Author Interview: Laura L. Zimmerman

Would you tell us a little bit about yourself, Laura?
Absolutely! I’m an at home-mom of 3 girls–ages 14, 12 and 5. I homeschool the two oldest and spend the rest of my time writing. (Haha. That’s a joke for all those stay-at-home moms that have “lots of time” on their hands, right?) I’ve been married to my “Mr. Darcy” for 16 years–we met in YWAM where we both served the Lord for a few years. I love to write Middle Grade and Young Adult Fantasy and Sci-fi, and am excited to be a monthly contributor to the Almost An Author website for the Fantasy/Sci-fi column! I currently reside in AZ but grew up on the east coast in MD and PA.
When did you become interested in writing?
I’ve always loved to create stories! When I was little, I liked to make Fashion Plate drawings and then make up stories to go along with the pictures. I remember using my mom’s old typewriter and the frustration of making errors and having to use white out–then the excitement of getting to change over to a Word Processor in high school! Lol. Overall, stories have always been a big part of my life. It wasn’t until I was married with the convenience of a computer and time home with my babies that I found I wanted to start taking all those ideas I’d had over the years and actually try to write a book.
Do you have a special writing place?
Well, we moved a few months ago so I lost my official writing space–which happened to be in the spare bedroom/junk room! So now I store my writing desk in my bedroom. I had some back issues from sitting for so many hours, so my husband has insisted on ‘proper’ elevation of screen/keyboard/mouse. So it feels pretty official, anyway!😉
What books or authors have influenced your writing? In what way did they influence your writing?
I want my writing to be the best it can be, so I’m one to take plenty of notes at meetings or conferences, and to read books on improving my technical abilities. But then I notice I focus too much on technical stuff and can forget my ‘voice.’ I would say the writers that influence me most have very unique ‘voices’ that help remind me to stay true to my writing style, even if it might break a few rules here and there. Authors that come to mind are Ingrid Law–who has a fantastic Middle Grade voice!– and Tahereh Mafi–her poetic style of writing breaks from the norm but makes the deepest parts of my emotion scream ‘yes!’ I also enjoy Lauren DeStefano who has a more introspective style of writing, and Jennifer A. Nielsen with her amazing ability at weaving mystery throughout her novels that make my jaw drop!
Who are some of your favorite book characters and why are they favorites? Have they influenced the way you create your characters?
This is a tough one for me because I don’t want to sound cliche, but ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and ‘Pride and Prejudice’ are my favorite books for a reason! Scout has always held a special place in my heart. She was an innocent forced to grow up and face the harsh realities of the yuck in our world. The powerful emotions she experienced through each lesson she learned hit me hard–maybe because I was just a teenager when I first read it. And Elizabeth Bennet is the every girl that we all deny lies deep within. She’s that spirit that refuses to conform yet can’t get out of her own way to allow love to find her. As much as I like to think I’m balanced in my beliefs and that I never play the part of the hypocrite, I think Lizzie is a good reminder that we all make poor choices based on our individual filters, but that it’s never too late for forgiveness and reconciliation. I do think both of these characters influence the characters I create, although maybe in different ways, depending on the story!
Do you have a writing routine?
Again, before I moved I had a fantastic routine of writing first thing in the morning! But now my youngest daughter is in kindergarten and I have her at the bus stop during the time I would normally write. So, unfortunately, I don’t have a routine at the moment. I do have a goal of writing and editing each day, and shoot for about 2 hours total of a mixture of both. Some days are better than others! Lol!
Do you set writing goals for yourself? What kinds of goals and are they short or long term?
Yes!! I have daily, weekly, monthly and yearly goals! My personality thrives on meeting small goals along the way. I find when I have no ‘To Do’ list, nothing gets done. I love the sense of accomplishment that goes along with crossing off another item from my list! A daily goal might be as simple as “Tweet a line I wrote”. Long term goals usually involve the completion of a rough draft or a full edit of one of my manuscripts. For 2016 I’ve already written 2 brand new rough drafts and have a goal to complete 1 more, to give me a total of 3 brand new books I wrote this year!
Are you a member of any writing organizations or critique groups? 
Yes. In Pennsylvania I was active in the ACFW State and Local chapters, as well as Lancaster Christian Writers and Scribes Oasis. Since moving to Arizona, I’ve joined a small critique group one a week, and have begun to attend a library writer group twice a month. I’ve also connected with the ACFW Phoenix chapter here. I always have an eye out for new groups to join, since I am most encouraged just by being with other writers!🙂
Have you attended writers’ conferences? 
Yes, I’ve attended the LCW Super Saturday a few years in a row and was excited to attend the Write His Answer Conference in Philly and Keystone Conference, last year. With my move, I’ve sadly missed the conferences I wanted to attend this year. But hope to jump back in this winter/spring with some conferences out west!
What advice would you give to a new writer?
Good question! Well, first off, I would say never give up. I’m sure you’ve heard that time and again, but really, don’t ever walk away from your talents. God gave them to you for a reason and they can be used to glorify Him, even if your work isn’t published in the traditional way. Also, surround yourself with those you admire! If you want to be a writer, make friends with writers! Not only is it encouraging, it will help hone your talent and make you better at what you do!
Thank you, Kelly, for having me! I had a great time with this interview!!❀
Laura L. Zimmerman is a homeschooling mom to three daughters, and a doting wife to one husband. Besides writing, she is passionate about loving Jesus, singing, drinking coffee and anything Star Wars. You can connect with her through Facebook and Twitter @lauralzimm, and at her website, . Laura is represented by Cyle Young with Hartline Literary Agency.

Unblemished by Sara Ella: Can I Just Say “Wow”?

I received a complimentary copy of this book from BookLook Bloggers.

Unblemished by Sara Ella is a fantasy story about a young girl, Eilyana, in her seventeenth year of life. She has low self confidence due to a large red mark on her face and wishes she was invisible. However, there is a young man in her life that has been extremely kind and encouraging to her, and she is in love with him.

Tragedy strikes and Eliyana’s world begins to crumble. She runs out into the city at night, and that’s when she begins to see that her life isn’t exactly what she thought it was.

I am new to reading fantasy stories. I never really cared for them in the past, and Unblemished is one of two or three recent fantasy stories I have read.

Can I just say “wow”? This book is packed with so many things that make a great story. It has suspense, a couple of scenes are a little scary, and there is plenty of romance. I completely fell in love with a character named Ky. I was also frightened for Eliyana several times, but all of the romance in the story seemed so strong and sweet, and some of it came across as really pure.

Sara Ella did a fantastic job of creating characters that made me love and care for them, want to see them succeed, as well as some that made me hate them and want to see them destroyed, or at least defeated. There were a lot of characters and a lot of plot twists that moved the story along and kept me guessing at what was going to happen next. Ms. Ella certainly kept me riveted, to the point that I was always disappointed when I had to put the book down and wait to pick it up again the next day.

Unblemished certainly made me think about how easily we can become ensnared in things that are not for our good, or for anybody’s good, by the choices we make and in our actions. This is one of the rare books that continues to take up space in my mind as I continue to consider the characters and the things that happened to them, and that may yet happen to them.

Yes, Ms. Ella left an open ending, leaving me with lots of questions. This is the only thing I didn’t like about the story, although I will say, it wasn’t as much of a cliffhanger as some I’ve read. But I do so hope that she’s planning on writing another book to continue the lives of some of these characters.

If you are a fan of fantasy stories, I’m fairly certain you’ll enjoy this one.

Flash Fiction Friday:Dawson and the Pierian Guards

Dawson ducked back into the shadows. The sound of marching feet too close for safety. He had to hold himself back as he saw Princess Nala in the center of the Pierian guards. His information was correct, but how would he get past all of those guards?

He tore a button from his shirtsleeve and tossed it onto the tiled floor behind the right read guard. The guard turned, stepped back a few paces.

Come on, just a few more strides.

Yes, the guard moved, and Dawson grabbed him from behind, applying a sleeper hold. The guard’s body went limp in his arms. He pulled the guard into the shadows and did a quick clothing exchange. Then, he slipped the guard’s helmet over his head, grabbed the immobilizer that hung at the guard’s waist and took the laser rifle from the guard’s shoulder.

Dawson marched down the corridor and soon took up the position of right rear guard. The left rear guard turned toward him, Dawson gave a thumbs up and faced forward.

Poetry: Trim Healthy Mama Happiness

Trim Healthy Mama Happiness
by Kelly F. Barr

Who’d have thought I could cast off
sugar addiction and still enjoy sweets?
Who’d have thought I could still eat healthy
and enjoy such tasty treats?

Trim Healthy Mama helped me see the light
with a healthy eating plan for life.
No tasteless cardboard food or
“it won’t fit in my budget” strife.

I can still eat pizza and chocolate —
My two favorite things!
This plan will shrink my waist, improve my health
and make my heart sing!

Top Ten Tuesday

Today’s Top Ten Tuesday theme, as per The Broke and the Bookish, is “Ten Characters We’d Name Our Children or Pets After”. Since, I won’t be having any more children, my would be pets, most likely dogs.

  1. Atticus after Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
  2. Diggory from The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis
  3. Tumnus from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis; one of my favorite minor characters.
  4. Ky. This character is a very complex character in a book I am currently reading: Unblemished by Sara Ella, and he is fast becoming one of my favorites. His full name is Kyaphus, but most people call him Ky.
  5. Sam after Sam Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings trilogy because he is the ultimate faithful friend.
  6. Einstein after the best dog character EVER, Einstein from The Watchers by Dean Koontz.
  7. Cooper from Long Way Gone by Charles Martin.
  8. Rand from The Journey of the Heart Series by Colleen Coble.
  9. Cade from Breaker’s Reef by Terri Blackstock
  10. Jake from Fire and Water by Betsy Graziani Fasbinder

Who’s on your list?

Critique: Does It Have To Hurt?

On Saturday I attended the monthly meeting of Lancaster Christian Writers and the speaker talked about critique. What do you think of when you hear the word “critique”? Do you think “criticize” and immediately jump to thoughts of being attacked or hearing lots of negativity?

Why do we as writers fear critique? I believe it is because we pour so much of ourselves into our stories, and because we work hard to create our stories. Therefore, it can hurt when others don’t tell you that your writing is great, fantastic, perfect just the way you wrote it.

However, the truth is, even writers who have been writing for a long time, use critique groups or critique partners because the reality is no one is perfect, no matter how many years we write, we can still have areas in our writing where a reader may feel lost, confused or miss a connection we were trying to make because we didn’t write a scene or connection as clearly as we thought we did.

As hard as writing is, allowing someone or some others to critique what we have written can be harder because we don’t want to hear that we have to go back and make more corrections or cut scenes or do more showing and less telling or any of the many other issues that can show up in our writing. That’s why it’s so important to find a good critique group or partner that you can be comfortable with and that you can trust.

So, how do you find such a critique group or partner? There are lots of options, but the first thing is to be brave enough to start searching. Then, as the speaker on Saturday suggested, ask questions like “What is your writing practice?”; “Where do you want to go?”‘ “Do you have something to share now?”; “How often do you want to meet and/or share (because you may choose to meet in person once or twice a month and share through email in between)?”; “How much time can you commit?”

The idea is to find a critique group or partner who has a shared direction or similar goals.

So, once you become part of a critique group or partnership, what should critique look like?

It should be as kind and as helpful as possible. Saturday’s speaker shared that when you critique, before you speak, think about how you would receive the feedback that you are planning to give. And, when giving feedback, follow these steps as shared on “The Insecure Writers Support Group”:

  1. Remember, this isn’t your story. It might not be your genre and it will not be your voice.
  2. Approach with caution.
  3. Don’t assume automatically. If you are part of a group that only meets once a month and you only see a small sample of someone’s writing, don’t be afraid to ask questions if you are unsure of something before you offer feedback.
  4. Make suggestions; offer a suggestion instead of just stating the problem. This can be very helpful to the writer.
  5. Limit the proofreading. In other words, don’t worry so much about misspelled words, grammar and technical stuff, as those should be pointed out by an editor or line editor. A critiquer should be more focused on the content of the story: what works or doesn’t work and why; is a scene confusing; do you get a clear picture of the time frame and the setting, etc.
  6. Praise what works. This helps the writer go away without feeling total failure and defeat, but it also helps the writer to know what works, what they did well.

You may want to look at Critiquing in levels, as the Saturday speaker shared:

  1. Cudos and congratulations for completion.
  2. What did you notice most? And use “I” statements: “I understand why this character did this.”
  3. Ask questions: Why did the character do that?
  4. Comment on what worked why.
  5. Comment on a problem but do not tell how to fix it.
  6. Make a suggestion on how to resolve a problem.
  7. Read through it carefully and do things such as line edits.

What are some tips for how to react and respond to receiving a critique (as per Saturday’s speaker):

  1. Listen without responding.
  2. Take 24 hours before responding (it’s a good idea to have contact information of your critique group or partners for this purpose).
  3. During the 24 hours, walk away. Try not to think about it and rehash it in your head. Instead take a walk, maybe tell yourself some nice positive things.
  4. After 24 hours you should feel better and be ready to make improvements to your writing. You will realize you have room to grow.

Also, when you are being critiqued, remember to ignore personal attacks and don’t take it personally. Remember, that even though it may feel like it, you are not your writing. Then look for common themes from the critique group. If several people mention the same thing, it may show a legitimate problem that needs fixing. Look for “why” something works or doesn’t work.

The speaker of the Saturday workshop was Lisa Bartelt. You can find her at Beauty on the Backroads blog.

I have read several of James Scott Bell’s books on writing, and one thing he says is “Never stop studying and learning your craft.”

So, remember, there is always room for improvement. Also, remember that writing rules and what editors/publishers look for do not always remain the same. Things in the writing industry are not static; things change.

Do you have a critique group or partner? I hope it is a mostly positive experience for you, and if it’s not, you may have to look elsewhere for a critique group or partner. You may even want to be part of more than one critique group.

Feel free to share your critique experiences in the comments section, but even if the experience you want to share is negative, please be respectful with your comments.