Today’s interview is with DL Andersen, who is a contributor of the Agorist Writers Workshop anthology Echoes of Liberty. Somehow when I ran that series of interviews, I missed her. Welcome to the blog, Diane. Tell us something about yourself.
Hello, Lela. First of all, thank you for taking time to interview me. I’m a native Midwesterner growing up in the heartland of America. I spent my childhood in Missouri and have lived in Illinois as an adult since college where I earned a degree in education. I have since taught in nearly every grade level and school setting in the past 30 years. Currently, I’m a private music instructor in piano, violin and voice.
At what point did you know you wanted to be a writer?
That’s been a long and difficult road with no simple answer. I actually fought the idea of being a writer all the way back to grade school, even though I received high commendations and encouragement to write from teachers and friends. I just never felt it was something I’d ever be good enough at but I was an avid reader. I also loved music and creating artwork more, and used those medium to create stories. So I focused on those talents and decided teaching would be a much “safer” route to take career wise. Sometime during college, I started thinking about writing for children, especially after I became frustrated with finding suitable stories on a variety of themes to use in my classroom. Once I married and started raising a family, the urge to write fiction really took over until I finally gave in and just decided it would be OK to write the story ideas I had if only for myself. I never expected that it would lead to actually being published. But here I am! It may seem like baby steps to some more career minded writers but getting an offer from AWW was thrilling for me and I count is as a great achievement in this new career path that seems to have chosen me rather than the other way around.
I know that feeling well. Tell us about your writing process.
I often say I literally started writing to finally get a good night’s sleep. About ten years ago, I kept waking up around 3 or 4 am every single night with this voice in my head telling me to get up and write those nagging scenes that kept looping in my head like a movie trailer. That’s how stories always begin for me. A snippet of a conversation between characters, a scenario with a “what-if?” premise and the story takes off from there.
We have something in common there. What is your favorite genre … to read … to write?
I’ve always been a historical fiction fan, though as I grew up, that was never its own genre as it is today. Some of my favourite childhood books included Little House on the Prairie, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Black Beauty and Johnny Tremain. I loved all things Victorian or early American history and always felt I was born in the wrong century. Reading and writing historical fiction gives me a means to time travel and experience another place and time.
I loved those books. Have you written any books that made a transformative effect on you? If so, in what way?
Working at a historic site as a volunteer docent has changed my life. It inspired my official foray into published writing and has resulted in a book series based on the site. It also led me understand history and historical research in a way I never had before. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some highly educated and skilled historians, archaeologists and business people who have all helped me shape the ideas for my book series. This experience has also allowed me to live and interact in the role of a 19th century woman which has been great hands on research for stories and characters. And it’s led to opportunities for writing non-fiction articles for the site’s newsletters which they’ve since used in their ongoing promotional and educational materials. It gave me the confidence to put my writing out there for others to read.
Where do you get the inspiration for your novels?
I started generating story ideas after delving into my family genealogy. The anecdotal evidence and fragmented facts I uncovered showed a very different and intriguing view of early America than what is often presented in the history books or Hollywood films. I wanted to tell their stories, especially an era that until recently was often overlooked. My short story for the upcoming Echoes of Liberty anthology is based on my 3rd great grandfather’s documented experience during the Civil War in Missouri. I ran across it while tracing my lineage and was dumbfounded that nobody ever told me about his harrowing experience. It was just the sort of stories I asked my Grandparents to tell me and they never did, probably because they never knew them either. I do think there is a story inside everyone and we can learn so much about our past, and perhaps ourselves, through historical fiction.
I completely agree. What sort of research do you do for your novels?
Historical fiction writing requires a ton of research which can become this black hole that sucks you in if you let it. My research for this one short story about my Great Grandfather involved finding out about the issues dividing Missouri during the Civil War and locating various regiments that could have been involved in the incident. It also led me to the story’s title “The Vacant Chair” which was a popular song during the Civil War but also fit nicely into the theme that emerged as I wrote. When researching a historical period I’m meticulous about everything and try to make sure all the pieces fit together with no anachronisms. If I reference a song, I make sure that song had been written. In the case of folk songs and colloquial phrases it becomes difficult. Some stand on when the phrase first appeared in print but that’s not to say it couldn’t also have been in common parlance years before that. When there is no direct evidence to support some claim, that’s where my fiction comes to play. Otherwise if it’s documented that something wasn’t in existence before a certain era, I leave it out. I also try to use primary sources whenever possible rather than relying on what a certain historian has to say about a historic figure or time period. Sometimes by reading their own words, I draw a completely different conclusion than I was told in history class and that’s where a story can be told from that person’s POV and giving them a voice and readers a new perspective on that time and place.
If someone who hasn’t read any of your novels asked you to describe your writing, what would you say?
In writing my historical series, I’ve drawn inspiration from three favourite writers: Mark Twain, Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. The facts of my series could be drawn from any of their novel plots. It’s early American Regency era with frontier Mississippi adventure with a dose of Dickens bankruptcy, hardship and political scandals. And all of it is ripped straight from the historic facts. My love of the classics comes through in my writing style, which seems to resonate well with British, Australian and Canadian readers more than Americans. But I’m perfectly OK with that!
Love those writers too! Do you have a special place where you write?
I have an office set up for writing and I do try to write there most of the time, but I also take my laptop on the go and enjoy hanging out in cafes, especially when my local writers group sets their monthly write-ins. I learn so much networking with them.
Do you find yourself returning to any recurring themes within your writing and, if so, are you any closer to finding an answer?
I love writing strong women characters and exploring the good and bad in all people, even when it’s not always the PC thing to do. My characters often are put in situations where they have to make hard choices and overcome hardships and difficulties where it becomes not always a choice between “right” and “wrong” but the path of least resistance or even the road less traveled to get where they need to be and find their purpose.
Those sound like characters I would love. Are you a plot driven or character driven writer? Why?
Character driven. But there is always a plot problem or obstacle to overcome. My stories may come first as a character talking with another character in a certain setting but there is always this “what if?” that drives it and motivates the character. So that’s where the plot comes in. When I read, I look for strong interesting characters to take a journey with and hopefully become my best friends. When I write, that’s what I’m aiming for too.
Do you write from an outline or are you a discovery writer? Why?
A little of both. It comes as an idea, a character in a certain situation or setting, most often in dialogue, looping in my head until I write it down. Once written, one scene leads to another and another until the story is finished. I’m sort of a hybrid between a pantser and a plotter, depending on the project, but I always have some idea of where the story is headed once I begin. I think of it like planning a vacation. I set a course, a destination and a rough itinerary that is always subject to change if I see a road sign luring me to an off road attraction. My stories sort of shape up the same way and it’s always an adventure discovering new places, new character friends and experiencing a different world through their eyes.
What point of view do you prefer to write, and why?
I write mostly in deep third but I have written a couple of short stories in first person, including the one for Echoes of Liberty. I can’t explain why or how it happens. The character’s voice comes through one way or the other and that’s how I write it down. Sometimes I play with rewriting to a different point of view, but usually the first way it comes down to me is what sticks.
I’m going to drop you in a remote Alaska cabin for a month. It’s summer so you don’t have worry about freezing to death. I’ll supply the food and the mosquito spray. What do you do while you’re there and what do you bring with you? If you’re bringing books, what are they?
Actually, that is sort of a dream vacation for me. My Dad served in the Aleutians during WWII stationed on an isolated island base servicing radio equipment for the Air Force. I have an album of the photos he took there. He had a lot of down time as I would imagine I would too, alone in an Alaskan cabin. So for me, that trip would be a powerful experience and I’d probably have to write his story or some other adventure about being in Alaska. I’d definitely have his album of photos and a camera as well as some inspirational books and The Thousand Mile War by Brian Garfield which recounts the mission to station soldiers in the Aleutians during WWII to fend off potential Japanese invasion through the mainland. We don’t realize it now, but that was a great fear after Pearl Harbor and the Japanese had ready access to the mainland by way of the Aleutian Islands. Maybe a bit of alternative history could come to play?
The Thousand Mile War is a great book. Well worth the read. Talk about your own books individually.
My historical series, THE STEPHENSON HOUSE CHRONICLES, is based on the 1820 Colonel Benjamin Stephenson House in Edwardsville, Illinois It’s the site that I like to say pulled me into a time warp and inspired me to write the life of Benjamin and Lucy Stephenson, who both were driving forces in building the state of Illinois. Their story went untold for far too long but the fragmented facts have led to some intriguing plot devices that would not let me go. My first book in the series, currently under the working title “On the Banks of the Ohio” is in the early editing stages with Amika Press of Chicago. I am thrilled to be working with them as a positive, supportive team of editors.
Also available is my self-published novella about the Stephenson family, titled Papa’s Portrait. I wrote this one specifically as a marketing tool and fund raiser for the site to raise awareness and be an entertaining item for visitors to take home and read after touring the site.
This November I plan to have my second novella out in the Stephenson series. It’s a Christmas story, titled Ben’s Christmas Treasury: An 1820 Christmas Carol. I want it to be a fun parody of sorts based on two Christmas classic favourites: Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and the film It’s a Wonderful Life. I chose those two because the facts surrounding Christmas 1820 are uncannily close to the premise of each classic tale which do share plot and character elements between them. So I do hope readers will get on board and enjoy reading it with the understanding that Ben Stephenson’s world and situation predate Dickens 1840’s London or Frank Capra’s 1940’s America rather than the story stealing elements from the more familiar holiday favourites. Rather, it will be a light-hearted nod to two favourites that are part of my Christmas traditions.
The book will be released at our annual Christmas Candlelight tour on Thanksgiving Weekend. I have participated in this event for the past several years. It’s like stepping back in time and experiencing a “Dickens” style Christmas party as would have been celebrated on the early frontier.
What do you want readers to think or feel after reading one of your books?
I hope they will feel more connected to a certain place or event in the past and perhaps gain a new or greater awareness of where we’ve been and perhaps, how we aren’t so different now from those who came before us.
As far as the historic site series, my main goal there is to bring awareness and visitors to the house and learn more about a forgotten part of history. I love reading stories about actual places and events and then having the chance to walk in the footsteps of those who lived it.
What influenced your decision to self-publish?
I loved the idea of total control from first draft stage to final publication. It allows me to utilize a number of talents and skills. I get to be writer, editor, agent, publicist and marketing executive. I also get to use my art background in designing cover art, illustrations and formatting the interior of the book. It’s a lot of work and I do utilize outside beta readers and a good friend who is a professional editor to help me achieve my high standards.
There are people believe that traditional publishing is on the ropes, that self-publishing is the future. Do you agree? Why?
No! It only means more options for writers, publishers and readers. Transitions and being on the cusp of change can be difficult and growing pains are to be expected. I don’t really see it as a decline in traditional publishing as much as just an unsteady course right now until everything levels out and we weather through this new situation. There will always be a need for professionals and corporate publishers. But that doesn’t mean small presses and indie self-publishers can’t also have their works put into the hands of readers. I’ve been part of a Book Club in my community for several years. We read all across the genre and always have an engaging discussion. Just this year, we had a self-published book suggested by one member, who didn’t at first realize it was a self-published book, yet we all loved reading it and had a discussion worthy of any big house best seller or classic literary work. Readers don’t really care who publishes their books. Only writers and agents are aware of that. Avid readers just want stories they can love and enjoy in their genre. I’ve read some pretty abysmal writing from big houses these days with typos in them. I’ve even read writing manuals with typos in them and these should have been edited and proofed by those in the industry who know better! Yes, some self-published books can be horribly edited and riddled with errors, but for the most part, I’ve been delighted and impressed by what I’ve read in self-publishing, at least in my preferred genre. I do believe the cream will rise to the top.
What do you find to be the greatest advantage of self-publishing?
The sense of self control and the expedient means of getting your book in the hands of those who want to read it. I’m not in this for fame or money. I just want to write and not have to deal with the laborious time-consuming process of querying agents and mid-level publishers. I can handle the rejections, just don’t have the time to deal with the hassle of it all. If I had started writing 20 years ago, it might be a different story, but for me, I have too many other things to do in life than to sit around trying to work up a sizzling query and waiting for responses.
Totally agree. Conversely, what do you think self-published authors might be missing out on?
I don’t think they are “missing out” on anything. It’s not an either-or situation. Many have tried both avenues as needed. I plan to continue working projects as they come along and will work them in as the project dictates. Some might be better suited to self-publishing if I know there is a ready market and a need to get the project underway on my time frame. For other projects, seeking out a traditional press or even an agent at some point might be the best route. I just feel if it’s meant to be, it will happen.
With the number of self-published books increasing by such a huge rate, it is really difficult for authors to make their books stand out. How do you go about this?
In some ways it is harder because there are so many out there now to compete with. But in other ways we have so many more platforms to reach and connect with each other via the internet. Before the internet I would not even have this opportunity to be interviewed like this and have it posted for anyone to see worldwide. That alone allows me to reach readers I never could have before. I really don’t understand this need to “compete” with other writers. Books are easily consumable products. It’s not like an avid reader will only read one sci-fi book this year. If they like one book they’ll only hunger for reading another very similar but different one. Readers are already catching on to seeking out self-published books and its making obscure and less popular genre (like historical fiction) available and on the rise once again.
Do you believe that self-published authors can produce books as high-quality as the traditional published? If so, how do you think we should go about that?
It is possible, but it takes a lot of hard work, dedication and research to school oneself in each step of the process. It’s still a really good idea to outsource and delegate the tasks you may not be as equipped to do. Networking with other authors, negotiating trades on various skills is a great way to avoid costly services. There are also a lot of free online sources to help, but you really need to go in with your eyes wide open and know what you are dealing with. It’s really no different than running any other type of home-based business. It has to be treated like a business from the start in order to produce the best product to meet your customers’ needs. That’s really all book publishing is.
Here are my links and photos:
Author Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/DL-Andersen-241456419522480/?fref=hovercard
Twitter: @D.L. Andersen2IL
Stephenson House Website: http://www.stephensonhouse.org/
Amika Press: (upcoming book “On the Banks of the Ohio” – working title) http://www.amikapress.com/