Friday, August 2, 2013

Finding Your Way to Great Characters--An Interview with Three-Time Novelist Jay Gilbertson

  Jay Gilbertson says he began dabbling in the mysterious world of novel-writing while running his hair salon in NE Minneapolis.  Though a voracious reader, he noticed that he had a large client base of single, beautiful, successful women who were not looking for a companion.
     They were content being single and many had forged strong relationships with their friends who really were family.  Jay felt there was not enough in the literary world that supported this and set about to create a series.  
Full Moon Over Madeline Island, though easily enjoyed as a stand-alone novel, is the third in his series.
  And yes, he says, there will be more.   

Last week Jay was interviewed in the Huffington Post, and he also joined me this week on Madeline Island, for our week-long book-writing retreat.  Here are some insights on how he brings his quirky characters to the page.  
What was the most fun you had writing this book? What was one of the big obstacles you faced?

The fun began when I hit my stride and found my voice, which took a while. The series is written in first person and so it hopefully snaps and crackles with life. My narrator, Eve Moss, is such a live wire. She's slightly overweight, wears a tad too much makeup and can swear like nobody's business. I love her dearly as she clomps through her days, trying to find her place in this crazy maze we call life.
An obstacle--and there have been many--was how to keep the story-line interesting, fresh, free-flowing and leave the reader wanting more. What I did was to introduce new characters in each subsequent book. I also left tons of loose ends so that I could pick one up in the next book and explore it further.
 For example, in this latest installment, Eve is attracted to a man half her age and has to decide to consider this. Maybe she doesn't. At the end of this latest book, I bring in a wheel-chair bound character and make it pretty clear that she'll be coming into the next story. How many will I create? I feel 10 is a good number to shoot for. One must dream.

How did the characters come to you?

Eve was the hardest to shape and form. I wanted her to be likeable, full of flaws and yet someone you might know. Once I had her down, the rest unfolded really smoothly. Her best gal-pal, Ruby Prevost, is a combination character of my mom and a British woman I knew in college. The rest of them came, literally, as I wrote.
I find that once I get into the 'flow' and allow my writing to happen, it's like I'm taking notes. Weird, but truly wonderful.

Any writing exercises or techniques you did to make the book come together better, or keep you going during writing or revision?

I honestly don't do any exercises to speak of, besides lifting weights and hopping on the treadmill. I read-a lot-and not all in my genre. In the beginning I always had a goal to get to. Book one was getting Eve moved to a new life on the island and all that it brought to her. Book two was the wedding of her birth daughter and the third was establishing Toad Hollow; a home for pregnant teenagers.
When I was with my publisher, Kensington, deadlines kept me going. Racing more like. My last novel was self-published and it was really great to be able to NOT have to rush my work. I'm very proud of it and feel it's my best.

Tell us about your writing routine. Where, when, how long, what kind of preparation if any.

Well-as I climb down from the tractor and take off my muddy gloves-in the summertime; I farm. My partner, Ken, and I produce America's first pumpkin seed oil (  I tend to do most of my writing in the winter. BUT, that's changed and now I try to write in the mornings all year 'round.
Routine. Hmmm. We have coffee together on the porch and talk about our day. Then we lift weights in our basement, enjoy a fruit/protein smoothie and head up to the second floor where we both have offices.
I review my storyboard, edit a few pages of writing I did the day before and then dig in.

What would you pass along to other novelists who are trying to start or finish a book?

Finish it! Honestly, the best advice I can send out to a would-be unpublished author, is to finish their manuscript. Also, don't read more than three 'how to' writing books. You'll just get frustrated. I think of writing like baking.
Being our family's bread maker, I relate writing to baking bread. You need to mix together angst, with a dash of hope and sprinkle in enough uncertainty to get your story bubbling. Then you should consider adding a dash of mystery; perhaps a mention of a ghost, some dead ends, a death or two, something to do with yellowed dentures in a fruit glass and BINGO!  
Oh, and you should have the protagonist wear sensible shoes.

Anything else you want to share with readers?

      Don't give up. Not ever. Everyone has a story to tell and your voice, your  choice of words, your particular viewpoint, is important.    
      It's the way you see your world that intrigues the reader. Enjoy writing workshops, sit in coffee shops and soak up all that humanity. We need your voice.
      Step up to the proverbial plate and tell us your secrets. C'mon!

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