Today we sit down with author, Ann Fields. She is going to tell us a bit about her writing journey, her work and her inspiration.
Please enjoy this edition of 20 Questions:
Q1) When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
Even though I wrote my first story when I was in middle school, I didn’t give much thought to being a writer until college. The Romance Writers of America (RWA) held a conference a few miles from the college I was attending and one of my sorority sisters went. She returned to campus very excited, telling us all about the conference. I remember muttering something like, “I want to do that.” But I secretly believed that being a writer was not a viable career option for black people even though I knew of Langston Hughes and Phyllis Wheatley. So years passed and in 1990 I bought a new car and was trying to figure out how to pay it off quickly. I considered taking a part-time job but that wasn’t appealing so I assessed my skills and decided that since I’d always been a decent writer, I would write a romance novel, sell it and pay off the car. Idealistic I know, but back then I had no idea how writing or publishing worked. Needless to say my plan did not unfold in so linear a fashion. I did write a romance novel, but it took four years to write and then another two years to sell/publish. By then, the car was paid off. But I credit that car (a Ford Probe which is now rusting in a junkyard somewhere) and my sorority sister’s excitement about the RWA conference with putting me on the potholed path to my life’s purpose.
Q2) How long does it typically take you to write a book?
I no longer write romances but when I wrote my last one, I was able to complete it in nine months. When I switched to paranormal/supernatural suspense, I had to learn how to write for a different genre so it ended up taking twelve years to write Fuller’s Curse. I started it in 2000 and it was published in 2013. I can’t afford to take that long on book two, Trémont’s Curse so I’ve given myself to the end of 2017, and thankfully I am on track. It would be nice to complete a full length book every two years; that’s the goal.
Q3) What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
I have a day job so my writing is confined to evenings and weekends. I try to log three to four hours an evening, Monday through Wednesday, and five hours on Saturdays and Sundays. Thursday evenings are reserved for my critique group meetings and Fridays are free so I can pretend that I have a life. With family, a full-time job, social commitments, faith responsibilities and membership in far too many organizations, it’s a struggle sometimes to maintain my writing schedule. But I’ve been known to take a day or two off (from my day job) when I feel I’m getting too far behind in my page count. And I have been known to ignore the pageantry of minor holidays by locking myself in my office to write. And finally there are the odd times when I wake up earlier than usual and use that free gift of time to write.
Q4) What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I have a ratty, pill-balled, scratchy black sweater that hangs on the back of my desk chair. I’ve had this sweater since book number three (I’m currently working on book twelve). Even though I don’t wear it every time I sit down to write, it’s a comfort to know it is there. It serves as my security blanket, my anchor.
Q5) How are your books published? (traditional, indie, etc.)
My first romance novel was published in 1996 by one of the major New York houses. I wrote and published five romances for that company before I switched genres. After I switched to paranormal/supernatural, I couldn’t find a publisher so that forced me to self-publish, which turned out to be a great career move. I finally had control over my book covers, edits and release dates. And since I was spending more money, time and effort on marketing my works than my previous publisher, I lost nothing there. The only thing I miss with traditional publishing is the publisher’s distribution network and their many sales channels.
Q6) Where do you get your ideas for your books?
Life! Life presents so many wonderful opportunities for storytelling. If one just keeps their eyes and ears open and mouth shut, stories will just flow to you. I have written stories about interesting people that I met or saw. Some ideas have come from dreams. Others from song lyrics, from being in unusual or new environments, from reading other writers’ works, from asking “what if,” from twisting original plots and from news stories. Like I said…life.
Q7) If you don’t mind sharing, when did you write your first book and how old were you?
I started my first book in 1990 and finished the final draft in 1994. I was in my twenties.
Q8) What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
More than writing, I love to read. If I could get paid to read, that would be heaven. When I’m not reading (or writing), I enjoy spending time with family and friends, and travel every chance I get.
Q9) What is your favorite book?
When I have precious time to read, I prefer fiction. But I have read so many great fiction books that I can’t narrow it to one favourite. It seems like whatever title I am reading at the time is my favourite. But I can tell you the last book that kept me up past my bedtime was Walter Mosley’s The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey. Loved it!
Q10) What do your family and friends think of your writing?
I am blessed to have a very supportive family and loving friends. They are proud of me and show up in force at book signings and literary events. They encourage me and they keep me on task by asking, “How’s that next book coming along?” This I appreciate because writing can be tough and it’s nice to know others are rooting for me.
Q11) What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
With my romance novels, I was not happy with any of my book covers. Since I was traditionally published, I had no say on the cover design. Absolutely none! So as an indie author, I was most anxious to dive into the book cover creation process. Boy, what a surprise! I quickly learned how challenging and frustrating that process can be. And it is made even more stressful because in fiction publishing, the book cover is the first step in the buying decision. Get that wrong and you’ve lost a potential reader. So there’s a lot of pressure to get it right. I didn’t appreciate that until I worked on my first book cover as an indie author.
Q12) What do you hate most about the writing process?
The rewriting, rewriting, rewriting. It takes about seven rewrites (I’ve counted!) before I arrive at a draft I am willing to share with my critique group. That amounts to approximately 20 hours just to write one scene of about five pages. But I also accept the fact that I am a slow writer so that eases the frustration…a bit.
Q13) How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
I am currently writing my twelfth book titled, Trémont’s Curse and I find that my favourite book is the one I’m working on at the moment (just like with reading; see question nine). I think that’s because of the magic embedded in the creation process. It’s fun to see how the characters evolve, how the plot comes together, how the setting and descriptions aid in story development. I just love how all the pieces meld by the time I reach the end. It’s always more than I imagined at the beginning, which is a real thrill.
Q14) Do you have any suggestions to help us become better writers? If so, what are they?
There are hundreds of craft books on how to write and how to approach writing. And they all contain nuggets of useful information. So the only suggestion I would dare put on the table is to link with a writers group and a critique group (many writers group have a built-in critique group). I actually participate in multiple writers groups and two critique groups. The writers groups meet monthly and I try to make every meeting. As for the critique groups: one meets monthly, the other weekly. I could not have made it this far without a writers or critique group. They are invaluable.
Q15) Do you get feedback from your readers much? How and what kinds of things do they say?
I really enjoy visiting book clubs and hearing their comments about my works. I also enjoy receiving face to face feedback at literary events. And my family and friends are not shy about sharing their thoughts. Another place where I receive a lot of feedback is online at various review sites like Goodreads. For the most part the feedback is positive. Readers have said: they were scared (paranormal); they loved the characters; they felt emotionally connected; the writing was poetic; the story visceral; the story was deceptively simple. On the constructive end, readers have said they weren’t emotionally invested in the story or the characters; the writing tried too hard to be literary; there were too many overstatements of details; the backstory came too late in the storytelling. These are all valid comments that tell me 1) I am blessed to get feedback (that means people are reading my works) and 2) readers are as diverse as writers.
Q16) What is your preferred reading audience?
I write paranormal/supernatural novels and short stories that feature spiritual beings. Other themes I’ve written about include: urban legends, cursed families, societal changes and current issues. I think the readers I prefer are like me. They like variety. They like to think and have their worldview challenged. They like unique themes and enjoy plots/characters that don’t fall neatly into categories. They read for entertainment but also appreciate having their emotions stroked. They, like me, prefer a solid ending but are also fine with using their own wits and imagination to close a story. Even though I am forced to slot my books into a category (paranormal/supernatural), I think my writings cut across multiple segments of literature. So in essence, I prefer a reading audience that approaches the reading experience with an open, willing mind and a ready spirit.
Q17) What do you think makes a good story?
A good story is one that stays with the reader long after the end. It is peopled with exceptional characters, filled with unusual plot twists, contains a concept that is unique, snags the reader with descriptive scenes and phrasing, is well written, contains emotional depth, is a smooth read and keeps the reader engaged with craftily orchestrated conflict and suspense. A good story is a treasure.
Q18) As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
I can remember lying on my grandmother’s porch one summer during my elementary school years, looking at the black sky and bright stars saying, “I want to be a lawyer” and in the next breath saying, “I want to be an entrepreneur.” Fast forward many years and life took care of erasing what was not to be—lawyer. I did not pass the law school entrance exams, and thus began my search for entrepreneurship, which after many years of searching landed me squarely in the literary field as an indie author. I love it! Who knew back then on that hot, dark night my wish would turn out so beautifully?!
Q19) Where can we find your books?
Online at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, and other ebook retailers. Also, brick and mortar stores can order the book through Ingram and have it in stock in a matter of days.
Q20) Will you give us an excerpt from one of your favorite works?
The First Beginning: The Curse
Malachi 2: 2 (NRSV)
…if you will not lay it to heart to give glory to my name, says the Lord of hosts, then I will send the curse on you; indeed I have already cursed them…
Lying is easy. It’s the Truth that’ll wear you down.
If living had taught her nothing else in ninety-some-odd years, Mattie Fuller had at least learned that fact. And as sure as those billowy, gray clouds were rolling in from the northwest to pay a visit with much needed rain, she knew that soon—and very soon—she would have another opportunity to lie. To whom? She didn’t know. The exact time? She didn’t know that, either. But soon.
“Gone now. Git down,” she scolded the mutts that were jumping, licking and nipping at her hands, bringing her round from the surety of the unknown to the here and now.
Mostly strays that were here tonight but might have moved on by morning, they wanted water and the crushed, mutilated meat by-products in the open cans of Alpo. Mattie gave them what they begged for…and extra. A generous compensation for the lies and denials she would have to feed the prying visitors when they showed up to plague her. With empty cans left scattered in the yard—Governor would pick them up, he always did—Mattie slowly shuffled across the rock-hard dirt, eyes cast downward, searching the veins of the earth for a beginning and an end. Learning nothing from the dust, she climbed the steps of her back porch.
Lowering herself into her Mama’s old rocking chair, her gray-rimmed, black eyes lifted to focus on the white Holy Bible with gold embossed lettering that was lying on a straight-back chair on the back porch. It wasn’t the color-infused pictures of Jesus Christ and his disciples or the maps of the ancient lands or the lyrical words of scripture that drew Mattie to it, but rather the secret concealed inside the covers of The Good Book. Inside those razor-induced slits were onionskin papers, some with her left-handed scrawl, and they contained the Truth of her family.
Her old eyes searched carefully around the backyard and beyond to the trees and woods and outlying structures that surrounded her family’s home before reaching for the Bible and withdrawing the papers of Truth. Mattie unfolded and smoothed one sheet of the fragile document in her flower-print lap. As it always did, one name leaped off the page. That name, more than the others, twisted her heart, wringing a groan of agony out of her. It was the only name that made the paper of Truth a lie. Willie shouldn’t be on the paper. His name should only be engraved on a headstone, not this flimsy paper weighted down with pain.
Big brother Willie, eighty years dead along with the rest of the family, had just stirred to life in Mattie’s memory. The rooster had crowed only minutes before, Mama had breakfast sizzling on the stove, and Daddy was already in the woods checking the pine tree harvest.
Helen, older than Willie, saw them coming first. Pitch-black, high-yellow, red-boned, damn-near white, honey-tan and velvet-brown in color. On foot, in carriages, on horses, and in wagons they came, crowding their big front yard. Family members all sharing the same blood, all seeking to absolve the hatred in their eyes, the fear in their hearts.
Helen had yelled and screamed, pulling the kids and Mama from their morning chores. Six of the seven residents of the house—Mama and five children, ranging in age from fourteen to three—crowded the front porch. Daddy was missing. Maybe if Daddy had been there Willie would have lived another day. Maybe not.
“Another death last night,” said the leader, Uncle Jess. “We know it’s your boy.”
None of the six on the porch had to guess which of the three boys he meant. All eyes were fixed on Willie. Mischievous Willie, who used to pull Mattie’s hair with one hand while giving her candy and fruit with the other. No one knew what to make of Willie’s confusing ways.
“We’re ending this right now, Aldana. Right now, it stops.”
Mama pushed Willie behind her, trying to protect him from the hatred and ignorance that crowded her front yard. But Mama was a little woman and the rest just kids. What could they do to stop an intense mob—women, men, children, teenagers, all blood relatives—that pressed forward? Some held sticks, some knives, some pitchforks, some axes. All had ugly expressions on their faces.
Mama tried to reason with all that ugliness. “If he were the one, what you aim to do won’t help. Only I can stop it.”
“Hand him over.” Uncle Jess stepped menacingly forward. They weren’t willing to listen to common sense or family knowledge. They were too far gone; too filled with hate, fear and blood lust. “Don’t make this hard.”
Mama leaned down low and whispered something to Willie. But Uncle Jess must have heard it too, because as soon as Willie took off running around the side of the house, Uncle Jess and the family were right behind him. By the time the five on the porch made it to the backyard, the family had already disfigured Willie so badly, he was unrecognizable. Helen stood closest to the back porch, holding her ears, rocking, sobbing, screaming. Mattie bent low, toddling between the legs of the many aunts, uncles, and cousins who had changed her diaper, given her birthday presents, and passed her from one lap to the other in church.
Mama screamed and tried to stop the final blow of Uncle Jess’s ax as it landed hard in Willie’s chest, but hatred outwrestled a mother’s love. Another Uncle locked Mama in his arms while Uncle Jess carved the heart from Willie’s body and lifted it high for all to see. It was a deep burgundy red—not black, like they had imagined.
Hatred seeped out of the air like the sun evaporating moisture. Slowly, blindly, the dazed crowd stumbled to the front of the house. Anywhere but the place of their mistake. Confusion and disbelief clouded their faces. Regret rested on some of them, but for most, it was disbelief.
The family’s loud bloodletting cries must have reached Daddy in the woods because he appeared as the last family member rounded the corner of the house. Daddy didn’t need an explanation. The heart lying by the mutilated body of his first-born son was explanation enough. He fell to his knees, hands stretched wide, his chest heaving in and out, doing what it could to hold in his anger, the need for revenge, the pain. Willie had been thirteen years old and he was now dead for no reason other than desperation and fear.
And so, the family lived on. The curse lived on. But Willie was gone forever and his story… it was hushed up and eventually, it died too.
After a while, her parents had seemed to understand. She and her siblings had not. But eventually, Mattie understood—after she was given custody of the Bible and the Truth. She didn’t have a choice but to understand, to accept, to protect; to do her duty to her family.
Mattie stared at the paper, wiping tears from her ancient eyes. With her crooked finger as a guide, she compared her memory to the names. Stopping at the last entry, she wondered if her unknown visitors would bring the end for her. Lord knows she prayed every day for deliverance. She was tired, heavy-hearted, and ready to leave the harshness of this family secret. Mattie was ready to be with Mama, Daddy, Helen, Willie, Floyd and Johnny in Heaven.
But Mattie’s purpose was not yet complete. More names to scratch on the paper; Lord knows how many more deaths before she could rest.
About Ann Fields:
Ann Fields began her writing career in the romance genre. She published four romance novels and one novella under the pen name of Anna Larence before she encountered her first ghost. That one brush with the supernatural shifted her focus from love and happily ever after to love and life in the here and after. In her novel, Fuller’s Curse and her short stories featured in Voices from the Block (Volumes I & II), The Writer’s Block, and Lyrical Darkness, she explores life in all its many dimensions. She can be reached online at www.annfields.com, https://twitter.com/ann_fields and www.facebook.com/AnnFieldsAuthor.
Find Ann’s Books: