Continuing in the Lost Genre Guild guest blog series, today we’ll hear from Texan Cindy Koepp, author of The Remnant in the Stars, coming in 2011 by Under the Moon Publishing.
A. Oh, most of 33 years. My mother has an old short story I wrote when I was six or seven. The hobby continued on since then.
Q. When did you feel called to write?
A. I don’t know. I don’t know if I was ever “called.” About five years ago, when I was more irritated with teaching than usual, I asked God if he’d object to me being a full-time writer. That hasn’t happened yet, but I’ve made lots of connections with other writers and critique groups and the like. I even have a contract now for one of my books.
Q. Where do you get your ideas for your stories?
A. Sometimes they get left in my mental voice mail with no mention of the source on the caller ID. Other times they’re based on some misadventure in my own life with the decimal point moved over several orders of magnitude.
Q. What are your thoughts on critique groups?
A. I’ve been in a few. One was ultra-competitive. That was pretty useless. The deal was that you’d upload a chunk of text then review others’ works on the site to earn credits so yours would be reviewed. Writers reviewed each other and ranked the work on a 5-star system. That sounds interesting, but many people ran afoul of glowing feedback to go along with low ratings. Some people were the recipients of a copied-and-pasted review. There was some handy feedback, but it was a lot of work for a little return. Another group critiques on a volunteer system. That works okay. The third group has been really useful. We take turns critiquing half-novels. I get the most useful feedback from this group. It takes +/- 8 months to get feedback for a whole novel, but what I get has been immensely helpful.
Q. Was it hard to develop a writing style?
A. Yes and no. I write how I hear and see things in my head. The problem has been then mutating that so normal humans can understand what I saw and heard. I tend to use a lot of technical terms for things. Sometimes I get bogged down in trivia or skip over something important because it made sense to me at the time. That’s why my critique partners are very helpful. They point out when my idea has been scattered by the hurricane winds of disjointed thinking.
Q. Who is your favorite author?
A. One is definitely Gordon Dickson. I enjoyed the Childe Cycle. Each story stands alone but all of them work together for an ultimate purpose. Bruce Hale’s Chet Gecko series is hilarious. Jude Watson’s Jedi Apprentice series had excellent characterization.
Q. Have you dealt with writer’s block? If so, how did you overcome it?
A. Yes, I’ve had some stories stall out midway. I have to set the work aside for a while and come back to it weeks, sometimes months later. In the meantime, I work on something else.
Q. Do you find a part of your personality sneaking into any of your characters?
A. Definitely. Many of my lead characters are disabled in some way. How they deal with their physical ailments is often related to how I deal with mine. One of my stories has two characters with my weird sense of humor. Another has a lead character who doesn’t want to fit in with society’s “normal” view of girls. Very often people I know make it into my stories, too.
Q. Were there any scenes you found difficult to write? Made you angry or made you cry?
A. Plenty have been difficult to write. The subject matter hits too close to home like the character who faced discrimination for her inherited disability. Not too many make me angry. Some scenes make me cry when I write them and then later as I read them again.
Q. Do you use outlines or let the story develop on its own?
A. I use not just outlines, but very detailed descriptions of the characters, places, societies, maps, and anything I can come up with that might even be vaguely important to the plot. I often have 20 or more pages of notes before I start writing the actual story.
Q. What do you want your readers to take from your book(s)?
A. First of all, I want the stories to be entertaining. I don’t mean gut-busting hilarious, but interesting to read. Since so many of the stories have at least some beginning in my own misadventures, I hope that readers will either identify with someone in the story or maybe understand something a little better.
Q. Can you share any upcoming projects with us?
A. I have a book called Remnant in the Stars under contract with Under the Moon. It’s about a navigator searching for his missing child and a pilot dealing with an undiagnosable illness. If all goes according to Hoyle, we’ll finish the editing process by the end of December, and it should see print in the spring of 2012. I’m also working with a group of writers on an anthology.
Q. How do you respond when someone comments that certain elements (magic, vampires, zombies, etc.) in your story does not fit in what they consider to be Christian?
A. About seven or eight years ago, a friend questioned the magic use in one of my books. He gave me a detailed explanation for why that was not Christian. I did some praying and some thinking and decided he was more right than I was. The way I had handled the magic was very occultic. I rewrote the story, keeping the basic plot, and scrapped the magic use. I actually like the rewrite better than the original.
Q. Tell us a little about yourself. What do you like to do when you are not writing? What is your temperament, etc.?
A. When I’m not writing or doing prep and paperwork for school, I sew, crochet, do needlework, play computer games, and try to find recipes for things I can actually eat. I tend to be the quiet, keep-to-myself type, but I can get pretty goofy when I’m with people I know well. At work, though, I’m more out-spoken. Diplomacy is not a skill I was gifted with.
Q. With a full schedule, how do you find time to write?
A. Now that’s a good trick. During the school year, I write on Saturday afternoons and Sundays before or after church. On weeknights, I usually don’t get to write much at all. I’m eyeball deep in paperwork and grading. During Christmas break, spring break, and the summer, I write a lot more. I sometimes write new material. Other times I work on editing old stuff.
Q. When creating a character, where do you begin? Do you give them a background even if it may never be mentioned in the storyline?
A. The characters often have a very detailed background. The key players and other frequent flyers get all kinds of information. Often I have intentions of including it somewhere, but when I get there, that doesn’t make sense, so it just stays in the background information. Lesser folks sometimes don’t have more than name, appearance, and the details needed for story.
Q. Can you share one or two nuggets of wisdom to those wanting to travel down the writing road?
A.1. Find a group of other writers you can share with who’ll be honest with you whether something doesn’t work or something went fabulously. Ego-boosters are nice, but they don’t help you progress. Likewise, brow-beaters don’t ever give you the encouragement you need to keep on plugging away.
2. Don’t give up. This isn’t an easy gig, but then nothing worthwhile ever is.
3. Take advice from other, more experienced folks. When the advice contradicts other expert advice, you have some leeway to consider what fits your idiom.
4. Above all, be careful that you don’t do something that will cause someone else to blaspheme God.
Q. Where can readers find your books and contact information?
A. I have a Facebook author page. I also have a webpage at ckoepp.com and two blogs that I update when I have something interesting to say: ckoepp.xanga.com and ckoepp.blogspot.com.
Q. Do you spend time in prayer before you write or begin a project?
A. Not for each writing session or project necessarily, but I often talk to God, and the subject of my writing comes up now and again.
Q. What is your writing routine? Do you need peace and quiet, soft music, or does it matter?
A. I like to sit on my couch with a notebook and pen in hand and a glass of water nearby. I don’t focus well with noise, so I prefer quiet. Once I have the stuff written, I enter it into the computer using either the keyboard or some voice recognition software. Then I can edit and revise. Sometimes I do that on the screen. Other times, I make the font stupidly small … like 8 or 9 point … and print it out. That depends on whether it’s an early draft or a later one. Earlier drafts will need much more shuffling and fixing, so I print those. Later ones are usually more stable, and I can do those on the computer.
Thank you, Cindy. I look forward to reading your book when it comes out next year.