Interview with Novelist Wilburta Arrowood
1. Tell us about your books.
I have two novels out: For the Love of a Child, which is a story of anger, bitterness, revenge and redemption. It is a novel, however, the story contains the plan of salvation and many have found it a useful tool to reach folks who will not accept a bible study but will “read a good book.”
The second novel is For the Love of Money, a sequel to For the Love of a Child, and deals with a man trying to support his family via gambling. Many Christians get sucked into that vortex and I pray this story gives them some hope of getting back to God and his grace.
I also write short stories for Christian Woman magazine and other magazines now and then.
2. How long have you been writing?
I wrote in grade school, but I became “serious” about my writing about 25 years ago. I began researching “how to” write and joined a local writer’s group to learn the basics of commercial writing.
What led you to fiction?
One of the first things I learned was, “Write what you enjoy reading.” I love good fiction, and at the time I started writing seriously, there was very little Christian fiction available. I wanted to help fill that void, since I knew many other women were seeking clean inspirational stories as well.
My weakness is grammar. I try hard, but sometimes my Arkansas hillbilly background just jumps right onto the page. My strengths are my deep faith in God and a lifetime study of his word to give me the direction I need to write my stories.
4. Where do you get your ideas and characters?
Most writers get this question frequently, and it is very difficult to answer. Ideas come from life–everything around us. I get ideas at the mall, in my living room when my kids make a remark, from the newscasts and newspapers, and frequently even from sermons. A good story requires conflict and life is full of that. We just have to recognize what is strong enough to carry the length of a book and what is not. A brother and sister fussing over who gets the biggest piece of cake is conflict, but not enough to fill a book. If one murders the other over that piece of cake, that IS enough to carry throughout a whole book.
5. What does the act of writing mean to you? Do you read books on writing?
Writing is a great release for me. My husband and I fostered abused children for many years and I built up a lot of anger over their treatment. Writing helped me let that go and to be more compassionate. Yes, I have a huge library of how-to books, although in retrospect I think just writing and being receptive to the input from a knowledgeable critique group (not your mom) is frequently even more valuable than all those books.
6. Did you have storytellers when you were growing up that influenced you?
My dad was a great storyteller. Although, I never truly realized that until well after he died. We just viewed him as one of the “good old boys” who gathered at “the liar’s table” at the local restaurant now and then to swap tall tales. My brother took up that particular quirk as well, and still swaps tales there.
Were you an avid reader as a child?
Yes I read voraciously. Many nights I hid a book under my blankets with a flashlight well after I had been sent to bed. I could “go” anywhere and “see” anything through the pages of a book.
7. Describe your editing process.
I write in long hand because I am not particularly dexterous on the computer and my fingers move much too slow. I just write, fast and long. When I have additional thoughts I may put those in the margins or on the back of the prior page in my spiral bound notebook , and I add arrows to show where to insert them when I start typing. When I go to the computer I begin to edit for clarity, grammar, and continuity. I tend to write really long run-on sentences, and I have “pet words” like “that,” and “well.”I have to clean most of those out, since repeated words tend to bore a reader. Fortunately computers have copy and paste capability and I use them frequently to rearrange scenes and chapters to add conflict or suspense. When I have that done, I reread looking for technical problems such as point of view issues, conflicting character quirks, etc. I also try to make sure each scene has an ending hook to pull the reader into the next scene.
8. Do you outline your books or let the story go where it wishes?
Yes and yes. I start with a basic outline and a few “big” turning points noted. Then as the story progresses and the characters develop through the story, I sometimes “go with the flow,” as long as it is in the direction of the ending I have in mind. Sometimes that works really well and at other times I end up trashing those scenes. Someone said you have to write a million words before you are ready to be published. I consider those scenes part of my million words, and even after publication, we have to keep honing our skills.
9. Do you write biographies of your characters?
Again, yes and no. I do not start with a biography, although in my mind I have a basic idea of what each character is like. As I write and add a characteristic or unique quality, I do make a note of that in a file on my computer. For example, I may not know what color hair my heroine has until I write the scene where that is revealed. When the hero brushes her raven black curls off her wounded forehead, I add raven black curls to her profile. I want to remember not to mention her having straight red hair later. When she goes to the store in her 10 year old lime green Ford Fiesta I add that to her profile. When she tells about the day her brother died, I will add that. I do not start off with all those things listed before I start writing. I only list characteristics on a “need to know” basis, but I do note them so I don’t forget when it comes up again 100 pages later. Before I learned to do this, I once had a black Labrador suddenly become a red Irish Setter in a short story! I make such a profile list for each character as they develop on the page.
10. Where do you see publishing going in the digital age?
I think e-books are here to stay. However, I don’t think we will see paper books disappear in the near future. Publishing houses are finding it very difficult to afford the production costs of paper books, particularly when they have to absorb the cost of so many returns from the bookstores. The economy is tough and many houses will fold under that pressure, but those who survive will have perfected their production and marketing and the public should benefit from that.
11. What lessons have you learned as a published writer?
Tenacity! It took me 20 years to find a “fit” for my books, since I wrote to a very tiny unique market. That made finding a publisher much more difficult than normal, and even under the broadest market umbrella only the cream rises to the top. Don’t quit your day job, but don’t quit writing either. 😉