potential and help me develop it.
IDI – Can you tell us a little more about your ‘Belle’ series?
CG – I just completed the third book in my Belle series. Belle is a street mutt, based on a dog I had. The first book ‘Belle’s Star’ tells how she learned to trust humans and becomes a pet. The theme of the book is that no matter what happens to us, we have a choice of how we respond to it. The second book is ‘Belle’s Trial’ in which Belle must learn self-discipline, and she discovers that discipline doesn’t mean a spanking. In the third book with the working title ‘Belle’s Challenge’ Belle becomes a therapy dog. She more or less fails at the job and must learn that she is not good at everything she tries, and that her mistress will love her anyway. The stories are written in the first person from her point of view, which was fun to do. She lives in a den, not a house, and sleeps with her mistress in a sleeping burrow. Day is the sun time. Winter is the cold time. When she’s down she feel like dog pile. When she’s happy she feels like a million bones. Her favorite expression is “Oh dog biscuits.” If you’d like to see excerpts of ‘Belle’s Star’ and ‘Belle’s Trial’, you can go to my publisher’s website which will be listed below the interview. We have several more Belle books in the works but they are not ready to discuss yet. The series promotes pet care, humane treatment of animals, and proper behavior for people in social situations.
My publisher will give discounts to animal groups using the books as fund-raisers. Award winning journalist Margaret Cheasebro, who is also a retired school counselor, wrote activity books to go with each novel. They can help kids and adults discuss social issues raised in the stories. The illustrator is John Cogan, who is nationally known for his animal paintings.
IDI – I’m sure you’ve been asked this to the point of exhaustion and you’ve answered in part already, but for our reader’s where do you get your ideas? How did you come to incorporate your beloved pet into your writing?
CG – The story I’m about to tell is true, but the names have been changed to protect the guilty. Or maybe the truth is not getting in the way of a good story. I will never tell. One day, I walked into the break room after my air shift at KSJE FM and saw my boss’s boss’s wife cuddling a small dog that looked like a Red Heeler crossed with a fox and a terrier. I knew Susan Fry, so I walked over and said hello and asked if I could pet the dog. She had a black muzzle, a golden coat, white paws, a stubby tail, and beautiful brown eyes. Susan explained that she had found her at a gas station. A drunk was beating on her. Susan weighed about a hundred pounds and the drunk could have been a line backer, but that didn’t bother Susan, who would have put her own life in danger for any sick animal or child in the universe. She marched over and picked up the dog. The man asked her for a dollar in exchange for the puppy. She gave it to him and took the dog to a vet. Mange shots, proper food, and a bath did wonders, and the pup was soon healthy. Susan’s husband, John then announced that since she already had three dogs, two cats, a cage full of finches, and a tak full of fish, plus a son and him, the house was getting crowded and she would have to choose between him and the dog. She said that after careful thought she decided to keep John and was looking for a home for the dog. I asked if I could have it. Susan agreed. When the dog arrived at my house, I named her Kiri for the opera singer Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and set about socializing the half-wild little thing. AFter a year or so, she became a lovely pet and I got a second dog, a Setter Lab cross which I named Ben. We went along for a few years. Then one day I was chatting with my friend, Mary, and art therapist and reading teacher, who also fostered animals. When I told her Kiri’s story, she suggested writing it down from the dog’s point of view to teach abused children that once removed from and abusive situation, they could make something of their lives. I set to work and Belle’s Star was the result. I invented a 12-year-old girl named Darcy for Belle’s mistress. I had Darcy and her Aunt Ellen find Belle being abused at a convenience store. When Aunt Ellen brought Belle home, Uncle Jim thought there were enough pets around the house, so Belle ended up with Darcy and her other dog, Buster, a Setter Lab cross. I added a few more elements unrelated to Kiri’s story for dramatic effect. When Artemesia Publishing agreed to take on Belle’s Star, they asked if I had ideas for a sequel. I said yes, having no inkling of what I would write, but soon realized I could use Kiri’s puppyhood as s basis for a book in which she becomes a highly trained, highly focused canine companion. I focused Kiri by teaching her tricks. Belle learns to focus by doing 4-H dog agility. That book is also published by Artemensia and is called ‘Belle’s Trial’. Books to follow wont’ be based on Kiri’s life. She left us this year at age 16. Ben is also gone. but the therapy dog that lives down the street from me has served as a model for an additional story. A colleague’s bull-dog that travels all over New Mexico with her will appear in a fifth book. All the animals in the Belle series are real. The people are figments of my imagination.
IDI – I always ask people if they ‘become’ the characters they create. In your case, you write from a dog’s point of view, does that change that concept?
CG – I developed the character of Belle, by observing the personality of Kiri, the dog on which she was based. I made note of how she interacted with her partner, Ben and how they communicated. I also read the emerging research on the intelligence of dogs. I laid this information over the traditional animal as person character as found in books like ‘Charlotte’s Web’ or ‘Watership Down’. From there, the regular rules of character development applied. Belle had to remain believable and consistent.
IDI – Who is your favorite author, and why?
CG – I like clear and concise prose. So I like Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Sandberg, Dreiser, Frost, Twain, Hardy, Benet, Crane, any of those who worked into creative writing from journalism. I like Laura Ingalls Wilder for her descriptions. I like Rudolfo Anaya for his subject matter and clear prose. I like stories that use animals in a metaphoric sense. Black Beauty, Watership Downs, Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web. I avoid people like Dickens, Henry James, James Joyce. I find myself entangled in their heavy sentences.
IDI – I’ve heard arguments for each side, but when writing, do you outline or sketch the entire book before you feel comfortable enough to begin your draft or do you prefer to wing it as you go?
CG – I am somewhere in the middle. I used the Hero’s Journey to develop plots for Belle’s Star and Belle’s Trial, so I plotted the elements involved in that form. The people came from somewhere in my sub-conscience, so I just wrote them down and let them develop.
IDI – Pen and paper or computer and Word? Sitting in a bookstore or the quiet of your study. Tell us, what is your most productive/inspiring setting?
CG – I use a computer. I like the editing process, and a computer lets me play with sentences and ideas from the moment when I put the first words of a story on paper. I work in a noisy radio station all day so I write the Belle in the quiet of my house except for Wagner. Speaking of computers, I used to type and correct by hand. Then I wrote something on a computer, editing as I went along, and could never again type and edit later by hand. The computer rewired my brain.
IDI – We all draw from within and I believe there is an element of ‘us’ in everything we write. How much of you will a reader find in any given book?
CG – Since I am not a dog, I can’t be the main character in the Belle books, but I think my experiences with my dogs drive the Belle series. Darcy has some of the same interests I had at twelve, but she has others as well. The grownups in the books play small roles. They appear when needed. Otherwise the dogs make the decisions. I wrote their attitudes from observing my dogs and imagining the motivation behind their actions.
IDI – Online cafe’s and writer’s groups, do you belong to any and if so, help or harm?
CG – I do belong to one group, and they are helpful. We critique each other’s work and it does help. Successful online and in person groups critique respectfully. If they set out to hurt people, they are destructive and should be abandoned. I learned that the hard way when a New York publisher threw a manuscript at me and told me not to bother her with such drivel. I was young and didn’t know that she was out of line. I assumed I was so bad at writing that I didn’t deserve courtesy. I found out better and used the lesson to be selective about who I let critique my work. I had shown her the manuscript because another person told me it was great and to go out and publish it. When I confronted that person after the incident with the publisher, she laughed and admitted she had lied to me. The manuscript was bad. Then she blamed me for her choice to lie. The moral of the story is, never heed extreme praise nor extreme criticism. If your gut tells you a critic isn’t honest, – which I did sense this person was not being but ignored it – get that person out of your career. By the way now that I have supportive critics, I listen to and try all suggestions. Some work perfectly when tried. Some need a little tweaking, some don’t quite work but lead to what does work, and a few don’t suit at all.
IDI – Everyone has their own voice, but what author would y ou say your work most resembles?
CG – I don’t know. You’d have to ask someone else that. It’s tough for me to judge my own work. I guess I will answer that one with another question. I told you which authors I like. Look at a couple of Belle excerpts and see if they resemble the work of any of the folks I mentioned. I’d be interested to know myself.
IDI – I know I have ideas that cross over the lines of my usual genre. Do you have any such ideas wandering around and if so, what’s your outlook on genre crossing?
CG – I have written two books for adults. One is a mystery and one is women’s’ fiction. They are out of print because the publisher went out of business, and I am looking to re-home them. I don’t know why people can’t cross genres. A nom de Plume could keep books and their marketing separated.
IDI – What advice would you give to new or unpublished writers?
CG – I’d suggest they learn to show a scene and not tell about it, that they learn to use every element they write down to drive their story, and that they be open to suggestions. Embrace the critique process. With people w ho are honest but fair, the process can be a joy ride.
IDI – What is the best advice ever given to you, and by whom?
CG – Pat Rucker, the acting teacher, gave me the best advice. He showed me how to show and not tell a story and how to develop a character using all kinds of human nuances. He did it by quietly holding up a mirror to the characters I was creating to let me see them clearly and decide how to shape them. He gave me a lot of confidence to continue writing.
IDI – As a writer, what is the one thing you would most like people to know about you?
CG – Writing is a very solitary business when I am writing and a very social one when I am out observing people I have had to learn to balance the two lives.
IDI – In your opinion, what are the biggest misconceptions new authors have about the publishing industry?
CG - I suppose that one can make a lot of money. Not many authors do, and that self-publishing is an easy answer to the pile of rejection letters they’ll get. And that publishers will take the responsibility of marketing off their shoulders. None of that is true.
IDI – Everyone has visions of where they see themselves in the future, whether it be one year or five. Where do you see yourself in five years? Where did you see yourself five years ago? Did you make it there?
CG – I wanted to publish novels, and I approached the task as one approaches a career. The first job is on the bottom. My first publisher was a step above a self publisher. When I created Belle, I aimed to place her a little higher, with a small independent press. I now am ready to take a shot at sending something to an agent and seeing what I can learn or accomplish.
CG – Well, I sit on our local Renaissance Faire Committee. I am a local storyteller at fairs. I listen to Celtic music. I grocery shop, play with my dog, visit friends. I am a normal person.
IDI – When reading another author, do you find yourself taking in what you read or are you more likely to critique as you go? And if you critique as you go, what is the one thing you see the most?
CG – I don’t really critique, but I have learned to spot how they handle issues and technical problems that they face. I learn a lot when I read. Occasionally, I read something that is not well crafted. I am apt to see a lot of the bad stuff, which reminds me to avoid doing it myself.
IDI – May publishers and editors give the advice, ‘know the rules and then you may break them’. Which ones do you find yourself breaking the most and does it work in your writing?
CG - This I can’t answer. I just write. Most of the editors I have worked with respect my work and shape it, so I am not conscious of breaking or maintaining rules.
IDI – How do you manage your time when it comes to finding time to write with a day job and various other activities and social obligations?
CG – I dont’ have a family, so I don’t have that problem. When I am ready to write I shut the door and lock it, put my butt in front of the computer and go for it. My friends will be there when I come out and if not, they were not my friends.
IDI – Define a great book.
CG – A great book holds my interest. I don’t think any one thing makes a great book. If I am looking for information and a book has what I need, I will read it though the writing may be as dry as a desert after a fifty year drought. I am reading one right now that has a compelling story but terrible craftsmanship. But the story line is so strong, it carried the book. Some books describe the human condition. Some make me laugh. Some have description that could be turned into paintings and others have nonstop action. If the book speaks to me, it’s a good one.
I would like to thank Connie for a very engaging interview and leave readers with several ways to contact Connie and obtain her work. Please feel free to offer ratings, feedback or comments once you have finished reading, your thoughts are appreciated and show support for Connie and her work.
Artemesia Publishing – www.apbooks.net
Belle’s Star Download – www.apbooks.net/belle.html
Twitter – http://twitter.com/#!/ConnieGotsch
Facebook – www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1423900059
Interviews are conducted by Kathy Reinhart, author of 3 novels, most recently ‘Lily White Lies’.
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If you would be interested in participating in an Ink Drop Interview, please contact me at ladybuggerly at hotmail. I would love to have you! Next week’s interview – Jacqueline Hopkins-Walton
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