Ahh...so now we come to it. The "all good things..." part of my "Indie August" series. This is Part Two and the conclusion of my interview with Dr. Sara Lodge. If you haven't read Part One yet, feel free to do so first. Or you can read this one, then read Part One. Better yet, read the other interviews in the "Indie August" series that came before. Now that I'm thinking about it, what you should probably do is...wait - you know what? I should just get on with the interview, huh?
KD: Okay, you are my first UK interview, so I'm gonna ask this question as if the fate of our nations' continued diplomacy depends on it. Do you prefer coffee or tea?
Sara Lodge: Honestly, I like both. But tea is family to me. Whereas coffee is more of a ‘brunch on the balcony’ kind of thing. Real coffee was expensive in Scotland in my childhood and almost nobody drank it at home. Whereas making a pot of tea was, and remains, a kind of ritual. You warm the pot. You put in a spoon of loose-leaf tea for each person who is drinking, plus one ‘for the pot’. That’s almost like an offering to a mysterious deity, or dei-tea. My grandparents always had tea and biscuits or cake at 4 pm, when I got home from school, so it was like cookies and milk are for many Americans. Making tea is also the British response to crisis or stress of any kind. Once my grandfather was in a minor car crash. They brought him home, he was bleeding from his mouth. And my grandmother said: ‘I’ll put the kettle on’. It’s just what you do.
KD: I like both also. For coffee, I'm more of a mocha guy. Whenever I go to Starbucks or Barnes & Noble I order a solo-grande-mocha-zebra. With whip, of course. For tea, I lean towards Earl Grey (keep it simple). Do you have any projects in the works?
Sara Lodge: Always. Right now, with my non-fiction hat on, I’m working on a book about the Victorian female detective: Myth and Reality. It’s really got me hooked. It’s the stories of nineteenth-century women who really did solve crimes, but also the fantasy that was present in fiction and theatre in that era about female detectives. Often in fiction, they cross-dress and carry guns. In the real world that was a lot less likely, but these women still got into interesting and sometimes dangerous situations.
With my fiction hat on, I’m working on an illustrated collection of fairytales for older kids.
KD: I've been seeing a few shows and movies featuring Victorian Age women in lead procedural roles. Enola Holmes comes to mind. Also, The Irregulars (both on Netflix). Shifting gears a tad, this is a question I've asked other authors I've interviewed - what are your thoughts on the writing and publishing industry overall?
Sara Lodge: I guess the first thing I would say is that there isn’t just one writing and publishing industry, but a multitude of different players with different priorities. There are some extraordinary small presses with a passion for taking risks and promoting diverse writers. There are academic publishers, which are often run as not-for-profits, which may pay little but take huge care to publish outstanding work. There are also big publishing conglomerates, with the power to get books into readers’ hands all over the world, but very conservative tastes based on what has sold in the past. And retailers, like Amazon, that (on the one hand) demand huge discounts of 60% or more on the price of books and the right to return unsold stock – which is bad for writers’ profits – but also offer self-publishing authors a platform that enables them to sidestep agents and traditional publishers altogether and keep most of their profits.
So there really are Good, Bad, and Ugly players in the industry and some that are all three. The trick is to know what you want most from your writing. If it’s money: you need to have good commercial sense and an agent. Looking at thebookseller.com to see what is getting interest from multiple publishers at auction and which agents are negotiating those deals may help. You may also make a good deal of your money indirectly, from teaching creative writing, workshops, copywriting, literary consultancy, ghostwriting. If, however, what you want most is creative freedom – to write when and what moves you most – then it may well suit you to work with an indy press, on a smaller scale. The Society of Authors reckons that the median earnings for a professional author in the UK are in steep decline, at £10, 500 ($14, 446 USD) per year. But the highest-earning 10% of authors take home 70% of the money. So for most people, this is not a big money game; it’s a passion.
KD: That's pretty helpful info. So, in that vein, what nuggets of wisdom would you have for other writers?
Sara Lodge: You need to train to write; to practise it regularly; and to commit to writing even on those days that seem unpropitious. People don’t think they could run a marathon without months of going out on practice jogs that get steadily longer, but some people think they can just sit down and write a novel. Maybe they can. But for most people writing, like running, is a habit that is reinforced by regular exercise of the relevant muscles for manageable distances, diligently accomplished even when the urge to stop is strong. I try to write at least 500 words a day. It might not seem like much, but it adds up to 10,000 words a month, which is realistic for somebody with a day job (teaching) and a kid.
Structure is the foundation on which the imagination dances. Think about the overarching structure of your story. Many writers begin with an idea, a character, a scene, a description of an atmosphere or place. These are terrific inspirations for the notebook. But they are chords, snatches of melody that will peter out. You need to figure out whether you are writing a symphony or a quartet or a jazz ballad. Broad strokes. What are the main plot beats? Where does this story go? It is structure that allows story to have core strength and momentum. This applies equally to non-fiction.
Let others help you improve your work and learn to enjoy editing and rewriting. Writing is an intensely private and personal act. Criticism may at first feel as unbearable as eating glass. But it is only by gaining some distance from your writing at a macro and micro level – style, story, character, vocabulary – that you will improve. Don’t fiddle too much with sentence-level changes at the beginning. Get the story down any old how. Finish it. Then step back and consider how to make it sing.
Always carry a notebook and a pen. Thoughts and inspirations and brilliant overheard snatches of dialogue arrive at odd times, anywhere. Don’t let them escape.
Don’t let yourself be intimidated out of writing or depressed by false starts, harsh criticism, or a general sense that it’s all been said before – and better --by others. It hasn’t. Writing is always worth doing. What are you waiting for? Why are you still reading this? Get out of here and start writing, you talented insecure person!
KD: Yeah! What she said! Okay, so who were/are your writing influences?
Sara Lodge: Good lord. I read pretty much everything and I love books like a lizard loves sun. So, in a way, I just want to say – Sunshine! Books! All of the great glorious rays of it have penetrated my writer’s skin and kept me alive and thinking. But I have a special love of comedy. So I love funny, witty women like Jane Austen and Stella Gibbons and Dorothy Parker and Angela Carter and also Evelyn Waugh, P G Wodehouse, the early novels of Dickens, the essays of Max Beerbohm, and David Foster Wallace and David Sedaris.
KD: That's...uh...a lot of names, my friend. No wonder you're so talented. What makes your pen flow? In other words, what inspires you to write?
Sara Lodge: Curiosity. I think stories are all around us. Like radiowaves; like dust; like the billions of stars in the sky each night that we don’t especially notice. They are in the small ads and obituaries of the newspaper, in overheard arguments between couples in the street, in old books, street signs, gravestones, tales told by hoteliers and taxi drivers. The material of story is always there, but, for me at least, the writing mood can be harder to create – the concentration and willpower not to check email or to pull out weeds from the patio, to ignore the unwashed laundry. I have found journalism and speechwriting helpful in this regard because they offer shorter deadlines for shorter, defined pieces of writing. Books require blinkers to shut out all distractions.
KD: And last but not least, if readers want to know more about Dr. Sara Lodge, where would they go?
This concludes my "Indie August" interview series. I gotta say, with each interview, I learned not only a little bit more about the authors, but I took a little something from each one to level up my skills as a writer. I hope you did as well. I enjoyed this series so much that I will be doing an "Indie October" series for my podcast, KD's Place.
My thanks to all the authors who participated. And, just as important, my thanks to you, the reader, for taking a few minutes out of your day to sneak a peek at these blog posts. You know, I think I'll close out with a KD Original that I use to close out my KD's Place podcast.
"Take a break from your world...visit for a while in mine. Come often. Stay for a spell."