Sunday, July 25, 2010

Editor/Author, Barbara Warren Interview

Please join me in welcoming, author and professional editor Barbara Warren. Barbara worked with me on two of my first books. She was brutally honest, which I very much appreciated, and very inspiring. Not only is Barbara a fantastic editor, she’s also an author. Her most recent contract is with Avalon. Welcome, Barbara. Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to join us today.

[Anne] Barbara, will you tell us the name of your editorial services and how long you’ve been in business?

[Barbara] It’s called Blue Mountain Editorial Service. I’ve been doing edits for over twenty years, but I just started charging for them the past twelve years. I have a reputation for being tough, but that’s because I want to help the writer turn out the best book possible. I can only help if I’m honest.

[Anne] How did you get into the editing business?

[Barbara] I belonged to a writer’s group and we critiqued each other’s work. The other members kept telling me I needed to open a business, so when I retired from managing a deli for a grocery chain I decided to take their advice. I’ve never been sorry, because I’ve met a lot of wonderful people like Anne and I’ve had the privilege of helping them make their work the best the two of us can make it.

[Anne] I know for me, the hardest thing I’ve had trouble with as a budding author is a passive voice. What are some other things you find when working with new authors that may be keeping them from being published.

[Barbara] well, passive voice is a big one. It’s the difference between holding the reader at arm’s length or pulling her or him into the story. Which is the most interesting—Anne was tired of Harry’s lies and she lost her temper, or: Anne stared at Harry’s back. It was just one lie after another with this guy. She grabbed his arm, jerking him around to face her. “You tell me the truth. Did you or did you not pry open that cash box?”

The difference is that in active voice you turn your character loose and let her come alive on the page

Also, the problems the characters face must be realistic and something that can change their lives forever. If the problems can be solved if everyone just sits down and talks about it, you don’t have a problem.

Your story is:

What does your main character want?

What keeps her from getting what she wants? (conflict and villain)

How far will she go to get what she wants?

Answer those questions and you have a story.

[Anne] In preparing for this interview, I went back and read some of your emails to me (yes I kept them all- they still inspire me) and you pointed out a major mistake to me. I started the story in the wrong place. Can you give us some examples of mistakes that other authors you’ve worked with have made when starting their book?

[Barbara] Never start with back-story. You want to start with your main character doing something, preferable dealing with a problem of some kind. It doesn’t have to be your main problem, but something that can lead into the main problem. Keep back-story to a minimum. Don’t throw in large chunks of something that happened in the past. Get your story on the road and keep it moving forward. Your story starts when you introduce the reader to your main character and problem. Anything before that is just so much waste words. And yes, I know your favorite reader may start with a dream or back-story and wander around for several pages before getting down to business. That favorite writer may have a track record and a fan base and her books may sell just because her name is on them (Mary Higgins Clark, etc) If you don’t have that track record or even if you do, it’s still better to play by the rules and get your reader involved in the story as quickly as possible.

Also don’t stat with a dream. Your story doesn’t start until the reader is introduced to the main character and the main problem. A dream or a chunk of back-story delays the start of your story.

Don’t start with a minor character. The reader will identify with the first character he meets. So start with the main character. It’s his or her story. And don’t go wandering down side roads. Stick with your story. Save that minor character’s story for a second book.

[Anne] One of the books you suggested to me to improve my writing is Don’t Murder Your Mystery. Can you recommend some other books that have been helpful in your journey to publication?

[Barbara] There are a lot of good books that are very helpful. I particularly like No More Rejections by Alice Orr, Immediate Fiction by Jerry Cleaver, The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass, How to Write A Damn Good Mystery by James Frey, and Mystery writing in a Nutshell by John McAleer and Andre McAller. I recently placed 14th in the Writer’s Short Short Story Contest and won a $50.00 gift certificate for books. One I chose, Give Them What They Want is the best book I’ve read for preparing proposals, queries, cover letters and synopsis. It also has some good writing tips. I’m sure you all have your favorites too.

[Anne] How important is it for a writer to be part of a critique group?

[Barbara] That depends on the group. Our group is very helpful, we critique each other, but we’re friendly and careful not to insist our way is right or try to hurt anyone. I’ve heard of groups where one or more members seem to delight in ripping others work apart in the most hateful and hurtful way. A group like that will do more harm than good. But if you have a group of writers dedicated to helping each other then you have a real blessing. My group hits me hard on my writing but they do it in a loving way and I appreciate them so much. One thing I might point out. We have an unwritten rule that while we will critique almost anything, we do not discuss controversial subjects like politics and religion. People feel very strongly about these subjects, and arguments between members can destroy the group. We’ve only had to enforce this once, but it’s a good rule to have. And I make it sure to all of my clients that I only make suggestions. I will not change your work in any way. I’ll suggest ways you could change it, but it will always remain your story. A good editor or critique partner will not try to rewrite your book.

[Anne] You’re an author and you have a successful editorial business, do you have a strict schedule you adhere too?

[Barbara] I wish. Life has a way of getting in the way. I try to put in at least four or five hours editing six days a week, and work on my own writing in the house at night on my Alpha Smart. My office is separate from the house. Actually it’s in my mother-in-law’s old chicken house. It’s covered with tin roofing and has a concrete floor. It’s not one or these modern monstrosities, just a one room building with space for my computer and books. It’s not pretty, but it’s mine and I love it. I’ve been known to go back to the office at night and work until bedtime if I’m on a deadline and running late or if I’ve not had time to work that day. Like the rest of you, I set a schedule and then do the best I can.

[Anne] Now, let’s talk about your books. Tell us about the one you just contracted to Avalon. Do you have a release date yet? Will you tell us a little about it?

[Barbara] The first book The Gathering Storm is a Christian mystery set in the Ozarks, where I live. It was published by a small publisher, Jireh Publishing, which has since gone out of business. The second one has been contracted by Avalon. This is not a Christian publisher, but their books are clean with no sex and no swear words. I’ve taught Sunday School in my church and taught kids on Wednesday night for many years. I don’t want anything out there with my name on it that will damage my work in the church. No book is worth that. It’s titled Murder At The Painted Lady. I don’t have a release date yet, but the revisions have been accepted and I’m in the cycle as they call it. It’s a 60,000 thousand-word mystery set in the Ozarks in a town based on Eureka Springs Arkansas. The main character inherits one of the Victorian Painted Ladies, (a Victorian mansion, painted in three colors, a basic color and two accent colors) and a host of problems come with it.

If your church takes Open Windows, the Baptist devotional magazine, I also have five devotions in there this quarter.

[Anne] That’s great news, Barbara! I look forward to reading it. Are you a plotter or a pantster?

[Barbara] I’m a plotter. Since I’m one of those people who start packing a couple of weeks in advance when I go on a trip, I want to know where I’m going with my books. I always know the ending before I start. I might not always know how I’m going to get there, but I know where I’m going. I plot the first half and write that, then I know where I want to go with the last half, so I plot that.

[Anne] What has been the most rewarding thing to happen in your writing or editing journey?

[Barbara] This is going to sound odd, I suppose, but the pastor used to call all the children down to the front of the church and I would do an object lesson with them. I wrote those all down, and printed them out and bound them into a few copies of books. They are still being used in my church today. They’ll probably never be published, but a lot of children have learned from them.

And in the editing business, the most rewarding thing is when I rip someone’s work apart and they thank me for helping them. I have the privilege of seeing them develop as writers, and know that I’ve had a part in it. That always makes me feel good.

[Anne] What do you like to do in your free time?

[Barbara] My what? Okay, I’ll bite, what’s free time? :-).

Well, I like to read. My bookshelves are loaded with both fiction and nonfiction and I’m working my way through them. Also, I like to write. If I go for a few days without writing something, I get cranky.

[Anne] If you could go anywhere in the world on vacation, where would you go?

[Barbara] I’ve backpacked the Grand Canyon three times, and I’d love to go back there and two years ago my sister and brother-in-law took their family to Dauphin Island for a week. They had planned this trip for years, and they asked me to go along. I loved the beach. I could sit for hours watching the waves roll in. And I logged quite a few miles just beach walking. So since I’m probably too out of shape to hike the Canyon again, I’d vote for the beach.

[Anne] Do you have any advice for any aspiring authors out there?

[Barbara] Keep writing. And save everything you write, you may need it someday. Don’t get discouraged by rejection slips. I have enough of those to paper a wall. Read everything you can find about writing, and keep learning your craft. Don’t compare yourself to other writers and don’t measure your success by what they accomplish. Write what you like to read. I read mystery and suspense. I can’t write romances. I’ve tried and it’s just not what I write. I admire the ones who can. So I read mysteries, analyze my favorite books to see how the writer handled description, suspense, etc. and I that’s what I write. Don’t try to write for the latest fad. It may have ended before you get the book finished. Write what you have a passion for.

[Anne] Okay, last question I promise. Where can we find you on the web?

[Barbara] My website is

And you can always email me at if you have questions or just want to talk about writing. I’m always glad to hear from fellow writers. And I want to thank you for the privilege of being here today and talking about writing. It’s one of my favorite subjects. We writers have a special gift. It doesn’t matter if we’re ever published or get paid for our work or not. If we put words on paper, we are writers, and some of the best writing we do may very well be something we did for free, just because we wanted to write it, or because it might help someone else. Remember there are more quitters in this business than failures, so hang in there, keep writing, and never let go of your dreams.

[Anne] Awesome advice, Barbara!  Thank you so much for joining us today. I want to congratulate you again on your latest contract. And I want to thank you again for all your help and inspiration. YOU’RE A WONDERFUL LADY AND AN AWESOME EDITOR! Be sure to keep me updated on your new book. I’d love for you to come back and tell us all about it.

[Barbara] I’d like that too. Thanks again for having me and I wish each one of you all the best both in your lives and with your writing.


Gina said...

Hi Anne and Hello, Barbara!
What a fantastic posting, so informative and filled with great tips and advice from a wonderful person and fantastic editor. Barbara, it is so nice to learn more about you. It was such a pleasure when you edited my very first published book, "The Perfect Proposal." My dream was in your hands, and you polished it and let it fly. I'll always be grateful to you & wish you the best! Thank you again & thank you Anne.
Double big hugs,

Gail Pallotta said...

Hi Anne and Barbara,
I enjoyed the interview very much and can always use the tips. Barbara, your books sound very interesting. Best of luck with them.

Miss Mae said...

Hi Barbara,

It's nice to meet you again, and thanks for being such a wonderful guest at our chat last week!

I also agree, and adhere, to the point of not discussing religion and politics. Very touchy subjects, those!

The best to you, Barbara!

Anne Patrick said...

Regina, I didn't know you and Barbara had worked together before. That's awesome!

Hugs back at ya!

Anne Patrick said...

Hi Gail and Miss Mae,
Thank you both for dropping by.

The chat was fun. I'm looking forward to our next one.

Rebecca J Vickery said...

HI Barbara and Anne,
Enjoyed learning about you and your tips are priceless. I wish you lots of success with your coming release. Sounds like you have a very fulfilling life.

Danielle Thorne said...

Thanks for the great interview. I enjoyed getting to know more about Barbara.