I would like to welcome Lisa Wroble of Naples, Florida. Lisa is an author of 27 published books and over 1000 articles for magazines, websites, and reference books. She is also an educator teaching at Edison State College and providing writing workshops at Hodges University Center for Lifelong Learning and the Renaissance Academy at Florida Gulf Coast University.
Joanne: How did you get your start in writing?
Lisa: I knew I wanted to write in 4th grade. My intent was to write novels but by the time I got to high school I wanted to write nonfiction, specifically to introduce children to the arts in a more interesting way than I was exposed through school. (My eldest brother is an artist and thankfully he took me to the Detroit Institute of Arts to show me art and tell me about artists.) I also always loved language and reading and wanted to help those struggling with these skills. During college I discovered I could study linguistics and learned about hi-lo books (high interest, low vocabulary for delayed learners). Technical writing was also coming into the forefront of writing careers so I took classes and after graduation wrote computer documentation and training manuals for WordPerfect and a few other programs.
I didn’t focus on writing for children until 1989, about 5 years into my freelance writing career (which I launched while working as a staff writer). I didn’t begin writing books for children until 1995.
Joanne: When did you transition from author to educator, or have you always done them simultaneously?
Lisa: In the early 1990s. I had been regularly writing for magazines, with an equal split between stories and nonfiction for children and articles for adults on a variety of topics, including parenting and literacy skills. People I knew started coming to me to help them break into print. The problem was, I was still working part-time and if I devoted my extra time to helping all these friends and acquaintances, I’d have no time left for my writing. A co-worker who took frequent adult enrichment classes at the local high school suggested I contact the director of the program. I did and was soon teaching a basic freelance writing program plus one designed specifically for those interested in writing for children’s book and magazine publishers. I called that one Kid-Biz and taught it for 10 years (until I moved to Florida). Two years after moving to Naples, I connected with Community Education at Barron Collier High School to teach general creative writing. That’s about the time I went back for my master’s in Post-Secondary and Adult Ed and took a job as an adjunct at Edison State College, Naples campus.
Joanne: What is the single biggest advise you can give to new authors?
Lisa: Read. And write. Learn from the pros. Read a variety of topics and authors and genres and study how those authors weave together the writing elements. How do they use description, or dialog? How do they weave in facts and interview quotes? How do they show a sense of the person featured or the main character’s emotion? Note how these authors string words together. Do they break the rules? If so, how do they do so and make it work?
I think I made a tremendous leap in my writing skill when I began to dissect the writing of authors I admired. I asked myself, “Am I using description in this way? HOW can I use description that evokes senses and emotion?” Then I practiced weaving in sensory description and showing a character (instead of telling the reader how that character felt). I practiced balancing dialog with narrative. I asked myself “Why was that story fabulous? What did I like about it so much?” And then I focused on that writing element, studying how the author managed it and then practicing it myself.
Joanne: What are your thoughts on self-publishing versus traditional publishing? Is self-publishing a last resort when authors tired of rejections letters?
Lisa: Publishing in general is going through a transformation. It’s the same sort of thing that happened in the late 1960s or early 1970s in children’s publishing. Right now is a great time to self-publish and a lot of mid-list authors who got dumped from their traditional houses are upping the status and expectations for quality in self-publishing. I believe this has already caused a shift that removed the stigma for self-publishing, but it means that authors need to spend that extra time and resources to make their books the best product they are capable of producing. Traditional houses think of books as a product that is intended to make money. A quality book takes a lot of effort–and many, many rewrites. The stigma with self-publishing in the past was that it’s fast and easy, and unfortunately many of the books looked and read as a quick write. Readers are now less likely than even a few years ago to overlook grammatical errors and “typos.” Instead they will include these things in their posted reviews which can hurt sales. So it’s vital that an author not rush into self-publishing (especially with e-books, which are so easy to publish and require no investment of money to do so).
Self-publishing has long been one of the better options for a niche publication that even a small press would not take a risk on. Now it’s becoming an option for authors who would have ended up on the mid-list. For either traditional or self-publishing in today’s publishing world, the author will need to spend time and effort in marketing. (And unless they choose a boutique, sometimes called hybrid, publisher, they will also end up handling fulfillment and distribution.) Take time to learn and investigate publishing–whether traditional or self-publishing–before you publish!
Joanne: Do you repeat the same workshops over and over for new students or do you have fresh new classes each year?
Lisa: Both. The Community Ed courses include several basic writing classes that are repeated every 6 weeks. Recently the new coordinator has allowed me to add new workshops which I will now rotate through the different “sessions” in that program. I currently have 7 workshops and teach around 4 each session. They are also including morning and daytime classes during the summer. I will be teaching Self-Publishing, Memoir, General Creative Writing, Book Writing, and several creativity classes during June and July.
The Hodges University Center for Lifelong Learning and the Renaissance Academy of FGCU programs request that instructors do not repeat the same workshop in a 6-12 month period. At the Renaissance Academy I generally teach marketing, beginning and advanced book writing, short stories, and a writer’s collaborative workshop (which is a facilitated critique group). I am always coming up with new workshops based on requests from previous students.
Joanne: Your published works are mostly in children’s books. How was that differ for you from writing for middle to high school readers? Did you do your own illustrations in your children’s books?
Lisa: The twelve titles in the Kids Throughout History series were my first books. They are hi-lo (fulfilling that early writing goal) and target elementary readers. They require the same amount of research as the books for middle school and older readers. The difference is the time it took to ensure that the information is correct while the reading level is appropriate for (struggling) elementary readers. That’s a lot of effort for only 800 words, but that is typical of writing picture books and early readers.
I always think of a child I know of the same age as my target audience and this helps me to appropriately break down the information and language to match the reader’s abilities. As for photos and illustrations, the art director handles that. For a few book projects my contract has stipulated that I either acquire the photos (that means handle the permissions to include the image and/or any fees involved) or that I include a list of suggested photos, diagrams, etc.
Joanne: What is the difference between your workshops as opposed to your classroom education?
Lisa: I consider my “classroom” teaching as the for-credit courses that require homework, tests and quizzes, and graded essays. While my approaches are similar, class time is directed by the learning outcomes on the syllabus and “needs of the students” focus mainly on improving skills for the next level class.
My workshops are lifelong learning situations. We have specific information to cover in a very short time frame (generally 4-6 weeks) and I survey the goals and needs of the participants in order to adapt my program to meet their needs. Each class meeting focuses on a writing element with an in-class exercise to help participants apply it. I also teach through student manuscripts which means participants read excerpts of a work-in-progress for my comments and advice. I can then point out strengths and weaknesses and discuss those writing elements so everyone benefits from the critique, not merely the author.
I also conduct one-day, weekend, and guest workshops. These focus on whatever the group would like me to cover. In fact, I’ll see the members of Marco Island Writers this summer. I have a lot of great info and exercises on improving the use of dialog. I’m looking forward to this visit!
Joanne: Where do you get your ideas for your books? Are you a planner or a pantser?
Lisa: Everywhere. I am constantly noticing details and situations. These get combined with facts I read about or learn while watching TV or documentary videos. I love research so it doesn’t take much to send me to the internet or my book collection to “investigate.” (Which is why I absolutely love my iPad. I can surf the web while watching!)
Different projects have different creative processes. For some, I need to plan and mull, and allow the pieces to come to me gradually so I can then structure it into a basic outline before writing. For others, something piques my interest and I am off to the computer to investigate and/or record all my thoughts. I then look at what I have and decide how to develop characters, plot, or flesh out the book or article.
For all my writing, I need a very clear idea of how it will open and hook the reader and then a basic glimmer of how it will conclude; otherwise, I end up writing beginnings and rarely get to the end of my draft. And a draft is essential, because the real work of writing comes during revision.
Joanne: What is in the future for you? Are you currently working on any new books? Have you considered venturing into the adult market?
Lisa: Yes, I’m always working on new books. In fact, I often work on several different projects at a time with a balance of long (book) and short (magazine or article length) projects. Two key book projects include revising a middle-grade (8-12) historical novel titled Thicker Than Thieves, and drafting a longer, young adult fantasy. This one is taking longer because I write scenes as they come to me and have a lot of the middle details yet to figure out. While I’m working on those, I’m gathering some past writing columns to compile into an ebook and am in the proposal stage for a series of nonfiction books on nature. These will again target elementary readers.
I’ve also had workshop participants request I offer online classes so they can participate when they return north for summer. I’m exploring options (and website requirements) to do that now
. I have always written for adults. Most of my articles are aimed at adults, though they may focus on the topic of children, education, literacy, or parenting. I also write short stories for adult readers, mostly in the sf, fantasy, or dark/horror genres. In fact, I am revising and getting ready to shop two short stories in the SF / dark genres. You can watch my website
http://www.word-coach.com or my Facebook page–LisaWrobleWriting–for news.
Thank you Lisa.