Monday, April 19, 2010

A Writer's Reality 101: The Stories behind the Stories.

A warm welcome for Ms. Jocelyn Rish, my brave second victim in this interview for the ongoing series: A Writer’s Reality 101: The Stories behind the Stories. Yes, I have re-named it. It’s my blog and I’ll do what I want to.

Jocelyn, my dog Kita likes cats, and I like cats, and you apparently like cats too, so here you are. Luckily, here, is somewhere in cyberspace, so you won’t have to endure any of Kita’s incessant licking. That’s what happens when you smell like a cat, which I am not saying you do…anyway, on to the interview.

Lisa: Whatever made you enter into this life-sucking, soul-snatching, 1001 ways to find rejection occupation (oops, sorry, had another ‘no thanks’ response to a query last night. It’s obviously impacting my biases today) called writing?

Jocelyn: Even though it’s clich├ęd for a writer, it’s true: I was one of those kids. The one with my nose buried in a fascinating book causing me to ignore irrelevant things like eating, homework, or sleeping. Somewhere along the way, I decided I wanted to write stories that inspired that same type of passion and obsession. Unfortunately, fear kept me from doing anything about it until the day I saw an ad for the Institute of Children’s Literature that changed my life. I completed their course Writing for Children and Teenagers, and I was ready to get started.

Then I heard about National Novel Writing Month in 2006, and I completed my first novel, a YA horror, in an exhilarating month. For NaNo 2007 I wrote my rough draft for The Hunt, a YA thriller that is a quarterfinalist in this year’s ABNA. And in 2008 I tried my hand at writing a YA fantasy, but it is pretty much crap.

Lisa: For those not in the know, ABNA is short for Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. Authors with unpublished or self-published novels can enter their works for a chance at a publishing contract. Congratulations on making it to the quarter finals. How do you feel about that?

Jocelyn: I’m not gonna lie – I cried a little. Nothing over the top, just a nice shimmer in the eyes that welled up until one glistening tear escaped and trailed down my face. But seriously, I entered last year and didn’t make it past the pitch stage, which was a crushing blow to my poor writerly ego. So this year I’ve gotten emotional each time I learned I was still in it. First the fist pump, then the crying, then the laughing and dancing with my dog as she comes to check out why ‘mommy’ is acting crazy. I’m really excited about it even as I dread what the PW review might say about The Hunt.

So see, I’m a prime example of why you shouldn’t lose hope. When I entered last year, I was sure my novel was in top-top shape. But after a light bulb moment about my character’s voice and several revisions, my novel is MUCH better this year. So as much as it hurt to not make it past the pitch last year, it was really a blessing in disguise, because in retrospect, I’d have been embarrassed if any strangers had read last year’s excerpt.

Lisa: I lose hope frequently, but luckily I’m a moody person, and my state changes every three minutes or so. You also do some script writing as well, don’t you?

Jocelyn: Because of NaNoWriMo, I found out about Script Frenzy, where the goal is to write a feature screenplay in a month. I’d never thought about trying that, but it seemed like fun, so my brother and I teamed up to write a horror movie about a local SC legend. We had a blast and found a new calling. Since then we’ve also written an action thriller and a ghost story.

I also write short stories and had my biggest success with a short I wrote called Saying Goodbye. I’d read about the true story of Oscar the death predicting cat and was inspired to write a story from the perspective of a woman in a nursing home coping as a cat predicts the death of her friends. The story ended up one of the 2008 South Carolina Fiction Project winners and was my first time being published – sooooooo exciting!

It was my brother’s idea to turn it into a screenplay. Once we’d rewritten it as a script, we entered it in a competition for a grant from the SC Film Commission and we won!! We were awarded the money to make our short film. Filming was a CRAZY but amazing experience. We are currently in post right now editing the film (which is a little like revising a manuscript again and again and again). If people want to find out more about the project, they can visit

Lisa: I looked at the site and was really intrigued. It sounds like a wonderful story. If people would like to read Saying Goodbye how can they do so? And the short film, once it’s complete, how can people view it?

Jocelyn: My short story can be found at As for viewing the film, we’re still not sure about that. Because it’s only 20 minutes, it will never be theatrically released. However, we do plan to submit it to film festivals around the country, so some people might be able to see it that way. Then after a (hopefully very successful) festival run, we hope to make it available online. So the best way to keep updated on how to see the film is to keep tabs on our website or become a fan on Facebook:

Lisa: Having just read Saying Goodbye, it is an absolutely beautiful story. It moved me to tears.

Jocelyn: I'm so happy to hear you were moved by Saying Goodbye. The main character has a lot of my grandmother in her, and she had passed away in a home not long before I wrote the story, so I cried while I wrote it. I sometimes still get teary when I reread it, but then I worry I'm being all self-indulgent and stuff.

Lisa: Your Young Adult novel – The Hunt- what is it about?
Jocelyn: My one-line pitch for The Hunt is: After the body she discovers in the woods disappears, seventeen-year-old Breanna must prove it was not the product of her notorious overactive imagination, but rather the handiwork of a killer who plans to silence her.

Basically Brea is well-known for her "stories"- so no one believes she found a body in the woods. She decides the only way to save face and prove everyone wrong is to investigate the murder on her own. She discovers evidence pointing to a classmate, so she joins his team for the school's video scavenger hunt hoping to uncover the truth about him. There are a lot of funny moments throughout the scavenger hunt, but there is always the undercurrent of danger as she tries to unmask a killer.

Lisa: What’s the toughest thing you find about being a writer?

Jocelyn: The toughest thing for me is getting my butt in the chair. I’m a big time procrastinator - trimming my dog’s toenails, cleaning the crumbs out of the toaster, scrubbing the grout with a toothbrush – I’ll pretty much do anything to avoid sitting down and writing. And it’s all so ridiculous, because I love to write and I hate doing those other things. But, man, I have the hardest time making myself start a writing session. Maybe I should seek professional help about this issue… oh, hi Lisa! ;-)

Lisa: I'm in total agreement with you about the procrastination for writing so I won’t be much help – I still need to work at my own. Kita is howling at me to find out what kind of dog you have, so put her out of her pain, and me out of mine...what is yours?

Jocelyn: Freya is a pound puppy. She looks like a big cream-colored German Shepherd with blue eyes. My mom, dad, brother, and sister each have their own pound puppy, so for Christmas this past year I got everyone a doggie DNA kit. It was so much fun guessing the various breeds and seeing who was right. Freya’s primary breed turned out to be Siberian Husky and then she had two minor breeds – Chow and Miniature Poodle. Yes, my 95 pound dog is part mini-poodle! Freya sends Kita big, slurpy kisses.

Lisa: How are your family and friends with your writing? And how are you with them, in terms of talking about it?

Jocelyn: I quit my job to focus full time on my writing, so my friends and family all know how important writing is to me. They are all extremely supportive, even if it does make my dad super nervous that I have no steady income. I bounce ideas for new projects off of them, and several of them are beta readers.

Lisa: Any tips, comments for people thinking of entering the world of fiction writing?

Jocelyn: My advice is to run far, far away! No, not really, but you have to really love writing to pursue it. The odds of it making you rich or famous are miniscule, and the pursuit of publication is more likely to leave you frustrated and depressed, so you have to be passionate about it. But if you do decide to do enter the writing world, make sure you study the craft: take classes, read books about it, attend conferences, join a critique group. It's important

Lisa: Thanks so much for doing this interview with me Jocelyn.

Jocelyn: Thank you so much for interviewing me! It has been so much fun thinking about my writing in a different way.