As you may know, I have made a goal for 2021 to enter contests, submit articles to magazines and stories to anthologies. This seemed an easy process until I began to look at all the paperwork accumulating. For each submission there is of course, rules, guidelines, email address and accounts to create. On top of that, I have author interviews for this blog to monitor as well as a novel writing workshop with four other authors. Not to mention my freelance writing projects and my current work in progress.
So how should I organize it all?
Each ‘task’ has its own specific process, so I needed to come up with a way to keep track. Firstly, I printed out the relevant contest, magazine and anthology links and highlighted the deadlines for each one. Noted passwords required and any dates submissions were sent.
Now to catalogue them in separate folders. (And yes I use actual physical folders! I’m a hands on type of girl)
Green folder: Anthologies
Purple folder: Contests
Orange folder: Magazines
White Folder: WordPress Interviews
Orange folder : Presentations I will host
White folder: Novel Workshop
Black folder (not shown) Freelance Projects
Then I separated the relevant information for each in date order with the submission dates – first to last. I printed a calendar for the blog interviews so I can mark each one down, so there is no duplication. I have also bought a large desk calendar to mark submission deadlines, writing events, presentation dates, freelance projects, conferences, interviews etc. Having everything there in front of me lessens the panic that I have forgotten something.
Do you feel your previous careers shaped your narratives? Absolutely. A significant writing goal is to bring the realism I experienced as both a police officer and paramedic to the pages. Not the Hollywood or TV version, but the authenticity of both professions. The banter of partners, the sarcasm, pushing each other’s buttons, then leaving it all behind when the s**t hits the fan. The absolute, unquestionable, I have your back. When I write, I am back on the street and see my characters and their interactions. And more so, I think the characters know the plot, I do the typing!
Was it an easy transition from your professional life into writing about it? I was excited about writing fiction, but I hadn’t written fiction since high school. I thought, how hard can this be. If you write what you know, I’ve got this nailed! But for over 30 years I wrote technical documents, research papers, protocols and co-authored four paramedic textbooks.
I was in for a surprise when I submitted my first chapter in an early writing course, and the instructor said, “You obviously know your stuff, but it reads like a police instructional manual. Oops. So, over the next five years, I took writing courses to learn to write fiction. Now it is easier to write fiction and let what I know flow to the page.
Did you make a conscious effort to make a series or did you think your first novel would be a stand alone? My main character is Brad Coulter. In Crisis Point, he’s been a cop four years and getting restless. The plan was always for a Brad Coulter series. The initial premise was, what if I had stayed as a cop, and not switched to a career as a paramedic. I had a plan for at least ten novels, and initially, they would be spaced out every two to three years in Brad Coulter’s career, essentially taking him to the end of his police career.
The plan has changed, each novel will follow, time-wise, on the heels of the previous novel. The original ideas for future novels are still there, but I have added new ideas because Brad Coulter told me to.
I have also started writing a second series with a completely different premise.
Do you see many more novels in the series? Have you planned them? I am currently finishing on novel #4, 10,000+ words into novel #5 and have a rough plan for 6, 7, and 8. I’ll keep writing the series as long as readers keep loving Brad Coulter.
How many of the story lines are based on true experiences? The first three novels, Crisis Point, Outlaw MC, and Wolfman is Back, are all based on actual events that happened in Calgary. I can give a detailed background on every event. I have taken various actual events, combined them, and made it my own story, with my own characters. Crisis Point has several experiences from my time as a cop, including a twenty-minute car chase. Subsequent novels were less about what I had experienced, and more about interesting crimes based in Calgary and the details from the cops who were involved. However, I take each story and twist and turn it into my own version that may or may not closely resemble the real event.
Is there a message you want to convey to your readers, in regard to those who serve us? Emergency Services takes its toll on those who serve. Whether police, EMS or other emergency services, most who choose these careers do so because they have an overwhelming need to help people. But they can’t save everyone. And those that they couldn’t help or save will haunt them for the rest of their lives. No one is harder on themselves than emergency services personnel. If only… I should have … What if …
The men and women in emergency services go to places and do things few others would do. It’s not cliché, but they would take a bullet for each other or anyone under their care or protection. There is a side to the streets of every city that is totally unknown to most citizens—and that is good because I wouldn’t want anyone to see the things I have seen. Into the darkness of a city is where emergency services personnel are called to regularly. Truly, into the shadow of death. They go there so you don’t have to worry about your safety or the safety of your family. I don’t say this for my benefit, but for the benefit of my family, my brother and sisters in emergency services. They don’t hear thank you enough.
Did you base your main protagonist on a specific person or a combination of many? I am asked that a lot. Since the premise was, ‘What could my career have looked like if I’d stayed a cop,’ Brad Coulter started as me. Hopefully, a better version of me! But a funny thing happened. Brad had his own ideas of his personality and the direction he wanted his character to go and the changes he wanted to make as the novel, and the series progressed. So, deep down Brad is me, but what you see in the second and third novels, is Brad as his own guy.
How does your professional service life compare to your writing life? Hours worked, location etc. Writing life couldn’t be different from my professional life. For many years I worked shift work, was always sleep-deprived, and always on alert. When I was in the Staff Development division, I had regular hours, but the pace was hectic, so those regular hours often stretched several hours past “quitting” time. I attended lots of meetings and was around people all the time.
Now I am at home, write in my writing cave, and need to be forced out into the public. And I love it!
Is this the genre you are most comfortable writing in? Crime/police procedural is undoubtedly the genre I am most comfortable with. Within it, though, are a few sub-genres. I can write a fast-paced thriller, a mystery, or a character-driven plot with police or paramedic partners. I have so many ideas for stories I will never get to them all. They are all within the crime genre, but with a different focus.
Would you write in another genre? I wrote a short story in 2015 that was published in an anthology, A Positive, An Anthology of Alberta Crime. It was supposed to be a noir story, but I wrote more of a soft-boiled detective story. It was fun to write, and I have ideas for more short stories for the character. I have also been working on a time-travel story, but it is still crime-related. I guess I’m stuck on crime!
Where do you feel most comfortable and creative when writing? I have an office set up at home. Most of my writing is done there. We also have a cabin, and when we are out there, I write. My office is my favorite location, probably because it is quiet, whereas at the cabin there is always something else going on. I am also an afternoon/night writer. The afternoon part is okay, but the night part is trickier because for some reason, Valerie likes to spend time with me! On occasion, after she has fallen asleep, I sneak down to my writing cave and write until two or three in the morning.
Has your writing process changed? Absolutely. It has been nine years of trial and error – heavy on the error. But I know that was a process I had to go through, and probably every writer has to. There are writing rules/guidelines and lots of writers who will tell you the way you need to write. The rules are the opinion of a single person, and the views may work for that writer, but maybe not for you. It takes time for you to find ‘your’ process and it doesn’t matter if that fits with what others do. If you need to plot, then plot. If you need to write at midnight, then make that work. Crisis Point took seven years to get to print, Outlaw one year, and Wolfman six months. I finally know what works for me today. I’m sure that process will evolve into something different, but it will be what works for me. My advice is to find your own process.
You have received a nomination for your writing, namely Crime Writers of Canada, Arthur Ellis Awards. How important are awards to you and writers in general? The nomination came at a critical time for me. I’d been working on Crisis Point for five years and had a stack of rejections. It was either give up on getting it traditionally published, self publish, or quit writing and find a new hobby! I was close to quitting. I was so low on myself and my writing skills that the night the nominees were announced, I wasn’t paying attention when the announcement was made for the Unpublished category, I was sitting in the front row not paying attention and had my eye on a bottle of wine that I knew I could get to once the last nominees were announced. I don’t think I’ve ever been more shocked in my life, and to shock me takes quite a big event. As well, I was speechless, which is also foreign to me.
That validation was so important to me. I kept writing. All three novels have made the bestseller list and Crisis Point and Wolfman have made the list twice. I think that kind of validation is significant to every author.
If you could eliminate one task from your daily schedule, what would it be? Definitely social media. There are too many platforms with too many changing protocols and it is almost a full-time job to keep up with posting on every site. I use Facebook the most. I like to find the funniest or weirdest things and repost so that my friends will get a laugh. I’m all about the laughter and occasional sarcasm. I can’t say I think social media has helped my exposure much. And, I just don’t ‘get’ Twitter!
If your life was a movie, would it be a drama, comedy, action/adventure, or science fiction? Definitely action/adventure. I was fortunate to have a fascinating career with lots of action. But I hope there’d be comedy as well. I have a quick wit, sharp tongue, and biting sarcasm. So that would need to be there too!
Think about punctuation marks. Which one would you pick to describe your personality and why? ! If my life is an action/adventure, then it has to be an exclamation mark. Too many times I was in a position where afterwards I’d say Oh My God! Or the occasional, ‘That didn’t work!”
I was able to do things that would be a dream adventure weekend for lots of people. I shot guns, blew up stuff, played hide and seek with night vision goggles, flew in Hawks and STARS to name only a few. There weren’t a lot of dull moments.
Describe your handwriting. I should have been a doctor. My writing is a cross between cursive and printing and most of it illegible. I’m sure if you took a sample of my writing to the drug store, they’d accept it as a prescription for something. I thank my stars that in grade nine, rather than take French, band, or drama as an option, I took typing. And I mean typing on a Selectric typewriter. Who knew that it would be the best option class I took and through policing, EMS, and now fiction writing, that one course has been so valuable! Strangely the most critical course was not algebra!
Do you have any tips on creating an author platform?
You saved the hardest questions for last! I wish I had the magic answer to that. I am fortunate, in no small degree, to have worked for over 40 years in emergency services and that helps my writer credibility. I genuinely write what I know. My background gives credibility to what I write and separates me from the majority of crime writers. I bring a different feeling to the novels—that of actually have been there. So that is my niche that I need to use for my platform.
I like to make presentations and have a pretty good following at When Words Collide Conference in Calgary and the Creative Ink Festival in Burnaby BC. So, I use that to my benefit.
However, despite a lot of ‘friends on social media and lots of promotions of my novels and those of other authors, I haven’t seen a jump in e-book sales.
I will stick with it because I think who I am and what I write are intimately connected. I have seen an increase in interest in the Coulter series now that I have three novels. I think one of the best ways (and this was advice from Jonas Saul) was to keep writing and get the books out there.
The question was about tips. I’d say you have to find a niche for yourself—something that separates you from other authors in your genre. Success comes from taking a different path as well. Two author friends had success where they didn’t expect it. One had pretty much given up on writing crime and delved into fantasy, which took off and then her crime novels were accepted for publication. Another author added a non-fiction book (Adam Dreece and 5 Critical Things for a Successful Book signing). I’m not sure how sales are going, but it is a remarkable book and now he has tapped into another market.
Yep it’s me today due to an author having to postpone her interview. I thought I should try my own interview to see how it felt!
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
It certainly energizes me, once I am into a story it embraces me in such a way I forget the world around me. My characters carry me along showing me what comes next.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Knowing which story to write…with so many ideas bouncing around my head it is difficult to pick one and stick to it. If an idea comes to me during another project I have to jot down notes, a paragraph or two to enable me to go back to the current WIP.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
To date I have not felt the need to be anonymous. I love to share my stories regardless of which genre I am writing.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I count myself lucky to have many author friends, whether virtual or local. My writing mentor is Linda Pedley, without her encouragement and support I would not be writing or indeed published. My writing group friends are very important to me as their feedback and fellowship are worth its weight in gold.
Do you want each book to stand alone, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
I write in multiple genres and go where the story takes me so mainly each book is a stand alone, however I was asked by readers of my fantasy novella, The Rython Kingdom to write a sequel and have written the first draft as part of NaNoWriMo this year.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Most certainly getting my books published with Dream Write Publishing. I was an integral part of the process and my vision for each book has been created.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
I was lucky to have parents who encouraged reading from a young age and allowed my imagination to flourish through the portals of magic – books.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
I may sound like an old record with this one – Ferney by James Long – is the ultimate reincarnation novel for me. I re-read it on a regular basis.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
I have an affinity with tigers – solitary when they want but will protect their young with their life.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
Goodness, let’s see a novella sequel, a steampunk novel, a western romance, a suspense/thriller and a possible short story collection.
What does literary success look like to you?
To have readers respond to me after reading one of my novels to say they enjoyed the story. Of course I would like one made into a movie but knowing my words are out in the world forever gives me a kick.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
It depends on the genre, for example for my thriller I had to research how a body could dry up. While for my western romance I had to delve into barrel racing. Both of these took some time during the writing of each book.
How many hours a day/week do you write?
This depends on how many events, writers and board meetings I have as well as if there is a deadline but I try to write for several hours each week. My constant writing is creating three blog posts per week.
How do you select the names of your characters?
I look at the genre, geographical location and era of the narrative and the characteristics of the particular personality.
Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?
The stories pick the genre, I follow the narrative and the genre becomes clear the deeper we go into the characters personalities.
How long have you been writing?
I began writing later in life so only around eight years. I have been making up for lost time ever since!
What inspires you?
A sentence heard or read, a picture, a writing prompt, a vista or an article on a fascinating subject. Inspiration comes from many avenues and I grasp them with both hands.
How do you find or make time to write?
I am quite structured in regard to my writing blog as I need to post three times a week so will write all three most commonly on Sundays. When it comes to fiction I tend to go in bursts so will hide myself away at my writing desk and let the words flow. If an idea hits me I will write until I feel I have the narrative captured.
What projects are you working on at the present?
I participated in NaNoWriMo this year and my plan was to write two novellas, however although one concluded nicely the other has grown beyond novella length already so will be a novel. Both of these will require editing and revision during 2019, which means my other two novels will get pushed back.
What do your plans for future projects include?
As above I have two NaNoWriMo projects to conclude but also have two other novels on the backburner. I am also considering a short story collection at come point.
Is “Sanctuary” based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Sort of. My day job is animal training, and I was at a major behavior & training conference where a colleague (the fantastic Ken Ramirez) shared his progress in exploring counting in dogs. He had some pretty cool work going (and it’s gotten even more amazing since).
That night at dinner I sat next to Ken, and I told him he’d given me a short story idea. We laughed over it, and ultimately that wasn’t the direction the story went, but that’s where it started.
Is this your first time writing about corvids and/or scarecrows?
Yes, this is my first time with a corvid as a real character, though her role is supporting at best. Not the first time with an animal character, though. As I said, my day job is animal behavior, so I get pretty picky about animal characters and they need to be done right!
What do you enjoy most about writing?
I… I don’t even know how to answer this. Like, what do you enjoy most about eating, the fact that it’s necessary to nourish your body or that it can taste so amazingly good or that we often make it a social bonding experience or that we can do it in so many different and wonderful ways? Yeah, that’s like enjoying writing. It’s almost too big a question.
I really like telling stories. And while a story might have a theme or even, occasionally, a message, the story is the point. No message will be carried well by a lame story. But a good story is self-sufficient and can, if it needs to, convey a message.
What worries you about writing?
Sometimes I worry that people read into stories and make judgments which might not be valid.
Obviously if a character says something racist or sexist, that’s the character’s view, and not the author’s view. That’s an easier concept to defend, especially if it’s a villain talking. But sometimes literary critiquing gets overambitious and generalizes. Someone might point out that I have a villainous activist in this story, for example, and that means I am opposed to animal welfare. But animals are both my profession and my hobby, I love them and I want them to be happy and healthy! You can’t connect a line from a single point. But the internet is good at reacting.
What age did you start writing stories/poems?
I know I had a collection of hand-written tales by eight or nine, but I can’t be certain when I actually started writing. I wrote a lot during class in middle and high school; it was more interesting than algebra. Though I recall those stories now and laugh at how dreadful they are even just in memory. I’m scared to rummage through and see if I still have those notebooks – they’re probably even worse in reality!
Where do you get your ideas?
The better question for writers might be, how do you avoid being overwhelmed by the onslaught of ideas? I don’t think I’ve ever known a serious writer who complained for lack of ideas.
Story germs are everywhere. As I said, the inspiration for “Sanctuary” came from a work conference. A single photograph I took at a ruined Roman bath added about 150,000 words to my epic fantasy series in progress. An interesting factoid about the disgrace and ruin of a 15th century Islamic general, picked up fifteen years ago as I was researching something else, popped up in my head last year as a historical fantasy short.
Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? What is it?
Wow. Um, never is a really big word, so I really can’t think of one.
What book are you reading now?
I’ve actually just started a non-fiction book my sister gave me for my birthday, an overview of influential and/or maligned women in history called Bad Girls. I pull a lot of starting ideas from history, so I really like nerdy stuff. Plus, I like women who accomplish things.
Do you see writing as a career?
Yes. I’m self-employed as an animal trainer, so it’s an easy leap to be self-employed in writing, too. Though I have to say, since self-employment is typically described as “twice the hours for half the wages,” doing it double is not necessarily smart!
Do you nibble as you write? If so what’s your favorite snack food?
Oh gosh yes. Dark chocolate is my writing vice of choice. If I’m pretending to be healthy, it’s dark chocolate covered almonds, though I will happily accept other options.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Probably regretting my unrestrained indulgence in dark chocolate…..
What is your best marketing tip?
On social media, be yourself and be interesting. (No, those aren’t incompatible, because you’re a writer. If your writing is interesting, your talk about it and yourself should be interesting.) If your Twitter feed is nothing but book-spam, I’m quitting you so hard. But if you are an interesting person, I’ll probably be interested in what you write.
When you do talk about your book, tell me what makes it interesting. Dark lord, artefact, star-crossed lovers, I see a dozen of those at a glance. Even if your book has one or several of those – nothing is wholly original! — tell me why I should read yours over the others.
What genre is your next project? What is it about?
I have too many “next projects”! It’s a very bad personal weakness.
I have an epic fantasy series I’ve been writing for over a decade which hasn’t been published yet. I hope to get it into the light of day in the next year.
I have a fantasy serial for which I likewise haven’t started release yet, because I knew my schedule would be unreliable. I’m having a lot of fun with it, though; it’s alternately funny and gritty and traditional high fantasy and your favorite anime.
And then I have a couple of short stories which I’ll be sending out soon, including my first science fantasy. Fingers crossed.
Laura VanArendonk Baugh was born at a very early age and never looked back. She overcame her childhood deficiencies of having been born without teeth and unable to walk, and by the time she matured into a recognizable adult she’d become a behavior analyst, a costumer/cosplayer, a chocolate addict, and a fiction and non-fiction writer.