Morgen: Hello, Victoria. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
My first year in Athens private TV was born, so there was a lot of demand for content. The EEU MEDIA Programme meant that many Greek producers and directors needed to have their scripts translated into or written directly in English in order to apply. The only downside was that they would wait till the last minute so I’d get more requests than I could possibly tackle.
My co-author Donald Schwarz was a native New Yorker. Don claimed he started writing at CUNY because women preferred artists to mathematicians. He was still based in NYC until his death late 2012, and spent most of his time at the New York Public Library.
Morgen: It’s really sad that I never got to chat with him – he gave me a wonderful short story (http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/2012/11/02/flash-fiction-friday-059-faulkners-ghost-by-donald-schwarz). What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Victoria: I don’t consider myself a genre writer. I write about people and situations that capture my interest and fire my imagination. As a screenwriter I have been commissioned to write a variety of projects – two of which received funding grants from the EEU. One was a romantic comedy, the other a social drama. I’ve also written two thrillers and I am finally editing a science fiction novel I’ve had in my drawer since 1994. I don’t know if I could write series fiction, my curiosity drives me to seek out new characters all the time. Don also wrote a variety of stories, primarily as screenplays. He did have a fetish for firearms and light bondage which often appeared as recurring details in his work.
Morgen: 🙂 What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Victoria: Aside from some travel articles and a few lifestyle pieces, Interrogation Tango will be my first literary work to be published, for Donald as well. It has been a fascinating process, by turns exciting and nerve wracking. Donald wrote under enough pseudonyms for both of us! He couldn’t even remember some of them. I have trouble keeping track of things with the hyphenation.
Morgen: Are your books available as eBooks? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Victoria: Interrogation Tango will be available in all the e-reader formats as well as trade paperback and as an audio book. My first experience with an e-reader came in September 2011. I was visiting family in Paris and my dad’s lady friend was raving about her brand-new Kindle. I was sceptical but was surprised to find that reading on it was not at all tiring to my eyes. I had always been a proponent of the “real” book, but my first thought was how great it would have been to have that technology when I was a student!
Morgen: I love audiobooks. I’d say it’s my favourite format because I can be doing something else (walking the dog, housework) at the same time, although paperbacks and eBooks make me sit still. 🙂 Did you have any say in the titles / covers of your book? How important do you think they are?
Victoria: Donald and I had the good fortune that both our agent and the publisher liked a title that we proposed (and we had already changed the working title three times before we started submitting it to agents). The cover neither of us are over the moon about, but we did have the right to veto a few really dreadful ones that were proposed. In the end we OK’d it so we could proceed to production. I think the title carries more weight than the cover though. The image may catch someone’s eye but it is what is written on the overleaf that makes me want to read a book.
Morgen: I’m a big titles fan so that stays with me more than the cover. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Victoria: I have a number of manuscripts in varying stages of development. Which will be the next title released is still undecided. It depends on which piece comes together first, to a stage where I feel it is presentable.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day, or ever suffer from writer’s block?
Victoria: I try to work at least 2-3 hours per day at the PC, not all of that time will necessarily be spent writing with all of the social networking obligations placed on writers now. I also always try to have a notebook and pen with me, or even a copy of a manuscript I’m proofing, so that if I get stuck waiting somewhere I can make constructive use of that time (at the orthodontist, the tax office etc.). I have to take breaks and move around every 30 minutes or so because of neck and back problems so I intersperse my writing with housework errands etc.
I wouldn’t say I’ve ever suffered from “writer’s block”, if I find that I get stuck on a project I feel it is because I haven’t thought it through adequately. I always work on 2-3 different projects at a time so if something isn’t flowing I set it aside and work on something else. When I do go back to it I will re-read what I’ve written so far as if it is something I picked up from a waiting room table, a quick scan to see if the material engages me, when I do that inconsistencies if any jump out so I realize where I need to change my approach.
Morgen: I’m the same with notebooks; I have one and at least two pens (because you never know when one’s going to run out) in every bag and dog-walking jacket. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Victoria: It really depends on the source and nature of the catalyst. I try to outline basic plot points early on, but the structure inevitably changes as the story develops and the characters reveal themselves.
Morgen: Speaking of characters, do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Victoria: The biggest help I had in the field of character development came from my mentor and acting coach, Kimberly Jentzen. She finally incorporated her technique into a book, Acting with Impact, which I recommend without reservation to any writer. Kimberly herself is a published poet as well as an award winning screenwriter and director. The key is to view the character and their choices / actions without judgement – that allows you to discover motives that create depth and details that create authenticity.
Morgen: Thank you for the tip about Kimberly’s book. I’ve added it to http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/books-other-peoples/writing-related. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Victoria: I know I’m no Mozart, so I take my editing seriously. With experience we develop as individuals, so of course our writing develops as well but now that I’m older and hopefully wiser I have the self-discipline to refrain from submitting something I know is still rough around the edges. Don on the other hand was always in a rush and usually wouldn’t even proof read, he’d send it to me. His eyesight wasn’t great and he still typed as if using a manual typewriter (you remember, when you had to hit the return after every line…) which drove me nuts. But he was my friend, and a very talented writer, if not a competent user of word processing software.
Morgen: Absolutely. I love his story. Do you have to do much research?
Victoria: Research is valuable as it provides material for our imagination to play with. In editing my sci-fi manuscript I am having to go back and make a lot of changes because technology, especially in the field of telecommunications, has changed explosively in the last 5 years let alone the nearly 20 years that have passed since I completed the rough draft. It would be a disservice to the piece not to make that effort, not to mention it would limit the potential audience. Today’s readers are savvy and demanding, they will not hesitate to call you out if you cut corners. Donald loved seeking out bizarre information, which is why he practically lived in the library. He read constantly.
Morgen: There will always be someone to point things out to us, but then we learn that way, and can correct if we’re wrong, especially with eBooks where it’s just a quick tweak to a Word document and then re-upload. Do you write any poetry, non-fiction or short stories?
Victoria: I’ve just started blogging recently and I intend for my personal blog to be very diverse, as are my interests and experiences. Now that you mention it I will include some of my poetry as well – thanks for the idea! Aside from a few dirty limericks Don never shared an interest in poetry. I tried to get him to write social commentary with his caustic wit but he was too stubborn.
Morgen: What a shame but then maybe he was too busy reading. 🙂 Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Victoria: I re-read my work from the point of view of someone who is being asked to invest in it. Rejection is part of the process – it would be unreasonable to think that something we’ve written will appeal equally to all. They aren’t rejecting YOU, they are telling you that they don’t feel they can effectively market your work. It makes a huge difference if you have your work professionally edited before submission. It shows professionalism and polish. Also the more you research the potential markets for your work the more accurately you can target your submissions. That will significantly diminish the number of hurt feelings. If you are submitting to agents, before you even query, take the time to go on their website and look at the titles they represent. If all the titles are action-adventure don’t send them your romantic comedy. The same is true of publishers – the Christian label is not going to print your steamy erotic thriller. Always get the submission guidelines and FOLLOW THEM. All anyone accomplishes by submitting blindly is to waste time and resources.
Morgen: Absolutely. I’m involved in a couple of competitions and there’s always someone who flouts the rules. Nick, our Competition Secretary for one of them and I’m sure I received stories over the word limit but he’s a softer touch than me but then with so many entries, and especially those by post, it’s hard to check each one. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Victoria: Success means different things to different people, so whether an agent’s role is essential or not is subjective. A reputable agent knows the legal ropes and knows the editors. At the end of the day they only make money if they get you decent deals, I think 15% is a fair share for someone who is professionally qualified to protect our interests. In our case the agent has been hugely supportive and provided a lot of valuable advice and suggestions that eliminated gaps in the story that due to familiarity neither Don nor I had caught. When I told him I’m working on a children’s book project he immediately offered to put me in contact with a colleague who is tops in that field. Vital? I don’t know, but definitely a valuable ally.
Morgen: I’d say so, and of course they only earn the 15% on what you earn so it’s in their interest to get the best deal for you. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Victoria: The wheel that squeaks gets the grease. We still need time to write but I try to dedicate at least five hours per week to getting myself out there via a variety of forums and social media. In the cyber world success is measured by statistics. The page view stats I generated in one month encouraged the publisher to push our project up the slate so our book will be released before some that were contracted before ours. If you believe in your work and get out there and talk to people you will get noticed. As for the sales impact, well I won’t know until after Interrogation Tango has been active on the sales platforms.
Morgen: Five hours a week… you’re lucky. I do that (and more) a day. I should be more selfish really and find a better balance of blog vs me but when the emails keep coming in. (Note to self… ignore the emails occasionally!). What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Victoria: I’ve always loved writing, and getting paid to do something you love is a huge perk! The only aspect I have issues with is the long hours of sitting it requires, sometimes it is difficult to get up out of the chair and that is a constant reminder that I’m not 20 years old anymore! It has been a pleasant surprise how much really good stuff is out there, and what nice people I’ve been meeting in this cyber Algonquin Round Table!
Morgen: That’s the thing that I’ve enjoy most about the past few months; ‘meeting’ all the wonderful people. I can’t imagine being a writer pre-internet although even when I started (eight years ago) there were far more local writing events to go to. Councils have had their budgets stripped and of course the arts are a soft target. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Victoria: Writing is a discipline that has the potential to become art. The only way to improve at it is by doing it so learn to manage your time wisely and to view your work objectively. Keep investing in yourself. Cultivation is a constant process; the more interested you are in your world the more interesting your writing will become to others.
Morgen: I love that. What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks? 🙂
Victoria: I teach English (basically I try to teach people to love reading) I swim in the sea summer and winter. I also do craft projects with my husband. We are a family of cinephiles so we have a big DVD collection (around 700 titles to date) and I make killer homemade popcorn. I don’t consider reading a hobby; it’s more a way of life.
Morgen: We’re very lucky here in the UK that we have car boot sales (like garages sales except people put stuff in their cars and all meet up in a field and sell their wares) and DVDs are 50p-£1 usually, around $1-2 so I have pretty much all the DVDs I’d ever want (and my two housemates and I are wading through them at one every Wednesday evening). The car boot sales tend to only be on from Easter to late October so I have a few films already on my wish list. 🙂 Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Victoria: The usual: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter. Seeing as I live in an area very remote from all of the main markets for my work I would say they are pretty darn valuable. I haven’t really figured out how to make Goodreads work for me yet (I feel a LinkedIn writers’ group post coming on there). The LinkedIn groups have been very helpful and I’ve met some really nice people. True there are a lot of posts that are purely ads but if you have the patience to sort through them you can also get some valuable information.
Morgen: It’s funny what you say about Goodreads as I’ve the same. I’ve had some tough reviews on there yet have had good ones elsewhere. Goodreads is clearly a tough crowd to please. 🙂 LinkedIn’s been very good to me, especially providing me with hundreds (literally) of interviewees. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Victoria: A fair guess would be bifocals, carpal tunnel syndrome, haemorrhoids… LOL! Of course one hopes those discomforts will be offset by the adoration of one’s fans and a comfortable living.
Morgen: Wouldn’t that be great. I can’t imagine doing anything else but being a writer but if I had to just write for myself then I still would. It’s the creating that I love most. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Victoria: Aside from our author pages on the publisher’s website http://donschwarz.iguanabooks.com and http://victoriakingvoreadi.iguanabooks.com. I have finally started my own blog http://victoriaandreking.wordpress.com/about.
Morgen: Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Victoria: What inspired you to start your blog and offer us writers such a hospitable platform from which to blow our own horns?
Morgen: 🙂 I’d had a website (http://morgenbailey.com) for a few months but wasn’t doing a lot to it then I’d been hearing more that a blog was a way to go so set up a Blogspot blog but did nothing much with it (and had 327 visits in two years). I met philosopher Nigel Warburton when I was volunteering at Oundle Literature Festival mid-March 2011 and his introduction stated he’d had over 2 million hits to his blog, averaging over 1,000 a day. My proverbial eyes lit up so I started this one a couple of weeks later. I made sure I put something up at least once a week (the recommended minimum) then I was invited to be interviewed and enjoyed it. I’d already been interviewing authors (in person or via Skype) for my podcast but as that was audio it took the whole day to record and edit so I was only doing that every other week at the most. Blog interviews though were so much easier and I started off doing them twice a day (7am / 7pm UK time) until I introduced the spotlights, guest posts, flash fiction, poetry etc which took over the evening slots. I’m not quite at Nigel’s 1,000 a day but it’s usually 200+ and the best was 489 on July 25th so I’m halfway there. Thank you, Victoria, and thank you for giving us an insight into Don’s life. It’s a real shame he wasn’t able to join us… but here in spirit perhaps. 🙂
Author Victoria King-Voreadi studied dramatic arts in southern California before relocating to Europe. She has written everything from articles and reviews to children’s television programming and feature length screenplays. Interrogation Tango is her first novel, co-authored with long time friend Donald E. Schwarz, they both have a penchant for finding dark comedy in unexpected places. For more information about Interrogation Tango visit http://www.iguanabooks.com.
Donald E. Schwarz was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and had lived his entire adult life In New York City with a brief hiatus working at Technion in Israel developing an irrigation project for Mexico. He studied mathematics at CUNY before going to Israel. Upon returning to Manhattan he worked for an ad agency designing computer models until changes in the industry made his position obsolete. After that he drove a cab to support his writing habit. Interrogation Tango was his first literary work to be published, but his real passion was writing screenplays.
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