Aurora is pleased to have Michelle Levigne visiting with us this week. Michelle has been writing since junior high—first rewriting her favorite TV shows and books, then graduating to fan fiction.
She didn't consciously set out to be a writer, though, she told me.
"I've always loved to read, and then my daydreams kind of took over and got in the way of studying -- and that's a problem when you have semester exams! I had tried writing down stories before, and they always died. This one time, I started writing and kept writing -- and I haven't stopped since. My friend Barb, says we started out as word or reading addicts, and graduated to 'pushers'," she said with a grin.
She told me she was writing for publication for ten years before her writing was good enough to be published in fan magazines.
"I entered writing contests and listened to the feedback people gave me, and then I finally won a big contest -- and it was another ten years before I made my first professional book sale," she said.
During this time, when it might have been very easy to give up, she discovered "fandom"and found out people wanted to read stories about favorite TV show characters, she learned she could write stories people wanted to read.
"That encouragement kept me going through all the years -- and years -- when paying markets were giving me form rejection letters," she shared.
"Writers are known to set their own schedules and work at their own pace," I said. "Do you enjoy that kind of spontaneity in your life? How great is it to be able to take a vacation or just take a day off without calling in sick?"
"HUH? Who told you that?" she replied. "Well, maybe the big-time authors who get 5-figure contracts and advances and don't have to worry about paying the bills. As for the rest of us, we have day jobs and families and chores. We have to steal time for writing. A lot of people get up really early every day to crank out a page or two -- or stay up late after everyone else is in bed, to create a couple pages. I have to create every day. There's always pressure to produce something. Yes, writing and playing in my own private universe is fun, but it's work, too.
"I was laid off last summer, a year ago. Fortunately, I was already earning money doing freelance editing, so I was able to transition to doing that full-time. Honestly, staying in my pajamas all day got really old, really fast! Yes, it's tempting to take the day off, to go to the movies and sit around reading instead of working, but I'm the boss now, as well as the only employee, and I sure would fire someone who did that to me too often, wouldn't you?" she asked with a grin.
Michelle has over forty novels and short stories published, but admitted to me she's most proud of The Dreamer's Loom, which was originally published as "The Dark One" by LTD Books and is now released through Amber Quill Press.
"It's the proverbial book of the heart that every writer has, the dream (or daydream) that won't go away," she explained. "I loved Greek/Roman mythology in elementary school and junior high, and I was fascinated with the old Kirk Douglas movie, Ulysses and Penelope. I had just learned that movies are often based on books, so I found The Odyssey and read it straight through -- in junior high! -- and eventually created my own version of Penelope's side of the story. Some good friends 'dared' me to write it, and the book took me 2 years to write, and then another 10 before I sold it."
She writes both romance and Young Adult fiction, and I asked her what drove her to write books for kids and teens.
"It's not so much that I chose the audience, but the 'feel' and subject matter of the story are more suited for that age level. Shatter Scatter is a fantasy set in my part of Ohio, in areas I've known all my life. It just made more sense to have the main characters be younger and have areas of concern more 'suitable' and 'powerful' for younger readers -- as opposed to my romances," she added, grinning. "Questions of what we are in the world, where we really belong, who we really belong to -- and how very different people can make a place for themselves. For instance, how does a girl with very vague memories of living in another world, where magic is real, deal with living in a suburb of Cleveland -- and knowing she can turn into a wolf whenever she feels like it?"
"How much of your writing is based on your own experience as a child or teenager?" I wondered.
"I want to say none at all -- I was a pretty boring kid, picked on, harassed by the bullies in school and my brother, awkward and fat -- and always in a dreamland." She grinned again. "Honestly, probably a lot of stuff is in my subconscious and slips out into various villains and adventures, all the daydreams I had wanting to escape or get revenge on the jerks who picked on me and told me I'd never amount to anything. All my heroines are the way I wanted to be -- able to say the right thing, fight back, know what to do, and winning out over the bully/villain in the end."
"What is the one book no author should be without?"
"Umm, this isn't a smart-alec answer .... but I'd say a blank notebook, because you never know when you're going to get a cool idea, maybe the answer to a big problem with a character or plot or something else."
"Do you think the Internet will ultimately change the publishing industry?" I wondered.
"It already has," Michelle asserted. "Look at the price wars between Amazon and Wal-Mart. Look at the struggle over electronic rights, and the constant childish bad-mouthing of e-publishers and e-pubbed authors by so-called 'real' writers and writing groups. Look at the morons who pirate books and music, because they claim anything available on the Internet is public property. Look at review sites like yours, which make it so much easier for authors to communicate with our readers -- and where a bad review or a social gaff or a stupid remark on a blog can trash someone's career in a day, where battles over plagiarism and 'art' go on and on in public view, and anyone can claim to be an author or a publisher, without any investment other than time and software and web access. Publishers are no longer little kings of their own kingdoms."
Finally, I asked Michelle what advice she would give to young writers.
"Read. Lots of genres. Fill up your head with stories and ideas and images. Explore multiple universes in your imagination. Don't be afraid of failure and making a big mess with your first dozen -- or your first hundred -- attempts. We learn by doing and by failing and figuring out what we did wrong and trying again. And again. And again. It takes time -- don't get discouraged if you don't sell right away. Just keep working and trying and improving."