Writing superheroes: Elizabeth Ann West

This superhero is ‘Always Smiling.’ Read on and find out more…

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If you were to write the ‘origin’s episode’ of your writing what would be the most important scenes? What did your early efforts look like? Are they still around to be used as bribes and blackmail material?

My claim to fame of fiction rejection is not being good enough for a fan fiction site. I started off writing non-fiction articles in 2007. Around 2008, my husband encouraged me to write fiction, in order to accomplish the accolade of “writing a book.” I was too afraid to even go near my beloved Jane Austen Fan Fiction for fear I would not do it justice, so I began with Twilight Fan Fiction.

Three times I was rejected from a site specializing in just Twific until a beta took pity on me and showed me where I was mixing my tenses. The writing wasn’t poor, but it was written in an oral tradition where the narrator jumps back and forth between past, present, and future. It’s still up there somewhere under my pen name.

BeyondAusten.com has a few of my early attempts at JAFF, including the original His Parson’s Wife pieces that later became A Marriage Most Unkind and finally, the published By Consequence of Marriage. That story was my very first JAFF idea, stemming from how would the story of Pride and Prejudice changed if Darcy never rescued Georgiana from Wickham? It was a story variation I had never read, so it niggled and niggled in my brain for six years before I finally finished it last year.

 

All super heroes have their mild-mannered secret identity, what is yours? I promise we won’t tell.

I sign my emails and letters as “Always Smiling,” a closing I have stolen from one of my college roommates. Online, I am helpful, cheerful, and as pleasant as I can be. In private, I’m tough as nails, take no prisoners, and don’t cross me or I will rip you a new one. It comes from a life of being a Navy dependent since birth. I watched my mother, always kind, always nice, but if a snake was on our front porch keeping us from leaving to go to the bus stop, then by golly, she was grabbing a shovel and beating it to death. And that’s what I’ve grown up to be, a sweet woman who underneath doesn’t take crap from anyone. So my mild-mannered secret identity is probably my writer persona, because my super hero is Kick-Ass Navy Wife. 🙂

 

Who are your partners in crime? What are their superpowers?

My partner in crime is my business partner, April Floyd. The woman is a force of dependability I’ve not seen anywhere else. Where I am a kite, always flitting and floating and looking to soar higher, she is the rock that keeps me from just floating away. When I start doubting myself about my stories and not writing, she’s the one to call me or message me and say “Elizabeth, I’m waiting for more story to edit!” I can’t wrap my head around all that she manages to accomplish in a day because she is diesel where it comes to consistency. About the only thing consistent about me is that I am inconsistent.

 

Where do you get your superpowers from?

I grew up the oldest of three girls. My father was in the Navy until I graduated high school. Then at twenty-one, I met my husband, who also was . . . in the Navy (and I swore as a child I would never marry a sailor)! The concept of “Make it work” that I love Mr. Tim Gunn for, perfectly personifies my childhood. Whenever something broke or went wrong, we made it work. From packing up a picnic and sleeping bags to go eat a quick meal with my Dad while he was on duty and had to spend the night on the boat, to fixing the VCR by taking it apart when I was about eleven years old, everyone in my family learned from an early age that nothing was going to go smoothly.

What also came with that “Make it work!” philosophy was constant encouragement for trying. There was no such thing as failure in my family. If you try, and it does not work out, there is no use crying over it. We move on and figure out a way to fix it! 🙂 Having parents that always told me it was never the end of the world has dramatically shaped my optimism and drive to keep working harder. I may not always sell hundreds of copies of books each month, but that doesn’t ever mean a book is a failure or that I should stop doing what I love to do.

 

Where is your secret lair and what does it look like?

My secret lair is a bedroom turned office with delicate cornflower wallpaper and a gorgeous view of our front yard. I regularly see deer and other creatures look for food because we have an apple tree. This will all change this summer when we move to upstate New York, but for the moment, I am enjoying the wonderful space I have in our Connecticut house.

 

What kind of training do you do to keep your superpowers in world saving form? How do you insure they are used only for good?

I am always learning. My mind is a sponge and I gobble up books on everything including productivity, writing craft, and technological topics. I probably read as much non-fiction as fiction. As far as making sure my powers are only used for good, I do my best to seriously consider the consequences of my actions on others. I know better than to respond online out of anger. I know better than to tear someone apart and slap a disclaimer of “but it’s just my opinion” or calling it constructive criticism. Words are powerful. I handle mine carefully like weapons of mass destruction.

 

Granted, you probably don’t’ get to wear your superhero costume a lot, but if you did, what would it look like?

Charcoal gray slacks with a turquoise, asymmetrical or cowl neckline sweater, and my neon Adidas sneakers. I look fabulous in those colors and have the footwear to run down my children, hit the grocery store, or tap my toes to writing music in my office.

 

What is your kryptonite? What are the biggest challenges faced with in your writing?

My kryptonite is loving the publishing and marketing processes just as much as writing. I LOVE designing websites and making graphics. It’s playtime to me. I love making spreadsheets and looking at data for trends. I love dreaming up new stories and writing outlines for them. Pretty much, I love every bit of my job and that makes it tough sometimes to keep a balance on time allotted to each task. If I don’t force myself somedays to do writing first, I completely miss my word count for the day.

 

What was the supervillian that threatened to stop your latest project and how did you vanquish it?

I pretend I have little monkeys in my head, all different parts of my personality. There’s one monkey in particular who is a kill joy, she’s always running her mouth about how what I’m doing is pastiche or pathetic. I thwart this super villain by never thinking success is how well a book is received. Success is finishing projects. As long as I focus on completing everything I start, I cannot possibly fail. Failure is unfinished. Period.

 

What important lessons have you learned along the way?

I’ve learned to delay my need for instant gratification. Coming from writing articles, a work day would look like this: research a few hours, write three articles, edit them the following day. Writing novellas and novels, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. It is difficult for me to set aside that desire for immediate completion. This is why I change up my word counts so that one day 3,000 is a win, another day 5,000 is a win. It keeps my little “want a pat on the back nooooow” monkey happy.

I’ve also learned you will never make every reader happy. And that’s okay. Some authors take their low star reviews personally. I never do. Someone didn’t like the book, that’s okay. I hate Faulkner, doesn’t mean his books shouldn’t be out there for others who appreciate his work. As long as I am working as hard as I can, I let any negative comments roll off my back. I write day in and day out to fill the reading needs of the readers who like my stories. I never get it twisted and think for one moment that opportunity is a misfortune.

 

What have been the best/most memorable experiences along the way?

I think my favorite moment is hearing a chapter I wrote evoked a similar response in a reader. Writing A Summer Shame, I bawled at the end. Tears were pouring down my face and hitting my fingers on the keyboard as I typed the last few scenes. When the chapter went up on the forums, many said they cried, too. That was definitely a memorable moment. It’s a weird connection despite time and space of people coming together. That’s the powerful physics of humanity. 🙂

Another memorable moment happened with my first book. My super stepson has always been an amazing supporter of my writing. Because I used to fly with him a few times a year for custody to be exercised, he watched as I would explain that I was a writer when I met people and hand them a business card. One of the first times he flew to us unaccompanied minor, he was so proud to tell me that he had sat next to a man on the plane and talked about my book and he told the man what it was about and that I always give free copies. That in itself was impressive, as kiddo was only eight years old. When he pulled the man’s business card out of his pocket to give it to me so I could email his friend from the plane, I was floored. I couldn’t believe a child still memorizing his times tables already had the business acumen of an adult!

My youngest is already taking a keen interest in my writing and likes to tell me I need to write more books so we can have more money and go see the princesses at Disneyworld. She’s five. I am proud that my writing career allows me to show and teach my children business basics, whether they become businessmen and women or not.

 

If you did this again what would you do differently and what would you not change?

Early on I made some mistakes trying to keep up with the Jones’ of authors and didn’t recognize I was not at their level, yet. The easiest way to make money with a business is to control your expenses. Make them as small as possible. Once you get to where you are writing and publishing multiple books per year and seeing regular royalties come in, then you can start purchasing services and technology to make life easier. I was one of those early authors that feel a little too deeply into the myth of spend money to make money.

It’s normal to fall a bit into the mythological ideas of being a writer instead of the reality. The reality is that it’s hard work, and you’re always working on your next project because there’s months between when you write a piece and when it will go for sale and then months again before those royalties hit your bank account. If you don’t keep producing, then your paycheck dries up very quickly. If I could back to me in 2011, I would have said don’t fall into working for authors, but keep writing. Instead, I took three years off.

 

What is the best (writing or otherwise) advice you have ever gotten and why.

Put the characters in a tree. Throw rocks at them. Now get them down.

The only thing that keeps me as reader in a book is drama. Conflict. The words can be grammatically perfect, but if there’s no conflict, I’m putting the book down. Conversely, I can read a typo-laden book with serious story to tell and I’m riveted. I’m not saying authors should put out material that is not polished, I’m just saying don’t only focus on the polish. Throw rocks. Big ones. Boulders even. 🙂

 

Tell us about you new book and why we need to drop everything and get it now.

My biggest series is the Seasons of Serendipity. Inspired by the pure addiction I have to the BBC’s Downton Abbey, I outlined years of story for the Bennet sisters on a variation of Mr. Bennet dying. There’s scandal, intrigue, romance, drama, and even some comedic relief. The format are novellas, one for each season, that resolve just one piece of the puzzle while presenting a few more, much like an hour long episode of a TV drama. It’s not for all readers, but if you are interested in the sheer delight of enjoying a story one episode at a time, or devouring a whole year’s worth in one setting (the first year is bundled), this is the JAFF for you.

 

What’s in store for you in the future? Do you have any other big projects on the horizon?

My goal is to become one of the most prolific Jane Austen variation authors out there. I can’t be the best, because that’s subjective. But I can work hard and write all of the stories in my notebooks that I’ve accumulated during the three years I didn’t write and have one of the largest catalogs of books out there. If I do that, I will consider myself a success.

 

  

    You can find Elizabeth at:

Facebook~Twitter @eawwrites

 

 

2 comments

    • Joy Dawn King on May 31, 2015 at 10:12 am
    • Reply

    Personally I have benefitted so much from the lessons you have learned. I thank you for sharing. It has saved me much heartache and frustration. Terrific interview.

  1. Working with you has been one of the best decisions ever. Your ability to inspire and motivate others comes naturally and you never quit, even when things get hard. I admire and respect you for your warrior attitude that doesn’t overpower others, and for the compassion you display to others off screen. Rock on my friend!

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