This interview with Colleen M. Story kicks off a special year-long focus in that every author featured will be from Idaho. This idea came to me when I served as a judge for the Idaho Author Awards and Colleen recognized me from Twitter at the awards ceremony in Boise. I fall more in love with my home state every year, and this series of interviews is one way to bring readers a slice of what makes Idaho great. There’s a lot more to the state than famous potatoes!
Official Bio: Colleen M. Story has worked in the creative writing industry for over 20 years. Her novels include Loreena’s Gift, an Idaho Author Awards winner and Best Book Awards finalist, and Rise of the Sidenah, a North American Book Awards winner and New Apple Book Awards Official Selection. As a health writer, she’s authored thousands of articles for publications like Healthline and Women’s Health; worked with high-profile clients like Gerber Baby Products and Kellogg’s; and ghostwritten books on back pain, nutrition, and cancer recovery. She finds most rewarding her work as a motivational speaker and workshop leader, where she helps writers remove mental and emotional blocks and tap into their unique creative powers. She is the founder of Writing and Wellness, a motivational site for writers, and plans her first non-fiction book release in 2017. Find more at her website, or follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.
1. Please provide a brief synopsis of your most-recently released book.
Loreena’s Gift is about a blind young woman—Loreena Picket—who lives with her uncle, a reverend at a small-town church. She’s a dutiful niece and talented pianist for the congregation. But they’re both hiding a terrible secret. Loreena can kill people with the touch of her hand. While her uncle sees her as an angel of mercy, helping usher the terminally ill members of his flock into the afterlife, Loreena has her doubts. Torn between doing her uncle’s bidding and the allure of the fleeting moments when her eyesight returns on the journey to the other side, Loreena cooperates with her uncle until her troubled older brother returns to town. When she reveals her power by saving him from a local drug dealer, she is drawn into a sinister and dangerous world that will test the true nature of her talent and force her to consider how far she is willing to go to survive.
My publisher describes the book as crossing fantasy and literary fiction, and as “a thought-provoking meditation on life and death and what ultimately lies beyond this world.”
2. Tell us a little bit about what motivates or inspires your writing.
The writing bug didn’t bite me until I was in my late twenties. Up until then, I never once thought of becoming a writer. Looking back now, though, it makes sense. I was always daydreaming, and often preferred living in the worlds I created in my head to the real world. Riding my horse off into the wilderness, playing the piano and French horn, listening to music, reading, and drawing were my favorite pursuits.
When the idea to write came, it came like many things in my life—as a gentle but insistent whisper. I was walking through a Sears store and saw a word processor and suddenly had to have it. My fingers itched for the keys. I bought it and started writing the next day and I haven’t stopped. It was like I finally figured out what I was supposed to be doing. The experience was sort of weird, but it taught me to listen and to be open to intuitive nudges.
3. As an Idaho resident, what do you most enjoy about living here?
I love the Idaho country and the people who live here. The majestic Snake River flows only about two miles from my home. I’m surrounded by lush wheat and potato fields and a big, beautiful sky. I live only about an hour-and-a-half from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and the beautiful Grand Tetons, and only two hours from the entrance to West Yellowstone Park. Craters of the Moon, one of the most unusual and spectacular national parks, is also only about an hour-and-a-half away, and offers some fantastic hiking trails.
The people in this area are super friendly, and they’re also hearty and self-sufficient. Everyone smiles and chats with you, from the waitress to the mailman to the banker to the farmer next door, and they’ll be the first to offer a helping hand to someone down on his luck. I also love the wildlife. I regularly see all kinds of large birds, including eagles, hawks, trumpeter swans, and cranes, and enjoy moose, wolf, coyote, and deer sightings on my walks near my home. It’s a wonderful place to be a writer: safe but wild, cozy but raw, with just the right amount of peace and quiet.
4. Describe some highlights of Idaho’s literary community.
I have to admit that I’m more involved in my area’s music community than its literary one. The music and art community are both quite active here, and I find playing the French horn in a number of area music groups to be the perfect counterpoint to all the writing I do. The literary community on the other side of the state is much more robust and active, and having enjoyed meeting some great people there, I hope to participate more often.
5. What is the name of your blog and what can readers expect to find there?
I have two websites. The first is my author website and has all the information about my books and appearances, as well as the occasional personal story about life in general.
The second site is where I put most of my energies. Writing and Wellness is a motivational site for writers and other creatives. There, I focus on helping readers to avoid physical injuries, boost creativity, and manage difficult emotional challenges, like self-doubt and creative exhaustion. I’m really enjoying my work there and plan to continue to expand the brand and its offerings.
Writing and Wellness has grown significantly since I started it in 2014 (about 90,000 visitors a month now), and I attribute that to a growing number of key posts that readers find beneficial. I work hard to create helpful, unique information that gives readers what they need to improve their creative lives, and so far, that focus has helped make the blog successful.
6. What does your drafting and/or editing process entail?
I’m pretty disciplined in my approach to writing, at least as far as producing something on a regular basis. I find if I don’t set a daily time to get it done, it doesn’t happen. I actually keep a log on an Excel file and “clock in and clock out,” so to speak, along with recording my word count for the day. I like comparing the total output from year to year, as it helps to keep me accountable.
As for editing I perform a lot of it myself before I show it to anyone—usually numerous drafts. Earlier in my career, I did hire editors to help me improve my craft, and I found that experience to be very beneficial. Now that I’ve had a few books published, I’m more likely to do most of the editing myself, and then to work with my publisher’s editor on the final draft. It depends on the book, though. If I ever feel I need more editing before showing a manuscript to a publisher, I wouldn’t hesitate to hire an editor again.
7. Are you traditionally published or self-published?
I’m traditionally published so far. As a new writer, I wanted that outside validation from a publisher. I also didn’t trust myself that I would know when one of my stories was ready for publication. I know how long it takes to become proficient at a craft, whether it be playing a musical instrument or writing a story. I wasn’t experienced enough yet as a fiction writer to be able to evaluate my own work that way, so I waited until traditional publishers accepted my stories.
I think I’d like to continue that path with my novels, but I do plan to dive into self-publishing with a non-fiction book in 2017. I’ve gone through the process before with clients (as a ghostwriter), so I’m somewhat familiar with it, though of course it’s different when it’s your own work. I’m looking forward to the experience, and definitely plan to hire professionals for cover and interior design, editing, and proofreading.
8. Can you offer one or two helpful tips for fellow writers when it comes to marketing and publicity?
One of the things I’ve learned in marketing my novels is that book tours are useless unless you get reviews. Having a “book spotlight” on someone’s obscure website usually does nothing for sales. Reviews are critical in today’s market, so it’s best to either get the reviews yourself, or hire a book tour coordinator who will guarantee you a minimal number of reviews with your tour.
9. What future projects can we look forward to?
As I mentioned, I’m working on a non-fiction book for 2017—it will be in the same realm as the information I offer on Writing and Wellness—and I’m also working on a new novel entitled The Beached Ones.
10. Is there anything else you want your potential readers to know? What passions drive your life?
As I’ve mentioned, music is my other great passion, and I find that it compliments my writing well. As writers we need to listen for the rhythm and flow of the language, and my musical training helps with that. Plus playing with local groups gets me out of the house and into an entirely different form of artistic pursuit, one that is more social and active and has its own unique challenges.
In my interviews with other writers (many of which appear on Writing and Wellness), I’ve found that most of us use our creative muscles in a variety of ways. Some other writers are musicians as well, many are painters and crafters, and others are woodworkers, architects, gardeners, chefs, and more. The creative impulse underlies so many human activities, and the cool thing is that most of the time, it’s the power behind the good that we do. I’d go so far as to say that honoring the creativity inside us is the key to our personal and collective growth as human beings. That’s why I find it so rewarding to help writers honor that creative spark within them, and to nurture it well throughout their careers, because if we can do that, whether or not we experience success as writers, we will definitely become more fulfilled, inspired, and inspiring people.
You can connect with Colleen M. Story on her author website or on Writing and Wellness.
Is there anything else you’d like to know about Colleen M. Story?
Please share responsibly. Jeri Walker, 2017