Jeanne MacGregor Lahn [jeannelahn]
What did you first read? How did you begin to write? Who were the first to read what you wrote?
I grew up reading early and voraciously and began writing on my own shortly afterward. My maternal grandmother had a BA in Journalism and my mother was a poet. Their encouragement and early influences made it a natural part of my life. I kept a journal and had my first poem published at around age 11. I began writing longer fiction in my early thirties.
What is your favorite genre? Can you provide a link to a site where we can read some of your work or learn something about it?
My first loves are poetry and historical fiction, but I also enjoy other genres such as horror, sci-fi, paranormal, romance, mystery and non-fiction just to name a few. It really depends on my mood at the time of either reading or writing, my personal interest and the skill of the writer to engage me. I enjoy writing poetry as an emotional sorting out process and to satisfy my love of words as a medium of self-expression. i enjoy writing historical fiction to satisfy my love of research and history and to tell compelling stories that time has passed over. My first novel, Toward the Horizon, can be found at amazon.com or bluewaterpress.com and my writing website is: google.com/site/jeannesbooknook/ I also have shared some of my poetry on poetrywithmeaning.com
What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
My writing process is very organic, but in a linear style of construction. By that, I mean that I start at the beginning and work toward a foreseen conclusion chapter by chapter. I try not to spend too much time on editing at first, but just keep the forward momentum and then edit, edit and re-edit the finished product. I don't normally use anything but a rough outline to begin with and it starts with a general urge to examine something I am interested in. I don't piece chapters together after random creation, although I know many writers find that works well for them. I do have many unexpected journeys down side tracks and stories within a story, or characters that grow and entwine themselves into my work as the imaginative sap flows and that is the very organic part of it. Many of these pieces end up in the final cut, but some die off during the process and their eventual outcome can be very surprising, even to me.
What type of reading inspires you to write?
Any and all good work inspires me. I can be inspired by something as simple as a photo or a gravestone, or something as complex as an epic series of novels. I often find myself examining the work of others even as I enjoy it for recreation. I believe a good writer must also be a prolific reader.
What do you think are the basic ingredients of a story?
An interesting character or characters, a conflict(s) or event and a goal or goals. With those basic ingredients you can fashion nearly any type of story.
What voice do you find most to your liking: first person or third person?
First person is more common in my poetry than my fiction. My first novel is third person from multiple main character perspectives. Historical fiction tends to seem more real from the third person narrative.
What well known writers do you admire most?
In Historical Fiction that would be: Anna Lee Waldo, Diana Gabaldon and Deanna Raybourn. In other genres I enjoy: Anne Rice, Stephen King, Jean Auel, Ernest Hemingway, Poe, Plath, and many others not so well known.
What is required for a character to be believable? How do you create yours?
That is the million dollar question and it can be different for everyone. Personally, I need to be able to feel an emotion toward them and to be able to visualize them. I have found myself writing several different kinds of characters: Those that belong in the story for historical accuracy and already possess some known characteristics, those that need to be in the story to propel the plot and must be shaped entirely by me, and those rare and magical ones that just appear and have a firm voice and a specific place that they insist on filling within the story. Those characters are often the strongest and most surprising of them all.
Are you equally good at telling stories orally?
No! I definitely am clearer and less prone to nervousness, stammering or otherwise mis-speaking myself on paper. I don't even like to read my poems to an audience, as I tend to mess up my own written rhythms and intended cadence.
Deep down inside, who do you write for?
The reader! My deepest joy comes from a reader understanding something I was trying to say and enjoying my work. Then I feel successful in my efforts. It is very satisfying to put an idea into words that communicates your idea to someone else.
Is writing a form of personal therapy? Are internal conflicts a creative force?
Oh, definitely! I have saved a ton of money on psychologists by writing my thoughts out in one form or another. I write some of my best work when I am struggling with something internally or externally. It is my way of sorting through the confusion and the din of my thoughts and a productive use for my energy. As a person with chronic physical illnesses, it is a wonderful outlet for my excess energy. I often experience insomnia and very vivid nightmares and creative expression helps in that area also. In fact, when I am in a non-productive phase I experience an increase in insomnia and nightmares that is often only relieved by writing.
Does reader feed-back help you?
Definitely! Even when it is harsh criticism, it gives you information from a reader's perspective, which ultimately is the only perspective that matters. I like to know what worked and what didn't, so that I can see how to change things for the better.
Do you participate in competitions? Have you received any awards?
I have entered some poetry competitions over the years, but really not very many. I find them kind of discouraging in that there are always many entries in every category and you cannot know what that season's judges' personal style preferences are and you really have to choose the right work at the right moment and be both talented and lucky at the same time. Also, you usually have a stiff entrance fee and not much to entice you as far as prizes. No awards for me, to date.
Do you share rough drafts of your writings with someone whose opinion you trust?
Yes, always. I try to get as many people as are willing to proof read for me and lend not only their editorial eye, but their critical eye to the work. You can never underestimate the assistance this gives you in polishing your work. Other people will find errors or a lack of clarity in places that you cannot see, since you have the image in your head, and they are only able to put images together from what you write. Having friends or a writer's group that will take the time to do this is an invaluable tool.
Do you believe you have already found "your voice" or is that something one is always searching for?
I think I found my voice for each work so far, but I also think that your voice can change depending on the project. It also improves over time and with practice.
What discipline do you impose on yourself regarding schedules, goals, etc.?
This is my most difficult struggle. I try to keep a pace of at least a few pages a day and during inactive periods, to at least read a few pages of someone else's work or to research an interesting topic I want to explore each day. When I was deep into my first novel I averaged 4-8 pages a day, but would have a few days in between of less than that or more than that. That felt like a good pace for me, personally.
What do you surround yourself with in your work area in order to help your concentrate?
As little distraction as possible! A computer, a comfortable chair, my research notes, pen and paper for notations, a dictionary and thesaurus, and a window to look out of when I need to stop and think or just see the sun. A nearby kitchen and bathroom are pretty necessary too, or I won't take the time to stop as often as I should when I really get going. That's about it.
Do you write on a computer? Do you print frequently? Do you correct on paper? What is your process?
It is a funny phenomenon, but I have to write poetry longhand on paper, and I write fiction only on a computer where I can type and correct quickly. I suppose it goes back to the age I started to write more in each genre and how I learned to express myself then. I have learned by harsh experience to save my work to disc often and I always print my work out to correct it, or have someone else proofread it. I make corrections the old fashioned way, with a red pen, and then go back into the hard copy to make the final corrections there.
What sites do you frequent on-line to share experiences or information?
I have been all over the internet, since before it was called the internet and the sites are many and ever changing. It is often a random google search that leads me down a specific road. For poetry, I do like poetrywithmeaning.com for their feedback community and their efforts to keep your shared work reasonably safe from copyright infringements.
What has been your experience with publishers?
Mostly rejections, like most new authors. It can range from no reply at all to your queries, to generic "thanks, but no thanks" notes, to kind and detailed replies filled with suggestions for later submission. When you start shopping your work out, you need to brace yourself for all of the inevitable rejections and just keep trying. I probably had 150 plus rejections by the time I finally got a real book contract offer. I did not want to go the self-publishing route, but I know there are others that have enjoyed moderate success with it. However, having a small publisher has many of the disadvantages of self publishing when it comes to marketing and promotion budgets or the lack thereof.
What are you working on now?
The sequel to Toward the Horizon, and also a non-fiction novel about my second life with horses. I also have a few other ideas that I am playing with, but I'm not sure if they will flesh out or not. I am always writing more poetry and I suspect I always will be. It would be nice if that art form got more commercial respect, but for now I continue writing it, despite the market.
What do you recommend I do with all those things I wrote years ago but have never been able to bring myself to show anyone?
At least pull them out and read them from time to time, and never be tempted to throw them out! My mother threw out a large quantity of her early work during a time of self criticism and greatly regretted it. I learned a lesson from that. Sometimes, you will surprise yourself by rediscovering something that should not have been cast aside, or maybe its time has finally come around. If nothing else, it will usually remind you to keep writing and what you loved about the process when you first started.
Jeanne MacGregor Lahn
NW Wisconsin, USA