I had the pleasure recently of being in a novel workshop led by Lori Roy, award winning author of two literary mysteries. Ms. Roy agreed to answer a few questions about the writing craft.
Lori Roy was born and raised in Kansas, is a graduate of Kansas State University and currently lives in Florida. Her debut novel, Bent Road (2011), was awarded the Edgar Allen Poe award for best first novel by an American author, named a 2011 New York Times notable crime book and it was nominated for the Book-of-the-Month Club first fiction award. Bent Road has been optioned for film by Cross Creek. Roy’s second novel, Until She Comes Home (2013), has been nominated for an Edgar for Best Novel and was named a New York Times Editors’ Choice. Her website can be found at www.loriroy.com.
Q: When did you know you wanted to write fiction and how long did it take before you realized you had the ability to do so successfully?
A: I first began to write fiction about fifteen years ago. I started slowly, reading great books on writing, attending a few conferences and writing every day. I gave myself targets, such as writing 750 words a day. My target these days is 1500 words per day. I would estimate that it has taken me about ten years to learn the craft and to develop the skills I need to write the type of fiction I want to write.
Q: You’ve stated that you don’t outline your stories. Do you do any planning before you start, such as doing location research or writing character bios?
A: I always start with setting and this means I also start with research. This research will include reading, visiting various locations, interviewing people who have lived or do live in the area about which I’m writing, and studying film and photographs. Additionally, because I tend to write about the past, I will find catalogs, newspapers, magazines, etc. from the era and study those as well. I don’t write character bios, though I wish that strategy worked for me. Instead, I will write several pages, sometimes a few hundred, in order to find the characters, their stories, and the plot.
Q: At what stage in the process do you share your drafts? How important is getting feedback while you’re working on a story?
A: When I first began writing, I worked with an online writing group and shared my writing regularly. This feedback was always useful. I would, in turn, offer feedback on the work of others in the group, and that was a terrific way to develop as a writer. I do have a couple of friends who I share my work with these days. I will generally not share it until I’ve neared the end of the process. This saves my friends from having to wade through poorly written early drafts.
Q: Some writers have no trouble coming up with story ideas. Is that the case for you, and if so, how do you decide which story idea to develop?
A: I don’t have trouble coming up with ideas, but I do have trouble coming up with ideas that I ‘m willing to spend a few years writing about. I am drawn to writing about those moments in my characters’ lives that will most define them. I often come up with ideas that are fun for a few days, but I quickly realize that they won’t hold my interest for very long.
Q: Now that you have two novels out and are working on a third, what advice would you give to people just starting out?
A: My advice is to focus on learning the craft. I always recommend writers try to find a good critique group. As we learn to critique others’ work in a constructive way, we become better able to analyze our own work. I think it’s important to learn and understand the rules of the craft before attempting to break those rules.