MA: I’m joined today by an author with two pen names, Alice Griffiths and P.A. Wilson (I think for interview purposes I’ll use Alice’s initials to mark your responses). Please tell us about you and what brought you to the writing world.
AG: I’ve been writing for decades but I have been seriously interested in publishing for the last few years. I think the catalyst for the change was National Novel Writing Month. In 2008 I happened upon the site and impulsively decided I could write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. It didn’t matter that I’d taken years to write previous manuscripts. I could do this.
When I typed ‘the end’, I had completed 82,500 words and my first full manuscript. I put it away for a month and then started the process of revision and polish. By April, I’d entered it into a contest and by June, I had created an indie e-publishing company with a partner. Off Track was published December 23, 2009 and I had graduated from writer to author.
I write in two genres with a pen name for each. I write romances under the name Alice Griffiths, and gritty mystery thrillers under the name P.A. Wilson. At first, I thought the lines would be clear between the two genres, but that’s not what happened. My romances have elements of violence and my mysteries have elements of romance.
Now, I work as a project consultant and managing editor, and author, my days are full but never boring.
MA: Tell us more about your background before becoming a writer.
AG: In the professional world I am a project management consultant. I worked in the corporate world for more than thirty years before I decided to go it on my own. I have to say that I have less time to write now than I did before, but more energy when I do write.
I’ve been working on projects for more than ten years and I have to say it’s taught me more about writing than anything else in my past. I get to meet so many different people that I can use to fill out my characters. I use project management methodology to get started on writing a book. I figure out what I’m going to write, investigate what I’ll need to learn to write the first draft, and then I plan out the different scenes. Writing for me is building the story up in layers.
MA: I’ve met many authors who use a methodical approach such as this. One thriller writer I met is an engineer by degree, and takes a disciplined design approach to crafting his stories. Why fiction?
AG: I have tried to write short stories and poetry but I don’t seem to have the talent for that. I guess I’d say novels chose me, rather than the other way around. I like having some room to build in secondary plots and more detailed richness. In shorts you have to keep it clean and precise and I don’t have that skill. I admire people who do, because when I’m in the middle of the third revision pass and wondering if I’m contradicting something that happened 60 pages ago, it would be nice to have a short story to handle.
MA: Tell us about what you write…I’m struck by the fact you write in what would seem like two very different genres.
AG: I haven’t yet found a genre I can stick with. I guess my constant is that there’s a romance somewhere in the story and that lots of people die.
I’ve written a fantasy romance, Off Track by Alice Griffiths, and that was my first National Novel Writing Month book. It’s the story of a lawyer on the track to partnership who finds herself pulled into a magical world as the result of a prophecy. Along with her easy going assistant, Madeline has to accept that she needs to fulfill the prophecy and figure out what it is exactly she’s supposed to do. While that’s happening, she meets and falls in love with a knight who really wants to be something other than a knight.
My serial killer novel, Closing the Circle by P.A. Wilson, is currently under review with my business partner in PaperBoxBooks.com. In this story Felicity Armstrong is the focus of a brutal serial killer who has taken her religion, Wicca, and twisted it in to something evil. The killer stalks and kills her friends, leaving their bodies in prominent sites around San Francisco as Felicity works with FBI special agent Sam Barton to identify and stop the murders.
I’m working on two other books, and planning out my NaNoWriMo book for this November. One book is a thriller set in Vancouver BC with gangs, human trafficking and teen hookers. The other a YA science fiction story with three heroes who raise a rebellion to save the humans.
Then my NaNo book will be an Urban Fantasy with a wizard, Sidhe, and Raven. That’s about as far as I am in planning.
MA: Well, sounds like you are keeping very busy with all those projects! I’m almost afraid to ask how you approach character development since you have such a varied writing style.
AG: I develop characters though a process of discovery. For Madeline, I sketched her out physically and gave her a flaw – she finds it difficult to trust people – and then I started to write some back story for her. I wasn’t happy with the lack of depth when I was done and I turned to something that romance writers use all the time. I read her Tarot. It sounds flakey (or at least it did to me at first) but by doing the Tarot reading I was able to push aside my own personal preferences and dig into Madeline’s psyche. I had to interpret the cards based on what I knew about her.
It turns out that Madeline doesn’t trust easily because when she gives her word it’s for life. She has difficulty making commitments as well because she wants to know she’ll stick with any commitment. Interestingly, this brought forth a habit that I could use. Madeline is a dabbler in learning; she takes courses, does well but gets bored and leaves. This means when she’s in the magical world, she has a bit of grounding in a lot of skills she’ll need. She learned how to ride horses, but still needs the knight to help her get better, and she has taken some martial arts, etc.
Madeline is highly competent and learns quickly; this allows her to integrate quickly – and saves me and the reader from having to wade through her learning curve. She’s also accepting of differences so she doesn’t judge people on first glance.
Unfortunately, despite her external image, she’s not confident in her own skills and talents. She focuses on the fact that she is a lawyer and doesn’t have any understanding that the prophecy brought her to the magical land for something else.
MA: Who did you throw into the story to stand in Madeline’s way? Who’s the antagonist?
AG: Madeline faces two antagonists. Throughout the story she is facing her own demons and is convinced she won’t be able to fulfill the task she was brought there to complete. She is used to being in control and finds it almost impossible to go with the flow and trust that it will all work out – as everyone keeps telling her.
The final antagonist she faces at the end is the enemy who must be killed. He is a marauding creature who is going to destroy the people Madeline is aligned with in fulfillment of an ancient feud. Madeline hopes her task isn’t killing the villain, but worries that it is.
MA: Considering how prolific – and disciplined – you seem to be with your writing, what are your future plans? Any sequels?
AG: I would like to be able to produce two books a year – I am certain I can do a first draft in a month other then November but I haven’t yet been able to prove it.
I also want to write a series, or a trilogy. I am fascinated by the idea of such a sweeping story and I want to explore the process.
The book set in Vancouver BC has always been a series concept. I need to finish this first story and then I already have a germ of an idea for the next one. I think the trick is going to be planting the seeds of the second book into the first, a great new challenge.
MA: Is there any particular challenge for you in writing?
AG: I find writing the romance difficult. The saving grace for me up to now is that the romance has been the secondary plot – important but can be dealt with in revision. I tend to write the story and clumsily insert the romance in the first draft and then thread it back into the story during the first revision pass.
And, my writing group will tell you I am not good with description. I have settings all worked out but I have difficulty putting it on the page. I have learned to insert some setting in as I go along and then each revision pass has a note – add description.