Connie Gotsch – Author Interview

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

My most recent book is my youth novel Belle’s Star, for 9-12 year olds.

Belle is a little mutt who is rescued from abusive owners by Darcy and her Auntie Ellen. They show Belle love, but since Belle has never met a nice human being, she isn’t sure she wants any part of the security they offer. With the help of Auntie Ellen’s pets, Misty the cat and Painter the dog; and Darcy’s other dog, Buster, Belle finally comes to a decision. The book is written from her point of view and tries to suggest that though we often have no control over things that others might do to us, we can control how we respond. Belle is based on a real dog and her rescue from abuse. She’s watching me right now from her comfy dog bed. Her name’s Kiri. A friend found her at a gas station and took her away from an abusive owner. She had too many pets, so she gave Kiri to me. Kiri was very shy but eventually became a wonderful pet. “Belle’s Star.” more or less follows that path with the addition of fictional human and animal characters. It grew out of using the Hero’s Journey as a plot outline.

Tell us something about yourself.

I have lived in Illinois, New Jersey, New York City and New York State, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Iowa, South Dakota and now New Mexico. I’ve lived the longest in New Mexico and it figures in my writing, as does the lovely Amish country of Pennsylvania. I am also an art photographer and I have a strong visual element in my writing. To me there is a strong relationship between word and image. Our alphabet descends from pictures, after all. I received my BFA in Radio TV from New York University, my Masters in Educational Media from NYU, and my doctorate in Educational Leadership and Administration emphasis media from Northern Illinois University. My writing has strong visual and auditory components. In my day job I’m the program director of full-service public radio station KSJE (ksje.com) in Farmington New Mexico.

What inspired you to write this book?

A second friend who loved animals suggested I write Kiri’s story, believing that abused kids might be able to relate to it. I began to experiment, and the experiment grew into “Belle’s Star,” which turned into a good animal story more than a therapy program, and can be enjoyed by all animal lovers. Since the dog narrates, the story resembles “Black Beauty,” “Charlotte’s Web,” “Watership Down,” and books like that. A retired school counselor wrote a downloadable parents guide to go with the book. Kids and adults can discuss bullying, animal welfare, how to treat others, and how to handle tough situations.

How did you publish this book? Why did you decide on that publisher?

I submitted to several traditional publishers and Artemesia Publishing in Albuquerque, New Mexico accepted the manuscript. They offered a good deal and I took it. They’re a small company and help with some of the marketing. I had two adult books with another publisher that did nothing for its authors. Oddly enough, they’re going out of business. Artemesia (apbooks.net) is doing just fine. When I sought a publisher for Belle, I looked for one that understood the importance of having a hand in the publicity along with the author. As a media person, I can tell you that a supportive publicist or publisher , coupled wit an author willing to do his/her part to sell books, can garner a lot of attention.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?

Like a lot of writers, I started writing as a kid and got a lot of gooey praise from Mama, but no real attention. I did indeed want to write. I tried and failed to win a place on the high school and college newspaper staff. I could never get anything into the literary magazines either. When I studied Radio TV, I did have two programs on a New York UHF channel and my professors in the media department liked my style, so I became a broadcaster. I attempted a novel in college and an editor threw it at my feet as drivel at a church coffee hour. Another editor’s wife wrote me a “lovely” note saying how brave I was to write a novel, but I was just too young to succeed. She suggested I toss the manuscript and forget it. One day when I had kids and was cleaning up spilled milk I’d laugh at whatever dreams I had as a silly romantic girl. When my relatives repeated this story to the delight of all all their friends, I stopped writing creative stuff and stuck to journalism. Somewhere in my 30s it dawned on me that though I may not have been ready to publish, the people who turned me down were very rude. With the help of a good friend, I began trying fiction again, and eventually became both a successful journalist and novelist. When Belle’s Star won a first place in the 2010 New Mexico Press Women’s Communication Contest, and received a Silver Mom’s Choice Award, and received a nomination for the 2009 New Mexico Book Award, I did two things: called my friend and told him thanks, and laughed as hard at those silly people as they laughed at me.

What do you believe is the hardest part of writing?

I don’t find any of it hard. The ability to put words together came naturally. Polishing the craft was a bit of a problem as illustrated in the above question. The friend who supported my later attempts at fiction was an actor and taught me to use voice, word choice, intonation, movement, expression, clothing, and setting to drive plot and develop character, as an actor would. That took some learning. Sometimes reediting something for the umpteenth time can be exasperating, but usually, I can sit down at 7 am on a weekend to write and look up at 9 pm and not even have noticed the day go by.

How do you do research for your books?

For “Belle’s Star,” I didn’t need research. For the sequel “Belle’s Trial,” she become an agility dog, so I went to agility trials and talked to people. They let me run the course in practice with their dogs. I talked to judges and 4-Hes who were doing dog agility. A vet tech who did agility with her dog read the manuscript. For my adult novel “Snap Me a Future,” I just asked a few people questions. It’s about a reporter/photographer, so the subject is familiar.

Did you learn anything from writing this book? What?

From Belle I learned to stretch my imagination. Dogs respond to the world in terms of smells and sounds. So I had to decide what love smelled like, and fear, and anger. I had to figure out how they would perceive a month a day, night, and day, etc. I had to come up with expressions they might use — “holy bones,,” “rabid cats, ” ” rotten meat.” etc. It was fun. For my adult novel “Snap Me a Future,” I learned how to write description into the action of the story. For my first novel. “A Mouth Full of Shell,” I had to learn to compress time. That story was autobiographical and I had to learn to compress incidents that often took a couple of years to develop into the space of a novel. This entailed choosing details that were important and ignoring extraneous stuff, emphasizing things that perhaps seemed less important when they happened. and so forth. A critique group helped here because if I pulled out a detail that should have remained, they became confused or didn’t believe in the story. If I left things in that weren’t important, they told me to tighten.

What are you reading now?

I am reading “Sacred Violence” by Dr. Jill N, Claster. This is a history of the Crusades.

What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors?

I like historical novels, cozy mysteries, Southwest Literature, and history. My favorite authors are Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Twain, O/ Henry. Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost, and Thomas Hardy.

I’m drawn to the directness of their styles. All were journalists I believe, and journalists learn to pack the information into column inches. Twain had a wonderful sense of humor until life crushed him. O Henry hung onto his optimism until life battered it out of him. I love Rudolfo Anaya. He writes directly as well. Laura Ingalls Wilder has a nice clear style. I turn to these people when I’m bogged down in some writing problem. They straighten me around.

Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?

The sequel to “Belle’s Star”, “belle’s Trial,” is with my editor. I’m gathering information on a third book for the series. Belle grows in the sequel. I don’t want to say what she does because that will give the first one away. A sequel to “Snap Me a Future,” “Art Effects,” is on an editor’s desk for consideration.

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

Probably I’d say find critics who will be honest but avoid people who are cruel. Once you find good critique partners, try their advice. Save the original draft of your work and monkey with what they tell out. If something works use it. If it doesn’t reject it, but try it first, unless it’s something totally off the wall. With computers, that’s easy. As far as publishing, unless yu can get an agent, don’t bother with the big New York houses. They’ll send your manuscript right back with a ‘Dear Author We have read your novel with interest but’ letter, if they even respond. Midsized and small houses are the happening places. Be careful doing print on demand. Book stores have a thing about them, because they used to be non returnable, and they used to be equated with vanity press. Find somebody who will help promote. Even a little help is extremely useful. If you self publish, you’d better have time to go to lots of signings and give lots of speeches, or have a friend who loves to do publicity for free.

What are you doing to promote your latest book?

I’m doing radio, TV and newspaper interviews, signings, and talks. I’m also using Twitter and Facebook. I have a radio show called “Write On Four Corners,” and a blog that goes with it and I put my books in my blog signature. I also put them in my program opening. I send releases to friends. My email has my books listed.

Where can readers learn more about you and your book?

conniegotsch.blogspot.com is my blog for Write on Four Corners. You can learn lots about literature of the Southwest there.

KSJE.com is the web site for the radio station where I work. You can click now playing and hear jazz or classical music, depending on the time and the day. My show Roving with the Arts is on from 8 until noon Monday through Friday Write on Four Corners airs Wed. 10:30 am Mountain Time and Fri. 2:30 Mountain Time. You can look at KSJE’s Archives at ksje.com mp3podcasts and then Write On Four Corners.

apbooks.net is the site for Belle’s Star and Artemesia Publishing You can order Belle through book stores. Artifacts Gallery and Andrea Kristina’s carry it in Farmington, New Mexico. You can get it on Amazon.

Snap Me a Future is still available at Amazon. com. The publisher is going out of business and I hope to rehome it soon.

I’m on Facebook and Twitter. Just search Connie Gotsch