Welcome to my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, scriptwriters, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with non-fiction author and copyeditor Christine Hunt. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Christine.
Christine: Good morning, Morgen. Thanks for having me.
Morgen: You’re very welcome. Great to have you back. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Christine: I’m located near the Twin Cities of Minneapolis / St. Paul, Minnesota, in the Midwestern United States. Reading and writing were my escape, even as a child. During high school a friend and I wrote a play which our youth choir performed during a summer choir tour, and I was hooked. I stayed active in theatre, eventually worked my way into a position as on-staff scriptwriter for an audio / visual production company. It’s progressed from there—ghostwriting several books, providing original and clean-up work for businesses, individuals, and non-profits as well as doing professional copyediting. I’ve been privileged to help a number of other people successfully publish. This current project will be the first to actually have my name attached to it.
Morgen: You write primarily non-fiction. How do you decide what to write about?
Christine: Even the book assignments I accept as ghostwriter or editor are taken on because I’m enthusiastic about the subject matter. Life is tough for most people, and I love projects that offer real hope.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Christine: None of the published works I’ve been part of, to date, have my name attached to them—we’re called ghosts for a reason, but it’s interesting that you ask about a pseudonym. There’s a serious security risk in publishing my current project, The Orchid Murder: Untangling a Web of Unsolved Murders and Legal Malpractice—the murderers are still at large, and I make it obvious in telling the story who it is that probably committed the two murders. My husband and I discussed using a pen name for this project but decided that, with the journalistic approach to this true story, using my real name was important.
Morgen: You’re independently publishing. What lead to you going that way?
Christine: A majority of my work to date has been for hire, but I’ve been around the publishing industry enough to see the pros and cons. It’s a complex and burdensome industry and, for good and ill and by necessity, is built on exclusivity. Being a new publisher, myself, I understand how authors or projects may not be a fit for a house or imprint. Being an author, I understand the frustration of slamming into one roadblock after another. My primary reason for moving toward independent publishing, however, was better content control.
Writers should also consider that in today’s publishing-house world, most authors are required to do a huge amount of the marketing themselves anyway, and most often at their own expense—the financial backing that used to be an advantage of being picked up by a big house is no more. So why not check out alternatives. The big house marketing machine may not be readily available to independent and small publishers, but social networking is making inroads.
Morgen: It certainly is. Are your book available as an eBook? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Christine: Absolutely, it’s available and in various formats. I love the idea of carrying around a library on a device, but not to the exclusion of — (laughs) I almost said ‘the real thing’. I also think apps for books are a great idea and I’m brainstorming ways to use them for my current project.
Morgen: I say “the real thing” all the time. 🙂 Did you choose the title / cover of your book? How important do you think they are?
Christine: Title and cover are vital to the life and marketing of a book, and I’ve been involved in a number of those aspects of past book projects. For The Orchid Murder, I spent over a month locating the right cover designer, one who could set the mood and establish the emotional thrust of the work.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Christine: I try to write every day. I’m trying to discipline myself to a schedule where I work on a specific project during a set time each week. Unfortunately that’s not working out; my mind gets busy working on a different project than planned, but I’m trying. And I think writer’s block happens to all of us, don’t you? Have you ever talked to a writer who never experienced it in one form or another? Learning how to get beyond it is part of learning the craft.
Morgen: I say I don’t suffer from writer’s block because I have more ideas than I can cope with (which is great) but I do occasionally get stuck with a current project so I just move on to something else and by the time I get back to the original project, it’s easier to move on. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Christine: That’s a very good question. Yes, as I’ve become more proficient as a copyeditor I’ve found my original thoughts have already been through several generations before they emerge from my fingers to the computer screen—where they won’t see the light of day until they’ve been through several more edits. Capturing original, creative thoughts is only the first step; the art and craft of writing is in honing, sharpening those rough images and ideas until they clearly, concisely communicate.
Morgen: Do you have to do much research?
Christine: It’s one of my favourite parts of the job. Even science fiction and fantasy must be accurate within themselves, which requires research. A writer should never stop learning.
Morgen: I’ve had a few authors recently saying that they love research. It’s one of my least favourites, alongside editing, but the internet does make it much easier. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Christine: Oh, yeah, I have my full file of rejections. That, too, is part of learning the craft. At first, I took them personally. An important growth step for an author is to be able to detach yourself emotionally from your writing, inspect it from a distance. Objectivity—being able to honestly assess what’s on the page—and being able to receive honest criticism will save a lot of frustration down the road.
Morgen: What aspect of your writing life has surprised you?
Christine: Surprised me? I remember, very early on, being surprised that anyone would want to read what I wrote, much less actually learn something or get anything out of it. Then, of course, the pendulum swung fast to the other side, and I went through periods where I was stunned people couldn’t understand what I was trying to say. That was a tough time, but it was also when I began to develop my own voice—or at least to learn what that meant. One of my favourite aspects of writing is the satisfaction of crafting an elegant, simple phrase that touches someone, or encourages them during a difficult period in their life.
Morgen: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Christine: Read, read, read—but choose the material wisely. What we ingest is all we have to digest, and is what will feed our minds and souls.
Morgen: With more to read than ever before it’s good advice to be picky. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, whom would you choose and what would you cook?
Christine: Another great question, Morgen. Let’s see. I believe I’d invite Blaise Pascal, Sir Isaac Newton, and Ravi Zacharias—and I’d have a video camera recording all of it because there’d be so much deep thinking going on I’d never catch it all even the fourth or fifth time through! But the interchanges would be super-charged as one man built upon the thoughts of the others. Wow. And I think I’d serve something simple, warm, and homey, like chicken pot pie and fresh bread—something we could savour and linger over.
Morgen: Yum. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Christine: I have several taped above my desk to challenge and encourage me through hard or dry times. Joseph Joubert said, “Genius begins great works; labour, alone, completes them.” And Margery Allingham expressed the amount of work that writing requires when she said, “I write the first draft to get the meaning, the second draft to put in everything I left out, the third draft to take out what doesn’t belong, and the fourth draft to make it sound like I just thought of it.”
Morgen: I love those.
Christine: Believe it or not, one of the statements I come back to all the time—especially when fleshing out characters in scenes, is Newton’s Third Law of Motion, “To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction: or the forces of two bodies on each other are always equal and are directed in opposite directions.” When you’re building a scene, regardless of the format—fiction, nonfiction, screen- or stage-play—you always have to remember that nothing is ever said or done that doesn’t create a reaction in everyone involved, and often those reactions are what spin your story and build toward a more satisfying ending.
Morgen: Are there any differences or similarities between writing non-fiction and fiction?
Christine: Many nonfiction writers don’t realize how important it can be to structure a project to capture the same highs and lows that track with good story structure. You never compromise the integrity of the truth, of course, but it’s a travesty to waste good information—information important enough for someone to want to share it—by boring readers. Understanding the emotional pathways humans travel when they process information can make a huge difference in nonfiction.
Morgen: If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actors?
Christine: (laughs) During the months I was interviewing all these high-powered lawyers for The Orchid Murder, that would come up—which actor they’d like to see play one of the other lawyers involved. The only one I know for sure would be Robert Sean Leonard, the oncologist on the TV show House — he and the attorney Chuck Webber could almost be twins. A young Al Pacino or Joe Pesci would be good for the role of Joe Friedberg. In fact, I’ve described Joe to people as “Al Pacino plays Perry Mason.”
Morgen: I know of Joe Pesci and of course Al Pacino but had to Wikipedia Robert Sean Leonard (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Sean_Leonard). He does look familiar, probably from Dead Poet’s Society, although I do have House S4 on DVD (not seen yet). Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Christine: Both. And it’s a very definite process. I get an idea for a storyline—what if this happened to this type person, or what if this person found them self in this situation—and I play it out in my mind, think of as many types of conflict as I can; then, after I see there are enough possibilities for conflict using that character, I brainstorm what truth, what premise or important aspect of life might be that character’s greatest need. What is it that might drive that character, and is that something that readers would identify with? Is it deep enough to really engage readers? So all of this has been scatter-shot. A slew of random what-ifs.
Then, if the answers get me that far, I decide on the premise toward which the story drives, then pull out pen and paper and outline the plot points and the beats that have to be hit within a four-act story structure for that genre, and start weaving all those various areas of conflict, those needs, and what the character must work out to either prove or disprove the premise. If I hadn’t had the four-act structure to use for The Orchid Murder, it would never have been written. Too much occurred to narrow it down any other way.
Morgen: Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names? What do you think makes them believable?
Christine: I hate naming characters. Naming things—characters, titles, anything—is the weakest part of my writing. I think it’s so cool how some writers can come up with these amazingly meaningful names which reflect important character traits or story elements. Any time I try to do that, it sounds sappy or forced. I usually just call them by their role, Mom or Detective or Villain or something, until—eventually—a name drops from heaven, and I say, “Thank you!”
Morgen: <laughs> What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Christine: No, I’ve never tried second person, but I might one day. I use third person omniscient—like I’m watching a movie develop and relating to the reader what I see.
Morgen: Do try second person. It’s an acquired taste (and best used in short stories or small sections in a novel) but I would urge every writer to write something in it even if it’s only to get a feel of how it works and then shut it away. Are there any writing-related websites or books that you find useful?
Christine: My essential reference library includes:
- You Are What You See by Scott Nehring. Section 2 details the four-act story structure and highlights all the important storyline and character arc points that must be hit, especially for the hero. Another resource for that is—well, Hauge doesn’t call it a four-act structure, but I think it is—is Michael Hauge.
- Then there’s The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri.
- Those are the biggies, but I’ve also benefited from Syd Field’s Screenplay and Robert McKee’s book, Story.
- Those are screenplay-related except for Egri’s, which deals with stage plays. It wasn’t intentional, but it’s also not surprising since some of the best storytelling, today, seems to come from the screen; and if you can write for the screen, you learn to produce cohesive, conflict-driven storylines populated with clear, interesting characters who can drive a story forward.
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Christine: Whatever they’re willing to work hard enough for. No, it’s more than that. It depends upon what calibre of writer someone wants to be. It’s relatively easy today to become rich and famous producing drivel, but I just can’t see that being ultimately satisfying. Writing is like other art forms—it takes a lifetime of work to hone the craft. The person willing to learn, willing to receive criticism, to work with diligence and integrity can expect a wide variety of kudos and lifestyle changes but also the satisfaction of knowing those rewards are for good, hard work.
Morgen: “willing to receive criticism” is hard but you do grow a thick skin in this profession. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Christine: Well, I sometimes post short stories or vignettes at reasonablehope.wordpress.com. My business site, www.RightLineEditing.com, contains an About page. And there’s a blog on how I developed this latest project on theOrchidMurder.com book site.
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Christine: Yes. I’d like to again thank you, Morgen, for hosting these interviews. It must be a lot of work and is a valuable service to authors and their readers. Thank you.
Morgen: <laughs> You’re so welcome, Christine. It has taken up pretty much ALL my time over the past few months but I’ve loved meeting so many wonderful authors, and they’re all so grateful which is rewarding in itself. I am determined to have a better my writing : the blog balance (note in which order I put them!) in 2013 and determination is what makes things happen (ask me again in a few months). 🙂 Thank you, Christine.
Christine Hunt has nearly forty years of creative and commercial writing, editing, and layout design experience across a variety of fields and disciplines. Christine taught English and creative writing for over ten years before launching Right Line Editing & Design in April of 2005. She has ghostwritten four books with sales over 85,000 and successfully produced:
- over 100 audio / visual, multi-media, and video presentations
- four full-length play scripts, played to standing ovations
- monthly and quarterly newsletters, and
- 100s of brochures, reports, articles, flyers, speeches, speaker supports, and presentations.
She invites you to check out her latest work, The Orchid Murder: Untangling a Web of Unsolved Murders and Legal Malpractice, available at http://theOrchidMurder.com—then let her know your thoughts on the role of truth, integrity, and justice in today’s world.
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