Historical novelist Debra E. Marvin credits good critique partners for the much-needed “fresh eyes” that have helped her place in six fiction contests. She hopes to complete final edits soon and get her requested manuscript where it needs to be—in front of agents and editors rather than hiding on her hard drive.
Debra lives in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York and reminds us that not every New Yorker lives in the city or sounds like the Bronx, “knowwhadimean?” She lives with two freeloader housemates who don’t complain about watching the same movies over and over as long as she feeds them and lets them sleep on her pillow. Debra is a granny, a horticulturist, and part-time hermit. Until recently, she worked as a research assistant for Cornell University but is trying the starving artist thing, and this month, at least, is writing full-time.
Debra is at ease with old-fashioned, homemaker stuff and get-your-hands-dirty work; in fact, give her a task to do, but just don’t ask her to make small talk. Please! She loves to travel and thinks the perfect life would be living in various places around the world in three-month increments (as long as there’s wireless access.) She might ask you to ship fresh ground peanut butter to whatever writer’s hovel she’s landed at. Debra’s other addiction is costume dramas, preferably nineteenth century, and she has no plans to give them up.
Debra’s Journey Begins
•When did you begin writing with the goal of publication?
I started the dream about ten years ago (I hear that’s a magic number, by the way!) but I took a few years off to go to school full time while working full time, and taking care of a home and my widowed mother. We’re all Wonder Woman in our own ways, aren’t we?
•What were some of the first steps you took. What did you learn from them?
I took two creative writing classes and learned of a local RWA® chapter. After various workshops, classes, and meetings, I had the naïve notion to submit my first story. I would probably die of embarrassment now to read what I sent to NYC but the editor replied with a nice, encouraging rejection, which I did keep.
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Debra’s Squee-worthy Successes
•What was the first major high you experience on your writing journey, and how did you react to the news?
I won a short story contest when I first started writing and had the story published in a very local literary magazine. I know better than to say “published author” because I still have the real thing in my sights.
•You’ve racked up five placements in RWA chapter-sponsored contests. Which of them stands out, and why?
I don’t want to ‘dis’ any of the great contests I’ve finaled in, but I couldn’t stop smiling when I placed second in the 2010 Daphne du Maurier contest. Pride is a sin and I’m a sinner. I know the quality of the other two finalists’ writing (waving at Lisa Karon Richardson) but I’m not going to argue with the judges who put me in their company.
•I understand you finaled in another contest as well. Please tell us about it.
I finished with a second place in the new Rattler Contest “Does Your Story Have Bite?” sponsored by the ACFW’s Christian Writers of the West. Final round judge was Barbara Scott and that was a contributing factor to my entering.
•Congratulations on your many Contest Circuit successes! As a repeat finalist, what tips would you offer other writers eager to place in contests and attract the attention of the publishing professionals serving as final round judges?
Critique partners who aren’t afraid to tell you what stinks, reading your work aloud into a digital recorder (you’d be shocked what this picks up that reading in your head doesn’t), and most importantly, learn to discern. My biggest complaint about contests is conflicting comments. Who do you believe? With time, I came to understand that if a judge’s suggestions resonated with me—like it or not—they were probably right. But don’t let contest feedback water down your story or your voice.
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Debra Changes Directions
•Your first story was a contemporary romance, but your current story is a historical. What led to the change in sub-genre?
I was targeting the “Love and Laughter” line at Harlequin which tells you how long ago that was. I also played around with plotting a dark historical and lost my heart to it. I now have three series—eight more books in my head and all are historical, not one hysterical.
•You’ve been hard at work on your historical, getting it polished and ready to submit to editors. I understand this story has more to it than a traditional historical romance. I wanna know more, so please tell us about the other elements you’ve incorporated and what led you to add them.
I call my stories ‘historical romantic suspense for the inspirational market’ and then under my breath in a phony tony accent, ‘it’s a little gothic, actually’. I like a thick plot and admittedly my characterization suffers for it. Don’t quote that.
Why does romantic suspense always equal contemporary? I love dark secrets and dark themes and I don’t mind a dead body or two. I’m writing what I like.
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Debra’s Writing Process
•When you approach your writing, do you tend be OC or “Let’s see?” Are you all about schedules, charts, and character outlines, or do you plant yourself in front of the screen, hands poised over the keyboard, and let your fingers do the walking?
I’m definitely a plotter but I don’t feel it restricts me at all because plot points, events, and characters still surprise me as I go along. I could not write a twisting suspense plot by the seat of my linen drawers.
•What does a typical writing day look like for you? Or is there such a thing as a typical day?
Typical before I lost my job was write when I woke up at four or five A.M, until I had to get ready for work. Daydream about plot and characters while working (that’s NOT how I lost my job) and then get back to the computer after warmed-up leftovers. Write till exhaustion set in. Now I just write all day. I’m living the dream, baby! Until I have to pay my bills . . .
•Research is a necessary part of the process for those writing historicals. How do you go about ferreting out the facts you need?
I love research. Thankfully the internet, particularly Google books, offers oodles of good, solid stuff, if you take the time to look, and verify as much as you can. I’ve lost hours of writing time chasing down a very minor detail. I must be able to grasp them before I can pretend to portray them in my story, even if I don’t use them on the page.
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Debra’s Challenges and Solutions
•All writers experience moments when doubt assails us and we fall prey to our fears. You’ve learned valuable lessons as a result of a situation in your personal life. Please tell us about the challenge you’re facing as a daughter and what you’re learning as a result.
I’ve lived in the shadow of Alzheimers since my grandmother was diagnosed in the eighties. I watched my mother become forgetful and argumentative, and I lost a lot of sleep worrying and wondering what was to become of us. There are huge financial and emotional factors involved. Not to mention the fear that if both my grandmother and mother developed the disease, then surely I will too, right? When the situation became both unbearable for me, emotionally, and dangerous for my mother, the Lord stepped in and gave us both a better outcome than I ever could have imagined. Why did I waste all that time worrying? We all do it. She’s doing well, by the way.
I had to put my writing aside for a couple years and I prayed that the Lord would restore that lost time to me if I sat with her when I’d rather be writing. And I’ve learned to not worry about the future but enjoy every day I have. There is only one guarantee in life and for me, it’s followed with a new life anyway!
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Debra’s Journey Continues
•What captivating new ideas are swirling in your creative mind? Have new characters begun chattering away?
Oh, Keli, they’re so good I can’t share them. 🙂 Seriously. And each of my next two books already has one of their leads, because they popped off my WIP and demanded their own story.
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Five Fun Questions for Debra
•If three of your closest friends were asked to choose items to represent you which would be placed on a display table at a luncheon being given in your honor, what might they select?
Something baked, a soup cookbook, seashells from the Outer Banks, a Netflix envelope, group photos of my family and my friends, a container of fresh ground peanut butter, a bandana, and my stained bible cover/bible. So much of my life is digital – my playlists, my photos, all the words I’ve written and rewritten in ten years time.
When was the last time you laughed so hard you cried?
During some time on Cape Ann, MA, last October with three of my best friends. We’d just lost one of “us” two days before we left and there were plenty of sad tears but happy tears as well as we reminisced a lifetime of funny stories about her. I am very blessed to have the same friends as far back as elementary school who know every stinking thing about me and both tolerate and love me still. Chin hairs—not mine, I might add—can be quite amusing. Losing a lifelong best friend is not.
•If you could wake up every morning, open your bedroom blinds, and look out your bedroom window at the perfect view, what would that view be?
I’m going with the one I have because I live on a lake and watch the sunrise come up every morning. A very special treat, however, is to travel to see waves crashing onshore and the reminder of how big the ocean is and how little I am. I never miss a sunrise when I’m at the ocean.
•What is one piece of advice you wish you could pass along to everyone else?
Don’t take yourself too seriously. When that happens go look at yourself in the mirror and stick your tongue out at the fool you see.
•Which punctuation mark would best describe your personality?
I’ll go with a tilde. Yes, that strange horizontal wiggle you don’t quite know what to do with. Tildes work along quietly in the background, they are interesting if you pay attention, and yet they have the power to make important changes in how you perceive something right in front of you. ~ And they have their own style even though they spend most of their lives hanging out in dictionaries and watching life from the corner of your keyboard.
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Debra’s Question for You
If you could go anywhere in the world for a three month stay, where would you go, what would you do, and who would you take?
(And, remember, Hugh Jackman is a married man.)
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Debra has generously offered to give away a $20.00 Amazon gift card.
To enter the drawing, just leave a comment for Debra by midnight January 18th (Pacific time) and enter your email address when prompted during the comment process. (You don’t have to leave it in the body of your comment this way.)
On January 19th, I will hold the drawing and post the winner’s name here as well and will contact her/him via email to get a mailing address. (I don’t share your information with anyone, other than sending your mailing address to my guest, and I don’t add your name to any mailing lists.)
Note: Offer void where prohibited.
Odds of winning vary due to the number of entrants.
Congratulations to Niki Turner, winner of the Amazon gift card!
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Learn More About Debra
Visit her website ~ www.debraemarvin.com
Visit her group blog ~ Inkwell Inspirations
Friend her on Facebook ~ Debra E. Marvin