Hi Denise: Thank you for agreeing to share yourself with my readers today. I know you are an author and an editor, but please tell the readers what sort of books you write and how many you’ve had published.
I’ve published 12 novels and several short stories. I write dystopian science fiction mostly, but many would say I stray into fantasy and definitely into horror. My books would be considered cross genre, because most of them are also detective mysteries.
That’s a fair number of novels in publication. Which one would you say changed your life?
My first novel, Half-Light, sold back in 1991 to TSR, Inc., the makers of Dungeons and Dragons. I spent eight years teaching myself to write. There was no such thing as the Internet in those days, so I practically lived at the library and read old issues of The Writer to learn my craft. Half-Light was an old-fashioned space opera, but it was a love story, too.
When it was bought, I was actually on the phone with my agent. We were celebrating the fact that I’d sold, just that day a short story to Amazing Stories Magazine. Along came the call, she put me on hold, and returned breathless!
From there, it was no stopping me. I knew I wanted to be a writer. I wanted out of the 9 to 5 world as badly as anyone could ever want it. Half-Light fired my engines like no other book. I would get up at 4 a.m. and write until 6 a.m. Find a quiet office at lunch and write for an hour. I would come home at 5:30 p.m. and write until 9 p.m. I would write all weekend and every holiday. (I had a very understanding husband.) It was because of my early success with Half-Light that I realized my life was all about writing.
That sounds wonderful to me. Can you think of a book—written by another author—that had some sort of impact on your life?
There were many, but the one that cried, “You love science fiction and you know it!” was Frank Herbert’s DUNE. I got so lost in his universe that it was hard to find my way out again.
Being both a traditionally published author, and an indie author, are there any insights you can share? In other words, what do you see as the pros and cons of each?
I think the only pro of traditional publishers is the monetary advance when you sell your book. Everything else is the same. You have to write the best story you can and deal with an editor, and if you’re an indie, I strongly advise finding a good editor to make your words shine. Many new writers think that traditional publishers will give you the book tour and publicity, but unless you are one of the privileged elite, you can forget that. You are on your own. The one big pro of indie publishing is that you get to be your own boss. You don’t have to worry about bringing your book into line with the publisher’s policies. You can write whatever you please.
That is a big plus, isn’t it? So speaking of Indie publishing, which do you think is more important for catching the reader’s eye: cover art, the blurb, or reviews? Or is it something entirely different?
A great cover and a strong blurb are always important. Reviews never really tell you if you will love or hate a book because art is subjective. I think the most important thing for catching a reader’s eye is the first page of the story. If those first couple of paragraphs wow ‘em, then they’ll buy the book and keep reading.
I know you are also an artist. Do you design your own covers? Or do you design for others?
I design my own book covers, but I know so many digital artists now that my next book cover will probably get worked over by a great illustrator.
What was your very first written work? (I think mine was a story when I was twelve or fourteen years old.)
I wrote a complete detective novel when I was about eleven or twelve. It was about 50,000 words and my dad diligently typed it up for me. It wasn’t a kid’s novel, either. I used cursed words and shot people, laid in clues and red herrings. I was determined to be the next Mickey Spillane.
I know from experience that you are also a top-notch editor. Please tell us how you got into editing and give us a brief description of what a good editor can do for a book.
I started editing books about 37 years ago after I did a stint as an assistant editor for a newsletter written for the United States National Commission for UNESCO. My boss taught me everything she knew. I took several English courses and suddenly, out of the blue, people started asking me to edit their novels. From that point on, I was inundated with clients.
I think a good editor is a good writing teacher. I try to help my clients understand why certain changes need to be made. If they need a bit of a refresher on various areas of writing, and if they are open to it, I will give them ‘assignments’ to write something a bit differently.
A good editor doesn’t just correct your grammar. A good editor will help you develop a book by showing you how to get the best out of the story, the language, and the characters. He doesn’t write the book for you, though. A good editor can only suggest changes. He should always remember that the book belongs to the writer.
I totally agree. You taught me so much with my first two books. So tell me, just how many incarnations of Denise have there been in this life? By that I mean what were your previous jobs, or have you always been an author/editor?
For many years, writing was my avocation. My day job was with the Department of State and the United Nations, and then in the late ‘80s I moved over to the Department of Defense. I’ve always worked in the higher echelons of the government—the Office of the Secretary of State or the Office of the Secretary of Defense. I was an Executive Secretary, which meant I kept the admin pool running while pouring coffee for dignitaries and generals.
I’m always interested in what drives a person. Give us your favorite life-quote and share the significance if you will.
The 20th Century mystic, Edgar Cayce, once said, “You’ll not be in heaven if you’re not leaning on the arm of someone you have helped.” I have always tried to maintain this simple philosophy in my life, and I hope that it is reciprocal.
Oh, I absolutely love that quote. How about treating us to a favorite scene or passage from one of your books.
I think my favorite passage comes from my latest book, THOMAS TALKS TO ME, How to Create Your Own Muse. Thomas is an angel who brought the gift of writing to the world. He ends the book by saying:
“Words are the gift for Humanity, one I paid a high price to bring. I beg you not to forget that. Placing your truth before the world is vitally important for a writer to remember and honor. You are not just writing for money. You’re writing for a legacy. You’re writing to bring people hope, inspiration, and freedom of thought. Whether you are crafting fiction, non-fiction, flash, poetry or essays, your words have impact. They are the only real magic in the Universe.”
That’s true, words are magic. And speaking of magic, if you could be any kind of animal in the next life, what would it be, and why?
I want to be a cat with opposable thumbs, who knows how to type.
Haha! That’s a scary thought, Denise. Is there anything in the world that scares you?
The thing I am most afraid of is that folks will stop reading my words. Seriously. It scares me more than death, itself.
Spoken like a true writer. Thanks for playing Q & A with us today. I look forward to working with you again one day.
To find out more about Denise and her books, check out the link below.
My website is http://www.thomas-talks-to-me.com. You can find book covers and links to my books, as well as icons that take you to my Facebook page and my Twitter Feed.
Afterthought: The winner of the Banned Book from last week is Leahleah(@)whiteskyproject.com Congrats, Leah. I will email you!