Today, I'm very excited to introduce to you a talented writer and an all-around great lady, Marsha Ward, founder of The American Night Writers Association. Marsha, you've got some great news to share, don’t you?
MARSHA: For a while now, everyone has been asking me if my books are on Kindle. They mean, of course, "Are they available as electronic books for the Kindle ereader at Amazon.com?" While I have had the first two eBooks of my series available on Smashwords.com in the mobi format—which is the Kindle format—for about 18 months, I didn't have the three novels on Amazon as eBooks. Well, now I do! I also finally uploaded the third one, Trail of Storms, to Smashwords, so users of other ereading devices can acquire it, as well as The Man from Shenandoah and Ride to Raton.
In addition, I've created and uploaded three other works to both Smashwords and Amazon. One is a short story and poetry collection, No More Strangers. The other two are stand-alone short stories, War Party and The Usual Game.
RACHEL: That is exciting! I’ve read one of your books and it was a Wester.n Are they all Westerns?
MARSHA: Yes and no. I have a long background in writing for other genres, ranging from poetry to newspaper and magazine articles, to essays. However, there's something about historical fiction that really vibrates in my soul. I grew up listening to Patsy Cline on the radio, and hearing my daddy talking about his life on farms in Mexico and southern Arizona. They dug wells by hand; excavated great holes for lakes with horse drawn scrapers; raised beans and other dry-land crops on the "Bean Ranch" in Sonoita, Arizona; and escaped to the mountains to avoid the heat of summer. My grandfather was a teamster (as in driving a team of horses, not a union man), and a great hand with horses and other animals.
RACHEL: Wow! What a life!
MARSHA: I always felt like I was born in the wrong century. Except for the very enjoyable modern conveniences that I have today, I feel an affinity for those hard times. I believe that's why I write about the 19th Century American family.
RACHEL: I understand completely! What was your pathway to publishing your first book, The Man from Shenandoah?
MARSHA: I began my "Great American Novel" in 1965, when my train to opera stardom took a detour and I had to give up my full-ride music scholarship and come home to help out financially. I created a huge Southern family, wrote what was, essentially, a twenty-chapter narrative outline, and lugged it around with me for the next 35 years or so. Then my interest in writing commercially got very keen when I read a truly badly-written book. "I can do better than that!" I exclaimed, and hauled out "The Book." I eliminated some children, found some juicy conflict, read 150 books for background, and worked on the novel for a while. I took classes in fiction writing, and started sending the novel out to editors as I wrote the sequel. I even had an agent for a year. I was getting some good rejection comments, but no offers. I decided a re-write was in order. Then life happened.
My daughter was killed in an auto accident. My creativity dried up. It didn't come back, oddly enough, until my husband died. He was my biggest supporter, and I'm eternally grateful to him for that.
Then life happened again, and during a health crisis, I determined to leave published works behind me after I died, even if I had to publish them myself. I polished up The Man from Shenandoah and Ride to Raton. Because I didn't want to start a publishing company, I chose to use the cheapest services available from iUniverse, and get feedback from writers and readers I knew. When The Man from Shenandoah appeared, I hand-sold a bunch of copies, and lo and behold, other readers liked it! Several months later, I brought out Ride to Raton. Trail of Storms took a while to write, but was published in 2009. I'm working on the fourth novel about members of the Owen family, Spinster's Folly.
RACHEL: A lot of people ask me this: Why do you write? How would you answer that?
MARSHA: According to my older sister, I wrote from the time I could hold a pencil. I believe her. There's never been a time that I didn't have some kind of story to tell.
My characters are real people to me, and I've driven them up some high, rough trees and put crocodiles at the bases, with sharp, snapping teeth. I have to get my people out of danger and give them satisfying conclusions.
I had an epiphany several years ago when I realized that I write to let people know there is always hope, and to show them through the experiences of fictional characters that they can get through hard times, even really, really terrible times, and find happiness at the end of it all.
One of the hallmarks of my fiction is fast-paced adventure peopled with believable characters. Readers tell me when they're forced to put my book down, they worry about my characters until they can read about them again. If I can take people out of their own worrisome lives enough to be concerned about fictional folks and see them through to a satisfying ending, then I've done the job of relieving some of their day-to-day stress. Isn't that what books are for?
RACHEL: Definitely! Are you a plotter or pantser?
MARSHA: Definitely a seat-of-the-pants writer. I start with a character and a situation, and let the writing take me on an adventure. I guess you could call me an organic writer.
RACHEL: What’s your secret to making the characters in your books come to life?
MARSHA: I get to know them very well. I have a sheet of questions I fill in about them, and I also interview them. Then I don't overwrite them with too much description. I let their actions define them, instead. That way, the reader invests the characters with their own unique qualities and peculiarities, and they come alive in the reader's mind.
RACHEL: What other authors inspire you or have influenced you?
MARSHA: Louis L'Amour, Elmer Kelton, Robert Newton Peck, Frank Roderus, G. Clifton Wisler, who died too young. Maybe I write from the male perspective so well because I've had great examples?
RACHEL: Have you tried or plan to write in any other genres?
MARSHA: I might try my hand at a mystery someday. I have an outline in a box somewhere. Unfortunately, I'm not very organized, so it will be tough.
RACHEL: What has been the biggest obstacle to your writing career?
MARSHA: Sadly, over-volunteering. Although I get a lot accomplished each day, so much of my time is spent working for organizations, and not for my career. Service has been a great joy to me, but I've come to realize that I tend to overdo, to my detriment. I need better balance. I think over-volunteering is a part of A & P Syndrome: Avoidance and procrastination, which are big bug-a-boos for writers. I am now trying to cut back so I can finish the writing before I am called to meet my maker. I anticipate that won't be for many, many years, but times' a-wasting, as they say.
RACHEL: Do you have self-doubts, even after publishing several books and many articles? If so, what do you do about it?
MARSHA: ACK! Yes! I think many writers walk a fine-line between good mental health and insanity. We're up, we're down. We're either the best writer in all time, or we can't write our way out of a paper bag. Usually this occurs from one minute to another. The only cure is to talk to other writers and realize you're not alone in this emotional upheaval. Once you know other writers have the same feelings, you can level out for a while. It's like chanting a mantra. Ooooooommmmm, I'm not aloooooooone. I'm normal for a writer. Yes, I am! That will work for a day or so.
RACHEL: You've mentored a lot of writers through the years. What's the best advice you can give a writer just starting out?
MARSHA: Believe in yourself, but learn all you can about writing, too. No first drafts are set in stone. Don't hang around negative people. Write at least 25 words a day. Listen to people to learn the flow of language. Find a good, encouraging group of writers who will show you the ropes. Read, read, read! When you start writing in earnest, find a good critique group. Reach down and help another writer along the way. Is that enough?
RACHEL: Do you need absolute quiet to write? Do you listen to music when you are writing?
MARSHA: Right now, I'm listening to the music of my dryer drum turning. I don't need absolute quiet, but since I'm very easily distracted, music with lyrics is a no-no. I use instrumental music to get me in the proper mood for certain scenes that could be hard to write. Exceptions to the no-lyrics rule? Neil Diamond and "Sweet Caroline." That will put me in the mood.
RACHEL: What is your next project?
MARSHA: I'm writing Marie Owen's book, Spinster's Folly. It's coming along very well. I put snippets up on "The Characters in Marsha's Head" blog from time to time, if you want to know more. That's found at http://charactersinmarshahead.blogspot.com. [rushing over to write something fresh]
RACHEL: Where can readers find your books, both trade paperbacks and eBooks?
MARSHA: All the online booksellers, such as amazon.com and bn.com, have the trade paperback books. The easiest way to find all my online eBooks is to go to my author pages at Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/marshaward and at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Marsha-Ward/e/B003RB9P9Q/
RACHEL: Thank you thank for being my guest today. It was great hearing more about you and I look forward to reading your newest book!
MARSHA: It was my pleasure. Thank you for having me.
Visit Marsha's website at http://marshaward.com
Writer in the Pines blog at http://marshaward.blogspot.com
The Characters in Marsha's Head blog at http://charactersinmarshashead.blogspot.com.
Marsha Ward was born in the sleepy little town of Phoenix, Arizona, (back when Phoenix WAS a sleepy little town) , and although she spent two years in South America, she never roamed far from the Southwest. She grew up with chickens, citrus trees, and lots of room to roam. She became a storyteller at an early age, regaling her neighborhood friends with her fanciful tales during after-school snacks. Her love of the 19th Century Western era was reinforced by visits to her cousins on their ranch and listening to her father's stories of homesteading in Old Mexico and in the southern part of Arizona.
Over the years, Marsha became an award-winning poet, writer and editor, with over 900 pieces of published work, including her acclaimed post-American Civil War novel series The Owen Family Saga. She is the founder of American Night Writers Association, and a member of Western Writers of America, Women Writing the West, Rim Country Writers, and LDStorymakers. She makes her home in a tiny forest hamlet in Arizona. When she is not writing, she loves to spoil her grandchildren, travel, give talks, meet readers, and sign books. Visit her website at http://marshaward.com and her blogs, "Writer in the Pines" (http://marshaward.blogspot.com) and "The Characters in Marsha's Head" (http://charactersinmarshashead.blogspot.com).