Every Wednesday, I feature a writer and his/her workspace. My aim is to get to know fellow writers better through their workspace and writing habits, and have them share some of their writing wisdom here.
Today, I am most eager to welcome Cindy Vallar, author of THE SCOTTISH THISTLE, a historical novel.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you do for a living? What genre do you love to write? What are some of your hobbies or interests? Do you have a hidden talent?
Author Cindy Vallar
Thank you for having me visit The Writing Nut. It’s great to be here.
I’m a novelist, columnist, reviewer, and freelance editor. I also teach online workshops and speak at conferences, meetings, and festivals.
I write historical novels intertwined with love stories, such as The Scottish Thistle. I’ve also written two short stories. “Odin’s Stone” is historical romance, while “Rumble the Dragon” is historical fantasy. I also write two non-fiction columns. “The Red Pencil” appears in Historical Novels Review and shows how authors turn an early draft of their novels into the finished version that you read. My second column, which can be found at http://www.cindyvallar.com/pirates.html, is for Pirates and Privateers, a monthly publication that explores the history of maritime piracy from ancient times through the present.
Reading and doing jigsaw puzzles are my hobbies. I also collect Teddy bears and kachinas. My interests include the Spondylitis Association of America and going on driving vacations.
1. Where do you do most of your writing?
When I write, I usually do so in my office, which is a quiet place where I’m surrounded by artwork and souvenirs pertaining to my writing. They help inspire me.
I also spend time in my personal library, where I have a large collection of books and a place to read or do research and sketch out scenes for whatever novel I’m working on. When my husband and I moved to Texas, a room to house my library was essential. We both like to read, but I’m also a retired librarian so I needed a place for both my reference books and the books I read for pleasure.
2. Where did you get your desk? How did you go about arranging your work area?
My office desk is from the Ethan Allen British Classic collection, which allows me to spread out resources when I write.
Available space played a major role in how I laid out my office. I sit facing the wall because it helps me block out distractions, and my desk is situated near a window to provide extra light without causing a glare on the computer screen. I also have a side table for one of my printers and two file sorters where I keep the many different items that I regularly work on or consult. On the opposite wall from my desk are my filing cabinets, where I keep reference articles (kind of like an old-fashioned vertical file you might find in a library of yore) and other papers concerning the craft of writing.
Inspirational quotes, pirate-themed artwork, and writing cartoons decorate the walls. I also have a bulletin board where I pin keepsakes, such as the third-place ribbon I won for a dried flower arrangement at the state farm show in ninth grade or a small cross-stitch my mother did for me of a Highland cow, and a scene chart that outlines plot points for the current chapters I’m writing. This chart also includes historical events that need to be woven into the story. I also have a dryboard where I list books to be reviewed, writing and editing assignments, and article ideas.
Photographs of artifacts, people, and places that concern whatever story I’m currently working on decorate the doors.
3. What are some important things on your desk? Are there specific things you need to have around you as you work?
Aside from my computers, the two most important references I consult on a regular basis are kept on my desk: Roget’s International Thesaurus (which I’ve had since high school) and The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.
No, there aren’t specific things I need around me as I work, although the inspirational quotations that are most important to me are tacked above my computer so I can refer to them. One quote asks, “Since I don’t know the end of God’s story for me, how can I know if the things that are happening are good or bad?” This question helped me cope with the crippling pain I suffered for over a year before the doctors diagnosed that I had Ankylosing Spondylitis. It was a bleak period that tested my faith, my endurance, and my ability to write and walk. Medication helped me regain my life. My AS is remission, but it’s a chronic condition that my husband and I live with and deal with on a daily basis. I don’t know where the quotation comes from, but it always helps me look at problems in a more positive light and provides encouragement.
4. What do you love most about your workspace? Do you have any favorite objects on your desk, or things you use often?
What I love most about my workspace is the quiet and the fact that they are my areas where I can work undisturbed. When I write, the space allows me to stay focused and to transport myself back to whatever time period I’m working on.
I keep some of my favorite objects either on my filing cabinets and miniature furniture in my office, or on the table and bookcases in the library. In my office, these include Dumbo – my favorite Disney character – some Teddy bears I received from students and family over the years, and pirate memorabilia, such as Mr. Potato Head as a pirate. In the library you’ll find a wooden sailing ship and more stuffed animals.
My office also includes a family heirloom: the rifle my great-great-great-great-grandfather carried during the Civil War.
5. What’s your writing beverage? What do you love to drink while you’re writing?
My favorite writing beverage is tea, either hot or iced.
This is a picture of my husband and me on our 17th wedding anniversary. We’ve been married now for 35 years.
1. Who is your favorite author? Who inspired you to write?
I have a number of favorite authors, but the one at the top of the list would be Leon Uris. Many of his books can be found in my library among the books I consider keepers, and they’ve held that exalted status since I was in high school when I first discovered his books. One of my favorites is A Terrible Beauty, which tells the story of Ireland and is filled with photographs that his wife took.
I don’t recall if one specific person inspired me to write, although I recall writing creatively as far back as fourth grade. I wrote a lot of poetry and some descriptive scenes, but never really focused on writing a full-length novel until college. I was watching an episode of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, and in the introduction, Walt Disney talked about a gentleman pirate who helped General Andrew Jackson defend the United States against the British during the War of 1812. The pirate’s name was Jean Laffite, and he was a man cloaked in mystery. I’ve always enjoyed unsolved mysteries, so he intrigued me enough to spark a story idea that I worked on for awhile, then set aside when I began my career as a librarian and got married. Now, I’m working to complete that novel, which is entitled The Rebel and the Spy. I’ve got two more chapters to finish before I work on revisions prior to submitting it to my publisher.
2. What’s your typical day as a writer like? Do you have any writing-related rituals or quirks?
My average work day is from seven to eight hours, but can be as long as fourteen. Most mornings, I rise early and read several chapters in the books in my to-be-reviewed pile. After breakfast, I like to work on my current novel-in-progress. If I’m teaching an online workshop, I also post lessons and respond to queries and assignments in the morning as well. In the afternoons, I check e-mails and work with editing clients or write my piracy article for the next month. If it’s close to when I update my website each month, this is also when I do that. Sometimes in the evenings, I’ll do research in my library.
I don’t really have any rituals or quirks, aside from drinking my tea. I like to work when it’s quiet, although there are times when I will play instrumental music. I may also change my desktop wallpaper to match whatever subject I’m currently working on or to make me smile. If I need to resolve a writing problem, I will often walk through my neighborhood and think about the characters, scene, or story idea that’s troubling me. Doing this really helped when I was creating Rumble, the young misfit in my short story “Rumble the Dragon” that appears in the pirate anthology A Tall Ship, a Star, and Plunder.
3. Do you write everyday? How many hours a day do you spend writing? What are some of your worst writing distractions? (You can provide a picture of this if you want—like if you have cats or games that distract you)
Yes, I try to write every day that I’m working. I often work on my novel four three or four hours. I learned long ago that it’s important to have down time, so I rarely work seven days a week unless I have a deadline looming.
My worst distractions are online jigsaw puzzles and computer games and, on occasion, interruptions from my husband who recently retired.
4. Why do you write?
Writing began as my way of doodling whenever I was bored in class or in meetings. (In fact, that was how the opening scene in The Scottish Thistle came about.) While working at a private school for severely challenged teens, I found writing a great way to relieve the stress inherent in such an environment. When my husband was transferred to the Midwest, I no longer had to work outside the home, so I decided to pursue writing as a full-time career. I love historical fiction and writing allows me to share that passion with others. So often our introduction to history is in boring classes, and whether I’m writing a novel or an article or teaching others about a particular topic, such as piracy, I want to show that history isn’t as dull as we thought.
5. Any writing tips or techniques or words of wisdom you want to share with us? How about a favorite writing quote?
Writing is a solitary occupation, but it can be fun and energizing – so if your dream is to be a writer, go after that dream. Learn all you can about the craft of writing, as well as the business side of writing. Find another writer or group of writers who will provide positive feedback about your stories to enable you to mature as a writer. Develop a hard shell or backbone, because not everyone will like what you write and you have to be able to shrug off that negativity and move forward. A good writer never stops learning or improving; you want to always strive to be the best writer possible.
My favorite writing quotation comes from Anton Chekov, because it’s a great reminder of the show-don’t-tell rule writers strive to follow.
Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of the light on the broken glass.
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