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An Interview with Fantasy Author Gloria Oliver

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I recently had the chance to chat with Puerto Rican author Gloria Oliver. Her book, Willing Sacrifice, will be coming out soon by Zumaya Publications. Gloria talks about her new book, writer's block, book promotion, and offers advice on how to find the right publisher.

Why don’t you start by telling us a bit about your latest book, Willing Sacrifice, and what inspired you to write such a story?

Willing Sacrifice subtly covers a number of topics. It’s a book about stubbornness, trust, truth, and learning about oneself. Hah, makes it sound brainy doesn’t it? Not! Lol. Mainly it’s about La’tiera, a young woman who has been sheltered all her life, and who has come of age believing her existence is but for one purpose. Yet everything is not as she’s always believed. But can she come to see the truth before it is too late?

How would you describe your creative process while writing this novel? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline? How long did it take you to write it?

Normally I start out with some idea that I’ve been batting around in my subconscious for a while. Once I’ve latched on to the characters and what the main theme is, normally with some pivotal scenes already laid out in my head, I usually start at the beginning and keep writing till the end. Willing Sacrifice followed this format.

Not all of my works do, however. I’ve come to find that each work tends to dictate how it wants to be followed through on. Sometimes stories just seem to have minds of their own and want to dictate the method they will be written in. I try to be as flexible to their needs as possible.

Willing Sacrifice took about a year to finish the first draft.

Technically speaking, what was the most difficult part of writing this novel?

Finding information on gypsy wagons! No, really! I had no idea how they worked, so had to go out and about and find information. Something easier said than done.

Another area of trouble, caught by my beta reader, was that since La’tiera was so isolated, it was hard to acquaint the reader with the world she was so staunchly trying to protect. This made the chapters from Dal’s point of view a necessity, and really helped give more dimensions to the work.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? What seems to work for unleashing your creativity?

Yes and no. There are times when I can be working on a manuscript and it feels like I am pulling teeth to move on to the next chapter. It’s frustrating because it makes the work take longer than say, when the muse is on fire. Normally I run somewhere in between. My current project, Jewel of the Gods, started out fast and brisk, but then slowed way down on the creativity department. (Basically I know where I want to go, but am having a hard time with how to get there.) It is one of those stories where I’ve had to do pieces of an outline to give myself goals to work toward. On the other hand, the muse showed up out of nowhere and demanded I do some “Supernatural” fanfiction throwing everything else out. The only way to get any peace was to cave in and write the thing for the muse had no intention on helping with anything else.

For me, the easiest way to bypass getting writer’s block is to always try to have something I am working on and to do so at set times as well as consistently. I believe creativity is a muscle. And like all muscles, the more you exercise it, the more you can get from it. So as long as I can keep it working, even if it is just doing edits, I can keep it fit and productive.

Describe a regular day in your life.

Ooo, something to bore you with! Cool! A typical day is getting up at 5:30am, feeding the cats, showering, getting dressed, grabbing breakfast then spend the next hour answering emails/posting weekly blog entries/marketing/promo until it’s time to go to work. I get there about 20 minutes early, so I relax by reading until eight o’clock. Then it’s work work work, unless I get very lucky and it’s a slow day and I can sneak in a little writing. Otherwise writing has to wait till lunch. I have a laptop (though I used to use notebooks for first draft, but that was years ago) so I am enabled to write while I eat!

After lunch, I work some more, then go home. (Sneaking in some more writing if possible – normally toward the end of the month. The first half is usually swamped with work.) At home, I cook dinner and then spend time with the family.

On weekends, I will do some editing, maybe some writing, and at least a few hours doing random marketing things like making bookmarks, sample CD’s, updating the website, whatever needs doing. Sometimes it feels like the marketing takes more of my time than the writing itself! Oi!

How was your experience in looking for a publisher? What words of advice would you offer those novice authors who are in search of one?

This is a very tricky question. Every year there is more and more competition out there and the major markets have become less and less friendly. Way back, in my total cluessness, I had assumed writing something unusual would be the way to get in. I couldn’t have been more wrong. A lot of the major publishers are now run by their marketing departments and they are mostly looking for the tried and true, regardless of what the public actually wants.

Most major publishers will either no longer accept unsolicited or unagented manuscripts, or their slush piles are so huge the manuscript will sit there for two years before it ever gets looked at if that soon!

Since most of them do not allow simultaneous submissions, this meant one to two years down the drain for each publisher the manuscript was sent to. I tried the agent route, but they went out of business after 9/11. In the end, what worked for me was going to a small press. They wanted fresh material, were more than happy with new writers, and still ran the business just like the big boys, except on a smaller scale.

Yet today, even small publishers are getting overrun.

The best advice I can give is for those interested to find out what their local Fantasy/Science Fiction/Literary conventions are and attend as many panels as possible. A lot of these events will have agents, editors, authors, and you can find out what’s going on and what is working for whom straight from the horse’s mouth. If you are not shy, you can build networks, which will help your work be seen. If you are shy, you will still learn invaluable information and find out of places to look up info on to send submissions.

How do you set about promoting your novel? How many hours a week do you spend on book promotion?

I am not one of your more pushy promoters and I still spend a horribly large amount of time on promotion/marketing. Most authors, regardless of the size and the type of publisher, are now on their own with regards to marketing. So for your book to make or break it, will be heavily up to you.

I use a number of methods to promote. The most important is my website. Here I can publish news, sample chapters, new book info, my appearance schedule, interviews, purchase info – basically anything and everything about me and my works.

I probably spend anywhere from four to eight hours a week on promotion/marketing efforts. I also lose entire weekends, as I got to conventions to push my promo material, do panels, and push my books.

Items I use for promotion are bookmarks, sample CD’s, table toppers to grab passerby interest, postcards, and pens. Online I occasionally buy adds on websites, belong to Books We Love, another author marketing group or two, do a weekly blog, am a member of several lists, send out a monthly newsletter, and belong to writer organizations such as EPIC and Broad Universe.

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?

Absolutely! Website is gloriaoliver.com. Main blog place is gloriaoliver.blogspot.com, also have an LJ location at gloria-oliver.livejournal.com, My Space at myspace.com/gloriaoliver and pages at several other places. (Too many! Too many!) books.dreambook.com/gloriaoliver/main.sign.html You can use this one if you’d like to sign up for the newsletter.

Do you have another novel on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?

Just a few weeks ago, Zumaya Publications signed a contract for my latest finished novel, The Price of Mercy. It is another Fantasy novel, but the setting is more akin to the 1500’s Europe. The tale concerns a young man who is drafted into service for the Emperor after being falsely accused of treason. As one of the elite, he is magically altered and tied to the crown. The book is about how Jarrin deals with becoming one of the Twelve, and also his quest to find out the truth about the false accusation, which put him into his predicament in the first place.

The actual work in progress of the moment is Jewel of the Gods. I need to be a good author worker and get back to that one post haste!

Thanks to all of you for putting up with my ramblins!

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About Mayra Calvani

Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults and has authored over a dozen books, some of which have won awards. Her stories, reviews, interviews and articles have appeared on numerous publications such as The Writer, Writer’s Journal, Multicultural Review, and Bloomsbury Review, among many others. Represented by Serendipity Literary.