Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Interview with Author Sally J. Walker

Interview with Sally J. Walker about Her New Book AWriter’s Year
By Glenda K. Fralin

The following is an E-interview with Sally J. Walker about her new e-book, A Writer’s Year.

Sally is an accomplished writer and educator. She has covered a number of genres through her writing career including Screenwriting, Romance books, Poetry, and more. She also does professional editing.

With all that, Sally seems to find a way to balance her life with family, community, and spirituality.

Sally has been President of the Nebraska Writer’s Guild and is ready to hand over the reins. That does not end her leadership in NWG and other organizations.

Sally has the ability and willingness to help fellow writers.

Sally I know this is supposed to be an interview about your new e-book A Writer’s Year. However, one question must come first.

How are you and how are the penguins?

Working on being thinner with only incremental accomplishment but will NOT give up. Continuing to attack my daily lists with intensity. Carpe diem! My four grandkids or “My Penguins” I have babysat since they were born are already making requests for what we will be doing this coming summer. I “ran kites” for them just last week when school was out and it took two days to recover! It was worth it.

A Writer’s Year is unique for you isn’t it? What makes it different from other books you have written?

I have written fourteen novels (two published and four more coming out later this year) that range from contemporary Young Adult fare to romantic westerns to romantic suspense. Of course, there are the “books” that are actually short stories included in the Bell Ringer literacy series for the Fiction Works, too. Those are also romance and westerns. A Writer’s Year is a collection of nonfiction essays about whatever struck me about my own writing life that particular day, though I did work to vary my topics. That was an adventure in creativity all by itself. I did a lot of self-analysis.

I devoutly apply myself to the study and practice of many forms of writing in an on-going effort to challenge myself to be the best I can be. I DO NOT want to compare and contrast myself with anyone else. I have enough to keep pushing myself in poetry, fiction, playwriting and screenwriting, as well as to be a clear, succinct writer of nonfiction for magazines, my on-line classes and when explaining myself on-line. The article word-counts and e-mail/Facebook entries have taught me to keep it simple, direct, short and relevant. When I had to translate my on-site lectures to the condensed on-line lesson format I continued to exercise restraint and selectivity of how much to explain and what examples to use. The evolution of the essays in this collection was a natural result of all that “training.”

I love that this book is a journal you wrote about writing throughout the year. What made you choose to do such a journal, and later to publish it?

Originally, it began as a challenge to myself to write something meaningful every day as a sort of personal devotional or, yes, a journal. As I discussed the idea with fellow members of the Nebraska Writers Workshop in Ralston, NE, they suggested I post each day’s musings on their list-serve. That ended up committing me to doing it for the entire year. Sometimes members would comment on what I wrote. Other times there was a dead silence that made me think “Yikes! That was a bit too much!” But I persevered, sometimes being a bit more profound, sometimes just plain silly, sometimes focusing on a pet peeve, sometimes showing vulnerability or pain . . . all those pathways any writer treads in their writing journey.

It was written throughout 2007. I periodically shared an essay here or there, even a few on the Nebraska Writers Guild blog site in 2010. Then my publisher started nudging me, so I gave it to him fall 2010. It is only in electronic formats now. He will consider a print edition after it’s been out for about six months, but may decide to just do it electronically.

23 of the essays have also been contracted to be reprinted as a column in the newsletter/magazine for an organization affiliated with AARP, the Coalition for Dementia Alternatives-America. Those essays were selected because of their relevance to activities that trigger or stimulate memories and creativity. My concepts coincide with many of CDA’s programs and give specific directions for applying the creativity. They don’t speak down nor rely on medical or intellectual jargon. I guess that’s because I wrote them from my heart and my day-to-day application.

In the January 1 entry, you outline an approach you titled How to Have a Fulfilling Year as a Writer. You describe a 3-part approach as D: Dreaming, P: Planning, and E: Executing. Please describe these elements for us.

To me, those are the three steps to taking an idea from a glimmer of an idea to words on paper (or a computer screen). No one knows for certain exactly where a creative thought or image comes from or what triggers it. When working on my degree in writing, we had to read a collection of essays written by all kinds of artists and scientists who tried to explain their own creative process, especially where the very first thought came from. The answers were as unique as the people. How does one explain thought association, I mean to the origin of the first synapse in one’s own brain? But the FACT that the image or concept happens is REAL. As a “Creative” I know when it happens. I know when something isn’t worth contemplating further . . . but the spark that jumps from one thought to another that forms into words and more images that is the “Dreaming” phase that has to be nurtured with lots of creative stimulation. Some people require wallowing in nature, others in silent darkness, others in music, others in “people watching” and others in cinematic images or books. The original thought or image blossoms into possibilities of “What if . . .” The images, the word, the characters and the stories actually POSSESS the creative mind until dreaming becomes a sort of haunting that nags at the creative to DO something more that merely toy with the thoughts.

So, the creative person begins to document and give structure to the dreaming. Yes, I have met Creatives who believe they “go with the flow” and move directly into the “Executing Phase.” But when I have questioned the serious Creative I have found they have trained their mind to do the structuring, the general outline before the project was attempted. I have also found that the trained, serious Creative is very selfish with time and effort. That means they do not want to waste either on a random, disorganized project. So, whether the creative person is an intense documentarian of plans (in Character Profiles, story research and story outlines like mine) OR a mental organizer, I have consistently found BOTH approaches in the professional artists who seriously pursue their art forms as a career. Life is too short to leave creativity to chance. More is accomplished when the Dreaming turns into the commitment of a Plan.

Many a professional writer has given the perpetual advice of applying the seat of the pants to the chair and putting down one word after another on a regular basis. All the fantastical dreams in the world with meticulously planned stories are for naught if they are not written. Here, too, I have found a variety of execution disciplines. Some people need a specific place, others specific tools and others the motivation of money. There is no one system to execute except to “git ‘r done.” It takes commitment and discipline. It takes ignoring the other demands on time and energy. The writing becomes the priority. Period. If “life” intrudes and rips the writer away the soul screams to return to the task and return one must. It matters not if the execution is imperfect or does not get published/produced. It does matter that the dream that was laid out in a plan has become a reality for the writer!

Your January 3, entry is one that I find personally interesting: Writing as Mental Therapy. The therapeutic value you describe is more than just setting down and throwing a bunch of curse words onto a page because you are angry. What you describe is an integral part of your writing process. Please describe here, why this is so important in developing your characters.

I wrote my first short story the second semester of First Grade. I remember having characters and stories drifting around in my mind since I was a toddler. I can focus and still recall some of them. No lie. (The psychology principle is that a human forgets nothing, but merely stores it away until the memory is needed.) Okay, so add to whatever my mind was evolving in childhood--fed by TV, movies, books—a lifetime of meeting people, both in passing, at work, at school, and as family and friends. I took away bits and pieces of every person I encountered. Some I liked, some I loved, some I feared, some I disliked, and a handful I truly never wanted to EVER encounter again. In truth every human impacted my self-concept and my awareness of how to relate to the world. I added them to my mental storytelling arsenal.

I think of writers as being amateur psychologists for we motivate and manipulate characters. Since the vast majority my life experiences have been imperfect, I have discovered as a writer I could change an experience for a character, inside and out . . . when I could NOT have any “do-over” my own experience. Think about how much power that gives me over “life” even though it is a fictional life. I create a fictional character from the bits and pieces I have collected in my mind and do what I want with them. The trick is to manipulate the experience so that it is credible or believed by the reader. Ah, so I can change the cause-effect to ultimately achieve the end result I want. We certainly can’t do that in REAL life, can we? And, here’s the kicker, if a writer doesn’t like a character or the events of a story, IT CAN BE CHANGED! Now, if that is not “Mental Therapy,” I don’t know what it is!

Sally, I could ask you questions until I’ve gleaned your book, but that isn’t my purpose here. Instead, I would like to go back to the beginning where I made a small effort to credit your expertise. Considering the topic A Writer’s Year, please give us a biography of Sally J. Walker and her accomplishments.

Well, there’s my website at http://www.members.cox.net/sallyjwalker.

What isn’t there specifically, I guess is that I was born in Exira, IA, to a poor farm family and went to various schools in Iowa and Nebraska as my father worked as a farm hand. He was groundskeeper for four years at Omaha’s Peony Park with its huge pool and playgrounds, but returned to farming. When he finally left the land in 1957, my folks bought a house in LaVista. I paid for my own dance lessons, participated in every school activity I could and worked as an editor for our school paper while being a part-time receptionist at the local small town paper. With my parents discouraging thoughts of college, I graduated from high school in Papillion in 1965 and married at 18. My first husband was an unskilled worker and wanderer. My employment credits included clothing store clerk, waitress, insurance company file clerk, insurance claims secretary, and nurse’s aide.

In New Mexico, a patient honored me by making arrangements for me to attend the University of Albuquerque School of Nursing. I took a one semester writing course and won fine arts honors for a short story. At that time I also became a member of a volunteer search and rescue group, beginning my fascination for emergency medicine and earning my climbing certification with the Marine Reserves. After graduating with my Associate Degree in Nursing in 1973, I divorced and worked to be accepted in the Nurse Practitioner Program. However, I came home for my 10 year class reunion in 1975, fell in love with the incredible man I am still married to and moved back to Nebraska. We raised three daughters from our home in Ralston, while I continued to work as a full-time critical care R.N. I finally, finally retired from that part of my life in 2006 (because of a knee injury doing Scottish Highland dancing, but that’s another story).

Along with all the usual family-oriented stuff of Girl Scouts, church and community service, I started part-time work in 1977 on a degree in creative writing at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. The head of the drama department got a grant from the national Endowment for the Arts for the production of the play I wrote under him in an independent study. And in 1985, one of my senior thesis stories was critiqued by visiting speaker Richard Ford (before his Pulitzer) who encouraged me to expand the work into a novel. LETTING GO OF SACRED THINGS was published in 2001 with some really nice literary reviews. My 1994 romance THE HEALING TOUCH was nominated for the best audio book of the year but was runner-up to STAR WARS. In 1998 a western screenplay THE LONELY MAN was one of the 233 quarterfinalists out of the 4,442 entries in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Science’s annual Nicholl competition. I’ve had a smattering of obscure poetry recognitions, too. One of my favorites is one religious poem’s “Honorable Mention” by the Episcopalian Journalists. Another was when an editor of a publication of the C.S. Lewis Society compared my poetic style to the great Gerard Manley Hopkins. I’m sure that Jesuit priest was spinning in his grave. My attention to detail caught the eye of publisher Ray Hoy of The Fiction Works who moved me from copy-editing to Editorial Director in 2000 when he expanded his company. The hours have varied from part-time to over-time. I can proudly say that TFW does not practice nepotism. Every work published there has been stringently evaluated, including my own.

I am an advocate of professional writers commiserating and working with other writers as much as possible. With the sponsorship of the library in Ralston, I founded the Nebraska Writers Workshop in 1985 that continues to meet weekly to discuss and share poetry, scripting and fiction. One of my greatest joys there is mentoring some very talented teens. I joined the Nebraska Writers Guild in 1989, the same year I joined Western Writes of America. In 1991 I paid my first dues to Romance Writers of America, later serving in several local chapter positions. My literacy publications made me eligible for Active membership in the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators in 2005. One of the honors of my life was my 2007 election to the presidency of the Nebraska Writers Guild, a prestigious organization founded in 1925 by some of Nebraska’s literary greats. My four years of responsibility have not been taken lightly especially considering NWG grew from 67 dues paid members to over 175 in 2011.

Since a lot of the Nebraska Writers Workshop required prepping continuing education material for brief discussions, I accumulated material that evolved into the constantly up-dated Write-Now classes I have taught locally, nationally and now internationally on-line. What a hoot that has been! I certainly don’t profess to know everything about writing, but the one thing I do know is that I can infect others with my addictive passion for writing. I hope I am still learning and pouring out carefully crafted writing when I’m 103! Right now I stand on the shoulders of the many fine people who have encouraged, taught and critiqued me, especially the remarkable Lew Hunter (retired UCLA Film Department head) and my team of agents. I am humbled by everyone’s belief in me!

Sally thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. As inspiring, as you are too many, I am one who hopes to inhale a modicum of your passion for the craft. I also hope to learn from your devotion and skill. I know many people, including me, whom will benefit from your book A Writer’s Year.

Dear Readers: Sally J. Walker’s electronic book A Writer’s Year may be purchased from the following sites:

The Fiction Works

Amazon for Kindle