When did you first realize you needed to put pen to paper?
It was waaaay before pen. I fell in love with writing the moment a teacher showed me how to string words into sentences…third or fourth grade, while I was still writing with what Bill Cosby called “pencils the size of a horse’s leg”. I’ve been hooked ever since!
One of the most important aspects of any story, in my opinion, is description. Often either overdone or underdone, what is your best advice to writers on how to strike the perfect balance?
Since I’m 99.999% a non-fiction writer, I usually write conversationally, as though sitting across the table from my readers one-on-one. I suppose I might be accused of under-writing description (by your lights) since I’m not sure I could describe my sister or my mother well enough to enable a reader to pick them out of a line-up of other females. That said, no one has ever mentioned to me that I under-describe or over-describe. Being a full-time copywriter has made me a better, more compelling writer, I think. My copy is usually active, present tense, and immediate in nature.
I find much of my inspiration in coffee shops, and many of the conversations and interactions I have witnessed there have proved to be influential in my tales.Has anyone you’ve ever witnessed become the inspiration for a character, or at least a particular part of a character?
My inspiration for most of my life has been either Attorney General/Senator Robert F. Kennedy or actor DeForest Kelley. DeForest Kelley was my mentor; in fact, he launched my writing career in 1969 by sending a story I had written about meeting him to a New York magazine whose publisher chose to publish it as a special holiday piece that year. I have written several STAR TREK novels where Dr. McCoy is the main character but they remain in large, unruly envelopes, waiting for me to finalize them or consign them to eternal obscurity. I wrote them years before I had a computer, so it would be quite the undertaking to resurrect them…but they’re good so I’m thinking about resurrecting a couple of them in time for STAR TREK’s 50TH anniversary in 2016.
Finding your voice in writing is one of the most important aspects of it. Some writers, myself included, wrote in a myriad of genres before discovering where our style was best suited. Is there a particular genre that speaks the most to you? Why? And how did you find it?
Non-fiction—anecdotal memoir—is my genre of choice. I’ve written seven different books; they’re on such different topics you’d swear I’m schizophrenic, but they are all a part of my life and my heart. They are (in chronological order) DeForest Kelley: A Harvest of Memories (memoir about my association with DeForest and Carolyn Kelley); Floating Around Hollywood and Other Totally-True Tales of Triumph (book of humor about being a floating secretary in Hollywood for 13 years); Let No Day Dawn that the Animals Cannot Share (a book of prose and poetry about the animals, tame and wild, I’ve worked with or advocated for); Purposeful Christianity: Sharing the Verve and Value of the Prince of Peace;The Enduring Legacy of DeForest Kelley: Actor, Healer, Friend (an e-book in which I compiled the reminiscences of other Kelley fans whose lives were changed for the better by the actor; I wrote intros for all four sections of the book, too); Serval Son: Spots and Stripes Forever (a cautionary true story about what it’s like to own—and be owned by—a wild cat for seventeen years; it reached #2 and #4 in two niche categories when it debuted at Amazon in Sept 2011); and my most recent title, SETTLE FOR BEST: Satisfy the Winner You Were Born to Be is a departure from the others, though: it’s only a little about my doings. It’s mostly a book of encouragement and action steps for people who feel they’ve placed their career ladders against the wrong walls, or for unemployed folks who still have a passion they haven’t pursued that can bless the world, and for entrepreneurs looking to learn what they need to know to get ahead and succeed in their field. It reached #1 in the Motivational Self-Help category when it debuted on July 7 this year and stayed there for three days at Amazon. The two most recent books were accepted by a publisher, Futureword. She wants me to bring my other books over to her publishing house now, too. The titles are all available at Amazon except for Enduring Legacy; you can find it at Payloadz.com.
Speaking of voice, when you write, do you find that you become the characters, or are you more of a guest at their dinner party where they share their story with you?
Since I usually write about my own inner thoughts and feelings, I’m definitely inside my own character. But I must confess I’m probably at my best when I’m writing—at my most idealistic, noble and hopeful. Writing gives my heart and spirit wings. I can fly when I’m writing. There are no obstacles.
Tell us a little about your editing process.
When I write—and I teach other writers to write this way, too—I exile my editor to Outer Mongolia until I finish the first draft. Writing should be pure joy; you should be fearless; you should act like a child in a sandbox. There is no right or wrong when young kids play; they’re full on, carried away by their imaginations.
Of course, as writers we all know the rules, but they shouldn’t be regarded the way scowling schoolmarms with long rulers are; they shouldn’t taunt or threaten. When the first draft is complete, I will let it sit for a day or two (if I have the luxury of time: as a copywriter who writes for businesses, I usually don’t) and then go back to it wearing my Discernment (Editorial) cap to see if I still love it as much as I did while writing it or if I can find ways to make it better: more powerful, more concise or succinct, more relational and compelling. I usually find something I can change, even after decades of writing almost non-stop.
What is the worst writing advice you’ve ever received?
This is a funny story. In high school we got a new English teacher; he wasn’t just new to us, he was new to teaching, period. By this time I’d been writing for six or seven years non-stop and my abilities were well known. The teacher wrote a jumbled up name and address across the blackboard and asked, “Can anyone figure out what this is all about?” I pondered the mishmash for a moment, putting it together properly in my mind, and then raised my hand. He saw me raise my hand and quickly said (to dissuade me, I’m sure), “I’m glad you’re all having a problem. Anyone who can make sense out of this gibberish will never be a writer.” The classmates who had seen me raise my hand ROARED; one of them (Gayle Danko) leaped to my defense, saying, “Kris is the best writer in our entire school!” Needless to say, I was embarrassed and my teacher was embarrassed. The best part of this story is that this teacher became my biggest fan. In fact, it was he who insisted that I send the story about meeting DeForest Kelley to Mr. Kelley so he could read it! Had he not done that, I never would have sent it, and Mr. Kelley would never have launched my writing career!
“Don’t use a ten-dollar word where a two-dollar word will work.” Translation: Save your extensive vocabulary for quizzes and trivia contests. If your reader has to sit with a dictionary in his or her hand to understand what you’re saying, you’re not communicating. Write to express, not to impress.
I took a community college course in creative writing and was told, “Kris, you have an amazing vocabulary. But unless you plan to write to college-educated graduates and professors for the rest of your life, put it on the back burner. To make a living as a writer, you want to engage with the widest audience possible.” As soon as I took this advice to heart, my writing became better and much more widely enjoyed.
For those writers who have not yet completed their first book, what advice would you give them?
Look for a universal-type of theme. Write about what you know. Love the journey. Have trusted book-lovers of your genre read it and take their comments to heart. (It’s best to ask someone who will tell you the unvarnished truth. Most friends and family members won’t or can’t.) If you can get another published writer or a professional editor to read and critique what you consider your final draft, so much the better. Don’t let discouragement stop you. If you feel passionate enough to pen it in the first place, it’s worth all the time and trouble it will take you to make it the best it can be.
What is one book (besides one of your own) that you think everyone should read?
Oh… my … gosh, Lisa! Are you serious?! I have read literally hundreds of books. Sheesh! Let me pick a few. The Help by Katherine Stockett. Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, or anything else by Mark Twain.
If you could be interviewed by one famous person (besides me… ha!), who would that be and why?
Oprah Winfrey, Dr Oz or Dr Phil… for obvious reasons: book sales in abundance!
Can readers expect more from you in the not too distant future?
Not immediately. Two books within ten months are plenty for me right now. You can follow my blog at http://almostfamousbydesfault.blogspot.com, befriend me on Facebook (Kristine M Smith, Tacoma WA) and LIKE and SHARE my copywriter page there; and see my book and business website at kristinemsmith.biz. Of course, if you’re a business owner and would like a Command Performance (some copywriting done), I’ll write something new for you as soon as my schedule allows. How’s that for responsive? J
I’m a Kindle girl, myself. E-readers – love them or hate them?
Love ‘em. My two newest books are available on Kindle (Serval Son and Settle for Best.) Er… that is… they’re supposed to be! I know Serval Son is; I’m still waiting for Amazon to enable the Kindle version. I did all the necessary work at this end a few days ago…)
Biggest problem in the publishing industry you see?
The big publishers only want to publish mega-stars to get megabucks reliably. I say go with a boutique publisher like I did (Futureword Publishing). If they accept your manuscript, you’ll get higher royalties and keep all the rights so that IF a motion picture studio or big publisher sees and likes what you do, they’ll have to give you a better deal than they would otherwise, and you can stay in the mix and help choose the actors, directors, producers, etc unless they pay you megabucks to relinquish total control. IF you get interest from a mainstream publisher, get a reputable agent to negotiate the best deal he or she can get for you.
Weirdest unknown fact about you?
I was askedtoapply to become a copywriter for the Obama-Biden campaign in 2008 and again in 2011 but I didn’t want to have to move to Washington DC or Chicago. I’m not sure I would have been hired, but I was asked to apply, which was quite the honor! Had they allowed telecommuting, I would have jumped on it on a heartbeat. (Hey, at least you know I’m not a celebrity stalker!) Other than that … I’m pretty much an open book, with seven books and an extensive blog. Seek and ye shall find! There’s plenty of weirdness to explore!
Any other updates?
If you’re in Tacoma, WA or nearby, I’ll have a table at two upcoming Ignite-U events: Sept 13th 2012 at the Emerald Queen Casino in Fife from 3:00 to 9:00 PM; October 6th 2012 from 9 AM to 6 PM at the Tacoma Convention and Trade Center in downtown Tacoma.
Her books can be purchased on Amazon.